I wish to thank Roy Burns from Belfast for his kind permission to use this image of his magnificent picture, “Tuatha De Danaan Arriving In Ireland”. This short-story was inspired by that intriguing painting.
This tale is loosely based upon the history, legends, and myths of the Tuatha de Danaan. According to legend, they were a race of demigods who inhabited Ireland around 1800 BC. Although the story is set in a village in the late nineteenth century in Western Ireland, the dialog has been somewhat updated to facilitate comprehension.
"Tuatha De Danaan"
The old man peered out the frosted pub window onto the darkening main road through Knockreedy. Icicles on building eves were solidifying again as the temperature fell. The drab facades of the shops and homes seem to stiffen themselves against the cold. Few ventured out. The warmth of the home hearth was preferred on this raw, windy eve. Shopkeepers had shuttered early as there was no business to be had. To the east the old man noticed the full-moon just breaking above the crest of the hills. Ice crystals in the atmosphere imparted a glazed appearance.
“The Tuatha de Danaan will be huntin’ tonight,” he predicted wistfully as he turned his attention back to the warmer environs. Sweeny’s (formerly McReedy’s) was the only pub in the village. If a body wasn’t home in the evening, they were probably at Sweeny’s. For over two hundred years, the residents of the village had quenched their thirsts in that venerable establishment. It had hosted the celebrations of weddings, births, birthdays, and even deaths. Not a better record of the history of Knockreedy exists than that held by the stone walls of Sweeny’s.
There was nothing particularly remarkable about the pub’s appearance. The structure was of the post and beam style, which helped support the heavy walls. A large fieldstone fireplace comprised a good portion of the east wall. The sweet scent from the burning maple logs melded well with those of the food and beer. A long, polished oaken bar extended from the edge of the fireplace to near the kitchen door. There were a generous number of old wooden stools, chairs, and tables scattered about. They and the floorboards had been well-worn by the thousands of patrons over the years. More important than the building and its furnishings was the atmosphere it exuded. This was a place of warmth. This was a place of family.
By 7 p.m. many of the regular clientele had arrived and assumed their regular position. That is, hand firmly grasping a pint and arm bent. Custom established that each one laid claim to his particular area of the pub. Women generally did not come in alone and sat with whom accompanied them.
Finn Shaw, Paddy Gormley, and Johnny Sullivan sat next to each other at the end of the bar. As was usual, the three buddies were arguing about something. This evening’s contentious subject was whether this winter was colder than last.
At one point Paddy said, “ I can prove it.”
He took off his right boot and smelly sock and displayed a purplish big toe to the group.
“This toe is mighty cold, and you can see it’s even blue. It was never like this last year.”
“You’ve been kickin’ your pig again, haven’t you?” chided Finn.
Everyone laughed, and Johnny anointed the toe with bit of his beer. Notice I said, “bit”. You don’t waste good Guinness on a toe.
“Okay, boys. That’s enough toe drownin’.”
It was Bailey, the barkeep, who had spoken. He ran a respectable pub and aimed to keep it that way. Only once had he needed to throw someone out, and that was Finn about a year ago. There were no hard feelings, and Finn was back the next evening as if nothing had happened.
Bailey took care of the bar. His wife, Mary, put her considerable cooking skills to work in the kitchen. Their son, Bart, helped out where needed and occasionally played the Bodrain (Irish drum) later in the evenings. Sweeny’s was known for its lamb stew. You could rely on it every Saturday night. A large iron kettle hung in the fireplace, and Mary tended it faithfully. With its sauce of chicken broth, wine, sage, thyme, and more, the stew bubbled away. Mere words can’t do justice to the exquisite aroma, which filled the pub and seeped through the walls. Occasionally, lamb was not to be had and some other unfortunate animal was substituted. But it was always “lamb stew”. Besides, that’s what was advertised on the swinging sign over the entrance.
The old man had been coming to the pub since he was a lad. Two owners had come and gone during his tenure, and now there was Bailey. He retired several years ago from running the village hardware shop. His wife, Florence, had passed about the same time. There were no children to spend time with. His life became the pub and the life-long friends he met there daily. When he was younger, he was called Thomas or Tommy. Now everyone just called him the “Old Man”. He can’t remember when that moniker became attached, but he never objected. It made him feel like he was a significant part of the village family and he was. Isn’t it interesting how we can grow to accept, even cherish, a designation or situation we would have abhorred when younger.
Each afternoon he stationed himself in “his” corner booth. From there, he could easily keep an eye on the goings-on inside and out. Also, just to his right, was the fireplace, which provided continuous warmth for his aging body. The old man was a keen observer of nature and human nature. That and good common sense made his opinion one of the most respected in the village.
Most evenings there were no empty chairs at his table. Tonight they were occupied by Father Noel, the Ryan brothers, Ian and Pat, and Joseph Kelly.
Father Noel Patterson had been assigned to the Knockreedy parish seven years ago and was well-liked. He frequently went out of his way to attend to the needs of the faithful. He also had become a regular at the pub. What better place to recruit new “sheep”. The relaxed atmosphere allowed him to ply his trade in a gentle fashion. Also, it must be said he favored the readily available spirits. He was never known to refuse the offer of a pint. Then again, few were. One related change he made, when he assumed his parish position, was to increase the size of the chalice cup used during communion each Sunday. That gave him an additional reason to look forward to mass. Well aware of his fondness for the drink, he kept it under reasonable control.
Ian and Pat had inherited their family cottage just outside the village. They were carpenters by trade. That was something they enjoyed up to a point. The point was reached each week when they had earned enough to fund their necessities at the pub. They liked their pub-centric life and didn’t bother themselves too much about the future. As you can imagine, their relationships with women didn’t last long. Their relationship with God was questionable. As such, they were near the top of Father Noel’s convert list.
