Battle of Culloden – 16 April 1746

Culloden Monument

Culloden Monument

The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the Jacobite Rising.  On April 16, 1746, near Inverness , the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) faced a royalist army commanded by the Duke of Cumberland.  The Jacobites had a goal – to overthrow the reigning House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart to the British throne.   Their army consisted of Scottish Highlanders, a number of Lowland Scots, a small detachment of Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment, and French and Irish units.  They were supported and supplied by France.  The Duke of Cumberland’s army was largely English, with a fair number of Scottish Highlanders, and Ulster men from Ireland.

The battle on Culloden Moor was bloody and quick.  Over 1500 Jacobites were killed or wounded in an hour – while Hanovarian forces incurred light losses – about 50 dead and 250 wounded.  Many wounded Jacobites were slaughtered in the aftermath – earning the Duke of Cumberland the title of ‘Butcher’.   Charles Stuart escaped to France and made no further attempts to challenge Hanoverian power in Britain.

In the following months, the King’s forces continued the assault on Jacobite sympathizers with the Act of Proscription, disarming them and banning the kilt and the tartan.  Violators were incarcerated or transported to a penal colony for a second offense.   Other Acts ended the feudal bond of military service and removed the sovereign power chiefs had over their clan.  The ban on kilt and tartan was not lifted until thirty-five years after the battle.  This monument stands as a silent reminder of this tragic event.

***

Here is a short story I wrote about this battle:

“Recollections of a Spirit”

It was a cold morning on April 16th, 1746. The sun had just risen.

Duncan and I had traveled for days on horseback, to join the army of the Prince. We trusted that he could defeat the red soldiers as he had at Prestonpans. Near Inverness, a French courier demanded our intentions and asked us to carry letters to Culloden House. Duncan took the letters, stored them in his plaid, and we continued on our way. His brothers met us at Inverness, telling us to fight with the Glengarry regiment, camped near Drumossie Moor. I took the letters and told him to join his brothers, that I would follow after I delivered them.

That was the last time that I saw him as a free man. I was taken at Inverness by the English and jailed. When it was determined that I carried letters in French, they beat me mercilessly, asking who they were for, and what their meaning was. I could not tell them. They kept me in irons in a cold cellar, without food or water. The beatings were relentless.

Word came that day that the Prince’s army had been soundly defeated. Other prisoners joined me, many with mortal wounds, dying shortly thereafter. Men arrived with limbs hacked or bowels pierced. The stench of rotting flesh was overpowering. There was no word of my friend or his brothers. They kept us in a cellar, bound, with no food or water for that day and the next. No one tended our wounds or administered last words. Men cried piteously for water or death. Still, I held out hope.

On the morning of the third day, I learned that I was to be executed as a rebel. After sunrise, I would be flogged to death at the tree outside the jail. They’d sent for a lowlander from a nearby encampment, known for his brutality.

Before sunrise, I was brought outside and made to sit on the cold ground to await my fate. I smelled wood fires and heard dogs barking, as red soldiers guarded me. Able-bodied prisoners were brought out to watch, but they wouldn’t look at me. I knew it was my last day.

As a young man, I was no stranger to whippings. I did as I liked and risked the consequences. Father whipped me soundly with a strap many times. I played a game that I would not flinch or cry out, so he beat me until he was no longer angry. These were my thoughts as I waited, that it would not be worse than that.

The red soldiers allowed a man of the cloth to approach me to say the last words. It was cold and he wore a hood that obscured his face. As he knelt beside me and pushed back his hood, I saw that it was Duncan. By God’s grace he had survived the battle. He touched my forehead and made the sign of the cross, saying the words we’d heard so many times. With tears in his eyes, he whispered that he couldn’t save me, but would avenge my death with his last breath. I begged him not to watch it, but he would not leave me.

At sunrise the Lowlander arrived, a muscular man with eyes of steel. Soldiers pounded stakes into either side of an oak, removed my irons and shirt, and tied me to the tree with rope. It was cold but I was sweating, and my heart pounded like a drum. As blood rushed in my ears, I heard the sentence being read.

A soldier gagged me, but the man removed it, saying that he needed to hear me. He took the ‘cat’ out of his bag and showed it to me. It was a whip of nine knotted strands, ending in sharp bits of metal. In a voice that was cold and deliberate, he taunted me, calling me a rebel, a traitor, and an animal. I burned with humiliation and anger.

All I wanted was to bear my punishment in silence and die like a man; but it wasn’t to be. I held staunch for twenty strokes and faltered, my pride crumbling. I grunted, cursed, and gasped for breath as the leather tails blistered my back. May God forgive me, I cried like a child, and rubbed my wrists raw against the ropes.

