And if I go while you're still here?
Know that I still live on, vibrating
to a different measure behind a thin
veil you cannot see through.
?.I wait the time when we can soar together
again, both aware of each other.
He who loses money, loses much;
He who loses a friend, loses more:
He who loses faith, loses all
"Carys!" I had to put my hand to my mouth to stop her name from flying out when I saw Lee standing at the bar in the small town of Laxey on the Isle of Man. Carys and I worked together and were best friends for almost 10 years until she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and within 8 months she was gone, still couldn't say died, what a coward. "God," I thought, "what was it, two, three, was it four years ago?" I couldn't remember and as I looked at Lee, who had been her partner, I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I couldn't remember when she died and ashamed that I didn't do more for Lee.
Carys' death was extremely hard on me in fact, I was devastated. I knew she had cancer, one of the few she confided in. Carys was very private and kept her personal life closed even to those who knew her well. Her and Lee played cards with a group once sometimes twice a week and at the funeral Lee told me that none of them knew about the cancer and chemotherapy.
I knew because when she first found out the diagnosis I held her close as she cried on my shoulder for almost an hour. Then she pulled away and wiped her eyes and said that she was going to fight it and had to get back to work.
She never complained about the chemo always saying it wasn't too bad and she felt all right, but I knew better. I could see the fatigue and weariness. I could also feel the worry, but when I tried to talk to her about it she would shrug it off and say that everything was fine and I worried too much.
When her hair fell out the only thing she told me was that she had ordered a wig and complained about how expensive they were.
When school shut down for vacation that year we all left saying "goodbye" and "see ya later" and as I walked out the door I would never have thought that it would be the last time I'd see Carys, well there were two other times, the first I have no recollection of, selective memory at its best, and the second I convinced myself that the skeleton in that bed was not my best friend, denial to the very end, that's me.
Someone I don't remember who, called and said that Carys had been in the hospital almost the whole vacation and wouldn't be back when school started. I had called a couple of times over break but no one answered and I'd just assumed that they'd gone out of town. I called to find out what happened and finally talked with Lee. She told me that they'd gone to the lake that first weekend and that Carys had been complaining of feeling nauseous and sick. She felt better on Monday but on Tuesday took a turn for the worse and was admitted into the hospital and placed in intensive care.
No one could say exactly what happened. It wasn't the cancer, they thought it might be West Nile or spinal meningitis, but the tests came back negative. She'd had a transfusion of white cells on the Thursday before she left and the suspicion was that the blood hadn't been cleaned thoroughly and she'd caught something. Regardless of the circumstances, Carys was in intensive care and despite all my denials, was slowly wasting away.
I tried to stay away as long as possible, because death and I aren't on friendly terms, in face we avoided each other as much as possible, but I'd reached a point when I couldn't, this might be the last time I'd see her, I had to go. So I rounded up two mutual friends from work and we went down to the hospital and I wish now that I can forget this second time but it remains etched in my memory.
The nurse warned me what to expect and since I was susceptible to anxiety attacks I took a Xanax for the trip. We drove downtown and found the room. It was a large open area with beds separated by curtains. There was a lot of beeping sounds and muffled voices. When I rounded the corner of her room I almost lost my breath. There she was, lying under a white cotton cover, her mouth frozen open in what looked like a scream. Machines beeped and whirred, tubes ran everywhere. The nurse had to speak twice before I understood that I had to put gloves and a mask on. She was thin as a rail, her eyes were closed but you could see them moving underneath so you hoped she heard you like they say in the movies. The TV hung on the wall and was softly muted. While my other two friends talked with her I watched television, cartoons I think, or kept time with the heart monitor, anything to keep from looking at the grotesque figure my friend had turned into.
