Queen of Kings
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by Cornelia Amiri
Description: The powerful battle queen has her pick of the men, but can the handsome stranger best her skills and win her heart? It's hard to believe this tale survived, passed down by oral tradition alone, for over a thousand years. Then again, it's an exciting story. Macha of the Red Braids exudes the essence of female power. Defying and fighting two kings, she takes her father's place on the throne. With one goal in mind, she uses magic, battles, disguises, and skills of seduction to take the crown as sole ruler. She is the only woman listed as a High King of Ireland. She builds the famed kingdom of Emain Macha, marking off the borders with the pin of her treasured cloak brooch. Even still, a Champion from the wilds of Connaught throws the powerful battle queen off guard when he comes to claim her heart. Has Macha met her match in Nath of Connaught? Will he pass the three trials she has set before him?
eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: August 2009
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [107 KB]
Reading time: 64-90 min.
Ireland, between seventh and fifth century BC
Amber flames flickered from torches in iron sconces set in the roughly hewn, circular timber walls of the great round hall. Gray smoke rose and curled above the blazing central fire before escaping through the hole in the top of the thatched roof. Men, women, and children in woolen tunics and plaid cloaks sat with legs crossed on soft wolf, deer, and fox pelts while they gazed at Aed, their king. He marched into the hall, tall and as straight as a spruce tree. His bulging, muscular arms and legs glistened from leek oil. Sporting a long, bushy moustache as red as a sundew flower, hair of the same striking hue hanging to his shoulders, and a shiny receding forehead, King Aed lifted his chin and led in his finest warriors to the rousing beat of the bodhran drum. His strongest champion and his seven best spearmen, along with his swiftest charioteers, marched in formation. A small redheaded girl with her hands planted on her hips pranced with quick, well-practiced steps in the center of this parade, with the full aplomb of her father, the king. For such a small child, Aed's only heir didn't seem tiny at all. She seemed larger than life.
Druid Lasair's gaze wasn't transfixed on King Aed, who was draped with a wide, flowing cloak of red, gold, white, blue, green and black plaid with a crimson and black striped tunic stretching over his brawny chest. Instead, it was the king's daughter, Macha, who caught his attention. Everyone directed their gaze on her, enthralled by the regal confidence of the child.
Lasair knew that, at the very least, Macha envisioned herself a warrior. He gasped as sudden realization struck. "By the gods, the child perceives herself as the next king. As if Aed were passing the crown not to Dithorba, but to her," he said aloud.
On the dais, the mound of dirt at the end of the hall where the king's oaken throne stood, Lasair adjusted his gold-speckled white cloak. King Dithorba and King Cimbaeth, who stood beside him, did the same with their plaid cloaks of six colors. They grinned eagerly as Aed, his daughter, and his strongest warriors approached the dais.
Macha sat down in front of the throne, her face drawn into a hard pout as Lasair lifted the torque off King Aed's neck and placed it around the neck of King Dithorba. She folded her arms across her chest and stuck out her tongue at Dithorba. Lasair schooled himself not to laugh. Though cheers for King Dithorba rang through the hall, Lasair was more intrigued by Macha.
He quickly stepped off the dais and moved toward her. When the pouting child stood up, he stooped down so his gaze was level with hers. "Hello, Macha. Don't you like the Lughnasa feast?"
"My da is king, not Dithorba," she snapped.
"That is partly right. All three men, your da, Dithorba, and Cimbaeth, share the throne. They each rule seven years at a time."
"I know," she said loudly in protest. "My da has always been king."
"He has been king your whole life. But now, his seven years have come to an end, and it will be Dithorba's turn to be our king for the next seven years."
"I know." She spat the words out. Hanging her head, she gazed down at her feet. "My da is the best king."
"You are wise beyond your years." All of Ulster would agree with the child. The Ulaid tribe fared far better during Aed's turn as king. The druid couldn't help but smile as she flashed a broad, contagious grin, fully accepting his compliment. He gazed intently at the child and spoke softly. "Macha, I had a dream about you."
"About me?" She cocked her head.
She was such a pretty child, with thick fire-red braids framing a rosy-cheeked face featuring eyes so large and blue.
Then an expression of reflection crossed her face. "Druids dream." She stated the well-known fact.
"Yes, druids foretell important events in their dreams. I was very interested in what I glimpsed of your future."
"What did you see?" She gazed up at him with that wide-eyed, quivering-chin expression of a child, revealing both eagerness and hesitation at the same time.
"You were all grown up and beautiful." He gazed intensely at the child. "Tell me Macha, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"A king, like my da. But I'm not going to share my throne. I will be the only king," the little girl said loudly.