Joseph Kelly was the village teacher. As did most, he grew up in Knockreedy. He had always loved books and learning, and no one was surprised when he took over the school after Mrs. Monahan retired. That must be almost twenty years ago. He was a good teacher and a strict disciplinarian. Out of school he lived a well-organized life centered on his substantial library. His visits to Sweeny’s were sporadic. When there, he would occasionally recite poetry or read a short-story to a generally appreciative audience. His attendance at church was punctual, and he was an appreciated member of the small choir.
The old man’s mention of the Tuatha de Danaan drew the group’s interest. Depending upon perspective, they were either myth or history or somewhere in between. To Joseph, they were nothing more than superstition. He believed in and taught what could be sensed. The seeming contradiction to his strong religious convictions were the result of devout parents and a personal spiritual occurrence, which affected him greatly. The Ryans were firm believers in the Tuatha de Danaan and many other Irish myths. As far as they were concerned, the heart and soul of Ireland lay in its glorious, mysterious history. Father Noel had an open mind. Of course, he believed in and cherished the Lord. That certainly made him spiritual, and he was amenable to other fantastic possibilities. It was he who responded to the old man’s remark.
“Old Man, you still believe in the old Irish legends, do you?”
He already knew the answer but used the question as a suggested opening to the evening’s discussion. Tonight the old man was more than willing to talk about the Tuatha de Danaan.
“I believe much of what’s been passed down to us is based upon original truths. These truths surely have been misstated and embellished over time. However, they remain. I do believe in fairies, banshees, leprechauns, and the Tuatha de Danaan. My belief in those warriors is not based upon stories I’ve heard but upon my own personal experience when I was young.”
“What do you mean?” asked Father Noel.
“I’ve never told anyone this story, but I think the time has finally come. That is, if you are interested?”
He glanced around the table and saw he had everyone’s attention. That was all the approval the old man needed. He took a long draw on his pint and began.
“I imagine you’ve all heard of the Tuatha de Danaan. I’ll begin with a bit of history, anyway.
“On a stormy night almost 4000 years ago, a fleet of sturdy ships landed on the rocky Connaught coast. The ships brought thousands of fierce warrior-gods from the far North. The Tuatha de Danaan had arrived in Ireland. We all know the history of that coast. Many a ship has been lost over the years. Many a sailor perished. Their landing must have been quite difficult, but we have no record as to how many ships sank. I know it’s something I would never attempt.”
The pub quieted as everyone realized another “Old Man” story had begun. Some slid their chairs closer to hear better. Mary continued tending the stew kettle but would not miss a word.
“They had come with a well established reputation for ruthlessness in battle yet fairness in governing the lands they conquered. In some council chamber far away, it had been decided Ireland would be next. They were so set in their purpose that it is said they burnt their ships after landing. There would be no returning home. They came to conquer. They came to stay.”
The old man paused and looked down at his now empty mug. It was a gentle hint. Soon, a fresh pint sat before him, complements of Bailey. He took a swallow and resumed. At this point I don’t believe there was anyone who wasn’t listening.
“In those days the rulers of our Ireland were the Fir Bolg and the Fomarians. Each controlled a portion of the isle, and there was an uneasy truce between the two races. The Fir Bolg were somewhat barbarian and ruled with cruelty and oppression. It didn’t take long for the new invaders to find them. The first Battle of Magh Tuiredh occurred and resulted in victory for the Tuatha de Danaan. They captured the Hill of Tara in County Meath, and from there they set up rule over much of Ireland. However, there were still the Fomarians to deal with. Thus occurred the second Battle of Magh Tuiredh and a second victory for the Tuatha de Danaan. With that conquest they controlled all of Ireland, and peace reigned for many years.
“About three hundred years later, the Mileseans arrived on the our shores from Southern Europe. As strong as the Tuatha de Danaan were, the Mileseans were stronger. The Tuatha de Danaan were beaten and banished from Tara. Rather than leave Ireland, they chose to go underground and have remained there since. It is believed they gave rise to the fairies, banshees, leprechauns, and such spirit creatures we have all heard of.
“When I was seventeen, I didn’t think much on fairies and the lot. I had never seen one, and it seemed the only souls who mentioned them were the old men in this pub. Hmmm, some things never change.”
He chuckled and took another sip.
“Anyway, I had more important things on my mind such as a colleen by the name of Florence O’Brien. I thought she was the prettiest girl in Knockreedy. As you all know I eventually married her. I should say, she finally agreed to marry me. Bless her soul.
“When we were courting, we loved to walk in the hills during the daytime, she and I. Sometimes, I went by myself after dark. There’s no better time to walk the hills than on the night of a full-moon, or so I thought then.
“One such evening, only a bit warmer than this one, I set out up the peaks road with Pug, my shepherd.”
The old man’s eyes closed as he began to relive that eventful night from his youth…
It was a night to be well-bundled. A sharp north wind cut through the air and made its presence felt on everything it lashed. Thomas was used to harsh weather and sometimes even welcomed it. He had entered that phase of his life where physical prowess was expected and desired. Braving the elements made him feel more like a man. The pages of the calendar would have to flip a few more months before he was granted that legal distinction.
He turned off onto a narrow path, which eventually branched and led most anywhere through the hills. Depending upon the season, it was a mixture of gravel, mud, or dust. Tonight it was simply hard and ungiving. Fields of brown heather lay to both sides, and they did their best to stand firm against the wind. Many would say they looked shabby and forlorn compared to their purplish glory in the warm months. To Thomas, heather was always beautiful. It simply wore different clothes throughout the year. We all do.
A few night creatures flitted by so quickly that their shadowy shapes couldn’t be identified. Any sounds their wings may have made were lost in the wind, which ruffled and raked the shivering scene. The full-moon delineated each object sharply. With the continual motion, it was transformed into something familiar or unfamiliar. When he was younger, Thomas used to think things were watching him from the heather fields. First he thought he saw something, then it vanished or changed. Now older he has forgotten such childishness, or perhaps he has lost the ability to perceive it.
