A Dark Night in the Dark Ages – Part One

With just one week until Halloween it is time for a spooky tale! I originally wrote this as a sketch for a Facebook writer’s group, but have added some more details for this. Cinaed and Domnall are both historical figures. Baena too must have been a real person, although her true name was not recorded. However this story is pure fiction! It is not necessary to know anything further about these characters to enjoy this story, but for those of you who have read Kenneth’s Queen , this story is set soon after the clan has left Dunadd for Cinaed’s first test of leadership.

A Dark night in the Dark Ages

It had taken several days riding to come close to the Pict border. As the sun hung low in the sky, the clan emerged from the woods to find a ruined castle beside a loch. The hall was open to the sky, showing charred black rafters, but a few surrounding chambers remained intact.

“We shall overnight here,” Cinaed declared, peering into the chambers.

“Here?” Domnall asked, sounding surprised. “Are you sure, Brother?”

“Of course. Look, this chamber even has the bed still in it. You’ll be glad not to sleep on the ground this night, won’t you, Baena?” Cinaed said to his wife.

Baena smiled and nodded, although in truth she had enjoyed snuggling up with Cinaed in the confines of a tent. She peered into the chamber. It was dark and cold. Baena shivered. “Are we sleeping in there?”

“Of course.” Cinaed turned away, shouting orders for fires to be lit and food unpacked.

Baena noticed that Domnall was watching her. “Is something wrong, Sister?” he asked.

“Of course not. Should there be?”

Domnall shrugged and went after Cinaed. Baena glanced back into the chamber, wondering whether to start preparing it with the furs and blankets from their packs. Her candle threw up strange shadows against the wall and the thought of a cosy tent under the stars seemed more appealing than ever. She took a step into the room. The sounds of the clan unpacking barely penetrated the stillness of the air. It was as if everyone was a huge distance away. She glanced back to see men close by in the hall and shook her head at her foolishness. Although she had felt no breeze a sudden smell of smoke hit her and the flame from her candle danced wildly in all directions. She was staring at the yellow light, puzzled by what was moving it, when the flame died as suddenly as if it had been snuffed. Although she was barely a step into the room and the setting sun was shining into the hall behind her, the darkness of the chamber seemed to thicken. Quickly she backed away, her heart thudding and her hands clutching at the silver cross that hung around her neck.

Out in the hall the bustle of the clan was continuing. The cheerful voices and snorts of the horses quickly calmed her and she joined the other women in their preparations for their meal. The evening was as enjoyable as always. With hot food and hotter ale, the clan grew merry. Strangely Domnall, usually the loudest of the clan, seemed subdued and she noticed that even as the meal advanced, he was still on his first cup of ale. He glanced often away from the fires, into the darkness where their chambers lay. Reminded of her earlier fear, Baena was glad at the evening’s end to sit in Cinaed’s arms, listening to the tales of the men. As so often, with the ale running low, the tales began to take a bawdy turn.

“The women have retired,” Cinaed said, planting a kiss on her cheek. “Go now.” He gestured to their chamber. “I shall be in presently.”

Baena looked into the blackness of the chamber’s doorway, scarcely visible now through the shadows. She shuddered. “I shall wait for you.”

Cinaed shook his head. “I shall not be long.”

“There’s no harm in her waiting for you, Cinaed,” Domnall said.

Cinaed frowned. “She is not staying up with this lot.” He pointed at the raucous men of the clan. “That would not be appropriate. Go.”

“I don’t want to be in there in my own.” Baena clung to him, but he shook her impatiently away.

“Do not be foolish, Baena. Do as I have ordered.”

to be continued…

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