#writephoto: No choice

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

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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.

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#writephoto: Guivre

Another scene from the end of the story. For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge, which for me is turning into a storyboard for my WIP.

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He hears Aoife screaming to him to come back. It is too late, she says. No revenge will bring back Gileabard. He doesn’t listen, can’t. His ears are full of the child’s screaming, and his eyes see nothing but green coils draped in white. Not revenge. It is a past of false promises, false happiness that he will kill.

She knew what would happen as soon as she saw him wading into the water. As if a sword could protect him. Guivre, she heard him shout, scream, and the water boiled. He lies now on the bank, his face lily-white, his soft grey eyes blank, staring at something she cannot see. She rips the left leg of his chausses with the sword and reveals the wound—two red staring eyes, rage and despair.

He doesn’t fight. She can see from his eyes that he is leaving, following a call, or simply slipping into gentler waters. She doesn’t understand. She has never known what he promised, or what promises he had broken. All she knows is that it is over. She picks up his sword and stands on the lake’s edge. She shouts to the Guivre to show herself, but the lake is calm now; even the ripples have died.

A sigh. She turns and catches sight of the wisp of breath that is Riseárd’s last. The sword, glowing cold and green, squirms in her hand, and with a cry she drops it in the water, watching through the first of her tears as its coils slither out of sight into the depths. She turns to the lily-white face, stiller even than the lake water, and the world is filled with emptiness.

#writephoto: First home

Sue is keeping up with the writing of this story very well. Another scene from current WIP for the #writephoto prompt.

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As Raymond FitzGerald predicted, there has been no more fighting since the start of winter. Riseárd shares some of le Gros’ contempt for armies that go home once the weather turns and expect that their enemies do the same. She could have told him the reason if he’d asked, but not since the time of the Three Queens have men asked their womenfolk for advice about warfare, and they have never forgiven them for the peace they made.

The winter is hard. The beasts still have to be taken out to pasture whatever the weather, and the daily household tasks of milking, milling, carding, weaving are more difficult than in the summer. Just keeping warm is hard enough in some houses. How many men would willingly see their wives and children go cold and hungry? The Northmen don’t understand this because they have slaves to do the work and their unfree tenants whose lives are not their own.

She doesn’t complain that the tide of the war is at its lowest. She has Riseárd with her to watch her belly rounding and ripening. Together, from Dún Ailinne, they watch the outer walls rise around the hilltop, and within the walls, the keep where they will live, where, Aoife hopes, their first child will be born.

“This one will be a son,” Riseárd says. “I was promised I would marry a queen and she would give me sons.”

Aoife smiles. “And what else were you promised? That the entire herd of black cows would calf twice in the same year? A boat to fly across the waves to Tír na nÓg?”

He looks bemused. “Black cows have never been in my dreams, but I will have sons.” The frown smooths from his brow and he smiles. “And you, my fiery Eve, will give me them.”

She looks beyond him, through the narrow doorway at the falling snow. The baby will be born at the end of May. Riseárd will have gone back to his war before then, and their caiseal will be finished. Will that make her a queen? Not by her lights. Not while her king leaves her behind when he goes to war. Beyond the snow is the new year, a new life. She will show him what it means to be a queen.

#Three Line Tales: Reflections

So many photo prompts these days seem to reflect my WIP. This one is for Sonya’s three line tale prompt.

photo by Sam Loyd via Unsplash

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The lake is still and peaceful beneath the summer sky speckled with stars, but she is not looking at the sky.

In the shallows, the water mirror, she searches for his face, the fiery-haired face with soft grey eyes, but the mirror is full of stars.

A tear disturbs the image, and stars rock in the ripples until she nets them up, silvery fish, and at last she sees the face, with hair of grey stone, his eyes closed and blind.

#writephoto: The rose at the heart

Well, this one obviously follows on from last week’s image. Thanks Sue 🙂

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A sound breaks the hush of the chapel and Aoife is dragged out of her reverie. Her hand reaches out to the red rose protectively as she feels the air vibrate, murmur, like flowing water. The sun breaks through the cloud and pours through the rose window inundating Riseárd’s image with soft colours. She blinks in the bright light that fills with lilies. She hold her breath and the lilies group, bunch, form a loose bouquet that is at once the face and the flowing hair of a woman.

A tear slides down her cheek and she brushes it away, quickly before the ghost woman sees. She faces her defiantly, her fingers curled around the stem of the rose. Even now, she rages, the woman, if she is truly a woman, dares to impose herself, after all she has done, the intrigue and the deaths. The face turns and Aoife is caught in the blue gaze of her eyes and the shimmer of brimming tears.

Forgive. I loved him too.

The world shatters into sharp, elusive pieces. Nothing will ever be the same, love, children, gone, like thistledown in the wind. Yet Aoife cannot find it in herself to hate the pale woman. The vision blurs, behind a veil of tears, until all that is left, vibrant and glowing is the thorny red rose on Riseárd’s breast.

#writephoto: Dublin cathedral

For Sue Vincent’s photo prompt. Another one that was obviously intended for my WIP. I haven’t got to the end of the story yet, but since it’s history, we know how it ends more or less.

