822 AD, Eilmi, Galway of the O’Connors (Day 332 of Exile)
Tearlag, Dowager Chieftainess of Galway looked down her nose from her favorite chair, her throne. It was ornate, wooden, carved from an aspen tree. It’s color cool and pale, like Tearlag’s skin. Her hair, snowy brown, dusting the ends and the length of her long hair. Her face was round, welcoming, her eyes, calculating yet bright. She looked like a Mum, not the stone cold strategist that she was. She looked just like a woman, aged sixty years, ripe with wisdom and experience of how to live. This was her favorite chair, it was her mother’s chair. When she sat in it, Tearlag could feel the presence of her mother, Annag.
Annag had been a beautiful woman, serene. A mother of five living in chaos, yet peaceful in her mind. Tearlag’s childhood had been complex. A daughter of the Chieftain of Limerick. The daughter of Cahal, the lion of Munster. A rough warrior who had gone toe to toe with the waves of Vikings who had invaded and made peace with the Northmen to live together. He had left a legacy, a real legacy. A legacy that she carried out, defending, and managing Limerick after his passing. A legacy she hungered for, from the time she was a little girl, watching her father train his warriors from the courtyard.
When she sat in this chair she felt the power of their legacy, their memory, inspire her to be more. Achieve more. Push herself, her husband, and her sons for something better. She had pushed. Pushed and pushed and pushed, her husband into a corner. He was so pushed, he refused to listen, and so he had been a failure, in Tearlag’s eyes. Conn had left not a legacy in sight, except a frustrated wife and two floundering sons. Tearlag had been steering the ship, from the day she was born, and she was growing tired of steering a boat of empty heads. She could not stand the level of laziness of those around her, the level of stupidity. It was mind numbing!
“Have you two thought of a plan? Has he thought of a plan?” Tearlag asked, her words well thought through and serious. Her mind focused on getting answers. She sat up straighter, and relaxed back in her chair with proper posture. Being correct, precise, was as necessary to Tearlag as the water that she drank, and the food she consumed.
“What do you mean by a plan, Tearlag?” Roisin asked with her big annoying doe eyes. Roisin was an asset to Tearlag when she actually showed up with her brain, on the days she wanted to rely on floating through life on a cloud, Tearlag wanted to tear her to bits.
“Dowager Tearlag. Dowager, that means I am no longer in charge, I gave my throne to my children. And I am still waiting for someone to take my place. It is pathetic. Riagan, wasted my time. And so we got rid of him, allowed our Seamus to get a crack at it. Brynhildr refused to come back. You and Seamus are the only hope. So what are Seamus’ plans for the clan? It will soon be Winter, we need to prepare for the next year. Deal with the livestock, prepare for Imbolc in the coming months. What is he thinking?”
“Well…we haven’t really talked. I’m pretty um, sleepy with being with child. Do you remember how tired it makes you–” Roisin was chopped off, the excuses blocked from flowing further. Her doe eyes trembled.
“Yes I remember, I also remember myself and Saoirse muscling through our own pregnancies. I don’t believe we slowed down for a minute, so you my dear have no sympathy from me. It is laziness on your own part. You are five months in, wait for the last months, you will not be able to move with that attitude. It is a hard road to be a mother, but to let it run you into the ground. You must be mentally strong, and I don’t see that within you. Saoirse was mentally strong.” Tearlag said. “Like my mother and father.”
“I thought you hated Saoirse?” Roisin asked, confused.
“No, I am tough on her, for her own good. She can make a man, out of the boy Riagan still holds out to be. If she can seize the moment, she can transform him and herself.” Tearlag said. “People are made from their circumstances. By the manner in which they choose to piece together their life, and the way in which they move past their hardships. My father told me that when I was nine. My sisters did not heed that advice. And they have amounted to nothing.”
“My older sister, appeared strong, she had her own path to take. She refused the marriages my father arranged, and ran off with the sister of the man, she was supposed to marry. She and her lover, are now exiled from both lands and they live as poor, beggars. They are black marked from the Chieftains of Munster and Connacht for their treachery to their Chieftains. She could have played that many different ways, but bull headedly she chose the most destructive, instead of lucrative. Now she may be happy, but I doubt they can when they have left a wake of chaos behind them that continues to follow their steps. It was foolish to betray our father and her lover’s father. She did not consider anything beyond her emotional needs. You do not succeed, if you are slave to your appetites, and if you feed on self-destruction. I never got to see her happy, to see what she hoped to gain for her choice to abandon us all. It all crumbled around her. It still pains me, how she left. Do not be foolish like her, Roisin. Don’t let Seamus be like her. I hope Saoirse allows my grandson Fiachra to become her. He is cut from the same cloth as my sister.
My next oldest sister, let faith and honor overtake her choices. She was a faithful student of our fili and our Druid priests. She became a zealot. She wanted to be like the monks of Christianity, but Druidism doesn’t have monks. She could not find satisfaction in anything, but the constant stimulus of religion. She refused any help from our parents, she refused to think about our clan, and she sought after the highest honor. I her mind. She wanted to bring favor to our clan from the gods, in the most stupid way possible. At Samhain, she volunteered to be a sacrifice to the gods, to ensure a new year would come full of blessing. So what, she gave us at most a year? She sacrificed her mind and soul, for a year. What did she think was so valuable about gaining favor for another year? We do the same thing by sacrificing a portion of the harvest. Big deal. The pain she inflicted on my parents, on my sisters and myself, ensured for us, the coming year would be our worst.
She was a zealot, narrow minded and selfish above all. I pray no one in our line follows in her footsteps. The religious believe, their sacrifice of their souls will do more good than anyone else, yet they incur the most pain on others when they attempt to practice what they have been preached. Don’t fall prey to such lofty heights.
My next oldest sister was quick-witted, impulsive. She was a flash of lightning. She would not be contained by anyone or anything. I remember admiring her, when I was young. She hungered for a different life from the ones of our family, and our clan. She was intrigued, eclipsed by the Vikings, my father had settled with. When they left on their summer raid, she went with them. She was in love with a young warrior. In love with the adrenaline. The high of it. She was a waste of potential. She traded her clan, for the side my father fought against and bargained with. She is happy I am sure, or she died a good death. But she will never feel the peace one has with unsettled matters, broken ties and family wounds of betrayal. She, I fear lives in the hearts of my grandsons, Vidar and Biorn. I can see in their eyes they are restless, hungry for something Galway, and now Riagan, cannot give them. They will leave. I know it. I hope they make wiser exits than my sister.
My eldest, was the prime candidate for a large alliance marriage. She was to carry on the legacy of my father, Cahal. She would be our rallying point. Our fire, guiding our way towards a more powerful clan. She was too fond of a local boy, a second cousin of Carrick. She became pregnant at 15, right at the time of her coming out, the beginning of my father’s plan to secure her a powerful marriage. She dashed my father and mother’s hopes. She let her birthright go. She was weak. Weak to her appetites, capricious to love and to chase after pleasure. She is just like Riagan. I despise it. She messed up and ruined her chances for what she was born to do. She chucked her fate to rule Limerick’s destiny and I caught it.. I married Conn and gave the alliance, my father needed. Limerick is under Galway’s control because of me. I did everything right!
I saved Cahal’s legacy, my clan’s legacy. Limerick’s legacy. I kept it going. I shaped Conn and my boys. I led this kingdom. And I will not let you, nor Saoirse, nor Riagan, nor Seamus destroy my legacy. My hard work. No one would care about Galway, if I had not put my soul into building its sphere of influence. I made Galway as great as Limerick. Riagan spun through his chances, and we have rid of him. Now it is Seamus’ turn to impress me, and preserve my legacy forever. So my dear, what is your plan?” Tearlag asked.
A simple question.
“I don’t know Dowager Tearlag.” Roisin whispered.
“I’d recommend you go figure that out. Riagan will not stay, at bay for long. Don’t be foolish. Now go!” Tearlag dismissed her. Roisin skittered out, red faced and embarrassed. She shut the door with a quiet, uncertain slam.
Tearlag relaxed back in her chair, felt the smoothness of the wood, and laughed. Not maniacally nor psychotically. She chuckled. Chuckled at the lot at her feet. It was forty years later, and she was still the only one who had any ambition. What a funny, funny, joke life had played on her.