The grey Atlantic battered the jagged coast as heavy fog rolled in from the islands ahead. The warrior tightened his scarf around his shoulders as he strained to catch a glimpse of the incoming boat. His watchtower served little shelter from the icy rain being thrown at him like arrows in the wind. A storm was coming. One like they had never seen before. The nearby sheep chewed the grass unfazed.
On the shores below the elders arrived in their currach*. Two young boys from the Réaltaí* clan hurried to meet their guests. They hoisted the small boat onto the sand before tying it to a large rock. The men off boarded, their faces glistening with sea mist and reddened by the wind. They followed the boys through an entrance in the rockface, turning their backs to their homes for the last time.
A feast ensued. The clan had been preparing for many weeks for the anticipated arrival. Food had been scarce the last three harvests. The younger generations would blame the weather, the call of men and women to duty, the changing times. But, their grandparents would disagree. They blamed the draíocht*. The magic that created and sustained the land also had the power to destroy it. The three guests were draíodóir, keepers of the magic. There were few and far between, long banished to the harshest of environments off the West coast of Éireann*
As religion grew, magic was cast out further and further; the Draíodóir forced further and further west until they no longer inhabited the mainland, scattered along islands along the edges of the country.. Their last remnants crumbling forts and huge standing stone circles. But, as their numbers dwindled, so too did the country’s prosperity. Coincidence, perhaps. Perhaps not. A war ensued. Churches were built as families went hungry. Mass was held as the young went to fight a war they knew nothing about. The population as decimated as the food sources.
They ate by candlelight. The days were almost as dark as the night. The clan leaders had planned to use the elders to bring abundance back to the land. Uisce Beatha* flowed generously. They hoped to loosen up the three old men, in the hopes of them bestowing their blessings.
At the end of the night, the leader of the Réaltaí, Folamh*, approached the druids. He tried to appeal to their softer sides, telling them stories of hungry children, dying mothers, absent men. They stood and listened in entirety, only offering nods in acknowledgement. The furthest to the left finally spoke:
“We can do nothing for you my friend. Though we ache in unison with your people, our Draíocht is rendered useless to those who do not believe. Faith is not believing only in abundance, it is believing through scarcity too. Only you have the power to change the plight of your people”
Folamh begged, clinging to the robes of the visitors. Pleading from his knees. Weeping as he grovelled. It did nothing to change the minds of the three men. They turned and retired to their beds.
The following day Folamh woke, aching from his indulgence in Uisce Beatha. He decided to host another feast, this time inviting the women warriors returned from their most recent battle. Surely there must be a way to convince them to use their magic to restore Éireann to her prosperous ways. Other members argued that would not be enough food to host another dinner. Stores were running low and crops had been stagnant of late. Folamh, ordered it anyway, calling for the women to attend. That night the highest clan members, their most decorated women warriors and the Draíodóir ate, drank and revelled once again. The warriors spoke to the three men, enthralling them with stories of battle, conquest and defeat. Comhionann*, the bravest of the women, took her turn to ask for the draíocht, the rebalancing of the land. Again the elders listened in unison, before their response:
“My lady, long before you were born, women ruled these lands. Keepers of the wisdom, they were held most high, revered for their contributions and life giving Fuinneamh*. Now though you battle alongside your fathers, brothers and husbands, you are not their equals. You receive not the same bounty, your Eolas* not respected, your bodies offered tonight as commodities. There is no Draíocht without balance. It is within you to restore that balance. Trust the Eolas. It knows the way back.”
Tears gathered in the warriors eyes, recognising their fate, as the three men once again retreated silently into the night.
On the third morning Folamh awoke furious and desperate. How heartless these men must be, he thought, to ignore the suffering of the Réaltaí, and all of Éireann. He decided he would hold a final feast, only to have his army gather as they ate, forcing the three men to give up their wisdom. He ordered the last of the harvests crops and once again held dinner for their guests. As soon as the men finished their meals, the soldiers descended. Folamh demanded they use their magic to fix the barren people and land. With spears against their throats, they silently reviewed their ultimatum. They sat in silence as Folamh screamed, eyes bulging, spit flying.
Finally the last and oldest elder spoke:
“You cannot command draíocht. It is an essence that exists within all of us. The power to change your predicament exists within you. It exists within your people. It is in the land, the plants, the animals. It is in the children, the women, the sick and the poor. It is only accessible when unity and balance with all of these things occur. Until you recognise it in every moment, it will forever elude you. You cannot force it. You cannot find it. Abundance in your heart and mind will blossom your flowers, your warriors and your creatures. Until you change your ways, draíocht will never touch your hands. You are the sickness. You are the cure”
They were marched to the watchtower. Three rays of sun split the heavy clouds, illuminating the ocean below. And there, on their knees, overlooking their Oileán Iomlán, the draíodóir were slain.
Currach: A small wooden Irish boat, covered in animal skins. Unique to the West coast of Ireland.
Réaltaí : Stars
Uisce Beatha: Whiskey (water of life)
Oileán Iomlán: Island of Whole