A Familiar’s Tale – Part XIII

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0At the age of thirty, Aoife was declared a fully-trained seeress and given her choice of life: either travel, as did Dalaigh, to find the exceptional children; or be assigned to a nobleman as his personal diviner. She chose the latter, for which I was glad. Wolfhounds may be able to run fast but we are sprinters, not marathoners.

Aoife found a place with Tierney, a Brehon, or judge. Unfortunately, he was the traveling sort, unattached to any king or tribal chieftain. Some forty years older than Aoife, he was a wizard, which explained his longevity in an era when achieving the age of seventy was considered a rare feat. The vast majority of people saw a man in the prime of his life, meaning around the age of thirty.

Tierney was pleased to have found a seeress to accompany him on his rounds. He may have known the Fénechas, or Laws, backward and forward, but to have someone able to divine whether a petitioner was telling the whole truth was a bonus.

So, for the next twenty-plus years, we traveled a prescribed route through the countryside, staying first at this chieftain’s house, then that minor king’s. Tierney would arbitrate arguments the chieftain either couldn’t decide or didn’t want to get involved with. Aoife would use her divination to aid in the decision and once in a while, do a reading for the chieftain or a member of his tribe. It wasn’t a bad life.

On occasion, Tierney was called to be a part of an appellate court. One such court was convened at Tara. It was the court of the Ard Rí or High King of Ireland. Tierney joined two others of his stature to determine if the judgement of the king’s brithem, or counselor, was correct.

While there, Aoife had a vision that involved the king in a nasty battle. As was right, she reported it to Tierney. In today’s parlance, his reaction was, “And your point was…?” Fighting between tribes was almost an everyday occurrence. When Aoife told him the battle was for the king’s soul, Tierney felt this was something the king should probably know. Aoife was called to the throne, which was not a big chair in a castle but a smaller chair in a small enclosure around a large stone.

Lóegaire mac Néill stood and looked down from his height to Aoife. “So, you have had a vision about a battle for my soul. Tell me about it.”

She related her vision once again, explaining the allegorical meanings behind objects and actions in the waking dream. The battle would take place sometime in the not-too-distant future and his adversary, who followed a different god, would attempt to sway him from his belief in Crom, Lugh, Morrígan, and others.

Lóegaire’s eyes narrowed. He admitted that he had heard of a new religion making its way into Britain and knew it was a matter of time before adherents of that faith made their way to Eire. Calling an old man to his side, he quietly conferred with him.

Tadhg spoke to Aoife. “I am an old man even by our standards and I do not see as well as I once did. The Ard Rí needs a seer at his side, especially if even more troubled times are ahead. Would you consent to join us?”

And so it was that Aoife became the personal seeress of the High King of Ireland. You must remember at that time, there were no castles such as Buckingham Palace. The king, his personal retinue and army traveled around the country, mostly fighting against other kings in an attempt to conquer and then hold lands. It was a brutal life.

Aoife and I were kept busy, looking for the most appropriate place to invade, which day would be good to start a skirmish, whether his next child would be a boy or girl… As her reputation for knowing trees spread, Aoife also oversaw the gathering of hazel nuts (which Tadhg swore were the reason for his longevity), the cutting of rowan branches for a new set of ogham staves, and even the archers came to her for advice on which yew tree would be best for a new bow.

Although Tadhg continued to counsel Lóegaire until his death almost ten years later, for the most part, he left the seeing to Aoife. Many times Aoife and Tadhg would argue over the signs’ meanings and there were instances where I had to put a clamp on Aoife’s temper. It was either that or she would have probably strangled Tadhg with tree roots.

True to Aoife’s vision, a traveler visited the king about five years later, attempting to convince him to renounce his multiple gods and convert to his faith, which recognized only one. The king laughed and vowed never to leave the gods who had given him his kingship. He offered the traveler food and a bed for the night, provided the man said nothing to anyone else about this new faith. The traveler declined and left the king’s presence.

There was one interesting series of battles. Although there were several kings who did not recognize Lóegaire’s authority over them, the most troublesome one held sway over Leinster. As always with the Irish, cattle were involved. Lóegaire wanted a tribute and Leinster refused to pay, so they fought.

One day, Leinster’s troops managed to break through Lóegaire’s lines and capture the king. Like most humans, when it came right down to it, he didn’t want to die. Leinster had become quite tired of Lóegaire’s attempts to collect tribute so after several heated exchanges between the two, Lóegaire vowed never to invade Leinster again, swearing the standard oath calling on all elements to witness. He was released back to his men who seemed pleased he was essentially unharmed.

A year or two after that, the traveler found the king again and again asked him to convert to Christianity which, according to him, was the one true faith. This time, though, many of the king’s followers (especially the wives of those followers) had converted and he was pressured by them to accept the teachings of this Patrick fellow.

Aoife was called to the king’s side and asked what the signs had to say about this Christianity. Aoife did not have to look to know the answer. “This is a decision you must make for yourself, my lord.”

Although I still do not understand it, I had come to realize that humans have a need to believe in something greater than themselves. So, Lóegaire’s decision wasn’t whether to believe at all but what or who to believe in. Once again, the king refused to consider any god but those he had been raised with, and sent Mr. Patrick away.

This caused some consternation in his court and more than a few of his knights and such left because of it. The king took no action against them, as he felt everyone had a right to believe however they wished, despite the fact he thought they were wrong. Everyone else kept their opinions to themselves. The king’s temper was legendary.

To be continued…