Fyskar: Ch 21

Fyskar: Legend of the Bai book 1 by Chapel Orahamm, antler and crow on pile of skulls with ember and storm

“So, what’s in the box?” Seonaid asked the following day after breakfast. Eoin had finished plaiting his hair out of the way, leaving it to hang for the day. He was in his blue breeches, having left his shirt off. The Fyskar despised the Southron garment. It was constricting around the throat and pressed his torc in all the wrong places. His other clothes hung washed and drying at the fire.

He got up and stretched before walking into the second room, followed by Fearchar and Seonaid. He peeled ropes and oiled cloth off the chest. Seonaid gasped. It was immaculately etched with swirling knots and vines. Eoin smiled, fingering a particularly clean swirl. “Bercilack’s work?” Fearchar guessed. Eoin nodded as he popped the lid free. His husband had sealed the chest with wax and tar in hopes of keeping water out of it.

The inside of the chest was lined with more of the oiled cloth. The top of the hoard held a leather folio in which was a signed deed to the land. In it was tied a ring. He brushed at the engraving of a fish and hook. He had to fight off another tear. It was the same engraving as the pendant he had left at the grave. He slipped it onto his index finger, disappointed to find it a shade tight. He would put it with his other personal effects later.

He allowed Seonaid to look over the document. Her breath hitched as she read the lines before handing it back to Eoin, her eyes round. Fearchar nudged her, wanting to know what was going on. She swallowed, trying to wrap her head around it. “Ye’r a Laird, Eoin? He practically owns the whole peninsula from the main docks all the way out to the other harbour and all the buildings on that land,” she explained to her husband.

Fearchar contemplated that for a moment before comprehending. “Mean ‘e owns the land this ‘ouse is on?” Fearchar asked. She nodded slowly.

“It goes all the way to the hills on the south end and then some,” she shifted.

Won’t ask you to pay rent, Eoin joked as he unpacked the chest in earnest.

Packages were wrapped carefully in leather and canvas. He pulled each one out reverently before opening them. Near the bottom of the chest were larger, soft bundles. These were the first Eoin opened with barely contained excitement. A large white wool robe with long flowing sleeves was in the first package. Eoin fingered raised embroidery. It was my father’s robe for his marriage, and his great-grandfather’s before that. Osla was the one who decided to add the embroidery along the edges, though. He carefully wrapped the garment back in its package and laid it aside.

The next one contained several kilt cloths of pure white and one of light blue, lavender, and white. Ceremonial kilts, one was my wedding kilt. This one, he unfolded the coloured one to trace a line of lavender, was a spare. I forgot I stored it in here. He laid it out on the floor and put away the white cloth.

He proceeded to open up the other packages on the kilt. He arranged strange round and cylindrical carved black stones on it. We use them as predictions to cast future events in the lives of White Horses at their coming-of-age ceremony. My own did not come up with the best of casts. Storms, Upheaval, and Break were all used by my father when he threw my stones. He regarded the rocks with a derisive glare. Hopefully, my sons will have a better cast. Grey stones with shallowly carved depressions and little pouring troughs were unwrapped next. I will have to make the oil for their hair when I get home, he said to himself.

A pair of white feathered fans created from the wings of a young seagull were carefully preserved. Eoin let out a breath of relief. That was one project he had not looked forward to having to make. Intricately pulled gold thread wrapped about the feather shafts, creating a glinting tie to burnished redwood handles. It would have been a chore to find a seagull of proper age at this time of year.

A knife followed the fans. It was short, not much longer than a pinky finger. The handle was made of a roebuck’s antler. “What is that for?” Seonaid asked, curious.

Their first and only haircut, he emphasized the statement.

“Hair is a status symbol for your clan, isn’t it?” she asked him.

Women born with the talent can cut it, as can the men without the talent. For Princes, it is a statement of who you are in the clan. It is my tie between here and The Forest. It is an extension, a part of my spirit.

