Three grey appearances; the Society of the Key
The Nada Chronicles, # 68
Hans Brockhuis; English by Debby Jenner
Slsh-dmm.. Slsh-dmm..Slsh-dmm. The sound of the dragging step of the first and smallest of the three grey shapes echoed against the soaked granite rocks. His two companions walked, sneaked almost, as usual, close behind him. For possible passing people, who were not to be expected with this never ending pouring rain, it was a gloomy scene. Three in dark grey habits dressed men, with their hoods deep over their eyes, which kept their faces invisible.
Especially in this weather, were the sun was hidden behind a thick pack of clouds and the rain coming down with severe squalls, there was not much to be seen then these three vague figures. Still there was an unseen spectator, but more about that later. The three men were on their way from Rubha Sqoireabhail, the north cape of their island to the castle of Kisimul, on the east side, where Fionn, the fervent wife of Eógan, the second chief McNeill (Clan Niall, in the old language) was reigning the scepter.
The little light which was left on this dark day was reflected by the big keys that each of the three men wore around their necks on a plaited cord. All sworn members of the Society of the Key were recognizable by that special feature. They resisted with all their power against the, in their eyes, pernicious influences of the more frequently on the island Barraigh (that in our time is called Barra) unwanted folks, who called themselves Christians and who tried to eliminate, their familiar faith, based on the wisdom of the old Druids, something that had to be defended tooth to nail!
The leader of the threesome listened to the name of Dubhan, which in his case was excellently chosen. With his raven black bristly hair, small posture and extraordinarily loud mouth, he loved to take care of the fact that everybody obeyed him. His companions, the blond Finnobarr and the red haired Rogan were both much taller but did take care to follow Dubhans orders, or else they would be in trouble. What would follow then, usually was the short whip, that the man always kept hidden under his robes. Still he was a born leader and had managed to gather a score of island inhabitants behind him, who were all intended to keep the ‘evil from Rome’ out of doors. No matter what, Barraigh Oileán would stay Celtic!
And that was precisely the mission the three men had sent themselves onto. As said, they were on their way to the castle. The plan was to kidnap the young, wondrously beautiful 17 year old Aynianrodh, who officially by her father Eógan, but in fact by her mother Fionn, was given into marriage to a certain prince Muiredach of Ulster, destined to be the next prince of that district as well as king of Aileach, and also to become the new Chief of Barraigh. That man was – o gruesome- recently converted to the Catholic faith and that was something of which the Society – didn't they posses and manage the key of the island? - fervently had put themselves against. A Christian as chief of the island where they always had been so proud of their own Oracle? By no means; it was sickening.
At that moment Aynianrodh – Aniyah for her family and friends – had class in herbal theory from Annwfn, an old lady from the village who acted there as a healer and midwife. Also when there was illness at the castle, she was sent for and in most cases, this little fragile crooked lady made everything soon all right again. Fionn, Aniyah's mother found it important that her daughter became familiar with these things, because once she was married she would not have much else to do except for the knotting of carpets. Annwfn was a good person, always helpful to others and she found it a great joy to stand by the handsome and charming Aniyah.
Aniyah's half brother Koun, named after the dogs, because he was a bastard son of the Chief, was finding himself at that moment, not for the first time, in an extreme awkward situation. Because he had been caught again on the steeling of apples – on this rough island a valuable possession – he was by the guards, for the umpteenth time, thrown down in the deep well on the front square of the castle. As always, he had climbed onto the ledge, half a meter above the water level and awaited there, shivering, his fate. Because it was raining so hard for days now, the water level had risen higher and higher and had almost reached his ledge. Soon something needed to happen or else it would look very bad for him.
Koun lived in the village. He had found lodging by a fishers family and to earn a living he was often taken in the boat to go fishing at the Caolas Bharraigh, the straits between the island and the Scottish mainland. Father Niallan, the fisher, was a cheerful man and together with his childless wife, Kaitlyn, they had gladly taken Koun into their family. They knew that for him as a bastard son there was no place at the castle, but they also couldn't change it when Koun had crossed the laws of the island again and the boy was arrested by the rushed by guards.
Koun, who literally felt very low, so deep in the pit thought, to shorten the waiting, with pleasure about his half sister Aniyah, with whom he could get on particularly well. From an early age on they knew about each other’s existence and on a lovely spring day, one and a half year ago, they had had the opportunity to sail around the island together with Niallan, and on the only little beach of the island they had been lying in the sun, and watching the seals, talked at length with each other and exchanged novelties. She spoke about the life in the castle; he about that in the village. It had become a solid friendship and whenever they could they would call upon each other. As young children they hadn't cared much about one another though. Aniyah showed off then. Didn't she live at the castle and he 'just' in the village? But when they were getting older they grew more towards each other. The last time they met, a week ago, they had talked for hours in the local cafe, chaperoned by Annwfn, who had been suppressing herself, because she had so much better and other things to do.
Koun and Aniyah also had spoken about all the changes on the island. The climate was changing, it was becoming increasingly colder and wetter, and besides that there was the threat of the new faith. At the time that didn’t very much concern Koun, but she had entrusted him about the fact that her mother wanted to give her into marriage to the Catholic prince of Ulster, something of which she, to put it mildly, wasn't ready for yet at all. Koun, in his turn, sworn her right there and then that he would with whatever laid in his power – which of course was awfully little- try to prevent that.