I was a coward and knew it. Eventually I forced myself to turn to her, to hold her hand, to tell her I loved her. I knew deep down this would be the only chance but even afterward as I walked to the car and my friends were already grieving her death, I fought against it, refused to give up, refused to believe that she'd give up, refused to think that with all the medical knowledge we have today, no one and I mean no one could figure out what happened. I was mad at Carys. I had encouraged her to go to Mayo and have them evaluate her, but she refused, instead believing in the doctor and hospital she was going to, the doctor and hospital that I felt was responsible for her death. Maybe she'd still be alive, if, if, she'd just listened to me.
Two weeks later I received the call that Carys had died. A heart attack they said, although what caused her to get to that point only god knows. I'm surprised 'only god knows' isn't a listing for cause of death. The family was going to have an autopsy performed but the results wouldn't be available for three months. "What about those shows on TV?" I asked, "they get the results in an hour?" I was told that there's a difference between TV and real life, in real life it takes three months, if not longer.
On the way to the wake I again took a Xanax. There would be no body, the family decided on cremation. I'd never been to a wake without a casket or body so I really didn't know what to expect. We walked into the funeral home and were directed to a small back room and as I waited in the line to visit the family I passed her pictures and then I lost it. As I got up to Lee I clung to her like a life preserver, I think they had to pry me loose. I couldn't stop crying and this wasn't just a sob, I was crying from deep within my soul. It was the first time I'd lost a friend and I didn't like it one bit. I remember being passed around to friends who would hold me until I calmed, then I'd start up again and another one would grab me. I finally was able to calm down and leave but that experience, unknown to me at the time, was to become the turning point in my life and my job.
At the funeral the next day I thought I'd be better, but as soon as they started playing her favorite songs I couldn't hold back. I spent most of the funeral in the hall sobbing into my hands with one of my friends rubbing my back and trying to calm me down. I saw Lee afterward and asked her how she was able to last through all this. She told me that she'd lived with this for four months and was all cried out. I asked about the ashes and would there be a gravesite because I'd like to visit. She said for now there were no plans. She intended to keep them on her mantle, maybe find a lighthouse as a holder since Carys loved them so much.
And now here I was, three or maybe four years later in a small pub in a small city on a small island, glancing up warily at Lee, feeling guiltier by the moment and hoping she didn't recognize me. I'd called Lee only twice after the funeral. We really didn't have much in common except Carys and I felt that most of the time I didn't know what to say when I was around her. She worked in industry, with computers, while Carys and I both worked at a school. Carys and I could talk a common language. With Lee I felt that my conversations were forced and stilted, in reality it was all an excuse so I wouldn't have to call her, so I wouldn't have to relive that experience of losing my friend.
I heard steps approach as I curled my hand around my pint. "Hi Alison," Lee said softly and questioningly. I looked up and tears filled my eyes, I couldn't talk, my mouth opened and nothing came out. "Lee, I?." And then I broke down sobbing softly into my hands.
"Hey," Lee said sitting next to me putting her arm around me, "it's OK, you're giving me a complex."
I laughed into my tears and coughed then looked back up at her. "I'm so sorry," I said.
"Sorry for letting Carys down, for letting you down, for not keeping in touch, not supporting you, I, I should have been there, at the hospital more, I should have forced her to go to another doctor, I, I'm so sorry," I babbled on, my shoulders slumped in defeat as I lowered my eyes feeling the tears drip down my face.
"Alison, you didn't let me down and you certainly didn't let Carys down. You were best friends. She cared for you like her own family. You can't force someone to do something and know that if she weren't my partner I wouldn't have voluntarily gone to the hospital either, in fact toward the end I sorta stopped going myself, I just couldn't see her like that anymore and god forgive me but I prayed Alison, I prayed that he take her and when he did a small part of my sighed in relief that she wouldn't be in pain any longer." I looked up at Lee and leaned my head into hers and we held each other in companionable silence for some time.
"Hi," the voice startled us both. Em's look was questioning. "Em," I sniffed and straightened, "this is Lee, Carys' partner." Em knew exactly whom I was talking about, she'd been my first therapist who tried to help me deal with Carys' death. After she knew she was attracted to me she told me and suggested I see her colleague. A month after I was released from therapy she called me and we'd been together ever since.
