Forever Never/The Dawn of Illusion
by Cheryl Pennington
copyright all content
While all of Domhan sleeps peacefully, there is one who is not resting, who waits in the darkness full of anticipation and hope….the pain growing stronger with every passing moment…..
In the realm of Eternity, As’me prepared for her return to life. She had been allowed to visit her new mother for brief periods while Eagna was carrying the infant body she would soon inhabit. She had already grown accustomed to the sound of her Mother’s voice and the beat of her heart, their souls blending perfectly. As’me would enter her new life surrounded by the complete love and protection of the special couple chosen to be her family. It seemed as though perfection were only a breath away for As’me, so ready to have the life she was deprived of on Ar’tine’s dark and violent world.
In Foirfeachta M’na sensed the imminent arrival of her child as the cycles passed; and she was not the only intuitive soul in the Garden. On a soft and quiet night, when no breeze stirred the trees in the forest and the stars were shrouded by silver clouds, young Amhain refused to lie down to sleep in his own room. Instead, he insisted on making a bed beside that of his parents and no argument could be made to change his mind. Although normally he was an agreeable child, M’na couldn’t dissuaded him; and Fireann gave up trying when Amhain wrapped his arms around his Mother’s waist, refusing to let go until they agreed that he could stay. M’na, touched by the depth of his affection, made the child a bed on the floor; and so it was that the firstborn son of M’na and Fireann settled in to sleep next to those he loved most. His eyelids finally closed as his Mother stroked his dark, curly head, a smile on her face for the hair that refused to be tamed by any measure. She too had trouble falling asleep, plagued by the thoughts that filled her head, some which she fought desperately to stave off.
As she listened to the comforting sound of Fireann’s breathing, M’na whispered hopeful prayers to her mothers. “Please let our child be born in perfect peace. Please protect us all as we face the light and dark that must exist together. Thank you for my life on Domhan, for the love of my companion and son, our friends, and the increasing life that fills our world. Thank you, Mother…” she whispered as she finally succumbed to deep and peaceful sleep-but a slumber that was not to last long.
Fireann felt M’na’s body tense next to him when the first pains began. Remembering what they signaled, she did not cry out in agony, although the hot spasms that wracked her body struck mild terror into her heart just as they had when Amhain was born. For a long while she lay awake, allowing the natural process to play out, biting her lip, squeezing Fireann’s willing hand, and vowing not to wake the others. When she sensed the moment drawing close for the infant to pass into the world, she leaned over and nudged Amhain. He sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, at first too groggy to comprehend what was happening, and thinking something must be wrong. His young heart felt heavy as he tried to imagine what it was. M’na touched his face and stroked the wrinkles from his forehead.
“Son, you must go wake Ella and bring her back here now. You know what to do after that.” When she saw the question in his eyes she nodded. His heart soared with joy, but his Mother winced in pain and grabbed her belly, reawakening his feelings of dread. In a moment she was okay and repeated, “Go now. We must make haste. Do you remember what you must do then, what we talked about?” Amhain nodded, grabbing his mother’s hand and pressed her fingers to his lips. Smiling, he jumped to his feet.
Every detail had been planned for this moment. The young male had special tasks to perform, things which in truth were designed to keep him busily away from the very stark reality of childbirth and yet help him to feel useful. His heart was pounding now with excitement. Finally, a brother or sister! Quietly he got to his feet and shuffled out the door, crossing the clearing to the room where their friends slept, remembering to knock first as his Mother had told him was polite. Still, he did not wait for an answer before pushing their door inward and calling to the Warrior through the darkness. “Laoch! Mother says to hurry, the infant is coming!” Ella sat up, dropping her feet to the floor as Laoch urged his consciousness awake. But Amhain was not going to wait. “Now, Laoch. For it is time. Mother delivers the infant tonight!” He turned to go back through the open doorway, asking over his shoulder, “Do you remember what to do?”
Laoch felt a deep admiration for the young one’s fierce determination to see to the well being of his family, giving orders much as his Father would have done. ‘This will serve him well,’ thought Laoch. They followed the child down the steps and into the clearing where the Warrior and Amhain carried bowls down to the creek to fill with water to be warmed over the fire pit in the clearing. Ella hurried up the steps and went to M’na who sat upright, hands clutching her large belly, her knees pulled up. Her lovely face was twisted in pain, the sight of which struck terror into Ella’s heart.
