This is kind of an experiment for me, writing about old times and places. I did some research and since I'm always fascinated with the "olden" times, here is a little something different. I have a few chapters written out on this story in the making...and I want to explain just a few things in translation. I also was not sure if I should use old forms of spelling such as "Thee", "Me", "Thy" but thought that would possibly be too difficult to pull off, so keeping it somewhat modern.
Maighdan na Haille - Maiden of the cliffs
Caoimhe - spelled "Kee-va"
Siobhan - spelled "Shiv-awn"
This story is about a healer named Caoimhe in ancient Ireland, (11-12th century) and how she meets Aidan who has become very ill after a fall from a roof...I won't give away more, but maybe you can imagine...
Let me know if this stirs your curiosity for more of Caoimhe and Aidan.
Wild waves from the Atlantic were crashing against the cliffs. Strong winds blowing in from the ocean were howling around the cottage on the hill. It was the beginning of spring but with all its might, winter was still battling spring with strong gusts and cold temperatures.
The meadows were only slowly turning green. The dead brown grass longed to be laid to rest as spring flowers were waiting right underneath the grounds surface, anticipating to show their buds and eventually their beautiful faces.
The land was covered in thick fog, carrying in from the ocean. Spring seemed still in a distant future, never to return but nature was in charge and she would eventually permit spring to come back.
It was only March after all. Evening was about to push itself over the land.
Caoimhe had the fire going in the cottage and was just adding another piece of dry wood. She then took the spoon and bowl to the water pail in the corner and rinsed off the residue of the broth she had drank for her evening meal. A few crumbs of bread were scattered over the table and she picked them up with her finger tips and put them into her mouth. She was going to have to bake bread soon as her supply had been diminishing over the past few days.
For four years she had occupied the cottage by herself. After her father had passed from his earthly life, she had pondered moving into the village but then again, her childhood had been spent in this cottage on these cliffs with her siblings and her parents. They were all gone and she was the only one left.
She was lonely sometimes and only her three cats, a few sheep, a cow, and several chickens kept her company over the winter months when she barely left the cottage. Not too many people found their way to Caoimhe’s cottage and the ones’ that did come to pay her a visit were there for a reason, usually an ailment that plagued them or they were in need of herbs to brew teas or add to their baths to help with aches and pains.
Caoimhe was knowledgeable about most local plants and appreciated the gifts of nature. She only picked what she used and what she needed to bring herself and her potential patients through the year. Usually when summer was in bloom, she went out and picked enough to stock her supply and help her over the winter months and into spring. A variety of dried herbs and plants were hanging in a corner of her cottage, always spreading a pleasant scent through the cottage. The jars and tubs with ointments she had prepared over the winter or dried herbs inside were stacked on a shelf.
Caoimhe couldn’t wait for spring when every day she would stroll over the meadows of green, lush grass and be amazed with the beauty of the flowers. She couldn’t wait to run over to the cliffs and watch the sea gulls screech over her head as they would dart down into the wild waves to catch fish.
Hopefully soon the days would get longer and the sun would come out more and Caoimhe would be able to only wear her thin dress and walk barefoot again, sit in front of her cottage in the evenings and sing the songs she knew from her mother.
Now she was still bundled up in three layers and had thick woolen socks on her feet, on the inside even padded with sheep’s wool to keep her feet warm. Around her head and neck, she had wrapped a long shawl keeping her long red hair bundled up as well. She had to go out to the well and fetch some water before it would get all the way dark. Already now she could only see a few feet in front of her with the thick fog encasing her homestead.
She stuck her warm padded feet into the wooden clogs outside the door and with the pail pressed against her chest she hurried through the cold fog to the well behind the house.
The cats had followed her out and found spots around the house to relieve themselves, just to hurry back in again and lay by the fire to lick themselves clean.Caoimhe heard seagulls in the fog but couldn’t see them, the dark of the night and white of the fog were mingling to form a thick grey blanket falling over the land.
She filled the pail with fresh water and lugged it around to the front of her house again. Just as she was about to close the door behind her, she heard a voice in the fog.
“Maighdean na haille?”
Caoimhe turned around at the door of her cottage and looked into the fog, trying to make out the body the voice belonged to.
A shape of a person appeared from the fog like from another world but Caoimhe made out a woman, bundled up in thick layers of clothing just like herself.
The voice now sounded clearer as the woman approached slowly and cautiously, “Are you the daughter of Siobhan na haille?”
Yes, I am Caoimhe na haille.”
Now the woman had reached the cottage and stopped a few steps away from Caoimhe.
She stated, “Your mother was known to be a good woman with special hands and helped many people.’”
