Wind blows blasts of air along the hillside. Driving rain is howling in from the west. Overhead swirling dark cloud masks the mountaintop. Rivers of water run between rocks. Puddles form in hollows between boulders. In these puddles the rain dances and sings.
Entering The Ring Fort
Through the wind and rain Patrick thinks he hears someone's voice. He listens more intently. Then drifting through the storm he hears his name being called,
He recognizes Conchubhar's voice.
"I'm over here Conchubhar."
A figure appears in the distance emerging from the mist and rain. Conchubhar is out of breath.
"I've come to tell you that King Miliucc has summoned all the slaves in the kingdom to his ring fort. I've been directed to gather the slaves together and take them there. Can you pen the sheep immediately and come down to my home."
Later that morning Patrick walks into the rath where Conchubhar lives and finds about twenty slaves gathered outside his hut. He joins them and soon Conchubhar emerges and addresses the gathering.
"You have all been summoned to see King Miliucc. We are going to walk across the Br ad Valley to his ring fort crossing the Br ad River on the way. I want you to walk together in a group. There's to be no misbehaving."
With that Conchubhar walks out through the gates of the rath with its circular earthen bank and sets off downhill towards the Br ad River. The slaves follow behind.
They follow a muddy cattle path and pass between small green fertile fields. In the distance beyond the valley they can see the rounded tree covered hills of D l Riaghada. On one of the hills smoke is seen billowing skyward. "That's the Druids celebrating the winter solstice," Conchubhar explains.
Below the Br ad River, its surface rippled by the strong wind, creates a silvery band that winds through the green fields. Beyond the river stone walled fields lead up to Sceiric Beag, a small knoll with a rath sheltering the farmers on this side of the valley. Beyond Sceiric Beag is Sceiric Rock, home to King Miliucc's ring fort with its circular stone walls.
Conchubhar looks back to check the slaves and notices that they are all walking with their heads bowed looking at the ground or at their feet, except for Patrick, who has his head held high and seems to be inspired by the beauty of the natural scenery. Conchubhar notices his attitude and invites Patrick forward to walk with him.
"Isn't the scenery in this part of the valley an inspiration Pat?"
Patrick nods his head and gives a wide smile of agreement.
"It's at times like this that I feel like composing some poetry."
"When do you compose, Conchubhar?" Patrick enquires.
"Oh, usually late at night by the fire. We sit up and tell each other stories of times past, then in the dead of night, when the others have gone to bed I sometimes have an idea for a poem."
They walk on silently, both men admiring the scenery.
"Do you remember King Miliucc from the time when he bought you as a slave?" Conchubhar continues.
"Vaguely," replies Patrick. "As I told you he's an evil man Pat. He wants everyone in the kingdom to be at his command and will stop at nothing to achieve that. Sometimes people who disobey him are whipped and tortured. That is why I think you should join my secret band of warriors to resist this cruelty. You are not like the other slaves. You have spirit. You would make an excellent warrior. Would you not you like to see King Miliucc burned at the stake?"
Patrick says nothing. He continues to take in the scenery.
"You know Pat your silence really annoys me. Do you not agree that King Miliucc needs to be killed?"
"We all have our faults," Patrick replies and turns to join the band of slaves walking behind.
Conchubhar continues to lead the group towards the ring fort, but feels frustrated.
The cattle trail leads down to the river. Each member of the group takes it in turn to wade through the deep mud and balance carefully on the stepping stones that provide a safe crossing point to the far bank, and to the trail up to Sceiric Rock. Patrick crosses the river and sets out with the other slaves to walk uphill. He can feel the cold sticky mud squeeze between his toes. As he climbs the wet, muddy path he sees the rock cliffs and imposing stone walls of King Miluicc's ring fort come into view through the swirling mist. Conchubhar leads the band of slaves round the foot of the cliff to the entrance gates.
Patrick wonders how they will be able to enter. Conchubhar sees a warrior standing looking over the stone wall.
"Ahoy there, I am Conchubhar and am leading the slaves from the other side of the Br ad Valley to meet King Miliucc as he has ordered."
His voice is barely audible above the wind as it howls and roars around the hilltop. Patrick hears a rough creaking sound and the large wooden gate swings open. The slaves and their minders walk through the gap in the defences into the bowels of the ring fort.
Two warriors with leather strapping and armed with spears, march the slaves and their minders towards the huge, circular, wooden building in the centre of the ring fort. The slaves stand together in a group listening to the sound of wooden planks being removed followed by creaking and the doors open to reveal a large banqueting hall filled with lords and noblemen eating beef and drinking beer.
Patrick surveys the scene as Conchubhar goes to talk to King Miliucc. The hardened mud floor is covered in dried grass. Wooden posts form an inner circle that support the sloping thatched roof, some distance in from the wall. Within this circle the noblemen of D l Riaghada sit on the floor. In the centre of the ring of seated noblemen sits King Miliucc on a large, solid wooden throne. The strong, heavy smell of earth and grass fills the room.
Hunting dogs are running from table to table eating scraps dropped by the noblemen. Servant women scurry about outside the circle of seated men, supplying all their needs. Conchubhar finishes talking to King Miliucc, who then stands up and orders the slaves to come forward one by one into the centre of the circle and swear lifelong allegiance to him.
Each of the slaves is called forward and without hesitating each swears allegiance to King Miliucc. Finally it is Patrick's turn. As he approaches the king's throne, ringed with noblemen, he knows that he cannot swear allegiance to King Miliucc; he knows there is a greater power to which he has already surrendered his life. He steps forward to do what he knows he must, with trust and with faith. When ordered to swear allegiance he refuses!
King Miliucc is enraged and reaches across to strike Patrick, but Conchubhar steps forward to defend him saying,
"Patrick is no ordinary slave your majesty. He is an excellent worker and does everything that I ask of him. I beg you to spare him."
There is a tense silence. No slave has ever refused to swear allegiance until now. Everyone in the hall waits to see what will happen.
King Miliucc puts his hands on the arms of his throne then reaches over saying in a hiss, through clenched teeth,
"An excellent worker eh! Well if this excellent worker disobeys me again he will be tied to a stake at the foot of the cliff, and left for the crows to peck out his eyes."
With that he drops back into his large oak chair and roars with laughter. The noblemen in the hall laugh with him. Patrick returns to the band of slaves and they are led out of the fort.
As they walk home Conchubhar is once again critical of King Miliucc and says he is looking forward to burning him at the stake. Patrick sighs in response.
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