The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 5

Here is Part 5 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you are new to this story, you can find the earlier parts here

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 4

I will publish successive episodes every Monday.

I very much hope you enjoy it!

 The Bridefarer - Part 1 171127

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 5

The sky became gradually lighter at the horizon, and I guessed that I was close to the sea. A longing surged through me for the sound of the swell breaking on the shore. Until my bridefaring, the song of the sea had been my constant companion. It had whispered while my mother nursed me; it had stirred my soul as I learned my trade as a boy; it had screamed and shrilled in my ears as my father and I struggled to wrest a living from the ocean. Not a day, not an hour had passed when I hadn’t been within earshot of its music.

Perhaps Mavra could already hear it, for her ears pricked up. She needed no urging to trot briskly up the hill.

It was the time of evening when the sun, low in the sky, gives a light that burnishes everything it touches. The tiny flowers at the cliff-top glowed scarlet and golden against the vibrant green of the grass. The silver studs of Mavra’s harness were transformed into amber jewels. And yet I barely had eyes for this richness as I gazed on the tranquil ocean, feeling its peaceful strength cleanse my heart from the striving of my bridefaring.

As the little waves gurgled against the shingle, my thoughts turned to home. I wished with all my heart to be back there. I wished to be only a short walk from my mother’s table, and my own comfortable bed. I wished Mairin were beside me.

She was a beautiful woman, no denying it. I recalled the look on her face last summer on her nineteenth birthday, when I had kissed her, once, twice, and then many times. Why did I want more than that? What riches could a queen offer that would be more satisfying than taking Mairin to my bed? I was going home.

“Well, girl, back to Red Bay,” I said to Mavra. She whinnied in approval and moved to turn round.

But what was that on the beach? I had been staring so intently at the sea that I hadn’t noticed the figure until it started to move towards the water.

The sun, low in the sky, dazzled me, but it seemed to me that the figure moved gracefully. The thought came that it might be a selkie, a maiden of the sea, carrying her seal skin down to the waves. I shuddered; such creatures bore an ill fate for those who met them.

As the figure moved out of the direct line of the sun, my fears were allayed. It seemed more likely to be somebody in strange attire that covered the hair and most of the body. What were they doing, wading out to sea? I feared that whoever it was would drown in the deep water. Swiftly, I tethered Mavra to a tree, and ran down the cliff path. By the time I reached the shore, the person was waist deep.

Even as I threw off my cloak, I saw that the figure was swimming, kicking its legs, and undulating its body in the water. I sat down on a rock and watched in fascination. Hardly anybody in the six villages could swim – I certainly couldn’t – and I was intrigued at how fast this stranger could move through the waves.

Back and forth he went, now nearer the shore, now further away. Then, when the sun’s disc just touched the horizon, he let the waves carry him towards the shingle. I stood up and walked towards him.

The person gasped, and clasped their arms across their chest. Why, it was a young woman! I approached slowly. She raised a hand.


I halted.

“I mean you no harm. I come in courtesy.”

She looked at me, and raised her arms as though to push me away, although I was at least twenty feet from her.

Water was running from the strange, enveloping garment that she wore, which hid her hair but not her face. She was fair and stern, and she used her eyes like swords.

“Go!” she repeated.

“I leave you with goodwill.”

I turned, donned my cloak, and returned to Mavra without looking back.

I no longer thought of home, or Mairin, but only of my quest.

I walked Mavra up the next hill; the light was fading and the way was rough. At the summit, the path went between cairns, just as Cieran had described, and we emerged above the village.

Village! It was a sizeable town, with stone walls and stout wooden gates. It well deserved its name; Fasthaven. Torches in sconces burned on either side of the gates, which were shut.

I dismounted some fifty yards short of the gate, and led Mavra forward. To my surprise, the gates opened as I approached. I halted at the threshold. There seemed to be no-one there.

“I come in peace,” I ventured.

“Then you are welcome.”

A man of medium height emerged from behind one of the gates. His hand rested on the pommel of his sword. He looked to be a fighter through and through.

He gazed up at me.

“Welcome, Diarmid MacDiarmid. I am Donal. You are to come with me to Oldest Caitrin. Malcolm here will take care of your fine mare.”

Another tough-looking man came silently from behind me. He took Mavra’s bridle, and walked off with her without a word. I looked at her receding back with regret; my sword was in her pack.

