May 15, 1051
The wolf’s growl silenced the feasters in Dublin’s royal hall. His
brother’s answering snarl caused even the drunkest revelers to stop
and look. In the front of the torch-lit chamber, the silver-coated
animals started circling a chunk of discarded gristle. They captured
every gaze and held every movement, save Annora’s.
The sixteen-year-old thrall glanced over her shoulder to the entry
doors. The hall guards watched along with the crowd, strain clear on
their faces. Trying not to make a sound, she slid her tray of fowl
carcasses on to the floor.
Queen Brigit, sitting on a raised dais far from the guests, launched up.
“Danu! Dagda! Settle down now!”
Her pets – the guardian angels as she called them – bared their
fangs and began circling the prize. The crowd whispered at this
defiance; no one noticed Annora edge farther away.
With cheeks as red as her robe, the queen of Dublin slammed her fists on
the dais. “Don’t just stand there! Somebody stop them before they
The two hall guards rushed forward. “No spears," the queen shouted.
"Just get them to the kennel master!”
The warriors laid their spears on the floor and continued the approach.
Their fingers twitched more with each step.
The crowd began to rumble. These animals had maimed two handlers since
arriving from Norway last month; they wouldn’t go easily now.
From the side wall, Annora spied the unguarded door. She needed just a
few more moments.
Oblivious to the approaching men, the wolves crashed together in a
tangle of clawing limbs and high-pitched whines. Their jaws snapped onto
each other’s necks and flanks. Tufts of silver fur floated in the
In reaction, the guests sprang up as one, cheering, wagering, and
wailing enough to shake the air. They grew even more feverish as six men
joined the guards to encircle the thrashing wolves.
Annora receded to the entry doors amidst the uproar. When she pushed the
iron door handle, night air seeped into her tunic sleeve and made her
Yet before she could move again, the doors were ripped open from the
outside. Fergal, the court musician, stood before her with a grin
curving the scar on his cheek. “Where you off to, pretty?”
Annora stifled a cry and forced her shoulders to relax.
“Fergal…I’d heard of your return. I was on my way to greet you.”
“But I greeted you first. Now, I’m mean to taste you.” The bald
singer pulled open her tunic neck-line, wrenched her head to the side,
and slid his tongue across the tops of her breasts with a chuckle. He
then yanked her away from the doors and headed to the nearest bench.
She succumbed to Fergal’s grip with the saliva growing cold on her
chest. Trailing behind, she saw the guards had removed the wolves and
the hall had quieted.
Then, she felt the queen’s stare. Fergal was Brigit’s favorite
entertainer. Annora’s whippings always intensified after Fergal bedded
her; tomorrow promised to be the worst yet. Fear and failure threatened
to overwhelm her, but she drew strength by envisioning Aidan, her
month-old son, resting in the servant’s quarters. I can’t give up.
We need to escape.
Fergal’s return complicated matters; his travels to the northern
courts should have kept him away much longer. Now he trapped her,
bedecked in the same gray tunic and mud-spattered vest in which he left.
The object strapped behind him was the only addition. Wrapped in dark
cloth, it traversed his back and jutted over his shoulder.
After finding a bench, he rested the object against a table and pulled
Annora into his lap. He nipped at her ear lobe while emitting a hungry
groan. She had to fight to stop her hands from pushing him off.
A herald’s voice rang out: “All hail Diarmit, King of Dublin.”
Fergal lifted his head at the announcement. On the side of the hall, the
palace doors opened and Diarmit strolled in. He wore a green robe
decorated with crimson flower embroidery and grease stains, a leather
belt studded with rubies barely visible under his girth, and a thick
golden crown atop his stringy black hair. “Loyal subjects, please
forgive my absence. I trust you enjoyed the queen’s entertainment?”
