Thanks to my beta curiouswombat and to evilawyer, megan_peta, and zanthinegirl for their assistance and advice.
The Isle of Man, 1014 AD, a mixed Celtic and Viking community. In the aftermath of the slaughter at the Battle of Clontarf, with the islanders mourning their dead and anxious for the missing, a new Slayer must face a horde of undead Vikings to free the island from a dreadful curse.
The Cloak of Mist
It was as winter was barely turning into spring that I first realised that I was no longer as other girls. Fynlo met me in the fields that day and accosted me.
“A kiss, Bahey,” he demanded.
“I shall not kiss you, for you are unwashed and smell like a pig,” I told him.
He laughed, and laid his hands upon me; for his father was favoured of King Brodir and my father was no one of import, and so he believed he could do as he wished. I was frightened, for it might be more than a kiss that he would take, and I pushed him away as hard as I could.
I had thought that my shove would hardly move him, perhaps make him stumble back at most, but he flew through the air and crashed down a score of feet away. I knew not what had happened, and was frightened. It was as if some foe invisible had seized him and pulled him away from me. I rushed to see if he was hurt, and took his hand; I plucked him to his feet as easily as if I was picking up a fallen apple. His weight was as nothing to me.
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
His eyes were very wide. “No,” he said. “How did you do that? How did you throw me so far? Was it witchcraft?”
I flinched. To be suspected of witchcraft would be very bad; I might be accused of putting the blight upon our neighbours, and then I would be put into a spiked barrel and rolled down Slieau Whallian. “I just pushed you,” I told him. “You must have been off balance. I meant you no harm.” I sought to distract him. “I am sorry. You may have the kiss.”
“You are a strong girl, and you have spirit,” he told me. He stood up straight. “I will not take the kiss now, Bahey. I will bathe, and claim the kiss tomorrow.”
I would long treasure the memory of that kiss. Fynlo was tall and handsome, his hair golden as the ripe barley, and he had bathed and was clean and smelled sharp and fresh like a spring breeze. “Bahey, you are beautiful,” he told me. “Slender as a willow wand, and yet you are strong and brave. I would court you. I shall call upon your father.”
“If you court me there shall be no more kisses for you from any other girl but me,” I warned him.
His eyes twinkled. “There is no other girl for me,” he said, and I felt happier than ever in my life.
It was not to last for long. He called on my father as he had promised, and after that he came to walk with me when I had finished in the fields and there was no more light for weaving. We had walked together only a few times when he told me that he would be going away to war. Sygtrigg Silkenbeard of Dublin was rebelling against the High King Brian Boru and had sought aid from our King Brodir. The Carls of Brodir, one of whom was Fynlo’s father, were gathering their retinues for Ireland and battle. Fynlo was now of an age for war and had begged to be included.
This was not good news to me. “Why go to seek out war?” I asked. “Will it not find you in its own time? Life is hard and short enough without going out of your way to make things worse. Our time together is just beginning and you are risking bringing it to an end already.”
“I do this for you,” he told me soberly. “My father may be a ship-captain for the king, but he has hardly more land than does your father, and I have brothers. I will have little inheritance and must make a living for us. There may be wealth to be won in Ireland; or renown that will gain me a place as a Housecarl in the king’s guard.”
“And an Irishman with an axe may split your foolish head,” I warned him.
“A chance that I must take if I am to be a warrior.” He was bold and determined, and I knew I would not sway him. I knew something else. I loved him, and if he did not return it would break my heart.
It was two days later that my world changed again.
My new strength I had kept to myself. I did not desire that the Christians accuse me of being possessed of a devil, or that those who still followed the Norse ways should call me a troll-child. I had tested my strength alone, picking up stones, then rocks, and then boulders, but I kept the knowledge to myself and used only that strength necessary for my work. It did not occur to me that anyone else could know of it, and yet someone did.
I returned from a walk with Fynlo to find that my family had a guest. A monk, by his robes, but his tonsure was strange; it was the front of his head that was shaven, not the top.
“Bahey, this is Brother Finán of Tara. He has come from Ireland to see you.” Father sounded puzzled and a little perturbed.
