What Happened to Aoife
When the mist had finally drifted away, Aoife saw that she had wandered to the edge of the world. There was a sea and a sky beyond the cliffs where she stood. She wept at the sight of them, for she could not recall the last time she had seen anything. Finding herself alone upon basalt steps where the storms raged strongest, she built herself a small hut in a sheltered nook of the nearby cliffs. And there she stayed for many a year. Daily she gathered seaweed to boil and shellfish to cook. If you asked her how she came to be there, she would not be able to tell you for her voice had been quite lost. The mists have a way about them you see, if you spend too long shrouded in their folds they may take a tithe. Time and memory are their favorite foods, but they will take a voice if it is owed.
One morning, as usual, Aoife made her way along the shore line gathering what she could. Reams of caramel coloured sweet kelp and curly Carageen with its mint green tips soon filled her basket. She then stopped to rest on a stone. The wind was strong that day and she heard voices curve towards her as it blew. A child came skipping over the basalt, with her old grandmother waddling behind her. For a fleeting moment, something about the child and the grandmother struck her as familiar. The child sat and dangled her legs over the edge of a rock and waited for her nan to join her. The little child had rosy cheeks and wind whipped curls that were dusky blonde. The old woman’s cheeks were wrinkled in a constant smile as her granddaughter chattered about this and that…
“Who made the Sun shine, nana?”
“Why, it was Lugh who made the Sun shine and the rain fall so we can have spuds for tea.”
“Who made the Sea, nana?”
“Why it was Lir who brewed the sea and gave it a name. He had a sad old life, did Lir.”
“Why was he sad, nana? Did he not have any spuds for tea?”
“Well hush your chattering and I’ll tell you why.”
The child hushed, her eyes rapt with awe as she waited for the story to begin. Nearby, Aoife called gently in her mind for the wind to blow stronger so that she too could hear the old woman’s words…
“King Lir had four beautiful children, just like you pet! A son Aodh, a daughter called Fionnula and twin boys, Fiachra and Conn. When their poor mother died King Lir married her sister so that his beloved children could still have a loving mother. But the sister was a witch you see, and she was a jealous thing! So convinced was she that Lir loved them more than her, she took them to Lake Derravaragh and turned them into Swans. The spell would last for 900 years and could only be broken when the children heard the ringing of a church bell.”
“That’s awful!” The child exclaimed, “What did Lir do?”
“Oh he searched for his children, my love. He almost gave up hope! But the witch had not been so clever. You see, she had forgotten to take away their voices! And so they found their father and told her what she had done.”
“What did he do next, nana?”
“There was naught he could do for his children, for they were not church folk, the old gods. And had no bells to ring. So the children remained swans.”
“And the witch, what happened to her nana?”
“Lir was so enraged by what she had done that he banished her to the mists. But don’t worry loveen, she was never seen again.”
The child’s eyes grew wide as the story ended. Aoife’s brimmed with tears. Each word had fallen heavy on her as boulders in a rockslide. Each memory tumbled back into place. The old woman had spoken true. Except for this, she had not loved King Lir. Nobody knew about the long days spent alone in the great castle. How alien the children had seemed to Aoife. Though she had tried, Aoife never bore a child of her own. The Children of Lir would never be hers truly. Aoife had felt the loss of her sister as much as they had. She could never replace Eva as a mother. All she wanted was magic and freedom. But Lir was the King. And when the King wanted something, he got it. Hatred for him still boiled within her.
She now recalled the King’s rage and the turbulent nights of her years in the mist. How suddenly they came upon her now. She would walk and stumble and dream of being feathered and tossed about in a raging storm. She would hear the poor children singing… and of course the church bell. That awful ringing. She had not been there when it rang first. And yet it rang for her now. The herald of the coming of saints and the death of the old world. The song of her guilt twisted her stomach into hard knots. It rang and rang. The toll of 900 long years and a crime she could not undo. She covered her ears and still it rang.
Before her eyes now she saw young Fionnuala. As the spectre came closer, her youthful skin darkened and her pretty blonde hair greyed and twisted.
“Are you alright, my dear?” Aoife blinked to find the old woman standing above her. Her kind face floating above like the sun, and eyes as blue as the water below them. She placed a pale hand on the woman’s cheek.
“Thank you.” she whispered with the shadow of her voice. And then she called to the wind one last time. As the last of her power left her body, she faded to dust that swirled upward into the sky. Her ashes raced flocks of white clouds overhead. That day, the child could have sworn she heard the singing of angels in the air.
Aisling Lynch is a Daydream Enthusiast with a penchant for nonsense in all its forms. Sometimes it’s coherent enough to be written down, sometimes it’s better off left in her head.