"Hi Lee," Em said, "I've heard so much about you it's nice to meet you."
"You probably heard more about Carys," she smiled, "but it's nice to meet you too."
"Em was my first therapist then passed or pushed me on to her colleague." This time Em smiled, "I couldn't keep seeing you if I was attracted to you now could I?" she reached for my hand and held it. I saw Lee's eyes twinkle, squeezed Em's hand and let go.
"How have you been Lee?" I asked sipping from my pint.
"It's been hard these last few years," she paused, "I still miss her," she twisted her ring, the thick golden band of intertwining lines, the identical rings that Carys had specially made for her and Lee, the one that was engraved "my soul" on the inside, the ring to which there was only one other match in existence.
"So do I," I said, casting my eyes downward.
"Are you still working at school?" Lee asked unexpectantly, probably wanting to change the subject as quickly as possible, not that I could blame her.
"No, I'm somewhere else now," I said, "after Carys died I went through some rough emotional times. My compassionate, caring environment where I supposedly worked wasn't quite as compassionate and understanding as they made it appear in the recruitment posters so they gave me some rough times, put me on some job targets and when they replaced my boss with a female who made suggestive sexual advances toward me, I got a lawyer and they backed off. By the end of the year I'd been with Em and decided to look elsewhere. I'm now working for a small college in New Hampshire, teaching history, Celtic history to be exact. That's sorta why we're here, I'm on sabbatical doing research for my book."
"Book!" Lee said excitedly.
"It's my first. I've always wanted to write and now that I have the opportunity and the time I guess that's what I'm going to do, just like the Nike commercial, just do it."
Lee and Em laughed.
"What's the book about?" Lee asked.
"Celtic mythology, ancient gods and goddesses, that sort of thing. The type of book my students will hate to read because the teacher wrote it but by the end of the semester they'll discover that they loved it and will be begging for an autograph."
That brought another laugh and another round to the table.
"What are you doing here Lee, business?"
"No, not exactly," she said.
I waited watching Em for my cue. She was the therapist here. A few moments passed before Lee spoke, "I've been having these dreams," she lowered her voice, "I keep seeing a mist covered path in a forest, the sunlight is muted, she's on a black horse wearing a thin band of gold around her head like a crown, she sees me, smiles, dismounts, and holds out her hand to me."
Lee shook her head slightly and chuckled nervously, "I know it sounds silly but I saw this picture," she pulled a small book out of her bag and handed it to Em, "it's in this book and it's the exact same place I've seen in my dream so I came." She let out a breath and ran her hand through her tangled, blond hair, "This is so crazy, I work with numbers and machines," she pointed to her head, "my mind knows this can't be real," she moved her hand down over her heart and tapped her chest, "but in my heart, I feel so strongly that she's calling to me, it hurts inside."
"The best and beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they must be felt with the heart," Em said quoting Helen Keller, "there are times when our feelings must lead us and our minds must follow."
Em started to hand me the book when I stopped her, "The trees are tall and curl at the top forming a tunnel allowing only small slivers of light to reach through the branches, and the dirt path beckons you to go through the fog, beneath the trees and toward the light. She's standing in the middle with her arms open and I hear her whisper in my ear, 'don't question, just accept'."
The shock was evident on Lee's face, "you've seen her too?"
"Yes," I admitted, "in my dreams and they've become stronger since I arrived."
"You both having the same dream is interesting," Em mused then looked at me, "why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought you'd laugh, it's been so long, I thought it was some subconscious guilt, that I was relieving myself of."
Em's face softened, "You'd know I'd never laugh at you but now that we've found that Lee's having the same dream too there's got to be a source and I don't think it's subconscious."
"What do you mean?"
Em looked at me, "You're the Celtic expert, didn't you tell me about how they thought that time was circular and a part of the natural world like we are, how it's a corridor with doorways to the past and the future."