“To see me?” I echoed him. I was puzzled too, and a touch frightened. There was only one thing about me that distinguished me from any other girl, and no-one was supposed to know about that.
He smiled at me. “Indeed, girl. You have a destiny that has brought me here from across the sea.” He saw my alarm, and smiled again. “There is no need to be worried,” he assured me. That was a lie, although I did not know it at the time. “I bring good news. It is not for anyone’s ears but your own. We must go somewhere private.”
There was but the one room in our tholtan, for our farm was small, and nowhere that we could be alone except outside. My father frowned. “I am not sure that I should allow a strange man to be with my daughter without myself there, even a monk. She has a young man, Fynlo son of Asmund, and he would not be pleased should he hear.”
“Why not let the decision be your daughter’s? She is safe in my company, and I am sure she knows that.” Brother Finán gave me a look with his eyes hooded and a half smile on his lips. He knew my secret, I was sure, and I was not happy, yet I knew that only his words could be a danger to me. I had no fear of any man forcing himself upon me, for only days ago I had lifted with ease a boulder that had defeated even Magnus Quayle when he won the trials of strength at Tynwald last summer, and I was sure I could defend myself at need. I had to know the reason for this monk being here, and so I spoke up, assuring my father he had no cause for concern.
“Fynlo cannot complain if I walk near the tholtan with a holy man. We are not yet betrothed and he is going away to war against my wishes. I shall speak with Brother Finán, Father. Do not worry yourself; we shall not go far from this house.”
The tale he told me was strange indeed. Yes, he knew that I had become strong. He was not the only one; my name had been spoken in Tara of the Kings, in London, and even in Rome and in far Constantinople. Messages had been sent across the world, carried by birds with parchments tied to their legs, by men on fast horses, by swift ships, and even by sorcery.
I was the Chosen One, the Vampire Slayer. I did not know the word ‘vampire’, but he explained that it was the word in the Eastern Empire for the creatures we would call draugr or dearg-dul, the dead who walked to attack the living, and his books of Roman learning used that word as there was no Latin name for the monsters. My sudden strength had been bestowed upon me by the Holy Spirit so that I could fight and destroy the walking corpses.
Brother Finán was a Watcher. His Order sought out Vampire Slayers, trained them, and watched over them. There were Watchers all across the world. From Ireland, to Rome, to Kiev, even to the far lands of the Bulgars, they cast their net. Wherever a girl became a Slayer the nearest Watcher was sent to find her and guide her in her task. When St Brendan had sailed to the land beyond Ultima Thule, Brother Finán told me, it had been to find a Slayer among the Skraellings and Watch over her. She had died before St Brendan arrived and so the holy man had turned his skin boat around and returned to Ireland.
For there was only one Slayer at a time, and when each died a new girl was called upon by the Holy Spirit to take her place. The new Slayer would then fight the evil creatures of the devil; until she fell in battle, at which time the next Slayer would be called upon.
“And if I will not do this?” I asked him. “I did not ask for my strength. It is not my wish to be a shield-maiden and go forth to battle against men who are already dead, until I am slain in my turn. I would be courted by Fynlo, one day marry him, and have children of my own. Take back this power unasked for.”
“It is not I who has bestowed it upon you, my child,” he told me. “I have no power to remove it. If you do not learn from me the skills of a Slayer the dearg-dul shall still come for you, for nothing is sweeter to them than the blood of a Slayer, and you will not have the ability to defeat them. It is your fate, and you cannot escape it.” He patted my shoulder and spoke not unkindly. “Yet there is no rule that says that a Slayer may not marry, if she is not slain, and if your man is warrior enough to protect you whilst you are with child you may still have your wish.”
“If I am not slain,” I repeated his words bitterly. “This is a cruel fate that has been placed upon me.”
“That may be so, yet you cannot avoid it.” He sighed. “We have learned that each Slayer is chosen in the place where she is most needed. This island may seem a peaceful place, untouched by the forces of evil, and yet a danger must be coming. Heaven grant that you are ready in time to face it.”
