Wicklow Mountains, Ireland
May 24, 1798
I checked the harness on the draft horse, making sure it was secure for the trip down the mountains. “Calm down, Robbie,” I said as he fed the old mare a carrot. Moving back, I made sure the cart was in good shape in the dim light after sunrise. A full load of charcoal piled under a tarp, ready for market, and a breakdown would be catastrophic. Philip Corcoran had a job to do, and I was going to do it well.
“Are you sure?” I could hear my Mother’s voice from inside the house, a benefit of the werewolf hearing I had.
“We need the money the charcoal will fetch at market. Our boy is thirteen, so he’s too young to fight. If anyone else made the trip, either the Irish Rebels or the English would force him to join. The Pack needs the potatoes and medicines he’ll bring back from the market.” My father was a low Beta in the Pack, responsible for ensuring we had enough food and supplies to wait out the troubles that were coming. I was climbing into the seat on the wagon when he came down to see me.
“Philip, lad. Go straight to the market in Laragh, conduct your business, and come right back,” he ordered me. “Do not speak to anyone about anything else; spies are everywhere.”
“I will, Father.” I took the reins, Robbie leading me down the road towards the village twenty miles away.
I could sense my brother and cousin as they ran alongside in the woods for the first mile, stopping at the narrow pass leading into our valley. The Irish people were ready to revolt, and Alpha Bracken was determined to avoid entanglement in such affairs. Our Pack lived in the mountains, felling timber, and making charcoal to trade while farming in the areas we could. The twenty men, twenty-eight women, and fourteen children of my Pack struggled to survive in a world gone mad.
The millennia-long struggle between France and England became a proxy war in Ireland. After France supported the American Revolution, the King called for volunteer militias to defend Ireland from the possibility of invasion. The Irish Volunteers turned into the Irish Patriot Party, and they used their power to push for greater political independence. Some reforms happened, although Catholics still could not hold offices.
The French Revolution changed everything. The liberal ideals of the Revolution, occurring in a Catholic country, led to the formation of the Society of United Irishmen seven years earlier. It brought together Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, and other dissenters to push democratic reforms and Catholic emancipation. We stayed out of it all, but we paid attention to what we heard in the villages.
War with France broke out in 1793, and the United Irishmen saw a chance to use French aid in an armed insurrection to break free of English rule. I’d heard speakers talk about the United Irishmen in previous trips to town; they boasted two hundred thousand members! I couldn’t imagine that many people working together, and I thought they would be invincible.
None of it mattered to us; we were godless Paganists to them, worshipping the Moon Goddess.
I met no one on the roads, and I arrived at the market just after lunchtime. Delivering the charcoal, I took the money from it to buy the medicines. Every shilling left I used to buy sacks of potatoes. I had the load secured and was heading back out of town by three.
I’d barely made it a mile when I heard the sound of horses coming fast. Looking back, I could see the English Cavalry coming. Wanting no part of it or them, I pulled off the dirt trail into a clearing and waited for them to pass. Twenty horses stopped to rest, but two kept going. Peeling off from the others, they trotted towards me.
The lead horseman pulled up alongside my cart, while the second went to the back. “Name, boy,” the soldier asked.
“Philip. Philip Corcoran,” I said nervously.
The second man had thrown the tarp back, exposing the bags of potatoes. Drawing his sword, he thrust it through the pile a few times before cleaning it. The leader looked back at me and the small bag I had next to me on the bench. “What’s in the bag?”
“Medicines and herbs, from the market,” I said.
The soldier held his hand out, and I handed it over. “You have a lot of food and medicine here,” he said. “Enough to supply a large camp.”
“No, sir; it’s for my family. We make charcoal up in the mountains.”
“No family is this big, even in Ireland. No, boy. You’re with the rebels.” He drew his sword. “We’ve got a big United Irish camp hidden in these mountains, and you’re going to lead us to them,” he told me.
“I don’t know anything about a rebel camp,” I pleaded. “I’m just taking these back to my parents.”
“You are, are you?” He rode around the wagon. “Then take me to them.”