"The river of time goes endlessly forward and backwards to arrive where it began and it is ourselves that we find have changed," I replied.
Lee looked up, "Is it possible," she almost couldn't wrap her mouth around the words, "she's alive?"
I shook my head, "no," I could finally say it outloud without the word catching in my throat, "not in this lifetime," Lee lowered her head, I glanced at Em and reached over for Lee's hand, "but maybe another," she looked at me as I continued, "past or future, I'm not sure, but she's aware and calling for you and knows that I can help you find her."
I made sure I had Lee's full attention, "Whatever's going on is not something we can comprehend nor would I want to try. I've learned that there's no such thing as coincidence and for everything a reason. We've been pulled to this place for a purpose. I'm taking Carys' advice and just accepting."
I reached for the book and looked at the landscape of our dreams. The writing at the bottom identified it as Ballalheannagh Gardens on the outskirts of Laxey, an enchanting place of waterfalls, streams, and trails filled with an astonishing array of plantlife for visitors to wander and enjoy at their own pace.
I turned the page and read, "Manannan Mac Lir is the Celtic God of the Ocean, the Otherworld know as Mag Mell, and the patron deity of the Isle of Man. He's described as protective, caring and very compassionate when you're in trouble or down and he'll offer his help if you ask for it. He's said to ferry souls between the worlds of the mortal and the spirit and has strong associations with the faerie realm, which is outside our time on another stream of existence. He's also strongly related to storms, fogs, lakes, rivers, faeries, hawthorn trees, mist and horses." I looked at Em and Lee as I said the last two words.
It almost took the two of us to forcibly hold Lee down and make her get some rest. We were in room three and she was in room seven. According to the normal numerical numbering of rooms she should be four doors down the hall but she was really right next door, the significance of which wouldn't be revealed until later.
We'd planned to get up early and drive to the Gardens. I lay awake a long time before succumbing to a restless sleep. Images of Carys flashed through my mind. I kept seeing her as we bowled, with us constantly in friendly competition, as we danced at the club downtown to the beat of the oldies and the one time we cooked fresh lobster at a friends, which she wanted to release because she thought it was cruel and unusual punishment although she didn't think twice about dipping them in butter and eating them. I saw her chugging back shots of 'buttery nipples' and being so drunk one night after playing cards that she assured us she'd make church in the morning, it was already 2:00am, and true to her word she did make it to church. I thought about all the times we laughed and joked at work and how much I missed that, how much I missed her, how sometimes I would turn and see her out of the corner of my eye until my rational mind took over and I realized it wasn't.
We were up early the next morning, ate quickly and reached the Gardens in a short time. Lee jumped out of the car excitedly turning here and there glancing aimlessly about looking for direction. I closed my eyes, took in a deep breath of air and became filled with flowery scents, nature and fresh dew. My senses awoke awash in feelings of ancient memories, thousands of years of happiness, bliss, sadness, grief, delight, sorrow and wonder. I felt giddy with excitement as I saw in my minds eye the Ritual of the Mists, the ritual and prayer used to bring you closer to Manannan Mac Lir, Keeper of the Mist, Ruler of Mag Mell, the Celtic Otherword, and keeper of the Well of Wisdom. I had never seen it but read about it and as it flashed through my mind I could see actually see the ritual being performed in the time of the Druids, and the place. I opened by eyes knowing what must be done, where we must go. Yes, this was a magical place, I could feel it, we were close.
I reached inside the car for the small bag I had packed before we left. Em had thought I was crazy running around the room looking for certain items before we left. I could not explain to her why I needed them just knew I did and now I am grateful for the inner guidance.
"What day is it?" I asked not really knowing as all time had come together in one moment.
"It's May 13th," Em answered.
I swiveled my head as I spoke, "We're looking for a hawthorn stand of seven trees and they must all be flowering."
Em hand encircled my arm and gently pulled me to her keeping her voice low so Lee wouldn't hear, "Aren't the ancient rituals using hawthorn usually performed on May 1st, May Day? It's the 13th, aren't we too late?"
I looked at her in shock, "How did you know that?"
"Read your book," she replied sheepishly.
I smiled, "Glad someone did besides me, and to answer you question, yes and no. Hawthorne is used at Beltane, the spring celebration that honored the sun god Belenus and later Brigid. The hawthorn tree was tied with red ribbons to honor the faeries and the hawthorn interwoven and placed on doors and windows to keep evil away. As at Samhain the veil was considered to be at it's thinnest but in ancient times it was celebrated on May 13th, the date was changed to May 1st in the late 1700's probably by the church."
Em let out a sigh of relief and nodded as Lee yelled to us from across the road, "What do they look like?"
"They're about 30 feet tall and 8 feet wide, the stems are spiny and the flowers will be white with small red clusters.
Thank goodness Em trusted me and started looking without more questioning for I wouldn't have had any answers for her if she asked. I was going on sheer instinct now, I couldn't explain, not even to myself, I was just following my feelings.
In Irish folklore the hawthorn is often referred to as the 'faerie bush' as it was thought to be inhabited by faeries, while oaks and ash have been associated with portals to the otherworld, hawthorn is known as the 'hinge on the door', the guardian and protector of the entrances to the oak and ash portals and unless the hawthorn allows access to the doorways the entrances remained unseen. It was through the hawthorn trees that we would find our entrance to the faerie world, Mag Mell, the Celtic otherworld, and Carys.
I knew they would hurry and I didn't want Lee to be frantic, not that she wasn't already, so I didn't tell them that according to ancient tradition the covering of the plant with overnight dew strengthened it's magical powers and I had a feeling we'd need all the help we could get.
"Over here," Lee yelled and Em and I came running. There is was, a stand of seven hawthorn trees standing at least 30 feet tall and 8 feet wide forming a semi-circle. We stood in the middle of the horseshoe and I began to remove the items from my pack. One-by-one I handed them to Em, a double spiral, a triskele, a slice of bread. I looked around and found a three-foot long, thick hawthorn branch, which I would use as a staff. I told them to stand behind me and not interrupt until the ritual was complete, no matter what happened. I pulled out my book where I'd written the ritual and the words the night before, had Em hold it open for me and began.
I closed by eyes, centering myself, trying to get my bearings and put myself into a meditative state. I held the triskele in my hand, bent down and touched the ground and said, "I stand firmly upon the land." Standing up I held my arms out to my sides, "The sea surrounds me." Putting my arms over my head, "The sky spreads itself above me." Then bringing my hands over my heart, "I acknowledge the three realms."
I then took the staff and hit the ground three times, held it out straight and turned it in counter-clockwise motion three times, then waved it above my head three times. I drew a double spiral in the air and chanted: "Manannan Mac Lir, Lord of the Mists, Ruler of Mag Mell, Keeper of the double gate of the otherworld. I am here seeking knowledge. I bring sacrifices for the land spirits. I come in complete awareness and in harmony with the three realms. Watch over me as I travel the mists, keep me from harm as I travel in the inbetween. Grant me the gift of protection." Taking the bread I broke it into three pieces, put them on the ground and stepped back.
The ritual was over and we all waited for something to happen but what it was none of us knew. The waiting seemed forever but I'm sure it was only a few seconds, suddenly I heard a creaking and the limbs of the hawthorns seemed to grow around us encircling us completely. None of us moved as we watched in front of us as the hawthorn hedge shifted until it resembled a door and opened to a silver waterfall surrounded by mist.
Lee leaped forward and was through the water before I could stop her. "No," I cried as the door began to close. I turned quickly to Em, "You must stay here, if I can't get back use the ritual in the book, I've marked it," and I was gone through the misty water as well. I heard the hawthorn door close as I made it past just in time.
