Chapter 8: Annag’s Chair

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.  

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Chapter 7: Saoirse’s Panic

Day 329, Eilmi, Island of Searbh (822 AD)

 

“Fiachra this venison is excellent.” Riagan boasted, “Did everyone see the size of the stag he brought down?” He raised his cup “Cheers to my son.” .

“Aoibheann got the better shot.” Fiachra said, lifting his cup for Aoibheann.

The table followed, “Slainte” echoed throughout the room. Kinvara raised her glass half heartedly, she had no feeling, no sense of appreciation for the meal. She had harvested a great deal on her forage with Vidar, yet no one cared about her effort. Why should she care about Fiachra or Aoibheann’s ability to shoot an animal in the chest with an arrow? It was nonsense. Utter nonsense. What would these people do if the deer left? How would they survive? It irritated her. Yet she tucked into the meat, and it was delicious. Melt in your mouth delicious. Another dilemma.

“I think we should praise the cook on whoever made this deer so delicious.” Kinvara squeaked out.

“Thank you.” Saoirse said, caught off guard by the source. Kinvara had not said a word to her, before this moment. Saoirse scarcely recognized the voice as Kinvara’s.

“To Mum.” Fiachra raised his cup.

“To Saoirse.” Brighid raised her cup with the rest of the table.

“Wait!” Aoibheann said, “And to Kinvara and Vidar who gathered the greens. Slainte!” Kinvara blushed and mouthed a “thank-you” to her sister. Aoibheann nodded.

The table fell silent. The fake pleasantries outliving their welcome. The tense table went back to normal. Kinvara breathed a sigh of relief. She hated the big show Saoirse, Riagan and Fiachra put on every night. Like they all liked each other. What a sham!

But true desires shone through quickly. Eating took precedence over anything else. Many minutes of chewing, cutting, tearing, drinking followed without a word. Carrick looked at Riagan, who cleared his throat and broke the silence.

“As you all know, we are running thin, on everything. This hunt will keep us going a while longer, but we need to find a new way to take care of our needs. We need supplies. Now I know, before anyone jumps on me.” He looked at Saoirse. “I know we can forage, which yes if we get too low, of course Kinvara, and my nephew Vidar, can forage away.” Riagan shoved the subject away.

Kinvara reddened and looked at her plate.

“But I think, it is smarter to foster ties with the Aran Islands. To get on their trade route and become independent from Galway. So we can be strong for when we take it back. Do we have any disagreement?” Riagan asked. He looked around the room. Kinvara looked distant, scared, closed off. What an odd girl.

“I don’t understand why you need to go now. We have survived this long, we can figure it out without Murtagh or his island. I don’t think we should go! Your mother certainly ruined that connection for us.” Saoirse said.

“We won’t last more than a month without him, in the current manner you like to live.” Riagan said with condescension. They stared at each other, locked in misery. 

“No, we won’t! Kinvara and Vidar can forage. We will fish deeper waters. And explore the forest. It will be fine. I have it all worked out, it will be fine! Bringing Murtagh into this mess will only make it worse.” Saoirse argued. “Don’t put us in more danger than we already are!”

“Saoirse, I really don’t think it will be that bad. We need a source of raw materials, regardless of whether we utilize this island and what it has to offer.” Carrick said.

“Saoirse, why is it such a problem to go?” Biorn asked.

“Murtagh can’t be trusted!” Saoirse said.

“No Murtagh can be trusted.” Riagan said. “You are paranoid.”

“Yes, I’m so paranoid.” Saoirse asked sarcastically.

“What do you have against Murtagh?” Fiachra asked.

“Hey isn’t that where I’m from?” Biorn interjected. Riagan and Saoirse turned to glare at Biorn. 

“Shut up, you idiot!” Fiachra whisper yelled at Biorn.

Silence blanketed the group again. Sensing this had become another family matter. Kinvara and Aoibheann excused themselves. The useless bickering between Saoirse and Riagan, made the perfect backdrop for an undetected getaway. Not even their parents noticed, for they were already involved.

“Here we go again.” Aoibheann whined once outside of earshot, standing by the hearth of the stove of the kitchen. She warmed her hands and kept walking out the kitchen to the knobbly staircase. Kinvara followed behind.

“I don’t understand why we are here to fight their battle. I see no benefit in helping those monsters with without brains.” Kinvara muttered.

“They’re not monsters. How can you call them that? You think they are monsters but I think they were dealt a terrible lot in life.” Aoibheann was in outrage.

“I think they have let their circumstances turn them into monsters. But what do I know? You are more compassionate than me.” Kinvara said, “And you love Biorn.”

“No. I am his friend.” Aoibheann said with offense. She hated when Kinvara described her. Cut her right to the core of the situation with her cold, calculated words. Drunk with deductions but in thirst of emotions.

“Sure, you are his great friend.” Kinvara said dryly. Aoibheann rolled her eyes and walked away from Kinvara. Back down the stairs, down to the kitchen.

