Disclaimer: Not Dom, not real, not for profit.
Notes: Secret Slasha for Katin, who asked for "AU, anything with Dom"
For the Ninety-Eight
"They'll be marching north," Kinsella said. "Comin' up from Waterford town."
Dom looked over to the old men clustered around the fire. His hands slowed for a moment, then went back to sharpening the egde of the pike blade. A dozen and more lay piled against the wall, gleaming bright and deadly in the flickering firelight. Blunt at the base, thick enough to break a man's head open, with a blade sharp enough to cut a horses' reins and spill its rider's guts after.
Kinsella leaned over the fire, warming his hands over the turf. The rich, earthy smoke drifted through the room, gathering in the rafters where the lanterns hung. The old men, the grandfathers, sat with their feet on the hob, pipe smoke wreathing their heads, and plotted death.
"They'll give us no peace, will they?" said O'Brian, prodding a dying ember with his boot.
"No, nor we them." Kinsella stared unseeing into the flames. "We head them off on the road to Wexford."
Dom tossed another blade on the pile and took the dull one that Eamon handed him. The boys kept their eyes on the scarred tabletop, their ears turned toward the fireplace. They weren't to hear the planning. They were to follow the orders, when they came. Even Eamon, with his father standing at the fire, wouldn't dare to approach. Their voices went low for a moment, grunts and arguments, then old Breen spit into the flames and stood.
"Push on to Arthurstown," he rumbled. "Cut them off from the others and herd them into our walls."
There were women and children in the city. That's why they'd stood on Vinegar Hill two months before, drawing the redcoats out and away. A disaster, though, wasn't it? And Dom's own father lying in the mud with his wife and son near two hundred miles away. Now Augustine Monaghan's son sat in the same old inn, sharpening the same pikes, with the same red rage in his soul and cold fear in his belly.
He saw his father's strong arms, scarred by sparks and molten metal, pounding the edge onto a blade. Not a swordsmith, this man, not a maker of sabers not the barrels of muskets, for the Irish were not allowed these. A good honest blacksmith, he was, with hands strong enough to hold a horse still and patient enough to guide a boy's hands along a hammer handle. He'd sharpened scythes and countless kitchen knives, blades to cut the life from a sheaf of wheat or from a chicken scratching outside the door. Or from a man, after too many years under the yoke and the rent too high, as McKenna did to the English bailiff with a butchering knife from Monaghan's forge.
Augustine didn't call that murder, and neither did his son. Murder was a child ridden down in the road, or a widow turned out of her home. Twas a shame to lose a good knife, though, for no man would butcher with a blade tainted with English blood. And they'd hanged McKenna, and the soldiers took to haunting the streets of Killeevan, coming into the forge when they would and handling the tools, while Dom's father stood hulking and mute, a big man made small in his own place.
Another Englishman dead, and another hanging, and Augustine sharpened his blades and sent his wife and son west to his kin in Galway city.
The blade in Dom's hands caught the light, arcing it back into his eyes. He laid it down, and the stone too-- a broken bit of whetstone small enough to fit in a boy's hand. There were so few left to march out. Dom's father, Eamon's brothers, all those strong and prideful men dead, and the flowers they'd bled on now gone, the grass brown and dry underfoot, the soft summer wind turned hot and bitter. And those too young to fight beside them were left now to stand on their own, and the old men who'd lost all willing to risk what they no longer cared for.
His insides were jumping. He shifted from foot to foot and bit the inside of his cheek. He might have been waiting for Christmas morning, or the starting of the ponies, and not the last march of condemned men. "Captured last night, they were," so said Eamon, "and not one of ours dead or down to them."
"Couldn't have put up much of a fight," said Dom, but Eamon said yes they had, his da said so; they were just puny and weak like all the English.
And Dom scuffed his boot in the dirt and thought how no puny little man could have won the day at Vinegar Hill unless the Devil himself stood beside him, but there are things to be said and others not, and he held his tongue. They stood by the bridge where ropes hung down over the water, nooses at the ready.
It seemed a foul way to die, gagging and twisting, shitting yourself. Much better to die quick, in battle, with honor. There was no honor to this, to dying this way, and Dom thought uneasily that maybe there was no honor in killing this way. It was one thing to go after a man with a bayonet at the ready; it seemed another thing altogether to trot him out and string him up—but if they shirked this, the soldiers would just run back to their generals and be marching by sundown. You couldn’t hardly win no way you turned.
Shouting, jeers, brought his attention back to the bridge. There was a load of them, twenty easily, some in their natty red coats and some in ragged shirtsleeves and one in no shirt at all, with nasty red weals down his back when he turned round. They shuffled toward the bridge, and Dom stood up straighter. He saw himself stomping alongside Kinsella and Breen with thundering footsteps, tall and strong and fierce; a man to strike fear into these English—instead of standing quiet and a little sick, tall, yes, for a boy of thirteen, and lanky and unkempt, and of no more concern to these poor shuffling souls than the fish in the river.
Eamon shouted, loud and right in Dom’s ear, something foul that he’d never dare say out loud if it weren’t to the English. Dom flinched and kept his mouth shut as the soldiers moved past, as neat as two by two. Some had their heads down, watching their feet moved; some glared at the men flanking them, spitting and cursing when Breen knocked them in the head to move them along faster. One stumbled from the blow and got a smack from the blunt end of Eamon’s pike. He grabbed at the boy as he fell and Eamon squealed and hopped back, near tripping himself on Dom’s boot. The soldier cursed them both.
“Shift over, young Monaghan.” Kinsella hauled the man to his feet and shoved him on toward the bridge. “Come along, then, and you’ll have a piece.”
He didn’t want a piece. Let Eamon have it, he wanted it, but Eamon was shrinking back and trying to look small.
“Come along, boy. For your da.”
And he went, a big hand clamped on his shoulder, down the middle of the bridge with the English on either side, ropes fitted round their necks.
It was loud on the shore, with near the whole town gathered to curse the soldiers on the bridge, wish them a speedy trip to hell, and offer to dance on their graves. The bridge was quiet, with only the wind making noise. It whistled down the river and broke against Dom’s body, chilling him. He shivered, and old Breen wordlessly held out a bottle.
He gagged on it, but the slow warmth filled his belly and worked out to his limbs as he stood at the edge of the bridge and watched the water roll slowly past. Kinsella grabbed the rope of the soldier next to Dom and let out a howl.
“See you our grand and powerful masters!”
The crowd on the shores bayed like hounds on a scent.
“Our sons, our brothers, they stood by this very river not two months past, and they spilled their blood on our land. They spilled their blood on the sword of this maggot, and they died by his hand. And is it enough?
“No—for still they come marching through our towns, setting our fields alight, and they want us to stand down and bear it meekly. For the meek shall inherit the earth, shall they not?” Another answering shout. “But this is our earth, and we shall have it now! We’ll not bow to them, we’ll not forget the red in the river, and we’ll raise our pikes until the last of them is dead. For while our hearts are beating we’ll bear the wound. Yes, by God, and we’ll fight to the last man.” He turned and put his boot in the back of that soldier. “For the ninety-eight!” he screamed, as the man fell forward and plummeted off the bridge.
Dom heard a gasp, cut off, and the roped creaked in the wind. He jerked his face away and looked into the eyes of the prisoner to his right. The boy was young, no older than Dom. He wasn’t wearing a soldier’s jacket.
At some silent signal, the men moved. Kinsella and Breen and all the others, and the air was filled with cut-off screams and the dull thud of ropes reaching the end of their tether, and Dom looked at the boy beside him.
His eyes were blue.
The stench of fear and excrement filled his nostrils, and Dom pushed.