Ireland is full of Neolithic monuments, structures dating from long before the arrival of the Celts with their Indo-European language, Gaelic. We don’t know much about these Irish builders in stone, except that they herded cattle, sheep and goats, and grew wheat and barley. In those days, Ireland was thickly forested, yet they chose to build their tombs in stone.
3. Poor Creature
“You disappoint me,” said Cathbad severely. His forked beard, already growing white, reached to the center of his chest, and his green robes, though without ornament, seemed no less majestic than those of the most powerful kings of Éire. “I championed you when others said you must fail, poor creature that you are.”
“I am sorry for your discomfiture, Master, but I had no choice in the matter.”
“Who is responsible? If a novice, I shall flay his hide with birch. If an elder, I shall challenge him before the assembly.”
“Neither, Master. It was a Man of Light, with a blazing spear. He came to me on the night of Beltaine and pierced my heart.”
Cathbad leaned down and stared at her. His eyebrows were very bushy, twin tangles of white and black hairs. “Look into my eyes,” he commanded. She obeyed, and he held her gaze, probing and testing. Finally he said, “You may not keep the babe. It is not permitted.”
“I know,” she said. She could leave here, but how would she survive, with a child to care for? And her studies were more important to her than anything. After ten years of concentrated effort, was she to stop now, halfway through?
“My daughter Deichtire is childless, though married to Súaltam mac Róich. I shall bring her this babe to rear,” pronounced Cathbad. “She, not you, shall be its mother.”
Hearing this she faltered, but recovered herself and stood looking up at him. Cathbad was very tall and grand and powerful. He would protect the child, and make it a member of his own family.
“Yes, Master,” she said.
“Go to the healing houses of the Cruithin. When the babe is delivered, send me word, then return to your studies.” He stalked off, leaving her alone in the chamber. She took a step forward, then collapsed, sobbing, on the polished stone flags.
After a time, she rose and returned to the house of the novices. As she was packing her belongings, Aodhán asked why she was leaving.
“Cathbad has sent me away for a time,” she said.
“And will you return to us? I shall miss you, after our ten years together. We came here as ignorant youngsters, and now we have swum midway through the flooded river of knowledge. I would be saddened, were you not to reach the opposite bank at my side.”
Her belongings were few. She stowed these items in a rough sack with straps that fit over her shoulders. The journey to the healing houses was not long, but she must sleep in the woods for a few nights, as her legs were short, and could not carry her far in one day. “Aodhán, my dear friend,” she told him, “the paths of wisdom are many. May Lugh bring you to the excellencies of knowledge. As for me, I believe that with his help, I will find my own way.”
The Cruithin lived in a remote part of Conaille. It was said that only those they wished to welcome could find their lands, while others wandered aimlessly in circles through the woods. She came upon one of their villages on the third day, though she did not recognize it at first, so cleverly was it disguised in a hillside covered with luxuriant green bracken. A grey-haired woman, scarcely taller than she, stepped into her path. Naked except for a skin cloak and a necklace of teeth, the stranger mutely held out her empty hands, signifying her peaceful intent. Then she folded her arms together and rocked them, as though soothing an infant.
“Alaba Daanaren,” she finally said in a thin, reedy voice. “Dochhter of Daanu. Come weeth me. Long time now, I wait.”
Copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss
Notes: The Cruithin were an (apparently) historical people who lived in Northern Ireland from early times. We don’t know what they called themselves, but in Gaelic they were “the painted/tattooed people.” The Cruithin were probably an early wave of Celts who arrived in Ireland before the “people of Danu,” but my story gives them a more fanciful origin. I make them a indigenous, primordial people of Ireland who retreated before the more technologically advanced and warlike Celts. They speak a non-Indo European language which I have modeled on Basque, and they are much smaller in stature than the Celtic Irish. The Celts regard them with wonder for their knowledge of magic and healing.