He stopped after one-hundred strokes to drink. I was nearly unconscious, so they roused me with water. Before he began again, he taunted me. He’d wagered that I wouldn’t last another fifty, and intended to finish me now. The man ran his rough fingers across the marks in my flesh, thrust his hand down the front of my kilt, and touched me as a lover would.

In spite of my predicament, I was furious and spit into his face. His eyes narrowed in anger.

He began again, whipping me with a vengeance. Blood soaked my kilt, ran down my legs, and pooled in my boots. I could barely stand, and the cries that I made were not even human.

I heard them call out one-forty.

Silently, I begged God to take my soul. I was cold and trembling, too weak to cry out. My body was dying but my mind was a raging storm. I held on to anger and refused to die. My inner voice cried, “I won’t let go, I won’t let go!”

Duncan’s anguished thoughts broke through my inner turmoil.

Eavan let go!

Let go! Eavan let go!

For God’s sake let go!

May God forgive me for not taking your place!

My mind calmed and my breathing slowed. A brilliant bubble formed before my eyes, translucent and full of light. I saw Mother looking out to sea for my brother, Grandfather whittling a walking stick, and young John struggling on his deathbed. The bubble enfolded me, and softly popped.

I was pleasantly confused, convinced that they’d stopped the execution. I stood among them in my best riding breeks, shirt, and plaid. It was lightly snowing but I was as warm as fresh bread. I flexed my shoulder muscles and gazed at my hands. My backside was whole and my wrists were healed.

The big man cleaned and oiled his whip and put it in his bag. He joked with the soldiers about the rebel bastard, and collected his wagers. Still I did not understand. Duncan mounted his horse and rode towards me.

I waved my hands. “Duncan. Over here! They let me go.”

My friend stared through me to a place beyond, his face lined with grief. What did he see? I turned my head and saw the bloody shell of a body that was mine, and knew I was dead.

A young soldier thrust his bayonet into the body. “The rebel is gone! Let this be a lesson to all who oppose the King of England.”

Duncan made the sign of the cross and rode off on his chestnut mare. I followed him out of town, where he dismounted and concealed his horse behind some trees. He sat on a log and waited, running his thumb along the blade of his dirk.

Before long a rider appeared; the lowlander with eyes of steel. Dressed as a man of the cloth, my friend concealed his knife and bid him stop. As the man dismounted, Duncan seized him and cut his throat from ear to ear.

I watched this without emotion. It didn’t matter. Mine was a world without pain and hunger, or domination by the English. Duncan would be along soon enough.

***

By Jeanne Treat

Jeanne is the author of the Dark Birthright Trilogy, a tale of 17th century Scotland, England, and the Colonies.  You can read about it online at:

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

Illustrated!

Luc Gordon from Dark Destiny

Luc Gordon from Dark Destiny

An excerpt from “Dark Lord” – from a chapter named “Covenant”

