Lord Of The Isle
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“You expected less of me, Kelly?” Morgana snarled. “You know perfectly well that anything you do to a Fitzgerald will come back to haunt you. Shall I repeat for these fools the curse Eleanor Fitzgerald laid on your head?”
Captain James Kelly’s mouth twisted cruelly as he straightened. “Save your witch’s curses, and your breath, Lady Morgan. You’ll come with us quietly now. No more of your games and escapades.”
A cold laugh slipped from Morgana’s throat as she brandished her blade. “Don’t count on it.”
“Ah, Morgan, Morgan, don’t tempt me to teach you the lesson I’ve got in mind. Lord Grey cares little about what condition you arrive in when I return you to Dublin.” Kelly wagged his exceedingly dark eyebrows, which stood out in stark contrast against his distinguished head of silver. “Fight me, Morgan O’Malley, and I’ll allow my men to take their pleasure of you, after I’ve taught you a woman’s proper submission to English authority. Now, give me that damned knife. Prove that you’ve had some upbringing, by bending your knee properly to me.”
“I’d kiss the devil’s arse first, you whoreson. We’re in Ulster now. I have it on good authority that the only law here is that enforced by the man called the O’Neill. Begone, John Kelly.”
“Nice try.” He sneered. “But wrong, very, very wrong. There is no man called the O’Neill these days, my dear.”
At Morgana’s look of suspicion, he continued, relishing taunting her in return for her stinging insults. “I personally saw to the destruction of Shane O’Neill several years back. Believe me, clan O’Neill rues the day James Kelly came home to Ireland for good.”
“No.” Morgana shook her head, refusing to believe him.
“Why, my dear Morgan, who do you think it was that severed Shane O’Neill’s head from his body? Or presented it to Lord Grey to display on a stake outside Dublin’s castle walls?”
“Truly—” Morgana shuddered “—I have no interest in knowing the answer to that question.”
“Ah…” Kelly sighed elaborately. “So you would profess no interest in politics beyond the Pale, hmm? But we both know differently, don’t we? I’m the only man alive with the balls to confront an O’Neill. Just as I’m the one who will bring you to heel.” His head twisted on bull-like shoulders, and his eyes beaded inside narrowed lids.
He spun around so quickly for such a big and heavy man that Morgana failed to see the blow coming. His fist struck her in the face, knocking her to the ground. Her head reeled with a vile explosion of pain. Blood filled her nose and mouth.
While she was down, Kelly stamped his left boot at her right arm, trying to kick her knife from her hand.
But she was faster than him, and trained well enough in hand-to-hand combat to wield a knife with either hand. He jumped clumsily back, not quick enough to avoid the cutting path of her blade. She cut his red coat to the hem and gouged a cut in his thigh before he stumbled out of her range.Morgana bounded back to her feet, dazed but in control of her knife.
One of his men came at her from behind. A pair of crushing, heavy arms swept around her waist, dragging her off her feet. That man, too, paid the price of getting too close.
The soldier screamed as he clutched at his face, his eye bloody and bulging from its socket. Kelly kicked at her again. Morgana caught his heel and jerked his foot with all the force she had, toppling him onto his backside in the mud.
“Bitch!” Kelly shouted, grabbing her skirts. “I’ll teach you to raise your filthy Irish hands against an Englishman!”
“Bugger yourself. I’m more English than you’ll ever be. My Norman ancestors conquered Ireland while yours were filthy, naked Celtic peasants rutting in peat bogs.”
“Augh!” Kelly grunted as he got back on his clumsy feet. He charged her like a raging bull, then caught himself up short, dodging another vicious swipe from her dagger. Morgana swept the blade back and forth with both hands, daring any of them to come close again.
Kelly caught the hem of his coat, briefly examining the gash underneath it and the trickle of blood running down to his knee. “Oh, you’re going to pay for that, bitch.”
