Roatan · Travel · Writing

The Duppee

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I travelled to the beautiful island of Roatan three years ago and it was the most relaxing vacation I have ever taken. The island of Roatan belongs to Honduras but it has a long colonial history of being fought over by Spain and England. In 1859 England relinquished control of the Bay Islands and Honduras claimed Roatan. So you will find that the majority of people on Roatan speak English.

The water is pristine and the reef is extraordinary. My husband and I would get up early and go snorkeling in the sunrise. It was on one of these early morning snorkeling excursions that we saw a wild sea turtle! Which was truly one of the most incredible experiences of my life. There are so many myths and legends around Honduras but the ones specific to Roatan seem to mostly be about Duppees or ghosts. There are many vague stories of buried gold on the island, due to Roatan’s storied history as a hotbed for pirates. It is said that the pirates who buried the gold would kill a man at the site so that his ghost would guard the treasure. But after hundreds of years the Duppees grow tired of guarding the treasure and will lead you to its location if you are clever. What follows is an original story of mine based on this idea.

Benny was sitting on the beach, the cruise ships had all departed for the day and the beach was quiet once more. He’d had a pretty good tour day. Taking a bunch of tourists around the island and out onto the reef snorkeling. He needed to head home soon but he was tired and the sunset was beautiful. The sky was draped in red, gold and purple.

He considered diving into the waves, one last swim of the day with only himself to worry about. Not having to keep an eye out for tourists who over estimated their abilities. He pulled off his shirt and jumped to his feet, he was about to step into the water when a cold breeze blew across him. He shivered and pulled his shirt back on. It was colder than he had thought. He felt a prickling on the back of his neck and turned around to find a man staring at him. The man’s face was weathered from years spent on the sea. There were scars that crisscrossed his face and faded tattoos snaked up his arms. He was dressed strangely too, cotton pants, a vest over his bare tattooed chest. His hair was long and hung in dreadlocks down his back. When he smiled he was missing at least half his teeth. Benny cleared his throat and glanced around hoping that somebody else would come into view. But the beach was empty except for the two of them.

“I’m tired.” The man said.

Benny was startled at the sound of his voice. It sounded like it was coming from far away despite the fact that the man stood not 5ft from him. It was a gravelly voice, the kind that comes from years of hard living.

“Me too man.” Benny offered, and started to turn away.

“Wait.” The man commanded. Benny hesitated. If the man needed help then Benny should try and help him. At the same time there the man made him deeply uncomfortable on an animal level.

“How long you lived here?” the man asked.

“My whole life. Born and raised here.”

“That’s good. Come with me.” Benny looked longingly up at the trees lining the beach and thought of his car sitting on the side of the road waiting for him to drive it home. The man was walking away from him. Logically he knew he should just leave but there was something compelling about the man. He found he couldn’t just walk away from the mysterious stranger. He started after the man walking through the soft sand. They had walked in silence, the man always a few steps ahead of Benny. Benny was starting to shiver with cold, which was strange. The air around him didn’t feel cold. The man stopped suddenly and turned to look at Benny once more,

“What do you want?” The man asked Benny.

“Hey man, you told me to follow you.

“What do you want most in the world?”

Benny thought for a moment, “I’ve got what I want. I get paid to swim and dive, I’ve got a woman who loves me. I’ve got a house and a baby. I’ve got a lime tree, and a great garden. I grow peppers to make my famous hot sauce. A little extra money wouldn’t go amiss but all in all I’m a happy man.”

“Good.” Was all the man said and then he turned and continued along the beach. Benny could see the cliff face looming up ahead of them. When the man reached it he grabbed hold of the rock face and swung himself around the corner and out of view. Benny gripped onto the rock and tried the same smooth swinging motion. His hands slipped and he fell backwards into the shallow water. He could hear the man’s gravelly laugh as he got to his feet. There was a cleft in the rock and the laughter seemed to be coming from there. Sopping wet and shivering harder than ever Benny slid into the rock cleft. It was completely dark inside he couldn’t see a damn thing.

“I’m tired.” The man’s disembodied voice seemed to be coming from further inside the cave.