Alex Hay

Alex Hay

February 28, 1638, Edinburgh, Scotland

The morning was cold and dry in the city. There had been little snow or rain that month, causing fresh water shortages. The sun had just risen, casting rays through low clouds. The streets were bustling with activity. Women swept their doorsteps and hung out damp bedding to dry. Children ran with dogs, shouting and spinning hoops. Tradesmen and mariners left their homes to go to their daily jobs. These things were happening and more. For more than fifty thousand men had descended upon Edinburgh to sign the National Covenant. They came from all parts of Scotland; the Highlands, Lowlands, and even the islands.
***
Back in October, the King had stripped the capitol city of purpose and influence. He’d ordered the petitioners to leave or be arrested and tried for treason. Worse yet, the Privy Council and law courts were advised to desert Edinburgh for a secure location. The King had promised to consider the petitions when the city was peaceful, but that hadn’t happened. Instead, he seemed content to let them stew in their own juice. Dozens of petitioners were arrested and transferred to London to await their fate in the Tower of London. Many of the Lords involved withdrew to safe locations to raise money and support for Leslie’s army. There was no doubt as to how this would go down.
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Word of the rebellion traveled to the far reaches of Scotland via letters, posters, and personal accounts. The protest grew into a campaign of petitions and supplications denouncing the Laudian prayer book and criticising the power of bishops.
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Led by the lords Loudoun, Rothes, Balmerino, and Lindsay, the supplicants organised four elected “Tables” or committees to represent the nobility, gentry, burgesses and clergy. A fifth Table was to act as an executive body. In the face of the Privy Council’s impotence, they acted as an alternative government.
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The well-respected clergyman Alexander Henderson and the lawyer Archibald Johnstone were tasked with drawing up a National Covenant. It was to unite the supplicants and clarify aims, the main one being a rejection of untried “innovations” in religion.
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Favors were called in and loyalties tested. By early December, the specter of religious persecution was the basis for fiery sermons, town hall meetings, and supper table conversation. Money was raised; weapons and supplies gathered, and men committed themselves to the cause. They awaited marching orders.
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Word came in mid-January, asking them to report to Edinburgh by the end of the third week of February. There they would be given the opportunity to sign a covenant and pledge their support for the rebellion. In vague terms, they were told about Leslie’s army and encouraged to join the ranks.
Lord Traquair, after his brush with death in the Edinburgh riot, obtained permission to come to the King. He told Charles frankly that he must either abandon the new Liturgy requirements or come to Scotland with 40,000 armed men. Instead of an army, Traquair was given a proclamation to deliver. The King made it clear that it was he not the bishops who was responsible for the new service book. Anyone who dared to oppose it directly challenged the King’s authority. The proclamation was read on the twenty-second of February to a hostile crowd who greeted it with hoots and jeers. A rival protestation was read in the presence of his Majesty’s heralds, who could not escape the crowd. They were bound to report to the King.
.
This created a need for a signed Covenant. Henderson and Johnstone were encouraged to complete it in a manner that would leave little open to debate. Not all ministers were convinced that Episcopacy was against divine law, so no mention was to be made of bishops. They were to ask all signatories to pledge themselves to defend the reformed religion and resist innovations, unless accepted by free assemblies and Parliaments.
***
It was now the twenty-eighth of February. According to posters and the word on the street, the National Covenant would be presented today. Supporters were to attend a ceremony in Greyfriars Kirk to commit to preserving the purity of the church.
***
Alex Hay was one such man. He’d spent five months in Leslie’s army, with only sporadic contact with his family. The militia had grown rapidly after the riot, from a private army of mercenaries to a loosely organized force of thousands. They’d made him a lieutenant and put him in charge of a band of plough boys no older than his sons…

Read about it at:

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

Robert Beverley and the Virginia Climate Part 1

Jeanne_Treat:

Early 18th Century Dress in the American South ~ “The heat is beyond your conception…”

Originally posted on "The Heat is Beyond Your Conception..." :

beverfp

In 1705, for the first time, a native born Virginian published a book that included in-depth description about the colony’s climate.  At the turn of the eighteenth century, earlier settler’s had established themselves within the quickly growing colony.  Robert Beverley’s The History and Present State of Virginia examined the history of the colony, natural products suited for trade, native indians, and the current state of affairs.  Beverly included his observations on climate, which for the first time seemed to tell the brutal truth unlike authors before him in the early seventeenth century.  Beverley wrote:

THE Natural Temperature of the Inhabited part of the Country, is hot and moist: tho’ this Moisture I take to be occasion’d by the abundance of low Grounds, Marshes, Creeks, and Rivers, which are every where among their lower Settlements; but more backward in the Woods, where they are now Seating, and making new Plantations, they have abundance of…

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The Royal Demise of King Charles I – a snippet from “Dark Destiny”.

King Charles I

King Charles I

Historical Background

Parliament appointed a High Court of Justice in January 1649.  King Charles I was charged with high treason against the people of England for his part in the English Civil War. The King’s trial opened on 20 January. He refused to answer the charges, saying that he did not recognise the authority of the High Court, but he was found guilty of the charges against him and sentenced to death on 27 January 1649. The King was beheaded on a scaffold outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall on 30 January.

This event is dramatized in my novel DARK DESTINY, book three of the Dark Birthright trilogy.  Here is a snippet from the book.

From a chapter named “Royal Demise”

January 30, 1649 – London, England – 9:30am – St. James’ Park

            It was a bitter morning in London, with temperatures hovering in the low thirties.  It was so cold that the Thames froze over.  The sky was overcast, a harbinger of things to come.

King Charles knelt beside his dog; a brown and white spaniel named Rogue, and caressed his ears.  “Never fear, my friend.  Someone will care for you.”  The dog gazed at him with innocent eyes.  Charles knew that he would never see him again.

“My King!” William Juxon cried.  The Bishop of London looked stricken.  “I would be pleased to take him to your family or keep him myself if need be.”