Despite the cold and wind, he had a sense of peace. He always felt that way when he came to the hills. It was an attraction he could neither deny nor explain. He believed God had his hand in it and that nature was God’s most perfect creation.
In the distance a small forest interrupted the sloping horizon of fields. It had been a while since he visited the wood, and it was his destination tonight. He made his way slowly in that direction but occasionally stopped to appreciate the impressive views. Paths wound hither and yon between the hills, and at times he lost sight of the forest. However, he knew the route, and after an hour it appeared almost on top of him. He couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the darkness of the forest and the open, moonlit fields.
The path abruptly ended at the edge of the forest. After only a few steps, the wind diminished, and the near silence added to the peace he felt. He briefly stood still to listen. There was an occasional chirp or squall coming from somewhere. The sounds bounced off the trees thus concealing their true location. He peered into the dark but saw only the shadows of more trees. Their leaves had formed a thick carpet and there was little undergrowth. Walking was relatively easy, but it was still possible to step in an unseen hole. He moved cautiously.
Then he noticed a few shafts of moonlight filtering through the trees ahead. He had stumbled upon a small glade. Forgetting himself, he ran to it. It was a comfort to be in the light and see features again. The trees surrounding the glade were mostly oak. Then he spotted something unusual; the glade was not of natural creation. Several trees had been felled and their stumps cut off at ground level. Someone had done this. Who? Why? When?
It didn’t make sense that anyone from Knockreedy would come this far for wood. He walked around and saw that the stumps near the center of the glade were older than those near the edge. Apparently, this was an ongoing harvesting. So far his discovery was an interesting curiosity for Thomas. That was about to change.
There is no other way to relate what he heard next. It sounded like the tromping in unison of many heavy boots somewhere in the woods. It sounded like that because that is what it was. Worse, the tromping was getting louder. His sense of peace evaporated instantly, to be replaced by fear. Fear can come upon you slowly and insinuate itself into your being. The fear of an approaching operation is that type of fear. Given time, you may be able to overcome it through logic or rationalization or prayer. But fear can also come upon you quickly as in this situation. There is little defense against it, especially for a seventeen year old boy.
Not moving, he strained his eyes to try to penetrate the darkness to his left. At first, he saw nothing. Then a line of shadowy forms appeared between the trees. They were marching past about thirty feet into the forest and numbered about twenty. He crouched hoping he wouldn’t be noticed. Suddenly they stopped in response to an apparent command. Thomas couldn’t tell, but he feared they were looking in his direction. They were. He couldn’t have been more noticeable if he had jumped up and down and shouted. In the moonlight he was the most visible object for some distance.
Several of the forms broke rank and approached him rapidly. There was no escape for him, but Pug yelped and disappeared into the woods with his tail between his legs.
As they came out of the shadows, he was horrified to see they didn’t look like any humans he had ever seen. At least seven feet tall and thin, these things had the appearance of skeletons wearing armor. At least that’s the glimpse he got before they grabbed him and covered him with a foul smelling sack. He felt himself being lifted and trussed to a pole. Apparently, they had been hunting and he joined two wild boars as part of their catch.
A few minutes ago, he was enjoying a peaceful walk in the hills. Now he was in a sack being carried to an unknown fate. Would they kill him? Would they eat him? Who were they? He had no answers. He only had questions and fear. He wished he were home in his safe cottage, in his safe bed.
After about a half an hour of bumpy travel, the troop halted. In unmistakable Gaelic someone ordered, “Take everything to the storage keep.”
Now it felt as if they were moving downhill. Additionally, the sound had altered; there was some echoing. They had left the woods and entered into something. After a while, they halted again. He heard what sounded like a metal gate opening. He was carried a few more steps and thrown down. The sack was pulled off and he was tied to a post. The two wild boars were hung on hooks protruding from the ceiling of a cave in which he found himself. It took three soldiers to lift the heavy animals. Not a word was spoken. The three left and the gate was closed and locked. One guard remained outside with his back to the keep.
Scared and frustrated, Thomas gave out a cry and screamed in Gaelic, “Let me out of here!”
His protest was ignored. He sat down and buried his head in his hands. Fortuitously, he recalled some advice his father had given him a long time ago. When you are in a difficult situation, try to remain calm and observe everything. You are then in a much better position to devise a solution. Of course, it’s easy to give and receive advice of that kind over dinner or while fishing. Now, however, his life was in danger. Fear trumps thought and analysis.
He closed his eyes and prayed to the Lord for some peace of mind. Whether the Lord responded or not, this simple act of prayer calmed him somewhat, and he began to look around. He observed the guard. Although he apparently spoke Gaelic and had the general form of a human, he obviously was not. He was tall and was somewhat thin of stature. The muscles in his arms and legs bulged, indicating significant strength. A type of beret sat on his elongated head. He wore battle armor and held a long spear with a silver tip. Although the equipment appeared to be very old, it was well cared for. Polished black boots completed the battle outfit.
He stood at attention but sometimes looked back through the gate. The beret had a red emblem on its front. Thomas could now see he was not a skeleton, but ghastly facial makeup made him appear as one. The eyes were black as coal. They weren’t just black. It was as if you were looking into an ancient void. Throughout history, visual intimidation has also served as an army’s weapon. If an enemy is in fear, they have already been defeated.
Thomas’s jail was a small cavern, dimly lighted by one torch secured to the wall. The clay floor was covered with a thick layer of straw. In addition to the two boars, several rabbits and a wolf hung from the rock ceiling. The shadows of their carcasses swayed slowly on the rough walls, and a fresh gamey odor pervaded the area. This keep held the soldiers’ food supply or part of it. He was part of it. Another wave of fear swept over him.
His left arm was tied to an iron post with a length of leather. The strap was old and he was not the first to be restrained by it. The animals were suspended on similar straps, as they awaited their fate to become someone’s dinner.
