Drumshee series Cora Harrison, Children's Author Dragonfly books

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Dark Days at Drumshee

Dark Days at Drumshee

Chapter One

'If, by chance, Conor O'Brien were to be killed, we would have an easy victory,’ said the first voice. ‘He is the leader of the Irish here in Clare.'

'Wise men leave nothing to chance,' said the second voice, a strange metallic voice. 'We must make sure that he is killed.'

Alys shivered. These were dark and dangerous days, but to hear murder plotted – the murder of the father of those lovely children whom she had just left, playing happily around their mother – that made an icy chill come over her whole body. She stayed very still, thankful that the thick hedge hid her from view of the men. There were three of them, she reckoned. She had heard the clip clop of their horses coming down the road, then a sudden startled shout from a young light voice. The other two stopped just opposite to where she had hidden herself behind the hedge. All she could see now, in the dusk of the late autumn evening, was the gleam of silver from their armour.

‘That’s all right now,’ said the young voice. ‘I’ve taken the stone out of his hoof. No harm done. We can ride on.’

‘These are the lights of Leamanah Castle ahead of us,’ said the first voice - an English accent – they were, all three, English, guessed Alys. ‘I’ve heard it is a splendid place. Conor O’Brien built a fine new house onto his castle a couple of years ago. We should be comfortable there.’

Comfortable? Alys could not understand. One minute they were plotting murder and the next they were talking about comfort in the house of the man that they planned to murder. Could she warn the household? Put them on their guard? Could she get back to Lemeanah Castle before they did?

They had moved on now. There would be a chance that they could see her if they looked over their shoulders – the road was straight here – but she dare not risk any delay. She must get to Leamanah before they did. She must warn Máire Rua that her husband was in danger. Without giving herself the chance to feel afraid, she plunged through the thick hedge, rapidly crossed the road – it was empty now – the riders had made good progress – gathered up her long skirt in one hand, neatly vaulted the low wall and raced across to the back entrance to Leamanah. She was too late, though. By the time that she arrived, the studded oak front door of the house had been thrown open and there was Máire Rua, splendid in her floor-length purple satin dress, with the light from the torches glistening on the snowy white of its lace collar. And she was welcoming the three horsemen! Welcoming them, holding her hands out to them, calling the children to come and greet them.

From behind the shelter of the small gatehouse, Alys watched. She couldn’t see the three men; they had their backs to her, but she could see the children. There was Donogh, only nine years old, but so grown-up that he too was making a little speech of welcome. Teige and Torlach were shyer – they were hanging back. Five-year-old Honora was making sure that the light fell on her diamond and gold ring which had been left to her by her grandmother, four-year-old Mary beside her, smiling prettily, three-year-old Slaney in her mother’s arms - they were all being patted and kissed by the three strangers. Surely there was nothing suspicious about these men. Alys examined them carefully. She couldn’t see their faces, but she could see their clothes and their outline. They were English; they all spoke English; but they were not Cromwellians. These men were dressed as cavaliers, with long hair and fine lace at their hands and throats. The English cavaliers, the Royalists, who were still loyal to the murdered King Charles, and to his son, who had been crowned Charles II by the Scots, were fighting on the same side of the Irish. Both English Royalists and Irish were called Confederates – they were all part of the same army so why should they plan the murder of Conor O’Brien, who was so important in the Confederation of Kilkenny?

Two of the men were middle-aged, she thought, but the third was not much more than a boy. His voice had sounded young when she heard them on the road and from the back he looked young and slim. Máire Rua must know who they were, must be expecting them. Alys shrank back into the shadow of the wall. If she said anything now, she would just look foolish, she thought. Worse still, she might be turned out of the house before she even started work there. Quietly she turned and slipped away, back through the vegetable garden, across the roads and through the fields, back to Drumshee.

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