War

 

 

War

 

We lodged in ”The Golden Schooner” for a weeks time. Alex had been feeling poorly since the nasty hit on the head she had suffered in the battle on the ship. She was absentminded and closed-up, so we mostly left her alone. It seemed to be what she wanted most. I think it also bothered her that she could not give her notice to the Baron Armenius until his martial law had been annulled (her resignation would be treated as desertion in wartime – and punished by death).

We spend that day and the next on resting and wandering the streets at our own pace. The day after our arrival, we saw a coach carrying the coat of arms of the Duke of the Northlands driving through the city. We saw it later that day in front of Francois Duprix’ villa. Duprix is one of the Zorenstadt city’s counsellors. We thought little of it, except for a nagging feeling that something was up. Some political intrigue that we would never understand by half.

I received a couple of letters while in Zorenstadt. One letter from Maggie and a letter from my brother Daniel, which quite infuriated me. He wanted to know, whether the money I had sent them was legally come by! He actually implied that I had stolen them or come by them by suspect means! And then he pulled his bigbrother-stunt on me, ordering me to come to my senses, come home and get married. He has never done that before! Daniel and I used to have an understanding, but he had changed much by the war and by his sad job as a headsman. I grieve for him and I am so angry! He didn’t mention Father with as much as a word, and that infuriated me even further. He knows how anxious I am about Fathers health, since it was I who brought his breakdown upon him. Oh, Maithair and the Light forgive me for that. I should not have confided in him. But how I have foreseen the consequences of that foolish act? I had no one else to turn to at that time and I trusted no one like I trusted Father. I hope and pray that he is alright! I wrote a very angry letter back to Daniel. I also wrote a much more friendly letter to Maggie.

Next day Alex and Tierry reported to Armenius. He was having a garden party and played croqué, when they arrived. As I wasn’t there I can’t tell you what happened, except for the two things they shared with me : 1. They were sent on a new mission. To my luck it was for the Northlands, so I could travel with them to Glenroran. They were to find out where a bunch of cattle thieves were hiding out. Apparently the stealing of cattle had accelerated lately, and Armenius had sent a small army north together with MacLir (the official clan-leader) and the people of Hambeck, who were also greatly annoyed by the thefts. They were given 3 weeks, with the prospect of an additional weeks pay should they succeed. Horses would be provided (Tierry asked for three). 2. Tierry saw the young mystery lady of his, who had first poisoned him on Aurora and then bedded him in the bishops palace. Tierry was quite infatuated by her and tried to make contact with her. Unsuccessful at that he at least learned her name: Henriette Bouchon. We left the next day for the north.

 

A short week later we reached the town of Cornyll. As we wandered in the marked I noticed a boy following us. Later we saw him again peeking in at us in the inn and then running off again. Obviously someone was interested in our comings and goings. In the evening a bearded northlander entered the inn and sat down for a meal. I seemed to remember having seen him before and it occurred to me that I had seen him in the inn we had slept in last night as well. Well, maybe he was just going our way. I was tired of looking over my shoulder and decided not to see spies everywhere. Too soon, as it turned out. When we returned to our rooms everything had been looked through. Nothing had apparently been taken, but it was nevertheless disturbing to know that someone had gone through ones’ things.

Some days later we felt followed. We had reached more desolate and lonely country now, and it was an unpleasant thought to find ourselves followed in such a place. Tierry hid in the shrubbery as Alex and I continued down the road. Tierry said he stopped three men, one of them the northlander we had seen earlier. When he threatened them they fled, but Tierry followed our bearded friend to get some answers. He caught him on a hillside and beat the living daylights out of him, but to no avail. He would say nothing. In the meanwhile I had gotten away from the others. They had ridden up the crest after the northlander and as I couldn’t get my horse to do things my way, I rode around it instead. I rode around and without any warning at all, someone jumped at me, pulling me from the horse. He stripped me for weapons and looked through my saddlebacks, while he had a firm grip on me. I struggled and fought him, but he slapped me a couple of times in the face, until I was quite senseless. I tried desperately to get my hidden knife out, but as usual it stayed put! He got on the horse and pulled me up in front of him across the horse. I was beaten black and blue and felt quite sorry for myself. Finally our two little groups met, both with one bleeding, beat up victim. The northlander who held me suggested a swap: me for his friend. It seemed we had no choice, so we agreed. Tierry was not happy with me, having cost him his good cards, but what could I do? I am no warrior and my hidden knife always seemed to fail me, when I need it. Finally I did get it out of my sleeve – just about two seconds before we were exchanged…! I hate that knife! They left and we saw nothing more of them. We still had no idea, why they had followed us or why they had gone through our things, if that indeed had been them. To this day it is still a mystery to me – though I am now qualified to make a good guess or two as to who they were.

