Curadmír | The Champion’s Portion

No, it’s not what you think… my, you all have such dirty minds!

Concentrate.

Curadmír comes from the old Irish word curad which means ‘of a hero/ champion/ warrior’, and also from the word mir which means ‘morsel/ ration/ portion’.

In Irish mythology, the champion’s portion was all about honour amongst warriors. We already know that in ancient Ireland people lived by a defined code of honour and this was certainly true amongst the warrior class.

The curadmir consisted of the choicest cut of meat, usually the thigh, and was awarded to the bravest and most accomplished of a king’s warriors during a feast. It was considered a sign of great honour and privilege.

In fact, so highly regarded was the curadmír, that warriors would fight to the death over it. Not just in stories and myths, either: Althenaeus, a Greek scholar of the late 2nd/ early 3rd century quoted an earlier Greek historian, Posidonius, when he claimed that the Celts gave a hindquarter of pork to their bravest man, which would be settled by single combat to the death.

Diodorus Sicculus, a Greek historian of the 1st century also claimed that the Celts gave joints of meat to their most distinguished warriors.

Yeah, the ancient Greeks had a bit of a fascination with the Celtic peoples, but sadly, they are not reliable. Historians have not been able to identify a people who called themselves Celts, but there is much similarity between their accounts and the people of the Hallstatt and La Tene periods in Central Europe.

And then there are the Irish myths, which seem to confirm this strange custom. Why are you not surprised, huh?

The Tale of Mac da Thó’s Pig, or Scéla Muicce Meicc Da Thó, as it is known in Irish, comes from the Ulster Cycle, and survives in six manuscripts dating between the 12th and 18th centuries, but has been dated linguistically to the 8th century. It tells of a dispute which arose between the men of Connacht, and the men of Ulster.

So, Mac da Thó, King of Leinster, owns a hound named Ailbe which is famed throughout the land for its fierce guarding skills. Queen Medb of Connacht (yes, she of Táin bo Cúailnge fame, who goes to war over possession of a bull) decides she wants this mutt… surprise, surprise. However, her old arch enemy, Conchobar mac Nessa, King of Ulster, also wants to get his hands on Ailbe. I think you can see where this is going, right?

Mac da Thó holds a feast and invites both parties. When they arrive, they are not happy to be seated in the same hall as their enemies. Mac da Thó also owns a mighty pig, which had been fed for seven years by sixty milch cows, and was as wide across as forty oxen. Said beast was now roasting merrily, and the warriors were instantly attracted to it, and began discussing how best to carve it up, and who would get the Caradmír.

As you can imagine, a whole lot of boasting takes place, and many heroic deeds and victories are recounted. Eventually, Cet mac Mágach of the Connacht warriors declares himself the champion, but as he draws his knife to carve the pig, Conall Cernach of the Ulster men leaps to his feet and challenges him, much to the roars of delight from his fellows.

Cet concedes that of the two, Conall is the better warrior, but adds that if his brother,  Anlúan, was there, he would whoop his hide in combat. He says to Conall…

‘It is our misfortune that he [Anlúin] is not in the house.’

‘Oh but he is,’ said Conall, and taking Anlúan’s head from his wallet he threw it at Cet’s breast so that a mouthful of blood spattered over the lips.’

Quoted from Wikipedia

Conall claims the pig’s belly as his curadmír, enough to feed nine men, and after the rest of the meat has been shared out amongs his fellow warriors, only the trotters are left for the Connacht men.

Naturally, a fight breaks out. Mac da Thó unleashes Ailbe to see which side the hound will choose. It fights for the Ulster men, but is beheaded by Fer Loga, a charioteer of Connacht. He mounts Ailbe’s head on top of a spear, and thus the place of her death is known as  Mag nAilbi, or ‘Ailbe’s Plain’ (a real place, the valley plain bordering the River Barrow from County Laois and County Carlow to County Kildare).

If you thought that was weird, wait till you read the next bit! 😛

Clearly fearing the wrath of his King and Queen, Aillil and Medb, for killing the dog, Fer Loga hides in the heather. When King Conchobar rides by in his chariot, Fer Loga leaps up behind him and seizes the King’s head in a mighty grip.

Conchobar promises Fer Loga anything he wants, obviously thinking the man is about to kill him, and this is what Fer Loga demands: that he be taken to Emain Macha, capital of Ulster, where the women of Ulster and their nubile daughters are to sing to him each evening, ‘Fer Loga is my darling.’

Told you, didn’t I? Weird!

The story ends a year later with Fer Loga riding away from Ulster towards Ath Luain with the gift of two of Conchobar’s horses decked in fine golden bridles.

Nora Chadwick believes this tale was created for men, and was designed to be told orally, which is interesting to me personally. What is also interesting is that, even thought this story draws on many of the characters of the Táin bo Cuailnge, it never mentions Cuchulainn, who was said to be Ulster’s greatest hero.

In another story also from the Ulster Cycle, Fled Bricrenn, or the Feast of Bricriu, the allotting of the curadmir also causes much havoc. Bricriu holds a feast for the men of Ulster, and offers the champion’s portion to three of them: Cuchulainn, Conall Cernach, and Lóegaire Búadach. They are obliged then to compete against each other in order to decide who is most worthy.

Many challenges are set, with Cuchulainn emerging as the winner each time, but neither Conall nor Lóegaire accept this. In the end, Cú Roí, a magician from Munster, transforms himself into a giant and challenges each of the three warriors to behead him, on the condition that they then allow him to behead them in return the next night. Only Cúchulainn is brave and honest enough to show up on the second night, so he is deemed as the winner, and judged worthy of the curadmír.