The doors were closed and barred behind me.

“Come,” beckoned Donal, lifting a torch from the wall of the gatehouse.

I followed him down the main street. The street and the houses seemed in good repair although the guttering torch showed little.

We turned left. It was even darker, the houses close together squeezing out the light of the moon. At the end of the road was the stone wall of the town, and pressed against it was a cottage. Donal rapped at the door.

The sudden light as the door opened dazzled me, and I blinked.

“Well met, Diarmid MacDiarmid. Enter, be seated and be welcome.”

“Reverence, Oldest One. I come in courtesy and peace.”

“Leave us now, Donal.”

Her voice was sharp.

“Yes, Oldest.”

The fire blazed. The room, set with lamps, was almost as bright as day. Oldest Caitrin led me to a chair by the fire.

“So…” she said, and looked me over, from feet to head.

She wasn’t, in fact, particularly old, possibly forty-five, no older than fifty.

She met my eyes with hers. They were the colour of treacle. I couldn’t look away. I became more and more uncomfortable, as she probed with her gaze. I could hear her voice, questioning. I could hear my own voice answering. The fire beside me seemed to swell and shrink, swell and shrink, rhythmically. I thought of the ocean, I thought of my family, I thought of Mairin.

It was as if I had slept. I forced open heavy eyelids. The fire had died down, leaving glowing embers. Oldest Caitrin was placing new logs on them, neatly, systematically. I mumbled an apology, but she waved it away.

“It is I who should perhaps apologise to you, for questioning you,” she said, “but I needed to be sure you were who you appeared to be. Our enemy is both cunning and treacherous.”

Not without apprehension, I looked her directly in the eyes once again. She smiled faintly but whether with amusement, or encouragement I could not tell. She gestured to a door at the back of the room.

“Diarmid MacDiarmid, behold your bride.”

As I gazed, the door slowly opened. There was the whisper of silk brushing skin. I rose from my seat and she entered the room.

She was beautiful. Her hair was red-gold like the setting sun in October; her eyes were blue-grey like the ocean after a storm; and she used them like swords.


The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

Here is Episode 3 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”.

If you missed Episode 1, you can find it here

Likewise, Episode 2 is here

I think the story will take another two episodes to complete. I will publish successive episodes every Monday.

I very much hope you enjoy it!

The bridefarer's choice - part 3

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 3

Skylarks were trilling in a cloudless pale-blue sky. It seemed a favourable omen.

Mavra, my horse, stepped out proudly, his black coat gleaming. I gloated over his harness, black leather with silver studs, knowing that the other villagers envied my wealth. I filled my lungs with the bright air, scented in equal measure by the sea and by the machair, and exulted in my strength.

My father held my bridle.

“Good fortune on your bridefaring, son.”

“Thank you, father. I shall try to make my family proud.”

A shadow fell on his face.

“If I may advise you, my son,” his voice trailed away, but then he straightened his back and looked me in the eye. “Do not be led astray by false hopes of grandeur. Mairin is a fine woman, plenty good enough for the pride of our family.”

“It is I who am bridefaring, not you, father.”

He released the harness with a sigh.

I rode steadily for two days, sometimes walking, sometimes trotting, and once – I confess it – galloping a half-mile for simple delight. I left the six villages and headed to the mountains, to Peak Town. I’d been there a few times with my father – we sold some of our catch to Michael the fishmonger.

I knew him well enough to call him friend, and we passed a merry evening in the Jack o’ Lantern Inn. On hearing I was searching for a bride, he chuckled and said “You should journey on to Merrydown. There’s a lass lives there, Scanallan, ripe for wooing. And you’re a bold chap. Red hair she has, and a big…”

“Keep it clean!” yelled someone.

“A big dowry, I was going to say” continued Michael, grinning.

“And her family?” I enquired.

“Well, that’s a thing. People say she’s a Lord’s bastard; can’t account for the size of the dowry any other way. You’ll find her serving in the Checkers Inn. And now I must be off, or Gerda will give me a black eye!”

It took me five days to cross the mountains and reach Merrydown, days that were as harsh and exhausting as any I’ve spent at sea. I was mighty relieved to reach the Checkers Inn.