“I know man, you’ve told me that.” Benny took a few faltering steps forwards his hands grasping for anything in front of him. His hands hit the rough wall of the cave and he inched forwards using the wall as a guide. He could see a light just a little ways off, as he walked closer he gasped. An inexplicable light illuminated an old sea chest sitting on a rocky ledge. The wood pitted and stained from untold years of salty sea spray. An ancient looking padlock holding it closed. It was like something out of a movie. He pulled himself up onto the rock ledge and ran his hands over the blistered wood.

“Open it.” The man’s voice sounded close but he couldn’t see him, the only light seemed to be coming from the chest itself. He tugged at the lid of the trunk and it groaned in protest.

“It’s locked.” He said, squinting into the darkness trying to find the man.

“So, break the lock.” Benny had come this far so he just shrugged. He bent down and felt around on the ground for something that he could use to smash the lock. His hand closed around something long and smooth, he shuddered as he felt unseen creatures scuttle away from his grasping hand. He lifted it up, it was hard to see in the darkness but he believed he held a long smooth rock. He hesitated, this chest seemed truly old, like it should be in a museum.

“The treasure is mine and I brought you here. Open the chest!” The man’s voice commanded him. He lifted the rock and brought it down on the lock, once, twice, three times and finally the lock cracked and fell to the ground with a thud. With his heart in his throat Benny pulled up the lid. For a moment he was blinded by light the whole cave was illuminated in a white light. When Benny’s eyes adjusted to the light he let out a cry first of wonder and then of horror.

The chest was filled to bursting with jewels, and gold coins. But in his hand he did not hold a rock, he held a long white bone. When he looked over to where he had grabbed it he saw a human skeleton on the ground. Its ribs poking through the tattered remains of a vest, cotton pants in shreds over the femurs. There was a deep indent in the skull suggesting foul play, and half of the teeth were missing from the jaw. The light went out leaving Benny alone in the darkness.

“Why did you bring me here?”

“My job is finished.” The voice was quiet, barely more than a whisper.

“What job?” But there was no answer and Benny knew that he was entirely alone in the cave. He lay the bone down with the rest of the skeleton and shut the lid of the chest. He slipped off the ledge and made his slow way out of the cave and back onto the beach. It was full dark outside, the only light on the beach was the stars. Benny walked the long way back to his car and drove home. He never told a soul about what he had experienced that night. But whenever things got tight, whenever a bill was overdue, or they needed a little extra cash Benny somehow managed to provide it. Tourists were extra generous with the tips he would tell his wife. And she decided it best not to ask any questions.

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Ireland · Travel · Writing

New Grange

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Of all the places I have been none have thrilled me in quite the way as Newgrange. My husband and I travelled to Ireland together about 3 years ago when we were still just boyfriend and girlfriend. His Grandad is from Belfast and he told us that we had to go to Newgrange. Newgrange is older than the pyramids, and stonehenge. It was built in the Neolithic period around 32 000 BC. It is a UNESCO world heritage sight and you can actually take a tour inside of it! I don’t know if this excites you as much as it does me but I was absolutely awe struck to be walking those ancient paths. When I went to Stonehenge as a teenager I was desperately disappointed to find that you had to stand far from the stones, there was security guards and a fence around the perimeter. I understand the need for it, people had been defacing the stones and trying to take home souvenirs but it was disappointing nonetheless.

There are three burial mounds in the Boine Valley. Newgrange, Dowth and Knowth. Newgrange is the largest and also the one with the greatest mystery attached to it. There is a triad of spirals that is carved into the rocks of Newgrange that isn’t seen anywhere else. There are many theories as to what the spiral pattern represents but no definite conclusions have been made. I love a good historical mystery.

