'the past and present are stitched together with threads of magic, if we could only open our eyes to see them…'

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A Samhain Story | Fionn mac Cumhall and the Sidhe-Prince of Flame


Fakir


“Tomorrow is the eve of Samhain,” whispered the Filidh, the High King’s Royal Bard. The crowd stilled, straining to hear through the smoky atmosphere of the King’s hall.

It was the night before Halloween. As always, the High King had invited all his favourite nobles to celebrate the festival at Tara. They crowded his hall, feasting at his table. The air was thick with smoke from the hearth fires, the scent of candles, the aroma of roasting meat, chatter, music and song. Now, when bellies were full and hunger sated, folk sat back and turned to their cups. It was time for the storyteller to weave his magic.

When he was sure he had their full attention, the Filidh continued, his voice rising, throbbing with the emotion and power of the words he brought to life before his audience. He stared round at them all, as if daring someone to disagree, his eyes boring into the soul of every one of them, or so it seemed.

 “Samhain is the night when all good people stay indoors, for on this night, the Sidhe will rise up and cause their mischief, as it has always been since the days they were banished by the race of mankind to their lands beneath the hills.

“And on this night, just to show he still wields power enough that we should fear him, and remain beholden to him, the Fairy-Prince, Aillen mac Midhna, will come from his fairy-halls at Finnechaidh, playing soft sweet music on his magic harp, lifting his beautiful voice in song, that all who hear it will fall entranced within his spell.

“While they sleep their magic sleep, he will demonstrate his strength with fire, and wipe the court of Tara from this hill with flame, which he claims belongs not to man but to the Sidhe, who were here before us, when they were known as the Tuatha de Denann. Yet just to show his benevolence, not a man, woman or child will be harmed, but wake at cock-crow from the most wondrous, soothing sleep, to find their fair city ruined, charred, blackened in smoke, and the shining palace of Tara reduced once more to ash.

“So it has been for nine years past, and so henceforth will it always be.”

He glared at them, defiant, angry, sad. Glancing round, the boy Deimne saw that the audience had caught on to the bard’s sombre mood. Firelight flickered on distraught faces, hands remained curled around beakers or drinking horns, but did not raise them to thirsty lips, food remained untouched on plates as those devastating words sank in.

“Is this true?” he whispered in his foster-father’s ear. Fiacha mac Conga, who was also his uncle, nodded curtly. He looked troubled.

“Aye, lad. And it seems there is nothing anyone can do about it, though many have tried.”

“But Tara was won fair and square from the Sidhe when the sons of Mil defeated them in battle. Why does Aillen cause trouble, after so many years of peace?”

Fiacha sighed, and shrugged. “Who can explain the workings of the minds of the Sidhe? Their logic is not like ours, and they cannot be reasoned with. Some bear more resentment against us than others, I guess. That has always been the way of it, even amongst our own kind.”

Deimne sat back on his stool, thinking. Fiacha placed a hand on his shoulder. “This is not your battle, boy. You are young, with much to prove, but you have time a-plenty for that.”

“Of course it’s my battle! Through my father, Cumhall, I have inherited my place among mankind. But my mother, Muirne, was born of Eithniu and of Tadgh, son of Nuada Argetlam. That means I am also descended from the Sidhe. This makes it more my battle than anyone else here.”

Fiacha noted the stubborn set of Deimne’s jaw, and the determination in his eye, and knew he could not dissuade him. “I saw that look in your father’s face after he abducted your mother from Tadgh and refused to give her up. He went to war against the High King to defend his love for her, and lost his life in so doing. A man of principle is to be admired, but do not let principle cloud your better judgement.”

The young man stared at his foster father. “Wise words as ever, Uncle. I will always heed your counsel,” he said with a grin.

“Aye, heed and ignore it,” Fiacha answered, with a smile of his own. “But hush now, the High King himself is about to speak.”

All eyes were turned now upon the throne, where Cormac the Wise and Just, Ard Ri of all Ireland lifted his shaggy, dark head and addressed his people. His face was sorrowful, his voice mournful.

“My Royal Bard speaks truly. The tale he tells is exactly so, as many of you know. Tomorrow night, on the eve of Samhain, Aillen will lay waste to Tara with fire. As your Ard Ri, I have sought to resolve this matter in any way I can, but the truth is, I have failed you. Aillen will not be reasoned with, dissuaded or bought. He will not fight, he will not agree to single combat, hostages, fosterlings, or inter-marriage. Many have tried to stop him to no avail. There is no telling when the music will start, yet once it does one cannot avoid its spell. So I tell you now, go away from this place in the morning, if you would not be part of it, and I will not think the less of you. If you have the stomach for it, stay and help us rebuild, for I will not let Aillen have Tara. This is the seat of the High King, and I solemnly declare that in the hands of mankind it will remain.”

Cormac glared into the fire, as if he could see Aillen dancing in its flames.

Before anyone could even raise so much as a cheer, Deimne sprang from his seat, and threw himself onto his knees before the King.

“My Lord, I will rid you of this Aillen,” he declared boldly.

Cormac stared at him in astonishment. “You? You are not much more than a boy. Who are you?”

Deimne stood proudly before his King. “My name is Deimne the Fair, son of Cumhall of Clan Baiscne. Most just call me Fionn mac Cumhall.”

There was a gasp at this announcement, and a wave of muttering. The crowd leaned forward, agog. Everyone knew that Cumhall had been the leader of Cormac’s Fianna, and that he had defied Cormac over his love for the bride he had been denied. They also knew that he had lost his life at the hands of Goll mac Morna, and that this had started a blood feud between the two clans.

Cormac smiled. “I knew your father well, young man. He was my good friend, someone I trusted, before he fell for your mother’s beauty. That changed everything, yet I still cannot but think of him fondly. Fionn mac Cumhall, you are welcome in my court, and this is the name by which I will call you.”

“Thank you, my Lord. This is my first time to Tara. I came to offer you my services as a warrior in your Fianna. Furthermore, I would serve you by ridding you of this fiery curse.”

Cormac sighed. “Ah, the hot-headed fervour of youth. Why is it that all young men think they are invincible? Many have tried before you, and all of them lost their lives. Do not go the way of your father.”

Fionn was resolute. “Still, I would try.”

“Then try you must. If you succeed, you will win your place in my Fianna, and my eternal gratitude. But if you fail, know that you will burn to dust, and your name will be forgotten before you have had the chance to make it.” Cormac raised his goblet and sipped at his wine.

Fionn hesitated.

“There is more?” inquired the King in some surprise, seeing that Fionn had not moved.

Fionn held his ground, although he was fair trembling inside. “Well, Sire, yes there is. If I succeed, I would have you uphold my birth-right to the leadership of the Fianna.”

At these bold words, the silence was immediately replaced with uproar. A large, well-muscled warrior leapt to his feet, sword in hand, from his place at table beside the King. His face was dark with anger.

“Sire, I am leader of the Fianna! I won my place fairly and would not have it stolen from me by this young upstart,” he snarled.

“Put away your sword, Goll,” exclaimed the King, irritably. “No-one is disputing your position. Do you really think this young man, brave as he is, can defeat Aillen when so many, more experienced than he, failed?”

“I know who you are, Goll. You killed my father. When I have defeated Aillen, I will come looking for you, and then I will kill you, too,” said Fionn quietly, and all who heard him or saw him did not doubt him.

Goll slammed his sword back into its sheath. “Empty threat. You will not live to fulfil it,” he growled.

“Enough!” snapped Cormac. “I will not have such talk in my court. Take your differences outside and settle them in any way you wish, but here and now is not the place or time. Young pup, if by any chance you do manage to defeat Aillen, I would gladly surrender the leadership of the Fianna to you, for such a man would indeed be worthy. Fortunately for Goll, that outcome is unlikely, and he has nothing to fear. Fionn, I tell you this honestly, for it seems you are as stubborn as your father, and will not be dissuaded.”

The King called for more wine, and Fionn knew his audience was at an end. He slipped back into his seat, glowing with pride and satisfaction. Only to receive a cuff to the head from an angry Fiacha. There was a ripple of laughter from those seated nearby.

“What did you do that for?” he demanded, his pride hurt more than his head.

Fiacha’s eyes blazed. “How dare you challenge the High King like that? How dare you bring such shame down upon your family?”

“Shame? What do you mean?”

“Well, what is your plan? How does the mighty Fionn mac Cumhall propose to defeat Aillen, when so many others have failed?”

“I haven’t exactly worked that part out yet,” Fionn admitted, rubbing his head.

