The latest book in the Purification Trilogy is now here! You can obtain an e book from Smashwords at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/250783 The print version is available from Createspace at: https://www.createspace.com/4045624
In the beginning, there was a blacksmith…
…and all Ruarí ever wanted was to become an armourer and inherit his father’s forge. His mentor, the master armourer Oillill, talked him into studying swordplay. Suddenly Ruarí found himself fighting off foreigners who coveted his star iron sword with magic he didn’t even realize he possessed. Emperor Ambustus launches a Purification Crusade resulting in the death of Ruarí’s parents and the capture of this mentor. In seeking revenge Ruarí discovers he is named in a generations old prophecy as the possible saviour of the western nations. All he has to do is ride the roads of the dead, stop time, and unite the nobles of three nations. How on Eilir did things get this complicated?
The Legend of Somhairle the Valorous begins…
Sword Season, 18 Méan Earraigh, Cavan, Guoidel
Never wait for your dreams to come true. Lift up your hammer and beat them into being. Forge your reality.
Somhairle the Valorous, The Gwalchmai Codex.
The day before the stars fell from the sky was in most ways unremarkable. Two decades later the Silvandii historian Waléran would write that the hero of the First Purification rode into Cavan amidst a rain of stars, but in truth it was an ordinary, brisk spring day as Ruarí Mac Dryw rode up the steep, winding road along the roaring Lywchwr River, swollen with spring snow melt. Deep within Guoideli territory, his excitement grew with every passing league. People would take this strapping, ruddy haired youth as being in his twenties, but this was his fifteenth year and his first major journey away from home, every dawn the start of a new adventure. Ruarí’s father reckoned his journey to Cavan would take three hands, having made the trip himself several times. Thus the Fire Mountain, Mynydd Tân, loomed over the other jagged, snow capped peaks hemming in the valley on this fifteenth finger since leaving home, a banner of steam trailing from its peak, warning of the incendiary violence contained within. Its nearness indicated Ruarí’s destination could not be far off.
Ruarí had never been in Guoidel before, a land well beyond the world known to him. People said that if you dared to make the summit of Mynydd Tân you could look down across the fields and vales of Guoidel and Pictavia all the way to Innisdanu in the west, down into the forests and plains of Midgardr stretching to the icy northern sea, and east into Suðrgauthiuda and the tribal lands running east to the steppes where the Hunnoi khans ruled.
The sun rose to its apex, flooding the valley with light. Wild raspberries and elderberries bloomed pink and white, alders filled the mountain air with their sweet scent. Ruarí’s marsh hawk Aillén circled above, seeking prey. Ruarí considered stopping for a midday meal but quickly rejected the idea. He judged that he should arrive at the forge of his father’s friend Oillill in Cavan within a glass or two. Keen to finally reach his destination and begin his training, Ruarí used a trick that he’d discovered a few years ago when he first got Aillén: The ability to see the world through Aillén’s eyes.
Dryw presented Ruarí’s first falcon Aillén to his young son when he was twelve summers old. As he placed Aillén on Ruarí’s leather gauntlet, Ruarí had the unusual experience of suddenly seeming to look at himself from the perspective of Aillén. The briefest of visions, which he initially dismissed as idle fancy. However, over the next few days as he learned to use the hawk for hunting, he got brief visions of looking down from great heights as if he himself was flying. Eventually he’d shared these experiences with his mother Idella. Naturally he felt comfortable speaking of his psychic abilities to Idella because of a previous discovery he shared with her: Since old enough to speak, Ruarí had been able to speak mind to mind with his mother. The two could carry on a conversation without a spoken word. Ruarí thought that these visions might somehow be related to that gift. Idella listened with great interest and took him to see Scoth, the local priestess of the Fanes and Garráins. Scoth, equally excited, suggested that perhaps Ruarí was fated to become a wicce of the Fanes like her.
When Idella made Scoth’s observations and her own feelings known to her husband Dryw, he was surprised and hurt. He’d hoped his son Ruarí to inherit the forge, not pursue a career in the Fanes and Garráins. As things turned out he needn’t have been concerned: Since Ruarí began to walk all his desire revolved around pouring and beating and shaping his dreams into iron shapes like his father. He’d absorbed everything his father Dryw could teach him of the smith’s craft. Oillill and his father had trained together as apprentices many seasons ago, but where Ruarí’s father Dryw had turned to the manufacture of metal for agricultural pursuits and the creation of jewellery, his friend Oillill had studied the art of making arms, travelling as far east as the steppes of Hunnoi to study and master his craft. Men spoke of Oillill as the premier weapons maker in the Ceilteach lands. When Ruarí’s interest turned to the manufacture of arms, Dryw sent him to Cavan to study with his old schoolmate.
