So it’s Day 2 of the Conor Kelly and The Fenian King Mini Blog Tour, and after our cosy little chat yesterday at the very lovely Jane DoughertyWrites..., today we’re staying right at home on Aliisaacstoryteller, and I’m going to give you an exclusive peak into the opening chapters of my yet to be released new book, Conor Kelly and The Fenian King… oh, did I mention I have a new book launching on Monday? Once in passing, you say…lol!
So without further ado, I present to you my new book, the second in The Tir na Nog Trilogy, Conor Kelly and The Fenian King…
Prologue – The Prophecy
Ireland – 3rd Century AD
Fionn mac Cumhall threw back his shaggy blonde head and roared. Across the battle field, five figures answered his call by stepping forward from the ranks of warriors who seethed and swirled in combat around them.
The five sons of Urgriu. The leaders of the enemy battalions. While they still lived, their men fought fiercely. Dead, and their army would lose heart, perhaps even surrender.
It might be his last act, but he could do it. He was Fionn mac Cumhall, greatest leader of the Fianna that ever lived. He had led a good life, a long life for a warrior. Perhaps now it was time to offer it up for the sake of his men, and the people of Ireland.
The smell of blood and the sight of broken bodies filled his senses. The carrion crows already gathered, anticipating great feasting. On the outskirts of the battle, looters were even now raiding the bodies of the fallen, both living and dead. The clash and thud of weapons, the exultant cries of the death-dealers, the screams of the injured and the moans of the dying, it all mingled together into the cacophony of war, a familiar music he had danced to so many times.
Memories came rushing back to him now, sweeping through him like the winter wind which tore across this land he loved so well; his childhood in the forest of Sliabh Bladhma with warrior-woman, Liath Luachra, and Bodhmall, his druid aunt; a tender kiss from his mother, Muirna; serving the mage, Finegas, on the banks of the River Boyne; his first union with his beloved wife, Sadbh; defeating Aillen of the Sidhe, who had laid waste to the palace at Tara with fire every Samhain; usurping Goll as head of the Fianna, reward bestowed upon him by the grateful High King, Cormac mac Art. Ah, but that was a sweet moment! Yet it was that act which had ultimately led to this ill-fated conflict.
Now, it was time to finish it. As the riastradh, the red frenzy of battle, descended upon him, Fionn cast aside his battered shield, already hacked to pieces, and hefted his sword in both hands. With a fierce cry, he charged down the hill and dived headlong into the fray.
The five brothers ran forward eagerly to meet him.
From his vantage point overlooking the carnage, Finegas stirred.
“Your time is not yet come, Fionn mac Cumhall,” he muttered. “You are descended of Nuada, first King of the Tuatha de Denann. Royal Sidhe blood runs in your veins. You are duty-bound to deliver your people. There is one more task you must do, before you go to your final rest.”
With that, Finegas took up his wooden staff, and strode down onto the battle field.
“I tell you, his body is not there,” insisted Caoílte mac Rónáin. “We have been searching for days. The injured have been sorted from the dead; the bodies are waiting for burial or cremation. We cannot delay much longer for fear of disease.”
The surviving leaders of the Fianna had gathered in the tent of Feircobh, King of Munster.
“We are having the devil’s own job fending off the scavengers and looters,” added Feircobh. “We need to act now.”
“Some say it was Aichlech mac Dubdrenn who struck off his head, but even I cannot see if that is so,” said Diorruing, who had the second sight.
Conan mac Lia, Fionn’s right-hand man, had assumed command of the Fianna in his friend’s absence. He set his jaw stubbornly. “We look again. He must be there. You saw him; he was beset by all five brothers at once. There is no way even he could have survived such an onslaught.”
Tense with frustration, he looked round at the faces of each of his companions, one by one, desperately seeking their agreement. Their eyes slid guiltily away from his, and he knew they had made their decision.
And then, a new voice spoke which they did not recognise, a voice as faint as a breath of summer air, yet which throbbed with knowledge and the promise of secret power.
“The age of the Fianna is over. Never again will this land experience such greatness as existed under the hand of the Fenian King.”
An aged man, leaning on a large stick, stood just inside the tent opening. He cast a thin, dark shadow against the sunlight.
Feircobh glared at him in annoyance. “Who are you, and how did you get past my guards?” he demanded.
The old man’s voice was tremulous, not much more than a whisper. “The Fenian King rests beneath the hill. He will answer the call of his people once more in their hour of greatest need.”
Caoílte started forwards eagerly. “The Fenian King? Do you mean my Uncle? Do you have news of him?”
The old man did not acknowledge him. He turned and hobbled out through the opening.
Although the men chased after him, turning over the camp in their efforts to locate him, the strange old man was nowhere to be found. It was as if he had simply vanished into thin air.
Chapter One – Abandoned
the present day…
Abandoned. Again. This time by his own family.
Couldn’t wait to see the back of me. Didn’t even have time to come in for a cuppa. Just dumped the disabled boy and his luggage, and beat it as quick as they could.
Conor sat in his wheelchair in his aunt’s bright, country kitchen and fumed. Her light, nervous chatter fluttered over his head like a cloud of twittering birds. He wasn’t really listening. He was too caught up in his anger. Every now and then, he intercepted a worried glance as she stood at the wooden table, chopping carrots for dinner. He attempted what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and not the tight grimace it felt like.
His parents and two sisters were walking the Wicklow Way; one hundred and thirty two kilometres of mountain trails and breath-taking scenery.
Talk about rubbing it in.
There was nothing Conor would have loved more than to be able to walk. Just to get up and move using his own two legs. Even from his wheelchair to the kitchen table would have felt good right then, never mind up hill and down dale in the great outdoors.
