Oisin and Niamh by Michael A. Arnold


Oisin and Niamh
Michael A. Arnold

A ghostly cold mist hung over the world, but Oisin and his retainers were happy–war might have been avoided. Despite the rivalry between their peoples, they found the king of the Queldadonen to be a good man, with fair judgment. His retainers planned to drink the good wine as soon as they got home to Fianna, and they joked and jabbed at one another. But Oisin, always thinking of his responsibilities, silently replayed his conversation with the Queldadonen king over and over in his mind, so he could tell his father everything that had been said. He was sure the two kingdoms were just starting to build a strong bridge of friendship.

But Oisin was also prone to fancies and indulging in beauty. It was nearly the end of the year, and the trees were as brown as their leaves. As his line of comrades moved through heavy woodland, Oisin was idly admiring it all. He liked the way the mist was hanging, like it was light duvet that was being pinned down by the damp trees. Then she appeared.

She was approaching on the back of a strange, bright yellow horse, riding with all the grace of a fairy from the old legends. Oisin and retainers stopped in their line and stepped aside to let her pass. When she passed Oisin she dropped a napkin, and asked him if he would pick it up. When he did their eyes met, and their minds met. She asked him if he would accompany her on her way home. Oisin could not help himself. He told his retainers to go on without him and tell his father everything about their meeting with the Queldadonen. He would return to Fianna in good time.

So Oisin accompanied her, riding on alone. While they traveled, they talked. He learned her name was Niamh, and she was from the Land of Youth (in later days known as the Land of the Fairies) and like the fairies in the old legends, she had a graceful, angular face with bright golden hair that flowed down to her waist. From him, she learned that the land they were riding through was called Ireland. He found that she had intelligence far beyond his own, and she found he could appreciate the beauty of the world, and the way it animated him was infectious. While she could teach him many of the world's secrets, he could teach her to see it anew, and their new friendship quickly turned into love.

She led him to the great ocean. There she asked him if he would journey still further with her to the Land of Youth. He said he would, and she told him he must get on the back of her horse to do so, and to trust her, because she was going to be riding across the sea. At first, he was very skeptical, so she told her horse to ride onto the water. When Oisin saw that her horse was walking on the sea's surface as if it were land, it's feet only wetted by the moving waves, he agreed to go. She came back to land so he could mount her horse, and then the two set off across the sea, into the north of the world.

Soon they rode into a wall of dancing fog that waits beyond the horizon. Oisin loved the way the mist curled around them, and every thought of home quickly ran from his mind. He was so distracted he did not count the passing seconds, and so had no idea how much time passed as they traveled through the mist, and there was also no way of knowing how far they went. Eventually, the mist began to brighten; then it began to glow.

The mist glowed brighter and brighter until it dissipated, and Oisin could see a strange and beautiful island. There was a towering castle on it like nothing he had ever seen before—it looked like it had been built with a pearl–like stone and it reached so high into the sky that Oisin was sure only magic could hold it up so high. There was a thick, dark woodland surrounding this castle, and behind all this was a line of mountains capped with snow. Seeing it all, Oisin felt delight like he never had before.

Even though Oisin knew they had set off from Ireland in the afternoon, he could now see the sun rising in the east—but he knew a whole night could not have passed since then. He asked Niamh about this, and she said that he was no longer in the Mortal World, and that time was not at peace between the two worlds. Also, because of this, people in the Land of Youth aged so slowly it would take until a day when the lights of the stars had faded from sight for anyone in the Land of Youth to die of old age.

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About the Author

Michael A. Arnold is a graduate of the University of Sunderland and Northumbria University. He is based in North East England, and has previously published essays and short fiction. His influences include George Orwell and Robert Frost.

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