Soon they will waken. There is this world, and the other world, where the spirits live. The other world has a pulse and it has a language. There are those who walk in between.
The kings of Munster heard that the English were coming across the sea. There were a thousand of them in all, those men of Munster who served the king, who were loyal to the Irish soil. Only in a few places did they still hold control of the fierce and stony island.
When the ships approached the green edge of ocean cliffs at the far southern tip of the island, across the waters came a sound like a ghostly wail. Some spoke of a banshee, the faerie who heralds the death of a beloved and lets out a piercing wail. The wail cuts through the spirit and the visible world, tears for a moment a hole in the veil that separates these worlds. And through the cut, comes a sound as great and as terrifying as anything the islanders had ever heard. The night before the English arrived, some heard this wail and named it a banshee.
Aisling heard it from her purple house in the village, where she was busy preparing for the daily assortment of baked goods for the farmers and other workers who stop by the village for bread. She baked the day before the English arrived because it soothed her nerves. She lived alone and was known across the peninsula for her pastries. She would wake early, three am, to start preparing for the day, mixing the flours with water and salt. But before she started her daily work, she would bring a little bit of water and flour out to the sea and mix it with the salt of the ocean. She put the flour and salt into a ceramic bowl, chipped at the edge, and walk out toward the sea, crossing the dirt road, walking through the alley, and then on the narrow path through the tall grasses, to the pebbled beach. She took off her shoes once she got to the grassy field and would feel under her the pulse of the earth. It was like a heartbeat, that pulse, and she could read it. It would give her information about the health of the land. That day the pulse beat with a watery resonance of fear. It beat quickly and hard under her feet and her skin shivered in reply.
She approached the dark waters. Her feet were cold on the pebbles. The water was quiet. Even the waters slowly lapping against the shore were muted. Overhead she could see the stars shining bright, not a cloud in sight and the moon was a waning crescent turned over like an empty bowl. Then she heard the wail of the banshee. It came across the water and it felled her inwardly like an ax against the trunk of a young tree in the forest. She wanted to run, for the sound sounded like death itself but she willed herself to stay. Aisling remembered her offering then, the small bowl in her hand, and she knelt down to pour it into the salty waters. Then she looked out on the horizon and she saw them. They looked like stars, farther out but the light burned red instead of the white of stars. Her eyes focused on the point until she knew what it was. Those were ship lights, the torches of those approaching. Her people had boats out there too, who were guarding the harbor. It could be them. These could be her people who were further out, but she knew they were not, that the banshee had come to tell her this in a warning. She turned then and ran back to the village. Her feet slipped on the rocks as she ran, holding up layers of her dress so she wouldn’t stumble on it. Her feet pounded on the path and she didn’t bother to put on her shoes when she approached the alleyway.
She once loved a soldier, and it was to his house that she ran. She knocked on the door and he quickly opened it, fully dressed in his military regalia, a gun in his hand.
They are here, she said gasping.
He frowned. Not yet. They aren’t supposed to be here yet.
Look. She said, pointing toward the water.
But he didn’t have time to look before other soldiers had come up behind and pulled him out of the doorway to join them.
There’s no time left. Another soldier said. We must get up the barracks now.
He looked back at her as he slipped into the wave of soldiers, moving toward the high castle.