Tara Of The Kings - Son Of The Sidhe: Book Two
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by Kenneth C. Flint
Description: From a land lost in the mists of time, in a realm of myth and magic, where legendary heroes fought undying foes in ultimate battles of good and evil, comes the story of a proud and indomitable people and a magnificent nation whose birth was foretold by the darkest visions and the direst prophecies.
It is the story of Conaire Mor, fated to become Ireland's greatest high-king. It is also the tale of Ulster's outcast Queen Meave, the powerful and ruthless King Conchobar, the young Red Branch warrior Cuchulain, and the dark high-druid Calatin, whose ambitions and twisted magic threaten them all.
Here, woven into a rich mythical tapestry, is a never-before-told story of ancient Ireland?a spellbinding tale of love and intrigue, lust and murder, rivalry and quest?of a time and place long ago that still lives forever in our deepest fantasies.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2011 Double Dragon Publishing
eBookwise Release Date: November 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [455 KB]
Reading time: 283-396 min.
The white face of the dead man stared upward into the blue-white sky. It was pinched tight, the eyes squinting, as if he was grimacing at the unnatural brightness of the day.
A lonely figure the man looked. He lay upon a simple bier of wood, dwarfed by the great burial mound which loomed above him. And lonely he was. Only a tiny flock of bright-cloaked druids huddled by the entrance to the ancient tomb was his last company.
The keening of these few holy men fluttered up sadly, thinly, like starved crows struggling and complaining their way toward the scattered clouds above.
The dismalness of this scene contrasted sharply with the brilliance of the surrounding countryside. It was especially bright by the river which flowed just below the high-rounded hill of earth. The clear, hard rays of the sun fell and shattered against the surface of the Boinne's flowing waters. The bright shards drifted upon its waves, multiplying and intensifying the light to painful sharpness.
Everything about the river seemed to reflect this radiance. Everything, except for the black square of the tomb's entrance. Soon that blackness would receive the ashes of the man, to mix them with the ashes of other ages, to lose them as if they had never been.
A day of mist and cold might have been more fitting. Instead, this fair and glowing day seemed to mock him, as his whole life had.
For this lonely figure was a high-king of all Ireland. The rich cloak, finely jeweled brooch, and weapons of war laid with him there proclaimed that. But the lack of warriors to host about his bier gave evidence of something else. And the thin face, unmarked by war but scarred by the deep lines of wearing fear, said something much more.
The chanting died. Its last notes drifted away. From the gathering of druids one man stepped forward. He was a lean-faced man of placid expression but with great shrewdness in his eyes. The golden torc about his neck marked him as the highest of their rank. He stepped up beside the bier, pausing to look across it, over the wide Boinne to the land beyond. It spread away in a ragged patchwork of gold and yellow that shifted with the moving shadows of the few, high clouds.
"It's truly a fitting place for high-kings to lie." he murmured thoughtfully. Then he glanced down at the still figure, adding with regret: "Maybe too fine for the likes of such as you, my poor Eterscel." He shook his head. "Ah well," he said resignedly, "go now. Join with the ashes of the rest."
From a small fire set before the bier, the ard-druid lifted a flaming brand. With a quick intonation of the proper words of reverence to his watching gods, he laid it against the pile of yew and ash wood piled beneath the corpse. As the fire caught, grew, and rose about it, the man turned to the others who watched silently.
"It's time now," he told them, his tone becoming brisk. "The preparations for the Bull Feast must be made."
Behind him, the fire leapt up higher around the bier. The wavering flames obscured the image of the lonely figure with a final screen of brightness.
Flames crackled up from the fire's sacred wood. They licked around the base of a great cauldron suspended on heavy chains.
The fire colored the long enclosure of the druids with shuddering yellow light. It threw the shadows of the cloaked, moving men in intertwining serpents of blackness upon the rough timber walls.
A white, writhing column of thick steam rose from the roiling waters of the black iron vat, whispering up into the night sky above the open yard.
An unnatural child this steam-wraith was. Born of the marriage of earth's most potent elements, it was forced to a mating by man's cleverness, dying and reborn continuously. A fusing of two sworn foes, like the soul of man himself--life and death, love and hatred, beauty and horror all at once.
A white bull was herded into the enclosure, eyes bulging, massive body moving reluctantly. It was frightened by this strangeness, by these robed men, and by the scent of death that drifted with the steam in the still night.
The druids moved in around the animal, holding it with the press of their numbers. It stood, lock-kneed and tensed, staring suspiciously as the ard-druid approached it.
But he spoke gently to it while the others chanted softly, creating a soothing sound that lulled the animal. Finally reassured, it watched him move closer, closer to it. He came up against its side just behind its head.
It did not see the knife he held down within the cloak's folds, or see the red-black gleam of the polished blade sweep up and gently stroke across its neck. And it did not feel the pain from the neat cut. Not until its blood had already begun a hot gush into the bronze vat two other druids held.
With a skill from years of practice, the druids swiftly drained the carcass and butchered it. They fed its raw meat, still hot with its life, into the steaming cauldron.
Soon the scent of the cooking meat billowed up with the white steam to savor the night air. While it cooked, a new ceremony began--another part of the complex ritual.
The table was prepared. The chosen druid was conducted to his place at it and charged with his sacred task. His failure in it meant his instant death. The cooked meat, swimming in broth crimson-laced with the fresh blood, was brought to him in a finely worked bowl of gleaming gold.
And he began to eat.
Bowl upon bowl he consumed, gulping down the par-boiled meat, draining the hot broth, beginning the full bowl that immediately replaced the emptied one.
Around him the others gathered, their faces glistening in the humid air of the enclosure. They watched the Devourer who shone too from the sweat and from the grease that filmed the surface of the broth and now covered his face, ran down his neck, dripped from his working jaws.
He ate and he drank on, filling himself, forcing himself farther with a massive effort of will. Finally, stomach distended, bloated to his limits by the gorging, he signed the next cup away.
With help he rose and made his painful way to the bed readied for him beside a second fire. He laid himself heavily amongst its furs while the voices of the gathered druids began a new chant. Their softly rising and falling voices raised a spell of sleep about the chosen one, sending him at last into a trance-like slumber.
It was a fitful, agonizing sleep that tormented him with sounds and images. The druids circled him in constant vigil, their still, rigid bodies a sharp contrast to the convulsions of his tortured frame. Their voices continued the soft chant in rhythmic phrases punctuated unevenly by his moans. Four ard-druids led the ritual, standing at the four corners of the bed, at the four corners of the winds that now rose and whirled above them in the darkness. They drew off the still rising steam from the cauldron in a twisting pillar of white.
The druids sent their chant up into the wailing air, fashioning the charm that would bring the dreams to him. Their magic spun the separate strands of voice into one, knotted rope of sound. Through his heavy sleep it wound its way, into the heated chaos choked with shadows, lights and images. It threaded these together like glass beads, drawing them into a single pattern. Like the design of some ornately fashioned jewelry it formed against the dark fabric of his entranced mind. Slowly the image resolved itself, sharpened itself into a vivid scene.
He jerked upright suddenly, staring ahead, asleep and awake at once. In the smoky air before him the image hung, still bright and sharp.
The chanting died.