Authors: E.M. Powell
Shocked cries came from those whom Henry had settled here. But ugly taunts rose from the Irish.
Palmer tried to catch Theodosia’s eye. She should get inside the cathedral. Now. But he couldn’t do it.
‘A stripling,’ said the chieftain, ‘who insults us. And, worse, declares our oaths worthless.’
The Irish yelled their approval.
Leave, Theodosia. Just leave.
Then yelled harder as O’Connor’s man picked up his axe, followed the other kings’
men and, with a great rattle, all the others who had laid
John flinched, even as his mailed protectors drew swords from sheaths.
‘Stay your hand, men.’ The man of Connacht’s order allowed no action. ‘There is no hope of security for the Irish now.’ He looked back up at Eimear O’Connor. ‘My lady. We leave for the court of your father and of the other kings. They must
of what has come to pass. Are you coming with us?’
De Lacy went to reply in her stead, but she spoke over him.
‘No.’ Her voice rang clear. ‘My place is with my husband. You can tell my father that.’
‘As you wish.’ O’Connor’s man pointed the axe at her. ‘Be it on your head. Now, away, brothers!’
‘Away!’ chorused every other Irishman, breaking into a stream of angry shouts and threats.
In the noise and dust of their exit, a still-flushed John stood and watched, head high, fists on his hips, legs apart in a wide stance.
Palmer met Dymphna’s look.
‘What has he done?’ she said, the same aghast question being asked in hushed murmurs all round them.
‘The opposite of what Henry ordered.’ Palmer fought to keep his anger in check, his voice low. ‘The Irish were here to make peace. All John had to do was accept that. At least to start with.’ He looked to the group in front of the cathedral.
He wasn’t the only one angered by John’s actions. Eimear fixed John with a look that would have him dead. Yet Palmer could swear he saw the hint of a suppressed smile on de Lacy’s face.
Palmer went on. ‘And that would have meant Theodosia would’ve been in a far safer position. As would we all. But now?’
‘I don’t know, Sir Benedict.’ Dymphna’s look was deeply
The rumble of the departing Irish died away, leaving only the buzz of the voices of the many witnesses.
‘My people.’ John raised a hand once more and received an absolute, immediate silence, broken only by the cry of a lone seabird as it swooped overhead. ‘My father has sent me to pacify this land. And I will.’
Palmer wondered if he’d heard right again. The young fool had this minute destroyed an offer of peace.
John dropped his hand. ‘But not with empty promises and
oaths. No.’ His mouth made its pucker of arrogance. ‘No, the time for promises is at an end. And the time for action ha
Still the silence. The swooping seabird cried on.
‘For a savage people understand one thing and one thing only. And that is force.’ His gaze swept over every stunned face gathered before him. ‘That is their real language. We shall speak it to them. Oh, how we shall speak it to them.’ He clenched a fist. ‘And they will understand.’
Palmer tensed in disbelief at where John’s words were leading.
‘They will understand it when they see my castles rise from the land that they claim is theirs. They will understand it when my men pour from those castles and speak to them with the point of a sword. They will understand it when the lands are no longer theirs. My first three castles will be at Tibberaghny, Ardfinnan and Lismore. From there I will push on. And on. That is the path to peace.’ He threw his fist in the air. ‘The path of the Lord of Ireland!’
Palmer wanted to drop his head in his hands as the loudest cheers yet burst forth, led by John’s group of young knights.
Henry had wanted John to take control here. But not like this.
John had not come to make peace. Instead, he
on a campaign of war.
And he was taking Theodosia with him.
Tibberaghny, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland
Palmer sat on the low trunk of an old fallen tree, with his chain mail spread across his lap for
. He wore his padded gambeson, not only for warmth on this cool, cloudy morning but so he’d be ready for any action.
The site of one of John’s castles at this place called
had been chosen well: Palmer would give him that much credit. Near to a fast-flowing river, higher hills rose some way off to the south and the curve of a mountain, covered in the low cloud, loomed even farther off to the north-west.
