Harrison's My Lady Judge, the first Burren mystery
Published by Pan Macmillan
It was then, as it is now, a land of grey stone.
Then, as now, the Burren, on the western seaboard of
Ireland, was a place that had been stripped of almost all
soil. The fields were paved with stone: broad slabs, or
clints of it; the mountains were cones of rough rock, or
spiralling terraces of gleaming limestone. But among those
swirling mountain terraces were tiny stunted bushes of
juniper and of holly; and in the fields, between the
clints, rich sweet grass grew, winter and summer. Then, as
now, the cattle were fat and their owners were prosperous.
Everywhere the stone had been used. Thousands of years
earlier the people of the Burren had built themselves vast
tombs: court tombs, cairns, wedge tombs and huge dolmens,
silhouetted against the sky like the tables of some giant
race. They built miles of stone walls to enclose their
small stony fields, and they built great fortified
dwelling places: cathair, lios, or rath and, later,
monasteries, churches, tall grey crenellated tower houses
and small oblong stone cottages, some in the fields, and
some within the encircling walls of a cathair.
Over four hundred ruins of those ancient cathairs, or
forts, still remain and in the year 1509, many were still
occupied. On the west side of the kingdom was
Cahermacnaghten whose great stone walls, ten foot wide and
twenty foot high, enclosed a law school. The exquisitely
written documents penned within its walls tell the story
of a community, living by the ancient laws of their
forebears in the stony kingdom of the Burren.
To the east of the kingdom stood the mountain of
Mullaghmore. The great sheets of ice that swept across the
west of Ireland almost a million years ago had gouged out
terrace piled on terrace of gleaming bare limestone, and
left Mullaghmore towering over the flat stone pavements in
the south-eastern corner of the Burren. This high and
lonely hill was, from time immemorial, an ancient place of
pilgrimage. The Celts climbed it to celebrate their great
festivals: Lughnasa, Samhain, Imbolc, and Bealtaine; and
the descendents of the Celts continued to climb it on the
Christian festivals of Lammas, Halloween, St Brigid’s Day
and May Day.
On the eve of the first of May, in the year 1509,
people from all over the Burren, young and old, climbed
the mountain. The young men carried bundles of hazel rods
for the bonfire and heavy leather bags filled with strong
Spanish wine. The girls wore flowers in their hair and
carried baskets of food. Many carried fiddles, horns or
pipes and all sang on the slow climb up the stony
When the moon rose to its midnight height they lit a
great bonfire and danced and sang until grey dawn came,
and the singing of thousands of small birds joined the
chorus of human voices. Then, young and old, they went
back down the mountain and made their way home to cathair,
lios, or rath, to the tall grey tower houses, or to the
small oblong stone cottages.
But one man did not come back down that steeply
spiralling path. His body lay exposed to the ravens and to
the wolves on the side of that bare mountain for one whole
day and two nights and no one spoke of him, or told what
they had seen.
And when Mara, Brehon of the Burren, a woman appointed
by King Turlough Donn O’Brien to be judge and lawgiver to
that stony kingdom, came to investigate she was met with a
wall of silence.
British Library: MS vellum leaves:
Notes and Fragments of Early Irish Law, or Brehon Law,
transcribed by law-scholars, in the mid-sixteenth century,
at Cahermacnaghten Law School in the Barony of Burren,
west of Ireland.
One older document, dating from the beginning of the
sixteenth century, consisting of judgements texts and case
notes from the time when Burren was a kingdom under the
rule of King Turlough Donn O’Brien. These notes are signed
by Mara, a female judge, or Brehon, from this era.
