Eanrin strode through the Wood singing one of his favorite ballads in his golden voice. Of course he had written it, and that pleased him all the more. The day was warm, and the wind carried all sorts of scents which filled the poet’s nose, leaving him to imagine where they came from. He stopped on his Path (which did not partially lead anywhere that he could see) and breathed deeply of the Wood’s enchanting and mysterious air, taking a break from his song.
He gaged. Along with the lungful of air was a most unpleasant smell. A smell he recognized all too well. The smell of mortality. He looked around, but could see no such wretched person. Thus, he stood awhile, one foot on a fallen log, watching and listening with the hideous smell growing ever stronger. That’s when he heard it. A voice rising above the dense foliage that surrounded him, carried also on the wind. Eanrin listened intently and as the singer moved closer, he heard that it sang one of his songs. He listened harder and realized that it was his favorite song which he had been singing a few moments earlier. Eanrin decided it was a good voice, definitely not as heavenly as his own, but one to be proud of in the mortal world, he supposed.
The singer came into view. He was of mid-height with tawny hair, combed neatly into perfect place. However, a bit kept slipping down over his right eye, and he was obliged to flick it out of the way. The young man strode right up to Eanrin, nodded his head in greeting, and continued on his way, not even stopping his serenading.
Eanrin stared after him in disbelief. He had not even inquired after who he was, much less recognized him as the Great Bard Eanrin himself. Of course, he reasoned, maybe his songs were only famous in the Near World, and his face was not. However, in the Wood it would not hurt to make sure that the young mortal knew who had first composed the song.
Therefore, he trotted after the man calling, “Oi, you there!” Stopping, the man turned and waited for Eanrin to catch up with him. “What is your name?”
“In my country, they call me, Gatetiloius Orzenhammer, the Silver Voiced, but here in this strange forest you may call me Gate,” the man stated, giving a slight bow. “And how about you, my tow-headed friend?”
“I am Bard Eanrin, the Golden Voiced,” Eanrin said, taking off his cap and waving it expertly, ignoring the other comment.
“Well,” said Gate, “I’m not sure how golden your voice is, but it is still nice to meet someone when you’ve been traveling alone for a while.” Then tipping his head, he said good day and turned and continued on his way, taking up once more his silvery singing. Eanrin stared after him. Of all the rude things to do in the presence of the World’s greatest poet! Just walking away!
He trailed after him, calling, “Do you even know who I am?!”
Gate stopped mid-song and said, matter-of-factly, “I’m sure I don’t. But if I had to guess, I’d say that you were Eanrin, the Golden Eared or something like that.” He turned to leave, but the poet caught his arm.
“You obviously hail from a world that only knows the song you are singing and not who actually wrote it! I am Eanrin, Chief Poet of Ibu—“
“Yes, yes,” Gate interrupted, “I am fully aware of all your titles.”
“Then you have heard of me?”
“Of course I’ve heard of you, who hasn’t, but what were you expecting, me to pass out at the mere sight of your greatness?” Gate questioned.
“Well, I wasn’t quite expecting you to pass out necessarily, though I must admit, many a maiden has done so in my time upon sight of me.”
Gate rolled his eyes and flicked his head to get the hair out of his face. “Poor girls,” Gate said.
“Poor girls!” Eanrin repeated, flabbergasted. “Why, I’ll have you know that they count themselves as the lucky ones. Usually, once they’ve fainted dead away, I’m obliged to sing them back into consciousness with my heavenly voice.”
Gate grunted. “Heavenly voice?”
“Yes, all but you, I am coming to grasp, think that my voice is the finest in the world. Myself included.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘the finest’ in the world. Decent, but not finest,” Gate said, turning once more to leave.
“You don’t like my songs?”
“They’re catchy,” Gate explained. “That’s the only reason I sing them. Certainly not because you wrote them, like you want my reason to be.”
“They’re catchy,” the poet said, the hairs on the back of his neck rising. “That’s all you can say?! They’re catchy! What about my superior voice when I sing them?”
“Like I have said since I first learned how to sing, I could and can sing better than the Bard Eanrin.”
