Authors: Peter Tremayne
Tags: #_NB_Fixed, #_rt_yes, #blt, #Clerical Sleuth, #Crime, #Fiction, #Medieval Ireland
Copyright © 2012 Peter Tremayne
The right of Peter Tremayne to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2012
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 7553 7752 7
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For Dorothea who has shared the best of times and the worst of times
is feidir linn
Et septimus angelus tuba cecinit: et factae sunt voces magnae in caelo dicentes: Factum est regnum huius mundi, Domini nostri et Christi eius, et regnabit in saecula saeculorum
And the seventh angel sounded his trumpet; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of Our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever.’
Vulgate Latin translation of Jerome, fifth century
of Cashel, a
or advocate of the law courts of seventh-century Ireland
of Seaxmund’s Ham in the land of the South Folk, her companion
At Cluain Mór
King of Muman and brother to Fidelma
son of Cathal Cú-cen-máthair, heir apparent to Colgú
Abbot of Imleach, Chief Bishop of Muman
a warrior of the Nasc Niadh, bodyguards to the King
Commander of the Nasc Niadh
a warrior of the Nasc Niadh
Lord of Gabrán
daughter of Drón, Lord of Gabrán
a warrior, foster-son of Drón, cousin of Fidelma and Colgú
At Fraigh Dubh
By the River Suir
At Durlus Éile
Princess of Éile
Bishop of the Éile
Chief Brehon of Muman
of An Dún
At Liath Mór
At Baile Coll
The events in this story follow in chronological sequence after those related in
The Chalice of Blood
, and are set during the season known as
, the harvest season
670, in the last days before the autumn equinox.
óla paused on the threshold of his farmhouse, looked towards the black mounds of the eastern hills, standing out sharply against the white bar of light that heralded dawn, and breathed in deeply before exhaling in a satisfied fashion. It was an action that had become a regular ritual each morning over many decades. He stood for a moment, gazing at the sky and estimating what sort of day it might bring before turning his attention to the dark, undulating land that spread southward before him. The light of the new day was spreading rapidly towards the thrust of rock which dominated the southern skyline just a few kilometres away. The grey-white buildings of The Rock of Cashel, which constituted the capital of the rulers of Muman, were already sparkling in the dawn light.
Tóla took a step forward and stretched languidly. He was a thickset and muscular man; a man whose very frame seemed to proclaim that he was a son of the soil; a man used to working the land and caring for the livestock. The rising sun glinted on his blue-black hair, enhancing his tanned skin and pale eyes. His features had been coarsened and aged by his outdoor life, but they were neither ugly nor unkindly. He stood like a man content with his life and all he surveyed.
There was a rustle from nearby and a large, rough-coated hound trotted round the building and whined in greeting, accompanied by quick movements of its tail. Its quiet, easy nature belied its intimidating appearance. The man bent and petted the heavy head, making a soft grunting sound as the dog gave another whine. Then Tóla turned back to the door behind him and called out: ‘It will be a good day today.’
A woman appeared, framed in the door, rubbing her hands on an apron and glancing towards the eastern hills. She was as tanned as Tóla; a pleasant, well-built woman, used to hard work.
‘Good enough to finish the harvest?’
‘Good enough, Cainnear. We can finish the small field today and then all the grain will be in.’
‘You had best check the heifer that’s still in calf before you do so,’ the woman advised.
‘She’s been slow, that one,’ agreed her husband. ‘The rest of the calves are already out to pasture. I’ll go and see how she is. She was down by the stream last night – she’s probably given birth by now.’ Then he paused. ‘I suppose that our lazy son is not yet stirring? Better get him out of bed – there is a great deal to be done.’
‘I will so, and join you in the small field later,’ Cainnear replied with a smile.
The farmer nodded absently and, with his dog trotting at his heels, he went to the shed at the back of the
, the stone-built cabin in which they lived, and collected a scythe and rake. Balancing them easily over one broad shoulder, he began to stroll across the fields towards the distant dark line of trees which marked the path of the little stream that was the southern border of his farmlands. The stream flowed west to join the great river called the Suir, which provided the western border of his land.
It was fully light by the time he had reached the small area of wheat that still needed to be cut. Soon it would be the moon which was called
Gealach na gcoinnlíní
– the moon of the stubble. This marked the time when all the grain crops should be cut down to their stalks and harvested. He paused and cast an eye over the field and then pursed his lips in a soundless whistle as if in approval. It would not take long to complete the harvest now. Thanks be; it had been a good harvest and a good year, for he had not lost one cow, pig or chicken to ill-fortune nor to predators. That thought prompted him to peer towards the treeline to look for his heifer, which had been waiting for her first calf. It was late. He hoped the calf had come during the night for, if it had not, the animal would be in difficulty. It was still too shadowy to make out much among the dark treeline. Placing the scythe and rake by the cornerstone of the field, he strode across the stubble towards the trees, his dog panting behind him.
He was nearing the trees when the dog suddenly halted, raised its head, as if sniffing the air, and gave a soft growl.
‘What is it, Cú Faoil?’ Tóla spoke quietly, unable to see anything untoward. Then he spotted a dark shadow at the far end of the field: it was a heifer no longer, for the smaller shadow of a calf stood by it. He smiled in relief before he realised that his dog was not looking in that direction – and the growl was still rumbling in its throat. Tóla looked cautiously in the same direction, but could see nothing. He advanced slowly, the dog obediently following, head up, alert and wary. Tóla knew that Cú Faoil, his loyal protector, was able to perceive danger before any human could. Tóla also knew that if there was scent of a predator, the animal would be more vocal in its warning. Indeed, if there were an immediate danger, then the cow, with its newborn calf, would not be standing docilely at the other end of the field. Yet something was not quite right.
The gushing of the stream behind the trees was loud at this point. This was because the waters frothed over a series of stepping stones which people often used as a pathway to the far bank. Unless travellers moved along the eastern bank of the Suir, or had access to a small boat, they had to turn along the path by this stream, called the Arglach, and make their way to this crossing through the shallows in order to continue south. On the southern side they could join the track that eventually led to the fortress of Cashel and its surrounding township. Tóla had lived all his life in this area. He expected the waters of the stream to resound against the stepping stones at this crossing-point. But his sensitive hearing picked up a different note – that of a stream in flood. He was aware that Cú Faoil had heard it too, and again the low rumble came from its throat.