Sacred Seasons

Dumhain, Year 778, Kingdom of Galway

In this, my seventeenth year, I will compile the research from my travels. I have no time to spare. This is the first year I will marry at the Yul festival, under the Winter Solstice sky. It has been five moons since my father, Chieftain Aedh, was injured in battle at the outskirts of Limerick. He has made a miraculous recovery. The Gods have spared me from destruction. He was injured saving me. It was a fruitless battle I am embarrassed to have participated in. We lost so many good men in Cahal’s conquest of the Kingdom of Shannon. There are bigger worries afoot, but he insists that we grow Limerick to a wide girth and fill the land with the new MacManus clan, the hybrid Viking-Irish clan. He believes if we become one with them, they will not destroy us, like they did to the Kingdoms of Leinster. It is a trying time I am entering, for my wife will be Cahal’s daughter. I will be a permanent vassal to the MacManus agenda. This is not how my father, Aedh, taught me to live. He said to listen for the Sidhe to come, the faeries, the messengers of the Gods. We are the keepers of their land, and we will rule how they see fit. We cannot stray from this, or we will be destroyed. With this fear I am determined to cling to the old ways before they go away. I see attacks to our culture on every front. Tearlag does not see it this way, but maybe when she can sit in the quiet of Galway, away from the bellowing of her father, Cahal, she will hear the Sidhe herself, and she will know why this matters so much. 

 

Notes from my travels to the Druid shrines, untouched by the monastery missionaries and Viking settlements. Three doorways of the Sidhe were studied —  

 

— Arch of Hawthorn Grove, Kingdom of Galway.

— Lough Gur Stone Circle, Kingdom of Limerick.

— Serpents Den, Kingdom of Innis Aran.

 

Lunar Calendar used at the sites, based on thirteen full moons. The Roman monks say the year begins after Yul, but they are not listening to the land. They are reading from a timeline in their manuscripts. They are trying to put their calendar on top of ours. Smashing our festivals in the name of theirs. I am afraid we will lose the natural rhythm of our land. The Tuatha de Danaan created this calendar because the land told them how to do it.

Samhain Festival — 24 hours before the new moon, a portal for the dead and the Gods to come stay in our homes. Remain awake for 24 hours, feast and sacrifice to the Gods, to bring a new year and not bring destruction. This is a delicate time. If the Gods are displeased, the world will be swallowed up by the horned monster. Darkness will never end. Bring in sacred fires from the Sidhe portal shrines for protection. 

Yul – Winter Solstice, celebrate the coming light. 

Imbolc — New moon of Uarain, bring the lambs into pasture. Sacrifice milk to the ground for a good harvest. Sacrifice to the Goddess Brighid for fertility. 

Ostera — Spring Solstice, celebrate coming fertility of Spring

Beltaine — New moon Siúfainn, lead livestock past fires for protection to new pastures. Wear crowns of flowers, animal skins and dress in a celebration of nature. Dance around the Beltaine pole to bring good fortune to the harvest. This brings the season of new light and warmth until the end of the year. 

Etain — Summer solstice, a sacred fire to honor the light and longest days. 

Lughnasadh — honor the God, Lugh, with games and matchmaking. Beginning of the harvest season. Sacrifice first harvests to the Gods. Handle legal disputes before the end of the year. Handfasting trial marriages for the clan. 

Waning of the Goddess — Fall equinox, the waning of the Grain God and the Water Goddess. Harvest sacrifices to bring good luck for Samhain and the coming year and dark season. 

 

Samhain                  Harvest                October/November

Dumhainn              Darkness              November/December

Riúr                          Frost                     December/January

Naghaid                  Home                    January/February

Uarain                      Ice                        February/March

Cuithe                      Winds                  March/April

Geamhain              Shoots-Show        April/May

Siúfainn                Brightness             May/June

Eacha                     Horses                   June/July

Eilmí                      Many Fences        July/August

Aodhrain              Arbitration           August/September

Cadal                     Song                       September/October

The Origins of Ogham, the tree language of our people and the Tuatha de Danaan. Each moon has a sacred tree, each tree has a letter to our language. And most importantly, it is connected, all the three, the skies, the seasons, the trees, and the words we speak. There is no separation. Because of this I drew a wheel to keep this idea in mind for the future generations. The monks have brought a Latin language to us that has opened the door for learning, but threatens to bring our Ogham lines to their death. The Viking Runes, from the settlers, have been scratched upon by our Ogham lines in stone and wood. I will not lose this language in the name of change. If we forget how to speak the language of our trees, we will lose the connection to the Sidhe. The portals to the other world will seize up, the Druids told me. We are in danger of being abandoned by our creators, left in a foreign land on our own soil. Our identity is at stake. Guard this language, fight for it. 

 

 

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Chapter 39: Conn’s Journal

Day 393, Cadal, Isle of Searbh (822 AD)

Kinvara followed Fiachra into the study. She carried a lantern. Carefully, she walked over the raised threshold and down into the sunken room. It was mid-afternoon, yet it was dark as night. Another storm had taken up residence in the bay and had sat above Searbh for days. It had blown in from the Southwest, from the direction of Innis Aran. Nature was rebelling, something was off. Kinvara offered a sacrifice to the Gods every morning, she pleaded for the faeries to come back and explain.