A few days later we reached the forest of Goldfax. We slept near the tower that father Cidron set fire to the last time we were here. We had seen no northlanders besides the three who attacked us. Some days later, well out of the forest, we heard bagpipes at night. Tierry growled about it, but I secretly enjoyed it. I admit it is a strange sound, but I find it beautiful – full of longing, dreams, green lush hills and blue skies. The sound seemed to be a distilled version of the Northlands spirit. Tierry and I crept near the sound. We saw 14 men sitting around a fire and listening to the music. I don’t think they saw us, engulfed as they were by the music.

The next day we reached a small village. A kind woman named Sioned welcomed us in, and I almost felt at home. We told her about our business here, and that seemed to dismay her. The old man, her father or father-in-law, told us stories, translated by Sioned. He told us about the adventures he’d had as a young man stealing cattle from neighbouring clans. It seemed to be a natural thing, almost a game, that no one objected to. I began to wonder about our business here. If it was an old and enjoyed pastime occupation to steal cattle, why was Armenius suddenly so keen to put an end to it? And suddenly it seemed odd to me that the garrison in Glenroran was so very prepared for this. Heck, we trained them ourselves (well, Alex and Tierry did). Oh, he so obviously had something up his sleeve that we and many others were completely ignorant of. I shared my thoughts with Tierry, and he agreed. He too had thought that something seemed awry somehow. He was playing with the thought of quitting his job, as Alex wanted to, as soon as the martial law was over. Sioned had cooled considerably towards us, since we had told her our business. To ease the tension I told the story of the young Auroran prince, who had watched one of the battles on Aurora surrounded by 12 guardians. When an enemy cavalry had attacked his little group, he had coolly stayed put, instead of fleeing, as any normal person would have. Calmly he had loaded his pistol and prepared himself for battle. Luckily a friendly regiment had spotted his trouble and intercepted the enemy before they reached the little prince. But the story was widely told. I had heard it myself from Kendric Jr.s lips at the ball. The old man enjoyed Sioneds translation of my story and the tension seemed to ease somewhat.

The next morning, when we left, we spotted Kian, Sioneds son, run of as fast as he could in another direction than ours. We were in no doubt that he was going to warn the cattle thieves. We followed him in a very roundabout way. We had to go around a large hill until we faced the marshlands on the other side. I don’t know how I managed, but I fell of my horse and landed right on my behind. I was unable to sit properly for the rest of the day! Suddenly we spotted a figure on the top of a hill. At the sight of us, he disappeared. We rode to the hilltop, but he was out of sight. But I had the feeling that we were not alone. And indeed, we were not; as we stood on the hill, we could see 6 or 7 northlanders approaching us, carrying weapons. We decided to run for it. If they wanted to fight, we wouldn’t stand a chance. We rode towards to moor, to make it more difficult to follow us, but to no avail. More men appeared in front of us and it came to fighting. Tierry was wounded and in turn he wounded one of the northlanders badly, before we were forced to give up. I looked to Tierry, but he wanted no help with his cuts and bruises. I tended the badly wounded man, but could do no more than stop the bleeding, and he was unconscious by then. When we were led away, two of his fellows brought him with them on horseback.

