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The Tale of Inis Saimer

That blasted bitch. Puny from her very whelping. And yap! Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap! Morning, noon, and night. Whine, even in her sleep. Weird. Should have been drowned at birth. Should have been put down long before we sailed. Never should have let her get on board.

Sick on land, sick at sea. And the curses of the men. Their looks said it all. Me, their leader, the butt of every sick dog joke from Karn'th to the land of the Bas'qu. Women!

"Can't control his woman!" "Can't even control his woman's pretty little puppy. Ho-ho; haw-haw; hee-hee!" Fighting words, followed by fighting deeds, flailing fists, flying feet, black eyes and loosened teeth.

From the Middle Sea through the Pillars of Hercules and up the coastline of Irenia, insult and brawl, insult and brawl. Lost two men with broken ribs, punctured lungs. Too much for Sai, the healer. Left them behind. Coughing blood. No further use in battle. Good men, too. Mangled a score and more of their tormentors.

You would think she would release me from my pledge. She saw the havoc. She heard the gibes. She knew the cost. But, oh no!

"Partholan, you promised. You promised me. One more son," you said, "just one more, and I could have whatever I wanted.

"Just a little puppy of my own," she said. "A little red puppy, that's what I want. And you pledged in front of Bam, the seer, I could have my own pet. She's mine, mine, do you hear? And I'm going to keep her. I'm not giving her up!"

We had had the same argument over and over. And always she dragged in the seer. If it had been left between man and woman, believe you me there would have been one less bitch in the camp years ago. But the seer. He had prophesied. Break my pledge, get rid of the dog, and I'd lose my son, my Rury.

Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!

Saimer, she called it. After the land of her people, a land of scented cedars, tall trees marching down to the edge of the sea. A quiet land. A land of peace and plenty, gentle breezes, bright sunlight, and cool evenings. And the women. Lissome, long-legged, lust arousing, love beguiling. Love? Yes, love. Love at first. Maybe, who knows, love still?

But the blasted bitch, the ever yapping, ever crapping, ever puking, ever pissing, ever smelling, ever blasted bitch of a bitch--I mean the dog bitch, the canine bitch--has caused nothing but trouble and strife since she entered my life, six weeks after the birth of my third son, Rury.

Sai, the healer said there could be no more, and there weren't. I had other women, other bedmates, bred other sons, other daughters, but none to rival my three first-sons. Tall boys. Sturdy lads. Now young men, all but Rury. What is he now? Twelve summers? Thirteen? And fearless. Like his brothers. Like his--I was going to say father, but you can't call his old man fearless--not with that bitch of a dog still alive, still causing trouble.

Never knew a dog lived so long. Only yesterday snapped at Kitt, the earth woman, and bit her on the leg. You should have heard her curses! Some ones new, even to me. Now the two-legged bitch wants me to get rid of the four-legged red bitch.

Why does a man have to put up with it? One bitch, two bitches; three bitches, more bitches.

I gave them all to a new land. Gave them a new country. Kicked the beaker people's butts and sent them packing. Stupid cave dwellers. And stink! Over at that headland, just above the stream, you should smell the offal. Bloody primitives. Deserved to be kicked out.

Took their land. Divided their country. A quarter for each of my sons. The south to Slainge, the east to Laighlinne, the middle to me, and the north to Rury. Rom, the memory man, has the boundaries in his head. Invented a new word, too. Partition. I like it. Partholan the Partitioner. It has a ring to it. Takes a good man to know where to draw the lines. A wise man, too. The wisdom of Partholan. People will talk about it for generations. Rom will see to it. Pass on the story. Preserve the fame.

Funny place to land up at. Once we left Iberia, ye gods, how the wind blew. Muddy sea. Muddy skies. Jer, the steersman, fought the tiller. Navigate? No way. Run before the storm. Lashed by rain. Dashed by waves. Waves? Nothing in the Middle Sea to match them. Mountains they were. And they covered mountains. The sunken empire, the drowned cities, the lost continent, a fading memory among the People of the Sun.

Driven west. Driven north. Day after day. Wet sea, wet boat, wet people. Hung on tight. Sailors sick. Women sick. Blasted bitch of a dog sick.

Then, ten days on, sunshine. A calm sea. Land on our right. A big bay. A river's mouth. A flat, wide estuary lake. A tiny island. An all-pervading, all-surrounding sound. And our first seeing of the waterfall.

An offering to the gods. A routing of the primitives. An exploration of the country. But always a return to our first landing, the little island, easily defended, below the waterfall.

A rich land. Rich in timber. Rich in wild fruit, in nut woods, in deer and elk, in all game of the forest and plain, in fish of the sea and birds of the air, doves and wild geese, and the ever-hovering, ever-watching, ever-circling hawk of the river.

That hawk. Spotted us in the bay. Hovered over us as we landed. Inspects us every day. Garp says it's sacred. Maybe so. Gives me the willies. Yellow iris. Big black pupil. Eyes set in a dark streak. Nasty looking. And dive! Swooped right down the first time it saw the dog. Yap, yap, yap went the bitch; screech, screech, screech, went the hawk.

