A Celtic tale of love and loss, deception and deceit. Part V.
Kurithir and his loyal friend, Prince Flann set off to confront Aevil and to seek the truth. What will be the cost of this quest to Flann and his friend?
THE raiders were gone from Connaught and the work of the chiefs was done. Flann rode south telling Kurithir he rode to fetch his new wife Aevil from Fort Conchinn, where death and battles had been. Kurithir scarce noted that Flann rode neither in state nor with joy. He rode silent and with dark thoughts, with few servants or comforts.
Flann made sure that none but himself held converse with Kurithir on the long south journey. Kurithir on his part went through the rivers and wilderness as he had sailed north over the sea, thrilled by the nearness of the sweet warm spirit of her, Liadan.
They reached the Fort of Conchinn at sunrise and saw marks of the siege. It was Aevil who met them in the hall, vested in royal weaves with a golden circlet of richness above the black braids where pearls were woven. Already she was wearing all gauds and trappings of queenship, waiting jealously the day of the succession of Flann as king.
She stared in dislike at his company.
“Have you fallen to meaner estate that you ride home with none of the chiefs you led away?” she asked. “A servant and a horseman is small retinue for Flann.”
“Greet my friend and send for your cleric,” said Flann. “I have questions to ask of this household.”
“I give greeting to any friend of yours, O Flann,” she said, “but your words and your looks coming back with him are not those of Flann, the prince who went away with his many men of the shields.”
“If it is your will I will walk apart until granted welcome,” said Kurithir to Flann. “It is you who know best the desire of my heart and the way to it.”
“We will find that way,” said Flann reassuringly, “but the first thing must come first! Send your maids to their duties. I want only your cleric and his tablets for writing. It is your own desires I make plans for. You will not be wanting the enviers of a princess around you this day.”
Kurithir was no less amazed than Aevil at the curious speech of Flann.
Flann went on staring, first at the comfortable round old man, Nealis the cleric and then at the queenly woman he had called a star of beauty.
“Nealis of Desmond,” he said, “it is a long time you have been in the Fort of Donal and it is much you have seen of the woman who died with Donal. It may be much you had to know of her.”
Nealis, the cleric went the colour of old wax and looked at Aevil. Aevil flamed red while her brows were a straight black line of rage.
“What should he know?” she asked. “What should he know of my nurse and my friend? Why ask a man of the household and pass me by?”
“I asked for an answer… and I am answered,” said Flann. “Fear not that you will be the one passed by! I will ask another question. Nealis, it is not the husband of Aevil who asks you this, it is the man who is Prince of Erinn. Donal talked with you here when I offered marriage to his child, Liadan?”
“That is true,” said the cleric. His small eyes looked right and left like a trapped rat fearing what the question might lead to.
“And it was that time the word went out that Liadan was dying of a secret ailment?” Kurithir sprang to his feet but Flann put out his hand in kindness.
“She did not die,” he said. “It was a crooked plan but of her death there was no need and the plan was changed.”
He looked at Aevil. The flame was gone from her face; she was gulping as if to strangle back some fury of protest.
“You, Nealis were her confessor. Also the confessor of Moria. You surely heard things curious between the two.”
“What should he hear more curious than other priests hear?” demanded Aevil after one look at his pallid face.
“It is not your confession, Aevil, for which I ask,” said Flann, “so rest you easy. But it may be easier for Nealis to tell the thing here where there are few ears than in open shame before the king and before his spiritual superiors. Nealis, was it drug of herbs Moria of the hills gave to Liadan, or was it the deeper craft of a mind chained until life and death was all one to her?”
“The witch Moria is dead,” continued Flann. “I ask nothing concerning sins of the living, but this thing I mean to know. It is not best to depend on the grace of a Princes wife. There will be no queen of mine but by my will and justice may come before my will and before I come to a king’s seat.”
“Is that grey rat to come between you and me even with your marriage gifts on me?” shrilled Aevil. “The High King may say something if you take two sisters to wife at the same time.”
“Talk of the sisterhood will come later,” said Flann in great quietness. At that Aevil choked and the cleric looked at Flann.
“It is little use to speak, since knowledge has somehow come your way,” he said. “I know of no drugs but the Lady Liadan lived as in a trance when I saw her. I was told it was a love sickness and that life was hateful. To me she said nothing but that she was a shamed maid and that the man had sailed on the seas away from her.
“She sees no man but you. Is she growing weaker as the days go?”
“No,” interjected the cleric with the first straight look, “she has slept well and smiles. Her maids no longer fear for her.”
“When did this begin?” asked Kurithir.
“It is strange to tell. The day of the battle with the Northmen was the day she changed. A swoon came on her, when the woman Moria died, she waked and the trance look was gone. No fear of the battle touched her so the women say. She is pale as a primrose but she smiles again. The maids now gossip that she sings in her sleep.”
“You tell it straight,” said Flann. “She had lived under the black shadow of Moria of Slieve Mis until the life was smothered by that curse. When Moria died the shadow passed. Do you see, Kurithir?”
“I see and I know,” said Kurithir. “She was seeking me that first day of freedom and found me at the nightfall.”
Aevil looked her scorn, for the words she did not understand and her look was black at Nealis of Desmond.
“There is one other thing,” said Flann. “The mother of Liadan was known and her race was known. Who was the first wife of Donal of Fort Conchinn?”
Aevil arose, trembling with rage her eyes glaring down at him.
“Keep to your seat,” he said in the voice of a master. “I am to know these things and the reasons for them. A lady out of Spain was brought to these shores a bride for Donal in his youth, all are knowing that. When she died and what of her children?”
There was silence and the breathing of Aevil could be heard as she leaned forward, her eyes on the cleric and her hand slipping into the folds of her robe.
“I, I was not here at that time,” he said, stammering.
“But you have seen records, you know?”
“It, is true. I…”
Aevil leaped forward with a slender Spanish dagger crashing for his throat but Flann was quick and caught her arm. She struggled and fought but he shook her as he would a rat and flung her to the floor, where she lay senseless.
“The dagger is a dainty toy and useful,” he said. “It was perhaps for me she carried it.” Then he turned to the wounded and trembling man, “Go on, tell it as you meant to.”
“She knows,” he said, looking down on Aevil in her rich robes. “The Spanish wife died soon, without children. Moria was then what she always has been, full of one thought only and that for her daughter Aevil here. Donal himself had fear of her and made promises to her that he kept. When men looked on Liadan they did not forget her. She came before Aevil, despite the beauty of Aevil and of that the troubles began, many of them. It was jealousy first and after that there is no knowing what it was, it has brought terror, it has brought grief to this roof.”
“Write this as you have told it,” said Flann, “and call the maids to look after the daughter of Moria. See that a guard is at her chamber door and no more toys like this to play with.”
Then he turned to his friend.
“There will be no shadow between you ever again,” he said. “You have been shown all the reasons.”
Well the truth is well and truly out. Aveil has betrayed Liadan and her father, King Donal. Flann has been driven by his friendship to seek out justice and honesty for the pain that it has meant to Kurithir.
Is there a difference between the loyalty of those of friends and those of lovers? Can the quest for truth and justice transcend the loyalty to a lover, if that lover is shown to be a lier? From the the excerpt above it would appear that Flann’s loyalty to his (future) Kingdom and to his friend, Kurithir, outway his loyalty to his love. Integrity at this time was all. Honour was all. Can the same be said today?
Aveil is blinded by the trinkets and ‘bling’ of Queenship and position. Through the story so far we have seen that there are deeper relationships. Both good and bad. Aveil and Moria set against Liadan, Kurithir and now Flann. Will these evolve throughout time?
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