“Where are you going?” Kinvara asked, she stopped climbing and ducked out of the way. Aoibheann stomped down the stairs, not caring if she bumped into her older sister or not.

“I’m going to wait out in the kitchen for Biorn.” Aoibheann said. “Because I have compassion for others.”

The words stung, yet Kinvara did not understand why they did. She was simply stating facts, but there was more. Something more she could not grasp. She stood on the steps and tried to deduce her meaning, but it would not come, and so she walked up to the top. To the roof, to her place of safety.

The boys started to yell at each other, in the absence of Riagan and Saoirse’s words. They continued to yell until Brighid wrangled the conversation from them. “It is not for you three to decide. It is your business but it is not yours to decide. Now eat or leave. But you better not say another word!” Daggers sat poised to shoot in Brighid’s eyes as she spoke to the boys.

The fire, in the hearth, popped and cracked. Saoirse jumped. 

“I’d actually like them to stay.” Riagan said.

“Why?” Saoirse asked, not ready to give up yet.

“Because I want to take them with me.” Riagan said, “Carrick pointed out how I haven’t made an attempt to teach these boys anything. Brynhildr asked me to help her teach her son how to be a ruler, a warrior. And this would be a grand opportunity to teach how to sail. How to be diplomatic and curry favor with your allies. The big stuff.”

“No this would not be a good time to do that! Think of the context. You could be turned out on your heads, boats burned and sinking, if you take all three You could be killed!.” Saoirse said. Riagan rolled his eyes.

“Will you ever trust me to do right again? I am not my mother!” Riagan sighed, “I am trying to do a good thing this time, let me be a responsible man!”

“No this is too dangerous, for us all.” Saoirse said,

“What if Riagan takes one of the boys?” Carrick asked.

“That’s not a bad idea.” Brighid said, Saoirse turned in shock at Brighid’s words.

“I thought you were on my side!” Saoirse exclaimed.

“I am! I think this is the right idea.” Brighid said.

“You know nothing!” Saoirse insisted.

“I know plenty.” Brighid said, “taking one, will not harm anything.” Saoirse said nothing. She crossed her arms and sulked in her chair. Alone in her own misery.

“Alright I will take Vidar.” Riagan said.

“No you will take Fiachra. He is your son. He should go.” Saoirse said. “You favor Vidar, and that is wrong.”

“Fine.” Riagan said, rolling his eyes. Fiachra looked excited. Vidar was deflated and Biorn was scorned. The boys finished eating and left. But the mood did not improve.

Saoirse sat at the table, twirling her hair. Worrying. Anxiety was taking hold. Until she exploded. “Why would you all do a stupid thing! You are going to kill us all with this ridiculous scheme. No one should go to Innis Aran!” Saoirse stormed out. 

Saoirse let her mind carry her out of the room, her feet were just along for the ride. She saw nothing that passed before her, nothing about the floor or the walls or the doorway registered in her brain.  Her emotions were flooding her body. They were taking over. And her hatred. And her resentment. And her failure. Her bone crushing failure, at the only job she had ever tried to do. To be a good person. All of it swallowed her up, the emotions swallowed her up. And her mind stopped, it was frozen in panic. Her feet stopped, stuck to the floor, in the kitchen. The possibility of Tearlag destroying them all. She couldn’t lose to her. She couldn’t lose the one this one freedom she now had. Everything else had crumbled. This could not crumble. She knew she was standing in the kitchen, in the house on Searbh, on an island, in the sea. Five hours west of Galway. Her beloved home. And it was steady. The ground beneath her feet was steady. Her mind would not accept that. It said no. Nothing will be steady. You are going to be crushed by everything around you. You are being shook, the floor is unsteady. You legs will not stand, they will not be sturdy, they are going to be as limp as seaweed.

Saoirse felt dizzy, she needed to get out. She needed to run, from this voice in her mind, that was telling her she ruined everything. That she had failed. Let down herself. Her friends, her husband, her parents. She ran, and she tumbled like a baby goat using its legs for the first time. She panicked more. She breathed heavy, choking on her breath. It felt like her lungs could not take in the air, she began to panic about her breathing, her lungs. Her mind was trying to kill her. She ran, reached the door in the kitchen and ran, until she collapsed in the sand. And she lay there.

She lay still. Still in the sand. Face down in the sand. It felt wet and cool by the darkness of the night and its shadows. She was still, and only her five senses exists. She focused on the sand beneath her. The world slowed its spin in her eyes, it became steady. She rolled over to her back, it was too hard to breathe. Her lungs felt heavy, like she was drowning in the sand. She looked at the stars above her in the sky, the small puffs of gray clouds, that drifted past the sky. She listened to the waves crashing and lapping at the beach. Sucking in and blowing out with angry growls. Her muscles relaxed, her vision focused, Her breath easing, lungs filling without hesitation. She took a deep breath in and let it out slowly, while holding her hand to her stomach. She repeated this a few times until she believed she was okay. She sat up slowly and acclimating. She stood up slowly and brushed the sand from her dress. She walked towards the door and went back inside.  

