Red Steel WC-3862
Shaun M. “Gnarl” McGrath
King Eoin walked slowly over to his son. He placed his hand on Fraoch’s shoulder.
“My son. That English Dog has killed your sisters and mother. I swear that I shall take his head!” His hand went to the handle of his sword and sparks flew as he pulled the blade from the scabbard.
“By all that is holy, Red steel shall taste his blood! I swear upon the sacred Claymore that was a gift of the descendant of the high king Brian Baru. This blade, blessed by the Goddess Maeve herself, this blade whose name comes from the river of crimson it has made to flow, shall give me justice!” The fiery red King of the Irish Wolves held the blade over his head. All the humans in the tavern made a mad dash for the door, all except one. The older human male looked up from his seat at the two tall, muscular figures with long flaming red hair.
They seemed to be garbed in the old way and the skins they wore looked very old.
“Eoin, King Eoin. I am no clan of yours but I am Irish and I am the master who has trained many a warrior. If you would permit, I shall train young Fraoch to master the sword and defeat the English Dog!” The human’s voice was gruff and his manner bellied many a battle. The scars showed that he had learned the lessons of the sword in the worst ways. King Eoin turned and saw the red hair and the weapon at this human’s side.
“And why should I trust a human?” The human stood and downed the last of his whiskey. He stepped close to the king of the Irish wolves and grabbing the king’s sword by the blade he placed it to his own throat.
“I would rather die by a blade in Irish hands than by the slavery of the English.” The Human broke all taboos and looked straight into the eyes of Wolf king in his man like form.
“We have nothing left to offer you as reward.” Fraoch stood beside his father and stared at the human.
“My clan has passed and I am the last. From this day forth I shall take the name MacTire.” King Eoin looked at him and started to laugh.
“You’re either crazy or a fool. But a friend is a friend. Let us seal this deal with a drink.”
Fraoch walked over to the barkeep and placed a gold coin on the counter. Like any good innkeeper his attraction to the shiny coin took precedence over his fear. The barkeep swallowed hard and then placed a bottle of whiskey on the bar. Fraoch took the bottle and turning his large ears forward snarled at the humans standing at the door. The humans then went outside and dared not re-enter the tavern.
“I will ask only of you young one, that when you fight the English Dog you must be in this form. I cannot train you in wolf form.” The human placed his glass next to the glasses of the king and his son.
“Why do you not fear us as the others do?” Fraoch knew that Humans were not usually used to seeing creatures from the Burren.
“Like you my young prince, I too am from the Burren. I have seen your clans many times. When I was young there was one old female, of your clan I think, who told me stories. Stories of many other creatures as well as your clan. She made it seem as though you are all, just normal people. For most of my life I had no idea that you were considered- Mythical.” He raised his eyebrows and nodded his head as he said it. He waited for Eoin to pour the whiskey.
Eoin pulled the stopper from the bottle and threw it at the bar.
“We won’t be needing that again!” He then poured the three glasses full. Each of them raised their glass and swore to defend the others. They downed the contents of the glasses and slammed them down on the table in front of them. The king noticed the slight glow that surrounded the human.
He placed his left hand on the human’s chest and closed his eyes. The king then opened his eyes and gasped with sudden awareness.
“You’re not fully Human, what are you?” The two wolves stepped back.
“I am from the Burren. It was said that my Grandmother was seduced by a creature. She was thought to have been alone but my Grandfather never left her side. I have no idea what he was but he gave us a form of magic, a fighting magic. I will teach it to young Fraoch.” He stared at the two of them.
“I sense the beast within you. Well Arracht, we have sealed our pact!” The king held out his hand. Arracht as he would now be called took the offered hand and shook as brothers in arms.
It was a sight that the barkeep would tell stories about until the day he died.
In his tavern he had witnessed two large males with long flaming red hair, the tails, ears and feet of wolves form a pact with the monster of the Burren.
