797 AD (26 Years Ago), Mouth of the Shannon River
Brynhildr looked up from Hrokr’s wounds and smiled back at him until she heard a yell. More arrows fired, raining down upon the deck with one finding its target in Riagan’s arm. Another embedded itself in Murtagh’s armor. Brynhildr grabbed knives from her belt and threw them, two of them connecting with enemy warriors. One was hit in the chest and the other in the neck. Satisfied, she turned back to Hrokr while twirling her long ponytail in her hand. It was a nervous tick she had. She was nervous around this guy, his gaze was so intense that she desperately wanted to impress him.
“You bastards! I will the cut the limbs from your bodies!” It was a familiar voice that spewed threats across the water to the O’Suillebhean invaders. It was a warrior, with a face painted gray with soot. A hood atop adorned the head but the same impish smile remained. “Riagan! I’m coming for you!” Ciannait yelled from Murtagh’s boat.
She leaped over the side of the boat and onto the deck of Tearlag’s boat. She ducked behind the the sidewalk of the boat as another wave of arrows came.
“Ciannait! Your shield!” Murtagh yelled and tossed Ciannait’s shield over the side to her. But it was too late. Even with the shield, they needed more. Brynhildr and Hrokr grabbed their weapons and ran to the front. They ducked behind their shields.
“What do they want?” Brynhildr yelled over the sound of arrows pelting their shields.
“Revenge for the border war. We took their harbor in the north last summer.” Hrokr said.
“How many do they have?” Ciannait snuck into their conversation.
“I’d say three more lines. I counted 15 boats.” Hrokr said. “Do we have any more nets?”
Brynhildr shook her head.
“If we go to the coastline, we can drop rocks from the quarry onto their heads.” Brynhildr said.
“Right. Brilliant!” Hrokr said. “Except how do we do that? We don’t have the manpower?”
“You stay here and lead the attack with the others. I have an idea.” Ciannait said. “Brynhildr, come with me.”
Ciannait crawled over to Riagan and touched his shoulder. The arrow popped out. Tearlag watched this from afar, behind the mast where she braced for cover. “Ciannait has the power of the Morrigan,” Tearlag said to herself.
“Come on, we have to hurry!” Brynhildr said and stopped. “Did you just pull the arrows out of him? What are you crazy?” She asked Ciannait.
“It’s fine, he’s healed. Now let’s go!” Ciannait ordered.
Brynhildr scowled, “Nah. I’m good. Saoirse! Take over for me. Ciannait has a special project she needs your help with.”
“I’ll do it!” Riagan yelled. “I’ve got it. I’ll go.” Riagan hobbled up and over to where they were standing. The blood once running from his shoulder was dry, the hole closing up.
“Fine.” Brynhildr shrugged, “Saoirse, never mind. Tell me where to stand for the final attack.” Brynhildr picked up her axe and found a spear. She was ready to draw blood.
“What’s going on?” Saoirse asked Brynhildr once in formation, waiting behind their shields as the archers reloaded and the boats began their final approach. There was a look in the eyes of the warriors waiting for the next attack from the O’Suillebhean invaders. It was pleading look of prayer for Cahal’s boats to come and save them. They had lost too many to fight this battle to the end.
“Ciannait’s got some scheme to throw rocks off the cliff at the enemy. She is not mortal.” Brynhildr said with eyes wide.
“So what, she is a valkyrie?” Hrokr whispered and Brynhildr frowned at his interruption.
“I thought you were staying over there to help Murtagh?” Brynhildr asked.
“He’s grand. I thought you could use my finely tuned Nordic skills. I did conquer your grandfather’s land you k.” Hrokr bragged and Saoirse laughed.
“We don’t have valkyries. She must be a faerie.” Brynhildr said.
“You are both wrong.” Tearlag mocked. “She is indwelled with the power of the Morrigan,” motioning to where Ciannait and Riagan were climbing the sheer cliff face.
Riagan’s hands were screaming, from the roughness and sharp edges of the rock face. It reminded him of his mother. “How are you doing this?” He asked Ciannait.
“I am the one who was called to do this.” Ciannait said. Her hair was glowing purple at the ends. Her face was otherworldly and intrigued Riagan.
“Then teach me how to climb.” Riagan complained. She just laughed a cutting laugh.
Once they reached the top of the cliff, everything was clear. Cahal was not coming. He was stuck at the mouth of the river. His ships were tangled up and half his army was fighting with the other half. Chaos was rampant and spreading.
The final boats were closing in on the line of Galway boats. “We have to act now!” Riagan ordered.
“Wait, they need to get nice and close.” Ciannait said. “Like this.” She wrapped herself around Riagan and kissed his ear. “The closer they are the more impact we will have.” She enunciated her words carefully. “Now.”
Quickly Ciannait turned around and and ran towards the rocks. She skipped across three pieces, then tucked and rolled. The pieces broke off from the cliff face. In one movement, she jumped off the cliff, flipped and dove into the water with great speed. Before the rocks hit the water, three waves rose up from the water and drove a tsunami carrying the rocks towards the line of O’Suillebhean boats. Riagan ran to the cliff edge and watched as the waves of water drove to the decks of the enemy boats, cresting and dropping the boulders on the boats. The force broke them in half and washed the remnants out to sea and into the blue depths.
Riagan was astonished. How was she doing this? He looked for Ciannait. He couldn’t see her. He panicked. His heart was racing. Where was she? He scanned the boats. The water. Finally he looked below and floating under the cliffs was Ciannait. Her hair had returned to its natural black, the soot was washed from her face and she looked lifeless. Filled with the ache of a heart fearing the loss of a loved one, he scurried down the cliff face. He felt complete disregard for his hands or his life for that matter. He needed to save her. He was not complete without her.
“Ciannait! Stay with me! Ciannait!” Riagan cried. Impatiently, he dove into the water, falling a long way and crashing into the water with force. He stripped off his heavy armor and cloak and swam as fast as he could. He had drawn a commotion. Other warriors, including Murtagh, jumped into the water to save her. Both he and Riagan reached her body at the same time.
“Is she alive?” Murtagh asked.
“I don’t know.” Riagan said, choking on the impending pain his heart was bracing for. “Let’s get her on the boat. Is it over?”
“Yes.” Murtagh said. “She defeated them.”
“Good.” Riagan said.
“I knew it would work.” Ciannait mumbled with a smile.
“You’re alive, oh thank you, Danu.” Riagan exhaled. He was shaking but together the three swam to the boats.
“Have you ever seen anything like it? She has the powers of the Morrigan, Conn! She healed Riagan and threw rocks from the cliffs onto the ships below. Ciannait is what we are waiting for! We will be unstoppable with her powers on our side. Maybe they can be transferred to us? Oh, who cares, she and Riagan are getting married! The powers are as good as ours.” Tearlag gushed. She was obsessed and had been since they sailed back to Innis Aran. Even now, late in the Great Hall and circled around a fire after hours of celebration, Tearlag was playing it through her mind. “We should push up their wedding and…secure a marriage between Brynhildr and the O’Suillebhean’s son to stop this ridiculous war.”
“Are you serious?” Conn scoffed. “How would that solve anything? After we slaughtered them today? They will take her and kill her. No, she will marry for love.”
“Why should she get to marry for love?” Tearlag asked.
“Because we did. Anything less is not worth it.” Conn stumbled on his words and in that moment he realized the hypocrisy of it. Riagan was desperately in love with Ciannait yet the Gods were demanding they be separated. How did any of this make sense?