At the table, Saoirse had left a wake of questions that Riagan, was not willing to answer. He shooed away his sons, until to share anything of his mistakes with them. He verbally pushed them out. And sat with his friends waiting, hoping she would come back in. Hoping she would stop accusing him of things he could not change.

“Do you think I am making another mistake?” Riagan asked.

“No.” Carrick said.

“Time will tell.” Brighid answered.

Sandy and pale, Saoirse stood at the doorway. Looking at the group at the table. Leaning. Tired. Sad.

Chapter 6: The Hunt

Day 329, Eilmi, Island of Searbh (822 AD)

 

Food was scarce on the island and the empty pantry walls were gathering dust. They were down to scavenging for naturally growing mushrooms and herbs and fishing for whatever they could find. The cod was good for now, but the shellfish supply was dwindling. A good hunt was imperative. Riagan feared what would happen if he failed. Would they stay with him another time?  He could not fathom letting his friends and family down again. He decided the best idea was for the young to hunt while the rest hung back to keep up with the daily grind and to forage.

Aoibheann was excited for a chance to give the boys a run for their money. She had a personal bet going with Biorn: loser had to kiss the other? It seemed silly. Kinvara wasn’t interested in learning more. When Aoibheann bragged about it, Kinvara stopped listening. Aoibheann’s adventures were so cliche, it was painful. Kinvara wondered when Aoibheann would move on from Biorn and reach out of her comfort zone. Try something new. Kinvara always had to.  That morning, early before the dawn, Kinvara began her meditation on her end goal. To finish the hunt. To take her mark and kill the prey for the good of the group. To sustain them. She held this in her mind as she tangled her tawny curls into a tight top knot. She tied a band around her head to fend off the wispy wild hairs back from her face. Aoibheann looked relaxed, chattering away about her bow. Her red hair was slicked back into a braid. She looked like one of those sketches in the scrolls, of the Greco-Roman goddess Athena. She was a natural. A fantastic shot. She relished the opportunity to try her hand at demonstrating her skills with a bow, unlike Kinvara.  Da said Aoibheann was the spitting image of their mother with a bow.

Kinvara hoped the blood of Brighid would be in her veins too. She had always shied away from the hunt. She hated mornings and the cold of the dark sky, before the sun awoke again. She loved the quiet, but despised the play to be performed in front of her.The raw violence. The act of taking an animal’s life, no matter how hungry she was for its meat, made her stomach turn. The moment of watching the life fade from the small eyes staring back at her, the drowsy state of the wounded animal collapsing into a long endless nap, crushed her. She was sure, somewhere, deep down, that it crushed a small piece of the souls who would be hunting with her, but they sure didn’t show it. They remained relaxed.  Respectful, but relaxed. It was their job to do, and so they did it. What a wonderful feeling that must be. She couldn’t turn her mind off enough to be relaxed or focused. She was a shaking archer, quavering with her internal struggle of her heart.

They stepped into the woods, bows on their arms, supplies strapped to their backs. Ready for a long day of waiting. That was the worst part, the waiting. It wasn’t a quiet waiting. It was filled with interruptions. It was unpleasant. Kinvara mused as they walked, maybe she would like hunting alone.

Searbh’s island was oblong. A rocky and sand filled border kept the ocean at bay and a myriad of ridges, forests, and bogs lay ahead. At the center of the forest, a pool was anchored, and at the base of it, a waterfall spilling over the side the ridge. Kinvara loved that pool. Many days when she and Aoibheann were sent off to gather water, they would sit and relax on the water’s edge. It stood in the middle of a clearing, and the sun kissed the water and the rocky slabs that surrounded it. On warmer days, they would climb to the top of the waterfall and slide down its face into the water below. It was one of the few activities to be had on Searbh. A small freedom from the doom and gloom in which Kinvara was planted. Sometimes the boys would come and race down the waterfall with them but Kinvara preferred when they stayed away. They made her feel self-conscious and clumsy. She would usually scrape her knee on a rock if the boys were there.

She hoped this day would pass by in a rapid pace. The moment of the kill would be the worst portion, but that would be over quickly. What she knew would drag on would be the hunt. The stalking of prey with the boys and Aoibheann. A silent prison for Kinvara. To be stuck in a tree waiting for an animal to pass by with one of the boys would paralyze her wit. It would be a long day of staring at her shoes, wishing she had the charisma of her sister. Being painfully awkward and silent, even though her mind would be unquiet.

Aoibheann was both beautifully delicate and radiant in personality. She was the most likeable person Kinvara had encountered in Galway. She was most certainly the most pleasant being on Searbh. Kinvara knew her depth of social exuberance would carry Aoibheann to a day of fun and laughter. Kinvara, like usual, would be on the outside looking in. Hopefully in her own tree.

