Aisling looked around at what was left of the tiny village, everywhere around her the building’s roofs smoked. Household goods were strewn over the landscape. People lay where they had been slain. The marks of the weapons clear to be seen. There was nothing here for a healer to do.
She looked at the other druids around her. Some were in tears, some were in shock, some were angry. Aisling wasn’t sure how she felt, numb?
In the middle of the night a young boy had come yelling into the Druid village about the sea raiders that had come to his village up the coast to the north. The Chief Druid had quickly roused all the people old enough to help and they had come as fast as their ponies would go but it wasn’t in time. It looked like the boy was the last one left from his village.
Aisling looked at a loom in pieces on the ground and the half finished wool blanket in slashed hunks around it. She could see it would have been beautiful when it was finished with all the colours of sea and sky in brilliant hues. It made her sad. What made people think that they could come and harm a small village? Aisling’s heart hurt.
She could see an abandoned butter churn milk and butter left to curdle on its own. Ravens and crows gathered in the trees above some of the cottages as if waiting for a meal and she was glad her Raven was back home and not here. She couldn’t stand the thought of her being part of this.
The blacksmith must have run to his forge and laid about with his big hammer but it had done no good but she could see he had taken some of the raiders with him to the Summerland.
The older men went to build a pyre to burn the dead. The ravens and crows would get no meal here today. She wondered if the raiders had taken anything of value or if the reason the devastation was so bad was because the village was so poor. It made no sense at all to her and the tears ran down her face.
What made some people do this? No one in this village had done any harm. They had lived quiet lives. They sometimes sold their extra crops to the Druid village. The Chief Druid put his arm around Aisling and gave her a hug.
“Why? Why do people do this?” she asked him. The Chief Druid looked around and shook his head.
“I don’t understand it myself.” He said. “But it makes me cling to the good I can see. Some people want what others have. Some people think they have the only way. Some people just enjoy doing evil.”
“But what’s the good in this?” Aisling asked. She couldn’t see anything good at all.
“Hamish is alive, he’ll have a broken heart but he is alive. People came to help even though there was nothing they could do about the raiders. People will rebuild this village together and new people will help Hamish rebuild the village and his life. This village will be able to show its best hospitality again as is our way.”
People were now starting the clean up around them. Stacking timbers, collecting the things that were spread around the village. Someone was herding the sheep that had been on the hill above the village. One of the women was getting ready to milk the village’s last living cow. The cow was not happy, She should have been milked hours ago. The cow had blood on her horns and none of it was hers. The cow had obviously fought in the battle. Aisling wondered if it was one of Brighid’s cows since it was red and white.
Aisling went to start help collecting the goods left around the village. Maybe they could collect enough to put one household back together for Hamish. Someone had said his grandparents and an aunt and uncle had been sent a messenger. Would they want to settle here?
She looked towards the fields that appeared to be untouched. The oats were just starting to grown and the fields were aglow with the green of new growth. Would Hamish’s family tend them? It was strange to see such a strong symbol of life when she knew if she turned around she would see the blacks and grays of destruction.
Aisling collected a set of wooden bowls, some linens from where they had been dumped. She found someone’s prized bronze pin of a wild boar. It had a broken clasp but she thought it could be mended again and worn with pride. As the day went on the village started to look more like it would have life again.
Men were up on the thatched roofs pulling down the old straw and the burnt parts so they could be re-thatched. They had found the village thatcher’s store of straw and reed in an outside shed.
Some women from the next village were washing out the cottages and mixing white wash. Soon the cottages wouldn’t show any burn marks.
Aisling was near the back of one of the cottages when she heard a soft cry. She looked around to see where the noise was coming from. There was a pile of old abandoned clothes she guessed wasn’t good enough to steal and gently went over to sort through when she heard it again. This time she could hear that it was a mew. And she dug through the pile. Nestled under someone’s old tunic was a tiny black kitten. Its eyes were barely open. Aisling looked around quickly to see if there were any more but this one was alone.
Aisling cradled the kitten to her chest, it crawled up to her shoulder and nestled into one of her long red braids. So there was still life in the village, she thought. The kitten purred into her ear as she gently stroked its back and she wondered how long it had been since it ate. She headed over to where the woman was taking care of the cow, she had tied it to the outside of the pig sty.
Aisling had grabbed a napkin and fashioned into the shape of a nipple. Maire took one look at the kitten and grabbed the napkin. “I see someone needs to be fed here at least,” and dipped the napkin in the bucket of milk and handed it back to Aisling. “Are you ready to be a mathair?”
Aisling nodded and looked at the kitten as it greedily sucked on the napkin, at least one good thing had happened this day. She looked at the kitten. The Chief Druid was right, it had felt good to help even when she wished it hadn’t been necessary, but there is always some good with the horrid. It just can be hard to find.
“I’m naming ‘Nuadh Bheath’. ‘New life’ seems a good name, Beo for short? Do you like that?” Aisling looked down at the purring sleepy kitten and smiled for the first time that day.
NB: Mathair is Gaelic for mother and the th is silent