Fiacha shook his head despairingly, but his expression relaxed into fondness. “That is what I mean by shame. You are so exactly like your father; you act without first thinking. Well, heed this wisdom, boy; never promise something you can’t achieve. Luckily, I have a plan which may help you.”

***

In the cold light of morning, when the bravado of too much wine had worn off, leaving a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach and a nagging ache in his head, Fionn mac Cumhall sat contemplating his rash actions with some regret.

“Fourteen summers are all that I have seen of this life,” he muttered bitterly. “What have I done?”

Fiacha’s voice was brisk and cheerful in reply. “You must live by your actions, young Fionn. Fourteen years, or forty, you must make them count. Act only in the way which makes men speak of you with love and admiration. And above all, learn by your mistakes.”

Fionn’s sombre grey eyes met Fiacha’s. “I hear you, Uncle.”

They were sitting outside the entrance of their tent, a small camp fire blazing merrily before them. A serving woman was cooking porridge for them, and water was boiling for tea.

There were many other tents pitched within Tara’s palisade walls, and also beyond them. The festival of Samhain was not just a feast and celebration. It was also an occasion for trading, forming alliances and political treaties, for brokering marriages and fostering, and for men to compete at sports, showing off their prowess. Lesser Kings, their ladies, servants, warriors and children milled in and around the tents, all going about their daily business. Dogs scavenged for scraps, fighting amongst themselves; chickens wandered freely, horses neighed. For a moment, Fionn felt overwhelmed by it all. He closed his eyes, and rested his head in his hands, giving in to the dull throb which pounded in his skull.

“Here, drink this.” Fiacha thrust a beaker of hot tea into his hands. “The wine has sucked the fluid from you. This will settle your stomach, and take the thunder from your head.”

Fionn sipped it gratefully, although it tasted foul. “How can I face Aillen like this? How can I fight magic with a sword and spear? What was I thinking?”

“You weren’t thinking, lad. That’s the problem. Luckily for you, your skill with sword and spear far outweigh that of any human, in spite of your youth. You have been trained in the arts of combat by none other than the mighty warrior-woman, Liath Luachra. Not many can say that. What she can’t teach you is not worth learning. Your strength and skills surpass even her own. Why do you think that is?”

Fionn shrugged.

Fiacha sighed. “Think, boy! It comes through the line of your mother’s people. Nuada was your great grandfather. From him, you have inherited great might in battle.”

“But he had the Sword of Light,” Fionn protested, unwilling to believe that his battle skills alone could save him.

“So he did.” Fiacha’s voice dropped to a whisper, and he glanced covertly about, as if worried someone might overhear. “You may not have the Sword, but you have inherited something equally as valuable from your mother’s people. I think now is the time for you to receive it.” He stood, and stooped through the entrance into the tent.

Forgetting his sore head and rebellious belly, Fionn followed, sudden excitement coursing through him.

Fiacha was holding a long, thin package. “This belongs to you.”

Fionn took the package and carefully stripped away the leather and sheepskin wrappings. They were quite stiff; clearly they had not been removed for a very long time.

“It’s a spear.”

“A very old, and very special spear,” breathed Fiacha, his eyes full of awe as he gazed at it.

It was a beautiful weapon. The head was made from dark bronze, tapering gracefully into a fine, fearfully sharp point. The edges glittered in the tent’s half-light. It was fastened to the haft by thirty rivets of gold. The haft was made of rowan, darkened with age, worn smooth and polished by the grip of many hands through the years. Fionn hefted the spear, testing its weight. It was perfectly balanced, as if made specifically for him.

“Where did you get it?”

“It belonged to you father. It was given him by your mother, but he was just a mortal, and never learned how to use it. It came to Muirne from her brother, when he died.”

“This is Lugh’s spear? The one with which he slew Balor?”

Fiacha smiled. “The very same. And now it belongs to you, Fionn mac Cumhall. Take it, and use it well. I have a feeling that with it, you will make history.”

“How can this be? It has a bronze head and gold rivets. Iron would be so much stronger. This cannot be Lugh’s Spear,” he protested.

“Bronze was used in ancient times, before the way with iron was learned. The Tuatha de Denann brought that knowledge to Ireland. But they also brought that spear with them. Perhaps it was already ancient, even then. One thing is for certain, its point and edges have not dulled with time, and its magic is famous still. If it was strong enough to defeat Balor, it must certainly be capable of killing Aillen.”

Fionn grasped the spear firmly, naturally adopting throwing stance, and with a sudden leap felt its power travel through his hand, into his arm, and surge through his body.

“There is magic in this spear,” he said. “I can feel it. But how do I master it?”

Fiacha’s smile faded. “That, I’m afraid, is something I cannot tell you. The blood of mere mortals flows in my veins, but yours, Fionn, is mingled with that of the Sidhe. It is up to you to find the way of it, for I know not. I suggest you go somewhere distant and quiet, and learn it quickly, for there are only a few hours of the day left before you meet Aillen.”

***

Dinner that night in the palace at Tara was a rather subdued affair. Fionn couldn’t eat. He was too nervous, too afraid, so he took his leave of his Uncle, and went out to the palisade walls, clutching his new spear.

It was not yet dusk. The sun was setting over the Hill, a huge blood-red orb in a golden sky. He knew it was too early for Aillen to arrive; he never appeared before dark, but Fionn was restless.

He watched the gates being drawn shut for the night. The gatekeepers nodded to him as he passed. He could read his doom in their faces. It had been that way all day. Everyone had known who he was. He had heard his name whispered, felt eyes boring into him, everywhere he went. In the end, he had done as Fiacha suggested as much to escape the attention as to learn about his new weapon. He had wandered quite a way from Tara, into the woods which grew down to the banks of the River Boyne.

Fionn was more than comfortable with using a spear. Like most other warriors, he carried three short, throwing spears, and one longer, heavier thrusting spear for closer combat. Lugh’s spear was long, like a thrusting spear, but light like a throwing spear.

Feeling the magic vibrating in the wooden shaft, he had practiced casting it at various targets while staying still and whilst on the move. The weapon shot from his hand, light as an arrow, and found its mark easily every time, the point remaining as sharp as the day it was made. He needed a moving target, so be brought down a hare which started up at his feet and bounded away, quick as a flash. But all this he would have expected from any weapon, for such was his mastery of the skill.

“Where is the magic?” he had wondered to himself. “How do I unleash it?”

Thinking of magic, and being in the forest beside the Boyne, reminded him of his years serving the druid, Finegas. The old man had taken him on and completed his education after his aunt, the druidess Bodhmall, had taught him all she knew. The old druid had been obsessed with the Salmon of Knowledge which swam in the River Boyne.

“Whomever eats of the Salmon of Knowledge will inherit all its wisdom,” he would often tell Fionn, rubbing his hands together eagerly in anticipation of that fateful day. He had devoted much of his life to catching the fish, but his hunting skills were not great, and his eyesight failing, so Fionn had done him a favour and caught it for him. Unfortunately, whilst cooking it for the old man, he had burned his thumb when turning the fish in the pan. Without thinking, he had instantly put his thumb in his mouth to cool it, and swallowed the tiny piece of fish skin stuck there, thereby cheating poor old Finegas out of his goal. Finegas had been furious at first, but quickly realised that it was meant to be, and urged him to eat the whole fish. So he had.

He had not at first felt any different. But then he had learned that placing his burned thumb in his mouth enabled him to see things, and to know things he had never been taught.

“Without thinking…it’s the story of my life so far,” he thought to himself. He always felt guilty when he remembered what he had done to Finegas. But he realised that, perhaps somewhere, locked within that inherited knowledge, was the key to accessing the magic of Lugh’s spear.

Fionn had closed his eyes, calmed his mind, and touched his thumb to his lips. And, just as he’d hoped, the way to harness the magic of the spear had come to him.

It didn’t stop the nerves and the fear, though. Tara was now eerily deserted. Silence hung over the Hill, heavy and oppressive, as the people and their King awaited the inevitable. Many had left that day, removing their families and possessions to safety. But the nobles and warriors were still there, stolidly accompanying their King through the night. The different factions of the Fianna remained, too, not that they would do much good, for they would succumb as easily to Aillen’s magic as did everyone else. Still, their presence was comforting.

Fionn stood on the ramparts and gazed out, wondering from which direction Aillen would approach. Would he be on foot or on horseback? Or would he just suddenly appear, as if out of thin air, as the Sidhe were often wont, much to their own wicked sense of amusement? Fionn shuddered. Was he old or young? Strong or feeble? A capable warrior, or a poor one?

