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Authors: Alex Haley

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BOOK: Queen
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    it, not as stealing, but as a contribution to his young master's need.

    Under cover of night, Washington and Sara stole to the bam to greet their

    brother and wish him Godspeed.

    There was no moon to guide them south, but they knew the way, for they

    knew all the byways of their county, which was their own, their native

    land. Maureen and Jugs waved them on their journey, and took comfort from

    each other, and wept, for that was the way of it.

    And their country was bleeding. On the morning of the second day, they

    saw the bayoneted corpses hanging from trees, and then more dead,

    peasants shot in a field. They came upon a father, wounded himself,

    carrying his dead son.

    "Bastards wiped 'em out," he gasped to no one, or to anyone who might

    hear his piteous rage. "Just boys, armed with sticks, all gone, gone."

    He staggered on with his awful burden, to take his dead son home to his

    mother, who would weep for her lost boy, her only son.

    A little farther down the road they saw the bodies of the boys, similar

    in age to themselves, white-hooded heads almost severed from their

    shoulders, and left for carrion.

    They aged, not in years, on their short journey south, but with

    experience of the world, and a new kind of passion engulfed them, the

    need for revenge.

    As they rode into the county of Wexford, they stopped in taverns in all

    the villages they passed through, listening for rumors of rebellion, but

    the fight they were looking for, the war that they needed, eluded them,

    until they came to Boulavogue. They rode toward the town and saw a

    platoon of redcoated soldiers marching in that same direction. They

    looked at each other and thrilled, and spurred their horses.


In Boulavogue, the people were gathered in the town square, listening to

two priests, brothers, who held carved wooden crosses and a paper.



    Father John Murphy and Father Michael Murphy might have been twins, but

    were not. Dedicated to the welfare of their parishioners, they had spent

    their lives as priests in search of peace, practiced their religion

    covertly, and bridged, when they could, the awful gap between the rulers

    and the ruled. The local British Commissioner knew of their existence,

    but the brothers were useful to him, as mediators between himself and the

    people, and on many occasions the priests had been able to calm angry

    crowds, and bring order and reason to a disordered world. The riots and

    the subsequent bloodshed in the county had shocked the Commissioner, and

    he believed that the actions of the military were fomenting rebellion

    rather than suppressing it. He had suggested to the brother priests that

    if all the citizens signed a petition of loyalty to the Crown, Boulavogue

    would be left in peace.

    Father John and Father Michael stood before their flock now, and urged

    them to sign the petition, for they had seen the disastrous aftermath of

    earlier riots, and could not believe that any good could come from the

    use of force, if only because the soldiers, although fewer in number,

    were~ superbly trained and an-ned. The priests were peaceful men, who be-

    lieved that there was nothing that a fight could achieve that a smile

    could not, except blood and death and anguish.

    Jamie and Sean resisted the powerful simple urgings of the priests. This

    was no place for them, and it disgusted them to see that several of the

    peasants had already stepped forward and made their mark on the petition.

    As they were about to leave, they saw a messenger come gasping into the

    town. He shouted out his news. The Commissioner had been replaced;

    martial law prevailed. At nearby Dunvin, twenty Catholic peasants had

    been mercilessly shot for refusing to denounce their religion. At Camew,

    twice that number had died.

    Father Michael stared at the man, dumbstruck with pity and horror, and

    crossed himself, and murmured prayers for the souls of the dead. His

    brother, Father John, lifted the parchment that was the petition high in

    the air, and tore it to shreds, to the silent appreciation and

    deep-rooted fear of the people.

Then they saw the flames, and the redcoats.

    The church at Boulavogue had been boarded up for years, unused by the

    clergy since the religion was proscribed. Father



John and Father Michael held their services in barns, or milking sheds,

or ditches, believing that the Holy Spirit was with them wherever any

number, no matter how few, were gathered together. But the church

building, abandoned and rotting, had been a powerful symbol for the

community, and they lived in the hope that one day the edict against their

religion would be repealed, and they could take down the boards, and open

the church, and let the sweet light of day come flooding in.

    Now it was burning, torched by the soldiers, who were marching toward

    them. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that a fate similar to that of

    their cousins in Dunvin and Carnew awaited them unless they renounced

    their religion, and this they would not do, They would fight and die if

    necessary, and preferred this to abandoning their God.

    To everyone's surprise, it was Father John who led the charge. The sight

    of his beloved church in flames, the news of the death of so many

    innocents who had done nothing more than worship God in their own way,

    and defended that right to worship to the death, enraged the gentle

    priest. With a cry that came from the very pit of his soul, he grabbed

    a stout staff from a man standing near, and ran screaming at the


    Where Father John went, Father Michael went, and where the priests went,

    the flock followed. All the men in the square grabbed whatever weapons

    came to hand, pitchforks and sticks, spades and cart whips, and followed

    the priests into the fray.

    Sean looked at Jamie in triumph, and both cried out in exhilaration, Sean

    in Gaelic and Jamie in English.

"Erin go bragh!"

"Ireland forever!"

    They leaped from their horses and ran to the thick of the fight,

    punching, kicking, wresting guns from soldiers. The women of the town

    stood and cheered their men to battle.