Bricriu was a bit of a troublemaker who appears in several other stories of the Ulster Cycle. In the end, he is trampled to death by the two bulls fighting in the Táin bo Cuailnge. Loughbrickland, a village near Banbridge in County Down, is thought to derive from the Irish Loch Briccrend, meaning ‘Bricriu’s Lake’. He is supposed to have built his home there overlooking the lake, a ring fort named the ‘Watery Fort’.


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The Wild Boar in Irish Mythology

The wild boar was hunted into extinction in Ireland back in the C17th, although it seems likely that it was probably not truly ‘wild’ at all, but introduced by man in early prehistoric times. Ireland’s rich forest land  provided a perfect habitat, where it foraged and fed on acorns and nuts, roaming in large herds watched over by semi-nomadic swine-herds, often credited with mysterious magical abilities. Wild boar meat was highly prized, and even today in Ireland, big events such as fairs and festivals feed the crowds with a whole hog roast.

Not surprisingly, the wild boar features significantly in Irish mythology. Although it is a shy, placid creature, in mythology it came to be associated with ferocity, courage and the warrior. Perhaps this is because it defended itself so fiercely when hunted, thus earning so much admiration and its place in legend and song.

This association with battle prowess can be seen in the popular design of the boar’s head on the carnyx, or Celtic war horn. According to Wikipedia,

“The carnyx was a wind instrument of the Iron Age Celts, used between c. 200 BC and c. AD 200. It was a type of bronze trumpet with an elongated S shape, held so that the long straight central portion was vertical and the short mouthpiece end section and the much wider bell were horizontal in opposed directions. The bell was styled in the shape of an open-mouthed boar’s, or other animal’s, head. It was used in warfare, probably to incite troops to battle and intimidate opponents.”

By Johnbod - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15618697
By Johnbod – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15618697

In Irish mythology, Torc Triath was the King of Boars, an Otherworldly creature who belonged to the Goddess Brigid. It is thought that he could be cognate with the boar of Welsh legend, Twrch Trwyth, the son of Tared Wledig, a prince of Wales, who had been cursed and transformed into a wild boar. He was hunted by King Arthur and his hound, Cabal, and driven into the sea off the Cornish coast, where he perished. Perhaps he swam to Ireland instead, and took refuge with our kindly Brigid! 😁

The motif of men being transformed into wild boars reappears often in mythological tales. The Great Boar of Ben Bulben was once a boy; he was the half-brother of Diarmuid O’Duibhne.

Diarmuid’s father, Donn, never liked the child, as he was the product of his wife’s infidelity with another man. One night, when a fight broke out in his hall between two hounds, in the confusion, Donn seized the boy, crushed him to death, then tossed his body into the melee, hoping everyone would assume he had been killed by the dogs.

The boy’s father, Roc, was not so easily fooled. He quickly realised what had happened, and distraught and angered, he performed a magical rite which brought his son back to life in the form of a boar.

He did this to seek his revenge against Donn; he knew of the prophecy which foretold that Diarmuid would one day be killed by a boar.

After betraying Fionn mac Cumhall by running off with his beautiful young bride, Grainne, Diarmuid settles in Sligo where he and Grainne live a long life together and have four sons and a daughter. When Fionn seeks a reconciliation, Diarmuid jumps at the chance, and recklessly agrees to join the Fianna on a boar hunt.

The mighty Ben Bulben. (c) Conor Walker
The mighty Ben Bulben, dusted with snow. (c) Conor Walker (my lovely husband 😍).

Sure enough, Diarmuid comes face to face with the enchanted boar, his half-brother, on the slopes of Ben Bulben. In a mighty battle, Diarmuid slays the beast, but is himself badly gored in the process by the creatures tusks. By the time the Fianna finds him, he is bleeding to death.

Fionn has the power to heal his old friend by offering him a drink of water from his healing hands. Twice, he lets their enmity come between them, and allows the water to drain from his hands. On the third attempt, he finally finds forgiveness for Diarmuid, but he is too late: Diarmuid is dead.

It is interesting that there are places in Ireland’s landscape which still bear reference to the importance of the wild boar: Kanturk in West Cork comes from the Irish Ceann Toirca, meaning ‘boar’s head’, and Ros Muc in West Connacht comes from the Irish word muc for ‘pig’. Mag Triathairne, on the other hand, is a place legend claims was named after Torc Triath himself, but I’m afraid I have no idea where this is.

The wonderfully intriguing Black Pig’s Dyke, or Claí na Muice Duibhe as it is known in Irish,  is a series of huge earthworks running through counties Leitrim, Longford, Monaghan, Fermanagh and Cavan, where I live. Archaeology has revealed the remains of wooden palisades dating to  390–370 BC upon a bank measuring 9m (30ft wide), with an external ditch and in inner ditch both approximately 6m (20ft) deep. All sorts of theories abound as to the purpose of this structure, such as that it once marked the boundaries of ancient Ulster, or that it was constructed in an attempt to halt cattle raiding. However, no one really knows.

Local folklore claims it was created by the tusks of a HUGE black boar, rooting in the earth for food. The story goes that a wicked schoolmaster was transforming his pupils into animals using a big black book of spells. When challenged by a student’s father, the schoolmaster demonstrated his skills by shapeshifting into the form of a big black pig. The father immediately snatched up the book and tossed it into the fire, and thus without the source of his magic, the schoolmaster was doomed to live the rest of his life as a pig. In a blind rage he rampaged across Ireland, gouging out the ditch and churning up the earth into the rampart we see today with his great snout.

