Beyond Satire

This is a very important and clearly defined issue. The click-bait addiction.

An Cailín Rua

Yesterday, 1st July 2014 saw an incident occur in Dublin city centre.

An incident that, in the way it played out, spoke volumes about our relationship with mental health in Ireland. Faced with the reality of  a potential emergency, the Irish public and media reacted in a way that painted a stark, grim and dare I say it, depressing picture of our real attitudes towards those who behave in a way that suggests mental distress.

At approximately 10.30pm yesterday morning, a shirtless man was spotted on the roof of the Abercrombie and Fitch building on College Green, where he was seen climbing back and forth between the “peak” of the building, to the roof just behind it. He then moved to the adjacent, taller Ulster Bank building where he continued to move around the roof, and for a time balanced precariously on top of a statue on top of one…

View original post 1,064 more words

Cooke Report: Why it doesn’t support the “nothing happened” headlines

This, as a dramatization on RTE, would write itself. OK. Yeah. That’s totally unrealistic. Channel Four, then.

Philip Boucher-Hayes

The die has been cast and the first news cycle after the publication of retired Judge Cooke’s report on alleged bugging of #GSOC produced a wealth of “nothing proved so nothing happened” type headlines.

Read it and you can’t come to the same conclusion.

The Wifi Threat

GSOC’s boardroom has a lot of audio visual equipment including microphones. Contained within this equipment was a device which had been tampered with and original manufacturer parts were found to have been replaced. This device – called 4B throughout the report – was repeatedly trying to connect with the wifi network in a nearby cafe. The significance of this was in the belief of Verrimus that an …

“eavesdropper could gain access to the microphone-enabled units connected on the network in the Boardroom and the Media Room and use them to listen to conversations in those areas.”

Further alarms were raised when during…

View original post 1,315 more words

The Birthspear of Alisca – Part III: The Finale

Part III: The Finale

Part II

After a moment of anguish, Alisca realised that her father was only using his knife to cut his saddlebags and blankets from his horse. ‘There is no time for looking back at what might have been, young lord.’ He barked. ‘Farralone has stood for generations and it will not face this foe without a valid defence. You must go and warn the King.’

Finbar turned to his men. ‘Prepare your horses for the return journey. Drop any provisions, blankets and spare clothing you have. I intend to defy the Fates and be back in Farralone before daybreak.’

The Prince spoke quietly, his shirt still open. ‘Sir, it would be more prudent to wait for the Kings’ war machines to arrive before engaging this enemy…’

Finbar interrupted him. ‘I have no intention of defending Farralone; I plan to evacuate it.’

These words caused immediate dismay among his fellow villagers. The price for abandoning a village defence and emptying its homesteads was the drifting life of refugees. They would join the Scattered; their Stories would die.

While Finbar argued with the elders in his group, Alisca watched the Prince solemnly withdraw and prepare to leave with his men. Somehow she knew that if he returned to the mountains now, she would never see him again. She found herself dismounting and walking towards him, regretting all the distance she had kept from him.

His men spotted her approach and backed away. ‘Will you not return with us to Farralone? If we are too late, we will need your men and your cunning to aid in the evacuation.’

The Prince smiled so sadly that her heart lurched. ‘My duty. My devotion to the King. Your father has released me from my folly. Now I must consider my orders. I must return with confirmation of the invasion.

‘I will never forget you. And I will return for you at the head of a mighty army. I will seek you out.’ He held her hand to his cheek. ‘I promise.’

She stared at the devastation below as he bade farewell to Finbar and the others. When she turned back to ready her horse, her tears had dried and the Prince had gone.

Soon Alisca and the men of Farralone were driving their horses towards home. Finbar gave the mounts and their riders no respite. They had ridden hard to get to Inniscraigh in a day and a night, now he would sacrifice them all to return home before the black smoke began to rise above their beloved home. They battled their exhausted horses and their own fatigue throughout the night. Shouting encouragement and curses to each other, they crashed out of the Teacht Forest and urged their foaming mounts across the River Dorsa. All of them kept a sweat-ridden vigil on the brightening skies ahead for the first plumes of smoke.

