Rated PG, parental guidance for readers under 13
Adult themes, war and revenge themes
Historical Fiction - New Title
Warrior of Eire
©Marie Seltenrych, 2012
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblances that might occur to any living soul are purely accidental.
In 1164 – 1171 Ireland underwent immense changes that would alter the culture, language, family names and its people for all time. Ireland’s battles raged with the inter-tribal wars that continually challenged the position of High King of Ireland, and which had occurred for centuries. Waiting in the wings, ready to enter the Irish stage was King Henry II of England, who greatly desired to gain Ireland as another means to get taxes and power. In the meantime Ireland was about to enter into a series of six planned invasions by the Norman, Welsh and Flemish combined armies, who invaded on the East and South-East of the country, in a bid to gain the country.
One young woman had her own goals: Dervorgilla O’Dempsey was the only witness to her father’s murder seven years previous. Being a child of nine years at the time, the second eldest in a family of six girls there was no interest taken in her version of events, because children were not to be trusted. Turning 16, she is determined to fulfill her father’s last wish, to deposit personal items in a nearby county. Dervorgilla also has her own secret agenda: to find the man who murdered her father in cold blood, but her plans are almost shattered along the way, as she teams up with a young orphan boy, meets an old monk and other people who are dispossessed, she finds that these folk are attracted to her for various reasons. Dervorgilla’s learning curve about life, awakening love, betrayal, vengeance, synergy, linked with politics, and the invasions, together with the internal tensions and discoveries about her own heart are exposed and she will be changed forever by her mission and the people who influence her for good and evil.
“The blood fills the groove, to keep the blade swift,” she repeated over and over as the quartz schist stone slid over the blade...
Dervorgilla, daughter of Dannan and Roisin O'Dempsey, ran a sharpening stone slowly over the blade of her cloidim-mor, her long, well-tempered sword, with its central blood-gutter, and grasped it in her right hand, closed tight. She stuck the stone in the pocket of her tunic and reached for her small sword, her cloidim beag as she called it, with her left hand. She held it above her head, protecting her face.
“Three weapons you need: one for defense, one for attack, and one for wings.” This was the adage of her trainer, whose name quirkily matched his trade, Aodh, meaning ‘fire’ Ui Connaibair her secret markswoman ‘Múinteoir’ and the best forge-smith in this side of Ireland for his lifetime. His image flashed across her eyes for an instant. Rugged, with the blackest hair and the bluest eyes in the country, he was as strong as an ox. In her time-flash she could see the powerful arms holding tightly to a piece of steel and turn it into an object of beauty and danger. His quick smile was almost hidden under the fierce fire of the furnace and the shimmering sweat pouring down his smooth cheekbones into his shaved face sent wrinkles running over his countenance like a map of intimate importance to finding treasure. The hard work he did every day, six days a week, fourteen hours a day, were imprinted in every sinew and manly muscles as he pounded the scorching hot metal and transformed it as easily as if was a piece of bread dough.
“Your weapon is an extension of you,” he had said these words to her at such a close range that she could feel his soft breath on her neck. The flashback caused goosebumps to again run up and down her arms, as if he was touching her, helping her to use her muscles in unison with her willpower to strike a clean blow, to twist and turn her body in direct alignment with her sword.
“Not too tight,” his words drifted into her mind as she moved her fingers into a more relaxed hold. “Flexible, you have to be flexible to block your opponent in pionsóireacht, when you want to disengage from your opponent. Pretend your weapon is a tender sparrow, a butterfly in the palm of your hand,” he had whispered in haunting tones to her ear, reminding her of a peacock fluffing his feathers in her aunt’s place. She had smiled at her thoughts then and smiled now for an instant. Fencing was not what she was interested in, but killing someone who deserved justice by the trust of her sword was her goal, but she was keen to learn all the tricks of using her weapon.
“Mairagh,” she said through gritted teeth as she plunged her sword into an invisible torso. Her front foot lifted a little and her back leg straightened, but her shoulders twisted slightly. This was harder than she had imagined, but Dervorgilla knew that her time was not short. She would have to practice and remember everything as she journeyed towards her target.
“Dragons,” she said, striking once again, knowing that Aodh was forever thinking of how she could handle these creatures when she ventured into the woods. It was a good idea to know how to ward them off, even kill one or two along the way.
“I’ll come with ye,” he had said to her, ever so shyly on one occasion during training just a week ago. Her fright that this might happen must have shown on her face, because his became redder than the furnace he was staring into. He turned away from her shocked stare.