There are other stories of wild boars in Irish myth, too. The Tale of Mac Da Thó’s Pig forms part of the saga of the Tain bó Cuailnge, and centres on disputes which arise over the champion’s share of meat, known as curadmír, a matter of great honour amongst warriors.

Also part of the Tain bó Cuailnge, is the Quarrel of the Two Swineherds: Friuch (who is named rather amusingly after a boar’s bristle) and Rucht (who is named after a boar’s grunt) are two swineherds minding their masters’ herds, when they begin to quarrel. A fight breaks out, in which they assume many animal forms in order to gain mastery of each other, finally becoming two worms. These are promptly swallowed by two cows grazing nearby, which then give birth to the two bulls Finnbhennach and Donn Cúailnge.

Also, the Dagda, who was a much-loved and well-respected High King of the Tuatha de Danann, was said to have possessed two magical pigs,  one of which was always growing whilst the other was always roasting.

Sounds like a metaphor for typical Irish hospitality, if you ask me…


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Acceptance: Skin-Deep and Empty Words

Today is a significant one in world history. No matter which side of the fence we stand on, we have no choice but to accept. Around the world, governments are also preparing to show acceptance. And yet, there seems to be a global sense of uncertainty, and fear.

I fear for the minorities. I fear for acceptance. For tolerance. And I am reminded of something I wrote a few years ago for 1000 voices speak for compassion, which I think is as relevant today as it was then, if not more so.


I don’t like moths. I don’t like how they enter my house uninvited, fluttering blindly about, and cluster in a seething panic around any available light source. The frenzied flapping of their dull, tattered wings gives me the creeps.

But I love butterflies. When they gate-crash, I feel privileged, blessed, and patiently herd them out to freedom for fear their short, beautiful lives might meet an untimely end within my four walls.

When I found a glorious creature with stunning red and black markings walking determinedly across my doormat one spring morning, I assumed he was a newly hatched butterfly ready to test his wings. I opened the door respectfully, and watched him take flight.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered he was actually a day-flying cinnabar moth. Who knew that moths could be so gorgeous, or that some of them flew by day and not in the shadow of night?

I was struck, then, by my own superficiality. Me, who should know better. I know how it feels to be judged on appearance, and to be found lacking. I know how it feels to be probed skin-deep, and rejected. Is the sum of our worth truly wrapped up in the symmetry of our faces  and the slender lines of our bodies?

I suspect it’s a primeval thing, some kind of survival skill buried deep within that well of instinctual behaviour we no longer understand or need. Perhaps surrounding ourselves with beauty masks something ugly inside that we try to suppress. Perhaps associating with the beautiful makes us feel good about ourselves. Maybe it ‘rubs off on us’.

Of course, we’re in denial. We say brave words, like ‘Beauty is skin-deep’, or ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, or ‘Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us.’ Admit it; they’re just empty words. We don’t live by them. And words hold enormous power. Too many young people have ended their lives after being bullied. Abused with words. They didn’t feel accepted.

Acceptance, whether it’s social or personal, requires approval and a non-judgmental state of mind. Being accepted gives us a sense of belonging. Ultimately, that’s what we all want. It’s what we’re all searching for in our own convoluted ways. But does being beautiful increase the chances of being accepted?

I was bullied at school, for many reasons; I wore thick glasses with National Health frames (definitely not beautiful), I didn’t speak with the local accent, nor was I a local girl, and I arrived in school only six weeks before the end of the school year. Bonds and social groups had already been formed. There was no peer pressure to try and ‘fit in’; I was a stranger, I looked and sounded different, and I simply wasn’t wanted. Boy, did they let me know it.

When I left school, I rebelled against this unfriendly society which had not found it possible to accept me. I defied their traditional, conservative, insular attitude.

It was the 80s: electronic music, big hair, frilly clothes and wild makeup which looked more like art. These young people were different. The disguise made us all look and feel beautiful. We were connected, united. I hid behind this flamboyant façade: it was an acceptance of sorts.

But I had to grow up. I didn’t want to work in an office or in a factory, so I joined the RAF instead. The RAF didn’t want us to be different, individual, unique; they wanted us all to be the same, their kind of same. Thrown into what seemed like chaos to us, a disparate band of females learned to pull together, accept one another, and become a team. Then the RAF split us up and sent us reeling in different directions, but it didn’t matter, because by then we were part of the machine. Acceptance was built in.

The tides of time washed me in its waters, sometimes soothing, sometimes stormy, but always eventful. I drifted, adding the roles of wife and mother to life’s CV. That’s when I ran aground, the meaning of acceptance suddenly rocketing to a whole new level.

Carys came into our lives. She was born with a rare syndrome, but we counted ourselves lucky, for she was never expected to live at all. Two days later, a tangle of blood vessels began to bloom on her forehead. It was the beginnings of a birthmark, a haemangioma, and it grew with a speed and virulence which astounded me.

Day by day it expanded, turning a deep, shiny red, a sinister parasite claiming its place on my daughter’s face. The surface began to wrinkle and pucker, forming little hills and valleys, a menacing roseate island in the soft smooth sea of her forehead.

People love to look at babies, have you noticed? A brief dip into Facebook or Pinterest throws up endless rounds of cute or amusing baby pictures with associated entertaining quotes. When my two sons were babies, I received many smiles and compliments from strangers, who looked into the stroller upon my boys’ perfect faces.

That didn’t happen with Carys. Oh, they gawped eagerly enough. Sometimes, they raised their eyes to mine in shock. Mostly, they just craned their necks and stared at my little girl as if she was something they had just scraped off the bottom of their shoe.

I can’t describe the pain that ripped through me. She was so innocent, had done nothing to anyone, just fought fiercely against all the odds to cling to the dirty, ragged scrap of life tossed her way.

