About eleven years ago, while we were in London, I began this story for my husband. This small missive was my anniversary gift to him. Thank you my darling man, for loving me.
Stories Untold, Lovers Not Known
It was Seth’s job to hold onto the memories. His job was to keep the stories. That he was chosen to do this humbled him and tonight it grieved him.
The storyteller had stood on this sacred stone every night to watch the phases of the moon.
All things that surround them told a story. Non more spectacular than that of the moon…
This cycle’s moon was not yet full and yet it ran with blood.
Admiring the beauty of the night sky, he welcomed the story tellers that lived in the stars. When his time came to walk the stars with his God, those stories must still live on here.
And the gift echoed the thought, the stories must never be forgotten.
Theirs was a people with a long history. They had not been original to this island, instead they had had their beginnings when the one true God had cast their ancestors from the garden.
But their God had not left them alone. He had sent holy beings that they had called Aunt and Uncle who explained that all was connected and how the universe worked. As male and female, Aunt and Uncle would sit together on this stone and tell stories or explain away the mysteries of what his ancestors did not understand. But most importantly, Aunt and Uncle would explain to these descendants of Cain, their destiny.
Their other worldliness, at times, would glow and shimmer, and when they walked among his tribe, a halo of light surrounded them. No one would ever think that they were of this world. Their form resembled that of his people, but that is where all other resemblance stopped. They were too beautiful, too soft spoken to have lived here, and they wore innocence wrapped around them like a cloak.
The stories they told were thrown out into the heavens for all to see. The knowledge they shared brought grace and beauty to their rough lives. Seth sighed. It would have been wonderful to be alive when they had walked the earth.
Instead, all they had were the storytellers and the stories that had been carved in the stones…and it was his job to remember those stories and tell them to his tribe.
The ring of stones surrounding him had come from a vast, flat, grassland. In these small upright obelisks the story of creation was recorded. The pictures carved upon them showed the story of their God of all and how He and his sons and daughters had cast out evil beings from their home in the stars. And how the evil ones had been thrown to this place.
Even though the upright carved stones were sacred, they were not as sacred as this rectangle of rock that sat in their perfect circle, for this was the stone of destiny. Where Aunt and Uncle had sat.
This is where the storytellers stood. As well as the priests and those that had the gift.
Watching the heavens, the star moved into the correct position. It was time to begin. Seth’s song was one of thanksgiving. His voice being the only evidence that he was standing in this place and time. Even though he was dark in color, the blue clay that covered his body and was rubbed into his hair made him impossible to see. The moon was back in her house, the shadows making yet another ring of stone. Retrieving the drum, he began a sequence that would call the dancers.
The wind moaned through the trees and shook the acorns to the ground. In twelve pairs they came, male and female. Each couple dragging their basket of blue clay that would be smeared upon the rocks. Each took their position in front of the stone that made up the ring. In silence they stood, until each one felt the power of their stone imprint upon them.
Seth’s eyes were fixed on the horizon, watching for the first rays of the dancing star as it began its ascent into the heavens. With a prayer, he let out a sight of relief. It had been completely released from the hand of their God.
Once more he began pounding on the drum and the couples danced the story of creation, with intricate steps and hand movement, the pulse of the universe, running through them. When the star had reached its zenith in the darkness, the dance subsided, each couple frozen in the last position that their hands and feet held.
A very low, slow and methodically drum beat continued. The oldest of the priests stood in the center, the destiny stone being his stage, with his hands raised heavenward. With each beat, he told the story of each stone and what it represented…and how with only a breath the God of their world had created this place and all the good things that surrounded them. With the telling, sometimes the drum beat would grow insistent, other times he had to shout above it, the roll of thunder coming from it.
When the drumming stopped the couples began smearing the engraved stones with the clay, so that these bearers of the truth could not see the wrongness that was going to be perpetuated upon them.
Although these stones had their beginnings else where, they had resided here since being unload from the ships that had brought their ancestors…and no one could remember when that was.
But it was certain, their histories could stay no longer. The men from the North were coming and so it was time to leave this place. The entire village dreamed of these light skinned men who would show no mercy. Who would mock their God and destroy their circle. Who would load it onto their ships and glyph it for their own purposes.
