Day of the Dead – Scotland 1635

Well

Well of the Dead

This is an excerpt taken from a chapter In DARK BIRTHRIGHT

“A MAGICAL TIME”

WHINNYFOLD, SCOTLAND ~ OCTOBER 31, 1635

The bay of Whinnyfold glistened in the moonlight.  Waves swelled and pounded the sandy shore. Dughall threw a bundle of heather on the fire and watched purple sparks float into the air.

Ian pointed. “Look. The bonfires stretch clear to Collieston.”

Dughall warmed his hands in his pockets. “Aye. I love the day of the dead.  Aunt Maggie says it’s the day when the veil between the living and dead is thinnest.”

Ian snorted.  “Hmmphhh… We don’t know anyone who’s dead.”

Dughall shivered.  “Good thing.”

“I liked it better when we went guising, begging for apples and causing mischief.”

“Father didn’t like it.”

“Aye.”

The wind whipped hair around their faces. “The fire’s dying.  Let’s place the stones.”  Dughall was solemn as he took out three flat stones.  He crouched and planted one in the ashes.  “Father’s stone is the largest.”  He moved around the circle and placed another.  “Mother’s is the bonny pink one.”  The third stone was lovingly buried in ashes.  “Aunt Maggie’s. May we have her with us another year.”

“That stone will be gone tomorrow.”

“Ian!”

“Well, she’s awfully old.  She could die.”

“Let’s hope not.”

Ian crouched and planted two red stones next to each other. “You and I. Brothers always.”

They stood.

Dughall brushed sand from his breeks.  “Let’s ask Aunt Maggie to tell the story.”

“About the well of the dead?”

“Aye.”

“Father won’t like it.”

“We turned sixteen today.  We’re grown men.  I can tell a story from the truth.”

Ian snickered.  “Well, it’s about time.”

***

They stood at Maggie’s door and knocked.  There was a sound inside, and the door opened slowly.  The old woman stood with a basket of apples in her hand. “Ach! I thought ye were rascals come guising to do mischief.”

Dughall smiled.  “Nay, Aunt Maggie.  We’ve had the bonfire and placed the stones.”

“Ye put one out for me?”

“Aye.”

“I guess I can live another year.”

Dughall frowned.

Maggie stared.  “Don’t pout, lad. It’s the day of the dead.  Ye should be haunting the moors. What do ye want with an old woman?”

Ian took an apple from her basket.  “Dughall wants to hear the story again.”

“About the well of the dead?”

“Aye.”

Maggie grinned.  She put down the basket, took her shawl from a peg, and pulled it around her shoulders.  She stepped outside and closed the door.

Dughall’s eyes shone with anticipation.

Maggie drew the end of her shawl across her face and pointed at the moon.  “The night was as black as a raven.  It was late October and the moon was full.  I don’t remember what woke me.  It could have been a voice in my head.”

Ian shivered.

“Are ye afraid, lad?”

“Nay.”

“Ye should be.”

Dughall’s eyes widened.  “Tell us, Aunt Maggie.”

“I slipped out of bed quietly, leaving James alone, and dressed warm.  Somehow I knew I’d go far that night.”

“How old were ye?”

“Seventeen I think, and just married.  Let’s walk to the point.”

They walked the path through a row of cottages and followed a narrow stream.  Dried heather and wildflowers rattled in the wind.  When they reached the point overlooking the Skares, Maggie gathered her skirts and sat, patting the ground. “Sit down, lads.”  They sat on either side of her.  “I sat in this place feeling the wind lift my hair, and wondered about the souls of the dead.  So many had perished on the rocks that year.  Young Ewan Quinlan had been tossed in the drink, only to swim to shore.  His father Andrew jumped in after him and was bashed on a rock, leaving his arm useless.  He disappeared under the waves.  Then six men from Peterhead tried to put ashore in a storm and drowned when their scaffie hit the Skares.”

“What about that young mother?”

“I almost forgot.  Mary Cormoch threw herself off the point after she lost a baby.  I thought of those eight as I stared out to sea.”   A cloud drifted across the moon, darkening the night sky.  The old woman paused to admire it.

“What happened, Aunt Maggie?”

“The sea grass and clover was soft underneath me, and I nearly fell asleep.  I closed my eyes, and opened them to a wondrous scene.”  The cloud drifted past, allowing yellow moonlight to flood the beach.  She pointed at the shore.  “Near the Caudman I saw a figure crawl out of the water.  At first I thought it was a seal, so I stood to get a better look.  What looked like fur became a dress, soaked with seaweed.  A hand reached out and steadied itself, and a head lifted.   It was Mary Cormoch, or at least her spirit.  She reached into the water and picked up a bundle, the baby she’d lost.  My bones chilled as she stared, her eyes as vacant as a dead man’s.”