There were practical matters to arrange. I could not learn the skills of a Slayer whilst feeding the geese, or gathering kindling, and the work would not do itself. Brother Finán gave my father coins of silver for a bondmaid to work in my place, and that problem was solved, yet in solving it another was created as my family could not understand why my services were so important to him. Mother feared that he meant me to become a nun. Grandmother feared the opposite, for she had seen in her youth men with his tonsure, and she said it marked those who held to the rule of the Celtic church rather than to the rule of Rome. There was nothing forbidding the monks of the Celtic church to wed; and it was her thought that he meant to take me as a wife, or even as a bed-mate without marriage.
“I follow the Roman way,” Brother Finán said. “Our Order preserves only the tonsure from the old church. I may not marry, and if I dishonoured your granddaughter my Abbot would have me flogged perhaps to death.”
“If I did not crack that pate with a cook pot first,” I put in.
Father laughed. “Our Bahey Dhone is a spirited girl indeed, mother, and she would do just that. We need not fear for her. Yet, Brother Finán, I would still know more of why you wish our daughter to be your student. She is not the material for a saint, any more than she is for a nun, and neither is she greatly learned.”
“A wise woman came to the Abbot with a message that had come to her in a dream, and by sundry signs and tokens she proved to him that the dream was of holy inspiration,” Finán explained. “She bade him send a teacher to Dubhghlais in the Isle of Mann and let him there seek out a brown-haired girl, by the name of Bahey Kinvig, and instruct her in prayers and letters and certain cunning uses of herbs. By this means we would avert an evil that would otherwise come upon the lands of the Gael and the Lochlannach. I am merely the instrument of Abbot Colmác in this matter.” The Lochlannach, I knew, was the Irish name for the Norse who ruled the Isle of Mann and Dublin in Ireland, and so he could be referring to Ireland, the Isle of Mann, or both.
Grandmother was satisfied on that point, but still wary. “As long as you are not here as a spy for Brian Boru,” she said, determined to grumble a little more.
“There is no need for spies,” Brother Finán replied. “All Ireland knows that Sygtrigg has sought aid from your King Brodir, and from Jarl Sigurd the Stout of Orkney. There will be battle, and soon, but it is no concern of mine. My duty is to my Abbot, and therefore to your granddaughter, in obedience to his word.”
That set the minds of my family at rest, but raised new questions in my own mind. I said nothing at that time, however, waiting until the next day when I had a chance to speak with Brother Finán alone.
“How much of that pretty tale that you told my father was true?” I asked him. “Am I, then, to fight the dearg-dul with prayer and fasting, and with herbs?”
“I told them no lies.” His face was serious and held no trace of the smile that, as I had begun to learn, came so easily to his lips. “They had as much of the truth as they could understand. What good would it have done to tell them that you have been chosen by Heaven as a warrior? They would have cried out, and shut their ears to me, and tried to hide you away. The account that I gave of the wise woman was true. She is a seer with the power to find the Chosen Ones, and she is in the service of the Council of the Watchers, as are all of my Order from Abbot Colmác down. I shall indeed instruct you in letters, if you will, for it would be easier to teach you of other matters if you could read, but it is of no great consequence if you cannot learn. Prayer has some powers of protection against the creatures of the devil. Even herbs have their uses, as you shall learn. But mainly I shall teach you how to fight.”
We began with unarmed fighting for, as he said, “You may be caught without a sword or spear, but you always have your hands”. He told me to run at him and strike him.
I was loath to do so. “My strength is great, and I may injure you,” I warned him.
“Fear not, girl, I know what I do. If you worry that you may injure me then strike me upon the shoulder. I will take no great harm from that.” His smile showed confidence, and I decided to trust him. I ran at him, as he had bidden, and brought my fist down upon his shoulder as if it were a hammer. My blow did not land. He caught my arm, turning his body as he did so, and pulled. He stuck out his leg and I was thrown over his hip and landed on the ground on my back.
The breath was knocked from my body and I lay gasping for a moment. I recovered quickly and rose to my feet. “How did you do that?” I asked.
