Dancing With Demons
the main arteries of the five kingdoms, which all converged at Tara. The highway that ran from the kingdom of Muman to Tara was called the Slíge Dalla or the Way of the Blind. It carried its unusual name because it was said that it was such a good and well-kept highway that a blind person would have no problem traversing it. It spanned rivers with bridges of wood and stone called droichet and crossed marshes and bogs on causeways called tóchar. A slíge was constructed so that two large wagons had plenty of space to pass one another without having to slow down.
    The laws on the repair and maintenance of the roads were strictly enforced. It was the responsibility of the local chieftain, in whose territory each section of the road lay, to maintain it. This was part of his duties to the provincial King, and part of the provincial King’s duty to the High King. The chieftain had to ensure the road was in good condition, clear of brushwood and weeds and drained of water. The laws stipulated that there were three times when the roads had to be inspected: at the beginning of every winter; at the time of horse racing when some roads were turned into racing tracks; and, of course, during time of war when the roads became the arteries along which bands of warriors had to pass. If any person caused damage to a road, they had to pay compensation to the chieftain in whose territory the road ran.
    Fidelma and Eadulf, with Caol and Gormán, had set out along the Slíge
Dalla just after first light on the day after they had heard the news of the High King’s death at Tara. Fidelma was aware that this was the beginning of winter with the daylight period at its shortest so that they were restricted to travelling only during those hours. She made a mental calculation of the length of time it would take them to reach their destination. Fidelma was as much at home on horseback as on foot but decided on an easy pace, not merely because she knew that Eadulf was not the best of horsemen but because of her care for the horses themselves. They should maintain the horses at a fast walking pace for long periods but now and then allow them to canter. She dismissed trotting, as this was tiring not only to the horse but also to the rider, who had to rise up and down in the saddle on alternate beats.
    In this fashion, the party made good progress and as dusk began to fall on the first day they had reached a little fortified church and hostel called Rath Domhnaigh. By the end of the second day, leaving the territory of Muman and entering the kingdom of Laigin, across more hilly country, their pace slowed but they had reached Dun Masc, a fortress rising on a rock nearly fifty metres high and dominating a flat plain in the land of the Uí Chremthainn Ain. The chieftain had heard the news of the High King’s death and shrewdly guessed why Fidelma was journeying to Tara. He welcomed the group with courtesy and offered lavish hospitality.
    At the end of a third day’s easy ride, they came to the great abbey of the Blessed Brigid at Cill Dara, the church of the oaks. It was a conhospitae , a mixed religious house, where Fidelma had first entered the religious. Abbess Ita, whose behaviour had caused Fidelma to leave the abbey, was no longer there. 2 The new abbess was called Luan; she had been a contemporary of Fidelma’s and seemed pleased to see her, greeting her like an old friend and making them all welcome. Fortified once more by a good night’s sleep and food, and with their horses well cared for and rested, they set out again. On that fourth day, they were moving due north and crossing into the High King’s own territory of the ‘Middle Kingdom’ — Midhe.
    Fidelma had made this journey to Tara many times and so she knew they were entering the Magh Nuada, the Plain of Nuada. The highway crossed the plain, passing through areas of woodland that were barely inhabited. There was a small church with its own hostel by the roadside in one stretch of

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