Nuala’s Secret: Part 2

Forty years ago, I was a young woman. Even a beautiful maiden, if you believe the poets. Everyone called me “Nuala.” I lived in the land called Dál Riata, part in Éire and part stretching all the way into Alba, across the few miles of sea. I was a daughter of the Cenél Loairn, the clan families who ruled the middle part of that great kingdom, and my home lay on the lovely green isle.

artemis goddess of the moon and hunt deviantart, ginqueenOne day, I was walking through a glen with my wolfhounds, playing and laughing, when a file of horsemen broke through the far line of trees. I could see at once that they were men of high birth, for the bridles of their horses were silver and the robes of the riders were trimmed in sable.

They stopped near me, and the lead rider dismounted. He was a man tall as an oak sapling, lithe and fair of skin. His eyes, and his hair, were golden brown, like my favorite horse. He stood and looked upon me, and he put his arms around my waist. “I have not seen such ivory skin, nor such raven hair, in all my life. Who is your fortunate husband?”

I admit that I felt my own blush, for I had never known a man. “My father Loam has not yet promised me to any swain,” I told him.

He looked at his fellows and his laughter rang through the glen. “This one is mine,” he told them. “I will make her my second wife.”

cloud“But your first wife Rídach is still alive,” one of them reminded him. 

“Then Nuala shall be my mistress, my wife of the day, while I lie with Rídach at night.”

To tell a long story shortly, the noble youth spoke to my father. He plighted such a sum of cattle and coins that my father willingly sent me south with the stranger. The man told me to call him “Cloud,” for he said he was a changeling, never the same from moment to moment, except with me.

Our trip to his home lasted seven days and seven nights. The nights were fair, and each night he would take me under a tree and lay with me. His hands were gentle, and his loins were strong. By the time we reached his homeland, I loved him more dearly than all my dogs and horses and all my silken robes.

He had a small teach built just for me, and every afternoon he came to visit me. “When will I see your own home?” I would ask him.

“Soon, Nuala,” he would tell me. “My wife will be loath to meet you, and so you must remain my secret for now. Will you wait for me?”

“I love you,” I told him. “And I will wait, no matter how long it may take.”

kissDay after day, Cloud lay with me, and we loved each other more every day. One day, I found that I was heavy with his child. When I told my lover, he was filled with dread. “O Nuala, I fear for the safety of our child,” he cried to me. “For Rídach will suffer no child, except from her belly, to call himself my own. I fear she will set her own mother on you, a woman of cunning and wicked ways.”

That same day, an old woman came to my house. She looked so much like my handsome Cloud that I knew it was his very mother. “Child,” she told me, “you bear within yourself the son of a king. But he must not be allowed to live here, near the queen Rídach and her ambitious mother. For she will have only her own sons be in line for the throne. If ever she finds out about your child, surely his life is forfeit.”

The old woman reached into her bosom and withdrew a large pouch of precious gems. “I give you this treasure willingly,” she told me, “but it must be spent in another land, far from here. You must go, your unborn son within you, and flee to far Gallia. There you will be taken in, and taught, by the bald priests of the one they call Christ.

old woman celtic

“His father wants your son to know that his name will be Eóghan, and he will be an ollamh, a great scholar, and some day even a king. But if ever he learns about his father, he will be cloven in two like a hoof, by the hand of Rídach’s own mother. Such is her hatred, and such is her power. Go, then, child. Escape while you can.”

And thus I found myself in the far, cold land they call Gallia, and I gave birth to a beautiful, dark-haired boy I named Owen. I called myself Suibhne…Sweeney…a name from my people’s land of far-off Alba.

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Nuala’s Secret: Part 1

In my series of novels based in St. Patrick’s Ireland, each one bears the following dedication:

Dedication

I dedicate this entire series to the magic realm called Ireland: her language, her people, her history, and her wealth of unique treasures buried in the ancient past, even before a bishop named Patrick dressed her in the robes of religion and civilization.

There are voices that sing, pure and sweet, in the rivers and the mountains…in the lightning and the stones…in the mythos which created Cú Chulainn and many other larger-than-life Irish spirits. Sometimes I have awakened them from slumber. I beseech their forgiveness.