And so Ruarí reined in his horse, closed his eyes, and suddenly found himself looking down at the mountainous landscape from high above. About a league ahead as Aillén flew he saw where the Lywchwr descended a precipitous slope in a series of thunderous waterfalls. The track wound up a switchback alongside the rushing river, eventually levelling off to a wider valley with a small lake, which had to be Llyn Haearn. And there, nestled against the southern shores of the lake was Cavan, his destination.
Ruarí opened his eyes, nodded with satisfaction, tightened his belt, shook the reins, and urged his mount onwards.
News travelling west from the distant Jovaian Empire told of Ambustus, the Archbishop of the Temples, calling for missionaries to convert the peoples of the west. Rumours drifting west from the Empire raised suspicions that these missionaries were actually spies or provocateurs, seeking a pretext for war. Many miles and several lands lay between the Jovaian Empire and Ruarí’s home in Pictavia, but if the rumours of war circulating had any substance, then smiths skilled in weapons manufacture would be in demand soon. Governments would seek horses and arms from Tarhlund to equip their cavalry and infantry units. Pictavian adventurers heading east to seek their fortunes on the field of battle would require mounts and weapons. Ruarí intended to make his fortune equipping them. Hopefully by the time the wheel of the year had turned once more Ruarí would ride back down the Lywchwr valley, returning to Pictavia’s horse trading centre at Tarhlund to help arm his countrymen. This time next year he’d return a qualified armourer and receive his adult name from his father. The Gods willing he would have time to complete his training before the tides of war reached them.
A short time later Ruarí guided his mount and his pack horse up the steep switchback alongside the roaring waterfall he’d seen, drawing his cloak close against the cool mists. He topped the rise and the land fell away to reveal Cavan spread out along the shores of Llyn Haearn. Ruarí sighed with relief and urged his mount forward at a trot. A Fane stood beside a circle of standing stones on a hill outside the gates, indicating a good sized population. Another building which appeared to be a Temple of Jova stood on a lesser hill nearby, and yet another hill had a pillar decorated with colourful Hunnoi prayer flags. The appearance of Hunnoi warriors in Cavan didn’t surprise Ruarí, since he knew peoples of many cultures met in the marketplace of this town seeking the weapons and armour or iron from the ore mined in the surrounding mountains. Eastern travellers used these sacred sites when they arrived seeking arms.
Moments later Ruarí rode through the iron bound oak gates of Cavan. Prosperity showed in the smart shops, crowded thoroughfares, and cobblestones rutted from wagon traffic. Men of many nations strode through the marketplace checking out the many arms dealers: Flaxen haired Gautar with axes in their belts, ginger haired Eriu, their arms tattooed in Ceilteach knot work from wrist to shoulder, swarthy Lugerians with braided beards, hard faced Hunnoi with their fur lined helmets and faces lined with tribal scars. Savoury scents drifting from various eateries tempted Ruarí, reminding him that he’d missed the noon meal. A carillon of ringing hammers from the many forges surrounding him witnessed to the source of Cavan’s wealth.
Oillill’s smithy stood near the eastern gates of Cavan at the mouth of the valley where the rushing Lywchwr descended from the peaks beyond. Ruarí found Oillill’s wrought iron gates bearing the design of an Elven smith, indicating that Ruarí had found his destination. The road beyond became a track winding up the side of the river to the slopes of the mountains where the iron mines lay. Smoke drifted from the forge chimney, mirroring the banner of spume drifting from the peak of Mynydd Tân looming above. Although Ruarí had never laid eyes on Oillill’s smithy before, the charcoal smoke and incandescent iron made Oillill’s forge look and smell as familiar as his father’s forge. Ruarí took a deep breath to calm himself. Ruarí’s father Dryw had told him so many stories of his former fellow apprentice: Now Ruarí was finally going to see Oillill for himself.
Ruarí rode through Oillill’s gate, finding himself in a yard bounded on the left by the forge and on the right by mews with stables below and stable hands quarters above. A two story stone dwelling with a slate roof enclosed the far end of the yard between the forge and the mews. Ruarí dismounted, looked around curiously and adjusted his kilt. Aillén dove from the sky, landing on Ruarí’s vacated saddle.
A burly, bearded man about his father’s age wearing a scorched leather apron came out of the forge to investigate. His full auburn hair, frosted with silver, hung in braids to either side, framing his ruddy countenance. His muscular frame seemed forged from the iron he worked. A smile immediately blossomed on the smith’s craggy face.
“May the Gods bless the holder and the holdin’,” Ruarí greeted him with a grin, “Me da sends his blessings.”