"Partholan! Do something! Save the dog. Save Saimer!"

Bloody bitch. Cares more for the bloody dog than for any bloody one else. Me included.

"Come here, my pet. Come to Mammy. Mammy will protect you. Bad bird! There now, Saimer; there now."

"Partholan. Do something! Partholan, do this! Do that!" Sweet is the sound of the waterfall. Not sweet the sound of her voice. Can't get away from it. Island too small. Must find a better place. A bigger place. A place where that voice can't carry.

But I'll miss this bay, this berth, this river, these wooded banks, the blackberries, loganberries, raspberries, the haws, the honey, the nuts, and the salmon. I've travelled many weary days, a thousand weary days and more, but salmon like these I've never seen before. Not one for talk. Not me. Never was. Deeds, that's me. Action, that's me. But these salmon, these silver salmon--never saw anything like them. A graceful fish. A powerful fish. A knowledgeable fish. Wait for the tides, they do. Crowd the pool below the falls. Waiting. Patient.

Moon mother draws in the sea, filling the lake, raising the level of the water, lowering the falls. Then, one fierce thrust of tail, breaking the surface, arching in the sunlight, higher and higher, into the lip of the torrent, some to gain the placid water above, some to fall back, to wait, to break the surface once more, to glisten in the sunshine and, with one desperate lunge, reach sanctuary in the quieter waters of the river above.

Six seasons I've watched the salmon run, and each sea harvest better than the one before.

I'm partial to salmon. If I had my way, I'd eat it night and day. It's the teeth. Not what they were. But a good chunk of salmon is easy eating, and herself knows how to cook it. Say what you will, that she does. Sure there's a lot to be said for her after all. But that bloody bitch, the dog--there's always something.


What now? Damn voice cuts to the quick.


"What? What?"

"Oh, there you are--"

Where the jurassic acre did she think I was?

"Where's Rury?"

"Gone fishin'."

"Well, I need him. But you'll do."

I'll do, will I? I'll do!

"Thank you very much, ma'am. So I'll do, will I?"

"For heaven's sake, Partholan, don't take on. I don't know what's got into you lately. No matter what I say, you always take it the wrong way."

"The wrong way? Me?"

"Yes, you. They don't call you Wrong-way Partholan for nothing!"

That again. So we didn't go south. So the wind blew us north. So I should never have left the Pillars of Hercules and the safety of the Middle Sea, Why would she bring that up? Why now?

"I've been thinking." "About Saimer."

That damned bitch.

"I'm afraid of that hawk. What if it comes in the early dark? What if there's nobody here? Who will protect her?"

"Hawks don't fly in the dark!"

"Yes, but what if? I've been thinking, and I've just had an idea."

That's original!

"Partholan, I want you to build her a little house, a wee house of her own, to shelter her from the dark, from the wind's way and the rain's way, and, above all, from the hawk's way!"

A house for the dog! A dog house! Who ever heard the like? "Partholan builds doggie houses; Partholan builds doggie houses!" You can hear the children's sing-song, rhyming, rhyming, rhyming. You can hear the people jeering, jeering, jeering. I can feel my blood boiling, boiling, boiling.

I'll kill the bitch. I'll kill the bitch. I'll drown the bitch. I'll--

The rock in my hands was wet. And red. Blood red. The little red dog was lying on its side. And the little red dog was dead.

"You'll rue the day! You'll rue the day you did this deed. Just you wait and see!" And she cradled the little dead dog in her arms.

I left the island. I went up the left bank of the river. Just above the falls was a ford, and there stood Rury, spearing salmon.

High above in the sky was another watcher. High above in the sky was the hawk.

Somehow I knew it would happen, and my blood ran cold. As he tossed a fine fish to Roz on the bank, his foot slipped, and Rury, my precious Rury, was gone. Not even time to let out one shout.

When we found him next day we saw the gash on his head. At the foot of the falls he had bashed it. His body lay limp in the water.

We will leave this place. We will go to the far side of the country. There, on a headland, we'll start afresh. And the wind will carry her voice away from me. Over the plain. Only the hawk will hear. A plague on her! A plague on it! A plague on me!

"Inis Saimer. In the estuary, just below Assaroe Falls, lies the islet called Inis Saimer, where tradition says, Partholan, coming from Scythia about 1500 B.C., landed to make the first colonization of Ireland. The island is said to be named after Saimer, the favourite dog of Partholan's queen, which Partholan killed in a fit of rage."
     (Official Guide to Donegal).

"The Age of the World, 2820. Nine thousand of Partholan's people died in one week on Sean-Mhagh-Ealta-Edair, namely five thousand men, and four thousand women. Whence it is named Taimleacht Muintire Partholain. They had passed three hundred years in Ireland."
     (The Annals of the Four Masters translated by John O'Donovan).

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