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The King of Sleep

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The King of Sleep

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Author: Caiseal Mór
Publisher: Pocket Books, 2002
Earthlight Australia, 2002
Simon & Schuster, 2001
Series: The Watchers: Book 2

1. The Meeting of the Waters
2. The King of Sleep
3. The Raven Game

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Two kings and two peoples once lived on the island of Innisfail, in harmony with the land and the earth -- though not so peaceably with one another. The arrival of the Gaedhals, from the land of Iber across the sea, shifted this balance and threw the Fir-Bolg and the Tuatha De Danaan into confusion and disarray.

In the face of seemingly unstoppable invasion -- and in the aftermath of a great and dangerous gift -- the ultimate fate of their two peoples still remains to be decided. The Druid Sorcha, with the newly appointed queen of the Ravens, must work against those who disrespect and defile their holy land.

But Saran, younger son of Brocan, King of the Fir-Bolg, has a quest of his own. He has seen his father's forces struggle and fail, and his brother's birthright diminish as the Gaedhals increase. Saran will do whatever is necessary to see his brother Lom declared king of their people -- no matter what, or who, remains for Lom to inherit.


No cloud showed a face in the darkening sky. The old fisherman looked up as he gathered the nets from his leather curragh at the seashore. The western horizon glowed red-gold and he knew from experience there would be no rain tomorrow.

He ventured a silent prayer to the Goddess Danu that she would see fit to gift him with a storm. Not a full-fledged tempest, just a squall with water on its fingertips to wash the land clean and entice the fish closer to shore.

He turned his attention to the handful of sea creatures he'd dragged from their watery home. His nimble fingers sorted the catch and he counted under his breath as each one fell into his basket.

The fisherman had tucked them all away for the journey back to his family when a strange scent wafted in on the faint breeze. It was not salt, nor the briny rotting seaweed that had washed up on the shore. This was something familiar yet out of place.

In the same instant he felt a soft thudding on the sand beneath his toes and he glanced over his shoulder at the rocks above. But there was no sign of anyone so he turned back to his nets.

But a sailor's instincts are impeccable. And this old man had been going to sea longer than anyone he knew. A nagging urgency tugged at his attention and he looked up again. Almost immediately he spotted a group of strangers running barefoot along the beach toward him. Their clothes were strange, their faces fierce and they all carried long silver swords.

"Gaedhals!" the fisherman gasped.

Without a thought for his own safety the old man drew a leaf-shaped bronze knife from his belt and stood up straight, waiting for the strangers to come on him. There was no doubt in his mind from their jeering laughter and yelping cries that they meant to take his precious catch.

A warrior with long golden hair flowing freely behind him sprinted out ahead of the others. He called out that he'd settle with the fisherman and his comrades could just sit back and watch.

But this old fisherman had not always farmed the sea. He'd been a warrior in his youth before he took to boats and nets. And he was a proud Fir-Bolg determined not to submit to some boastful foreigner.

The stranger ran directly at him but the fisherman dodged aside, tripped him up and slashed his knife across the warrior's face. The man cried out in agony, dropped his sword and crawled around in the sand until he found the sea water. Then he sat washing his wound while his comrades came running over.

The fisherman counted a dozen well-armed Gaedhals and knew he didn't stand a chance against them. He began to regret his hasty attack.

The warriors laughed heartily at the old man's misfortune as they swiftly surrounded him, but only one among them dared to come within reach of his knife. This Gaedhal was broadly built but no more than thirty summers old. His long brown hair was carefully combed so it looked perfectly clean, an unusual style for a warrior.

"Throw down your weapon," he commanded. "We're going to feast on your fish tonight and there's nothing you can do about it. So you might as well stand away and save yourself a beating."

The golden-haired warrior who'd led the pack recovered himself at these words and stood up, picking up his blade in a rage. With blood streaming down his face he charged through the circle of his comrades, pushing them out of the way.

"Stay where you are, Conan," the warrior with the brushed hair bellowed. "I don't want it said my brother wasted his foolish life for a boatload of fishes."

"Half a boatload," the old man corrected him defiantly.

The warrior caught the fisherman's eye and couldn't help feeling some degree of admiration for the old man. "Half a boatload," he smiled.

"He's right," a woman pleaded, grasping Conan by the shoulder. "Listen to your elder brother."

"Shut up, Mughain," Conan shouted, blind with rage. "There'll be a bitter brew in the mead barrel before I'm bested by a bloody boatman."

But he'd no sooner bellowed these few words than the old man lunged at him with his long knife and slashed the warrior's hand. Conan dropped his sword and screamed an unintelligible phrase. Before anyone could intervene he had knocked the fisherman down with the back of his good hand. Then he brutally kicked the defenseless old man in the face and began laying into him with both fists.

By the time Mughain and the others had dragged him away the fisherman was curled up senseless in the sand.

The warrior with the finely kept hair grabbed his brother by the tunic and dragged him to the water, where he unceremoniously dumped him into the sea.

"Cool off!" he ordered. Then he turned to Mughain. "See to the fish. My belly's empty."

The warriors dispersed to sit on the beach and wait as the woman sorted through the basket. Just as she stood up to report there was barely half a boatful of edible seafood she was knocked off balance and sent sprawling face first in the sand.

The next thing she heard was her war-leader's voice.

"Conan! No!"

But by the time she rolled over the blond warrior had struck the fisherman in the side of the head with his sword. Such was the force of the blow that Mughain's face was spattered with the old man's blood. She had to turn away, struggling to keep down what little she had in her stomach.

She was so shocked she didn't hear the other warriors jump on Conan to disarm him. Nor did she hear the stream of abuse his brother heaped on him for the cowardly act. And she didn't notice the last strained breath of the Fir-Bolg fisherman.

It wasn't until she felt the gentle touch of a hand on her shoulder that she became aware she was lying face down in the sand with her hands over her head.

"He's mad," the war-leader told her. "My brother's lost all his senses."

Mughain rolled over to look at him and he wiped the sand, tears and blood from her cheeks as she hugged him close.

"He can't help himself, Goll," she whimpered. "Don't punish him."

The war-leader growled under his breath so that only she could hear. "I can't let this sort of thing go on unchecked."

Mughain got to her knees and held his hands in hers, silently begging his forbearance. Goll calmly pushed her away and stood up. He looked across at his brother being restrained by four of the strongest warriors in his band.

Then he gave his orders. "Burn the boat and the body."

"What about the fish?" someone asked bitterly.

"A brave man gave his life in defense of that catch," the war-leader stated. "We'll honor his memory with a feast."

In the silent depths of the Aillwee caves, on the north coast of the Burren, Brocan, King of the Fir-Bolg of that country, lowered his torch. Then, just to experience the comforting sound of a voice in this dark world, he spoke a few quiet words to himself.

"Very well, Brocan, you've come a thousand paces now."

The rolling confident tones immediately eased his apprehension. The mysterious winding passages of this bottomless cave seemed to resent the sound of Fir-Bolg speech, but Brocan didn't care.

"I am lord of this place now," he asserted, challenging the cold spirits of the cave. "I'll show my warriors there's nothing to fear down here. I'll prove to the chieftains that our people can live securely here and one day call these caves home."

The Fir-Bolg king lifted his rush light high above his head again, then moved on. But before he had passed another thirty paces two things happened. First he felt fine sand beneath his feet where before there had only been rock. Then he realized he had run out of the tiny white pebbles he dropped to mark his passage. The path he'd laid down was his only hope of finding his way back to the cave entrance through this confusing maze.

Brocan held the rush light as still as he possibly could and peered ahead into the darkness.

Copyright © 2001 by Caiseal Mór


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