They arrived to see the enemy vessel move into the bay. As Alisca watched, the very first fireball rose in silence from its tulip-shaped tower. The projectile climbed into the cloudless morning sky like a burning star before plummeting into the harbour wall. The detonation sent timbers and exploding boats soaring and tumbling through the air. Screams of panic echoed up the valley.

Finbar reined the group to a halt. ‘Caohimin! You have command of the group. Start pulling the entire village population out into the forest tree line.’ Caohimin nodded and, with a short hand signal, he split them up into four bands. They disappeared into the crannog.

Finbar held back two village elders and his daughter. Their horses were the freshest and still capable of a short gallop. ‘We must make for the beach. That is where our Spear-Readies will be making their stand. We must order them to retreat.’ He glanced at the sky, filled with fire and whistling wreckage. ‘Follow me, if you dare!’

Without another word, he heeled his snorting horse towards the sands. His daughter dug her heels into the flanks of her staggering horse and followed.

Soon the entire harbour area was sizzling in the water. The bombardment had walked forward and fireballs now sailed into the village buildings within the crannog. Alisca had never dreamed of such destruction. Smoke billowed around and the air crackled and screamed with fireballs.

They dismounted in the dunes of Farralone. The beach was a long golden stretch of sand, bound by chest-high surf and tall dunes. In between, the seaward crannog wall was now bright with flames. Finbar found the village defenders lurking in deep trenches close to the breaking surf. Round, white-eyed faces stared up as Alisca and the others leapt in. Finbar ordered everyone to fall back to the village outskirts.

But even as he ordered the retreat, a lookout called a stark warning. Everyone peered over the trenches to see several tall warriors stepping out of the surf. They wore strange metal helmets and heavy black and red shielding about their bodies. Seawater drained from their armour as more emerged behind them from beneath the rolling breakers. The defenders had been expecting boats to be launched from the enemy vessel, but these beasts had walked the seabed, under the cover of the waves, to emerge on shore. They drew long swords of thick metal. They were ready to fight.

Before Finbar could wet his lips to speak, three young brothers burst forward and engaged the first wave of attackers. Like waves breaking upon rocks, these boys dashed themselves against the unblinking giants. In a few moments their brave cries turned to cries of agony. Their swords broke in two against the steel of their adversaries. The beasts swiped at them with twice the reach of their weapons. Blood sprayed the sand. The youngest of the brothers found himself alone amongst the enemy with the blood of his brothers foaming at his feet. He turned to run, but was cut down mercilessly by a sword thrust to the back of the head.

The defenders began a vicious running battle to retreat. The remains of their ancestral home now burned and spat in a blazing inferno, filling the valley with dirty smoke. Dozens of attackers had now marched out of the sea. The defenders roared battle songs and paired off to protect each other as they made a bloody, hopeless retreat up the beach.

With the flaming ruins of their village approaching at their backs, they found their aggressors flanking them on both sides. They fought even more ferociously. Encirclement had become imminent.

Alisca’s sword broke at the grip and she drew her Birthspear, using its extra length to parry her attacker. Fighting back to back with her father, a strange calm enveloped her. At first, she believed it was her mind preparing to die. But soon she noticed that she and her father were beginning to make some headway against the horde around them. She began to slice through her opponents with relish. Her Birthspear released sparks with each strike and she could feel a strange warmth within her grip. Her arms spun like the wings of a humming bird.

The longswords of the enemy shattered against its shaft. Helmets and armored limbs began to gather on the sands behind her. She noticed time around her slowing to a dream-like crawl. As if moving through waist-high water, her attackers drew towards her. She found acres of space beneath their guards. She delivered cutting blows and slices with precision and awesome power. She lost herself in a dance of death.

In horror, Finbar turned to watch his young daughter dancing with her Birthspear in amongst the pressing enemy, a grim smile on her lips. Dark blood rained on her face and shoulders.

“Rally! Rally! Rally!”

His remaining men merged together behind Alisca, covering her back and making a desperate arrow formation aimed for the burning village where Finbar hoped they could break contact.

