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Manchan's Tale - Part 5
- Manchan's Tale - Part 4
Manchan fights for his life, trying to prolong the inevitable. The Druid traditions and rituals are against him.
Previously . . .
We left off in Part 4 with Manchan escaping from the hand of Findcath. He is seen in the village, and the information is made known to Déaglán.
Déaglán had already approached the woman who had been admiring Manchan's horse. "So, is that a new face in town, or just another passing through to celebrate The Festival of the Christening Snow?"
"He says he's just passing through. He never looked up. Kept his head down the whole time. He was in distress and insisted on seeing that old preacher, Maewyn. I tried to keep him here as long as I could. I gave him the thought that you could help him, but he insisted on talking with Maewyn and left in a hurry, I regret to say, I think it may have been Manchan.".
"That's impossible! My men just burned his cottage to the ground - with him in it. Look! Who is that galloping into town? He's in a terrible hurry.
"Lughaidh, what is your hurry?"
"My lord, a man resembling Manchan just provided me with transport to my home in the hills. He was impatient to speak to Maewyn."
Déaglán was in much confusion. "Are you sure, Lughaidh? My men burned his home to the ground. He couldn't have possibly survived. Are you sure?"
"Quite sure, my lord - quite sure!"
Déaglán was quite beside himself. Could it be that Manchan did indeed escape? The unthinkable - is it possible that Findcath was lying about the destruction of Manchan's cottage? Greater yet - Had the Whispering Wind lied?
Déaglán called for Findcath. "It's been told me, Manchan has escaped to the mountains. What do you have to say, my honorable Findcath?" Déaglán finished with a sneer.
Findcath was afraid of no man, save Déaglán. He was terror-filled and not sure how to answer. Was it possible the Whispering Wind knew something he didn't? How could Manchan have escaped?
He spoke with a weak voice, not sure of what Déaglán expected him to say. "Oh, my lord, Manchan is indeed dead. He is, at this very moment, atoning for his sins in the netherworld. He carries his Lady Brigid's sin with him as well. This can't be. He is dead."
"I don't think so. He has been identified, and he goes to preacher Maewyn's home. Get your men and bring him back alive. I want to toy with him before he is eliminated."
"Yes, my noble Déaglán. We will begin our quest at morning's light."
The very irritated priest screamed, "No! You must leave now. He'll be long gone by morning. Get you up to Parson Maewyn first. Maybe he's still there. That's where he was last seen - just a sound of the bell past Lughaidh's dwelling. Get your men and go - now! And don't show your face to me until you hold Manchan as your possession."
Hurrying on his way, Findcath called for the other 12 advisors. He quickly explained the situation, and a short discussion ensued. All mounted their powerful steeds and were off for the hills. The day's light was coming to an end. Speed was of the utmost importance.
The sound of thirteen horses prancing outside Maewyn's cottage startled him. To see they belonged to the old priest's advisors concerned him more. He never got along well with Déaglán. The thirteen quickly surrounded the parson's small cottage as Findcath yelled the introduction.
"Old man, Maewyn, we are here on business of our priest and king, Déaglán. It is told us that Manchan, the sin-bearer is here. We have come to fetch him. Release him to us now."
The horses were imposing. The men, frightening. How was Maewyn to respond? "Honorable men, I know you are here on the king's business, but I know not of whom you speak. There was a man here a few hours ago, but I know not who he is, nor his crime."
"We don't believe you, Maewyn."
"Men, search the home and the grounds. Flush him out!"
By the time the search was over, the tiny, unassuming cottage suffered much damage. Only Maewyn's person was spared, and no Manchan was found.
"Old man, where did he go?"
Words were not coming easily for the old preacher. He finally squeaked out, "He continued up the hill about as far as the crow flies. Then he turned eastward. That's all I know."
One by one, the twelve and their horses followed their leader to a nearby clearing. "Men, the preacher lies. He talks of good, but he lies to protect the sin-bearer. Manchan's sheepcote still stands. He is stupidly dedicated to his land and animals. He went back to take care of those dirty sheep. Follow me!"
The sun going down, left Manchan and Cráibdech warming by the fire. With every lick of the flames, Manchan remembered the kindness of the old man who gave him the wood and the other provisions. Though hungry, he was willing to save the food for another time. He knew he would need it later. He pulled out the three sheepskins and began to prepare himself for a night's rest.
Not far down the mountain, Aengus, Findcath's understudy, noticed a faint light flickering higher up the hill.
"Findcath! Findcath! Look! A campfire up on the hill. Shall we go and see?"
"Most definitely, my young Aengus. We shall go back the way we came - past the parson's plot, lest he returns to the parson and escapes again. Men, FORWARD!"
Cráibdech was prancing nervously. She alone could sense the coming presence of the warhorses. Within minutes, Manchan recognized the message his beloved horse was giving him. He took the rest of the provisions and wrapped them in the sheepskins. Then he mounted Cráibdech, spinning her in circles to confuse the soon to arrive visitors. Her hoofprints covered the christening snow in a multitude of directions. Next, the fire was put out, and Manchan was once again guiding Cráibdech's steps in many directions and over a large area of ground. After leaving their imprint on the first snow's surface, they were off.
Traveling was hard in the dark woods. Tree branches and rocks could not be seen, only felt. In the distance, the pounding hoofs of Findcath's horses could be heard. Cráibdech stumbled. Manchan knew what he needed to do. If both were to survive, they must separate.
Another Bond Broken
He pulled in the reigns and brought Cráibdech to a stop under a burly oak. He leaned to whisper in her ear. "This is where we must part, my friend. It's for the best - for both of us. You served me well through the years, and I will always remember you, just as I do my beloved Brigid. Take care, my friend."
Manchan reached up and grabbed one of the oak's mighty limbs. With his provisions strapped to his back, he kicked Cráibdech hard in the ribs. She tore off through the woods leaving her hoofprints behind. Manchan continued to climb higher up the tree. In the not too far away distance, he could see the light of torches approaching. He held the branch tight, hoping not to be seen. High up in the tree, the dark night would protect him from the light below.
Waiting and watching, he counted as each one passed by. " . . . nine, ten, eleven, twelve . . ." He waited. No thirteen. Manchan thought to himself, "What kind of a fool does Findcath take me for? There is yet one coming." He continued to wait.
The sound of a single horse could be heard, as it slowly moved along, crunching the snow under its hooves. No torch showed itself. The rider was in striking distance. Manchan lowered himself to the bottom branch of the tree, and as the rider approached, he swung his feet hard into his face, breaking his nose. Manchan reached for his hunting knife and thrust the blade deep into his opponent's heart.
The warhorse stood, proudly waiting. Perhaps Manchan would treat him better. Lifting himself up in the saddle, the two were off.
- Manchan's Tale - Part 6
5th century Ireland is the place not to be if you are the sin-bearer.
© 2016 William Kovacic