Eochaidh mac Eirc, Ard Ri, High King of Ireland and leader of the Fir Bolg, stood on the cliff edge and looked out to sea. The night was clear, the water was calm, and the moon and stars observed the scene like many bright eyes. There was no sound save the hum of distant waves washing against the shore far below. A faint breeze, drenched with the salty scent of the sea, tugged at the hem of his cloak. Behind him stretched a small array of tents and cooking fires, where the men of his hunting party slept, or ate, or gathered in small groups to drink and talk.
The world seemed at peace. Nothing seemed amiss, yet as Cesard approached, he observed that Eochaidh seemed troubled. The King frowned, and shrugged his cloak closer about his shoulders, lost in quiet contemplation.
Cesard spoke in soft tones. ” You sent for me, Lord? ”
The king turned, his silhouette casting a large shadow against the deepening night sky, for the Fir Bolg were made of tall, big shouldered, broad chested men.
” Ah, Cesard, yes. ” he murmured.
Alarm prickled along the sorcerer’s spine. The king feared nothing and no-one, was mighty in battle, and swift in his decisions. Yet it was clear that something was worrying him.
” How may I help you? ” he asked.
Eochaidh turned his troubled gaze back to the horizon.
” Tonight I had a dream. ” he said. ” A dream so powerful as to keep me from sleep. I believe it to be a message, a warning from the gods, and I fear its meaning is all too clear. You are my most trusted and learned advisor. You are accustomed to communing with the gods. Give me your interpretation, for I would have what I suspect confirmed or denied by your expertise. ”
Cesard swallowed, a deep feeling of foreboding flooding through him.
” Tell me your dream. ” He wrapped himself firmly in his cloak in defense against the sudden chill he felt.
” It seemed, ” Eochaidh began, ” that I walked in daylight through this camp to this very spot where we now stand, and I looked out to sea, just as I do now.
” On the horizon, a dark cloud formed, and began to blow towards me. It moved very fast, faster than the winter wind across the plain. As it approached it became larger, its shape ever changing and undulating, until I could see that it was in fact made up of a myriad smaller shapes. A great din arose from it, a rough harsh sound that struck terror into the hearts of all who heard it.
” As it came upon me, I saw that this dark shadow comprised a swarm of black crows, all crying their loathing. The host descended from the sky upon us, even as we reached for our weapons. They were a force of magic we could not fight against with our mortal weapons, and many of our tribe fell that day. Then my Battle Champion, Sreng, cut a wing from the body of the largest noblest bird, and then I awoke. ”
Eochaidh turned to his sorcerer, and their eyes locked.
” Now you tell me, Cesard, what does this mean? ”
Cesard disengaged his gaze from the King’s and returned it to the horizon. ” I fear it to be a bad omen. ”
The king laughed, a hoarse empty sound.
” I don’t need magical arts to see that! ” he barked.
” Well, it would seem to me that the dark host represents an enemy that will come from the air and the sea, and wrest this land from us in a great battle, using a powerful magic we know little about, and cannot withstand. Perhaps we will clip their wings, but not cut out their hearts. ”
The King’s voice was harsh. ” Are you foretelling our doom? ”
” I am merely interpreting your dream. ” returned Cesard mildly. ” Perhaps that’s all it is, just a dream. ”
” No. It was more than that, and you know it. Besides, your skills have never failed me before. We must ready ourselves for war.” Eochaidh brushed past his advisor, and strode off back through the camp.
Cesard shivered, eyes scanning the horizon for enemy ships, but finding none, followed hurriedly after his King.
Some way further north along the coast, at Killary Harbour in Connemara, the Tuatha de Denann were landing their first ships.