When she was only four months old, she endured a long surgery to remove this ugly complex lump in the hope of saving her sight. With the haemangioma gone, I thought we would simply disappear into the masses, nothing worth seeing here. But I was wrong.

The wound developed a thick black crust. The edges were loose, and constantly seeped, but the doctors were happy, it was progressing exactly as they wanted. Now when people stared at Carys, their gaze quickly shifted to us, her parents, and I could see what they were thinking; were we simply neglectful parents, or abusive ones?

Carys, and other children like her, fall into a minority group which society as a whole has not yet found itself able to fully accept. True acceptance would, by definition, require the majority to allow the full integration and participation of the minority in all aspects of society. Even in these enlightened times, that doesn’t happen.

For example, Carys must go to a ‘special school’, which is tucked well away from the community where she lives. There is no other option. I resent that. Although the school is excellent, I would like her to attend our local school, which ideally should have an attached special care unit for disabled children.

How wonderful if Carys could be visited by her brothers during her day at school; how wonderful if the children from the mainstream school could integrate with the disabled children, help them, play with them at break, grow up never being afraid of them or developing ignorance and prejudice against them.

It’s as if society doesn’t want to be affronted by the sight, or blight, of disabled people. We hide them away and pretend they don’t exist. Perhaps their physical deformity reminds us of our own inner ugliness, something we’d rather ignore.

When participation in society is confined to only certain areas, then the majority is only practicing tolerance, not true acceptance. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same.

A decade later, Carys’s haemangioma is just a shadow of its former self; the scar has faded, but she still looks obviously ‘different’. The dangers of her syndrome are hidden within, where they can’t be seen and gawked at. People still stare, but not as much. I am less inclined to accept rudeness, but am also better able to let it go; I have grown, learned to tolerate and yes, accept these episodes of weakness from strangers.

Being Carys’s parent has broken my heart many times over, and filled and refilled it with more love and hope than I ever thought possible. She has taught me so much about what’s really important.

I want many things out of life for my sons. I work hard to set their feet on the path to achieving them. For Carys, the list is much shorter and simpler; happiness, love and a life as free from pain as possible.

And most of all, acceptance. Not just for Carys, and other children like her, but for all living beings.

Tailtiu, the Church of St Patrick and the Eastern Fort

I started 2017 with a trip to Teltown. It was the morning after the night before, and I looked like it, but I didn’t bring you here just to admire my good looks (ahem); I have something far more interesting to show you…

Tailtiu, the Church of St Patrick, and the Eastern Fort. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

No, that’s not me, but I can see the resemblance. Ok, not really. 😁 She’s Tailtiu, last Queen of the Fir Bolg. Some say she was the King of Spain’s daughter, or even that she was of Egyptian origin, and that her name was Neffertiti. In which case, I suspect she may have  looked a little different to the woman in my image…

Her husband, Eochaidh mac Eirc, was killed by the Tuatha de Danann in the First Battle of Moytura, when they invaded Ireland. After their victory, in order to establish good relations with her and her people, the Danann gave her one of their noble-born sons, Lugh, to foster. This was common practice in ancient Ireland.

Tailtiu retired to the area located on the River Blackwater between Navan and Kells now known as Teltown. In Irish, its name is Tailten. Here she established her home, and set about the back-breaking task of clearing the land for farming.

Meanwhile, she loved Lugh as if he were her own, lavishing care and attention on him. She found for him all the best tutors, and had him trained not just in the arts of battle and strategy, as befitting a high-born son, but in music, poetry, healing, the secrets of the forge, and many other skills besides.

When she died, Lugh was heart-broken. He buried her beneath a great mound at her beloved Teltown, and set up the Tailten games, known as the Oenach Tailten, in her honour every year at Lughnasadh (August 1st), that she might never be forgotten. This festival continued on, in some form, well into the nineteenth century.

Teltown is a vast and complex ancient site of some significance dating to the Iron Age. Features include the remnants of mounds, ring forts, earthen ramparts, artificial lakes, and an ancient roadway, but much of these have been erased from the landscape through the actions of farming over the years.

I came to see Donaghpatrick Church, and Rath Airthir, which means ‘the Eastern Fort’. Donaghpatrick, from Domnach Pádraig, meaning the ‘church of St Patrick’. According to legend, Conaill, brother of the High King Laoighre, gave the land to St Patrick after his baptism.

It’s kind of hard to imagine that the Irish would have handed over such an important site so willingly, but not so hard to imagine why Patrick would have wanted it. What better way to stamp out pagan activities than to establish a Christian church right there in the middle of it all?

In fact, there are six churches in total, though not all are still in use. Donaghpatrick is itself very intriguing. It appears to be constructed upon a mound or platform, possibly an earlier ancient one, and contains a standing stone, and the old medieval font from the previous church in its grave yard. It is built upon a medieval tower house, which has a strange stone head embedded three quarters of the way up one wall, slightly offset to the right.

The magnificent Rath Airthir

But most wonderful of all, if you stand with your back to the church, Rath Airthir faces directly opposite, in a field just across the road. It is a trivallate ringfort, meaning it has three ramparts circling it, and stands at around 30m (98ft) in diameter. The ramparts could not be seen from this angle, but even so, it really is quite spectacular.

Apparently, Rath Airthir has been identified by archaeologist Michael Herity as the Tredua (triple rampart) fort of Tailtú, as noted in the Metrical Dindshenchas: ‘the Tredua of Tailtiú, famed beyond all lands, where the Kings of Ireland used to fast that no disease might visit the land of Erin.’ (see Voices from the Dawn)

This, coupled with the triple rampart, seems to me to be ritual in nature, possibly the site of some ancient Kingship purification rite, but don’t quote me on that… it’s just my guess, I’m no expert.

