Niamh was now the furthest from her home that she had ever been… She decided to allow it, out of respect for the horse — it had been locked up for more than a week and was currently galloping with all of its strength. This was no ordinary horse, it was her father’s greatest treasure, “Aonbharr of the flowing mane.” A stallion that could run freely on water or land, and since Niamh was a little girl, she had adored this beautiful creature. Perhaps she identified with it, as it too was wild and often restrained… More specifically, held back by her father… Yet, despite this, Niamh and the horse both respected him deeply. He, Manannan mac Lir, was a king of the ocean domain, and as a princess, Niamh was required to keep a limited routine… Yet, because of his restrictive nature, she and the horse often needed to blow off some steam together. That was exactly what they were doing now…
When the white horse came over the crest of a hill, Niamh saw the ocean and decided that this had gone on for long enough. She would have to be more assertive at this moment as she knew the horse loved to run over the ocean. Niamh tried to be as assertive as possible, “Woah, woah, Aonbharr. Woah!” She spoke firmly as she pulled back the reins. But the beast simply buried his head back down and increased his pace… There was a moment of panic; this horse was so strong, and he usually reacted so favorably to her… Now, he seemed possessed. Niamh could already sense that he had no interest in stopping. In desperation, she wrapped the reins around her right hand to pull the horse to the side and turn it, hoping this may slow his progress enough to get control… But Aonbharr seemed to anticipate this and jerked back at her before Niamh could make the attempt. The strength of the animal nearly threw her from the saddle.
They were quickly approaching the water, hitting the beach. Niamh gave up at this point, and merely relented to let the horse run until it was tired… It would eventually stop, and if she angered it while they were on the water, he’d likely throw her from the saddle. She may even drown… She tried to calm her mind and focused on staying on. She braced… Splash! Despite the new noises, when they hit the ocean water, the sensation of the hooves alighting only slightly changed. It was now a more cushioned and a somewhat springy feeling. Niamh may have enjoyed it if she had more control, but now, she could only put up her arm to block the stinging ocean mist. The salty air was thick and Aonhbarr increased his pace, until he then entered a dense fog atop the water.
At this point, the horse started making intense noises: grunting and huffing. It seemed angered and hostile. For Niamh, inside the fog there was an eerie feeling. She only braved opening her eyes for short spurts but could see little except the cloudy white of the fog. And the sensation below Aonbharr’s hooves was now completely gone, and it felt almost like they were gliding. The movements of the legs were still apparent, but the earlier springy feeling was now gone… It felt as though they were somehow descending. Aonhbarr now frantically neighed while his hooves hit something harder… Suddenly, the fog was over, and there was another shore, very different from the one that she originally left. This beach looked craggy and green. She knew instantly that she was in another world, the world of mortals — and was now terrified. This was a very dangerous place. In contrast to her home, Tir na nOg, this place was rife with war, aging, and death…
The horse finally came to an abrupt stop on the opposite shore and immediately seemed as though whatever possessed him before was completely gone. Niamh looked around in a frenzy. Her fearful eyes looked further down the beach, and she saw a small regiment of infantry. They seemed to notice her too and immediately yelled at her. She lifted the reins to the left and turned the horse into the forest. Aonbharr again ran swiftly although, perhaps a fair bit slower than he originally did, but it was easily fast enough to avoid the on-foot troops. After 5 minutes of riding, they came to a vast, green valley, and she guided her mount to stop behind a large boulder.
Niahm tied the horse to a tree from atop the saddle, before she dismounted to scold him.
“You fool! Do you know where we are? I don’t! I was taking you out. . . Trying to help you! …Foolish nag!”
“That is hardly a way for a lady to speak…” A tall, radiant man who was sitting on the other side of the boulder spoke. Niamh was stunned. She couldn’t process who this was, beyond that he was handsome and seemed friendly… “Especially to a horse so lovely.” He stroked the mane of the animal and Aonbharr quickly switched his eyes to look at him. Niamh was again shocked. This horse was always slow to trust. Switching his eyes without turning his neck was a huge step, a gesture that took her months to achieve…
“He doesn’t seem to mind.” Niahm said as she looked back at her horse that was already eating the thick grass on the ground. “Who are you? What are you doing here!?”
“You speak as though you are the ruler of this land, young maiden… I am Oisin, son of Fionne… Welcome to our land.” Oisin spoke warmly, but honestly, his heart was racing. He was very taken by her. Her eyes were pale… gentle and looked innocent, but her words were sharp and defensive. She didn’t make any sense to him. No one had ever spoken so sharply to him, aside from his father.
He looked at her and squinted. “You are… Aos Si?”
“The ‘people of the mound?’ What do you mean!? …Oisin means ‘little deer,’ is that your name?” She said this last part rather incredulously.
“Slow down, ha-ha. We call the people of the other realm the Aos Si, the hill mounds are a bridge between the worlds. The Tuatha de kings use them… although very rarely anymore.”
“My home is none of your business. I know nothing about these ‘mounds’ either.” Her tone was still sharp and defensive. She never spoke like this. It seemed the frightened feeling of his initial surprise set the tone for their entire conversation.
“I believe you. Are you Tuatha de?”
“Yes, from Tir na nOg.” She said this reflexively.
“The Dadga’s daughter?”
“No, he is my uncle.”
“This place was originally Dagda’s son’s valley; I take it you’re unaware? Oisin said.
Oisin started to speak again; he was calmer now and spoke with a slower pace. “…And yes, my name means ‘little deer.’ Although THAT is a long story, princess…Do you care to hear?”
“How did you know I am a princess?”
“Your horse alone would be enough but even if you were walking, it would be obvious…” He smiled confidently at this moment, and her heart immediately sank. It happened all at once. All of her internal fears lost their battle in an instant; she felt strange – itchy inside her ribs. When they both shyly smiled again, an effusive warmth went all through her body. She tried to catch herself in this freefall, looking down to momentarily close her eyes and reset herself. Just then, he kissed her. She put up no resistance. The process of recapturing her emotions was far too early… Oisin had seen how her eyes changed, and simply reacted. It wasn’t a long kiss, but it changed everything…. When they split, they both looked noticeably different… This was more than merely the effect of loving eyes. They were changed. She felt as though she was floating – weightless…hopelessly in love. She always thought that this process would be longer, but it all happened so quickly… Yet, at this moment, she did not care to analyze. He embraced her, and she felt ensconced and natural; his arms felt like home… An unexplainable feeling ebbed.
He spoke first, “How?…” He smiled again and looked clumsily surprised by what he had just done. Her head buzzed with excitement, but she could not speak — nor did she want to. She only looked back into his eyes.
To be continued…