The group had reviewed her role over and again; and yet in this, the pivotal moment, Ella’s feet were frozen to the spot where she stood until a single, agonizing cry from the M’na’s lips shook her from fearful uncertainty, urging her to comfort and aid her new friend, so near to becoming a mother again. Ella went to the storage box where there were several clean skins, kept just for this moment, and brought them to place on the bed beneath M’na. Fireann knelt in the bed next to his companion and supported her, a hand on her back and the other under the knee closest to him. The pains were coming fast and furiously, and she felt the pressure of the infant as it moved down from its safe haven. M’na focused to maintain control, but the pain overtook her resolve and she tossed her head back, howling like the night hunters.
Fireann spoke in soothing tones as he stroked her back; but the writhing female succumbed to fear and questions. Why had she not called for the Sorceress? How could she think she could do this alone? M’na looked at Laoch’s companion. Lovely as she was, Ella knew nothing of childbirth. What if things went wrong?
“Aaggghhhhh..nooo….Mother help us!” she called out to the dark night. Her face was flushed and red, her skin wet-and yet on fire! Even the herb soaked leaves that Laoch gave Ella to press onto her neck were not any help. M’na clawed at them, flinging them to the floor in frustration. Fireann urged her to lay back on the bed and relax, breathe, and focus; but his words were as an unknown language to M’na.
“Mother…pleeease…!” she cried out again, panting as she fought to climb out of the bed. Suddenly there came a fluttering sound through the window, and all heads turned to see what it was. None was surprised by the presence of the pure white dove that settled there and cooed, reassuring the trembling female that she was not alone in her moment of doubt. Seeing the bird sent a soothing wave over M’na’s fearful heart, washing away questions in her mind, the reassurance that all would be well as long as Mother Inion was with her. She looked into the dark eyes of Laoch’s female, glistening with tears and full of her own questions.
M’na grabbed her arm and squeezed it. “It’s time, Ella. Are you ready now? Please tell me if you cannot do this! Oh! Aaaachhh…!” M’na clenched her teeth, closed her eyes and moaned through another spasm. She opened her eyes and locked onto Ella. “Look at me, dear Ella. You can do this. I trust you with my life and that of my infant now.” She nodded at Ella, pulling her closer. The beautiful one smiled, the questions fading from her face, as she nodded her answer to the Mother of Domhan.
“Pleeease, let it be done!” she cried over the heads of those who were gathered around; but none could help her do what only she could. It was her burden to bear alone, but her reward would be a precious gift; and this thought was her salvation. M’na’s legs felt numb as she lay back against Fireann. How tiring it was to endure such long periods of pain.
Ella’s trembling, awed voice cut into her pain, although barely more than a whisper. “M’na, I can see something now. Your body makes way for it.” M’na felt another tightening in her belly and sat up again, the urge to push growing stronger with each wave of fiery pain. Fireann placed his hand on her beside Ella’s and together they gently pushed as M’na shook uncontrollably, groaning in agony through the worst spasm yet. Ella’s eyes grew wide with excitement. “Yes! Dear Mother, yes, there it is!” Ella was beside herself with wonder, and Fireann began to guide her now, seeing that M’na was too consumed by pain to think anymore.
“Cover your hands with the cloth so you can catch the infant when it comes, Ella. Can you see its head?” Ella did as she was told and held her hands under the cloth close to where the child’s head was emerging.
“I have the head,” Ella whispered. “Yes, it’s here.” M’na grunted and pushed again. “And now, oh my, a shoulder!” Ella smiled broadly, amazed and happy; but the smile froze, then faded as she waited in silence. Finally she looked at Fireann fearfully. “But..it has stopped coming.” She looked confused. “What should I do now, Fireann?”
Fireann looked at M’na, who was visibly exhausted, and gently stroked the beads of sweat from her brow. “Now, my sweet. Only another push and our infant is with us. Can you do this for me?” He kissed her cheek. She looked up at him pleadingly to make it stop, and his heart broke open for a moment; but he knew all of this would pass as soon as she held her child, glowing in new motherhood once again. “Only another push now. I believe in you.” He looked at the others, then deeply into the eyes of love. “We all know you can do it.” There were confident murmurs from all around, filling M’na’s soul with encouragement. From the windowsill the white dove cooed again and again. Mother Inion ever watchful.
Yet she was not the only one watching. None in the room saw the dark form that sidled out from within the forest and sat, huddled, beyond the edge of the trees, sworn to watch the miracle unfold. It growled softly. The wolf was the eyes and ears of Ar’tine.
