Lugh wheeled through the night, standing, legs spread, in his chariot, reins wrapped around his forearms and clinched tightly in his fists. It was not safe for his horses, nor safe for himself in truth, but he was in need, mortally so.
So he thundered along the track, wheels slipping in and out of the ruts, and the rush of the air past his ears all but drowning out the rattle and clatter of the horse’s tack and the creak and groan of the over-strained vehicle. Lugh let out a whoop of pure joy, it always seemed that life lived on the edge was the sweetest. This flight from the Maines, the many angry brothers of Findabair, was the sort of trouble that often spiced his life.
Lugh frowned, the horizon seemed to be closing in, trees looming large. Nothing looks the same in the night, thought Lugh, I don’t even know if I’m headed the right way. And then his horses turned unbidden, sensing better than their master the path’s windings. Lugh fought to keep his balance in his chariot careening around a bend on one bouncing shuddering wheel. As suddenly as he’d been flung almost over the side of it, the chariot rocked back onto both wheels. Fishtailing and bouncing, Lugh thundered along the track.
They burst out of shadowed forest into a clearing, sky filled with stars, and at the top of a rise, a fort with torches lighting the gateway. “Easy now, beauties, almost there.” Lugh pulled hard on the reins, but his two lathered horses were loath to slow their break-neck pace. Up the ramp the horses rumbled, chariot and Lugh in tow, slowing when they remembered the man and saw the way barred by gates ahead.
With a bit too much momentum and an excess of bravado, perhaps, Lugh executed a tight turn, slinging the light chariot in a skid around his horses and ending with the whole facing again toward the gates of the hill fort.
“Hello the gate!” shouted Lugh, “Come quick before you’ve enemies at your walls!” Odd not to have drawn a guards attention with that approach, unless Gol has the duty and doesn’t want me to have the satisfaction.“MacMorna! Do you have the watch tonight? shouted Lugh. “Are you asleep, or have the years stolen your hearing? Wake up, you old man.”
“I hear you fine, you twice damned bastard,” A voice from behind the gate grated, “You’re too late Fionn. Come back tomorrow or, better yet, never again. Suit yourself either is fine with me.”
“Shame on you Gol, where’s your hospitality?” Lugh chuckled, “Come now my friend, you know me, open the gate and let me in.”
“OH, I know you alright. Go somewhere else, foul wind.”
Gol MacMorna was a cranky old veteran. Lugh had fought with his father, that very Morna who was the famous champion of these folk at that time. His son had all of his stubbornness if little of his grace and good humor. The son, Saldim, had been in a bad mood ever since he’d lost an eye. All of his humor had gone with, and it was by the name “One Eye”, Gol, that he was known.
“Come now, we’ve drunk wine at the same board. How will Gormflaith reward you for turning away her friend and confidant? You won’t be serving your queen well at all, need I remind you?” chided Lugh. Gol MacMorna served the same man as his father, but as long as Gol had served him, his lord had been old and sour, not the good natured king Lugh had known years past. Even a young and fiery queen had not brought him back to happiness. The woman, Gormflaith, had hair of flame and a spirit to match, but not even she could rekindle the old man and he’d passed before Lugh had come back around. All the better to console a beautiful queen, twice widowed, and I’ve done my very best, He thought.
“What do I care for this queen? I served the king, while he lived, and to me she is no more the queen since her lord was laid low. Some say by her hand. . .”
“What say the brehon?”
“Don’t quote the law at me. You know well enough, sneak, but don’t you think I’ll serve you as king just because you’ve been beneath that woman’s skirts.” Gol laughed nastily, “But then I doubt I’ll need to either. Word’s come that you’re a busy man, Fionn, or whatever you call yourself this moon. Go on your way before your treachery catches you up.”
“I guess I shouldn’t trust a one-eyed man to see through a lie.” Lugh growled as he stepped off his chariot and loosened his ornate, silver chased, bronze short sword in its sheath. “I would have thought better of a son of Morna.”
“Say you so? What do you know of Morna? I know my own father, he raised me, after all.”
“Oh, I fought with him and. . .
“There it is.” Gol crowed, “Another lie, but I’ve caught you in this one.” Gol stepped through the gate and stood with his left side toward Lugh, his hand on the hilt of his iron sword, and on his left arm, his shield. “I mark you a liar and a thief and add them to all your claimed talents, each and everyone which I doubt. The only talent you can truly claim is storyteller. You’re half my age, if that, and I am Morna’s son, and he dead now ten long years.”
“So you’ve left your post to fight me in the gate. If I need to go through you to get into your master’s fort, then I must do what I must. I can’t imagine that Gormflaith will be happy I killed her guard. . .”
“I told you that woman isn’t my master. . .”
“But you guard her gate?”
“I guard the gate of the king. . .
“Who is dead,” finished Lugh. He eyed the miserable man. “What will you do now that your king is dead and you serve in his widow’s house?”
“There is no shortage of gates. I could find another, better, I could serve a lord who is not too old to go to war.”
“What do you want MacMorna? I want to go see Gormflaith, so let me go my way and you can go yours.”
“What, Oh Fionn, would give me more pleasure than cutting you down?”
Lugh shrugged, “How about gold enough to start again?”
“How about that bit of ill got gold that hangs about your neck?”
Lugh laughed, “Would you be a prince then? You’ve no right to wear such as this.” Lugh fingered the thick golden torc so that the light of the torches would dance across it’s gleaming surface.”
“I’m a warrior, not a princess. I’d melt it for its wealth, not wear it like a courtesan, or a pretender like you. Give me that thing and I’ll let you in.”
“I’ll give you half for letting me in and half for making sure my horses get good care while I see the queen.” Lugh pulled the ends apart and pulled it off his neck. Lugh knelt down, placing the torc on the ground before him and drawing his ornate, leaf-bladed sword.
“I don’t need your gold to have such fine animals cared for better than you have. I’ll see to them. It will cost you the whole to get in my gate.” MacMorna watched Lugh lay out the torc and take out his sword, “Do you really think you can cut anything with that fancy old toy you carry instead of a sword?” mocked Gol.
In one swift motion, Lugh reared, then drove the ancient blade clear through the torc and deep into the hard packed ground. Wrenching the sword free of the earth finished the work of separating the two parts. “One part for the gate, one for the horses, all for you MacMorna. Go your way.” Lugh wiped the sword clean on his garment and shoved it back in its sheath.
“Have it your way Fionn.” Gol smirked, “Go see what your gold has bought. Two parts melt as well as one.”
Glaring at MacMorna Lugh pushed past him and entered the fort, only glancing back long enough to see the one-eyed guard scooping up the broken torc.
I’m calling this series of posts a “preginning” since it is coming before my initial scene setting section that I added to lead to my initial post and the genesis of the whole of Child of Moss. Obviously things are getting complex and so if you want to read this story, as it now exists, in order you might want to use this page: Child of Moss (Novel Progress Page and Table of Contents).