Chapter 91: Fiachra’s Flight

Udal Cuain

Geamhain, Night 625, Galway Bay (823 A.D.)

Waves crashed on the surface, smacking the stones that kept each wave from floating on into the blue. The endless blue that faded into the sky, becoming the night. The blue of possibility, stretching and reaching each corner of every cove and cliff, uniting them all in a path of uncertain ground. A blue to float on, to sail and navigate with power. A blue to swallow them up and spit out their bones, washed clean from their organs, to deposit on the sea as the dead who make up the sand. That’s what Conn always said.

Their ancestors, mariners and explorers, become a layer of sand. After their bodies are pushed out to sea, they are returned back as the small specks of dust that line the beaches. An armor to protect the islands. Their spirits remain, he said, that is why you can hear in the shells a faint whisper. In between the crashes of the breakers, you can hear them calling to you. Blessing you or cursing your journeys. Fiachra could hear the voices. Not a whisper, but a shout. He heard them, many voices speaking languages he could not understand. Some were low, melodic and others were frantic, unpleasant. Fiachra shivered.

He was alone in a torrential bubble of water. The figure who met them on the dock was outside his watery capsule. They rode the waves driving the current, pulling them to their will. The water melted and pulled like honey. With a touch of the figure’s hand, the ocean obeyed its master. It bowed down and rose up with a flick of the wrist. The figure grabbed Fiachra’s hand and pulled them into the ocean, on top of a wave the figure had pulled up from the breakers. With a clap and a grunt, the water circled around Fiachra, wrapping him like a package. He was covered in water yet it did not consume him. He could breathe, his clothes were dry. In this air pocket he stood, bracing himself against the speed by which they carved through the water. Head above the waves, the figure glided. The hood billowed with the wake they left but the figure did not look at him. The figure remained locked, like a standing stone against the movement around them. Steady, they stared in the direction of east. They were going east, back to the mainland.

Kinvara was certain this was the right move. She begged him to go and leave her behind to fight her own way. She had a plan to help his parents, an insane one. Saoirse and Riagan were as good as dead where they sat in the dungeons of Innis Aran. Her optimism annoyed him. There are times to be hopeful and times to be wise, his grandmother Tearlag used to say as she sneered at Conn. Fools were the hopeful, the wise knew how to get what they wanted. They never wished, they only succeeded. Fiachra was always the fool, wishing for something more he could not have.

Wishing for different parents, a new family, to be rid of Biorn, to not cringe after every public argument his parents had, and now he wished for the chance to earn his birth right as the chieftain of Galway. Tearlag argued that was how it should be. No one was destined to be a king, they must earn it, and it would be most honorable if you suffered for it, like she did for her dual chieftainships. Was his grandmother ever happy? He questioned this at night when in his bed his mind would wander the bad memories locked away in the far reaches of his subconscious. She discussed at length her sorrows and her pain. She relished in the pain she achieved for the admiration of her father. She was long-suffering for them all. The discomfort they lived and were sustained by her loss. What a funny way to live, he mused.

His grandfather Conn seemed happy and successful. He was a content soul. Peaceful. Fiachra was not peaceful. Neither was Riagan. Success was not supposed to be peaceful. Was his grandfather a failure? Would Fiachra be a failure if he wished for a life removed from chaos? This orb was peaceful. It was lovely to be out of control. To ride the waves removed from their risk, to float like a bird, skimming the danger with just a sip. He was the raven, the Fiachra. In that moment he was free. He looked back at the islands, a distant speck now to his view. Something fell off the cliff. His heart was in his throat. He smacked his hand against the water wall and yelled. They needed to go back, he screamed. The figure flicked his wrist and Fiachra fell into the sea.

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Chapter 90: Watery Figures

Udal Cuain

Geamhain, Night 625, Kingdom Innis Aran of Murtagh O’Flaherty (823 A.D.)