 

Grainne tried to keep herself calm as she watched Diarmuid dress for the hunt. She had seen him dress a thousand times, had undressed him a thousand more. They had clung to one another through all of the horrible years of pursuit. After they had left Fionn, her intended husband and his chief they had only had one another to rely on. They had gone against the odds and peace had been hard won. Diarmuid’s foster father had managed to calm Fionn’s rage at the double betrayal and the two of them had been allowed to settle down to have a family. Grainne had borne him 5 healthy children and they had enjoyed years of simple domesticity. After years on the run, years without a fixed address, where they were hounded at every turn and forced to fight all manner of magical beasts it had been a blessing to do nothing more than live and care for their children. And now Diarmuid was determined to destroy Grainne’s peace of mind. Her eyes rove over her husband’s body, still strong despite the years. His back was still ramrod straight, his nose bent where it had been broken in battle, his long hair tied back in braids that she had lovingly woven for him. He caught her eye and let out a sigh of exasperation,

“It will all be well Mo Gra” he said his eyes on hers, he kissed her softly on the mouth and ran a thumb along the side of her face. She clung to the hand and kissed the palm a dread certainty in the pit of her stomach,

“Why?” she demanded of him her hands wrapped around his, “You know the prophecy that you will die in a boar hunt and yet you insist on going hunting boar with none other than the man who hounded after us for years, the one whom we both betrayed.” He gently untangled her fingers from his own and stepped away from her,

“After all these years you cannot tell me that you put such stock in a fortune teller’s lark. Fionn has long since forgiven our youthful indiscretion. I think the longevity and prosperity of our marriage has proven to him that we were destined for one another. No man wants to stand in the way of destiny.” Grainne clenched her jaw to stop herself from saying more, she knew her husband and by the set of his shoulders and the way in which he spoke she knew that she would never change his mind. If this was to be their last conversation (and the thought of it being so made her want to scream and rend her hair) than it would not be one of admonition. She took in a deep breath and tried to look as calm as could be expected. She walked with him keeping her own counsel all the way to the stables where she allowed herself a single moment of weakness as he leaned down to kiss her farewell. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him far more deeply than decorum allowed. When she finally let him go she held herself firm despite the tears that stood out in her eyes. He smiled at her in the way that had caught her heart all those years ago. A smile wicked with adventure and promise. And then he rode away leaving her as he had so many times before. Before she had always known he would return. She tried to find that certainty in her heart now, but there was no respite to be found. Instead a cold pit of dread opened in her stomach and she turned to go back into the keep, her face set against the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks.

It was the next day that her husband came home. He was borne by Aengus, the foster father who had negotiated the peace with Fionn. It was a sight she would never forget. She had begun to tremble as soon as she had seen Fionn with a shrouded bundle the size of a man laid across his lap. He had dismounted and lifted the shroud from his horse and lay it at her feet. She felt as though the very threads that made up her being were coming undone as she had fallen to her knees and gently moved the cloth away from his face. And it was his face, the face of her only beloved and yet he was not there. The husk remained but the soul was gone, forever gone, where she could not touch it or speak to it or entreat it. They had not brought back her husband they had brought back an empty body. She had wondered at first who it was that screamed so loudly and it was only when her sons came and gathered her in their arms and forcefully led her away that she realized it was her who was screaming. The first thought that managed to make its way through the white noise that enveloped her senses was that she would never feel his arms around her again. His arms had been strong and capable and when they had held her she had felt as though nothing could touch her. As though, so long as he held her the two of them were invincible. The second thought to pierce its way through the numbness was that she would never again hear his voice. She had begun to panic at the thought of forgetting the timber of his voice and she could hardly stand to listen to her eldest son, so like his father, speak. There was only one place for a man of the stature and greatness of her husband to be buried. The great burial mound, the one most sacred to the Gods. With its great triple spiral pattern marking it as the greatest of the three.

As she stood on a painfully sunny day watching her husband’s remains be borne into the chamber, the bright white quartz of the exterior blinding her she felt her heart harden like the stone that would now encase her husband’s body. She had heard from Aengus how Diarmuid had been speared by the bore, how Fionn had brought him water cupped in his hands only to allow it to slip through his fingers. How he had repeated this offense until his own son threatened to kill him on the spot. By then it was too late and her beloved had succumbed to his wounds. There was only one thing to be done and so she had grasped the hand of her eldest son and looked into his eyes, the eyes that looked so much like her husband’s,

“You cannot allow his death to go unavenged.” Her son had set his shoulders, shoulders that were just beginning to spread in the first thrust of manhood. She had gathered her younger son to her and held his face in her hands and stared deeply into his eyes that mirrored her own, “Your father must be avenged.” Her sons had nodded, the loss forever changing their young lives. And she knew that they would grow to be fine men and that those men would not suffer Fionn to live while their father lay beneath the great stones of Sí an Brú.

