On Tara Hill in the Well of the Storyteller

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The Hill of Tara at  Dusk

In our earlier session we arrived together in the Well of the Storyteller on Tara Hill. She is about to tell us an ancient tale of desire and longing, but first she invites us to settle in:

Lean back against the rock wall. Let it embrace you, body and spirit. Close your eyes. Relax all tension in your body. Breathe deeply. Now, I shall begin.

It is twilight on the moors as the eastern sky inhales, drawing away the day’s light, leaving a trail of rose madder and lavender on the sides of the far hills. Two of the Irish faery folk, the Sidh, now long vanished from our Isle, are walking along the path that skirts the cliff at the sea’s edge. One of them spies something ahead of her on the path and her greedy eyes glisten with the hope of gain. A bundle of clothes—perhaps finery—dropped by a traveller? She reaches down, her grasping fingers surprised by the weight. She opens the bundle, and cries out, “a bairn, a human bairn!”

The Sidh women look at one another, instantly united in one wicked resolve. “What no one is claimin’ is ours for the takin’.”

They hurry off, heedless of the cries of the baby now clutched to the finder’s thin breasts.

Almost all light has vanished as a coracle passes directly beneath the spot where the theft has just occurred. Michael and Niall are tired from their day’s fishing in the next cove, eager to be home to their families, their firesides, with the day’s catch. Niall plies the oars in the small boat, but it is Michael in the bow who spots the dark shape halfway up the side of the cliff. “Look up there, Niall. Is that someone trapped on the shelf – there, part way up the cliff?”

But Niall is weary, would rather not know, “Sure, ‘tis only a shadow, Michael. Or perhaps an animal resting.”

“Niall, how could we be sure ‘tis not some poor soul, fallen from the cliff above and injured? And how could we be going home to our own firesides, leaving someone there. Row to shore!”

Reluctantly, Niall turns the coracle towards the rocky cove and the bit of dry land that passes for shore. They secure the boat, scrabble their careful way up the cliff face, reaching for secure hand-holds, testing their weight on each jutting ledge with a tentative foot. When they reach the wide ledge where they’d spotted the shapes, they find a woman.

“Is she dead, Michael?” Niall’s whisper is filled with dread.

“No, but fainted or perhaps knocked unconscious by her fall. Here, take my cloak. Help me wrap her for the trip down to the boat.”

With tenderness, the two men make their careful way downwards, lay the still-unconscious woman in the bottom of their coracle. By the time they reach the cove near their own village, full darkness has risen to extinguish all outer light. The woman has not stirred.

Guided by the firelight that shines through the open window of Michael’s croft, they make their way to the door where Michael’s wife Elspeth, in one swift movement, lifts the woman into her arms and places her gently on the hearth rug beside the fire. “Quick, Michael, ladle some soup from the cauldron above the fire. Try to get her to swallow a little of it.”

The heat of the fire and the few drops of hot soup bring the woman to full wakefulness. She looks at Michael and his wife, and then around the small room as her eyes widen in terror. “My bairn! Where is my wee bairn?”

Elspeth looks at her husband. He shakes his head. “Prepare yourself for great sorrow,” she says to the younger woman. “There was no bairn with you when my husband and his friend found you.”

“You’d fallen from the cliff above,” Michael adds. “You might have died.”

But the young woman takes no comfort in her own survival. “My baby! He is all I have, for his father is dead. I placed him beside a gorse bush on the path, and went to find water for us both.” And already she has begun to stand as she says, “I must go to find him.”

Michael places a firm hand on her shoulder, preventing her from rising. “You’ll find nothing in this black night. Rest now, and at first light, Niall and I will call the men of village together to organize a proper search. We’ll walk back along the road that meets the cliff path. We’ll find your bairn. Never fear.”

But when he sees the anguish on the woman’s face, Michael reads her thought. How could a bairn survive alone at night? There are animals…

“I’ll get Niall and two lanterns. We’ll go now.”

Elspeth gives the woman more soup, laced with something to make her sleep, murmuring assurances that soon she’ll be holding her baby in her arms. But Elspeth hears another song deep in her own heart, a song of dread, of grief.

to be continued……

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