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Deirde by Linda Windsor

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Deirdre
Fires of Gleannmara Series Book Three
by: Linda Windsor

Multnomah Publishers Inc.
ISBN: 1576738914
March 2002


 

A Foreword from me heart to yours....

Dear anmcharas (that’s soulmates for them what forgot the term from me stories o’ Maire and Riona), ‘tis a sheer delight to chew the proverbial fat with ye again as I look back at yet another time dear to my heart in the annals o’ my children. The followin’ pages take us into the seventh century of me Golden Age to find me saints lookin’ eastward, where their British kin hold fast to the Cross against the flood tide o’ Anglo-Saxon heathens. Driven into the hills o’ north and west Albion (the Scotland and Wales o’ today’s Great Britain), the Christian Romano-Britons bitterly struggle to muster and reclaim their lost land for Christ by the sword, but one sword, no matter how worthy its cause, will unify them like the Word O’ God.

Armed with this, their Irish and Scottish Dalraidi cousins sally forth to Albion to clear the way for the salvation of Albion’s barbarian conquerers with a message that, instead o’ takin’ the edge off their weapons, softens the heart behind them until there is no desire for the use o’ steel or spillin’ o’ blood. Faith, the likes o’ magic and miracle bring back stirrin’ memories o’ me own fifth century, when Christ first entered the hearts o’ me own offspring. In a wink o’ the good Lord’s eye, the Britons–most educated upon Erin or Scotia Minor’s (Scotland’s) shores--are caught up in the fight for souls.

The biggest threat, dear hearts, came from within. Me Celtic children, separated a century and a half from Rome and the church growin’ elsewhere in the world, enjoyed a spontaneous faith unencumbered by ritual and organization. Their monasteries were crudely built, all gifts bein’ distributed to the needy after example o’Christ. Their missions were spontaneously set upon, relying on God alone to supply them the meager needs to which they disciplined themselves according to St. John in the wilderness. They incorporated the customs of the barbarians which did not run contrary to the Scripture into the faith, converting pagan temples and celebrations to those devoted to the One God of All.

Perhaps t’was the reason for their unprecedented success in keeping and carrying The Light into the dark ages. Perhaps a new age approached when this passionate helter-skelter for Christ needed to become organized and unified. Mind ye, I’m not takin’ a stand for one or the other, for both have withstood the test o’ time. Sure, one man’s meal is but a morsel to another. But Rome, ascribing to their interpretation of Peter and Paul’s vision, had built cathedrals and set into place rituals and decorum appropriate to the royal promise of Christ’s heritage, while me children lived in earthly example of the Savior Himself and St. John, his cousin.

Fittin’ enough, the clash was settled a in prayerful and peaceful debate among these saints in the Synod (conference) of Whitby. Oddly enough, t’was decided a Northumbrian king, who at least the service of ‘is tongue, was a Christian, whilst many of his actions begged to differ. Let’s just say, Oswald didn’t want to offend God, just in case He was more powerful than the pagan gods he hadn’t quite dismissed. With other ambitious Anglo-Saxon kingdoms grudgingly sharing Albion’s shores, ole Oswald was for whoever, or whatever, won him the most power. No doubt the man genuinely feared for his soul, but political power he understood. Faith he did not. Like many o’ Erin’s kings in the fifth century who first accepted the Cross, he erroneously conceived that the two were the same. (More’s the pity, his black-hearted son and heir, Ecfrith, would calculatingly use one to advance the other.)

Regardless, Oswald ruled for the Roman Church after hearing one of Jesus’s metaphors–the one where Christ intimates that Peter, upon whom the Church of Rome was founded, had the keys to heaven. Beware, friends, that this was time when images or metaphors carried more weight in winning pagan souls, that talk o’ the invisible spirit. Even Christ himself used these to reach the common multitudes. If Oswald wanted in Heaven after his death, this Peter was the man at Heaven’s gate with the keys, not St. John.

And so began a controversy that later divided the Christian Church over and over–the conclusion o’ which I leave to the good Lord to lay upon yer hearts, for men far more faithful and learned than meself have never satisfied all, much to the sufferin’ o’ many innocent souls.