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Jamaica · Travel · Writing

River Mumma and the Golden Table

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I have travelled through every parish in Jamaica. While I enjoy lying on a beach and soaking up the sun, I can never stay on the resort for long. I always need to go off in search of adventures. There is a two fold myth that I came across in Jamaica. I don’t know the origin of this tale, if it comes from the Arawak Indians that were the original inhabitants of the island or from the African’s that travelled to Jamaica on the slave ships. Regardless there are many stories of River Mumma.

Stories of beautiful women who lure men to their deaths by drowning are rife in every culture across the world. River Mumma, like many sirens and mermaids can hypnotize you with her gaze, her terrible beauty lures men to their death in her river. The story that is associated with her that I most enjoyed is that of the golden table. Enjoy!

 

Bastian could hear his stomach growl as he and his sister Lora made their way home. They had hardly had anything to eat these past few days and their attempt to find work at the market had been in vain. Bastian’s shoulders slumped and his stomach rumbled audibly as they made their way through the jungle towards home. His sister’s eyes were wide as she gazed around them hoping that they would come across a banana tree that was in fruit. He could hear her stomach growling as loudly as his own and he felt a deep shame that he had been unable to find work. He must have let out a sigh because his sister slid her small hand into his own,

“Do not worry Bastian. I am sure that when we get home there will be food waiting for us! Father and Mother will have both been paid today I am certain of it!” Bastian pasted a smile on his face for the sake of his sister. But he knew better. Father worked himself to the bone in the sugarcane fields but his boss had not paid him for last week’s labour. The greedy man had stated that his father had not worked hard enough to earn the week’s wages. If his father wanted to be paid he would have to work even harder this week. Job’s were hard to find on the island and so Bastian’s father had simply bowed his head and worked all the harder. Coming home and collapsing in exhaustion in his bed without time to hug and kiss or speak to his children. His mother was in just as dire straights. She had gotten a good position as a housekeeper for a wealthy woman in the town. The woman had just had a baby and Bastian’s mother had been with her through the whole pregnancy, she had even been there for the birth of the baby. And then this past week she too had not been paid,

“How can I pay you?” the wealthy woman had chastised Bastian’s mother, “I need that money for my baby. How can you ask for money? You might as well take the food right out of my baby’s mouth.” His mother had come home dejected but she could not quit, not without another job on the horizon. Bastian and his sister had snuck off to the market while their parents were at work. They were certain that they could get some work and help to contribute to the household. But everyone had laughed at the two skinny children and they had been turned away time and again until it was time for them to head home.

Bastian’s mind was so filled with dark thoughts that he hardly noticed where they were. It was not until his sister let out a gasp of wonder that Bastian looked up from his feet and saw that they were beside a rushing river. A waterfall tumbled down into the river. He looked at his sister and followed the direction of the gaze, she was not looking at the waterfall, she was looking into the depths of the river. A glint of gold appeared to be rising to the surface. Lora grasped his arm, her mouth open in wonder as the golden table appeared on the surface of the water. It shone so brightly that Bastian had to shield his eyes.

“Hello children.” A sweet voice called out from the bed of the river and Lora let out another small gasp before clapping her hands over Bastian’s eyes. Bastian struggled against her but she would not let go,

“It’s River Mumma” his sister hissed in his ears. Bastian stilled in shock. He had heard the stories of course. Everyone had heard the stories of the table of pure gold. Everyone knew that the Spanish had dumped it into a river to be guarded by the fierce River Mumma until they came back to retrieve it. He could feel his sister’s hands trembling as they held on to his eyes and he wondered desperately what it was that she saw. Was River Mumma as beautiful as the stories said? Her voice was certainly beautiful,

“Why do you hold your hands over your brother’s eyes? Do you want to keep the gold all to yourself selfish little girl?”

Lora’s voice rose in indignation, “I do not want that gold at all. It is only for the greedy to take what is not theirs!” Bastian couldn’t help himself. He so desperately wanted to see the woman who was attached to the sweet and seductive voice. He stood up on his tiptoes so that his sister could no longer hold on to him, her hands fell away and Bastian’s mouth dropped open. Across the river, combing her long black hair was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her skin was the colour of coffee, her lips were full and her eyes sparkled with sunlight.

“Come young man, all you need do is step forwards and place your hands on the golden table and it will be yours. Think what you could do with such wealth!” Bastian took a small step forwards mesmerized not only by the beautiful woman but also by the gleam of gold on the river’s surface. His sister jerked him backwards,

“No Bastian! You must not be greedy! That table is not yours. Only ill befalls the greedy!” Bastian struggled against his sister’s grip,

“I am not greedy Lora! You know this. I only want it to provide for our family. Is that not a noble thing?” River Mumma’s voice called across the river as seductive as the gold itself,

“Most noble Bastian. I think you are the one who is destined to possess the golden table. Come closer.” Lora threw herself in between Bastian and the golden table, she gripped his chin and forced his gaze down to meet her own.

“Listen to me Bastian, no good will come of this. You must listen to me! We need to continue on home. Our mother and father would never take gold that was gotten this way. You know that!” Bastian was torn, his sister was right. His parents would never accept it, but he was overwhelmed by thoughts of what he could buy with that money. He could buy them a beautiful big house, his mother would have people to clean for her, his father could relax and read. They would never be hungry again. As Bastian struggled with his sister and with his own conscience the sun began to dip low in the sky, with every step he took forwards his sister would drag him back. Eventually he threw up his hands,

“Fine Lora! I will not touch the gold!” The sun had sunk below the tree line and dark shadows were stretching across the river now. The golden table had sunk back into the river and there was no sign of River Mumma. The two children found themselves alone and hurried away from the place. They were still arguing about whether Bastian should have taken the table or not when they got to the sugarcane plantation their father worked on. So distracted were they by their argument that they did not even notice their father’s boss.

“What are you two talking about!” the man demanded causing Bastian and Lora to jump out of their skins. They looked over to see their father’s boss emerge from beneath a tree. He was dressed beautifully with the soft clean hands of one who has never had to truly work. Lora and Bastian looked at each other, neither of wanting to tell this awful man of the golden table. Their father appeared trudging down the road, his shoulders slumped, his feet dragging from another long day’s work. When he saw his children standing with his boss a look of fear crossed his face,

“I’m sorry sir, are my children bothering you?” their father asked grabbing them both by the arm. The boss smiled showing several gleaming golden teeth,

“No bother. They were just talking about gold they found in the jungle! I wanted to hear more about it.”

Their father let out a small sigh, “I’m sure it was just a childish fancy sir.” But his boss was a very greedy man and he did not like to think that there was gold hidden away in the jungle at the edge of his property. He did not like to think that two poor children should know about it and take it.

“They need to tell me exactly what they were talking about or you’ll be out of a job. I can’t employ somebody with disrespectful children.” Their father squeezed their arms and Lora burst out,

“The golden table is in the river at the bottom of the waterfall, River Mumma is there guarding it. It comes up in the daytime and disappears with the sun.” The man gave the two of them an oily smile. He patted them both on the head, causing Bastion to shudder. Their father took them home chastising them for being out and not at home helping their mother with dinner. His boss had not paid him yet and mother’s boss had not paid her either. Their dinner that night was a sad broth and a few green bananas. Bastian worried he would never fall asleep from the growling in his stomach.

The next day their father came home with a look of wonder on his face, it seemed that his boss had been found floating facedown in a river not far from his property.

The boss’s son took over the sugarcane business and he was a kinder and less greedy man than his father. He made sure to pay all of his employees and Bastian’s family was able to prosper. Bastian grew up to be a good, hardworking man. He never forgot his encounter with River Mama and always listened to his sister’s wise words.

Isle of Sky · Scotland · Travel · Writing

Cú Chulainn and Scáthach Part II

IMG_1887Scáthach’s daughter wiped the tears from her eyes as she heard the horrendous screech and cry of battle, her mother’s cry echoed fearsomely through the hills but it was more than matched by the roar of the man that she fought. She crept out of their home and to the edge of the hill where she could see them battling in a valley below. She could smell the sweat sour on the air as the two of them fought fiercely. It was her mother who drew first blood but it wasn’t long before the brute had managed to make her bleed as well. Scáthach’s daughter wanted more than anything in the world for them to stop, she knew with a deep and frightening certainty that the two of them were evenly matched. She was certain that the battle would only end with both of them dead. She could not fathom a world without her mother in it, her daughter could not watch her die. Filled with shame Scáthach’s daughter fled down the hillside away from the battle. She began to cry as she ran, hot tears seeped out of her swollen eye, her cracked lip stung and she cried all the harder remembering the great hand that had administered the blow. As she ran and cried her vision blurred so that she no longer knew where she was going. She did not see the stone that seemed to rise out of nowhere but her foot found it and she went flailing forwards. She braced herself for hitting the ground but instead found herself splashing into the rushing river. It was shallow enough that she was able to find her footing and sit up but she only cried all the harder for being wet and cold as well as a soon to be orphan.

“Scáthach’s daughter why do you cry?” the voice was light and musical like the babbling of a brook,

“Scáthach’s daughter whatever happened to your face?” another voice joined the first it was stronger and colder and deep like the waters of a loch. Scáthach’s daughter wiped the tears and water from her eyes and looked around herself trying to locate the voices. Two water sprites sat on a rock a little ways from where she sat. They were painfully beautiful to look at with long silvery hair, skin so white it was nearly translucent, wide eyes the flashing blues and greys of a rushing river. A long silvery tail lay where legs should have been. Scáthach’s daughter immediately unburdened herself,

“Scáthach is fighting Cú Chullain and they are sure to kill one another and I don’t know what to do!” She began to cry all over again, she could hear the water sprites conferring with one another and then they laughed loud and freely as though they held all the secrets in the world.

“All you have to do is make them realize how useless their fight is!” the first sprite said, the second one nodded sagely,

“Cook them roast venison and fill it with hazelnuts. They are starving for they have been battling for a half an hour. When they smell the food they will come to you!” The first one took over again,

“And when they eat the hazelnuts, the nuts of wisdom will do their work and they will see that they need not fight one another. That they should respect one another!” The second one giggled,

“Now stop crying!” Scáthach’s daughter saw their tails slap the water, they splashed over and grasping her by the shoulders pushed her under the water. She rose again to the surface sputtering and indignant but there was no sight of the sprites. She blinked in surprise, her eye that had been swollen felt perfectly normal again. She probed her split lip with her tongue and found it healed. She climbed sodden out of the river and leaned over to catch a glimpse of her reflection. Her face was wholly restored and she would have ventured to say, more beautiful than before. She could not waste time gazing at her own reflection. She needed to set to work putting the sprite’s plan into action. She rushed home and began her work.

Scáthach was sweating hard, every muscle in her body screamed for mercy and her breath was coming in gasps. The only thing that kept her going was the knowledge that her opponent was in exactly the same shape she was. He too was gasping for breath, his attacks were becoming less precise and more leaden. His arms were beginning to shake just as hers were. And yet he did not give up and neither would she. She set her teeth and attacked anew, if this was how and where she would die than so be it. She would not shy from death. The smell seemed to hit both of them simultaneously. It was sweet and savory, the rich succulent smell of roasted meat. Scáthach’s mouth began to water and she paused for a breath. She cursed herself for stopping and expected to feel the death blow hit her but none came, she looked over and saw that Cú Cuhllain was also frozen in place. The two of them locked eyes and slowly lowered their weapons. Without a word they set off in the direction of the smell. The rumbling of their stomach’s seemed to be trying to compete with one another for volume. Scáthach kept an eye on Cú Cuhllain as they made their way up the hillside towards the direction of her home where the smell appeared to be emanating from. She had to begrudgingly admit to herself that she had underestimated him. He was much stronger than she had believed. He was also far cleverer than she had anticipated. He was a seasoned warrior, she had no doubt that if he hadn’t killed every Ulsterman it was only due to another’s interference. When they reached the doorway of the keep it was open, Scáthach led the way into the hall. A table was set with roast venison and a bevy of other delicacies. Two places were set at the trestle table with goblets filled with good wine. The two of them barely managed to keep any semblance of manners as they rushed to sit at the table. Scáthach quickly cut herself a healthy section of venison and began to eat, too ravenous to do more than shove the meat into her mouth and chew hurriedly. The venison had been stuffed and Scáthach could detect a multitude of spices and a sweet nuttiness amongst them. As her hunger began to abate she began to slow her eating down and regard Cú Cuhllain once again. She had never before had cause to pause a battle, never had an adversary found themselves supping with her in her keep. As she raised her eyes she saw that he too was regarding her, but the animosity and derision with which he had looked at her as she came tearing down the hillside was gone. His eyes held respect and even a little awe. Scáthac lay down the bones of her meal. The two of them began to speak as one and a genuine laugh overrode their jumbled attempts at speech. Eventually Scáthach was able to make herself heard,