The guard and the other soldiers seemed highly disciplined. That suggested a well organized community. He could hear many voices from down the hallway. They were probably in a large room; perhaps it was a dining hall. Their talk echoed off the rock walls indicating there may be several rooms and hallways. From time to time, other soldiers walked by the gate. They all had a similar appearance but some were obviously female. The size of the community or army may be large. How could they be so close to Knockreedy and yet not be noticed? Perhaps they are recently arrived.
As he considered all of this, two more soldiers appeared at the gate. They said something to the guard and were let in. They approached Thomas, and he instinctively recoiled in a futile defense. They grabbed him, freed him from the post, and dragged him into the hallway. They headed in the direction of the voices. Nothing was said.
Thomas struggled in his mind to remain calm. He imagined locking his relentless fear in a box, but it managed to seep out anyway. Still, the effort was better than doing nothing. If he had simply given in, he could have lost control completely. Now he had some control, and that gave him a chance to observe and assess his plight.
So far all he had seen were rock walls, dimly lighted hallways, and dead animals. After walking a short distance, they entered a large hall that couldn’t have been more different. It matched the elegance of the European palaces he had seen in his school books. The floor tiles were beige-colored marble. An intricate pattern of rectangles led from the entrance to an exquisite throne area at the other end of the hall. Beautiful, ancient tables and chairs were orderly arranged on both sides of the aisle. Each was adorned with a lace tablecloth and candelabrum. China plates and bowls displayed more than ample food. Wine filled the many crystal goblets.
The rock walls were not covered but had been smoothed and highly polished. Several paintings, apparently of prominent individuals, hung from them. The hall was well lighted by numerous golden wall sconces. Flanking each sconce were two elaborate white metal bird cages. The cages were left open and about fifty white and gold canaries flitted about the room. Four architectural white pillars extended to the ceiling at each corner. They weren’t needed for support but were there to enhance the elegance. The ceiling, about twenty feet high, was painted with elaborate murals. It reminded Thomas of pictures he had seen of the Sistine Chapel.
In one corner of the hall was a large Roman style marble bath. It was fed by streams of water that cascaded down the walls. Somehow the water was heated as steam rose from the surface of the pool. Naked children frolicked in the water.
A small ensemble performed in the far corner of the hall. Their music matched the elegant ambience and had a cadence similar to a waltz. In fact, a few couples were gliding around a dance area directly in front of the throne.
There were about two hundred individuals in the hall. Most were seated, enjoying the sumptuous amenities and each other’s company. Many wore red military uniforms. The others wore a type of hooded robe. The robes were either white, black, brown, green, or grey. The colors probably delineated a level or class. Those wearing similar colors tended to group together. It seemed as if everyone was enjoying themselves until Thomas was brought in.
Within seconds, the hall had quieted. Two hundred pairs of black eyes turned and stared at the captive. He was marched down the aisle to the foot of the large throne area. It was constructed of a whitish stone he had never seen before. A red velvet carpet covered much of it and also shaped a backdrop. Three elaborate seats were molded into the stone. Everything appeared to have been sculpted from one gigantic boulder. This was not possible he thought. The largest seat, in the center, was gilded and had a red velvet cushion. Two smaller seats were to the front and sides of the center and were all white. They also had red velvet cushions. Many elaborate candelabra illuminated the area. Due to the configuration of the lighting, the throne area literally glowed. The sight of all this elegance temporarily assuaged Thomas’s anxiety.
Trumpets suddenly blared a fanfare. That was the signal for everyone to kneel, and Thomas was forced to do the same. Three rulers entered from a rear enclave and took their appointed seats. Thomas studied the one who sat in the center. He was taller and of heavier build than the others. His elaborate brocade robe was gathered at the waist by a golden belt. The belt’s impressive buckle was engraved with some lettering. Thomas strained to read the words: Tuatha de Danaan
Thomas was in shock. How is this possible? Confusion raced through his mind as a scribe entered and stood at the front. First he looked over the assemblage to ensure quiet.
“The session will begin. The issue to be decided is the fate of the captive. May the gods be blessed. May the gods favor King Grendler, Prince Annuck, and Prince Shernal.”
He then took a seat near the rear of the throne area as Thomas cringed. Everyone now stood, but he was forced to remain kneeling.
King Grendler spoke.
“Captive, upon invading our territory you were taken prisoner. What is your name and where are you from?”
He hadn’t gathered his thoughts yet. Tuatha de Danaan, Tuatha de Danaan, Tuatha de Danaan kept repeating in his mind. The King had to repeat the question with obvious irritation in his voice.
“My, my name is Thomas O’Sullivan and I’m from Knockreedy. I’m sorry, but I’m very nervous.”
The king looked at his Princes. Both shook their head from side to side.
“We have not heard of Knockreedy. Where is it?”
“Knockreedy is a small village only about five miles from here.”
“Are you Milesean?”
“No, I’m Irish.”
“Why did you come here? Why did you invade our territory?”
Thomas considered mentioning he was there because he had been kidnapped. He thought better of that response.
“I was walking in the hills, as I frequently do, and your soldiers captured me. I didn’t know I was in your territory. This is the first time I’ve seen or heard of you. I’m sorry.”
The King stared at him and Thomas lowered his head. The King then sought his Princes’ council.
Prince Shernal spoke first.
“I believe him. He is not Milesean and of no danger to us. My council is that we release him, Sire.”
Prince Annuck did not agree.
“He may be lying. He may be Milesean. Even if he isn’t, he could bring back others and cause great difficulties. My council is that we offer him to the gods, Sire.”
Sweat formed on Thomas’s forehead. The King thought for a while and then spoke.
“We shall not decide immediately. Take him back to the keep. Feed him.”
Thomas spoke, “May I ask a question, Sire?”
The King nodded.
“Are you Tuatha de Danaan?”
“Yes, we are,” was the firm answer.
The scribe came forward again and announced, “The session is ended. May the gods be blessed.”
The trumpets blared twice. The three leaders rose and exited as they had entered. In a state of bewilderment, Thomas was led down the aisle and back to the keep. This time he was not tethered.