Up in a tree, on the outskirts of the pool, Kinvara sat. Alone. Comfortable. Fiachra, the boss, or so he believed himself to be, laid out orders. They would begin here, around the water source, in trees, creating a flank. They would split, half looking in one direction towards the lodge, the rest looking in the other direction, the empty uninhabited side of the island. New morning light peeked out from the sky. A rosy pink sky changing to blue, a blue changing to a bright golden rays of the sun. Kinvara pulled out her small book of paper and charcoal, and waited for a hunter’s inspiration to take hold of her hand. She silently looked at the trees around her. Ten yards away, Vidar sat, chin slumped on his knee. His face was pensive. His eyes, pondering, calculating, something. Seven yards behind her, Fiachra sat, patiently waiting. He looked like he enjoyed the quiet, the alone time. He was known to disappear often during the day, Kinvara wondered if this is where he came to hide with his own thoughts. Twenty yards away she could hear her sister’s voice.  She was giggling and talking to Biorn. What ease she had to converse with people. Kinvara had been sitting here for hours, and still she had not a word to share with either Vidar nor Fiachra. The bough she sat upon was particularly scratchy, she could feel the rough bark poke through the fabric of the trousers she wore. They were old and beginning to show their wear. She shivered, it was a cold December morning. Her shivering shook the branch. Fiachra and Vidar glared at her and turned back to their post. Fiachra raised his bow, Vidar mirroring his image. A red stag, she saw, wandered in between the trees, rubbing his antlers on the small, spindly trunks. It was a good shot, Aoibheann would say. She hated this part. Kinvara did not like this. Not at all. Kinvara got up to adjust her perch, when her pants caught. She pulled against them and the branches groaned. She let out squeal, the fabric on the back of her knee split open.  She was shaking from her thoughts screaming out to run away from the impending act of violence and the cold air enveloping her leg. Now, the chills would really come.  The cold air seeped in the hole of the wool spun trousers. She cursed the curmudgeon of a branch. The stag raised it’s head and ran off, away from their line of trees, back into the camouflage of the forest.

“Oy. Keep it down, you’re scaring the deer.”  Vidar yelled.

“Yes. I’m sorry, it was an accident.” Kinvara said apologetically.

“I don’t care, keep quiet so we can get this done  Geez, you’re the quiet girl, I thought you would be a natural at this.” Fiachra said.

“So it’s fine if my sister makes noise, being a flirt with your brother, but if I make a noise you have a problem with it? Because I’m the quiet girl?” Kinvara was in an outrage, and she was freezing and edgy.

“He’s not my brother!” Fiachra whisper yelled at Kinvara.

“I’m not the quiet girl!” Kinvara yelled for real. Her voice echoed over to Aoibheann and Biorn. 

“I know.  You’re the weird girl.” Biorn shot from across the trees.

“Plus, Aoibheann didn’t cost us a shot, you did. You never open your mouth and the one time you choose to do so, it’s in the middle of hunting? Do you care about eating or not?” Fiachra asked, he had a smug condescension to his voice that made Kinvara shut down. No words could come out. Her mouth lost its use, and she retreated into her mind. “Say something quiet girl.” Fiachra taunted.

They laughed as Kinvara climbed down and walked away embarrassed, and wishing she had stayed inside her bed until the warm sun’s rays had greeted her face. No one laughed at her in her dreams.

Her feet carried her up the ridge to the top of the mountain, where the waterfall began. The sound of the water rushing down the ridge, the birds chirping in the noon sun. It was a soothing balm to her ears. It drowned out the sounds of the laughter and the bullheaded tone of Fiachra’s voice. Fiachra the raven. The mocking raven, laughing at the world. What gave Fiachra the right to laugh at her? Why did he think he was better than her, because he was simply louder? He was definitely louder. A mocking loud. An aggressive loudness, that stifled her. He was a verbal brute, she decided. An awful brute, who was desperately pleading for his father’s attention. The raven waiting to pick at the bones of small, and the scraps of his father.

She let her mind spin out of control, until it stopped spinning. Her mind slowed down, and she breathed in the day. The fresh air of the afternoon breathing calm into the distress of morning. She was furious at Fiachra and Biorn, yet she no longer had to watch nor kill a deer. Nor a hare, nor a stoat, nor the adorable puffin. She despised puffin hunts. They were too innocent to her, to beautiful to kill for food. Yet she loved to eat meat. It was a dilemma that deeply tug at Kinvara’s soul. Her life was full of these problems, that no one else seemed to perceive.

Nothing was simple in Kinvara’s mind. Everything had a greater purpose, a greater meaning, that her mind pushed her to discover. She had to know the source. Nothing could just be, and she desperately wanted to just be. To be still in mind and body. Just exist. No thoughts. Just life.

She sat next to the waterfall, legs crossed, eyes open, and stared at the sky above her. She liked being close to the sky. The closer to the sky the better. When she was close to the ground, she felt the weight of her mind, her thoughts. The disappoint she felt in herself, for possessing a quiet awkward nature. But the sky never judged her, nor did the trees. She sat there, in quiet, until her legs fell asleep. Until she felt apart from her body.