“Come, you murdering whoreson,” Morgana taunted him. “Come, let my steel kiss you again.”
He motioned to the other men to get closer to her, but none seemed inclined to be cut. The fool who had lost his eye shouted like a castrated bull and charged her. She slapped her wet cloak into his injured face and let him go rushing past. Wet wool shrouded and blinded him as he slipped and crashed to the muddy ground.
Morgana saw her chance to escape then, and bolted for the bridge. She hiked her skirts clear of her strong feet. She slashed the hand of a soldier trying to catch her, and leaped over the man struggling to unwind his head from her cloak.
Despite Morgana’s deep-seated fear of water, she ran for the bridge, praying the water rushing over its sunken planks wasn’t as deep and treacherous as it looked.
At the brink of the raging flood, she choked, unable to plunge into what her mind perceived as certain death—water, deep and bottomlessly malevolent water. Morgana’s terror at being captured by Kelly paled against her fear of drowning.
A third blow drove Morgana to her knees. Kelly hammered the hilt of his drawn sword into her neck. He fell upon her, flattening her, wrenching her blade from her fist.
She fought to breathe, crushed by Kelly’s weight. Cruel fingers dug into her hair, lifting her face from the mud, bending her neck against the agonizing pains still rippling across her shoulders. Astraddle her back, he stuck her own blade against her throat and rubbed the knuckle of his thumb against the soft flesh under her jaw.
His breath fanned her ear as he clucked his tongue. “Now then, my little fighting Amazon, I have you at my mercy.”
A large knuckle raked across the path the blade would take slitting her throat. He thrust his wet tongue inside her ear and ground his hips suggestively across her bottom. His fingers tightened on her hair, pulling harder to make her bow up from the ground. He laughed cruelly as he licked the sensitive flesh behind her ear. Then he slowly brought the point of the blade against her throat and turned it down. The dagger slipped between her breasts, severing the lacing of the embroidered stomacher covering her gown.
Taut linen was no match for well-honed steel. Powerless, Morgana pressed her hands into the mud, arched way back by his painful pull on her hair. She grit her teeth as he cut her gown and kirtle down to where her belly made contact with the earth.
“Well, well, well, boys, look at this,” Kelly called. “Who would think an Amazon would have such big and pretty titties? Look at them well now, my good.men, because they’re going to get all soiled and dirty. Are you listening, Lady Morgan? I’m going to take you first on your face. An animal like you will probably like that.”
Morgana clawed desperate fingers in the mud, searching for a rock or a stone that could be wrenched free, anything to use as a weapon. The mud rendered nothing. She twisted, balancing precariously on one hand, using her fingernails to scratch at him. He jerked his face out of range, tipping her blade under her right breast.
“Ah, ah, ah, Morgana. Mind those claws of yours. Else my hand slips and severs this lovely mound clean away from your ribs. Think what a curiosity you’ll be in your cage outside Dublin Castle then, hmm?
“Why, you’ll be the governor’s prize attraction, the Irish savage with one tit—another Celtic freak of nature, rivaling the cyclopes of ancient Greece.”
Morgana stiffened, sickened by the touch of his filthy fingers. His two uninjured men dared to come close. Spittle was clotted on their panting lips.
Kelly jerked Morgana’s face toward them, commanding, “Look, Morgan le Fay. They all want to shove their pricks in you. And they will, soon, my little Irish witch. Soon. Then I’ll have the pleasure of watching you grunt and heave to satisfy their lust. Think you I won’t have my revenge for the merry chase you’ve led me from Dublin?”
Morgana’s fingers itched to snatch her grandfather’s Celtic dagger from Kelly’s hand and skewer him with it. Soured whiskey breath fanned her face. White rage at his effrontery in threatening her with her own blade flooded through her. She would show Kelly no mercy when the tables turned.
He twisted her head more, bringing his foul-smelling mouth closer to her lips. She jerked her head away. “No!”
