Brother Jericho took a few moments to clear his mind. Then, leaning forward on the fur-lined couch, he spoke again as though it were from the mouth of Mother Sweeney herself.
Our life with the priests was serene. I soon learned to love our Lord, and the monks baptized me, calling me “Noella,” for I had come to them close to the birth day of our Lord. I taught my son to respect learning, and he did learn quickly under the teaching of the priests. I told him that his father had wanted him to be an ollamh and even a king.
I am shamed to say that I never told him the truth about his father. I was terrified lest he should find out, and go to find his father, and be torn in half by the vengeful mother of Rídach. And so I told him that his father had died in a great battle, in a faraway land. I told him his father was of high birth, regarded as a king in Éire, but that he wanted to be left unmourned and his grave unknown when he died.
My son rebelled against the priests’ attempts to convert him. Even from an early age, Owen was headstrong. He told me often that there could be no blessed heavenly father, for he himself had no father. What kind of heavenly father would take away a child’s father before he could know him? I blame myself for his unbelief. Surely I alone kept him from knowing the comfort of our Lord.
Father, forgive me!
At last, when Owen was sixteen years old and he had come to the age of Self-Will in Gallia, he declared that he would leave the monastery where we lived, and he would sail for his home country. Even though born on the soil of Gallia, he considered himself an Éireannach, and he had learned the language from monks and native speakers alike.
And thus with a heavy heart, I sailed with my son back to Éire. He wanted to go to the land of his father. And so I chose a part of Éire, far out on the great peninsula near the Bay of Trawbreaga, where I thought we could live in peace. Owen went from settlement to settlement, asking about his father. He studied every cairn, every heap of rubble, every bit of ogham scratched into stone to find a clue to his father. I wept then, and I weep now, to think of it.
Of course, no one knew the name “Rory Sweeney,” for the name Sweeney had come from my own area of Dál Riata, a name from the land of the Picts. And the name “Rory” was my own invention, for I knew it held the word “king” embedded in its meaning.
Soon after we arrived, Owen met and fell in love with a beautiful tall, dark-haired woman named Aileen. She loved him totally, and she was as devoted to him as I was myself. Within three years, she had borne him two sons and a daughter. But as day rolled into day, I saw my beloved son begin to lose his reason. Aileen saw it, too, and she mourned with me as we saw him shouting and drunk, verbally abusing us, disappearing for weeks on end.
She often pleaded with me to tell him more about his father. “Nuala, for his sanity, for his health, will you not relent and tell your secrets? For the sake of his children, who may grow up to fear and hate their own father?”
I hung my head. I could tell no one the dread secret. I had even kept it from the priests, for I knew not whether one of them would reach Éire and let slip where Owen may be found.
And so, to save the life of my son, I slowly lost the life of my son. I shed bitter tears every day of my life to think of it.
Lord God, forgive me!
At last, to stop his searching, I relented just a bit and told him that his father hailed not from Éire but from Alba, across the expanse of the leaden North Sea. I even believed it, for I thought he was traveling from Alba when I met him. At my words, he went completely wild, raging and shouting. “How will I ever find him in that vast, barbaric land?”
He left us for more than three months. I thought he had perhaps hired a currach and sailed to Alba in search of his father. But one day he came back home, looking haggard and old, hardly talking. I found later that he had gone on a “booley,” a kind of lonely trek to the mountains like the sheep herders, in search of his own sanity. After he returned, he never again spoke of his father. To this day, I know not what took place inside his mind, for something else happened after he returned that became the focus of our lives.
Brother Jericho stopped talking. He knit his brows. “This part is where she began to cry. It was hard to understand many of her words. Clearly she is tormented to the point of despair.”
“Do your best, dear brother,” I urged him. He nodded and continued.
This part of the odyssey of Owen Sweeney will conclude next week.