“May the Gods smooth yer road.” Oillill placed his square, calloused hands on Ruarí’s shoulders. “Welcome to my forge. Let’s have a gander at ye a bhalaich. Ye’ve yer father’s frame and hair, but ye’ve yer mother’s eyes. How are yer parents?”
“They are well, I thank ye.”
“Is everythin’ well back in Tarhlund?”
“Aye. Father’s forge is thrivin’.”
“Glad I am to hear it. Let’s get yer horses stabled, laddie.”
Ruarí took Aillén on his gauntleted fist and led his mount into the stables as Oillill led his pack horse. Aillén was given a roost to perch on and Ruarí’s mount unsaddled and groomed. Oillill gave Ruarí a tour of the stables, making him familiar with the location of the feed bins and watering trough.
“Fine horses you’ve got here,” Oillill said, stroking one horse’s neck as Ruarí fed him.
“Da’s got connections with the best breeders.”
“That’s why he returned to Tarhlund of course. Come away laddie. I’ll show ye to yer room. Let me help ye with yer things.”
Ruarí and Oillill shouldered the saddlebags and Ruarí followed Oillill through the massive oaken front door and down a passageway into an enclosed courtyard at the rear. He found himself in a garden enclosed on four sides by the stone and timber dwelling. Oillill led him down the flagstone path around the neatly tended garden, coming alive with spring shoots of vegetables and herbs. Passing through a smaller door he led Ruarí up some polished oak stairs and down a corridor to a small room in the back of the house. A shuttered window in the stone wall gave Ruarí a view of the river and of Mynydd Tân looming amidst lesser peaks. A serviceable pine slat bed with a straw stuffed mattress and down duvet stood against one wall with an iron bound oak chest on the polished plank floor at its foot. A wool carpet with Guoideli designs brought a bit of colour to the room. A pine weapon rack stood empty in the corner. A Tuam, the three legged chair common to the cottages of Eriu, stood in front of a simple trestle table with an ink well and quill to one side of the window. An iron brazier on a stand would warm him during the icy mountain winters.
“I deem ye’ll be comfortable,” Oillill said, turning to face his new apprentice.
“You may take it as sure I shall,” Ruarí said, looking around to where Oillill leaned against the door frame, “I appreciate ye takin’ me on as an apprentice. Me da… well—”
“—Dryw is a skilled smith, none better. Our teacher, Trahaearne, may he be blessed in Tir Nan Og, was justly proud of him. But yer da was ne’er keen on the idea of makin’ arms.”
Ruarí guffawed as he set his saddlebags down on the floor by the bed. “Implements for farming and animal husbandry are more da’s style. Da said if I had an interest in arms then I’d best learn from the best.
Oillill snorted. “High praise indeed comin’ from your da.”
“Da said ye’d studied under the Hunnoi master, Oktar.”
“Aye. When your father returned to Tarhlund to open his forge, I travelled east and studied under Oktar in his armoury in Darkhan. Twa years I studied there. Twa memorable years… So ye’ve a mind to make weapons, have ye?”
“I deem there will be a need of them soon. Rumours of war have reached us in Tarhlund.”
“Aye, ye’re probably right. Rumours of unrest have been trickling in over the passes from the east for several ochtú.”
“We’ve heard of the new Jovaian Archbishop preaching about some sort of crusade.”
“Aye, ‘Purification’ he calls it. Word has it he’s purged the ranks of the Temples, replacin’ key officials with his own. And he’s been sendin’ out missionaries to take the word of the Temple of Jova west. A year ago a Jovaian priest showed up with a small party and started building a Temple of Jova on the hill near the Fane. That Temple they completed an ochtú ago.”
“Aye, I saw it when I arrived.”
“I’m told Archbishop Ambustus has been aey vocal in his condemnation of the Fanes and Garráins, preachin’ sermons about purifyin’ the west with fire. That hard neck priest in that Temple outside our gates has been acting the maggot, parrotin’ the same nonsense in the market square.”
“Do many attend the Temple?”
“Verra few. Some travellers from the east, no one local.”
“Have they caused troubles?”
“Apart from preachin’ and spinnin’ tales? No, not yet. They seem to keep to themselves so far.”
“Think ye Ambustus will start a war?”
“Time will tell laddie, time will tell. Mark me: What Ambustus truly desires is the Emperor’s throne. The Purification is his excuse. If he does launch a crusade, armourers will be in demand, that’s as certain as sunset.”
“Aye, that’s what me da said.”
“A wise man is Dryw. We’ll get ye started bright and early tomorrow lad. Have ye had yer dinner?”
Ruarí shook his head.