Thomas had so much to think about; he didn’t know where to start. But start he must. He had been captured by the Tuatha de Danaan. They were nothing but an Irish myth from his school books or so he’d been taught. His teacher, Mrs. Monahan, had never deviated from the prescribed curriculum. However, he always suspected her feelings on the matter ran deeper than she would ever admit.
The old men in McReedy’s had no restrictions on what they thought or said. There was plenty of discussion about the Tuatha de Danaan, fairies, and more. Most people ignored their lubricated pub talk, and he never paid mind to it. If he was ever released and returned to Knockreedy, he most surely would pay mind to it now.
His predicament hadn’t changed, but it had been clarified. Prince Shernal did not believe he was a threat and should be released. Prince Annuck was rightly concerned about their community’s safety. An unknown outsider could cause great damage. There was no malevolence in his position. King Grendler seemed to be neutral, but this wasn’t a certainty. He had the ultimate responsibility for the safety and happiness of his subjects.
These are the same issues that countries have been confronted with for centuries. It’s mostly about fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, the response has frequently led to war and its attendant suffering. A Francis Bacon quote comes to mind, “The remedy is worse than the disease”. If everyone was more knowledgeable of their “neighbors”, there would be less fear and fewer wars. This truism applies not only to countries but to different communities in a city.
It was also the best course for Thomas. He needed to find out more about the Tuatha de Danaan and their ways. He needed to convince Prince Annuck he was of no danger to them. He had some time but perhaps not much.
While he pondered, a visitor arrived at the gate. It was a girl about his age. She wore a white robe with hood up and carried a tray of food. The guard let her in. She placed the food on the floor and stared at him.
He stood and greeted her, “I’m Thomas O’Sullivan from Knockreedy. Thank you for bringing food.”
The girl continued to stare. She was tall and thin. Despite her deep black eyes, he sensed some gentleness in her manner.
“And you are not Milesean?”
“No, I’m Irish,” he replied with a smile.
Of course he could be part Milesean, but how would he know. For that matter, he could be part Tuatha de Danaan or both.
“I am Dierdre, second daughter to Prince Annuck,” she said. “My father doesn’t trust you.”
“Yes, he made that clear. Are you spying for him?” said Thomas smiling.
Now she smiled.
“No, I am spying for myself. I will make up my own mind.”
“Aren’t you afraid to be here with a potential enemy?”
“No, what can you do? We can talk and learn something of each other. If King Grendler determines you are harmless, no harm will come from our talking. If he determines you to be our foe, you will be killed, and anything I say will die with you.”
Her logic was brutally correct.
“What if I decide not to talk to you?”
“Then you will lose an opportunity to meet someone from one of the greatest civilizations that has ever existed. You will lose an opportunity to learn how I might help you.”
“All right, what would you like to talk about?” he asked.
So far, she was leading in this battle of wits. But he had secured a valuable opportunity to learn more of his captors. She sat down in the straw and he followed.
“Enjoy your food while we talk. What do you know of us?”
They both sat as he recounted what he remembered from his history books. He finished by adding that most people believed the Tuatha de Danaan were only a myth, and until tonight he had agreed with them. She listened attentively and then extended her hand.
“Take my hand.”
He took it gently in his.
“Does that feel like a myth?”
“No, it feels quite real.”
“It feels real because it is real.”
She slowly and somewhat reluctantly withdrew her hand from his.
“We have prospered under this earth for a long time. But our goal has always been to return and reclaim our land from the Mileseans. We will reclaim our rightful rule.”
“I’m sorry, but the Mileseans were defeated a long time ago. They no longer rule Ireland.”
She looked puzzled.
“If the Mileseans are gone, who rules Ireland now?”
“We are ruled by England and the Queen of England and have been for a long time. However, many of our people are unhappy with their rule,” he answered.
“Then it is they whom we will conquer.”
“That will be very difficult. They have many troops and powerful weapons. They are much stronger than the Mileseans ever were.”
She looked puzzled again but said, “King Grendler and the other kings will decide on the best course of action. They always have.”
His news shook her reality and obviously affected her.
“I must go now,” she said.
She stood abruptly and indicated to the guard she was ready to leave.
“Goodbye, Dierdre. Thank you again for the food.”
As she walked through the gate, she looked back and nodded not unkindly.
Thomas liked Dierdre and wished she hadn’t left so soon. He finished eating as he mulled over this new knowledge. She had given him insight into some of the Tuatha de Danaan plans. However, he didn’t see how they could defeat England despite their fearsome appearance. They would be better off to remain underground and enjoy the impressive culture they had created. Perhaps they could explore limited, selective contact with people. But he was getting ahead of himself. They still might kill him.
Shortly, another visitor arrived. He wore a red-trimmed black robe and the hood was down. He carried a small wooden box. The guard seemed uneasy in his presence. During a brief exchange, the guard referred to him as a wizard. He entered the keep in an abrupt manner. Obviously, he was in a hurry.
“I need some of your blood,” he said without introduction.
“Why?” asked Thomas as he drew back.
“Give me your hand,” ordered the wizard.
Thomas slowly extended a hand. The wizard took a small knife and metal bottle from the box. He briefly shoved the knife blade into the torch flame and then jabbed the tip of Thomas’s left index finger. He winced in pain, and blood began to drip onto the straw. The wizard caught a few drops in the bottle. Then he capped the bottle, returned it and the knife to the box, and left.
This all occurred in less than two minutes, and Thomas was left with a bleeding finger. He squeezed it to stem the flow and wondered about the purpose of the visit. Perhaps the wizard had a way of determining if he is Milesean.
Everything that had happened to him was mentally and physically exhausting, and he lay down in the straw. As he contemplated his fate and options, his eyes slowly shut and he slept. It wasn’t a peaceful rest as nightmares appeared one after another.
“Wake up. You have a visitor.”
It was the guard, and his words were accompanied by a kick.