“Good, Lady Morgan, fight me.” His fingers tightened, painfully ripping hair from her head, forcing her head far enough back that she could see his gray eyes darken with cruel pleasure.
“There’s nothing I like better than a woman who struggles as hard as she can against being taken.”
Bent as she was, she couldn’t see where he poked the point of her blade. But she felt it. And she felt the knife score her flesh as he drew it between her breasts. It came to rest pressed into the hollow of her throat.
“Come on, my sweet, fight me.” He taunted her with cold-blooded malice. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of crying out, so he ran his thumb back down the line he’d cut, smearing her blood. His eyes gleamed diabolically as he put his thumb in his mouth and sucked it. “Ah, but I do like the taste of a woman’s blood.”
“Whoreson!” Morgana grabbed a fistful of mud and threw it in his face.
Blinded, Kelly screamed, stabbed at her. She was ready, driving her fist backward, smashing his nose, using his momentum to topple him off her. He swore viciously, blinded by the mud in his eyes, losing control. “Grab her!”
Morgana wrested her blade from his slackened hand, rolling free as she stabbed at him with all her might.
“You bitch! Get her, damn you cowards!”
“You’re the coward, Kelly!” Morgana sank her blade into his neck with all the force she could muster. His men fell on her then, wrestling to get control of the knife.
Kelly knelt in the mud, clutching his shoulder, chest heaving. He recovered enough to make a fist and strike her in the face.
“Hold her down, you damned whoresons! She’ll think twice about fighting more when I get done with her.”
This time, Morgana’s struggles achieved nothing. Her knife was pried from her fingers and cast aside. Waves of nauseating pain in her temples met up with the horrible ache radiating from her neck into her shoulders and arms. None of that was going to abate very quickly.
She had to think, to calm, to hold back the panic rising inside her. The last and final rule of Grace O’Malley’s thorough training in the rigorous art of self-defense swam in Morgana’s desperate brain. According to Ireland’s famed female pirate when rape was inevitable, one must submit. Accept the pain. Retreat. Think only to the future. Plan your revenge. Convince yourself to live, just to taste that revenge.
Morgana Fitzgerald had no choice but to live. Sudden death was not an option. Sean Fitzgerald’s life depended upon her finishing her journey to Dunluce. She had to live through this. Sean depended upon her! She clung to that thought as James Kelly straddled her. She clung to Grace O’Malley’s rules of survival, but she could not accept rape, not at any price.
She bucked and twisted, nearly freeing her muddy hands from the grips of the soldier who held them. Kelly drew back his fist. She jerked her head to the side, taking the blow intended for her face on her ear instead. That was a blessing.
Her ears rang so fiercely from the blow, she couldn’t decipher the crudities spoken as Kelly yanked on her skirts, trying to free the cloth from under his own weight. She nearly gave vent to her outrage when his coarse hands groped at her knees.
“God damn it all, help me spread her legs,” Kelly commanded. “Orson, keep her damned hands out of my way.”
Rain beat a steady drum on the earth. The chill of it striking her face made Morgana lift her cheek from the mud. There was daylight enough that she could see the trees on the other side of the Abhainn Mor.
Severing all connection with her body, she looked for Ariel, willing her horse to come back for her. Her heart thudded hard, bringing her back to the gruesome present. Kelly’s harsh hands pawed at her breasts. The one called Orson twisted her wrists, nearly breaking her arms.
She bit down hard on her lips, vowing not to scream. She wouldn’t beg or cry. They were all talking fast, collective hands on her body, twisting and crushing her limbs, laughing at their rude jests. She shuddered when she heard the leather of Kelly’s belt whip free of his buckle. Every man crowed over the size of Kelly’s manhood, praising its hardness and envying him the right to be the first to abuse her.
Morgana shut out their voices by chanting an ancient prayer, invoking the spirit of Gerait Og Fitzgerald. She occluded Kelly’s face from her sight by staring into the haunted wych elms engulfed by that fearful raging river.