“I’m sorry, Aodh, but that’s impossible,” she had said, immediately regretting this statement. He said no more for a minute or two, a pause that seemed like eternity. Then he raised his head. She was sure that tears lingered in his shimmering eyes. Her heart lurched for no good reason. How could she even begin to tell him her story? No-one had believed her for seven years and justice had not been done. Aodh took her refusal as an indication that she did not find him attractive as a man. He accepted that because, he thought, “She’s too good for me.” His voice was croaky and she could barely hear his words with the roaring of the fire beside her. She felt as if they were flying in the clouds with the wind rushing through her hair and her ears had to sharpen up to hear his throaty words:
“Be careful now, promise me?”
She had lowered her eyes, not wanting to meet his. She felt frustration burning inside her soul, gripping her organs to suffer osmosis. All she needed were sharp swords, knives, no more! She stamped her foot as her own thoughts crushed into her mind. She didn’t understand anything else except vengeance for her father’s death; certainly she was not interested in any other man’s heart until her pledge was fulfilled to the one heart she truly loved with all her heart, though he was long cold in his grave with the simple carved stone that said, “A Father whose heart was for peace and love, gone to his Saviour above.”
And even now she didn’t know what would happen to her. Her future seemed as misty as a morning in a town crouched in a valley. But, she surely would be careful because she had a zest for life and of course, one needed to survive to live, that was something she understood as common sense dictates.
“I will. I promise,” she had replied gruffly after a short gap of silence, surprised that tears stung her eyes and flooded her lashes.
“Here, ‘tis ready,” he had handed her this beautifully crafted long sword, so shiny, with a bronze guard beyond a beautifully carved handle that fitted her hand like a glove. The moment in time felt surreal, as if she was being given a blessing, a gift from royalty, a minute angel in her hand. His hand had grasped hers as he passed the weapon to her. An invisible spark had flown into her fingers at that moment causing her to shiver, and then burst with flames, as thought she was a cold clinker magically sparked with blazing fire. Was the fever overcoming her, maybe ‘twas the pox? He held her hand for what seemed like a thousand years, awakening some hidden desire inside her bones, frightening her terribly. She had gulped and swallowed her saliva, drew her hand away with a jerk.
“’Tis beautiful,” she had said, mesmerized by the weapon of choice. “Perfect…like you,” she had muttered under her breath, as if she didn’t want him to hear her at all. She was being totally truthful. Her eyes captured its elegance, its craftsmanship, its priceless worth and wonder. It was the most beautiful sword she had ever touched, held. It would be her lover until she found that terrible man who destroyed her life by his treachery. “’T would frighten any dragon I know.” Words fell out of her mouth as if they were sparkling water from a natural spa. She had what she came for, that was what mattered to her now. Her desire to exit in a hurry smacked her in the face like a boxer’s fist. She knew that she must hurry away, before she forgot her quest and fell into some kind of feminine stupor in the presence of a deadly handsome and gracious man, whose strength she could not even fathom. It was something she had seen in her older sister, Aoife, and she despised this kind of behavior in the female sexes: moony eyes, wanton expressions, fainting fits in front of young men. Was she being groomed by the man of the forge, the fiery Aodh Ui Connaibair ? Was he shaping her into a thin-waisted pert breasted smooth-curved buttocks satin neck for kissing? Was that all she meant to him? Dervorgilla shook her head, scattering her vain thoughts. Surely he was not like many of the young men who spent their waking hours conquering vulnerable virgins? If she had thought this about Aodh, she would never have permitted him such closeness to her person.
“Nay,” she hurled the words at the wall, as air filled her lungs and made her breathe quickly, calming her senses. She must not be distracted with such pride and wrong thinking. Surely he was only thinking of dragons or wolves, her safety? Wolves and dragons were reportedly lurking in the undergrowth in the woods, and in hidden caves.
Many a fair maiden had disappeared in the bowels of the woods, strong men too. At night they could be heard wailing and weeping. Many folk had reported this, so she knew it was a fact. Dervorgilla also knew this could well be her fate, and she was ready for that, but when she imagined a man, a human being standing there, waiting to be killed by her because she had surprised him or he was ignorant of her intentions, she froze inside. Her brow was wet with perspiration making her feel totally angry. “Cladhaire” she said through clenched teeth, rebuking her soul. Her father was a peace loving man but he was not a coward and neither was she. Her knife slashed through a bale of hay leaning against the wall, severing it, falling into two equal parts like split wood, equal in size. “Good for a bale of hay,” she whispered, then she glared at her white knuckles and spat on them. “Croga” she admonished her hand as though it was not part of her person. Could she be as brave as her lips wanted? She had killed a few rabbits in her time, sometimes with just a rock in her hand. Every time they died at her feet, their little mouths open for breath that would not come, and their beady eyes looking into hers, she felt terrible. So terrible that at first she had vomited her breakfast. But, she had overcome that part okay. Still, she knew her promise to her beloved father must be kept.