Charles looked up.  “Thank you, friend.”  The old man was a devoted companion.  “May God smile upon you.”  The King stroked the dog’s back and planted a kiss on his head.  Then he struggled to stand, relying upon his weak ankles.

“Let me help, your Majesty!”  The Bishop reached out to assist him.

Charles waved a hand.  “Nay, let me do it.”  After a few more attempts he was upright, facing the Bishop.  He gazed at the sky and sighed.  “Such a beautiful morning.”

Juxon raised his eyebrows.

The King smiled.  “Ah…  I know that it is not.  Humor me.  For it is the last morning that I will ever see.”

“Oh…”  The Bishop was close to tears, “I wish that was not true.”

The King squeezed his shoulder.  “Weep not for me.  For this is my second marriage day.  Before night I hope to be espoused to my blessed Jesus.”

Juxon wept openly.

Charles barely heard him.  Now that he’d said goodbye to the dog, he obsessed on events that led up to his predicament.  After a long incarceration, he’d escaped to the Isle of Wight.  Betrayed by the island’s governor, he’d been confined to Carisbrooke Castle.  From this location, he bargained with various royalist parties and signed a secret treaty with the Scots.  His offer was simple.  If they would invade England on Charles’ behalf and restore him to the throne, he would tolerate Presbyterianism.  Factions of royalist Scots invaded England, sparking a brutal second civil war.  They were soundly defeated.

After failed negotiations, the King was moved to Hurst Castle in late 1648, then to Windsor Castle.  For encouraging a civil war while in captivity, the monarch was accused of high treason.  The House of Commons passed an Act of Parliament to create a court for his trial.

Charles had thought that this action would fail.  It was dangerous to accuse a King of treason.  Indeed, many potential commissioners refused to serve.  Then the unthinkable happened.  In early January, he’d been put on trial before sixty-eight commissioners who urged him to enter a plea.  Charles refused, claiming that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch.  He argued that his authority to rule had been given to him by God when he was crowned and the trial was illegal.  Three times he refused to enter a plea!  It was seen as an admission of guilt.  The trial proceeded, witnesses were heard, and fifty-nine of the commissioners signed his death warrant.

The Chief Judge had delivered the sentence, “Charles Stuart is a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good of this nation.  He shall be put to death by severing his head from his body.”

The memory infuriated him.  When the sentence was passed, I tried to defend myself.  They would not hear me!  I was taken from the court by armed soldiers like a common criminal.  He’d been granted a few days to make peace with God and say goodbye to his family.

The Bishop of London helped him to prepare for the ordeal, joining him for morning prayers and administering the Sacrament.  He read the lesson for the day, ‘The Passion of the Christ’.  Charles found it reassuring.  Like Christ the Savior, he was ready to endure this final humiliation to meet his maker.  Some thought him guilty.  But God would absolve him of wrongdoing.

His family was another story.  His two oldest sons and younger daughter were living in Paris, under the protection of the exiled Stuart court.  It gave him comfort that his son James had escaped parliamentary custody to travel to France, disguised as a woman.  His bloodline would continue and eventually prevail.  The only ones left in London were his wife Henrietta, his thirteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth, and nine-year-old son Henry.  He hadn’t seen his wife in more than four years.  They’d quarreled over fundamental issues, one being her unfaithfulness.  Therefore, he’d snubbed his wife and allowed only his daughter and son to visit.

Charles got revenge.  His last words to his daughter were “Tell your mother that my thoughts never strayed from her, and that love should be the same to the last.  I have always been faithful to her.”  This innocuous message pleased his children, but he knew that it would wound his wife.  He’d investigated her infidelity and found that she betrayed him.  He confronted her with evidence and extracted a confession about that traitorous Scot, Lord Gordon.  He gritted his teeth.  How many more were there?  French whore!

Colonel Thomlinson approached.  The uniformed man was in charge of the two companies of infantry guarding him.  He stroked his beard nervously.  “It is time, Your Majesty.”

The King unconsciously touched his neck.  They will escort me to my death.  Breathe, Charles!  Dignity is required.  You must not show fear.  He had dressed in thick underclothes so that he would not shiver from the cold.  It could be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

“Your Majesty,” the Colonel repeated.  “The signal has been given.  We must go.”  The guards raised the Colors and began to beat drums.  A young boy accepted the leash and led the spaniel away.

The King’s bowels churned.  He’d eaten no breakfast, but instead had taken the Sacrament.  Nothing more.  He did not want to vomit.  Oh, how he wished for a swig of laudanum!  Charles looked around.  He was surrounded by soldiers.  No one would rescue him.  There was no chance of escape.  “I am ready.”

