Long ago, long before engines of industry drove magic away from Ireland’s shores and hills, before the webbing of our memories was stretched too thin, there lived a duke who sat upon a satin throne. His lands stretched far between two hills; they were cut by his domain and all who lived there lived in peace. In his many days he sat watching out a narrow window, looking out on the long crevasse, thinking of those who dwelt between those hills and of those who lived within, unknown to the people under his care.
They were the hillfolk, as was their name whispered in the streets of the duke’s place. Never to be seen nor heard, they lived as two kingdoms, on their own, in constant hatred of the other. Where the source of the strife existed no one could say, and they lived apart from the outer land of the valley, spending their days buttressing their defenses in the event the other should ever choose to wander across. This was known only to the duke, the only outsider to ever have met the hillfolk, and he was disturbed by their warmongering and hateful ways. Their appearance to him was strange; they wore clothes of green sewn from the hillsides, and ate nothing but the grasses and mushrooms that grew there. As such their hair and most elements of their likenesses were kissed with a green hue, yet their faces were pale and fair as the moon’s reflection on a river. Indeed, they seemed to sparkle as if imbued with the stars’ light itself.
On the coldest night of winter one of the hillfolk set to visit the duke. He came to his bedside at midnight, waking the duke with a touch to his hand. The duke awoke quickly, angered by the intrusion.
“Who comes to my chamber!?” he spoke to the dark, and to the face that seemed lit from within.
“It is Clamagh from the hill,” said the stranger. “I come to you this night to impart a warning from my people. The folk of the Other Hill, the Draymoor, are to descend upon us three dusks from this. We Podrain do not wish to fight but will defend our home tooth to nail to keep it. We tell this to you, leader of the land between, in hopes that your people might help belay our conflict—that your folk would take up arms against the Draymoor and help drive them back so that the peace might be preserved.”
The duke’s grey face showed more years than it possessed, for he knew that such a time would come under his watch of his family’s lands. He did not wish for his people to turn to war; theirs was a peaceful clan whose lives were given to tending of flocks and sowing of fields. Once a year they cleared their storehouses of leftover grains for the brewing of fine ales and stouts, which would produce such yields that they had enough for a year and more, the surplus of which they traded with neighboring lands. The duke sought to preserve that life, without armaments, and so told the stranger at his bedside.
But the creature responded, “We must have your people ready to stand at the third dusk, else they are run over in the fray and all peace wracked for ever.”
Whether the figure slinked away silently or simply faded, the duke could not ascertain in the dim light. He was again alone, and no quilt could belay the chill now set on his skin. He laid awake for some hours, transfixed on the words, and he spent much of the next day the same as he performed his duties. He had thought of little else when he laid to rest the following night, when his eyes and bones finally succumbed to weariness.