Ian snorted. “Well, she was dead!”

“Aye. Behind her, a man crawled out of the sea and rested on the beach.   His long red hair and seaman’s coat told me it was Andrew Quinlan.  Seaweed and water pooled beneath him as he stood and turned to the sea, calling for Ewan.  My heart ached.”

Dughall stared.  “Did ye tell Ewan this?”

“I never told a soul.  Things like this get ye flogged as a witch.”

“Oh…”

“Now where were we?  The six from Peterhead walked out of the sea, pulling a ghostly scaffie onto the beach.  Their blue stockings and jerseys glowed in the moonlight.  They scratched their heads and looked up at me.”

“Were ye scared?”

“My heart nearly stopped when they started up the path.”

Ian stared.  “I would have run.”

“I wanted to run, but I was frozen.  I drew my shawl around me as Mary’s head appeared.  I was riveted to the sight as she stood on the point, pulling down her dress to nurse the spirit child.  Seven ghostly men appeared behind her, water squishing out of their sea boots.”

“Oh God.”

“They came towards me, chilling my soul to the bone.  I cried out, beseeching them to stop, but they didn’t hear.  I could have been a tree for all they cared.  The procession passed right through me and walked along this very stream, heading north.”

“Why didn’t they just float?”  Ian asked.

Maggie smiled.  “’Haps they didn’t know they were dead, so they followed a path that men made!”  She sniffled.  “Soon they reached the footpath to the sands of  Cruden.  I thought that Mary might seek her cottage.  She gazed in that direction, smoothed the baby’s hair, and kissed his forehead.  The fishermen from Peterhead started down the path.  Andrew lifted her chin and pointed to the beach.  She covered the child and they followed the men on the sandy footpath.”

“What did the ghosts look like?”  Ian asked.

“They looked like people, but when the moonlight was strong you could see through them.  Their eyes were vacant and ringed with dark circles.”

“What about the well?”

“Ach!  Be patient, lads.  I followed as they tramped across swirling sands until they reached the Hawklaw and turned inward toward the sand hills.”

“To Saint Olaf’s well,” Dughall said, ominously.

“Aye.  A haze hung over the land as we neared the well.  I heard a thousand ghostly voices whispering around us.”

Dughall leaned forward.  “I love this part.”

“The fishermen went first. They walked widdershins around the well and bowed their heads in prayer.  One by one, they lifted their leg over the edge and slipped into the well. Andrew was last.  Mary stayed, gazing all around.  She passed her baby down the well, grasped my shoulders, and looked in my eyes.”

“Oh God.”

“My heart pounded until her eyes cleared, and I saw a look of gratitude.  Her spirit child cried and she loosened her grip.  She turned away, walked around the well, and passed down into the afterlife.”

Ian snorted.  “She went to hell? The baby too?”

“Nay, lad.  They went to the Summerland.  That’s what the Celts called the afterlife.”

“They didn’t believe in heaven and hell?”

Maggie looked wistful.  “Nay.  They believed in a magical and loving Goddess, the mother of all living things.  The Summerland is where we go to see old friends, rest, and be reborn.”

“Reborn?  How?”

“Into a new body, to experience life again.”

“We’ve been here before?”

“Aye.  Many times.”

Dughall smiled.  “I like that idea better.”

Maggie nodded.  “So do I, lad. Don’t tell your father.”

***

The story continues in DARK BIRTHRIGHT.

***

About the Author:  Jeanne Treat is the author of the Dark Birthright Saga.

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

Dark Birthright Saga

Advertisements

Lord Skene – a legendary character featured in my novel “Dark Destiny”

Lord Skene

Lord Skene

… A snippet from my novel ‘Dark Destiny’…

Castle Skene, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, May 1649

Castle Skene lay in a wild glen, a secluded valley with a loch running through it.  Many inhabitants spoke Gaelic and their stark features reminded one of ancient Celts.  It was a thinly peopled region due to the bare hills, sparse  cultivation, and standing stones.  The squat dwellings of peasants emitted smoke from fresh peat, the earthy smell mingling with the scent of pine trees.

By the edge of the loch stood Castle Skene, a foreboding granite structure protected by a massive outer wall.  Its construction was medieval.  Two tall towers stretched to the sky, connected by a main building and catwalks.  The thick walls kept the warmth in during winter months, but prevented the summer heat from entering, necessitating hearth fires year round.  Hardly any windows were to be seen on the side that faced the valley.  The front had some, but they were little more than slits, designed to repel attacks without artillery.  None had dared to attack recently.  They feared the Lord of the castle.

