Life returned to normal. That is to say, exacting tribute of cattle from lesser kings, attempting to exact tribute by force from those who did not wish to pay it, and the quarterly gatherings at Tara.
It was at one of these gatherings that Loégaire decided it was time Leinster came under his dominion once and for all. After the religious ceremonies and celebrations were over, he called his battle chiefs to his side and devised a plan he thought would finally bring that pesky place under control.
Aoife, who had become chief advisor after Tadhg’s death, quietly reminded the king of his oath never to bother Leinster again. “My lord, you told me you swore an oath, invoking the elements. Will you now violate something so sacred?”
“That oath was to another king. It does not hold with the new king.”
Aoife shrugged her shoulders. Invoking the elements bound him to the land, not a person. But she knew better than to argue.
The king led his troops down what is now called the River Boyne into the heart of Leinster territory. As we were marching along, a freak storm blew up. Normally gentle rain felt like arrows piercing the skin as it was blown sideways by the strong winds. Thunder crashed and lightning lit up the skies.
“It is a sign, my lord,” Aoife shouted to be heard through the tempest. “You must withdraw.”
“Nay, lass,” the king bellowed. “’Tis but a storm and shall pass.”
As soon as the final word left his mouth, a bolt of lightning struck the king on his horse. Aoife and I, along with several others, were thrown aside like rag dolls from the blast. With one last rumble of thunder, the wind died down, the rain subsided and off in the distance, one could see blue skies.
We picked ourselves up and assessed injuries. Everyone, including me, could hear nothing. Thankfully, I could hear Aoife’s thoughts as she passed from one man to another. This one has burns; that one has nerve damage in his arm; the other one she didn’t know but he was unconscious. Our hearing slowly returned and Aoife coordinated with the closest battle chief on which people needed to get to healers.
At the chief’s orders, several of the king’s men picked up his body and we started back it in the direction from which we had come. I heard mumblings of “Taranis” from several of them. Once we returned to the stone at Tara, the king’s body was cremated in a huge pyre and one of his sons was declared High King of Ireland.
Aoife did not like this particular son, so after conducting Loégaire’s funeral, we slipped away from the gathering. I asked her where we would go.
“At the moment, I am very tired of kings. I am also very tired of always moving from place to place. I have heard of a grove in the mountains to the southwest. Perhaps they will accept me. Maybe I could teach? I don’t know. But I’d like to stay in one place. Maybe even marry and have a family.”
I mentally snorted at this last. Who would want a woman with such a temper? However, because of that temper, I did not voice my opinion.
It took us two years to find the grove. Christianity may have been making good headway throughout the country but there were still plenty of people who held to the old ways. Aoife’s garb was, as was every Druid’s, distinctive and she was asked for readings all along our path. That meant we almost always had a roof over our heads at night, a hot meal for her, and as much meat as I could eat with my choice of bones to chew on.
We did eventually come to a grove similar to the one Aoife came of age in. It was situated in the heart of mountains on the southwest coast of the country. Her reputation had spread and Aednat, the leader of the grove, welcomed her with open arms. Apparently, they did not have someone as well-versed in divination as Aoife and she was indeed given the position of teaching that art.
And much to my surprise, she met a man who could handle her temper! Ardan was a Druid, what you would call a bard. He played a stringed instrument and sang ballads, telling the history of man in general and Ireland in particular. He did not teach but sang to the grove in the evenings. He also was generally the person who spoke with travelers, getting any news and eventually setting it to song to be memorized by the next generation of bards.
Ardan started pursuing Aoife almost as soon as we had settled into our new life. She, on the other hand, at slightly over one hundred years old, wanted little to do with the “young” man (he was only around seventy). Ardan did not give up his quest and Aoife finally gave in after a couple of years. I do not believe she loved him but it was a comfortable relationship that gave her the stability she craved.
Life was not without difficulty. The growing movement of Christianity had penetrated even our little corner of the world. The magical children who were once easily swayed to become Druids were now the “property of the Church” and we saw fewer and fewer come to live with us each year. This broke Aoife’s heart. Although she had wanted children, she was unable to conceive and looked upon the youngsters as her surrogate family.
We also had our share of priests and others come to the grove in an attempt to convert those who lived there. While they were not actively discouraged, it was made plain that the inhabitants did not intend to change their ways. Our grove became more and more isolated as the years went by; those seeking the Druids’ assistance visited less and less.
Overall, however, it was peaceful and Aoife lived with Ardan, teaching various forms of divination to whoever was interested, and giving readings to those who asked for them, for almost one hundred years. Only at the last did she decide she needed to “move on” and see something more of the mountains than just the view from the grove. After explaining her reasoning to Ardan, we left the grove and hiked farther up into the mountains. Several weeks later, she took her last breath sitting on the ground with her hand on my back, leaning against a rock where she had a clear view of the infiniteness of the ocean.
To be continued…