822 AD, Cadal, Galway of the O’Connors (Day 376 of Exile)
Roisin yawned and adjusted in her chair, three hours’ sleep and Tearlag insisted she begin sitting at Court like Saoirse and Brynhildr used to do. Roisin yawned again and waved for a servant.
“Might I have a cup of tea, thank you.” Roisin whispered, “One for Seamus too, please.”
“Roisin, over here.” Tearlag interrupted, her eyes fixed on Roisin, silencing the chatter of the Brehon Court. Seamus looked at her with sympathy.
“Sorry, Dowager.” Roisin said quietly and waved the servant off. Roisin slumped back in her chair and twirled the curls in her hair. This was mind-numbingly boring. They carried on, twittering about the Lughnasadh festivities the grandeur of, and the amount of harvest. On and on, nothing about the Gods, nothing about Conn’s way of handling the calendar, it was all about big displays of wealth. She did not care. Roisin looked at the room, the Brehon were bored, the Fili cringing and the Druids stood with their arms crossed. The Bards quickly scribbled down notes for another pointless poem about Galway’s might. Roisin watched them all and wondered if this was how it was supposed to be. Did Saoirse find this position as boring as she did?
Saoirse had been an honorary Brehon in Conn’s Court. She sat with Riagan, Brynhildr and Seamus as equals, taking note and offering opinions on how to run the kingdom and the trade, and to decide who to go to war with. It was quite odd, she was elevated quickly from farming to family training as a warrior to a soon-to-be Chieftainness to the Galway heir. The marriage had been quite a scandal for many years, Roisin remembered. Her father, who used to be a Fili, had come home many days from Court, ranting about how the Court had been run into the ground by another argument between Tearlag and Conn. An embarrassment to the O’Connor name, the Chieftainness was running her marriage like a battlefield. Was this how Cahal raised her to be? A painful tumor to any kingdom she was married off to? Surely Tearlag’s filibustering would bring down the Kingdom.
How her father had been wrong, the Kingdom only seemed to get stronger under Tearlag’s thumb. Even as she ruled alone, since Conn’s death, Tearlag had increased the rank of Galway in the midst of scandal. Roisin looked at Seamus again. Was he handling it all okay? She had been so grateful they had been able to get pregnant so fast after Conn’s death and Riagan’s betrayal. Seamus had walked the halls of Galway’s large castle, lost for words. Lost without the people he had learned to set his life by. Brynhildr was driven out years before this, a hard pang to Seamus’ heart, but Conn’s passing, almost two years ago now, set him into a foggy, tangled mess. Then, with Riagan turning on Seamus, what a breaking heart her husband had.
“Is that fine with you, Roisin?” Seamus asked,. The room looked at her again.
“Pardon, could you repeat that?” Roisin said.
“The coronation on Samhain, along with a christening celebration of Luiseach as our new heir?” Seamus asked.
“Oh yes, yes that will be fine.” Roisin said. She watched as the Druids again shifted in their seats, uncomfortable.
“Good, it is settled. Roisin, demand that your maids make you something presentable for that night. Surely that could cover your figure more?” Tearlag said.
“What’s wrong with my figure?” Roisin asked, angry.
“Well, I didn’t want to discuss it so vulgarly in front of the Court…” Tearlag said.
“Then, why did you bring it up?” Roisin said. “What are you trying to say about me, Dowager?”
“Well, I’ve noticed you still look like you are with child, you may want to work on hiding that before we parade you around in front of the Kingdoms of the West. Surely I would be embarrassed to be rotund and popping out that dress, in front of what should be your equals. I know you were not born into this family, but surely you can try to uphold our standards.” Tearlag said with a poison smile.
“I’d like that tea, now.” Roisin yelled to the servant.
“Mum-” Seamus said.
“Ah ah, we are in Court, that is not my name.” Tearlag shook her finger at him from her large chair. She was sitting in the center of the room. Only her chair sat on the platform where she and Conn used to sit. Conn’s chair was gone, no one but Tearlag knew where.
“Dowager, I’ve had enough of your fruitless critiques of your soon-to-be Chieftainness. Move on.” Seamus said.
“My, is that a backbone you have? Why, where was that when we discussed Roisin’s weight earlier? You had quiet the laugh at her walrus form, isn’t that right, Seamus?” Tearlag asked. “I thought it was a bit too far, but if that’s what you need to say to keep your sanity, then, by all means, I will humor you.”
Seamus looked at Roisin, his mouth a gape. His eyes filled with sorrow at his mother’s manipulation. “I never said anything of the sort, Roisin. You are the most beautiful creature I know.”