If you do not have the talent, it is customary to shave the head entirely when a person close to you dies. I had thought of it in those days I lay unable to speak, thinking on my people. I had thought to sever my tie with The Forest. What good could I do if I could not Walk my people to it?

Cutting the hair to the shoulder just the once is a sign of stepping from childhood into manhood for Princes, cutting away from this world to open up a connection to The Forest. We can snip the ragged ends to clean it of knots when needed; otherwise, it is left to grow as long as it will. My father’s hair grew all the way to his mid-thighs before he lost himself to the sea. Mine has not grown past my hips in many years.

The next bundle was a simple box that contained multiple lumps of red-brown rock. “Ah told ye ‘e ‘ad rocks in there,” Fearchar muttered to his wife. She nodded sympathetically at her husband’s plight. Eoin snorted at the redhead.

Following the rocks, he produced a package of needles and a tapping stick. He pulled one out to look at it, checking it for rust. It was still gleaming and shiny, its thin layer of applied oil preserving it. “Sewing?” Seonaid scooted over to look at them closer, reaching to touch one.

Eoin’s hand snaked out, grasping her fingers before she could touch the implements. The sound of tapping was the first sign that she had fallen into the void again. Vibrating heat passed across her right shoulder blade, a scratching, tearing sensation, followed by an unpleasant drowning numbness. Eoin released her, wrapping the needles back up. Sorry, he apologized quickly. Women aren’t supposed to touch them…I didn’t mean to… Eoin pushed away his braid restlessly.

“The red bands, they’re ceremonial?”

He ducked his head, nodding. He had not meant to drag her into the void.

“What’s up, love?” Fearchar rubbed at his wife’s tense shoulders.

She couldn’t quite shake the feeling of the tap needles dragging across her shoulder where Fearchar rubbed at it. “Accident.”

Eoin pointed to the bands on his arms. These are to hold me to the earth, to bind me with it: the creag, the uisge, the feur, and the teine. Seonaid fought through his translation. This was not something Eoin wanted to share directly with them through his void. They are the last of the tattoos to go on. I was responsible for applying the uisge and the teine on my own – had a bit of help from Bercilack and Osla with the back of my arms where I couldn’t reach.

The first bar, the camhanaich, the shortest on my back, is to symbolize the upper thought, the empty space where I take you. The middle bar, the turadh, the one that is longer than the shortest and shorter than the longest, is my memories. The last bar, the gloaming, the one that runs from my hip to my shoulder, is my feeling, my senses, my emotion, to show how far it stretches. The line at my low back, the jagged one, is the first one to go on; it is fear, the eagal, terror. It is there to allow the body to learn what a needle is, to master fear. The two diamonds above them are pain, the craidh, and anger, the corraich. They are reminders of the base most emotions that I must always control as a Prince. Easier to say… he mused.

“And you’ll put these on your sons?” Fearchar leaned away from Eoin.

Not all at once. Eagal will be the first one for them to receive at their coming-of-age ceremony. Craidh and Corraich I put on a fortnight later. Camhanaich is for their eleventh year, Turadh for their twelfth, and Gloaming for their thirteenth. The four bands on the arms are reserved for a fortnight before their weddings. My wife and husband exchanged gold bands with each other. My marriage bands are permanent, Eoin explained.

He turned from the conversation to the last four packages. In one lay a set of fine jewellery tools. Another contained a large square of gold. To make their torcs, he explained. My father was a brilliant craftsman. I can only hope to do as good a job as he in crafting theirs.

The last two packages were left wrapped. One was bizarrely massive and cumbersome, having been safely packed around with the soft cloth packages. The other was smaller, not much larger than a saucer. He fingered the larger one momentarily before thinking better of opening it. He carefully returned all the items to their wraps and put them into the chest.

“E’erythin’ there?” Fearchar asked. Eoin nodded his head, breathing a sigh of relief.

