XII. The Raising of Caer Úir

The Journey of the Leanaí i Ndán

XII. The Raising of Caer Úir

THROUGH the dry, barren lands the Leanaí i Ndán made their return journey with the lost souls, the Men of Dust, and the Meaige. After traveling an unknown time in the endless night of the Veiled Court they emerged from the maggot-ridden barrows to the ailing lands of Éiru beneath the distant, sickly sun. At once they began their journey towards where their magic vessel was moored, guarded as it was by Nuculabhí.

All around them, however, dotting the swollen mire were mounds of earth, covered in fresh spring grass and sweet-smelling clovers. The strange hills called to the blood of Braonán and Meadhbhín as they approached; whereupon the Meaige stood upon a mound and struck it with her staff. It opened beneath her blow and the Dagda emerged, the very earth quaking with his thrashing. He shook the soil from his great beard and blinked in the light of the sun.

Cried the Meaige: “Behold! Éiru bears her much coveted fruit!”

“How long have I slumbered?” asked the Dagda.

“Deep was your slumber, holy Dagda,” spake Meadhbhín. “You have been absent for many seasons.”

“It was unto the end of the earth your slumber took you,” spake Braonán. “Look around you: the seas roil and Éiru ails. We have rescued the lost souls in search of you, so that the world might be restored.”

Indeed, the Dagda beheld the world, his keen eyes crossing over earth and sea; and his heart knew sorrow at the state of Éiru.

“I would but extol t’heroism t’at I behold save my mournful heart at t’sorry state o’ all t’at is,” lamented the Dagda. He asked: “Be we t’only ones o’ our kin?”

“Our fellow children o’ Danu slumber alike in t’ese mounds,” spake the Meaige.

“Let us wake them at once!” cried the Dagda.

Together, the Leanaí i Ndán, the Dagda, and the Meaige set about striking the strange hills; and from each emerged one of the Tuatha de Denann. All through Éiru did they travel to find these hills, and added more to their numbers, until they had scoured the breadth of the diseased land. They gathered where An Sharmh was moored and conferred.

“We must regretfully leave our beloved Éiru,” spake the Dagda to his kin. “She has fallen to illness, and, like fresh-born babes, we will soon follow if we remain.”

“But where else are we to go?” demanded Dian Cecht.

Meadhbhín spake: “I and my brethren hail from a land which yet stands on its own. You would all be welcome there, at my home, and we would endeavor to ensure your safety while you regained your strength.”

“Untried hands will not keep us well, even if t’ey belong to kin,” warned Dian Cecht.

“Ah, an honor it is to be invited to Meadhbhín’s halls!” cried the Meaige. “Indeed, I have felt t’steady, sure hand o’ her hostessing. I say t’is to you: her hospitality is unto freedom, o’ men and gods alike!”

At this, the Men of Dust let up a great cry of agreement, their voices rippling the waters of the sea.

“T’en it is to her halls we will go,” spake the Dagda.

Thus did the Tuatha de Denann, the Leanaí i Ndán, the Men of Dust, and the lost souls board the magic vessel: An Sharmh’s craftsmanship was such that it could hold several nations, float even under a mountain’s weight, and move unflagging no matter the obstacles arrayed against it. They were accompanied by the terrible Nuculabhí as escort.

As they left Éiru, however, the blood began to flee from Braonán’s cheeks.

“I have never seen such a pallor to your skin before,” spake Lámhghala. “Are you unwell?”

“I may be,” replied Braonán. “But we are closer to home than we have ever been; if I am yet ill when we are once more safe I will tend to it.”

But on the second day on the open seas, the strength began to leave Braonán’s limbs.

“I have never seen you so feeble,” spake Fearghal. “Are you unwell?”

“I may be,” replied Braonán. “But we are closer to home than we have ever been; if I am yet ill when we are once more safe I will tend to it.”

But on the third day on the open seas, his hair and beard grew brittle and gray.

“I have never seen your hair so frail,” spake Meadhbhín. “You are unwell!”

“I may be,” replied Braonán. “But we are closer to home than we have ever been; if I am yet ill when we are once more safe I will tend to it.”

“Nay, let us tend to it now, in the company of friends and family,” said Meadhbhín. Whereupon she sought Mársélu, and together they attempted to restore their brother to health. But the harder they worked the more Braonán fell ill.

“My magics cannot cure him!” cried Mársélu. “This is indeed a pernicious illness!”

“Then I will seek the help of the great healer Dian Cecht,” spake Meadhbhín.

At once she sought him, and he attempted to restore Braonán to health. But the more he applied his tinctures and cures the more Braonán fell ill.