The night was still except for a warm breeze rustling the sails. Aonghus walked down the length the ship. He was at the start of a two-day patrol shift. It began with a sail around each island, then the route turned and Aonghus’s fleet would sail to the corners. They sailed south to the mouth of the Shannon, east to the beginning of Galway Bay, and north to the trade routes from Ulster. He had done this route thousands of times. It was mundane, a sleepy stroll through their small corner of the world.

He enjoyed this route even less by thinking of Aoibheann, melancholy and alone with her sister back on Innismore. Was she able to sleep? Were they arguing again? He twisted the hair on his strawberry blonde beard. Was he rushing her into this marriage? He had thought of her every day after their chance meeting the year before. She was mysterious, a muse of curiosity and determination. He could see in her eyes that she was not satisfied with the lot she had. Her vigor for life was trapped behind a mask of dysfunction.

She had told him small pieces of her life before the exile from Galway. Her parents were personal mercenaries of Chieftain Conn. They lived out in the fields where the stone walls carved out squares on the rolling green land. She was groomed to follow her mother’s footsteps. She was told to be an expert archer, to be skilled with spear and sword. To live as a living breathing Cuchulain.

Her sister, Kinvara, was pushed into the shrine. She was hidden away in books and faithful rituals. Kinvara got the social life. She had friends across Galway from odd jobs for the druid priests. She met Aoife and Eamon there and she had been set to be married at the Lughnasadh festival before the exile came and ripped them away. The exile was still a mystery. No one spoke of it. Not even Biorn, who now followed Murtagh around like a shadow. Who was he protecting anymore? He was an O’Flaherty not an O’Connor.

“We are ready to sail south,” Biorn approached from the right.

“Pardon?” Aonghus said lost in thought.

“The patrol, we’re going to sail south unless you object?” Biorn looked annoyed.

“Right, right. That’s fine,” Aonghus said and got out the compass.

“Am I interrupting something I should be aware of?” Biorn asked and Aonghus frowned at him.

“Why are you such a suspicious person?” Aonghus asked. “Can’t you relax and trust that no one is plotting after you?”

“No,” Biorn said frankly. “I can’t.”

“The O’Connor’s screwed you up good, didn’t they?” Aonghus laughed and adjusted the rudder.

“I’m going back to the other boat,” Biorn sighed.

“Biorn, I’m just kidding. You don’t need to-” Aonghus said but was stopped. Biorn threw up his hands and walked away.

“Sir, there’s suspicious activity on the coastline. It’s serious,” one of the crew called out from the bow of the boat.

“What kind of suspicious activity?” Aonghus scoffed but stopped when he saw their faces. Their eyes were filled with fear and wonder. He was intrigued. “This is not finished, Biorn!” Aonghus yelled and ran to the front of the boat to get a better look.


 

Kinvara walked down to the docks with Fiachra, her breathing was heavy. She had a lot of work to do. “Are you sure you are ready for this? The lessons from your mom were not-” Kinvara began.

“It’s time. I had a dream last night, I saw her,” Fiachra said. “She is calling us forward.” Kinvara didn’t believe him. In her heart she knew he was restless and jealous. But she carried on just to see this blow up in his face. Her bond to Fiachra was waning. She would rather face down the faeries herself than listen to him complain another day.

The figure began to walk toward them, pulling water up from the ocean as they walked, creating ripples in the water as tall as the docks. Kinvara grabbed Fiachra’s hand, her palms were sweaty. She was not ready for this conversation.

“You received my message young Fiachra?” The female voice asked. Fiachra nodded.

Her voice shook the water beneath them, “Are you ready to join us?” Her words pulled and shaped the waves. “To change the current. To get our revenge against your family?”

A stream of water floated up behind her dancing and swirled with her mood. She stared them down. She was not human. Her body was transparent and she glowed from within. Feathers adorned her head piece. Her long hair twisted into fabric around her form.

“But you!” Her voice changed, addressing Kinvara. “I know you. You look so much like your mother. You have been born to bring down destruction from the heavens and fire to the land. You stay back!” The form said. “Before I drown you.” Kinvara shook with her words.

