This is a novel is set in an early Celtic period and is about a young man and his desire in life to become a storyteller.
His journey takes him to the mainland where he encounters omens, seers and the evil cult of the dead. Events soon require him to find a mystical many gifted man called Lugh.
Only by finding and learning new mental powers from him can he hope to right the wrongs done to his family and then be able to return to his true ambition in life.
- An Omen. 7
- On to the mainland. 27
- To see a Seer. 59
- An invitation to trade. 85
- A way to destiny. 127
- Illusions and circles. 169
- Return on the eve of Samhain. 199
- A successful sacrifice. 231
Chapter One - An Omen
I'd finished, after seven long and hard years of having to memorise each and every spoken word, relief and elation now raced through every channel in my body. Its tingling warmth spread right through me and gave me a lightheaded feeling that I'd never known before. It all seemed like the perfect beginning to my new vocation.
The sun had long since started its descent through the skies as I begun to head back down the mountain. The thick clouds were still below me, hanging over the glen like a soft fleece. Whilst carefully retracing my steps down the icy and rock strewn path, I stopped to look back over my shoulder at the old man. He was sitting on his wooden seat, leaning against the wall of his hut, looking warm and contented. Having done his part, he was now relaxing in the warm sunlight, gazing up at the brightly lit, snow covered peaks. I paused for a moment waiting until he saw me. When he did I smiled, waved and continued on, following the well-worn route that wound its way down toward the cool, dense zone of cloud. As the mists wrapped around me, the cold and damp seeped swiftly through my skins giving me a chilling reminder of the perils that these parts could deliver the weary traveller. I hurried on thankful that I'd made this journey countless times in my mind as well as by foot.
As I reached the trees visibility began to return and with it the closeness that can only be felt inside a dark wood on an overcast day. I'd been through here many times but had never ventured far off the path. The lone cry of a wolf howling off to my right quickened my step and I found myself having to control my breathing to calm my all too imaginative thoughts. I reached the clearing where the track crossed a wee burn. The icy water pooled at the base of a small waterfall. I liked to stop here and eat some oatmeal cakes whilst relaxing against the trunk of a leaning pine. I could then reflect on all that I had learned that day and repeat it over again in my mind. More often than not though, my mind wandered and I would conjure up the wild fantasies of bygone years. I would make up battles between humans and the Sidhe, the little folk. Brownies and Thrummycaps, shape shifting Kittywitches, Trows and Peerie Trows and many other types of fairy would all fight together using their magical powers against the cold metal of swords and shields. I could make the trees move, the animals speak and lightning strike all with single thought. It was little wonder my sister called me a dreamer. Perhaps it was this that made my father finally despair in me ever becoming a true warrior like himself. After years of trying to train me in the 'Island' arts of unarmed and armed combat, he realised that although I had an aptitude, my heart and mind had always been elsewhere. He had finally relented and with my mother’s support, I was allowed to go and learn from Dugald, the Island's Seannachie, a learned man gifted in the art of Storytelling.
It was not Dugald and the tales that I was learning from him that was on my mind now though. Nor was it the impending initiation into the school for aes dana on the mainland. What had caught my eye and had stopped me in my tracks was the sight of a beautiful male kingfisher. He was perched on a branch overhanging the pool and was staring, with keen intent, down into it. His head turned toward me as I crouched down to watch him and he let out a shrill whistle. A respectful awareness hung in the air and he turned his head away. Moments later he swooped, flying low and straight over the water. I watched in awe at his accuracy and sense of purpose. A momentary twinge of envy stabbed me from within. His graceful flight continued, direct and undeviating straight toward the face of a huge, upright boulder at the edge of the pool the other side. Half a breath later there was a dull thud.
Thoughts failed me. Powerless to move, I watched as the dead body fell straight down into the water and then slowly float towards me on the current. Its lifeless eyes looked up at me as it passed and without knowing why, I reached out with my hand and cradled the bird out. Images started to flash through my mind. What did this mean? Why hadn't the bird made any attempt to alter its course? Not even at the last instant! Had it just been a huge mistake, an oversight? A miscalculation? Maybe it had been distracted, obsessed by its prey. Surely not. This was definitely a powerful omen, the meaning of which I was at a loss right now to even guess at. Trembling a little, I made a hole in the ground near to the branch I had first seen the bird. As I laid him in it, I pulled out three short bright blue feathers and three orange ones and wrapped them carefully in a piece of soft tweed. My rituals complete, I walked on heavy of heart and foot, my mind though was racing. What did all this mean to me? Where was I now going to? and what purpose was there to my life because of this? Everything had been so unclear in the past and I thought that I had just begun to gain some sense of direction. But now this! Such a clear sign filled me with a sense of fear and foreboding.