The weather was overcast and gloomy.  It had rained hard that morning and was threatening a repeat performance.  Lord Skene stood at a bench in his laboratory, working on an experiment.  He was interested in chemistry, an art that involved the preparation of gold and silver.  The hypothesis was simple: All metals are compounds.  The baser ones contain the same as gold and silver, but are contaminated with impurities.  These can be purged away with the application of intense heat and a substance called the philosopher’s stone.

“Ah…” Skene held a bottle to his nose and sniffed.  “Lapis philosophorum…  A powder red in color…  It smells strongly…  I shall test this tonight.”  There was a knock on the door.  Skene  placed the bottle on the bench and stared at the oak portal.  “Who is it?”

“Fagan, Sir.”

His anger flared. “Come!”  The massive door opened with a creak, admitting the terrified servant.

The short, spindly legged man lifted a lantern.  “My Lord?”

Skene glared.  “How dare ye interrupt me in my laboratory?”

Fagan’s knees knocked beneath his kilt.  He looked down as he spoke, “Forgive me, my Lord.  But there is a messenger at the gate.  He says that it’s important.”

Skene growled, “Idiot!  They all say that.  I should throw ye in the oubliette.”

The servant fell to his knees.  “Have mercy, my Lord!  I am a simple man, unskilled in the ways of the world.  I will not do it again.”

“Get up!”

The servant scrambled to his feet.

Skene glared. “Who is at the gate?”

“Uh…”  His voice trembled, “A holy man…  A monk in a white robe…  He comes with a message from Deer Abbey.”

“Hmmphhh!”  Normally, Lord Skene answered to no one.  But he had an obligation to these monks since they entrusted him with James Gordon.  “Escort the monk to my study.  Light the fire, straighten my desk, and then provide us with refreshments.”

Fagan bowed like a willow in the wind. “As ye wish, my Lord.”  The servant fled the room.

Skene returned to his bench and placed a stopper in the bottle.  He took out an ornate key, unlocked a claw-footed cabinet, and hid the vessel on a shelf. He placed a book beside it, a rare copy of the ‘Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa’.  The experiment would have to wait.  He locked the cabinet and scanned his clothes for traces of the rare powder.  “These monks are inquisitive. They must not suspect what I’m doing.”  Pocketing the key, he headed for his study…

Author’s notes:
Dark Destiny is book three of the Dark Birthright trilogy.  The books are available in paperback and eBook.
Read about the series:

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

_

_

_

Lord Skene is a legendary character. Here is a link to an article about him.  Of course, my portrayal is fantasy.
The Wizard Laird’s Dance with the Devil

A snippet from my novel “Dark Destiny”

Lord Skene

Lord Skene

… A snippet from my novel ‘Dark Destiny’…

Castle Skene, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, May 1649

Castle Skene lay in a wild glen, a secluded valley with a loch running through it.  Many inhabitants spoke Gaelic and their stark features reminded one of ancient Celts.  It was a thinly peopled region due to the bare hills, sparse  cultivation, and standing stones.  The squat dwellings of peasants emitted smoke from fresh peat, the earthy smell mingling with the scent of pine trees.

By the edge of the loch stood Castle Skene, a foreboding granite structure protected by a massive outer wall.  Its construction was medieval.  Two tall towers stretched to the sky, connected by a main building and catwalks.  The thick walls kept the warmth in during winter months, but prevented the summer heat from entering, necessitating hearth fires year round.  Hardly any windows were to be seen on the side that faced the valley.  The front had some, but they were little more than slits, designed to repel attacks without artillery.  None had dared to attack recently.  They feared the Lord of the castle.

The weather was overcast and gloomy.  It had rained hard that morning and was threatening a repeat performance.  Lord Skene stood at a bench in his laboratory, working on an experiment.  He was interested in chemistry, an art that involved the preparation of gold and silver.  The hypothesis was simple: All metals are compounds.  The baser ones contain the same as gold and silver, but are contaminated with impurities.  These can be purged away with the application of intense heat and a substance called the philosopher’s stone.

“Ah…” Skene held a bottle to his nose and sniffed.  “Lapis philosophorum…  A powder red in color…  It smells strongly…  I shall test this tonight.”  There was a knock on the door.  Skene  placed the bottle on the bench and stared at the oak portal.  “Who is it?”

“Fagan, Sir.”

His anger flared. “Come!”  The massive door opened with a creak, admitting the terrified servant.

The short, spindly legged man lifted a lantern.  “My Lord?”

Skene glared.  “How dare ye interrupt me in my laboratory?”

