Riders Of The Sidhe - The Sidhe Legends: Book One
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by Kenneth C. Flint
Description: Out of the mists the Fomor came to enslave the isle of Eire, a dread race of twisted men ruled by an inhuman lord: Balor of the Evil Eye. But a champion came from out of the sea, a youth called Lugh, seeking his destiny, sent to Eire by the seagod Manannan MacLir to fulfill an ancient prophecy.
With Gilla, a jesting rogue, and Aine, a spirited warrior-woman he came to love, Lugh challenged the Fomor to restore the True King to the throne of Tara, and summoned the Silver Warriors of the Sidhe to fight in the realms of men.
The tale of Lugh of the Long Arm is among the greatest of all Celtic myths. Now this mighty legend comes blazing to life in a new retelling filled with all the fire and magic of the ancient bards.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2011 Double Dragon Publishing
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [418 KB]
Reading time: 262-366 min.
THE RIDERS OF THE SIDHE is Book One of The Gods of Eire trilogy. A gifted story teller, Kenneth C. Flint's prose sweeps the reader away on an epic journey to self discovery and the salvation of a people. A masterful blend of Celtic legend and science ficiton, this epic journey acheives an otherworldly, almost surreal flavor. Extraordinary heroism, the knowledge of druids, and the magic of bards provide an interesting and varied background. Originally printed by Bantum, this eBook version allow this marvelous tale to be shared once again at Double Dragon Publishing.
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The ships swept in suddenly from the silver mists which clung to the edge of the northern sea.
They were beautiful ships, their soft, glowing sails extended like great wings, swooping gracefully toward the island's rocky coast. But it was the hard, bright edge of death that they carried within them.
The gray-uniformed warriors who filled their decks looked up in cold disdain at the towering cliffs and the line of fortress walls along their top. Swiftly, skillfully, without a flicker of care in any of the hardened faces, they readied ropes and grapples and weapons for their attack.
High above them, the alarm had already been raised.
Warriors swarmed within the walls of the cliff top fortress. Defensive points were manned. Captains shouted orders to the companies who formed in the training grounds before the central keep.
From an upper window of the keep, a dark-haired woman watched the activities with concern. Her gaze often lifted to the sea beyond, where the sleek vessels soared in as unwaveringly as hawks descending upon prey.
Though a young woman yet, still slim and vigorous, gray showed in the billowing blackness of her hair, and lines aged he smooth, even-featured face. The days of Taillta's life had not been easy. But she knew, as she watched the ships come, that the hardest ones lay still ahead of her.
The commander of her companies entered the room behind her.
"My Queen, there are a score of large boats in the fleet," he announced. "We estimate at least a thousand mend
She turned to him, regarding him with a calmly appraising eye as she asked bluntly. "Can you withstand them, Cecht?"
She searched for any sign of uncertainty, any hint of weakness, but the commander only smiled grimly as he replied.
"My Queen, we've waited on this island for fifteen years, guarding this lonely fortress, watching, our weapons always ready. We've prayed to every god for a chance to fight again. There's not a band of fighting men who'd have a better chance of holding them than we."
She nodded, satisfied.
"Who is it coming against us?" she demanded. "What is their look?"
"The ships and sails are like none I've seen before. The hulls are as shiny and black as the hardest bog-oak. The sails stay full and steady regardless of the winds."
"And the men?"
"Their appearance is just as strange to me. They're big-bodied, square, hard-looking men, dressed in like tunics and trousers of smooth gray."
"There's no doubt of it, then," she told him with a chill certainty. "We have been found by them at last."
"How can that be?" asked Cecht in surprise. "I've never seen any warriors of theirs who looked or dressed as these."
"You've seen only their garrison troops. The worst of them. These are the household troops of Balor himself. He must know."
She thought a moment, deepening those lines which fear of this day had etched into her face. Then she spoke, harshly and without compromise.
"Cecht, they'll not be easy to stop," she said. In fact, she knew that these attackers could not be stopped at all. But she had no wish to wound her commander's pride. "You must make this as hard as you can for them. It may mean the death of every one of us--every warrior, woman, child--but we must hold them as long as we can."
"We know, my Queen," he replied. "We've always known."
She smiled at him gently, sadly, placing a hand lightly upon his arm.
"Loyal Cecht," she said. "It's glad I've been to have you beside me until this day. And it's glad I am to have you with me now."