The path ended as I came out of the woods and I could see Donan Broch in the distance. Its circular dark grey, stonewall towered above the thatched roundhouses nearby. It looked a formidable sight with the setting sun outlining it against the backdrop of the Gruinard Sea. The faint outline of the four guardians, pinnacles on Cae Carn Beag, could be seen in the distance. I'd never been to the mainland before and my coming trip would bring me close to this mountain as the aes dana, the learned men and women who would give me my final test, were only to be found at Invercarrie, the nearby capital and home to the queen.
My mind wandered again to my oncoming task. It was the end of seven years training with Dugald and if I was to become a Fili, a Poet, I would need to pass trials of memory and imagination. I would have to repeat word for word all eighty stories and fifty poems. Only then would I become known as an Anruth, someone who could practice the art throughout the land. I loved my work, there was nothing more enjoyable than holding everyone's attention in the middle of a well-crafted tale. What had always concerned me though, was how I was going to survive afterwards. Fili were always welcomed wherever they went. They were fed well. But what of the future, it always seemed so uncertain.
As I passed the outfields that I had ploughed myself with Ard and Oxen, I wondered at what might have been if I had been happy to go along with my father’s wishes. He had been a warrior who had fought well for the clan chief and had been given a large part of the Isle of Seigg to raise his own clan. A strong community had built up here around the broch with many ways of life. My elder brother, Cethan, had felt comfortable with the role of a hunter. He spent most of his time away in the woods on this and other islands. My sister Mairi had always helped my mother making clothes and preparing food. I, on the otherhand, had never felt interested in farming the land. It was my father's wish and I'd tried to get into it for his sake. In the end, however, we had reached a concession. I agreed to put the time in for him, so long as I had been allowed to visit Dugald and to learn my chosen craft from him.
Dugald had turned up at one of those opportune moments in life that can only be looked back upon as some form of a coincidence. The tiny currach he had been sailing had been blown off course by a strong gale during the Time of Ice. He had seen our lights on the shore and made for shelter. As was customary we bade him and his skipper to enter into the warm broch and fed them well. When he had finished eating he repaid us with a story. It was a night I will never forget. As he sat by the fire turning the wheels of the bellows, he took us all away from our current troubles and into a past land full of majics, fairies and gods. A land frequented by our forefathers, a land where people still had the power to cast illusions and spells, a land where warriors were both brave and foolish and maidens were as fair as snowdoves. I had been transfixed and ever since had wished to be able to repeat such an epic tale. It had taken days of persistence on my part in order to get my father to allow me to study with him. Dugald on the other hand didn't seem at all surprised. He had long since decided to stay with us on the island and been more than happy with the idea that I would bring him food in return for my tuition.
I'd now reached the infields where we also kept the hives. Bees had been a main part of my life since I had first tended them when I was six. They were one of the things I would really miss. The first sweet sip of your own mead was always an occasion to savour. I could easily accept my lot in life and settle down to farm here when I was around my bees. Something inside me though, had always nagged me into thinking that there was more for me to do. It felt like there was a mission to be completed, but of what I had no idea.
I looked up at the buildings now only about five hundred strides away. There was smoke rising from the broch. That seemed strange. It was far too early to light the fires. Perhaps my mother was brewing up one of her cures. Her father had been a man of learning, skilled in the art of herbalism, and she had acquired many of her ways from him. She had been named Etain after Etain Echrade, the fair maiden that Oengus, son of the Dagda of the Tuatha de Danaan, had longed to marry. Her powers of beguiling had been strong and she had bewitched him into wanting her by appearing to be the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. My mother, it was said, was also blessed with fair looks and luckily for me also had a large amount of influence over my father. It was finally with her help that my father changed his mind and allowed me to pursue my studies.
My thoughts though were interrupted. Something was not right, my step quickened and I broke into a run. Where was everybody? At this time of day people would be all over the place. I rushed up the stone steps to the front door of the broch. It was half open. Ducking down inside and hurrying quickly along the short entrance passage, I was faced with about twenty people all turning their heads towards me. On the ground in the centre next to the fire in the hearth lay my father with my mother kneeling beside him.
"What's going on?" I shout, louder than I had meant to, but my voice was filled with desperation.
This is a novel I wrote back in the year 2000. I have now created a revised version and this now available via the online printers. It is priced at £14.95 but currently has a 10% discount.