In my series of novels based in St. Patrick’s Ireland, each one bears the following 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.
In 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.
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.”
“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.
Story to be continued…
The trilogy Dawn of Ireland is here: