The old king of Ériu, Warren III, was not a believer of superstitions. He had been alive for fifty-eight years, and never once had he encountered a water goddess. Years of hunting through the night in the deep, dark woods by his castle and beyond – and he had never stumbled upon a fairy meeting. Years of supervising the bog fairs and he had never once encountered a demon hound with blood-red eyes.
That is, until the night his sickly son was born.
One thing an elder king feared the most – was losing his heir. King Warren hadn’t wanted to marry until he met young Phoebe of Athens. She was simply goddess like, and if he hadn’t known any better, Warren would have said she was, indeed, a goddess. However, being thirty-five years his junior, it was difficult to woo her. In the end, the young princess fell in love with the older King and said goodbye to her family. She married him in a lavish, Gaelic ceremony and soon afterwards, she fell pregnant with their first-born child.
King Warren was over-joyed. He prayed nightly for a son, even though he was not sure he believed in a God. In what seemed like such a short time, their son was born…a handsome prince with roaring red hair and bright blue eyes, although he was sick. Fearing the worst, the now Queen Phoebe, exhausted from giving birth, swooped her newborn son into a blanket she had made for him, and ordered the servants to fetch them a carriage.
King Warren was confused by her actions, but she begged him to trust her, so he did, as he loved his wife. Moments later, the couple found themselves huddled close in the back of the carriage, cradling their newborn son, and praying for his survival through the journey. It took them thirteen hours to reach their destination – a small cabin in a large woodland area unrecognisable to the King. Although, the Queen seemed to know her way. The rain lashed against the cabin, and it looked like it might blow away, but it didn’t. The king followed his wife to the front door of the cabin, holding their son.
As Queen Phoebe went to knock on the door, the door swung open to reveal a small, fat old woman, who was smiling kindly.
“I knew you would come.”
“Can you help us?!” the queen exclaimed, desperate.
“You know it’s not my place, dear. It’s his.”
“Who? Me?” the king gasped, but then he realised neither of them were looking at him until he had spoken.
“No. Dian Cécht, of course.”
“Oh, not this. Please, my Queen. We need to help our infant son, and this is where you have taken us?!”
“I asked for your trust, and you gave it to me. I have given birth to a beautiful baby boy for you, what more proof of my loyalty to you and our family is there to show?”
The king huffed, then looked down into his sickly son’s sweet face, and calmed down.
“Fine, my queen. I trust you.”
He approached the cabin, which smelt old and musty, and entered with his queen, and the old woman.
The old woman started to scramble around the cabin, grabbing medicines and herbs, and throwing them into a cauldron, all the while mumbling in ancient Gaelic tongues.
“Please, my King” she suddenly spoke, “place him on the altar.”
“Please, my love. Place him there” Phoebe begged, trying to yank their son from his arms. The king glanced down at his child, the child he had longed for since meeting Phoebe, and reluctantly placed him on the altar. It felt wrong, like he was sacrificing him. It made him feel sick, and sad.
The old lady knelt before the prince, mumbling. Her voice got louder and louder over the span of a few seconds, and then a massive gust of wind almost knocked them back. Pieces of herbs flew from the cauldron, and went into the King’s eyes, stinging them. He quickly wiped at his eyes, and once they were opened and he could see clearly once again, his heart almost stopped beating.
“I have been summoned” a loud, booming voice spoke. Right before his eyes, was a tall man, dressed in all gold and jewels, more lavish than he could ever dream. He smelt like medicine, and his eyes bore into the king’s. Dian Cécht, he looked just like the paintings and drawings. The king could hardly believe it. He thought he was dreaming!
“Please, my lord, can you save our son?!” Phoebe begged; eyes filled with tears.
“What ails him?” the old lady questioned, peaking over the queen’s shoulder at the crying baby.
“The young prince, the heir to the throne of Ériu, is dying” the God announced, as if that were nothing at all.
“Oh, my king!” Phoebe wailed, throwing herself into the king’s arms, “I have failed you.”
“Please, can’t you do something?!” the king exclaimed, “can’t you see my wife cannot take it?!”
The God’s vibrant blue eyes were still bore into the king, and a gentle smirk flickered across his face.
“Well, there is two options.”
“What is that?” the old lady asked above the queen’s wails.
“Either his majesty or his queen may give their souls to the Banshee, or the young prince must be made into something…unnatural.”
“Unnatural?!” the king exclaimed, “what is that supposed to mean?”
“Your son shall be transformed into a wolf, but he will only transform from the first full moon that follows his eighteenth birthday.”
“I simply won’t allow it! The Banshee can take me instead!” the queen cried, balling her fists.
“My queen, no!” The King exclaimed, “she can take me!”
“No, me!” Phoebe sobbed, so King Warren took a hold of her shoulders and balanced her.
“I cannot lose you, my queen. I love you dearly.”
“I love you too my king, but our son deserves to live.”
The king halted, eyes closing tightly as he imagined his life without the both of them – and in that moment – made a vital decision.
“King Warren!” the old lady gasped.
“My king what are you saying?! That our son shall become a beast?!”
“We will love him no matter what he is,” the king said sternly, “so, by order of the King of Ériu, I demand he is turned to a wolf.”
“Very well, then” Dian Cécht said, “I shall provide you with the potion that will both save and hinder your son’s life for eternity.”
The King wasn’t sure how to respond. Thank you wasn’t the word, but out of fear of the God changing his mind – he said it anyway.
The God rummaged in his left pocket, eventually pulling out a tiny bottle of potion. He chucked it at the king, who just about managed to catch it.
“Use it well, my king. Beidh an mac tíre go breá.” (the wolf will be fine)
“Go raibh maith agat…(thank you)” the queen bowed.
With that, another, smaller gust of wind came – and the God had disappeared. The old lady watched as the king and queen approached their son. The queen lifted her son from the altar, whose breathing was now shallow and slow, into her arms.
“Use it quickly, my love. He is fading fast…” she said sadly.
The king opened the potion lid, and then opened his son’s mouth with his free hand. The youth was too weak to fight against him.
“Tá brón orm…(I’m sorry)” the king mumbled to his newborn child, pouring the liquid potion down his throat. The baby stirred a little bit, making a disgusted face, before bursting into tears. All colour came back to his cheeks. The queen smiled happily, letting out a relieved sigh.
“He’s getting better” the king said cheerfully, stroking his son’s left cheek with his big finger.
“Now that we know he will be okay for now…what do you suppose we name him, my king? The kingdom will be waiting for an announcement.”
The king looked to the old lady, who gave them both a shy smile.
“Would you like to name him, miss?” he asked her.
“Oh, my king! I couldn’t-“
“You saved our son. You gave us access to the God of medicine. I insist you name him. Please.”
The old lady looked to the queen, who nodded her head in approval.
“Then – your majesty – I would suggest Conan.”
“Prince Conan Sullivan of Ériu. I love it” the king said, smiling at his baby.
“What does it mean?” the queen asked, feeling silly that she didn’t know, but she still wasn’t fluent in Irish.
“It means little wolf, my queen” the old lady replied.
The queen giggled, “then it’s perfect.”
“One more thing…” the king began, eyes flicking to both the old lady and his queen, “no one is to know of his power. Not now, not ever. Understood?”
“Yes, my king” they both said in unison.
“With that out of the way,” the king said, taking his son from the queen, who watched proudly, “let us celebrate – for the heir of Ériu has been born – and he is healthy.”