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The Rising of the Moon
We used to play by the river, he and I, at the spot where the flow slows and the water laps gently at the shore. When he was young he stayed in close, picking up small stones and laughing delightedly at the gurgles of the water. As he grew older, he also grew more daring, testing the boundaries of what he could do. He was a forest grown child, growing and changing along with the trees that surrounded our gentle bit of river. As he grew, I loved him. I watched my sweet son blossom into a brave strong man. Though times were dark for our poor oppressed Ireland, he was my brightness, my hope. My sweet Sean, my beloved son.
Of all the challenges that my son faced, sitting down and accepting English rule was the most difficult. He would ask me again and again “Mama, why do we just accept it?” and every time I gave him a sad smile and answered “That’s just the way it is.”
I could never bring myself to tell him anything good about the British.
Those perfidious Albions.
Who had forced my Husband to fight in their battles, to die in their battles.
Looking back, I should have swallowed my pride. I should have told him the lies that the Englishmen fed us. It would have been safer for him. Safer to grow up feeling inferior rather than bitter. He hid his bitterness well, masking it behind smiles and laughter. I knew him too well though. He was after all, my son. Like me, he felt the sting of oppression. Like me, he would have done anything to be free.
It was a warm summers evening; the sun had not yet set over the red and emerald horizon, when Sean came into the house. He was moving quickly, giving me no more than a nod before beginning to bustle about the small room. I smiled at him in bemusement. He was a tall boy, not yet nineteen, and not yet grown into his features. His nose was long and angular. His red hair never lay strait.
“You know, you could slow down” I said softly, and he turned and faced me, smiling ruefully.
“Sorry Mother. Hello.” And he went back to his bustling, running to and from our cabinets. I had to laugh.
“Oh then tell me Sean O’Farrell, why are you in such a hurry?” He looked up from his work briefly and shrugged. “Hush Buachaill” I said, and walked over to the boy. Looking him in the eye I laid my hands on his arms and looked up into his eyes. His face was radiant, almost glowing.
“I have orders from the captain” He spoke softly. “He said we must be ready soon.”
“But why?” I asked him, “Ireland’s not at war, we...”
“We’re fighting for freedom” He said, his eyes lighting up. “The pikes shall be assembled at the rising of the moon.
The rising of the moon. Fighting for freedom. My sweet son. How could this be? Oh I knew how of course. He had grown up listening to me speak ill of the British, grown up hearing me curse the day of our enslavement. This could be. This could be easily.
Upon my loosening of grip, Sean freed his arms and continued running about the cabin. He had his jacket, he had his pike, I had to waylay this.
“Sean” I called, and he paused, turned around. “Where...where is this gathering going to be?” And at that his eyes grew sad and I could easily see through his smile.
“At the old spot by the river...You know...” And I did. For there was only one spot he could speak of with such fondness. I tried to smile. I really did; this was all too much, all too real.I had wanted freedom, but not from his blood. He had all he needed now, he was rushing towards the door. I had to stop this, I had to keep him, I had to...
“Sean” I called softly to him. He turned to me. I gathered strength to speak through my clogged throat.“I love you.” His face lit up again and he walked over to me.
“I love you too mum” He said. Then, he gave me a quick embrace and left, closing the door behind him. Now I could not stop the tears in my eyes, for after all the times I had scolded him about shutting the door, now he had finally minded me.
As night began to fall, and the light struggled to shine beneath the brink of the horizon, and the creatures of the night had began to wake and sing their gentle tunes, my life was racing off into what felt like an abyss of chaos. But the river was constant. It sang quietly, gurgling along it’s path of rocks and branches. It was a little up the bend that I lay hidden. There was bit of thick shrubbery, and it hid my head completely. I watched the sons of Ireland meeting. They stood at the bend, their weapons shining in the soft light that reflected of the water. As the sun continued its descent the air grew colder, and I could see the men shivering. They stood there tall straight and...small. Why were there so few of them? Their captain was not a stupid man. He had not seemed the type to rush into a rebellion with such small numbers. What had happened? They had been prepared, trained, readied for this day. There should be more of them unless. Unless not all their men had came. Unless some lay hidden in their homes unwilling to pay the price of freedom in their blood. I saw the captain shouting. Though I could not hear him, he looked enraged, and I could guess the content of his words. They were angry, yet encouraging. No, I could not allow for this, I almost rose to stop them when I heard it, the marching tune, the cry. The english boots. The clash of weapons. Looking up in the sky I could see that indeed the light had left, that the moon had started to rise gently in the night. I bit my lip and watched as the small army of men went forward their weapons shaking gently in their arms.
For years I had heard it said that one could only see the faerie folk if you had the single minded focus of a child at play. I had never quite believed this for my willingness to believe had slowly died as time went by. For years though I had listened to my boy telling me about them, giggling with laughter as he explained to me their exploits and antics. He had spoke of them often, telling me of their soft smiles, their kindly eyes, their lovely faces. I had not thought of his faeries in a long time. They had been small glimpses of magic that I had assumed all children had experienced. The creatures had simply faded from my mind. But kneeling there by the river, my eyes heart and mind all focused upon my son, I saw her, hiding in the shrubbery. She was there, though nothing like the beautiful creatures my son had described. She knelt by the river just in front of me, her hands holding ragged clothing. The river hit those clothes, starting sparkling clear, and leaving tinged with blood. She too stared at the army. She was hunched over, and a mass of tangled black hair cascaded down her back. My breath came more slowly. This was not one of Sean’s beautiful creatures at all. This was a Banshee, the one that sings tidings of death. When the banshee sings an Irish man shall soon die, and though this one remained silent, I did not trust this peace. As tears began to form the banshee looked at me, and for just a moment I saw her eyes, black as a void. Then she faded from my sight, disappearing into the twilight. Quickly I turned back to my son, the thought of the Banshee vanishing as the two armies approached. A marching tune was being whistled by both sides. The boys looked so strong, so ready, and a part of me, an odd giddly part that refused to leave my head was certain that they would be alright, that the boys were all strong, prepared, well trained. I bit my lip as they met each other and steel began to clash. And then the banshee started screaming.