It was there, as the dark of night began to lay itself gently across the land, that Fiacha and Cormac found him. Goll, and a few others of the King’s entourage followed.

“Are you prepared, lad?” asked Fiacha, meaningfully.

Fionn nodded, brandishing his spear. He couldn’t trust himself to speak. He might die this night, and that was something he really wasn’t ready to do. Fiacha rested his big hand on Fionn’s shoulder. Fionn knew that he understood.

“We came to wish you well, Fionn mac Cumhall,” said the King solemnly. “I hope to meet you live and well on the morrow, with Tara intact, and Aillen’s head on the end of that spear.” Then he clasped him in a warrior’s embrace.

“I will do my best, sire.”

Goll snorted. “You are afraid! A man who is full of fear on the eve of battle is as good as a dead man.”

Fiacha rounded on him angrily. “A man who doesn’t know fear is a foolish man!” he snapped in reply.

“If we meet in the morning, it will be you who knows fear, Goll mac Morna, for I will have won your leadership of the Fianna as my own, and then I will come for your head,” said Fionn calmly.

Bristling with barely restrained anger, Goll glared at the brave young man facing up to him. “I could crush you for that, but I’ll let Aillen do the dirty work for me.” He thrust past Fionn, shouldering him roughly aside so that he was flung hard against the palisade.

“We will go inside, now, Fionn. But there are many guards posted to help keep a look out for Aillen’s arrival. Though I doubt they will be able to stay awake long enough to warn you.” Cormac took his leave, face grim.

Alone with his Uncle, Fionn stared out across the landscape spread before them. It was shrouded in darkness, the stars beginning to glitter like many eyes, watching and waiting to see what he was made of. The two of them stood in companionable silence for a while. Then Fiacha heaved a great sigh, and said, “Your poor mother would kill me if she knew I was allowing you to do this. I couldn’t save her husband; nor it seems, can I save you.”

Fionn turned to him. “It’s my decision. You all call me boy, but I am a man grown. I have to do this, and you must go and be with the King. Have faith in me, Uncle.” He laughed. “At worst, I will fall asleep and be alive and well in the morning.”

Fiacha hugged him. “You are like a son to me.”

“And you are the father I never had. Now, go.”

Fionn watched Fiacha turn and head reluctantly back towards the light of the King’s hall. Then he turned and stared out into the gathering night.

“Let me stay awake,” he prayed. “Or I will never live down the shame tomorrow.”

***

Fionn leaned on his spear, pressing the point against the skin of his forehead. He was so tired, but the sharp spear point jolted him back into wakefulness each time he dozed off. The moon rose, and the night wore on towards morning. There was no sign of Aillen.

Perhaps he wasn’t coming, thought Fionn hopefully, then pushed the thought angrily away. He would come. He had to, otherwise he would not achieve leadership of the Fianna, he would never avenge his father, and he would be a laughing stock to boot, and that could not happen.

He was on the verge of giving up, when he thought he heard something. He listened, straining into the night. Yes, there it was, faint like the far off murmur of a babe. No, it was birdsong. Yet now, it was the rustle of trees in the wind. Or perhaps the babble of brook-water. No, it was definitely a voice, sweet and unearthly, laying its harmony over the intricate melody of harp music.

Quickly, Fionn pressed the point of Lugh’s spear back to his forehead. He felt it pierce his skin, and with the drawing of blood, the power of the weapon’s magic thrummed into life.

The golden rivets glowed like molten fire. The bronze spearhead seemed to catch alight, bursting into flame, searing at his skin. To fight fire with fire, this was the knowledge which had been revealed to him.

Consumed by the fire, Fionn felt his fear and doubt evaporate. The red mist of battle frenzy overtook him. All thoughts other than those which involved killing Aillen retreated into some dark corner of his mind. The burning spear, the pain, the roar of magic all rolled into one, drawing his attention and focussing it away from Aillen’s dark music.

Unaware, Aillen continued on towards Tara, unhurried, certain of success. His voice rose and fell, the harp soaring, its silver notes cascading sleep upon Tara’s good people like raindrops upon flowers. Not even the animals were immune. Only Fionn remained awake, standing still and resolute just inside the gates, his flaming spear lighting up the darkness.

Slowly, the gates swung open, even though the guards and gatekeepers slept at their posts. Through them, Aillen entered Tara, then stopped as he saw Fionn waiting for him. Although his singing and harping never faltered, he smiled.

In build, Aillen looked much like any other Denann; taller and slimmer than human men, but broad in the shoulder, and powerful. His red-gold hair licked and seethed about his head and shoulders like flame, and his eyes glowed. As he sang, orange flames flickered and danced in his mouth, lighting him from within so that a bright halo surrounded his body.

But he had not come to fight, that much was obvious, for he was dressed in a long robe and cloak, and carried no weapons. What need had he of sword and spear, when his magic was enough to send all men to sleep?

Fionn frowned. It did not sit well with him to attack someone who was unarmed. But he had promised his King, and there was much at stake; vengeance, pride, and birth-right. This Sidhe-Prince had razed Tara to the ground for the last nine years. He had to be stopped.

“Halt!” he ordered in a gruff voice. “Come no further, Aillen of the Sidhe, or I will be forced to kill you.”

The reply, when it came, was woven seamlessly into the fabric of the song, so that Fionn almost missed it.

“You think to kill me? Who are you, foolish boy, that you think you can best me?”

“I am Fionn mac Cumhall, and I have already seen that I will be the death of you.”

The song rippled with laughter. “You can’t stop fire with a spear.”

“No, but I can stop you with it.”

Fionn was already running forward as Aillen opened his mouth. Fascinated, he watched as tiny flames curled on his tongue, then billowed forth in a mighty cloud of fiery breath. He threw himself down on the ground, feeling the heat as it blasted over him. Then he was instantly back up, charging into Aillen, knocking him off his feet, thrusting with his spear. He felt the tip bite deep. There was a scream, then Aillen disappeared.

“No, no no,” yelled Fionn in frustration. The Sidhe must have escaped by opening a portal. He held up the spear, and the fiery spearhead surged, casting its light all around. Fionn saw a trail of blood and fire leading away from Tara, and darted after it without hesitation. Behind him, pockets of flame burned where Aillen’s fiery breath had fallen on Tara’s wooden buildings, but with the music gone, men were already waking and tending to them.

He would have to go after him. If he didn’t, the Sidhe-prince might live to cause his fiery havoc another night. Cormac had wanted Aillen’s head, and he, Fionn, had promised it. He slammed his spear angrily into the holster on his back.

Pounding down the road after his enemy, Fionn did not notice how the spear’s magic lent him extra speed. The trail was leading him to the Hill of Sidhe Finnechaidh, the home of Aillen’s people. Up ahead of him, he could just see Aillen winding his way slowly up the path. The fire seemed to have gone out of him. More blood than fire droplets now spattered the ground. Lugh’s spear must have bitten deep.

Suddenly, the spear lurched in its holster, and Fionn responded by drawing it loose. Unfettered, the weapon thirsted for the blood of its enemy. Fionn could feel its wild, surging magic, could sense it gloating. He couldn’t contain it; he wasn’t strong enough. He had to let go.

The spear flew from his hand faster than he could have thrown it, faster even than the eye could follow, the burning spearhead a bright shooting star in the gloom of dawn. It was too far. It was an impossible shot. But seconds after its release, the spear found its target. It buried itself in its enemy, passing clean through him, exulting in the kill. By the time Fionn had reached him, Aillen was dead.

Aillen’s death throes had alerted the Sidhe, and now they came running from their hollow hill to find the cause of all the commotion. They watched in silence as Fionn advanced to claim his grisly prize.

A woman burst through the crowd, and threw herself down at Aillen’s side, weeping. “He was my son, bright and beautiful,” she cried, glaring at Fionn through her tears.

“Stand aside,” replied Fionn, outwardly unmoved. “He has paid for his actions, and Cormac wants his head.”

“Then take mine also to your King,” said the woman bitterly. She brushed her hair aside, revealing her slim, white neck. “See? I’ll make it easy for you,” and stretching out her neck, she laid down with her head resting above that of her son.

Fionn raised his sword, unwilling to strike, hoping the woman would move, but she did not. He hesitated, and looked at the crowd in mute appeal. Finally, some men of the Sidhe came forward and dragged the woman wailing away.

“Do your work, if you must,” said one.

So he did, parting the head from the shoulders in one clean sweep, and wrapping it in his cloak.