They took us to a clearing in the forest nearby. We were brought to a man, and I realized we were standing before Angus MacLir, the leader of the rebel MacLir clan. Standing face to face with him, I understood why Alex had lost her heart to him. He was a very handsome man. Charismatic, passionate and determined. He was a man prepared to loose his life for the sake of his clansmen. He asked our business, and we told him what he surely already knew. They had stolen, so they could feed their women and children, he said. Both Tierry and I were willing to leave and keep our mouths shut about his whereabouts, but he declined the offer. ”You tell the baron, where to find us” he said ”We will bring an end to this miserable situation, and only a battle will satisfy that heartless man”. Tierry tried to talk him out of his ideas of battle, but he was determined. No matter how many of his clansmen would die, they would do it for the sake of honour. They would rather die standing, than live kneeling. I can’t say I blamed them, but I so wished bloodshed would be unnecessary. But it is different in men's world, I suppose. Angus MacLir led us go, so we could finish what we came for. On my way out, I said ”Maithair be with you all”, and he called me back on that account. He looked closely at me, and asked ”Who are you?”. ”My name is Judith Jones” I answered, not expecting it to ring any bell with him. He looked at me, as though he waited for more. I continued ”I am also Fienna…”. And he nodded. He asked where we were headed now, and I answered that I personally were going on to Glendore as soon as I could. ”There is a church on the other side of the brook” he said ”Stay there tonight”. I nodded and he bade me leave.

Tierry wanted to warn Sioned and her village that war was coming their way, but I couldn’t stay in the saddle much longer. My behind felt black and blue, and I’m certain it was. Tierry and I agreed to meet in the church later on. I rested for the rest of the day in and outside the church. I was comfortable sitting on the thick moss, but besides that I’d rather stand up or lie down. Tierry returned discouraged. He had warned Sioned, but she seemed to blame us for the whole thing. It was difficult to explain that we were merely pawns in a game so much larger than us.

We slept in the church after a rather poor meal that we were offered by a local priest. He didn’t have much, but he shared it with us anyhow. He also bade us welcome in the church. I woke early in the morning, before the sun rose, not by a sound, but by a feeling. Angus MacLir and some of his men were praying by the alter. Tierry woke as well, and while one of the others spoke loudly to him in northlandish, Angus came to me and bade me tell Fengus MacDorach what was going on. I presumed at the time, that it was a cry for help – reinforcements. Later I understood what was really going on. Oh, the bravery of that man! He was a martyr, if ever I saw one. He was willing to die and lead his men to death, so that women and children might survive in peace. He seemed cool and perfectly at ease with his fate. There was a strength in him that I envied. Oh, to know your own mind so well! To face death and face it boldly. Not to fear… Oh yes, I could see why Alex was so taken with him. I also knew that she would never forgive us for what we were about to do, and yet we did it for him. For him, not to him. And he knew it. He asked for our help, not our mercy, not our pity. He wanted help to die well, to die gaining freedom for his surviving clan.

Tierry off course had not been fooled by the loudspeaker, and I had no intentions of keeping him in the dark anyway, so as soon as MacLir and his men had left, I told him what MacLir had whispered to me. Tierry was very bothered by this heroic, but meaningless war that was inevitably taking place before our eyes. A war that we couldn’t help be a part of, and on the wrong side. Well, we could do nothing but soften the blows. Tierry swore the whole way that day about proud men and their stupid, stupid honour, that could do nothing but give them death, however heroic.

We arrived in Glenroran a couple of days later and found board at our home away from home: ”The Banshee”. John Dardell was glad to see us for once. Tierry went to the fort to report and was immediately appointed captain of a company. I, in the meanwhile, went to visit Maggie’s family. They were glad to see me, but discouraged by the situation. Northlanders and lowlanders were not getting along anymore, as they had for years. Maggie’s father was contemplating leaving Glenroran for ‘home’, but the children were not happy about leaving their friends. I felt sorry for them, and only wished there was something I could do. Tierry returned and we indulged ourselves in long bathes and luxurious meals and drinking long into the night. We had put Alex to bed with a high fever and we had summoned a doctor to see her. Apparently her head wound had gotten infected, so apart from the concussion, she was also fighting an infection of the most fierce kind. We were very worried about her, but somehow relieved that she wasn’t conscious to realize what was going on with MacLir.

We turned in late, and as soon as I heard Tierry snoring through the wall, I left wearing warm clothes and my best walking shoes, that weren’t much good anymore. I walked around the lake and up the Mountainman's hill, hoping to find northlanders in the grove. I was in luck. Just as I thought that I was lost, I saw light through the trees. As I told them my name, adding Fienna again, as I had to MacLir, they nodded and said ”Yes, Dobéan, we have heard about you”. Dobéan… I was told it meant ”two-woman”. It startled me some that I was known to them. I told them my business. They didn’t seem surprised, and why should they be. It could be no news to them that a section of the MacLir clan had broken out, nor could the increased cattle stealing or armament have been kept from them. They would not send reinforcements they said, nor would MacDorach. I was stunned; would they send Angus MacLir and his clan to certain death and just watch? But they explained it to me: the fewer men that fought Armenius’ army, the fewer men would die and the shorter the war would be. In other words : MacLir had offered to sacrifice himself and his men, so that losses would be kept at a minimum and Armenius would loose reason to keep an army in the north as soon as possible. At that time a young man offered to run to MacDorach and tell him the news. Without further ado, he left. I thanked them and left. I found my way back almost early morning and I slept in late.