But I say all this to paint a picture o’ the world of Oswald and Ecfrith and of the Irish Celtic and Roman Celtic saints, who unite, despite their differences, to save Albion’s lost souls and abolish the sellin’ of captives into slavery. This is century I give to me darlin’ Deirdre, the strong-willed, yet faithful, princess of Gleannmara and her captor Alric, a pagan pirate prince, who knows she’s the key to an earthly kingdom denied him by his illegitimate birth, but not that she is also the means to an eternal kingdom as well. And the key, dear hearts? Why t’is love. May it bless ye each and every one.

(Oh, and don’t be forgetting the glossary/reference in the back for help with names and terms strange to yer tongue, as well as tidbits of interest to them with a Celtic heart.)

Prologue

Northumbrian kingdom of Galtstead in the year of our Lord 657

The small dwelling next to the King Lambert’s hall was no guest house like the others nearby, but had been built for its beloved occupant many years ago after the birth of his son. Though the mother was Lambert’s slave, Orlaith was no ordinary one. She’d been a princess of the Dalraidi Scots to the north, captured by their Northumbrian enemies and purchased by Lambert the moment the Saxon king laid eyes upon her. His love for Orlaith was no secret, not to his queen Ethlinda, nor to the people. Some thought the king’s eyes shone a little brighter for Alric, the Christian slave’s son, than for his elder half-brother Ricbert, the legitimate heir to Galtstead.

Alric, still in his travel clothes after riding from his ship straight for his father’s home at the news of his mother’s waning condition, stood at her side. The fever that ravaged her body bled her face of color as it bled her body of strength. She was as white as the fine linens on which she lay.

“Alric.” Orlaith tried to raise her hand to him, but weakness would not allow it.

Her golden hair was only beginning to silver. Surely this couldn’t be happening, Alric thought as gathered the slender hand in his own. “Mother, I came as soon as we put in.”

Orlaith drew in a shallow breath through her nostrils. “You smell of the sea. I believe it has bewitched you.”

“It has. But you should rest, mother. Save your strength.”

“God will give the strength I need to say what I must.” She turned to Abina, who’d been Orlaith’s handmaid at the time of their capture. Lambert bought Abina for his lovely royal captive, but the two were more like soul mates than mistress and servant. “Leave us, dear friend.”

Unashamed tears bright in her eyes, Abina gave her mistress a kiss on the forehead and rose to leave. “She’s held on for you, son,” the stooped servant mouthed to Alric, her words less than a whisper.

He nodded solemnly. The woman still acted his nursemaid, even though he was man now in his twenties.

“Abina has a slight limp,” He said as he watched her leave.

The surprise in his voice caused Orlaith’s lips to twitch. “None of us are as we were.”

And he was away so much, he’d not noticed. While his mother didn’t say it, Alric knew it hovered at the edge of her mind…and his.

“Seeking my fortune has blinded me to it,” he admitted. “But I don’t want a share of Ricbert’s birthright.”

Lambert wished Alric to establish an estate on the sea coast, given his son’s love of it, a part of the kingdom the elder legitimate son would inherit. While a generous offer, Alric had graciously refused. He would seek his own fortune and either win or purchase the land. His son would have a legitimate birthright. He would not know the ridicule and contempt that Alric had suffered . The very thought of it tasted of bile in his mouth.

“Your birthright lies beyond the sea, my son. God has shown it to me.”

Not wishing to upset her, Alric held back his response. Her Christian God had allowed her to be taken from the royal womb of her home in the north. Pampered and loved as she’d been, she was still Lambert’s property.

“It is not here in Galtstead.” She shook her head wearily, the limp strands of her perspiration darkened hair falling away from her ashen face.

Alric needed no holy vision to know that. By law, it would not be among his father’s people any more than among Orlaith’s Dalraidi kin. The only way he’d accept a Celtic kingdom was to take it by force.