Caoimhe saw the face of her mother Siobhan appear in her mind for a moment. She had been a beautiful woman and wonderful person helping many with her potions and broths, with her ointments and salves, and also with her healing hands.
Caoimhe smiled thinking of her mother and replied, “Yes, my mother was a beautiful woman.”
The woman now stood close to Caoimhe and she could make out her features. Her face appeared tired with dark rings under her eyes. Her lips were dry and cracked and the lines in her face made her look old but hearing her voice she sounded not as old as she appeared.
“Is it true you have your mother’s hands?”
Caoimhe nodded, “ ’Tis true.”
“I need your hands.”
Caoimhe nodded into the cottage and stepped aside, “Why don’t you come inside?”
The woman now walked past Caoimhe into the warm cottage. It was lit up by the flames in the fire place and two candles on the mantle and one on the table.
Caoimhe closed the door behind herself and latched the wooden handle.
She pointed to a chair, “You may sit.”
The woman hesitantly sat down keeping her arms wrapped around herself and curiously scanned the cottage with her eyes.
Caoimhe wasn’t planning on leaving her cottage anymore for the night and untied the ropes around her layers, loosening the wool coat wrapped over a thin wool dress. She also undid the head and neck wrap and her long red hair fell loose over her shoulders down her back.
The woman looked at her, “You have your mother’s hair.”
Caoimhe smiled, “I do.”
She then walked over to her fireplace and poked a metal stick into the wood adjusting it so that the flames licked stronger and spread more light and warmth into the cottage.
She then sat down on the chair across from the woman and smiled at her, “You are in need of my services?”
The woman pulled her arms around herself even tighter and with nervous eyes she added, “Not for myself but for my son.”
“What is your name and the name of your son?”
“My son is Aidan, I am Morgan.”
“Morgan, I’m happy to have you here. What kind of ailment has befallen your son?”
Now Morgan sounded nervous, “His legs.”
“What is with his legs?”
“They are not helping him anymore. He can’t stand and he can’t walk.”
Caoimhe was somewhat astonished. She had never heard of anything like it, legs that can’t stand and walk anymore. She tried to think of a reasoning for such a thing but nothing came to her.
“When did this ailment begin?”
Morgan sounded worried, “The thatch on our roof needed repairs. My husband and two younger sons are dead. Aidan is my oldest and my only son left. He climbed onto the roof. The last of a strong winter wind blew him off and he fell to the ground and then the life in his legs was gone.”
“Where is Aidan now?”
“It happened when we still had snow so about a full moon ago and he has been on his cot ever since. I had to drag him into the cottage and onto the cot and he hasn’t moved since. He is not well. I think he may be dying. I have tried to help him but nothing seems to work. Someone told me about you and your mother. You are my only hope. You should come now and lay your hands on him and especially on his legs so they can support his body again. Maybe you can save his body and his soul.”
Morgan had tears in her eyes now, “I have no one left and I need my son to walk and stand. His spirit is gone too. I need him to be how he was before. I suffer from my own ailments and I can’t have him on his cot all the time. I need his help on the farm and I need him to tend to our land. If he dies, I will not be able to keep up the farm. I have animals, fields and a garden.”
Caoimhe thought about such an ailment when legs don’t work anymore but had never heard or seen of it. She also tried to remember if her mother had ever talked to her or taught her about such an ailment.
Morgan now said, “Maybe a bad spirit has taken over his legs and I think it’s trying to take over his mind as well. I believe he is on the brink of dying.”
Caoimhe considered any bad spirits who would do such a thing but with a possessed person who couldn’t walk or stand anymore they couldn’t do much harm one would think. If he would only lay on his cot and wouldn’t move, he couldn’t do any harm to anyone. Why would a demon bother to possess such a person?
Morgan begged, “You should come with me to see him Caoimhe na haille.”
Caoimhe didn’t like the thought of having to go out into the foggy, cold night but she heard the desperation in the woman’s voice. She thought of what Siobhan, her mother would have done and she remembered the times when she was young and had been accompanying Siobhan out into the night, having made their way down to the village to care for ailing children or old people. Siobhan had never waited when her services were needed and asked for. She remembered her mother having spent nights at villager’s houses to watch over their ailing family members, making sure they would make it through the night. Siobhan had always been helping those in need of her wisdom and her treatments.
Morgan begged again, “I beg you Siobhan’s daughter! Bring me my son again with his legs.”
Caoimhe looked at Morgan, “I will come with thee now but I have to gather some things. Do you want a hot brew while I get ready?”
Morgan nodded and rubbed her hands together, “Yes, may goodness be with you.”
