Nuala’s Secret: Part 4

By now, Owen was about twenty years old. His oldest child, my grandson Muiredach, was about three. One day I went alone to the well to draw water for the household. Owen had gone to hunt a fine red deer for our provisions. As I was putting water jars into our wagon, a lone rider approached me.

She was a woman well past her prime, a score of years beyond my own age, one who should not have been traveling alone. She was dressed all in fine silk, and her shoes were inlaid with abalone shells. “O friend,” she called to me from her horse. “I have lost my way, and I am athirst. May I drink from your well?

crone and horse 2Of course, I bade her dismount, and I poured a cup of water from a jug and proffered it to her. She drank willingly, and she thanked me kindly. “For whom do you draw water?” she asked me.

“For my family,” I told her, not wanting to speak of my son.

She nodded and proceeded to tell me about her own family—six strong grandsons. Their father, husband of her only daughter, was sojourning in a foreign land, she said, and his sons had traveled with him. She told me how she loved them and missed them.

“Do you also have strong sons?” she inquired of me.

Loath as I was to speak of Owen, I told her proudly that I had one strong son and three grandchildren. She replied with tears that she would be honored to meet such a family, for she missed her own very much. My heart reached out to her heart, as mother to mother, and I invited her to sup with us that evening.

When we rode up to our brugh, Owen had just returned from the hunt, a red deer thrown behind the saddle. He dismounted to lift the deer, and the woman beheld his face. At one look, she shrieked like any banshee. Her cry was enough to cloud the mind and stop the very birds in the sky.

kelpie and man

As she screamed, Owen’s horse reared back in terror. I watched helpless as it came back down on top of my son, crushing him into the ground. And still the strange woman’s shrieks pierced the sky, and the horse began to struggle to find its legs. The more it struggled, the longer it ground Owen’s legs into the dirt.

Dear, dear God, forgive me!

thedyinggaul hellenistic statue acropolis
Th Dying Gaul, Hellenestic statue

He lay there as if dead, in anguish of pain, and I fell at his side, sobbing and keening as if he truly were dead. The stranger, who had not once dismounted, sat high and proud on her horse, even as it reared and pranced in confusion.

“You now pay for your own folly,” she said. “I have searched for you more than twenty years, and I have my vengeance at last. Your son is now half a man—cloven in two, blemished for all time. No high king may bear a blemish, and so his fate is sealed. Now my own grandsons may be kings, and your son will die a cripple. So be it.”

“But at last,” I told her bitterly, “I may tell him about his father. And I myself may go to him finally, for he is the only love I have ever known.”

c susan seddon-boulet
Crone image copyright Susan Seddon-Boulet

And then she laughed, more of a shriek than a laugh. “If I see your son’s face or your face, I hereby swear that I will end the life of your precious lover. I have my grandsons—that is all I want. His life became as spilled water or smoke from a fire pit from the moment his loins pierced your loathsome body and shunned my own daughter. Go to him, send your son to him—and know that he dies.”

And so we left the promontory and traveled south to the great lake of Foyle, seeking the safety of a new home. From that day to this, I have not told anyone what happened, or why.

maiden mother crone
Archetypal maiden, mother, crone by Amalur

Father, Heavenly Father, forgive me for what I have done!

~oooOooo~

This is not the end of Nuala, or her story. It continues as the story of her crippled son Owen  in the Dawn of Ireland novels of Erin O’Quinn.

oisin in sacred tara
Detail from Oisin in Tara by Jim FitzPatrick

Note: Wakening Fire is the second of The Dawn of Ireland trilogy by Erin O’Quinn

The trilogy is here: http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY

woman and crow

Nuala’s Secret: Part 3

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.

mother childwwwdothollysierra.com.pngMy 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.

oisin in sacred tara
“Oisin at Tara,” detail from the work by Jim FitzPatrick

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.

joining.png

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.

madness

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?”

borvo healing god

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.