Kinvara had a lump in her throat since the storms started. The faeries told her the destruction was coming. The voice told her she needed to help, that she had a job to do, but Kinvara didn’t know what that job was. The faeries had not returned. What if it was too late? The Tuatha de Danaan were not patient nor were they tame. If they wanted to wipe out the population, they could. She could die here, and that’s not what Kinvara wanted. She wanted to go home. She wanted to see Vidar, Aoife, and maybe Eamon again. She wanted to see her parents again, even her sister. Kinvara held this secret worry in her heart as there was no sense to worry Fiachra with it. He was excited. Fiachra was happy to leave on the boat his father was building. To Munster they would go, and he was aching to leave. He told Kinvara that it would be his own adventure with his father, he told Kinvara. It would be something Biorn could never take from him. It would be special. Kinvara did not ask if she was invited. If the answer was no, she would rather be surprised.

In his jovial state, bored from days of wind and rain, and filled with built up energy, Fiachra led Kinvara into the study. Into Conn’s study. The library was a room cut off from Kinvara until this point. It was Riagan’s retreat and Saoirse’s hospital when she went crazy on mushrooms. It was anything but a library. When they arrived on Searbh, this room held great possibilities to Kinvara. The Chieftain’s library! It was a treasure, a place with greater literature than Kinvara had access to before. Brighid and Carrick captured many books in battles and conquered towns. They had raided old monasteries, abandoned by the rising Viking population on the west coat of Ireland. Brighid and Carrick saved the books and brought them back to Galway, to their cottage back in Galway’s farmland. These books, relics from their many battles in the Galway army, inspired her. She was drawn to knowledge, and the mysteries of the shrine. Before the day her parents came home in a frenzy, the day of exile, Kinvara was going to start as an apprentice at the Shrine of the Stone Circles, on the hill of above Galway’s village. Kinvara and her friend, Aoife, were going to leave their homes and live in the tree houses above the stone circles on the top of the hill. For a year she would live as a constant pupil and then, when Lughnasadh came, she was going to marry Eamon. She had her whole life planned out, and then it was smashed. Smashed to bits. The library had been her only consolation prize. She had hoped she could learn and stay on track until they returned to Galway. But as life goes, none of her plans happened.

Fiachra nudged her and Kinvara left her reverie. She raised the lantern and hung it on a hook above the bookshelves. Kinvara stood in silence looking at the shelves, filled to the brims. “Grand-Da Conn liked words, and books. This is one of three libraries that were his. The other two are in Galway, one in the fortress and one in the abandoned monastery between Galway and Limerick. Did you ever go there? It was open to the public.” Fiachra asked.

Kinvara shook her head, “No. My parents kept up from the border. It wasn’t safe with the uprising.”

“Right.” Fiachra said. “Well, what book did Vidar say?”

Kinvara looked at the note again. “Norse Sagas.” Fiachra scanned the shelves for the book. Kinvara stood back and watched.

“You can touch the books, my Grand-Da would have welcomed you in here.” Fiachra said.

“Yes, but will Riagan? He has been looking at me like I am a Morrigan out to destroy him.” Kinvara said and walked closer to the books.

“He is paranoid. Grand-Mum Tearlag has severed his nerves.” Fiachra said dryly. “He will cool off in time or he will stay a miserable man forever.” Fiachra stopped and changed the subject. “The longer this takes, the more you will have to help me with Aoibheann.”

“Help you with what?” Kinvara asked, annoyed. “I told you how to impress her and what she wants.”

“You told me two things. I need to know how she thinks, how to outshine Biorn once and for all. I need ideas.” Fiachra said and Kinvara rolled her eyes.

“Once we leave, you will realize she is just a girl, an ordinary girl with flaws and terrible mood swings,” Kinvara said.

“Every girl has that, it doesn’t change how I will feel about her.” Fiachra said. “Does being here change how you feel about Eamon?” Fiachra asked Kinvara.

Kinvara looked at the floor. “I don’t know. I think I still love him.”

“But do you like my cousin, Vidar?” Fiachra asked.

“I don’t know.” Kinvara answered, “I think we are friends, but maybe we are not?”

“I found it.” Fiachra said. He pulled the book off the shelf. It was a large manuscript with a leather cover. Burned into the leather were the words ‘Norse Sagas.’ Fiachra recognized Conn’s handwriting. “This must be a book he wrote himself.”

“What do you mean?” Kinvara asked.

“Grand-Da Conn, before he became a ruling Chieftain, traveled to Limerick and Shannon to hear the stories of Viking settlers. The myths and the tales, before the stories were combined with ours. Before their language was lost to a pidgin of our language and theirs. It was a passion of his. He loved language and stories. He wanted to preserve everything. He saw how Ireland was changing again. He saw the monasteries declining. So many stories were lost when the monks came to convert us that Grand-Da Conn refused to let that happen again. Grand-Mum Tearlag thought he was obsessive and ridiculous, but I think it was noble.” Fiachra said.

“How many books did he write?” Kinvara asked.

“I don’t know, I didn’t ask. That was kind of dumb of me.” Fiachra said. “I had the time to ask. He only died a year ago. I guess it’s more than a year now, Samhain is three weeks away. I hope he comes back to visit us. I need his guidance, if he knows we are here.” Fiachra lamented.

“He will know. He is in the afterlife, the Gods will tell him. They know we are here, I sacrifice to them everyday.” Kinvara said.