Behind the figure, a giant wave rose up with ominous silence, the wave great in height. Kinvara backed away from Fiachra with her hands up. She reached the boulders behind her and the figure let out a scream. The wave surged forward enveloping Fiachra and racing to Kinvara. Like fingers, they enclosed around Kinvara and began to squeeze. Kinvara screamed and began to recite from her lessons. The water turned purple and she slid out.

Back on the dock, she ran back to the stairs. The waves crashed again like a snake striking its prey. She kicked and knocked the wave back into a curling water spout. With all her might, she pushed at the water driving it back towards the figure and the figure let out another scream.

“Your impostor is waiting,” The figure laughed and the wave changed direction. It moved north to the top of the island. It raced forward like a tsunami, higher and higher, until it crashed on the cliff side.

“I will be back for you,” The figure said and grabbed Fiachra. Together they disappeared in the water and Kinvara collapsed onto the dock terrified. Fee was gone. She was all she had left. She did not expect for this to hurt so badly. First Eamon, then Vidar, her parents, Aoife, and now Fiachra. She was alone.

Chapter 89: The Dungeon of Innis Aran

Udal Cuain

Geamhain, Night 625, Kingdom Innis Aran of Murtagh O’Flaherty (823 A.D.)

With her cloak wrapped around her head, she adapted her posture. She was no longer Aoibheann, exile of Galway, daughter of Brighid and Carrick. She was lone priest #2, a member of the exclusive shrine at the Serpent’s lair. She was hunched from her days living in the small caves around the island. She pulled a large carved stick from behind her bed.

Slowly she walked with a limp to the edge of the ring fort and found the door to the lower realm. She signaled to the guard and held her breath, it was a new guy, did he understand the agreement? She waited, 9, 10, 11, 12, open. The door rose quickly, the pulley creaked. She lit her torch and  walked into the cold stone corridor. Down the sloped walkways she went, down left, then down right. It smelled like decay and despair, the wet cool breeze from sea mixed with the stale stalagmite salt.

Down another flight of stairs to an open room with a vaulted ceiling and cutouts in the walls that opened to nothing but the open water of the Atlantic.  Isolated and cold, the prisoners remained. Of course they weren’t able to jump to their deaths, the big openings to the sea were between the cells. The small ones that opened to the slightest bit of hope, those were in every cell of the dungeon.

She rambled across the open corridor, her steps echoed with every tap of the cane against the stone floor. She saw them reaching across the bars to each other, holding hands in the dark. Aoibheann, lit the light in front of their cell and set down her torch. To gain their trust again, she would have to sell it this time. She had watched Kinvara practice this act enough at night when she thought Aoibheann was sleeping. Kinvara had sneaked down here many nights, she had read it in Kinvara’s notes. Saoirse was teaching her something and Aoibheann needed to know why.

She went through her pockets and pulled out sage, mistletoe, and bones from last night’s dinner along with a wooden flute. Carefully, she lit the sage and wandered around the room. With her other hand, she put the flute to her lips and played the first song she could think of. It was a tune from the legend of Lir. It was a song of despair after his children disappeared into thin air. It was a tune played at moon ceremonies in the winter. The high, lilting notes bounced off the walls. One prisoner in the distance tapped a stone against her wall, keeping time to the beat. Riagan sang along softly in an ancient tongue only the priests knew. Aoibheann smiled, she was getting somewhere. She stopped and handed the flute to Riagan through the bars.

“Please continue,” she said in a low, smoky voice. “You will play. I will perform the blessing on you both,” she looked at him with a stern glare, masking the familiar form of her face. She was scared he would recognize her as the idiot who fell in love with his son. The big flirt who was a good hunter when they needed her.

His soot-covered hand grabbed it from her gingerly. His hands shook, he was weak from starvation and sunlight deficiency. Riagan looked at it like a foreign object from long ago. The ceremonies, the rituals, it was all from the past. The time before Conn died when Galway was a faithful clan to the gods. Tearlag wasn’t much for ceremonies unless they could bring her something. Power, influence, fear.