“I have underestimated you Cú Cuhulalin. It appears that in you I have finally met my match.” Cú Cuhllain raised a bushy eyebrow and nodded his great head,

“I agree Scáthach. I have no hope of beating you we are as evenly matched as ever two warriors could hope to be.” Scáthach and Cú Chullain regarded one another unsure of how to proceed. Then Cú Cuhllain raised himself from the bench and took his broadsword and with a bow he lay it on the table before Scáthach, “I concede to you my sword,” he said. Scáthach took her shield from her arm and bid him follow her, he followed her to a window in her keep that showed the mountains that surrounded her,

“This is my true shield” Scáthach said gesturing to the hills, “I will teach you every inch of them if you are willing.” Cú Cuhllain nodded his head,

“I should be honoured to learn from you Scáthach.”

And so it came to be that Scáthach the greatest warrior in all of Elba should train Cú Cuhllain the greatest warrior in all of Ireland. And when he left she named one of the mountains for him and it is known as Cuillin to this day.

 

 

Isle of Sky · Scotland · Travel · Writing

Cú Chulainn and Scáthach Part 1

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This story grabbed hold of me many years ago when I was backpacking through the Scottish Highlands. I was staying in a hostel on the Isle of Skye and the story was painted on the wall of the bathroom. I heard the story again standing amongst the mountains and at the foot of the river that are integral to the story. It is said that if you dunk your face in the river you will be eternally young and beautiful. I believe dunking my face in that river is the reason people often think I’m about a decade younger than I actually am! I am always drawn to stories with a female heroin and it is seriously bad ass that the most fearsome warrior in Scottish mythology was a woman. Without further ado here is part one of the story:

 

Scáthach was brushing her daughter’s long hair, patiently working out the burs and elflocks that the child seemed to attract. Her daughter held the same fierce independent will and the same wild joy at galloping about through the mountains that were their home as she did. The child surely held some of her father inside her as well, there was a softness, a kindness what some might venture to call a weakness inside of her that worried Scáthach. Her daughter was the only person in the world that Scáthach would one day entrust her shields to and she worried if the child would be up to the task. The girl was twelve now and growing restless in their isolated existence. She longed for others to play with and Scáthach would catch her making dolls out of bits of grass and twine and whispering her secrets to them. Her daughter let out a yelp as Scáthach pulled sharply on a particularly stubborn knot, the yelp found an answering call and Scáthach froze. Her daughter turned to her, her eyes wide, her mouth curving upwards in a smile. The two of them did not speak a word as they listened to hear if the call would sound again. Scáthach was soon rewarded by a great booming voice echoing through her valleys and hills.

“Scáthach!” the voice commanded as though she was a dog to be brought to heel. Did he not know who he called? Did he think that she was a maiden to come running to do his bidding?

“Scáthach! I hear you are the greatest warrior in all of Elba come and meet your match!” at this Scáthach let out a booming laugh of her own. It was just another stupid man come to prove his mettle against her. They had come every so often when she was younger. Hearing of her power and prowess in battle they had come to put her in her place, to prove that no woman could be the greatest warrior in all of Elba. Many had paid for their hubris with their life, the ones she had allowed to live had further spread the stories of her greatness and her power. None had dared to cross her in many a year. She flexed her fingers and felt the stiffness that had come with age. Carefully she stood from her stool and stretched her body. If he would not go away she would have to send him away and for that she would need to ready herself.

