Morgan Llywelyn, author of the Irish Century series of historical novels and for Lion of Ireland, weaves Irish mythology, historical elements, and ancient places in the Irish landscape to create a riveting tale of migration, loss, and transformation in Only the Stones Survive.
For centuries the Túatha Dé Danann lived in peace on an island where time flowed more slowly and the seasons were gentle—until the invaders came. The Gaels came looking for easy riches and conquest, following the story of an island to the west where their every desire could be granted.
After a happy and innocent childhood, Joss was on the cusp of becoming a man when the Gaels slaughtered the kings and queens of the Túatha Dé Danann. Left without a mother and father, he must unite what is left of his people. Even broken and scattered, Joss and his people are not without strange powers.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||956 KB|
About the Author
Since 1980, Morgan Llywelyn has created an entire body of work chronicling the Celts and Ireland, from the earliest times to the present day. Her critically acclaimed novels, both of history and of mythology, have been translated into many languages. Her books include 1916 and Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish. She is an Irish citizen and lives in Dublin.
Read an Excerpt
When it was over and the soil had drunk its fill of blood, the slaughtered Túatha Dé Danann lay amid their tattered banners. Their weapons of bronze had been no match for the cold iron brought by the invaders.
The most recent battle had reached its inevitable conclusion.
Day was dying too. A low winter sun could not warm the bodies scattered across the plain. Their garments were all the hues of the rainbow; their faces were the color of death. The tarnished sky above them would surrender to a blaze of stars, but for the dead, beauty and brilliance were canceled.
Near the center of the battlefield a man lay curled up like an infant. His blood-soaked garments concealed any sign of life. His shield was shattered, its princely emblazonment unrecognizable. The victors had kicked the ruined shield aside but paused long enough to strip him of his weapons.
The spark within him refused to die. Hot and stubborn, it smouldered with a will of its own. His slow return to consciousness was not pleasant. His mouth and throat were parched with thirst. A thousand angry bees were buzzing in his ears.
Am alive. Yes.
Dizzy, very dizzy.
Without opening his eyes, he knew his wounds were deep. The brain in his battered skull struggled to function. At first he could only manage a single thought at a time, but each led to another, like stepping stones across a river.
This is not the end.
The invaders cannot destroy the Children of Light.
They only want our land.
Our sacred land.
The taste of bile flooded his mouth; his stomach cramped in revolt. He lay very still until he was sure he was not going to vomit. A fastidious man, he did not want to die in a puddle of vomit.
He was not ready to die. Not now and not like this, with so much time still ahead of him like a banquet waiting to be enjoyed.
My time, our time. Together.
He fought to throw off the pain that held him captive.
Terrible wounds can be healed. We can summon the power. Through the ancient ritual.
Are there enough of us left ... for the Being Together?
When he tried to raise his head and look around, fresh waves of agony washed over him. He was being torn and twisted — he was pierced and bludgeoned!
Before he could draw breath to scream, the torment ceased. The abrupt shock was almost worse than the pain.
Opening his eyes meant another shock. He was staring into a void, the total absence of anything perceptible to the senses. No sight, no sound.
Is this what death is?
He tried to move; his body would not respond. His limbs seemed to be detached from the rest of him. There was no longer any pain, but he would have welcomed pain. Pain would mean he was still alive.
Like trapped mice, his thoughts raced around inside his skull.
No way out, no way back.
Go forward, then.
He was as helpless as a child waiting to be born.
Born into what?
Part of him longed to crawl into a corner and cower there, gibbering.
No. That is not who I am.
I am me!
As if in response, the void gave way to an impenetrable blackness. Like ebony. Or was it onyx? His frantic mind sought reassurance in definition.
Black means it is ... something.
He clung to the thought as random streaks of colored light began to spangle the darkness, warmly radiant lights that appeared both immeasurably distant and close enough to touch.
He reached out to them.
The result was unsettling, as if he were falling upward.
His body responded with a violent start.
Instantly, he was cocooned in a thick mist as comforting as a mother's arms. Through the mist came the chime of distant bells.
Fear gradually faded into acceptance. His worries ceased to weigh upon him. His damaged body was a burden he need not endure. It would be so easy to let go; he could just drift away and ...
No! He concentrated his entire will, his formidable will, on that word. The denial of surrender.
The little strength he retained was just enough to repel the mist. The cloud dispersed reluctantly, fading to a grainy half twilight. He began to see huddled shapes lying near him. Forcing his eyes to focus, he recognized the fallen fruits of battle, left to spoil.
None of those dead bodies belonged to the woman he loved. His relief was greater than his pain had been. She must be somewhere on his other side, then. During the final assault, he had placed himself between his wife and the enemy. When he twisted around to look for her, something tore inside him, but he ignored it. He must hurry to find her; they had a long way to go.
He tried to call her name, but his voice failed. His throat locked on the syllables his heart had sung for years.