Early summer in the Burren has a glory about it: in the
valleys a glory of soft greens, creamy hawthorn blossom
and purple foxgloves; on the sparkling limestone of the
uplands tiny jewel-like flowers of purple, yellow and blue
sprinkled in the grykes between the flat shining slabs of
stone. Orange tip butterflies swoop among the cuckoo
flowers, vibrant blue-green dragonflies haunt the crystal
waters of the spring wells and larks soar high above the
The sky, on that morning of the eve of Bealtaine 1509,
was a clear bright blue with wisps of bog-cotton clouds
drifting slowly across. There had been rain during the
night, but the heat of the sun was already strong enough
to draw a fine mist from the clints that paved the fields,
turning the limestone from blue-black to silver-grey and
warming the massive stone walls that enclosed the
scholars’ house, the farm manager’s house, the guest
house, the schoolhouse and the kitchen house of the law
school of Cahermacnaghten. No one was awake there - no
sound of scholars’ voices, no clatter of breakfast pans,
no clank of the water pump. All was silent except for the
excited high vit, vit, veet call of the swallows and the
distant lowing of cows, knee-deep in the golden dust of
A hundred yards away from the law school was the
Brehon’s house, a substantial two-storey building of
well-cut stone with a wispy plume of aromatic peat smoke
drifting from the central chimney. Around the house was a
garden of about one acre. From the front door to the gate
ran a path of stone flags lined with pots of lilies. A
small woodland of hazel trees to the west protected the
plants against the strong salt-laden winds from the
Atlantic. To the north was a hedge of gleaming dark green
holly, tall white flowers growing in its shelter. To the
east and the south were low hedges of perfumed lavender
and in the centre a gently curving bed crammed with tiny
blue gentians twisted and coiled through the garden.
In the garden Mara, Brehon of the Burren, was kneeling
on the path pulling out weeds from amongst her gentians.
She was a tall woman, still slim despite her thirty-six
years of hearty eating, and her raven-black hair, plaited
and coiled at the back of her neck, showed no signs of
grey. She wore the traditional linen léine, a creamy white
tunic which suited her dark hair and her olive skin. Over
it she wore a green fitted gown, laced up at the front,
its flowing sleeves caught in tightly at the wrist.
Mara was an immensely busy woman with responsibility
for the law school as well as for maintaining law and
order in the stony kingdom of the Burren, so these few
moments that she spent every day in her garden in the
early morning, or late evening, were very important to
her. However, she was also a very sociable person who
enjoyed a chat with her neighbours so when footsteps
sounded on the stone road that ran between Cahermacnaghten
and Baur North, she looked across the wall.
‘You’re out early, Brehon.’ The voice was familiar and
with a smile of pleasure Mara stood up, abandoning her
‘It’s a beautiful morning, Diarmuid,’ she said.
‘Yes, it’s a beautiful morning, God bless it. The grass
is beginning to grow fast now with the strength of the
sun. It’ll soon be haymaking time.’
‘Would you like a cup of ale?’
‘No, no,’ Diarmuid said, shaking his head.
Mara said no more, just waited. Diarmuid O’Connor would
not be walking along the road past Cahermacnaghten so soon
after dawn just to discuss the weather with her. Something
else was troubling him
‘I was hoping I might see you,’ he said eventually,
avoiding her eyes.
She surveyed him carefully. He was about her own age, a
man of medium height and red-blond hair, his skin covered
with freckles from daily exposure to the clear skies and
the fierce winds of the Atlantic. She had known him since
they were both children; she knew him to be trustworthy, a
good neighbour, loyal to his clan, to his neighbours and a
self-sufficient man. He lived alone on a farm in North
Baur, about a mile from Cahermacnaghten.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.
He fidgeted uneasily. She suspected that he would have
preferred to go on talking about the weather.
‘Well, you know there has been a bit of trouble between
our kin-group and the MacNamaras?’ he asked after a while.
‘Yes,’ she said encouragingly.
‘Well, my brown cow was missing this morning,’ he went
on. ‘I went to look at her first thing. I thought she
might have dropped a calf last night, but she wasn’t
‘Was she out in the field overnight, then?’ asked Mara.
Diarmuid shook his head. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I put her in
the little cabin just next to the house last night. I knew
I’d hear her there if she was distressed. It’s just beside
my window. She was shut in securely. There’s a latch on
the door and there’s a bolt on the gate to the yard. This
morning I found the door was wide open, and the cow was
gone. She was stolen; there’s no doubt about it. And I can
guess who stole her.’