As they approached the broken crannog walls, Alisca began to tire. She could see the enemy had turned their full attention upon her. Her Birthspear had begun to hum and flicker in her hands. Its kinetic energy was surging from a well, a center-point, deep inside her. She was not the source; she was only the conduit. But this horrible horde was endless. Their sheer weight of numbers would match her reserves of energy soon. Already her arms and shoulders ached in red flashes.

Her steps faltered. Time began to expand, regaining its original form and consistency. The cries and clash of metal began to leak into the silence. She began to see again the blood-soaked nightmare in which she was embroiled. Fear blossomed in her chest like a dark flower. She lunged at an attacker but lost her balance. “Father!” She cried, tumbling to the ground.

Her father fell to one knee beside her, flourishing his broken sword at the encircling invaders. She heard his ragged voice call up to the heavens: “Anya! We come!”

There came a roar like thunder. From behind the dwindling defenders, the Prince’s troop sprang from the smoke and ploughed their war-horses into the front rank of the surrounding enemy, driving them back with their weight and surprise. The soldiers were in full line-abreast formation and charging at speed. Their horses reared up and crushed the warriors into the sand with their hooves. The men began to carve away at the heads and shoulders of the enemy. In the middle of the broiling throng, the Prince himself could be seen, slashing with his sword. He looked up long enough to roar at the villagers to withdraw.

The defenders broke for the burning cover ahead, but Alisca turned her head to watch the Prince. There beyond in the shallow waters of the bay, the Doomsday vessel was closing on the shoreline. She hauled her father to a stop and pointed. The ship was moving into the shallows. It seemed intent on erasing the defenders from the beach with its mighty weapon. The tower, soaring high into the sky, began to glow… Alisca hefted her spear. The shaft was radiant now as if made of glass or crystal. It was throbbing in unison with the bulb at the tower’s summit. With sudden clarity, she knew what to do. After a moment, Finbar understood.

He called the remaining defenders back and they formed a tight cordon on the beach ahead of the young woman. The horsemen were retreating now with terrible losses. They joined the confused line, arraying about a space before Alisca of about ten man-sticks. She had only a few seconds to prepare herself. Between the white smoke billowing from the village, she could see the vessel and its pulsing tower. She smiled. Here was death right back into their belly. She had twenty paces of clear sand ahead, but it was draining fast as the urgent battle raged like a beast around her. She lifted her Birthspear and began her throwing run. Serenity again descended on her like a cloak. Time slowed to the heartbeat of the Ages. She raced forward through the silence and arched her arm behind her. The bright, throbbing spear-tip lay close to her ear, ready to whisper its secret message.

She saw an enemy break through the cordon. He raised his longsword ahead of her and stood directly in her path. Determined but defenceless, she accelerated. Caohimin suddenly burst across her path on his horse. The warrior turned in surprise and desperately swung. Caohimin grabbed the sword and seemed to press it to his breast. The sword sank deep into his embrace and blood clouded the air. Her friend, his horse and the warrior crumpled to the ground together with bone-crunching finality.

Alisca turned her head to find her release point at her feet. She uttered a blood-curdling roar of pain and loss and thrust the spear high into the air: clean and true. Even as her eyes blurred with tears, they remained locked on the enemy tower.

The spear sailed into the ravaged sky, carried on the wind of Alisca’s grief and glowing like a setting sun. Her cry followed it into the heavens. At its hawk-high apogee, it vanished completely from sight.

A cataclysmic concussion filled the air. A lightning bolt, streaked with purple and yellow fingers, sprang from the vault above and hammered the top of the enemy tower. It quivered like the string of a bow and grew pregnant with light. It seemed to drink in the lightning from the sky, sucking it into the belly of the ship. Effervescent flames crisscrossed the bay. With the sound of squealing metal, the vessel itself turned a brilliant blinding white. The villagers could see its afterimage against the water. The final explosion was almost a relief when it came, showering the whole valley with tiny fires.

There was no time to react before a boiling wall of water folded onto the beach and wrenched everyone into its grasp. Alisca tried to find the surface but a heavy blow from spinning timber brought her blessed relief from her struggles.

