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    “ Listen. The minstrels sing In the departed villages.
    The nightingale, Dust in the buried wood, flies on the grains of her wings And spells on the winds of the dead his winter's tale.
    — Dylan Thomas

    Samhain, the Celtic New Year, began the first of November with the arrival of the darkness. This was the chance for all dwelling in the faerie kingdom, and the Gods of the Earth, to glimpse beyond the mist, pass through to the other side, and to say farewell to that which is ending.

    Mongfhionn and Diantha, side by side, climbed the Hill of Tara. Strange perhaps to see a Goddess Queen and a faerie together, but it was Feile Na Marbh, the Festival of the Dead and all of the Sidhe from the four cities, Falias, Gorias, Finias and Murias would join forces with the Celtic Gods and Goddesses to insure that the bonefires were lit properly and that the carving of the turnip faces was done according to tradition — lit with the embers of a fire blessed by Lugh of the Long Hand, the greatest of the Celtic Gods. 

    The Hill of Tara, a flaming beacon, would signal to all across the land, waiting atop their own hillsides, to light the ritual fires.

    In truth, it was common knowledge that Diantha was formerly a mortal child that had been taken from her human family to Sid, the enchanted palace near the River Boyne.  (It has always been said that the faeries cannot resist beauty in any form and Diantha’s beauty had been compared to that of a divine flower).  She had flaxen hair, rosy pink cheeks and a scent so sweet that a retinue of bees followed her everywhere.  If anyone desired honey or beeswax they would simply follow Diantha, listening to the gentle murmur of the bees as they flew back and forth from their “divine flower” to the hive. 

    “Diantha, I heard you were chasing the crows at dawn today near the Mourning Stone,” Mongfhionn spoke quietly as she searched the girl’s face.  Diantha’s green eyes glittered and sparkled like a pair of jade stones.  “Who told you such things?” said the small girl, turning away.

    “It is my role to know all that goes on in the Middle Kingdom,” Mongfhionn said severely, “no one has to tell me ‘such things’.”

    Diantha whirled around and looked Mongfhionn straight through to her true heart, her eyes, now large dark pools. “Yes, it is so, the crows had tales to tell this day.”

    “So Cian has been teaching you some of his old divination tricks, has he?” Inwardly Mongfhionn chuckled to herself. All knew of the powers of Cian, the father of Lugh, a seer and a prophet.  He had been born with a Caul on his head.  A great omen and birthright that could provide protection from evil witches and sorcerers. For a short time he had been turned into a pig by a blow from a druid’s wand as a young boy, and ever after he had the ability to transform himself into a pig or a dog at will. 

    “So how did he appear this morning?” the Goddess Queen demanded, “a barking dog or an oinking pig?”

    “Neither, Mongfhionn,” Diantha lowered her eyes and bowed her head.  “Cian was a man, tall as the great Oak of Leinster, with a red beard and red hair as long as your own.”  

    Mongfhionn could see that the young girl was enchanted by Cian. And though she was a sorceress in her own right, she too was not immune to his shape shifting skills and the charms that flew from his fingers and from behind his ears.  Unlike spells, the charms were always something that you wanted to hear or to have, like a tiny silver bell or a tune that he played on a mysterious instrument which he merely passed his hands over.  It was as though he were playing with small birds, catching them, then releasing them, their voices levitating from deep within the Linden box.  The sounds were not exactly songs, but rather tones that reminded the listener of something they had lost or something they might never find.  Sometimes it seemed  as though it was just the wind crying or sighing as it moved through his fingers.  

    The Celtic Queen had seen stoic druids weeping over Cian’s strange music.  She herself remembered a strange dream she had had of her four sons being turned into carnivores, when once Cian’s charms had touched her.  

    “We must hurry, there is much to do Diantha, now quickly tell me what you learned from counting crows this morning?”  

    In a high pitched sing- songey voice Diantha chanted:  

    “One crow sorrow,
    Two crows mirth,
    three, a wedding,
    four, a birth,
    five brings silver,
    six takes wealth,
    seven crows a secret,
    More I can nae tell.”

    “At first watch there was a crow flew from the northwest, and Cian said this means a stranger will appear. The same crow landed on a Thornbush, warning that the stranger will be an enemy. Seven crows then formed a circle around the Mourning Stone and Cian would only say there is some sort of secret and it has to do with the Mourning Stone.” Diantha closed her eyes as she relived the mornings’ lesson.

    “But then the most amazing thing happened my Queen, a giant crow landed on Cian’s shoulder.  The biggest crow I have ever seen! It had a sharp curved beak and the cruelest CAW CAW CAW….Cian said it was Macha, the Crow Goddess.  She cackled and screeched and cursed, mocking the whole of Middle Kingdom and the festival. But the most amazing thing was that she spoke to me, and I could understand her words—though Cian could not. Cian said only a handful of mortals have ever understood the language of the crows.   He told me that perhaps I am one of the ‘Ovates’, an initiate that will someday have to sit in darkness awaiting for my rebirth.” Now, Diantha looked frightened. “I do not want to leave my bees or my flowers, nor the sun that opens their eyes each morning. I could not live in darkness.  I would sooner slip into the Irish sea and become a cockle shell lying peacefully on the bottom.”

    “Cian oversteps his bardic role & he is too big for his Caul!” Mongfhionn exclaimed, “don’t worry child, you are not going into the underworld,” she said firmly.  “But you must now tell me what news Macha has brought us. The Crow Goddess is powerful and her wings stretch across the four cities.”

    Then the words, like peppered moths fluttered from Diantha’s rosebud mouth:

    “There is a river that started its life as two rivers—a river that flows backwards-- its source is in the Welsh mountains near Welshpool and it flows out to the Irish Sea. That river is bringing “Siridean,” the Searcher.  He was born on the Isle of Skye, and they say he has the gift of prophecy.  He seeks the LiaFail, the “Stone of Destiny” and his True Home…”

    Suddenly the they were caught in a shee-gaoithe, (a whirlwind) and spun about madly, with the humming of a thousand bees inside the vortex, carrying them to the “Forad”, the Inauguration Mound. Ash and dust filled their throats and lungs.  The bones on the mound waiting patiently to be thrown into the Bonefire, were now moving and forming into something,

    Was it shapes?  Was it words?

    Diantha rubbed her eyes, rimmed with soot and smoke.  She could just barely make something out now as the bones stopped moving:

    ''Burning in the bride bed of love,
    in the whirlpool at the wanting centre,
    in the folds of paradise,
    in the spun bud of the world.''

    — Dylan Thomas

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    R.A. Martin is a lover of four-legged creatures and a psycho-geographer in the age of sensible shoes, exploring the hidden passageways, nooks & crannies & abandoned corners of the natural and urban landscape. Read More »

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