Mara frowned. This was bad news. At best, an uneasy
peace existed between the O’Connors and the MacNamaras.
Absent-mindedly she dusted the earth from her fingers.
‘Walk down to the school house with me, Diarmuid,’ she
said. Smoke was beginning to drift up from the kitchen
house within the law school enclosure and they could hear
a few raucous boyish shouts from the scholars’ house. The
corners of her mouth relaxed; she always enjoyed her
scholars, their high spirits and their energy kept her
‘I’ve disturbed your peace,’ said Diarmuid with his
‘No, no,’ she said absent-mindedly as she replaced her
small fork in the willow basket beside her and walked
towards the gate. Then she frowned again. The shouts were
silenced by a scolding, slightly high-pitched masculine
voice. Colman was so stupid, she thought vehemently. Why
couldn’t he leave them alone? He would have more authority
with the boys if he allowed them to indulge in a few high
spirits when it didn’t matter. Why did I ever take him on
as junior master, she asked herself for the hundredth
‘I’ll send my assistant Colman to take notes,’ she said
quickly. ‘We’ll go and get him now and you can tell him
everything. I’ll hear the case at today’s judgement day.’
This will be something for Colman to do this morning,
she thought with relief as she walked down the road at
Diarmuid’s side. Once the young man had finished his
studies and graduated from Cahermacnaghten she should have
let him go off as a wandering aigne, or advocate-lawyer.
He was clever; he would have made his way. He would have
earned far more than she gave him. It had been weak of her
to agree to his suggestion that he do a year’s teaching at
the law school to broaden his experience before he left.
She had been worried about him; that was why she thought
another year under her influence would be good for him.
Now it seemed that she was forever inventing ways to get
him away from the boys for a while and relieved whenever
he absented himself to go to Galway.
You’ll come in and have a cup of ale while you’re
waiting for him, won’t you?’ she asked Diarmuid when they
reached the law school.
‘Just a doiche an dorus, then.’ He followed her
through the great iron gate of the law school and into the
enclosure. The six law scholars were dashing out of the
scholars’ house and calling out greetings to her with
broad smiles on their faces. They all looked unusually
neat and tidy, she noticed, faces shining from soap and
water, damp hair showing the ridges of the combs that had
been ploughed through the tangles, leather boots shining
with polish. The night before Brigid would have put out
the clean léinte, tunics of bleached linen, for
them. Today was an important day for the law school of
Cahermacnaghten. Today was one of the four big judgement
days on the Burren, the eve of Bealtaine.
Mara eyed them affectionately. From eighteen-year-old
Fachtnan to ten-year-old Shane they were like a family to
her, closer in some ways than her two grandchildren in
Galway. She noticed with concern that twelve-year-old Hugh
looked a little tearful. There was a red mark across one
of his cheeks and at that sight her lips tightened in
exasperation. She had told Colman again and again that
there was no need for him to hit those boys; they were all
so motivated to learn and to succeed at the difficult
profession of lawyer that a withdrawal of privileges was
the only punishment ever necessary. Hugh’s mother had died
a few months earlier of the sweating sickness, picked up
on a visit to the city of Galway, and Hugh had been
nervous and anxious ever since. Colman should know that.
She would speak to him later, she decided, but she would
say nothing in front of the scholars. She could not
undermine his authority.
‘Colman,’ she said coldly, ‘will you take your
breakfast quickly and go with Diarmuid. He has had a cow
stolen. Make notes of the case and bring them back to me
as quickly as possible so that I may study them before we
go to Poulnabrone at noon. Hugh,’ she added gently with a
smile, ‘will you bring our visitor a cup of ale and one of
Brigid’s oat cakes?’
‘Just a doiche an dorus,’ repeated Diarmuid
standing carefully by the heavy wooden door of the kitchen
house to prove that, quite literally, this was just to be
a drink at the doorway. He tossed down the cup of ale that
Hugh brought to him and disposed of the oatcake in two
rapid bites. Colman grabbed a couple of oatcakes for
himself then went rapidly out of the kitchen house and
crossed the stone-flagged enclosure.
