Life in this era was perilous, filled with excitement and danger. The most adventurous of men turned to the sea for their fortune. Aboard flimsy boats, these foolhardy folks, sailed into the unknown, laden with goods to trade on far flung shores.
Prince Linus of Greece, was just such a man. The youngest son of a Greek King, Linus was never destined to rest upon the throne. Six older brothers waited in line for that honour, and Linus hadn't been blessed with the gift of patience. Deciding to carve out his own fortune, he purchased a battered sailing dow from an aging Mediterranean pirate, and rigged it with a second mast. Using every coin in his purse, he loaded the ship with herbs, spices, and fine cloth, then set sail west.
Along the journey he made many stops, selling his wears and purchasing exotic goods in their stead. On and on he sailed, until he came to the narrow straight that marked the end of the known world. Linus urged his nervous crew to keep a steady tack. His men believed if they passed this point, they would vanish forever, but Linus didn't put stock in such fairy tales. He kept his sails unfurled, and raced on.
His men pleaded with him to change his course but he was not for turning. He sent them below deck to secure the cargo, taking the teller himself. With a deft touch, he slipped the boat between the massive headlands, and they didn’t fall off the edge of the world. He let out a whoop of delight, drawing the crew back on deck. They celebrated with gusto, emptying a dozen pitchers of wine, while the little ship sailed into the vast open ocean.
As the hours passed, the waves grew as high as hills and the water darkened to black, but onward they sailed. Three days and three nights they travelled, with no sign of land. The longer they were alone, the more nervous the crew got, and Linus was starting to believe they had reason. At the end of a week, with only a few skins of water left, the Prince commanded a change of course. The men fell on the sails with abandon, delighted to be heading back toward safety. As if sensing his move, the Gods decided to show their might. The sky darkened and the sun vanished. The wind began to howl and waves crashed over the bow. As night fell, the hills of water had become mountains; none believed they would see the morning. All night they battled the elements, and when dawn turned the horizon pink, they were still floating, just.
They bobbed in the dropping swell and Linus took stock of the damage. The masts were cracked, the sails were tattered and water flooded into the hull as quickly as they could bail it out. The storm might have passed but they were far from safe. Two more days they battled to keep the ship above the waves, a battle they were slowly losing. When hope was all but gone, a man cried out, “Land!” It was a miracle.
As they got closer, they were faced with a fortress of cliffs, making landing impossible. The cliffs were crowned with lush green forrest, very different to the sandy shores of home. Wherever this was, it wasn’t Greece. Linus spotted a break in the cliffs just as the sun was leaving the sky. He turned his limping vessel into the darkening channel, and hoped for the best. It would be a tragedy to come this far and sink within touching distance of salvation. By the light of the moon, they dropped anchor in sheltered water and for the first time in days, the weary Prince lay his head down to sleep.
When the sun rose over the Irish village of Beanntrai, smoke was already rising from morning cooking fires, but all was not as it should be. A strange sight greeted the early risers. A new island, with two spindly trees, had appeared in the middle of the bay. A boy was sent to wake the Druid so he may assess this bewildering occurrence. He raced up the hill and hammered on the Druid's door.
The Druid was the second most powerful man in the tribe, only surpassed by the Warlord himself. He knew the healing plants, and the ones that could kill, magic lived in his words and he was respected by all. As befits a man of his station, the Druid was wealthy and had three young wives to show for it. Unlike most men, he didn’t believe women were dullards. He’d always found them to be the most apt students. Each of his wives had proven themselves gifted in many ways and knew nearly as much about the mysteries as he did.
The boy's excited knocking soon roused the Druid. He passed Fia, Corri and Gwyn, who were preparing the morning meal, and threw open the door. When told of the apparition, the Druid raced to the water's edge. Talk of an enchanted island was too much for the women to ignore, so they abandoned the cooking pot and followed.
On the shore, the whole village had gathered to see this strange new thing. The Druid had to push his way through the throng to get a good look at it.
“What do you think it is?” asked the Warlord. The Druid studied the strange island and noted it moved in time with the water.
