The Old Crane Sisters are reminiscing. Going over all their old stories, telling all their tall tales. There have been a few of them, down the ages; the Old Crane Sisters have lived.
A good many of their stories involve Fionn; they all had a soft spot for Fionn. Some of the old songs say that one of the Old Crane Sisters was Fionn’s grandmother. Old Crane Woman cackles; some secrets aren’t for telling. Some secrets the Old Crane Sisters will keep to themselves.
The Crane Twin who favours her left leg remembers the time when Fionn’s father Cumhall was slain in battle, and Fionn fell into a deep lake. Out he came, clutching a salmon. I knew him then, the Crane Twin shrieks. I knew him then, and I saved him. I swooped down and I plucked him out. Who saved the great Fionn then, but me?
The Crane Twin who favours her right leg remembers the time when it was Fionn who did the saving; no wonder they have a soft spot for Fionn. The right-legged Crane Twin remembers the time when she lived at an Teampuill, and a spell had been cast on her four sons. They were trapped in their crane form, bereft of the power to transform. Who could save them then, but Fionn? Three drops of blood he begged from the head of the great bull of the fierce Cailleach Bhéarra. Three drops of blood, to break the spell. Who saved us then, the Crane Twin cries. Who saved us then, but great Fionn?
Old Crane Woman is the oldest of the sisters; she remembers an older story. Old Crane Woman closes her eyes. She will tell the story of the oldest Crane.
* * *
One day Oisín, the son of great Fionn, set out on one of his journeys. On his way, he happened upon a crane by the edge of a lake, and he asked the great bird to tell its story. Oisín was like his father, Old Crane Woman says. He could never resist a good story. And he was in a fair few of them, in his time.
This bird who haunted the edges of that lake was a woman who had once been turned into a crane. She would recount that story to Oisín, she told him. She would tell him her story for the sake of fellowship — though it pained her more than she could say to do so.
Oisín nodded, and built a fire; he sat down next to the great bird, and he looked at her. He watched her, and he listened. And it seemed to Oisín that as she spoke, sometimes she was a woman, and sometimes she was a bird.
Once upon a time, the crane-woman said, the world was young, and so was I. My name then was Miadhach, and I was the daughter of the great lord Eachdhonn Mór. I had no true brothers or sisters then, but my father had taken in a foster-daughter. Her name was Morann, and we grew up together; as close as sisters we were. But, sad to say, it came to pass that we fell in love with the same man. That man’s name was Abharthach, and he was more beautiful than the sun. It is true that Morann knew and loved him first, but my love was the stronger. My love was fiercer; my love was true. But Morann complained to my father, the king, and his solution to the problem was simple: that both of us should let Abharthach go. For Morann there was no hardship; she readily agreed that she would give him up in order to receive the blessing of the king. But I could not find it in myself to do so: my love was strong, and true. And so it was that my father grew angry, and in his anger he tore me from my world. He turned me into a crane.
The crane-woman wept then: great salt tears that cracked open the heart of Oisín. I have lived, she said, since then, as a crane. For more years than anyone on this earth could count. Even your father, the great Fionn, could not count the span of my days. I was there before him; I was there after him. I have loved many creatures, and willingly have mated with some of them. I have given birth; I have partaken of the creation of the world. I have found my sisters, and I have found my place. I have learned the great secrets. I have learned to take pleasure in becoming woman again; I have learned to take pleasure in becoming crane. But always, I have walked alone. I am the among the oldest of the animals; I am among the oldest of women. I am among the oldest things of the world.
When I was a girl, the crane-woman said, the ocean was a forest, full of trees …
It is I who am the great solitary crane. It is I who am the great solitary woman. I have lived alone from the beginning of the world.