Colder and colder he became. The water had almost reached the ledge and gradually he got into a sort of dream state in which he saw three grey figures shuffle across the rocks. It was not really visible in the normal sense of the word, but still it was clear enough for Koun. The vision enlarged; the three men became six, the six twelve and so on. In the end it looked like more than a hundred men, as a sort of hellish invasion, moving around the island, who all had foreseen in on him, Koun. But shortly before he slipped into a coma, there were noises at the top of the pit. A rope was let down and a whisper summoned him to climb up.
The members of the Society of the Key, they who called themselves keepers of the Celtic faith, held every year during the autumn sun turn a meeting in which the members were sworn in and promised to do anything to keep the Roman faith out of the door. The coming marriage of the daughter of the Chief with that impossible Catholic Irish prince had to be frustrated. The threesome, under the supervision of Dubhan, were as said before, on their way to the village to induce Koun, who as son of the Chief had access to the castle. The plan was to persuade Koun to take his half sister to the village and to force Kouns’ stepfather to transfer the company to the hamlet of Mallaivaig on the west coast of the mainland. From there the young lady would be brought to the castle of Inverlochy, were she would be withdrawn for the outer world. Lord Caedmon of the castle was also hostile to the bone with respect to the Roman faith. Aynianordh would have to stay there matters on the island were clear again.
That the practice was more stubborn then the vague theory of this misty idea, goes without saying. When the threesome finally and soaked arrived in the village and called for information at the tavern, they quickly took notice of the situation of Koun. The plans had to be adjusted and it was in the first place necessary to get the young bastard out of the pit. One of the guards of the castle, Ennis, who also was a member of the Society, was sent for and ordered to free the young man out his awkward situation. That would have to wait till it was dark and the rest of the guards drunk, because without an order of lady Fionn otherwise nothing happened at the castle.
To shorten a long story significantly, suffice is to say here that the young Koun hours later, provided with dry clothes and after eating a lump of bread was, still shivering, led before the threesome and ordered to tempt his half sister on a good moment out of the castle for a trip about the water. Koun, who was sensing trouble wasn’t born yesterday and wondered out loudly about the intention of the gentlemen, but when he saw Dubhan's hand reaching under his habit and the grip plus part of the whip became visible, he swallowed the rest of his words swiftly. It looked like he hadn’t much choice. In the end it was him that promised to ask for an appointment at the castle the next morning and ask Aniyah to join him if the weather would become better, for the promised sail trip.
Three days later we see a sad group march through the by then sun-drenched Scottish countryside; the three earlier called 'gentlemen' of the Society of the Key; Koun and a resisting Aniyah. Koun had the intention to free his half sister who earlier in the castle already had become obstinate when Koun had told her about the plans of the Society. Of course she wouldn't want to marry with Muiredach of Ulster, of course she was against the Christian faith… although? But that sentence she did not even dare to finish for herself. But to kidnap her for that was going a bit too far. Still Koun had passionately pleaded and asked her to please come along. On the move they would come up with something to get away.
Now the Society trudged on a steep path on their way to the castle of Inverlochy. Except for their footsteps nothing was heard but the ominous croaking of a raven. The path rounded a meters high block of rock. If they had made it round that Dubhan knew, they would see their travel target in the distance, mirroring in the lake. But that didn't happen. At that moment twelve soldiers of Barraigh in the colors of the house MacNeill, sprang out and arrested the whole company swiftly and took them without further ado to the castle, where Lord Caedman had been arrested earlier on. One day later the whole company returned to the island
In the following process two days later in the front square of the castle Kisimul, the verdict was pronounced. The three members of the Society were sentenced to death rapidly, but Chief Eógan was actually willing to spare the life of Koun whom, although a bastard was still of his own flesh and blood. That unheard indulgence was frustrated by his wife the fierce Fionn who always had had a heartfelt dislike for Koun and now saw her opportunity. To the great sorrow of Aniyah, she personally and with a large knife, made an end to the short life of the young Koun.
Three months later during the summer solstice, Aniyah stepped, who was named from that moment on Eirc – meaning beautiful Irish woman- into marriage with Muiredach mac Eogan. Shortly after they were crowned to be ' King & Queen of Aileach (nowadays called Donegal) where they also lived. She hated this man, and could not let go of the horrible murder on her half brother, but fulfilled her royal duties meticulously. At some point at the marriage she was converted to the Catholic faith. During the 15-year reign period of Muiredach everything on Barraigh island got different. With the execution of the three 'keepers' from the key of the island, this group had ceased to exist, so that Muiredach could freely import the Roman faith officially, which after a bit of muttering quickly was accepted by the population. In practice it turned out that the old Druidic faith for centuries still was part of the social life, but that was no problem for the Chief and his continuators.
Aynianrodh, so now called Eirc, outlived her husband for many years. Her last thoughts on her dying bed at the castle of Kisimul, where she lived her last years, were devoted to Koun of Barraigh, of which she unquestionably knew that they would meet again one fine day.
This story doesn't seem to have a happy ending. Still it does. The spirit-soul who in this life is called Kathy and who is an aspect of the person who once was Koun, after many attempts at intermediate incarnations in which she never reached the adult age, finally met her soul mate, the one that once was Aynianrodh. The couple is married for many happy years now.
|McNeill of Barra Tartan|