Mara followed him into the schoolhouse. She found him
packing some leaves of vellum, a quill and an inkhorn into
his leather satchel.
‘Take careful notes, Colman,’ she said. ‘Do a drawing
of the house and the cabin where the cow was and the
position of the gate. Look for any footmarks.’ She walked
towards the door and then added over her shoulder, ‘Come
on, Colman, Diarmuid is waiting for you at the gate.’
He fidgeted a little, obviously wasting time, filling
the horn with fresh ink from the flask, rejecting the
first quill and then selecting one more to his liking,
leafing through some of the scrolls of judgement texts
from the shelves. ‘Would you ask him to go ahead, Brehon,’
he said with his usual smooth politeness, but with a
slight trace of panic in his light-toned voice. The
tightened lips of his narrow mouth distorted his pale,
small-featured face. Mara looked at him in surprise and
then his cheeks flushed with blotches of red.
‘That will give him time to lock up his dog,’ he said
nervously running his fingers through his yellow hair.
Mara concealed a smile. So that was it! Of course, she
had forgotten about the dog. Diarmuid’s dog was famous for
its ferocity and Colman, a sly, undersized, nervous child,
had been always terrified of dogs; he had even been
frightened of her big wolfhound, the mother of her present
dog, Bran. He had been a strange child: a very hard
worker, obsessional about making lists of tasks to be
done, studying continually and shunning the play
activities of the other lads. Even when he was older, he
never petted or played with Bran, the gentlest wolfhound
on the Burren, in the way that the other scholars did. She
looked out at Diarmuid, still waiting patiently at the
gate, and swiftly made up her mind. Colman would not do
justice to this case if he were worried about Diarmuid’s
dog. He would just accept Diarmuid’s explanation that the
missing cow had been taken by a member of the rival clan
and then get back to the law school as soon as possible.
‘I’ll come with you,’ she said aloud. ‘I think I should
look into this case myself. You can take the notes.’
He bowed stiffly, looking angry and humiliated, but she
ignored him and glanced across the cobbled yard of the
enclosure. ‘Fachtnan,’ she called and the dark-haired
eighteen-year-old ran out of the kitchen and across the
enclosure still stuffing an oatcake into his mouth. She
looked at him with affection. He was the exact opposite to
Colman; she thought, tall, broad-shouldered, kind, open
and honest, with a thatch of rough dark hair and a pair of
gentle brown eyes. He had always been a great favourite of
‘Yes, Brehon,’ he said indistinctly.
‘Fachtnan, you organise a chess tournament for the
lads,’ said Mara. ‘Tell them that there will be a prize
for the winner - some silver to spend at the fair this
evening.’ I’ll have to make sure that Hugh gets a prize,
she thought, and little Shane also. These two had been
with her since they were five years old and they had a
special place in her heart. She would probably end up
giving prizes to everyone, she thought wryly, but it would
be worth it to keep them clean and tidy until noon.
Mara joined the farmer. ‘I’ll walk down with you,
Diarmuid, I may as well take a walk. I’ll be sitting for
most of the afternoon and perhaps the early evening. There
are quite a few cases already for judgement day and we may
have yours to add to them also.’
He smiled with pleasure and she smiled back. She was
fond of Diarmuid and at times she suspected that he was
more than fond of her.
At that moment a huge white wolfhound came lolloping
across the road to join them. ‘ No, go back, Bran. Stay at
home, good dog.’ Bran’s tail drooped, he was a very
sensitive and devoted dog, but he obediently turned back
and went towards the kitchen house.
‘Yes, better not take him,’ said Diarmuid, ‘my dog is a
bit of a fighter. A lovely dog to me, but he doesn’t like
the rest of the world too much. Is King Turlough Donn
himself coming today for the judgement day?
‘He is, indeed,’ said Mara, smiling with satisfaction.
She always enjoyed a visit from Turlough Donn O’Brien,
king of three kingdoms: the large kingdom of Thomond and
the two smaller kingdoms of Burren and Corcomroe. They
would have supper together after the judgements were over
- Brigid, her housekeeper, had orders to cook a couple of
wild duck and they would have a fine flagon of French wine
to go with it.