“Let that be an end to it. Harass us no longer. This land has many enemies beyond its shores. Let those of us who live within them be as friends and brothers,” he said to the Sidhe, but they had already vanished back into their hill, taking Aillen’s body with them.

Cormac had Aillen’s head mounted on a spear above the gate at Tara. That night, he held a feast in Fionn’s honour. It was a raucous, merry affair, with much drinking and laughter. After the feasting was done, the Royal Bard came forward and sang a new song celebrating the high deeds of Fionn mac Cumhall, much to Fionn’s embarrassment.

Finally, the King stood and called for quiet. “This unknown boy has achieved what Kings and warriors could not,” he said. “I had little faith in his promises when last he stood before me. I agreed to a boon I did not expect to honour, yet I do it gladly. Come forward, Fionn mac Cumhall. Kneel before your king and make your vows. In return, I bestow upon you your birth-right. Rise now as Rífhéinní, my new Fian-King.”

There was a storm of approval at these words, as folk leapt to their feet, cheering and shouting Fionn’s name. Cormac raised his hand.

“There is but one condition. Goll mac Morna has served me well in this role, and I would not have him killed in revenge of your father, young Rífhéinní. Goll, you shall remain head of the Connacht branch of the Fianna, and I hope you will put your hand in Fionn’s as equals. But if this cannot be done, you may take your men and seek to serve some other king over the sea. I would be disappointed, but I give you this right.”

Goll came forward, glowering. “What’s past is past. I will accept the new Rífhéinní, so long as his leadership remains strong and true.”

Fionn and Goll shook hands, somewhat reluctantly. Cormac smiled broadly. “With you and Fiacha to guide him, he will surely do just that.”

Fiacha came forward then to congratulate his foster son. “Well done, Fionn. Your parents would be very proud. All that remains is to swear fealty and service to you, Fian-King.”

Fionn smiled. Fian-King…he liked the sound of that.

Irish Mythology | Donn, Lord of the Dead

bull rock

Image (c) Graham&Dairne, Flickr

 

Hallowe’en is fast approaching, and here in Ireland the houses are already decorated, children are planning their trick-or-treat costumes, and the pumpkins in the shops are selling out as people turn their skills to lantern carving. It’s a fun time of year, but few are aware of the festival’s origins, and the true meaning has been all but lost to commercialism and Christian interpretation.

Hallowe’en is the Christian overlay of a celebration far more ancient, a pagan Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sau-ween). I’ll be telling you more about Samhain in another post. For the purposes of this post, all you need to know, is that it marks the end of the year’s harvest, and the beginning of winter, and begins at sunset on October 31st  and lasts until the sunset of the following day. Cattle were brought down from mountain pastures, and the weakest of them killed for their meat to last through the winter. As at Beltaine, bonfires were lit, and the spirits of the ancestors, and the Gods were remembered and honoured.

Unable to suppress these customs, during the C9th, the Roman Catholic church decided to move All Saints Day from May 13th to Nov 1st, followed by the celebration of All Souls Day on Nov 2nd. In time, these three occasions eventually merged to become Hallowe’en as we know it today.

Halloween is thought to be when the dead and the undead, and all manner of creepy gouls and myschievious souls walk the earth, bringing havoc  and fear to the living. This is how the good Christian people were encouraged to think of the ancient Gods, ancestors, and fairy-folk, or Sidhe, who were originally honoured at Samhain.

As far as we can tell, the ancient Irish people (amended from ‘Celts’. Please see comments below) never had a God of the Dead. The Otherworld was said to be the domain of Manannán, God of the Sea, but the myths and legends do not tell of him being a God of the Dead. However, there is someone, a mere mortal, who has come to be associated with this role.

Donn was a leader of the Milesians, who invaded Ireland and defeated the Tuatha de Denann roughly four thousand years ago, or thereabouts. The Milesians were a race of mortal man, not supernatural beings like the Denann. There are conflicting versions of Donn’s story… well, this is Irish mythology we’re talking about, nothing is quite what it seems, and part of its allure is that the truth of it can never be pinned down.

When the Milesians arrived off the coast of Ireland in their mighty fleet of ships, a great storm blew up, scattering the ships up and down the breadth of the island. Many of the ships perished, along with all those on board. Some say it was the Denann Druids who raised the storm, in an attempt to protect their land. In any case, Donn was lost at sea, along with twenty four of his companions.

It is said that Donn met his death at Bull Rock, which lies just off the western coast of Dursey Island, Cork. It’s an impressive, craggy lump of rock jutting out out of the foaming ocean, which now has a light-house on it. Here is an amazing picture of Bull Rock. However, his body was supposedly buried at the nearby Skellig Islands.

As the first of the Milesians to die in this invasion of Ireland, and being of high status, Donn’s position soon became elevated to Lord of the Dead. It was said that the Lord made his home at the place of his death, and called it Teach Duinn. It was said that he also had a home in the land of the living, at Knockfierna in Co Limerick. People believed that on stormy nights, he rode across the sky on a white horse, and they would say, “Donn is gallopping in the clouds, tonight.”

In later years, it was believed that after their deaths, the dead continued to walk in the land of the living as ‘shades’ until they heard the sound of Donn’s horn at Samhain, calling them to Teach Duinn, from where they travelled west over the sea to the Otherworld. The Christians, however, claimed that these were the souls of the damned, lingering at Bull Rock before passing on into Hell.

It’s interesting that the places so closely associated with Donn lie so near to Valentia Island. Valentia was said to be the home of the powerful blind sorcerer, Mogh Ruith, who was also thought to be a sun-deity. As such, he would have been seen as the opposite to Donn’s darkness.

The Friday Fiction featuring K.A. Krisko

Cornerstone- Raising Rook [cover]


Cornerstone: Raising Rook

 PROLOGUE

For his thirteenth birthday, his father gave him a rock.

Lorcas got up earlier than he wanted to, because it was bright and sunny and he couldn’t sleep. He staggered downstairs to breakfast in his pajamas. He slid into a chair across from his father, who was sitting primly behind a neat plate, his napkin and silverware precisely aligned with the edge of the table and his glass forming an equilateral triangle with the plate and the tip of his spoon.

“Well!” his father said brightly. “It’s the birthday boy!” He tilted his head from side to side, happily observing the meal before him.

“Mmmph,” Lorcas grumped. His mother set a bowl down in front of him, followed by a box of cereal and a spoon. Lorcas grabbed the milk from the middle of the table.

“Thirteen!” his father continued, still looking at his breakfast. He picked up his fork and knife. “A special birthday! And of course I have a special present for you!”

Lorcas rolled his eyes. His father’s cheery tone sounded patronizing. The best gift he could get would be for his dad to quit treating him like a little kid.

Lorcas’ mother set several small wrapped gifts down in front of his plate with a smile. Lorcas perked up. His mom was pretty good at listening to his hints, and he suspected the packages contained some of the most coveted electronics of his age group. Too bad he wouldn’t be able to show them off to anybody until fall, when they’d probably be old news. They were at the summerhouse, hours from the city where Lorcas attended school in the winter.

“And now for my gift,” his dad said when Lorcas had ripped the paper off the final package. “But…what? Still in pajamas! No, no…you must get dressed! Hurry now, hurry, hurry!” He pumped his elbows outward in excitement. He looked like he was about to take off.

Lorcas left his dirty dishes on the table and gathered up his mom’s presents and a handful of new batteries.  He made his way through the cluttered living room, past the more cluttered den, and up the stairs. In the bathroom, he leaned close to the mirror and stared at his face. He hoped he wasn’t beginning to look like his dad. His dad, he had decided, was weird looking as well as weird in general. His dad had a round face and round eyes, in odd contrast to his heavy unibrow. Below his narrow nose, his mouth turned up into a prissy V-shape when he smiled. But the darker skin and regular features of Lorcas’ mother had tempered his father’s genes. He was relieved to see that he looked like no one so much as himself.

Lorcas got dressed slowly, dawdling a little between each item of clothing to poke at the new devices scattered on his bed. He wanted to spend the morning setting them up and playing with them. He couldn’t imagine what his father wanted to give him that required that he be dressed first.

Downstairs, his father was waiting in the entryway, rocking from heel to toe and humming under his breath. His hands were clasped behind his back, and Lorcas saw he had put on a ratty old coat, one of the bizarre antiques he loved to collect. It looked like something from a hundred and fifty years ago. It was black, with buttons and a high collar and split tails that hung down the back over a large, square flap. At least there was no one Lorcas knew around to see that get-up. He grabbed a windbreaker and stuffed his arms in, leaving it unzipped.

