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  • Writer's pictureKurt Samson

The Mask Maker

“Can you come and choose with me?” Oengus avoids the father’s gaze by kicking a clod of dirt into the evening air. Its short flight is illuminated by the father’s torch, landing just in front of the hut’s entrance.

“You are already 12 summers, boy,” the father says. “Face the unknown with courage. But I assure you that the Mask Maker’s gift will strengthen you against the mysteries of the world.”

Oengus looks up at the father. His mask is dark green and hides only the left side of his face. The boy has always felt the mask suited the father well. It was hard and strong and the colour of the brilliant green oceans he sailed. When he wore it outside of the home, it allowed the warmth of the father’s smile to show his approval in public.

However, his approval has not yet been earned tonight. The father’s expression is impassive stone. Oengus nods, turns to the door, and passes through the sealskin curtain demarcating the Mask Maker’s domain from the rest of the village.

“On time,” a raspy voice calls out, “Wonderful.”

The Maker’s face is hidden behind a mask of five strange pigments intertwined in complex swirls. It appears to be a single unbroken piece, and Oengus cannot discern how the Mask Maker is able to see through it at all. Tufts of rough white hair, braided with wood and seashells, cascade upon bony shoulders to stretch down to her thin waist. An uncountable number of other masks adorn the walls around them. They are fearsome and intriguing, decorated with paints of every shade one could imagine. Closing the white wooden box in front of her, the Mask Maker stands up from her stool. She passes around her workbench towards Oengus with a slow and confident gait.

“Do you know your purpose here, fair child?” she asks.

“To choose my mask,” Oengus responds.

“Why do you need a mask, fair child?”

“I am Pen Afanc. My mask is my face to the world. The world’s secrets are mine to seek, while this true face is a secret to share as I choose.” Oengus inhales slowly, confident in the flawless recitation his tribe’s druid had taught him.

The Mask Maker nods in approval. “As the Ever Elder counselled the first of our lineage, so you have counselled me. Yet, say too fair child: what kind of mask will you don?” The Mask Maker turns her head inquisitively.

Oengus did not expect this question, and his pause feels as long as a cycle of tides. Despite his reservations, he begins to speak earnestly.

“I want a mask to make me brave like my father, but kind like my mother. I want to face the sea and meet countless unmasked across the ocean. I… want to uncover secrets that have been unknown for ages.”

Oengus feels the warm rush of blush in his cheeks. His answer is silly and childish, and worries that the Mask Maker will judge him unprepared to receive a mask. He thinks his fears confirmed when the Mask Maker chortles.

“Quite the mask that will take, fair child! What makes you believe you belong out in that world, or that you deserve to show it such a wonderful visage?” The Mask Maker crosses her arms, giving them a rare respite from toil which would only be interrupted by a satisfactory answer.

Flickering candlelight casts dancing shadows across the multitudinous audience of masks. The half-formed faces also seem to await his response. Oengus impulsively feels it would be a sacrilege to obscure his truth from them.

“Sometimes,” he says, “I feel my mask in dreams. I am grown, and I already wear it. I no longer live with The Father and Our Mother. I cannot see it, but I know it is blue and white and glimmers like the ocean horizon on a day with distant clouds. I walk alongside the unmasked. Together we have seen many battles, and have suffered together. But, still, we smile.”

The Mask Maker pauses, then brings her head close to the boy’s face as if to somehow examine it. She chortles again.

“Very well, young man,” she says. The Mask Maker turns to her workbench to retrieve the white wooden box. She offers it with two hands to Oengus. “Take your mask.”

Oengus reaches out and opens the box lid. The mask within is blue and white. Even in the dim light of the workshop, it seems to sparkle like the surface of a wind-kissed lake.

With one hand, the Mask Maker affixes it to Oengus’s head and ties a knot that would not easily come undone. “Show your new face to the world. It will grow as you grow. Now, drain the blush from your cheeks and flush the fear from your heart. I look forward to meeting the man you dreamt of, Oengus.” Without another word, the Mask Maker returns to her workbench, picks up her chisel and a block of wood, and begins work on a new mask.

Oengus finds the father waiting outside. The father kneels to get a better look at his son’s new face.

“A strong mask for a strong man,” the father says.

“Thank you, the father.” The man gives Oengus a strong embrace that nearly knocks the wind out of his lungs. He stands up and smiles approvingly.

“Let us return home and rest,” the father says. “Tomorrow, you learn to sail.”

The father extinguishes the torch. They do not need the light for their feet alone know the way. Most importantly, he knows his son would no longer have any quarrel with the darkness that lies ahead.

Adventure in the mythical Celtic world of Avallen in the Against the Faerie Queene campaign book! For Legends of Avallen and 5E. Available now in the UK: and US: Modiphius.US

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