The Belfast Mountains

Ireland, 1798. A time of revolution and uncertainty, fear and betrayal but for Annie and Will, a time of love, learning and loss.
Set against the backdrop of one of the bloodiest times in modern Irish history, a simple Ulster farm girl and a young revolutionary begin to fall in love and learn about price of freedom.

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3. One

 

My eyes flicker open and dazed and confused I push myself into a sitting position. My stomach churns at the memory of the graphic and gruesome scenes which besieged my dreams. My stomach twists again at the memory of the boy with the piercing blue eyes.

“…defeated. Can’t trust those Protestant …” I pull back the curtain which cloaks my settle bed to see my father and uncle sitting at the kitchen table, my uncle muttering indiscernible sentences into my father’s ear, whose pale and wan countenance appears more drawn than ever. His tired eyes meet mine in surprise and my uncle snaps his mouth shut.

“Annie, what are you doing awake at this hour?” Da chastises. I crawl off the low bed and clamber over to my father, planting a small kiss on his cheek.

“Just a…strange dream Da,” I smile weakly, unable to shake the feeling of unease the vision has cast upon me. I don’t care to mention it to him- we’ve witnessed enough violence her for a lifetime.

“What’s wrong?” I ask brow furrowed.

“Nothing for a pretty little maid like yourself to be worrying about,” my uncle interjects, almost condescendingly. I nod my head submissively and clench my teeth in annoyance at his sneering, superior demeanour.

“Liam was saying he saw something odd on his way here. A big, black stallion with evil red eyes , running through the fields… a púca!” he jokes, poking me in the belly. “On the hunt for weary travellers..” I wave his hands away, giggling. His eyes twinkle and momentarily, I can catch a sliver of the man he once was. I grin at him and place my hand on his shoulder, then turn to face Liam.

“Well Uncle, I’m afraid I’m not inclined to believe you since I wager you spent awhile in Sheehan’s sheebeen before you came here,” I say mischievously, causing my uncle to huff in annoyance and my father to chuckle, the mere effort of which almost winding him. He coughs and smiles weakly, hoping to distract me from the worrying shift in his breathing.

 Clearing his throat, Liam announces he is leaving and bidding my father to rest, he hurries out into the night. If you’re out too late, you could be reported for suspicious behaviour.

            “Da, what’s going on?” I ask, worry laced in my voice. He sighs and looks me in the eye.

“The Society of United Irishmen have been rebelling across the country as you’ve probably heard. Well up our part of the world, they won the battles in Donegore but… they were heavily defeated earlier today in Antrim. Some managed to get away, but the British set the whole town ablaze..” he whispers- who knows who might be listening. His eyes seem distant and dejected and I grab his hand in mine.

“They’re winning in Wexford, Da. So General Lake will stay down there. We’re fine, it won’t happen-

“I know love, I know.” And with that, we pull each other close and stay in each other’s arms, silently watching the flickering candlelight dispel the fears which lie rampant in the dark of night and within the depths of our hearts.

************************************************

I welcome the biting sea breeze which sweeps away my mother’s barked orders and harsh criticisms. I understand that I have more responsibilities now with Da’s weakened condition and our family being faced with the gruelling task of rebuilding our home and I do my duties without complaint but…it’s never good enough. I now understand, Da’s not the only one who has drastically changed since the terror.

            A gust of refreshing sea air sets my hair billowing in the wind, rejuvenating and refreshing me, easing my creased brow into a serene expression as I approach the small strip of sand which become my refuge for these craved for few hours. I can hear the gulls screeching as they wheel through the air, soaring amongst the celestial white clouds above, the small waves lapping against the shoreline and the calm wind gently whistling through the rocks, can smell the salty sea spray. It is then I see it.

 A looming, ebony black stallion, casting an ominous shadow on the sandy terrain. I instantly think of my uncle’s tale from the night before and I shiver, thinking of the horror stories featuring the wicked púca which I was raised on. It glances up at me and I feel childishly relieved that it does not possess the infamous and demonic blood red eyes. The horse stiffens when it notices my presence and quickly trots off, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

            With a lighter step, I amble along the seashore, gleefully inhaling the rising gusts of wind deep into my lungs; each breath more exhilarating than the last. I throw my arms outwards and laugh joyously, revelling in how the strengthening wind whips away my peals of laughter and I imagine my voice flying far across the sea. Free.

            And I long for that freedom- do to what I please and roam the countryside without being burdened with the guilt of being a selfish daughter. Lazily, I amble towards the little sea cave where I go to dream, to wonder and think. The tide, when it comes in, never floods my beloved sanctuary and I store my diaries, forbidden by my mother there.  I bend down and step inside the dim, damp cavern and am startled to hear the crackling and snapping of twigs underfoot. It is driftwood that has been clumsily stacked and appears singed and blackened, in what I can only guess to be a poor and foolish attempt at a fire. My eyes peer to the back of the cave and my stomach drops when I see a body slumped against the rocks.

I creep towards the still, silent figure; cautious and on my guard. As I grow closer the outline of the figure solidifies and this enigma materialises into a man. His lean, long body is sprawled across the rocks, his chin tucked into his chest. His jacket is torn and disheveled, irreparably stained making it near impossible to see the moss green colour beneath. His shirt is rumpled and stained, his trousers ripped and shoes soiled. But it is then my heart misses a beat. Pinned to his breast, the proud colours of the outlawed tricolour. Only then do I note the way his dark curls are cut unfashionably short- a Croppy boy.

I gasp slightly and the pace of my already heart increases with fear and apprehension knowing that of soldiers were to appear at this moment, I'd be mercilessly tortured to within an inch of my life for information I do not possess and when I was unforthcoming, myself and this stranger would be marched off to the gallows. I lean towards the boy and not only does adrenalin course through my veins but and unexpected sense of familiarity. When I turn his face toward mine, it is to confirm what I feel I already know- it is the rebel boy who consumed my dreams the night before.

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