Not a one of them saw what she did.
A warrior swathed in green and brown rode out from the wych elms on the opposite bank. Morgana blinked, clearing her vision. Surely the preternatural creature was no more real than the Little People. Oh, but she wanted him to be real!
Desperately she chanted the ancient prayer invoking the phantom. She inveigled him with the spirit of her grandfather, Gerait Og Fitzgerald, the greatest and most powerful wizard to ever draw breath in Ireland.
Amid the rocks, trees and rain, Morgana’s savior galloped forth, imbued with her thirst for vengeance and her soul-deep hatred. A warrior at one with the spectacular panorama of wind-torn branches, storm-filled sky and spuming white water breaking free of the river bed.
Save me, Gerait Og, she prayed with all her heart and soul. Stop Kelly!
She could bear all that had happened thus far, but not rape. Her spirit would surely die if such a repulsive, evil man made his body one with hers.
Her warrior pressed through the flood riding a dun horse. A fiendish war cry reverberated from his throat, mingling with Erin’s howling wind. The specter’s tartan molded around his torso, detailing his size and exposing brawny, hard-hewn banded arms. Lightning flashed off his upraised sword. War plaits streamed from his temples, as if to flee from the fierce visage under his helm.
Morgana lifted her head from the mud and spat in James Kelly’s face. She let free a high, wild laugh of triumph.
“You are dead, James Kelly!” she shouted, believing in the magic of the witchcraft handed down to her from generations of ancestors more powerful than she. “Look to the river, cur! See you the revenge of the Fitzgeralds!”
“God and Saint George,” whispered a soldier.
“J-J-Jesus Mariah! It’s Shane O’Neill! The ghost that haunts the bridge!” Orson bawled.
Her attackers released their grip at once.
Kelly scrambled off her on all fours, crawling and clawing at the ground for the sword belt that he’d cast beyond Morgana’s reach to torment and break her. He shouted frantic curses and babbled frenetic orders. His cowardly soldiers bolted, howling as they ran for horses. “Jesus save us! It’s the ghost of Shane O’Neill!”
Shane O’Neill, indeed! Delighted, Morgana pushed herself up from the mud, snatching Gerait Og’s blade back into her hands. She brought it to her lips and kissed the amber jewel embedded in the hilt, then staggered painfully onto her feet.
A wild notion made her kick James Kelly viciously in his pimpled arse. He slipped and sprawled facedown in the mud, his belly covering his sword. That made her choke with glee. She tried to find the strength to kick him in his ugly dangling cods. Much as she wanted to deliver that last indignity before he died, she hadn’t the strength to do it. Her weakened energy went into fueling her mad, ecstatic laughter.
Morgana sobered the instant her gaze returned to the warrior. Burning eyes were fixed on her, not Kelly. Her gown hung loose from her shoulders, rent from throat to hem.
Her brain locked on to a truth. Her grandfather’s supernatural powers summoned only demons. Years of strict convent teachings had drummed that fact into Morgana’s head. This bloodthirsty, berserk Irish war god running circles around her with lust in his terrible eyes wasn’t coming for Kelly. He was coming for her.
The conundrum of those thoughts brought more mad laughter surging from her lips. All demons, spirits, powers and dominions demanded a high price for their aid. A supreme irony struck her. What could she possibly offer her war god for a sacrifice? Her virginity? Hardly. She was a widowed woman.
At that ludicrous thought, Morgana laughed. She was truly a witch, as all in Dublin called her—Morgan le Fay! Tears squeezed from her eyes as she threw her arms wide and spun in a slow dance, chanting, “Kill them, kill them! Slay them all for me and I am yours!”
A soldier screamed, “Shane O’Neill!” as the warrior’s sword cleaved his head from his body. Morgana stopped dancing. Could her vision-god be the ghost of the murdered Shane O’Neill?
And why not? She laughed again. Shane O’Neill had died on the bridge at Benburg. How very Irish of him to haunt the very spot where he’d died!
