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Fearhan and Fionna

The tragedy of Fearhan and Fionna has been told by the Feacthengead for ages, and tells of how the People of the Owl-Totem became sundered from their kinfolk who became the Belochyar.

photo by Sean E. Kelly

Now after Naiherah, the Great World Serpent and accursed scourge of sapienkind, was vanquished, the goddess Eryda, the Fire-Mother, she who birthed the serpent and defeated her, departed the world of Matter, and in her true form of Light and Song, she wandered whither she would among the spheres of the world. She had shed her mortal disguise, and the form of Éataín withered for it was of Matter and thus not made to withstand the tides of time. But when Eryda had cast off her robe of flesh and blood, something moved beneath that garment, stirring as a gosling trying to break free of his egg. Then, to the surprise of the Fae and the men of Hamath who had gathered to mourn Eryda’s departure, a child crawled out from beneath Éataín’s remains! She was the flower that blossomed from the union of Éataín and Hamath, alike to her mother in beauty and splendor, and to her father in virtue, and she was called Ilívantha, and the Fae called her their queen, and she would grow into the most beloved of all faerie-kind, for she, forged from the confluence of the mortal world and the Otherworld, would set the souls of sapienkind free from their mortal prisons after the years had withered them, and she would sing to the Owls in the darkest depths of night, joining her Song to theirs, giving them eyes to behold the doorway between the realm of the ephemeral flesh and the World beyond the Aether, giving strength to their wings that they might soar through that magical door, and that is how the Owl became the messenger of the Sacred Ancestors.

It was the desire of Ilívantha that the body of Éataín be taken to the holy isle of the Fae, the island of Dearmhaillh, where the Elves of the woods and the welkin made their abode, and where the Dwarves of the mountains and the mounds made their abode, and by whose shores the Mermaids made their abode. She called the Fae and the hosts of Hamath to gather before her, and she made her voice heard: “O ye of sapienkind, ye of faerie-kind! Behold thy mother, who hath loved ye as ye hath loved her. I pray thee, O noble Fae, take this disguise of clay which she wore, and take it to the place which I have ordained, which is Faend-Mhairu.” And the Elves took up the body of Éataín, and they took wing, and they flew the withered skin of the immortal Fire-Mother to the shores of Aurhailé, which today is called Himilorn, and they laid her beneath the black mountain which Ilívantha had raised from her mother’s spirit-fire that flowed within her Light and danced within her Song.

Then Ilívantha knelt over the body of Hamath, her gallant father of mortal stock, and she wept. When her tears had dried, she looked upon the mourning host of Hamath, and she made her voice heard: “O sapienkind, noble and brave even in the face of thy doom so nigh at hand! Behold thy father, who hath sacrificed himself to save thee. I pray thee, O virtuous beings of Matter, take this clay which contained his Light and his Song, and take it to the place which I have ordained, which is Faend-Mhairu.”

But the people of Hamath feared the land of the Fae, and among their great number only one stepped forth, and his name was Gormfreith, and to Ilívantha he made his voice heard: “O gracious Queen Ilívantha! Would that I could follow Thy command, but I have no wings to fly to the Hallowed Isle, nor any fins to swim across the swelling sea. Teach me, O beloved queen, that I may set Good Lord Hamath to rest as is befitting his gallantry.”

Ilívantha said naught, but reached out her hand, and she touched Gormfreith’s hand, and he was enraptured. She gathered Gormfreith in her arms, and Gormfreith gathered Hamath in his arms, and Ilívantha took wing, and they carried Hamath to the black mountain upon the shores of Aurhailé that his mortal form might rest with that of his beloved Éataín until all is unmade.

After Hamath was blessed into eternal sleep, Ilívantha and Gormfreith flew to the verdant forests under the mountains. In those days, the forest was vast and beautiful, and its trees hearkened to birdsong and deer-call, and its streams and cascades sang with Song of their very own. There Ilívantha and Gormfreith rested, and love took root between them, and they laid together, and just as Ilívantha blossomed from the union of mortal and divine, so too did the child who awakened in Ilívantha’s womb. As autumn yielded to winter she conceived, and amid the blooms of summer she brought into the world a beautiful boy, and it was said that he could see into the future, so they named him Galaith, the Far-Seeing.