‘You won’t be going up Mullaghmore tonight, then,’ said
Diarmuid after they had climbed a few unstable stone walls
and set off striding across the stone pavements of North
Baur. The heat of the sun was bringing out the sharp
bittersweet smell of the ground-hugging juniper growing in
the grykes between the slabs of rock that paved the
‘No, I won’t,’ said Mara neatly jumping the gryke and
then bending down to pick a few needles of juniper. She
pinched them between her thumb and forefinger nail and
then held the little bundle to her nose. ‘I’ll have to
entertain the king. Colman will look after the lads for me
when they are on the mountain,’ she said trying to include
her assistant in the conversation. Her consciousness that
she disliked Colman, and that she had always disliked him,
made her make more efforts with him than she did with
Fachtnan. ‘Are you going yourself, Diarmuid?’ she asked.
‘I thought I might,’ he admitted. ‘It’s time that I
gave the old fiddle an outing. The evening promises fine.’
‘Of course I knew you would be going; they wouldn’t be
able to do without you. I’d dance myself if I heard a tune
from your fiddle,’ she said with a smile. Colman, she
noticed to her annoyance, was staring into the middle
distance with his usual air of slightly despising the
company that he was in.
‘Rory the bard has made up a new song - there’s a bit
about your garden in it - the garden from heaven tied with
a ribbon of blue, he calls it in the song - and I’ve been
practising a tune to go with it,’ said Diarmuid. ‘It’s a
great tune, as lively as yourself. Are you sure you won’t
come tonight? You do every year.’
‘I’ve promised King Turlough a good dinner, otherwise I
might, just to hear your tune,’ she said. ‘I can hear your
dog bark,’ she added. ‘He knows there are strangers
coming. I always hear him if I go along this road.’ She
half-glanced at Colman to see if he had picked up the
clue, but no trace of interest showed on his narrow face.
No doubt he wished he were back in the schoolhouse
studying Latin or the wisdom texts, she thought. Probably
he would be better off staying in a law school as an
assistant master. He would not make a good Brehon. Not my
law school, though, she thought with exasperation. She
wondered whether she could get Fergus, the Brehon in the
kingdom of Corcomroe, to take him on.
Diarmuid’s dog was huge: huge and ferocious. Mara
surveyed him with interest, avoiding eye contact so as not
excite him too much. He lunged against the gate and his
bark reverberated off the slopes of the Aillwee Hill. She
turned away, but the dog still continued to deafen them
with his barks. Mara nodded to herself. Yes, she was
right. This was not a rival clan raid.
‘Wait a minute,’ said Diarmuid. ‘I’ll shut him up in
the cabin.’ He squeezed his bulky frame through the narrow
gate, taking extreme care not to allow the frantic dog
through, and then shut the gate carefully after him. It
had a large bolt on the inside, just at the top of the
gate, noticed Mara, easy enough for a man to open it from
the outside, but then what man would dare to do this with
such a ferocious guardian inside the gate? The dog, she
noticed with interest, was not barking now but was jumping
wildly around Diarmuid, licking the man’s hands and
wagging his tail as a puppy would. He was a beautiful dog,
almost as tall as a wolfhound, black and tan in colour
with an enormous ruff around his neck, pricked-up ears and
a large domed head.
‘Where did you get him from, Diarmuid?’ she asked,
speaking softly and keeping her eyes averted from the dog
so as not to provoke another storm of barking.
‘I got him from my cousin, Lorcan,’ said Diarmuid.
Mara gave herself another congratulatory nod. Her
memory had not failed her.
‘Lorcan had him for a year,’ continued Diarmuid, ‘ but
he was getting too much for him. He was great with Lorcan,
himself; you can see what a loving fellow he is with his
own family. But he’s a difficult dog and Lorcan wasn’t
good at fencing him in. He did a lot of damage and people
were scared of him. He’s half-wolf, you know. Lorcan had a
big sheepdog bitch that was in season so he staked her out
by Mullaghmore, there where the lake is, at the bottom of
the mountain. A wolf mated with her.’
