Under The Wolf Moon

Under The Wolf Moon

by Townsend Barbara Townsend


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Turbulent times pit North against South,
new immigrant against old in the 1850's Potomac Highlands.
Under the Wolf Moon has passion, life, death, and redemption.

The haunting sound of a mountain dulcimer channels its way through the hollow, softly echoing off the rocks and trees. Because of that, lives are drawn together like the confluence of two great rivers.

An embittered drayman, seduced by bigotry, acts out his revenge. Zebediah, an injured child, is a wounded healer who becomes the pivot between rage and redemption. Woven into the tapestry are an ancient Indian and a black midwife who guide people as shamanic wisdom holders.

Under the
Wolf Moon is the story of a man and a woman whose lives are held in tension between cultural and personal prejudice and the nobility of the human spirit. Under the wolf moon, the
January moon, life and death come full circle.

"An historical fiction worthy of its place in the genre."

-Norma Blacke Bourdeau, writer, poet, professor of Creative Writing, Frostburg University

"Quick and precise character development and a fast moving story line...a real page turner."
-Col. Frank Roleff, US
Army, Ret., past President of Mineral County Historical Society

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450213387
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/24/2010
Pages: 244
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.51(d)

About the Author

Barbara Townsend is a West Virginia award-winning storyteller and preservationist. Shepherd
University honored her in the New Writers Fiction
Competition. She is the curator of the Ashby Fort Museum
1755 and lives with her husband and flat-coated retriever on top of a mountain in the Potomac Highlands.

Read an Excerpt

Under the Wolf Moon

A Novel
By Barbara Townsend

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Barbara Townsend
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-1338-7

Chapter One

Ireland's Western Shore 1835

The dock was crowded with people shrouded in woolen shawls as they huddled from the cold wet mist. Seamus was sickened by the thought of leaving. He'd go for now, but he'd return. He had gone down to the sea and raged, shouting his anger into the waves. The salty water splashed over his face as if slapping him in retaliation. Whose fault was it, after all? The dampness only increased his misery.

As the water trickled down his face, he remembered blood-crimson rivulets of blood tracking down the bayonets from spiked heads, eyes open, glazed, puzzled by death. Strutting, jeering British soldiers had marched their trophies around the close family neighborhoods, tormenting and challenging all who dared watch.

Seamus was stunned by the faces he recognized. There was Jem, then Davy, people he had grown to respect, County Cork's best hope. They were the ones who promised to fight. They were the ones who would cast out the oppressive Protestants.

Now they glared back from blind eyes like puppet heads on sticks, their lives made into a joke.

Just three short days ago, his uncle Fergal was hanged as an agitator. Anyone related to the Malone family was considered a threat to the British government. On the eve of the hanging, soldiers stormed into their humble cottage and ordered the family outside. They searched their home for guns and hidden rebels. Finding none, they turned the table over, smashed dishes, and ransacked the cottage for valuables.

Two soldiers, with guns pointed at the family, interrogated Padraig and Deirdre and their sons, Seamus and Conchuir.

"Bloody hell, where were ya tonight? Did ya see yer uncle dancing at the gallows? Speak up! Give me yer names. They'd best be in English, or we'll shoot you faster than you kin say yer Catholic prayers."

Deirdre went first. "I be Eva."

Padraig followed. "Partrick's me name."

"I be James," mumbled Seamus.

"Speak up or you'll not see daylight again," shouted the soldier.

"James be me name," Seamus said as his mouth filled with bile.

"Connor's me name," replied Conchuir. His Gaelic name was so close to the English pronunciation that it mattered little that he said it the usual way.

When they were finally alone, Deirdre went to the hearth and removed the loose stone. Bending down, she reached in and pulled out a folded leather pouch.

"'Tis the money and jewelry we have. Enough to pay passage on the ship to America. Pack yer clothes. We'll leave before the sun rises."

Seamus protested. "Our cause is not yet lost. I'm needed here, fer the love of Christ!"

"Sweet Mother of Jesus, we need yer help. Me brother's dead. Do ya need to add yer body to me grief?" cried Deirdre.

Padraig caught Seamus' eye. It was clear without another word spoken, they would be leaving together.

Seamus joined his family on the platform as they entered the bowels of the ship, climbing down to the crowded sleeping births where cowards fled to a land called America.