Now Galaith was of Fae-blood, and thus he grew quickly, and by his ninth year he was fully into his manhood, and though not immortal for all of Matter must perish in time, he would be blessed with long life; three lives of a man born to mortal womb he would live, and this Ilívantha knew; but as she stared into her newborn son’s eyes, she saw great grief in them, and she read into those far-seeing eyes the shadow of much sorrow to come, though she knew not its manner.

In the years after Ilívantha and Gormfreith had departed, the descendants of Hamath spread throughout the lands of Cildana. Meanwhile, the Fae had come back to the holy island to join their queen. All came to the forest to see Galaith, bearing great gifts, delighting to his songs, as crisp and pure as the Song Immutable. But in this time Gormfreith had grown weary; for he was an old man, and he, like the son he fathered, had been blessed with long life. Yet for Gormfreith, the years were a curse, and his body weakened, and he was as a willow’s leaf, and he had gone deep into the forest where even Ilívantha could not find him, that he might live out his waning days without worry. Whither he went no one knew, but all wept for his departure, none more so than Galaith, who loved his father.

Galaith had grown as handsome as the mortal disguise of any Fae—so handsome that, when he walked among his kin, and among the Fae, they rejoiced, for it seemed to them that beloved Gormfreith had returned! Such was the likeness that Galaith bore to his father. As the years passed by, Galaith became a wise man, and all, Fae and sapienkind alike, came to him for counsel. They would gather to hear his songs and his poems, and through him sapienkind came to remember how Eryda, in her mortal guise, saved them from the world-serpent Naiherah, for the years had grown long, and they had forgotten the stories of old.

Now in this time Ilívantha still grieved the loss of Gormfreith, her beloved. She, too, saw his shadow in Galaith’s countenance, and so she came to Galaith’s side, and they lay together, though Galaith’s heart was heavy with warning for he foresaw great tragedy in their union. But he would not deny the Fae queen, his mother; and his desire for her burned fiercely within him, and it was greater than his fear for what he knew was to come.

And so Ilívantha bore two sons, and they were called Gorgaman and Fearhan. From the moment he came into the world, Gorgaman was of a dark mien, and this troubled Galaith; but Fearhan was handsome and vibrant, and his mother’s spirit and his father’s wisdom were within him. In time, Galaith arranged for Fearhan to wed the maiden Aileathne, whom Fearhan loved; she too was of Hamath’s kin, the most beautiful of that people.

But Gorgaman too desired Aileathne, and he was resentful of the love Galaith showed for Fearhan, and in the depths of night he plotted his most wretched revenge. On a moonless night ere the first breath of winter he struck, and Gorgaman slew his father Galaith, and his name henceforth is accursed, and he shall forever be called Blackheart. When Ilívantha learned of Gorgaman’s betrayal she was filled with wrath and grief, and she invoked the name of her mother Eryda, and the spirit-fire of Eryda raged within her, and it flowed from her hands, and the earth burned at her touch, never to grow lush and beautiful again, and that place became gorais aí-drumhaid. The people fled Ilívantha’s inferno; some settled in the mountains taking refuge with the Dwarves there, others in the treacherous wilds over the river, and more still in the open lands to the south. But Gorgaman Blackheart would not fly; Ilívantha bound him to the scarred earth, and there she raged and she wept, and her tears swelled into great waves that consumed the Blackheart even as the ashes choked his lungs and the smoldering ruin seared his flesh, and death was slow and merciless in taking him. Ilívantha’s tears spread into the shape of a great swan, and she spread her own wings and departed the place of her grief, and that was the last that the virtuous Fae queen was ever seen in the mortal realm.