He nodded, understanding the depth of feeling behind the simple words.
She dropped her hand and added in a brisk voice, "Go now. See to the defense. And have the boy sent up to me."
He hurried from the room and she turned back to the window. The ships were already against the cliffs below, out of her sight. But she knew that their warriors were swarming up the treacherous cliff-face without fear or hesitation. It would be only moments before they would come against the walls.
"Taillta," said a voice behind her.
She turned to face a boy, tall for his fifteen years, fair-haired and slender, and with a fine, long nose and boldly jutting chin that age would chisel to clean, sharp handsomeness. He was breathless with his run to her and vibrating with an excitement he could not totally control.
"Taillta...those ships...who are they? What's happening?"
"They're coming to attack us, Lugh," she answered bluntly.
"Attack!" The idea startled him at first. Then a look of determination hardened his young face. "I've got to join the companies," he said firmly.
He moved swiftly to the weapons hung along the walls and seized a longsword, pulling it from its brackets. But Taillta moved up behind him, gripping his shoulder.
"Lugh, you can't join them. You've got to leave."
He whirled to her, his look confused.
"Leave? What do you mean? I've got to fight!"
He was aroused by the expectation of battle. The fire of it ruddied his pale skin, lit his gray eyes. His muscles were taut with the need to act, his legs set solidly, his sword gripped tight. She saw all of it and she felt a sudden stabbing of regret. She had hoped that the need for this would never come. He had been a poet, a craftsman, a lover of the peaceful ways taught him. A mild boy, safe here from the worries of the world.
Harshly she reminded herself that she knew this day would come. She fought back the sorrow which had threatened to overwhelm her usual control.
She moved close to him and stroked his beardless cheek lightly. He realized that her eyes were full of tears.
"Taillta," he said, concerned now for her. "I didn't think of you. Are you afraid?"
"It's not fear that's made my sorrow. It's regret for you," she replied evenly, her rigid control re-established. "Lugh you will not be fighting here. You must run. And quickly!"
"Run from this?" he asked, struggling to understand. "You'll need every man."
She seized his shoulders in a tight grip.
"Listen! Listen to me! I know what we're facing here. There's nothing we can do to hold these men for long. You have to get away!"
"But, what about the rest of you?"
"The rest, all of us, are here only to protect you. All of these years, our only purpose has been to keep you safe!"
"Why?" he asked again, more urgently. Things were happening so fast he couldn't think. There were too many questions.
"I cannot tell you. And there is no more time for talk. You only need to know that we have one aim here--to keep you alive. You must believe me, and you must leave. If you don't, our lives here have been meaningless."
A sudden, burning wind blasted through the open windows of the hall. The force of it rocked the entire building. The roar of it deafened them like the combined fury of a score of gales.
Taillta and Lugh recovered from the shock and ran to the windows. Their shutters had been torn away by the power of the blast. Below them the thick outer wall of the fortress was torn open, gaping like a jagged wound. The rubble of the massive stones was scattered about the inner court. Half the men of the companies were scattered too, killed or wounded by debris, stunned by the blast, buried in piles of splintered rock. The rest were trying gallantly to reform before a stream of heavily armed warriors already pouring through the opening.
"How could they tear down the wall so quickly?' Lugh asked, astounded by the force evidenced below. "And who are those warriors?" There was something about them that stirred vague, unsettling memories in him.
But Taillta gave him no chance to think.
"There's no more time!" she cried, seizing his arm. "Come with me!"
She dragged him from the hall and then ran ahead, urging him on. Uncertainly he followed her out of the keep and onto the upper parapet of the walls. Below them the attackers were flooding into the fortress grounds. The two passed defenders who were hurling spears and fragments of broken wall down on the advancing gray-clad soldiers.
By one section of the outer wall Lugh and Taillta stopped. Not far ahead their warriors held a stairway against the enemy swarming upward from the breached section. They were determined, sacrificing themselves valiantly to keep back the overwhelming numbers below, but they couldn't hold long.
Taillta turned a rusted torch socket in the outer wall and pressed inward on a massive stone. It swung back, revealing a staircase spiraling down, through the thickness of the wall.
"This passage leads down to a sheltered cove beyond the point," she shouted to him above the battle's din. "A boat is hidden there. Take it and sail away. You should be unseen. Go east to Manannan's Isle. You'll find help there."
He listened to her words in disbelief.