She reached into her pack for her water, and the small biscuits she had found in the kitchen. She had planned to forage later. Her Grand Da had taught her to forage. To find food around her, so no matter how lean the winter may be, she would never go hungry. But that would require moving, so she pushed it off a bit longer. Until her stomach would growl and tear at her middle, demanding to be fed. Her stomach was the loudest part of her, she thought, it was the most violent, the biggest source of her dilemmas.

She heard small pebbles tumble, a slosh and sloop of mud. Footsteps in the mud. A blonde shock of hair stuck up, rounding the arc of the summit, of the ridge she sat upon. She jumped to her feet, angry to be interrupted by such an imbecile, who stepped loudly. Why did these people have to make so much noise, like they were bestowing great honor on others by the sound of their noise.

“What are…what are you doing here?” Kinvara squeaked the words out. She was upset, it choked the words from her throat. She smoothed her pants and shirt, and began to fuss with her hair. Running her hand over the top and tugging at the small hairs falling to the nape of her neck. She did this quite often. Her hands needed a purpose or her mind would be too distracted to form words. It was an awful habit, that she couldn’t break.

“Why do you like high things?” Vidar asked. “I never see you on the ground, it’s always somewhere high, where  you choose to sulk.”

“I’m not sulking. And it deters people like you from bothering me.” Kinvara said. “Usually.”

Vidar reached the top and fell down, tired, panting for air. “Well, here I am, so it didn’t work this time.”

“Why did you come up here?” Kinvara asked again, she felt self-conscious. Exposed to have Vidar in  her space. The ridge was a lone task to climb, she had never been up here before with someone else, let alone a decently handsome boy…if she could excuse his attitude.

“I came to see if you were okay. Fiachra was kind of harsh. It’s his thing. I’m used to it, but you’re not. So I came to see if you were okay.” Vidar said, looking up at Kinvara from his back. He was still panting a little. He looked deeper at her, than ever before, she could feel it. She could feel him look at her, see her for the first time. She blushed and looked away, his eye contact made her feel awkward. It was too deep, too intense. She wanted to be seen, sometimes, but not studied. That’s what she did. She liked to study others. Maybe she should stop because it felt awful.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Glad to be done…hunting. I hate it.” Kinvara said haphazardly, jumbled. “Um, did get, did you get anything?”

“Me?” Vidar asked. “No I missed every shot, but Fiachra and Biorn got two deer, and your sister got that big stag Fee accused you of scaring off. So basically Fee’s full of crap. You did nothing wrong. He was being a bully. ” Vidar said.

“Trying to make people like him?” Kinvara asked with her back turned.

“Something like that.” Vidar said. “Biorn was fit to be tied that your sister outshot him.”

“Yeah they have a bet.” Kinvara laughed timidly. She tugged at her sleeve.

Vidar stretched out and relaxed, He wasn’t so bad. He seemed nice. Maybe his Mum, Brynhildr raised him to be different from the other boys in the family. And he wasn’t bad looking. His blonde hair dazzled in the sunlight. His voice was pleasant to listen to. He was genuine, she respected that. “How did you know I was here?” Kinvara asked.

“I saw you from the trees. Cool spot.” Vidar asked.

Kinvara turned around and looked at him, a small timid smile stretched across her mouth. “Are you hungry?” she asked. He nodded.

“Where’s your food? All I see is the flask?” Vidar asked.

“We’ll go find it.” Kinvara said. “There’s food everywhere in this ridge, waiting to be found, if you want to look for it. It’s fun.” Her awkward facade crumbled a little bit. She was distracted, slightly comfortable. It was good. She set off in search of hidden snacks. She rambled down the ridge.  A confused yet intrigued Vidar followed behind, mesmerized the by the fount of being emerging from the silent creature he only saw before. Who is this girl? Why does she demand to be hidden from view? He watched her like a skiddish deer, as she went about her business, finding them food. She was happily employed, and spouting off small details about food and her family. She was kinda cute when she wasn’t hiding.

Chapter 5: Brighid and Carrick

Day 328, Eilmi, Island of Searbh (822 AD)

 

 

Brighid finished her recount and looked at her husband. It had been a long day. Saoirse was not doing well. Riagan’s news of leaving to get help on Innis Aran had broken some strings in her mind. She was broken by her fear. Stuck in a terrible mess of anger and anxiety. Brighid also guessed guilt. Saoirse wouldn’t come out and say it, but there was something hiding behind her words. A topic she was unable to speak of. It made for an uncomfortable day of laundry washing. Stuck in the kitchen, scrubbing at clothing and linens, Brighid was saddled with the task of accepting Saoirse’s emotions. They were overflowing. For once, Saoirse wasn’t trying to hide what was battling in her mind. She was letting it go. And it was quite difficult to listen to. Not even Brighid’s girls. Kinvara and Aoibheann were willing to come into the kitchen while they washed. Brighid saw them hear Saoirse’s complaints from outside the door and turn away, wide-eyed and a little scared. It was the first thing Kinvara and Aoibheann had agreed on since they left Galway. Her girls were not being her girls here. It was worrisome. 

