BY JOHN FITZGERALD
An excerpt from INVADERS, the story of how a small band of men and women faced one of the most powerful armies on earth…
The bombardment had resumed shortly after dawn on Day Three of the battle for Callan. The first rays of sunlight coincided with the day’s first ball that came hurtling towards the castle; shattering hours of tense, sleepless watching and waiting for the inevitable. The cannonade persisted for almost half an hour and then halted abruptly.
More waiting followed. This respite lasted longer than the previous ones. Mark paced up and down restlessly outside the castle. He hated these lulls more than the fighting. It gave the mind time to brood and opened the door to doubt and anxiety. Forty five minutes passed, an hour…
“This bloody waiting is torture!” he mumbled. He was about to ask Molloy what he thought was happening when his question was answered by a lookout on the battlements.
“Captain, they’re coming…thousands of ‘em!”
“What? I don’t see them.”
Mark was gazing down West Street at the barricade and as yet no Roundheads had climbed over to mount a third infantry attack.
“No…Not there, Captain…over the West Wall: the second force. I can see them…two miles from here, maybe less.”
Heedless of the exposure to cannon-fire on the parapet, Mark entered the castle and rushed upstairs to see for himself. He grabbed the eyeglass from the militiaman. He gasped. A whole army on the move: Enemy formations stretching in five lines like enormous snakes along roads and across fields. Horseman in front…then wagons…infantry, gun-carriages…more infantry…dragoons on their small study mounts, cavalry cantering behind…and there…amidst the cavalcade of carriages…could it really be him?
Yes…if the portrait did him justice. On a white mount… cloaked and armoured, and shielded by scores of bodyguards, rode the most feared man in Ireland, the deadliest foe it had faced since the dawn of time. The magnification wasn’t strong enough to reveal his expression, but it had to be one of supreme confidence.
Mark lowered the eyeglass and gave it to the militiaman. His heart sank. “Well, lad, it seems we have an even bigger fight on our hands now.”
“Bigger, Captain? That must be the entire English army coming to Callan!”
A militiaman laughed nervously. Mark nodded agreement and patted the lookout on the back. He headed back down. There was nothing he could say to mitigate the cruel reality. They were now fighting for the sake of resistance…conspiring in their own deaths, But it wasn’t futile, he was certain of that. Callan’s fight would aid the struggle elsewhere…
The table beside which Marianne stood on the third floor vibrated with the impact of the cannon-fire, though none of the balls had penetrated the wall. The firing had resumed just minutes after sunrise. Every strike dislodged masonry, each thud sounding like a giant fist rapping on the castle, frantically trying to punch its way in.
A cobweb fell on Marianne’s nose. She brushed it off, making light of it to a young girl who huddled with her mother and two sisters. Another ball struck as Marianne stooped to hand a cut of bread from the table to the girl. A loud reverberating crash sent a splotchy plod of dust and wriggling spiders hurtling to the floor. Another web fragment had alighted on a child’s biscuit, causing its mother to fuss and shake her head.
Men cursed as brick powder sprayed their playing-cards. The large Confederate wall banner had fallen off three times, but each time defiant women had hung it back up. It symbolized their hopes and dreams, Marianne knew. She shared their devotion to the ideals of justice, freedom and religious emancipation it depicted, though she failed to see how these could ever be realised.
A jug of buttermilk quivered in her hand as she poured a mug for another mother who held a child. What on earth did the poor woman think she was doing here? She’d have been safer in the remotest wilds beyond the town.
She’d repeated Corporal Molloy’s advice to everyone seeking refuge in the castle…that it wouldn’t guarantee their safety, most likely the opposite. But they insisted on staying. They couldn’t get their heads around the notion of soldiers being as vulnerable as them. The soldiers thought of themselves as protectors too but she presumed they knew in their hearts that there was precious little they could do to avert the inevitable.
Then the firing stopped again, and a tension-racked silence followed that lasted longer than usual…Had it ended, people asked, as time dragged by.
”He’s coming, he’s coming!” someone hollered, rushing down from the battlements unto the top floor. “Who’s coming?” a man shouted back. He got his answer.
Marianne’s heart sank when she heard that fearful name…
End of Excerpt…
My Book Invaders (volumes one and two) is available in Kilkenny bookshops and from Amazon.