Last week Deirdre figured out a plan…
“Have a nice time!” I wished my foster parents goodbye and they shut the stout door firmly behind them. I heard the bolt slide into place with a thunk. I’ve always been the good girl, so they are happy to leave me on my own.
Well, I’ve changed.
I panted and puffed as I dragged an empty barrel up to the wall, where an apple tree flourishes. I pulled on it but couldn’t upend it. Oh well. I anchored it with a few logs and climbed on top. It wobbled alarmingly, but I was able to get my knee up into the tree, and stood up. The wall was now level with my waist, and I could see.
The outside! To one side were some huge roundhouses. The roofs towered so high that I thought birds must crash into them. The sun shone down onto the rooftops, glinting off – what was that! Gold? Emain Macha, the great capital and royal palace! It must be!
In front of it was a plain, lightly dusted in rapidly melting snow, stretching as far as some blue mountains in the distance. But the people! Hundreds of them, chattering like a flock of seagulls, all milling about before the fort.
The breeze blew suddenly into my face and I smiled. It smelt of freedom.
I quickly tied a rope to the tree and climbed down the far side of the wall. A pity I couldn’t take the rope with me, but it couldn’t be helped.
To the festival!
With a shawl over my head, and dirt marks smeared on my face, I gradually made my way over to the crowd, circling them. People everywhere! All around me. Over to one side there was a row of stalls, with men and women selling vociferously. A group of children skipped past me, giggling and chewing apples. Every now and then, trying to be discreet, a young man and woman would sneak kisses. All around me was life and colour.
The young couples reminded me of what I had come for. Where would I find the king? He was probably sitting in judgement somewhere. I walked round the fort. The crowd gradually thinned out as I came to the edge of a very obvious level grassy place. A playing field. The plain sloped up the side of the fort and there, in a knot of people, was a figure sat in a great wooden chair. There was a small crowd at the foot of the hill.
I crept round to the back of the crowd and started to push my way forwards. The men and women gave me dirty looks but I didn’t care. Finally I had a clear view of the king, in between the shoulders of two stout peasants.
He was old.
He had grey hair that streamed from his head, and his veins stood out on his wrinkled hands. His hawk nose jutted out above everything, making his eyes look small and greedy in his face, like a weasel. As I watched in horror, he stood up, and moved a few steps to one of his advisors.
He grasped his staff of office as he glared down at a suppliant. Strong and powerful, he moved with a chill grace, but that was all. Nothing made him a desirable husband for me! He looked like he could crush me in one hand.
A whisper of fear touched my soul. Not on my life!
Now my other quest. After that, I had no idea what I would do.