Ah…  But a handful of his supporters were there as well.  He saw them remove their caps to travel bare-headed as he would.  The Bishop, his attendant Thomas Herbert, and a few more…  Such brave men.

Bishop Juxon placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Come, your Majesty.”

Charles watched as his partisans lined up before and after him.  For an instant, he felt protected by his friends.  The foot soldiers formed a barrier around them as they began to walk across the park with Colors flying and drums beating.  The Palace of Whitehall loomed in the distance.  He could see a large crowd gathered around it.

Charles held his head high.  His outward manner was calm, but his mind was a raging storm.  How dare they do this to a King!

The procession left the park and passed crowds of curious onlookers gathering to see the execution.  They took the stairs up into the Gallery, then into the Cabinet Chamber.  There the King continued his Devotion with the Bishop.  To avoid fainting from hunger, he drank a glass of wine and ate a piece of bread at noon.  Another hour passed.

Charles thought that it was cruel to make him wait.  He’d been informed of a delay.  The official executioner refused to do the deed.  There then followed a frantic search to find someone to take his place.  Finally, they’d located a man and his assistant who agreed to do it masked.

The King hoped that he knew what he was doing.  An unskilled ax man could take three blows to sever a head.  Charles swallowed hard.  He wished that it was over.

The story continues in Dark Destiny, book three in the Dark Birthright Saga.

Read about the series:

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

Medicine and Healing in 17th Century Scotland

Midwife / Healer

Midwife / Healer

Medicine and healing in 17th century Scotland

 

If you lived in Edinburgh and had money or stature, you could have engaged a trained physician. Healers, midwives, and bonesetters were available for common folk.  This trade was passed down from mother to daughter.  These women were skilled in the use of herbs and natural materials such as tar, honey, and garlic to cure disease or treat wounds.

Garlic was known to calm spasms, kill parasites, and fight infections.  Honey healed stubborn wounds.  Alfalfa treated digestive weakness and restored lost vitality.  Burdock was good for skin eruptions; it induced sweating.  Blackberry relieved diarrhea.  Catnip calmed nerves and reduced fever.  Dandelion root and flower stimulated digestion.  Borage was good for rheumatism. An infusion of mugwort could restore a woman’s moon cycle and was good for digestive ailments, frayed nerves, and sleeplessness.

Medicinal herbs were often administered in teas or salves.  To strengthen them, they were dissolved in vinegar, which had healing properties of its own.  Vinegar was thought to improve skin tone, strengthen bones, and balance the four bodily humors.

Healers were called upon to reset bone fractures and adjust dislocated joints.  Sometimes they used comfrey for bone setting. The plant’s roots were dug up in spring and grated to produce a sludge, which was packed around the broken limb.  This hardened to a consistency similar to plaster.  Comfrey leaves, boiled as a tea, brought down swelling and muted pain.

Such was the state of medicine and healing in 17th century Scotland.  In my novels, I tried to make the healing and midwifery scenes authentic, given the time and place and resources available.  My advice to the reader is to NOT try them at home without formal training.

By Jeanne Treat, author of the Dark Birthright Trilogy, a tale of old Scotland

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

Comfrey

Comfrey

The Lost Spirit – a Christmas poem by my mother, Clara Treat

Meaning of Christmas

The Lost Spirit

I searched for the spirit of Christmas

In a silent, white starlit night,

And then on the city sidewalks

With store windows gay and bright.

I visited Toyland and found there

Happiness and real joy,

In the picture of children with Santa

As he promised each one a toy.

Then I took my babes to the manger

To wish the Christ Child well,

And there by the candle-lit crib

I captured the magic spell.

In the eyes of my own little children

The spirit of Christmas shone,

With love for the child who lay there

He was truly one of their own.

Author’s note:

Our home was the gathering place for our friends and relatives on Christmas Eve.  We exchanged gifts and enjoyed a great buffet luncheon.  With all the work of decorating and cooking and the kids getting restless, I’d lost my Christmas spirit.  I gathered my brood together and headed for the manger in our church.  It was there that I captured the lost spirit that inspired me to write this poem.

~ Clara Treat

Download Clara’s book “Heartland Verses” free at:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/54111

Use coupon code  UD26F at checkout to get it free – until 01/15/15

A Magical Time – Samhain

Stone Circle

Stone Circle

Excerpt from DARK BIRTHRIGHT – from a chapter called A MAGICAL TIME

October 31, 1635

Louden Wood, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The stone cottage was drafty.  A candle illuminated the room,  casting shadows.  Keira stood naked in front of the fire.  A bowl of water,  rosemary and lavender sat on the table.  She dipped a wool sponge into the water and ran it down her arm to her fingertips.  “As I cleanse this body, I purify this mind so my actions may please the Goddess.  So mote  it be.”  She placed the sponge in the bowl and picked up her robe.