‘Took a bit of a risk with his dog, didn’t he,’ said
Mara tartly, furious at the thought of the unfortunate dog
left staked out there at the mercy of the wolves. But she
knew from long experience that everything she said or did
was of great interest to the people of the Burren, who
were proud of their woman Brehon. Her slightest word was
taken up, inflated and blown all over the Burren. So, as
she had done so often, she bit back the angry words and
watched Diarmuid fondle the wolf-dog.
‘You could say that,’ agreed Diarmuid. ‘You see the
puppies were all too big for the poor bitch. They all died
except for this fellow, and the bitch died after she had
‘What’s his name?’ asked Mara.
‘I call him "Wolf,"‘ replied Diarmuid. ‘He looks like a
wolf, though he’s finer than any wolf that I have ever
‘And he didn’t bark last night,’ stated Mara.
‘No, he didn’t,’ said Diarmuid with surprise. ‘How did
you guess that?’
Mara smiled. ‘I think we’ll take a walk down to
Lorcan’s farm, Diarmuid.’
‘But…but what about the cow?’ asked Diarmuid staring at
her in bewilderment. ‘Don’t you want to see the cabin? And
what about Eoin MacNamara?’
Mara smiled sweetly at him. ‘Come on, Diarmuid, you
know what I’m like about dogs. I’d like to find out more
about Wolf. Let’s go down to Lorcan; it’s not far. I’m not
forgetting about your cow, I promise you that. You come,
too, Colman.’ There had been no need to add that, she
thought. Colman would not have liked to stay there with
that ferocious dog, called Wolf.
Lorcan’s farm was at Cregavockoge, a lush valley below
the flat high tableland that spanned the three miles
between Cahermacnaghten and the dolmen at Poulnabrone. The
grass in this valley, growing thickly in the well-drained
rich soil that lay above the limestone, was a rich soft
green. There were several small farms there, but Lorcan’s
stood out from the rest by the dark brown muddy fields and
the broken-backed walls. His cottage was small, as were
most of the cottages on the Burren. Lorcan’s cottage,
however, was not snowy white like the other cottages, but
a dingy grey with moss growing on the badly thatched roof.
It looked as though he had not repaired the thatch nor
lime-washed his walls for years. Mara looked at it with
interest. Lorcan O’Connor was obviously a poor farmer. The
fields were over-grazed and thistles and ragwort had
seeded themselves everywhere into ugly clumps.
Lorcan himself was in his yard. Mara moved quickly,
striding out ahead of Diarmuid and Colman. She passed the
bemused Lorcan with a friendly smile and went confidently
through the filthy yard to the small cabin beside the
house. There was a cow there. It was a handsome well-fed
large brown cow, quite unlike the small dark cattle that
she had seen in the fields. The cow was obviously in calf.
‘Diarmuid,’ she said over her shoulder. ‘What do you
think of this cow?’
Looking puzzled, Diarmuid came forward. He still
suspected nothing, thought Mara. He was an honest man
himself and he expected the world around him, especially
one of his own kin-group, to be equally honest. The cow,
however, had no doubts. She gave a robust ‘moo’, lumbered
out of the cabin and put her head affectionately on
Diarmuid’s shoulder. Diarmuid patted her absent-mindedly
and stared speechlessly at his cousin.
Mara looked at Lorcan. ‘Can you explain what Diarmuid’s
cow is doing in your cabin, Lorcan?’ she asked quietly.
Lorcan stared back at her but said nothing. There was a
flare of panic in his widely opened eyes.
‘Well,’ said Diarmuid. Words seemed to have left him
and it took him a few minutes before he said with dignity.
‘I’m sorry that you did a thing like that, Lorcan. It
wasn’t very neighbourly and it wasn’t very cousinly. I’ll
be taking the cow back to my place now and it will be a
miracle if her calf is born safe after all of this.’
‘I found her straying,’ muttered Lorcan.