Rolling onto his belly, he used his elbows like oars to row across the earth, dragging his wounded body after him. Moving hurt; even breathing hurt. No matter. His agonized efforts were forcing the circulation back into his limbs. His arms and legs tingled as if a thousand bees were stinging them, but he had learned his lesson: pain was good. He scrabbled his way across the broken and bloody ground until he had enough strength to get to his feet. He stood swaying, assessing his condition. Back, shoulders, arms ... Yes! He would be able to carry her if she was injured.
But she was not injured; she was waiting for him. Just a few more steps. He would find her soon. Her spirit was calling to his, guiding him. She was at the core of his being; he had never doubted they would grow old together.
Until he found her.
His throat opened then.
The cry he gave was enough to shatter the canceled stars.
You can call me Elgolai na Starbird. That is not the name I was given when I was born; it is who I am now.
It is what I have become.
On the day of my birth, I received a lengthy title that referenced past generations of the Túatha Dé Danann, identifying the nobility, the heroes, and the scholars and the artists among my ancestors. Every member of our tribe inherited a similar record of lineage, which was to be a source of pride and a guidepost for character. The infant's personal name was added to the end of the long list.
An invisible chain connected the newest Danann to those who had gone before; thus another of the Children of Light was secured in history.
My personal name, chosen by my parents before I was born, was Joss. Joss had the strong yet jaunty quality that Mongan and Lerys wanted for their son.
Naming is an act of creation.
I was born in the season of leaf-fall. To balance their long life spans, my people had a low birthrate; the arrival of an infant was a great event. Because my father was a prince of the Túatha Dé Danann, my birth was celebrated for seven days and nights. During that time, all debts were canceled and misunderstandings forgiven. Gifts in my name were given to every member of our clan, my extended family.
My early life was a happy dream. As an only child I had the full attention of my parents. The sun always shone, or so I think now, and when the sun was not shining the moon and stars were. Rain, if any fell, was soft and warm.
The clothing I wore was fashioned by my mother from the shimmering fibers of many colourful plants. My fitted tunic was soft and comfortable, cool in sunseason. My hooded cloak was as light as thistledown, yet kept me warm in darkseason.
Our house was almost indistinguishable from the forest around it. Branches more slender than the arm of a Danann were inserted in the soil and bent like basketwork to form the walls and roof. The outside was covered with thin strips of grassy sod. Ferns and leaves were woven into elaborate patterns and fastened to the interior walls with stems. They could be changed according to the seasons — or my mother's mood. A family might live in one place for three generations, then decide they wanted to be closer to the music of a waterfall and move the entire structure in a single day.
As the seasons passed, I became aware that there was more to life than childhood. I asked my parents when I would become an adult. My mother laughed, but my father said, "You will become an adult when you begin having adult thoughts, Joss."
"What is an adult thought?"
Still laughing, my mother told me, "An adult thought is one which is not about yourself."
But everything was about me. In the dawn of life children assume they are the center of the world and happiness is the normal condition — until they see its other face.
The Great War, when it came, was an awakening. Reminders of better times grew too painful. Titles extolling past glories fell into disuse. By the end of the war I was simply Joss.
The name I bear now is an oddity. As am I.
The event that would change everything was not recognized as a war, not at first. Like a tiny crack in a stone, it needed time to widen into malevolence.
* * *
The annual Being Together of the Túatha Dé Danann was held at the Gathering Place. The locale had been sacred to our tribe ever since we came to this island, and it was sacred long before we arrived, sacred even Before the Before. Place does not need people.
Before the Before stretched into an unimaginable past, as incapable of limits as the stars in the sky.
There were limits on our tribe, however, determined by the size of the land we occupied. The sacred island must always be able to feed us. We could not take more than we gave back. Our festivals were ceremonies of thanksgiving and promises of future generosity on our part.
The Túatha Dé Danann comprised a number of clans, each one an extended family tracing its origins from a common ancestor. Every clan had unique physical characteristics and patterns of thought. This made the connection between them vitally important. We were more than a tribe; we were a community: people and place wedded together. As long as the community survived, the Túatha Dé Danann would be immortal.
Looking into each other's eyes, my people saw themselves reflected.
From the blue mountains and the whispering forests, from the silver shores and the fragrant bogs and the hidden places of the heart, the Dananns flocked to the Gathering Place in response to the yearly summons for Being Together. Kings and queens and all the nobility, the elders of the tribe, the makers and builders and artisans, those who worked with the land and those who worked with the sea. None were excluded. The Children of Light were a single entity.
The youngest children did not attend the Being Together, however.
When my parents invited me to accompany them it was a tacit recognition of my approaching maturity. The ceremony was an important rite of passage, the initial step into the mysterious world of the adults.
I was more interested in the opportunity to meet people of my own age.
Although the Dananns inhabited the entire island, their numbers were relatively small. Their emphasis on family and kinship, their peaceful nature and strongly pastoral but self-sufficient society had produced a scattered pattern of settlement. Their dwellings reflected their surroundings, whether forest or mountain or seaside. If you did not know what to look for, you might never see them.
