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by Morris G. McGee

Being a goddess isn't what it used to be; being a goddess in the Twentieth Century is almost sad; and being a goddess in Ireland has little future. Oh, I know there are a few who follow my ways: the I.R.A. who bombed the protestant church in Armagh in May 1994 murdering all within and the Orange Lodge who planted mines on the road to the Catholic shrine in August of the same year and killed 45 children. It is not like the old days in Europe when Celts worshipped me as the Badb, as Neman, as Macha, as Morrigan. As Morrigan I was the most awful and bloody of the immortals. I am rage, battle fury, and death.

Things were different in the spring of 1014. I had many servants. The best was Sihtric Silkbeard, the King of Dublin. He was cruel, dishonest, sensual, and vain: everything I liked in a king. I put myself in his body . . .

The King of Dublin stared into his silvered mirror from Byzantium. The face he saw was plump, the lips narrow and hard, his eyes pale blue and his long hair and beard yellow and soft as fine silk—hence his name: Sihtric Silkbeard. Sihtric wore soft silk robes that came via the Viking City of Kiev from the silk roads far to the unknown East. Sihtric liked the feel of silk—it reminded him of the skin of his favorite concubine: soft and comfortable against his skin. "More wine," he ordered. "Where is my spy?"

"Here, King," said a small man near the door, "I just returned from the High King.

"Since I am a Scald I was entertained by the Bard of the High King at Cashel. I was well fed and given gold rings by the High King, himself." The small man pulled himself up proudly, "The High King liked my stories, he speaks our tongue as well as a Dublin man."

"My dear stepfather," the King sneered, "what does the old man have on his mind?"

"Complete submission of all the Irish Sub-Kings and complete submission of all the Kings of the Viking cities."

"What makes Brian Boru think he can accomplish this thing?"

"Men and gold, King, men and gold."

Sihtric nodded, "I know, that is why my ships have gone to Norway, Daneland, The Orkneys, The Hebrides, to Man, and even to Iceland. I have invited warriors to join in smashing the High King of Ireland. The plunder will attract them like flies to dung."

"You forget, King," interrupted Swen Thorson, Dublin Keeper of the Treasury, "You swore fealty to the High King and married his granddaughter."

"I know," said the King, "but all changes if we defeat Brian Boru in battle. He is an old man, at least eighty-five or more. His sons and grandsons will have to lead and they are not the war leaders that the old man is." He fingered the gold cross that hung from his neck; the cross, when reversed, was a perfect Hammer of Thor—Sihtric didn't take chances.

I had heard enough. I journeyed West looking for the High King. I did not find him there. He was camped in his great tent near the River Boyne at Tara of the Kings. I moved into his thoughts.

"Are we ready, son Murchad? Can we cross the river to Dublin, breach the walls and take Dublin ?" The High King, Brian Boru, sat on a soft pile of deer hides watching his oldest surviving son. He was wrinkled, his face bearded and mustached in white, his tall, thin body was wiry and strong in spite of his great age. His right hand rested on his great two handed sword. He was dressed in warm wool robes that were dyed a bright red, bordered in red leather on the sleeves and the bottom hem.

Murchad, a heavy-set man with flowing red beard and hair flecked with grey nodded at once. "We should move as soon as we can, before Dublin is reinforced. We captured a few of the Dublin men trying to sow discord among your people." Murchad wore two great swords, swords bigger than any carried by other Irish and bigger by half than Viking swords. In battle he used both, one in each hand.

Murchad wore fine linked chain mail over a light brown wool tunic with an under coat of soft linen. One of his War-Band carried his mail sleeves and his mail leggings.

"So be it," said the High King, "Send the call to all in Ireland to meet us the Monday before Easter ten miles North of Dublin."

Now I knew when the battle would take place, so I moved on to the Orkneys. At Kirkwall I found Sigurd, Jarl of Orkney. I listened with him as he heard the message from Dublin.

". . . and there will great riches for all who aid in the downfall of the High King."

Sigurd Dirgi—the Stout—sat silently for a few moments, stroking his curly brown beard, his blue eyes darting around the room at his eager men. "We shall go a-Viking into Ireland. What say you?"

The men roared their approval. Sigurd thought to himself 'why not the Jarl of Orkney as High King? Why not rule the Irish? It would be a splendid gift for my son Thorfinn when I die. Thorfinn? He is too young, I'll foster him with the King of Scots—he owes me that much—I married King Malcolm's daughter. I go to Dublin and return with all of Ireland.'

Good! He was greedy. I moved on to the Isle of Man where Sigurd the Stout was overlord and heard the same message delivered to Brodar the Dane who ruled for Sigurd of Orkney.

". . . you will share in the riches of Ireland with your Lord Sigurd and enjoy a fine fight."

