“Back when the land was young and the cycle of mortal kings not yet begun: back before the sons of Mil reached fair Ireland’s shore, and the Tuatha Dé yet reigned from sea to sea: After the great king Nuada had lost arm and kingship, and for seven battle-torn years his son reigned in his stead till both arm and throne were restored—the one of silver and the other of gold: Then came a few years of peace—or so it was thought.
It was during this time of the Silver-arm’s restored reign that a mystery and an evil came to Ireland’s shore and troubled the great king’s peaceful reign. His people—the Tuatha Dé Danann blessed with long life beyond mortal ken—were dying. Not from war, or famine, or sickness, and certainly not from old age. They were simply dying. His people were strong and hale during the day, but at night it seemed as though their souls fled from their bodies leaving behind a hallow corpse with nary a sign of harm upon it.
Nuada was stunned. How was this happening? He consulted the wisest of his kin, he spoke to those close to the ones who had died, but all to no avail. None knew what curse had befallen his people, but surely a curse there was. Nuada swore he would find the cause and cure his people or else forswear his throne. For what befalls a kingdom is surely the trouble of her king, and if he were unable to save her then what right did he have to rule?
His quest continued for the space of a year and a day, and still he came no closer to learning the cause. All the while his people continued to die. A person here, a person there. Sometimes long intervals would pass between deaths, and other times they came one right after another. Finally, as Nuada began to doubt his greatness and prepared to leave his throne to one more suited, the stories began to trickle in. Stories of a man seen near the houses of the soon to be dead, sometimes on the very threshold. A hooded figure cloaked in darkness carrying aloft a lantern that burned with a single flame—a flame of pure white. A woman said she heard the figure call out the name of her husband as he slept beside her in their bed, the whisper of his voice blowing out his lantern and taking with it the soul of her husband. There was nothing she could do to stop it. His task done, the figure vanished.
When Nuada heard these tales, his heart froze. He knew from the description it could only be one being who tormented his people so, the Harvester of Souls. A being from the underworld come to claim his people. But why? Knowing now what troubled his kingdom, Nuada set out to confront the Harvester and free his people from the creature’s dreadful clutch.
The night was young when Nuada found his adversary; the stars above still blinking the daylight from their eyes; the moon still bashfully hiding her crescent form behind the thinning clouds.
The king was simply adorned as he strode to meet his tormentor, carrying nothing with him save his mighty sword—the Claíomh Solais—that brilliant blade from whom no one could escape once unsheathed and bane to those who dwell in the dark. The Harvester saw the king coming and lowered his still lit lantern as the king arrived.
“What cause have you to lay claim on the lives of my people?” Nuada cried, demanding an answer as he stood before his fearsome foe.
The Harvester loomed above him and cackled out his reply. “For seven years, oh great king, you left your kingdom in the hands of your less-than-noble son because you could not face your people while deformed. Your son was vicious with an appetite for bloodshed and waged war across the land on the people who were not your own. Many died until you returned and took back your kingdom with your shining silver arm. Now those whose lives were lost call out to me for the price of your vanity! Fear not, oh king, for there is but one life left to collect to settle the debt of your arm.”
Nuada reeled back from his foe. Staggered by the accusations against his kingship, knowing in part at least that he bore the blame for this curse. His arm weighed heavy at his side and for a moment he wist not what to do. His son he banished upon his return and had done his best to end the wars. Perhaps it had not been enough. In the moment of his doubt, the moon rose from her hiding and shone her light upon him, the ground beneath him bore him up, and the wind whispered in his ear that if he were not king surely it would be worse.
The Harvester of Souls stood before him looming large, his lantern held aloft, and the king’s own name only a breath from sounding on his lips.
Nuada, his strength restored, stepped forward and unsheathed his mighty sword. The blade shone like the sun and with an easy stroke burned Nuada’s name from the Harvester’s throat as Nuada sent the creature’s head sailing on the wind.
Still the Harvester came on. His lantern dropped to the ground, the flame still burning bright, he drew his own dark blade and met the king in battle. Long into the night they raged till both grew weary from the fight. The Harvester weakened as daylight drew near and, seizing upon his chance, Nuada thrust his sword into his foe, burying it to the hilt. He seized the lantern that had fallen and shoved the head of his foe therein to seal shut the soul-stealing voice. Then calling upon the power born to his people, the king of the Tuatha Dé Danann banished the Harvester back to the underworld and freed his people from its curse.
Nuada lost his sword of light but regretted it not in the least. His remaining years as king were spent doing his best to grow the peace.”
“Seems kind of silly to me to so easily lose a magic sword. But what do I know, I’ve never owned one … I’ve never lost one either though. Just saying.”