Now stuck in her own web of worries, Brighid looked at Carrick, her love. His skin glowed in the moonlight, reflecting off of the sea. She waited while Carrick took her words in and she looked out at the beach before them. Thankfully, he could not read her mind or there would be too much to sift through. So many things to be concerned about. She missed the simplicity of their old life. Sitting by the water, hand in her husband’s hand. She loved sitting by the water after the sun set. She loved the slight salty coolness of the breeze wafting from the water. The reflection of the moon. The faint light of the stars sparkling on the waves. It was her favorite backdrop, whether she was on a boat, sailing to a new adventure, or was sitting on a rocky edge with her husband. The battlefield became quiet at night. She could let down her hair and her mind, and relax. All her responsibilities took a break. She relaxed her shoulders and neck. She had been tense lately. She didn’t like it.

“Riagan wasn’t exaggerating when he told us Saoirse would freak out. But I don’t know what to do for them. We have to go. We’re running out of food, out of tools. We have no way to grow our own food. It’s precarious.” Carrick said.

“Even more precarious than Saoirse’s state of mind? She is so fragile. I’ve never seen a person that fragile before. I was afraid the wrong words or the wrong look would break her to bits. It was like talking to Kinvara on one of her bad days. It scared me for Kinvara.” Brighid said.

“Kinvara is fine, she is just different from the others. But she will find her way. I wish Aoibheann would help her along more. Coming here has only grown her obsession with Biorn. I don’t like that at all!” Carrick said. “She doesn’t need a boy, she needs to finish growing herself. She is wasting her time.”

“Don’t be so hard on her, she’s in love. We acted so foolish when we were young and falling in love. It’s a surprise Conn didn’t expel us from his ranks.” Brighid laughed and smiled at her husband.

“Should I stop Riagan from going?” Carrick asked earnestly. He held her hand and stroked the top of it softly.

“I just don’t know.” Brighid sighed. “I’m so worried about Saoirse.  My dear Saoirse, who used to be independent and strong, is so weak.”

“She is beaten down.” Carrick said.

“More than I ever realized. Do I protect her, or do we push forward and take care of our needs, and our kids’ needs?” Brighid asked. “Neither feels right to me. I hate choosing between the people I love. She needs me so much.  Saoirse has finally opened up to me again. After all those years of pain, and pinched smiles, she is finally open about all the nasty bits of court life that I know she regrets choosing. There was such a large crevasse between us for seventeen years. She looked at me with sadness and envy. Envious of my path, because she was unable to choose her path in life.  And then she came to me that day, and begged us to come with them. To leave Galway, and she has looked at me again, like she used to. Like she wants me in her life again. I don’t want her to shut me out again. Who will she have?”

“I don’t know.” Carrick said, softly.

“But I can see my daughters need me, and you need me too. Kinvara looks lost and scared all the time.  I’m letting her down.” Brighid said.

“You’re not letting her down. You’re letting her breathe, I’m telling you, Brighid, Kinvara is going to surprise us all. There is so much going on behind her face, she is bound for greatness. She is too intelligent not to be. We have to give her time. Focus on Aoibheann before does something stupid with Biorn. I will not put up with her wasting away on this island with Biorn.  Nor will I stand for Riagan and Saoirse allowing Fiachra, Vidar, and Biorn to become nothing. Just because they have lost their Kingdom does not mean they have lost themselves. They still have their lives ahead of them. I want all of them to keep fighting, just like I want Aoibheann to be something! They are all so young to give up on living life for more than food and sleep.” Carrick said, working himself into a frenzy.

“I’ll talk to her love.” Brighid said, grabbing his hand tighter. “I will. Aoibheann’s having a hard time, without her friends. She and Aoife were inseperable, now who knows if she will see her friend again.”

“Riagan wants them to hunt this week.  Maybe you could get them ready, work with Kinvara especially and talk to Aoibheann about Biorn. I can’t do it, it’s too strange to bring up.” Carrick said and Brighid nodded.

“Why can’t you help me with training Kinvara to shoot?” Brighid asked. “You communicate with Kinvara better. I don’t teach her they way she needs, I just upset her.”

“Don’t bark orders at her. You’re not in an army anymore.” Carrick smiled. “Plus Riagan wants me to help him do a once-over on the boat, make it safe for the journey, or I’d help you my love.” Carrick said.

“Do you really want to go back there?” Brighid asked, looking at Carrick.

“No, and I really don’t want to go there with Riagan. The place is haunted by the transgressions of the past.” Carrick said with far off eyes. “And Tearlag ruined that island for us too.” Carrick kissed his wife’s hand he held.

“The place we got married is now the rotting corpse of Tearlag’s legacy.” Brighid said.