“You said you’d explain the roundhouse to me. Why was it so short?” Fearchar pressed his curiosity.

Eoin mused on it a moment. The fact the Dalerochs burned it tells me everything about their state of mind. It was a talking house. It was short not because I am inept at building, but because it makes one sit to converse. When the Fyskar had arguments, my husband, wife, or I would sit as a negotiator between the parties. We would all be allowed to leave when a compromise had been met.

“Rather diplomatic,” pondered Fearchar.

It worked for my people. Eoin ran a finger along the carving on the chest.

“They destroyed everything in yer house. Only by luck and burying it under dirt and rock, did your birthright survive. The toy box, though,” Fearchar growled as he dug around in his storage boxes. Eoin watched him curiously. The handyman came back with a cube of soft wax and a handful of cloths. He rubbed the fabric into the wax and handed the rest to Eoin to help. He pulled the embroidered blanket of toys and the vials from the box and set them near the big trunk. Eoin was still nervous about touching the objects.

“Somethin’s been bothering me, doc. Ye call yerself a Prince. Ye seem ta have a lot a’ uppity titles floatin’ about. Ye were married ta a clan chief, though. What gives?” Fearchar picked up a worn wooden top and handed it to Eoin. The Fyskar cradled the little toy in his fingers. The redhead gently rubbed wax into the dry wood of the box around Torcall’s name.

Bless the man; he had no knowledge that the words encircling the box were the names of Eoin’s family. It was no toy box, but a space by which to save the spirits of the dead against calamity. Toys, embroidery, carvings, hair, teeth were all items that could house their owners’ souls. He had thought the remains destroyed when the Dalerochs burned his house. He would be able to Walk his family into The Forest with these few remains still tethering their spirits.

Eoin stilled from handling the old top, one of the first toys his husband had carved for his Dughlas. He watched the man polish the wood to a mirrored gleam. Eoin tapped his bracer to draw Fearchar’s attention. How do you mean?

“Wouldn’t that reduce your status?” Fearchar carefully dug out a gritty soft spot in the wood and smoothed it with a bit of wax.

Eoin sat for a moment in utter confusion. Seonaid watched his perplexed face, waiting to translate. He looked up at her. I still don’t think I understand.

“William and Mary are King and Queen of Scotland and England. Why are you a Prince and marriage transformed your husband and wife into a clan chief and lady?” Seonaid tried a more precise route.

First off, the Fyskar never accepted the rule of the Prince of Orange as legitimate or that of his cousin. Secondly, the concept of King – the Righ, and Prince – the Flath, is different within the Fyskar. The deed of the land is passed down within my family line. I represent that land, the embodiment of it. I take care of it and the land of the afterlife for my people. I see to their spirit. I negotiate grievances with the land, welcome life, lay death at peace. I do not see to the governance of the clan.

Bercilack took care of that aspect of the clan. He saw to the economic portion, negotiation of trade routes, grievances between the people and those that we allied with. I am a holy man; he was a politician. Osla saw to the women’s issues and sought either Bercilack or my guidance when it came to their needs, depending on what had to be done. Violence committed against a wife by her husband, Bercilack saw too. The river ran dry in the grazing pasture a widow had used for decades? I went and found a new source and helped dig the well.

Fearchar blinked at the explanation. “That. Oh. That makes more sense. Ye’re a priest?”

Duine Naomh na coille. White Horse. Not like Innocence XII. In a way, like William and his Church of England, but without the political drive outside of it. Eoin shrugged and nodded. It was a close enough approximation for the layman.

“Head of.”

William III and Innocence XII see to far more people than I ever did, or ever will, but yes, in much the same fashion. My acolytes, some from my father – the Righ’s era, some that I was training myself, were murdered with the rest of the clan. All I have now is a deed stating my ownership of the land, but no one left to see to. I have a terrible habit of losing my apprentices.