Torches were lit and the village came forth and with great respect began to dismantle the ring. The destiny stone, their heart stone, was left until the last. When the sun finally began its ascent, and the first rays of light were upon it, the sacred destiny stone was placed on the sled and it went to the head of the line, guiding the way.
Scouting parties had been sent out for two complete moon cycles. A suitable spot that had aligned with the stars would become the new home of their sacred relics.
After the stones had been prepared for their journey, the youngest priest asked the question of each stone, “Do you wish to stand tall and continue to loose you power, or do you wish to be returned to the great earth mother? There your sacred carvings would be covered and preserved by the very dirt of which you were born.”
The wind stirred once more and acorns were thrown to the ground. That was their answer. The women went to gather the nuts while the men carefully shifted the stones onto man pulled sleds.
Seth agreed. With this moving, they would not be left out in the weather…already some of the power was being erased as the carvings became less distinct. They worried that if the glyph of the dragon disappeared, that it would be released into their midst.
By the second day, they had reached their new home. The priests had gone ahead and dug the deep holes where the stones would be laid to rest. Around this circle, the acorns that the women had gathered had been planted. Here, the acorns would sprout and the trees would grow slowly, sending their roots deep so that they would stand through the fiercest storms, the wood becoming so dense that it would be like iron. Their job was to mark this place and guard the stone circle.
When the planting had been finished and the ground once more concentrated, Seth went to the stream and began to remove the blue clay from his skin. He floated in the water and became one with it and all the water he could stretch his mind to see. The tall white men with the golden hair were setting sail from their land. Before the next full moon, these giants of the cold lands would be here. Let them come. Their work here was finished, it was time to move on to safety.
Seth got up from the water and gathered all to him, once more, standing upon the destiny stone. It could not be buried, but would reside in this spot, so that any who came this way would know that this stone stood in the center of their belief.
“I will stay here, you will disappear into the forest,” he told them. “The stones will receive a sacrifice. There is no need to waste an animal when I will do. I shall fight, but I shall return to the stars.
The North men will desire a sacrifice. They will find me and slay me and my blood will be enough for them.” All eyes were upon him. He met the other set of green eyes that matched his own. “Carlee, my granddaughter will take my place.”
All nodded in agreement.
Embracing the spirit of this place, Carlee could feel his power as it flowed out of him and into her. With a loved filled heart, she moved to stand beside him. “This woods will protect those that are ours in the future generations to come. I can see a time when the North men are no longer a threat and our children’s children will return to this place. And we shall live through them, once more.”
Because the trees would fulfill the prophecy, they grew slowly and with divine purpose. It would not be until the Romans arrived that the trees would be at their full maturity, casting shadow and shade, and the Druids would become less and the people would begin to embrace Christianity.
Carlee had been correct. The trees grew and their people continued on. The green eyed Picts were being absorbed into the races that conquered the land and stayed.
Millennia past. But in each generation, a priest was still born…sometimes they were called witch.
The tribe of Cain continued. But the Norse Men came and they could not be stopped. Centuries of days passed by. The people were scattered and stories were forgotten, but the blood line, contnued.
The skies were crying for her.
In her heart of hearts, she knew she hated and despised the English. Ruttay stood in the middle of the stream and embraced all that she was. Each drop of rain reinforced that she was the daughter of a daughter of a Pict.
There was a story on her father’s side that his people told that that their Keep was surrounded by the sacred stones of his people. That a millennium ago that they had been moved here.
Since rumors of the coming of the English, everyday she looked but could not find any rock outcropping that was etched with the beliefs of old. With a full heart and a breaking heart, she had tied ribbon at every creek, well, holly tree and holy place she could think of…
These standing stones were the only holy thing left that she had not venerated. Thinking her thoughts to the moss in the stream, the trout began swimming up to her and she tickled them under their chins. With a thought she sent them away, out of this stream, this pool, this shaded place, forever.
The Old One that guarded this stream, his eyes met hers. “The eagle came…my mate is no more. Her skeleton lies there, up on the bank. If you would please, return her to the water.”
Ruttay closed her eyes and said a blessing over the Old One and the life that had been given so the eagle might live.
