The Cloak of Mist

Chapter Three

We heard the first rumours late on Easter Sunday, and on Monday I sat on a hill watching the sea, my heart in my mouth the whole time. Brother Finán gave up any attempt to continue my training, for my attention was on only one thing, and he sat with me and watched. The day was cool, and a thin mist hung over the waves, and a light drizzle of rain fell to dampen my clothes and also my spirits.

In the afternoon I saw masts out to sea. The mist shrouded them at first and I could not make out which ships they were, nor how many, but as they drew closer they became clear to me. Three ships, when there had been four from this sheading that had set out for Ireland, and not all the oars were manned.

I flew down to the harbour to await their coming. Brother Finán followed behind more slowly; but I was far in advance of the arrival of the ships, and by the time they came into the bay he had joined me. Others clustered there too, wives and mothers and sweethearts and children, anxious for their loved ones. Many of us were to have our fears confirmed.

A full half of the men who had set off had not returned. Many of those who came ashore were wounded to greater or lesser extent. Fynlo’s father Asmund was there, a bloody wound in his sword-arm bound about with rags. Olav, elder than Fynlo by two years, had great bruising about his face and had lost teeth, but he was there and alive. Of Fynlo’s eldest brother Loghlin there was no sign; nor could I see Fynlo.

I could have thrust my way through the crowd and reached Fynlo’s father before all others but I did not. I had the strength but not the right, as I was not a wife nor yet betrothed; Fynlo and I were in but the early stages of courtship. I hung back as Loghlin’s wife went to her father-in-law, talked with him, and then was folded in his embrace as she sobbed bitterly.

Ealish was there, as anxious as was I, but then she saw her man and joy came over her face. She ran to Markys and flung her arms around him, making him wince in pain for he was not unscathed, but he returned her hug and smiled. I was glad for them, yet to my shame I hated them too, for she had her man and mine was not there, and she had told me that she did not love Markys. I cast aside that unworthy thought; for her joy was not that of a woman who thought that her man would ‘do well enough’, and perhaps his absence and the worry for him had given greater depth to her feelings.

I hung back, full of fear and doubt, glad of Brother Finán’s hand upon my shoulder, until Asmund caught sight of me and beckoned me over.

“You are Machonn Kinvig’s lass, are you not, the girl that Fynlo is courting?”

“I am, sir,” I replied. “Bahey Kinvig.” My voice broke. “Is – tell me – is Fynlo – slain?”

His expression was sombre. “The news is not the worst, Bahey, but not good. Not slain, I think, but taken by the Irish. He fell stunned, perhaps wounded, and was overrun. We were driven back and could not reach him. Keep up your hopes, lass,” he urged me. “Fynlo told me you are a girl of spirit, and brave. Do not despair.”

“I confess I do not feel brave now,” I told him. I managed to hold back the tears for but a moment. “I want Fynlo to come back to me,” I sobbed.

Asmund took hold of me, and held me to his chest, and his beard fell about my face. “Courage, lass. I have left word that I will ransom him. If he is still alive we shall get him back.”

I held him for a moment, recovering my composure, and then released him. “Forgive me, for you have grief and trouble enough, and I would not add to it.”

“Indeed I have great grief, for I have lost one son, but there is still hope for Fynlo. Hold on to that hope, Bahey Dhone, and I shall send word as soon as news comes from Ireland.”

“I thank you,” I said, and drew back. I let him return to his wife and to Loghlin’s wife, now a widow, for great as was my worry and grief their need for comfort was yet greater.

Brother Finán came to my side. “I heard,” he told me. “There is good reason for hope, for a captive has value and a dead man has none, therefore they will ransom him if they can. Let us gather what news we may.”


***


We were just two of many seeking news. We talked to those who were willing, and heard part of the story of the battle; and the next day we travelled to Olrig and to Purt-ny-Hinshey and there we heard more.

We did not learn who had won the battle, for it seemed no-one knew. Brodir’s men had not won, for many were slain and the rest driven off, and Brodir himself had been taken and it was said that he had been put to death. Jarl Sigurd of Orkney was dead and many of his men too. Sygtrigg of Dublin was alive, it was thought, but most of his men had fallen. King Dunlang of Leinster, whose kingdom had allied with Sygtrigg, had also been slain. For the Norse, then, the battle had gone badly.

Yet it had gone hardly better for the Irish, for Brian Boru had been slain by Brodir, and the sons of Brian Boru had fallen, and many others besides them, and some said that all the kings of Ireland had perished save King Malachi of Meath who had hung back from the battle. Perhaps he had not known on which side to fight; for there were Irish allied with the Norse, and Norse allied with the Irish, and there had been Scots there, and English, and I could make but little sense of it myself.

Ospak of Mann had fought on the Irish side, even though he was kin to Brodir, and he had survived the battle by all accounts. This gave me fresh hope for Fynlo, for Ospak would no doubt do what he could to recover Manx prisoners, and if Fynlo had indeed survived there was a good chance he could be ransomed.

There were men in the town that had come over from Ireland that were not Manx men; some from Iceland and some from Norway. They had fled here from the battle, but they thought to stay, for they were landless men and unmarried, and there would be land and wives here and to spare, for grievous were our losses.

One young man from Iceland, by the name of Egil, approached me. His accent was strange to my ears, being like that of the old men among the Norse who had come to Mann as Vikings and had not been born here, but it was not hard to understand him. He was bold in his speech, and forward in his manner, and he openly complimented me on my beauty and asked if I had a young man. I told him about Fynlo, and I saw disappointment upon his face, but he showed courtesy and said he hoped that my man returned to me safely, and he stood back from me. I was not the only girl of marriageable age walking in the town, as there were others seeking news of men who had not returned, and I thought that Egil would turn to those other girls; but he did not. He watched me for some time thereafter, and I knew that there was no other girl as fair as myself in his eyes. It was the way that Fynlo had looked upon me the day that I had pushed him, and I felt a little sad for Egil, for he was a well set up young man and handsome, not unlike Fynlo, and it was a shame if he had fallen for a girl whose heart was already given to another. Yet I was also pleased, for it was pleasant to know that Fynlo was not the only one to think that I was beautiful.

Late in the day a shroud of mist formed over the island. I saw a ship come into the harbour at Purt-ny-Hinshey, hull almost hidden by the mist, and I could hear the crew cursing the fog. A shiver ran down my spine and I felt unease. I told this to Brother Finán, and he decided that we should take a closer look at that ship.

It was full of corpses.


***


The bodies were those of men slain in the battle, brought back to Mann for burial, and it was a man named Halfdan who had brought them. He was not a man about whom much was known, save only that he had come to the island from England years before, and he had not fought for either side in the battle. We drew near and heard him tell his tale. He said that he had sailed to fight, but had agreed with Ospak that Sygtrigg’s promises could not be trusted, and so he had withdrawn his men from Brodir’s forces. Yet he had not wanted to fight against his fellow Manxmen, and was not a Christian and so had been loath to help the Irish, and therefore had kept his ship offshore and stayed apart from the battle.

This tale met with general approval and understanding, and his deed in bringing back what bodies he could seemed to win him thanks and some measure of honour, yet somehow I felt that something was wrong. I disliked the man on sight and distrusted him. I had no proof that anything was wrong, only a feeling, and so I held my tongue and said nothing of my misgivings save to Brother Finán.

He frowned in thought. “His tale may be true, or it may be that he held back from the battle through simple cowardice, or he may have some darker reason, although I can think not of what that might be. I have been taught that the intuition of a Slayer is to be taken seriously, and he will bear watching, yet to the people of the town you are but a girl and they would not heed your words. You are right to hold your tongue. We shall take note of what he does.”

Halfdan did naught that could be regarded with suspicion. He had a list of the names of those dead men that he had recovered, a score in number, and he caused it to be read out so that their families could claim them for burial. I listened intently, filled with sudden fear lest Fynlo might be amongst them, but there were none that I recognised save one only; he had brought back the body of King Brodir.

Brodir had fallen alive into the hands of the Irish, as had Fynlo, and so again I felt fear for my man; but Brother Finán calmed my fears. Brodir had indeed slain the High King Brian Boru, and the Irish had been greatly angered by this, and so it was no great surprise that they had put our king to death in turn. Fynlo had done no like deed and there would be no such anger against him. I was glad of the reassurance, and my worry eased, and I returned to taking note of the actions of Halfdan.

Brodir’s household took charge of the body of the king and bore it away. The steward gave Halfdan a purse of silver coins as reward for his endeavour. Four others from amongst the corpses were likewise claimed by families from the town. They also gave Halfdan rewards, although of lesser measure, and perhaps this was why he had troubled himself to make a journey with so grim a cargo. He did not seem to me the kind of man who would have done such a thing without hope of reward, although this may have been uncharitable of me, for I knew nothing of him and had only my feelings to guide me.

Halfdan then asked the assistance of the local people to get carts to bear the remaining bodies and, when that had been organised, he and his men set off to transport them to other towns. Brother Finán and I also set off to travel home, for it was late, and it would be well past dark when we got there. We took a different course to the carts and soon lost sight of them. It did occur to me that carts were perhaps not the best way to carry the bodies, for all the towns on the island of any size were next to the sea, and surely it would have been easier to use the ship? Yet there was the mist, thick enough perhaps to be called fog, and perhaps that was explanation enough. I put the matter from my mind and we made the long walk home.


***


I took up my training again the next day, setting aside my worry over Fynlo, and Brother Finán was pleased with my skills with sword and bow. He was not so impressed by my progress with letters, for once I was sitting down to study my mind began to dwell on other matters once more. He scolded me, and I tried to concentrate, but it was no use. He tried to be stern with me but without success, for I was learning that he was really a kindly man, and he gave up his attempt to discipline me and instead permitted me to go into the town again. “In truth I am glad of the break,” he told me, “for we walked many miles yesterday and I am greatly weary. I shall rest awhile and then seek out a horse that I may purchase.”