Fagan’s knees knocked beneath his kilt.  He looked down as he spoke, “Forgive me, my Lord.  But there is a messenger at the gate.  He says that it’s important.”

Skene growled, “Idiot!  They all say that.  I should throw ye in the oubliette.”

The servant fell to his knees.  “Have mercy, my Lord!  I am a simple man, unskilled in the ways of the world.  I will not do it again.”

“Get up!”

The servant scrambled to his feet.

Skene glared. “Who is at the gate?”

“Uh…”  His voice trembled, “A holy man…  A monk in a white robe…  He comes with a message from Deer Abbey.”

“Hmmphhh!”  Normally, Lord Skene answered to no one.  But he had an obligation to these monks since they entrusted him with James Gordon.  “Escort the monk to my study.  Light the fire, straighten my desk, and then provide us with refreshments.”

Fagan bowed like a willow in the wind. “As ye wish, my Lord.”  The servant fled the room.

Skene returned to his bench and placed a stopper in the bottle.  He took out an ornate key, unlocked a claw-footed cabinet, and hid the vessel on a shelf. He placed a book beside it, a rare copy of the ‘Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa’.  The experiment would have to wait.  He locked the cabinet and scanned his clothes for traces of the rare powder.  “These monks are inquisitive. They must not suspect what I’m doing.”  Pocketing the key, he headed for his study…

Author’s notes:
Dark Destiny is book three of the Dark Birthright trilogy.  The books are available in paperback and eBook.
http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

_

_

_

Lord Skene is a legendary character. Here is a link to an article about him.  Of course, my portrayal is fantasy.
The Wizard Laird’s Dance with the Devil

Ardvreck Castle, Scotland – a snippet from my novel ‘Dark Destiny’

Ardvreck Castle, the Highlands, Scotland

Ardvreck Castle, the Highlands, Scotland

(photo from John Mc Calmont Breckenridge)

 

Ardvreck Castle. This castle was mentioned in ‘Dark Destiny’.  Dughall receives a letter from Lord Donald Grant as follows:
Lord Gordon,
Our old nemesis, James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, has been up to his tricks again. Evidently, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Scotland by the exiled Prince Charles. Graham recently entered Scotland through the Orkneys with a thousand foreign mercenaries, mostly Danes and Germans. They say he was sent ahead of the King to cow the Covenanters in northern Scotland. His troops crossed to the mainland and halted at Carbisdale on the southern side of the Kyle of Sutherland.
I sent word to Drake for yer assistance, but they said that ye were gone to the Abbey. So I raised 200 men and joined Colonel Archibald Strachan. To be short, we soundly defeated Montrose’s troops – 400 killed and 450 taken prisoner – but Graham initially avoided capture. Thereupon, he made his final mistake. He sought refuge in Ardvreck Castle, where Lady Christine lured him into a vaulted dungeon. The man was imprisoned and turned over to our forces. It violated the tradition of Highland hospitality, but it was worth it. As this time, Montrose is being transported to Edinburgh to be tried and executed for treason. I hope they hang him!

It seems that we have defeated the snake, at least for the time being. But we must be vigilant, because the Prince has set his sights on Scotland. Should we crown him King just because he is a Stuart? He attacks us to avoid taking the Covenants.

We must talk soon, about this event and our mutual agreement.
Stay safe, my friend. – Donald Grant

****

Author’s note:

They say that Lady Christine’s actions violated the customs of Highland hospitality.  The castle had bad luck after that.

For information about the trilogy, visit:

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

Eilean Donan Castle and a legend about Seilkies

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Picture and some commentary courtesy of Davy Tolmie as posted in the Scottish and Proud facebook group.

Eilean Donan Castle is located northwest of Fort William.  It is at the meeting point of three sea lochs on the west coast of Scotland and is situated by the picturesque village of Dornie on the main tourist route to the Isle of Skye.  Here is a link to a webcam of the castle.

Eilean Donan Castle is on Loch Duich.  Davy found this story about a legend connected with Loch Duich.

Legend states that three brothers went fishing at the loch one night. They became enraptured by three seal-maidens who had thrown off their furs and assumed the likeness of humans. While the maidens danced in the moonlight the brothers stole their furs, intending to claim the seal-maidens as their wives. The youngest brother, moved by his seal-maidens distress, returned her seal-skin. For his kindness, the girl’s father allowed the youngest brother to visit the maiden every ninth night. As for the other two brothers, the middle brother lost his seal-maiden wife after she found her stolen fur, and she returned to the loch. The eldest brother, determined to keep his seal-maiden wife, burnt her fur as a preventative measure, only to burn her accidentally in the process.