He started playing, another tune, one from a day long ago. It was one Aoibheann was not familiar with. She ignored him and began chanting random sounds. She danced and stomped her fear. She left the sage in front of Saoirse’s cell and went back to the light, it was small bowl of fire. Aoibheann took the mistletoe and put into the fire, the fire burned another color, from orange to green. She blew on it and the flame grew taller. She took the bones and placed them in the fire. She whispered a blessing and then let out a cry from the bottoms of her toes. Just like she had seen the priests do. She raised up on her toes and spread her arms. She twirled around and around and again let out a cry.

She felt light headed and stopped. She relaxed back into her hunch and walked with her cane back over the cells and stopped between Riagan and Saoirse. “I know you’ve had visitors,” she began. “Tell me what you have told the young Kinvara. What does she want with you?” She hissed her words at them. “People have seen them, I need to know before your predicament gets much worse.”

“Do it then, one priest’s plea to Murtagh is not going to change anything,” Saoirse said. “GET OUT.”

“Saoirse, lower your voice,” Aoibheann said. “It’s just me.” She wiped the black paste from her face and lowered the hood. “Aoibheann. I’m worried about Fiachra, okay? Tell me what’s going on so I can help.”

“Get out, Aoibheann,” Saoirse repeated. “This is none of your business.”

“I’m here to help!” Aoibheann insisted.

“You heard my wife, out of here, Aoibheann,” Riagan said and threw the flute with more might than should be possible. It shattered into splinters against the stone wall. “You pawn of Murtagh. I know what you are doing. You are marrying Aonghus, no word shall be shared with you.” Without warning, a large wave crashed in through the opening side of the wall. The icy water knocked her down and sucked her back to the edge of the opening. She screamed in panic and the wave let her go. Drenched and terrified, she ran out of the dungeon.


 

Kinvara smiled and made her way down the cliff side to the docks. Just on queue, she saw Fiachra emerge from one of the small alcoves that rested on the side of the towering rocks that formed the foundation of the Innis Aran islands. She pulled the biscuits from her pocket and handed them to him. He handed her a small package wrapped in cloth.

“It should be enough for them,” Fiachra said. “As long as that’s really him.”

“It’s him, I know his form better than anyone else.” Kinvara said. “It’s time to get you out of here.”

 

Chapter 88: Hakon the Fili

Udal Cuain

Geamhain, Day 625, Kingdom Innis Aran of Murtagh O’Flaherty (823 A.D.)

Kinvara ran and tumbled into the Fili’s library, knocking into Fiachra. He scowled and straightened his station. “Why are you late?” Fiachra growled. “You’re putting us in jeopardy.”

“No I’m not. Look, I have the journal,” Kinvara slowly pulled the book out of her coat. “Hakon isn’t even here and they won’t say a word. None of the scribes bothered to look up when she dashed into the room. It was a large alcove off from the courtyard in the largest building in the compound. The room was filled with light in spite of the large number of shelves and tapestries that wrapped the walls in a world of story. This was the home of the seers, an elite class of historians and poets that comprised one-third of the Brehon Court. From this room they recorded the annals of the Kingdom and told stories of their heroes. Every warrior, athlete and ritual-faithful was recorded in these pages. Legends of the Aos Si and the Tuatha de Danaan lined the walls with large paintings and carvings.

“I stole it from Biorn’s room,” Kinvara said. “We have to hurry. He will be gone with Aonghus for two nights. If I don’t put back exactly where he had it, he will tell Murtagh about the journal, Vidar’s escape. It will be a mess.”

“Just put it back, before Hakon–” Fiachra was interrupted.

“Ah, Fiachra and Kinvara, hello,” Hakon said. He had long black hair braided down his back. He had blue spirals drawn under his eyes. “Did you read the tales of Sidhe like I suggested?”