NualasSecretcover.pngIn this historical romance series called “The Dawn of Ireland,” the reader will find myths and short tales, poetry, songs—and a story that weaves through all of them. It’s the saga of a man named Owen Sweeney. In the next several blogs,you’ll read a fantasy tale called “Nuala’s Secret” excerpted from the novel Wakening Fire.

Old Secrets: from Chapter 20 of Wakening Fire

[Caylith is on a mission: to uncover the secrets of an old woman who holds the key to a man’s past, and even to his survival.]

And last, almost reluctantly, my eyes were drawn to the small, clotted figure of a woman lying as if curled in pain, a flyspeck on a large table. It was Mother Sweeney. I saw that she was sleeping, if fitfully, her mouth thin, her jaw clenched in her habitual silence. Even in slumber, she was refusing to speak her secrets.

Brother Jericho stood on one side of the bed. I put the cup of healing potion on the bedside table and knelt on the side opposite the monk. I reached out my hand and lightly drew her thin, shining hair back from her high forehead, seeing her entire face for the first time. When I was here before, she had kept a cowl over her head. And even after the prisoners had been freed, she wore a kerchief that shrouded her eyes and cheeks.

Now I saw that she had long, dark eyelashes and improbably dark, glossy hair. She had high cheekbones, and I could see the way her delicate bones molded her face that she must have been beautiful as a young woman. I wondered whether, if she ever unclenched her jaws, her mouth would be soft and yielding. 

brigid
Image of Celtic goddess Brigid, multiple sources

As I stroked her finely textured hair, her eyes flew open. Her thin body, already drawn into a ball, could not recede any farther, and so she let her eyes show her fright.

“Mother,” I said crooning softly. “Mother Sweeney, it is I, Caylith. Do you remember me?”

She closed her eyes tightly, and then again they fluttered open. “Fág anseo,” she said weakly, and she closed her eyes again. She was bidding me leave.

I looked up at Brother Jericho, who was regarding her with tortured eyes. His hands were writhing together as if to underscore his feeling of uselessness. “She is reliving the night I came here. She is afraid for me. Or afraid for her son.” I took the cup in my hands and told Brother Jericho to prop up her head.

He took her little head in his hands and looked into her eyes. Speaking in Gaelic, he said, “Mother, it is the monk Jericho. I have come to help you.”

She looked at him calmly. “Is cuimhin liom. I…remember.”

“You must drink from this cup,” I urged her softly. “It will make you feel better.”

Obediently, she let me tip the cup a bit into her mouth. I did it several times until I assured myself that the potion was sufficient for now. The monk gently let her head fall back and leaned close to her, almost whispering. I had to strain to catch what he said, for it was in Gaelic and barely audible.

A mháthair, abair scéal,” he said. I remembered what Brigid had said last night, when I proposed that a story be told. It was the age-old exhortation to tell a tale. Would she respond as generations had before her, telling a story of her youth, a story of her son?

She spoke, and I thought she said, “To you alone.”

“Caylith,” said Brother Jericho, “I must ask you to leave us. I think she realizes that this may be her last chance to talk to the Lord, through me. It is not a time to share with anyone but the priest.”

celtic crone 2
Image from witchesofwalthamabbey.com

“Forty years of silence, now broken for the sake of Christ and her own soul. Brother, I will happily talk to you later.”

I rose and left the room, reluctantly pulling the door closed behind me. I longed to hear her words as she spoke them, but even if I were there, I would understand only a word or two. I knew that Jericho would tell me later, as true to her own words as possible.

[After a while, the priest comes back to where Caylith and her friends are waiting.]

I saw Brother Jerome enter the room, a look of relief on his face. I rose. “I will now try to find what her silence has been hiding. Please excuse me.”

“O Brother, let us sit here on a comfortable tolg.” I gestured to one of the couches. “What can you tell us?”

“Caylith. Liam. I will tell you her story as she told it to me.” Jericho sat on a nearby couch, and Liam and I sat across from him, leaning forward in expectation. He cleared his throat a bit hesitantly and began to speak.

flourish tree

Story to be continued…

The trilogy Dawn of Ireland is here:

http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY