#writephoto: Ambush

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. Another bit inspired by the WIP I’m afraid.

Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 17.15.07

The leader, sergeant or whatever of the Welsh bowmen peers through the leaves at the sky then looks at Art. He yawns theatrically.

“When did you say this army was passing by here? This week, was it?”

“He’ll be here.”

The yawn becomes a stretch. “It’s just that if I sit here much longer I’ll be so old I’ll have forgotten how to string a bow.” The breatnach grins insolently.

“If you’re not ready when they come I’ll wrap that bowstring round your scraggy Welsh neck and you won’t have to worry about getting old.”

The bowman spits on the ground and calls out to one of the other surly bastards. They both laugh. Art can’t make out many of the words of their speech but he guesses it is a joke at his expense. He can’t help glancing at the sky in his turn. The sun is getting low. Any lower and it will be lost among the trees, and the Northman will be making camp for the night. This is the only road through this part of the mountains, and this is the only bridge over the Urrin. The Northmen will have to cross in single file. It is the perfect place for an ambush. He grinds his teeth. So where are they?

“I’d say your man has gone a different way,” the breatnach drawls.

“Why would he do that? To take in the scenery?”

“Been here before, has he? Knows the country well? Trusts the locals to put him on the best road? He could be wandering anywhere between here and the coast.”

The worst of it is, Art knows the bandy little péist could be right. Well, if he is, he won’t be wearing that mocking grin for much longer. If there’s no assassination to be done, Art has no need of a band of idle, insolent Welsh mercenaries who would likely murder them all in their sleep should they find out they’re not going to be paid with their freedom after all.

“Get your men together. We’re moving.”

The sergeant opens his mouth so make some clever remark. Connla, Art’s cousin closes it with his fist.

“Just do what you’re told, sheep-fucker.”

The bowman rubs his mouth with the back of his hand and glowers. The Welshmen, six of them, assemble with a bad grace. They are terrible horsemen and hate the idea of riding again. Cairbre brings over their horses but stops when Art catches his eye and puts his hand slowly on the hilt of his sword. The Welsh are gathering up their affairs, grumbling, hanging back. Connla too has got the message and moves to the far side of the group.

“Get on with you, or we’ll still be here at nightfall.”

One of them straightens up, his mouth open with a retort, and Connla slashes his throat open. Art and Cairbre draw their weapons and in less than a minute it is over. Art steps over a body and peers out across the mountains.

You’ll not spoil for keeping, Richard de Clare. Then you’ll learn how we deal with usurpers.

Advertisements

Turning the page

Another excerpt to go with Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 15.26.55

The night watch steps back and lets Aoife pass through the narrow door. Through the snow the figure of the messenger appears unreal, no more solid than cloud.

“You have a message for me from my brother?”

The blurred outline approaches, leading his horse.

“The message is from myself.”

The words, though muffled by the snow, fall on her ears like hail stones. A hand reaches and grabs her arm. She resists the temptation to call out. A single word and the night watch would sound the alarm.

“What is it this time, Art Ó Conor? What new promises?” She keeps her voice low but shakes his hand from her arm and takes a step backwards.

“No promises,” he says. “A reminder that you are mine, and I will have you. Come with me now and end this pretence of a marriage.”

He moves towards her, confidently. In his head he is already galloping away from the snow-shrouded caiseal. In his head he is back on his own lands, pulling her down from the horse, pulling her into his arms, clasping her hard, hard enough to leave bruises on her arms, making her understand how wrong she has been. In his head she is passive; her defiance is empty words not actions, and the sudden movement, the dull glint of steel in the dim light makes him start.

“No further, Art. I would not hurt you, but I will if you force me.”

He almost laughs, but the laughter sticks in his throat. It is rage that comes out on his tongue, that she should oppose him.

“I would whip you for this, Aoife Rua, but there is no time. Put that toy away and—”

Her arm jabs, slashes, and the blade rips through the thick wool of his inar.

“No further, I said.” Her voice is raised, high enough for the watch to hear. She sees the way Art’s eyes flick over her shoulder and his half-step backwards, grabbing at the horse’s reins. There is a clatter from the lios, raised voices, and Art is up on his horse’s back.

“Come with me.”

There is a pleading in his voice, but she hardens her heart. She knows him too well. What he cannot get by force he will try to get by cajolery. He bends over the horse’s withers, reaches out, his hand open, fingers ready to grip, sure of himself. She steps back and lets the night watch pass on either side, chasing a horseman already swallowed up by the swirling flakes. She wipes a hand across her face to brush them away and finds that her cheeks are wet with tears.

#writephoto: No choice

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge. More WIP…

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 18.06.53.png

Dónal had a message for his brother, the blind seer. He had received word that the grey foreigner who had stolen his birthright was bringing over his eldest son, a Sasanach son and warrior with battle glory to his name, to set him up as chief in a caiseal over Santry way. This was surely the son he intended as his heir, not the wee boy barely weaned he had by Aoife. Dónal had never intended to let his sister’s son grow beyond infancy, but this was a bitter blow. A man and a warrior is much harder to do away with than an infant. Once behind the walls of his caiseal, the young Northman would be as hard to winkle out as any of his kin. Dónal vowed to stop him ever crossing the threshold.

“I have a job for you, brother.”

Énna did not move. He crouched, his back to Dónal, the spring before his feet, bubbling into the stone. Dónal despised and feared his brother’s power but he did not doubt its efficacity. He kicked him. Not hard. Just enough to remind him that he could.

“I said, I need you to do something for me.”

Énna turned his head slowly. He was not wearing the band that usually covered the scars and Dónal felt the hairs at the back of his neck stand on end. He had seen blinded men often enough, but this was his own handiwork and he took it as a provocation that Énna did not hide the mutilation.

“What?”

One word, and even that was slurred. Énna was slipping away. He would be no loss. Not once he had performed this one last service.

“The gall’s kinsman is on a ship. I want him drowned.”

“Is that all?” The words came out slowly. His teeth were pink-rimmed with scraps of berry skin.

Dónal shivered. “I am pleased you think it such a small feat. Find him and sink his ship.”

Énna turned away again, his unseeing eyes fixed on something no one could see. “And if I say no?”

“You know the answer, little brother. The gall’s son, or your own. And your black-haired wife too, why not? Choose.”

When Énna raised his head the empty orbits raged red and fiery, and in their flames, Dónal thought he saw their father’s face, and it was laughing.

Redbreast

Another bit of WIP in response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 17.56.58.png

 

The pool shows her nothing; her robin-child has disappeared. Nor can she find Richard in any of the places where she has left a part of herself curled in the depths. Fear grips hard and cold, colder than the serpent coils that shift in the water, mocking her, calling to her to give in to that part of her nature that will wreak destruction on those who betray her.

The island beyond the sea is always wreathed in mists and she tries to see through the eyes of the seer, the red-haired woman’s kinsman. She reaches into the pool where he does his magic but it is full of madness and red as the berries he chews incessantly now, not just to give him visions, but to try to calm their chaotic dance through his head. When she finds his face, his lips are red with berry juice and she sees shreds of their skin in his teeth. There is nothing in his face but murder, stabbings and blindings. In a fury, she leaves the pool and calls up the white mare.

It is a three hour’s ride to the sea from Striguil, even for a horse such as the white mare. The evening tide is out and she rides across glassy sands to the edge of the water. When the mare’s hooves splash and foam hisses over them, she dismounts. She clears serpent-thoughts from her head and gazes into the shallows. She sees only clouds, their breasts white and billowing, and one is specked with red.

#writephoto: Waiting

For Sue Vincent’s weekly Thursday photo prompt.

Screen Shot 2019-05-30 at 16.06.09

Richard’s gaze sweeps the horizon. No sail breaks the monotony of blue sea and sky. The morning is calm after the squally winds of the night, a good day for a sea crossing. Yet fear squirms deep in his gut, a great worm stretching. The pools left by the outgoing tide glitter with reflected sky and he dare not look into them. It is her face he is afraid to see, the judgement, the eyes hard as stones. Her face will tell him more surely than any wreckage, any washed up timber and broken spars that there will be no sail on the horizon.

The sea is calm. The air is still, storm forgotten. He watches, waits for the sail to breach the blue like a great white bird making for the shore. He waits until de Cogan comes to find him. He turns at the sound of boots on the slippery rocks and has no need to ask. He sees the quiet commiseration in his captain’s eyes and he knows. The robin-child did not outfly the storm.

WIP update

1280px-Bayeux_Tapestry_scene51_Battle_of_Hastings_Norman_knights_and_archers

I had thought this story would be told in two volumes. It won’t be; there will be a third. Good news is that I have just finished the second volume!

The time scale is very short, from 1169 to 1176, and only the bare bones of fact are known with any certainty. Even some of the bare bones are in doubt. The invasion of Ireland was only a sideshow to Henry II who had wars going left and right (including with his wife and sons) for all of his reign. The barons who took part in it, mainly Norman-Welsh were a brutal, uncultivated bunch, greedy for land and prepared to fight against odds of a hundred to one to get it. For Ireland though, it was a pivotal moment, the invasion that would not be entirely assimilated. Though many of the Normans went native, the English King never forgot that they held their lands in fief, and sooner or later, there would be a reckoning.

Europe was in a constant state of war and empire-building, and at this time, the Pope did have his own divisions. Ireland, on the far western edge of the continent, was about to be brought into the power struggles of the European monarchs. These few years of the invasion were lived intensely by all those involved and their lives were changed utterly. The Normans drove a wedge into the ricketty tribal structure that kept Irish society together led by Richard de Clare, the penniless earl from the Welsh Marches and Aoife, the princess of Leinster who stuck with him even after his death. There is no hard historical explanation for much of what happened at this time, only conjecture:

Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.

 

#writephoto: Judgement

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.

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 14.40.18

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.”