Fiachra nodded. Hakon continued, “It’s not over until the Sidhe’s harp is played. Keep your spirits up, my boy.” Hakon said quickly and moved on to the other scribes. Things were changing. Kinvara could feel it. Murtagh was planning something outside of the normal Brehon Courts. It was a slow time of the year. Planting was done. The last of the winds were blowing through. Craftsmen stocked up on weaponry, leather goods, pottery before the wars began. It would come each year, as it always did. Some Chieftains would get the itch and blood would be shed over power, greed, trade, and bad harvests. Kinvara sat back on her stool next to Fiachra and began to examine the scrolls before her. She needed to be discreet. Hakon used to be one of Conn’s chief poets until a disagreement sent him on a boat out of the Kingdom and into Murtagh’s open arms.


 

Kinvara was curled up in front of a fire in the small hut she shared with Aoibheann and Fiachra. After the Winter Solstice, Biorn moved from their hut to large fortress at the center of the ancient stone ring fortress. He now shared what Aonghus and Murtagh shared, he was a son waiting for his kingdom to be realized, one day at a time. He forgot everything, even how to be a jerk, which was a blessing. Kinvara watched from afar as Biorn’s debut as the lost O’Flaherty child stole the final piece of home from Fiachra. With every smile, every dinner they were included in, Fiachra became angry. The smoldering sulk painted his face with pain. Fiachra was dead to Biorn. He was a piece of dead skin that blew away in the breeze.

Kinvara was puzzled, something wasn’t adding up from the notes in Conn’s Journal. She gathered up the papers and snuck out of the hut. Aoibheann was sleeping but not peaceful. A tiptoe out of place would draw her wrath. Kinvara crept around the table and chairs in the shifting light from the fireplace. She grabbed an unlit torch from the wall and a few biscuits from the basket on the table. It was not easy living here. She felt trapped, every movement was monitored since they joined the O’Flaherty clan. They were not clan members like the other faces they met in town or at the lavish parties Murtagh organized on the islands to show the prosperity of the clan driven out by Galway and Limerick. They were aliens, dangerous to the balance. They could feel the Tearlag seeping from the pores of the exile. Darkness pervaded their world even under a new sky.

She pondered this as she walked out of the fort and into the open land of the island. She wandered down the docks that floated in the ocean below. She could see his form even from the top of the cliffs. He risked a lot to meet them here. If only Fiachra wouldn’t screw this up.


 

Aoibheann sighed when Kinvara left. Finally she was alone. She sat up and got out of bed. If she hurried, she could get down to the dungeon before the guard did his midnight rounds. She wrapped herself in a shawl and tied up her hair. She smeared some dark paste on face and mimicked the makeup of the druid priests. She pulled up the shawl and pinned it into a hood. She would get somewhere with them tonight. Kinvara thought she was so wise by examining the scrolls. She wasn’t going to learn anything. Not every Chieftain laid his secrets out on a page. Something deeper was hidden in this place.

 

Chapter 87: No One to Share My Joy With

Udal Cuain

Geamhain, Day 625, Kingdom Innis Aran of Murtagh O’Flaherty (823 A.D.)

Aoibheann strolled hand in hand with Aonghus around the fortress courtyard, she loved this feeling. Everyone stared at her, she was the love of the heir to the kingdom. Her eyes glowed.

“What are you thinking about, Bean?” Aonghus asked, his voice smooth like a caramel. So different from the men she grew up around. Her father’s voice was rough and jarring from years of shouting over the clash of spears. Biorn’s was abrasive with a hint of anger. Riagan’s was raspy and congested from years of treating his body like the whipping post of a prisoner in chains.

“My world has changed, rapidly. I didn’t think I would see you again and then you show up on Searbh with your swords and your spears. I thought you were going to kill us. Now, I’m wearing your mother’s necklace and I’m living in this peaceful place that is untouchable from the darkness of the O’Connors. I am so happy yet terrified that I cannot share this joy with my family or friends. But really, does it matter? Maybe I’m naive for thinking my joy must shared with others for it to matter,” Aoibheann said.

