“Where be the wee boy, Aonghus?”
“The boy works the fields like a man twice his age, woman. It be nigh 15 years since ye birthed our first born.” Aonghus regarded his wife with impatience, his heavy beard twitching. “He will return when the bo are fed.”
The matriarch of the Ó Congalaig family, Éibhleann, was a fair beauty wrapped in porcelain skin who had birthed five boys. Despite her slender frame, she was uncommonly strong--a testament to her breeding. Her father had been a fierce warrior of the Mac Clonath clan. Flowing rivulets of fiery red hair tumbled down her back matching her often times flaming disposition.
“Aonghus Ó Congalaig, you be the death of me.”
Aonghus looked up to watch a flash of red disappear around the side of the barn.
It wasn’t long before Ruarc appeared at the entrance of the rath. Out of breath, his forehead glistened with sweat.
“Athair, I . . . found . . . something. Come. Come.”
Aonghus grabbed his spear, following his son out along the woodland path. The boy trotted faster and soon both father and son ran dodging overhanging branches--their feet beating a methodical cadence upon the forest floor.
A clearing opened up before them and Ruarc stopped short of a mossy bog.
“Where have ye brought me to boy?”
The boy stretched out his arm, pointing to the far side of the water. “There, beyond, Athair.”
The father squinted into the late afternoon sun, catching sight of something white beneath the sod.
“Aye, boy. I see it. What do ye make of it?”
“Lochlann treasure. They sailed down the river to Navan a forthnight hence.”
“Aye, be stolen goods.”
Other artifacts lay strewn across the bog. A forgotten golden chalice rested against a nearby tree root, sacred vestments adorned in golden silk threads spread out before them. And then there was the white object wedged into the damp earth.
Aonghus thrust his spear into the ground, sinking one foot after another, step-by-step into the peat until he reached the furthest bank. Retrieving the white object, he placed it on his head and returned to Ruarc.
“Gather the treasure, wrap it in the cloths.”
Ruarc obeyed, finding more items as he moved about the clearing.
Éibhleann bent over the wood fire, stirring a pot of wild boar meat with oats. Her youngest son followed her movement, crawling on the dirt floor, giggling as he reached out for her skirts.
Red embers crackled and fat popped inside the big iron pot.
Clattering and clanking rang through the small enclosure as Aonghus and Ruarc returned bearing their treasure.
“What be the noise?”
“Treasure. Lochlann.” Ruarc’s voice was nearly a whisper.
“Lochlann?” Éibhleann spat, nearly missing her son’s feet. “Thieves—all of them.”
“Aye. Look. Holy artifacts from the great stone church of Cenannas.”
And there before her bare feet was a great book, its once magnificent golden binding ripped away by marauders.
The top and bottom pages showed signs of its recent stay in the bog, but still the images upon those brightly crafted pages appeared to dance in the firelight.
Ruarc squatted near the book, gently turning the pages. Each new page appeared more brilliant than the last. Cocking his head, he examined with interest the delicate script flowing from page to page. Serpents and strange men in colorful robes. Flowers and woven ribbons. Crosses and knotwork. Earthy green and blood red mixed with gilded golds and ocean blue.
“The Great Gospel of Colum Cille. Centuries old. It must be returned. Aonghus, ye must return it.”
“Aye, woman. In the morrow.”
The family Ó Congalaig, illiterate, sat on a dirt floor engrossed in an illuminated manuscript they could not read, amidst stolen treasures they would never own, while a dinner of wild boar grew tough on the fire.
Notes: Rath – stone or wooden structure encircling a homestead
Athair – father
Lochlann – Viking
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