Firbreac stared into the sky, and felt their heads touching, his and hers, as they lay on their backs near the river. The warmth of a thick layer of moss embraced him from behind; his feet cooled by the waters of the silently flowing river. He blinked watching the sun’s rays flit through the leaves above them, first with his left eye then his right, watching the rhythm as it coincided with his heart’s fluttering. The children played beside them, giggling like little birds, when he asked her, as if they understood what it was being asked, the reason for his heart’s flutter. As he waited for her answer his cheeks turned red, seconds seemed like minutes, he started to anticipate a possible no. Then she whispered, “Yes” just loud enough for him to be able to hear her, ‘Yes, I will be your wife.’
At first they were very happy, but after five years Aoife still had not become heavy with child and something seemed to start gnawing at her soul, eating it away, making her only wish become the festering wound; the rotting inside her. She wanted more than anything to give Firbreac a child, a child conceived by them both. Firbreac tried to explain that he couldn’t be happier with his family the way it was now, with her as a part of it, but no matter what he said he could never fully convince her of his happiness. Aoife slowly changed, becoming whimsical, her soft and peaceful demeanor turning into a fiery one. The children started to avoid her frequent furious outbursts.
With every passing day Aoife became more depressed, and finally she refused to leave her bed altogether. She pulled the covers over her head, and screamed to be left alone, even when little Fionnualla asked her to plait her hair holding the yellow ribbons up to her. And, Firbreac brought her flowers; asked her to come outside with him as he sat on the bed and stroked her arms. “Everything is so beautiful,” he said, “spring has arrived and the flowers are beautiful this year, their blossoms flutter on the breeze like the wings of butterflies. Please come out?” But she pulled her arm back and slid deeper under the covers. She never did go out with him.
Then one morning, she suddenly joined her family at the breakfast table, chatting with the children, laughing; talking about all the things she used to talk about with them, and being her lively self. Firbreac was overjoyed that Aoife was herself again, and mumbled that a trip might be a good idea, afraid that she might return to her bed after breakfast. Getting her out of the house is important, he thought to himself. She could take the children to see her father. But as soon as the words were spoken he felt an anxiousness creep into his heart. He added that he would follow her as soon as he could, having to settle his affairs first.
Aoife smiled, “Don’t worry about the children they will so enjoy the trip now the weather is so fine.”
Firbreac hesitated for a moment, but shrugged off his reservations seeing the happiness on his wife’s smiling face. “I will join you as soon as I can,” he assured her.
The next morning Aoife set out with the children. Once Aoife had left, Firbreac was overcome by strange feelings, a kind of yearning for his children, a feeling so strong he couldn’t ignore it even though he tried so hard to focus on the papers before him. He didn’t want to distrust his wife, but he just couldn’t shake off that feeling. In all haste he sent a messenger after them. “Find my wife,” he said. “And don’t leave her side.”
When Aoife reached the river she slowed her cantering horse and slid off its back. “Come children,” she said, “lets stop and swim.”
“But we still have such an awfully long way to go,” they said.
“Nonsense, it’s such beautiful weather. A little swim won’t do us any harm.” The children obeyed her and undressed. They walked hesitantly towards the water’s edge. Firbreac’s messenger caught up and quietly slid of his horse’s back, shushing it as he crept closer. He sneaked between the tree trunks, making sure that she did not see him. He saw Aoife raising her hand over the children, and heard her mumbling a terrible curse, casting a spell over them. They were to change into crows, white crows and to stay in the forest forever. While the children slowly changed; Fionnuala’s hair turning to feathers, Aoife felt sorry for her. The curse once spoken could not be taken back, so she quickly added the words, “But speak and sing like children do and not like common crows.”
The messenger brought Firbreac the awful news. Firbreac was heartbroken, he fell to his knees asking God for a solution. Sobbing he picked himself up, and left for the forest to find his children. His wife met him on her way back to the castle, she begged for his forgiveness, but it was no use. He banished her to end her days wandering the cliffs of Moher, and swore she should never return, for he would never forgive her.
He was horrified when he set eyes on his bewitched children, their hair and skin changed to white feathers, the ugly crow’s beaks uttering their beautiful young voices. He took them in his arms, and hugged them, his tears tumbled down onto their white feathers.
He stayed with them for the rest of his life, and refused to return to warmth of his castle, even in winter time when the snow made his clothes stiff and cold. At night he slept under Fionnuala’s wings, and during the day they comforted each other with beautiful songs.’ She looked up at me, the light of the fire playing with her hair and whispered in a solemn voice, ‘There they stayed, hiding deep in the midst of the trees and vegetation, near the banks of the river, in dark shadows. Their father died a lonely old man and they remained white crows for ever.’
‘Where did they do after that?’ I asked, ‘After their father died?’
‘Oh, they’re still there, hiding, too scared of being discovered. If you follow the muddy path leading through the forest, down in the valley near the river, you might catch a glimpse of them, bathing their wings in the cool shallow waters, singing Gaelic songs. But you have to keep really quiet, because they will duck away and hide if they hear the slightest sound.’
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