Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chapter 9

"No warrior knows a blade so thin. Who ehre ye and what is the meaning of the ornament?" "It is the sword of a knight. The chieftain of my clan gave this sword to me," I said boldly. "The ornament on the handle is the design of his armor, just as the shaft of your arrow is marked with the symbol of your clan." "What is this shiny medal?" He asked, rubbing the handle. "The medal is silver which is polished in the same manner as bronze." "My sword is with Fiacha Labhrainne!" Fiacha seemed satisfied. After we were queued Fiaca commenced a rigorous training schedule which lasted from dawn to dust. When someone complained he answered by saying that he did not intend to lose. Then he designated strategic groups. Thus were we prepared physically and emotionally to go against a band of unholy thieves and murderers. That evening I slept on a cold stone floor inside one of the buildings. Just as I dozed off lightning crackled inside the doorway warning that a storm brewed somewhere deep in the jungle. All night a furious rain splashed through the door wetting me and others who'd crowded in beside me. It was still raining when Fiacha came at daylight and pricked us with the tip of his sword. "We train now, or die tomorrow," he said sternly. I had mixed feelings. Fiacha was my ancestor but would I actually have to kill my cousins, the children of Heber Fionn? How was I enmeshed in this particular scheme and how far would I have to go before finding the key? Surely Fiacha had possession of it since he'd put me in the action. Whatever the answer, I resolved to stay close to him and walked behind him in the rain. Others followed. There was a great interest my fencing skills. Thomas had taught me the art and I demonstrated some of his fencing techniques and footwork to my group. Fiacha wanted to
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adopt these skills into his war and promoted me to a commander of sorts. On the eve of battle the high king sat soberly on his wooden throne holding the scepter in his left hand. A frown was on his lips, his eyes were dark, and when he lowered his head thick swabs of fat wrinkles folded around his jowls. The hour of great pain was easily discernable in the grunting sounds of his every gesture. If Fiacha Labhrainne were a man of self pity, he would have been crying. But his pride was embedded in both the present and past, and encompassed the generations of his ancestors. Such feelings were a heavy responsibility for any man. Should his cousin win this war, it would be the end of his clan's 18 generation rule over southern Ireland. He would be the last link in the chain from the ancient Heber ancestor and his people would be the slaves of Heber Fionn. It was a great responsibility which weighed heavy on his shoulders. His pensive mood was passed on to the other warriors who also sensed the finality of battle. Young Fiacha also sensed the impending loss and watched his brooding father as he tore himself apart thinking about it. It was the custom of the king not to imbibe on the eve of battle, but a large tankard of ale sat on the floor beside the throne. Nigh into the evening he lifted it and grunted these words: " the grave of Heber Fionn!" The warriors stood ready at the first light of the sun. The hounds of Heber Fionn howled in the hollows and owls hooted in the wood. The warriors were eerily quiet as their feet passed quickly through the wet dew of the meadow across the rocky terraces and on to the place of battle. They were led by the proud heart of the high king and his muscled son. There was a clear visual of the enemy camp in the wood and the king watched as they assembled their arsenal of bowmen and passed into the clearing. He ordered a surprise shower of arrows. Our presence excited and energized Heber Fionn and he sent his warriors running feverishly towards us yelling and screaming while their swords sliced and cut through our ranks. Heber Fionn was in his element, torturing and decapitating and taking no captives. In the heat of the moment, I angrily drew my sword and whirling it above my head lunged towards Heber Fionn but Fiacha stopped me. "I want the brutal beast!" I screamed. "Nay, only the high king can draw his blood." Warning: US and International Copyright Restrictions Apply.
Heber Fionn pulled his sword from the chest of his last victim and withdrew into the woods. He would rest before coming again for the king. When the day ended, many had been slaughtered. All slain bodies look the same as they lay where they fell in the last suffering agony of their blood. These poor souls reminded me of the Crecy battlefield, except that the armorials the ground were arrows and swords. Fiacha stepped over the bodies of his friends and pausing momentarily closed his eyes to pray. "Dear God," he said, "will the killing ere end?" Then he popped opened his eyes. "Why did you stop me?" I asked. "Only the death of Heber Fionn at the hand of Fiacha Labhrainne can end this war," he answered simply. "I could have finished it." "I know," he said gritting his teeth in a lowly voice, "but the fight is to the death." This was the steel emotion of the true warrior, the fight to the death, all or nothing. "What is the good of this if you are all dead?" I asked. "Then it is finished." His cold dark eyes stared deeply and wisely into the secluded space of his own mind. He did not answer. The battle lasted for weeks. This existence was to fall into an exhausted sleep each evening and awake to Heber Fionn's warriors racing towards us from the forest. Each day the number of warriors on each side dwindled. Thousands became hundreds. It came to not trusting anyone, so we slept with our swords in our hands. A few of us were left. We fought one to one to spill the blood of death. At first the dead were buried in the evening, but eventually the bodies were stacked them high to rot in the sun. The nauseating smell filled my lungs. Fiacha's warriors were battle-worn; they wielded their swords like zombies with their eyes glazed over. We killed, then
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fell to the ground in hideous exhaustion. When there were less than a hundred men left on each side, Fiacha commenced a restless pace among his exhausted few. He was grumpy and moody and could not be reasoned with, but he personally bandaged each man's wounds while sensing their acceptance of impending death. When he came to me, he paused for a moment, then ordered. "You are noot one of us!" He said gruffly. "Go home!" Home? Where is home? Fiacha had heretofore not been curious about my origins, only cared enough to have one more body to help him exterminate a whole clan of people. He had never asked my name. It was as though the light bulb inside his head suddenly lit up and he noticed a fluke in the mix. I did not stir from my resting place but instead watched him as he paced and wrested for answers within himself. But the general does not sleep; if he does everyone dies. During the desperate end of his civilization, he either stands or retreats. It is too late to retreat. The end was predictable. The terrible pain in his eyes was frightening; he turned his back to hide that fear. Fiacha Labrainne stood to his feet. His big shoulders carried the burden of the eminent death of the clan. He was stooped over by the sore crippling muscles in his back and his arms and legs were feebly exhausted. The vision of the aging king's exhausted body strained effort to stand was disheartening. We could not hope that he would kill Heber Fionn. His struggle to stand seemed to be searching for composure to face the clan, but his eyes were encapsulated with sorrow. "Do you want to go home?" He asked them with a low quivering voice. The question confused them. They had come to win or die. The decision was long since made; the die was cast. "We cannot all die, else our culture is lost. It is time to take the women and children and flee. It is dark. Go now." A large number got up from the ground and left. The final battle would occur next between the high king and Heber Fionn. "How about you?" His eyes fell on me.

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