As I have indicated, my escape from Kilkenny Castle released a flood of memories. I now knew precisely who, and what, I was. My actual birth occurred some years previous to my incarnation as Alice Kyteler. Two thousand, four hundred and thirty-nine years, as counted by humans. In order to explain the reasons I was forced to live as a human, I suppose I must return to my origin.
A light—bright beyond imagining—stung my eyes. The cold turned my wet skin to gooseflesh. I drew in breath and that first taste of air burned my lungs. I began to wail.
My wail was joined by another, in a voice I recognized. Mother.
“Come now,” said another voice, “she’s a fine girl. Strong and healthy. She resembles you.”
“The more’s the shame. She’s human,” said my mother.
“You’ll be glad of that later.”
Though I did not understand the meanings of the words spoken around me at the time, the words themselves remained in perfect clarity until I grew to make sense of them.
Strong hands wrapped my body in a soft cloth. They wiped my eyes and handed me to someone who was not my mother. The face near mine was lined and framed in grey hair. I could see but little beyond it, my vision being somewhat blurry.
“Take this out to the oak glen and bury it.”
“No. It must be burned,” said the midwife.
It being the placenta, I learned some years later.
Grandmother gasped. “You cannot burn it. The child must be bound to the land here.”
“This child’s soul is of the gods. Binding her to this land will make her naught but a pale reflection. She will forever be in torment, never belonging to one place or the other.”
Mother edged to bedding furs against the wall of the hut, aided by her sister. “She must be bound here or else he will take her. Take the placenta to the priestess and ask her to bury it with all the required ceremonies. But tell her it must be done in secret. She must tell no one, not even me, until after the thing is done.”
The midwife shook her head. “Binding the child to this place will not keep her father here.”
Mother lay her head down. “Yes, it will.”
And so it was, long before I uttered my first words; my value lay in my utility. I suppose it must always be so for the daughters of kings.
Later, Fionvarra came to see his new daughter. He held me in his arms while Mother rested. He bounced me and tickled my toes. I pulled my feet back. “She is beautiful.”
“You’re not disappointed she does not resemble you?”
He shook his head. “Not at all, not at all. Why, she looks just like you. I shall enjoy watching her grow into womanhood.”
Mother smiled. “May I choose her name?”
“What would you choose?”
Mother chose a name meaning fairy dream in the old language: Aislinn, in the Celtic tongue. I believe it an attempt at humour, for most humans would never know how close it came to the truth.
Father stroked my face. “If that is the name you like, she shall have it.”
At that moment, a woman appeared in the hut. Like Fionvarra, she was tall and golden-blonde. She wore an ankle-length leine so fine it might have been woven from spider webs. His wife, Oonagh. She studied me resting in Father’s arms. “So, this is your latest. Now you’ve seen her, you may return home.”
Mother tried to rise. She held out her arms for me.
Father turned his back to her and faced the new arrival. “I’m not ready to come home yet.”
Oonagh’s eyes flared. She spoke through clenched teeth. “Very well. Stay a few days longer. I will be waiting.”
Father rocked me. “No, I’ll not be coming back at all. I’m tired of you.”
Oonagh gestured around the tiny wattle-and-daub hut. “You mean to live in this hovel?”
“You know me better. I can find my own accommodations, but I shall be staying very near here.”
“I won’t stand for this. You will return home with me now, or I shall raise all of the Danaans against you.”
“I doubt you can, but please do try. It’s been so frightfully dull lately.”
Oonagh turned on Mother. “You needn’t think you have won. You may have kept his attention longer than most, but he always returns to me sooner or later.”