Mor Dal Reti joined Mairin, her two lieutenants and three ensigns at the wardroom table. Eyes widened with delight when Danu Eogain squeezed through the doorway from the main cabin carrying a cauldron of his Squadron-famous ham and pea soup and a basket of hot biscuits. Normally Mairin would have dove in with the rest. Tonight her stomach rebelled at the idea of food. Yet she dared not disappoint Danu, who had worked so hard to serve a fine meal on their first night out of port. She forced down a cup of the soup, sampled roast pork and seasoned fried potatoes, and nibbled at a thick-crusted cherry pie he served up for dessert. She did her best to join in the friendly banter and ordered Danu’s mate to fetch two of her best bottles of port to serve out after the pie was demolished. Her mind never drifted far from the chilling sound of the warpipes at the fort. A half-bottle of port still remained when she rose from her chair and bade the others to finish it without her. She caught Mor’s inquiring glance: Want company? She answered with a furtive shake of the head and retreated to her cabin.
There she sought relief from aching worry in a book of sea poems in Old English that took a great deal of concentration to comprehend in the original language. An hour passed, the watch changed and she read on. What little she had eaten sat like a rock in her stomach. And every time she took note of the barometer mounted above her cabin door, its pointer had dipped lower. When exhaustion finally overcame tension, she made the final entry in the ship’s log for the day:
Departed Wicklow Sept. 8, 999, 9:30 pm port tack, course SbW, wind N, speed 6 knots. Barometer falling slowly. Destination Wexford to take on final cargo for exchange with Kernow. Caillech company: 10 officers, 64 sailors, all fit for duty at sailing. Weapons drill at 7:30, minor problems to be remedied.
Mairin Fotharta, Senior Captain, Province Squadron
She pulled off her boots, put out the lantern, and settled into her hammock. Sleep did not come immediately. Her mind ran in circles from the attack at the fort to the falling barometer over her head to the difficult choices she faced between her life at sea and her life on land. Another hour passed. Cabin doors opened and closed in the corridor, the ship’s motion increased with a rising wind that sang a low note in the stays. An hour before first light she dozed off and entered the strange dream-world of exhausted sleep. In this world she was eight years old, Kellen four ...
She awoke to the sound of angry voices. Downstairs. Oh not again. Please not again. She stared across the dark room and saw her brother sitting up in bed, sobbing. She went over to him and gathered him in her arms, whispered, “It’s all right Kellen, adults have arguments, it’s all right,” but he kept sobbing. She left him and stole down the hallway to the balustrade overlooking the great room. She crouched and edged her face forward. Her father Gorman swayed unsteadily directly beneath her. Her mother, Etain, leaned against the frame of the kitchen door to the right. Etain’s eyes showed no fear, only derision.
“You had that young bastard again, don’t tell me you haven’t!”
Gorman Fotharta, drunk and dangerous, tried to run at her and stumbled forward, catching himself on the back of a high-backed chair near the hearth. Etain remained still, a smirk creeping over her face.
“Whether I have or haven’t is not your concern,” she said as if commenting on the weather. “If I have, it’s the price you pay for thirteen years of hell. Look at yourself, drunk, smelling of sweat and bad ale, face torn with scars, you expect me to make love to you? The night we made Kellen was your last time in my bed, I told you that.”
His left hand seized an iron poker, which he held over the flames until it glowed dull red.
“For that your face will have a scar too.”
He pulled the hot poker out of the fire and took a step forward. Her hand reached under her robe and withdrew a long, straight blade that glinted in the firelight.
“Try it,” she said.
Mairin leaped up and ran down the long, curving staircase.
“Father, please no!” she begged. She seized hold of the powerful arm that held the poker.
Then she was flying through the air, free as a bird, until she crashed into the edge of the oak table. Pain exploded from her forehead and her vision blurred. When she could see again it was only from her left eye; blood leaked into the right. Gorman was gone and Etain lounged in the doorway, calmly putting the knife away.
“You should have stayed in your room,” she said.
From above, she saw Kellen’s face peeking through the bars of the balustrade. He was crying hard. And next to him stood Bram, twelve years old, unnaturally tall and strong. Bram shook his head and laughed harshly.
“It would have been such a great show,” he said to Mairin with a sneer. “Next time let them have their fun.”
Her heart thudded in her chest, her breath came in gasps as if she had run up to the crosstrees a dozen times. Sweat beaded on her chest, her night tunic was drenched, her fingers ached from seizing the edge of the hammock. Tears had poured down her face onto the pillow. She hoped desperately that she had not cried out.
Excerpted from "Eirelan" by Liam O'Shiel. Copyright © 0 by Liam O'Shiel. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.