But Galaith had foreseen what was to come, and he had shared his vision with Fearhan for he foresaw that the Blackheart had plotted too against his brother and against Aileathne for whom he pined. And so before Blackheart’s strike, Fearhan, stricken with grief and guilt, took Aileathne and fled across Fryd Ariennes. A fortnight they wandered the wilderness, hunted by wolves, chased by the spectre of death, until an owl came to Fearhan, and it spoke to him, beckoning him to follow, and its voice was Galaith’s. Fearhan followed the owl to the place called Laithen Meach, and there Aileathne conceived, and on a summer’s eve she gave birth to twins. The boy they named Fearhan after his father; the girl they called Fionna for she was fairest among all the daughters of sapienkind.

Great love there was between Fearhan the Younger and Fair Fionna as they grew. Often they would chase each other through the forests, or swim with the Sprites in the singing waters of Fryd Ariennes, or gaze at their father with eyes full of wonder as he recounted the tales of noble Galaith and blessed Ilívantha, of noble Hamath and of the goddess Eryda who clothed herself in flesh and saved sapienkind from the wrath of the Great World Serpent. Their love only grew throughout the years, and Fearhan swore to Fionna that he would always protect her, and that he would be at her side always, and she swore the same unto him. And Fearhan the Elder and Aileathne looked upon their children with pride.

But as they reached adulthood, Fearhan the Younger began to notice his sister becoming more reticent. She would disappear in the woods for many hours, and when she returned, and Fearhan asked her where she had gone, she would reply that she was chasing fawns through the forest and had wandered astray. But this troubled Fearhan, for such flights of fancy were child’s play, and Fionna was a woman grown.

Then, on a tranquil summer’s eve in the twins’ eighteenth year, Fearhan the Elder went peacefully to his death. Aileathne and Fionna and Fearhan the Younger buried his body at the eastern end of Laithen Meach, under the hill where, long years later, Fearhan’s descendant Prandleth would raise his owl-stone. For three days they mourned gracious Fearhan son of Galaith, and they sang songs of his deeds, and the Fae gathered to bid him farewell, and those of sapienkind who loved him joined in mourning.

On the fourth day, Fionna wandered into the wilderness over the river from the isle, and at nightfall she had not returned. Fearhan was worried such that sleep eluded him all the night, for his grandfather’s prescience had passed down to him, though in Fearhan it was as clay that had not yet been molded. At dawn, when no word of Fionna had yet reached Laithen Meach, Fearhan’s heart grew heavy, and dread gnawed at him for he remembered the tale of how the Blackheart had tried to take sweet Aileathne for his own, and the feared that some foul bandit might have the same designs for fair Fionna.

Fearhan tried to calm himself. Fionna was strong and proud, he knew, and she would not let herself be taken idly. Maybe she had simply gotten lost, or maybe she was hurt and in need of help. Fearhan recalled the vow he made to protect her, to never abandon her. And so he called on his most trusted men, and they girded themselves with axe and bow and dagger, and they set off into the forest. A fortnight they wandered with nary a clue to guide them to Fionna. They passed over the charred earth where the Blackheart had burned, over the Swan Lake where Ilívantha’s tears glimmered under the sun, to the very roots of the mountains.

As the days grew longer, the company grew more desperate, and in their desperation, anger grew in their hearts. And none among them was so affected as Fearhan son of Fearhan. Where once he would’ve asked a farmer kindly for any news of his sister, now he made his demands with his blade at the farmer’s throat.

The first full moon of autumn was fast approaching when Fearhan and his men took sleep at a village near the mountains. As had become his wont, Fearhan demanded news of his sister from the villagers, but one by one, they claimed to know naught. This Fearhan did not believe, and he said unto the village elders: “Liars, all of ye! Know this, ye wretched lot: so dear to me is Fair Fionna that I would burn every rotten hut in this village and every soul within it a hundred times over to find her.”

Shivering in fear, the villagers pleaded for mercy. Then one of them, an old man who had just come in from working the fields, said unto Fearhan: “Good man from the east! Stay thy wrath, I beg thee, for I may bring good tidings. Yea, mine eyes have seen one like she whom you seek. Half a day north is the tribe who is led by Mokan; perhaps they will have seen whither she went.”