“I know you are concerned about your parents. It was a deal that was brokered long before I realized who they were. They were sold to Asger, but as warriors, they should survive. He cares for those who are worthy to carry his shield. If they serve out their sentence, they will be freed,” Aonghus replied. “My father knows they were but instruments in an orchestra of schemes far bigger than themselves.”

“I guess so. Kinvara doesn’t see it that way. She’s changed,” Aoibheann said with a pout. Aonghus stopped walking and pulled her in for a hug.

“First of all, Kinvara is cold and I think too hard on you,” Aonghus said. “But from what you said Kinvara has always been old for her age.”

“Cranky is a better way to describe it,” Aoibheann commented.

“Yes, she is a cranky old hag trapped in an eighteen-year-old’s body,” Aonghus said. “She doesn’t get it, Bean. She has her idea of the world and we have ours. We can be happy in spite of her,” Aonghus smiled at her and waited for her to speak.

Aoibheann hung her head and sighed, “You’re right…it’s just hard.”

“It will get easier soon. I’ll be there with you at every step,” Aonghus said. Bells rang out from the center of the fortress. “Shoot, I’m late. Will you meet me after these meetings?”

“Yes, love,” Aoibheann said. Aonghus smiled and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Stay strong, you can do this,” Aonghus said and hurried off to the docks.

It was the day they inspected the fleet and he patrolled the parameter. He would be on the boats for two sleeps. Now Aoibheann was stuck with a bunch of sour slugs.

Fiachra was on a whole new level of annoying. He embodied his parents from head to toe, he was abrasive, strung out on blue lotus from the market. His eyes were rabid with a guilt that raged like a hungry dog. Kinvara took hits from his blue lotus pipe. She worshiped at the shrines of the gods and danced each night under the moon for the faeries to come. She was guarded, rough like the rocks that flowed down from the cliffs to the endless blue water of the North Atlantic.

In recent weeks, Aoibheann took to feeding the prisoners and exploring the many caves of the island. She sat in on the Brehon Court when there was room, but it was dull and her brain felt like it was melting.

Kinvara sat and took notes like she understood what these druids and fili were arguing about. Fiachra would stand, arms crossed and glaring at Biorn, only to take breaks to watch her. He was so weird. She wished Murtagh left him on Searbh to starve. To think she was interested in Fiachra and Biorn during the year on Searbh. The thought of them now made her want to melt into the floor. Biorn was a pathetic little rat. He contorted his body to climb through whatever door he could find. He was nothing like Aonghus.

Kinvara made her way through the courtyard, notebook in hand. She scribbled with charcoal as many symbols as she could before her meeting with the scribes began. She wanted to learn this new writing system the Christian monks were using. Small symbols that moved horizontally across the paper instead of vertically on a line like her native Ogham. It was hard to fathom that they transcribed thousands of scrolls this way from here to Byzantium. The Nordic Runes Vidar taught her made sense, they were multidimensional in meaning and you could write a message quickly into any surface. They were lasted, like Ogham, but intricate. There was feeling and drama in each symbol. Her mind was deep in thought when she tripped into Aoibheann, dragging her charcoal down Aoibheann’s dress.

“You slug, pay attention! Ugh, this is going to take hours to wash out. I only have the one!” Aoibheann screamed.

“I’m sorry, I tripped. I didn’t mean-” Kinvara began. “I’m finishing up an assignment for the scribes.” She looked at Aoibheann’s boiling rage.

“You only think about yourself. You and Fiachra and Biorn, you guys are obsessed with yourselves and you think you need to matter,” Aoibheann said.

“I’m not. I am going to get our parents back and save Saoirse and Riagan. I put them here, I will get them out. Now I have to go,” Kinvara protested. “We’ve been over this, Aoibheann.” Kinvara sighed.

