798 AD, Ruir, Kingdom of Galway, Outside of Declan’s House
“Why would you, the Chieftain, apologize to me? I should be arrested and put through an ordeal for the way I spoke to you all.” Saoirse shook. “Please don’t do that to me. I don’t want to die that way…”
“What? No. No! That is not why I am here. Saoirse, listen to me.” Conn motioned for Saoirse to sit on the boulders next to him. “I came here with a purpose; now show me the respect I deserve and sit down.” Saoirse sat down reluctantly, arms still crossed. She picked at the skin around her cuticles till it bled. She turned in Conn’s direction but was looking beyond him.
“I chose you for a purpose but I failed to achieve that purpose.” Conn began, and Saoirse shifted her legs from crossed to bent. She pulled them up to her chest and looked past him again. “I failed by not explaining my intent and not giving you the chance to play your part. The part Seamus and I believe you are called from the Tuatha de Danaan to have.”
Saoirse shook her head. “I am not called by the Tuatha de Danaan to do anything. This is ridiculous.”
“It is, but it is also not ridiculous. I too was skeptical but the faeries and the Gods are back. They are active again. I know how this world has looked to you as you grew up in Galway. The monks that came through in the last three centuries drove the faeries back. It has been a chaotic place. What to believe? Who to serve? But they are here. The day before the sea battle against the O’Sullibheans, the Tuatha de Danaan came to me at Innis Aran. Seamus and I went with the Head Druid, Ein, to perform a ritual at the Serpent’s Lair – something remarkable and terrifying happened, Saoirse. We stepped into the pool and the water rose up and swirled around us and a voice screamed at us. I can still hear the shrieking in my ears. The voice warned that if Riagan and Ciannait were to be married, uniting Galway, Limerick and Shannon under one house, Connacht would fall into the sea. We would all be destroyed for no such forces shall unite again.”
“Why?” Saoirse asked, looking at Conn and quickly going back to her bleeding cuticle.
“I don’t know for sure, but I have some ideas.” Conn answered.
“Like what?” Saoirse asked.
“I believe the Tuatha de Danaan sense the darkness that is brewing in Limerick from the house of MacManus. I believe they can see deeper into the soul of Cahal than we can. They know my father was thirsty for a power beyond his capability. So Cahal and my father, Aedh, brought their families together through my marriage to Tearlag, to collect every clan in Connacht. They drove Shannon into the sea where by they became Innis Aran, along with some Vikinger settlers and the outlying Island clan. There are two more clans left that have not been altered by Cahal and Aedh’s quest for power and bloodshed, Breifne and the King of Connacht at Rathcroghan. Those have been untouched by considerable intervention by myself. Tearlag and Cahal have their demolishing souls set on reaching those clans soon. Why do you think Tearlag and Riagan go on so many trips? Those aren’t trade trips. They are tactics. A strategy. Take a new kingdom, butter them up, offer Brynhildr, Seamus or Riagan up for marriage and gain a new foothold. Tearlag has wished for you to leave since the day I suggested you should marry Riagan instead.” Conn said and Saoirse grimaced.
“Believe me, that was not concealed. Why does Riagan hate me?” Saoirse asked.
“I thought it would matter more to you to ask why my Tearlag does not care for you.” Conn chuckled. “Riagan does not hate you, he hates me. He resents you. You see Tearlag and I failed again many years ago. To keep Innis Aran close to us, we befriended Eban and made amends for our fathers’ actions to drive the O’Flaherty’s out of Shannon. It was a small token, I guess, if we became friends and worked together to allow both clans to prosper again. You see, the O’Flaherty’s did not suffer as much as Aedh and Cahal expected they would. Driving them from Shannon with its rich quarries and fisheries did not deter from their wealth. On the contrary, driving them to Innis Aran increased their reach in trade. They became the place to bring goods into Connacht and they became wealthier and more powerful than Limerick and Galway. They were still a threat to Aedh and Cahal and this drove them mad. It was a glaring failure, a boil on their silken legacy. It could not stand. So, my father spent the rest of his life trying to crush Innis Aran and he died doing so. That left me as a puppet of sorts for Cahal to maneuver. Tearlag and I do his bidding. I wish the crank would die already.” Conn said and pulled at his graying beard.
He was a funny looking fellow. Not very tall, was slim, but had broad shoulders and a bald head. He was not handsome but interesting looking. With a rugged face, speckled with freckles and quizzical brows. His expressions were curious, his hands always close to a notebook. He observed the world like an examiner and not a Chieftain. For him, it seemed as though this job was a mandate and not a joy. Saoirse wondered why he did not step down. A chieftain, if he kept the favor of the clan, could rule indefinitely. Without the favor and a big enough army, he could rule for a while. But, if he lost favor, he could be defeated by a duel and the best and strongest warrior could take his place. Male or female, it did not matter. Conn did not have to stay in this position and yet here he was, two decades later, waiting for the chance to stop fighting and begin exploring. Saoirse wondered if Tearlag kept him in the Chieftainship.
“If Cahal died, my family may belong to me for once.” Conn chuckled again. “Saoirse, I am sorry from the depths of my soul for the position I have created for you. I did not give you a choice and I asked you, no ordered you, to join this mess to save my pig-headed son from a union that would destroy us all. That was a burden you did not need to take on. I believed you were the right choice based on your bravery in battle and the skill with which you saved Seamus’ life. I have faith in you, even still I do.”
“I’m not going back.” Saoirse said defiantly.
“I’m not tell you to. I am asking you to consider it, as my advisor on the Brehon Court. You may serve alongside Seamus and you do not have to be Riagan’s wife. I will break the bond if you wish. You are free to love whomever you want. If you wish to live here with Declan, I will not stand in your way. I will protect you from Tearlag’s wrath.” Conn said.
“How furious is she with me?” Saoirse asked.
“Honestly, she is more furious with me. They all are for creating this mess. It has been a long fortnight, Saoirse, a very long and loud fortnight.” Conn sighed.
“I don’t have an answer.” Saoirse replied.
“I’ll come back. What a lovely place this is to think and write.” Conn opened the journal and began writing in it again. “You are dismissed.”
Saoirse looked at him quizzically. What an odd man he was. She got up off the boulder and walked back to Declan’s cottage.