Eanrin stared at Gate. How dare this impudent mortal insult him so?! “You claim that you can sing better than me?” Gate nodded. “Well, then, I propose a singing contest. The loser will be ever shamed, and the winner will have the right to tell the whole world about who he won against.”
Gate put his hand to his chin, pausing a moment. Then smiling, he said, “I accept.”
It was decided that each singer would perform the same song together. The first one to trip over his words or to have his voice crack would be the loser. They selected one of Eanrin’s longest recorded melodies, which they both knew by heart, and prepared their throats. Once both were ready, they began.
If any other traveler would have been walking in the Wood that afternoon, they would have heard two voices, one golden and the other silver, rising up from deep within the trees, singing with all their might. That traveler, no matter what kind of business he or she may have been attending to, rather it be some sort of daring quest or perhaps a misstep into the Between, would have stopped to listen to the angel-like voices and would have cried with their overwhelming beauty.
Eanrin and Gate were equally matched, though the latter’s voice was not quite as strong as the first’s. Both singers hit every note perfectly and stayed in time to the imaginary beat of the song. They had been serenading some time, when Gate’s voice became weaker and not as loud as before. Eanrin took note, and sang ever stronger.
The end of the song was approaching, and Eanrin and Gate strained on the last count, trying desperately to out sing the other. That’s when Gate’s smooth voice cracked. It was quiet, almost undetectable, but it was there, and Eanrin heard it. The song ended. Gate knew he had lost, and he stared at his feet, ashamed.
“No one can beat Ibudan’s Chief poet,” Eanrin said, holding out his hand to shake it with Gate’s. “Good try though.”
Gate did not take it, but walked a few paces away, stopped, turned, and said, “Well, oh, mighty Bard, you may be the better at singing, but there is one thing you lack…”
“And what is that?”
“The hair flick.” With that, the young man tilted his head and swung it back, causing his hair to swish through the air, sunshine glimmering off its surface. With hair falling back into place, Gate took a step and vanished through a Faerie crossing he had not been counting on.
Eanrin’s shoulders sunk as he gazed at the place where Gate had once stood. Ever since the young man had first shown up, he had not liked his mannerisms, but what he did with his hair just as he had vanished was quite impressive and something that Eanrin certainly lacked. However, he was glad that he had gone. “Good riddance,” Eanrin muttered to himself. He looked around, half hoping to see someone who had witnessed his victory. There was no one. Though if there had been, Eanrin doubted they would have cared, being too distracted with Gate’s hair flick. The poet glanced about again and upon seeing no one, gave his head a little flip, attempting to clear the golden hair that had fallen in front of his eyes. It didn’t quite turn out how he had envisioned, and it fell back worse than before.
Eanrin sighed as he found a Path that would lead him back to Rudiobus. He knew he had won the contest, but he felt quite the opposite. The poet flicked his head again, and a few strands of hair caught the sun and shimmered like Gate’s had. Eanrin smiled. Perhaps he could master this art after all.
A few moments later, the poet stood at the edge of Gorm-Uisce Lake, leaning over to see his reflection mirrored in the water’s glassy surface. With one hand tucked behind his back, the other holding a comb, he practiced flicking his hair out of his face like Gate had. After about a half an hour, he had the movement down, and his hair flowed through the air most gracefully.
“Perfect,” he said, after one particularly good swish. “Now to test it.” Eanrin turned away from the lake and found himself face to face with Orfhlaith, the golden mare guardian.
“What are you doing?” she asked, in the language of horses, though the poet could understand her.
“Practicing this!” Eanrin flipped his hair, flashing a most winning smile.
Orfhlaith tossed her head as if to mock him, though she didn’t mean to in the least; it was her way as a horse. “Have you got something in your eye, Poet?”
“No, I’m doing it on purpose,” Eanrin explained, combing his hair once more. “For a striking effect. How do you like it?”
The mare shook her mane again, perhaps more gracefully than Eanrin had, and said, “I never understood your kind and your ways. I understand much better when you’re in an animal form.”