"You really believe I can run away from this? Leave my friends? Leave you, my aunt? My only family?"
"Lugh, I am no aunt to you," she told him. "You are not one of us. I am the daughter of Mac-Erc, the last great High ing of our tribe. Long ago we vowed to protect you, and I have been your foster mother ever since.'
He couldn't grasp what she was telling him. This last assault on his sense of reality had dazed him. He shook his head and held on doggedly to the only truth that he did know.
"No ties of blood could make you more a mother to me," he cried. 'You are the only family I have. All I love. I won't leave your
In despair she searched for the words that would make him go. She could find none.
She moved close and looked sorrowfully into his eyes.
"I love you as well," she told him gently. "And as if you were my son. Remember that."
She swung back her arm and, with a skillfully placed uppercut, dropped Lugh where he stood.
She stooped to check him and nodded with satisfaction. He was unhurt and merely stunned by the blow. Briskly she went to work, calling a nearby warrior to her.
Together they lifted the unconscious boy and started down the narrow stairway. The sound of battle dimmed as they spiraled down, through the wall, into a fissure in the cliff-face below. As they descended, a growing sound of rhythmic thunder echoed up to them. It was the sea.
At the bottom of the stairs a rough-hewn passageway opened onto a tiny scrap of shore, sheltered by a cave worn in the rocks. She and the warrior readied the small boat hidden there, raised its sail and set its tiller to take it toward the east.
The whole cliff above them groaned, the solid stone of it fracturing from another powerful blast. Fine rocks showered into the water beyond the cave's mouth. More fell from cracks that opened in the cave itself. The boat had to be gotten clear.
"Hurry!" she said. "Get him in!"
They lifted and rolled the boy into the boat. There was no time for ceremony here. Taillta breathed a silent prayer for his survival as she and the warrior heaved the boat out to sea with all their strength.
It floated out sluggishly, its little headway slowed by the incoming waves. As it hung there, drifting just beyond the cave's protecting overhang, another massive blow struck the cliff above. Larger rocks plunged from the riven face into the sea. Two boulders bracketed the tiny boat, rocking it like a shred of bark.
She drew her breath in fright. It would be caught there. Crushed. He would be killed after all!
"Manannan, help us!" she shouted to the sea. "He's all that's left to us!"
The boat, perhaps pushed by the waves raised by the fallen rocks, moved forward. It cleared the cliff and the sheltering rocks, and a breeze caught at it, pulling it out.
Once more the force, like a giant hammer, slammed against the cliff. With protesting rumbles, it shifted in its ancient bed. The whole structure of the cliff-face was battered to a fragile point, ready to collapse. And, under its base, the little cave began to give way from the pressure above. Cracks seamed its water-smoothed sides like a crushed egg. They widened rapidly, broken rock falling from them in a continuous hail.
"My Queen, we must go back!" the warrior cried.
The boat was well away now, skimming out over the waves at an ever-increasing speed. There was no more that she could do.
Abruptly she turned away and ran to the stairway, the warrior close behind. But he didn't make it. With a roar the cave's roof gave way all at once. The avalanche of stone caught him, drove him down and buried him.
She hesitated and looked back, but he was gone. The delay nearly killed her too. For even the stairs began to give way as she started up. The tight spiral seemed to fold down into itself, almost to be sucked down, each step collapsing, crumbling away nearly under her feet.
She ran upward desperately, just ahead of the void which opened below and chewed upward at the stone, threatening to swallow her as well. Her legs ached with the climb, and if she slowed for an instant she knew she would be gone.
Perhaps that was the best way, she thought. To stop and be carried away rather than face the death awaiting her above.
Yet her instinctive need to fight for life pushed her on. She reached the top just ahead of the disintegrating stairs. The entrance to the stairs was still open, but it too was breaking away, slipping out and down. Leaping through it as it fell, she crossed a widening gap to the edge of the surviving parapet walk.
She struck the edge and slid back, hanging on with one hand gripping the ragged stone, the other tangled in a length of trailing cloth. Below her the whole outer curtain of cliff had slid away into the sea, taking the section of wall with it. She dangled above a sheer drop to the water.
With an effort she was able to pull herself up, hauling at the cloth, throwing her other arm forward over the edge. One great heave forward brought her body up onto the walk.
She found herself meeting the gaze of a dead warrior whose jaw gaped neck to nose from a sword cut. It was the cloak about his neck that had saved her.
