06-12-2012 11:48 AM
Just beyond the small port town of Oban lay the ruins of the old MacDougal Castle, resting on a crag carved out of the basalt rock that comprised much of the shoreline. Of the original castle only the main tower of the keep, the walls, and the watch tower remained. The ruins afforded those brave enough to venture near a spectacular view of the Bay of Oban, the twining arms of its peninsula, the numerous outlaying islands and the few habitations littered across them. The bay itself at high tide lapped at the foundations of the crest upon which the castle stood.
A forest of mixed oak and fir marched down the surrounding hillsides, almost to the edge of the bay. The saline winds from the sea, however, halted their advance less than a hundred feet from the stony, jagged shoreline. A strange basalt sentinel rose out of the narrow meadow that divided the rocky beach from the trees, keeping the trees and sea forever parted. Two separate worlds living cheek by jowl, but never touching. The rocky formation wore a cap and cape of young trees and dense vines, its uniform as the guardian of the woodland. It was the vanguard of a dying castle and the hidden world it concealed.
Ivy and grasses now covered what had once been raw stone, hewn out of the sides of the cliffs further along the shore. Out of the dense shield of greenery, three windows and the doorway to the main keep looked out over the water, with a dead, empty stare. Light and shadow continued to play across the rippling ways of the bay far below, an endless show for the ghosts who lingered within the walls of the crumbling keep.
Mountain and island alike could come and go like mist upon the land. A massive stone, craved and ancient, rose from the tiny island across the bay, a star at its heart. It stood in the middle tableland of the island circlet, each small step of land slightly higher and larger than the last. The island itself created a sheltered cove within the bay, blocking the winds that ripped across the water.
Across the bay, mirroring the position of its marooned counterpart was a second stone, baring a rose in full bloom, concealed in a niche in the courtyard of the old castle. No one knew how it came to be there or what its purpose was, but those who remembered knew that Dunollie Castle had grown up around that stone. The words inscribed upon its face had never been deciphered. That stone remained, hale and whole while Dunollie, once grand and alive, was fading with time.
The original walls of the castle still stood, following the shoreline and its meadow as it curved inward around the green draped basalt column. At this juncture the narrow meadow widened to a greedy two hundred feet, at least outside the walls of the ruin. Within the walls, it was an entirely different story. Here the land wasn’t limited by stone and sea, it expanded and contracted, reappearing and disappearing without warning. It was the gateway to a forgotten, half cursed world.
The open area that had once been the castle gardens had been left unattended for more than fifty years. Clumps of lilies and other flowers rioted in the sheltered grove at the castle’s base. Oak and holly held their own against the sea winds, but didn’t escape unscathed. All their branches twisted away from the sea, their height eerily uniform. None rose any higher than the hill upon which the keep stood. Those further along in the lee of the hill, following the glen fared better. The oaks that grew here, reach astonishing sizes, unseen in most parts of the world, as if they were feed on the secrets they were keeping.
Only from the shore was this open grove of odd trees visible until one reached the stone clogged entrance of the castle. Its surviving walls rose up on both sides, blocking access from the narrow road that edged the meadow and eventually led to the village. The only structure of Dunollie Castle that remained intact over the ensuing centuries was the little guard tower, a twin in size and shape to its nature made counterpart across the meadow. It was a keeper of the dark deeds done and the fall of Dunollie, its mission a failure.
Twilight was upon the world and across the Bay of Oban. In the silence of the encroaching darkness a strange sight happened every night. Across the bay from the courtyard where the ancient star stone stood, there was a ragged splice in a ridge of stone about as wide as a man. The cleft caught the setting sun between its jutting arms each night, pulling it, little by little toward the star stone that rose before it. Twice each year the sun and the three stones aligned with the fading sunlight, funneling a powerful beam of it deep into the murky heart of the oak grove.
It was whispered that the stones revealed a gateway to a realm of evil spirits and demons that were rumored to inhabit the glade. Creatures came and went through this pass, hidden by the perpetual mists that rose without warning. Legend told of great beasts made of mist, shadow, ice, and fractured star; monsters that not even the Devil himself dared to venture near. These mysterious entities were a breed and a world apart from all that man had ever known. They hunted the stars and frolicked in the icy mists that froze the bones of mortal men.
The stones carved with the star and flower were said to belong to this race of demon killers. It was they, who stained the Carpathians black with the blood of slain demons. It was they, whose songs made the angels weep; it was they, whose name was never spoken aloud for fear they should return. The name all in Oban knew and respected, but never whispered. The stories, although fractured and incomplete continued, passed from one generation to another, but still they didn’t come.
The Clerics kept a sharp ear open for the forbidden word, ruthlessly making an example of any who dared to breathe the name aloud. To do so was said to be a mortal sin and incurred the wrath of the church from which there was no reprieve or pardon. Over the centuries, hundreds of Oban dwellers were charge with witchcraft and heresy because of the tales. They were hanged, drown, and burned at the stake as was the law. Even as the flames lapped at their feet threatening to consume them, the Oakem, as they would come to be known, refused to disavow knowledge of the misty star chasers.