The next day the army began to gather. Apparently Revignon (the commandant of Glenroran) was appointed general of the entire army. Victor Hugues (one of Armenius’ sheriffs) was appointed colonel of Armenius’ men and Tierry’s direct superior. All day there were town criers urging people to join the army. As they also asked for medical helpers, I joined too and was appointed to Tierry’s company, as I requested. Maybe I could do some good after the battle was done.

On the 29th day of May 1600 at 4:00 in the morning we broke up. Tierrys company was in front. We walked all day. At sunset we camped in a large clearing in the forest. Despite the long hours and a day of walking I slept badly. Very early in the morning I woke, seeing faces painted black before me. I struggled out of sleep and the moment I got up, the guards cried ”Alarm!”. I crept under the wagon, I had slept in and saw a score of northlanders, their faces blackened running through the camp, making almost no sound, hacking and slashing and killing everyone in their way. Tierry got in their way and received a fierce axe in his back. He didn’t die, fortunately, but would be no got on a horse or in a battle for some days yet. Of the twenty men who had run through the camp, only one was caught. He was interrogated and hung in the morning light. No one slept the rest of the night, so we broke camp early, the men greatly discouraged. What kind of people were we up against, who could run silently through the camp, killing on their way, and then disappear like snow on a hot day afterwards. The men were frightened and uncomfortable. Tierry spent the day on his stomach in the wagon, crying orders to his next in command, who seemed a capable man. Tierry had a good reputation among his men. He had served them all beer, before we had broken up from Glenroran and he spoke to them with authority in a no-nonsense manner, that they could relate to. He was something of a hero, now that he was lying wounded, but still in business.

While the footmen marched on, the cavalry made a show of riding about the countryside burning villages and killing people for sport. They were looking for the rebels and it took them only a few days (now that the rebels made no attempt of hiding). The 2nd day of June they reported back that the rebels were located : they had grouped around the small church near the brook. They were greatly outnumbered and that rose the men's spirit; it would not be a hard battle, merely something to get over with. They were some 260 men. We were close to 1000…!

The two armies marched forth to meet each other and the medics were left behind, ready to be called for when necessary. I followed the army, carrying with me the tools of the craft. I settled on a hilltop overlooking the battlefield. It was ridiculous. MacLirs men were commoners, not warriors, but they fought for freedom and would probably be worth thrice their number. ”Our” army was trained and semi-trained soldiers, many of them commoners too, that’s true, but in numbers they would count. MacLirs army was being blessed by the old priest, who had fed us a little week earlier. A small group of men didn’t kneel with the others. All of them had their right arms painted black. I guessed that they were the Goddess’ men. Our army was blessed as well, by several priests who had come along for the same. Then MacLirs men divided into two groups, one running towards the mass of our army, the other running towards Tierry’s company, who had managed to get a place on the flank by themselves! Soon the two armies crashed together and it was impossible to tell friend from foe. The battle didn’t take long. The first group was practically slaughtered, only about 30 men was taken prisoners. The second group did great damage to Tierry’s company and chased them over a hillside, behind which, Tierry later told me, Tierry and his men had stopped and turned, the brook against their backs, waiting for death. They had turned ready for the onslaught, but nothing came. I had seen Tierrys company run and the northlanders simply disappear into the landscape. I can’t explain how. They just seem to vanish as soon as Tierrys company had disappeared behind the hill. Though the cavalry looked for them, they found nothing. Some 80 men had vanished into thin air.