“You are better than my parents. They ignore the calendar of the Gods, the four seasons, the solstices, everything. I’ve began to wonder if the Gods know we exist anymore.” Fiachra said. Kinvara thought about what the faeries had said, but decided not to speak up. Fiachra could easily turn on her. She didn’t want that. She needed another friend if Vidar would be gone until Samhain. The silence was numbing here in her abandonment. The quiet and lonely days no longer soothed her mourning heart. She was not satisfied by herself. She needed a purpose, a group of people to work with.

“Should we open it?” Fiachra asked and Kinvara nodded. Fiachra opened the dusty pages.

“Year 811 of our people. Galway of the O’Connors. The winter solstice….” Fiachra read. “This is not the right book, I think this is his journal.”

Kinvara looked puzzled. “Is there another book? ‘Norse Myths’ maybe?”

Fiachra scanned the shelves again. “No. Only this.” He opened the book again to a page with sparkling ink. He read from the page and a voice took over his own.

“Conn left this according to our instruction. He knew this day would come and, you Fiachra, would need the help of the Tuatha de Danaan to fight the evil living in the Kingdoms of the West. The faeries will show what you need. Kinvara is the chosen warrior of the faeries. Go to the waterfall pool the day before Samhain, at dawn, and we will show you the portal, the way your teachers will teach you. Your fates have been chosen many years before this moment. You each have a calling from the Gods that will be fulfilled. You will serve the Gods and save the people we choose to save.” The voice stopped and a breeze blew the book closed.

Fiachra opened the book again and Conn’s journal was back in its normal form. Fiachra flipped through the pages and the sparkling ink was gone. It was just a journal, from the last ten years of his grandfather’s reign. Fiachra looked at Kinvara. She was not phased by the voice, she was calm.

“You’ve heard the voice before?” Fiachra asked.

Kinvara nodded. “Several times.”

“What do they want with you?” Fiachra asked.

“I don’t know yet.” Kinvara said. “The faeries only tell you what they want to say. They don’t answer questions.”

“Why would they want me?” Fiachra asked. Kinvara shrugged. Fiachra held on to the journal, “I think I should keep it.”

Kinvara nodded. “Please say something.” Fiachra said.

“I think something very strange is happening, and I’m scared.” Kinvara said.

“Strange how?” Fiachra asked.

“Destruction. Destruction of all of us.” Kinvara said. Fiachra sat down in his father’s chair and took a drink. He handed it to Kinvara and she did the same.

“I really need them to come back.” Kinvara said. Fiachra reached out his hand and squeezed hers.

“They will.” Fiachra said.

 

 

Chapter 38: The Boat from Shannon

Day 389, Cadal, Innis Aran of Chieftain Murtagh of the O’Flahertys (822 AD)

 

“Where are you all from?” Vidar asked. “The crest looks so familiar,” He asked an ice blonde girl named Gyda. She steered the rudder as he spoke.

Vidar had found the small crew docked at a harbor outpost on Inishmaan. Once a bustling port with the monastery, it had been abandoned two hundred years ago. He and Carrick wandered across the island, looking for food and water on the rocky landscape in a drizzling mist of rain. Gyda and her crew members, Iona and Barra, were passing through, they said, to trade at Dun Aonghasa. Their boat was loaded up with grain barrels and sacks of wool.

“From Shannon, the little region on the far end of Limerick. We were wiped out by Galway 80 years ago. Chieftain Aedh O’Connor and his men took our land, our boats, our libraries and shrines. Nothing is left but a rocky quarry on the sea.” Gyda answered.

“Why do you fly the colors then?” Vidar asked.

“Earl Hrokr told us to, we are servants of Limerick. I have lived as a refugee in Limerick my whole life. We serve the MacManus in exchange for our land to be given back to us. Someday. ” Iona said. She stood nearby listening to their conversation. Barra stood farther away talking to Brighid and Carrick. He was older than Vidar by at least ten years. He should have been leading the crew, but Gyda stood firm on running the boat. She and Iona worked in sync with one another. They resembled each other, not in features, but in how they carried themselves, and how methodically they worked. He could tell they had known each other a long time.

“Earl Hrokr is my father, Chieftainness Brynhildr is my mother.” Vidar answered, his mind was flooded with happiness at the sound of their names and a crushing homesickness for the sight of their faces.

“You are Vidar MacManus? Do you remember me?” Gyda asked. She looked at Iona and smiled.

“Do you remember me?” Iona asked, joining the conversation for real this time.

Vidar looked at them, studying their features and the sound of their voices. He thought deeply and searched his mind for significance. “Did you used to play on the docks?” He asked, grasping for something, his memories were fuzzy of Limerick.

“We did everyday. Do you remember doing flips off the docks with us?” Iona asked. “I hit my elbow off the edge. Look! I still have the scar!” Iona rolled up her shirt. He traced his fingers over the raised bump, the remnant of the gash he remembered clearly.

“I can’t believe it’s you! I thought I would never see you again!” Vidar exclaimed and reached out his arms for a hug.

“You never came back from the trip from Galway, we were so sad. No one would tell us what happened. Your mother cried so much, we thought you were dead.” Gyda answered, looking at her old friend. So much different from the freckled boy she used to know. He was tall and lanky, with strawberry blonde scruff on his face. He had tattoos on his hands and a resting scowl. He looked unhappy, impatient to be free to live the way he wanted.

“No, I was never dead, things became complicated. More complicated than I could ever understand.” Vidar said with melancholy and resentment.

“You have a sister.” Iona said.

“A sister.” Vidar repeated.

“She’s five years old.” Gyda said.

“What’s her name?” Vidar asked.

