Last week Naoise and the other boys finally realised the truth about Conchobar’s intentions…
Naoise stared at me, his eyes dry and blank. “Deirdre, I’m sorry…”
I just looked at him, “You heard Lebharcham! Arm yourselves, all of you! Hurry!”
A jolt ran through the boys and they dazedly began to buckle on breastplates and greaves. Keeping in the shadows a good distance away from the window, I kept watch. Suddenly I saw a glint in the frame, followed by the cautious outline of something round. The setting sun danced off something metal.
“Naoise, there’s someone peeping into our house!”
Naoise’s hands trembled as he buckled on his sword, eyes already darting round for a solution. He immediately dragged up one of the heavy silver chesspieces and threw it at the figure in the window. There was a thud and a cry.
I stared, aghast, but Naoise was already feverishly racing for his helmet and shield, then pushed past me to get right up to the window.
Silence descended on the house, each of us too furiously concentrating to say a word.
Presently there was the sound of marching feet. We all rose, knowing this was it.
“Well,” cried a voice, “Do you surrender?”
“Never,” yelled my Naoise.
“And are Fergus’s boys in there?”
“Would you make Fergus break his word to the sons of Usnach?!” Fergus’s youngest howled back.
The snapping of twigs behind me made me jump. I turned and cried out in horror. A faint red glow shone at the base of the wall, growing brighter every second.
“Put the fire out, all of you.” snapped Fergus’s eldest. “Wish me luck!”
He leapt out the door, shrieking like a banshee. Clashes of metal on metal sounded; cries and groans issued as men fell. We rushed to dump all the drinking water we had onto the flames, but I could see the agonised expression on the faces of the others, and the glances they cast at the door.
After a while the shouting died down, and there was once more only a few voices to be heard.
“Where’s my brother?” Fergus’s youngest wondered.
The words filtered through the thinly woven walls with the finality of a bell striking.
“If you leave off, I will give you lands and my own close friendship.”
“I will take that!” cried Fergus’s eldest.
Naoise’s eyes glittered in fury.
“My brother has betrayed us.” Fergus’s youngest gasped. “Well, I will not! I’m going out there.”
Naoise leapt up, “And we will go with you!”
Fergus’s youngest stared him down, eye to eye, “No! I must be allowed time to redeem the promise my father made to you!” He vanished through the doorway.