Tír Fo Thuinn
Áine looked out over the sea, the waves 15 meters high and crashing against the cliffside below. It was now or never.
When the arms of the sea are stretched before
Waiting to hold you close once more
Faith will carry you to her heart
And from her love you will never part.
She had never seen the waves stretch up this high, like they were reaching for her.
She turned to take one last look at the world she knew. The patchwork quilt of farmlands stretched across hills as far as her eyes could see. Infinite shades of green were crisscrossed with stone walls. She had always been amazed at how each field seemed to have its own individual shade so strikingly different from all of the rest.
The winds were calm in every direction but the sea. She turned to the right to see the house where she had always lived. Her mother would be inside finishing a shepherd’s pie for dinner. Her father had gone out to tend to the sheep. A single tear ran down her cheek. How could she say goodbye to everything she had known, to everyone she had loved. But how could she stay here in this place when the promise of everything she had dreamed lay before her.
This was her only chance.
“Slán, Máthair. Slán, Athair. Slán go fóill. Slán go deo.” She turned back to the sea, took one step back, ran to the edge and jumped.
The fall toward the water felt like an eternity. She thought about her mother and father and how they would feel, how they would react when they realized that she was gone. What had she done? She thought about how she might never get to see them or her home again. For a moment, she wanted to go back, but it was far too late for that.
She did not so much hit the water as get swept into it. It felt very much like it had caught her and eased her into its bosom. Once she got there, she continued to go down. Even after the momentum of her fall had stopped, she continued to sink. It was as though she was being pulled downward. She was concerned about running out of air, but she had not yet felt the familiar kick of her lungs trying to force her to breathe again.
Things stayed that way for quite some time. By now she knew that if whatever was keeping her safe now were to release her, she could not possibly make it back to the surface before she drowned.
Then, after a long period in the darkness of the ocean depths, she saw something coming toward her. It was odd because the creature did not appear to be emanating any light, but she could see it as clearly as if a light were shining on it. The sea around it was still pitch black, but as it approached she could see that it appeared to be a Merrow, much like the one she had seen on the rock more than six years ago.
Elation consumed her entire being. If the strangeness of what had been happening had not been enough, this confirmed it. The message was real. Her dreams were coming true. Three more Merrows approached. They surrounded her, and one placed a small cap on her head. The cap was exactly like the ones they were each wearing, just like the one being warn by the lady in the cave.
She realized as they all floated around her that whatever had been pulling her down had stopped. One at a time, the Merrows took off in the same direction. The last one motioned with a slightly webbed hand for her to follow. She tried to kick her legs like she had learned to when her mother taught her how to swim, but she no longer had legs. She had been staying completely still and had not realized the change. She looked over her body and saw that she no longer looked like herself. Her legs had been replaced by a large fin. Her hands had webbing at the base of the fingers. And her hair, as it flowed in front of her face appeared to be an emerald green.
She kicked off the best that she could and followed the Merrows. Soon, she saw where they were headed. She had read about it, but was unprepared for what she saw. Here on the ocean floor was a giant, beautiful area of dry land. There were lush green fields, hills and mountains, trees, sheep and even a stream that ran through it. The sea around it looked like a mountain giving way to a beautiful blue sky. It was so much like her home, but yet so different.
As they exited the water and entered this land, their appearance changed. She had legs again, and instead of what she had been wearing, now she wore a long red robe. The others took off their hats, so she took off hers as well. Her hair had changed back to a golden blonde.
“Welcome to Tír Fo Thuinn, The Land Under the Waves. Bradán Feasa, the Salmon of Knowledge, has seen fit to grant your wish and allow you to be as one of us. The land is vast, and the ocean is yours to explore. I am sure you will soon learn our ways and be happy among your new family.”
In Tír Fo Thuinn, Áine lived freely. She explored the mountains and played among the brightly colored trees. She made friends with creatures that she had never heard of. But best of all, every day, often for many hours at a time, she would put on her new cap and go out into the ocean. She would swim and explore and make friends with all manner of fishes. This was truly everything that she has dreamed of.
Every morning would be spent with Bradán Feasa, a giant salmon who ruled this land and knew everything there was to know about the world. She learned much from the salmon, though mostly she was concerned with the secrets of Tír Fo Thuinn, the history of its people and the wonders of the ocean depths.
It was several months before the thought of her parents re-entered her mind. She wondered how they were and what they were doing. She kept her growing desire to see them again held down, both in hopes that she might move on from it and, foolishly, so Bradán Feasa would not know. But the salmon knew the moment the thoughts entered her head. He allowed her to stew over her feelings for a time for he also knew that, soon enough, she would ask.
Finally, when the pain of not knowing was too much, she broke and went to see if he knew how they had faired after her departure.
“Your parents are well. They live happy lives. Their only pain is that they were never able to have a child.”
“But they had a child,” she refuted. “I am their child.” Her voice betrayed her desperation.
“Your parents have forgotten about you. From the moment you jumped from that cliff, their memories of you disappeared.”
For the first time since she had arrived, Áine wept.
Understanding her pain from the thought that she would never seen her parents again, the salmon offered comfort.
“You will see your parents two more times,” he told her. She removed her hands from her face and looked at him. “They will not remember you, but they will welcome you.”
She stood, intending to rush immediately up to see them.
“You will know the way when the time comes. But remember, you will only see them twice more and never again.”