Fraoch worked hard to become a master of the sword under his new mentor. Eoin would often disappear for days on end, tracking down the Dog that had murdered his family. Arracht would never get used to the sight of the King changing to his Wolf form. He could tell there were at least three different ways in which the pair would change form. The first seemed slow and painless but he was unable to look away. First, they would turn their faces to the sky and close their eyes. The longer snout of the wolf would slowly emerge and the hair covering them would grow covering completely the skins they were wearing. The second was more a startled form. It was often not a complete transformation but would enable to escape quickly. The third and what seemed the most painful to them was a near instant change. They would leap into the air and by the time they reached the ground would be in full wolf form. This transformation had a sort of backlash as it appeared to take so much energy to perform. Once completed they would stand there on all four with their eyes closed as if waiting for their heads to clear or maybe the pain to stop. Arracht knew also that the full wolf form was their native form. In that form the King was able to travel faster and his sense of smell was heightened. He noted that the sword’s scabbard would form itself to ride on the wolf’s back and was sure some ancient magic was involved. The color of the Irish wolves made them visually become one with the fields of heather. Fraoch learned the life of the sword and the magic that would bring death to his enemy. He learned how to use his own body weight to control the weight of the large sword. Like his father he also carried a form of Claymore though his was not an enchanted sword. He spent the first few months on balance and then moved to technique. Arracht knew that Fraoch would have the advantage with the longer sword because of his own height. His reach would exceed that of the English Dog. He knew that Fraoch’s weak spot was his ankles. He tried to get Fraoch to wear some form of protection but Fraoch only complained that they were like wearing shackles. Arracht then decided to teach Fraoch a move that often worked but was not the most graceful. When he knew the enemy was going to strike at his ankles Arracht showed him how to jump up and use the enemies bent over head as a springboard to jump backwards. The biggest trouble for Arracht was in the evenings after the training was done. His two companions would shift to their wolf forms and curl near the fire. So many times, he nearly forgot himself and would start to reach out to pet them. In his heart he knew that these two were fierce wolves who could kill him, but still his emotions could not help but feel their pain.
Late in the summer of the second year of Fraoch’s training Arracht was convinced that his training was almost complete. The two could see from their vantage point high atop a knoll in the Burren that Eoin was returning from one of his ventures. They noticed as he got closer that he was limping and wounded. The two went out and helped the wounded king back to the camp.
“I found him! I found that bastard! He is without honor. I tried to get to him but his pack had too great of numbers and I was wounded. I know not how many of them I dropped before they got me from behind but he never even tried to enter the fray.” Eoin closed his eyes and was close to passing out.
“Where are they? I shall kill them all.” Fraoch clenched his hands in fists of rage.
“No! You are not yet ready. There is still one more lesson to teach you.” Arracht looked at the wound on the back of Eoin’s leg. He could see the green and slime in the wound. He knew it went far deeper than the king would ever acknowledge.
“This is infected. I can cure you but it will always give you trouble. I am not sure your fighting style will allow you to…” Arracht was interrupted by Eoin.
“I only have one last battle to fight.” Then he sighed as he went unconscious.
“I will care for him for now. Go get water and start the fire we must take care of his wound.” Fraoch helped Arracht carry Eoin into the small cave hidden within the rocks deep in the Burren. The cave would hide the small flames of the fire and keep them from being spotted. While Arracht took care of the last king of the Irish wolves Fraoch stood guard on the high rock known as Lia Fail, the stone of destiny. Arracht had known the tales that claimed this knoll to have once been called Tara.
Fraoch’s mind wandered to his memories of his sisters and mother. He could still see them dancing in the lush green of the countryside. His memory of them as wolves running through the heather and trying to make him lose sight of them was still strong. He could hear their voices and the way they would giggle when his back was turned. He was feeling lonely. Fraoch was becoming aware of what it really meant to be the last of his kind. His life would be spent alone. The anger within him was turning to rage and his lust for revenge would be settled only by the death of the English dog. Fraoch was startled back to the here and now when he heard the cry of his father as he screamed in pain. Then there was again silence. He knew that Arracht had sealed the wound with a knife that had been in the flames. He knew that his father would live at least for now.