Chosen well, but it should not have been chosen at all.
shook the first section of mail hard to dislodge the last of the sand he’d used to clean it
. He needed his
o be ready, like his newly sharpened sword on the trunk next
The creation of the new motte used a natural rise in the low-lying land. Many men laboured with picks and shovels to add to its height with more and more earth, though it was still a way off what it should be. Once the motte was up, work could begin on the keep. Enclosing the
could happen at the sa
Palmer scowled to himself.
The pace of building wasn’t fast enough. This day would be the third here. Despite the guards that had been posted, the camp of many tents continued to lie exposed to attack on this stretch of flattened ground. Charging at canvas was a much easier task than attacking a well-built wooden fortification.
Canvas that formed the only protection for Theodosia.
He lifted the mail to peer closely at its tight rings, blowing the few remaining grains of sand from them.
Dirt and moisture meant rust. And rust meant weakness.
She was here because Gerald was here. John had insisted that the royal clerk should be with him in his chosen base of
. This was the first stop from Waterford, the nearest to that
The two other castle sites chosen in these borderlands were farther into the territory of the Irish.
Satisfied that the metal was sound,
Palmer moved on to the next section. Interesting that John didn’t want to go that far. Happy to send others, mind.
He tested what looked like a rust spot with his thumbnail. Only a piece of dried clay. It wouldn’t yield so he reached for his knife to work it free.
He’d kept out of the chaos that had been John’s assignment of men to castle sites, making sure he’d be in a position to stay with Theodosia. He knew it meant he wouldn’t be able to track de Lacy if John sent the Lord of Meath elsewhere. But Palmer had had no choice but to take that gamble.
And he’d won. De Lacy was right here with John.
Palmer nodded to himself. Also interesting.
He moved on to the final section of his mail.
ready for any fight.
Truth be told, that fight could well include de Lacy. All well and good for Henry to tell him, Palmer, that he was to find proof of treachery. That might well have to come at the point of a sword. As for whose sword, Palmer would do everything in his power to make sure it was his. No matter who came at him.
A movement at the edge of the camp caught his eye. Mounted men. He straightened up, his heart fast. Normally he wouldn’t be acting like a maid. But Theodosia was in this camp.
He let out a breath.
De Lacy, returned from a ride, mounted on a huge destrier, a small group of mailed knights with him.
‘Put another man on this patch.’ De Lacy gave the order to a guard who had appeared to check on his arrival, spear in hand.
Appeared too late. Palmer’s shoulders tightened. Not good enough.
‘If I can, my lord,’ said the guard.
It was as if de Lacy had heard Palmer’s thoughts.
‘If you can?’ came the Lord of Meath’s sharp question to the guard. ‘Of course you can find an extra man. One is needed. Had I been an Irish warrior, I’d be in the middle of this camp by now.’ He gave a tight grin. ‘And you would be missing a head, my friend.’
The guard didn’t smile in return, only bowed and went to mov
‘Wait.’ De Lacy raised his head to look over the rest of
The man halted.
Palmer bent low
over his work
, yet still able to see de Lacy with his upward glance. De Lacy already knew him from
. He didn’t want to draw the man’s notice again. Not until he decid
ed on it.
‘How many men are guarding this camp today?’ asked de Lacy of the guard.
‘I don’t know, my lord.’
‘How many tonight?’
The guard shrugged. ‘I don’t know, my lord.’
‘You think those are satisfactory answers?’
‘No, my lord.’
‘Then what is?’
‘I’ll find out, my lord.’
‘And you will tell me,’ stated de Lacy.
‘Yes, my lord. At once, my lord.’
As de Lacy dismounted and handed his reins to a groom, Palmer frowned to himself again. What reason would the man have to be so curious about the number of guards at this camp?
He watched as the lord walked towards his large tent, which Palmer knew he shared with his wife, Eimear.
It would probably come to nothing, but he might be able to hear something useful. Though his priority had shifted to
protection, he still had orders from Henry to carry out.