The Cave

The burning embers dimly lit the smooth rock walls of the cave. As the fire flickered, it shone off the dark, bear-greased skin of the Indian. Rawhide and feathers crisscrossed the long dark braids that hung down his chest. He kneeled beside the blackened stone-circled pit. His body rocked back and forth as if he were in pain. In his hands were tightly wrapped bundles of wild hemp and sage. These were placed onto the hot coals until wisps of pungent smoke spiraled up and filled the air.

"Ga-lv-la-di-he-hi, ga-lv-la-di-he-hi, a-yo-tli, ah-yay-la, ahyay-la ga-lv-la-di-he-hi."

Over and over again, he chanted his tribal incantations until the herbal scents put him into a deep trance.

Next to him, wrapped in a blanket of soft beaver fur, moaned a sallow-faced, dark-haired child. The Indian stood and with his powerful, sinewed arms, lifted the frail girl into the air, high above the swirling smoke.

The Indian implored the Great Heaven Dweller, "Ah-yayla, ah-yay-la, ah-yay-la."

The smoke carried his prayers into the dark evening. They merged with the howling song of the wolves and rose into the night sky.

Summer Potomac Highlands 1836

In the muggy night air, the mosquito whined around his face. "Sweet Mother of Jesus," snapped Seamus as he batted the darkness. "'Tis no fuckin' peace even in sleep."

Conchuir stirred in his bed. "Shut up, will ya, Seamus? 'Tis jist a wee bug. Put a blanket over yer head."

"That's the trouble with ya, Conchuir. Nothing ever bothers ya. The little bastard could drain all yer blood and ya'd just lay there a-smilin'," retorted his brother.

"Not true. I'd squash him same as ya. It'd be a bit more pleasant fer me if ya'd quit yer yellin' all the time. 'Tis the rest I need."

"Aye, 'tis the rest we need so we can shovel a hole through the hardscrabble mountain. Ya know what, Conchuir? We're jist beasts of burden fer the Canal Company. Sure enough, the mules have better accommodations. Do ya suppose the boss will let us swap?"

"Go to sleep, for the love of God."

The sun rose over the Green Ridge Mountains, casting a pale orange glow through the thick haze. It was already hot and humid. Acrid smoke clung to the air from the previous day of blasting. It was difficult to breathe, difficult to move. Seamus Malone stretched out his arms and yawned. Before he bent over to fill his water jug from the cool spring, he filled a tin cup with water and poured it over his head. For a moment, the shock of the cold water helped clear his groggy mind. Drinking late into the night was what many of the laborers did. He was no exception.

He shook the water from his hair. Fleetingly, the smoke-filled air reminded him of the peat fires of County Cork. It returned him to a whitewashed rock and thatched-roof cottage, the home he had shared with his parents, and his brother Conchuir. There were people in jaunting carts traveling the twisted lanes, smiles on their faces as they greeted each other. Music filled the evening air accompanied by the smells of warm wheaten bread and mugs of heady dark stout.

It was a romantic vision to be sure. He created it out of his own longing.

"'Tis no blessing upon me soul to be here," Seamus lamented bitterly. "Digging, smashing, shoveling 'tis all I do in this strange land. There's nothing generous here. The soil's rocky, the mountain, 'tis layers of shale, the sea to me home, too damn far away."

He descended the steep steps from the springhouse, turned left, and followed the path down the mountain to the Paw Paw Tunnel. The trail twisted and turned for two miles before it dropped sharply to the excavation site.

Seamus, along with his brother, Conchuir, had signed on as laborers for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The work was to dig through a mountain, making the tunnel large enough for canal boats to pass through. Most of the men hired were Irish. Many, like the Malone family, had fled British-dominated Ireland with very few belongings. He knew he was fortunate to have work, but he took little comfort in it.

In the far distance he heard another explosion from black powder. The tarriers had started earlier than usual today.

Seamus grumbled to himself. "'Tis better to die nobly in County Cork fighting fer freedom than being obliterated by razor-sharp chunks of exploded shale. What's the sense in that? Sure now, there's no one in heaven or hell who'd even care."

His irritation increased as he thought how the men were treated. He told any who would listen, "The Company treats us worse than plantation slaves. Because we're not owned, we're cheaply replaced."