Reaching with her hand into the water, she stroked his back.
“Do not sorrow for me,” his voice sounded like the water running over the rocks. “Like you, I am prepared., I shall drown any that think to catch me.”
Ruttay unwrapped the shawl from about her shoulders and found the spot where the eagle had feasted. Lovingly placing the skeleton into the plaid of her family, she carried it back to the stream.
Wading in, he watched as she returned it to their world.
“Thank you,” the Old One said. “We shall abide here until the end of days. Now away with you and with myself, as well.”
The heartache was consuming her. Kicking at the water in her frustration, she sat down in the middle of the cove. If she started crying, there would be no stopping her. This was not the time for the frightened child. This was the season of the witch.
Dunking her head under, she then slowly stood up. With water dripping from her she turned one degree at a time, taking one last look at the mighty oak forest and the nourishing rain that she loved.
Her emotions and the rain, passed as she thought about the days to come.
The walk back to the Keep gave her too much time to be alone in her thoughts. Her beloved was not coming back, she knew that, just as sure as the sun would rise and the priest would hedge his bets on which way to pronounce the blessing.
At this moment, and for all to follow, the memories of her Willsson sustained her and gave her courage; she knew what had to be done and she always held what was her own. There was a reason the town’s people called her a witch and feared her. Well, she would certainly uphold that reputation in the days and months to come. They would take him from her, well, she would take everything of theirs!
And, he knew, as well, her beloved Willsson did. He would not win this battle. Could not. There was just going to be too many of them. The English were sending ships by sea as well as soldiers on foot. The bridge in Perth was washed out so they would have to ferry over the men. That would give them a little more time, but not nearly enough.
Willsson’s spies had told him the king was sending a thousand men for him and to burn the witch that he was married to. For the past several days, Ruttay had watched her beloved as he walked the Keep, taking long last looks. Himself stopping and pronouncing a blessing on one and all. Granting certain rights and carefully handing out the silver that had once been the plate and candle sticks that had graced their Keep that she had happily melted down.
They were all free men, here, and he treated each and everyone with respect. From boys who cleaned out the dove coot to the scullery maids. He owned no one. Free Scots. His clan stood by him because that was their desire. He wanted no one by his side because they feared him. He hated the feudal system that the English and then the Scots had embraced. Slavery, he called it. Because of his views and his productive land, he was feared as well as hated and envied. In times of pestilence and harsh winters and soggy springs and cold summers, he and his always had plenty to eat. No one here lacked for food or warmth be it the two or four legged kind.
Nor did it help matters that he towered above all. Everyone had to look up at him, whether they stood two steps up from him or not. That Viking that had undoubtedly raped one of his women kin so long ago ruled here. The strawberry blond hair and the red beard and those daunting blue eyes that saw everything and missed nothing.
His physical strength could not be matched, nor could his heart and his laughter and his love for life and for her and their sons….for this place that they called home and their friends. All these things bound him to her and so did the magic. No matter what he said, he had the gift, too. The magic that flowed though her blood coursed through his as well.
That magic was powerful and it bound them together in ways that most could not understand. Finishing each other’s sentences, stealing moments throughout the day, he always knowing where she was, whether she was fishing or in the kitchen.
Ahhh yes, he had the gift, for he was hers and she was his and they had been flung in and out of this world so many times that there was no looking back….no, not ever looking back, only forward to the next time that they would be together. And the God of the Christ and all the pagan ones knew their time together was never easy…but it was full of passion and always ended in violent death.
They listened only to each other, their hearts showing them the way through this time and keeping faith that they would meet in the next. When she spoke to him of things not of this world, or their past lives, he would just nod his head, like listening to a familiar story. And once in a while, she would shift the facts, just a wee bit and there would come that squint, that half look, she called it, and he would stand, his stance would get wider and his arms would cross in front of his body. A challenge, glory above, how he lived for the challenge…and she would always hold her ground, tilt her head a little higher, accepting this battle of the wills until he called her a “green eyed angel” and wasn’t it her job to keep the stories straight. He would never admit that he knew the things that she knew, but his spirit certainly did and she was always thrilled when that part of him looked out at her.
