On a stormy night in a late autumn, a crow left a tiny girl alone in an overgrown forest. For a while, the crow had raised the girl as one of her own after finding her wandering through wolf-infested woods. The time had come for the girl to leave the crow’s nest and the bird chose the safest spot to set her safely down at a time that she could not be seen.
After the crow lowered her to the ground, the girl looked up as she stood for the first time on spindly legs. She watched the black bird’s wings grow smaller as she flew across the churning clouds until she disappeared. Where would the girl go on such a night, with the howling wind around her and only a large leaf over her bare shoulders as protection against the cold? She could not move, shivering in place.
Between the howls she heard the words, Here, little one. She looked around but didn’t know where the voice came from. “Is that you, mother crow?” she said in her broken crow talk. No one answered. Her eyes searched about as she wished for the only place she knew as home, the warm shelter of the nest curled alongside her avian brothers and sisters.
Look for the hiding place under the tree. At that moment, in a flash of lightning, she saw it, a dark space at the bottom of the trunk of a large tree with its roots snaking around it as a barrier. She ran toward it as fast as her weak limbs would allow, aware of the groans and crackling made by creatures sheltered by the vines and bushes all around her. Once she reached the first root, she saw how high it was and wondered how she’d ever climb it. Find the way in between, Fionnualagh.
No one had ever called her that before. Go, iníon. She moved as quickly as she could on legs not accustomed to walking or running, finding the tight places between the mass of roots in her way. She did not stop to consider the word she’d been called, though it was surely familiar to her. Daughter.
Once Fionnualagh reached the tree trunk, she slipped into the dark crevice. After her eyes adjusted and when the occasional burst of light illuminated the sky just beyond the opening, she made out the arc of a gnarled ceiling above her and acorns piled against one side. Even as the storm continued to rumble, the little girl Fionnualagh settled into a pile of dried leaves, alone for the first time in her very young life, and cried as sleep lofted her into dreams.
Time passed and the frail bird-like girl grew stronger in her new home. Her appetite moved from earthworms to acorns and nuts and fruits and mushrooms. She wove clothing from threads made of dandelion tufts and dyed them colors made from leaves and flowers that grew just outside her door. She learned to make fires for warmth and to warm the thing she foraged into thick stews. Every day, she carved out more of the soft wood inside the tree, and with the help of tiny insects, made corridors that snaked through the trunk up to the highest branches, connecting the small rooms she created alongside the corridors. With her wild curls the color of flames secured by twigs, she took to making a bow and arrows from what she found around her
Each day, Fionnualagh wondered if what she knew to be her mother’s voice would ever return, if she’d ever finally see her. When clouds again filled the sky and the air carried the weight of water before the rain, she’d stand outside and look toward the darkest of the forest green, noticing a slight glow moving as if behind a thin curtain like the ones she created for her windows to filter the sun.
After six winters had passed, one afternoon while foraging near her tree home, Fionnualagh heard a roar and smelled a salty dampness in the air, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. She ducked into the brush, clutching her bow and arrow close to her, surveying the area around her. She finally heard the crunch of dried leaves as someone approached her there.
“My, what’s this?” a deep voice said almost in a whisper.
It surprised Fionnualagh, who had not heard anyone speaking in many years, still understood the words. The someone—a man, she remembered they were called—stood in front of her home. Worrying about what he’d do, she sprung from her hiding place, her arrow pointed at his chest.
And he, at the same moment, turned and pointed an arrow at her, as well. When he saw her more clearly, he lowered the bow and arrow slowly. “Well look at that. A wee girl.”
“Who are you?”
“Someone who’s come looking for the opening to the Otherworld. Should be directly here. You must be a sidhe girl yourself to be so close. Do you know where it is?”
Fionnualagh struggled to put together the words on her tongue. “I don’t know of that.”
“Ah.” The man’s voice softened. “Then maybe you know of a woman named Clíodhna, the most beautiful and powerful of all.” He narrowed his eyes. “I have made my way from the depths to find her. What is your name, child?”
“Fionnualagh.” This was the first time she’d called her own name.
“Say it again?” He took a few steps toward her, but she still pointed the arrow. He held out his hands, palms up. “I will not be hurting you, tiny Fionnualagh.” Then he looked up and his narrowed eyes seemed as if they were struck by bright sunlight.
A woman’s voice came from behind Fionnualagh. “Put down your arrow, child. Your athair, your father, is before you.”
The man’s face softened. “Clíodhna.”
Fionnualagh did as she was told and pivoted slowly toward the voice as she lowered her arrow, turning toward what caught her father’s attention. A woman with hair the color of her own stood in the deepest forest green, further away than her voice would seem to place her. She wore leather clothing that matched the color of the forest around her, and tears streaked down her cheeks.
“It is me, Ciabhan. How I miss you. But I cannot come nearer. Fionnualagh brings us together and separates us, it seems.”
“What are we to do then, Clíodhna? I’ve come so far, struggled from the deepest ocean to find you.”
“An ocean that I thought was your watery tomb. It has taken me years to find the right chant to bring you into my dreams and the right dreams to rescue you.”
Fionnualagh felt confused, as she did not understand chanting, though she knew what dreams were. She had many of them, and in recent days they’d been made up of a cottage in a forest where a woman and man cared for her. She realized now that the two people of her dreams were the ones who stood so close to her.
“We have only one choice, Ciabhan, and it’s one I’ve been hoping that we could accept one day. We can be together at the place that Fionnualagh created for us. We can live as the wind through the branches and warm sunlight and you as the rain that falls.”
“This is a lonely life for our daughter, Clíodhna.”
“It will not be so, for there are three others who will soon join her, who will create homes for their own fathers and mothers in the grove nearby. Yes, this is a solitary life, but Fionnualagh has found companionship with this place and does not want for company. Isn’t that so, daughter?”
“It is so, máthair.” She trembled knowing that her parents had made their way back to her, yet could not be together in this one place that she now called home. It is as if she’d met them for the first time only to lose them once again.
She again looked toward her father, and then felt the hand on her shoulder. “Don’t be frightened, little one. Once morning comes, we’ll all be together again. As a family.”
After a month passed, the three children–two boys and one girl–joined Fionnualagh in her clearing. She welcomed them, showed them how to find food, how to make their clothing, how to tread safely through the forest and to take care when approaching the curtain that separated this world from the one beside it. She didn’t know it then, but there would be nights that the curtain of forest thinned, and a man and woman, one a goddess, the other mortal, joined again to dance under the new moon. And every morning and evening, she heard the chirping, the sound of the two songbirds, the two who made the tree that had once been a house now a home.