Photo of Tory Island Cliffs by Sara Everett, licensed under Creative Commons
Eithne wandered to her bedroom window, rubbing her eyes and trying to make sense of the strange dream she’d just had. From this height, she could see the rocky cliffs and, if she listened carefully, could hear the crashing of waves far below.
One of her maids had already started to air out her sheets, while another placed her breakfast porridge on the table. This tower, all of its storeys apart from the ground, was the only space she had ever known. Her maids — twelve of them in all — were the only people she had ever known. She didn’t even remember her father, who had placed her here when she was a small child.
So who was that person in her dream, with the oddly-deep voice and the oddly-square jaw? Was it some kind of magic vision?
Balor walked through the world with one eye closed most of the time. When he opened that evil eye, it killed all within his vision. It seemed none could defeat a man with such power, but he didn’t want to leave his fate to chance. So he consulted with the druids to see if anyone could defeat him.
“None but your own grandson,” they said.
Balor had one daughter, Eithne. To ensure she would give him no grandchildren, he had her locked in a tower on Tory Island with twelve women to keep her company. She was not, he ordered, to meet any man or even hear tell of one.
Eithne heard the women at the front of the castle, but the door to the ground storey was locked so she could do nothing but listen.
“Help us!” an elderly woman called up.
“I am a queen of the Tuatha de Dannan,” called a younger voice. “And my enemies are in pursuit.”
“Take pity and let them in,” Eithne told her maids from behind her door.
She heard the maids welcome the newcomers, and then suddenly go quiet. The younger visitor’s tone changed to that strange, deep voice she had heard in her dream.
She stepped back as the two strangers unlatched the door. As they entered, she fled up the winding staircase. They followed her all the way to the top tower, and she stopped only when she came to the window.
“I won’t hurt you,” said the voice from her dream.
His face, framed in golden hair, was just as it had appeared in her sleep.
“Who are you?” Her hands were pressed to the windowsill behind her back.
“I am Cian of the Tuatha de Dannan. This woman is the druid Birog, who helped me disguise myself and put the maids to sleep.” He tilted his head in puzzlement at Eithne. “Have we met before?”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “Unless it was in a dream.”
The old druid coughed. “I’ll leave you two alone for a bit.”
Cian had once owned a magical cow that never ran dry. Balor tricked him out of that cow, and Cian asked an old druid woman how he could get his revenge. Birog promised that if she got him into the tower on Balor’s island, he could be the instrument of the Evil Eye’s downfall.
He hadn’t known what to expect, but he certainly hadn’t expected a beautiful woman to rush into his arms like she’d been waiting for him all her life.
He begged Birog to help him sneak Eithne out of the castle, but the druid woman shook her head.
“You have no idea what terrible revenge Balor would wreak with that evil eye of his.”
“I don’t care!” Cian declared. “I’m willing to risk it, for Eithne’s sake.”
“I’m not.” Birog grabbed his hand and called on a magic wind to carry them back to the mainland.
Eithne stood watching in shock. A few moments later, her maids began to revive.
The maid laid some freshly-baked cakes on the table.
“Although it seems you’ve been indulging too much in my baking,” she said to Eithne. “You’ve been growing plump.”
Another maid, who was changing the sheets, frowned as if performing a calculation in her head.
“How long has it been since your last monthly course?”
The maids were bewildered. No, this was impossible! They found the least embarrassable among them to ask Eithne some pointed questions and found out that, yes, it was indeed possible. There was a good deal of wailing and argument as Eithne curled herself into a ball and cried, hugging her belly. All were agreed on one thing: Balor must never find out.
A few months later, a baby boy was born with hair as golden as his father’s. Eithne held him to her breast and determined that she would love this child as she herself had never been loved.
But while she was sleeping, the maids stole the infant away and threw him out to sea.
Birog was waiting on the shore just opposite Tory Island. She cast a spell to roll a wave towards her. The wave carried a laughing baby who she handed to his father.
The boy would become the warrior god, Lugh of the Long Hand. He would grow up to kill his grandfather with a slingshot that he aimed at his evil eye.