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?
Of 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.
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!
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.”
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.
Father, Heavenly Father, forgive me for what I have done!
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.
Note: Wakening Fire is the second of The Dawn of Ireland trilogy by Erin O’Quinn
The trilogy is here: http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY