Richard has a complicated home life and feels he doesn’t belong anywhere. A
series of events finds him desperate and living on the streets, where
he finds himself dragged into 9th century Norway by a Viking warrior.
Richard finds acceptance with the Vikings and joins them on a
colonisation raid to Ireland.
Kathryn is married with three beautiful daughters. Amidst busy family life,
she studied at University to become a Primary school teacher. When
she is not teaching, she loves to write and dabble in other creative
pursuits such as painting and drawing. She and her husband hope to
realise their dream and move to the country one day – soon.
The wind of the boglands howled, shrieking with the voices of tortured souls entwined with the steaming peat.
‘We must protect the chalice and the sacred writings!’ cried Niamh of the Golden Hair. The sound of her commanding voice reduced the sound of the wailing wind to a frustrated whisper. The woman wheeled her powerful steed around and galloped off towards the distant bog lights, leaving a flurry of mud in her wake.
The sign had come. Tadhg the great warrior knew that Niamh of the Golden Hair would only appear if the sacred relics were in danger of being destroyed and absorbed into the dark culture of the barbarians. He had to go to the Abbey and protect the sacred objects from defilement. A primal howl made him spin around to see the brutish face of his aggressor. Metal clashed against metal, war cries wailed, flesh and bone hacked until Tadhg fell on the battlefield.
‘AAARGH!’ Tadhg gasped, fighting for air as he sank to the ground, choking in the mire of mud and blood. Clasping his cleft sword, his breath came in ragged gasps then finally faded. Tadhg’s face and body contorted, shimmering as he slowly grew fainter and seeped into the boglands. It had been his battlefield and now it was his final resting place. A huge Viking towered over Tadhg, howling triumphantly. The howling continued until the whole scene faded to grey.
Niamh of the Golden Hair’s face popped onto the computer screen. Her serene voice came out of the speaker. ‘Erinland is at risk of disappearing. The chalice and writings have fallen victim to the barbarous Vikings. You have lost another incarnation. Be careful, small one.’
Amy grabbed the sides of the computer screen and shook it savagely. ‘Bloody hell, this virtual reality world is driving me crazy! I’ve lost another incarnation. Useless Irishmen, no wonder the Vikings invaded them. Stupid bloody Vikings, stupid Tadhg! Sacred objects? Yeah right, Niamh of the Golden Hair. What a load of horse crap! Tadhg needs a good kick up his hairy butt.’
‘Amy Bradshaw, stop that language at once! What do you think you’re playing at? I do my best to raise you to be a lady! Why do you think I send you to that expensive private school? Not to learn language like that! You’re a disgrace. When is the last time you brushed your hair? This bedroom is a garbage dump!’ The last word came out as a hiss.
Amy jumped at the sound of her mother’s voice. She thought her mother was in the kitchen washing up after dinner, totally out of earshot.
Amy’s mother continued with the tirade as Amy cringed on the bed. ‘Anyway, you are supposed to be doing your homework, not surfing the net. You’re banned from the computer for a week, it is only to be used for homework. Oh, and I’ll be supervising you, so don’t get any ideas!’ she exclaimed.
Amy had to think of something quickly. ‘But, Mum, this is homework. In History we are learning about Vikings and how they were forced to migrate and invade other lands. It’s really interesting. We have to research their culture, art, and craftsmanship and what influence it had on the places they conquered,’ cried Amy. ‘I was researching,’ she added, trying to sound as indignant as possible.
Amy’s mother looked at her suspiciously. ‘Researching?’ she said a little more calmly. ‘Then why did I hear all that yelling and screaming?’
Amy thought she could sense a crack in her mother’s armour. She decided to weave a bit of truth into the lies—half-truths usually had a ring of plausibility to them.
‘Well … We have to go onto a virtual reality site to give us a hands-on view of life in Viking times. We make a village and even get to design our own Celtic jewellery!
On the virtual reality site, we learn how to simulate Viking warriors sparring with each other. I was yelling at the warriors fighting!’ she said.
‘You know about this, Mum! Mr Lord gave us the website details in our history class today, and I gave you the permission note last week. Remember? Anyway, you can ring him if you don’t believe me.’ Amy uttered these last words in an almost accusing tone.
Her mother’s expression softened, slightly. ‘Oh, I see. Well … I suppose if it’s for school … But you know, I might just contact that Mr Lord. This research seems to be encouraging a bit too much passion in you. Now get to bed before I change my mind, and don’t forget to clean your teeth.’
Amy snapped off the computer and stomped off to the bathroom. At least she had fooled her mother into thinking that she was concentrating on her school work, which couldn’t be further from the truth. And she could still play Erinland without her mum knowing what she was doing. I could even buy one of those VR headsets to make the game more real. I bet Mum wouldn’t even work out that I had it! I wonder … She would probably find out sooner or later but it would be worth it, Amy thought absently as she spat the slimy residue of toothpaste and saliva down the sink.
She rinsed her mouth and splashed her face with cold water, staring hard at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. It wasn’t a bad face. Not too pretty, but not too ugly either. She imagined herself in ancient Erin fighting at Tadhg’s side, away from the bitchy girls at school with their bitchy texting and sniggering behind their hands. School. God, Amy hated school. School, no way! But talking to gods and minor deities? Protecting ancient manuscripts and chalices from the Raiders? She could live with that. She might even be a goddess herself! Niamh of the Golden Hair? No … Amy of the Spotty PJs! Yep, that would be fun. No bullying, no one to nag me to death, and I wouldn’t even have to clean my teeth, she silently told her smiling reflection.
‘Night, Mum,’ Amy called out.
‘Night, Amy. Lights off, straight to sleep now,’ replied her mother, almost back to her normal self. Amy was tempted to wait until the house was quiet and play online again, but contented herself with the major win over her mum. She had to admit that she was becoming a bit obsessed with the virtual reality world. At least in Erinland she had some control. In her ‘real’ life she had no control. She didn’t have any friends. Not even one. The ‘lovely private school girls’, as her mother called them, were proper cows.
Her fascination for the virtual reality game was starting to worry her though. Not only was it taking up all her spare waking moments, but she was starting to dream about it too. The mists of Erin were invading her slumber. Tadhg spoke to her, whispering of the beauty of ancient Erin. His voice was like a bubbling stream, hypnotic and fresh, but it had an underlying strength that commanded respect. The words he spoke weaved a tapestry of images of the heroism of battle and the struggle to save the holy relics from the barbarians.
As Amy jumped into bed and pulled the doona up to her chin, she didn’t notice the dark shadows gathering in the corner of the bedroom. She switched off the bedside lamp and closed her eyes. Her mind was still racing, an adrenalin high, mentally logging past fatal mistakes and planning future strategies for her next session in Erinland.
God! Why can’t I sleep? she moaned to herself. Oh well, I’ll have to say some prayers, that always puts me to sleep. She sighed deeply and started to pray, mouthing the words absent-mindedly. But her mind was still awash with thoughts of ancient Ireland, craggy mountains covered in moss and mist, and boglands, full of treacherous sinkholes and mystical beings. She found herself praying to the Holy Bogg Demon and Our Tadhg instead of the usual Christian deities. Finally, she drifted off to sleep. She was in Erinland, dreaming of the moist, green land and the heroes that fought and died for their cause.
Then a curious thing happened. The shadows in the corner of her room began to gather and become a dense black mass drifting slowly towards her bed. It exuded a pungent smell. The scent was intoxicating, causing her to sink into a deeper slumber. A draught stole its way through the open window, bringing a heavy mist into her bedroom. The mist twisted with the shadows, creating an energy that was concentrating itself above Amy’s sleeping form. She stirred slightly in her sleep, as if she sensed another presence.
Sensuously, swirling tendrils of mist played around Amy’s feet, massaging her like hundreds of tiny pulsating fingers. They beckoned with a silken touch and oppressive sweetness to slide into the suffocating decay of the boglands. She felt herself being wooed by an unseen presence. Heavy blackness descended and she felt herself being sucked into the soft, moist peat. She waited, not daring to breathe.
‘Follow me,’ the fetid gurgle bubbled up from the depths of the bog, making Amy’s head swim. There were other sounds too. Guttural voices and desolate moaning swished around the room making her feel nauseous. ‘Follow me,’ intoned the voice, as old and enduring as granite, yet with enough venom to become a deadly, scorching lava. The compulsion to obey was almost overpowering. Yet fighting deep within Amy’s psyche was a strong urge to reject the evil command and to emerge out of the blackness into the clean, bright light.
The fear and desolation she felt was tightening its grip. Gone was the sensuous feeling of massage; now all she could feel were icy fingers grasping at her neck and torso pulling her down into the bog. The guttural voices became louder, drowning out all other sounds, making her blind with fear. Amy violently shook her head trying to rid herself of the evil sensation but the movement increased the demon’s hold on her.
A vague speck appeared in the distance, something resembling a light. Amy concentrated on the light and tried to block out the voices. She continued to concentrate, trying to force away the panic that shrouded her. She repeated to herself, ‘Look at the light, the light is my salvation.’ These words became a kind of prayer as she repeated them constantly.
Gradually, the tendrils of mist and the icy fingers lessened their hold. Amy chanted the words louder and with every fibre of her being. Finally the grip became a grasp, then it vanished. The voices trailed off, dissolving into an eerie wind—the catchcry of the boglands. A shrill sound, like the neigh of a horse, lingered then died away. Amy thought she heard the sound of a horse galloping in the distance.
She opened her eyes. Her face and body were dripping from the exertion of her experience. She got out of bed for a drink of water and it was then she noticed something strange. A faint glow emitting from the corner of her bedroom. It was coming from her laptop. The glow started blinking in a staccato rhythm, gaining brightness. Amy stared hypnotically into the strobe. The glow grew larger and brighter. An electronic surge overflowing from the monitor and onto the floor. The tide edged its way across the carpet and came to rest at Amy’s feet. It started to rise from the floor, undulating and pulling, crashing against itself like a deadly rip in the ocean. Gradually the atoms composed themselves into the recognisable form of an old woman.
The old woman looked like those Amy had seen on park benches, the kind that carried all their belongings in a couple of shopping bags. They were usually dirty, drunk, and abusive. This woman was approximately 160 cm tall; her hair was dark brown and it seemed to be caked in mud and dead leaves. Her skin was grey and very lined. Her unblinking eyes were dark brown. She stared at Amy steadily. The woman wore a simple brown tunic. It was well worn and patched in several places. Her hands were large and her nails were ragged and putrid. These hands had seen some very hard work in their time. She had an overall earthy smell, giving the impression of an ancient relic. For one so dishevelled, the old woman seemed to radiate a strength which commanded respect from those in her presence.
‘Oh … my … god … shit!’ yelled Amy.
‘Be still! You shall not profane the higher power in my presence! Profane with your tongue no more, lest you block your path to the highest power,’ replied the old woman. ‘Ditto what I said before. Who are you?’ hissed Amy.
The old woman spoke, ‘Do not be afraid, small one. You are not in the land of the walking shadows. Your destiny weighs heavier than that. I am Heiran, Cailleach, or wise old woman.
‘I am old. I am as old as the earth, and older than mankind. I have come in many forms and returned many times through the ages. I have been ridiculed and even killed in ignorance, yet all who have known me have been made richer by my passing.’
The old woman’s clear eyes continued to stare into Amy’s. They bored into her thoughts, exposing her soul. Amy frantically backed towards the bedroom door. ‘Mum!’ Amy yelled. ‘Mum, Mum, Mum!’ Amy thought she might be asleep or hallucinating. She had heard of this sort of thing happening before. Her friend at school had a psychotic episode after taking some illicit drugs. She thought she could see spiders coming out of the walls. She ended up curling herself in a ball in the corner of the classroom screaming. But Amy had never touched any kind of drugs.