“Aisling.” Iona said, fighting to stay in the conversation.

“How do you know all this?” Vidar asked.

“We sail in Brynhildr-” Gyda corrected, “Your mother’s crew. We’re on a trade mission for her now.”

“Can you take me to her?” Vidar asked. “Please,” his eyes welled with tears, he was too stunned by this chance to care.

Gyda and Iona were stunned. “Don’t you need to stay with them?” Gyda asked.

“They’ll be okay. I need to see my family. Make some things right.” Vidar said. “They’ll do alright without me.” Vidar said. “Do you have any paper or ink?” Gyda and Iona shook their heads. Vidar took a moment and thought. “I’ll be right back, there’s something  I need to take care of.”

“We’ll have time in port! What are you doing?” Iona asked as Vidar walked down the length of the boat towards Aoibheann.

He reached into his pocket, he had a shaving of bark he had been saving. He grabbed the dark piece of rock he had found on Inishmaan and quickly wrote a message in Ogham. Lines and dashes, a language he knew Kinvara would understand. He handed it to Aoibheann and told her to give it to her sister.

“Please Aoibheann, be kind with this one. You will only hurt yourself if you continue to be mean to Kinvara for sport.” Vidar said. Aoibheann made a face and whined to Biorn. Biorn laughed.

“Why do you need Aoibheann to give her a message?” Biorn asked, “You fall in love with those ones already?” Biorn pointed at Gyda and Iona.

“No, Biorn, I have not. They are old friends.” Vidar answered. He walked back to Gyda and Iona. He let the sea breeze invigorate him as they came into harbor. He was going home. He felt neither guilt nor doubt, he needed to go back there. They could help his Uncle Riagan and all of Searbh. Nothing would make a greater difference than this.

 

 

Chapter 37: To Inishmore

Day 389, Cadal, Innis Aran of Chieftain Murtagh O’Flaherty (822 AD)

Aoibheann laid her head on Biorn’s shoulder in the small beehive monastery hut. She and Biorn sat around a fire, waiting for Vidar to comeback with news of what was to be. Vidar had left with Carrick on foot to find any help on the island. They were determined to make contact before going back to Searbh. Aoibheann was worried, something changed in her parents the longer they remained stuck here. There was doubt in their eyes and fear in their movements.

They had been here for a fortnight and were stuck. The first six days they had spent in downpours, trapped by an insatiable storm. The winds did not howl, but they screamed warnings at them to go back, to return to Searbh. It was like a voice that was creeping in the shadows, with no body attached to it. It had to be the wind, a trick of the ear. Maybe the hunger was making them crazy. Aoibheann’s clothes were hanging on her, her stomach was screaming for food. There was nothing here on this end of the island, just an endless burren of rock and some abandoned monastic gardens, abandoned 200 hundred years ago. On the seventh day, the five got into the boat and sailed towards the big island of Inishmore. There, the port and the village would bring them help, they hoped, back to Searbh.

Aoibheann was not in accordance with the rest. She did not want to go back, she wanted to stay here, with Biorn. Set up a little home and forget about all that was missing back at home.

She was receiving her wish, they sailed for five days. Each day they would get up, ready the boat and sail northwest towards Inishmore and, each day, they would be pushed back against the rocks by the wind and the waves, unable to make headway to their destination. Carrick and Vidar finally gave up on the fifth day. The five stopped, they quit and moped. They hid in the beehives for two days, thinking and worrying, until Carrick and Vidar left to find help. Brighid stayed behind with Biorn and Aoibheann. Aoibheann was furious with her mother for embarrassing her in front of Biorn and she left for Biorn’s hut. There she stayed tangled up with him, for there was nothing else to do. She left Brighid to think about this awful journey she had pushed for and Aoibheann dreamed of staying in Biorn’s arms forever.

That was until she heard a boat dock on the shore. A thud sounded and a trample of feet followed. Aoibheann and Biorn quickly put on their armour and hurried outside. “Stay behind me.” He ordered Aoibheann and handed her his sword, he took her bow. Brighid was already outside, spear in hand, ready for the fight Saoirse had warned them about.

“Put down your weapons.” Brighid ordered. She motioned them to move closer to the boat, Aoibheann and Biorn followed. It was a large boat with a yellow sail and a three red circles.

“What kingdom is that?” Biorn asked.

“A kingdom extinct. The Kingdom of Shannon. I wiped out their clan.” Brighid said. “Keep your weapons high. This is a bad omen.”

They heard movement in the boat, it was a dark cloudy day and a mist was sprinkling from the sky.

“Brighid, put that down,” A voice said. Aoibheann laughed as her Da jumped off the boat, into the water and sand. “We found help.” Carrick said. “This kind crew is going to take us to Inishmore. Quickly, pack everything up!”

Vidar climbed off the boat, followed by three figures soon to be known to the rest as Gyda, Iona, and Barra. They were servants of the Kingdom of Limerick and of Vidar’s parents.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

The day carried on in a blur for Aoibheann. They tied up the boat they came in and loaded onto the boat of their new friends. Vidar was keen to learn as much as he could from Gyda, Iona and Barra of home, and of his family. He was starved for Limerick and his mouth was watering. His eyes rarely left Gyda’s direction, he was smitten and Aoibheann felt a pang of guilt for her sister. Kinvara would not be pleased to know this. Aoibheann looked away and focused on Biorn.