As soon as the battle seemed to be over, I ran down to help. The sounds of battle had died away and was replaced by screaming, moaning and crying. It started to rain softly, as though the sky cried for her fallen children. Men and boys were lying writhing on the ground. A horse tried helplessly to get to it’s feet. A young man tried desperately to keep his entrails inside of him. One man was lying in blood and mud and screamed and screamed holding his hands over his head. Tears joined the rain on my face and I bend down to help a northlander lying at my feet. His weary green eyes watched me. He had multiple wounds from both firearms and steel. He bled from one ear. But I felt I could save him and I started to get out my stuff. A hand painted black grabbed my wrist. ”Don’t” he whispered ”Let me lie here. This is nice… and quiet. Let it bleed. The pain will stop… shortly, if you leave me alone. I don’t want to hang… in a lowlanders rope…”. He smiled at me and caressed my cheek, drying away a tear. He seemed pleased I was there, for his eyes didn’t leave my face, until the light in those green eyes began to fade. As they clouded over I merely sat with his hand in mine, singing that ancient lullaby I had heard a young northlander sing to himself after a battle like this. A battle just like this…

Eventually I had to leave his dead body. Others needed my help and I did what I could. But every northlander I attended asked for one thing only: merciful death. With bleeding heart I lend it to them. My northland-dagger tasted northland-blood that day, but each time it was mercy and each time it was asked for. They did not want to hang and thus please their enemy by dying disgracefully. And I did not wish to see them hang. I would never have thought that I could serve Maithair best by killing her sons, but I felt her blessing all the same. That day will forever be written into my mind and heart as the most terrifying day I will ever live to see. Even the horrors on the ship after battling the pirates was nothing compared to this. The pain… the blood… their eyes. The eyes that watched my face and their smiles, when I slid their throats... will forever be burned into my memory. I could never forgive the people, who had caused this tragic and utterly, utterly senseless war. I killed that day, and I can’t forgive myself for that, although I know I did it for them. I did a good deed by doing so, but I killed. I suddenly knew my Father better than ever. He killed for a living. He killed perpetrators, wrongdoers, rapists, murderers sure, and maybe an innocent man or two, but he killed. How could he stay a whole man? He never took pleasure in it; it was merely a job to be done. It was his lot in life. But how could he? Day after day, year after year. Did he too see before him their eyes on his face? Their eyes… I dream of them still, after all this time and maybe the last thing I will see in this world, will be a pair of green eyes looking a me with pleasure and with thanks for a death well dealt…

After the battle the rest of the companies were sent out to root out any leftover rebels. Tierry had lost some 30 men and 20 more wounded were unable to follow. He had the choice of a few of the nearby villages and he chose Sioneds. He made the drummers drum away all the way ”to frighten the rebels, by announcing the superiority of the ryendoran army” or somesuch. On the way there shot were fired at them. As they followed the matter, they discovered a young northlander shooting at them from the sacred mound near the village. The northlander was killed and Tierry found him in a hole leading into a tunnel. Down the tunnel he saw more men, but he wisely ignored them and returned to his men, declaring all clear. Off course Sioned and the villagers were long gone, when the company finally arrived, and no valuables or domestic animals apart from a couple of bewildered chickens were left. To make a point Tierry ordered a henhouse and a barn that was already falling apart burnt to the ground, which was hard because of the rain. The other villages were not so lucky. Murder, rape and pillaging was what happened to the innocent villagers there. I know that our part in this crazy game will always torture Tierry. But he did nothing wrong. He brushes me off, when I try to tell him that. He is wrapped up in his own guilt. He killed, yes, but he killed soldiers in war, who would have died anyway. He spared Sioneds village for the nightmares the others went through. We were just pawns in a mighty game. We could only soften the blows, not prevent them. I wish I could make him see that. And I wish we could have been in a position to prevent it!

There were 30-40 prisoners taken, and I had seen Angus MacLir among them. I could not get close to them; they were too well protected. And off course they would be; they were Armenius’ prize to be hung to demonstrate his power. He could not afford to let them get away.

The next day we left behind our dead and wounded and pursued the rest of the rebel clan, who had been spotted by the cavalry by a loch nearby. Apparently a village by the loch were harbouring rebel clan members. I went with what was left of Tierrys company. They had been hard hit upon, bearing the brunt of half of the rebel army. But they marched in front as always, following Tierry blindly. I’m not sure he ever knew how respected he was, though he had prevented them from the wargame and pillaging in Sioneds village. We arrived at the loch in bright sunshine, and what a sight! The mountains mirrored themselves in the still water, so it looked like two identical worlds on each side of the surface of the loch. I guess more would have stopped and sighed in awe as I did, had our business there not been so grim. We reached the ”village” and found it empty. Actually it was just a few temporary fishing shelters and a few fish that was hung out to dry. Only the footmen of Armenius’ army had gone this way. The cavalry and the rest of the army had gone around the loch. We met again the next day, setting up camp on each side of a brook. At night we heard bagpipes playing. It discouraged the men some. The playing went on and on all night, as if they took turns, and they must have. We were 1.100 men all in all.