***

Alisca woke to find the Prince staring down, worry adding to the blood and grief on his face. She lay on a litter, deep in the cool air of the forest. Around her the villagers bustled, caring for the wounded and preparing the dead.

It took time to find her voice. ‘What happened?’

‘Prince Oisin would not rest until he had found you.’

She turned to see her father lying next to her, his arms bandaged. ‘You were unconscious, pale and barely alive, high up from the shore. He was able to rescue only a few defenders from the water.’

‘And Caohimin?’

The Prince took over. His voice trembled with reverence. ‘His band saved most of the villagers before he had leapt onto his horse and raced towards the sea, crying your name. We found his body, clinging to the warrior he tarried. He saved us all. He will be remembered in song.’

Alisca lifted her head. ‘What about the others?’

‘Only five of my men survived. We found several invaders. We’ve kept only one alive. Nothing of their vessel could be found.’

‘What are we doing now?’

Her father spoke. ‘Now? Now we must prepare to move on. Our valley and shoreline have devastated by the battle and the destruction. We must travel into the forest to find a new destiny.’

‘No!’ Alisca sat up in her litter and raised her voice. The villagers around her stopped to listen. ‘To leave now means defeat. After all that had been sacrificed. After all that had been saved. To leave now means joining the Scattered. If we leave now, we will die as surely as if the enemy had slit our throats one by one, like lambs.’

The Prince helped her drink some water and she continued. ‘I promise the fish will return. I promise you all that the land will recover and grow again. Let tomorrow be a new day for our village, not the first day of our forlorn wanderings. The Stories of our village have not finished, I say. No. All we did today was add a new one to their store and wealth.’

‘But the shore line is gone,’ came a voice.

Alisca smiled. ‘Give the tide a chance to recover its balance.’

Others raised their voices but even more were looking back towards the sea. The Prince listened to Alisca beginning to guide her people. He saw a woman now, not a young girl. He marvelled at how the battle had changed her. She was their leader, their new Earthmother. She had restored Order after Chaos.

His lieutenant appeared at his side and they stepped away from the others. ‘The prisoner has been trussed and tied, my lord as you ordered. What are your orders?’

‘Are the men ready to depart?’

His man was excited. ‘Yes, my lord. The horses presented to us by the villagers are of an excellent breed. Our provisions have been stored. Glory awaits us in court my lord. We won a glorious battle.’

‘We won nothing. We only survived, Patrick.’

‘Yes, sir. Of course.’ His eyes flickered at Alisca as she ordered shelter to be erected in the trees. ‘Shall I give the sally order, sire?’

The Prince listened to the trees and breathed the salty sea air. He loved this place. But duty lay upon his shoulders like an iron bar. He was from another world.

Alisca must have felt his stare. She turned to look at him and they shared a gaze which spoke of everything between them, everything separating them. She smiled at him in the speckled tree light and then turned back to her father. They were both bound to their duty now.

The prince led his waiting lieutenant towards their horses. ‘Yes. Mount up. We depart at once. And get me my maps. I want to re-write them. We must mark this place with its new name.’

‘My Lord?’

‘New Farralone.’

The End

The Birthspear of Alisca – Part 2

Part One

The Birthspear of Alisca – Part 2

The late evening in Farralone was parched like dry tinder. Fires were lit beside the village wells for a Fighting Feast and soon the blood of the village was singing. After hours of dancing, the firelight slowly settled onto the waters of the moat. The story-telling began. The Stories of a village were its identity, more so than even its name. Spoken aloud, the Stories recited the histories of struggle, the loves and the lives of all the ancestors and mothers of the village. The Stories were the lifeblood of the village spirits.

A fingernail sliver of moonlight had sailed deep into the stars above when one of the elders finally nodded to Alisca. She stood before the crowd to tell the story of her mother, Anya, the greatest Earthmother the village had ever know. She told the story of how Anya had been kidnapped by the Cliff Dwellers when she was twelve and how the girl returned months later with her life and sanity intact by teaching her captors how to find lobsters, a trick of the village that the Cliff Dwellers greatly admired. She told the story of how Anya cured the village of fever by staying up all night for five nights, burning torches over the village wells. Then much later, with her audience breathless, she told the story of how Anya had loved her father, Finbar.