Thomas squinted upward. Standing over him was a rotund figure in an equally rotund brown robe.
“I’m sorry to wake you. I am Rosarious, Minister of Culture and have received permission to visit. Word of your capture spread quickly, and I was most curious. We have virtually no contact here with those living in the sun. It is a rare opportunity to meet someone like you. You say you are Irish and not Milesean. I tend to believe you because my studies have led me to doubt that the Mileseans still rule Ireland. However, I must tell you, my opinions on this matter are not held in high regard by our rulers.”
Thomas sat up quickly and then stood. Here was someone who seemed to be in touch with reality as he knew it.
“I’m Thomas O’Sullivan from Knockreedy.”
“Yes, I know,” responded Rosarious with a chuckle.
“We have developed a culture and system of education of which I am very proud. If you are interested, I would like to show you some of it. I would also like to learn something of your world of Knockreedy.”
“Yes, I would like that very much,” responded Thomas.
He was amused that someone considered Knockreedy a world. Actually, it was one of the smallest villages in all of Ireland.
Anticipating a positive response, Rosarious brought two soldiers with him. He mentioned they were mandatory when a captive was out of his enclosure. The small group left the keep and walked down several hallways, sometimes turning left or right. Thomas was surprised by the size of this maze-like city. At one point he asked Rosarious how many subjects there were.
“There are about 1000 of us here in Connara and many more in similar arrangements throughout the isle,” was his response.
It was the first time he had heard the name of the city mentioned, and apparently Connara was only one of many. Even though they had been living among us all this time, they remained a myth to most. Incredible!
After walking about ten minutes, they arrived at a room that was obviously a library. Hundreds and hundreds of old books were lined up on shelves. In some places the shelving reached to the ceiling. There were no candles or torches evident, yet, strangely, the room was well lighted. About thirty desks filled the space as did the smell of papyrus. At each desk sat an industrious scribe. They were absorbed in their duties and didn’t pause to acknowledge the visitors.
Rosarious said, “ Welcome to our library and calligraphy room. Here we record the history of our civilization. This effort has been ongoing since we arrived in Ireland. I and my team of scholars direct what is to be written. The scribes you see here are actually students. They learn reading, writing, history, and art. Their completed and approved works are placed on the shelves. As you can see, there are many.”
He paused for a moment giving Thomas a chance to look around.
“You have probably noticed that the room is well lighted but there are no candles in evidence. It is too dangerous to have open flames here. We have certain special powers; creating light is one of them. We also create light to enable us to grow plants. I will demonstrate another of our powers in the next room we visit.”
“Why are there torches and candles in the other areas?” inquired Thomas.
“We use our powers sparingly. Also, candles and torches are traditional. We value tradition.”
He walked to a bookshelf, took down a large tome, and placed it on a nearby table.
“You may peruse it.”
Thomas opened the book carefully and was greeted by an amazing example of their calligraphy and artwork. On each page beautiful brown lettering was bordered by exquisite patterns or miniature scenes. It reminded him of the Book of Kells. That most famous book of Irish origin was created by monks around 800 AD. Like these, it was a superb example of an illuminated manuscript. A few years ago his family made a special trip to Dublin to see it. He couldn’t imagine what the value of all this magnificent literature might be.
He looked up from the book and spoke in admiration, “In my world we have only one such book, and here you have hundreds. I’m very impressed.”
“Thank you. This is one of our greatest achievements. Let’s move on since we have limited time.”
Rosarious gently closed the book and placed it back on its shelf.
Their next destination was just across the hallway. He was led into an art studio. Rosario explained that students and professional artists were working on several paintings, which would eventually adorn the walls of the city. There were numerous molds used to create plaster reliefs, which would also be painted. Decorative urns and statues were also being created here. Not surprisingly, the air smelt of paint and plaster.
Rosarious said, “Let me show you something.”
He walked to a table containing several small urns. He placed his hand on one of them and then removed it quickly. There was a brief flash and the urn metamorphosed into a statue. Thomas stared the statue and then picked it up. It was warm but otherwise seemed normal.
He was amazed again. His respect for the Tuatha de Danaan was growing. Despite the obvious limitations of living underground, they had created an advanced culture. He should remember that they were already advanced when they came to Ireland.
“We have the ability to shape-shift within limited parameters. It is a useful skill.”
Thomas thought Rosarious was being quite modest.
“I am sorry, but we must leave now. I promised not to keep you from the keep for too long,” he chuckled again.
On the return walk, Thomas told Rosario something of Knockreedy and present-day (mid 1800s) Ireland. Rosario was fascinated but had already surmised some of what he heard. He expressed the hope that he could convince his rulers of the present situation of the world in the sun. Although, he thought that was unlikely. The Tuatha de Danaan were traditional and didn’t welcome change. There is comfort in the familiar and discomfort in the unfamiliar for almost everyone it seems.
As they approached the keep, two new soldiers were standing by the gate. They were waiting upon his return.
“You must come with us,” one of them ordered.
He quickly thanked Rosarious and was again escorted to the elegant hall. Rosarious followed at a distance. His reception was the same, and shortly he was kneeling before the throne. Trumpets again announced the rulers who entered and took their places. The wizard also attended and stood to the right.
The same scribe appeared and repeated, “The session will begin. The issue to be decided is the fate of the captive. May the gods be blessed. May the gods favor King Grendler, Prince Annuck, and Prince Shernal.”
The King spoke, “Wizard, have you completed the examination of the captive?”
“I have, Sire.”
“And what do you find?”
“The blood test shows that the captive is not Milesean.”
Thomas let out a deep breath.
“The blood test also shows that the captive is not Tuatha de Danaan.”
“Then what is he?” demanded the King.
“The blood test is inconclusive. I do not know, Sire. I’m sorry.”
“I’m Irish,” yelled Thomas.
The King stood quickly.
“Silence! The captive shall not speak unless spoken to.”
Thomas bowed his head. The King remained standing and stared at Thomas as he contemplated his course of action.