Grabbing an abandoned shovel, Palmer went as close to the tent
as he dared and began to dig. With so many others doing th
e all over the camp, he shouldn’t attract any notice.
He could hear murmured voices: one man, one woman.
doubt de Lacy and his wife, but not clear enough to catch
what they said
Swearing silently to himself, he placed a shovelful of earth off to the side.
Then words. Clear as day.
‘But I want to see William, Hugh.’ Eimear’s voice. No tear-filled plea. Climbing. ‘I want to go back to our castle at Trim. To our son.’
‘When I say we can. And no sooner.’ No softness in de Lacy’s tone either. ‘I too need to return. I have pressing matters to which I have to attend.’
‘How is our son not a pressing matter?’
‘Eimear, the Lord John has set events in motion here that no one could have anticipated.’
‘Events in motion. Is that what you call it?’ Her disdain could burn a hole through the canvas of the tent wall. ‘Irish lords, about to be thrown from their lands to the bogs and the mountains. By that stripling?’
The same insult used by the spurned Irish at
for John. Palmer raised his eyebrows to himself as he carried on
the shovel into the earth again.
‘Stripling or not, John is here on the orders of our king.’
De Lacy used it too.
‘Henry Curtmantle is not my king.’ Her voice lowered in her deep scorn. ‘My king is my father. Rory O’Connor. King of
. High King of Ireland.’
Now de Lacy’s tone rose. ‘You are my wife. Your loyalty is a
‘My loyalty?’ Eimear laughed, a terse, bitter retort. ‘That still belongs to me, safe in my heart. Whatever else you take from me, you can’t take that. As for yours, it’s clear to me why you’re staying around the stripling.’
‘It is, is it? Then why don’t you—’
Palmer’s shovel hit a mud-covered stone in a loud, sudden scrape.
Both voices went silent, and rapid footsteps came from the tent.
Palmer gave a quiet oath. He couldn’t run – he’d be seen. He’d have to lie. And well.
De Lacy appeared at the tent door as Palmer crouched to pull the stone out of the earth with one hand.
‘Who’s there?’ De Lacy’s look went to him, then shifted into surprised recognition. ‘Palmer, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, my lord.’ Palmer stood up to give a quick bow. ‘Not many of these in this ground, thank the Almighty.’ He flung the stone he held over to one side. ‘Makes progress on the motte much easier.’ He wiped his hand off on his gambeson.
‘The motte?’ De Lacy nodded to the growing mound several yards away. ‘The motte is over there. Not here. Outside my tent.’
‘I know, my lord.’ Palmer pointed to the nearby bushes with his shovel. ‘But there’s a stream in there, with shallow banks. I’d guess that it’d overflow at the first heavy rainfall. The ground under your tent and those other two would be soaked.’
De Lacy looked from Palmer to the bushes.
Palmer had no idea if the stream posed a threat or not. He offered up a quick prayer that de Lacy wouldn’t go to look.
‘Moving tents would take time we don’t have,’ said Palmer. ‘S
m putting in a ditch to make sure they stay dry instead.’
‘And why is a fighting man like you digging the earth?’
Palmer shook his head. ‘No choice, my lord. At least not for me. That motte isn’t going up fast enough. I’d rather be a fighting man with a castle for my use.’
‘Hugh.’ Eimear’s sharp call came from inside. ‘I haven’t
De Lacy looked at him for a long moment. ‘Then I won’t keep you, Palmer.’ He stepped back into the tent and yanked the ca
The voices began again. But this time stayed far too low for Palmer to catch a word.
Palmer thrust his shovel into the earth once more. A useful task, digging a ditch that wasn’t needed.
No mind. The exchange he’d heard between the Lord of Meath and his wife might have given him more questions than answers. But it was a start.
Once he’d finished this empty task, he’d go and do what he’d told de Lacy was needed.
Palmer didn’t care if he shouldn’t be digging. The quicker this castle went up, the better.