M’na groaned, the will to go on nearly drained from her body. Amhain slipped around Ella and stood beside the bed, leaning over to plant a child’s kiss on his mother’s forehead. His touch, his breath on her skin like a whisper, his unconditional love, was the miracle of strength she needed. Rising up on her elbows she grabbed both knees and strained, pushing harder than she thought possible.
“Yes! It is moving again now.” Ella breathed a sigh of relief and before she could blink, the infant slipped out of its safe cocoon. Speechless in the face of such a miracle, she grabbed up the soft skin to catch the wriggling, damp body of new life that lay in her shaking arms, its body covered in strange liquids and blood. The small creature thrust its arms and legs outward, filling its lungs with fresh air and screaming its presence to all of Domhan. Ella thought the sound of its cry was like music. She looked down and saw the pulsing, strange cord that joined it to M’na and her mind was clouded with uncertainty. They had spoken of what she was to do, but now she was not so sure. M’na lay back on the bed, exhausted relieved; but Fireann reminded Ella they were not done yet.
“Ella, now you must finish it-just as we talked about.” He nodded at the cord. “Go on. Pull.” Ella took hold of the cord with the edge of the clean cloth and tugged timidly. It did not want to move; and she feared she might hurt M’na, who let a gasp of pain slip through her lips as fresh tears rolled down her cheeks. Sitting up, she began to push again, her legs quivering.
“Now Ella!” Fireann told her firmly. Ella, startled, tugged again; and the cord gave way to her gentle pulling as she delivered the sac which had swaddled the infant within M’na’s womb. M’na lay back on the bed and Fireann took up the heated knife to carefully singe the cord very near to the infant’s wriggling body. He tugged quickly and the cord snapped, separating their child from its host so that Ella was able to cloak the tiny body and remand it to the comfort of its mother. Her lips remained sealed although she had seen how Creation endowed the new life. She had been forewarned of the secretive nature of this birth.
Fireann handed the delicate tissue within the animal skin to his son, for Amhain had been chosen to toss it into the fire; and this the young male did with all the seriousness of the ritual that it was. In his haste he didn’t notice the wolf that had moved beyond the cover of the forest and now paced slowly back and forth between the clearing and the fire pit. The child never heard its lowly growl as it smelled the fresh blood he held in his young hands. He tossed it onto the fire where it sizzled in the flames, sending taunting pungent vapors into the dark, tormenting the belly of the wolf.
“The blessing is not for you, my friend,” hissed the voice of Ar’tine. “You are but a watcher. Return to your place and be my eyes and ears. NOW!” The wolf slowly and grudgingly turned back to its place in the shadows and waited.
M’na lifted the crying child to her face and nuzzled its head against her cheek. It was so warm. Fireann sat next to her and leaned across to gaze at his new offspring. Laoch stepped closer and took a deep breath while Ella used a bowl of fresh water to clean M’na’s skin. Fireann reached down and grabbed the edge of the cover to take a closer look at the child but M’na grabbed his hand.
“No, not without Amhain. We need to all be together for this moment.” Fireann reluctantly withdrew and the infant suckled at its mother’s breast. Laoch sat on the floor where Amhain had made his bed. Ella, done with her cleaning, covered M’na’s body with the animal skin. And they waited.
Amhain, not knowing there was a great unveiling awaiting his return, stopped by the water bucket to wash the blood from his hands before finally returning to the room where the eyes of his mother, father and friends turned to him with eager anticipation. Suddenly he felt the weight of the gift he had been born with, the completeness that had been explained to him, talked of around, above and behind him-a completeness that, until this very moment, he had thought no more about than his unruly hair. Would the new child be the same as he? Had the rift truly been repaired with physical union? Amhain had felt no emptiness within, no fear or anger, no pain or sense of lack since he took his first breath. A fountain of excitement rose within him as he stepped past Laoch and sat beside his mother on the bed. She pulled the child from her breast, interrupting its first meal, the tiny lips still sucking at the air as it thrust a wrinkled fist in the direction of its brother.
Placing the new life gently on her son’s lap, M’na lifted the edge of the soft animal skin. Fireann smiled broadly but M’na felt a bittersweet snag in her heart. Ella and Laoch let out small gasps of appreciation. Although M’na knew she was not welcoming the renewed soul of As’me onto the world of Domhan, secretly she had hoped Creation would gift her with a daughter, a continuation of the Feminine through her own lineage. Her sorrow was but for a moment and the catch instantly turned into a sigh within her soul. He was beautiful. He was perfect.
