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The Heroes at the Ford…

by Richard Sutton on January 29, 2018

I was tapped in 2015 to write an extended short story about a legendary hero of Ireland for an independent publisher’s anthology to commemorate the anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916 on its Centennial. As often happens in multiple-writer projects, one of the headliners failed to submit in time and the entire project collapsed. Having not heard from the publisher in some time now with any plans to complete the work, I’m publishing it for Kindle and providing an excerpt here, so my readers and any interested in ancient Irish history can read it. It is based on a series of folk-tales and manuscripts chronicling a specific Irish Legend, regarding the Dun Bull and the hero also known as Cullen’s Hound.

The Heroes at the Ford

A Tale of  Ireland in the Age of Iron

by Richard Sutton

(c)2018 All Rights Reserved by the Author

 

“Nah. It’d be better you not call him that. It’s a kinda sore point with ‘im. He made a mistake when he was a stripling all full o’ piss and vinegar and he killed the Mor’s dog. He felt so bad he played fetch for Cullan Mor for a full year.” The older man waited to make sure it had sunk in. Knowing the young visitor was from Cymru where they spoke a slightly different tongue, he added, “You ken what I’m sayin’?”

“Yes, sure. But who named him hound?” The younger man pressed on.

“Oh, some Druid telling the tale to a bard to make a song, most likely. Setanta don’t much like Druids either. All the Gods seem to have conflicting plans for him.” The old warrior added, with a laugh, “for the rest of us, too, ye know?”

Eoin nodded as the smile came to his face. He’d laid down his harp and come at his father’s behest, to take up arms in the service of Ulster’s Mor. Mainly, so said his father,  to learn from “Cullan’s Hound, the greatest warrior in all of Eriu.” He hadn’t met the man yet, but he’d only just arrived the night before. To say he felt some anxiety regarding the upcoming meeting would put it mildly. What if the red-haired giant had no need for a young student? What if his outlander speech was too hard to understand?

* * * *

“WAKE yerself, Hound!  Cullan needs his dog!”

“Whaa? Who called me?” The burly, red-haired man threw back the heavy sheepskin bed covers, wiping crusty sleep from his eyes. The room remained dark, but for a slight glow of embers from the hearth and a bit of light seeping in from the doorway. He looked left, right and even above him in the rafters before a smile began to reveal itself. He must have heard the call in his sleep. He’d heard it so many times before, but it had been some time since any had been so rash as to use that name to his face, but he’d  learned to think twice before killing a king’s dog .  His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, but he muttered, “m’name’s Setanta, anyway… curse that meddlesome Druid.” He reached over the bed to touch his wife Emer. She was still asleep, breathing deeply. Her rounded hip beneath the blankets all the reassurance he needed to settle again in the warm bed.

He lay himself back down but it was no use, his mind was off running, like a harnessed team of ponies who’ve just smelled a field of oats. He quietly crawled off the bed platform to find yesterday’s breeches and tunic, lying nearby. He stood, pulled on the sweat-stiff breeches then the flax tunic. He stooped in the dark, reached blind, around the floor near the wall until he found his sword and belt leaning against the bed frame with his sandals. He buckled the belt around his hips and gave the rough, leather covered scabbard a firm slap as he walked quietly out to meet the new day.

The Great Hall of Ulster was already filled with the smoky fragrance of a breakfast feast in the works. His stomach growled as he heard the sound of serving platters being laid out by the kitchen crew. Rashers! Setanta could think of nothing more invigorating that a hearty breakfast with lots of rashers sizzling on the hearth. He increased his pace down the hall, but thought of Emer. Should he wait for her to rise as well?

His question was answered by the jarring sound up ahead, of a quarrel and the clatter of a wooden serving platter bouncing off the stone floor. Feeling that he should make sure no one was spilling blood or breaking noses this early, he rushed into the open great room where two glowering, red-faced men standing chest to chest were already throwing curses at each other.

“Twas mine, ye fool! Whose knife do ye see sticking out?” The contested haunch of bacon now lay nearby on the floor. One of the countless dogs was crawling under the table to get at it as safely and quickly as he might.

“Not yers alone, but mine as WELL.” The slightly shorter, dark-eyed man glared up at his foe, pushing against the taller man who staggered back. “Here’s my… own knife, too”

Setanta had heard enough, and stepped forward just as a ragged dog cowering under the table, sank his teeth into the delicious meat and carried it off out through the door in a burst of speed. “Now,” he said, laying a hand upon each of the contestants’ shoulders, “it doesn’t matter who got to it first, does it?”

# # # #

to read the rest of the tale, The Heroes at the Ford is now available for Kindle for 99 cents, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers…

Easter, 1916:

Irish Easter Rising Proclamation 1916

The Proclamation as Posted 1916

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