“And Murtagh has no idea. I hate it.” Carrick said. Brighid snuggled into Carrick’s shoulder.

“Me too, love. Me too.” Brighid said and looked out at the dark horizon. Tonight it was melancholy, not magical.

Chapter 4: Riagan’s Plan

Day 327,  Eilmi, Island of Searbh (822 AD)

 

Riagan sat in his small library. His shelves filled the scrolls and manuscripts he could fit in his arms the day they left. It felt right that his Da’s books were here. Conn built this library specifically for this purpose. A retreat from his life, the drama, the stress. This was going to be the place he had dreamed of spending his last days with his wife, growing old with Tearlag.

That was not going to happen anymore. Conn was dead. The Kingdom of Galway was running into the ground. And he was here. On this little island, looking back out at the bay, the bay that kissed the shores of his homeland. But he wasn’t welcome there now. Was it still his homeland? He sighed and brought his thoughts back to the present to his son, nephew, and adopted son. They were asking him questions, looking at him like he was stupid.

“Boys, leave us,” Riagan said. He was sitting in his library, his room to think and plan, surrounded by his sons and Carrick. They had been discussing their hunting schedule. The traps were not yielding much meat. Either they needed to go hunting in groups, or find a new source of food and fur. They desperately needed a new source of wool and pottery. A trip to the Aran Islands seemed inevitable. Their supplies, meager at best, had lasted almost a full year. Now it was time to restock.

“Da, how are we ever to lead if you prevent us from learning?” Fiachra asked.

“He wants us to be men, but kicks us out when there are important things to discuss,” Biorn muttered under his breath

“Come on, it is not worth it, he will just yell,” Vidar pushed his cousins out of the room. He knew this was the way it was, why couldn’t Fiachra and Biorn accept it. Riagan didn’t care to teach them. He never had and never would. Uncle Seamus had tried. Saoirse picked up the slack. But their father Riagan treated them like they were in the way.

“Why do you guys put up a struggle? My Da doesn’t care,” Fiachra asked.

“He should care,” Biorn said.

“But he doesn’t, get it through your head,” Fiachra said. Biorn scowled. Vidar sighed.

“Come on Biorn, Fiachra’s pontificating again,” Vidar said.

“I’m not, it’s just the truth, Vidar. You and Biorn act like there’s an ideal world out there, and we need to seize it. It’s not out there. Da is a spiteful snake. Our family bond is a joke, accept it and move on.” Fiachra said. “You’re not my brother.”

“No.” Vidar said. “He is your brother. Don’t treat him like he has nothing.”

“Whatever. I’m going to the woods. Don’t follow me.” Fiachra said and took off. Vidar and Biorn stood, arms crossed, glaring at Fiachra.

Once the room was clear, Carrick wasted little time, pouncing on Riagan. He was disgusted with Riagan’s lack of direction. They were about to starve! Something had to be done. He couldn’t just hide away and mourn the loss of his kingdom. He had a new island to rule together.  He knew the situation was complicated, but his time on Searbh had opened his eyes to the depravity that lay in the midst of Riagan’s family life. It lay like a large trench separating the members from true connection. They existed as aliens to one another — what a sad life to live. 

Carrick could not imagine his life as one chess game after the next. He and Brighid grew up in homes where family had been an ever present reminder that love existed in its purest form, when it is bestowed unconditionally. He strived with his own daughters, to show them they were loved, everyday the same, no matter what they did. Carrick wondered if Riagan had ever felt that way.

Carrick broke the silence. “You can’t dismiss them like servants. You need to teach your sons how to be men, to be the Chieftains and warriors they are destined to be. They have every right to be disdainful of you. That was appalling.” Carrick rebuked Riagan after the boys shut the door.

“Oh don’t start with me.” Riagan said as he poured himself a glass of poitin. They were down to their final bottles. He needed to restock his shelf more than anything. Poitin kept him balanced, kept his doubts far back in the hidden parts of his mind. Without a drink, he was scared of where his mind would go.

“They are 16 and 17 years old.” Carrick said, “And they know little about life. Except for the way to cut someone down with words, or how to mope around!”

“Enough!” Riagan yelled. “Do you want some or do you want me to drink the whole bottle?” Carrick stopped and Riagan put down the bottle.

“But you need to teach them and figure out how we are going to survive. It’s time to step up.” Carrick said, holding his ground. He picked up the bottle, and poured himself a shot.

“I don’t know how to move forward. All I do is destroy, and fight, and disappoint. I destroy it all. I feel like I’m one fight from destroying Saoirse. I hate myself for that.” The bottle shook in Riagan’s hand.

“Saoirse is not destroyed.” Brighid said, flatly. “Neither are you.”