Her humor left her then.
Another warrior—a giant of the ilk of the legendary Finn mac Cool—appeared. The giant’s hair gleamed curiously white. Adorned with Pictish blue war paint, he bore no other trace of humanity.
Lightning bolts flashed from their gleaming swords. Mud churned up from the hooves of their charging war-horses.
The Abhainn Mor erupted. Warrior after warrior spewed forth from the bridge.
Each was more ferocious than the last. Heads sprouted helms and horns. Targes grew spikes. All bore swords and dangerous dirks on their belts, while brandishing halberds, pikes, lochaber axes, tridents or wicked spiked maces.
James Kelly staggered to his feet, hitching his breeches to his waist to cover himself. His sword hung limp in his hand. He turned tail, and spying Morgana, ran behind her to hide himself while he fastened his breeches.
Morgana dragged her ruined gown onto her shoulders and clutched its pieces closed over her breasts. Past that, she had lost all ability to move or breathe. Every muscle in her body was locked rigid. Rape at the hands of the English was the least of her worries now.
Her dabblings in her grandfather’s witchcraft had come full circle. As the good nuns at Saint Mary de Hogges’s Abbey had predicted, the devils had come for Morgana’s wicked, unrepentant soul. She lacked the ability to dredge up the words of confession or the sense to list her many varied and too-often-repeated wicked sins.
“Sweet Saint Brigit, save me!” she whispered.
For the first time in Morgana’s tumultuous life, the sights before her overwhelmed her mind. She fainted dead away at James Kelly’s feet.
No redcoat escaped Hugh O’Neill’s retribution. In short order, five curs fell under the stroke of Hugh’s sword. Only Kelly remained alive, his heart still beating, as Hugh dismounted from Boru and tossed the war-horse’s reins to his young nephew, Owen Roe.
“What farce be this, O’Neill?” Kelly demanded. He hid his fear behind a mask of sarcasm—that of a bureaucrat accustomed to wielding threats against lesser men than he. “Think you this some London stage, and you a hero of some play, wherein you ravish the maiden yourself?”
Hugh’s cold smile sent Kelly staggering backward. He came up short, pinned to the point of Kermit Blackbeard’s sword.
“Your sarcasm ill suits you, Kelly,” Hugh crooned. He handed Loghran his sword to clean the blood from it. James Kelly and Hugh O’Neill went way back, fifteen long years, to Hugh’s first days at the court of Elizabeth Regina. Kelly had been the bully of the queen’s court then, just as he was the bully of Ireland now.
The soldiers were dead, but not the traitor. Hugh stepped around the broken body of the woman, drew back his fist and let it fly into James Kelly’s face, dropping him like a stone at the feet of Shamus Fitz and Donald the Fair.
“Truss him and tie a rope around his neck. If he doesn’t wake up, I’ll drag him by his throat to the stone of O’Neill.”
Hugh turned his back to the traitorous Kelly as he stripped off his gauntlets. He flicked a cold glance to the kerns milling all over the vale, examining the soldiers Hugh had dispatched. Before a one of them had so much as lifted a finger, Hugh had lopped off three heads and gutted a fourth.
Stoic Loghran O’Toole’s only participation in the mel?e had been to make certain Kelly remained Hugh’s prisoner.
A deep silence settled over the kerns as young Hugh O’Neill turned to face them.
“Macmurrough!” Hugh shouted. “Present yourself!”
At one time, Art Macmurrough had been a general under Shane the Proud, in command of a division of five hundred foot soldiers. He commanded no one now. Bereft of the heart of their leadership, the army of O’Neills had not marched anywhere since Shane’s death. The old soldier came forward reluctantly.
“So your admiration for fine horseflesh exceeds your attention to duty, does it, Art?” Hugh asked in a controlled voice, though the angry edge was there. Every living soul near Benburg bridge heard it.
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî