“Colán & Máire”

(First 10 Pages)

Prince Colán O’Dorchaidhe stood atop a lush, green rolling hill in the pastureland of Galway, a thriving port town on Ireland’s west coast. Standing at least six foot two, broad-shouldered and handsome, his solid muscular frame dwarfed the lad beside him.

Colán raised his longbow and took aim. “Prince O’Dorchaidhe,” he heard called as his mossy, green eyes patiently followed the arc of an arrow shot high by his squire. “At last I’ve found you.” Colán loosed his arrow ahead of the squire’s arrow, anticipating the continuation of flight. Colán’s arrow struck the squire’s arrow mid-flight, setting it spinning. “Excellent shot, my liege.”

     Colán lowered his longbow and turned to see Lord O’Madaidhin. Father’s favorite bootlicker. The lessor lord panting and the thin layer of dust on his brocade garments were proof he’d just run up the road before crossing the field. “Thank you,” Colán said.

     “It would not work with arrows coming toward us,” the squire said.

     “You see arrows coming toward us get under your shield, lad,” Colán said bending his back leg and lifting his forearm of his shield arm, up above his forehead.

     The squire frowned as he and Colán had no shields with them, but knew better than to ask with Lord O’Madaidhin standing there.

     Lord O’Madaidhin cleared his throat. “His grace, your father, demands your presence at once, my prince,” he said with importance. Colán’s eyes dissected the intruder.  Lord O’Madaidhin lowered his eyes and bowed his head.

     Colán nodded and without a word his squire threw the quiver over his shoulder and ran to fetch the arrows.

     When Colán arrived at O’Dorchaidhe Castle he was informed his father was awaiting him in the counting room. Ah, great… Colán groaned and handed the longbow to his squire.

     Alone, he ascended the massive stone staircase, rounded the column at the top and hurried down the south bedchamber corridor to a chamber opposite his father’s bedchamber and pushed open the heavy mahogany door to the counting room.  All but one of his four brother’s were already there. This is bad…    

     Prince Bríon O’Dorchaidhe, King Tynan O’Dorchaidhe’s second son, stood next to his father, who sat at his impressive oak counting table. Bríon, the slenderest of Colán’s brothers, appeared to be the tallest though he was shorter than both Faolan and Iollan.

     Tired of waiting King Tynan O’Dorchaidhe flicked his hand at Bríon said, “Begin.”

     Bríon lifted a fine parchment and gave it a firm shake, indicating the letter was the matter at hand. Prince Iollan O’Dorchaidhe, the youngest of the lot, entered the counting chamber silently and slunk into the chair adjacent the door. “Father received a letter from King Ruairi Domhnall of the Domhnall clan. Anyone know from where they hail?” Bríon asked with a lift of his brows.

     “Donegal,” Iollan said, the leather chair squeaking as he slumped comfortably.

     “Aye, Donegal,” Bríon said, sounding surprised.

     Prince Aodhán O’Dorchaidhe turned in his seat to look over his shoulder. “Well, look at that,” the third-born son said, more in regard to Iollan’s appearance than his knowledge. He pursed his full lips and eyed his half-besotted brother with disdain.

     “Perhaps King Domhnall bought Iollan an ale or two,” Prince Faolan O’Dorchaidhe added sarcastically.

     They all chuckled, including Iollan. “I pay attention to what’s what and who’s who,” Iollan said, fingering the brown leather straps that hung about his left wrist like falcon jesses. “I know every coat-of-arms on this island.”

     “And every maker of ale,” Faolan said.

     Again they all laughed and Iollan made one knowing nod, eyebrows raised.

     Bríon continued. “It seems King Domhnall has made the offer of marriage to his eldest daughter, with a generous dowry, to be sure, to the eldest eligible O’Dorchaidhe son.”