Riagan took another drink. He hated how jumbled his mind was. Like he couldn’t think clearly since they boarded the boat and watched Galway float away. He held the drink to his head and spoke. “We need supplies. We need to stay focused, I know. I’m trying.” Riagan paused to think. “How should we get those supplies? Do we trap? Do we go back to Galway? Do we trade on the coast with the Vikings? Do we go to Limerick and see if Hrokr and my sister will help us? I’m not even sure if Brynhildr knows or if she is on Tearlag’s side. Limerick could turn into an ambush. Or do we go to Aran?”

Carrick sat silent for a while contemplating. “Well, we have to go to Aran regardless. Murtagh’s our only hope of getting anywhere. We can’t be sustainable on this island without the help of someone. I think we need Murtagh.”

“I hate that option.” Riagan said, “I don’t want him lording it over me.”

“Murtagh doesn’t do that.” Brighid said.  

“Saoirse is going to hate me for this.” Riagan said. Riagan looked at Brighid forlorn. Brighid was the only person on the island who seemed to comfort Saoirse. Riagan missed that role. He wanted to be who she needed. Not the person who caused her pain.

“She will get over it. She will see the sense in it.” Brighid said.

“I don’t know…” Riagan spoke again. Quietly, as if he forgot they were there.

“Maybe? Our last trip to the Aran Islands was not our finest moment.” Riagan said. “I haven’t seen Murtagh in such a long time. There is too much bad blood there, thanks to Mum.”

“No, I’d think not. Not with Ciannait, dying.” Carrick said. “Were Saoirse and Ciannait close?” 

“Aye.” Riagan nodded. “Brynhildr too. The three of them were inseparable.”

Carrick took another drink. “This is not going to be easy.”

“No, it broke her heart the day Ciannait died. A little piece of her spirit left that day.” Riagan said. He looked at the floor.

After dinner he broke the news to Saoirse. He waited for the wee hours of the night, after all was asleep. He thought if she was tired, maybe Saoirse would avoid a fight. Kill him with silence instead. Or maybe he could kiss his way out of her crosshairs. Any trick he was willing to try, but he’d have to lay on the charm thick.

He came up behind Saoirse and wrapped his arms around her waist. Kissing her ear, “You look so beautiful tonight.” Riagan said.

“Um thanks?” Saoirse dubiously. Riagan seemed weird to her. Rehearsed, like he was reading from a mental script.

“No really, you look glowing in the lantern light. Stunning.” He leaned in for a kiss, and kissed her deeply. He could feel her relax. This was good.

“Love, I need to talk to you about something.” Riagan said.

“Okay?” Saoirse snuggled into his chest to listen. Her guards were down, exactly what Riagan wanted.

“We’re running out of food and necessities. It’s getting concerning to be honest. Carrick suggested we go to Aran.” Riagan took no time to scurry to a defense. “Now, before you get upset, think about our situation. We can’t last much longer, we have to go to survive. There’s no other option. We’ll starve!” Riagan urged.

“Are you kidding me? Is that why you were so affectionate? To soften me up? No!” She pushed Riagan away. “You can’t go back there. I am not dealing with Murtagh!” Saoirse said with pent-up aggression. “You’re not going back to Innis Aran!”

“It will be a short trip, get the supplies and get out. Carrick can handle it all if it would make you feel better?” Riagan offered.

“No, it would not make me feel better! The only thing that would make me feel better, would be you not going at all.” Saoirse yelled, with the wounds open. She felt the intensity of her broken heart return by the thought of Riagan diving back into the past. Aran was not a safe place for them. It was their place of destruction.

“Why are you attacking me? I have apologized for that, for what Tearlag did! Stop living in the past!” Riagan yelled.

“I’m not living in the past! All her mistakes exist right in front of my face! How can I forgive and forget!” Saoirse yelled back.

“Hey, I didn’t choose my family. She is my Mum, I am stuck with her.” Riagan spat the words at Saoirse. .

“No! But I wish you would choose to make something better out of the life you were given,” Saoirse asked with determined, burning eyes.

“I’m going to Aran, with Carrick and maybe some of the younger ones.” Riagan sneered. “You can stay here with Brighid, and pout.” Riagan winked, as he left the room. The charm failed. He would be sleeping in a hammock in the hall for another night. What a surprise.

It tore at Riagan that Saoirse refused to let the past go. Yes, he screwed up, but he had helped his Mum and brother do a bad thing. But he stayed true to his promise not to repeat his mistakes again, in sixteen years. He had been clean, for the most part. It was so hard not to get caught up in Tearlag’s schemes. It came with the territory, Riagan thought as he settled into his canvas hammock, hanging by the small fireplace of the hall.

Tearlag had said, the O’Connors were stuck with Conn, because Conn’s parents failed to provide the clan with a wide selection of Chieftain candidates. He was not suited to be Chieftain, he would have been a better philosopher poet instead. She refused to repeat Conn’s parents’ mistakes. She wanted a legacy. She was going to mold her boys into the best. Exploit any weaknesses. She would seize the power she could find. Galway and the surrounding Kingdoms needed it. And Riagan would give her that legacy. He was the chosen son. He could not let the clan down. It had been more important than Saoirse. It had been his fate.

 

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