The great island of Inishmore rose up before them, a rocky rugged harbor and ominous cliffs. Fiachra had filled her mind with fears of this place, of a monstrous king that wanted to kill them all. She hadn’t believed him till now. But this trip, the storms, the screaming winds, Aoibheann was scared. She clung to Biorn and shivered.

It was a short sail to the next island. They circled, waiting for water traffic to clear. It was a busier harbor than Aoibheann had imagined it to be. Back in Galway, Aoibheann didn’t give a lot of thought to the world around her. Not like Kinvara or Kinvara’s friend, Aoife. They had chased after knowledge like an animal chases after its prey. Aoibheann had stayed in a bubble, a bubble of her mother and father’s own glory. A bubble of warrior’s want and training. She had shown Brighid and Carrick aptitude with athletics and weaponry and so she stayed close to them, like a shadow. She had far less freedom than Kinvara growing up. Kinvara helped around the farmlands or their people and made friends. She went to the monastery and borrowed book after book. She went to the Druid shrine and learned about the Gods. Kinvara had found love in Eamon before Aoibheann had grabbed the attention of any village boys. What a small world she had lived in. She looked at Biorn and thanked Chieftain Riagan for pulling them out of Galway. Aoibheann may have never lived a life she wanted stuck there. Sure, she wanted the glory of a warrior, she wanted to dine with the Chieftains but she didn’t want to die as so many of the warriors did in Tearlag’s army.

She envied Kinvara and her sense of direction, her sense of purpose. She knew she wanted to be something, to serve the people with the utmost care. Aoibheann had a burning jealousy of her sister, and her desires to have everything go her way had gone too far. She saw the hurt in Kinvara’s eyes, she knew Kinvara was not over Eamon and now she may have to get over Vidar too. Aoibheann sighed, even in misery, Kinvara’s life was more interesting than hers.

 

 

 

Chapter 36: Tearlag’s Memory

822 AD, Cadal, Galway of the O’Connors (Day 388 of Exile)

 

“Oh, love, you would be overjoyed at her. Luiseach’s little nose and the coos she makes, she brings back every memory I have of the boys at that age. She is a twin of Seamus. Oh, remember when it was all over, all the labor and the pain? And the midwife would give the babe a bath and hand him into my arms and we would hold each of our newborns together? And I would settle my head on your shoulder and you would whisper everything you were thinking in my ear.” Tearlag said and a tear slipped down her cheek. “And you would sing lullabies to them. Each of our children, a new song each time. Special to what you believed they each would be.” Tearlag began to sob. “And you would hold me like that, until I fell asleep. It was the most restful sleep I ever had. Knowing all my worries were gone, my job was done and I could collapse back into your embrace and rest in your love.”

“We were so good together. You made me so soft in those years, when the children were young. I was melted down into what your love molded me to. A loving person. How did you do that? How did you change me so deeply at my core? And then you went away? You turned from me, you made me soft and then you turned. I’ve never recovered.” Tearlag said as she traced the inscription on Conn’s grave.

“You were wrong about so many things. Riagan and Brynhildr were not supposed to be the heirs. You took them and groomed them, and look at them now. Utter failures, more like it. If only you knew how they speak to me. They can’t run a thing, and they complain endlessly. You spoiled them to bits and I’m left with bits instead of children to handle things the way it was supposed to be. Seamus is the only one that has come through, the one you believed that should be an adviser and not a Chieftain. You were so wrong, love. Very, very wrong. Just like you were wrong about Riagan and Saoirse. She is a cancer, and always has been.” Tearlag said, she was changing from despair to anger. She kicked at the dirt at his tombstone. She imagined kicking at his head.

“Ciannait was always the better choice for Riagan. She had the connections, she had the clan ties we needed to finish the war our fathers started to take west and bring it under one kingdom. The re-unified Connachta. Never fallen. Stronger than ever before. But you wouldn’t cooperate!” Tearlag was really letting it out now. She could feel her face getting warm, her anger rising. Her muscles tensing.

“You chose a fisherman’s daughter because Bricriu said the Gods wanted her. From the guts of a pigeon! It was the worst decision you ever made! Riagan loved Ciannait, and Ciannait loved him! You ripped them apart and forced Saoirse into this family where she was not welcome because Bricriu saw Saoirse in the blood of a pigeon!” Tearlag screamed and yanked on the tombstone and tried to pull it out in anger. She heard a scream and a flash of light on the horizon. She let the tombstone go and watched as a dark cloud streamed from the sky toward her, maniacal laughter filling the graveyard as she stared it down in fear. Conn had always believed the Gods lived among them, even with the monasteries and the Vikings. He never stopped trusting that the Gods and the faeries remained close, like the legends told them. The Gods were active but Tearlag had scoffed, and she scoffed again. She stared down the black cloud and it blew around her. She stayed still and held her breath until it was past.

She looked down at the tombstone and placed her hand on it again. “I’m terribly sorry but you were wrong and I hope you forgive me for the mess you decided I would have to make to restore order to our lives. Always remember that you placed the pieces in motion and now this is my burden to fix. Goodnight, my love. The sun is setting and I must go.”

Tearlag walked back to the fortress for dinner. She had so much to do before Samhain.

Chapter 35: The Loyal Servant

Night 383, Cadal, Innisman Island of Innis Aran (822 AD)

Brighid squirmed in her sleep and grabbed her arm. She cried out in pain. She crawled away from the ax but it fell again, into her skin. She screamed out again and reached for her spear as she fell to the ground, a soft field of grass on the outskirts of Limerick on the border with Kerry and the O’Sullibheans. The Kerry warrior swung again and Carrick lunged in between them. He took a cut to his leg and clutched his thigh and stabbed with his sword, making contact into the warrior’s gut. The man fell with groan.

