It is Halloween, and many of the group members are off with family and kids, doing the trick-or-treat thing. Writing tonight seems a bit more intimate with just the four of us. Kathy, our peerless leader, has a special Halloween prompt for us. The fistful of paper slips are all related to the origins of the holiday in some way.
10-31-13 A slip of paper pulled from many:
“The invasion of Ulster that makes up the main action of the Táin Bó Cύailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) begins on Samhain. As cattle-raiding typically was a summer activity, the invasion during this off-season surprised the Ulstermen.”
Two men huddled up against the hedgerow, deep in the dark of the night. They had been summoned by signal light and patriotism, and both quivered with the anticipation of the coming action. Sean, the sheep farmer, had been slowly dying under the occupying Saxons, with an acre lost one year, three the next. The tax levies of the British were harsh, and designed to drive the farmers off the land. Sean figured that if he was going to die anyway, why not take an honor guard of British soldiers with him.
Sean’s brother Finn was beside him, Enfield rifle in hand. It was his pride and joy. He was a business man from in town, and lived a life foreign to Sean. The result of the occupation was the same, however. Taxes ate up profits, supplies were becoming impossible to import, and there was little left after the Protestant imports took the land and water, trees cut down and cattle exported back to their precious Queen. Finn had sent his entire family over to America to live with the relatives, and he need not worry that they would be taken in reprisal. The house would go for taxes any day now, and sitting and watching the bloody Saxons loot it was not in his manner.
A whistle off across the stream brought them alert, and the two gathered their weapons about them and headed out. Sean had brought the kitchen knives, sharpened the day before on the whetstone, and he had dug up the Webley revolver taken from an officer in an earlier skirmish. There were scarce few shells for it, but he could shoot what he aimed at, and not a one would be wasted. One wag had suggested that he save one for himself to deny the Brits a prisoner to be paraded, but if that meant one less dead soldier, then it was a waste and Sean was not having it.
Sean and Finn headed in a crouch across the field to meet up with their cadre. It was in the middle of the field that they were caught in the sudden glare of headlights. Shouts made them hesitate, and shots into the earth at their feet brought them to a halt. The soldiers had been tipped, and the two knew that all they had planned for was to be lost after all.
A British colonel with a smirk and a riding crop swaggered forward, followed closely by ten uniformed soldiers with rifles pointed. The colonel stopped fifteen feet before the brothers.
“In the name of the Queen, drop your weapons and you will not be harmed!” The ease with which the colonel lied to their faces did not surprise Finn. He had seen it all his life. His beloved Enfield slid from his hand and fell to the grass in front of him. Sean’s bag with the pistol and knives was slung forward, and thudded to the dirt at the feet of his captor. The brothers stood mute and raised their hands in defeat.
At that moment the headlights of the truck went out, leaving the whole of the field in a darkness as black as a coal sack. Sean and Finn fell to the earth and covered their heads with their arms. The firing of guns from the edge of the field started as a fury, and continued for an eternity that was more likely ten seconds. There was a scream off to the left of where the brothers lay, and the whip and thud of bullets hitting bodies. The crashing of soldiers falling in death was sharp for a short while, and then silence let the brothers know it was safe to move.
The headlights came back on, and the truck moved into the field. It stopped next to the bodies, and Sean watched as Tim Farrell and Tommy Doonan got out to start the collecting of arms. Bodies were stripped of everything useful, and guns and uniforms filled the back of the truck.
“Can I give yiz a ride across the stream, gents?” said Tim to the brothers.
“Alright with you,” said Finn, “but next time you have to play bait and we get to steal the truck. This is no way to win a war.”