“It’s no island. It moves like a coracle,” he pronounced with authority.
“A coracle? Of such size? How would it stay up? It would be far too heavy. And what of those trees that grow upon it?” said the Warlord.
The Druid was at a loss but was never going to admit such a thing. He strode to the water’s edge and righted one of the wicker framed boats they had just discussed, and launched it. With a practiced stroke, he paddled in the direction of the island. As he got close it was easy to see that this was a boat, but one unlike any he’d ever seen before. It creaked as it rocked on the waves. He longed to inspect the craft, to unearth its secrets, so he moved a little closer. He got an awful shock when a sun-darkened face popped up to investigate his splashing.
Hazel eyes floated below a mop of impossibly black curls and a dark beard fell on a strong and hairless chest. The words he spoke were exotic and unintelligible. The Druid was curious, but didn’t dare go any closer. This man might be a pirate, or a barbarian. They stared across the water at each other and more heads appeared, seven in all. The Druid raised his arms, showing he held no weapons. The young dark-haired man seemed to understand and he copied the Druid's gesture. A connection had been made, but only a fool would venture closer without learning more. The Druid turned his corrical and paddled back towards shore.
Fia listened as the Druid explained what he had seen. A boat capable of carrying many men. The Druid advised the Warlord to be wary of the newcomers, to hide all of value, while he made a plan. Eventually, Fia, Corri and Gwyn, were sent to prepare a stew and bake fresh bread. Once the meal was ready, the Druid selected Fia, his youngest wife, to deliver the food to the ship. She tried to refuse but the Druid would abide no girlish strop and sent her on her way.
She paddled into the bay, sure these savages would kill her, or worse. Her stomach churned with trepidation as she approached the magic ship. A scruffy man, with dark eyes, watched her approach. When she drew alongside, she held up the pot of broth, hoping he would understand. The man said something and a figure appeared who was so handsome, her heart went into a flutter. He reached down and took the pot from her hands, then smiled at her. More men appeared and she could see how they gloried at the sight of food. Starvation knows no language. Desperate hands reached out for the bread she passed up, a dozen cakes vanished.
She waited alongside while the sounds of happy eating filled her ears. They finished every mouthful in record time. The dark-haired man returned her cooking pot, and said something in a language that made her heart dance. He held his hands in such a way that she understood he wanted her to wait. When he reappeared, he held a bundle cloth in his arms. He passed it down to her and when her fingers touched it, it was so soft, it was like touching a cloud. It could only have been made by the hands of a fairy. Fia tried to return the wonderful gift but the dark-haired man refused, and pointed toward shore. Fia knew it was a gift, in return for the food. She paddled home as quickly as she could with the amazing treasure.
Fia made more trips to the magic ship, at last, the Druid was confident that the men on board posed no threat. Then, he ventured out with her, hoping if they saw her as a friend, they would view him the same. When he reached the ship, he gestured that he would like to climb on board and the strange men helped him clamber up. With nods and gestures, the Druid and the dark stranger tried to communicate. Eventually the stranger spoke and the others unfurled a tattered cloth then hoisted it up one of the poles. The ship surged away from her, and Fia could only watch. She saw the dark stranger rest a reassuring hand on the Druid’s shoulder, when he began to get frightened. After a few moments, the man spoke again. The cloth was pulled down, and slowly, the ship came to rest. In their wake, Fia and the Druids empty coracle, bobbed. They looked back at her and she could tell that the Druid was amazed. The handsome stranger laughed, and waved for her to join them. To see him look at her with such joy was all the encouragement she needed. She rowed after them, herding the Druids’ empty boat before her.
That night, the ship lay at anchor a stone’s throw from the shore. A great banquet was held in the honour of the magical sea-men. It was also the first time that Corri, and Gwyn, got to see the dark-haired man that Fia couldn’t stop talking about. Fia spent the whole day preparing herself for the meal. She waited nervously as boats went out to bring the seven strangers ashore. The handsome man was the first to step foot on Irish soil. Even though the whole village crowded around him, he made a special point of seeking out Fia. She was beyond delighted, and couldn’t wait to show him off to Corri and Gwyn, but things turned sour. She was horrified when she saw the look on his face as she introduced Gwyn. Fia might be young, but she was no fool. She knew the heart of the man she loved had just been stolen. All through the banquet, he only had eyes for Gwyn.
