They said when she was born there was a great storm, such that no-one had seen before. They said lightning ripped the skies and thunder deafened those too afraid to sleep. They said the wind raged and howled, and tore at the windows and roofs and trees. They said those that dared venture outside were swept away to never return. They said with one especially loud crack the heavens finally broke open, spilling light into the world, and for a moment it was bright and blinding as day. And then, as if by some higher order everything stopped, and went completely silent. The wind, the rain, the thunder. As if none of that existed seconds ago, wet grass and broken trees as the sole reminders. And in that stillness they said, was a faint wailing, like that of a newborn child.
At least that’s what some of them said. Those few that stayed awake fearing wrath of Old Turmen, the Storm Father. Others just shrugged and said it was a night like any other, if a bit more stormy than usual. It always seemed to rain before Beltane. In the end, she could not tell truth from hearsay. They said many things.
She only knew that there was a storm, and that it ended at about the same time her mother, Mor, sweaty and exhausted from labor, but pink and content, held a tiny bundle of joy in her hands. And her father, Garrett, pale and nervous, yet shining with pride, was bringing her water, and enveloping them both in a gentle embrace. After everything they had gone through, there seemed to have been an entire new life laid out before them. A path shining with light, and wonder, and bliss. And that made them happy. Truly happy. It was probably the happiest time they have ever had.
At least that was what Annah had managed to pry out of her father, for he was not a man of many words. Talking about that time, the happy days, asking about Mor, seemed to open an old wound that went right down to his core. For a brief second his face would turn into a grimace, and feelings would run through it all at once - grief, pain, sorrow, loss. Then as fast, it would turn expressionless, his stare blank, looking at the distance but not seeing. It would be a cue for Annah to shut her inquisitions, and she would not press further. She had tried to do it once. The result was something she would not dare to repeat in the future. Instead, she had settled with whatever she could scrounge out of the tangled memories of her four-year-old self.
Annah remembered little of her mother. Her meager memory holding only flashes of disjointed images, sounds, and smells. Occasionally she remembered the touch of her soft hands, the gentle voice, but those were just fragments. Sometimes she thought if she’d strain enough, she could hear a sentence or two, could feel the actual touch on her bare skin. But when she’d try too hard, it would disappear completely, the memory and the sensations gone, leaving her hollow and bitter. She had prayed to the spirits of the land and wind and sky to give her memories substance. She would light the incense in the small alcove in the kitchen and place dried hyacinths on the shrine to Gaen outside the front door. But she spirits were silent.
The one vivid memory she had of her mother however, was her scent. The lightly sweet smell of water lilies with a touch of citrus. There is a small pond not far from Scabhaile where the water lilies bloom, Mor would go there with baby Annah, and sometimes Garrett, to rest under the willows and to enjoy the smells and sounds of nature.
When Mor was no longer with her, Annah believed that her spirit dwelled in that pond, by her favorite water lilies and weeping willows, surrounded by wild flowers, and green grass. When Annah grew older, she would go there by herself, to be alone and to weep for the mother she had lost. Sometimes, when the gentle breeze came from the north and rustled the leaves of the willows, she would feel a fleeting touch, a gentle caress across her cheek, a bare whisper in her ear. And when she would raise her head and call out “Mother?”, she would only hear the sound of still water, and the buzzing of dragonflies over the surface. Yet, her eyes would dry and her spirit would lift, and she would stand up prouder and stronger, back straight, and chin high in the air. And the world would become a bit brighter that day.
Sometimes Annah saw her father by the pond too. A lone figure, sitting on the bank over the water, curled up in his simple linen shirt, his head in his hands. She never knew if he wept as she did, but she respected his privacy. She would turn away from the pond and leave quietly, being careful not to disturb his solitude. When he would come back, she did not ask, and he did not talk. But sometimes, the two of them as if by command, would go together to the pond, father and daughter, to sit side by side and grieve.