“Save it.” Roisin said in a red faced cloud. She vacated the room quickly before she broke into tears. This must be exactly what Saoirse thought of court. Why must this be starting so fast? Was she destined to be the new punching bag now that Conn and Saoirse were gone? She walked up to the balcony and slumped down in a crying heap. Unaware of Bricriu, the Head Druid who had followed her out of the Court.
“We need you, my lady.” Bricriu said. “Please come to the shrine in the great stone circle. He handed her a scroll and walked back down to the Great Hall.
“Here’s your tea,” the servant boy carried it quickly towards her.
“Thank you, Eamon.” she said. “Did you follow me all the way up here?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Eamon said.
“You’re from the countryside, correct?” Roisin asked him, holding the tea cup to her face, letting the steam bring her comfort.
“Yes.” Eamon said.
“Do you know where the shrine in the great stone circle is?” Roisin asked.
“I do.” Eamon said.
“Will you take me there?” Roisin asked.
“Yes Ma’am. Pardon, I must get back to the court.” Eamon said quickly and she could see the fear in his eyes.
“Thank you, Eamon.” Roisin said. She was sad. When she first arrived in the fortress, six years ago, the servants worked with serenity. Conn never raised his voice to any of the clan who chose to help in the fortress, but Tearlag screeched. She was quick to cut off a hand or an ear of anyone who questioned her. The day Riagan left, and several days after, she mangled the O’Connor clan with her rage. The people of Galway’s Kingdom now stayed on the fringe, no longer comfortable coming to court or coming to festivals. They were afraid of their Chieftainness and were praying to the Gods for a new one. Roisin had heard chatter in the garden as the servants picked vegetables. The people were looking for a way out. It would not be long until more blood was shed. They needed Brynhildr’s help, if she would even hear them out, to keep the clan from destroying the fortress, brick by brick. Roisin dried her tears, got up and she walked back inside to Luiseach’s cradle. She must keep her hope in this one, they were so close to ruling, maybe that would be the key to it all.
“You will tell your wife if she wants to be Chiefainness, and not join the others on Searbh, she will listen to my advice, silently.” Tearlag ordered Seamus once she cleared out the Brehon Court. It was only a small group of souls that vacated. Tearlag had closed off the court from the open forum it used to be. Cahal had kept a tight fist on his court, and so would she. There would be no slip, no opening for a coup. She eliminated her threats, whether it was clansmen or family. The only thing she needed was a firm hold on Limerick again, and if her plan succeeded, she would get that back again. “Or you can join her too. I have Luiseach, this is just a formality that you get your reign as Chieftain. You, the man child, slow to marry, slow to go to war, you were so sheltered by your Da. He never let me raise you the way I wanted to, and look at you, you couldn’t lead an army if you tried.”
“I did lead Da’s army.” Seamus said.
“As a puppet! You always let Brynhildr and Riagan control you.” Tearlag snarled. “Who are you Seamus? You are 29 years old. Who are you?”
“I don’t know.” Seamus said, his eyes downcast. He clutched his chair tightly as anger slowly boiled to the surface.
“Figure that out by Samhain or I will give Luiseach the crown and I will drive you out to sea on the day where Gods will come and the dead will visit. Who knows if you will be safe.” Tearlag said. “It’s a risk I wouldn’t take.” Tearlag smiled an icy grin. “Now go.”
Seamus got up and left and Tearlag pulled a book out of her pocket, a small journal in Conn’s writing. There were many sketches of a smaller fortress and the island of Searbh. Every beach and every port into the island. She laughed as she looked at it. What a deliciously easy task this would be.
“You can’t let her talk to me like that! I will not be Saoirse!” Roisin argued bitterly.
“I know, Roisin. That is the last time I will let her embarrass you. I swear I never said anything against you. She’s lying about the whole thing to make us divided and weak.” Seamus urged.
“She did it with Saoirse and Riagan and she tried with Hrokr and Brynhildr, until Brynhildr left.” Seamus said. “She wants to control everything and leave nothing good for anyone but herself. She treated my Da the same way.”
“Then why did Conn stay with her?” Roisin asked.
“He loved her too deeply and it poisoned him.” Seamus said. “And so she let it kill him, slowly.”
“Why doesn’t Brynhildr rise up against her? Tearlag has no claim to Limerick anymore.” Roisin said.
“Tearlag took Vidar as collateral. If Brynhildr rises up, Vidar will die.” Seamus said. “That’s why I told him to go with Riagan. He will be safer with Riagan than he would be here, and maybe, just maybe, Brynhildr will come through and defeat her. If only she comes to Luiseach’s celebration on Samhain, then we have our chance.