“Are you alright, Brighid?” Carrick asked, quickly, with adrenaline pulsing. “Brighid?”

“It’s a bad one, I can’t get up.” She clutched her shoulder and her leg was covered in blood. Carrick ripped some of his pants and tied them around her wounds and then wrapped one on his own wounds. Brighid had been here before.  She fought this battle ten years ago, her conscience reminded her. She knew how this was going to end. She looked and waited for hope on the horizon. Oh good, the next warrior was coming, they would be okay soon. She watched the tall, brawny man run towards them.  The Kerry warrior had come to finish them, so she held her breath. Now, come on. Riagan ran in with his shield up, fighting back a line of Kerry men and women. He slashed through a warrior and heard their cries. He walked over and whacked the Kerry warrior in the head, splitting his skull open. He finished him with another stab. Riagan was covered in blood. He looked at them, he had a horn at his waist, the call for help.

“Riagan, thank Macha you came.” Carrick said, “She’s hurt bad, we need to carry her.”

Riagan stopped listening and stooped over Brighid.  A darkness came into his eyes where the look of concern was supposed to appear. Instead of reaching down to help her up, he put his sword against her throat.

“You took my currach, my nephew and my adopted son. Why would I help you now?” Riagan asked. “I thought you served Conn in all things? Aren’t you leaving me to die?”

Brighid winced in pain as the blade pierced the top layer of her skin. “Riagan, I can explain. I went to get you help.”

“Silence.” Riagan said. He turned his blade and stabbed Carrick through the chest. “Now, tell me why you left us for dead? Before I finish you off too.”

“Carrick!” Brighid cried.  She began to sob uncontrollably. “Carrick, no my love! Carrick, stay with me!”

“He’s not dead yet, but he will be if you don’t answer me.” Riagan pushed the blade back against her throat. She heard the plodding of two large elk riding up to the spot and she saw above her Brynhildr and Saoirse looking down at her. Saoirse spat at her from where she sat, bedecked in the finest armor as a lead scout of Conn’s army. She didn’t do any heavy lifting. Saoirse was so different than who Brighid thought she was destined to be.

“You have betrayed us all, and so you will die.” Saoirse said. She nodded at Brynhildr, who speared her straight in the head. Brighid screamed again and woke up in a cold sweat. She sat up and tended the fire. She was restless. She wrapped herself in a coat and walked outside in the rain to the next hut.  She sighed in relief when she saw that Biorn and Vidar were safe asleep. Brighid wandered back and sat by the fire until sleep came back.

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Day 384, Isle of Searbh

Saoirse walked back from the garden, she was covered with mud. The crops were poking their leaves up from the ground and reaching for the blue above. She walked to the pool in the forest to wash up, the icy water shocking her arms and feet. Each time feeling more alive from the surprise of its touch. Brighid was gone for over a week, and Saoirse was beginning to get worried. The finality of it set in to her skin. Fiachra claimed they were coming back, but she looked at Kinvara. There was doubt in her eye, like she knew there was more going on. Whether or not they were coming back, Brighid was not her confidant anymore. She betrayed her the day she took the boat, and Saoirse wanted Brighid to know her place. She was not the Chieftainness tossed from her home, she was Saoirse’s childhood friend, and Saoirse’s warrior for her hire. Not her equal anymore. Maybe bringing them in was a mistake. Brighid and Carrick believed they knew everything about the O’Connor’s dysfunction, but they only new the first layer. So many hidden holes awaited to catch their feet.

Saoirse dried her hands and feet on her skirt and walked into the woods, towards the sound of sawing and chiseling. A small clearing encircled her husband, who was covered in wood shavings. The work was doing him good, there was a flush to his cheeks and he was putting a little weight back on. His cheeks were rounder, his body less skeletal. His eyes were focused again and not swimming in the gallons of ale that used to fuel his form.

“How’s it coming along, Riagan?” Saoirse asked. The beginnings of a boat stood next to him. The ribs of a hull stood tall, a log lay next to it with sheets cut from it to plank the sides.

Riagan nodded, “It is. I think it will be ready by Samhain. And then, we will go.” He studied the boat while he spoke.

“Go where?” Saoirse asked.

“To Munster. Galway’s last challenge sheltered from Tearlag’s view by Limerick.” Riagan said.

“I’m not going to Munster.” Saoirse scoffed.

“And why not?” Riagan challenged.

“They killed my parents and my brother in the Limerick War. I will never be a part of the O’Sullibhean clan.” Saoirse said.

“I don’t want to be O’Sullibhean. I want to get away from here. I want to go to Limerick but how do I know it is safe, from this place?!” Riagan said. “We’re cut off from all contact and being watched by Seamus, every moment. Something is going on, have you noticed all the boats passing by in the distance? Tearlag is plotting something. How do we know that while you were holed up in your room, Carrick and Brighid didn’t make contact with one of those boats? They could be in Galway as we speak!”

“Maybe that’s why they took Vidar and Biorn. As credit.” Saoirse said.

“That’s why were leaving. Make peace with it.” Riagan said.

“You know, if this was the first time you were ordering me to go somewhere, maybe I would go with it. But this is the next order on a list that has driven us from one miserable situation to another.” Saoirse argued. “You didn’t give me a choice to come here.”

