Or more precisely, the first king of the Tuatha Dé when they arrived in Ireland from the north, their ships descending from the sky in great clouds of mist, as depicted in this gorgeous image by Jim Fitzpatrick from his collected illustrations of Celtic legends…but more on that fascinating yet peculiar description another time. The Dananns were invaders, but they saw themselves as reclaiming the island that had once been theirs. They defeated the resident Fir Bolg (Men of the Bag) in a four-day battle at midsummer, and after a second battle, only four men of the Fir Bolg survived. These last four were driven from Ireland at Samhain by the Mórrigan.
“Anguish kept the Fir Bolg from rest that night and as for the Tuatha Dé, even their victory could not dispel their grief for the death of many of their finest young warriors, who had fallen on that day and the two before.
The cost of the battle was great on both sides, and the terrible cairns grew higher that night.”
The legends of the Tuatha Dé form part of the ‘pre-history’ of The Seventh Gate series, and the story of Nuada, Bres, and Balor comes to influence events and the characters over the course of the series.
Nuada Airgedlamh – or Nuada of the Silver Hand – was a son of the goddess Danu. When he lost a hand in battle, he had to give up his kingship, for in order to rule a leader must be whole in body as well as skilled in battle and leadership. *This stricture regarding physical ‘wholeness’ may have carried over from the mythological past into historical times in Ireland, but the laws of succession are not well-documented in those early centuries.*
Bres, son of the Danann Eri and the Fomorian Elathan, was elected king of the Dananns in Nuada’s place, but he proved to be harsh and cruel, and prone to over-taxing his people. DianCecht, supreme master of the healing arts, fashioned an articulated hand from silver for Nuada, so the Tuatha Dé were able to reinstate him as king. DianCecht’s son, Miach, was an even more talented healer than his father, and replaced Nuada’s silver hand with the original severed one, fully healed and restored to use, but Nuada was ever after known as “Silver Hand”. He later died in battle against Balor, leader of the Fomori.
The Dream of Nuada
(as told by Tuan, the White Ancient, one of the Partholans who sailed to Ireland with Cessair forty days before the Great Flood, long before the invasions of the Fir Bolg, the Fomori, or the Tuatha Dé Danann. The last verse fascinates me – a figure of our legends lucid dreaming, perhaps, of times even more remote.)
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“Tuan was sleepless too that night; crouched in my eyrie high above Belgaran, my eyes pierced the dark.”
I looked out towards the camp of the Tuatha Dé Danann and saw a huge raven drift across the night sky and alight on the blood-stained head of Cirb. Its wings shone blue-silver in the moonlight. Then it fluttered from its death-perch into the darkness and as I watched it vanish I saw a woman glimmering in the shade of Nuada’s tent; a woman standing where the bird had gone.
She was Mórrigan, bearer of dreams that tangled in the darkness of her hair; dealer of death, war-witch blessed with beauty.
Beauty, death, and dreams
Are the substance of my myth.
So it was on the night of that third day of terrible battle that Mórrigan of the Baedb put off her guises of witch and raven and stood a gentle maiden by Nuada’s couch, her milk-white breasts scarce veiled by silks of saffron laced with gold.
‘Come to me,’ he said. And she did. They lay long together that night wrapped in a cloak of darkness, and the moon watched over them like the eye of the grey God of the Otherworld.
As they lay in the embrace of life, the moon gazed indifferently on the dead warriors locked in the embrace of death. Their arms had fallen across the still breasts of their fellows, hand touched hand, frozen gestures that mocked the brotherhood that had been forged in high heart and warm blood.
Nuada buried his face in the scent of Mórrigan’s hair. The faces of the dead warriors were turned up towards the moon, some frozen in masks of horror, others made falsely young again, sleeping for ever like innocent children immune to harm or fearful dreams.
At last they slept and Nuada dreamed. But his dreams were troubled. He saw mighty Empires rise and fall, the golden spires of legendary cities sink beneath raging seas, and great armies move endlessly across barren continents.
His sleeping swept him back to the beginning of time far beyond memory and history. He walked with dreaming footsteps across the innocent brightness of a world remembered only in myth and legend …”
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