And here they were, together, once again, looking past this life and into the next. They both thought that the spies had been misinformed. A thousand men, just for her Willsson. But daily the reports had started to flow in. Yes, it was indeed a thousand. Those on foot were descending like a swarm of locust, eating, drinking, and taking everything in their path. They were an army on the march.
After each briefing, Willsson would just roll his eyes and snort. “A thousand, Ian, can you believe that. Just for me,” he would then laugh, “I am guessing I am no longer wanted,” and then more laughter, “or that I am.”
Stopping her walk back to the Keep, Ruttay sat beneath a tree and placed her head on her knees. Her thoughts only of her beloved. Their time together was coming to an end and they both knew that it would not end well.
The very night he had married her, they began to plot and plan and prepare for this moment. Often she was referred to as a witch. No proof, but her name and witchcraft were often muttered in the same breath. Her beloved had assured her he could protect her and she had told him that all that she was was his.
So there, in their marriage bed, she had told him of her understanding of herbs and nature and that at times she could feel the Pictish inside of her, urging her this way or that. Through her tears, she told him he had taken on a great risk. Because of her, he could lose everything. He had kissed her soundly, then and pulled her onto top of him, teasing her as his hands and body worked their magic. With her last scream, she collapsed on top of him.
“We shall keep each other, safe,” he had said as he pulled her down and cradled her in his arms.
Wiping her eyes with the hem of her skirt, she stood and watched the hawks circling overhead. This plan that had been years in the making was now being executed, flawlessly. The children and Ian were gone. The boys, of course, pissing and moaning that they were old enough to follow their Da into battle. It had been easy enough to drug them the last minute, kisses all around and then a toast with the sleeping potion mixed into their three glasses, a toast to their Da and a safe trip for them.
Yes, drugging them was for the best. On this occasion there would be no tears, or long glances filled with anger or bitterness or remorse. She would remember them instead, as her loving boys, peacefully sleeping, tucked into a wagon. Safe. Her babies no longer babies, but not yet men, either. She and her beloved kissing them one last time and pronouncing a blessing on each before they were away. Shaking her head at that memory, a slight soul-less smile spread across her face. After what she had done, by placing them in that wagon and hence denying them their birthright, they would probably never trust another woman, ever again. Oh well.
They would be safe, Ian would see to that. And that was all that mattered. These lives that they had created together was the very best thing that the two of them had ever done. She knew when they had landed in France. Felt it in her heart, could see it in her dreams. Their boys were safe.
God in His heaves knew that Ian had been the hardest part. He had been ordered to live out the rest of his life in France with their sons. The shouting match that that had produced was heard all the way from the practice yard to the top floor of the Keep.
The two men battling it out, wood breaking as the practice shields and swords hit and fell and hacked at stone, man, or whatever else stood between them and the decision that had all ready been made. Ian venting his rage, bellowing his outrage that he would not be there at his brother’s side.
In private, though, behind closed doors, Ian quietly reasoned that he was needed on the battlefield, there by his brother. How could they possibly lose, when the two of them stood back to back and defeated any and all that dared to trespass upon this house?
For they were brothers, though not of the same blood. Foster brothers, those two raised together from the same breast. Blood brothers by the act of blood letting and then pressing that bloodied flesh, one against the other when they bound each other’s wounds. But far deeper than any earthly concepts of brotherhood was the spiritual bond that held them close. Brothers from the beginning of time, each one watching the other’s back since God had cast Satan from Heaven and God had seen to bless this time with their presence. For where ever one was, you would find the other.
Poor Ian. His opinion weighed in on everything. But not this. He had not an inkling of how his words only hardened the resolve of the lovers. With each logically thought out statement of
“How much I will be needed there at your side …”
…he forged his own chains to their sons. The love and fidelity that he declared for her husband would be transferred to their boys. And only Ian could be trusted to see to them. They would survive and prosper, he would see to it. He would kill any who thought that they should not.
For that was essential. For the wheel to turn and bring them back, together, here on earth, they would have to be born of their ancestors. If their children had no children, they would not be back here in bodies to love as humans.
What was she thinking? It did no one any good to sit here with her grief and memories.
