The island of Ilea (Islay)
Under Kindred of Oengusa
High Kindred of Dal Riada
Circa 480 AD
THE flames of the fire leapt higher and higher, licking into the dark spring evening sky like the tongue of a fierce night dragon. The fire moved almost in time with the waves that were lapping behind them on the beach. Both waves and fire seem to be beckoning in the warmth, melting the rare Island snows of a long harsh damaging winter. Finally bringing our Island back to life.
My voice found the same rhythm, telling the story of the mother Bridget – saint of the Christians and goddess of the spring, my arms and body helping to bring the story to life until I was exhausted by the effort, caught up in the enthusiasm of the enthralled faces of my clan, my sister-hood, my family.
"Tell us another story," Annis implored, her young face shining orange in the firelight of the spring festival, blue eyes bright and a long strawberry-blonde plait swinging down her shoulder as she pleaded excitedly.
Around her other members of my family and our order are stretching and yawning, readying to go to abed in preparation for the busy time, a time of preparing gardens and crops in the awakening soil and helping the tiny lambs of spring enter the world.
"Oh go on please tell me another one Enat?" she implores.
Annis, the youngest of my four surviving sisters and the newest initiate of the Sisters of Green Mountain, is as lit up as the fire that warms my back. She looks like she could stay up all night, though I know that as soon as her head rests in her bed she will be off to the land of dreams. Always a hand-full; reaching twelve summers and womanhood, even joining the sisters, has done little to tame her enthusiasm. Born when I was ten, just three when our mother died, she has been my responsibility intermittently since she was tiny and now here she is again, in my charge, and if our older sister gets her way, my apprentice as a storyteller.
I sigh wearily, the moon is high and in a few hours the dark night will give way to the new dawn – the dawn of the new season, a bountiful spring and summer – god willing. After the harsh winters and dry seasons of the past two years, we need a plentiful year, food stores are dwindling and the plague and sickness could very well be upon us again. Too many have been lost to plague in my lifetime, my 22 summers – far too many. Those who have suffered the pain of loss would do anything to stop it happening again. I look around our family and friends and see the missing as much as the living. I remember their stories and their passing, their lives and their deaths. I remember and try not to feel the sadness seep into my bones. This is a happy time – a time of birth and life, it does not bode well to think of the ills of life, I learned that much in my early days of learning and so I banish the sadness before the goddess can hear my thoughts.
Tonight's festival, the feast of Imbolc, marks the start of spring, the time of lambing and the beginning of preparations for the new green life of our green mountain. After the cold winter shut away in our houses, this festival signals the start of the hard work for all of us from my father Aengus, king of the people of our Ilea and the whole Kindred of Oengusa, to the youngest child.
I look out into the sea of faces before me and around me and catch my father's eye.
King Aengus has always looked strong and fearless to me but tonight, tonight in the firelight, with his two youngest Annis and our brother Ailean, huddled close to him by the fire, big arms stretched around the lanky teen and the blossoming young woman, he looks old, old and tired and I shudder silently as I wonder how many spring feasts we have left with him. How long before my oldest brother Conal or the husbands of my sisters from the other nearby Islands, cousins of my father, take his place as head of our Kindred, our lands and our family.
YOU ARE READING
The Keeper of StoriesHistorical Fiction
IN fifth century Dal Riada, a Kingdom straddling areas of both Ireland and Scotland, Sister Enat of the order of the Green Mountain is a rare breed. It's a time when women are confined to the house and even those of religious orders are sheltered fr...