“Gaze into the bowl after the purifying ritual,” Isobel whispered.  “Ye may see the future.”

She took the sponge out of the bowl and waited for the ripples to subside.  Candlelight danced on the surface, yet she saw it clearly.  Nay, it canna be.  Keira dressed in a black robe, feeling the soft wool on her skin.  She smoothed the sleeves and tied her hair back with a ribbon.

“Ye look beautiful, child.”

Keira hugged herself.  “I’m nervous. What will happen if I forget the words?”

Isobel smiled. “Ye won’t forget.  Elspeth spoke the words many times.”

“I know. I wish Mother could see me.  Sometimes I talk to her, as though she’s next to me.”

“Perhaps she is.  We know that love transcends death.”

Keira picked up a black ribbon and tied it around her neck.  Her fingers held the sacred charm, a pentacle within a circle.  “Great Goddess. I’m not worthy of this.”

“It’s in yer blood, child.”

Keira blushed.  “Michael is coming.  I must go with him to prepare the sacred space.”  She slipped on her brogues and felt the fur lining between her toes.  “Alistair and Janet will walk with you.  Will you be all right?  You could stay with Regan.”

Isobel’s voice quavered.  “I wouldn’t miss this for the wisdom of the old ones.”

Keira hugged her tightly.  “I love you.”

There was a rap on the door.  “Ho!” Michael said.  “Are you there?”

Keira drew her breath in sharply.  The words would not come out.

Isobel stared.  “Come in Michael, she’s ready.”

Michael entered the cottage, in a long black robe that reached the floor.  His eyes swept over Keira, from head to toe.  “You look like a true priestess, lass.  Are ye nervous?”

She clasped her hands to keep them from shaking.  “Aye, a bit.  Shall we go? I want you to show me one more time.”

He wrapped a cape around her shoulders, and glanced at Isobel.  “Will you be all right, Mother?”

Isobel nodded.  “Go on, Son. Alistair and Janet will walk with me.”

“Have ye the sacred anointing oil?”

Keira reached into her pocket and felt the bottle.  “Aye.”

“Then let’s be on our way.”  He opened the door and looked back.  “Peace be with ye, Mother.”

They left the cottage.  Michael picked up a basket and handed it to Keira.  She pulled back the cover and saw a bowl, an apple, a pouch of salt, a flask, and a knife.  Keira’s throat tightened. “I forgot.  What do we do with the apple?”

Michael smiled.  “Don’t worry.  I was nervous the first time too.”  He grasped her hand and sighed.  “Let me tell you how I felt.  When we realized that Kale wasn’t coming back, the responsibility fell to me.  Oh I’d seen it done a hundred times, and Kale made it look so easy.  But the words!  We’d lost him, our friend, our leader, our very heart.  And here I was this imposter who struggled with words.  Everyone looked to me to heal the wound we’d suffered.  Would my crude prayers please the Goddess?”

“Oh, dear.  That’s how I feel.  It comes naturally to ye now.  No one would guess that ye struggled.”

“It took time and practice.  People were patient, as well as the Goddess.  Kale was with me in spirit.  If you ask, your mother will stand with ye.”

Keira pressed his hand to her lips.  “Thank ye, friend.  You’re a dear man.”

Michael picked up a leather pack, slinging it over his shoulder.  “The stones await us. Do ye not hear them calling?”

Wood smoke drifted in the night air as they turned south towards the old forest.  Keira looked back at the village.  Familiar faces emerged from the cottages, bundled in warm clothes and carrying torches.

“Don’t look back,” Michael said.  “Think about your sacred duties.”

Keira took a breath and looked forward.  They walked through the forest in silence.  Wood smoke faded, and the smell of pine needles prevailed.  Leaves crunched as they followed an overgrown path.  A great owl hooted in the distance.  She took his hand.  “It feels like a place out of time.”

“Exactly. You’re a quick study, lass.”  They passed the tree that bore the mark of a pentacle and followed a hidden trail.  The standing stones were just ahead.

***

They entered the circle of stones and separated.  Wind scattered the fallen leaves.  His face was serious as he held out his hands.

