Aislinge sat still as stone while the gale blew itself out around him. Waves pounded the dark basalt at the base of high cliff, liquid iron hammering out the fury of Manannán. The cold and the wet troubled Aislinge little. It was the vision dissolving into foggy memory that concerned him. Never in his life had he conceived of something so terrible as what had woken him up, crying out. He leaned slightly into the wind, wondering at what had brought him here to pray for starlight.
He had sat upright, leaping like a stag and yelping. Sweat runneled his face, mixing with the cool rain that was seeping in through the tiny opening in the wall that served as window. The weather beaten board that was meant to cover the hole at night had fallen out, blown away by the violence of the wind. Aislinge had bellowed an oath wrought by fear and his pounding heart. The dream-vision still blazed in his mind, filling him with sadness and dread. He had been walking by the sea watching the sun dip to the horizon.
Then the stars went out, one by one. Candles in the wind gone swiftly. The sky had gone deep blue, then black, leaving him stranded amongst the gorse. His limbs were locked in fear brought on by his inability to see anything except a faint glow where the sun might have gone down. He marveled at the black, shaking with terror yet unable to move.
Move he must, the shaman told himself. Wind was blowing strong from the sea. Its howl was unearthly, overlaid with what Aislinge's panic stricken mind took to be the doleful moan of banshees or dire wolves. The sound turned his bowels to ice water, and he forced his limbs to move. He turned into the wind with its mineral tang filling his lungs. He reckoned if he could make it to the sea, he could follow the cliff back to his stone hut to await the morning.
The wolf-wind raised its pitch, bringing with it stinging rain that felt like pebbles on his skin. The blackness wrapped itself around him. He could not shake the feeling that the night had replaced the tattered cloak he wore. The sodden fabric was gelatinous on his leaden limbs. The sound of the waves reached his ears while the salt aroma intensified. He reckoned it would not be far now.
Howls. The hiss of rain and breakers. Aislinge imagined he saw a glimmer of phosphorescence where the sea should be. He smiled, a bolus of hope bubbling up in his heart. There it was, he just knew it. He moved forward with a prayer of thanks on his lips, and stepped out into nothingness. Plummeting through the wet obsidian night, at first he was too shocked to scream. But he sensed the wet rocks below, and the knowledge of what was surely violent death flayed open his throat with a scream that pierced the earth.
Aislinge sat upright on the side of the slab he called a bed. The memory of impact was bleeding away. He looked about the hut. The storm cursed and growled still. By the light of dying embers, he could see that the board was missing from his window. The hole itself a darker black smudge in the stone wall, through which no light could be seen. He gasped. Surely his dream could not be true The stars, they could not have gone out. This could not be.
Still, he knew what he must do. He fumbled about in the dim hut, finding a small clay lantern and his walking stick. He filled the lantern with warmstone and the greenish fungus he had discovered, the kind that gave light but no warmth. He decided to leave his fire box behind. It would not last long and its meager warmth would be no match for the force of the gale. Wrapping his cloak up tight, he stepped from the hut with a deep breath to scent the sea. The wind seemed to lessen its force, perhaps a good sign as he walked.
The sound of breakers. Sea spray he could taste. The wind curled about him, caressing and cajoling. To his tortured imagination the hiss and groan of the waves sounded like selkies calling out from the water. The voices and the waves grew louder as he neared the cliff edge. This time he would not fall.
One step. Two steps. Three steps, his aching foot hovering over a blackness that differed in texture from the sod over which had walked. Ailsinge stopped and knelt down. He could feel a hard edge of stone where the cliff met the sky. The sky itself appeared to be mottled black. The rain had slowed to almost nothing, and even the wind seemed to be cooperating. Below, the waves continued their assault on the rocks. In his mind's eye he could see the breakers curl to fling up their manes of spray. He smiled at the memory.
Aislinge pulled himself forward to the cliff edge. The wet stone prodded him hard in the haunches even through the wool. The lantern he set down carefully. It cast a small pool of greenish light, feeble against the night, but giving him a measure of hope as he began his vigil. He looked up at the sky and emptied his mind to wait.
The stars, they would come back. He would wait for their glow.
In memory of the Bear and the Butterfly