Possibly the most powerful book I've read for many years – but it’s neither pleasant nor comfortable. The historical detail is spot on and the language is appropriately coarse and both combine to immerse the reader in the world of young Fergus. His is a life of unthinkable harshness. We feel his sadness and love for all those he has lost, both man and animal, keenly.
They came upon an old horse, lying on its side, in an enclosed field where all the grass had been cropped. The horse's hide barely covered its bones. The knob of joints had broken through and insects were working in the wounds.
Kneeling, Fergus touched the old horse's neck. The eye swiveled at him wildly.
Black lips drawn over yellow teeth.
'Nothing here for us,' Luke said. 'No meat left on him, poor old man.'
Going to the nearest section of wall, Fergus started working loose a stone while Luke stayed with the horse, stroking its neck and singing a song about warriors and cattle.
Dislodging one grainy boulder from the wall, Fergus lugged it over. Luke stood back, still singing, his voice thin and clear. Fergus raised the stone and looked at the horse's wild eye before dropping it on the skull, which broke with a noise like ice snapping.
Luke sang one more verse, then walked away and climbed over the wall. Fergus looked down at the smashed head. The teeth. There was no blood he could see. No eye.
'Come away, Fergus.'
The heavy soil in the next field clumped at their feet and accumulated; it was like wearing heavy, muddy boots. They began chasing each other, slipping and sliding in the mud, screaming with laughter.