     All eyes turned to Faolan. “Have they now?” he said. Faolan was the eldest and physically largest of the O’Dorchaidhe brothers—brutally handsome and his height did not slenderize his broad physique. His eyes were a piercing, cold shade of emerald green.

     Bríon continued. “They stipulated that the protection of Donegal is their greatest concern and share their belief that the mere presence of the O’Dorchaidhes in Donegal is enough to deter the Vikings from landing there.”

     “Our mere presence?” Faolan asked.

     “As we have beaten them before,” Bríon said, motioning with his fist to emphasize his point.

     Both Faolan and Aodhán eyed Colán who had no reaction, then they returned their attention to Bríon.

     “What do we know of them?” Faolan asked. “Father?”

     “I met the man. At Tara. Years ago.” He nodded. “King Domhnall’s a man of substantial worth, I remember that.”

     “I do not recall meeting any Domhnalls at a tournament of arms or even a highland games for that matter,” Faolan said.

     “I believe he has no rightful heir,” King O’Dorchaidhe said. “I do not know as that I met the lasses.”

     “Lasses?” Aodhán asked, his interest piqued. The most handsome of the lads and the only brother with eyes of blue, Aodhán was sure to be where there were lasses.

     “I recall he’s two or three about,” King O’Dorchaidhe said.

     Aodhán nodded slowly at Colán. Colán shook his head.

     “Two or three? Lord!” Faolan said. “He will need substantial worth for the dowries.”

     “And you will all need substantial dowries if we are to keep our worth.” King O’Dorchaidhe answered quickly, and pointed his finger at Faolan and panned it across to point at his other sons as well.

      Good Lord. Colán shook his head.

     “And what of his eldest daughter?” Faolan asked.

     “Aye, what does she look like?” Aodhán asked.

     “Is she small and perky or does she hang low?” Iollan asked.

     “How old is she?” Aodhán exclaimed with astonishment.  They all laughed.

     “Well, perhaps you should have a look,” King O’Dorchaidhe said.  He straightened in his chair and leaned forward.  “Then there is the matter of your beards.” 

     Colán groaned internally.  None of the O’Dorchaidhe lads had beards.

     “Father, we do not…” Bríon began.

     “I shall handle this,” Aodhán said, raising his hand.  “Father, why should we conceal this,” he said, indicating his visage with a circular hand motion. “You must agree, certainly our faces set us apart from the average prince or noble…”

     “A fine tradition it is to have a beard,” Faolan interrupted, moving his hand in a circular motion around his own face, “but while we are handsome and fair…” 

    “Or fairly handsome,” Aodhán interrupted, moving his hand in a circular motion toward Bríon, causing Iollan to break into a fit of laughter.

     “…we should use our countenance to our advantage,” Faolan finished.

     Aodhán said, “To be sure we shall fair better in the eyes of the lasses you contract us to marry.”

     “Do shut it, Aodhán,” Faolan said.  Iollan laughed harder still.

     “Out!  Out!  All of you!” King O’Dorchaidhe exclaimed.

The O'Dorchaidhes were coming and all manner of preparations consumed Donegal. Donegal Castle was bustling with activity.

Princess Máire watched the hustle and bustle perched high in her favorite climbing tree—a formidable birch.  

   Máire was an intrepid climber and as soon as her daily lessons finished she rushed outside and straight to her favorite tree.  She climbed quicker than usual until she got to the height where she could observe the whole marketplace at once.

   She sat for quite some time and marveled at the scene before her.  So much fuss…

   “There you are!” Princess Aoife projected.  “Come down from there at once!  We must ready Muad for the O’Dorchaidhes.”

    Ready Muad for the O’Dorchaidhes.  Oh, dear…  Máire sighed.

   Aoife and Máire were going to the marketplace for the sole purpose of purchasing items to pretty Muad.