“It is troid-sciathaigid, battle through defence, a skill developed by the monks of Ireland in the days when they spread the Faith to the pagans and needed to travel among savage men whilst being forbidden to bear arms. I shall teach you.” He folded his arms. “The first lesson you must learn is how to fall.”
“I already know how to fall,” I grumbled, waving my hand towards the spot where I had landed. “The trick would be in not falling.”
“How to fall without taking harm, and how to rise quickly,” he elaborated. “Once you have mastered that I will teach you to throw others as I threw you to the ground. After that, how to strike with the fist, and then how to kick.”
I learned quickly. I found that I only needed to be shown each new thing once and then I could do it myself. This, he told me, was one of the powers I had gained as a Slayer; a natural affinity for the skills of battle. When he grew tired and began to instruct me in letters instead, so that he could rest, I found that I had no such affinity for those matters.
“It is not necessary for me to read,” I claimed. “Is that not why we have clerics?”
“Patience, child, do not expect to master it all at once. Indeed it is not as vital to you as are the arts of battle, yet still it may prove of use. Suppose you are faced with a devil that cannot be killed with sword or axe, and the secret of victory over it is in one of my texts?”
“Then I should ask you,” I said smugly.
“And if it has already torn out my throat?”
“Then I would go to the monastery of St Leoc and ask the monks to read it for me,” I answered triumphantly. He raised his eyes to the heavens, as if asking for guidance, and I relented. “And they would ask what I was doing with such texts, and take them from me, and if they read of devils they would put the parchments to the flame. Perhaps they would want to put me to the fire as well. I did but tease, Brother Finán. It seems I have no gift for letters, but I will do my best to learn.”
And learn I did, although never did I become comfortable with reading. I learned the Roman letters after a fashion, and runes as well or better, but the old Celtic writing of Ogham was never more to me than the scratchings of a chicken’s foot upon the ground. I came to speak some Latin, and read it too, besides the Manx Gaelic and Norse that I spoke already. But my tale gets ahead of itself.
In the afternoon we returned to the skills of the fight. Brother Finán taught me to fall, to throw, to punch with my fists, to kick, to strike with my elbows and my knees, and even with my head. “This is the reason why we kept to the Celtic tonsure, or so it is said,” he told me as he demonstrated butting with the head as if he were a ram. “The hair could pad a blow and reduce the impact.”
“I hope you will not want me to shave the front of my head, for I like my hair fine as it is,” I said, displeased.
“I think the hair makes little difference, if truth be told, especially with the power of a Slayer behind a butt. I think the true reason for our Order preserving the old tonsure is because of the look of the thing, for it is more martial in appearance than is the Roman style.” He held a bale of straw before him and I struck it with my head, rocking him back on his feet. “Well struck, girl. Now, I grow weary, and the light grows dim, so let that be all for today. Return to your home, Bahey, and tomorrow I shall instruct you in the use of the staff.”
The day came for Fynlo to set off to war; and a cold day it was, and wet. His father’s ship would sail to Purt-ny-Hinshey for the muster of Brodir’s fleet and then on to Ireland. I went to bid him farewell; we kissed long and deep, and I allowed him to put his hand upon my breast. “Take no foolish chances,” I bade him. “Come back to me with all your limbs.”
“I will not shrink from the fight, Bahey,” he replied.
“I would not ask you to. But stay within the shield-wall, Fynlo, and if you face an Irishman be sure to smite him before he smites you.”
He touched my nose with his finger. “You are a girl of strong will, Bahey Dhone, and I would not dare to disappoint you. I shall return to you, I promise.”
“You had better, or I will have no option but to become a nun.”
He laughed. “And a terrible waste that would be.” We were not yet ready to exchange rings, but he gave me a clasp for my cloak as a love token, and we kissed again before we said our farewells and he set off for the longship. I watched from a distance as they rowed out of the bay, and I felt as if I would cry, but I held back the tears and walked back to my home. I shivered as I walked, and told myself it was from the cold.
To be continued … HERE
Disclaimer: the concept of the Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. No profit is being made from this unauthorised use, nor is there any attempt to claim ownership of the concept.
All characters in this work are created by me and are entirely my property.