I was gutted when I walked up the road and found a sign on the gate prohibiting entry. As much as it maddens and disappoints me, one has to respect the wishes of private landowners; trespassing does not win their favour.

Rath Airthir was, on this occasion, only to be admired from afar.


Happy New Year to you all!
Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh!
(AH-VLEE-in fwee hayn iss fwee WISH-uh deev)


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The Friday Fiction featuring K.A. Krisko

Kathy aka K.A. Krisko… did you see what I did there? 😁… is my lovely author-friend who I met on GoodReads years ago. I loved her Stolen series, but then I read Cornerstone: Raising Rook, and it quite blew me away! This is grown up contemporary fantasy, in the way that Stephen Donaldson writes grown up contemporary fantasy (only not at all depressing, lol!). In fact, its probably more magical realism. I waited and waited for the sequel, and then she snuck it onto Amazon without so much as a  glittery fanfare or a three minute warning! Needless to say, I devoured it, but she still left me hungry for more… in a lovely, satisfied, just-room-left-for-desert kind of a way. 😍 And don’t forget to Give the gift of a book this Christmas! Have a happy one!



chapter one

Jack Bright lowered his binoculars and glanced over his shoulder. The quick look provided him with a view of Kyle’s backside. His cousin’s son was draped over the aft port rail, retching into the Pacific.

Jack turned away quickly. He knew he shouldn’t have brought Kyle, but the young man had begged him, partly to show his girlfriend a good time and partly, he claimed, because he wanted to see where his brother had died.

The Boston Whaler Conquest rolled in a figure eight pattern in the swells that reverberated off the rocky cliffs. The girlfriend, Terry, sat on the forward deck, her back against the front of the pilothouse. Her expression was inscrutable beneath over-sized sunglasses. She didn’t seem to share Kyle’s nausea.

Jack braced himself against the pilothouse on the starboard deck and raised the binoculars again. He followed the cliff face to the top, where the steeple of the castle’s chapel poked into the sky: dark, Gothic and malevolent.

The castle. That damned castle.

“The end of Earth as we know it,” Jack muttered under his breath.

Kyle staggered over, face pale, and gripped the grab rail. “You think he’s still up there?” he gasped, nodding briefly at the castle. “Maybe just held captive?”

Jack shook his head. “It’s been too long, Kyle. Korrin’s gone. We have to accept that. And this is the closest we’re going to get to that thing at this point.”

The hairs prickled along the back of Jack’s neck, and he looked up at the sky. There was a big black bird up there, flying lazy circles, gradually working its way down closer to the boat. Jack wasn’t fooled by the shape; that was no natural bird, but undoubtedly the castle’s Lorecaster, its wizard, flying his shadow-form in the shape of a raven. After what Jack had done, or attempted to do, to the castle, the young Lorecaster was a sworn enemy.

Jack strode over to the pilothouse, ducked through the door, and started the boat’s motors. He swung it around and headed further out to sea, partly to relieve Kyle’s nausea. But he slowed again just a quarter-mile south of where the castle loomed on the cliff. There, a huge slump littered the base of the cliff with debris, including the remains of five houses and some of their occupants. All of them had been Jack’s friends, co-workers and employees of the environmental lobbying group Earth Natural, of which he was president.

Jack felt a twinge of guilt as the boat slipped quietly by the slump. After all, he had, at least indirectly, caused the slump when he’d tried to blow up that cursed castle on the hill. His only consolation was that all of the people who’d died had known what they were risking.

“Hey, there’s a trail over there,” Kyle said plaintively, pointing to the cliff near the slump. “Maybe we can take a little hike.”

“That trail goes right up to the castle,” Jack replied. But Kyle’s pale face garnered some sympathy. Poor kid was still seasick.

“I can put the boat in around that outcropping past the slump,” he acquiesced. “I’ve done it before. You can scramble up to the top of the rocks there, and it’s far enough away from the castle to be safe.”

“Maybe we can wait there, and you can drive back and pick us up after you bring the boat home,” Kyle suggested miserably.

“The only road to this area runs past the castle and the Lorecaster’s house,” Jack said. “Sorry. You have to go home on the boat.”

They puttered past the outcropping and Jack swung the boat around behind it, bringing the bow up close to a big rock in a sheltered cove. Terry threw the bumpers over and scrambled onto the rock holding the bow line. Jack cut the motors and followed Kyle out of the pilothouse. There were several trees rooted in the cracks of the rock, and he tied the boat off to one of them with a quick-release knot.

Terry scrambled easily over the rock and jumped down to a bit of sand behind it. Kyle, a little heavy around the middle, followed more slowly. Jack waited impatiently. He might be twice Kyle’s age, but he was fit and agile.

Once off the rock, Jack led Terry and Kyle to the cliff and picked his way up through the boulders. He had visited this cove a number of times before. It was a way to get close to the castle, to observe what was going on there, without driving up to the isolated little neighborhood where it sat. He knew he could hike around the outcropping to the slump at low tide, but he’d also figured out how to scramble up to the top of the cliff.

Stunted firs clung to crevices here and there. Animal trails wound off through the deepening forest as they gained the top. The surge of the Pacific Ocean faded and the summer heat settled over them. A few insects landed on Jack’s arms and neck.

They turned north at the top of the cliff. After a quarter-mile walk, Jack motioned Kyle and Terry to stop and he crept forward alone. A small neighborhood lay beyond, a few summerhouses in little clusters. Jack could see the raw edge of the residential road’s pavement where the slump had taken the five houses closest to the cliff down to the sea below.

