brother. Never trust the foreigners. We can use your mistake, however. There is always a way to profit from an error if you give it some thought, and I’ve been thinking about this one.
‘While Ivar of Limerick thinks you are willing to stop fighting him, he may be willing to let you become King of Munster without opposing you. He knows you, remember. He does not know whatever man the Owenachts may wish to make king.’
‘Are you suggesting I ask for the support of the Vikings?’ asked Mahon, astonished to hear this from Brian.
Brian smiled a faint, wry smile. ‘I am not. I’m just telling you to take advantage of what you have. Proclaim yourself King of Munster now, take everyone by surprise, and my men and I will help you take Cashel.’
Mahon was tempted. The Dalcassians and the Owenachts were ancient enemies, and an Owenacht had killed Kennedy in a battle between the two tribes. Itwould be very satisfying to deny the Owenachts the kingship of Munster. ‘But what about afterwards?’ he asked Brian. ‘If I do become king of the province, what will you do?’
A faraway look came into the younger man’s eyes. ‘I’ll go home to my wife and son, and eat fish fresh-caught from the weir on the Shannon below Beal Boru.’
‘But wouldn’t you want to bring your family to live at Cashel?’
Brian raised one eyebrow. ‘You may have made peace with the Danes, but I haven’t. You rule Munster. I’ll continue to protect that part of Munster which is Thomond. Cashel is not my home.’
And so, in the Year of Our Lord 959, Mahon mac Kennedy claimed the title of King of Munster and captured the stone fortress atop the Rock of Cashel. Because the time had been shrewdly chosen, he was not challenged. Surprised by his swift and unexpected move, the Owenacht chieftains did not have a prince ready to stand against him. Besides, they were uncertain about risking the anger of the Danes of Limerick, who seemed willing to let Mahon be king. So they accepted the situation, for a time. But their resentment simmered like a pot coming to the boil.
Brian saw his brother crowned King of Munster, then true to his word, he returned to Beal Boru. As he had known they would, the Danes continued raiding in Thomond, no matter what truce Ivar had made with Mahon. Thomond was too rich a land to be spared by the Vikings.
While the new King of Munster ate fat meat in his stronghold on the Rock of Cashel, Brian went back to sleeping wrapped in his cloak, through wind and rain, in the hills of Clare, and protecting his homeland.
He had quietly recruited a number of new followers from among Mahon’s own warriors, while Mahon was being crowned king. Brian believed in taking advantage of opportunities.
But once more his numbers were reduced through almost constant fighting until word reached the King of Munster that Brian was almost the lone survivor. This time Mahon went to him. He found him wrapped in wolfskins, camping in a limestone cave.
‘Look at you,’ said Mahon. ‘Bashed and bloody and weary. You with two babies and another on the way, I hear. Give up now, Brian. Come to the south, come to Cashel and live with us. We shall make your family very welcome.’
Brian’s grey eyes met his with a steady gaze. ‘I won’t abandon Thomond to the Vikings. Neither our father nor our grandfather surrendered this land, and I will not.’
‘But don’t you see, Brian, that it’s impossible to defeat the foreigners? There are so many of them – the Danes in Limerick and Waterford, the Norsemen in Dublin – they’re everywhere now. They have terrible weapons and coats of mail. If you keep on fighting you’ll surely be killed one day.’
Brian gazed sadly at the brother he had once admired so much. ‘It’s natural for men to die,’ he said, ‘and death in battle is better than a life in slavery to foreigners.
‘But one thing is not natural, not for Dalcassians. We have never submitted to outrage or insult. You shame us, asking