The summerhouse sat on a high bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There was a big sun-room on the back of the house, facing the sea, but it was so filled with clutter that nobody could use it. On one side of the house were other scattered summer cabins and a few permanent homes. There was a trail that wound along behind those houses and eventually dropped through a cleft in the cliffs to access the rocky beaches below. Lorcas seldom went that way, since there was no one else to hang around with and the hike back up was tortuous.

Mr. Felken led them the opposite way. Theirs was the last house in that direction. The land rose gradually and the trees crept closer to the cliff’s edge. The wind off the ocean began to stiffen as they hiked.

At last they came to a place where the land leveled off. The ground was uneven and lumpy, as though the turf was laid over many underlying rocks. The deepening forest blocked the view further on. The houses below them looked small and the neighborhood seemed lonely and isolated. Mr. Felken stopped. Lorcas stood silent, wondering what was going on and where his present was.

Mr. Felken waved at the uneven ground. “Well, there it is!”

Lorcas looked where his father was waving. There was a large boulder sticking out of the ground. It was mostly covered by turf. Only the side and part of the front were exposed.

“It’s…a rock,” he said.

“Oh, not just any rock!” His father waved at it again. “Look closer!”

Lorcas looked. It looked like a gray, mottled rock. After a moment it occurred to him that he had never seen a rock of that color around there. After another minute he noticed that the exposed front edge was oddly square.

“Well…it’s carved,” he said. “And it’s not from around here.”

“It’s a cornerstone!” his father said triumphantly. “It’s all yours now!”

“Um, thanks,” Lorcas said in bafflement. “What do I do with it?”

“Well, you know what a cornerstone is, right?” his father asked. “It’s the first stone laid for a building. This one is a very old cornerstone. It’s an antique.”

“It’s the first stone of a building, but there’s no rest of the building here,” Lorcas said in exasperation. “So what good is it?”

Mr. Felken took a large step up onto the cornerstone. He turned towards the ocean, the wind in his face.  “You never know,” he said, barely above a whisper. “Someday you might want to build a castle.”

Lorcas stared at him. The sun reflecting off the ocean backlit him and Lorcas saw the tails of his coat lift in the breeze and stand out stiffly behind him. His father puffed up his barrel chest, and the wind wrapped his pants around his thin legs.

Lorcas blinked. For just a second, it seemed as though the silhouette shifted. For an instant he thought he saw a bird of prey standing there upon the cornerstone, round head, sharp beak, puffed chest, thin legs, and the points of its wings and square tail behind it. In another second the illusion was gone.

Mr. Felken turned and hopped off the rock. “All yours now,” he said with a satisfied air. “Remember, you own part of a castle. Not very many people can say that!”

Lorcas looked back at the rock. “I suppose you could get a forklift and haul it out of here, put it somewhere else. Like a garden bench,” he suggested.

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that,” his father said hastily. “Better leave it where it lies.”

“Why?”

“Well, you know, because of the shadow,” Mr. Felken said. “They always bury a shadow under a cornerstone. You wouldn’t want to disturb that.”

“Oh…kay,” Lorcas said to his father’s back as he trotted off quickly back down the hill. Lorcas followed, glad to get out of the wind and back to his electronics. The dude was getting stranger by the day.



 


kathybiopic“When I was about six, my mother pointed out that someone had to write all those stories she’d been reading to me,” says Kathy. “The seed was planted, and I immediately began writing my first ‘books’. By the time I was eight, I was learning to type on the old manual Royal typewriter so my parents could actually decipher what I’d scrawled. My fingers turned black from constantly untangling the typebars after I’d hit more than one letter at once. To this day, I pound on my laptop keys as though I have to strike them hard enough to make those recalcitrant rods hit the ink ribbon.

“I didn’t publish anything until 2005, though, when, after having adopted two rescued cattle dogs, I submitted two stories to an anthology of rescued animal stories called ‘Happy Endings I and II’. Riding off the success of being a published author, I added several more shorts to my history, but it was another few years before I hit it right with a novel: the first two books of the ‘Stolen’ epic fantasy series were published by Malachite Quills in early 2012.

“After that, convinced I could format the manuscripts better myself, I struck out on my own. In the last couple years, I’ve put out the third book of the ‘Stolen’ series, a book of short stories, a mystery, and ‘Cornerstone: Raising Rook’, excerpted above. While I generally go for professionally-done covers and editing, I’ve enjoyed doing the formatting and other tasks myself, including making some trailers. I’ve also been privileged to be able to participate in the Water Aid charity project ‘Of Words and Water’ for two years, and intend to continue being involved with that as long as they’ll have me.

“‘Cornerstone’ is a contemporary fantasy, exploring our perceptions of good and evil, but I’m not strictly a fantasy author. I write whatever comes to me. I should probably stick to one genre, or maybe two, but I think having read so extensively as a child caused me to think in stories all the time. Just about anything can be told! I’ve heard an opinion that this is what makes us human: our ability to tell stories to, and about, ourselves, to encapsulate the past and explore options for the future.”


Thanks, Kathy, for joining me on The Friday Fiction this week!  I have read all of Kathy’s Stolen series, and Cornerstone; Raising Rook, and loved them all, I am a big fan of Kathy’s unique fantasy storytelling style. If you want to find out more, just take a look at Kathy’s website, it’s fab! And this is where you can buy her books.

If you are an independent author, and would like to see your books promoted here, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


To Grow or Not to Grow | A Parent’s Decision

carys

This week, we have been called upon to make a tough decision about Carys.

She’s very small, about the size of a five or six-year-old, yet in nine weeks’ time she’ll be nine years old. Her hands and feet are tiny; she wears a shoe in an infant size 10 (Euro size 28, Us size 11), and it still has plenty of growing room. I believe that size equates roughly to the size of the average two-year old. Told you she was small.

All the blood tests have consistently indicated that she is producing growth hormone; it’s at the lower end of the scale, but it’s still within normal limits. She has grown in the past 18 months… by a whopping 6.5cm – woohooooo! But it’s way below where she should be.

In that time, she has also gained two kilos. That’s great news, because prior to that, whilst she was suffering so badly with chronic constipation and impaction, she lost weight, fluctuating between 17 and 19 kilos (37 and 41lbs). But the average nine-year old girl should weigh 28kgs. She’s the weight of a five-year old.

I have learned over the years not to get hung up on stats where Carys is concerned. The normal rules and milestones don’t apply. All that matters has always been whether she’s healthy and happy. Everything else is just ‘stuff’.

So, what her endocrinologist wanted to know, was how we wished to proceed from here.

It’s not as if we didn’t already know all this. It’s something we have been monitoring for a few years now. It’s not uncommon for children with Cardiofaciocutaneous Syndrome to be short of stature. Many of these children don’t seem to grow much beyond 4ft. Many don’t go through puberty. Their pretty faces age, but their bodies seem stuck in a time warp. the no-man’s land of the perma-child.

Not being very tall might not seem like much of an issue. I’m rather on the small side, myself. But in the extreme, it brings additional health and emotional concerns.

Like I say, if she doesn’t grow enough, her body might not be prompted to enter puberty. Good, I hear you cry, there’s nothing worse than having a moody teenager in the house! (I’ve already got one of those, and another imminently metamorphosing, so I know what you mean!).

Being small makes her easier to manage, from a parent’s point of view, in terms of lifting, carrying, and so on. But no growth means no puberty. What if she falls in love one day, and wants children? Highly unlikely, I know. But what if?

What if one day she realises how different she is from her peers? She doesn’t give a fig right now, if she has even noticed. But who knows how she’ll feel, or what she will be capable of thinking in the future.

Regardless of stature, it is not advisable to allow puberty not to happen. But looking after a disabled child with periods looks pretty daunting to me right now. Puberty can be ‘forced’ to happen with drug and hormone treatment, I am reassured by the doctor. Only, I’m not feeling very reassured.

What she needs to do is GROW. And therein lies the whole problem. She eats well, but it’s just not happening. Does she have lots of energy? Yes. Does she sleep well? Yes. Should we start Growth Hormone Therapy?

Does she really need it?

Probably. Yes. I don’t know.

Conor and I have talked about this a lot. We can’t get Carys’s opinion, so we have to decide for her. Growth Hormone treatment involves a daily injection. She won’t understand that. All she will understand is pain. Yesterday, she had blood taken for some tests. It took three of us to hold her down, and one to administer the needle. She fought really hard and screamed blue murder.