“Are ye gammy? The entire village sits on yer land. Our house sits on yer land, same as the Daleroch’s who took yer husband and wife’s house. Ye have more people than ye know what ta do with. I can count two hundred right now without thinking hard on it.” Fearchar put the remainder of his wax away.

Eoin handed Fearchar the cloth he had used to help clean and shine the top in his hand. You think they would accept me walking into the village with a decree stating that a mute man with witchcraft in his blood would now oversee them? That they are now incorporated as Fyskar? They never took the incorporation back when my father’s great-grandfather tried that.

“You call it a gift. You never claimed it as witchcraft,” Fearchar defended.

The Dalerochs did. The town of Salem did. Mary Trembles. Susannah Edwards. Loudun. The Würzburg trials. No one looks friendly on those with a talent or those who dissent their rulers.

The villagers left us alone. Tolerated us. They knew we owned the land they lived on, but we didn’t ask for taxes, rent, or revenue, and they didn’t interfere with how we conducted our affairs. The fact they haven’t talked – they knew what the Dalerochs did and said nothing. Allowed them to massacre us through their own indifference.

“You are scared?” Seonaid stood and shook out her skirts. Eoin and Fearchar followed suit to join her in the main room.


“Of death?” Seonaid settled a shallow pan on a trivet to start heating.

Of burning.

She glanced at the flames and back at Eoin, who was staring at the cooking fire morosely. “This?” she pointed at it.

The Dalerochs burned my wife and daughter at the stake, along with every other woman of the clan. They knew our beliefs. They knew that for us, if we are burned, our spirit is burned. We don’t Walk back into The Forest. We are no more. They took our women from us. We will see those who Walked into The Forest before the Dalerochs’ time. But they took entire generations and made them disappear. They tried to take my family. Only through Fearchar’s curiosity will I be able to Walk my family into The Forest. I can’t thank him enough for rescuing the box. He buried his head in his hands and collapsed onto a chair.

Seonaid sat back on her stool, stunned. She watched the man tremble uncontrollably. It broke her heart to listen to him cry. She went to him, folding him into a soft embrace. He pulled her small frame to him, encompassing her, and buried his head into her shoulder. Hot tears tracked down her collarbone. “I’m so sorry, Eoin,” she crooned. Brushing at the top of his head rhythmically, she glanced up to Fearchar. He nodded to her with a look of pain and sympathy.

“I can never bring them back.” His thoughts flowed through her. “I won’t grow old with them. I won’t watch my children grow up. I won’t conduct their wedding ceremonies. Welcome their children into the world. Watch my husband teach them to carve or my wife how to weave.

“I can’t be here anymore. I can’t turn at every stone and remember every conversation, every smile, every touch that took place. I hear their voices, their laughter here, and it’s too much to know I can never touch them again. I can’t do it. I have to be up and away from here.” Eoin sank back from her kindness. His fingers trailed along the line of her skirt, bunching handfuls of the material. He didn’t release her, clinging to her like a small child, lost and vulnerable. She waited as his mind raced away from him.

“You will go back to this Mirza?” Seonaid asked, throwing a questioning eyebrow at her husband over Eoin’s head.

The doctor nodded once in thought, then dropped his hold on her skirts to turn and pin Fearchar with broody eyes. Do you still want to come with me?

“Wha d’ye think, Seonaid?” Fearchar turned to his wife. 

She put a finger to her chin and thought for a minute. “You said that your guard was serving as ambassador in England currently?” 

Eoin nodded, not sure where she was going with the question.

“Well, if you don’t mind us travelling with you, we can make our way there. If the guard won’t allow us to follow, then we can always return here or find somewhere new,” she smiled up at her husband, pleased with her idea. 

Eoin contemplated the idea then shrugged. It couldn’t hurt.

He would have to struggle his way through the snow the next day to the docks where a pigeon waited to take a message to summon a boat to take them to the mainland. Then there was the matter of their parcels. He forced himself to relax. His journey was coming to an end.

Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.

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