Kyle and Terry came up behind him and stood staring. The lower neighborhood, at whose southern edge they stood, was tucked in amongst the firs, drowsing in the mid-afternoon heat. The houses of the upper neighborhood were more exposed, and behind them the land rose steeply. On top of that rise stood the castle, sentient and malevolent.

Jack felt his pulse quicken. This was the closest he’d been to it in a long time, and he almost imagined it knew he was there. Involuntarily he stepped a little further behind the trunk of a tree.

“I can’t believe Korrin walked into that thing,” Kyle whispered. “He had a lot of guts.”

Or he was an idiot, Jack thought, but aloud he said, “Remember it wasn’t as complete then as it is now. The bigger it gets, the more powerful it becomes. I’m sure Korrin wouldn’t have gone in there if he didn’t believe he had the advantage.”

“He took the sword,” Kyle said, his tone reverent.

“Yes. I wish we could get it back,” Jack muttered. “One of the most valuable tools we had, and now it’s in their hands.”

Terry stood with her hands on her hips, a slight smile on her lips. She was not, after all, one of the Knights of Earth Natural, like Jack and Kyle. Kyle had told her about the castle, but Jack didn’t know if she believed it.

“You want me to walk up there and get your sword?” she asked. She grinned as she said it. “I’m not one of you, your castle won’t bother me. Right?”

“I’m not sure about that,” Jack warned. “Besides, we have no idea where the sword is. Somebody would see you if you went wandering around up there and would want to know what you were doing. Most likely the Lorecaster.”

“I’ve seen him before,” Terry said. “Kyle pointed him out once in Seaside Heights. He’s not so scary. Just a skinny guy with a unibrow and a ponytail.”

“Don’t underestimate him,” Jack growled. “He’s young and he doesn’t know his power yet. But it’s there, and he most likely knows you’re connected to us, too. He was flying his raven-shadow around earlier.”

Kyle and Terry both looked up at the sky, but the raven was not to be seen.

“You feeling better now?” Jack asked Kyle. “We should get back to the boat. This is risky. I don’t know how far the castle’s influence has spread, but we’re probably at the edge of it.”

“I guess,” Kyle sighed. “Just get us back to the marina as quick as possible, okay? I feel better when you’re going faster.”

Jack led them back through the woods to where the trail dropped off towards the ocean. He paused a moment, his eye caught by motion above them. The raven was there again, circling lazily high over the boat.

He let his eyes rest on the vessel a hundred feet below them. He’d taken the 27-foot ocean sport-fishing boat as partial settlement of a suit against a developer who’d failed to follow state environmental mitigation requirements. He’d named it the Natural Seize, a play on the name of his organization, Earth Natural. He smiled a little in satisfaction.

With a jolt of adrenalin, Jack realized that the Natural Seize floated free. It was no longer tied to the tree. The bow line floated in front of it, and it backed slowly away from the shore, bobbing and rolling.

“Hey!” Jack yelled, as though the boat might respond. He scrambled down the cliff as fast as he could, slipping and sliding on the loose dirt. Several times he went down on his butt. His hands scraped against rough rock. Small prickly plants clinging to the barren cliff side stabbed him. Finally he staggered onto the narrow gravelly beach at the bottom. He edged around the big rock on slippery stones. Waves washed back and forth, wetting his shoes. The boat floated just beyond his grasp.

Jack waded further into the ocean, the seawater shockingly cold. He felt his jeans grow heavy. He thought for a moment that if he was going to swim, he should take them and his shoes off, but he didn’t have time. The boat was picking up speed as it floated further out of the cove. He needed to get to it fast.

He sucked in a lungful of air, braced himself, and dived forward into the surf. He felt his knees hit underwater rocks and was glad he’d kept his jeans on. He made some forward progress into deeper water with a breaststroke and then switched to a front crawl.

He was a strong swimmer, but open ocean wasn’t his preference. Swells splashed him in the face and he tasted salt. The cold sapped his strength quickly, and his heavy clothes and shoes dragged at him. He flipped over onto his back for a few seconds to rest. Kyle stood on the shore, Terry on top of the big boulder, watching him. The raven circled overhead.

He flipped back over and started swimming again. The rocking of the boat became more pronounced as it reached the edge of the protected water of the cove and began to encounter the larger waves of the open ocean. It was drifting southward, too. There was another outcropping that way. Another couple of minutes and the boat would slam up against the cliff. If the motors were damaged too badly he wouldn’t be able to start it and turn it into the waves, and it would eventually founder and break up against the rocks. The consequences would be dire. He was pretty sure he couldn’t make it back to shore at this point. His only chance was to get to the boat and get aboard.

He poured the last of his strength into his efforts. Another two minutes and he reached the starboard side of the boat. The outcropping loomed, each wave washing them nearer. Jack grabbed one of the bumpers and hung on to rest for a moment. Then he let go and dropped back into the water. The ladder was around the back; he worked his way aft.

The dual motors stuck out at a steep angle as he’d lifted them to avoid any rocks on his way in. The burred edges of the propeller blades caught at his arms as he went around them. For a moment he had a nightmare vision of the motors coming on by themselves, but he didn’t think the Lorecaster could do that. He was in more danger from the cliff, now just feet away.

Finally he grabbed the ladder and heaved himself up. He staggered forward and yanked open the pilothouse door. The boat shuddered as the starboard outboard struck the rocky cliff. A moment later the port motor roared to life and Jack spun the wheel to bring the lolling Conquest around into the incoming waves.

Jack steered the boat out into the ocean and swung around to make the correct approach to the cove. Bringing it alongside the rock was a little trickier with only one motor, but he didn’t want to start the starboard one until he’d had a chance to take a look at the propeller.