She scrambled to her feet. The walk was empty save for the other bodies which littered it. But on the inner walls behind the keep the fight still raged.
Scooping up a dead warrior's fallen sword, she ran toward the keep, thinking to join the survivors. She reached its doors as one of her men staggered from it with a cry and fell, a spear piercing his back.
Behind him a large attacker clad in the strange, gray uniform emerged. With a tug he pulled his spear from the dead man's body. He looked about for other challengers and saw Taillta. A grim smile stretched the thin, tightly clenched lips. Several other gray-clad soldiers moved out behind him drawing up on either side of him, bloodied weapons ready.
"Well, woman, I think you're one of them we've been lookin' for," the first one said with satisfaction. "You and the boy. Where's the boy?"
"I'll not be talking to the likes of you with anything but this!" she cried, waving her own sword defiantly.
"You lost your protection with your fortress," he told her. "What can you do?"
"I am the daughter of a high king," she said, drawing herself up proudly.
He laughed. "And what do you think that'll save you from? Put down that sword and come along with us."
"Careful!" she warned, backing to a corner where none of them could come behind her. "I'm daughter to a king and a warrior as well. You'll not find me so easy to take."
The warrior laughed again. He nodded to one of his men who started toward her.
But he staggered back at once, pierced through the side by a lightning thrust of her slim blade.
Two more moved in, but her skill was a match for theirs and her slender body disguised a powerful strength. She parried the attack of both and wounded one. The other stepped back, his battle-hardened face showing fear.
"We've grown a bit tired of this," the leader said, no longer amused. "We need you to tell us where that boy is!"
"Come and ask me yourself, why don't you then?" she taunted, the sword flicking out at him.
"I will do that," he told her in a hard, chill voice.
He signaled the remaining men and they all moved in around her at once.
In the tiny boat that sailed toward the east, Lugh lay still unconscious.
It might have been his pain and the disturbance created in his mind at seeing the strange warriors, but something made him dream.
He saw those warriors in another setting. They were moving slowly forward through the doorway of a room behind an immense, black figure that seemed to be something other than a man.
He realized that someone was holding him. Close above him the white, blurred oval of a woman's face seemed to hang, and he felt himself rocking gently.
She was shouting at the men across the room, but he couldn't understand her words. The men came on toward her and great, clutching hands stretched out to him. The glint of bright blades pained his eyes.
Then the men were swept from sight as he was whirled about. A bright square of light jerked into view then swelled to fill his field of vision as he felt himself flying toward it.
There was a terrifying feeling of weightlessness. He sailed into the square of light and it swallowed him, and then there was light all about him, and he fell. There was a quick image of blue sky above running to sparkling sea below as he began to tumble. And then he rolled up again and a glowing shaft of white seemed to shoot up above him as a tiny square of blackness in its side shrank away to nothingness.
He felt an impact. A double shock as cold and darkness both engulfed him in one heartbeat. He choked as a strange harsh liquid flooded his mouth and nose, cutting off his breath.
But immediately more hands clutched at him, gripped him, raised him up, and he was free of the clinging wet emerging into the light again. Something warm enveloped him and he felt himself cradled, rocked, his panic easing. Now he sensed only the rocking and a swelling motion coupled with a rhythmic creaking noise.
Above him he glimpsed the blue sky again. And, as some-thing turned him slowly about, he glimpsed for another instant the towering, glowing thing.
In the sunlight it was a rising pillar of ice, a sharply faceted mountain of glass so brilliant that it burned its image on his unprotected eyes.
Lugh jerked awake. He knew that he had dreamed this many times before. No wonder the gray soldiers had seemed familiar. But who were they? And what was that bright tower?
It suddenly came to him that the sensations of his dream were still surrounding him--the swelling motion and the rhythmic creak. He sat upright, and the image from his dream seemed to confront him again!
There was the sparkling sea, the spread of sky. And there, hanging before his sleep-fogged eyes, was a rising column of light.
But this was a different light, warm red and undulating, not a frozen white. And, with that realization, the dream faded utterly and he saw what he was really facing now.
It was his fortress home, or its remains. The whole cliff top was ablaze, everything engulfed by the rising flames. The entire structure was shattered, its walls gaping open all along the cliffs. There was no question of its defeat or of the tremendous, ruthless force which had been thrown against it.
He sank back, stunned by this reality, while the boat swept him further from the wreckage of everything he'd ever known.
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