“Yeah everyday, you airhead. Stop taking hits off Fiachra’s hash and deal with your guilt,” Aoibheann said. “Act like the adult you’re supposed to be so I can quit worrying about you and be happy.”

“Aoibheann, you can’t marry him. We have to get out of here and leave all of this behind.”

“Kinvara, where are we going to go?” Aoibheann asked. This was the stupidest thing she had heard.

“I don’t know Aoibheann…somewhere with light,” Kinvara answered.

“What light? What are you talking about?” Aoibheann demanded. She glared at her.

“Can’t you feel the oppression? It’s everywhere. Anywhere Tearlag can sail, the oppression will come. We need to go, as far as the horizon. Then we will be safe,” Kinvara said.

“No, we need to stand and fight. Kill the witch,” Aoibheann said. “You’ve lost your fire, Kinvara. Eamon fell in love with the girl who knew who she wanted. You listened to the faeries and saved us from exile. So what if Saoirse and Riagan die? As long as our parents survive, that is all that matters to me. Saoirse and Riagan did a terrible thing.”

“Don’t say that to Fiachra,” Kinvara said. “I don’t think they are as bad as we believe.”

“You’re full of it,” Aoibheann said.

“No I’m not, I’m having dreams, Aoibheann. I’m reading that journal and seeing into the past. There’s something deeper going on,” Kinvara said. “So is Fiachra. He’s having nightmares. You would know if you would talk to him.”

“No- no just stop right there. Fiachra has issues. Have you seen the way he looks at me?” Aoibheann cried.

“He’s in love with you. He’s watched you swoon over Biorn and now you’re engaged to Aonghus. He was going to tell you and then Murtagh came and brought us here. His heart is smashed on all sides. Biorn has turned his back on him for Aonghus and Murtagh. He has no one now. His parents are going to be executed unless we help them,” Kinvara said.

“I don’t, no. I didn’t encourage him. You can’t make me feel bad for a love I don’t feel for him. I’m happy and I’m not letting you ruin that for me,” Aoibheann said. “You have an extra dress. I’m wearing it until you wash this out. I’ll see you later.”

Kinvara knelt down to pick up her charcoal and screamed into the ground. She screamed for every moment these people were stealing from her. She wanted her life back with Eamon. She screamed for the hope Vidar gave her until he took it and left. Why couldn’t she and Aoibheann get along? Why was there this heaviness in her chest in this place? She could feel this presence looming over her, pulling her back into a darkness she could not understand. Her dreams were nightmares. A woman with ice blonde hair haunted them. Who was she? The bells rang out and Kinvara ran. She was late.

Chapter 86: Sunrise Comes

Udal Cuain

Geamhain, Day 625, Innis Aran of Chieftain Murtagh (823 AD)

Lanterns brushed the dips and peaks of the Dun Aonghasa fortress with a blushing light in the sunrise. Aonghus and Biorn sipped on their tea while Murtagh cooked eggs and thick strips of bacon in a pan on the fire.

He wasn’t a bad person, Biorn thought, even though Fiachra had filled his mind with the tales of Murtagh the Manic. A madman scorned by the loss of his wife, Murtagh took the O’Flaherty clan from the peace sea-trading nation driven from the lands of Shannon to the rocky spits of land on the edge of Galway. He sent his navies up and down the coast, blocking Galway and Limerick in, making them weak. Stealing their life blood, only to let the O’Sullivan’s up from Munster to sail past Conn’s gaze. To remind Conn of every betrayal his clan allowed: the raid into Shannon, the failed marriage alliance, the Viking settlers who took Shannon’s land as their own. Conn and Tearlag, the snakes, would pay for his betrayal, the traders said. One day Innis Aran would take his world away from him.

Instead of taking their meals with the other Brehon Court members in the dining room, Murtagh and his sons had taken to hiking to the east-facing cliffs to watch the splendor of the sun climbing the mountains of Benbulben in the distant horizon.