The fire grew to its brightest now and Alisca stood near the heat, her flowing voice carrying over the sound of the crackling wood. She felt the eyes of the Prince on hers as if he was brushing her face with his fingers. She spoke only to the still, shadowy figure, half hidden behind the firelight…

… The lightning bolt shattered the center mast in the birthing chamber and the entire structure began to collapse. Finbar gathered the wailing newborn into his arms and raced into the raging storm. As he hurried back to where his wife lay, the roof collapsed with a leaden roar. Finbar fell to his knees in the mud and added his voice to the keening winds.

They used the dried remains of the hut to cremate Anya’s body two days later. All night, the fires burned – bright, loud and high. The following morning, while the embers were still hot, Finbar walked amongst the debris. He selected the largest piece and began to carve a longman’s spear from the blackened wood. This was strange behaviour but, as he was in mourning, the Firehut decided to let him be. For nearly ten weeks he spoke very little and worked on the wood, whittling it down until it was had the thickness of his wrist, straight and as black as night. Two elegantly carved grips inlaid with leather were wrapped into the shaft and at its tip nestled a sharp shining metal arrowhead, re-molded from his wife’s pendant. Finbar found Alisca suckling from her Housemother’s breast. He presented the beautiful weapon to the infant. With her tiny fingers, she reached for the Birthspear and laughed…

In one flowing motion, Alisca grasped the top handle from over her shoulder and slid the Birthspear from its harness. With a razor-sharp battle cry, she twirled it high above her head. Her story was complete. The village cheered and drummed their feet while the Prince chapped his hands together in the strange custom of the court. Alisca was welcomed over by the elders and she sat close to the Prince for the rest of the banquet, drinking apple wine and laughing with the others.

The Prince was absolutely captivated by this young woman. Her long limbs were made of gold in the firelight and her lips shone as she spoke, despite the heat and dust in the air. A longing rose in his chest that stilled his breath and dried his mouth.

Caohimin sat on the far side of the fire and spoke to nobody as the firelight slowly died in his eyes.

***

The sun rose to meet the Fighting Party galloping across the headland towards Inniscraigh. The Prince and Finbar led the train of sixty horses. Caohimin rode beside Alisca but she never noticed his raging silence. Instead she listened to the Prince speak to his horse and issue commands to his men. Finbar matched him and the two groups practiced manoeuvres together; soon they could anticipate each others’ formations. When they stopped halfway to rest of the night, both leaders were very pleased with their progress.

The next morning, when they entered the domain of Inniscraigh, the local men began to sing loudly so that any patrols or sentries nearby would hear them and know that they approached under a Peacebranch. But nobody appeared to challenge or escort them. By the time they entered the Gassinaght Forest, the Prince had become unnerved, as this was very much against custom. As they splashed through the River San and began to ride up into the valley of Inniscraigh village, the horses became agitated, clearly disturbed by something in the air. The Prince ordered silence and Finbar silently commanded both groups into two diamond formations.

They burst out of the forest and into a wide sloping grassland which rose towards a high ridge. Their eyes were filled with the sight of an enormous column of thick black smoke pumping high over the Inniscraigh headland and drifting out to sea. The entire sight resembled a giant darkening oak tree growing into the morning sky. It lay directly above the village of Inniscraigh, still hidden from view by the gradient before them.

The two leaders quickly quelled curses and groans of fear and loathing. A nod passed between them and the Prince roared an order they had practiced many times the day before: “Arrowhead and follow my lead!”

Alisca soon found herself thumping her mount into a gallop. The Fighting Party raced up the final hill. Finbar led the Party with a battle song on one side. The Prince drew his long sword on the other, casting shards of sunlight all around. Alisca remembered thinking that she had never felt so happy or so strong and that she was ready for whatever would greet them on the other side.

