Cathmor plunged his old Druid hands into the hot pile of goat entrails searching for the nub which – ah, yes, here. He clutched the bulb in his hand and stretched the length of pink intestine vertically like a cane, the better to read the mystical script hidden there. He had to pull the oozing strand close to his right eye, his left being clouded and white like an eternal winter in his head. Most likely it was a curse from the Stag Lord for peering too deeply into the dark heart of the wild. Or it was just another infirmity of his waning days, no need to pretend every new twinge of pain was a broken Gesa.
Four horizontal tears crossing the cane from left to right. Idho? Decay? It seems that is all the old man could see nowadays. Decay. From every quadrant. In every moonrise. Decay.
Not my fault, he protested. The world is decaying. Their lives. Their culture. The meaning of it all. Too many things were changing so fast there was no hope for a follower of the Old Ways. Before he had entirely lost his youth he was already a relic. A curious artifact of a law that no longer holds sway. A worshipper of Spirits who no longer haunt these hills.
Chief Senach Brus would not appreciate more bad news, but he wouldn’t want his friend and trusted advisor lying to him either. Cathmor would faithfully relate the results of his divining and together they would do what needed done. They would accept defeat, however humiliating. They would say goodbye.
In a 7th year certain things had to be done. The Chief would be busy overseeing the training of the newest Clanless children dedicated to the service and protection of the clans of this region. They would be initiated into the arts of spear and axe, the mysteries of the wild, the crafts of the Gaeltanach, and one or two promising ones would even be taught the Ogham runes and wood talisman lore. The celebrations of Beltain and Samhain would be especially, shall we say, boisterous. There would be more marriages. Family feuds would be resolved, if possible. It is bad fortune to let wounds fester in a 7th year.
Normally, during this time, Cathmor would be visiting every family with a newborn child and examining the child according to secret criteria. He would poke them to see if they cried. He would watch to see how they ate, and whether their urine was clear. He would wave various wands over their eyes to see which runes called to their inner nature. If Uath the child would be a curse to the family, an insight which Cathmor never shared with the parents since he had made that mistake as a young man. The infant was “stolen by the Sidhe” only a week later. If Tinne the family would be blessed. If Gort the child would have a gift with words. If Ruis the child would be healthy and strong. If Fearn the child would have a hot temper. Sometimes these predictions even proved true.
Eventually it would be up to Cathmor to select seven of these infants to be the next Clanless children. The next sacrifices. The next heroes. But not this year.
He tried to comfort himself that the signs were undeniable, but he knew better. There were no signs for certain. Nothing unequivocal from the Spirits he could hide behind to protect him from the responsibility. The fact was that he was making this choice for his own reasons. Reasons he would never share with a living soul under any circumstances.
Cathmor rinsed his hands in the river cringing as the cold sank into his bones. It was time to share his decision with Chief Senach Brus. There would be no harvest of children this year. The current set of Clanless would be the last. When they died there would be no more Children of Ben Dudlach.