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Manchan's Tale - Part 6
- Manchan's Tale - Part 5
What we can't see can hurt us. The sin-bearer's trials are not over yet.
In Part 5 we left Manchan as he was being hunted by Findcath in the hill country.
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 rode on for a while as he thought. His new found friend was quite responsive to his control of the reins. Then he stopped. "My friend, I will call you Slánú for you have been redeemed from the evil one."
A tinge of guilt trickled over Manchan. How could he call Déaglán's men evil? They were protecting the community and only desiring to free the community from the curse. More guilt covered him as he realized he was the curse. If it wasn't for the horrible end he faced, he might just as well allow Findcath to take him. But his desire for self-preservation was stronger than his guilt. The two traveled on.
If self-preservation was his goal, and it was, he was in the best position yet to succeed. The hunted was now following the hunter. He kept a safe distance, but with Findcath's men in front of him, he could see every move they made. The challenge was to stay behind. He knew that at any moment they could turn back, and he would once again become the hunted.
The Day was breaking as the war party made their way down through the hills. Cráibdech's hoofprints were still very clear, and they led to Manchan's barn. Findcath was quick to tell his men, " I told you he would be back to take care of those sickly sheep. He cares more for those pitiful animals than he does himself."
Just then a shadow passed through the barn door. "We have him now. Circle the barn. He will not escape this time. But, remember, we must take him alive. He will be most amusing when he stands before Déaglán."
Quickly, the barn was surrounded. Findcath moved his horse to the door and called for Aengus. "Aengus, I'm going in. On my signal, open the door quickly."
There was no response. Findcath surveyed his group. "Where is Aengus?" Dependable Aengus was missing. Silence fell over the group. "Who has seen Aengus?"
Eoin spoke up. "Sir, he stayed behind hoping to flush out Manchan in the woods. Could it be the two met, and he is no more?"
"Absolutely not. If he met Manchan, it would be Manchan that entered that forbidden place of the dead. He'll find us later. Right now we have work to do. Eoin, open the door.
As the door flung open, Findcath could see movement under a haystack. "There's no escaping this time, sin-bearer. Come out before I use my spear to convince you."
An old man crawled out from beneath the hay. Findcath's first reaction was one of surprise. This was not who he expected. His second reaction was anger and frustration. He threw his spear at the man's feet." As he jumped back, he tripped over the pile of hay.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?" Findcath roared.
"My name is Lugaid, I - I needed a place of shelter, This was an excellent choice to protect me from the elements."
"You mean you needed protection from the gods. The gods of the air, the wind, the snow. You lie. You have infuriated the gods if you need protection from them, and you infuriate me. Are you one of those Christians that keep popping up around here? One of those converts of that heretic Maewyn? Where's Manchan? You hiding him?"
"No. No. Not at all. See for yourself."
"I will. Now get from here quickly before I change my mind and thrust you through with my spear.
"Men, search the place."
Manchan watched from across the valley as Findcath and his crew went to work. it wasn't long until the barn and the sheepcote was destroyed. The sheep had been scattered along with the other animals. His desire was to rescue them, but he knew that was exactly what Findcath wanted, to show his face. Perhaps if the gods be good, another day the animals might be rescued.
It was at that time that Manchan could hear Findcath's deep voice. "Round up these animals. They'll bring a nice price at the market."
Findcath gave the order. "Eoin, stay here. Perchance Aengus will find you here. We will return at nightfall."
That being settled the thirteen set out again. But now the thirteen had become eleven. "They retraced their steps back to the hill country hoping to find Aengus. This would not be good news for Déaglán. Not only was Manchan not captured, but one of Déaglán's chosen men was missing. Still, Findcath had complete confidence that Aengus would be found safe.
As the group disappeared into the woods, Manchan made his move. Oh, so quietly and carefully he crossed the valley. From the east, he approached his land. Eoin stood at the front of what was once Manchan's barn - now just a shell. Manchan came near to the back side of the barn and waited.
From the corner of his eye, Manchan saw a shadow coming from behind him. In an instant and with two movements as one, he reached for his hunting knife while twirling quickly to meet his attacker face to face. What joy he felt when he found himself eye to eye with Cráibdech.
"Shhh . . . " he whispered in her ear as he began to mount his friend. "Do not make a sound, until I give the word. Stealthily, he guided Cráibdech around the side of the barn. When they reached the front of the structure, Manchan kicked her hard in the ribs. She reared and charged the enemy. Eoin was left dead in the fast melting christening snow.
Manchan whistled for Slánú who came galloping across the valley. He sadly looked him in the eye and without saying a word he tied the old warhorse next to Eoin's horse. He and Cráibdech rode off, again following Findcath and his troop from a distance.
He knew the battle wasn't over yet. Actually, he knew it had just begun.
- Manchan's Tale - Part 7
5th century Ireland is the place not to be if you are the sin-bearer.
© 2016 William Kovacic