Donnchadh rode through town and village. It took him three days to reach the border. Like his clothes, the horses were plain but they had stamina and speed Donnchadh could have been any traveller, except that he carried the seal of Secretary of State.
Although Donnchadh had never crossed the border before, his spies had given the mapmakers enough information and detail to make the journey. The Christians were good map makers. They had learned that from the Muslims. The journey would take two weeks, but even on the first night in the new land he was to find everyone a stranger. He passed over the border without being noticed. He passed through each village until night fall when he needed to find lodgings and somewhere to rest his horse.
The inn was a wooden building on the street. Roman stone buildings hadn’t made it this far West Donnchadh walked through the main entrance which lead directly to the tavern. A smell of ash and stale nettle beer permeated the air.
The crowd hushed to a quiet din when Donnchadh entered. These were a darker complexioned people. Their manner was boisterous, but he was tall to them, almost a giant.
“Shouldn’t you be out with the horses,” a voice shouted from the din.
Donnchadh ignored it and approached the bar and waited his turn. It took some time for the inn keeper to get to him.
“Can I have a room,” asked Donnchadh.
“You don’t want a drink first?”
At first appearance, the inn keeper was dressed simply enough:- trousers well worn, but well kept, a tunic, and a red waistband. His hair was neat and short. This was a proud man. Donnchadh then noticed the accessories, a thick gold ring on his middle finger, a copper arm band. It was a display that his people wouldn’t tolerate – a desire for more. But then the inn keeper and all the people in the inn lacked tattoos and facial hair. The people in the bar were either fully bearded or clean shaven. Donnchadh felt a stranger here.
“You not be from here,” said the inn keeper as he looked up and studied Donnchadh curiously.
It was a struggle for Donnchadh to understand this inn keeper. After only one days ride across the border, the language had become difficult.
“I’m from the North West.”
“That you be. I heard they not travel much. What you doing here then?” The inn keeper was neither friendly nor hostile.
Donnchadh knew though that word would get out, so felt it best to be as honest as possible. The pope would know of his arrival.
“I’m to see the papal city” was as honest as he could be.
“There be only one God,” replied the inn keeper.
Iomara’s people worshipped many gods, not even gods, they were more like nature spirits. And it wasn’t so much worship it was a sense that they needed to work with them. The inn keeper was challenging Donnchadh.
These southerners are fanatics Donnchadh thought. They may have only one god, but this is not a simple religion. Donnchadh was filled with doubt. He wondered how his people could convert to this level of intensity, this disconnection from the land.
“How much for a room by myself?” Donnchadh enquired.
“Five silver pieces.”
“And to feed the horse?”
Donnchadh pressed ten coins towards the inn keeper, telling him to keep the change. The inn keeper beckoned for Donnchadh to follow him. He lead him up a short wooden stairway to his room. The room was simple, a straw mattress thrown on a wooden floor, a shuttered window, bare walls and a small table.
Donnchadh opened the shutters. The night was cool. He pulled the mattress away from the door to the opposite side of the room, and moved the table beside the bed. He lay down with his sword by his side and a knife easily accessible from his tunic and fell half asleep – easily. Donnchadh wasn’t expecting trouble, but he was a warrior.
Hours later and still only half asleep, Donnchadh heard a creak of the door. Soft, but heavy foot steps entered the room. Donnchadh counted four feet. He stood up quietly and edged himself against the wall. A knife was thrown at where the bed was and went straight into the floor. Thieves thought Donnchadh. Murdering thieves. Donnchadh threw his knife to where he sensed a body. There was a scream and the body fell to the floor. Donnchadh drew his sword and spun it in a circle protecting him, feeling where it might engage. At the end of the circle was the sound of steel upon steel. The feeling told Donnchadh that the other body was directly in front of him. He could feel its weight shifting. Donnchadh slid down to the floor. Then from the floor he jumped suddenly sword thrusting up. The air was empty. The sound of his landing revealed his position. He swung his sword in a circle once more. Once again steel upon steel. This is no thief, thought Donnchadh.
The sword pulled away, then Donnchadh threw his body into the direction of the swordsman. The swordsman crashed against the wall. Just as quickly Donnchadh pulled a knife and thrust it into the muscled stomach. That’s both of them thought Donnchadh.
The door opened and a light streamed into the room. He could see more men coming. Donnchadh ran across the room and leapt through the open window onto the damp ground below. He had to get his horse. A shout came through the window.
“We will find you.”
Donnchadh ran down the middle of the brick street and around to the inn’s stable. It was quiet. He slipped in. He could see a door. Will I chance it, he thought to himself. Donnchadh found his horses stall. He calmed his breathing. Then a hand was on his shoulder. Donnchadh didn’t move. He could tell from the pressure what would happen next, and the pressure was friendly.
“I thought you‘d be back.”
“Best you sleep here tonight. They’re still waiting for you inside,” whispered the voice from behind. “I will find you some extra straw. You’ll be safe, god willing.” It was the inn keeper. “Then at first light you need take your horse and leave. These people fear you and your people. They want you dead. Don’t go into a town. Go to a monastery. You need help.”
Donnchadh turned to face the inn keeper. He held a knife in his hand – unthreateningly.
“I think this is yours and probably want it back.”
It was a gallic knife, but it wasn’t his. Donnchadh took the knife anyway and gave the inn keeper a gold coin for his troubles.