I would have to give her the daily injection. Me. At home. Sometimes by myself, if Conor wasn’t around. I’ve never given an injection in my life. Of course I would do it for Carys if I had to. I’ve had to do some crazy things for my kids that are well above and beyond anything a parent expects to have to do for their child. But I couldn’t restrain her and give the injection by myself.

I know people who have used GHT for their CFC child. In some cases it has worked. In some, it hasn’t. In some, muscle tone and strength improved,as well as a few centimetres of growth. But there is no guarantee of success. Although failure is not a given, either.

Yet again, Conor and I must play God with Carys’s life.

Rightly or wrongly, we chose against Growth Hormone Treatment. For now.

 

Hy-Brasil | Mysterious Lost Island of Irish Mythology

Could this be the elusive island of Hy-Brasil?

Could this be the elusive island of Hy-Brasil?

It doesn’t sound typically Irish, does it? Hy-Brasil… it conjures up images of south America, if anything, but dig a little deeper, and the meaning becomes clear. What am I saying? This is Irish mythology we’re talking about, a subject clear as mud, where everything is open to debate, and nothing is what it first seems. Never mind, I’ll do my best.

Hy-Brasil was an island which once lay off the west coast of Ireland. Its name is derived from Old Irish hy, a variation of í, meaning ‘island’, and brasil, from the root word bres, meaning ‘beautiful/ great/ mighty’. It has also been explained as coming from Uí Breasal, meaning ‘of the clan of Bresal’, a people who once inhabited the North East of Ireland.

Legend has it that the island lies shrouded in mist most of the time, thus shielded from the eyes of mortals, but that one day in every seven years, the fog rolls back to reveal its distant splendour to anyone who might be looking.

Despite the similarity in names, Hy-Brasil has nothing to do with the South American country, Brazil, which was named for its past most popular export, the brazilwood. In Portuguese, this tree was called ‘pau-brazil’, which means ‘red like an ember’, as a red dye was made from the wood.

Maps

Ancient map of Europe dated 1595, showing the island of Hy-Brasil. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Ancient map of Europe dated 1595, showing the island of Hy-Brasil. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hy-Brasil first appeared on a map made in 1325AD by Angelino Dulcert, an Italian cartographer living in Majorca. It continued to be shown on maps until the 1860s. Depicted as more or less circular in shape, it was bisected by a line through its centre running east to west, which could have been a river.

Sightings

Explorers through the ages have shared a compulsion to find this mysterious island. In 1480, and again in 1481, expeditions set out from the port of Bristol in England, which were apparently successful. In 1497, John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto, in his native language) was an Italian explorer sent by English King Henry VII to find North America, and was said to have ‘found the land previously visited by the men of Bristol’.

In 1674, a Captain John Nesbitt claimed to have seen the island when sailing between France and Ireland. Lost in a sea fog, he moored at a rocky island inhabited by large black rabbits and a lone magician in a stone castle (methinks he may have been imbibing a bit too much fire-water to help pass the time at sea, or maybe more illegal substances than alcohol!).

Ten years later, an Irish historian named Ruairi O’Flaherty claimed in his publication, Ogygia, to have met a man, Morrough ó Laoí, who said he had been abducted by strangers and ferried across to Hy-Brasil where he was held for two days, during which he became ill. When he recovered, he found himself mysteriously returned to Irish shores.

John O’Donavan, an Irish language scholar elaborated on this story in 1839. He said that Ó Laoí was a sailor on a ship which landed at the island. A strange man came down to the shore to warn them off on account of the island being enchanted. As the sailors prepared to leave, the stranger handed a book to Ó Laoí, but told him not to open it until seven years had passed. Ó Laoí followed this instruction, and afterwards was able to take up a career practising medicine and surgery. It seems the book contained much secret lore for treating illnesses.

The Book of Hy-Brasil

Whether there is any truth in this story cannot now be known, however the Book of Hy-Brasil, also known as the Book of the O’Lees, really does exist. It was written at some time during the C15th AD in Irish and in Latin, and lists many illnesses and diseases, their symptoms, treatments and cures. It is now kept in the library at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, just click the link to view it.

Truth or Fiction

Does Hy-Brasil really exist, or could it have existed in the past? It’s hard to say. Mythology is full of ancient islands which have disappeared, the most famous of them all being Atlantis, of course. It’s impossible to prove that any of them existed, but I always think there is no smoke without fire. Rumours always stem from at least a grain of truth, even if it gets lost or distorted along the way. Rather than just enjoying the stories for what they are, however, man has to set about proving or disproving them, unable to believe in or accept something he can’t see or touch. But just because something can’t be proven, doesn’t mean it never existed.

Porcupine Bank. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Porcupine Bank. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

There are many wild theories about Hy-Brasil. In 1862, a raised area of the seabed was discovered 200km west of Ireland, with its highest point only 200m below sea level. It is called the Porcupine Bank. Ten or so years later, it was suggested that this could be the site of Hy-Brasil; perhaps it had flooded through natural disaster, and sank beneath the waves, or perhaps sea levels were lower in the past than they are now.

Baffin Island, a remote island lying off the coast of northern Canada has been suggested as a location; so have the Faroe Islands, an archipelago situated between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Norwegian Sea. Interestingly, before the Vikings settled there, ‘hermits from our land of Ireland’ lived on the islands, according to an Irish monk named Dicuil, who wrote in the early C9th.

Meteorologists claim Hy-Brasil is nothing more than a mirage, produced when layers of hot and cold air over the sea bend light rays which reflect off banks of fog, or ice-bergs, or some such natural phenomenon, thus creating the optical illusion of a misty island on the horizon.

Irish Mythology

The various legends all claim Hy-Brasil to be an island paradise, populated either by the Gods, or druids. In Irish mythology, the Otherworld was divided into two realms, that of the Sidhe in their hollow hills, and the other being the island lands ruled by Manannán, God of the Sea. Also known as the Blessed Isles, they lay ‘beyond the ninth wave‘, gentle places of peace, beauty, healing and eternal life. The realm of the Sidhe, by contrast, was as full of strife as the mortal world, as any of the myths about them show us; their lives were subject to the same passions, love, hate, desire, joy, power, jealousy, battles and death as are our own.

Manannan was not of the Tuatha de Denann, yet when they were defeated by the invading Milesians and forced to retreat to their lands beneath the surface, he came to their aid, helping them to establish amongst themselves a High King. He then shrouded their Sidhe-mounds with fog, to keep them safe from prying eyes and unwanted attention.

Manannán’s lands were not seen as the land of the dead, as portrayed by Christian belief, but as the land of the ever living, of the ever young. Mortals were only allowed there if invited by either the King himself, or his daughters.

Echtrae – The Hero in the Otherworld

The echtrae is a class of ancient Irish storytelling which details the adventures of the hero in the Otherworld. For example, Niamh of the Golden Hair fell in love with Oisin, son of Fionn mac Cumhall, and took him away with her on the back of her father’s magical steed, Aonbharr, over the sea to live  in the Otherworld. After only a year, however, he grew homesick for Ireland and his family, so Niamh reluctantly gave him Aonbhar to ride home, but cautioned him not to let his feet touch Irish soil. Oisin was shocked to find that time had moved on by three hundred years in Ireland during his absence, all his family and friends dead and long since forgotten. A fall from his horse sent him tumbling to the ground, whereupon his age suddenly caught up with him, and he perished an old man.

Another of Manannán’s daughters, Cliodhna of the Fair Hair, fell in love with a mortal named Ciabhan, whom her father had rescued from a sinking boat in a storm. They decided to elope together, and sailed over the sea back to Ireland, alighting on the strand at Glandore Bay in Co Cork. Ciabhan went hunting for food while Cliodhna slept after their long sea voyage. While she slept, a great wave came and carried her out to sea. Some versions say it was sent by Manannán to fetch her home, others say she was drowned. This sudden surge of the tide is still called ‘Cleena’s Wave’ today.

Immram – The Hero’s Sea Voyage to the Otherworld.

The Immram tells the tale of the hero sailing west in search of the Otherworld, and all the adventures he had along the way. Whilst these stories generally date to this side of the C7th, and seem mainly Christian in the telling, it is thought that they may be based on much earlier Celtic myths. The Voyage of Mael Dúin, the Voyage of Bran and the Voyage of Brendan would all be examples of the Immram.