‘No, you didn’t,’ said Diarmuid scornfully.
‘And, Lorcan, I’ll see you today at Poulnabrone,’ said
Mara firmly. ‘I’ll hear the case and I’ll apportion a
‘I’m a very poor man, Brehon,’ said Lorcan piteously.
‘The young master here knows that,’ he added looking at
‘That’s true,’ said Colman unexpectedly. Mara shot him
an irritated glance, but kept a firm grip on her rising
temper. She marched back out of the dung-filled yard and
waited at the roadway. Diarmuid followed, leading his
precious cow carefully with a handful of hay to her nose.
Colman, noticed Mara, had stopped for a quick word with
Lorcan before picking his way carefully out to join them.
She concealed a smile as she watched him. His rather sharp
nose was twitching uneasily and his narrow shoulders were
contracted as if he shunned his surroundings. It was easy
to see that he had never been a country boy.
‘Well,’ said Diarmuid heartily when they were out of
Lorcan’s hearing, ‘I don’t know how you guessed that,
Brehon. You’re a great woman entirely. That was the last
person that I would have thought of. My own cousin!’
‘Ah well, it was easy,’ said Mara modestly. ‘That’s a
good dog you have there, Diarmuid. Some day when I have a
bit of time on my hands I’ll come over and try to make
friends with him. I’d say he would have been better if you
had had him when he was a puppy. He needs to learn to
trust people that you trust. He needs to get out and about
a bit more.’
While she spoke, Mara’s mind was busy with the problem
of Colman. It was odd how he was only now beginning to
show himself for what he was. It was as if, while he was a
student, he had kept a close guard on himself and tried
his best to fit in with her way of thinking. Otherwise,
she would never have appointed him. Luckily it was only
for a year and the year would end soon. I’m not going to
have him behave like this, though, she thought with
After they had parted from Diarmuid and his cow, going
shoulder to shoulder down the road to Baur North, Mara
said mildly, ‘It was not a good idea to agree with Lorcan
there, Colman. You can rely on me to apportion a just
fine. Now he may think that he can twist and wheedle his
way out of anything.’
‘I was just following your instructions to be
sympathetic and understanding to people, Brehon,’ said
Mara tightened her lips, but said no more. They walked
in silence along the road and then turned into
Cumhal, Brigid’s husband, was sweeping the flagged
surface of the enclosure. Brigid herself was scrubbing out
the kitchen and singing loudly and the schoolhouse rang
with the shouts of the boys playing chess in their usual
‘Thank you, Fachtnan,’ said Mara as she entered. She
could see that Fachtnan had worked out an intricate
tournament on the whitewashed piece of board that she used
for her lessons. Each boy was allocated points according
to his age. Unfortunately Fachtnan had managed to get some
black specks from the charred stick, which he had been
using to write on the board, onto his clean léine, but no
doubt Brigid would manage to make the tunic presentable
before the judgement session.
‘You touched your castle; you must move it now,’ yelled
‘No, I didn’t,’ yelled Hugh. ‘My hand just hovered; it
And then quite suddenly Hugh caught sight of Colman
emerging from behind Mara. His eyes locked on Colman’s
with the look of panic that comes into the eyes of a baby
rabbit in a snare. What had Colman done to that boy,
thought Mara? She scowled and then her lips relaxed into a
slightly vindictive smile. Let Colman have a taste of his
own medicine. It would do him good to know what it was
like to be terrified. At least she would get rid of him
for the rest of the morning. She turned to her assistant.
‘Colman,’ she said. ‘I think we should probably have
the dog at the judgement session, don’t you? After all, he
may be an important witness. Go back and tell Diarmuid to
bring him to Poulnabrone. Wait with him. Stay at the
farmyard all the morning and take note of the behaviour of
the dog when strangers come near to him. Come with
Diarmuid to Poulnabrone and you can give evidence and of
course you will be able to help Diarmuid to control the
dog. It’s an interesting case.’
This should amuse King Turlough Donn, she thought with
a smile. This case may go down in the history of judgement
texts. The case of the silent witness: the dog who did not