"Stick together, men," he implored. "Fer now, this is our meager place in the world. 'Tis what we have. Don't ya see all the cussed German Prots bein' hired? 'Tis our jobs they'll be havin' next. Then where'd ya think ya'll be? Eatin' clods of dirt and sleepin' with no roof over yer heads. 'Tis together we have the power, not alone like a wee bug."

Motivating Seamus was his knowledge of many German immigrants being hired by the Canal Company. He knew they were hard workers as well as damn Protestants. The workforce on the canal could be taken over by them.

Whatever he said, Seamus knew there was no absolute control over the raw, independent spirit of the Irish canawlers. Already mistrust and suspicion had grown between management and laborers, so much so that guards were placed at the excavation site to ensure continued work, to prevent destruction to the tunnel.

It felt like a slap in the face to Seamus that the Canal Company overseers didn't even try to pronounce the Irish names.

There be no getting away from the English even in this country, thought Seamus. After all, 'twas they who colonized this land. Even now, we're regarded as low as the dirt beneath me feet.

He was known as Shay. In fact, that was better than "Mick" or "Paddy," the names some of his friends were given.

His brother was called "Connor," which suited him just fine. As there was no discernible difference in the sound, it was Conchuir himself who changed the spelling to the English version of his name.

"I don't need to stand out like a blackthorn in any man's flesh. 'Tis not worth the trouble," explained Connor.

Shay was a tall, muscular man with unruly hair the color of dark copper. He tamed it partially by tying it back with a forest-green cord. His full brown beard hung down as far as his collarbone. He looked at the world through green eyes that shifted into different tones according to the color shirt he wore. The eyes slanted downward at the far corners, giving him a deceptively gentle look. In the summer sun his skin tanned to burnished gold, accentuating the startling effect of his eyes.

So much of his appearance fit the description of a Celtic warrior that his family jokingly called him Oisin, the mythic son of the great Fionn mac Cumhaill. All the Irish knew stories about the giant men who roamed their island centuries ago. Mountains with cairns, standing stones in fields, curious rock formations were food for the creative Irish imagination. Their world was alive with mythic heroes.

Despite what many would have agreed were remarkably good looks, Shay felt awkward whenever he saw his reflection. 'Tis me brother, Connor. 'Tis he who got all the good looks what with his hair all black as the coal.

His family, with the exception of his mother, were dark Irish with black hair, black eyes, and stocky builds. While his mother's hair was auburn, she also had dark eyes.

There were stories about the Black Irish descending from the great silkies. The seals would come ashore, change out of their skins, and become human. After seducing and mating with the landed humans, they'd change back into their skins and slide out to sea, later to return to take away their children. Sometimes Shay would sing in his deep baritone voice a haunting song about the silkie.

I am a man upon the land I am a silkie on the sea And when I'm far and far frae land, My home it is in Sule Skerrie.

As a child he dreamed of being one. Now as a man he simply dreamed of that faraway land.

Whatever caused Shay to believe he was a misfit, it shaped his actions. In the extreme, he felt he had to prove himself worthy of every challenge. He had developed a sharp wit that could cut cruelly. Sometimes it would show up unexpectedly in his quickly ignited temper.

Shay sat on the shaley ground, gently feeling the bruise on his right cheek. His hands were etched with stone dust and dirt, his nails lined in black. The rip in his trousers on the left hip meant that by morning there would be more purple skin.

"Surely now, 'tisn't my fault. The scummer's lazy as a stone and there be already too many around here. He jist caught me when I wasn't lookin'," complained Shay.

"Sure now, it couldn't be yer fault. What with yer red face drippin' with spittle in his, jist shouting about what a miserable disappointment he is to his sainted mother, then turnin' around and asking him to kiss yer arse. How could he be offended?" challenged Connor. "Ya know, Shay, yer yellin' all the time doesn't get ya much. I'm gettin' tired of it."

Connor did understand. He just wasn't willing to give his brother sympathy. It didn't seem healthy. Instilled in Shay was an anger that had been forged into his soul that day in Cork City. It was the nightmare vision that was not a dream: British Protestant soldiers marching with bayonetted heads, his uncle swinging from the gallows rope.

