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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Joanes Urkixo Beitia > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2003 | Argitaletxe Batuak

The white warrior

The light, early morning rain cleared Bran's clouded senses. Whining and shivering from the cold, the sheepdog found himself in a ditch full of water. Next to it was the Birgha sword almost completely submerged in the water.

Images of everything that had happened the day before came back to him: how his master had been lying on the ground and next to him the man about to cut off his arm, and how he, alarmed, reacted instinctively when he saw the red aureole around the man.

Driven by the same instinct, the dog stood and stretched his stiff body. Then, picking up the sword with his teeth he set off. He had a single thought in his head: he would go after his master Fionn. And he sensed that he was already near.

In the meantime, people had gathered round one of the boats on the pebbly beach. Before sailing away in it Fionn sought out his brother and went up to him.

-Oisin, the thing is. I am truly sorry. Farewell, my brother.

By way of reply Oisin shot him a look full of hatred.

-Brother? I have no brother! I had one once, but he took my father away from me. Now both of them have gone!

Abruptly he turned round and left.

Saddened by the scorn, Fionn made for the boat, got in and sat down next to his shield with his back to the beach. Mael took a step towards the water's edge, hesitated, and uttered something between his teeth before finally getting into the boat. He looked as if he was surer of himself than ever and, sensing the question in Fionn's eyes, said:

-I promised your father I would look after you and I failed. This time I shall help you right to the end.

-But you can't. You have to look after Oisin.

-There is no place for me beside your brother -replied Mael pointing to the crowd of people.

Oisin was next to Gol, who had his arm round him in a protective gesture. Fionn felt a stab of pain in his heart, but it was too late to do anything. So he turned round, took up the same position as before and buried his thoughts in the dark sea.

Other warriors went out to sea in another boat and started rowing as they towed Fionn and Mael's boat. The rain had ceased and the clouds were brightening up.

About a hundred yards away from there among the cliffs Bran dropped the sword and sniffing the sea air, noticed that the scent of Fionn was stronger and closer. The dog was drenched and barely able to hold up his head from exhaustion. Nevertheless, he barked happily as he saw that he was nearing the end of his race. The sword was practically dry when he picked it up in his teeth and went along the edge of the cliffs.

On the beach Luth took off his hood, shivered before Gol's eyes and lifted a hand to his temple.

-What's the matter? -the leader asked him. But the druid took no notice and continued with a blank look on his face.

Up on the cliff Bran stood still and pricked his ears. There he was! His master was in that boat and he could get to him. Without a moment's hesitation the brave sheepdog jumped into the water and started swimming; he went through hell trying to keep his head above the water; it was weighed down by the sword

Luth regained consciousness and looked at Gol in confusion.

-I was struck by a wave of energy. For a moment I felt it was the sword.

-Did you feel it or not? -Gol asked him between his teeth as he clutched his cloak-. Where is it?

-I don't know. Most likely I was mistaken.

Gol stamped his foot angrily. There was no way of finding out anything about the Birgha. Might it have been destroyed in Tara? Or might that wretched dog have somehow saved it? Only the sword and Fionn were capable of preventing him from becoming the master and ruler of the world. But as yet he had not succeeded in getting rid of either one or the other, even though he had killed most of the Irish warriors.

In the meantime Fionn's boat had been cast adrift in the open sea and the other boat had begun making for the shore. Fionn continued deep in his thoughts while Mael stared doubtfully at those drawing away. He had begun to regret his decision to accompany Fionn unto death.

Overwhelmed by fear, he raised his arm intending to call so that they might return to look for him, when splashing and a whimper caught his attention. Out of curiosity he peered over the bows of the boat and saw Bran's head about to sink, but the dog did not let go of the sword.

-Bran! By Dagda and Mewen! What have you got there, Bran?

He got hold of the dog's front legs and pulled him out of the water. When he saw the sword so close to his eyes, he suddenly let go of the dog and took a step backwards. The boat rocked and was just about to capsize. That was when Fionn came to his senses and saw poor Bran, who was nearing his end, whining at his feet.

-Bran. so you've come out alive -he said affectionately, stroking him as he removed the sword from his mouth-. But it won't go on for much longer. We shall soon die of hunger or thirst and the storms will send us to the sea's depths.

He paused, as if struck by even darker thoughts. He put the sword in its sheath and went on:

-Of all the ways of dying, drowning is the worst. I shall never be united with my father in the Underworld. -He stroked Bran again- Those who drown are condemned to spend the whole of eternity walking the Earth.

Mael sighed and fearfully looked all about him. Then he, too, sat down, pulled his blanket right up to his eyes and stammered thus:

-S-s-stories like that are not p-p-pleasant, Fionn Ma-Mac Cumhail. You will f-f-frighten the p-p-poor dog.

Fionn offered him a sad smile, even though under different circumstances he would have happily burst out laughing. Then the two of them were quiet as their thoughts flowed.

The strong, cold wind was taking the boat away from the coast, until it was lost from view. The warriors began to retire as they sought Tara and almost inevitable death. The thick black clouds presaged a storm.

The three people in the boat slowly sank into a deep numbness.

The hours passed until the rain awoke them. Strong winds whipped the rain against their faces and the sea became rough. Even though it was long before dusk, there was thick blackness only a few yards away from them.

Mael shivered as he covered himself in his hood and wet cloak. On the other side of the boat Fionn was immersed in his thoughts as he absentmindedly stroked Bran; he took no notice of the rain that was sticking his hair to his face.

A few minutes later all they could hear was the wind howling. The waves became bigger and bigger and rocked the boat this way and that making it spin round and round, until their sense of direction was completely lost.

When a flash of lightning lit up the horizon Mael jumped up dangerously rocking the boat.

-Flashes of lightning are falling! Our boat is the only scrap of wood in the wide, open sea. and wood attracts lightning!

-Let the boat bring them soon -replied Fionn tightening his lips-. That way the fire rather than the water, will kill us and I shall be able to unite with my father in the Underworld.

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