I could not do that; it was an Alpha order. No human was to set foot in our valley. The location of our Pack lands was a closely-held secret; there was only one pass through the mountains, and that entrance was covered with vegetation to hide it. Leading soldiers to our home was an unthinkable betrayal. At best, the English would draft us into military service. At worst, Pack members would die, and they would burn our homes. We wouldn’t shift to fight, because the people would burn the mountains down if they knew werewolves lived there.
Almost instantly, a sword was at my throat. “What did you say, boy?”
“I said no. I will not help you.”
“We’ll see about that. Tie this rebel to that tree,” the leader told the other soldier. More men approached; my hands were bound, the rope going over a high branch. The men pulled until I was suspended just higher than my toes could reach, leaving me swinging in the cold breeze. A knife cut away my shirt, and one of the soldiers approached with a whip. “Give him ten lashes to loosen his tongue,” the leader said.
“Yes, sir.” The soldier was old, his cheek badly scarred, his teeth rotten, and his disposition worse. “You’re going to sing for me, boy.” He stepped back and loosened the whip, swirling it around before sending it flying at my unprotected back.
CRACK! Pain exploded on my back as the whip cut through skin, setting me on fire. I screamed in pain, interrupted by the next CRACK as the second lash fell. After six, I couldn’t catch my breath before the next scream tried to begin. I was sobbing uncontrollably as the tenth lash fell.
The leader walked over to where I was swinging in the wind. Staying clear of the blood that dripped down my ruined back onto my breeches, he grabbed my chin and spun me to face him. “You will take me to them, or you will die in agony,” he said.
I couldn’t betray my people. Gathering the blood and spit in my mouth, having bit my tongue in the lashing, I spit the mixture into his face. “Then I die,” I said with all the bravado I could muster.
He let go and laughed as he wiped his face clean. “Oh, I like this one. The boy has spirit, and that makes it all the better when they break. Ten more lashes, and then we will see if the answer changes.”
The new lashes crossed over the wounds from the previous, and there was no spot untouched on my back by the time the second round finished. I was praying for death by number sixteen. “Well?”
“Fuck you, you English prick.”
The man with the whip hit me in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me, then everything went black as pain exploded on my cheek.
Pain. Searing, agonizing pain was all I felt as I woke.
I could feel something moving under me, each sway and bump pulling at the scabs on my back, sending fresh jolts of pain to my head. I tried to open my eyes, but my left one wouldn’t cooperate. It was dark, and I found myself in a crowded box carriage. It smelled of blood, fear, and death. “Ugh…”
“Don’t move,” a voice said as his hand came down to my neck. “They did a job on you, boy. Your back is a mess. My name’s Lewis.”
One attempt at lifting my head was enough to convince me he was right. “Philip. Where am I?”
“Prison transport heading to Belfast,” the man said. “You and a dozen other rebels, all saved for a bog date with the hangman. What did you do?”
“Nothing. I’m innocent.”
Laughter broke out around me until the guard banged on the side and told us to be quiet. “Son, we’re all innocent. The King won’t care about that little detail, though.”
He was right about that. The English sent Lewis to the gallows on arrival, along with half of the men with me. They liked to make a show of punishments, thinking to intimidate the populace.
The Irish Rebellion was doomed before it started; informants got the leaders arrested, and the French reinforcements never landed. I later found out that pockets of resistance kept going for a few years, but the reprisals were brutal. The English soldiers killed prisoners, raped women, and wiped out entire families and villages.
I never did give up the location of my Pack, and only my age kept me from swinging at the end of a rope. I never got to say goodbye to my family, and they never knew what happened to me. In the end, I received a ‘merciful’ sentence; the English put on a prison ship, shackled below decks for a six-month voyage to the new penal colony on Australian territory. Half of the prisoners died in transit, and brutal discipline met any disobedience. The smell of vomit, feces, and urine was a constant; sleep was fitful, and not at all in heavy seas.
It made me wonder if I was the lucky one, after all.
I weighed barely a hundred pounds and had just turned fourteen when I was marched off the ship at the penal colony in Sydney Harbor.