But they had no room. Despite my fatigue, I had to tramp the streets, leading Mavra before I found a household that let out a room. It was not clean and it cost double what seemed fair, but it was dry and, if not warm, it was less cold than being outdoors.

The Checkers was lively, with tasty food and large portions. I could see how the inn got its name; there were half a dozen checkerboards, each one occupied. There was a constant bustle around the bar, young chaps mostly, laughing and joking with each other, and when I had finished dining I joined them.

A tall man, only a few inches shorter than me, approached me in friendly fashion.

“So, I’m Brendan,” he said. “Who are you, and what brings you to our town?”

The others fell silent, and looked at me.

“My name is Diarmid Macdiarmid. I’m bridefaring, and I heard your town is famous for the beauty of its women.”

“Bridefaring? And what might that be?”

It had never occurred to me that people wouldn’t have heard of the custom. As I explained, I could see smirks on the faces of some of the men.

“Bumpkin!” The word came from the back of the group. It was quiet, but perfectly audible. My hand sought my sword hilt, but I made no move to draw the blade.

“You have checkers. Would you care for a game?” I addressed the man who had spoken.

“Do you play checkers out in the peat marshes then?”

He sat down at a board and gestured to the seat opposite. All his friends were grinning; I guessed he was their champion.

“You go first,” he said.

As the game progressed he frowned. I won.

“Not bad – for a bumpkin.” He set up the board again, played the first move himself. He won.

“Best of three.” It wasn’t a question. He gestured that I should start. Six moves in, he made a beginner’s mistake. I hesitated and saw the sudden realisation on his face.

“Play it again,” I suggested.

He went white, his lips narrowed to bloodless lines and his dark eyes blazed.

“Don’t you dare patronise me,” he hissed.

Brendan laid his hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Easy now, Iain, easy.”

The serving woman came over quickly.

“Iain, that’s the wine talking. You’ve had enough. Time to go. Brendan?”

Brendan nodded assent, then turned to me.

“Best you make friends with some of the townsfolk before you try stealing one of our women.” He offered me his hand, and I shook it.

As the party left, I looked at the serving woman. She was indeed handsome. Now that I was paying attention I could see her hair was copper under her headscarf. She looked at me with green eyes.

“Do they allow you time away from here for relaxation?” I asked.

“Relaxation with a boy?” she mocked. “That’s the wine talking again for sure. I think you’d better go home, child.”

I thought of home that night, as I lay sleepless in the cold bed. Mairin would be a fine wife. But what if she turned me down? She’d been very upset and angry when I’d told her I was seeking a noble bride.

A noble bride! I snorted with derision at the thought. I couldn’t even persuade a serving wench to spend an evening with me. That said, if she were the daughter of a king, as the Oldest had read in my fate…I dozed, dreaming of red-gold hair and red-gold wealth.

I left the house in the morning, planning to meet some of the town’s traders. A skinny young man stopped propping up the wall of the house next door. He started whistling. I heard footsteps from behind, and from the side streets as we crossed. I glanced round. There was a group of half a dozen men. Two of them had been in the inn the previous night. I loosened my blade.

Iain stepped out from a porch, in his hand a quarterstaff that he pointed at me.

“Why do you bar my way? I intend naught but courtesy towards you.”

“If that is so, return to the hovel where you’re staying, settle your account, and leave town this morning.”

“I have business in the town.”

All the time we were speaking the other members of the group were moving to completely encircle me. Each held a quarterstaff.

“I ask you – in courtesy – to leave our town. Do you demur?” His voice was the silken purr of the wildcat; his eyes were madder than the rolling, bloodshot glare of a horse galloped to exhaustion.

“I ask you, in courtesy, to move out of my way so I may continue with my business.” I half-drew my sword.

Iain nodded.

The blow from my right caught me on the elbow. Gritting my teeth against the pain that shot up my arm, I pulled my blade fully from the scabbard and adopted a crouch position. A staff cracked across my buttocks. I hadn’t been struck like that since I was twelve! They were playing with me!

I let out a roar of rage and sprang at Iain, my sword seeking his heart. He parried expertly, easily, with his staff.

“We are in every way your betters, bumpkin. Down on your knees and do homage!”

“Like hell!”

The memory of the Oldest’s prophecy ‘You need not fear blade or fire or hemp; but beware of water, beware of the sea,’ heartened me.

“What do you say, bumpkin? Your sword against my staff?”