“Well, I didn’t have a choice either.” Riagan said. “It was either get on the boat or get speared to death by brother.”

“Don’t make light of this. Do you realize how little choice I’ve had in my life? I didn’t have a choice on who I married. My life’s purpose. Motherhood.” Saoirse said.

“Quit feeling sorry for yourself. So what if you didn’t get to live the same life as Brighid. You were an advisor to my father. You birthed the true heir of Galway. You led the troops into battle with Conn and Seamus, before he became a lecherous traitor. So you had to raise Biorn, that was favor that we all had to do to make our lives easier. It was easy.” Riagan yelled.

“It was never easy to welcome him into our life. You have no idea what Brynhildr and I did, what we were asked to do to preserve the Kingdom. I hope Biorn doesn’t come back. I’d like to live with you and Fiachra, as we were supposed to do.” Saoirse said.

“You can’t change the past, Saoirse. Biorn was in our care.” Riagan said. “We will go to Munster and we can live without him, with our son and Kinvara.”

“We’re taking her?” Saoirse asked, “She’s their daughter! She’s in on it.”

“I will not leave her behind to die.” Riagan said.

“She won’t die, she can forage.” Saoirse mocked. Riagan scowled at her.

“When did you become so cruel? It doesn’t suit you.” Riagan said and put down his tools. “I need a walk, don’t be here when I come back.”

Saoirse watched him walk away, towards the ridge of mountains. She crossed her arms and hugged herself. The cruelness cut her too.

Chapter 34: Brynhildr’s Mother

822 AD, Cadal, Limerick of Earl Hrokr MacManus and Chieftainness Brynhildr

(Day 382 of Exile)

 

Brynhildr sat on the docks with Aisling and watched her daughter run up and down the wooden planks. She watched Aisling’s strawberry blonde hair fly out behind her as the breeze caught her tresses and danced it around her face. She giggled as the wind rushed at her and blew her towards the edge.

“Careful, love.” Brynhildr said. Aisling was growing so fast, she was five this past Summer Solstice. She remembered Vidar at that age and how he loved to climb to the edge of the boat and catch the wind in his spiky blonde hair. They had traveled a lot back then, before the Limerick Kingdom was taken from Hrokr’s hands, and only Hrokr’s hands. Now, they were puppets again. Her first eleven years of marriage were filled with such freedom and promise. She and Hrokr had ruled the coast, away from the pestering pressure of Galway. But the tides had changed again.

When Brynhildr was 18, the MacManus clan rose up against the Galway army presence, which had driven the last remnants of Chieftain Cahal from the Kingdom. Tearlag was ousted, but her prowess in battle drove the Vikinger MacManus clan back and brokered a compromise. Hrokr was placed as Chieftain and Brynhildr would be her mediator. But after a ten year reign of freedom, Tearlag went back on her promises. Now, she kept a firm hand on Brynhildr, even taking Vidar back to Galway when she sensed a brooding discontent in her, Brynhildr and Hrokr. But Brynhildr’s muscles were getting restless in the bonds of being a good daughter. She knew secrets now about her mother and Riagan that she was unwilling to support. The thought of going back to Galway in a few weeks made her angry and restless, but Hrokr was right. She had to go. It was their chance to bring Vidar home before Tearlag could do any harm to him.

If only she had decided that before he left for Port Shannon, an outpost Kingdom sandwiched between the larger Galway and Limerick. It had been decimated by Tearlag’s father, Chieftain Cahal MacManus and Conn’s father, Chieftain Aedh O’Connor. Now Shannon was a series of trading posts and villages, hidden in the rocky Burren lands. Hrokr would be gone three days to trade food supplies for the valuable rock quarried out of the land. In the coming dark season, they build new walls between themselves and Galway. But now, she would have to wait two more days to speak to him and to make it right. She had hurled her anger at him with a sharp tongue and made a fool of herself. Hrokr was right, she couldn’t use her guilty conscience as a crutch forever, she needed to push past it and go get their son.

“But what if he doesn’t want to see me? Worse yet, what if he’s dead?” Brynhildr had asked Hrokr.

“She wouldn’t do that, she would never do that. He is the heir to the Limerick throne that she thinks she has in her control. You think too little of your mother’s strategic mind. Everything has a purpose, every move.” Hrokr comforted her.

“She was manic after the funeral.” Brynhildr said.

“I know, but I’ve heard that she is getting stronger. Pushing Riagan out has only made her more powerful. We need to get Vidar so we can rise against her next Imbolc.” Hrokr said.

Brynhildr had not listened to his words while he said them, but he spoke truth. Everything her mother did was for a greater means. She needed to go to Galway and see why she kicked out Riagan. What was the larger plan stewing behind her mother’s eyes? Her mother always had something up her sleeve, even when Brynhildr was small she remembered these meetings on the balcony over looking the bay. Tearlag would gather the Druids and pressure them to tell the future, to look deep into the future and see the destiny she believed she was owed. To be greater than her father, Cahal. To be greater than her husband, Conn. Brynhildr had hid under the table and listened to her mother plot her fate, only later did Brynhildr realize the great pain these meetings would cause.

When she grew tall, she had a seat at these meetings with Riagan and Seamus and the others from the Brehon Court. She became a two-fold confidant, one ear for Chieftain Conn and the other ear for Chieftainness Tearlag. Each speaker running a different Kingdom from the other. Brynhildr grew tired of the table once she sat as a player, yanked by two rulers in opposing directions. Without realizing, she chose a side by default, when a Tearlag scheme went too far.