“Scáthach! I am the greatest warrior in all of Erin and I have come to take your title!” the man shouted, this gave Scáthach pause. Her legend had spread across the sea then. She took this as a good omen, she looked down at her young daughter thoughtfully and a wicked smile spread across her face.

“Daughter, go tell that man to leave. I will not fight him, he is not worth my time.” Her daughter’s face split into a grin and she sped down the hillside her giggle dancing on the wind. Scáthach wandered into her armory and slid out of the light shift she had been wearing. Her hands slid over the various vests and leggings that filled the shelves. Settling finally on a thick plated vest that allowed for movement and a pair of soft stockings she began to dress herself. Her daughter reappeared a look of concern replacing the smile,

“Mother, I do not think that you can send him away so easily. He is much stronger than any man who has come here before. I can sense from him that he is like us.” Scáthach only smiled at this, happy to hear that her instincts had not failed her. She had heard it immediately in the timber of his voice. She had not lost her edge in the years of peace. She began to stretch each muscle in her shoulders as she spoke to her daughter again,

“Daughter, go and tell him that I do not have time for boys who want to be men. Tell him to come back when he has proven himself in battle.” With a slight sigh her daughter left the armory. Scáthach wondered how many times this man would allow himself to be insulted in this way, how long it would be before she would have to go down and face him. She hoped that she would at least be able to finish her stretching. She was not as young as she used to be and tearing a muscle simply would not do. Her daughter came back into the room, her look of concern replaced by a frown and genuine fear in her eyes. Scáthach calmly continued to stretch as her daughter spoke,

“Mother! He is so angry that the clouds have begun to darken and I am afraid to go back down to him without you. He says he is Cú Chulainn and that he has been fighting since he was seven years old, that he has killed the three sons of Nechtan Scéne that his battle rage is such that he has boiled barrels of water with it. He says that-” Scáthach held her hand up to silence her daughter,

“Tell him to come back next year when he has killed all the Ulsterman and then maybe I will come down and fight him.” Her daughter let out a great heart rending sigh and Scáthach hardened her mother’s heart against it. If her daughter was to survive when Scáthach was no longer alive she would need to be able to face down more frightening beasts than a mere man. Scáthach pulled her shields down from the wall one by one testing their weight and balance before selecting her favourite one. She had just settled it on her arm when her daughter came running back into the room crying, her eye was swollen and her cheek bright red,

“He hit me mother!” she cried and Scáthach knew she could avoid the fight no longer. She pushed her daughter roughly aside, a smack across the face was but a little injury and if she could not manage it then Scáthach could never have her as her heir. She came down the hillside at a run, her senses taking in everything around her. She knew the direction and strength of the wind, the sturdiness of the ground, the angle of the sun and the temperature of the air. She sniffed out the man before she saw him, big and brawny with a nasty snarl on his face. His eyes lit up at the sight of her and she saw him set himself for her attack. Scáthach’s eyes noted the strength of his pose and she knew that this would not be a battle easily won.

Travel · Writing

Seeking Stories!

My entire life I have been obsessed with all things fantastical, frightening, freaky and fey. As a child it wasn’t the well known fairytales that I loved but the more obscure ones, from Snow White and Rose Red to The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I distinctly remember a babysitter bringing me a beautiful illustrated children’s book of the story of Tam Lin. The illustrations both thrilling and terrifying me as she read me the story of the evil Faerie queen and the brave girl who managed to defeat her. Whenever I travel the first thing I look up isn’t the best place to eat or the best beach, the first thing I look up is the myths and legends of the place I am visiting. There is universality to folklore. The same stories are repeated all around the world with minor cosmetic differences. This blog will be all about those stories. The stories I’ve collected on my travels, stories I’ve read in pamphlets at tourist sites, heard from locals, read scribbled on the walls of hostels. I hope you will come along on this journey with me and send me your own favourite stories to retell!