"This is what I saw. But you do not achieve this by yourself. A goddess helps you." He smiled at the child." Macha, do you know what is painted on your da's shield?"
She bobbed her head. "A black crow."
"Yes, and whose symbol is that?" He smiled at the child, for he knew she had the answer.
"Goddess Morrigan." She flashed a wide grin. "I like Morrigan. She keeps my da safe when he rides to war. She chooses his enemies for death and lets him live and win all his battles." She threw her arms up in the air in the gesture of a victory hurrah.
He let out a soft chortle. "Macha, do you know what it means to be chosen by a god?"
Her eyes were so wide and blue, like the sky itself. She cast her full attention on him. "Like a patron goddess?"
"Yes." He nodded his head. "Morrigan has chosen to be your patron goddess."
"I have a patron goddess? Morrigan?" she asked, giddy with excitement.
"Yes, you do. This also means you must come see me every day for lessons so you can learn what it is to be chosen by Morrigan."
"Yes." She paused, and her face crinkled in an expression of puzzlement. "I take lessons with the wooden spear and training sword."
"Now you will also have lessons on the goddess."
"What kind of lessons?"
"You will learn Morrigan's magic."
Her face beamed. "I like magic."
* * * *
Seven years later
The druid stood smiling from the contagious zeal and energy of the young girl bounding toward him. Her flame-red braids waved in the wind with her springy gait. Her budding breasts bounced beneath the blue woolen tunic dress and the plaid cloak pinned over it. Her sweet adolescent face beamed with a bright smile as she called out in a tone breathy from running, "Druid Lasair, I beat all the boys my age."
But before he could reply, a young warrior, his dark hair stiff and spiked like the mane on a racing horse, called out, "Congratulations, Macha. You drive a chariot almost as well as a boy does."
She came to an abrupt halt and wheeled around to the young warrior. Macha's anger crackled in the air around her, and her blue eyes blazed with fury. "I raced better than anyone." She stepped so close to him her breath could be felt on his face. "And how fast or how well someone does something has nothing to do with their sex." Her eyes gleamed with mischief. "Here, I'll show you," Macha said in a honeyed tone. She drew her arm back and swung with all her might, ramming her fist into his jaw. He dropped to the ground.
As he lay in the dirt, gazing up at her with a groggy expression on his face, she said, "You see, even though you are a boy, you fell to the ground just as any girl would have. Even though I'm a girl, I put you there just like any boy could have."
He raised himself up to a seated position. "What did I do?"
"Think about it." Macha turned around and flashed the druid a bright grin as she walked toward him.
"Yes, I know. You won all the events." Lasair wrapped his arms around her in a warm, congratulatory hug. When he released her, he pointed his head toward the young warrior, who still sat in the dirt, rubbing his jaw. "Macha, if you bruise all the boys, you may no longer have your pick to choose from for a Beltane partner next spring."
She flashed a wry smile, and with a flick of her neck, her hair flipped to the side. "Druid, nothing I or anyone does will stop these silly warriors, who have come of age, from drooling over me. They gape all day long. If I were a leper, they would still run after me like a pack of hounds."
Lasair let out a hardy chuckle.
"In truth, Druid, they must be put in their place. That is all I'm doing. A little bruising never hurt anyone. I learned that when I was seven and first trained with sword and spear."
"You were ever wise, Macha." He couldn't help but laugh. She was right. All the young men in the tribe gazed moon mad at her. She was as fair as a goddess and could seduce any man with nothing but a glance their way. Surely the fertility aspect of Morrigan had blessed her in this.
She flashed a smug smile. "I think there is an accomplishment of mine you don't know about."
"Dare I ask what that might be?"
"I'll do better than tell you. I'll show you, but not now. I am off to feast with my friends. I will not be at the ceremony. I have no desire to watch Dithorba pass the crown to Cimbaeth for his seven-year turn. My father is the only real king of Ulster as far as I'm concerned."
"So you have often said." Lasair nodded.
"It is true. As soon as you finish the crowning ceremony, meet me outside the hall. We'll go to Morrigan's grove. I'll show you my accomplishment there."
The druid's heart leapt. Could it be? But she is so young to have mastered such a feat. "Does this have anything to do with what we have been working on?"
She nodded her head and flashed a bright smile. "Shape-shifting."
"You've done it!" Though ten years older than her, at that moment Lasair's voice sounded as young as hers. He overflowed with childlike wonder and glee. She had mastered the highest level of magic, an accomplishment few ever reach.
"I concentrated and chanted, just as you taught me. This time, with the help of Morrigan, I flew."