By Patricia Finney

Winner of the David Higham Award for best first novel of the year 1977.

The story of Lugh Mac Romain, harper and reluctant warrior, as he struggles to escape the curse of the Queen Maeve of Connaught for killing her king and is caught up in the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley by his friendship with the great Champion of Ulster, Cuchulain of Muirthemne.

Out of print.

First page sample:


The night I left Connaught, the night I killed the King, was three days before Samhain when the King would have died anyway. Strange how one night can change so much. When I think back about it now, I can see all the things that happened after radiating from the night three nights before Samhain like the spokes from the hub of a chariot wheel. And, like the hub of a war-chariot, that night had a knife in it.

I had been at weapons-practice most of the afternoon with my spear-brother Dalaigh. We had thrown light holly-wood throw-spears at each other and warded them off with our shields; we had had a mock fight with our stabbing spears and then finished by fighting with our swords, as if we had been fighting a single combat. Dalaigh had learned a new trick while I had been away which was why he suggested the weapons-practice in the first place. I had hardly started to attack properly, before he casually knocked myh blade away with a twist I had never seen before and stopped the thrust just short of my breastbone. I stood there, breathing fast and sweating a little with exertion and looked ruefully down at the blade as Dalaigh lowered it, grinning broadly.

“All right,” I said, “Now how did you do that?”

“Ailell showed me while you were away.”

“Ailell? I should have known. How do you do it?”

He tried to show me, but I find it difficult to learn new tricks of swordsmanship, though I’m adequate enough as a swordsman. Dalaigh delighted in them, collected them and treasured them as the children of Cruachan did the wooden dolls and carts he made for them. He gave up in disgust when I got it wrong for the fifth time and announced that he was hungry. We wandered into the Queen’s hall, routed out one of the slave-women and told her to find us some meat and make us a couple of oat-cakes. She started off with sighs and black looks, but by the time the oat-cakes were half-burned Dalaigh had his arm round her waist and was grinning down at her in a way she understood perfectly well.


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