The next morning the alarm woke us up. We were surrounded by northlanders standing on the hillsides above us. Behind us a river was flowing gently, but deep enough to trap us in. About 800 men were looking down on us, each and every one of them trained soldiers to the eye, carrying muskets, unharmed and rested. Though we outnumbered them by 300 men, we were no match for them. They carried two banners, of which I recognized only one: the banner of Fengus MacDorach, Laird of Glandor and Lord of The Isles. The other one was the banner of the Duke of the North, I was told! We were in big trouble!

Tierry was sent out to set up a negotiation. He met with Fengus MacDorach, who had come, he said, because he had heard of our troubles and he wished to help…! As these rebels we were chasing were now on his land, he would take it upon himself to find and punish them. It would have taken a fool to misunderstand him: get out of here and leave the MacLirs alone or you will feel what trained northland warriors can do to you! He accepted meeting for negotiations. They decided to bring five negotiators and ten companions each.

The negotiations went on the whole day. Each time things seemed to reach a deadlock, they withdrew to talk amongst themselves, and each time they did that more northland warriors appeared. In the end 1.500 men were standing above us, a cavalry covering Tierry’s company. We wouldn’t stand a chance, if it came to fighting and we knew it. Revignon and Charles MacLir would not give up the prisoners willingly, even if it killed them! While we were waiting I told Tierry that I had seen Angus MacLir among the prisoners and he had an idea : He went and suggested to Revignon that we kept about a few prisoners, among these MacLir and other ringleaders and turned the rest over to MacDorach. Revignon gnashed his teeth, but saw sense in it, amazingly. Put to the negotiation table it was accepted. We could keep 5 prisoners to make an example of, including Angus MacLir and the rest was to be delivered as soon as possible. The cavalry was sent off to fetch them and soon after night fell. The pipes started playing and those who weren’t unnerved yet, was now. The men started singing barroom songs to keep the sound of pipes at bay, but you can only sing so many songs, and the pipes could go on and on, it seemed. We waited most of the next day and not until the afternoon the cavalry returned with the 30 some northlanders. The prisoners have been running all night and look exhausted. They looked frightened as well, until they spotted MacDorachs banner. Clearly they had been told nothing and had no idea what was to happen to them. Charles MacLirs men were sent out to identify Angus MacLir, but no one could or did. Finally, to get it over with, Tierry stepped into the group of prisoners and pointed him out. There seemed to be no hard feelings from MacLir, but Alex later had a hard time forgiving us for that. Four others were pointed out to join his fate, among these were a strong man with one black arm, who hardly looked tired at all. The rest of the prisoners were delivered to MacDorachs men. They were escorted by a company to no-mans-land and two northlanders met them there and escorted them back to their fellows. Revignon seethed at this; MacDorach didn’t even try to make it look like he would deal with the prisoners. It was obvious that they were received with open arms by friends and kin. I secretly smiled. This had all turned out very well. Yes, Armenius’ army had won the battle, but by no means the war. And he had no way to protest. I felt bad about the five men, who no doubt would hang, scorned by all present, humiliated and alone, but it was a small price to pay for the freedom of thirty men. And I know that the five did it gladly.

We left after that, though the sun was low in the sky, and we marched all night. We camped at the church. The battlefield had not changed much. Armenius’ soldiers had been burried, but the northland corpses were feeding the crows. There was a foul stench of death and blood that may never leave that place again. The few houses near the church had been scorched. I’m not sure the priest had survived the vendetta of a winning army. Angus and his companions was placed in a tent in the middle of the army, and they were heavily guarded. But a few hours later alarm was called : the guards had checked on them, and found three of them dead. MacLir and the blackarmed man had strangled the others. They were lying on their tartans, looking as if they were merely sleeping. I guess they had made a little calculation : how many need to hang? MacLir would surely hang in the MacLir barony, there was no escaping that, and one more to hang in Glenroran to satisfy Armenius. The blackarmed man had no doubt volunteered for that; he had the determination to go through with it. So the other three had met a kinder death than their situation would otherwise had rendered them.

