Derry, Ireland, December 31, 1707
JOHN STANDS AT THE window watching the blood red moon 'til it disappears behind the clouds. A gust of wind plays with a shutter, its worn frame bouncing against the outer wall. He looks back into the candlelit room. The whitewashed walls are covered in frost and are as cold as they look. For him that coldness is now gone, as is his pain. A fire burns in the fireplace, and shadows creep along the walls. Why am I still here? He looks upon on his lifeless body lying on the floor by the bed and wonders.
That weathered face with its painful look, the long scraggly hair and white beard. Was this really me? Those eyes, that glare. Did I see death coming? He can't remember. The room looks familiar. The hand carved black walnut armoire and bed, the gargoyles jeering from each of the four posts. Imposing figures all of them, the Green man, the Hound of Ulster, the Griffin and the Unclean Monkey, screaming. They were supposed to protect him from ending up in this realm. Walking around looking at the tapestries hanging from the walls, hunt scenes all of them, he passes a mirror stops and looks. No reflection. John looks at the effulgent glow around him, and looks back into the mirror, nothing. So this is death. Moving towards the hearth, the painting hanging above it calls to him. He knows the place. It's a village, Roquebrun, in the south of France; nestled away on a hill overlooking the River Orb, vineyards and orchards staged on the slopes. He remembers his father. He can see him drinking wine. Hear him pleading; John, stay with me. His father fell in love with the place, and a woman. His father is still there. He sent him the painting and a letter asking him to come back to France and to leave Ireland for good. That was twenty years ago. Why didn't I go? He kneels at the fireplace and runs his hand through the fire like he did when he was young.
Except now he doesn't get burned. He does it over and over again plunging into the red hot coals. He tries to catch the flames, hold them, but they pass through his hand. A cat hisses, and he turns his head. The cat's hair is standing on end; its eyes are aglow. Misty. He moves toward her but she scampers away.The faint sound of harps and flutes reach his ears. Music is food for the soul, who was it that told me that? He steps through the wall and glides to the street below. The city is sleeping as he follows the sound down Bishop Street to the river Foyle. The music stops and a black swan swims toward him opening her wings wide, and in dazzling flash of brilliant light she transforms into Caer Ibormeith, goddess of dreams and sleep. She stands before him and holds out her hand.
"John, come with me." As he grabs her hand her wings unfold wide engulfing them in light. Beneath the waters they go, coming up on the other side. She opens her wings to reveal rolling fields of wild flowers for as far as the eye can see. The aroma of the sweet smelling flowers fills his senses, dancing with the wind, swaying, changing directions to the sound of birds singing. Shades of pink, purple, red, yellow, blue, and white, and on either side of those fields a forest of oak is in bloom. He feels the warmth of the sun again. The moon and sun share the same sky.
"Where are we… can the dead dream?" says John.
"This is Emain Ablach. You can't stay… You're betwixt and between."
"The Isle of Women. Why am I here? What do the Gods want with me?"
"We don't know if you're worthy of her. The Council of Three will decide."
He closes his eyes and tilts his head towards the sun. "Who?"
She laughs, "Follow the white raven." Her voice sounds like an echo gliding on the wind.
He turns, but she's gone. Looking around at all the beauty, Is this heaven? It can't be hell. A white raven flies overhead. He runs to keep up, feeling his heart pumping and the blood rushing through his veins, passing some deer grazing. They stop and look up for a moment as he races by. The raven disappears from sight. He stops, listening to the sound of a river flowing.
Down the steep hill he descends to the river's edge. Splashing some water on his face and drinking. The water is cool and refreshing. Looking at his reflection in the water, he's young again. You, I know you. The raven flies by him and lands on a rock between two small trees. He watches as the raven transforms into a beautiful woman with long flowing black hair and blue eyes. She is crying. The leaves wither and fall, and the tree dies from her pain. He too can feel her pain and wants to go to her. Caer Ibormeith's voice rings out.
"It's Branwen, the goddess of love and beauty. Good you can feel again, but where is your pain? Your heart has been set in stone and your soul will wander till you break that stone." He walks towards Branwen. She looks at him, their eyes meet he stops. She transforms back into a raven and flies into the air. As she does, life returns once more to the trees. Buds appear, grow into green leaves and flower. He watches her fly down river just skimming the water. He follows until the raven is out of sight where the river makes a turn. The sound of flutes draws his attention. Across the river perch on a hill a woman sits on a throne. She is wearing a royal blue robe, a bronze breastplate, with a spear in her left hand and a crown of wild flowers on her head. John begins to cross the river.
"Don't go, that's Maeve. She will enslave you. Stay on this side of the river."
"Why do you not show yourself?"
"I'm here." He turns around. It's Caer Ibormeith. "Come sit beside me." Flowers adorn her blonde hair. The white tunic stops at her ankles.
He tries not to stare. "Who is this woman of whom I may not be worthy?"