Ancient Aliens

You might know this theory was going to show up at some point! Whilst I don’t discount the existence of alien life, I don’t see why anything which is mysterious and unexplained in our world has to be credited to their superior intellect and technology. However, Ufologists believe that Hy-Brasil was, and perhaps still is, the home of not gods or druids, but an alien outpost. A show on the History channel in which two American airmen involved in the 1980’s Rendlesham Forest incident appears to corroborate this idea. The men claimed to have received telepathic messages from an alien spaceship detailing the exact co-ordinates of the location of the island of Hy-Brasil.

The Seven Year Cycle

The last reported sighting of Hy-Brasil was in 1872, seven years after it was finally officially removed from sea-faring charts. Travelling author Thomas Westropp claimed to have seen the island before, but on this occasion, he took his mother, brother, and a few friends with him as back up to verify its existence. This was to be the very last reported sighting, at least that I know of.

Incidentally, the seven year cycle was up in 2013. If Hy-Brasil reappeared for a day and someone saw it, I never heard about it. It’s not due to re-occur now until 2020, so if you happen to be walking along the beaches of Galway in 2020, make sure you have your camera at the ready!

The Friday Fiction featuring Patrick de Moss

 Patrick's intriguing author portrait has been created by photographer Tanya Linnegar.

Patrick’s intriguing author portrait has been created by photographer Tanya Linnegar.


 Lost Dreams I

“Auntie” Rita and her Tree

 

Tonight, Rita dreams of her tree. She can’t help it. In this place, she has no power, not even over her own dreams.

Maybe it’s the sound of the neon sign below her bedroom, flaring in the window of her shop. Some drunk rolling up Main from downtown, howling like a coyote at the moon had thrown a half-full beer can at it in the wee hours, the witching hours, and left it fizzling, flaring off and on and off again, making the whole blue and red PSYCHIC sign struggle to come to life with every flash of electricity.

Really need to get that fixed. Rita thinks to herself as she falls into the dream – a dream that is more memory than appetite and ambiance and emotion, a dream that pulls her back into her younger, slimmer, smarter body. The dream pulls her back to an island in a place they tell her never existed. But the ache for it is real, and for this short time in the dark hours, the remembering hours, she is there once again. A cool morning in early autumn, a crisp morning on the turn of the year…

It was a cool sunrise, dew clinging to the bottom of her robes, working its way into her shoes, just a shade colder and it would be frost, frost covering the grass like a breath across the green covering it in radiant crystals that would sparkle in the sun. Erede (and how easy, how deliciously, tragically easy it was to fall into that name. Her first name, her real name and true.) had come to this small meditation before Aposia and Merai came stumbling each from their small initiates cottages, blinking against sleep, shivering a little against the chill, drawing their robes close against the cool breeze.

Aposia looked as though she had barely slept, her hair dishevelled, although with the grin on her face, the flush on her cheeks, Erede had a feeling that a poor sleep had nothing to do with it. Sleep probably had little to do with her nights at all. The little country fair queen had even winked at her, and that was pretty much that.

Across the glen, from between the twin oaks, shaped by pure will to look like the arches of a temple came their Waymaker, their teacher Manon, in the long blue cloak of a true maker. In her hands she carried a sapling. A yew tree, perhaps only a few years old in a clay pot. Behind her two young acolytes each carried a tree as they stepped through the dew, scarcely leaving a trail. One was Edain of the Vale of Shadows, and the other…

(The older Erede, the dreaming Rita couldn’t remember her name. How long had it been? How many years, and a world apart kept her from this time? Still, even in sleeping she tried to place a face and birthname to the acolyte. Amarra? Embria? Avanessa?)

The other placed the tree down in the grass. The acolytes stepped back, and withdrew through the arch once more, and the mist swirled across the two trees once again, hiding the city of the Makers from sight.

“And so the test. This test.” Manon said. The yew tree on the ground in front of her – Erede could remember every branch, she knew every twist and turn and gnarl of that little tree.

“Tell me,” Manon said, in that crisp early morning air. “What does it mean to See?”

And all three girls (and they really had been girls, Rita thinks, in her sleep. She had only turned sixteen, Aposia was not that much older, no matter who she had kissed) The three young girls raised their voices in unison:

“Man sees the stone,

The dead stone, the silent stone.

He takes it, and shapes it.

And calls it his own.”

Manon nodded, and waved her hand for them to go on.

“But the Way is around it

and in it, and through it

We see the Stone in a River alive.

Time all around it,

all that could be of it

We See the bend of the way round the Stone.”

“And do you?” Manon said, and smiled.

Merai coughed. Aposia shuffled her feet in the wet grass.

“If I were to put a stone, here. In front of you could you see the stone’s future? Could you see the past around it?”

The girls took a moment, each to themselves before they nodded. There was still a little shame in admitting it – they were all from the mainland, where what they did was still…unnatural. Unusual. Erede had never met anyone who could…who could See the way Manon spoke of seeing, had never even known what she was seeing until the Waymakers came to her village to test her. This was the first place where they were among others. Where there was no shame in Looking.

“Of course you can.” Manon said, gently. “That is why you’re here.” she straightened, firm again, their teacher, and not a gentle shoulder to lean on. “But I tell you there can be more.”

Erede held her breath, hanging on every word. This was why she was the first to arrive for these meditations in the morning, the last to leave after every lesson. Why she didn’t sneak out like a…like Aposia into the village on the bay every night. Why she went over every lesson like it was a hard candy to dissolve on the tongue of the mind, sitting in her little initiate cottage awake until the early morning. The more. Because what could be more than this? Than seeing the future, the past swirl around a thing, a person? She wanted that more, she wanted it like nothing else.

Manon put her hand over the top of the yew tree. It reached almost to her chin.

“What do you see in this tree?” she said, looking to each of her students.

And in their own separate ways, the girls looked. Erede could feel it, in the back of her mind, that drop each of them took, together, down into the earth and themselves, how they opened their eyes together to see the Way as they had separately discovered, as Manon had guided them to, all three girls in a trance breathing slowly together.

“Good.” Manon murmured in the morning. Her voice carrying across the glen to them, across that line in the dew that separated a Waymaker from her initiates. “Look. See.” and then, after a while, she said, sharper. “Now. Wake.”

And they did, and the tree was a tree again, and not the river around it.

“What you have done is the Seer’s Way.” she said. “The prophet’s Way. It is one of the Ways.” she smiled. “And if you choose it, now, I won’t deny you. They have their place in the world, and even on this island, the Seers have their home.” Erede knew it, had passed it in the wagon that took them to their cottages here. A small village along the winding path through the woods, with low huts all facing a wide shallow pool. And a door cut into the hill – the place of Oracles.

“But know it is one of the lesser ways.” Manon said, and tried to make it not sound…the way it sounded. “For it is one thing to see the Way. It is another to change it.”

“Change it?” Erede said, and didn’t even raise two fingers the way the Waymaker had asked them to when they wanted to interrupt. Manon arched an eyebrow, but Erede didn’t back down. “Change it how?”

“How it calls to you.” Manon said. “How you each see it change. And this is the test.” and she pointed to the trees. The stupid yew tree in its pot.

“You will take these trees home. For three months you will care for them. Look into them. Watch them. And when you are ready, you will know how to Touch them.” She stared right at Erede, through her, almost, searching, trying to see the Way through her. “I will see your progress then. Here, at sunrise when the first snow falls, you will bring these trees to me, and we will see your Work. Are there any…any more questions?”

Merai raised her two fingers.

“Yes Merai?”

“Waymaker.” Merai said, “How will we…” she was a pale little girl, skinny and always on the lookout for stray cats to take home and care for. “How will we know what to change?”

“To change anything in the tree is the path of the Waymaker.” Manon said. “The Wizard, the Sorceress. But how, and what, is different for each Waymaker. It will show us where your talent lies.” and again her eyes went to Erede, searching. “Now on your ways.”

And so they went home. And Erede stared.

Every night, before sleep she stared. Every morning she glared at the stupid tree. She watered it, and she took it in from the chill and she stared at it. She repotted the thing, and stared at it. It was a yew tree. And that was all. She could see the thing grow, in the years to come. She could see it planted in the Grove of the Makers, next to her brother and sister trees – the sign of becoming a Waymaker and Wizard, a beautiful tall yew tree growing happily rooted next to its kin. She could look back, and see the seed planted in the soil by a meditating acolyte, the calm knowing that the tree would be given to an initiate. The loving murmur of mantras over the seed as it was covered. She could do all of that. But she couldn’t see how to change it. She couldn’t make the stupid tree do anything.