I walked carefully through the mist my hands out in front of me for I was basically blind. It wasn't too far when it began to thin. I soon see a dirt path, the trees are tall and curled at the top forming a tunnel allowing only small slivers of light to reach through the branches, I wonder down the path through the light fog, beneath the trees and toward the light.
I hear a sound coming toward me and I search for cover. I can't seem to move and am rooted to the spot. The dark figure gets larger as it approaches, I catch a glint of gold and then I see Carys atop a solid black horse wearing a dark tunic and leggings with a thin gold band encircling her head. She carries a short sword on her side and knives in her boots. She smiles and me and slides off her horse letting him graze off the path. Tears are running unbidden down my face as I can finally step forward and almost fall into her arms.
"Carys," I cry against her shoulder as I hold her tight.
"A," she says into my ear. As soon as I saw her I knew it was Carys, deep down inside I could feel the truth of who she was, besides, she was the only one that called me A and in turn I called her C, nicknames between us that neither of us remember how we'd achieved.
We held each other at arm's length, "Is it?, I?, what?," I stuttered, eyes wide, mouth open, shaking my head completely at a loss for words.
She put her finger to my mouth to silence me, "Don't question, just accept."
We held each other at arm's length and I must have had a foolish grin on my face because she laughed softly. "You're well," I asked anxiously, my voice faltering slightly.
"I'm well," she nodded, broadening her grin.
Overwhelmed with excitement I again threw my arms around her. "I've missed you," I said as we released each other.
She held my face in her hands, dried my tears with her thumb and moved her hands to my shoulders holding me in place. Her eyes met mine and held them, her voice low and gentle conveying affection in her words, "You can't miss what you've always had, look to your heart, that's where I've always been and always will be."
I felt the tenderness of her words fill my heart, a feeling of happiness that I hadn't felt in a long time like a weight had been lifted and I could again breath easily.
She smiled, "Thank you for bringing Ri to me."
"Ri?" I looked confused then I remembered Lee's given name was Riley. Everyone called her Lee but Carys who called her Ri, "I'm not really sure how much help I was," I lowered my eyes, "she probably would have found her way without me."
"It was finding your way that was more important," a voice out of the mist exclaimed. I turned toward the voice and saw a man with flowing robes and a long white beard walk out of the mists. I had no doubt that I was in the presence of Manannan Mac Lir. "Your need of healing called to me, so I arranged this meeting. Your friends are now under my protection, there is no need to worry for I will watch over them now. Carys and Riley's destiny has been fulfilled in your time, but not in this. Here they have a great destiny to fulfill, as I have need of them."
Carys smiled and winked and I mimicked her actions. She hugged me fiercely, released me, turned, mounted her horse, and pulled back on the reins causing the horse to rear up slightly on it's back legs. Raising her hand she grinned, "May the road rise with you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of her hand."
I raised my hand in response, "Until we meet again," I called to her, feeling utter peace and contentment settle into my soul.
Her eyes twinkled with merriment and a grin covered her face as she lifted her head back and laughed heartily. My own laughter soon mingled with hers filling the glen with a melody all our own.
Another shuffle and I looked up to see Riley walking toward me, smiling she pulled me to her, "Thank you and thank Em, be well."
Letting go she went to stand next to the horse, reached her arm out and was pulled up behind Carys, the light of Riley's short blond hair in direct contrast to Carys' dark.
Spurring the horse down the path toward the misty light Carys turned right before she disappeared, smiled widely and waved and all the faces of Carys that my mind held were replaced with the one now before me, forever etched in my memory.
"It is now time for you to return," Manannan Mac Lir stated, startling me as I had forgotten he was there, "turn and walk the same path that brought you here and you will find your destiny," he directed.
I turned and blackness surrounded me as I melted into the mist.
I woke up my eyes squinting against the brightness of the sun, and then a shadow appeared over me. "Alison, are you all right?" Em's worried voice questioned.