This last moved Brodar, a warrior skilled in the sword, the axe, and the spear. He was tall, over six feet, broad of chest, with long muscular arms hardened by years of training and fighting. Riches and lands where he could be Chief Lord filled his mind along with thoughts of blood and killing.

Brodar may have been a Viking but his mother must have been Irish for he thought like one of my own. I followed messengers to Norway, to Iceland, and to the Hebrides. All were coming to Dublin: Snorri the Priest from Iceland—a Christian priest and a priest of Odin, Sigurd from Orkney, Brodar from Man, and Vikings from Norway, Daneland, the Hebrides and troops from Leinster in Ireland.

The army of Brian Boru laid waste to all of Leinster, then at the end of March 1014 moved on Dublin. "They will meet us North of the River Liffey," said Brian, "We can be sure of that. We must keep watch on the beaches to the East for the Vikings will try to land troops from the sea."

Brian's old friend, the priest Maolsuthain, said the Mass and blessed all the warriors. In his homily he recalled the many victories of the High King and the blessings of peace that the High King brought to all Ireland.

In Dublin Sihtric greeted his allies in his great hall. There were Danes from Daneland and Jorvik in the north of England mixing with Icelanders, Orcaddians, Manxmen, and Vikings from the Hebrides. The last to arrive were Jarls from Norway.

"The High King is only a few miles North of the River Liffey. Our army will cross and meet him on the fields of Clontarf. Our horsemen will be able to harry his flank to the West and our men from the Long Ships will surprise him from the sea," Sihtric said with confidence. "We outnumber him two to one."

"What kind of warriors are these Irish?" Sigurd of Orkney wanted to know.

Swen Thorsen the Keeper of the Treasury answered, "They fight hard, but they are lightly armored. They are strong spearmen, they carry three or four long javelins which they throw from their horses at full gallop. They can kill at great distance."

"We have strong chain mail," grunted Brodar of Man, "We need not worry about spearmen from afar. How are they at hand to hand fighting?"

"When the battle fury comes on them, they are the finest in the world; but if they have a set back, they often run."

I listened a while then moved to the High King's camp. I listened inside the mind of Murchaa, Brian's eldest.

He was standing next to his father, addressing his troop leaders, his brother Tagd and his brother Donnchad chief among them. Tagd was tall and wiry as his father. He dressed in chain mail over a surcoat of deer hide dyed bright blue—the same color as his eyes. Donnchad was built in the solid way of Murchad, only smaller. His chain mail was on a coat of sheepskins dyed yellow. All of Donnchad's men wore yellow cloaks so he could see where they stood in battle.

"I will lead the center battle; brother Tagd will lead on the right; and brother Donnchad and your son, Toirdelbach, will guard the left—the beaches and the sea. We will strike on the right and center, holding firm on the left. Agreed?"

There were nods of agreement, then the High King asked, "We fight on Good Friday?"

"Aye," said Murchad.

I screamed for joy. They would fight on the day when their god was weakest!

On the North side of Dublin Bay in the early dawn of Good Friday, 23 April, 1014, the forces prepared for battle. The Irish with some Viking allies who hated the King of Dubin moved into position. The Viking army moved slowly North from the banks of the Liffey and across the little River Tolka.

I prepared, too. I caused a drizzling rain, and I called up a high wind. The first to attack was Murchad and his spearmen. They rode full tilt toward the Viking line and hurled their sharp missiles. I caught most in the wind and they were wasted. Murchad's flew straight and true. It came down at an angle through the armored chest of one of Sigurd of Orkney's followers. It went through him and into his horse behind him. The horse bolted toward the Irish lines, the man mewing like a tortured kitten. As he passed through the Irish lines, Murchad sliced off his head and the mewing stopped.

The Vikings were stunned for a moment. They roared defiance, then started forward at a slow trot. The horsemen in their mail coats of iron rings, studded with bronze and gold, seemed to glitter when a weak sun came out. The Vikings of Dublin, without their King, and the men of Leinster under Maelmore were in the center; the flanks were led by Sigurd of Orkney on the left and Brodar of Man on the right. In front of all were Vikings from Daneland and Norway. They moved faster toward the Irish.

Murchad had his Munstermen and the men of his tribe, Dal Cais, prepared. They struck together.

Above the battle I set up fearsome screaming, the sound of gigantic birds fighting above their heads. All heard hungry demons cry for blood. They saw terrible shapes moving toward them.

Then Murchad charged, both his swords flashing. He cut down Vikings on the left and right. His War-Band followed, killing dozens, some as they turned in fear to run. Only Sigurd of Orkney did not run; he waited for Murchad; he taunted the Irish prince. Murchad rushed at Sigurd, swung his right hand sword and cut through Sigurd's neck armor and helmet straps. Before Sigurd could move, the left hand sword sheared cleanly through Sigurd's exposed neck. The headless body swung the sword once then fell with great gouts of blood staining the grass.

