The voice called to him, forcing its way into his uneasy sleep.
He dreamed of a tree whose leaves glittered silver in the bright sunlight as it grew and spread and bore strange fruit. But the calling of his name seemed to blight it, for the fruit rotted on the tree and fell, and the leaves tarnished to black and fluttered down to leave only bare, gnarled branches.
"Cuchulain!" said the voice again, soft and sparkling as a child’s laugh, sorrowful and insistent as death. This time it awoke him fully, and he sat up in the bed to peer around him at the room. The full moon threw a shaft of light through the single window and lit even the chamber’s corners. They were empty.
The voice seemed to have come from the window. He lifted the cover and climbed carefully out of the bed, not wishing to disturb his wife who slept peacefully on. The sharp chill of the air tingled against his skin as he crossed the room to the window and looked out.
Below him the Dun Dalgan cliffs dropped sheer away to the sea. At their base the great waves of the eastern ocean crashed against the rocks with an endless rhythm. The moon’s brilliance struck the sea spray and made the rising peaks of water titanic blossoms of light that bloomed for only an instant before exploding into fragments on the cliff face.
It was just the sound of the waves he heard, he told himself sleepily, and moved back to the bed. He sat down upon it, but looked up in alarm as something caused the light from the window to suddenly flicker and dim.
A tall, slender woman in a long, gray cloak stood in the shaft of moonlight. She seemed barely past childhood, her face smooth, her hair a flow of white-gold. Her skin glowed with a subtle inward illumination as a banked fire glows with the deep-buried embers. She seemed even to emanate a warmth that drove the chill of the sea from the room.
In confusion, Cuchulain looked from her to the still form of his wife.
"It is all right," the woman assured him in a voice as fine as a strand of thinly drawn silver wire. "Your wife will not awaken. It was only you I came to see."
"And who are you?" he asked, peering at her intently. "I feel I have seen you before.
"You have. It was I who set you on your path in the world. Fedelm, I am. Prophetess of Tara."
He understood, then. She was of the Sidhe, that ancient race who seemed more of the air than of the earth. But the realization only deepened his confusion. The Sidhe seldom came out from their hidden places to speak directly with men.
"What is it you want?"
"You must go out of the Province of Ulster for a time," she answered. "You must leave your home."
The words of the Prophetess were without tone, but still they carried some deeper meaning to him. Some hidden fear, it was, that chilled him more than the sea air.
"Is something to happen here?" he asked on impulse. "If so, I’ll not be leaving. I am a warrior of the Red Branch."
"Be easy in your mind. Nothing which you can help will be happening here." She spoke with quiet assurance and he did not doubt her. The Sidhe did not lie.
"Then what is it I am to do?" he asked.
"I wish you only to come to Tara. A small enough thing for you. I must see you there in a fortnight’s time. When you come, you will understand the reasons why."
His mind was still hazy with sleep and unable to clear itself. He could find no will to argue her strange request.
"I will come," he agreed.
She leaned toward him, bringing a scent of warm spring with her. A hand slid forward out of the folds of the cloak and gripped his lower arm. It was a long, slim hand, but it gripped him with a strength that surprised him, the delicate fingers pressing deeply into his flesh.
"You will remember?" she said.
"I will remember," he replied.
A sudden, overwhelming weariness seized him, then. When she released his arm, he lay back on his bed and closed his eyes.
"Remember," said the voice again, drifting away to be lost in the thunder of the waves.
When he awoke again, the dawn sun lit the room. He felt he had dreamed a strange dream that had faded almost away. But something drew him to look down at his arm. There he found five marks where a hand whose strength no mortal knew had gripped him.