“My medicines cannot cure him,” spake Dian Cecht. “T’is is no mundane ailment.”

“Then I will seek the help of the great magician Manannán mac Lir,” spake Meadhbhín.

At once she sought him, and he examined Braonán carefully with a keen eye and a keen mind. He laid but a single spell, and it seemed to have no effect.

“My spells cannot cure him,” spake Manannán mac Lir. “A powerful curse has befallen him by t’Winter Hag’s hand: should his feet ever leave Éiru’s soil he will sicken until deat’. He can only be saved once he has returned and not a moment before.”

At once Meadhbhín revealed this to the rest of her brethren; and the Leanaí i Ndán besought the Tuatha de Denann to allow them to turn around and return to Éiru.

“We cannot allow a heroic heart to wit’er and die in such a sorry manner,” declared the Dagda. “We will allow you to return to Éiru to cure your brot’er.”

And so, with Braonán on the cusp of death, An Sharmh turned about. Indeed, for three days he saw no improvement; and so when the Leanaí i Ndán moored once more they helped him set foot once more on Éiru’s rotten soil. At once a spot of color returned to his cheeks; enough strength returned for him to stand on his own; and his hair and beard began to chase away the gray.

“The lost souls and the Tuatha de Denann both must be conveyed to safety; while they remain here they will be under threat,” spake Braonán. “So, my brothers and sisters, I say to you leave me here that I might endeavor to break this curse and one day return to you.”

“You are no less a child of Danu, therefore you are no safer here than any other,” protested Meadhbhín.

“But neither any more in danger,” retorted Braonán.

Spake Mársélu: “You speak falsely, Braonán: while you are here, the one who cursed you may yet come upon you and, alone, you would be entirely at her mercy.”

“Seemings are my art; I will be able to elude the Cailleach to the ends of Éiru,” assured Braonán.

“But for how long?” asked Fearghal.

“It matters not, for the Tuatha de Denann and the lost souls cannot remain here for long, and I cannot leave,” spake Braonán. “So I beg of you: leave me here. If one day I should return, our reunion will be sweet indeed; but meanwhile think of me as having fallen on my quest to break my curse.”

“I would fain not leave you until some measure of your safety is assured,” said Lámhghala. “Is there not some burrow, some stronghold, some redoubt on Éiru within which you may shelter yourself?”

“Calm your heart, Lámhghala,” spake Braonán. “I will find some burrow, some stronghold, some redoubt. And should it become routed, I will find another. Now go: as you would be assured of my safety, I would be assured of the safety of the Tuatha de Denann.”

And so they once more boarded An Sharmh; however, as they did, they found the lost souls had as one poured from the vessel and gathered around Braonán. Whereupon the Meaige cried: “A-bloom be t’at t’rone o’ black t’orns! Truly, a kingly seat hat’ rested upon it.”

Spake Manannán: “Wonders! Braonán mac Manannán brought spring to t’Veiled Court! T’en ‘tis in his hands t’at t’souls o’ t’men and women o’ Éiru rest, and t’fate o’ all t’children o’ Danu wit’ it.”

“We will not thrive long wit’in cursed hands sought by t’Cailleach!” cried Dian Cecht. “His step cannot leave t’soil o’ Éiru; surely she will find him and strike him down!”

Spake Manannán: “Is t’ere not soil o’ Éiru far beneat’ t’waves t’at lap at her shores? ‘Tis my son who holds us; ‘tis my kingdom t’at will hold him. My fellow kin o’ Danu, let us build him a fastness at t’bottom o’ Éiru’s seas, where t’water will conceal him from t’Cailleach’s searching gaze.”

And so at a word, the seas parted, and the Tuatha de Denann began the task of building the castle. At once the Leanaí i Ndán lent their talents: Lámhghala offered her strong arm to lift and move the great building blocks, Fearghal offered his song to bolster the builders’ spirits, Mársélu offered her keen eye to keep watch over them, and Meadhbhín offered her generous heart to infuse it with warmth in her absence.

In three days and three nights the castle was built; and the Samhain Seat was planted therein, scattering its blooms and fruits throughout the halls; and Mársélu bade terrible Nuculabhí stay and watch as formidable guardian over her brother; and the lost souls followed Braonán into the new-built stronghold. With them gathered the Tuatha de Denann and the Leanaí i Ndán.

Spake Manannán: “Bear witness! T’king o’ Caer Úir holds his court!”

Thus was Braonán coronated as king of the souls of the dead; and with tears of parting, the Leanaí i Ndán boarded An Sharmh and took their leave of Éiru with the Tuatha de Denann and the Men of Dust once and for all.

XII. The Raising of Caer Úir

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