[As I’ve been working on my upcoming “Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh” course, the following story came to me. It’s a fictional outline of how I think that bit in CMT played out at the time. As always, please, please PLEASE note this is a work of fiction based on the mention of Brig as Ruadhán’s mother in Caith Maighe Tuireadh. You know: Bríg came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Bríg who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)But the story is fiction ok?]
She came as soon as the shouts went up of course, saw Goibniu carried off to the healers, saw a wrapped body being taken out of camp, saw her Da coming towards her. She wasn’t particularly worried about Goibniu, the rumours already starting about the eejit who tried to kill the Smith using his own spear? Ludicrous. Like one of his own would turn on the powerful man. No mention yet of the perpetrator, but surely one of the Formorians, if they were taking the body. And sure, really, who among their own would even think of such a thing?
Her Da’s arms came around her, turning her, moving her towards her tent.
“Come away, pet, come away, no need for you to be here for this.”
Confused, for surely during this war, she had seen far worse than the Smith’s injury, tending the ill and tending the dead with the rest of her people as needed, she turned, and moved with him, waiting for the explanation she was sure was coming.
“Did you know, love? Had he mentioned anything to you?”
“Had who mentioned what to me, Da?”
“Ruadhán, love, Ruadhán, had he mentioned his plans to you?”
“He was off to see his father last night, Da, I haven’t seen him since.” Her feet stopped, frozen to the earth. What had her Ruadhán to do with this?
“Oh no, oh Da, oh no, not him, not my Ruadhán?” She clung to her Da then, the rock in the flood, the port in the storm, the pillar of strength for her grief. No tears came, just the shaking of her body and the strength drawn from her Da. “I must go to him, Da, I must go to my son.”
No thought but this in her mind, that she must go to her son, knowing he must be at best sorely wounded, her mind even now veering away from the sure knowledge that while Goibniu’s spears would not harm him unduly, in his hands they were always fatal. She knew, at a level apart from her current state. that she could not just march into the enemy camp and claim the body of her son. She knew this was more work for her Da and the heralds and all the other folk who worked so hard to keep communications going between the two armies. She knew she was asking for more work, for her son who had betrayed his mother’s people. She knew, and yet she asked. And her Da could not tell her no.
It took what seems like week to get it all arranged, although afterward, she was told it was mere hours. The heralds went back and forth between the armies, the initial request of a full honour guard befitting the king’s wife laughingly rejected by the Formorians and the return dismissive message that the king’s wife was always welcome to visit her husband as a properly submissive wife equally laughed out of the Tuatha De councils.
In the end, she could take no more.
“Tell my husband I come to see my son. I will take no more than a staff to support myself and one handmaiden of my choice, neither of us warriors in this conflict. I will come, I will sit with my son and we will decide as his parents the next steps to be taken with him. If I need to stay overnight, my husband will provide shelter for his wife and her handmaiden as he is obliged to do so and we will take no more than we can carry in our two hands with us. Are the Formorian assembly so terrified of a wife and mother that this is inacceptable?”
Challenging their fear like that, she knew what the answer would be. For all the Formorians knew she was more than a wife and mother, given their first message, they could not now admit she was full warrior as well. As for handmaiden, maybe her husband would remember her handmaidens had the same training as herself, maybe he wouldn’t – some memories, he chose to forget for the challenge to his own masculinity they posted – but he could not admit that she, never mind her handmaidens – could defeat him if needed.
It took a small time after that, but soon, soon, she was walking across the western edge of the battlefield, with Laoise beside her, a bag and staff each with them. Muttering to each other about the mess and the hassle and the pain of this, as well as the ignorance of people thinking just because a woman became a wife that she forgot her previous skills and training. At the entrance to the Formorian camp, a group of men waited, spears standing high.
“Wait, wife of our king, we would blindfold you.”
“Either I am wife of your king and therefore one of your own, or I am a mother coming to see her son, but either way, your camp holds no interest for me. I will not be blindfolded and this was not mentioned as part of the negotiations. “
Her voice was close to breaking at this point, the pent up emotion, the forced patience, the worry all adding together to an immense pressure inside her. Laoise laid her hand on Brig’s arm, lending what support she could, but also lending force to the image of a worried mother.
The men parted, apparently shamed into allowing a mother pass to her son. But behind them, in the clearing behind the entrance, Bres was on his knees beside the body of her son. The body. The still, white body.
She tore from Laoise’s hands. She jumped, she ran, she knew not how she moved, but suddenly she was pushing Bres from the body of her beloved son. She gathered the body in her arms and she opened her mouth to sing.
Song was not what emerged. She screamed. She shrieked. All that pent up emotion was fed into the sounds that came from her body. This was no stately outline of her son’s achievements and honours – how could it be and he still barely more than a child? This was a mother’s grief given voice. This was the worry, the patience, the emotion released in sound form, blasting the surrounding Formorians with her pain, her grief, her power. They knelt before her tears, her words, her voice.
She knew not how long she knelt there, by the body of her son, but eventually, the body was cool and Laoise was trying to feed her water. She tried to speak, but no sound would come out, only a croak. Laoise shook her head, laying a hand on her shoulder and nodding towards her right. There sat Bres, legs akimbo, surrounded by his warriors. They were not exactly surrounding him with spears, but then, they were not exactly not surrounding him with spears either. They finally, at the last, admitted what he would not – that she would rend him limb from limb if she could for this. He destroyed his son for his own failings. Son-killer. But she would not name him so, even in the depths of her grief.
She rose, she gathered her cloak around her, she grasped her staff and she turned for home, Laoise beside her. In silence, they left the Formorian camp, since her son would be sent on his way according to his father’s rights. In silence, they returned to their own camp, and stopped abruptly.
Her Da, and all his advisors waited for them, worried.
“Daughter, what have you done?”
“My son is dead. Ruadhán is no more.” Not her voice. Not yet. Not this creaky, gravelly, tortured thing. But it served for now.
“There was some… disruption… in the camp as you expressed your grief, daughter.”
Confused, she looked around, saw the people, looking haggard and worn and tired. How long had she grieved? Knowing even as she asked, it was both far too long and not half long enough.
“Three days, daughter and three nights, and none of our people could talk, or sleep, or eat. Have the Formorians been so affected?”
She shook her head, she knew not. But Laoise did.
“They are worse. The full force did not reach here.”
Nodding, her Da opened his arms and she went gratefully to him. She would pay honour price for what she had done, for the power her words and grief had unleashed on the land. She would sit with her teachers and the other file to see how this new power could be controlled and managed to limit the devastation. She would harness the power and use it to help her people.
But now, she would rest. Her Da would look after her, would protect her, would fend off her responsibilities for some time so she could heal the first pain…
One thought on “A grieving mother”
I love it! I cried a little too. Absolutely grand story and the flow is simple but familiar. It’s written like the old stories with the same cadence.