Irish tales: The Foreigner’s Stone

In this novel for young teens, set in the year 999 AD, a small seaside clan in distant Connemara must contend with a dark presence on the isle that faces them: remnants of a Viking army that had raided their lands  years earlier. Omra, the chieftain’s daughter, is unafraid and often goes down to the surf-line to study the small isle and its inhabitants, which becomes part of the mainland at low tide.

A distant flash of white movement catches her eye.

There, over on the island, amidst the frost-covered green-brown gorse and dunes, was a horse, white as snow. It ambled down to the tide-line in a slow, rather thoughtful sort of way. Omra took in a deep, excited breath.

White horses were the luckiest creatures of all—to spot one meant a great bit of fortune was coming her way. She couldn’t wait to tell her closest friend, Niam!

Omra had seen horses before, though they were rather uncommon in her lands. Neither her father nor their neighbors had one. The inland chieftain Cronan certainly did and she had seen them at market fairs. They were glorious animals, as holy as hounds, ridden into battle by noblemen, and thought in their own way to be magical, favored by the ancient gods. She watched as the distant horse paused by the edge of the sea, lingering by the tidal path, as if confused, or lost, in search of an owner.

And then it began to canter onto the tidal path in a slow and thoughtful way. Ambling along, and Omra saw it had no male parts. White mares were considered particularly lucky. She felt her ring finger practically burning.

The mare was coming right toward her. Omra moved down to the water, to the point where the tidal path merged into the sand of the strand. She waited, holding her breath.

The horse slowed as it approached her, but then came right up, stopping just a foot from Omra and waiting, as if for instructions.

Omra reached out to touch the horse’s mane and neck. It was an astonishingly gentle animal, its eyes a vibrant shade of deep brown. The horse’s eyes met hers, and there was no doubt in Omra’s mind that this animal was somehow meant to be hers. It seemed almost too splendid to be real.

She swiftly picked up the raggedy hem of her linen skirt and ripped off a strip from around the bottom. She took this makeshift leash and tied it around the mare’s neck, then led it back up the beach, up over the dunes. It followed obediently, as if Omra had always been its mistress. Omra felt almost dizzy with joy, as she made her way back through her father’s lands.

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