Gwyn only had eighteen summers but she held herself like the queen. Her laughter was as sweet as nightingale’s song, her beauty paled all the flowers of the forest. She had been blessed with so much, why did she have to take Fia’s Prince as well? As the days passed, the stranger sought out every opportunity to be around Gwyn, while his men repaired the ship. Whispers of this budding love were everywhere, and the Warlord even made mention of it to the Druid. Being old, and wise, he wasn’t going to let himself be upset by fickle matters of young love. Fia overheard him telling the Warlord, “If I lose her heart, it’s a tiny price to pay for the secrets of the ship.”
Fia couldn’t believe how forgiving he was being. She wished he would thrash the woman…and lock her away! Then Fia would be the one to win his affections. She wished for it, but it didn’t happen. Every look that passed between the two, cut her to the core. She hid her envy as best she could, but inside she was furious. It might sound childish but she’d seen him first. Corri knew Fia was upset, but she made no secret of her joy for Gwyn.
Weeks passed, and the ship was ready for sea once more. Food and water were loaded but the handsome stranger grew melancholy. On the night of a full moon, the Prince said his farewells to the Warlord in the few Irish words he’d learned from Gwyn. Even now, in this final hour, Fia held hope he would see her love and realise what happiness she could bring him. She hoped against hope, but it was not to happen.
As the village feasted, Linus stole Gwyn away from the crowd. Fia followed them to a spot on the headland. She watched him point at the moon, then he pointed to the hill where it would vanish from view. Both, Fia, and Gwyn, understood. She was to be at this point when the moon and the hill touched. Gwyn was delighted, but Fia was horrified, as she watched the Prince take her in his arms and kiss her. In the darkness, her hatred grew and her soul became as dark as the night she hid in. The lovers ran back to the banquet, hand in hand, leaving Fia alone in a storm of evil thoughts.
When the moon began its fall, the Prince raised his crew from where they slept. They rubbed their drink aching heads and paddled out to the ship. At the same time, Gwyn stood on the spit of rock near the mouth of the bay, waiting nervously. She would leave everything behind, just to be with him. Fia watched it all from the shadow of a roan tree, waiting for her moment to act. She had etched the ground around her with charms, and in her hand, she held the Druid's darkest tool. It looked like any other candle stub, but this one was jet black and smelled horribly. Sitting close by was an earthen-wear bowl, with embers from the fire glowing inside. In a pouch, Fia had a lock of the prince’s hair. A keepsake rescued after he’d trimmed his mane. She watched the ship hoist its sail. It was time. Fia dropped kindling on the embers in the bowl and blew on them. They crackled and popped, then burst into flame. She retrieved the lock of hair, kissed it, then dropped it on the flame, where it sizzled. She dipped the wick of the black candle to the burning hair, and began her chant.
Magic words of elfish language fell from her lips, the curling smoke took on shapes that swam before her eyes. More smoke that was possible began to drift off the candle flame, rushing down the hill like a bank of fog. It spread across the bay, moving against the wind, and growing in size. Fia’s words grew faster, her tone more guttural. With each passing moment, the terrible evil she was unleashing spread.
The ship sailed forward, toward Gwyn, but the fog engulfed it. As the tip of the mast vanished from view, Fia’s words reached a crescendo. She pinched the candle flame, feeling her skin singe. A shudder ran up her arm and the black candle hummed in her fist. With a terrible noise, the magic fog was sucked back into the warm black wax, Prince Linus and his ship with it. As the last tendril of the smoke vanished, thunder boomed in the clear night sky, and lightening struck, throwing her off her feet.
When Fia awoke, all that remained was the candle, clutched in her hand. Delighted, she ran back to the Druid's hut with her wax encased love. Gwyn spent the whole night on the headland, waiting for Prince Linus to arrive. In the dawn, she returned with tears in her eyes and stone in her hart.