"What happened?" I said as I tried to push myself up.
"Don't move," Em said, "I've got help coming."
"I don't need?," I was going to say I didn't need help but as I pushed myself up my world spun and I let out a groan and lay back down.
"What happened?" I asked again.
"We found the trees, you said the incantation and a door opened in the hawthorn bush, Lee went through it, you yelled 'no' and crumpled to the ground," she lowered her voice so that the gathering crowd of onlookers wouldn't hear
"No, I went through the door," I protested.
"No Ali, you didn't, you collapsed in my arms as the door closed."
"But I?," I started to tell her that she was wrong, I went through the door, I saw Carys and Manannan Mac Lir, that the sorrow I felt over her death was not as sharp, more like an old friend who moved away but you would see time and again and stay in touch. I had to have gone through the door, I just had to, it was too real. I could still smell the mist, the clean, crisp scent of the water, the smell of the earth, I realized that I was soaking wet, even my hair, I could still feel the warmth of Carys' hands on my shoulders and in my heart, I knew she was wrong, I was there.
After a few moments an ambulance pulled up and I was taken by stretcher to the local hospital. Em and I didn't have time to talk about what happened as they went about ordering tests and a stay overnight for observation. In the end they couldn't find anything wrong and I had a long day to think about my experience. Em wouldn't leave my side and insisted she stay with me and for that I was grateful. We finally talked late into the night. Manannan Mac Lir, the patron god of Man, helps those who have interests in psychic protection, healing and astral projection. That was the only explanation. My physical body stayed in this world while my spiritual self was projected into Manannan's realm where I saw Carys. Em carefully suggested that maybe it was just a dream, while I was unconscious, maybe it's what I wanted to see, but I knew, I knew I was there, that Carys was fine, that I would see her again, and I was finally able to let go of my grief and anger, I was finally able to heal.
The next day the doctor released me with a clean bill of health. As Em and I walked to the inn we were staying we checked with the desk regarding Lee's room and her belongings. I was at a loss and how we were going to explain what happened to her. The clerk looked at us in confusion and told us that there was no one by the name of Lee who was staying there. I corrected him and asked about a woman named Riley, she was in room seven, she had left with us yesterday morning. He said there was no room seven in the inn and that he's only seen the two of us leave yesterday morning. I started to protest when Em took my hand and pulled me up the stairs. We walked past our door to the room Lee had been in and instead of a door saw a wall with a mural painted on it. A mural that depicted a long-forgotten battle in ancient times, a time when women were warriors and rulers as well as men, a time of a dark-haired queen on a black horse with a golden band around her head and a light-haired companion leading men and women to victory. The glimmer of matching rings on their fingers caught my attention. The mural was titled, "Ciar Rioghan".
Em studied the mural as I read the descriptive plaque, "This mural by an unknown artist is said to depict a legendary warrior-queen known only as Ciar Rioghan, meaning Dark Queen. Accompanying her in battle is the valiant and noble Derbhail, the fair-haired warrior-poetess."
I lowered my eyes for a moment, took a deep breath and smiled. Turning back to the mural I noticed Em's change of expression from studiousness to amazement. Her arm seemed to shake slightly as she raised it to draw my attention to the upper corner of the mural. I followed her finger to the depiction of a hawthorn grove of seven trees and within the trees an open door behind which flowed a misty, silver waterfall and outlined against the mist and the water was a small figure that was easily recognizable to both of us.
I smiled wider, reached my hand up and lightly placed my fingers over the figure of Carys and as I did I heard the faint sound of her laughter and felt a rush of warmth in my heart that I accepted and didn't question.
What should have been the end opened the door to a new beginning and it is I that was changed not so much from my own faith and belief but from my faith and belief in Carys.
The Ritual of the Mists by John Gibson (www.manannan.net)
In Worship of Trees by George Knowles (www.controverscial.com)
Manannan Mac Lir (www.wikipedia.org)