I felt no such weariness, but when I thought upon it we had indeed walked a great distance, and it was no surprise that it had tired out Brother Finán. Rather was it odd that it had had no such effect upon me, and I realised that this was due to my powers as the Slayer. I was not only strong, fast, and skilful at the arts of war, but also I did not become fatigued. Being the Chosen One gave me many benefits for which I was greatly thankful.

I went into Dubhghlais town and sought for news of Fynlo, but there was still no word. I listened to more tales of the battle, and heard more about how events had unfolded, but the story shed no fresh light upon his fate.

It was now known what had happened to King Brodir and I heard that tale with interest. Brodir had fought with Wolf the Quarrelsome and had been overmatched. Our king wore a coat of mail that was said to have been made by Manannan Mac Lir himself, and even the mighty strokes of Wolf’s axe had not pierced it, but Brodir was battered and bruised and fled into the woods. He remained there as the Irish gained the upper hand and drove the Manx back towards their ships, and Jarl Sigurd was slain, and King Sygtrigg’s men were driven back towards the gates of Dublin; but then Brodir had emerged from the woods with a few men and attacked the camp of the High King Brian Boru, and had slain Brian. Then did Wolf the Quarrelsome race back to the camp, arriving too late to rescue his king, but in time to strike Brodir senseless and take him captive. The Irish were angered by Brodir’s deed, for Brian Boru was an old man, and they called Brodir coward and put him to a slow death. Some had seen Brodir’s body the day before, when he had been brought home on Halfdan’s ship, and they said that his stomach had been cut open. The Irish had tied him to a tree, cut him open, and left him to die.

I felt weak and sick at the thought of it happening to Fynlo. I told myself again that as one of the common soldiery, who had by all accounts acquitted himself well enough but had done no deed like unto the slaying of the High King, there was no especial cause for the Irish to be angered with him and he would in all odds be treated civilly. Even so I was frightened afresh, and I sat down upon a wall to compose my thoughts.

A young man approached and spoke to me. It was Egil the Icelander, and I was surprised to see him here.

“I asked who you were and where I might find you, and I was directed here,” he said with a smile. “Some said you were Bahey Kinvig, and some that you are Bahey Dhone. Tell me, which is your right name?”

“I am Bahey Kinvig; but they call me Bahey Dhone, for that means Bahey the brown-haired, and there is another Bahey who has fair hair, and so they call her Bahey Bane,” I told him. “Why are you following me, Egil? Did I not tell you that I already have a young man?”

He sighed. “I know this is foolish. It was my plan to find a young widow of property. There must be some such on this island after so dreadful a battle. There is nothing for me back in Iceland, for our farm is full of stones and I have three brothers, and here I thought I could win a wife and wealth all at once. Yet when I set eyes upon you all my plans flew from my head and I could think of nothing but your dark eyes and your smile.”

His attentions were not welcome to me, but I could not help but find his words pleasing. “I have no property, Egil of Iceland, and I am already spoken for. Get you gone. Seek out a widow. I could tell you of two such within this town alone.”

He shook his head. “I will not give up so easily. Never have I wanted anything as much as I want to win you. Your man is lost in Ireland. He may return to you, or he may not. Until there is definite news I shall strive to win your favours.”

“You are too soon, Egil,” I said coldly. “Away with you. I shall not speak with you again unless news of Fynlo comes to me and it is not good.”

He looked at me for a long moment. “Very well,” he said at length. “I shall do as you say, for now. Yet you shall hear from me again, Bahey Dhone.”


***


I frowned as he walked away. A year ago I had not been able to catch the eye of a single boy; yet now there were two handsome young men who thought the sun rose and set with me. Had I changed that much? Was I truly beautiful now, or were Egil’s words, and Fynlo’s before him, only flattery? I knew that the spots that had marred my complexion before were now gone, and that my breasts were larger and my waist more defined, but I did not really know how I compared to other girls. I needed to see myself in a better mirror than a still pool of water.

Brother Finán had a fine mirror, I knew, for he had told me that he carried one to aid in the detection of the dearg-dul for they cast no reflection. I went to seek him out, but he found me first, and the mirror would have to wait for; he had two horses and wanted to teach me to ride. We went out of town to a field of grass, so that if I fell off I should not strike my head upon a stone, and there I kilted up my skirts about my middle and climbed onto the horse. Again I learned quickly. I did fall off twice, and took no hurt in so doing, but before long I could ride as well as Brother Finán, and we were ready in case we needed to travel to far parts of the island in haste.

However, by the time that he was satisfied with my proficiency, it was growing dark and I saw no point in pestering him for the mirror. I fell asleep that night still wondering how pretty I was compared to, for instance, Ealish.

Yet my dreams were not of beauty but were dark and full of death.


***


  • Chapter 4

  • 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.