Style of the Century

 

The paddle moved with practised ease, pulled parallel to the straight taut skin before the subtle end-flick kept the progress of the vessel true. The water spilt as he lifted the blade clear and began another long pull, moving man and craft towards the stones that had been beckoning him since he began the verses of his oar-song.

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Angus had built the boat under the watchful eye of the old one of the water, who had guided him gently towards the balance of the craft. The skin was sewn particularly finely, for Angus was the tailor, just as his father’s father’s father had been the tailor, according to the Song of the Needle. The forming of the precious willow wands had been the most difficult thing to master, for Angus was cautious not to burn his fingers in the unfamiliar hiss of the bending-steam. He had broken a few of the withies before gaining the knack of curving the hot, damp rods swiftly into shape.

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His patience was well-rewarded for the wooden weave he made was beautifully symmetrical and true. The old one was delighted. He knew that his time to sail with the spirits was now only a few short moons away, and he saw in Angus a fitting bearer of the secrets of the currach builder’s art. The tailor had shown great care and pride in his work, choosing skins that were as decorative as they were functional and creating a skin-craft that would last many summers.

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These boats were essential for getting around the land swiftly, for carrying food and water home. On this day Angus was not on his way home but was taking an special offering to the place of his mother’s people for they had recently completed a large dwelling in the very latest style.

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One final pull and the boat nudged the port-stone. Angus was swift to shore and lifted the stiff, light hull onto his back before walking the few paces to the low lintel that marked the entrance to the wheelhouse. He lowered the stern of his craft gently to the grass and allowed the rest of the hull to follow before placing the paddle carefully beneath the seat-board to rest upon the kneel-wands . There was no special reason for this, it was just something that Angus did whenever he left his boat up-sided on land.

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As he turned from the boat he saw a shadow-shape stir below the dressed lintel and his uncle Calum emerged into the light. Calum unfolded himself to stand a good two hands-widths above Angus. All his mother’s people were tall, but Calum was by far the tallest man in the district and Angus wasn’t at all sure that this new style of building was entirely suited to these people. Calum greeted him, admired the boat, and beckoned Angus to duck below the lintel and enter the mystery of the wheelhouse.

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He crouch-shuffled along the narrow passage, passing an empty sentry-space before emerging into the fire-bright central circle-room with its hearth stones in a ring of about a man’s arms-reach width. Angus had never seen such a vast fire-pit and above it the wooden cone of the roof seemed to reach to the sun. The walls of the circle-room were even taller than Calum’s hand-reach, but what was even more surprising was that these walls were split into six sections by six rooms that surrounded the central space, before disappearing into the darkness.

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Angus had never seen such a thing and wondered what each of these cells might be used for, and how many of his kin lived here, and his mind raced with these and other questions. However, drowsy-warmth from the hearth and belly-warmth of fire-drink forced Angus to pause, to sit and smile at the ingenuity of his people, people who were now entering the circle-space from the cells where they had been sleeping, or working, their chatter filling the air with life and laughter…

 

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