I nodded. If that was what he wanted. I’d aim to wound, not kill. My breath came short.

The other men stepped back a pace, still enclosing us but leaving enough room for our combat. Iain smiled, mockingly.

I raised my blade and took guard.

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2

Here is Episode 2 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”. If you missed Episode 1, you can find it here The Bridefarer’s Choice –Part 1. I know where the story is going, and I think it will take four episodes to complete. I will publish successive episodes every Monday.

I very much hope you enjoy it!

The Bridefarer's Choice - Part 2 171204

The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2 

The folk of half a dozen villages knew Mairin from Red Bay. At nineteen years old, she stood tall. Her form, though slender, promised many children. She moved with grace, whether herding cattle or dancing. She was strong, stronger than half the men of the village, and would work in the fields from dawn to dusk without a break at harvest.  She was beautiful, and older men said that in her Maeve the Fair lived once more.

Oh yes, she was the girl the lads sighed after – fruitlessly, for she would have none of them.  She turned her amber eyes on Diarmid; she shook out her chestnut locks for him.

And Diarmid! He was both tall and strong, and he’d shown his courage often while fishing in one of his father’s boats. He was dark, dark of hair, dark of eye, dark of beard, and yet his hair shone and his eyes sparkled. There was no stauncher friend to have in the six villages.

A great catch for any girl, you might say – but everybody knew he’d favoured Mairin since they were youngsters.

The folk of half a dozen villages spoke as if it was inevitable. Diarmid would make a short bridefaring to Red Bay, and we would celebrate a summer wedding. ‘The day after Midsummer’ said some, for Mairin was to be Midsummer Queen and must needs be a virgin for that.

But then Diarmid went bridefaring.

He cut a fine figure on his jet black horse, with its silver studded bridle. As he set off in the direction of Red Bay, the watching villagers nudged each other. “I told you so,” declared Aisleen to anybody who would listen.

It was shortly after noon that one of the boys from Red Bay came running into our village with the news that Diarmid had ridden straight past them, and along the coast. A day later, a fisherman from Salting brought news that Diarmid had passed their village without so much as a glance. And on Saturday we heard that he’d arrived in Peak Town and spent a night at the inn there.

With her hopes of being a bride dashed, Mairin stepped down from the role of Midsummer Queen. And the folk of half a dozen villages exclaimed with astonishment – except for the few who claimed to have known all the time that it was too good to be true.

It was just before Midsummer that Mairin visited me.

“Reverence, Oldest One.”

“Enter, be seated and be welcome.”

Mairin was breathing heavily.

“Will you do a…a reading for me, please, Oldest One?”

I looked hard at her. It wasn’t customary, or courteous, to seek a reading outside your own village.

“And what is wrong with the reading of Rowan Elder? She, too, has the Sight.”

Mairin looked at the floor.

“She will not give me a reading, Oldest.” She pulled a kerchief from her bag and twisted it between her fingers. A single tear trembled on her eyelash, then dropped to the floor.

“And why would you say that was?”

Mairin shook her head, miserably. “I don’t know, Oldest.”

I looked at her gently. She would have made an excellent wife for Diarmid, but I knew that was not what fate had in store.

“When Rowan or I use the Sight and are given a vision, we only have two options: to tell the truth fully, or to say nothing. We must not lie, or try to change the vision we are given.”

“My fate seems already cold; my heart freezes. What can you tell me that would make it worse?”

“Child, you say that because you are young. There are other men…” And then I stopped. The Sight came upon me like a tidal wave. I was defenceless against it. I saw a bairn, a babe with red-gold hair, in Mairin’s arms. The Sight battered me, and I fell senseless.

I came round to find Mairin’s white, scared face close to mine, as she shook my shoulder. “Oldest, Oldest,” she was sobbing, and the tears were running down her cheeks.

I pushed myself up on one elbow.

“Stop weeping and help me rise, girl.”

With Mairin’s help I struggled into my chair. My ears buzzed, and there was the taste of metal in my mouth. My limbs ached and my hip was sore.

“Pour a little liquid from the pot into my beaker.”

I drank the hot liquid slowly. My heart was steadying.

“Sit down, Mairin.”

She hesitated. “Are you alright, Oldest? Can I do anything else for you?”

“Sit down for goodness sake, and stop fussing.”