Brynhildr looked out at the dock at her youngest skipping pebbles onto the water. Brynhildr pondered the water, the river as it was called, more like an inlet and a bay than the beginnings of a river. Aisling should know Vidar. Brynhilder ruined chunks of their childhood. Vidar, living in a foreign kingdom,  and Aisling, living alone. She hung her head and sighed, the corruption was a monster she could not escape. It had tainted her own family line now. Brynhildr felt like her own mother, what a shadow it cast on her heart. She thought of the day she lost Vidar.

She had been in the Library with a nine year old Vidar, looking for the Norse collection of sagas to show him the heritage of Hrokr and the MacManus Norse settlers that crafted their clan. She was proud to be a part of a new beginning for Limerick that her grandfather Cahal created. They were visiting for the Winter Solstice and Hrokr stayed back in Limerick to lead the Yul celebrations. Brynhildr was summoned to the garden for a walk in the frost covered grasses around the large walls of Galway. Tearlag stood waiting, wrapped in a shawl. Her hair was brown, not yet dusted in the gray hairs that washed her head in age in her widowed state. Youth was splashed in her eyes. Brynhildr resented how much she looked like her Mum and in a fit of frustration she shaved the side of her head and decorated her skin in tattoos. She needed to be free from her mother’s shadow.

“What do you need, Mum? I have business with Vidar to attend to.” Brynhildr said.

“Let’s take a walk.” Tearlag led her towards the path.

“In the cold?” Brynhildr questioned.

Tearlag smiled, “Yes, I need to check the Solstice preparations.”

They walked around the castle walls and up into the greens surrounding it. Away from the village, Brynhildr sighed that it meant a private conversation. Something she was not in the mood for.

“Where are these decorations, Mum?” Brynhildr said.

“They’re around, up there.” Tearlag continued to push, taking her time to state her business.

“Is there something particular you asked me here for?” Brynhildr asked, impatiently.

“Why yes, I have an urgent matter I need you to attend to. You wouldn’t mind, would you? I have done so much for you, I’d love to feel like your gratitude is present.” Tearlag said.

“You know I’m grateful for my marriage and my position at Limerick. Of course, Mum.” Brynhildr said, playing along. She learned early it was easier if she humored her mother’s laborious desires for gratitude. Every good thing received from Tearlag had a guilt-ridden wage to pay.

“I’d say you should be, as should Hrokr. He would be a farmer without my intervention.” Tearlag said.

“Yes, Mum.” Brynhildr said, trying to hide her frustration and the wandering pace of the conversation. Her ears were begging for Tearlag to get to the point.

“As my loyal servants, I need you to partner with me in our next strike for Galway’s might. As you know, our deal with Ciannait did not go as planned.” Tearlag said. Brynhildr nodded.

“And extra measures had to be taken.” Tearlag said. “Well, the time to try again is now. When Imbolic comes I’m going to need your fleet. You and Hrokr will go and cut off Innis Aran, and wait for my fleet, with Riagan and Seamus, to begin our invasion.” Tearlag said.

“Invasion of Innis Aran? I thought the plan was over-” Brynhildr said.

“The plan was never over, just because Ciannait was weak.” Tearlag said.

“Ciannait was not weak, Ciannait died! She died in your scheme!” Brynhildr said.

“Yes, and as I remember, you played a large role in that scheme.” Tearlag stared her down.

“What has Murtagh done to you that you want to strip everything from him? His wife and now his Kingdom?! You’ve broken him.” Brynhildr said.

“You and your brothers broke him.” Tearlag corrected.

“By your hand.” Brynhildr argued.

“And yours.” Tearlag said, “So you will do this for me or I will tell Hrokr exactly what you are capable of to the people you care about.”

Brynhildr glared at her. “No, I will not do this! You don’t own me.”

“Oh, but I do. You rule my Kingdom, you have power, influence, and a husband all because I bestowed it to you. Your life is my property, including your son. I can do whatever I wish with the heirs of my Kingdom. And I don’t believe the right place for Vidar is with you anymore. You need to be reminded of your place in the scheme of things.” Tearlag said.

“Mum, I’m sorry. Please, don’t bring Vidar into this.” Brynhildr begged.

“Vidar shall live here from now on. And you will send your little boats that I gave you the materials to build and you will blockade Innis Aran. Then, you will raid into Innis Aran and finish the job we started.” Tearlag said. “You will do it or you will be the Kingdom I raid into. I will tell Hrokr and I will weigh the usefulness of your heir. Fiachra or Biorn would do the job fine.” Tearlag said.

“Biorn is not an heir, he’s not even your grandson!” Brynhildr argued.

Tearlag smiled. “The Druids have said the Gods demand better sacrifices than we have given them. I would hate to see Vidar end up in a bog, however noble a sacrifice that would be for our Kingdoms.” Tearlag threatened. “You, with your spirit, would give us great blessings I’m sure, if we gave you to the Gods. Or would you rather try to die for a chance at Valhalla like your husband? Because I can have that arranged.” Tearlag sneered.

“You wouldn’t,” Brynhildr began to cry.

“I thought you had more courage than this, my daughter. You knew what you agreed to when you took that throne. You are not a Chieftainness, you are my pawn. So you better stay useful to me.” Tearlag said.

Brynhildr took off, away from her Mum, and back to the castle and to Vidar, to say her goodbyes while she read to him the sagas of his people.