I had another visit to the ether, then opened my eyes to find a teat in my mouth – I was nursing. A quick glance around told me I probably was a dog and had five siblings. The sound of small children squealing, laughing, playing, whatever small children do, assaulted my ears.
As soon as I’d released the nipple I was sucking on, small hands picked me up and I was crushed against a chest. “This one is mine,” a voice chirped.
“You’ll have to speak with your Da about that,” an older, female voice said. “You know he plans on selling them.”
The little voice whined, “But Aedan has his own dog. I want one!”
“Aedan uses his for hunting. Girls don’t hunt. What would you do with your own dog?”
The human crushing me against her chest thought for a moment. “Girls do too hunt. Brigid goes with the men. I’ve seen her. I can hunt, too!”
The older voice sighed. “As I said, you’ll have to ask your Da. Now put him back with his mother.”
I was placed back with my siblings and after some arguing, secured a spot right next to my mother and fell asleep.
As you might imagine, the little girl got her way. Aoife was appropriately named after the greatest Irish female warrior. She had no compunction about fighting, even with her fists, to get what she wanted.
In this life, I was what today you would call an Irish Wolfhound. We were bred by Bran, who was considered the best hunting dog breeder in all of Ireland. Siblings from other litters had found their way into the hunting packs of tribal chieftains and even the High King of Ireland, regardless of the political climate.
As I may have mentioned, Aoife was headstrong. And, like all my humans, quite smart. At the age of nine she was plucked from her home by Dalaigh, a Druid, and was taken to what they called a grove, to begin intensive studies.
The grove, despite current lore, wasn’t a just a circle of oak trees. Yes, there was that but it was also what you would probably refer to as a school for gifted children. What in hindsight was interesting is that each of the twenty or so children was allowed to bring their pet – and they each hand one. I later learned that the handful of Druids who traveled looking for these children, had the gift of foresight. They were able to tell whether a child would manifest magic, what their element would be, and that each “pet” was a familiar.
For six long years, Aoife spent hours memorizing poems (some of history, some set to music), recipes for healing potions, astronomy and how to interpret the stars, and the Brehon laws. The Druids knew what her element would be but not where her interests or strengths would lie. Therefore, she started training in all three disciplines.
The Druids discovered she needed discipline not only in their arts but with her temper. Rather than argue with her mouth, she did it more often with her fists. The healer threatened to name her hut after Aoife due to the number of scraped knuckles and bloody noses she had to treat. Aoife did eventually learn to debate rather than fight but it was clear to others of her age that she was not to be messed with. As a result, she became something of a loner.
Life was not all classroom study. The grove was a small village that, like all villages in its time, was self-supporting. The children were expected to help with chores such as tending cattle and sheep, planting and weeding food gardens, and gathering healing plants that grew wild in the valley and higher up in the mountains. Because I was a dog, Aoife was tasked with helping with the animals – I would warn them if wolves or elk were near enough to threaten.
The children also partook in the seasonal festivals, which were also religious holidays. They may not have had class on these days but there was always something to do.
At fifteen, her magic manifested – and not in a good way. She was, naturally, arguing with a teacher, lost her temper and caused the roots of the tree the instructor was leaning against to curl up and embrace said teacher. Thankfully, it was not fatal but her instructor bore marks on his face and arms for many years.
I began my job by, once again, giving her headaches until she learned who and what I was and accepted my presence in her mind. Thankfully, that came quickly because her teachers knew what was happening. I was also able to put a damper on her temper, for which many people were grateful.
At sixteen, she had her first vision. We were in class, Aoife learning how to process plants into healing mixtures and me gnawing on an elk bone, listening to Aoife think about how dumb this class was. All of a sudden, her thoughts turned from grumbling to an image of the grasslands where the sheep and cattle grazed. The young man who was supposed to be watching the herd was asleep and in the distance were several men creeping out from the woodland that edged the grazing area.
The Druids’ grove, which belonged to no tuath, or kingdom, was set apart, much like your churches today belong to no country. Most people revered the Druids and rather than take something from them, gave gifts. These men obviously were not most people and were set to steal cattle, as was common at that time.
Realizing this was no dream but reality, I nudged Aoife to tell her teacher what she saw. Naturally, she could not be polite and raise her hand to get the Druidess’ attention but simply interrupted and blurted everything out. That, at least, conveyed the urgency of her message. Aoife was asked if she was certain and I encouraged her to nod.
The teacher hurriedly dismissed class and raised the alarm. Every adult and teenager grabbed a spear or sling and raced toward the field, which was probably a normal fifteen minute walk. The swiftest arrived in less than five minutes.
Aoife’s warning was timely. Lorcan, the boy supposedly watching the herd, had been knocked unconscious and the rustlers were in the process of rounding up the cattle when the first villagers arrived. At first, the rustlers fought back but as more people appeared and they found themselves outnumbered, they disappeared into the woods from which they had come, leaving one of their dead compatriots behind.
And so it was that Aoife was declared a seeress and much to her delight, she was excused from all classes except those pertaining to divination and the Brehon laws. When she grumbled about the law class, it was explained to her in terse terms that everyone had to know them and how they were applicable to their area of study.
What she didn’t realize is that divination included not just visions but astronomy; what you would call ornithology, because they divined by bird call and flight, and one had to know the different birds, calls, and flight patterns; meteorology, because they studied weather patterns; and dream interpretation.
As you probably know, there were no books. All subjects were taught by rote memorization. The teacher would recite something and the class repeated it. Ad nauseum until whatever the subject was drilled into the students’ brains. This is perhaps why their schooling took twenty long years.
I learned right along with her. Some things a familiar instinctively knows but others, like the Druids’ particular ways of doing things, we do not. Aoife excelled at ornithomancy and although the dog preferred to chase the birds, I forced down the natural inclination and observed and remembered with Aoife.
To be continued…