She felt his energy as he spiraled it through his body and released it through his fingertips.  Did he know that she felt it too?  “Mother help me,” she whispered.  She looked around the circle at her place of sanctuary and placed the basket on a stone bench.  The earth beneath her feet vibrated like the wings of a thousand birds.  “Great Goddess.  I belong here, as my mother before me.”  She faced him.  The moon was rising, illuminating his face.

Michael smiled.  “You feel it too.”

“Aye.  I’m not afraid anymore.”

“Excellent.  Our friends are gathering outside the circle.  We must prepare ourselves.”  Michael led her to the stone bench, where they sat on either side of the basket.  “Start with me, lass.”

Keira opened the basket and took out the bowl.  She added sea salt and filled it with water from the flask.  Together, they dipped their hands in the bowl.

Michael prayed.  “As rain washes the mountains, as oceans wash the beaches, I cleanse this body with water and salt.  May it please the Goddess.”

“So mote it be.”  His fingers brushed hers, and she felt the heat rise in her.  For a moment, she forgot what came next.

“The oil, lass.”

Keira reached in her pocket and took out a bottle.  She opened it, dabbed oil on her forefingers, and drew the sign of the pentacle on his forehead.  “How do ye enter this circle, Brother?”

“In perfect love and perfect trust.”  His eyes searched her face as he dabbed the oil and drew the sacred sign on her forehead.  “How do ye enter this circle, Sister?”

“In perfect love and perfect trust.”  Her heart pounded with anticipation.

“They’ve arrived,” he whispered.  “You’re my priestess.  Anoint them and welcome them in.”

Keira looked behind her.  Kevin and Morgaine stood with young Robbie, his arm in a sling.   John put wee Angus down and tried to fasten Nessia’s coat around her pregnant belly.  Behind them, the McFay children stamped their feet against the cold.  She saw the torches of others entering the clearing.

Michael pressed the bottle into her hand and led her outside the circle. “Your flock awaits ye.”

The others had arrived.  The Wests, Cummings, Rosses, and Davies stood with their children.  Cawley and Florag leaned on each other and Alistair and Janet supported Isobel.

Michael spoke. “Behold your new priestess!  Come so that she may anoint ye. You can begin, lass.”

Keira waited as her friends gathered.  She anointed Kevin and  Morgaine and young Robbie.

Morgaine touched the lad’s shoulder.  “My son has something to tell ye.”

Robbie looked up.  “Thank ye, priestess, for fixing my arm.”

Keira reached out and tousled his hair.  “You’re welcome, lad.”

“I will be calling East,” Kevin said.  He led his family into the circle, taking a position to the east.

John and Nessia stood before her, holding young Angus.  She anointed them and watched them enter the circle.  Torry and George and Aileana grinned as she drew the symbol on their foreheads.

“I’m South,” Torry said.  “I’m so nervous.  I hope I remember the  words.”  He grabbed Keira and kissed her cheek.  “I can’t believe you’re priestess.”

Aileana slapped him.  “Clot head!  You’re not supposed to kiss the priestess.”

Michael’s voice was stern.  “You’re on sacred ground.  Enter the circle, young ones.”  He took her arm and led them to the south end.

Keira anointed the families along with their many children.  She was gentle with Cawley and Florag, whose wrinkled faces studied her.  “Welcome, old ones.”

“I’ll be calling West,” Florag said, in a shaky voice.  Cawley took her arm and they shuffled to the western end of the circle.

At last, Alistair and Janet Murray stood before her, supporting a tired Isobel.  “Are ye all right, Grandmother?”

“Thank the Goddess I lived to see this day.”

Keira drew the sacred sign on their foreheads.

Janet whispered.  “I’ll be calling North.  May my actions please the Goddess.”  They took the northern position.

The ritual was about to begin.  Michael and Keira entered the center.  His voice was strong and clear.  “Blessed are those who witness this ancient rite.  Within these stones, I cast sacred space.  We stand in a world between worlds.”

Keira smiled.  “What is between the worlds can change the worlds.”

“So mote it be.”

“Friends,” Michael said.  “We gather to celebrate the harvest.  The year ends, fields lay fallow, and beasts sleep.  Hearken, for the darkness of winter comes.”

“It’s a time to honor the wheel of life, the cycle of rebirth,” Keira said.  “The Goddess opens the gates of Summerland to departed souls.”

“The veil between worlds is thinnest,” Michael said.  “We honor our dead and ancestors by remembering them.  Though it is a time of darkness, rejoice!  ‘Tis one turn upon the wheel, to be followed by rebirth.”

“May the shining ones join us in the light,” Keira said.

