Chapter 3 (part 2)

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Chapter 3 (part 2)

Gallen went back to Father Brian and Patrick. They were just finishing up, checking to make sure that the thieves didn't have any silver coins in their boots. Gallen watched the priest grunt, struggling to pull a worn leather boot off of Paddy. Patrick-who was economical with effort but not with other people's property-took out his knife and tried to slice open the other boot. Father Brian scolded the boy, saying that the boots still had plenty of wear and could be given to the poor.

As he watched, Gallen saw that Patrick's boots were pointed, with distinctive holes worn in the outer soles. He had a drop of blood spattered on one toe. Now, in the light of day, Gallen could see that Patrick's sparse red beard had a streak of chimney soot on it, smeared down below the right ear.

As Father Brian wrestled Paddy's boot off, two silver coins fell out.

"Well, you old crows." Gallen smiled. "How much did you find on the pitiable corpses? Any meat on them bones?"

"Three pounds, two shillings," Father Brian answered. "Not much of a haul."

"Oh, I don't know about that," Gallen answered. "It sounds like plenty to me. Three pounds? Why, for that much money, I'd sit out all night in the cold with a gang of robbers so that I could point out my own father when he came down the road. Three pounds would be enough to betray my own kin for. Don't you think so, Patrick?"

The gangrelly boy looked up, uncertain. He startled back at the threatening tone in Gallen's voice. He didn't answer.

"You've got your father's blood on your boot, and you've still got a robber's soot to hide your shameful face," Gallen said. Father Brian looked at the boy darkly, saw the betraying marks. The priest bit his lip.

Patrick glanced longingly down the road to Clere, set his muscles as if to run. He wasn't an agile sort. Gallen judged that he could catch the boy in fifty paces.

"The likes of you," Father Brian grumbled at Patrick, "would be only a burden to your widowed mother even if you hung around."

"I didn't mean for anyone to get hurt," Patrick whispered. His face had turned red, and now hot tears poured down over his freckles.

"You thought you could steal from your brothers and sisters, and no one would suffer?" Father Brian asked, shocked. "What were you thinking? Aren't times hard enough with poachers stealing your sheep and wolves in the flocks? You wanted to add another burden to your father's shoulders, all for a few pounds to spend on whiskey?" Father Brian was known to be an occasional whiskey drinker, so he added, "or worse-beer?"

"Get yourself gone, now!" Father Brian shouted at the boy in disgust. "And never return to County Morgan. You're outlawed from here. I'll give you till sundown, and then I'll spread the word. If anyone in County Morgan ever finds you walking the road again, your life is forfeit. Go and make a living for yourself elsewhere if you can, but we won't tolerate you here again!"

"Let me stay a bit," Patrick begged, reaching for the hem of Father Brian's robe. "My father's hurt bad, and my heart is sore for it. Let me stay to see if he makes it through the week!"

"What?" Father Brian asked. "You beg to stay in striking range of a sick man's purse? Aw, to hell with you! I'd rather trust a weasel to guard the chicken coop. Get out of here before I have Gallen O'Day slit your throat."

Father Brian picked up a large stone and hurled it at Patrick as a sign that he'd been outlawed. The stone struck the boy on the shoulder, and Patrick hissed painfully but still looked at Father Brian with pleading eyes, begging to stay.

Gallen picked up a stone of his own and threw it hard, slamming it into the boy's thigh. "Get out of here, outlaw!" Gallen shouted.

Father Brian reached for another stone. If the lad didn't leave, then according to custom, Gallen and Father Brian had no recourse but to stone him to death.

Patrick jumped away up the road and began limping toward Clere, shooting angry glances back at the two. He seemed to be in the throes of trying to conjure some devastating curse, and finally he shouted, "You don't fool me, Gallen O'Day! You consort with the sidhe and creatures of the netherworld, and you're no better than a demon yourself! I saw him, Father Brian! I saw Gallen O'Day with a sidhe last night! He prayed to Satan for help, and a sidhe came to his aid!"

"I'd be pleased," Father Brian shouted, "if you wouldn't make such accusations about my cousin, you damned misbegotten purveyor of patricide! Get, now!" He hurled another rock, and Patrick dodged and hurried up the road.

They watched Patrick climb the winding mountain path, between the blue pine trees and the gloam of the wood. Father Brian kept his eyes on Patrick and asked with clenched teeth, "Was there any truth to his words? About the sidhe?"

A shiver ran through Gallen. He couldn't lie to a priest, even if that priest was only his cousin. "I've never prayed to the devil," Gallen said, "but last night, when those Flahertys knocked me in the head and were hot to skin me alive, some creature came out of the woods. It looked like a man, all dressed in black and carrying swords, but its face shone like molten glass. It warned them that anyone who committed murder in Coille Sidhe would never make it out of the woods alive."

Father Brian caught his breath and looked at Gallen askance. "You're sure it wasn't just a wight or some spirit of the woods?"

"It was flesh, like you or me," Gallen said. "It put Seamus up on the horse, and I looked into its face. It ... I've never seen or heard of anything like it."

"But it warned men against murder," Father Brian whispered in a tone hinting at something between confusion and awe. "It couldn't have been in league with the devil. Therefore, it must have come from God. The thing that you saw last night," he whispered with desperation, "could it have been an angel?"

"I don't think so. It was dressed in black," Gallen said.

"Then it was an angel-" Father Brian said with finality, "it was the Angel of Death, walking at the right hand of Gallen O'Day and keeping guard over him. That's what we'll tell people. That's what we'll say."

"I'm not so sure-" Gallen started to argue, but Brian spun and grabbed Gallen's collar at the throat. "Don't dispute me on this! I'll not have it said that a cousin of mine consorts with demons. Only you and the robbers saw what happened last night. No one can contradict your testimony! It was God who sent the Angel of Death to stand guard over you-do you understand me? And I'll excommunicate anyone who begs to differ!"

"Yes," Gallen said, confused and frightened. Father Brian's argument made sense, but in his heart Gallen knew that he would not live this down easily. Five other men had seen the sidhe, and they could not but tell what they had witnessed. Somehow, Gallen felt sure, this would come back to haunt him.

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