I gazed around my room. It was good to rest my eyes on the things of this world after being so deeply in the Place of Sight. My eyes were caught by the dust motes in the sunbeam through the window. I sighed. For a moment I saw myself, and Mairin, and Diarmid as specks of dust at the mercy of fate, lit up for a fleeting moment by the light of this world, only to return to the shadows again, so soon, so soon.

“I have something I must tell you. Just give me a moment or two.”

The herbs in the drink were spreading a glow through my body. Strength was gradually returning. I sat up straighter.

“Mairin Cullough, the Sight has shown me some of your future, and I must tell you of it.”

I paused, ordering my thoughts.

“Diarmid MacDiarmid will not be your husband. He will never lie with you; but you will raise his child. You, yourself, will die a maid, but you will see your child win renown that shall echo down the years for many generations to come.”

I gazed at her. The tears had stopped.

“That is a hard, cold fate,” she said.

And then the Sight gave me one final showing for Mairin.

“You will need help; you will need wisdom; you will need gold. You should come to me for all three.”

“Oldest,” she whispered, looking down at her kirtle. “How can I thank you?”

“Come to me when you need me. You shall be as a daughter to me.”

I rose, slowly. It hurt. I went to her and embraced her.

“Henceforward you are my daughter, and I your mother.”



The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 1

Well, I’ve decided to try my hand at a serial once again. The genre is fantasy (a first for me – I’ve never tried this genre before). Episode 1 is complete and published below.  I know where the story is going, and I think it will take four episodes to complete it. I will publish successive episodes every Monday.

I very much hope you enjoy it!

The Bridefarer - Part 1 171127

The Bridefarer – Part 1

Diarmid was a big man. He stooped to enter my house, and his broad frame blocked the sunlight.

“Reverence, Oldest One.”

I inclined my head, acknowledging the respectful greeting.

“Enter, be seated and be welcome,” I responded, with the formal words of hospitality. “You come to tell me you go bridefaring?”

He grinned. “Not a difficult conundrum, Oldest.”

And, indeed, it was not. At nineteen, it was high time Diarmid was married and settled. Besides, he was dressed for travel and carried a sword. I pointed to it.

“Do not be too quick to draw your blade, Diarmid MacDiarmid. You go seeking favour, not conquest.”

“Blades tarnish if they are never drawn.” His voice and manner were light.

“Better a tarnished blade than a dead bearer.”

I busied myself brewing a herbal tea.

“Here, Diarmid MacDiarmid, drink this. Drink slowly, and leave the herbs in the bottom.”

He sniffed it, sipped it. It was a bitter brew. Little creases showed at the corners of his eyes, but he drained the cup. I took it from him and looked at the residue.

I felt the hairs on my neck prickle with anticipation. I have ‘the sight’. It’s often a blessing, when you can reassure someone that they will have a full life and die of old age. But sometimes it’s a curse.

“All I can tell you from this reading is that you will live out your fate. For some, the way is…malleable. Choices will make a difference for them. That is not so for you; your fate is fixed, as straight and cold and strong as the steel of your blade.”

I looked up at him.

“All men die,” he said; but his face was pale. “I do not fear death.”

“You must drink again before I can tell you how your bridefaring will prosper.”

In truth I knew already.

He grimaced but nodded assent, and slowly drank from a second cup. As he handed me the empty vessel, he looked me full in the eyes.

“Tell me the truth, now, whatever it is.”

“I would never do otherwise.”

I stared into the cup. The story was the same.

“Your bridefaring will be successful. In a town far from here you will win the heart of a beautiful young woman. Her hair is red-gold like the setting sun in October; her eyes are blue-grey like the ocean after a storm. She is a king’s daughter, but those among whom she dwells know this not.

You will wed her, and return to your home where she will bear you a son. But, Diarmid MacDiarmid, I say this to you. You need not fear blade or fire or hemp; but beware of water, beware of the sea.”

Diarmid laughed, colour restored to his cheeks. His dark eyes were smouldering at the thought of the beautiful woman who would share his bed.

“I am a fisherman, Oldest. I must always beware of the sea. I bid you farewell, with many thanks for the favourable reading.”

He fiddled in his purse, drawing out a gold coin.

“For your good words,” he said.

I took it silently, and he left.

When he had gone I sat many minutes, my mind wandering the paths of the future.