Tuesday, July 26, 2005

In The Bath-House: The Ferry Woman's Tale

Luxuriating in the steamy waters of the bath-house, relaxing with my companions from the grotto, I sipped on Oolong tea and started thinking about the Ferry Women. I wondered who they were and where they came from, and what stories they must have to tell. Thoughts have an unsettling habit of manifesting themselves in Duwamis, so I was not surprised to see my own Ferry Woman sitting on the tiles at the edge of the bath, dangling her feet in the water.
She fixed me with a shrewd look. ``You seemed cheerful on the way back. Did you meet someone you know?”
``No,” I said. ``It was an ancestor I never knew, but maybe suspected – a strolling player, a minstrel. I know little of my family more than a couple of generations back. We were travellers, you see, we didn’t keep records.”
She nodded. ``Like us.” She said succinctly.
She was a strong, muscular woman, as I would expect in her profession. She had pale blue eyes in a deeply tanned and wrinkled face and her hands were broad and calloused
``You’re Irish, aren’t you?” She said.
``What gave it away?”
``Oh, the red hair, the green eyes.” She chuckled. ``And maybe a fellow feeling – my name is Maeve.” Her voice was deep and rich, with the lilt of the west in it.
``How did you come to be a Ferry Woman?” I asked, ``and how did you come to Duwamis?”
``I came here because I answered a call,” she said, ``and as for my life on the sea – that was a call I answered too.
I was walking on the shore one day, watching the waves beating ceaselessly on the sand. The frothy white caps billowed up, curved over and leapt onto the shore - `white horses’, we called them when I young.
I felt the sting of salt spray, and as I watched, the graceful form of a leaping white stallion rose from the foam and galloped onto the shore.
It was Manannan Mac Lir, God of the Ocean. Sometimes he takes human form, sometimes he takes the form of a great salmon, but when he is a horse, and leaps ashore in a welter of foam – oh, that is a sight to see!
All morning I had been feeling a storm in the air. The wind was whipping my robes, and the sand shifting beneath my feet but I could not leave. I heard my mother calling for me – she hated the sea, where my father had been lost. But I could not stay away from it – it was as if it called me, ceaselessly, day and night.
The great stallion paused at the crest of the dune and his head turned my way – my heart was almost stilled in me as I looked into his eyes – human eyes on the head of a horse. Great dark eyes that looked deep into my soul.
That night there was a terrible storm – we heard the crack of a hip breaking on the rocks, and we all ran down with torches to see if we could help. My mother wanted me to stay behind, but I refused.
It was a terrible sight. The great ship was sinking and the water was full of souls desperately trying to reach the shore. The fishermen put out their boats and rowed out to pick up all they could, while others formed a chain to walk out and grab those washing up on the shore.
I heard crying on the wind and ran down the beach – I saw a child clinging to a rock, surrounded by buffeting waves. A great head reared up from the water and I saw Macannan Mac Lir swimming toward her. The child slipped onto his back and he came ashore, to where I was standing. I helped the child down, and he bowed his great head over her and blew softly on her face, drying her tears. I understood that this was a sacrifice he did not want, and I understood that though he is great and terrible, the God of the Sea is also just. In that moment I pledged my allegiance to the sea, to the endless white waves.
In the morning, with the wreckage strewn across the shore and bodies tangled in the weeds, I told my mother I was going to sea, and there was nothing she could do to stop me. And in time I got the call to come here, to Duwamis, to be a Ferry Woman, and I joined my sisters who came before me.”
I thought how wonderful it must be to know yourself – who you are, what you believe, to be so strong in your life’s purpose.
Maeve got to her feet. ``I must go – I must take another journey to the island of the Ancestors tonight.”
``Have you ever been there yourself?”
``Yes,” she said simply. ``I saw my mother – she has forgiven me.” And with a slight bow of her head, Maeve walked away.

2 Comments:

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Lois said...

Gail,
I have much in common with you ,Irish ancestors and a love and passion for the sea.My Fathers family/ancestors were mostly miners and died at an early age ..like you I have very little of their story in writing as they also did not keep diaries and the like...being poor I would imagine these things meant little,when the struggle to feed ones family was the paramount..
I love your story of the shipwreck and the rescue of the small child...In a sea village in Victoria called Port Fairy there is a monument dedicated to the shipwreck of the Loch Ard sailing from England ......
When she founded only two survived a young crewman and a female passenger.No romance took place because they came from different classes ..she wealthy ,him working class.There is a small house/museum with remnants saved when the ships debris washed ashore.Living by the sea and also having annual holidays by the sea for me usual
As you have said Gail"Some of us are called by the sea,a call we always answer.....
Regards Lois (Muse of the Sea)

 
At 4:34 AM, Blogger Gail Kavanagh said...

Where did your people come from, Lois? I was born in Cobh, so the sea soaked into my soul, along with tales of shipwrecks (the Titanic berthed there), mermaids, and of course, Manannan Mac Lir (although we called him the Pookha). My Irish grandmother believed absolutely in the fairies and the ancient gods. My people were travellers, so most of what was handed down was verbal, but the storytelling tradition was very strong.
I am so glad to meet you, Lois!

 

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