The northlanders’ dead bodies were gathered on a huge pile of wood and set on fire, and we left the place for good. Four days later we were back in Glenroran and Tierry delivered his resignation from Armenius’ service. It was ill received and he was put on guard duty for the fortnight, until he is free of the contract. He had managed to get Alex to scribe her claw on the paper too, because we knew that she more than anyone would want to leave Armenius. I hated the thought of having to tell her, what had been going on, and that her beloved MacLir was hung in the lowlands.

After a day of complete devotion to myself: bathing, resting, eating and resting some more, I went to visit Maggie’s family. They weren’t there. The smithy was empty, and had been so for weeks. The house was abandoned and the heavy furniture was still there. The rest was gone. I asked Dardell what he knew of it, and bitterly he told me that northlanders had been treated very badly, since the martial law had been acclaimed, and eventually all northlanders in town had left and gone north. He guessed they had gone to Glandor, but he didn’t know for sure.

I told Tierry that I was going for a walk and would be back before nightfall. I packed a lunch and something extra and went around the loch to the Hill of the Mountain Man. I hoped to find northlanders there, who could tell me of the fate of the smith-family. I almost got lost on my way, but in a bright moment I found the rock that was shaped like a small hunchbacked man. I put food out before him and asked his permission to stay there awhile. A few steps ahead I found the clearing again. It was deserted. Pieces of white cloth and small pieces of tartan were hanging from the trees and over the stones. There were bowls and plates lying scattered and broken here and there. It looked to me that someone had offered food to the Mountain Man and the animals of the forest had come and eaten it. The place was tranquil and sad and abandoned. I stayed a long while. I ate my food and lay down on the grass, looking up into the sky. I had stayed for too long, for suddenly stars were blinking back at me from a darkened sky. I knew I would get in trouble with Tierry, but I could not risk going back in the dark. I almost got lost in daylight, and I would never find my way in the dark. I stared up into the starlit night and felt calm and happy in a quiet way. I though of the war and the sacrifices made in it. I thought of the proud eyes of MacLir, of what a waste it was for him to die. I wept a little for his sake, for all northlanders, the unfairness of it all. Later again I thought of Sean. I wondered if he had been by MacDorachs side. Could he had been that close to me? I longed desperately to see him again, and soon I would! I remembered another starlit sky and wished he was next to me now, as he had been then. I had imagined a love like ours in my wildest dreams as a young girl. We had no choice really, it was just so: it was us, we belonged to each other and I wished to belong to no one else. I hugged myself, hugging Fienna for bringing such a man into my life. I wished to thank her, to tell her how happy I was that I had welcomed her into me. I didn’t know if she could hear me or sense my feelings, but I think she could. I had my best friend, my sister, my souls twin under my skin. I would never be alone again, as I had been alone throughout my childhood. There was always someone who understood, someone, who’d know exactly how I felt about things and who accepted them unconditionally. She would never scorn me or put me out of sorts or tell me what to do. I could almost see her face before me and I wished I could touch her.

Eventually I must have fallen asleep for suddenly I woke, feeling a presence near me. And not a very discreet presence I might add ; a small hunchbacked man was sitting some yards away, eating my offerings with loud chewing and smacking his lips. He looked up at me and said a lot of things very fast in a language I had never heard before, ending his torrent of words with a ”Blaaadh!” and sticking out his tongue at me. I was amused at the sight of him and at the same honoured, for before me I saw the Mountain Man, a sacred being. Eventually he left, after having eaten every crump and speck, discarding me with another ”Blaaadh!”. I laughed a little, said ”you’re welcome” and went back to sleep. To be honest I was unable to say in the morning, if I had really seen the mountain god or if I had dreamt to whole thing, but one thing was sure : The food I had offered the Mountain Man was gone – every crump and speck of it…

I returned to Glenroran in high spirits meeting Tierry on my way back. He scolded me and I tried to explain my absence so fast that he gave up. He takes good care of me, does Tierry, and he does so unselfishly. Despite his rumour as a ladies man, he had never tried anything with me and except for that one kiss I laid on him long, long ago to save our skins, we have never had any hint of romance between us. I think he sees me as a younger sister, a little irresponsible and naïve that needs looking after, and indeed I look upon him, as I would on my brother Daniel, before the war took away his good spirits. I look to him for wisdom, for protection, for the love he seems to hold for me. I truly would have a hard time leaving Tierry, although he occasionally find me quite annoying, like today when he had needlessly worried for me. I love Tierry and as long as the travel fever is in my blood, I look to him for company on the road.