“The captive has been determined not to be of Milesean blood. Therefore, he is not a direct threat to us. However, he still may be an indirect threat. Thomas O’Sullivan, you shall return to the keep and prepare your defense against the charge of being an indirect threat to the Tuatha de Danaan. When you are ready, inform your guard.”
The King then sat.
“The session is ended. May the gods be blessed,” intoned the scribe.
He was returned to the keep and left to his thoughts. This would be the most important speech of Thomas O’Sullivan’s young life.
From his visitors and observations, he had the opportunity to learn what was important to the Tuatha de Danaan. His speech needed to focus on assuaging their fears of what he might do if he were released. He needed to convince them that he was impressed by their culture and was of no danger. He spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what to say. Finally, he believed he was ready. He hoped he was ready. He prayed to the Lord for the strength to bear the outcome if he was found guilty.
He informed the guard. Eventually, a second guard appeared, and he was escorted to the hall for the third time. His arrival was anticipated, for the hall was packed. Now about four hundred pairs of eyes followed the three up the aisle.
The introductory ceremonies were repeated. The King and Princes were seated. This time Dierdre was there and stood to the right of her father.
King Grendler said, “You may begin your defense, and you need not kneel.”
Thomas inhaled deeply and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he began:
“When I was very young, my father brought me to these hills every week. Now I come on my own. One reason we came was for the magic, and I still come for it now. As I’ve gotten older, the magic has changed. It used to be that I got very excited when I saw a bumble bee on a flower, or the tiniest spring bud. I would point with glee and yell ‘look’ to my father. He would always smile and pat my head. But there were other things I thought I saw and heard that he didn’t. These things I can’t explain and only remember them vaguely like a dream.
“Perhaps a leaf moved, but there was no wind, and there was nothing that could cause it to move. Sometimes I thought I saw the tiniest of eyes staring at me from the heather. Sometimes I thought I heard sounds like whispering or music. My father never saw or heard these things, but they were like magic to me. At some age I ceased to notice them. Had they gone? Were they ever there? Were they still there but beyond my senses? I didn’t know.
“But they were replaced by a new type of magic. I’ll call it ‘peace’. Our people who live in the sun believe in a God that created everything we experience and more. I believe that nature is God’s most perfect creation. Every time I come here, I feel at peace in the majesty of this creation.
“This visit has been very different. I’ve been introduced to your world. You’ve always been here but blind to my eyes. I now know there is so much I can’t sense but would like to. I would like to be able to see again what I saw as a child. Perhaps that isn’t possible. I’m sorry that my visit has disturbed and worried you. You have so much here that deserves protection. Your civilization is very advanced. In some ways it is more advanced than mine.”
He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts.
“What you have here is too important and too unique to be disturbed. Your civilization is a world treasure that must remain secret until you decide otherwise. I now know it is part of the magic I experienced as a child. I promise to help protect the magic. If you allow me to return to my family and friends, I promise to never mention this visit.”
He was finished. He stared at the King and two the Princes. He stared at Dierdre and she smiled. After a few moments of silence, King Grendler addressed the Princes.
“Do either of you have any questions of the captive?”
Both Princes indicated they had no questions.
“Then what is your council?” the King asked.
Prince Shernal spoke first, “My council remains the same. I do not believe he is a threat to us and should be released.”
Prince Annuck then spoke, “Thomas O’Sullivan has given a short and well-prepared speech. He spoke all the right words in all the right places. The question is whether or not I believe him.”
“The answer is yes, and my council is that he be released.”
Thomas sighed with restrained joy. He had convinced Prince Annuck of his sincerity. Now only one barrier to his freedom remained.
The King thanked the Princes for their council and began his own deliberations. Everyone waited. Thomas wondered if he could have said something differently. Could he have done better?
Finally, the King announced, “We have reached a decision.”
He stood and approached Thomas.
“Thomas O’Sullivan, on the charge of invading our territory, you have been found guilty. On the charge of being a direct threat to us, you have been found innocent. On the charge of being an indirect threat to us, you have also been found innocent.
“On the guilty charge of invading our territory, you are hereby pardoned. You are released. May you go in peace.”
Thomas was overcome with tears as many in the packed hall cheered. His guards melted into the crowd behind him, and he was left standing alone in front of the King.
The King reached into his robe and took out an old medallion.
“I want you to take this, and keep it with you at all times. When you see it glow steadily, it means we are coming to reclaim our Ireland from the Mileseans.”
Recovering from his emotions, Thomas thanked the King and put the medallion in a coat pocket without studying it.
The King asked him to close his eyes and placed his hands on Thomas’s head. He felt a warmth penetrate his skull. Then he perceived a wave of light that moved from the back to the front.
The King raised his hands and said, “I have removed a veil of vision from you. You may open your eyes.”
He wasn’t sure what that meant but said, “Thank you, Sire.”
“The Irish people are no enemy of ours and never have been. We will leave them be if they leave us be. In that regard, you are advised not to come here again on the night of a full-moon.”
“Yes, Sire. Thank you, Sire.”
“You will now be returned to the place we found you.”
He hoped that didn’t mean they would put him back in the sack. The King placed his hands on Thomas’s head a second time, and everything went black. When he opened his eyes, he was standing in the clearing in the forest, and Dierdre was in front of him smiling.
Surprised, he blurted, “What are you doing here?”
“I asked if I could say goodbye and permission was granted. I am very happy you have been released and that you can return to Knockreedy.”
“Thank you and thank you for your help. What you told me about your race was very helpful.”
“I always felt you were telling the truth, and I wanted to do what I could. I wish you a safe journey, and perhaps we will meet again.”
She stepped forward slowly and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He was surprised but pleased.
“I wish you a safe journey also, and we never know what the fates will bring.”
Dierdre stepped back. Then within a brief flash of light, she shape-shifted into a white canary and immediately flew off in the direction of her home. He waved at the departing bird. Their brief farewell had been bittersweet.
