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Monday, 10 December 2012

A passage from the book "LION OF IRELAND" by author MORGAN LLYWELYN

By earliest dawn light he could see them, the ranks of men stretching away before him in their neat and unfamiliar geometry. Officers, mounted and on foot, waited with their companies; some with their arms folded across their chests and half sneer hidden by their beards.

The Northmen were only a mile away. There was coughing and foot shifting among the soldiers, and they rippled like pond water, leaning forward, falling back. It would be impossible for all of them to hear him, no matter how strong his voice. He rode his horse slowly to the open space in front of the line, and when he was certain most of them were watching, he drew his sword and held it over his head.

"I am Brian of Boruma!" he called to them, with all the power in his lungs. "I am one of you!" He slid off the horse and stood before them on foot. The horse, uncertain, drifted away and he made no effort to stop it.

There was a gasp in the ranks, and he turned to look behind him. A line of men had come up over the horizon, a dark metallic band that advanced steadily toward them across the plain, dividing to flow through woods and around obstacles and then joining again, one inexorable mass that was coming to crush the Irish forever.

Brian turned back to face his army. The sun was just up now, its first pure light touching his face and picking out the glinting copper threads in his hair.

"I am Brian of Boruma!" he cried again, filling his lungs with the sweet morning air of Ireland. "I am going to die, but I am going to die a free man! If you would be free also, come with me!"

He looked to the side and gave the signal to the right wing to follow him. No one moved. They stood transfixed, staring at the unbelievable numbers of the Northmen who had now come to a halt a half mile away and were drawing themselves into their battle formation.

He set his face toward the enemy, lifted his chin, and began to march forward. He did not look back to see if anyone followed. He heard nothing behind him. The Vikings waited. Sunshine struck sparks from the metal on their bodies; in their hands. They watched in eerie silence as Brian advanced alone. He heard nothing behind him. His belly was hollowed by fear. His guts cramped, anticipating the thrust of a sword. His whole body was suddenly slippery with sweat. Salt rivulets ran down his forehead and into his eyes, stinging him. In a few minutes he would die. But he had to go forward. He heard... something... behind him.

The waiting Northmen tensed, began to move about, Brian could see them shifting their weapons and preparing for some sort of action. A shield wall was raised, as if that was necessary to repel one lone warrior. But Brian was no longer alone. He heard the tramp of feet behind him, the jingle of bits and the rasp of swords being drawn, the slap of leather throwing slings against open palms, the grunt as javelins were hefted and balanced, the rustle and clatter and thunder of an army at his back. An army carried forward by his courage, caught up in it like a net. An army that was powerless to resist the tidal pull of his magnetism. An army, beginning to chant something. "Brian of Boruma! Brian of Boruma!"

He felt them as a weight behind him, a wall at his back, a light shining over his shoulder. The fear still gnawed his vitals, but a pulse had begun to beat in his throat, stronger than the fear, stronger than wine or the desire for women. "Brian Boru! Brian Boru!"

He raised his sword above his head, willing the sunlight to enter it and magnify its brilliance. He heard the men cheer. He heard the men following him. "Brian Boru! Brian Boru! The flesh crawled on the back of his neck. A love pounded through him; love for the mass of them, the faceless unit and the individual man, a love so deep and total he felt it transform him as he advanced. He could not be beaten now.

Following him, they felt it. Their common fear became a common rapture, an exultation that made hearts race and eyes glitter. They were lifted beyond themselves into something greater, something that seemed, at that moment, immortal. "Brian Boru!" He had them now. They were with him like the beats of his heart. "Boru! Boru!" One body of men---his body. One will---his will. "Boru! Boru!" The chant at his back, building. Their strength flooding through him, the wave of their devotion pouring over him, carrying him forward on its crest.

"Boru!" Boru!" They went forward together into the swords, into the axes, and nothing could stop them. Nothing could defeat them. They were the Irish; they were his men. They were Brian. "Boru! Boru! Boru!" And the Northmen fell away before them like wheat from the scythe.

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