Several families of our clan lived within half a morning's walk of our home. Their children were younger than I was. On the occasions when I met these cousins, such as harvest time, we had little in common. I thought of them as babies. I do not know what they thought of me; it did not matter. Then.
For the Being Together an elderly couple joined my family on our journey to the Gathering Place. The Dagda and his wife, Melitt, lived at the other end of our valley. Originally he was simply Dagda, but over time his name had become a title of respect. The Dagda was the oldest member of our clan — and also the oldest of the Túatha Dé Danann, a man of such experience and wisdom that generations had called him king. When the task of tribal leadership finally became too arduous for a person his age, he had passed the kingship on to three brothers of royal birth. One man by himself could not have equaled the service the Dagda had rendered the tribe.
Relieved of the burden of authority, the Dagda had turned to teaching.
During darkseason I went to him to study or he came to me, more often the latter. Refusing to acknowledge his age, he would come striding down the valley with the energy of a younger man.
I must have been quite young when the pattern was set because I do not recall its beginnings, but I know I resented the time it took away from my play. The Dagda always had a lot to say and seemed to take forever to say it, droning on while I pretended to pay attention to wax tablets inscribed with numbers or to maps that he drew on the earth with a pointed stick.
The Dagda was inclined to say important things, lessons I obviously was meant to learn, when I least expected them. For example he might suddenly announce, "At birth we receive a gift of days, Joss. No person can say how many are allotted to him, but even if they number in the thousands, not a single one should be squandered. Our days are the greatest gift we are given."
Why did he tell me that when I was happily engaged in daydreaming?
Occasionally I did listen — if he was answering one of my many questions. Such as, "What is time?"
The Dagda's reply did not enlighten me. "Time is an illusion with a purpose."
Much, much later, when I realized the question I should have asked next, it was too late.
While I respected the Dagda's age and immense knowledge, I was genuinely fond of his plump, rosy-cheeked wife. Melitt was a merry little woman who baked delicious bread with summer fruits inside, like clusters of jewels.
As the five of us walked across the countryside, my mother chatted with Melitt and the Dagda, discussing old friends in common and days gone by, topics in which I had no interest. Fortunately, I was not expected to take part in their conversation. My father was busy preparing me for the event to come.
"The Being Together is the perfect occasion for making and renewing friendships," Mongan explained, "giving us the opportunity to exchange ideas, tell of our joys and share our sorrows. With singing and dancing we express our pleasure in living, and we reward the generous earth for supporting us with gifts of thanksgiving. But there is another purpose for the great gathering. An annual meeting of the clans is essential because we are so few in number.
"As you will see demonstrated if the need arises, Joss, when the Túatha Dé Danann unite in common purpose, we can achieve more than any single individual can do alone. Within our combined power is the summoning of wind, the distribution of clouds, the taming of storms, the redirection of rivers, the enrichment of soil, the raising of hills, the opening or sealing of caves, the purifying of pools, the ritual of healing, and more besides. Almost any deed you can imagine can be accomplished by our acting together."
We ... my people ... could do all those things! How thrilling!
The adults were walking with the sedate, gliding gait that characterized our race, but I began to skip uncontrollably. Prompted by something the Dagda recently said to me — "Live your life in the expectation of sudden joy, Joss" — I turned handsprings; I laughed aloud. No butterfly dancing on the air could be more giddy.
My people cherished childhood and usually made no effort to curtail it. Why should they, when we lived so long? A Danann childhood could last for more than twenty sunseasons, followed by the responsibilities of adulthood for another eighty sunseasons. Only then could one become an elder, a person whose acquired wisdom was counted as part of the tribe's treasure.
Unfortunately, my childish behavior on the morning of the Being Together brought a stern rebuke from my father. "Calm yourself, Joss! When we reach the Gathering Place you must be sedate and well-behaved. Listen instead of talking. Be mindful that you have nothing to contribute yet; it is enough for you to be there."
I promised; I would have promised anything on that bright morning. The future was a splendid Unknown, and I was eager for it.
I would approach it differently now.
At high sun we came to a pathway beaten by the passage of countless feet over countless seasons. The grass on either side of the path was so thick it tempted my bare feet to stray. The air was a heady perfume. We were immersed in life: leafy woodlands and lush grasslands and fern-fringed pools where predator and prey drank together.
Before us lay a meadow thickly starred with flowers. At home my mother could fashion almost anything from stems and leaves and blossoms. A flick of her fingers could create a wreath for the brow or a platter to hold bread.
I was stooping to pluck an armful of color and fragrance when she stayed my hand. "You must take nothing away from this place, Joss. Not ever." Her rebuke was gentler than my father's, but it went deeper.
The Dagda added, "Do no damage here, young man. Anyone who does is destined to die roaring in pain."
I swallowed hard and kept my hands at my sides.
Excerpted from "Only The Stones Survive"
Copyright © 2015 Morgan Llywelyn.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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