He knew it was unreasonable to resent his family for escaping on this adventure without him. He also knew how guilty they felt about leaving him behind. But it still hurt.
Just then, the back door burst open, and a girl a few years older than himself sauntered in, throwing herself down into a chair at the table. She looked pale and tired.
Conor’s aunt immediately put down her knife, and adopted an aggressive stance, fists on hips.
“Well, and where have you been, young lady? Out all night with never even a phone call, and your cousin arriving this afternoon. At the very least you could have been here to meet him. I did warn you.”
“I was out,” said the girl, with a yawn. “I’m here now, aren’t I?”
Conor’s aunt paused, pushing her hair from her eyes with the back of a hand. That gesture reminded him vividly of his mother.
“You look a mess, Ciara,” she said quietly.
“Not now, mam,” groaned Ciara, getting up and heading for the kettle. As she passed Conor, she said absently “Want a cup of tea, Conor? Haven’t seen you in ages. What the hell happened to your hair? I always thought you were a carrot-head.”
“His hair?” echoed his aunt, staring at him.
Ciara rolled her eyes skyward impatiently, and ignored her mother’s puzzled comment.
Conor held his breath. How can she see that my hair is white? Human eyes shouldn’t be able to see it. His heart began to race.
Ciara didn’t wait for a reply, but poured out three cups of tea.
“We’re going into the living room with ours,” she announced to her mother, and began propelling Conor’s wheelchair out of the kitchen and into the lounge. This was a large sunny room with a central fireplace around which several sofas huddled. At one end, a solid old bookcase ran the length of the wall. Ciara wheeled Conor into the bright bay window where a motley selection of armchairs were grouped around a coffee table facing a flat-screen TV. Ciara grabbed the remote control off the table and flicked through the music channels.
Ciara sprawled in one of the armchairs, hugging a cushion to her chest.
“Does it have to be so loud?” complained her mother, following them in with a tray upon which balanced their tea and a plate of warm, home-baked scones.
“Of course it does.” Ciara’s reply was flippant. “We’re young. Weren’t you young once? No…probably not. Never mind, go back to your kitchen and your cooking, if you don’t like it.”
“Less of your lip, young lady. What has got into you, these days? Don’t think you can get away with such rudeness just because we have a guest. Wait till your Dad gets home.”
“Mam, just get off my case, will you?” Ciara pointed the remote control at the TV and turned up the volume.
“Don’t you mind her,” Conor’s aunt said to him. “And don’t go picking up any of her bad habits, either. Your mam would kill me.” She smiled, and left the room.
Conor stared at Ciara. She looked almost ghost-like with her white skin and pale, scruffy hair. She looked like she hadn’t seen the sun, or eaten, in weeks.
“What bands do you like?” She glanced over at him, as she continued flicking through the channels. “I like anything grungy, especially Nirvana. I know they’re a bit retro these days, but that’s why I like them.”
Conor decided to try something. He reached out to her with his mind. Why are you so rude to your mam?
Ciara’s eyes were glued to the telly. “Oh, she’s so frustratingly boring and old before her time. Besides, I’m a teenager. We’re not supposed to get on.”
Conor bit back his excitement. She could hear his thoughts, and had answered him without even realising. He sent her a reply. Well, I’m a teenager, and I get on pretty well with my mam.
“Well, I guess you’re lucky then. Anyway, you’re…different. She probably lets you get away with murder.”
The remote control slipped from Ciara’s hand and clattered on the floor as she turned to stare at Conor, eyes wide as realisation dawned.
“What…what just happened? You’re talking, but you’re not…speaking.” She looked confused and frightened, perched on the edge of her chair like a rabbit ready to bolt.
Conor smiled reassuringly. It’s Ok. It’s just that you’re telepathic. So am I. It’s a gift.
“Man, I must have had a little too much tequila last night. They warned me it could mess with your brain.” She lay back in her chair, groaning, eyes closed. “This can’t be happening.”
Conor chuckled. Well, it is, so you better get used to it.
Ciara opened her eyes and glared at him. “It’s not funny. Anyway, I thought you were some kind of vegetable, or something.”
Conor blinked. Vegetable? That’s not very nice. Is that really what everyone thinks?
Ciara blushed. “Well, you can’t communicate. What are we supposed to think?”
I’m communicating with you now.
Ciara considered that for a moment. “I guess no one else knows you can do this, then?”
Conor shook his head.
Ciara sat forward, her eyes sparkling. “Cool! So we have a secret. This could be fun. Why don’t you want anyone to know?”
It’s…complicated. Conor wondered how much he could tell her. He was elated to have found someone he could share his secret with. The weight of it had been crushing him these last few months. He decided to hold off for now, and changed the subject.
So what’s going on with you and your mam?
Ciara’s expression immediately turned sour. “I guess she’s mad with me for dropping out of college. She wants me to get a nice little job in a hairdresser’s, or an office, or something.”
You dropped out? Why?
“Because I never really wanted to be an accountant. I just did it to please my parents, but I hated it. It was so boring and respectable.”
So what do you want to do?
Ciara sighed. “Oh, I don’t know. Go off travelling, have an adventure, climb some mountains, anything which gets me away from small town Ireland.”
Conor understood that well enough. He, too, felt like he had never truly belonged.
Suddenly, Ciara sprang out of her chair. “Shall we go for a walk?” she asked brightly. “I can show you around, if you like.”
Want to know more? Here’s the trailer…
Don’t forget Day Three of the Conor Kelly and The Fenian King Mini Blog Tour stops on Thursday 10th July at Karen’s blog My Train of Thoughts on…