"Connor, for me life I can't rid meself of seeing those murdered men. 'Tis the anger and hatred in me that makes me such a misery. I don't know where to put it," lamented Shay. "'Tis like I don't fit anywhere. 'Tis not here I belong."

"Well now, I be jist as sick as ya from the blood and gore. I try not to think about it. Why should I spend me life rotting me soul with hate? 'Tis that part I'll leave behind. Be careful now, yer temper could kill ya as easily as a bayonet."

Their parents had used up most of the money in the leather pouch, but when they sold the jewelry there was just enough money left for a down payment on a small homestead. Connor and Shay contributed part of their wages to the family farm whenever possible.

Despite his parents' dream of starting a new life in the Alleghenies, Shay desperately wanted to return to his homeland. He couldn't imagine that things were much improved in this place along the banks of the Potomac.

The food, especially in the heat of humid summer, hatched up maggots. He'd pick them out, but a lot of the men didn't bother. Often he'd feel sick after eating the strange stew meat and stale biscuits.

"Where, oh God, are the wheaten bread and the heavy stout?" he'd moan.

In fact, there were times when he did puke and, even worse, have a severe case of diarrhea. His body seemed to be more threatend by the food than anything else on the work site.

The shacks provided for the workers were made from uncured coarse-sawn boards that warped in quick time. The gaps were an invitation to every mosquito, rat, and roach, so it seemed to Shay. Never mind that the rusted tin roof leaked in heavy rain, or that when the snow came, he'd wake with more than his woolen blanket covering him. A man needed a better resting place after picking and shoveling his way through this bleedin' mountain.


Even in the most grim situations, the human spirit seeks moments of pleasure. Some found it in whiskey, others in companionship, and many in both. The two brothers spent as much time together as possible. The age difference between Shay and Connor was less than two years, but Connor's big smile and tousled dark hair made him look much younger. His eyes were the darkest of brown, almost black, trusting and innocent. His nature was gentle and steady, not prone to the outbursts Shay would have. People were drawn to Connor and wary of his brother.

"Connor, ye're so easygoing and good-natured, I don't think ye're paying enough attention to the dangers in life," teased Shay. "Nothing bothers ya. Why do ya never git angry?"

"Ya know ye're angry enough fer us both," responded Connor. "That makes it easy, now, doesn't it?"

Shay took on the task as older brother with great seriousness, much to the amusement of Connor. As different as they were, the bond between them was like ironwood.

After work, on those sweltering days when the rock dust clung to the sweat of their bodies and clogged the nostrils so badly they had to breathe through their mouths, the two would head down to the river. There, they'd strip off their clothes, rinse them in the back eddy at the river's edge, and lay them on the shore's sun-heated rocks to dry.

Picking their way toward the middle of the fast-flowing rapids, the brothers would wedge their naked bodies between the rocks. The cooling water poured over their heads, pounding and massaging every inch of their sore, bruised flesh.

"Listen to this, Shay. I wrote a poem last night. All day it has whirled around me brain. Been tryin' to put a tune to it. Tell me what ya think." As the water roared accompaniment, Connor sang.

Let someone love me 'ere I lose what I own Of time and rest and peacefulness. Let someone's eye tear with delight At me coming and me stayin'. Let someone see me all perfect before them. God grant the gift of love's chance and love's changin'. Let me hold fast in the beat of me heart, Longing for the breath of another, Whose lips I would caress with me own.

"For the love of Jesus, Connor, may Mother Mary bless yer romantic soul. I regret to tell ya, 'tisn't going to take first prize at the county fair. Ye're moonin' around like a lovesick cow. There be no girls worthy of such a poem."

"Problem with ya, Shay, ya don't let yer feelings out except when ya punch some poor innocent. Ye're like sweet whiskey in a bottle with a cork so tight ya no can get to it."

When their fingers puckered white, they loosened themselves and shot feet-first down the rapids to the deep pool below. Neither could swim well, but with flailing arms, they raced each other to the rocky shore. Walking upstream in the fading light, the brothers retrieved their clothes and sat on the gnarled roots of an ancient sycamore tree, its white, silvered branches lifting skyward.

"So, Connor, now tell me. What is it that ya miss the most?" challenged Shay.


Excerpted from Under the Wolf Moon by Barbara Townsend Copyright © 2010 by Barbara Townsend. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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