With the passing of the shower, the wind now blew. The trees rustled and birds flitted in and out on the currents.
Standing still, she twirled slowly as the gusts lifted her linen shift. The sun was breaking though. In a matter of moments, the earth around her would be dried out and it would be as if the heavens had never wept for her.
No matter Ruttay’s burden, she could not be neglectful of her mission. Passing two young bucks she quietly regarded them. “Spread the word, not to return here,” their ears twitched in understanding as they bound over the fallen logs.
Returning to the Keep, the rest of the day, she saw to the men. Packing medical supplies and dried foods. The evening was spent sharpening swords and knives.
No, she watched everyone at the evening fire, her eyes finally resting on what her heart desired. This time her husband was not returning to her, but to God.
When the last of the fire died out, it was banked and all settled into sleep, except for the two lovers.
The way that he loved her spoke that he knew that he was not returning to her. Gentle, so very gentle. She had wanted to mount him and ride him like the flames that split wood and spit embers up the chimney but he would not allow it. He always followed her lead in bed, but not tonight. He dominated and there was no getting past his will. It had been gentle, achingly so, leaving her with memories that would last her the rest of her life. However short or long that time would be; it would be without him and it would be unbearable.
Finally he had closed his eyes to sleep. The rest of the night had only echoed the lack of poetry in her heart. A night jar had roosted by their window had spent the evening there and had not gone out to eat. Occasionally, she would hear the rustle of its wings. Although moths had hovered around the torch, the bird had no interest.
Morning dawned and even through their window she could see that it was blood red.
Slowly, she ran her hand through his beard. He always led his men into battle. This would be no different. Each and every one of them would give their life for Willsson. Just as they knew he would do the same for them. For the next moment she held her breath. She said nothing, wishing the heavens to open and pour down its rage upon them. Anything was better than the crimson that spilled across the heaven saying dawn had arrived bringing with it the sun and death.
This last morning with him, breaking their fast consisted of him walking from place to place and giving last minute orders as he ate a chunk of venison that was wrapped in a piece of bread.
Then they were off to the armory. She helped him dress, this one last time. Instead of the rough muslin that he normally wore to battle under his leather and mail, today it was the finest of linen. His funeral shroud.
In the past, he always carried one of her scarf’s, tied around his thigh, high up, “For luck,” he told her, with a wicked grin, lamenting that he wanted her to wrap it around something else, “and to show the world that you are mine.”
At those times she would press against his hardness with her hand and reply, “For binding wounds and splinting bones,” she would say, shaking her finger at him. “Luck is good, but when luck fails, stopping the blood flow, even better,” she would add with heated breath, through clenched teeth, “because the world already knows that I am yours.”
Numerous times she had dressed him for battle. All those times before she knew he was coming home to her. What was left to the rest of this lifetime, he would never come home to her again.
This morning, it was his heart that she had permanently bound to herself. When they were once again back on this earth, he would remember his green eyed witch, but she left nothing to chance. She had reached around him, not once, but twice. Her heart to his, his heart to hers. Foolish, she knew, for it already belonged to her, but she believed in the ritual and she knew how to keep what was hers.
This morning, with her heart, she had watched him. Mentally, she knew, he had already left her. His mind fixed on the battles to come. The warrior was seeing the terrain, the high ground. How to use the river against them. While dressing him, he had said nothing the entire time. Not a question, not a raised eyebrow, only the smile and then kiss as she cinched the leather around him.
With the chain mail in place, he stood. He cupped her face in his hands, “When the wheel turns again, my beloved, I shall be there.” She brushed the tears from his eyes and he from hers. One last kiss and then he was gone.
Her beloved had left this morning, waving his farewells as the women threw flowers on the ground. She had stood on top of the wall and watched him as far as she could. He turned and blew her one last kiss. She felt his mouth on hers as the tears silently flowed from her eyes until he had moved on and out of this life.
With her heavy thoughts, she came down off the wall and nodding to those that remained, she took herself back out to the woods.
For her beloved, she always danced in victory. Now she danced in sorrow. With the last step she froze in place and felt the tears. This time, she did not bother to stop them. The oak trees heaved a heavier sigh as they listened to the woman weep from a broken heart.