Murchad moved on still in battle fury. His horse was lathered and winded as he drove on a Warlord from Dublin. The man swung his battle-axe at the horse's chest, cutting deeply. The horse stopped in his tracks and threw Murchad forward over his neck. Murchad landed on the Dubliner and they wrestled for position. Murchad grabbed the bottom of his enemy's coat of mail, pulled it over his head and attacked with his dagger. Murchad had his man weakening with repeated dagger blows to the back. With his last breath, the Dublin man drew a knife from his boot, plunged it into Murchad's groin, pulled it up until he hit Murchad's breastbone, then he died.

Murchad stood up slowly, holding in his guts with both hands. "I do not think I will ever be High King of Ireland, he said as he died.

The Irish Bards and the Viking Sagas sang of the great fight and the feats of princes and Jarls, but they did not tell all. The Irish were finished and the Northmen were also finished.

Murchad's War-Band wrapped his body in cloaks and placed it on a horse and sent it back to his father, the High King. They extracted revenge from all who faced them, pushing them into the River Tolka. The river ran red with blood. They drove the Vikings and the Leinstermen back to the River Liffey where boats helped some escape to the safety of the walls of Dublin.

Donnchad and his son, Toirdelbach, were waiting when the Viking longships scraped ashore. Through the young man's eyes I watched as the Vikings fell into the trap, pinned against the shore.

"We have them," the young man screamed, "Kill them before they escape!" He threw his javelins at the disembarking Vikings. One caught an Icelander full in the face, under his nose and out the back of his head. "Faster," screamed Toirdelbach, waving his arm over his head. Three arrows entered his exposed armpit, puncturing his lungs. He tried to speak, but a stream of blood choked off all sound. He died in silence.

Donnchad looked at his son in sorrow then led his men to the shore where they killed all the Vikings who still lived.

On the Irish right Tadg, the High King's second son, felt the enemy weakening. Above his forces I screamed and the Vikings from Daneland and Iceland wavered.

Tagd shouted, "At them, now!" The Irish pushed them toward the fords on the River Tolka, slaying scores when they were hip deep in the water. Now it was a foot race. One exhausted Icelander, Snorri the Priest, stopped and waited. "Why do you not run?" Tagd asked.

"I am from Iceland and I cannot run that far by nightfall."

Tagd struck him with the flat of his sword, "Live Icelander and go home." Snorri the Priest was one of the few spared. The rest were driven to the Liffey and rescued by the boats from Dublin.

Tagd stopped his men on the river bank. "We have won a great victory. Send word to Murchad and the High King," he ordered.

One who survived, Swen Thorsen, wet and bleeding climbed the steps inside the North wall where Sihtric watched the battle in safety. "You lost, King Sihtric. The High King's men have the field." Swen pulled off his bloodied mail and sat with his back to the wall. "It is only a matter of time until the walls will be breached by the High King's men. What will you do, King?"

"I will wait."

"We have lost men—six or seven thousand," Swen said sadly. I know Sigurd of Orkney is dead. The Leinstermen are all but destroyed. What are you going to do?"

"I will wait," said King Sihtric.

Out of the field Brodar of Man fought on the right. He charged the troops under Donnchad, cutting through with the loss of all. He was riding alone, circling back South when he caught sight of a great tent.

Brian Boru knelt by the body of his eldest son, Murchad. "Why did you die and I live?" The old man wept and prayed for the soul of his son. He stood as Murchad's men told of the battle feats. They handed him Murchad's great swords. At that moment, they heard a fierce battle-cry from the North. They turned to see Brodar at full gallop, closing on the High King.

Brian Boru acted as the great warrior he was. He swung his son's sword at his attacker, cutting his right leg off at the knee. Brodar screamed in anger and in pain.

Brodar staggered in his saddle but held on. He spun his horse and with his battle axe cut at the High King. The axe cut deep into Brian Boru's skull, killing him instantly.

Ten swords finished Brodar, too late.

A heavy rain came out of the dark afternoon sky soaking the field of Clontarf and the dead.

I laughed and laughed and laughed. I had won and Ireland would be at war forever. The High King and his son and grandson would be buried at the stone church in Armagh. The Irish kings would fight one another for over a century. Then one would invite Normans from England, Normans who would become English, giving gifts like Strongbow and Cromwell, gifts as bloody offerings to me, gifts like Drogheda.

King Sihtric Silkbeard? He ruled for over twenty years, then became a monk of the holy isle of Iona where the kings of Scots are buried. Sihtric finally died praying for his worthless soul. I laughed for years.

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