But she was wrong. Nothing in her short life could have prepared her for the sight of the Inniscraigh homelands laid entirely to waste. A purple haze hung like a shroud over the entire valley below, drifting slowly inland and carrying the deep stench of death. Blackened stumps and burning holes in the Earth were all that remained of the village, fuelling the mountainous clouds which filled the heavens above. The harbor had been smashed into burning firewood, floating in the bay with the scattered hulks of the fishing fleet. Thousands of bodies lay broken and scattered in the fields. Everything seemed to be alight.

In a ragged line, the charging riders dragged their mounts to a halt. Miles out in the bay, a giant vessel unlike anything they had ever seen before was moving out into the current and around the headland. Shaped like the shell of a giant turtle, no figures could be seen moving upon it.

Finbar whispered, “It shines in the sunlight… how can it be made of metal?” Out of the center of its hull, rose a thin tower with a bulbous tip which glowed like the setting sun. It reminded Alisca of a tulip flower. She noticed the glowing petals were just closing as the vessel turned East.

“And is it really moving against the tide and the wind?” Caohimin asked. “What kind of devilry can make a vessel do that?”

The Prince’s horse skittered beneath him; it could sense his anger. He dismounted and removed his gloves. “The attackers are moving much faster than even those chalk-headed intelligence officers in Court had estimated. They must be striking a populated headland every morning. They remain in the area until utter devastation prevails. That is why we have heard so very little news.”

Finbar nodded. “We are fortunate then to arrive in time to…” His voice trailed off as the implications of what the Prince had just said sank in.

The Prince stepped forward. He had removed his leather helmet and opened the buttons on his tunic. “My folly, countrymen. Farralone will be their next target. For my own dreams of glory, I have drawn all hope of a defence away from your village. I am to blame.”

The Prince stood before Finbar with his broad chest exposed. Alisca marveled at his courage as he waited for the death that ancient custom demanded. After a moment, her father drew a long blade from his saddlebags….

To be continued….

The Birthspear of Alisca – Part 1

The firecircle grows silent as the encompassing darkness of night tightens like a battle drum around them all. Close to the fire, shining in that golden heat, the elders of the village elbow and coax one of their number to stand. He rises like a reluctant jumble of sticks, smiling as the people cheer and drum their feet. As he begins to speak, his audience feel the stars above them vanish and see through his eyes an ancient shore, barely recognizable as their own…

***

Black, furious tides swept the shores for many weeks before Alisca was born. In the last days of her mother’s long labour, a roaring storm churned the sea and filled the air with water and ash. Her name was Anya – a powerful figure in the village of Farralone since her sixteenth birthday. As Earthmother, she had shown a renowned ability to foretell the seasonal moods of the land and sea. With her mystical cunning guiding the village, Farralone had thrived. But on this night, Mother Nature seemed bent on a terrible rebate. The winds wailed about the huts and slashed the walls of the crannog.

As Alisca filled her lungs with air for the first time, the sky overhead gathered itself into a fist. A shining lightning bolt with streaking arms of yellow sulphur struck the hut. The roof exploded, filling the interior with flying chips of wood and folding the world in upon itself…

Four months later, Alisca had mastered walking and running and it was soon clear to the Firehut elders that she was not destined to follow the Path of the Deer or the Flight of the Sparrow. By the time she was ten years old, her teachers were struggling to keep themselves upright during her wrestling sessions. Her height and agility prompted the Firehut to give her a Fighting Name – ‘Tisoha de Grandal’, which means ‘Tiger In The Tree’.

She mastered body combat and the sword as easily and as quickly as walking. But it was the spear with which she truly excelled. Marking her ground at twice the distance of her teachers, they soon began to stand aside and learn from her about wind and weight. She spoke in a new way about the methods of throwing spears. She taught that the spear is not thrown like a stone, but is made to fly like a bird. And a fighting spear does not fly like other birds. It must know its target; it must hear the heart of its prey on the wind. A fighting spear must be gifted with the spirit of a hawk. It is the task of the warrior who throws the spear to bestow this gift.

In this way, Alisca taught her father and brothers to use the spear to defend their village without ever resorting to the sword. Only during raids of their own was the sword unsheathed and the men who returned all claimed that their swords were thirstier for the lack of use. No woman had ever attended a raid, but on the night before her sixteenth birthday, the Firehut decided that an exception would be made for Alisca. The next raiding party would hold her within its ranks.