    The soldiers were surprised by the speed and ferocity of the attack, and

    its very unlikeliness, and for the first few minutes, the peasants had

    the advantage. But, better trained and better armed, the troops recovered

    their wits, and fought back. In hand-to-hand combat, the peasant band

    slowly retreated toward the square.



    A man fell to the ground, his head cracked open by the butt of a musket.

    His wife, who had been praying for him, ran to him, and saw that he could

    not live, or perhaps was already dead. Years of repression and anger,

    years of hardship, years of brutality by the soldiers now welled up in

    her. A banshee cry came from her, and she threw herself at the soldier

    who she thought had killed her man, kicking and screaming, tearing out

    his hair, gouging at his eyes.

    It was a clarion call to the other women. The primal scream that they

    heard from the now widowed woman woke the animal in all of them. Like

    their men before them, they grabbed anything they could find to use as

    weapons-pots and pans, sticks and stones, or just their bare hands-and

    they descended on the soldiers like lions in defense of their lair.

    The soldiers were astounded. They were trained to fight men, other

    soldiers, in fon-nal ranks of order. They were trained to kick and

    crucify docile peasants. They were trained to whip and mutilate untrained

    youths. But they were not trained to face a screaming, caterwauling mob

    Of rampant women out for blood.

    It was a rout, and the soldiers fled, to the cheers and jeers of the

    people. They fled to regroup, and nurse their wounds, and be harangued

    by their officers for letting a pack of women get the better of them.

    Most of them lived to fight another day, and would never underestimate

    the ferocity of females again.

    Not all of them lived. One soldier's neck was broken. Another had a

    pitchfork through his heart. Five peasants were dead.

    When the soldiers where gone, the cheering died to nothing. The women,

    as if appalled by the forces that had been unleashed from inside them,

    became docile, and wept for the dead, and for themselves. Their husbands

    and sons came to comfort them, and stood with them, thrilled but

    apprehensive, for they feared what the soldiers would do in retaliation.

    The brother priests stared at one another, and then each looked at his

    bloody hands. They whispered together, and began to make plans, for they

    had entered, or been dragged into, a strange and frightening new world,

    but they knew there was no going back.

Jamie sat on the ground and tended his bloody nose and a



gash on his arrn, while Sean sat beside him, and put a wet cloth to his

blackening eye, and looked at the scratches on his arms and legs. It had

been a good fight, but they felt no sense of jubilation. It was only a

skirmish, and the real battle was yet to come.

    The messenger ran. He had seen the fight and bashed a few British heads

    with his long, thick pole, and felt a swingeing surge of excitement, for

    this was something that was worth the telling, and it was his alone to


    He raced from the town, and pole-vaulted ditches and hedges with

    breathless, careless speed, to the villages nearby and gasped his news.

    Other messengers took up the cry, and soon the county rang with the glad

    tidings, that a small group of unarmed peasants, led by two priests, had

    defeated the might of Britain.

    They left their homes, taking with them what weapons they had, and came in

    a trickle at first, and then a flood, to Gorey Hill, not far from

    Boulavogue, where the fathers, Michael and John, had made their camp.

    Within two days their number was a thousand, and within a week, three times



But on that first night they were only a dozen, the priests and Jamie and

Sean, and eight more, young men eager for battle. The soldiers could have

struck them down with ease, if they had found them, but they did not bother.

They contented themselves with setting fire to a score of peasant cottages,

as vengeance for their defeat. Several of the women who had fought, and a

few who had not, were raped.

    Jamie and Sean had cast their lot with the priests because there seemed no

    better place to be. The fathers had thanked them, and accepted,

    unwillingly, their congratulations. Father John looked at his hands again.

    "With my own hands I choked a man almost to death," Father John said. "I am

    in fear for my mortal soul."

    "But he didn't die," Jamie said, puzzled by the priest's grief.

    "No." Father John nodded, but mournfully. "But others will, and I believe

    that I will do some of that killing."

    He looked at his hands again, as if continually astounded by what they had

    done. "I have devoted my life to the healing



grace of God, but it seems He has other plans for me."

    Sean took charge, for the priests were not practical men of war.

    "They will come again," he said. "We had best find a hiding place."

"Yes," Father Michael agreed. "Are you with us?"

    He was only offering shelter, but he had the first two recruits of his

    army. The priests led Jamie and Sean to Gorey Hill, avoiding the

    soldiers' camps, and to a small shack that they used when the town was

    unsafe for them. As the four men wended through the dew-soft evening,

    other young men joined them, and made camp on the hill, and, safe in the

    night, celebrated, at last, their victory. Some had beer, which they had

    stolen and shared, and food given them by their families, for all

    understood that it was only the beginning. But it was something. After

    years of servility, it was a start on a long road to freedom.

    The little group of unarmed, unlikely soldiers who had priests as their

    generals sat around the campfire, as soldiers do, after battle, and

    recounted the stories of their day and their fight. They relived every

    moment of the small battle, and exaggerated their roles in it, and their

    own valor, and laughed with love at the reckless women who had probably

    saved their lives, although none would admit that.

    Jamie had never known such a sense of companionship and, sitting in

    Sean's company, felt that he had proved his bravery to the world, and,

BOOK: Queen
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