Days passed, and all believed the magic ship had sailed out of the bay under the cover of fog, never to be seen again. Gwyn was no longer the woman she had been; she didn’t eat and never smiled. Her life began to slip away, a day at a time. Fia kept the black candle hidden in the reed mat that she used as a pillow, holding it as often as she could. Corri was very worried about Gwyn, and one day when the girl could no longer raise from her sleeping mat, she asked the Druid to cast a spell for her.
“She is beyond my help. The magic that holds her is much stronger than any I possess,” said the Druid, sadly. Fia said nothing and tried to keep her joy contained. Gwyn had it coming to her.
“You must try! What is stronger than magic?”
“Love. Gwen suffers from a broken heart. I feared I would lose her to the Prince and it looks like I may lose her anyway."
“There must be something you can do," she pleaded. He shook his head and Fia realised he was as heartbroken as Gwyn.
The Druid tended his dying wife in the days that followed but she only got worse. He tried everything he could think of but nothing worked for the girl. One night, Corri broke down in tears and Fia tried to comfort her.
“How could that monster break Gwyn’s heart this way?” she raged.
“Prince Linus is not a monster! It was hardly his fault that Gwyn fell in love with him,” she replied, jumping to the defence of her love.
“He is a monster, and I hope he dies horribly!” she spat.
“Stop, you can’t say that,” cried Fia.
“Oh, I can and I will,” said Corri. “That old wizard of ours might not want to cast his spells, but that won’t stop me. I'm going make sure Linus never loves another woman as long as he lives,” said Corri, coldly. Fia knew she not only ment every word, but she had the skills to carry out her threat. Fia had to do something to stop her.
“No! Promise you won’t,” howled Fia, beginning cry.
“What is wrong with you, woman?” Fia had no choice but to tell Corri how she loved Linus, and hoped that one day he would love her back.
“That’s ridiculous! If he was concerned about any woman, he would have come for Gwyn, like he promised.”
With the story started, she told it all. It was a relief to confide in someone. Surely Corri would see she only did what she had to do. The Prince and Gwyn were going to make a terrible mistake, Fia was saving them from themselves.
Corri looked at Fia and made a face of disbelief. “You’re lying.” Fia ran to her mat and retrieved the thick black candle. Seeing it, Corri flew at Fia, striking her viciously about the face. Fia dropped the candle while trying to defend herself and it rolled towards the open fire.
“No,” screamed Fia, but a flame touched the wick. She tried to extinguish it, but once the black candle was lit, there was no going back. Smoke billowed from it, filling the house, before bursting out the door and racing down the hill. Corri ran to Gwyn. She lifted her easily and carried her through the choking fog.
Outside, Fia was laying on the ground, crying. She watched the smoke rush down the hill, and across the bay. By the second, the fog-bank grew bigger and thicker. Fia spotted the Druid as he ran toward the house.
“What have you done?” he demanded. Corri was about to tell him when Gwyn lifted her arm weakly, and pointed. Corri’s mouth hung open as she watched the Prince’s ship sail serenely out of the fog bank, with Prince Linus standing at the helm. The ship sailed directly for the headland where Gwyn had waited all those weeks ago. Without a word, Corri ran into the woods, with Gwyn in her arms. Fia knew what she intended to do and started to chase after them. The Druid grabbed her arm and demanded again, “What have you done?” She shook off his grip but his intervention had given Corri a head-start. Fia was still racing through the bushes when Corri reached the headland and found Prince Linus searching for Gwyn.
Corri collapsed, exhausted, dropping Gwyn like the bundle of rags. The Prince ran to them, scooping Gwyn into his arms, face a mask of confusion and concern. Corri had no words to explain, she just his waved him back towards the ship and hoped the Gods would save them both. Fia arrived as he stepped aboard the ship. She cried out for him to wait, but he didn’t. The ship sailed away; the lovers were together at last. Fia cried out the Prince's name, over and over again, long after the ship had vanished from view.