“Murmurs passed along the valleys like the Banshee’s lonely croon
And a thousand blades were flashing at the rising of the moon.“

John Keegan Casey, “The Rising of the Moon”

Samhain Eve, Ireland: Medieval Era

A crimson portal opens like a sacrificial wound in the earth, a graceful gowned silhouette at the threshold…the stage is set for my song…in the shadow of a lordly castle…my eerie serenade caresses the night as an aged knight’s breath falters…surrounded by his kin. “Hark, the banshee cries!” a steward gasps. My red lips part like a reopened wound and I keen in sonorous, silvery tones. They curse me and the monk’s hand trembles at the crucifix as the last quaver trails….and he is gone, cold hands enfolded over his sword. They mistake me entirely. I am their lord’s praise singer, ushering his soul to his forefathers in their ancestral halls. I do not inflict death. I weep tears of blood at their hatred and keening. I should be revered…I was once…and loved….I close my eyes, immersed in the sickly sweet song…I envision the pale shades of men and horses passing me in phantasmal procession from the aftermath of battle…

They raise their shimmering swords in homage in passing. I bow my head in finality at his last faltering breath, like an aged traveler stooped against the elements, or a soprano to an audience in a darkened room…they do not see me….a voice only…a disembodied song haunting the night. Only an archer at vigil on the windswept battlements flying black banners of mourning sees me. I blow him a kiss. He will perish in battle within a fortnight. I envy the mortals, the solace of darkness in my thralldom as dirge-singer to chieftains and princes of the Gael. I sing a lament bemoaning keening. They curse my name and presence. My voice that shudders in their mortal hearts on eve of battle. I wept for General Collins when he died on the red grass.

I wept for men who marched with pikes in hand to their deaths, as constant as their shadows. My serenade as soulless as the wind, I wept for them in the wake of their coffin ships in hunger-driven exile. The cold beckoning caress of my song broke only once…I wept for Boru when he fell to an axe…and here is where my confession begins. The mortals cursed me for all their days…yet there was one among the sons of mortal lords who did not…and for him I committed the forbidden heresy of my kind. I fell in love with a mortal and killed for him…I encountered him by the twilight of eve of battle…a figure clad in brilliant armour, cleansing his sword and praying to his God by a solitary brook…he smiled at me, catching me completely off guard. I must have been strikingly fair to his eyes…a beauteous noblewoman in flowing gown and hair.

A graceful figure that seemed to glide rather than stride against the vermillion resplendence of twilight. A mirage of beauty behind impossibly green eyes pyromanced against the blood-red twilight. He doffed his helm…and I felt…moved…inspired…like those that had rallied to his name and banner…he reached his hand out to me….and I felt drawn…like a moth to a flame…

“Lord Brian!” an emissary astride horse reigned in jarringly.

“Alas, I bear fell tidings. The Norsemen draw nigh. They will make landing on the morrow.” He hearkened at the war horns, calling for him in harsh, throaty tones, and I cringed at their sound as mortals did at my song. He turned to speak to me, yet I had dematerialised to the warrior king hailed in the twilight and mourned in the dawn. He sighed after me, his breath steaming in the chill air… I knew he would fall on the morrow and I was condemned to sing for him…yet I made a solemn vow to the old gods that blood red twilight…a vow of sacrifice…I sought him that next day, in the aftermath of battle, like a bereaved lover, seeking a warrior among the slain…yet he was not there…I held back the inevitable cry meant for him…though it burned painfully for release…clawed at me to release it like a caged raptor. I crossed the nightmarish, mist-enshrouded dreamscape of battle, seeking him…across a red field of horse carcasses and slain warriors. I sought him…

“Brian! Brian!“

I saw him then and the cry escaped my lips at last…he staggered from his lordly pavilion…bleeding from a grievous wound inflicted by a Norse assassin’s axe. His bannermen had abandoned him and his warriors celebrated their hard-won victory. Only his frantic squire hastened after him.

“My Lord! Your sword! The enemy is upon us!” he cried.

So too did Norsemen pursue him. He collapsed at last and they closed in. I knelt at his side…cradled his head and crooned him to him…the ancient songs of my people….he heard what no mortal was allowed to hear before and ever-after…the words of the banshee’s cry…and I was radiant to behold…like an illuminated manuscript to a monk’s eyes by dwindling candle flame. I lower my lips to his and we kiss…a forbidden duet to the banshee’s song…I inhale his last mortal breath…hold it intoxicatingly…and when it is exhaled, it is a battle cry…a force of nature….of unknown power unleashed. The scream is soundless to his ears. Only a chill blast of wind to his senses. Yet not unheard by the ravens scavenging the battle’s aftermath with red beaks and talons. They harken. The ravens rose from scavenging the dead, like a dark prayer. I lingered too long in the mortal realm and began to age in fast forward. I bared my teeth like a she-wolf over her wounded mate as huntsmen and hounds approach.

“Unhand him, witch!” the frantic squire squealed.

He is a brave lad, and loyal. I tolerate his insolence. He pressed a sword into his master’s hand. I choked back my cry…Brian’s hand gripped the blade and Brian rallies on his last ebbing strength…

“Guide his hand, boy,” I commanded his squire.

“Yes, my lady,” he whimpers.

The blade strikes a final time, impaling a looming Norseman to the hilt. “Cover your ears boy…tightly, I bade him. This is not meant for you,” as the differed scream rises to my lips.

“Who is that old hag?” the Norse Thane growls.

“Old? Old?” I rose in indignation like a rearing serpent and laughed mirthlessly, scorning the insolence of his brandished axe.

“I am older than the Earth, mortal. I am ancient! And you will not desecrate his body, impudent mortal!“

Then I committed the second heresy of my kind. I killed…the ravens swarmed the Norse Thane at my bidding, talons raking his face, sharp beaks seeking the delicacy of his eyes. His shieldmen rally to his defense. I scream a battle cry, shrill and fierce as a falcon hurtling down on its quarry, and their ears gush blood at its utterance. They do not hear their own cries of agony as the ravens strike in a dark, cyclonic torrent, scavenging them alive.

Their fathers fall like black tears of midnight, hailing me in homage. The cries of wolves answer my call in ghostly choir, like dark hounds summoned by a huntress. My cry sweeps the defeated Norse encampment, extinguishing their pyre flames. I scorned their angels and Valkyries and laid their warriors low. They raised their shields to ward it off and cower behind them, to no avail. Souls of the wounded are torn from their bodies.

“Ragnarok is upon us!“ they cry as my scream tears though them like a conjured poltergeist.

To their maddened eyes, a terrible vision of a ghostly army materialises, necromanced and heralded by my cry, grasping at them with skeletal hands and slashing with pale, flaming swords. Men slay themselves to be free of that horror. I cry then, sobbing tears of blood…I scream…I sing for him…High King Brian Boru…my kindred appear in admonishment…pale wraiths in regal robes and diadems like a summoned lordly court. I defy their dour, reproving looks. It is against the nature of the scavenger to hunt and prey on the living. Yet I am not asking them. And I rise then from his lifeless body. His own people have come seeking him by torchlight. I rise…

We part ways here. Ever divided between worlds…he goes where I cannot follow. I turn in an age-old dance and stride towards the reopened portal, my form rejuvenating. I turn, a last forbidden look at a slain lover before the portal seals behind me. I am the Lady of the Sidhe, the immortal banshee, and you will all hear from me. I am not your enemy. I am the singer of your honoured name to your ancestors.