Once King Oswald, bretwalda of Northumbria, chose the Christian faith for himself and all his sub-kingdoms, the newly baptized Lambert finally succumbed to Orlaith’s pleas for her and her son to visit her family and see that Alric was properly educated according to his noble bloodlines. It was not unheard of for Saxon princes to seek a universally esteemed Irish education. While Lambert’s belief in Oswald’s new Christian God was not that strong, his faith in Orlaith’s promise to return to him was.

Orlaith’s family had received the returned princess and her son as Celtic hospitality demanded, but Alric and his mother were treated worse there, than among the Saxon heathens. Alric’s sword arm grew stronger defending his mother’s honor, than with practice, until his Celtic cousins dared not challenge him. He strove just as hard to surpass them in academic study, until his wit was as keen as his blade--

“You are a prince, my son, and your true kingdom will be won by faith, rather than by the sword.”

“Ah, the kingdom of Heaven.”

Alric tried to suppress the bitterness with which he usually responded to what he saw as another sermon coming. For her sake, he hoped she would inherit that kingdom when her last breath was spent...unless He rejected her the same way her family had. She deserved such a place for all she’d suffered in this life. Although, even the cold grave was a relief from the broken heart that he believed sapped away his mother’s health and gave this fever its lethal teeth.

And it was her own people, Christians, who’d broken her heart.

“But God also revealed to me your earthly kingdom.”

His mother’s hold on Alric’s hand slackened, but the light that shone in her eyes would have shamed the sun. Or was it fever? Still, the mention of an earthly kingdom reached up through his drowning ocean of anger and grief and pricked at his curiosity.

“Oh?”

“It’s colors are the royal blue of a sky lighted by the moon and its full consort of stars.” She licked her dry, cracked lips to no avail. Death was drawing breath and water from her body by the moment. “And the gold of your hair.” She’d always marveled at his warrior’s mane with motherly pride.

With a pang of guilt, he leaned closer that she might touch his hair once more as she oft did. He could give her that, even if words of comfort eluded him. Anguish had cut them from his tongue and held it hostage, for his mother was the only truly good thing he knew in this life. Her only ambition was to love.

“And the symbol on the cloak I made for you. You will know it by that.”

“Enough of kingdoms, mother. Save your strength.”

No longer caring to hear of kingdoms or birthrights, Alric held her hand so that she could finger one of the natural curls that gave her such pleasure. She straightened it and let it go, smiling as it sprang back into its shape.

“My murnait,” she sighed.

Beloved. She hadn’t called him that since he was a weanling.

“Always your muirnait,” he assured her softly. It felt as if stones enough to build a wall round his father’s kingdom had been laid upon his chest. There was so much he wanted to thank her for, so much love he needed to declare, but never had he known the right words to do so. The one thing he believed in could not be measured. Nothing could hurt so much and not be real.

“And your earthly kingdom, son, will be won by love.”

Not this love. It was reserved only for Orlaith. Then there was the poet’s game to be played upon the fairer sex or the mutual respect he and his father held for each other, but the love his mother spoke of–

“I’ve seen her.”

Alric’s furtive musings stumbled. This was something different from Orlaith’s Scripture-based prophesy, which was vague on the now and certain only after death.

“Her namesake is sorrow, yet she will bring you great joy. Her chatter will be like birdsong to your heart.”

He cleared his throat. “Have you a name?” Why he asked, he didn’t know. Certainly he didn’t believe these feverish mumblings.

Whether she did or didn’t, Orlaith closed her eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. In a whisper, it escaped her lips. “God be with your, muirnait, until we meet again.” Her chest dropped, ever so slowly, as if death’s unseen hands pushed the last remnant of air from her body. The hand in Alric’s grew limp. His mother was gone and with her, the only real love he’d ever known.

Desperate to hold onto her warmth until death took that away from him as well, Alric gathered his mother’s hand up and pressed it to his cheek. The blades of anguish and anger that held his tears at bay, shredded the words he spoke into it “This I vow to your memory, maithar, that I will not repeat the crime my father committed against you. She who bears my son will be my lawful wife.”