The young girl walked slowly toward Bran’s huge hounds, who were slavering as they strained against their chains. Some tried to dissuade her but the girl’s mother said proudly, "Go ahead, Ciara, show them!" Ciara extended her right hand in a calming gesture and, to the astoniment of all but one of the onlookers, the dogs sat silently on their haunches.
"Well done, sweet! Her name is Ciara and I am Rionach, her mother!" The child’s cheeks flushed red with pleasure under dirty, straw colored hair – her father’s hair. But her father, Corm, had died two winters ago in battle with the Finians on the border of Alba. Ciara had first displayed her gift as a toddler and was always surrounded by animals, both tame and wild. Her parents encouraged her talent and hoped that Ciara would come to the attention of the Druids as a prodigy, and that their entire kin would be elevated in stature and wealth.
The young bard, Kiely, also had a gift. Later in the evening, after the mastiffs had regained their tempers and their watch, Kiely surreptitiously sang a few quiet words and the dogs, as they had with Ciara, sank tamely to the floor. No one noticed her do it, except for Rionach – and one other. Kiely smiled while Rionach cast an angry glance, then looked away.
"Ciara, you have a wonderful gift. You would make a fine bard", said Kiely.
"She’ll be a druid, not a bard", sneered Rionach haughtily. "We will settle for nothing less."
Across the packed hall, two hooded figures who witnessed the conversation slipped out into the night.