Late the following evening, a young Prince halted with twenty horsemen in the meeting glade of the village. A group from the Firehut rode out to meet them. Alisca accompanied them, her red hair tied back from her high cheek bones with a brooch made from willow. Caohimin, the young man riding beside her, had presented it to her that morning. On her back, she carried her Birthspear for the first time. She had been deemed a ‘Spear Ready’ member of her clan, ready to defend her village.

The Prince approached alone with his weapons tackle left in the care of his lieutenant and his chest bared, as was the custom when demonstrating peaceful intent. He presented a gift of fresh red apples to the head of the Firehut, a man named Finbar, Alisca’s father. In return, he graciously drank cold water from a gourd filled from the village wells. Only then did the young man speak.

“With the permission of your elders, I wish to ride through your village. My destination is the next village down the coast, a village named Inniscraigh.”

The elders remained silent. With his intention stated plainly, they waited for him to introduce himself, as was the custom.

“My name is Prince Oisin, a nephew of your King. The coastal regions have fallen silent. I have been tasked by the King to discover the truth behind tales of a terrible invading force. I have been sent to find the invaders strength, if they exist. My command and I have ridden hard for two weeks before arriving here…” He swept his arm in an awkward ceremonial manner that made Alisca smile under her hood. “… in the meeting glade of Farralone, between the ancient twin forests of Allias and Menerale. Many great stories are told in our courts of your warriors’ bravery and of your Elders’ wisdom. I beg you to accede to my request.”

(The King was wise and fond of his nephew. He had ordered him, in the event of meeting superior forces, to fall back immediately and return with at least half his troop intact. In this way the King hoped that the courageous young gelding would not commit to open battle and lose his first command and his precious head before the court could hear his tale. Oisin elected not to relate this to the local people.)

Finbar stepped forward. “We commend the young Prince for his courtesy and honour. The King is wise and untroublesome and, although distant, we are his loyal subjects and have always acceded to his call to arms.”

The young Prince smiled but Alisca could tell he was not sure how to take these words. She knew her father well – he was teasing the young man and she felt her heart go out to him in his discomfort. She hoped her father would not keep this up.

“However, I am afraid that I cannot let you and your men pass…”

The Prince froze. Alisca winced.

“… without providing rest and food for you and your command. You have travelled a great distance in a short time.”

The Prince beamed, greatly relieved but Alisca bit her lip as he suddenly spoke out of turn. “I thank you kindly for you generous offer but we – …”

“I insist on hearing more about this dark shadow you hunt. And if you are to meet this new enemy, you and your command must be rested. I insist.”

The custom was old and simple – to insist was to invite insult if the offer was spurned. Her father had cornered the young Prince. But to his credit, he barely blinked before replying. “We gladly accept your offer. Allow me to lead my men to your dwellings.”

Alisca decided this Prince would go far.

The Firehut was greatly disturbed by the news of an unknown enemy so close to their homeland. They led the Prince and his men back to the village, trailing their horses through the long grass and listening as the Prince told them all he knew of the attacks.

Alisca dismissed the strange fluttering in her chest as she caught glimpses of Prince Oisin. She had seen handsome men before; in fact there were many graceful men in the village, equally tanned and tall. Although he and Caohimin, her best friend since before she could remember, had much the same broad shoulders, Caohimin’s eyes were more candid and he lacked the rough bristles growing around this visitor’s mouth. Despite this, she still thought it very strange that while the Prince spoke of very grave matters, his voice made her feel like laughing.

Beside her, Caohimin felt a seam of jealousy burst out in his heart. He could not believe what he was witnessing. He had loved Alisca all his life – silently, passionately – and had fought with her many times, but now her eyes where captivated in this stranger’s face. All he could do was watch and twist the reins of his dim-witted horse.

The Firehut insisted on sending a raiding party under ‘Peacebranch’ terms into the Inniscraigh headland to help find this new enemy. The Prince would enforce the Peacebranch truce and join the three forces under one command. They would set out the following morning under a joint flag….

To Be Continued…. PART II