A week later a legal judge arrived from Armenius and the blackarmed man was put to trial. Tierry had as one of his duties as a city guard looked after him in the prison. They had spoken, though the northlander had spoken no ryendoran and Tierry spoke nothing else. Tierry told me that he seemed lonely, but not worried.

The trial was a farce. The blackarmed man could not defend himself, as everything was said in ryendoran. He is condemned to death by hanging, an outcome everybody had known beforehand – they had been working on the gallows for days. That night Tierry saw to that the northlander had a good meal and something to drink. He spent all evening in his company and the northlander seemed to enjoy it. He has a good heart, does Tierry. I know that he blames himself for the part he played in the war, but I think he did splendidly. The Light smiles upon him – a sinner turned saint.

The next day was scheduled for hanging. The whole town seemed to celebrate. Minstrels were in the streets, people sold beer and food from booths and everybody was in high spirits… except the lodgers at Dardells inn. Dardell himself was in a dark mood. He had closed the inn for everyone, but his regular customers, like us. He had put up signs saying ”Sickness in the family” on all his doors and if someone asked him, who was sick, he said ”my wife” and if someone asked his healthy wife she said ”my husband”. The truth was that they both felt sick in their souls, that such a tragedy as a war and a hanging was something the rest of the town celebrated in high spirits. I managed to get a place way up front, standing close up against the guards, one of which liked my looks and let me get a good view. As the northlander passed, I called out ”Morrigu!”. He looked up, but couldn’t spot me. As his ”crimes” and sentence was read aloud, he kept scanning the crowd, and when his eyes met mine, I mouthed again ”Morrigu”. His eyes stayed locked in mine and I hoped to give him hope and courage, but he already had it. But like his fellow in the battlefield, who had died looking smilingly at me, he kept looking at a pretty face of someone who was not hostile. Our look was broken when the headsman put the noose around his neck and ordered the bulls forward. It was a brutal hanging. He wasn’t dropped, as my father did it, breaking the neck neatly. No, he was lifted from the ground and strangled slowly to death. He was so very brave. He hardly kicked or shivered, as most people would have. It took him 5 minutes to die, a long time. The crowd cheered when he was taken down. He was hung up again in one of the cages hanging from the Hanged Mans Tree as a deterrent to others, who could scheme of rebellion. Such an unworthy death and treatment of the dead. Tierry and I returned to ”The Banshee” in dark moods. ”The Banshee” was quiet and still, and I stayed here and went to bed early. City guards came to fetch Tierry for his watch. He banged a few more heads and smashed a few more noses in that night than he would have ordinarily. We needed to leave this sick town, and soon.

Next day we started planning our trip to Glandor. We had decided to buy a mule to carry our things. The horses we had were Armenius’, so we had to walk on our feet to the north. Not that we minded: Summer was here and the weather was generally warm and very pleasant. And since we had no masters anymore, we could travel at our own pace, taking the time it would take. After Glandor we would go on to Sach, where neither one of us had been before, just to get a change in scenery. Not that I was tired of the northlands, by no means, but I had more travelling to do, before I was ready to settle down, and since I planned to settle down in the northlands some day, I figured I would get my need for mountains and lochs and high skies satisfied by then.

We went out shopping before we left. I needed new shoes, if I was to walk any further and I wanted to get Alex a fine paintbrush for her birthday which was only a few weeks away. So was mine by the way. We bought all the supplies we needed and a mule, which Tierry promptly dubbed ”Monsignor Revignon”, a name accepted and applauded by the rest of us.

Alex had finally found her way out of bed. She was still tired and weak after a month bed, but she was game, when we told her our plan. She was heartbroken however, when we told her everything that had happened. She was not ready to forgive us the part we had played, but I still believe we did right. Alex would have to come to terms with it somehow.