Amhain touched his brother’s little red fist and the infant grasped his finger, holding on tightly to it. A single tear rolled down Amhain’s face. He would protect and love this brother forever. M’na placed her hand around both of theirs, and Fireann closed his broad hand around all of them. It was done.
From the window the flutter of wings drew the attention of the onlookers away from their new guest. Laoch looked up to see the dove flapping her wings wildly, hovering within the window frame. She was blocking the light from outside-or was she blocking the view to the inside?. What was she doing? In a flash of feather and white, she flew from the window and around the side of the dwelling.
All ears were tuned to the noises that flew through the doorway. There was a loud shuffling sound, followed by a cry from the dove that none had ever heard before or would ever hear again. “Laoch!” shouted Ella, pointing to the clearing beyond their dwelling.
The Warrior jumped up, reaching for his knife which always hung at his waist, then lunged through the doorway. When he reached the clearing, his eyes fell on the chaotic scene that was playing out. All he could see was a blur of black fur and brown dust, while white feathers flew in every direction. Once his eyes adjusted to the light from the fire he could make out the white bird, madly flying at the growling, yelping wolf. He watched, amazed, as this symbol of peace appeared to be clawing the beast’s eyes out. Her talons were deeply embedded in the tissue around its eye sockets, hanging on relentlessly. The snarling beast shook its head from side to side, teeth bared and snapping at the dove; but he couldn’t throw her off. Finally, with bloodied coat and foam pouring from the end of its pink tongue, the wolf fell-and weary of the fight, collapsed to the ground rolling and whimpering angrily. It rubbed its matted head in the dirt, trying to ease the pain from the fresh wounds inflicted by Inion. The dove hopped around the creature rolling on the ground, daring it to rise again.
Laoch never withdrew his knife as he watched in horrified wonder. The dove, satisfied with her victory, retreated to a nearby tree limb, leaving the wolf to rise on wobbly legs and limp into the dark hollows of the forest. Laoch tried to follow but the dove flew at his face, and he stopped, not wanting to incur any of her wrath for himself. The Warrior nodded at the bird, who flew to a nearby rock and began to preen her ruffled feathers. He turned to go back inside; but when he heard the flutter of wings, looked back to see the dove retreat over the top of the forest. For an instant he thought he should follow them inside the darkness, to find and finish off the insolent wolf; but he thought better. This was Mother Inion, and clearly she wanted him to stay with right where he was. The Warrior was learning to trust the ways of Spirit.
Fireann and Amhain stood in the doorway, willing to join the fight if needed. There would be no fight for them; and neither would there be a ceremony of blessing for the infant, though he was greatly treasured. There were other things to consider now. Plans must be made, for they all knew the wolf must have been Artine’s watcher. There could be no other explanation for its threatening presence on such a night. They couldn’t be sure how long it would take the dark god to comprehend what had happened in the Garden-and how he had been deceived.
Inside the dwelling the friends made plans in hushed whispers. If the child had been female there would have been a distraction, Ar’tine’s interest would be occupied, and they could have fooled him for awhile. But he would know soon that As’me was not given to the Mother of Domhan-and he would be looking to the other who would be delivering a child of Light.
M’na’s briefly warmed heart froze in fear for the safety of her friends. It was decided that Laoch and Ella would leave before sunrise, heading straight to Eolas and Eagna. M’na wanted to ask if Ella was ok to make the journey in her condition, but she honored her promise to keep the precious secret, hoping the sudden return journey would not be hard on her and their unborn child. It pained M’na that she could not go along to help protect Eagna; and as much as he wanted to help, Fireann had to remain in Foirfeachta to see to the safety of his own family first. The mood which had only moments before been joyous and wonderful, had turned somber and quiet.
It was Ella who brought the reason for celebration back to the forefront of their thoughts. “What will you call your son, M’na?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the new mother, smiling radiantly at the treasure in her arms, touched the infant’s soft cheek. “He shall be Dochais-our Great Hope.” None could argue with the wisdom in her decision. It would be the destiny of this child that defined the course of their world. Was Amhain’s perfection unique within Creation or would all humans born of physical union be bereft of the dark rift? They would know only as he grew, but they had to make certain he survived.
As the others slept away what was left of the night, Laoch readied himself for the trip to Eolas’ lands. What, if anything, would happen when As’me was born at last into the physical realm again? Ar’tine was unpredictable at best, except to know that his thoughts, his actions, would always be slanted toward his own desires.