The night before the test was up, while the first snow had started to dust down over the island of the Waymakers, far from home she stayed up. All through the night she forced herself to stay awake, to try, and try, to make the tree something…other than the way that it was. And there was nothing.

No one later knew this story. No one who knew of Erede Tuscay in the years afterwards ever knew of this night, this long long night where a young girl in a wool shift wept. Wept, her stomach in knots, sweating, knowing she had failed. That she was stupid, and that she had failed. No matter how hard she tried to will it. The tree was still the tree.

She was going to have to go back, home to Quintar in the south, and tell young girls which men they should marry, tell farmers when to plant their crops like a common…Seer. And she would get chickens in the fall and goats in the summer and she would be revered and…normal. Her stomach twisted, but the tree didn’t give up its secrets. It stood, in its pot. And she hated it.

Aposia was there before her, in the glen. And grinning. And did Aposia’s little yew tree look different? Erede couldn’t tell. She didn’t want to believe it did. But she could…she could feel it.

“Goodness.” Aposia said, looking at Erede’s tree from pot to tip in a way that made her ears burn. “I can’t wait to see what you’ve learned.”

Merai came from her cottage, and she wasn’t scurrying like a little kitchen maid anymore. She drifted, drifted through the snow, carrying her pot like a chalice, and set it down in the snow with an inner glow that made Erede want to smack them both. She straightened, and behind Erede’s back, the two girls on either side took hands and squeezed them. A togetherness that they just…they already knew Erede didn’t share. And it was too late to walk away.

Because the mist between the trees had parted, and from it came Manon, and not just Manon, but the whole school of Waymakers, old and young, to see the new initiates. They drifted, they flew a little above the snow, they murmured to each other and Erede could feel the power, the simple, raw power around them all as they came across the snow to stand before the three girls. And two of the three looked back to them, and were not ashamed or afraid to be there.

“And now,” Manon said. “We begin the Way.” She breathed in, and Erede felt the river around her sink into the earth, steadying, grounding. “Show me what you have learned.”


kingsecovertestPatrick

Cover art by Floriana Barbu. Click on the image to find out more about this book, and to purchase it.


“I have been writing since I was about three or four, at least as far back as I can remember,” says Patrick. “While I have written and produced a number of relatively “straight” plays – “When I was Jesus”, “Full Moon Fever”, and “La Bella Luna”, I have always gone back to fantasy since the first time I read “Lord of the Rings” when I was very, very young. The piece here, “Lost Dreams” is part of a larger over-arching storyline for me, of which the collection of short stories “Kings of Nowhere” plays a part, here and there. Like all the pieces in that collection (and a lot like life as well, I suppose) it is only one small sliver of a larger work, that only really should get clearer once lots of other slivers come together. But no one sliver knows it’s just a sliver – to every person their story is THE story, I suppose. I try to get as many of them down as I can, but there is always a lot more story to tell.

“Like Auntie Rita in “Lost Dreams” I live in Vancouver, Canada. I don’t own a psychic shop, and I’m not a refugee from a fantasy world like she is. But I dream of that place when I’m asleep, and I like to share those dreams with people when I can.
“At present, I am working on a novel (my first) tentatively titled “The Sabrerattlers”. Rita (or rather, the Lady of Fire, Erede Tuscay) is in it marginally.”

Many thanks to Patrick for joining me on The Friday Fiction this week, and giving us a privileged first viewing of his captivating  new short story, Lost Dreams. You can find his book, Kings of Nowhere on Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.

If you are an independent author, and you would like to see your work featured on The Friday Fiction, please do get in touch.

Genetics

DNA

Re-blogged from Monday, November 21, 2011. With a few small updates.

There is a great article in the Irish Times today about the Reproductive Revolution which is currently taking place in Ireland. It concentrates mainly on infertility and IVF treatment, but this area, I’m sure the next two instalments of the article will show, is only a small part of it.

We have all heard the gruesome stories of couples aborting a foetus because it was female, and not the male heir they wanted. That wouldn’t happen in Ireland, right? Couples seeking IVF can select sperm donors based on the colour of their skin/ hair/ eyes, how intelligent they are and whether they hold a good job or not. Fair enough, you might say…or is it? Because it’s only a matter of time before couples may be able to apply these selection techniques to their own genetics.

Relating this to my own experiences, I have to say the answer is not so clear cut as one might think.

You all know about Carys by now, but for those who don’t, she has Cardiofaciocutaneous Syndrome. She can’t walk or talk, sign or communicate. She has a multitude of medical conditions, among them Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which is a deadly heart condition, Epilepsy, and Cortisol Insufficiency, which means she could get seriously ill very easily from a minor illness. She has Sensory Processing Disorder, and it’s now being suggested that she may also suffer form Cortical Visual Impairment. She may never grow much taller than 4ft.

Her future is therefore limited in terms of her experiences and life expectancy. Her future, and ours. But the modern Reproductive Revolution gave us a choice, didn’t it?

These were our options; abort or let nature take its course.

There was no magic cure, no medicines, no surgical procedures which could help our baby. She was left to her own devices, and there was nothing we could do to help her.

Until that moment, I had never had reason to doubt my own gene pool. I had believed that the combined natural genetic resources packaged within the cells of both our bodies would spontaneously produce perfect children, no intervention required. Well, we had managed it twice before, with two lovely sons to show for it

Is she in pain, we asked the experts. We didn’t at that time know the full extent of our life sentence. Doctors told us there was no sign of distress, despite the overwhelming presence of a Cystic Hygroma and Foetal Hydrops squatting like trolls over our daughter’s fragile life as it teetered on the edge. Both usually signified something much worse, the latter almost inevitably leading to death and stillbirth.

We decided to let nature make its own decision; we were too weak, too confused, too naive. Besides, we never stopped hoping. As a writer, I make my living wondering, ‘But what if…’. In this case, my thought process extended into doubting the doctors. Never a day goes by now when I don’t thank that nagging little voice which persisted with its ‘what ifs’, and prevented me from taking that awful, final step.

Don’t get me wrong; living with the consequences of bringing up a less than ‘perfect’ child is heart-breaking, back-breaking relationship-breaking, sanity-wrecking stuff. No-one should have to go through it. But some of us are, right now.

We had no idea how the future might unfold. Still, I would rather be clueless and innocent, than knowledgeable and guilty. All mothers live with guilt at some level, but to possess the power which decrees this one lives and that one dies, well, I just wasn’t ready for that.

That doesn’t mean I judge others for taking a different route than me. One lesson I have learned through having Carys is most definitely not to judge others. She and I are on the receiving end every damn day, we know how it feels. I just want people out there not to react to their bad news through emotion and fear alone. If I can cope, anyone can. At the same time, I understand that what’s right for me may not be for you.

Parents-to-be facing these important life-changing decisions should be given counselling. I had no idea of the far-reaching impact my decision would have. How many lives it would irreparably alter; our sons, the grandparents, the uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews… for this was their child too. And yet, at the time, I never considered them at all.

By choosing life, who was I pleasing? Me, so I would never have to think of myself as a murderer? My husband, so he would never doubt my love for him? My two boys, so they would never have to grow up wondering about their only sister?

With the child growing in my body, I came to realise that the decision ultimately was mine. Everyone else had to toe the line. Ah, so it was a selfish act, rather than a self-less one.

For with it, I doomed my family to a life beyond the realms of normality. Carys restricts us even just by being. The simplest tasks become nightmarishly arduous when you have a special needs child. You can’t be spontaneous. Travel is just this side of possible. Giving her a bath is exhausting and stressful. Always thinking where will she sleep, how will she sleep, will she sleep at all? What about her medications? Have I calculated them right? What if I run out? Will she take them? Will I be able to get the right kind of food to mix them with? Will she drink? Will she get dehydrated? Where is the nearest hospital? How will we get her there? How can we explain it all to a foreign doctor?

The list of worry and doubt is so endless, that half the time you don’t go anywhere or do anything. Is that fair on the boys? Conor and I used to be mountain climbers, long distance trekkers, backpacking travellers. Round about now was when, pre-Carys, we had planned on taking them on their first such holiday. Now, even a walk round the woods becomes a major logistical nightmare.

So, given the Reproductive Revolution and today’s advances in medical science and technology, would I make the same decision again? Would I examine my baby’s genetics, manipulate them and abort if they weren’t up to scratch?

Well, the fact is, I love her with the same passion any mother has for her child. We have learned to live with her syndrome as being as much a part of her as her smile. We wouldn’t be without her in our lives. She may take a lot out of us, but she gives back in equal measures, makes us better people than we were.

Is that answer enough for you?

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