   The third-born daughter of King Ruairi Dohmnall, Princess Máire rarely thought about beauty or suitors—outside of what she was taught in her courtly lessons regarding how to behave with suitors.  She couldn’t be bothered with court gossip and found the pouting and preening of court ladies frivolous and tiresome.  Máire much preferred climbing trees or walking through the marketplace among the people of Donegal.

   King Ruairi’s second daughter, Princess Aoife, on the other hand, loved the gossip and attention and was often the center of intrigue or the subject of conversation.

   Aoife had light auburn hair and piercing blue eyes. Of her sisters she was undoubtedly the most beautiful, and she knew it. Máire was more of a natural beauty with soft features, soft blue eyes and mousy-brown hair. She had an elegance to her movements that was etherial, not taught.

   While shopping in the marketplace Princesses Aoife and Máire bought fine fabrics and ribbons. They bought tincture made from red currants to rouge Muad’s cheeks and redden her lips. They bought a beautiful hand-crafted rose gold comb for Muad’s hair. 

   When Princess Aoife was satisfied with their purchases the princesses headed back to the castle through the marketplace. They were giggling, seeing the animals at market in their pens, and remarking on how silly the animals in heat behaved.

   “Sniffing about and licking themselves! It is truly laughable!” Aoife said.

   Lord O’Maolagáin was walking with Lords Cleireigh and Fearadhaigh.  He proudly stepped in front of the lasses.

   “Good day, Your Highnesses,” Lords O’Maolagáin, Cleireigh and Fearadhaigh all said.

   “Good day, my lords” Aoife and Máire both said.  They curtsied and tried to step around the lords.

   “Certainly my ladies are excited for the coming of our visitors,” Lord O’Maolagáin said.

   “Certainly, my lord.” Aoife said.  

   “It is good to see you both looking so well as the O’Dorchaidhes shall be in Donegal within the week,” Lord O’Maolagáin said.

   “I thank you, my lord.” Aoife’s curiosity embolden her to ask, “What do you know of the O’Dorchaidhes?”

   “Oh, Your Highness, they’re dark Irish,” Lord Fearadhaigh, a thin nobleman with a splash of fiery red hair said, stepping forward as he answered her.  “Their hair is black as a raven’s wing and their eyes are a scary green, like a wild cat…”, he said raising his hands and widening his eyes as he spoke, which made him appear even thinner.

   How dreadful…  Máire caught her breath. 

   “Not all dark Irish have green eyes,” Lord Cleireigh said with a laugh that shook his potbelly, “but aye, their hair is dark.”

   Lord O’Maolagáin, a man of particular worth and importance in Donegal, said, “They are five brothers. Princes. Each with his own army, Your Highnesses. They are fierce fighters. They have defeated the Vikings and kept them from invading their shores. We’ve invited the O’Dorchaidhes here…if the Vikings saw they were here, perhaps they’d think better of landing here.”

   “You think their mere presence will keep the Vikings from landing?” Lord Fearadhaigh asked.

   “They’d scare you away,” Lord Cleireigh said. “With their dark hair and their scary green eyes.”

    Everyone laughed heartily.

   “Well, I thank you for that brilliant description, my lords,” Aoife said, pulling Máire as she slipped around them. “Begging your pardon, my lords, we really must go.”

   They hastened their steps and rushed away from the nobles, ducking into the bread-sellers. Having made their escape, they once again giggled.

   The approach of the O’Dorchaidhes was a constant subject through all of Donegal and of course most of the attention focused on the eldest Domhnall lasses, Princesses Muad and Aoife. They needed to be proper ladies. They needed to look their best. They needed to be thoughtful and kind and humble so Princess Muad could win the heart of a valiant, noble Prince O’Dorchaidhe.

   Speaking to the lords caused both of their thoughts to return to their eldest sister, Muad. Surely the pressure is on Muad as she will be the first to marry. 

   “Poor Muad,” Aoife said. “She’s no idea what they are all saying.”

   Máire nodded. “Thank the Lord for it,” Máire said.

   “If only she was not so…ugly.”