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Aoife never thought she would come to love him. It had been a marriage to seal a bargain, the price her father paid for the Norman’s help. Diarmait had won his war and the Norman had wanted paying. Yet from such an inauspicious start had blossomed more than she had ever imagined possible, so much more than the passion that had existed with Art. She had ridden into battle at Riseárd’s side, defended his title though it was her own brother who defied him. In their time together she had been wife, lover, mother, counsellor and confidante. And Art had never forgiven either of them.

He would not have wanted to be buried in the cathedral, but Henry had insisted. Richard Earl of Pembroke had been one of the foremost of his barons, he’d said. He must be buried with all the honours due to his rank. She had demurred, because the dead are dead, and she had to look to the living. So here she is, to tell him that the Quinns are making trouble once again, and once again she is preparing to defend Cappamore from their raids. She tells him that his Leinster lands are all safe, and Henry is keeping Pembroke from the jackals for Isabel when she comes of age.

They have come to an arrangement about Pembroke, the white lady of the lake and Aoife. No male issue will ever have it. The female line will always prevail. She places a kiss on the stone brow, so little like the living brow she had so often kissed. She gathers up the white lilies that she always finds strewn over Riseárd’s likeness and puts the luxuriant blooms, damp with dew, in a vase by Riseárd’s head, not in the side altar, Evienne wouldn’t like it. A final gesture before she leaves, to meet the death that Art will send her— on his heart, she places a single red rose.

#writephoto: Parricide

There is something funny going on with Sue Vincent’s photo prompts. I’m finding that each week, the photo illustrates a scene I’m in the process of writing. Maybe we’ll get kangaroos next week to prove me wrong.

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Diarmait has ridden hard. By the time he is within sight of the walls of An Fearna, he knows his favourite horse is broken. He feels not even the slightest hint of regret. He is going to see Con again, the son they told him had been beheaded at Kincora by Aedh Mac Ruaidrí. He had looked out for Aedh during the fighting before the siege of Waterford but the devil’s melt was killed in a skirmish before he could get his hands around his throat. The message that Dónal sent would have made another, cooler-headed man pause. It seemed that there had been a mistake, a hoax. Three hostages only had been killed and their bodies burned. Ruaidrí had not had the nerve to kill them all; it was only Aedh’s bragging that he himself had taken the head of Conchobar Mac Diarmait that had started the rumour of their deaths.

Diarmait doesn’t ask himself why Ruaidrí didn’t deny the rumour. Perhaps he didn’t know the truth of it—not if Aedh was killed before he was able to explain himself. Nor does he ask himself why the hostages have been kept so long without any word from them and how Con got away. He doesn’t ask himself, because he wants to believe in his weasly son Dónal who never spoke a true word when a lie would serve him better.

His horse is foundering but he beats it on, across the ford of the Sláine and over the low rolling hills to the fort. The church tower is in sight, then the palisade. The gates of the caisleán are open, and just before the woods of the valley side hide it from view again, he sees a horseman ride out, dark-haired, bright green brat—Dónal. A watchman must have seen Diarmait on the road and passed on the word.

Another man might have thought it natural that Dónal would be eager to tell him the news face to face. But his father knows Dónal had never liked Con. Why would he be so keen to share the news that his brother was come back to them? So close to home, so close to discovering that the past months had been a nightmare and the dawn was coming, Diarmait begins to doubt. All the inconsistencies in the message nag at his intelligence. The trees oppress him, obscuring the sight of home. If Con had been at An Fearna he would surely be riding out to meet his father. Perhaps he is hurt, sick. Diarmait grinds his teeth at the idea that Ruaidrí Ó Conor had illtreated his hostages, welcoming the distraction from his more unsettling thoughts.

Coming up the last rise, his horse falters. If they had been on the downward slope Diarmait would have been thrown. The animal’s legs crumple beneath him and Diarmait slides from his back. The drumming of hoofbeats comes to him through the trees. He leaves the foundered horse and runs towards the sound. A flash of green, of chestnut, and Dónal is before him, reining in his horse.

“God be with you, Father,” he says, looking about him.

“God and Mary be with you, Dónal. Where is Con? Does Ruaidrí still have him?”

“Did you come alone?”

“As you asked. I told no one I was leaving. How is he? Is he at An Fearna?”

Dónal drops from his horse’s back. “I have a message from him.” He reaches for his belt. “He’s waiting for you”—Diarmait steps forward eagerly, his eyes on Dónal’s belt, holding out his hand to take the letter. Dónal’s hand thrusts. There is a flash, the sunlight through the trees strikes steel, makes it glitter—“in the otherworld.”

Cold slices under his ribs, reaching up, spreading. Diarmait staggers backwards. The knife thrusts again, higher this time, hitting a rib.

“Dónal,” he gasps, scarcely understanding what is happening. The face, dark, but with some of his own traits, his father’s too, dark eyes and the mouth that twists into a grin. His son. “Dónal.” He remembers when he was born, his first son, and that he had been proud. The man, his son, grown strong and twisted, grabs his shoulder, holds him steady and draws back his arm again. This is the last. The knife slips between the ribs and finds the heart. He still doesn’t understand.