The crowd roared as Brigit’s eyes shot fire. The grinning king
gestured for quiet. “Allow me to please you further: this feast of
Saint Andrew has turned into a celebration of triumph. Our English
mercenaries have trapped Callan ap McGowan and his outlaws in a cave
near Ballymore. Dublin is now free of Callan’s tyranny!”
Annora gasped along with the crowd. Kill Bardan’s murderer slowly,
Englishmen. Make him suffer.
She had not grieved alone; many in the hall had husbands, wives, or
children who perished by Callan’s hand. When the news settled in, the
crowd leapt up and unleashed joyous cries. Fergal threw Annora off his
lap to join them, but trapped her hand with a crushing grip.
The king’s voice rose again. “So my subjects, raise a cup to Earl
Harold Godwinson and his Englishmen. They may be fugitives, but their
hunting prowess is beyond measure!”
Fergal reached for an ale cup with his free hand. “To Earl Harold,”
he shouted along with the guests and added under his breath, “the
Everyone in Dublin knew the tale. Jealous rivals convinced the English
king to banish Earl Harold and his family, and then hired Norman
mercenaries to chase them away. The earl fled to Dublin and found the
city in ruins after the raid. He and Diarmit struck a bargain: in
exchange for Callan’s death, the king would provide Harold with ships
and men to force a return home.
He left before Annora ever saw him. The few servants who did said Harold
resembled the pagan sun god, Lugh, in both stature and fierceness.
Moreover, their tongues dripped of the earl’s infatuation for his
Fergal’s tongue, on the other hand, was infatuated with Annora. He
leered at her again. “Now where was I?”
Glancing around the hall, she saw thralls refilling cups. “A moment,
m’lord. The guests need more ale. If I don’t help, the queen’ll
have me whipped.”
“The whip shouldn’t worry you, pretty. Deny me again and you’ll
have more pressing hurts.”
The king cleared his throat to silence the hall and turned his beaming
face to Fergal and Annora. While she lowered her head and cringed,
Diarmit said, “It appears our honored scald has returned with
fortuitous timing. What say you, Fergal: Will you bless us with a
The singer released Annora’s hand. “As you wish, lord king. In fact,
I’ve returned to do exactly that.”
He grabbed his cloaked object and sauntered to the head dais. When he
removed the cloth, whispers swirled in the hall. “My god,” a man
said. “A golden lute…”
Annora sneered. A gold painted lute perhaps. Bardan had been the
court’s previous scald. She had cherished her husband’s songs
accompanied by his plain, time-worn lute above all things. “It’s not
how it looks,” Bardan would say. “It’s how it sounds.”
Fergal strummed the strings, adjusted the tensions, strummed again, and
nodded. “I learned this ode while on pilgrimage to Constantinople.”
As he started singing, she had to concede his voice, not his lute, was a
real treasure. The crowd welcomed his rich, clear verses like the earth
welcomed rain after a drought. He sang of an ancient battle, where
heroes used guile, not swords, to breach an impenetrable fortress.
Brigit stared at her singer, dabbing eyes with her sleeve.
Annora stepped backward, yet no heads turned. The song flared in
intensity, but never broke rhythm. With fear biting at her throat, she
back-shuffled to the doors. Her hand reached the iron handle at last.
And after a gentle nudge, she slipped into the night.
A chilling breeze carried the promise of rain. Clouds cloaked the stars,
the half-moon, and the king’s estate. No sentries paced the grounds
and several torches had guttered. Bardan is guiding my way.
Enclosed by a giant wooden rampart, the palace precinct sat on a hill
above Dublin Bay. It consisted of the palace, the servant’s hut where
Aidan now slept, a guest house, and a stone chapel.
Yearning to fly to Aidan, she headed to the guest house instead. One
emotion dominated all others as she crossed the quiet yard: hope. Her
husband’s killer lay dying, she had delivered a beautiful boy into
God’s service, and she now approached the one person who could save
Excerpted from "The Falcon Confession" by John V Norris. Copyright © 2016 by John V Norris. 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.