It was dark, and the full-moon was close to setting in the west. As he began the five-mile trek to his home, he wondered how long he had been in capture. His family and friends might be out searching. He turned around frequently to assure himself that he wasn’t being followed and that King Grendler hadn’t changed his mind. He retraced the same paths that had brought him to these unforeseen happenings. There was no wind, and it was eerily quiet. Every once in a while, he thought he heard a whisper. However, when he looked left or right into the heather, there was nothing to be seen — or was there?
Finally, he reached the peaks road and was almost home. Shortly, he recognized the familiar rooflines of Knockreedy and then the roofline of his own cottage. He ran the remaining distance, and Pug was there to greet him exuberantly. He brought the dog inside and closed and locked the door securely. Everything was still. Everything felt normal. Surprisingly, the calendar on the kitchen wall declared it was still the same day. Is that possible? Did everything happen in just a few hours?
He tiptoed to his room, lay down on his bed, and stared at the ceiling. There were no suspended dead animals. His familiar bed had a soft mattress and was not a straw-covered clay floor. He was safe again. From a sanctuary of safety, curiosity can return and it did for Thomas.
As he promised King Grendler, he would tell no one of this night. Most would not believe him anyway. Those that did could be trouble. It is best that the Tuatha de Danaan be left to themselves, at least for now. Perhaps, in the future, some contact might be beneficial. But what was to come? Of course, he had no way of knowing. But he did know it would be very different from the Knockreedy world he was familiar with. This could be the beginning of the most exciting adventures of his life. His anticipation grew.
Suddenly, a bluish glow appeared just outside his bedroom window and immediately caught his attention. He turned his head to see what could only be a fairy. She was a small violet-colored creature with long hair. She took a form similar to a human female but with wings. With those wings aflutter, she hovered up and down and looked slowly around the room. Then she gazed directly at him. He was mesmerized by her delicate beauty and peaceful countenance, and a sense of awe enveloped him.
A gentle smile came over her face, and then she flew off. Springing to the window, he saw a small blue essence moving quickly into the woods. Then it was gone; she was gone. But she had come to him, and he realized he had seen a real fairy. He was overcome with joy.
“Oh my, King Grendler has lifted the fairy veil from my vision,” Thomas whispered to himself...
The old man wiped his eyes and stared down at his half-full mug. He was finished. The only sounds were the crackling of the fire and the wind rattling the windows.
Father Noel placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and said, “Thank you for telling us about that very personal event. I am awed by the magnificence and mystery of this world we live in. Thanks be to God. Have you seen more fairies since then, Old Man?”
“Aye, I have, but that’s for another time.”
“Where is the medallion they gave you?” asked Pat.
“I always carry it with me.”
He slowly reached into a pocket of his jacket. He brought out a white handkerchief and carefully placed it in the center of the table. Everyone leaned forward to get a better view. The unwrapping revealed an old bronze medallion. It was round, about 2” in diameter, and 1/8” high. The dull lump of metal didn’t seem like much until examined more closely.
Much of its face was engraved with a shield and three crossed spears. Letters encircled the outer edge. Although worn, when the light caught them properly, they clearly formed the words “Tuatha de Danaan”. A greenish stone was set in the center of the shield. Everyone stared but remained silent.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” someone exclaimed.
The stone had begun to glow and pulse slowly. Its light faintly highlighted the startled faces at the table.
“It does that every full-moon, and over the years the glow has brightened,” said the old man.
“Can I hold it?” requested Ian.
“You surely can.”
He picked it up not knowing what to expect. The medallion was warmer and heavier than he supposed. After inspecting it, he passed it on. Father Noel was the last to receive it. He felt he was holding some kind of inexplicable magic. He always tried to connect mysteries to the Lord in some way. Failing that, he placed the medallion back on the table.
“Why did you decide to tell us about this tonight after all these years?”
With a wink the old man answered, “Because you asked me to, Father.”
He put down his pint and looked at all the attentive faces — the faces of his Knockreedy family.
“I told you that, over the years, the stone’s glow has brightened. I fear that eventually it’ll become steady as King Grendler said. He warned then that they would be coming. We aren’t their enemy, but all would suffer in a war — especially them. I’m old now and it’s best you be aware of these possibilities. I’ve thought much on this, and I’m considering a solution that would benefit all. But I won’t discuss that now. There is still time.
“Over the years I’ve picked up many a bump and bruise. We all have. I’d like to think that they’ve taught me something. We live in a fascinating but mysterious world, and there are many things we can’t explain. Some are good like the existence of God. Some are not so good like the unpredictable weather. There are things that exist that we’ll never see, but they’re there nonetheless. We don’t even know what they are. Things we don’t know about can hurt us. It’s best to be cautious. It’s best to be prudent. However, life is also meant to be lived and enjoyed. We shouldn’t live in fear of the unknown. Accept that it exists and respect the possibilities.
“For your own personal sake and for the sake of Knockreedy, I strongly suggest you never approach those woods on the night of a full-moon.”
Father Noel interrupted to add his support, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost I pray you heed his words.”
Many, including Joseph Kelly, made the sign of the cross.
The old man continued, “I’ve known you many a year. The good Lord willin’, we’ll enjoy each other’s company for many more to come, and we’ll continue to enjoy the craic (good times) here at Sweeny’s.”
He lifted his pint and several followed with, “Aye, aye.”
A particularly strong gust shook the windows, and everyone turned to gaze out. They saw the shapes and shadows of their familiar village in the dark. However, now they wondered if there was something out there they weren’t seeing. Under the wind came a low wailing sound, which rose and fell. It ceased as quickly as it had begun.
“Did you hear that?” whispered Ian.
“Aye, I did,” responded the old man and paused. “We’ll do well to leave them to their ways, and they’ll hopefully leave us to ours.”
To this day Ireland remains an isle of beauty and mystery.
It’s still best beware when venturing out on the night of a full-moon.