From the Ashes Arise (part 1)

October 20, 2010
The air reverberated with the sound of tolling bells. Solemn notes strung themselves up, welling and pouring like a tide over the vibrant grasses. Sound found its way to every corner of the isle, slow ringing a mournful message winging by air to all people affected by the tragic event. Above, the sky was a murky gray and rain poured as though the heavens themselves grieved, all of Ireland heard the mourning bell’s message.

Ghaois, the high priestess of Clann Brianne, was dead. She may have served as the group’s priestess, but the old woman was widely regarded as a spiritual leader for all the clans; Ghaois had trained more than a few priests and priestesses of other kin, and was almost as beloved as stories of the Tuatha de Danaan and the Sidhe.

By her crude mat sat two old men, a young boy, and a grim, scarred warrior. Each was of Ó Brianne blood, and their eyes were all fixed on the wrinkled corpse. Death suited Ghaois as life had, in the opinion of the old men. The warrior saw only his mother and high priestess lying unnaturally still; she had been a restless, active woman. Her glassy eyes were slowly gaining a milky film, the boy noticed. Their wise and sometimes mischievous shine had been extinguished, leaving behind something that looked like Ghaois, but did not house her spirit.

The leaner of the two old men- one stooped with remnants of a warrior’s physique, and the other tall and whip-thin- reached a withered hand forward, passing it over her eyes. They closed, and he touched her slack face gently. “This world is no kind place,” he said thickly, his dark eyes downcast and free hand patting his white beard absently. “It has taken a good woman from us this day, to say nothing of robbing us of our dearest priestess.”

A sigh billowed out of the warrior’s mouth, and he moved to place a sun-browned hand over the one the old man rested on Ghaois’s forehead. “To say nothing of what it has robbed from her kin,” he added, giving his father’s hand the briefest and lightest of squeezes. “Here, Conn,” the warrior gestured, beckoning the boy forward.

He frowned sharply at his uncle, bringing a small fist up to rub at his moist blue eyes. All Conn knew, at the tender age of four, was that Granny Ghaois was going to sleep for a long, long time, which meant that she couldn’t play with him or tell him stories anymore. But the warrior beckoned again, this time impatiently, so Conn toddled over, reaching up with one hand to clutch at his uncle’s tunic. “Is Gwanny gonna wake up?”

“No, Conn,” the stooped man spoke sadly. “Her spirit will wake, but it will not remember this life. She won’t be Granny when she wakes.” His voice was firm, sad, and oddly wistful.
Conn blinked and let go of the warrior’s tunic to plant both hands solidly on his waist. “Then I’ll find Gwanny!” The boy turned to his grandfather and tugged on his drab gray robes. “You’ll teach me how, right? So I can be like Gwanny and find her?”
The old man squatted level with his grandson beside his wife’s corpse. “If you are willing to learn, Conn, I will teach you your Granny’s trade and faith.” Conn fixed him with a watery smile. “But, only if you swear on your honor that you will place the faith and your duties above your search.”
“I p-pw-pr-promise.” The warrior and stooped man blinked in surprise. Conn’s childish inability to pronounce his “R”s was the most longstanding the clan had seen in years. Now, over a silly idea, he was pushing past that. His blue eyes were like chips of ice underneath his dark hair as he continued. “I’ll find Gwanny, just you wait an’ see.”
Laughter briefly filled the hut, the stooped man rubbing his hand over the hilt of the sword he still wore strapped to his hip. “Best hope your lads turn out like Conn, Lir. Boy’s got enough mettle as a brat to say the things we wish we could.”
Lir let a half-smile touch his thin lips for a moment. His wife was pregnant, and the gossip of the women said she bore twins, boys both. “One of them must take Mother’s place when he is trained.”
“And what of Conn?” Ghaois’s husband frowned at Lir, a hand resting protectively on Conn’s raven-colored hair. The toddler smiled up at him, seemingly uncaring of the fact that his uncle Lir planned to usurp what was rightfully his should he choose to claim it.
“If Conn has completed his search or no longer wishes to, then he, of course, will have his place.” The boy was no longer watching his grandfather, his uncle, or the stooped man, who was Ghaois’s brother. He was staring at the door, where Lir’s wife leaned outside, listening in. Something within her felt familiar… like Granny.

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