“Don’t go in there ya fools! That is the Burren, do you want to die?” The large English Dog stood looking at the plain that lie beyond the rocks. He knew that his sword would one day cross with that damn red-haired wolf. He watched as the humans gathered the dead dogs and commented on the fierceness of the Irish wolf. He felt no anguish as the humans put down the three who were left wounded and threw the corpses on the pile with the other seven the wolf had killed.
“He is the last and soon there will be no more!” The English Lord called out to his dog and motioned for him to come and rest by the fire.
“Tomorrow, Barron, tomorrow we shall track that forsaken wolf.” The lord laughed and patted his dog on the head. It is a good thing that none of these men know your secret my friend.
Were they ever to discover you are a shape-shifter, like that wolf, we would be burnt as heretics.” The two sat and watched the fire. The men who worked for the English Lord always stayed far away from the large black dog. They believed in the superstition that the black dog was the omen of death. Many were not willing to enter the Burren as it was a place for creatures from the other-world.
The dawn broke over the Burren and Arracht told Fraoch to get rest.
“Your father will heal but I fear what the future may hold.” He said with sadness in his voice. The days past and Eoin knew that his time was growing short. Even with his limp he would still give his all to destroy the English dog. That creature so evil that it had no remorse, no guilt, even after killing the children of his clan. He watched as Fraoch was taught the final lesson.
“You must learn to use that anger within you but never let it control you. A true warrior and master of the steel must keep his mind sharp and know what his opponent will try next. Now I will teach you the magic of the blade. Clear your mind and feel the sword in your hand. It is an extension of your arm. It is not just a weapon, not just steel, it is your partner. Do not fight its weight let its movements flow and it will dance in your hand.” His eyes got wide as Fraoch’s movements became like a dance of death. The wolf was no longer a wild youth but now was a master of the sword. His movements were faster than lightning but he still had to learn to summon the strength of his soul and put it into the blade.
“It is time. Now we will avenge our clans.” The old king held his blade aloft and called to his ancestors for the power of vengeance. Then the three packed up and hid all of their gear in the small cave. They rolled a stone over the entrance and vowed only to return when the English dog was dead. The King Eoin had discovered that the English lord had a plan to control Ireland and had set his sights on certain castles and manors. In this part of the island there were only certain manors that the English lord would want. They searched these manors and finally came to an estate that was surrounded by woods. It was not far from Meath. It was here that they found the English Dog. They would need a plan to lure him out.
“I shall go to the gates and tell them that a red wolf was seen in the field near the Burren. You two should go and make ready. I will wait until just before dusk. Good luck to you, both!” With those words Arracht stood and sighed as he headed for the road that led to the manor house.
In a field near the edge of the Burren Fraoch and Eoin waited for the coming of the Dog. As night fell, they could hear a patrol of hounds trying to sniff them out. The two separated hoping to leave too many trails to follow. Eoin was not as fast as he had once been, he blamed it on his injury and not his advance in years. The Wolf king was soon surrounded by the patrol. He took human like form and with his hand on the handle of the sword, waited. He did not have to wait long, the first of the dogs lunged at him. Eoin drew the sword in a smooth forward motion slicing the belly of his attacker while it was still in midair. He spun his own body and using the weight of the large blade pulled the swing slightly up taking the head of the second dog. Eoin tucked the blade under his arm and caught the dog that had tried to attack him from behind. It had become a dance of death. Red Steel flashed in the moonlight and made known how it had gotten its name. The dance was suddenly interrupted by the pain in Eoin's leg, it threw his balance off and he missed. The dogs took the opening and went straight for Eoin's vitals. They tore his throat and damaged his sword arm. This was not the first battle for the aging king. He knew that he would have a short time. There was no point to hold anything back. Fraoch heard the sound as the hounds tried to howl at and attack the once mighty king. He heard each yelp as Eoin dispatched the dogs. Fraoch heard his father screaming at the dogs and knew that Eoin was in trouble.
There had been too many of them for the old wolf. He killed the last of them with a loud scream and then fell to the ground. Fraoch found his father in the dark and held him. With the king’s last breaths, he grabbed his son’s hand and spoke.
