The Second Visit
Her relief at being back in the sea once again helped her to ignore some of the pain of leaving her family. She returned to Tír Fo Thuinn, back to the life that she had lived for a short while. There was still much to keep her occupied. She continued to speak with Bradán Feasa daily, learning from him about numerous things under and above the sea. She explored the mountains and found some caves where she enjoyed sitting and playing with her animal friends.
In particular, there was a young fawn who she began visiting regularly where it played out in the field. They became very attached to one another, and, when it was old enough to feel comfortable being away from its family for a long time, she led it to a cave where there was a large grassy patch with beautiful pink flowers. A small stream flowed out of the cave from a pool deep inside.
The fawn could not speak, as was the case with all deer, here or anywhere else, but she understood it as though it could. It enjoyed the grass here, and the flowers were the best it had ever tasted. They drank from the stream, played various games, such as hide-and-seek, and laid on the ground next to each other for hours.
She appreciated the dry parts of the kingdom more this time, taking time to climb the trees and examine the purple, red, orange and blue leaves, and getting to know more of the vast array of creatures who were incapable of moving beyond the walls into the sea.
Her parents stayed in her mind, but this time the thoughts were mostly happy. She had been able to spend some quality time with them, and she had given a proper goodbye.
She spent time in the ocean, but she avoided going to the surface for fear that she might accidentally see her parents and that would be the last time. She debated over the timing of when she would see them again. Perhaps if she spent longer down here this time, she would be able to stay longer on the surface. Also, going up earlier would mean having to say her final goodbyes earlier, and she wanted to put that moment off for as long as she could.
She spent five years in Tír Fo Thuinn before she began to feel the strong urge to see her parents again. It was never anything like the urge she had felt to return to the sea, and for that she felt guilty. She held off for two more years before she finally decided she could not wait any longer. If six months here had given her two and a half years above, perhaps seven years would give her thirty-five. Perhaps it wouldn’t, but now was as good of a time as any to return.
Áine made her way back to the cave early in the morning. It had been seven years since she had seen the sky. After exiting the cave, she took her time looking over the beach. Memories flooded through her brain of her time here. She watched the first sunrise that she had seen in years as she made her way inland.
The beauty of this place was different from Tír Fo Thuinn, but it was still captivating. The green hills rolled on forever. The air smelled of wet grass. The sun seeped through the clouds in beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red.
She slowly made her way to her home. There was no one outside this time as she made her way to the door. Her knocking was not met with an answer, so she made her way over to the cliff where she had begun this course. The tide was low, and the rock where she had seen the Marrow jutted out of the water as waves crashed against it. For nearly half of her life now she had been a Marrow. The feelings and inclinations that pushed her over this edge were distant memories, disconnected by time, life and the developments of adulthood.
After some time she made her way back to the house and sat on the steps in front of the door. Soon, someone approached. It was not her mother. As the woman neared her, Áine could see a strange fear in her eyes.
“Oh, please,” the woman said as she approached. “Are you here for them? The masters of this house?”
“Yes.” Áine stood up. “When will they be here?”
The woman moved around her and opened the door. “They are already inside, but they are not well. I went to get some food.” She lifted the sack in her hand and placed it on a table near the door. “Thank you for waiting for my return before going in. I wish to say goodbye.”
Áine was confused as she quickly made her way in to the room where her parents lay. They were clearly sick and looked near to death. “What has happened? And who are you?”
“I am Alayna, William’s cousin. A few years ago, a girl came to stay with them for a time pretending to be my daughter. But I am not married, you see, and I have no daughter. He would not have known that, though, since our families have not spoken in quite some time. I received a letter a few months after the girl left and eventually made my way here to see them.” Áine’s heart sank. She had never considered that they might try to contact her again.
“Two years ago, William and Mada fell suddenly ill. They recovered, but the illness came back a few more times. This one is the worst I have seen. It hit early this morning and just kept getting worse. I was unsure if this would be the end, and when I saw you on the step, a Marrow, a harbinger of death, I knew. Thankfully, now they can finally rest.”
She had heard that Marrows sometimes foretold death. This was why she had been drawn here. Waiting for two years had given her parents more time, but waiting any longer would have only served to increase their suffering. She understood the duty of the life that she had chosen, and she was suddenly at peace with it. With tears in her eyes she took each of them by the hand and kissed them on the mouth.
“Áine, my dear daughter,” her father said, a smile filling his face with joy as he drew his last breath. “I am so happy to see you again.”
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