Dúngal hoisted up his tunic, tightened his girdle, and waded into the river. The surface of the water sparkled and danced. He squinted as he scanned its sandy bottom for smooth, round pebbles to use in his slingshot.
   From behind him came the splash of oars. There was a thud as a curach drew up to the bank. Dúngal waited for someone to call out a greeting, but there was only the scrunch of feet and the clink of metal. Puzzled, he turned to look.
   That was no curach. It was a huge longship made of wood, and the men leaping onto the bank were carrying spears and daggers. Vikings!
   One of them shouted in his strange language and pointed at Dúngal. His head, in its iron helmet, was like an evil grey skull. Dúngal tore the slingshot from his girdle, and felt round frantically in the water for a stone. Any stone. He fitted it to his slingshot, and fired.
   It plopped pathetically at the Viking’s feet.
   The man gave a snort of laughter. His mouth was blood-red and his teeth gleamed. Dúngal splashed towards the bank and scrambled out of the water. His wet feet slithered on moss as he darted between the trees. He could hear Vikings crashing after him through the bracken.
   The ringfort lay ahead, just across the field. Dúngal could see the deep ring of the ditch and the high earth wall. He just had to cross that ditch. Then he could pull up the wooden ramp and leave the invaders on the other side. Then he’d be safe with all his kinsfolk. Safe in the cobbled yard, with the little round house and the pointy roof, safe with his father and mother, sisters and brothers…
   Two of his kinsmen were working in the field. They looked up, dropped tools, and broke into a run. Dúngal glanced over his shoulder. Pursuers were erupting from the trees, their spears glinting. He heard a rattle of wood as his kinsmen leapt onto the ramp and galloped across the ditch. Dúngal grabbed a discarded hoe and hurled it at the Vikings. One of them tripped, bellowing as he fell, and two other raiders somersaulted over him in a flurry of arms and legs.
   ‘Yes!’ cheered Dúngal.
   But the next moment, a huge fist punched him in the back and sent him sprawling. His chin crashed into the earth, his teeth snapped against his tongue. He struggled to his knees, gasping for breath. His mouth tasted of blood. In the gateway ahead of him he saw his kinsmen bending to lift up the ramp.
   ‘Wait!’ yelled Dúngal. ‘Wait for me!’
   A hand seized him by the ankle, and dragged him backwards. He twisted, and thrashed wildly with his legs, trying to break free.
   ‘Let me go, you big smelly marauder!’
   His head bumped up and down as he was scraped over furrows and tree roots. Then the Viking ship loomed over him, its carved dragonhead leering down.
   ‘No-o-o!’
   The raider loosed his hold and Dúngal sprang to his feet. But as he turned to flee, the man grabbed him by the tunic. For an instant, Dúngal hung, legs flailing, then the Viking swung round and let go. Dúngal felt himself flying through the air, and the last thing he saw as he hurtled downwards was the wooden deck of the ship.
 

back to books...