Her third weapon, the sharp scian, her trusty knife, she held in her left hand, which was wet with perspiration already. “Damnaigh,” she whispered, knowing full well that her mother would clout her over the head if she heard such a bad word coming from her daughter’s mouth. She held the shining scian tightly, took a deep breath and deposited it into its craftsman-built leather and bronze scabbard, rubbing her fingers over the smooth engraving, satisfying her senses. She loved the feel of smooth metal, carved wood and the masculine fragrance of tanned leather.
She took another deep breath and lifted her head. She gazed out of the slit in the stones, where the stones had a gap; a cottage with one room that had been her haven since she was born here, probably right where the light came through the gap between stones. Just like now! This may well be her last glimpse of her childhood view of life. “Life beyond the narrow gap,” she whispered, encouraging her heart. It would be exciting, new and her body could empty itself of the poisons of hatred, vengeance and fear, finally after waiting seven years.
She could feel her body resurrecting again as though she was being re-born. Light was beginning to ooze from its hibernation, splashing the dark green leaves of the old oak tree with its spreading branches; leaves that shot off a sparkle in the dawning light of day. The light beauty of true day contrasted with her seared conscience. She was a deceiver and a liar, a fraud whose light was a cloak for her contemplations. She drew a deep breath as every ounce in her body rebelled against itself. She so longed to tell her mother what was upon her heart, but it was just not possible.
“She would never understand,” she whispered softly, speaking to her own soul. No-one could understand her task, her mission in life. Well, there was just one person, and she could not tell her mother who that was. One human being was to be trusted, that’s all. “Just one,” Dervorgilla said softly, the tension in her chest relaxing a little.
Dervorgilla’s deception was paramount to her plan’s success. Her eyes filled briefly with pools as she remembered his face, the face of her hero, her adored father: his long nose that was straight as an arrow; eyes that reminded her of nuts, hazelnuts with stars inside. His brows would furrow until they were almost a straight line across his head. “Wobbly line,” she used to say when she sat on his knee and moved her finger along his thick brows. She would drive her finger upwards and across the lines that were engraved in his brow so deeply, as if some master craftsman had worked for a million hours to get them so straight, so even. Everything about her father was balanced. His hair was neither brown nor black, just a nice balance of darkness and a touch of light. His eyes were always serious, except when she made him laugh. She loved to see her father laugh. It made her feel happy and important. His lips were surprisingly soft to her touch, with few lines, just a dip in the centre of his bottom lip from smoking a pipe. That wonderful aroma she really missed. His pipe had been left cold since the day he was murdered. Only in her dreams could she delight in the aroma of burning tobacco, the delightful smell of her father. She could clearly see his teeth as well. He had a gap on each side of his mouth, where his canines had been knocked out in a fight with another lad many years before, leaving a gum-line that had hardened over the years, so that it didn’t even notice his missed teeth when he tore meat from the leg of a beast; this was where she sometimes poked her skinny index finger and he would pretend to eat her finger, saying, “Tasty morsel; very tasty!” She would scream and giggle with delight in this special game she played with father even until the day he left their family without a provider.
He told her that the fairy took his teeth away when he was naughty, even though she knew the true story about a fight. Dervorgilla preferred the fictional story: she would furl her tiny brows and squeeze her eyes up and purse her lips and say, “I will get them back from that fairy.” When her first tooth became loose, she gave it to her father. She had the absurd notion that he could use it to replace his lost tooth: her gift to him; a gift from her heart. Immediately, he placed it in a tiny pewter box, where he kept his other treasures. That surprised Dervorgilla, because she thought he would attach it stick it into the gap in his mouth. Following a teary session, he explained that teeth from grown people were much bigger than little people’s teeth, and only little people grew new teeth, she stopped crying, but never understood this at all. Was this some kind of joke, she had wondered then? Were adult people so bad that their teeth did not grow again? It was a horror that stuck in her mind for years. One by one she had lost her baby teeth, but none of them were of any use to her father. Despite his explanation, she could not accept that her father was too naughty to have any more teeth. Each time her heart broke as he placed her baby teeth in his pewter box. Now, nearly an adult, she wished for her childish heart again, but it too was gone now.
As her mind brought back hidden memories of times past, she wondered if he loved her more than all the other family members, even, she thought with vanity, more than her mother? She was the son of his heart, the boy who happened to be a girl, and the way things turned out, the only witness of his vicious murder. That idea and the attempt of Aodh Ui Connaibair to metamorphose her into a likeness of her older sister Aoife, gave her a greater idea; an idea that she could use to her advantage in her quest to find her father’s killer and even get away with it and maybe have a life afterwards. The idea elated her so much that she could hardly wait to complete her plan, but first, she must go and confront the Baron.