Sliabh na mBan

 

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Last night I dreamt of time beyond man’s memory. Even such a man as once stood at my peak and awaited his racing bride. Waking, sleeping; caught ever in the net of time that pulls my kind onward into change without changing. Time means somewhat different to me. And yet I am wakeful in slumber. Strange beings – half-remembered, persecuted from men’s minds – still slip between the birch and oak on my wooded slopes. The Mysteries were my only window on life and death – I neither live nor die. I simply am.

Some places echo with great sorrow. I feel the aching presence of Sí Ghamhnaí. Once a crossing place – the lady in the green kirtle would call the milk-white heifers on moonlit nights and lead them to graze on my slopes, drink at my sacred springs. Man spoiled this, for a heifer was caught and made to breed; folk grew fleshful and healthy on her milk, and coveted her offspring until they were mad with longing. I tasted their ruby-blood in my waters when they betrayed and slew each other. The heifer was rescued but the damage was done: None now in Erin live who know the half-fey cattle from the sacred cairn.

But this dream… I was old but so much younger. Man was a new race; vital, daring, rich in wisdom and strength. Fionn’s name echoed around my peaks and gullys. He would let me choose his bride and bade all the young women to run, run to my peak where he would greet the winner with a kiss and his hand. I feel them; all the young women who would be Fionn’s bride, old as he was. I feel their drumming feet, the spring and release of muscle and sinew as the ball of each foot touches down, kicks free. Their breath comes shorter as the slope increases; the wind snatches it, bringing teasing hints, wildflowers and womanly musk. Then Wind snatches a glimpse of Grainne, daughter of High King Cormac mac Airt; she tastes of fire, like her hair, and of duty, for she runs not for love but for the joy of it, and because her father bade her do so. She is fleet as a deer and fearless. I love her as instantly and completely as Fionn does when she reaches the peak before all others…

I see as a mountain does: the whole pattern unrolls before me. I want to rumble despair but I have been quiescent too long for that. I first understood the human need to weep then, for Gráinne took Fionn’s eager, out-stretched hand, saw his white, shining hair and was pleased, triumphant… then her eyes met those of Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, of Fionn’s fianna, and the seeds of betrayal were sown. Fionn and his bride walked hand-in-hand from the cairn. Diarmuid’s hot gaze followed them.

The very wind tasted of blood.

And I knew, for the first time, the terrible power of human love.