From Wikipedia:  A Faroese stamp depicting the capture of a seal woman – Selkies (also known as silkies or selchies) are mythological creatures found in Faroese, Icelandic, Irish, and Scottish folklore. The word derives from earlier Scots selich, (from Old English seolh meaning seal).   Selkies are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land. The legend apparently originated on the Orkney and Shetland Islands.  Stories concerning selkies are generally romantic tragedies. Sometimes the human will not know that their lover is a selkie, and wakes to find them gone. In other stories the human will hide the selkie’s skin, thus preventing it from returning to its seal form. A selkie can only make contact with one human for a short amount of time before they must return to the sea. They are not able to make contact with that human again for seven years, unless the human is to steal their selkie’s skin and hide it or burn it.

***

In my novel Dark Birthright, two young boys, Ian and Dughall, talk about Selkies as they are watching seals on the rocks.  Here is an excerpt:

Dughall stood on the precipice and looked below at the sea cliffs. The wind whipped his dark curls around his face. He ran his fingers through his hair, smoothing it back. Water crashed as the tide surged into rock hollows.

Ian gave him a shove, pushing him closer to the edge.

“Hey, stop it!” Dughall shivered as he studied the sheer drop. His heart pounded like a drum.

“Scared ye, didn’t I?”

“Aye!” A puffin stood on the cliff with its bill full of sand eels. It peered into a burrow and bobbed its head, feeding chicks. Dughall’s heartbeat slowed. “Look. A mother puffin feeding her chicks.”

Ian nodded and pointed at the sea, where jagged rocks rose out of the water. “There, on the rocks. Four gray seals.” A speckled male plunged into the water and caught a fish. He lay back and floated, biting off the head. Females lay on the rocks, clapping their flippers.

“Do ye think they’re silkies?” Dughall asked. “That they come ashore and shed their skins, to sing and dance as lads and lassies? Aunt Maggie says if ye steal their skin, they’ll stay with ye as husband or wife. Yer children will have webbed feet.”

Ian rolled his eyes. “Just a story, Brother. Have ye seen such children? Do ye believe everything Maggie tells ye?”

Dughall smiled.  “Aye.”

******

You can read about the novel at:

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

Traitor’s Gate – Tower of London

Traitors Gate - Tower of London

Traitors Gate – Tower of London

Picture  © Copyright Graham Horn and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence – geograph.org.uk

Tower Of London

Tower Of London

Picture © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence – geograph.org.uk

From Wikipedia:  The Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill.  It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England.  The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite.  The castle was used as a prison since at least 1100, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.

Many prisoners of the Tudors entered the Tower of London through the Traitors’ Gate. The gate was built by Edward I, to provide a water gate entrance to the Tower, part of St. Thomas’s Tower, which was designed to provide additional accommodation for the royal family.

The name Traitors’ Gate has been used since the early seventeenth century, prisoners were brought by barge along the Thames, passing under London Bridge, where the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on pikes. Queen Anne Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, Queen Catherine Howard, all entered the Tower by Traitors’ Gate.

***

I wrote about the Tower of London and Traitor’s Gate in my novel “Dark Lord”, which is the second book in the Dark Birthright Trilogy, a saga of old Scotland.  Can you imagine being brought through traitor’s gate to await your fate in the Tower of London?

Here is an excerpt from Dark Lord:

The Tower wasn’t a single building.  Rather, it was a complex of towers and outbuildings located on the north bank of the River Thames.  Surrounded by a moat and high walls, it served as a fortress, royal residence, and prison.  It was also a place of torture and execution, an armory, and a menagerie of rare animals.  The complex was separated from the eastern edge of the city by an open space known as ‘Tower Hill’.  Prisoners were given accommodations according to their status in life.  A peasant found circumstances quite deplorable.

Robert MacNeil had been brought to this place over a month ago.  He’d arrived through the water entrance to the Tower, referred to as ‘Traitor’s Gate’, named so because prisoners accused of treason such as Sir Thomas More passed through it.  After traversing St. Thomas’ Tower, he was taken to the bowels of the Salt Tower, where he was manacled and locked away.  So far, he hadn’t been tortured.  It was a frightening prospect for a fisherman.

Robert stared at his hands.  The iron cuffs were tight, on the verge of cutting off circulation.  The cell was dirty and infested with a variety of vermin.  The chamber pot overflowed in the corner.  His belly ached from the scarcity of food.  For the first few weeks he’d existed on a thin gruel, the color of sickly vomit.  Then for some reason the food got better.  A crust of bread and a piece of cheese certainly made a difference.  Even so, Robert was growing thin and weak…

Read about the series at:

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

Jeanne Treat