Fury burned within Fearhan the Younger, and unto the villagers he said: “So, liars indeed! In my despair I besought ye for news, news which ye have withheld from me. So be it. We shall stay here tonight, and shall depart before the dawn—and ye shall not wake to see the sun’s rising!” And Fearhan’s wrathful words settled upon the villagers like a hail of arrows, and they rang dreadfully true for his host departed ere the sun breached the peaks of the Dúlmeannath, and the village burned behind them.

The old man’s account troubled Fearhan deeply, and that dread wove together with his growing madness. He knew of this Mokan, the son of one who was once beholden to Galaith but who fled before the Blackheart’s strike. Whispers told that Mokan’s sire had even conspired with the accursed one to slay the Far-Seeing. Such treachery even the valiant Fionna could not withstand, Fearhan feared.

Fearhan’s fears only grew stronger as his men drew nearer to the hamlet, and a woman’s screams rang out from a single large hut at the settlement’s edge. Words she uttered between her shrieks, words Fearhan could not discern for they were not in any language which he knew, but he recognized the voice—Fionna’s voice.

With fire raging in his heart, he stormed to the hut and kicked down the door. He stood aghast as he looked upon Mokan, sweaty and stinking, lain naked atop his bed…and beautiful Fionna writhing beneath him.

So swift was Fearhan’s strike that Mokan had barely enough time to stumble to his feet. Fearhan’s axe flew to his enemy’s chest. But a ribbon of black hair flashed before his eyes, and the groan that followed the axe’s thrust was not that of a mighty warrior but of a woman, and his heart sank when he realized that it was Fionna’s chest that the blade had found for she had dashed in front of her captor and fallen in his stead. Mokan wrapped his beastly arms around her, but in a frail, failing voice she pleaded: “Save him!”

Fearhan did not understand. Mokan released Fionna, turning and lunging for an oaken trough behind the bed. Fearhan’s men released a volley. Seven arrows struck Mokan, felling him; another three sunk into the wood. Fionna shrieked with what strength she had left, clawing at her brother’s arm, and she said unto him: “Spare him, beloved brother! He is all that is left of me.”

At that, Fearhan peered into the trough, aghast at what he discovered: a newborn child, wrapped in tattered cloth, sleeping placidly amidst the din of the slaughter.

A tempest raged inside Fearhan, and he lifted his axe above his head, swearing: “I shall slay this abomination! There is a stain upon his blood, but that stain need not sully you, O dearest sister. Let us be rid of this ghastly thing, and I shall take you home and keep the promise I made to you.”

“No,” Fionna wept. “You do not understand. He is Sacathar, and his roots are white.” And with those words, Fionna’s spirit departed the mortal world to dwell forever in the company of the Sacred Ancestors.

Fearhan fell to his knees, gathering his sister’s body in his arms, weeping over her. “What have I done?” he cried out to the heavens. “Why have I so stained my hands?” Then he rose and stood over the child, who was now stirring, and rage and grief wrought him inside, and darker thoughts clouded his mind.

Before he could act, one of his men grasped his arm, and said unto Fearhan: “I will take the child for he is innocent of Mokan’s savagery. I shall take him across the sea to the great land called Cildana, and he shall never know of the wretchedness that brought him into this world.” And so the child called Sacathar departed from the land of the Fae, and he would grow strong, and he would become king to a new nation, one that would recall the last mournful words of Fionna the Fair: “His roots are white.” And such would be that tribe’s name: the people of the white roots; in their tongue, Belochyar.

As for Fearhan the Younger, no one rightly knows what became of him. Some say that he hid away in the mountains to repent for the evils he committed in the search for his beloved sister. Others still say that so great was his grief that he drowned himself in Fryd Ariennes, forsaking the noble name of his father. Whatsoever became of him, he was never seen again by mortal eyes.

But the line of Galaith would not be so easily snuffed out, for before his passing, Fearhan the Elder had put in Aileathne’s womb a third son, and he was named Goifeth, and he fathered Bainwoln, who would sire a son of the finest sort, a son whose name was Prandleth.


1. “Dearmhaillh” is the proper Vacid form of Dearviél

2. Faend-Mhairu (meaning roughly “Everlasting Hall” in Fae-speech) is the black rock upon which Linnot Annavian was later constructed.

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