“That can soon be remedied. Travellin’ is thirsty work. Come away now, take yer rest and tell me news of yer family. Come into the kitchen, and I’ll draw us some ale. My good wife Esa will be glad of you.”
Ruarí collected some items from one of his saddle bags and followed Oillill back across the courtyard to the entrance way and then right into the wing containing the kitchen and pantries. A door from the forge led to the kitchen in the corner of the ground floor of the dwelling. One wall was dominated by a vast stone hearth with spits and a cauldron on its crane, with a large bay below for firewood. A massive trestle table with sturdy benches below an iron candle wheel took up the middle of the room. To one side was a smaller table with a wooden fidchell board, its pieces lined up ready for a game. As Oillill’s wife Esa bustled over to welcome her visitor, Oillill drew ale from a large barrel on a stand in the corner.
“Ahh, its yerself, is it?” Esa greeted him, giving him a hug, “Sit yerself down laddie.”
Soon they seated themselves on benches at the huge trestle table. Oillill’s ten year old daughter Gweirvyll brought a steaming bowl of water and a towel and laid them at Ruarí’s feet. Ruarí had been told of this Guoideli custom: The host offered water to wash the guest’s feet. Accepting the offer indicated your intention to stay the night. Ruarí nodded and Gweirvyll dutifully slipped off his boots and laved his feet while Oillill’s wife Esa set out rye bread and cheese.
“How’s Idella?” Esa asked him.
“Ma is well enough. She sends ye gifts.”
Ruarí brought forth crocks of honey from his mother’s hives and silver broaches with Ceilteach knot work designs, one for Esa in the form of intertwined hounds, and one with intertwined stags for Oillill. Ruarí had a gold necklace with a pendant garnet for Esa as well. Gweirvyll blushed with pleasure as Ruarí presented her a silver necklace with a bird pendant his father had crafted.
“Braw work laddie,” Oillill exclaimed, examining his friend’s work, “I’d heard yer da started makin’ jewellery, but this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of seein’ his work.”
After a pleasant glass or so trading family histories, Oillill stood up from his bench.
“Let’s show ye where ye’ll work for the next few ochtú.”
Oillill took Ruarí to the forge to familiarize him with the workplace and introduce him to his fellow apprentices. He found these apprentices hard at work forging swords.
“This is me son Ciarán.”
“Pleased to meet ye.” Ciarán’s grip was solid from swinging a hammer, but Ruarí noted that he had a pronounced limp from a childhood injury. His full head of auburn hair was braided like his father’s. Ruarí presented Ciarán with a silver torque bracelet from his father which he received with obvious pleasure.
“This is Niall Mac Fearchar, from Aberdour. We call him Niall Crobdub.” Niall, peaking through stringy locks of raven hair, smiled shyly and grasped Ruarí’s wrist.
Niall black hand, Ruarí thought, an apt name for a blacksmith.
“This is Donnchad O’ Tuathal. His father Jankyn runs an inn called The Cantering Cob off the town square.”
“We call him Donn,” Crobdub said with a grin.
Brown. That’s apt too, Ruarí thought, looking at his mop of nut brown hair and swarthy complexion.
After these introductions Oillill set Ruarí some tasks to determine the extent of his training and abilities. He seemed pleased with what he saw in his new student. The shadows in the forge yard had lengthened and the sunset had painted the peaks tangerine when Esa appeared in the kitchen doorway to call them in to supper.
Family, forge hands, and servants all sat down together at the big table. Gweirvyll gave thanks to the Gods and Esa brought out a pigeon pie, a large steaming pot of pease pottage, and platters of rye bread and fresh churned butter. Oillill brought out an amphorae of white Silvandii wine from the cellar. Gweirvyll received applause for the Belfinn bannocks she brought out for afters. After supper Oillill asked if Ruarí played fidchell.
“Sure he’s lookin’ forward to seein’ if ye’re as keen to play the game as yer da,” Esa giggled.
“I’m not as canny as me da, but I’ll play ye with pleasure.”
Fidchell, a game of strategy, required each player to get his king to the opposite edge of the board, the one achieving this first being the winner. Ruarí sat down in front of the white pieces across from Oillill’s black. They played several games, Gweirvyll periodically refilling their cups. Ruarí enjoyed the game his da had taught him and even at a young age was a skilled fidchell player, but Oillill was a master, and beat Ruarí every time.
“Me da warned me of ye,” Ruarí yawned, replete and content.
“Ye play well, lad. I thank ye for humourin’ an old man. It’s a big day tomorrow,” Oillill said, clapping one hand on Ruarí’s shoulder, “Away with ye now. Do ye go now to yer rest lad.”