“Take this sword, my son. With red steel, avenge us. Now leave me, I am not long for this world. I shall tell the clans of our battles and give your love to our family.” The old king closed his eyes and fell limp in his son’s arms. Fraoch could not help but let out a mournful cry that curdled human blood. The last howl of a wolf to ever be heard in Ireland. He took the sword and the scabbard offered by his father and let the old king lie still in the field. He knew the English Dog was not far behind him and he shouted taunts as he made his way into the Burren. The English Dog was not one to let go so easily and followed. Fraoch did not notice the image of a female creature watching over the field. Maeve raised her hand and the blade of Red steel began to glow with the spirits of all Fraoch’s ancestors. As her tears fell the apparition faded.
The men who served the English Lord stood at the edge of the Burren and waited.
The full moon rose over the Burren and the moon-shadows made the entire Burren seem the same in every direction the Dog looked. He had lost his way and now could only follow the taunts. His emotions had gotten the better of him and he let them take over as he swore to end the last wolf in Ireland. Fraoch's taunts made the Dog’s rage grow until the black dogs’ eyes burned red with hatred.
The two finally met on the knoll where Fraoch had trained so hard. Both now in near human form. Sparks lit the knoll as Fraoch drew red steel. The sound of grating metal was heard as the English Dog drew his blade. The pair were evenly matched in size.
The servants of the English Lord now had no doubt that the Burren was home to monsters as they saw in the distance lightening on a clear night. They heard the echoes and mistook them for thunder.
The two on the knoll had charged and the blades nearly buckled with the mighty blows. Each time the blades met the shower of sparks illuminated the pair and made the knoll appear as if two gods were in a great battle. Thrust and parry stab and thrust. The swords clashed and one could hear their souls crying out in anguish. The English Dog tried to taunt Fraoch but he held his mind in check. The English dog was bathed in black and red as his hatred took him over. Fraoch seemed to be bathed in a golden glow, he felt as if the Claymore in his hands was laughing.
The English Lord shouted at his men to go and help but none of them would enter the Burren.
Even the English Lord himself felt fear and worried that his friend might never return.
Fraoch could tell that the English Dog was starting to slow down so he put more effort into the battle. The great dance of death was fierce as the two fought on.
The English Dog stepped back and parried Fraoch’s blow. That was when Fraoch heard the voices of his father, his mother and his sisters.
He felt as though his arm was becoming one with the sword. The sword started to glow and the power that Arracht had told him about came to him. The wolf’s soul was joining with the blade and the two became one. To Fraoch it seemed as if the Dog had suddenly gotten much slower. In his rage the Dog has lost all memory of the rules of battle, now he only fought with hatred. Fraoch was landing two or even three blows to the dogs one. He parried the dog’s blade and gashed the dog’s leg.
The English Dog now knew that he might not win this fight. The dog thrust at the wolf and wolf just seemed to step aside causing him to miss. Fraoch did not miss. Red steel sank deep into the side of the dog and withdrew before the dog could even try to parry. The Dog tried to swing at Fraoch’s ankles but Fraoch used the special move. The Dog was thrown off balance by Fraoch stepping on his head.
“Now you evil mutt, I will avenge my clan!” Fraoch faked a strike and when the dogs blade failed to connect with red steel the wolf removed the hand that held the evil sword. Fraoch did not taunt the Dog now, nor did he give any words as the creature before him fell back into his feral form. With one final blow Fraoch put his clans at peace. The dogs head and shoulders parted ways. Fraoch stood upon the knoll, alone now. The battle was over. He looked to the moon but did not howl. He knelt down on one knee and began to cry, for he was now the last. The prince now the last king sat upon the rocks and closing his eyes heard the praise of his ancestors.
Morning came and the English Lords men got up the courage to go forth in the light of day. They found the body of the dead wolf and brought it back to the English Lord. Their search had finally led them to the knoll where they found the body of the English dog.
In the Irish Burren the legend of a flaming red-haired spirit warrior wielding a blade called Red Steel lives on to this very day!
McGrath RED STEEL
second try to get this uploaded here.