Everyone faced east and held out their hands.  “Spirits of the East,” Kevin said.  “Element Air.  Source of light, wisdom and thought.  Winged creatures!  Sparrow, eagle, and hawk.  Hail and Welcome!”

They faced south.  “Spirits of the South!” Torry cried, his voice shaking.  “Element Fire.  Source of energy, will, and blood.  Um… Creatures!  Horse and Leaping Salamandar!”  He drew a breath.  “Um, I forgot.  Hail and Welcome!”

They faced west and held out their hands.  “Spirits of the West,” Florag said, in a faltering voice.  “Element Water.  Source of purification, emotions, and love.  Creatures of the sea.  Fish, Seals, and Mermaids.  Hail and Welcome!”

They faced north.  “Spirits of the North,” Janet said.  “Element Earth.  Source of knowledge, speech, and silence.  Creatures of nature great and small.  Hail and Welcome.”

They turned and faced the center.  “Dear Friends,” Michael said.  “We welcome Spirit, universal energy.  Source of life, death, and rebirth.  Creatures Raven and Owl.  Hail and Welcome!  We thank our ancestors, who built this stone circle with their magic.  Ancestors and deceased, stand with us tonight.”

Keira smiled.  “As we go around the circle, each can name a soul who has gone before us.  Torry, you can start.”

“Me Father, Alan McFay.”

“Mother dearest, Jean McFay,” Aileana said.

“Aunt Beathas,” George said.  “Bring us your gooseberry pie.”

And so it went around the circle.  “Sean”, “Uncle Hamish”, “Fia”, “Grandmother Bonnie”, “Silly Mary”, “Little Bryan”, “Old John the Tanner”, “Father Brodie” …

Keira reached into her pocket and closed her fingers around a sprig of rosemary.  “Father… Mother… Hail and Welcome.”  For a moment,  the voices of the dead whispered around them. Gooseflesh rose on her  arms.

“Call the Goddess, lass.”

She took a breath and held her hands to the sky.  “Great Goddess!  Mother of all.  Help the souls pass into the Summerland.  Stir the  cauldron of life.  Comfort those waiting to be reborn. Grace our circle and witness our rite.  Hail and Welcome!”

Michael kneeled and placed his hands on the ground.  They joined him. “Children of the stones, we send healing energy to the earth to benefit all people.”

“So mote it be.”  They all stood.

Michael took the apple out of the basket and held it up in the moonlight.  “Behold, the fruit of death!”  He handed it to his priestess.

Keira cut the apple crosswise so the seeds formed a pentacle and showed the sacred symbol.  “Which is also life!  See how it forms the star of rebirth.”  She sliced the apple and placed a piece on Michael’s tongue.  “Taste the fruit of rebirth, Brother.  Dear friends, share in the miracle of rebirth.”  They passed the apple around the circle until each tasted a small piece.

Michael looked up at the full moon.  “Friends, the wheel has turned.  Return to your homes and light the fires.”

Keira smiled.  “We thank the shining ones who joined our circle.  Goddess!  Our Lady.  Be with us always.”

“Ancestors, beloved deceased,” Michael said.  “Lend us your strength.  Powers of Spirit, Earth, Water, Fire, and Air.  We rejoice with you! Hail and Farewell!  Friends,” Michael said. “May the circle be open but never unbroken.”

Keira smiled.  “May the peace of the Goddess be ever in our hearts.”

“Good night, all.”

Keira breathed a sigh of relief.  She’d served as priestess and hadn’t made a mistake.  She watched as parents gathered their children and left the circle, flanked by the old ones.  The young lass walked to Alistair and Janet, who stood with a tired Isobel.  “Oh, Grandmother.  You stayed the whole time.”

Isobel hugged her.  “I’m so proud of ye.”

“I’ll be home soon.  Michael and I must pack up.”

“Take as much time as ye want.  He’s yer intended, after all.  Alistair will help me light the fire.”  She clasped Janet’s hand and left the circle.

At last, it was quiet.  Only the sound of the leaves rustling in the trees remained.  It was so cold they could see their breath.  Michael held her hands, rubbing them to warm them up.  He was so close that she felt the brush of his wool robe.  She wondered if he could hear her heart beat.

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers.  “You did well, lass. I knew ye would.”

She gasped.

He pressed his lips against the hollow of her wrist, and lingered there.  “You’re beautiful.”

A fire burned deep inside of her.  Great Goddess!  Is this happening or am I delirious?

***

I hope that you enjoyed this excerpt.  The story continues in DARK BIRTHRIGHT, book one of the Dark Birthright Saga:

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

Dark Birthright Saga