She sits, high above them, watching from her throne of skulls. Her birds, crows and ravens, peck at the broken carrion around her feet. They squabble and jostle each other in their excitement, cawing and flapping wildly.
She tilts her head and smiles.
Across the plain, they meet in a sickening clash of steel on steel. War drums beating out a march like a dying man’s heartbeat. The metallic tang of blood and viscera hangs on the breeze. She breathes it in, slow and deep, fills her nostrils. Her pupils dilate. Mouth salivates.
She gives a hiss. A crow squawks and takes flight, landing on her fringed shoulder. Sharp claws prick at her flesh. It bows its head. Obsidian feathers brush her cheek and the bird nuzzles against the blue woad tattoo. She returns the embrace.
The air crackles with energy as she opens her mouth. She whispers in low dulcet tones to the bird. It fixes her gaze, nods once and spreads its wings.
He stands on the field, his body shaking. Beneath his padded coat, he’s sweating: the winter’s chill forgotten. He holds the sword hilt so tightly that his knuckles are white. In his hand, it dwarfs his feeble frame.
He’s watching his brothers, the vanguard, awestruck by their skill and bravery. Their weapons and faces wet with the enemy’s blood. They fight. They fall.
The order comes to advance. A warm stream of urine trickles down his leg, pooling on the grass. The ranks behind him press forward, pushing against him. He feels his knees buckle and worries he’ll be crushed beneath their feet. He knows that to move means death, knows that to stay means death and he doesn’t want to die.
Men die in war; it’s the nature of combat. But he’s not a man, he’s just a boy.
There are thousands like him.
The corvid’s call seizes his attention and he turns his face to the darkening sky. The bird circles overhead. A black eye finds his own.
It’s not the bird he sees, but her: the Morrígan.
She favours him. She favours them.
His knees lock, shoulders straighten. He raises the sword above his head. It no longer seems so large. When he cries out, it’s no longer the timid call of a child. His battle cry lights fires in the hearts of those around him.
There are thousands like him; there are none like him.
They will tell his story for centuries to come.
She smiles. She hisses.
Another bird takes flight.
M is for Morrígan
The Morrígan is the Irish goddess of battle, strife, and sovereignty. Her most common aspect is that of a war deity. She has the power to influence the outcome of battle and her appearance, or the appearance of her crows, was an omen of fortune and instilled fear in the enemy’s heart. Sometimes, she would descend to the battlefield herself and show her favouritism in more direct means.
The Morrigan can refer to a single deity but also to a trinity of goddesses: Badb, Nemain, and Macha. Their collective title is The Morrígna.