“Are they coming to breakfast?” Chieftain Murtagh asked. His mustache and beard twitched when he spoke. It was slightly gray, speckled like the light beams that filter through the trees and dance on the ground.

Biorn shrugged, “Aoibheann said she would come.”

“I wish they would participate in our customs, they took an oath to join the O’Flaherty family,” Aonghus said. “They don’t look at us. They avoid conversation in meals. In the court, they sulk in the back. I don’t trust them, Biorn. Have you told them about Saoirse and Riagan’s trial?” Aonghus asked Biorn, and poured their father a cup of tea. “How much time is left on the rashers, Da?”

“Till their sizzle turns to a pop. Give it until the sun peaks above the mountain.” Murtagh said. He had tattoos on his hands, a rune on each knuckle. Biorn had noticed them several times now and wanted to ask but he was scared. His voice was choked down in his throat, this island was his home. He could have lived here with his brother and his Da and Mum if Riagan and Saoirse hadn’t killed Ciannait and kidnapped him to be their child.

How pathetic were they? They hated each other so much they couldn’t bare to have a real child? Was Fiachra their son or did they steal him too? Each time he thought about it, his brain surged like the rising breakers of the ocean. His feelings piled up in the back of his mind, higher and higher they rose and hissed, sucking all the energy into their curves before they rushed and crashed into the sides of his skull, drowning him in sadness. Would he ever be the normal kid? Even as a reunited son he still felt the weight of the time he lost. Aonghus and Murtagh have a bond, they have memories. Aonghus learned under the greatest naval commander of their time. Biorn couldn’t match that. He would be average. A loser.

“Biorn?” Murtagh asked. “Did you tell Fiachra and the girls about the trial?”

“No Murta- I mean Da,” Biorn corrected. “Da, no I don’t know anything about the trial. When can we execute those murderous kidnappers?”

“Patience Biorn, I’ve been waiting a very long time for this, but trust me I cannot wait either,” Murtagh said. Sunlight splashed over the mountains, painting the ocean in a golden shimmer. “First, we must bring them before the clan. In five days, we will bring them out of the dungeon and put them in the tower in the center of town. From there they will be held until the trial is finished. We will bring the Druids from the shrine to read their blood. We will mix it with the sacred stone and will burn it with the sage and the bark of the rowan tree. If the smoke burns orange, their souls will judged as guilty. If the smoke burn blue, their hearts are pure.”

“What will happen if the smoke burns orange?” Biorn asked.

“Their wrists will be tied together and they will be thrown off the highest cliff. From there they will hang until their arms are pulled from their sockets and they die of hunger and thirst. There they will hang until the birds will pick their bones cleans as a reminder of what happens when you cross the kingdom of Innis Aran,” Aonghus said.

A figure appeared in the distance, bright red hair shining in the early morning sun. Aoibheann’s eyes were wide, she tried to recover but she could feel the heat of embarrassment on her face. She knew this was a bad idea to come but she kept walking.

“Good morning, Aonghus. Chieftain…. um, hi Biorn,” Aoibheann sat down next to Aonghus. “That smells delicious.”

“I’m glad you joined us, Aoibheann.” Murtagh smiled. “You are our family now. Have you two set a date?” he asked as he passed Aoibheann a plate of food.

“We decided on the summer solstice, I believe?” Aoibheann looked at Aonghus and her fear melted away. He said those awful things but he wouldn’t actually kill her parents too, right? I mean they could be miles away by now. They could have escaped Asger and be piloting a boat with an army to save Saoirse and Riagan. Maybe they were attacking Galway right now and burning Tearlag’s kingdom to the ground!

“Yes, summer solstice will be wonderful,” Aonghus put his arm around her and Biorn balled up his fist.

“That will be lovely. Absolutely lovely. What joy has come back to our family. My lost son and a new daughter. Ciannait would be overjoyed if she were here,” Murtagh said. He looked at all of them. “No evil that the O’Connors and MacManus have done will last forever. Love is stronger, it can bring anything back that once was lost.”