“I’m sure you do, but I can’t have the same effect in that form, considering my fur is way too short for the proper delivery.”
“I see,” said the mare. “Well, carry on in your silly ways.” Then she trotted away.
“I will,” Eanrin said, and began to make his way to Iubdan’s and Bebo’s palace in the mountain to test his new strategy.
Eanrin walked through the passages with a proud air. Though this was not unusual for the bard, there was something different about him this time. Those who knew him best would have guessed that he had come up with a great new idea for a stanza or two. However, they would have soon seen that they were far off from the reality of the situation.
Some of the first Rudiobans Eanrin saw were a group of three young women and three young men talking together in one of the caverns. The poet paused for a moment, and once each of them had turned to him, he flicked his head, sending his hair flying gracefully through the air. The young women giggled and flushed red. The men also turned red, though for a very different reason. They clenched their hands into fists, as they watched the bard stride up the hall, flicking his hair at a passing maiden who nearly collided into another Rudioban. That flea-bitten cat had bested them again! They tried to mimic him, but none of the three maidens saw, their gazes still glued to the spot where the poet had last been visible.
Wherever Eanrin went and flicked the hair out of his face, the maidens turned red and struggled not to faint. Even Lady Gleamdren blushed slightly, though she pretended indifference, when he passed by. In a matter of an hour, every Rudioban maiden was completely under Eanrin’s romantic hair-flicking spell, and every man was practicing in vain to perfect the movement.
Eanrin finally took a break from his campaign to give his neck a rest. He combed back his hair and sighed in relief. It was good to have it out of his face. He sat in a corner of Ruaine Hall thinking out loud to himself.
“I’ve got everyone falling for my new charming addition,” he said, “but the real test will be Imraldera.” The poet tossed his head again. It felt like it could enchant her. Maybe if he did his best one yet, it would really work. So with confidence rising, Eanrin exited the Hall and made his way to Gorm-Uisce, pausing on the way for a few maidens waiting to see his amazing move. One must not get out of practice on the way, he told himself.
Soon he reached the Lake and mounted up on Orfhlaith, who bore him across. Then he plunged into the Wood, finding a safe Path that would lead him to the Haven. Minutes passed as he walked, though when he had reached his destination he was far from where he had started, as is the way with certain Faerie Paths. Eanrin stepped off his and found himself standing in a grove of trees. As he looked, he could see walls and a roof forming a large library. He had reached the Haven.
Someone entered from a door off to the right, which was simultaneously two small trees spread apart. It was a woman, wearing a long green gown with raven black hair pouring over her shoulders on either side. Eanrin’s heart skipped a beat when he saw her, and he smiled. She looked up from her book, not appearing to be startled and said, “Oh, hello, Eanrin. What are you doing here? Got in trouble again?”
“Quite on the contrary, old girl,” he said, pulling out his comb to make sure everything was perfect. “I haven’t seen you in a while, so I thought it was high time for a visit.”
Imraldera didn’t buy it. She lifted an eyebrow and asked, “What’s the true reason you’re here?”
“Well, if you’re going to get pushy,” Eanrin said, “I’ll show you.”
“Yes. You may want to sit down, just in case you faint or something.”
“What’s this about, Eanrin?” Imraldera sat her at her desk, hoping the cat wasn’t about to make a fool of himself, though she expected nothing less.
“Just watch.” With that, he took a deep breath and exhaled. Then he flicked his head. Out of all the movements he had composed, this one was the grandest and most skillfully executed. Every hair flowed in perfect symmetry, and the light from the windows or the spaces in the trees shined brilliantly off its waving surface. Then the golden locks settled back into place as if they had been combed there from the beginning.
Imraldera just stared. Then she blinked twice, and looking up into Eanrin’s shining eyes, said, “Do you need a haircut?”
Eanrin stared back at her. All the pride he’d had a moment before vanished. Then before she could blink again, he had taken the form of a big, fluffy, orange tomcat and was streaking out of the grove as fast as his legs could carry him away from the embarrassing moment. After he was well away, he sat down licking his paw and rubbing it over his head, promising never to flick his hair again.