   “Oh, please, Máire. The O’Dorchaidhes will take one look at her and slaughter us for wasting their time.”

   “Is that not why we bought…”

   “If we could only get her to smile more,” Aoife said.

   This worried Máire.  A forced smile on Muad is far worse than no smile at all.  Not wanting to hear further insults about Muad, Máire asked, “So how do you suppose we shall think of these O’Dorchaidhes?”

   “Well,” Aoife seemed unsure. She looked up at the bread baskets on the shelf and shrugged. “They are brute fighters who conquer everyone, even the Vikings.  I’ve no idea how old they are.  Hopefully they are younger than Lord O’Maolagáin.”

   Lord O’Maolagáin was a hairy, bearded, bear of a man at least twenty years their senior.  “They sound dreadful,” Máire said.

   Aoife nodded. 

   “Would you be needing anything, my princess?” a stout woman asked Aoife.

   Aoife laughed with an air of complacency in reply and tugged Máire out of the bread-seller’s shop with her.

The massive stone structure of O’Dorchaidhe Castle rose majestically as if overseeing the whole scene as four of the five Galway princes and their respective armies assembled and made ready for their journey to Donegal in the rolling, green pastureland along the road that led to O’Dorchaidhe Castle. Their voyage would take them through the heart of Connacht, through Claremont then up to Singa, then skirting the coastline of Donegal Bay to Donegal.

Prince Bríon O’Dorchaidhe, the second son, chose to stay behind with his army to defend his homeland, if need be, alongside his father, King Tynan O’Dorchaidhe of Galway, head of the O’Dorchaidhe clan.

     The brothers traveling to Donegal said their goodbyes to their mother, father, brother Bríon and special women in their lives, the latter of which the fourth son, Prince Colán, had none.

     Queen O’Dorchaidhe gave Colán a special kiss on the center of his forehead, as she always did. Colán was her favorite—though this had no bearing on why he had no special woman in his life—and it always pained her to see him leave.

     “Mother, stop it,” he mumbled, all too aware of his men looking on.

     She smiled sweetly. “Ah, Colán. They love you almost as much as I do.”

     She was right. Colán’s men were as fiercely loyal to him as they were fierce. Having just bid farewell to their own families, not a one held any sarcasm toward their leader as he embraced his mother, their queen. 

     Colán was a brave and fearless leader who never asked anything of his men he wouldn’t boldly do himself. If his men went without food, he went without food. If they were caught in a heavy downpour, he withstood it with them. He would give up his horse to carry the wounded and give up his water so a swordsman could clean dirt from his eyes. And he could fight equally well with sword or mallet or battle axe, though he favored his sword. Local legend bragged of his bravery and a favorite fireside song gruesomely recited how he decapitated two men with one swing of his sword. His horsemanship was unparalleled and often the butt of jokes from his eldest brother, Prince Faolan. His ability to effectively strike his sword while mounted left other seasoned warriors in awe.

     Colán quickly turned from his mother, mounted his destrier and trotted to the front of his army, next to his best man, Lord Tomás O’Dúnadhaigh. While he awaited the signal from his brother, Faolan, to begin the 3-day journey he turned in his saddle to look back at his eager infantry, excited for battle, wielding spears, javelins and Viking axes.

     Prince Faolan rode his shiny, black warmblood to the forefront of those assembled and then signaled for his brothers to join him. Colán eyed Tomás—who almost imperceptibly shook his head—then kicked his horse to join his brother.

     Seeing the four traveling O’Dorchaidhe princes meet together, mounted on their steeds, sent a chill down their mother’s back. She feared the unity between them was waning and hoped this journey would bring them closer.

     Though they were accustomed to seeing the brothers, the on-lookers—people of Galway who gathered to see them off—were awestruck by the sight of the strong, eager horses with the large, dark-haired, ruggedly handsome bodies hulking on top.