Caoimhe fetched a mug and poured the hot water over dried chamomile flower and with a short wooden stick she stirred it and handed it to Morgan, “Drink slowly, so the flowers stay in the bottom of the mug. But wait a few moments before you start drinking. Put your hands around the mug for the warmth.”
Morgan did as she was told and wrapped her cold hands around the mug watching Caoimhe gather items from the shelves and she put it all into a satchel.
She then wrapped her head and neck into the long thick shawl and bundled up in her sheep wool coat again.
Morgan finished her tea. Caoimhe checked on her cats and blew out the three candles. Then the two women went out into the night.
Fog and darkness now engulfed the plain and the waves were crushing loud and hard onto the cliffs, together with the Northern wind gusts sounding out everything else.
Morgan was somewhat in the lead as the two women leaned in against the strong wind with their arms wrapped around their bodies and Caoimhe clutching the satchel with her things in it.
They didn’t talk because they would have not been able to hear each other over the wind. Their steps rustled on the dry grass as they fought against the wind gusts making their way downward into the valley where Morgan lived in a small hamlet with her son.
Caoimhe felt her face tingle with the cold wind biting her skin. She pulled her scarf up over her nose and rushed after Morgan who took quick steps. They walked downward for about three miles when they arrived in the valley. The small village consisted of a couple of cottages and farmland around it. It was dark in the village except for a few lonely candles lit inside warm cottages. The chimneys were blowing out white smoke with all the fires going. The air smelled like smoke and farm animals. Caoimhe could hear some sheep in their stables. Once spring would come around again all the sheep in Ireland would be able to stay outside day and night.
A dog was scurrying about and barked a few times, apparently afraid of the two human creatures appearing out of the fog and darkness into the village.
Morgan turned around to make sure Caoimhe was still behind her and they hurried through the village and came to a cottage bordering a pasture apparently stretching up onto a hill but not all the way visible because even the fog down here in the valley covered most of the area.
The cottage stood somewhat by itself away from the others. Its chimney was also blowing out smoke but not as thick as the others.
Morgan turned around again at Caoimhe and then moved the wooden wedge from the small door of the cottage and whispered, “This is my dwelling. I live here with my first-born son Aidan. My husband and younger sons have passed. We have a few sheep, three cows and chickens.”
Caoimhe nodded in understanding and ducking her head not to hit the door frame she walked by Morgan into the cottage. It was warm inside but the fire was not very strong anymore. Morgan closed the door and hurried over to the fire and threw on another piece of wood and poked into the fire some to strike the flames. Sparks flew up and darted up into the stone chimney.
Caoimhe saw the three cows standing in an enclosure attached to the cottage in the far corner. She also saw the chickens in a coop next to the cows. The sheep were most likely kept in a separate shelter outside the cottage because she didn’t see them.
A cat was sneaking around Caoimhe’s feet and she untied the rope around her wool coat and pulled it off her body.
Morgan pointed to a wooden stool, “Put it there.”
Now Caoimhe unwrapped her head scarf and draped it over the coat on the stool. The cottage was warm enough and Morgan was busy making sure the fire was flaring up again and then she undressed herself from her thick cloak.
Caoimhe didn’t see anyone in the main space of the cottage but realized there was a back door which apparently led to another chamber.
Morgan looked at Caoimhe and said in a hushed voice, “My son is in there. I will look at him first and make sure he is clean. He doesn’t know anymore and soils himself.”
Caoimhe was definitely intrigued by the strange ailment that had befallen Morgan’s son and she was fearful that she would not be able to help him with her hands or her treatments.
She had brought the Tumeric that came from a far land and was brought every couple of full moons to the village from the city by a strange looking man with dark skin and a man who didn’t really speak their language. But the spice had proven to be effective in pains of the body that ran through some of the nerves sending the signals from the brain into the rest of the body. When these nerves were not working or caused pain, the Tumeric had helped some people.
Caoimhe had also brought her ointment for ailments of the skin, the bones and the strong tendons that held the bones in place.
Bones were like wood her mother had taught her and Caoimhe had seen how bones sometimes cracked or broke and came out of the skin and some bones broke but stayed under the skin. With her mother’s guidance she had applied ointments and splinted arms and legs with broken bones. Siobhan had also taught her that when broken bones stuck out of the skin it was very painful and most times there was not much that could be done for those people. She now tried to remember if Morgan had mentioned that Aidan had broken the bones in his legs.
Morgan came out from the back room and nodded without words and gestured Caoimhe to follow her into the room. Caoimhe was nervous now and she thought of her mother’s face again, smiling at her and whispering what an amazing healer she was, encouraging her to approach life always in good spirits and with an open mind.