The Pick of the Litter, by Peigin Doyle
Red hair rippled from his flanks like molten waves. Shining coat. Bright eyes. The pick of the litter and a temperament to match. Though he was a pedigree hound he could be trusted with the sheep too.
Old Conor told me once he even saw him pulling a lamb out of the snow up on the pasture and his teeth never left a mark on it, he was that gentle. But give him a stranger and it was a different story.
It does you no good in my position to show weakness but that time, when I saw the body and its gaping mouth, I cried like one of the children, and there wasn’t a man here who didn’t cry with me. They all knew what I had lost.
The youngster hasn’t a bit of harm in him. He might be one of my own sons—mad keen for the games and the hurling. It could have happened to Diarmuid or Aodh or Naoise or any of them, if the circumstances had been the same for them. Racing to be there for dinner, no idea of time, messing with the ball like they all do, then running to get in before the doors were shut. How many times have I told them not to be caught outside the gates when the hound was loosed?
Then, in the flick of an eyelid, no more time than it takes for a growl, he had the hurley up and a whack of a ball the like has never been heard before or since, they told me, and the beautiful thing was dead.
The breitheamh tells me I can claim compensation but how can I do that? He has barely a stitch on his back. The king would give me an honourable gift, no doubt about it. He won’t have the humiliation of being satirised for stinginess but he truly feels for me too.
But even if he gave me a warrior’s tribute, it would make no difference to the facts. My lovely hound is a burnt carcass over there in the field beyond the rampart.
And now the lad is following me around like a dog – like the way my own dog did – and looking just as sorrowful. He is going to be my guard dog, if you don’t mind. My people tell me that the story is spreading. It seems I have a hero on my hands.
But who will tell the story of my mighty hound when all my days and the days of Culann’s people are long gone?
Peigín Doyle is a writer and editor who has authored a number of books on heritage and archaeology. She writes poetry and short stories.