     The four O’Dorchaidhe princes were quite a sight. Even without their colors and coat-of-arms they oozed nobility.   Prince Faolan smirked, happy with himself, as usual.  Even this little get-together before their journey began was proof to him of his control over his brothers. “Sound the battle call as we head out,” he ordered them.

     Aodhán looked quizzically at the others. The third-born son was always one to question anything suggested by Faolan, especially when out of routine. “Faolan, we are not going into battle. Are we?”

     “We are if the Vikings show up.” Faolan gave Aodhán a flat stare.

     “Blow the horns or no. Let us get moving,” Iollan, the youngest, said.

     “Well said,” Faolan said. “Sound the battle call as we head out.”

     Faolan and Iollan returned to their commands.  Aodhán leaned toward Colán, “So, we are to travel to, and quite possibly defend Donegal for…that…” he pointed at Faolan’s back, “to meet a bride for that…boorish, over-bearing, tyrannical…”


     “Oh, you have the right of it, I forgot immoral, unjust, unfeeling…”

     Colán laughed.  Why do I laugh?  Certainly he has cause to say such things.

     Aodhán huffed and turned his head elegantly toward Colán.  “Perhaps he will stay there and Galway shall be rid of him.”

     “He is to inherit Galway,” Colán reminded Aodhán.

     “Hmmm,” Aodhán pursed his lips with disdain.  “And then where will I be?”

     Aodhán and Colán shrugged at each other and returned to their commands.

     Colán joined Tomás at the head of his army once again. “He wants to sound the battle call as we head out.”

     “Should we sound it now?”

     Colán laughed. He knew Faolan would be perturbed and put out for the entire distance to Donegal if they did. “Certainly not,” he said amid contained laughter.

     “Ah, just a wee blow,” Tomás said leaning in his saddle toward Colán. “A wee wisp.”

     Containing the laughter was causing Colán’s whole body to shake.

     Faolan’s army moved forward and his battle call sounded. The other two armies followed suit. Colán had not yet given the order. Colán looked to his banner man to see the lad’s worried eyes bulging back at him.  The lad’s skinny fingers held his horn so nervously he nearly dropped it.  Colán nodded and the battle call sounded, resonating off the castle walls and echoing across the valley and sheep fields.

     Such a ridiculous display. Colán noticed his father’s face, telling him his father thought it ridiculous as well.

     The armies headed to Donegal with Colán’s army pulling at the rear and Faolan’s army leading the way.

That evening, at their campsite, Prince Faolan asked, “So, what sort of man writes a letter offering up his daughter in exchange for protection?”

     Those around the campfire looked at one another, unsure whether they should answer. ‘Leave it to one of his brothers’ was the unspoken consensus, but no O’Dorchaidhe responded.

     “And these Vikings have not yet landed.” Faolan stroked his chin. “Why do you think father sent us? Do you think father wants us to claim a new land?”

     These questions were directed to his brothers so the others were relieved.

     “So you’ll get married and I can marry Patti,” Aodhán said, without looking up from sharpening his dagger on a whet stone.

     Faolan laughed. “Oh, I doubt that. He’s no intention of letting you marry Patti.” 

     A few men chuckled but most remained silent.

     “Patti’s not of noble blood,” Iollan said, “no matter what her father says.”

     Aodhán narrowed his eyes at his little brother. “It doesn’t matter who we marry. I’m third, your fifth in line.”

     “Still, your wife should be of noble blood,” Iollan said. “Surely your first wife.”

     Faolan loved when his brothers disagreed. Especially when he prompted the argument.

     Colán was not involved. As always he was with his army. He was stretched out on the ground looking up at the stars on this clear, moonless night. He wondered what battle lie ahead. He brightened when he saw a shooting star glance across the sky. He had no thought of the letter from King Domhnall or the prospect of the marriage of his brother. He thought only of the Vikings.  What glory it would bring me were I to defeat them again!