Terry grabbed the rail and held the boat in long enough for Kyle to step aboard, then jumped on herself.

“You want me to drive?” she asked through the pilothouse window as Jack brought them out away from the cliffs. “You need to warm up.”

Jack glanced at her. “You know how?”

“I’ll be okay out here,” she replied. “You’ll just have to take over when we get to the marina.”

He relinquished the wheel to her and stepped out into the sun on the back deck. He kept an eye on the castle retreating on the horizon as he stripped off his wet shirt and shoes. Kyle handed him a towel, and he roughed it through his hair and over his chest.

Drier and warmer, he stepped back into the pilothouse, away from the wind. Terry didn’t seem to be having a problem piloting the boat. Jack leaned against the window to her right and allowed himself to consider how close a call that had been. He realized he was shaking, from the exertion as much as from the chill.

“You think that was a coincidence?” Terry said after a few minutes.

“Hell, no.”

“You think the castle’s trying to kill you?”

“Me and everyone else it doesn’t like.” Jack glanced through the back window of the pilothouse, but they were too far away now to see the steeple. “Can’t say I blame it; I tried to blow it up once.”

A long moment went by. “So you believe the castle’s alive, then,” Terry finally said.

Jack ran a hand through his wet hair. “Not exactly. It’s inhabited by some sort of entity that lives in its stones. And it’s evil.”

Terry shrugged, but she kept her eyes on the ocean in front of the boat. “What’s evil, after all?”

“Well, I’d say some alien intelligence that wants to change the Earth as we know it is evil,” Jack said. “The castle’s growing, and the more it grows, the more rocks it inhabits and the more powerful it gets.”

“Me, I’d say that evil is something that can only be done to people by other people,” Terry replied. “Maybe you should back off and quit pissing it off. Seems like it’s got all the power in this relationship.”

Jack sat down on the forward berth and rested his elbows on his knees as the Natural Seize cut the water smoothly up on plane. Backing off was one thing he couldn’t do. There was Korrin to avenge, and all his friends who’d been lost in the slump he’d created himself. That was the most important, because he had to prove to himself that their deaths were both unavoidable and meaningful. He couldn’t agree with Terry; evil had to be an external thing. And he knew where it lay: inside that castle on the cliff, not inside his own mind.


see all kathy’s books here

 

Author KA Krisko
Author KA Krisko

K.A. Krisko currently lives in northern Colorado with her two Australian Cattle Dogs. She grew up in the Mojave Desert and Sierra Nevadas in California, went to college in Colorado and Arizona, and received an MS in Forestry. Since then she’s lived in states from Texas to Montana. She enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, walking the dogs, mountain biking, skiing, and snowshoeing, and indoor activities like DIY, reading and writing, as well as dog training and trialing in K9 Nosework.

She has published a number of fiction and non-fiction literary shorts, a number of fantasy-fiction novels: The Stolen Trilogy (“Stolen”, “Crypt of Souls”, “Hyphanden’s Box”) and “Cornerstone: Raising Rook,” and one mystery.

find out more about kathy and her books on her website

Read an excerpt from Cornerstone: Raising Rook here

Read my REVIEW of Cornerstone: Raising Rook here

The Friday Fiction with Hugh Roberts

 

 

Wahaaay! Author friend and blogger, Hugh Roberts has just released GLIMPSES, his first book! I’m well-jell of that gorgeous cover! Hugh is a fellow member of the Bloggers Bash committee, and I can honestly say you couldn’t meet a more lovely guy. Not only that, but he’s seriously talented when it comes to penning the quirky and the strange, and he’s a master of the compelling trademark sting-in-the-tail, didn’t-see-it-coming conclusion. Meet your new favourite author, and Give the Gift of a BOOK this Christmas!



