I wrote this story a year ago... no, two years ago! How time flies. It was an entry to a flash fiction contest hosted by a good friend Mandy Ward (Mandy is also the editor of the e-zine, Welcome to Wherever always looking for submissions).
In Ireland we are very proud of our heritage, obsessive some might say, and some would be right. We cherish our past. Unfortunately that also includes tresspasses against us that should probably be consigned to the mists of time. Long forgotten slights by people to people long dead. Anyhow, I believe there was once a time of heroes and magic. When legends came to life!
“Master! Master! Come quick,” a youth burst through the door of the hut. “Please, Master, hurry. The sky is on fire.”
An older man with iron-grey hair and a bushy beard looked up from where he was sitting, staring into a fire that smouldered in the centre of the room. Silver wisps of smoke drifted through a hole in the thatched roof above.
“What is it, boy?” the man asked irritably.
“Please, Master, you have to come,” the boy’s face quivered in fear.
The man hauled himself up with the aid of a staff. Topped by a carved snake’s head it was cut from a single piece of ash, intricate runic symbols were etched along its length. Man and boy emerged together from the hut to stare at the roaring sky caused by an angry rising sun, blood raw against the black mountain range it rose over.
“See, Master. I told you. Why are the gods so enraged?”
“Hold yer whist, boy. Lest I feel a need to sacrifice a young druid apprentice to appease them.” The boy stared wide-eyed at the older man, wisely keeping his mouth shut.
“Master Crannmór!” The druid and his apprentice turned to see who had hailed him. A mail clad figure hopped down from a chariot, while the driver held the snorting team of twin black horses steady. The warrior strode purposefully towards the druid.
“The mighty Cormac does us great honour by visiting our humble abode.” The druid inclined his head. The warrior paused, unsure whether he was being treated respectfully or mocked.
“The king requests your presence.” He decided it was the former.
“And he sends his champion as a messenger?” One bushy eyebrow rose on a wrinkled forehead.
“He would really like to see you.”
“Very well, so he shall.”
“Right after breakfast.”
“I am instructed to bring you immediately,” the warrior protested.
“And so you shall, once I’ve eaten,” the druid turned with a flourish and disappeared into the hut. With a groan and a shake of his head the King’s Champion followed.
The two men had wooden bowls filled with a thick porridge and cups of cool spring water served to them by the young apprentice. When he was satisfied both men had their fill he hunkered down in the corner with his own breakfast, eyes darting back and forth between druid and warrior.
“So tell me Cormac, what has Laoghaire so anxious he needs to send his best warrior out to find an old man, when the sun has barely risen above the mountains?” Crannmór asked, dribbling golden honey into his bowl.
“You’ve been away too long, Crannmór. The Christ priest, Padraig has his feet firmly planted in Laoghaire’s hall. He spouts his nonsense about one true god to any who will listen.”
“And do they listen?” Crannmór looked up sharply.
“Most just laugh, but he does have some followers.”
“Perhaps I have been away too long.”
The dún of Laoghaire King of
“Welcome, Crannmór, druid and keeper of lore, your wisdom has been missed,” the King stood to greet his priest, his arms spread wide in welcome.
“So it would seem,” Crannmór responded, a slight inclination of the head indicating the leather cross hanging from a chord around the King’s neck.
“Ah… I would be a foolish King not to seek the protection of all the gods, don’t you think.”
“A foolish man to the neglect the god’s that have protected you thus far,” the druid retorted.
Laohgaire turned away and snatched a cup of ale from a nearby bench. “So, Crannmór, what message are the gods sending us by lighting up the heavens with their fiery wrath?”
The druid’s eyes narrowed as he looked from face to face of the assembled men, strong brave men… all like frightened rabbits waiting for him to speak and tell them all was well in the world.
“They are angered. They spoke to me in a dream, they wanted to know why the people of
Crannmór’s head snapped around at the interruption, astonished that anyone would dare.
“Who speaks these words?” he bellowed, his eyes blazed as they fell on a sorry looking figure. He was dressed simply in a knee length tunic, thread bare and in need of a wash, his hair was filthy and matted in clumps on his head.
“He lies!” the stranger repeated.
“Begone from these halls, charlatan…slave,” Crannmór roared, striding towards the Christ priest. He beat him with his staff, pushing and chasing him from the hall and out through the dún, a laughing crowd following.
“Close the gates,” he shouted at the guards. “If he comes back spike him with your spear.”
King Laoghaire watched anxiously.
“That’s the end of that,” the druid growled.
“Master, your staff.” Crannmór looked at his ancient symbol of power, passed down from the ancients. It had split, the snakehead had snapped off. He looked at the barred gates, he felt a cold shadow grip the pit of his stomach as a vision of a wooden cross crept into his mind.