‘Your mother can’t hear you,’ said the old woman.
‘Mum! Mum, please come, I need you, I am so scared!’ Amy screamed.
‘Your mother cannot hear you,’ the old woman said calmly. ‘She has not been chosen by the Niamh of the Golden Hair. She is to remain on this earthly plane.’
Amy winced at the mention of the name ‘Niamh of the Golden Hair’. An unbelievable thought occurred to her. ‘No … no,’ she whispered.
Amy looked more closely at the woman. Bloody hell, this old bag is straight from the virtual reality world! Thinking quickly, she lunged towards her laptop and snapped off the ower switch. The computer sputtered, the light extinguishing with a visual ‘pop!’ Amy turned, satisfied that she was once again by herself.
Heiran stood peering at Amy with a quizzical expression. She wasn’t going anywhere. ‘Child, why did you still the droning creature? Killing the droning creature will not rid you of me. It is a portal to Erinland. Do not be foolish, small one! I have come to you for a purpose. I am the messenger of Niamh of the Golden Hair. She is the mystical mistress and handmaiden of the highest power. She has sought you out. Your strength is known to the Lady. She has witnessed your battle with the evil Bogg Demon. You have been tested and have overcome its tempting advances. You have proven your worth to the Lady. The darkness in your soul has succumbed to the clean brightness of the highest power, this time.’
Amy stood still, disbelief washing over her. She wondered how the old woman, the Cailleach as she called herself, knew about the nightmare she just had. Her skin crawled at the memory of the stinking, suppurating bog; the invisible icy fingers clutching and dragging her down into a world of darkness and evil. An involuntary shudder racked her body.
The old woman continued, ‘Tadhg the great and noble war chieftain is closely acquainted with you. You and the droning creature have sent him to his death many times by the steel of the Vikings’ blade. Now he has come to his last incarnation. If he dies and the sacred relics fall victim to the barbarians a final time, our way of worship and our way of life as we know it will be drowned in a black tide of paganism.
‘The holy objects must be saved and hidden, so that future generations can realise the dedication of the faithful. Their beauty must be emulated and revered as a mere shard of the glory of the highest power—that which you call God. Even now there is another from your world who is being wooed by the Raiders. Time is running short!’ cried the old woman.
‘But it’s only a stupid virtual reality world, it’s not real. It’s not my fault!’ Amy cried. She ran across the room and reached for the door handle. Heiran raised her hand. From her stubby dirt-grained fingertips came a light so dazzling that Amy’s eyes watered trying to fight the glare. The light sparked, crackled, and twisted past her to the door handle where it fastened itself—a supernatural forcefield that no human could break.
‘Be still! You cannot run from your fate. Face your destiny, lest it follow you until the end of your incarnations, festering and growing like a great mortal wound. The highest power will buoy you and deliver you to your fate.’ The dark eyes bored through Amy, compelling her to obey the Cailleach.
Amy put out a tentative hand. She brushed Heiran’s hand with her fingertips. Vibrant, glowing warmth flowed from the Cailleach, swamping Amy’s body. The force sent her body into spasms as her heartbeat quickened, blood pounding in her ears. She squeezed her eyes shut and cried out for her mother.
‘Amy? Amy, is that you? I thought I heard you calling.’ The far-off reedy voice of her mother tried to puncture the veil of energy with intermittent stabs. Amy tried to speak. When she opened her mouth, nothing came out. She could hear her mother speak again but her voice trailed off.
Then the blackness came. Amy was sucked and pummelled through a tunnel of rushing air as though in the slip-stream of some giant racing force. The air was dry and electric and Amy could feel sparks fly from every shaft of hair on her body.
Gradually, the wind died down and she thudded onto her back into a soft, mushy surface. Amy opened her eyes. Directly above her was the majestic form of a white stallion. Its barrel chest overshadowed her as it snorted and pawed at the ground, spraying tiny smuts of peat into Amy’s face. Steam rose from the beast’s body as he danced and wheeled, eyes rolling back and ears flattening against his head, shrieking a terrified neigh. Just below his forelock in the middle of his forehead was a protrusion that looked like a horn. Amy had heard of the fabled unicorn and its magical powers. She realised she was face to face with a legend. Well almost face to face. She dragged herself out of the mud and shook off the bog water, evading the powerful thrashing hoofs of the unicorn.
‘Greetings, small one.’ The musical voice came from atop the unicorn. Amy gazed at the dazzling brightness and saw a lovely woman astride her steed. Her face had the translucent glow of a deity, and her skin was unlined and beautiful. A crown of gold was on her head. A halo of golden tresses wound around her head and trailed down her back. She was dressed in a flowing garment of mauve silk which was richly decorated with intricate gold and silver constellations. The garment fell around her and trailed to the ground. The Lady looked not much older than Amy herself, but her eyes beheld a wisdom and grace belonging to an ageless soul.
The Lady sat effortlessly atop her substantial steed, controlling it with a subtle movement of a leg, a gentle verbal command, or the brush of a hand. Amy could see no tack whatsoever on this ‘horse’ and stood in awe at the Lady’s obvious power and control over it.
The Lady spoke, ‘They call me ‘Niamh of the Golden Hair’. My messenger, Heiran, has transported you here with the help of the ultimate power. She has performed her task well. She has other duties. She will leave us now.’ Amy turned to see that the old woman was gradually fading to grey, dissipating into the atmosphere. A faint smile played on Heiran’s lips and then she was gone. ‘Please don’t leave me,’ Amy pleaded. ‘I need you to get home!’ Her eyes darted from side to side, taking in her surroundings like a trapped animal. A feeling of panic was rising from the pit of her stomach, causing her throat to constrict. She realised she was in boglands, probably in ancient Ireland … straight from the virtual reality world, in Erinland … oh shit!
The large, spongy, and uneven surface of the bog looked treacherous to the uninitiated. Amy could see small bodies of water, sinkholes, between the drier hummocks. She saw tracks made from planks of wood and thin branches meandering their way across the soggy mass. Amy wondered what they were for. She wondered if she should run away. Where would she go? How could she get home? She was cold and covered in bog water and a bloody great unicorn was standing over her. ‘Shit! Shit! Shit!’ she hissed.
The Lady’s voice demanded her full attention. ‘Are you willing to help regain the sacred objects from the barbarians and transport them to a safe place, yet to be ordained? The war chieftain Tadhg is depending upon you. You are responsible for his last incarnation. He is a fearless warrior with unmatched integrity and the will to lead his followers to victory. It is written that one will come with strength to match that of our greatest warrior and together they will lead us to victory and cleanse Erinland of the barbarous intruders. I believe you are the one,’ said the Lady.
‘Amy of the droning creature,’ she continued, ‘behold your brother, Tadhg, who is bound to your soul.’ Slowly, the Lady spread out her arms. Gradually, a shimmering mist rose from the bog. The mist moved, darting in front of Amy’s face making her eyes smart. The mist increased in size, brightness, and form to become a tangible, living, breathing human being.The young man now standing before Amy was shorter than some boys in her class at school, but he boasted a powerful physique. He had long, thick, curly black hair which was held at bay by a piece of leather thonging tied around his forehead. His neck was thick and powerful and his muscles rippled as he shrugged his body, stretching his limbs like a beautiful butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.
Tadhg was dressed for battle. Covering his body was unusual armour. It was cloth, but it was stiffened with a tar or a pitch-like substance. The armour was padded and layered to absorb the shock of the heavy weapons of his foe. Amy could see the slashes and dents in the surface as if it had been bludgeoned with some heavy instrument, wielded by someone with incredible force. In his hand Tadhg held a heavy sword that looked sharp and lethal but well worn, as if it had hacked many a limb and thirstily let litres of blood from the veins of its opponents.
Tadhg spoke, ‘Amy of the droning creature, I know you well. Come forward and witness your handiwork. My body is young but well used and greatly scarred. See the great wound that my enemy hath wrought. This is the wound that would claim me for the land of the walking shadows. See how it grows and festers, as our enemy’s reign over this fair land. Will you let them plunder and kill all in their path, or will you draw on your deep well of strength and aid me and my followers?
‘Answer me. The evil forces are gathering power. The Bogg Demon grows restless, there is one from your land who is being wooed by it. Hasten with your answer, little sister, time is very short.’
‘No!’ Amy screamed, shaking her head. ‘I don’t want to be here anymore, please let me go home! I don’t believe this is happening! I really do not believe this is happening. Please, let me go!’After a long silence Tadhg continued bitterly, ‘Make no mistake, little sister, this is no dream. This is real. You are here. By your rebuff you have foresworn me to eternal damnation. My soiled soul will never know true fulfilment. I can never attain the pure white light or see my father’s face. With your turning away, I have failed the task appointed me. The sacred objects and all they stand for are lost forever,’ he gasped.
A look of pain crossed Tadhg’s battle-stained face. ‘Aahh, the burning, it begins again. My wound is growing. See the gore rising, ready to burst forth from the banks of my flesh. I feel myself slipping … slipping into the land of the walking shadows. Alas, I have failed! The Bogg Demon awaits my soul for eternal torture. Farewell, Amy of the droning creature, my death be on your head. Farewell my Lady, Niamh of the Golden Hair,’ he whispered.
Amy watched as Tadhg writhed in agony. The great wound gushed blood and putrefied; hundreds of tiny maggots crawled in it, feasting on his flesh. The stench stung Amy’s nostrils as she felt the bile rise in her throat. It was as if the cycle of decay had hit the fast forward button as Tadhg’s body disintegrated before her. She knew that she was witnessing something real, something she apparently had control over. She wanted desperately to stop it. ‘My Lady!’ Amy screamed. ‘Please help me!’
The Lady looked steadily at Amy. ‘Are you resolved to assume this task appointed you and help the noble war chieftain?’ she said.
‘Yes, yes, I’ll do anything, just make it stop!’ Amy cried.
The Lady slowly replied, ‘It is up to you to halt the cycle, child. Listen with your heart and you will know the answer.’
Tadhg, close to death, had fallen into the mud succumbing to the loss of blood and the bitterness of his failure. His life force was barely hanging on. Amy could hear a dull roar building up in the distance. It seemed to be resonating in the depths of the bog. She instinctively realised that the Bogg Demon was gathering force, ready to usurp and conquer Tadhg’s soul.
She concentrated inwards, blotting out the horror that was before her. But there was no answer, only the sound of her terrified heart. Amy concentrated harder. She was close to despair when a voice inside her head said, ‘Look to the bog. A herb growing at your feet is Tadhg’s salvation. It is the herb used by the druids, it will restore the war chieftain.’ Amy frantically grabbed for the plant at her feet. As she ripped the roots from the sodden peat, she noticed that the herb was bathed in a bright light giving off a brilliant, shining, living aura. A beautiful chant, more like a prayer, came drifting from the air around her:
All hail thou holy herb vervain
Growing on the ground
On the Mount of Calvary
There thou was found
Thou helpeth many a grief
And staunchest many a wound
In the name of sweet Jesu
I lift thee from the ground.
Amy stood up, a bunch of the herb clutched in her right hand. Her strength and confidence seemed to return, getting stronger by the moment as she held the holy herb. ‘Game on!’ she muttered to herself, and then turned to the Lady. ‘Let’s see how far this stuff gets Tadhg in his last incarnation!’