The Truth App
London, 28th November, 2030

Melanie Carter had saved for months and was about to change the course of her life.
She left the Everything People’s Electric Gadgets store with a brand new purchase in her possession. She’d fallen in love with the ‘iPad 13’ as soon as she had read about it. The review written by Joan Withers, in a national magazine, had persuaded Melanie to buy one.
On going through the front door, the voice of her father called out to her.
“Is that you, Melanie?”
She wondered why he always asked this question given as they were the only two people now living in the house. Her mother, who had been an expert in computer technology, had died just before Melanie had reached her eighth birthday, and some mystery had surrounded her death. A man had been arrested and charged with the murder, but he had always claimed he was innocent. He had written to Melanie many times, but her father had intercepted all bar one of the letters. However, the one letter she had read had frightened her and she immediately destroyed it. She would never know that he had sent many more letters before and after the one she had read.
“Yes, it’s me, Dad. Have you eaten?”
Without answering, her father nodded his head and continued to watch television. He did little these days but watch television and occasionally surf the web to complete the family tree he had started to put together just before retiring from his job.
Melanie climbed the stairs to her room and closed the door gently, almost as if it was the middle of the night and she did not want to wake her father. She was eager to get her new purchase out of its box. It took her less than a minute to set up. The shop assistant, Greta, had offered to, but she was eager to get home and politely turned the offer down.
She immediately went to the App Store and scrolled through all the wonderful applications that were on offer. Many were free, but some would require payment. Nonetheless, she wanted to start downloading and to use some of them that evening.
Ten minutes later, Melanie had downloaded three free games and a couple of applications that promised to organise her busy lifestyle. These had cost her a few pounds each, but the reviews were very good and she thought it money well spent. Then, out of the corner of her eye and towards the bottom of the screen, something caught her attention.
It was the name of the app that intrigued her. ‘The Truth App.’ It was a strange looking app containing the face of a woman who was smiling. When she placed her finger over the app, Melanie was convinced that the woman was smiling at her, but when she moved her finger, the smile faded away and the woman began to look unhappy. She’d never seen anything like this before and thought it must be something new that only came with the new device.
“Download me,” whispered a woman’s voice. Melanie paused and looked around the room. The sound must have come from the television downstairs as only she and her father were in the house. Her finger once again hovered above the app and, this time, she pressed it.
The download took a few seconds. Melanie pressed the ‘open’ button and immediately looked for information on what the app did; nothing but a blank screen appeared. Even the review section was blank. Scrolling, she flicked her finger gently up the screen of the device. Nothing. She scrolled again, faster this time, but still nothing. When the scrolling finally came to a halt, a tiny door appeared on the screen. There was nothing else on view other than the tiny door and it got Melanie’s heart racing. Her finger hovered above it for a while before finally pressing it. Immediately, a fuzzy video clip started.
What Melanie saw took her breath away. There, in front of her eyes, she recognised her father arguing with a woman. The woman’s face seemed familiar and it wasn’t long before it struck Melanie that it was the same face of that of the woman on the app. They were arguing about money and then about not having anything in for dinner. The woman threw a plate at her father. It missed him by inches, smashing against a wall.
“I know exactly what you have done,” shouted her father on the videoclip. “When you married me you said you would be faithful to me and only me.”
The woman started to cry and held her hands to her face. Then it clicked. This was her mother and father she was watching.
“I’m so sorry, but I love him,” said her mother, as she dropped her hands away from her face. “You and I were never meant to be together, you know that!”
Melanie heard the sound of glass smashing. It was coming from the video clip, elsewhere in the house. She watched as her mother turned around to witness who had entered the house. To Melanie’s amazement her father picked up a knife and ran towards his wife. The screen then went blank.
“NO!”
She tapped the screen, but nothing appeared. She picked the iPad up and shook it, but still nothing. Then she remembered something she had heard many times before when this kind of thing happened with electrical items. She turned the iPad off and back on again.
For some reason the device in her hands felt strange. She fumbled for the on off switch, shaking the device hard.
“Hurry up and start again, please, I don’t have much time!” What must have been a matter of a few seconds seemed like hours, and tears rolled from her eyes as the screen of the device lit up again. She immediately looked for the apps which had been downloaded. Five of the apps were still there, but the one she didn’t ever want to see again was gone. She pressed the App Store icon and searched for the missing app by name, but it was nowhere to be found.

***

Downstairs, Frederick Carter had gone to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. He opened the cutlery draw and took out a teaspoon just as a noise from upstairs disturbed his thoughts of what he was going to watch next on television. He walked to the bottom of the stairs and started to climb them. He was sure it was Melanie he had just heard shouting yet her voice seemed different. Now, as he climbed the stairs, it was crying he could hear.
“Are you alright, Melanie?” he gently asked as he got to the door of Melanie’s bedroom. The crying suddenly stopped. He hesitated before putting his hand on the door knob. Turning it slowly, he paused noticing the house was now in complete silence. Even the television seemed to have gone silent. Fredrick pushed open the door. “Melanie?”
To his amazement it was not his daughter he saw sat on the bed but the strange ghostlike figure of his wife. Speechless, his body froze on the spot.
The figure moved off the bed and glided towards him. There was no struggle or noise until his body fell down the stairs.

***

As her father’s body hit the floor at the bottom of the stairs, the noise it made startled Melanie and she woke from the shallow sleep that had engulfed her.
“Dad? Is that you? Dad, are you alright?”
The door to her room was open. She was sure she had closed it when she had come into her bedroom. Melanie got off her bed and walked out of her bedroom to the top of the staircase. The sound of the television coming back on was met by a terrifying scream.

***

Over a hundred miles away, at exactly the same time Melanie Carter screamed, Joan Withers decided to take a look at the App Store on her new iPad. She was delighted with the review she had written and had been paid well for it. Something caught her eye on the screen of the device. She pressed the app, which seemed to have the image of her father on it. He had been sent to prison for a murder she was convinced he had not committed. She’d never seen anything like this on the iPad before.
Pressing the image of a tiny door which was the only thing that now appeared on the screen, a fuzzy video clip started.


kindle button




About Author Hugh Roberts
About Author Hugh Roberts

Hello, my name is Hugh, and I live in both the town of Abergavenny and the city of Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

I have always enjoyed writing and the fact I suffer from a mild form of dyslexia has not stopped me. Yes, I get things wrong with my reading and writing but I always find those mistakes humorous and always laugh about it. I no longer allow dyslexia get in my way. Now in my fifties, I thought it about time I let my writing become public and becoming a blogger seemed to be the perfect way for me to do this.

I share my life with my civil-partner, John and our Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Toby, who I both cherish with all my heart. I have a very positive outlook on life.

I started writing short stories at school but was never really encouraged to continue writing them. Then, many years later, I discovered blogging and wrote and published several short stories on my blog. They soon became hits and I was encouraged to publish some of the stories in a book. Now, finally, my dream of becoming a published author has come true with the publication of ‘Glimpses’ the first volume of 28 of my short stories. If like me, you enjoy shows such as The Twilight Zone, Tales Of The Unexpected, The Outer Limits and Tales From The Dark Side, then my short stories will hopefully take you on twists and turns to unexpected endings.

If you decide to buy and read my book then I’d be delighted if you would consider leaving a review on Amazon. Reviews help all authors and feedback is vital to improving my writing

I’ve always considered myself as a peoples’ person and I love to hear from anyone. Please do feel free to contact me.


where in the world is hugh?