The image I chose for today’s Folktober challenge, is an illustration of the Werewolves of Ossory, It’s a joyful sort of a picture, perhaps explained by the difference between the Medieval notion of the werewolf, and Hollywood’s. A werewolf was a man (usually) trapped in the body of a wolf by enchantment, a gentle creature with sad, imploring eyes, hoping to be recognised and released.
What came to me was not a poem, but a story, that grew longer than I had intended. I’m posting it here, and you can read the other contributions on Paul’s blog here.
The King of Ossory and the wolf scam
One time, during the reign of Donnchad mac Gilla Pátraic, a pack of wolves took up residence in the Kingdom of Ossory. Bishop Fogartaig of Kilkenny claimed they were not ordinary wolves but the suitors of Donnchad’s daughter Órlaigh, turned into animals by her womanish magic. He placed Donnchad under an obligation to hand over Órlaigh, as only by her death could the hapless young nobles be released from their enchantment.
Now Donnchadh had a deal of affection for his eldest daughter, who, to his certain knowledge had not been pestered by half the eligible young men of the province asking to marry her, as the bishop suggested. She had, in fact, already chosen Ruaidhrí, the son of Cearbhall mac Domnall, king of the smaller part of Ossory.
The marriage was opposed by the High King, as it would make Ossory one of the most powerful kingdoms in the land. Donnchad had designs on Leinster, and had already won significant battles there. Leinster was the High King’s strongest ally, and Bishop Fogartaig was the High King’s brother.
Donnchadh called Órlaigh to him. “I see what the old fox is after. The disputes within the family keep Ossory divided and that suits the High King just fine. A marriage between you and Cearbhall’s son would seal a pact.”
“And I’d marry Ruaidhrí,” Órlaigh said, “even if I hadn’t given him my heart, just to see the High King’s long nose put out of joint.”
So Donnchad organised a hunt and captured the wolves as they were eying up a flock of sheep, without killing a single one of them. He had the wolves taken back to his fort at Kilkenny and had one of his nephews, a certain Fergal, have a look at them.
Fergal was the prior at St. Canice’s monastery, and Donnchad had a mind to make him the next abbot, and perhaps, once all of Ossory was in his power, the next bishop.
Fergal studied the beasts as they huddled together in the back of their pen and asked to have the gate opened to let him in. Archers, one for each of the wolves, stood at the ready to intervene should Fergal’s guess prove wrong. The wolves eyed him suspiciously, fearful as he knew them to be of all men, and waited to see what he would do. First of all he spoke to them.
“If you are truly men, I have a gift for you, to pay for the harm done to you by King Donnchad’s daughter.”
He tossed a purse full of gold towards the wolves and watched as they crept towards it, sniffed, and slunk back in disgust.
“But if you are truly wolves, I have something else.”
From another purse at his belt, Fergal took something round and held it up for the wolves to see, for the breeze to carry its strong scent. The wolves pricked their ears and sniffed the air. Fergal waved the treat about then tossed it to the nearest wolf who snapped it up and licked his lips. Fergal took another treat out of his bag and held it up. The pack stepped forward in unison.
“Sit!” Fergal commanded. The wolves sat. He approached one of the wolves and said, “Paw!”
The wolf held up a front paw and Fergal tossed him the treat. He went to the next wolf. “Paw!”
The wolf gave Fergal his paw, and Fergal tossed him the treat. The third time, Fergal took a gold coin from the purse and held it out. “Paw!”
The wolf obeyed, sniffed and slowly lowered his paw in disappointment. Fergal turned to Donnchad. “Órlaigh is guilty of no crime. There’s not a man among them; they are dog to the bone.”
“And I have a pack of wolves that I will have to slaughter,” Donnchad replied.
“I have a better idea, Father,” Órlaigh said. “The bishopric has rich pasture. Why not take this fine band of young nobles to sniff around Fogartaig’s fat sheep. I’d like to see how the bishop welcomes them.”
“If he agrees that they are wolves and not men, he will be able to kill them to defend his flocks,” Fergal said. “On the other hand, if he insists they are royal scions, he will be bound to give them hospitality.”
Needless to say, Bishop Fogartaig swallowed his holy principles and set his men upon the wolf pack, Órlaigh’s reputation was cleared, she married the pulse of her heart, Fergal was appointed Bishop of Kilkenny when Fogartaig fell out of the High King’s favour, and Donnchad mac Gilla Pátraic became the scourge of Leinster until a more ruthless chieftain united the kingdoms of Leinster and drove him out.
In the dark,
all cats are grey,
all dogs are wolves,
and it takes a laughing monk
with kindness in his hands
to call them brothers,
sisters, even in the lean times.