Sue’s #writephoto prompt fits exactly what I’m writing at the moment. It might not make perfect sense, but it’s uncanny how well the image fits the story.
The garth is quiet even though the walls are crumbling and cannot keep the normal hubbub of the city out. The old church will never receive the repairs it needs; Riseárd has decided to pull it down and placate Archbishop Ó Tuathail by building a new one. The noises of the city are attenuated here because the mood is sombre. Samhain is close and although the Archbishop will have the cathedral glittering with candles, everyone knows what the candles signify, and it has nothing to do with commemorating dead saints. This year there will be three souls wandering the streets either seeking their way home, or seeking revenge.
She treads the old stones slowly, pensively. What she did, she believes was the right thing. Executions were rare. What was the point of killing a man when you could use his life to make amends for what he had done? Was it not better to give a woman a bond slave to do her husband’s work in his place, rather than the ephemeral satisfaction of seeing his head separated from his body?
She kicks a stone moodily. All of this, she knows. And also that she has ordered the execution of three countrymen because they attempted to reverse a defeat. Was that not what happened in wars? Was it reasonable to treat it as treachery? She kicks the same stone again into a pile of leaves. The faces of the men pass behind her eyes. Dónal’s men. She has to remind herself into whose hands they would have handed the city. Her brother’s. She knows her brother and his black heart better than any of them.
A slight noise from the open doorway makes her turn. A boy, slender and dark is standing there. He almost turns and runs away but she calls to him.
“Is is me you are looking for, Muiris? I promised you some entertainment and I grew distracted. Forgive me.”
The boy’s eyes widen. “Forgive you? Are you not going to have me killed like…”
“Did I not tell you no harm would be done you?” She hardens her voice. “You are a hostage, not a criminal?”
“And I am Muiris Mac Domhnall Cavanagh.”
“You are his son and I am his sister. Neither of us can help the blood we are born with. You are a child and no one will harm you while I am mistress here.”
He steps out into the autumn light. His fingers twist around his belt, nervously. He looks about as if expecting a trap. “You killed your countrymen and you married a gall. You have taken the part of the grey foreigners against your own people.”
Her patience snaps. Muiris might be only a lad of twelve, but his education in manners and in his family history is long overdue. “Your grandfather gave me to the gall. It was none of my choice, just as it was not of your choice to follow your father into a stupid skirmish that left too many men dead. Our countrymen, little nephew, wanted neither your father nor your grandfather as king. They have not stopped fighting over it these twenty years. Your kin, Muiris Mac Domhnall, killed his own father and blinded his brother. He tried to give his sister in exchange for the kingship and he killed his uncle when the clan chose him instead. Did he never tell you about how he betrayed his High King and his uncle Murchad to the galls? Did he never tell you his part in ending the siege of Dublin?”
The boy shakes his head miserably. “I didn’t believe that part when you told the judges, and I still don’t believe you,” he says, but his eyes say otherwise. She says no more and he lowers the eyes, dark as his father’s and brimming with tears. She puts a hand on his shoulder. He flinches and she feels him tremble.
“Come back with me and I will find you a book or two. You have the look of a scholar.”
He raises his head in surprise and she smiles. “I doubt your father ever indulged that quality, but you are not in your father’s house any more. And I will give you a master to teach you how to fight. A man must be able to defend himself, to defeat his enemies and show clemency when it is the better part. Will that please you?”
He nods, unsure. Looking around for the trap again.
“I will do something for you, nephew, that your father never will. I will teach you to be a man.”