They died with the true name of the creatures on their lips. Every generation, no matter how many died, they would always appear. Always after the setting sun split the darkness of the oak wood. Without fail, the whispers would begin anew. Nothing seemed to be able to scotch the stories, not even death itself. The Oakem came, year after year, carrying tales of the secret glen hidden along the hills of Oban, rich with pastures of sheep and beef cattle, of fields laden with wheat and barley. On clear days these pastures and the heavy, dark forests guarding it could be seen, but there was never any way to reach it.
06-12-2012 11:52 AM
The mist would come as it always did, cloaking the Westlands, mountain, glen, burn and bay. It was then the village folk would lock their doors tight against the fog and the incoming tides. Monsters would slither out of the cover and seize the unwary. Many sheep where lost on these nights when it was well known that the Oakem ventured out in the shadows of their masters. For this reason they were also hunted and condemned. More were hung, every last one from the foremost oak in the grove bordering the cursed land.
Many came to watch them die, but none dared to offer aid, even though they knew the clergy and the law to be corrupt. It was the bishop, who during the siege of Cromwell’s Army, proclaimed that it was the Oakem that had betrayed the MacDougals to the English. It was this breach of trust that led to the sacking of Dunollie Castle in 1647. It was a savage blow to an already fragile way of life that was already under threat from a stony, slow growing cancer.
With the most powerful clan in the glen exiled, the bishop wrested control of Oban, grabbing up lands and defaming the one group that continued to defy his edicts. The Oakem watched from the safety of the grove as generations of speakers faced their deaths knowing they had done their part in keeping the legends alive. But no matter how great the power, no matter how high a group has climbed, there was always someone or something bigger to keep them in check.
Thus it was with the Taboo; as fear among the people grew, the graces of the Taboo began to fade. The family that had held the ghostly glade since the time of the Romans no longer possessed the ability to shift at will. None of the youngsters coming of age possessed the ability to fly with the mists. Lady Anne was the last. They remained tied to the earth and loam that had claimed so much of their blood, so many of those who served them. The Taboo began to fade while the Cathedral of the Claymores continued to grow.
No one knew why the glade dwellers lost their wings, but it struck deep into the hearts of the Oakem and village folk, alike. There was little laughter, fleeting fading smiles, and dwindling hope. Even the waves were subdued, the mists heavy and lingering. The sun seemed too afraid to show its face, dreading what it might reveal with its harsh, brittle light. The entire area seemed to wither, unwilling and unable to reach their full potential.
Not a single Oakem emerged from the glade that year or for twenty-five years after. It was 1585; the year work on the cathedral’s main body was completed. Made of red sandstone and designed to dwarf even Dunollie Castle, it was situated at the trailing north end of the village. From the sea the red stone towers rose out of the mist, dominating the shoreline. Dunollie and the oak grove faded by comparison.
The bishop now had complete control of Oban and much of the surrounding countryside. The witch hunts began anew. As the height of the cathedral rose, the power of the Taboo faded, fracturing completely with the capture and execution of the beloved Lady Anne Miri Moncreiffe in 1585.
There were no more whispers, no more fantastic stories, just a choked and dying way of life at Oban. Still the oak grove and castle remained, but none dared to venture near fearing the wrath of the bishop should they persist with such folly. All eyes were fixed upon the completed church and its growing tower. In the shadows of the trees something finally stirred, shaking off the weight of an unseen shroud. Waves rose with increasing force, threatening the site of the church, but never quiet touching it.
Storms were rampant and savage as waves and rain lashed the countryside that summer. Crops withered, the wind howled like a beast across the moors. The air remained heavy and frozen even through the summer as everyone’s attention focused on completing the cathedral. The elders of the Oban watched the signs, having heard the stories from their own great grandparents, generations before. All this signs were there. Forty-nine times the setting sun pierced the gloom of the oak glade and no one emerged. The summer was ending and the winter nigh when the sun charted its course across the sky once more.
All day long, through the fitful clouds it glowed, a brilliant, bloody beacon in the heavens. Even at midday, at the height of its climb it shone red. The whispers began once more, the elders gathered, knowing what was coming. They called their children home. No work was done on the cathedral that day, much to the bishop’s dismay. He railed and snorted, but no one would touch a tool. They left him to his wrath and as the sun began to set gathered in the shade of forlorned Dunollie.
For more than twenty-five years no one had ventured near the Oakem glade on a Blood Day, but this time there was no avoiding it. Something in the air drew everyone to the grove. A belief buried deep and dormant stirred in their hearts for the first time since the fall of Dunollie. The mist rolled in, boiling across the bay and up the shore, locking the half finished church in an impenetrable blanket and the bishop with it.
The wind rose, howling between the trees and down the stony beaches. The oaks in the glade remained still, seemly waiting with bated breath for the coming of a legend. As the sun reached the cleft in the rocks, the Star and Rose stones ignited, sending a beacon of golden light slicing through the redden atmosphere and violet gloom of the gathering darkness. All of Oban, save the bishop and the sheriff, were present as the golden light found its mark and cleaved the deep shade of the grove in two.
Out of the shadows walked a lady, her eyes liquid gold, with hair as dark as a raven’s wing and skin as white as new fallen snow. In her wake trailed two small children and a golden haired man, standing head and shoulders above the gathered villagers. All three were angelically fair and beautiful, but it was the ebony hair lady, who held their gazes. She was not an Oakem; her features were too perfect, fine and fierce for that. The Oakem were as dense, honest, and strong as their name. These were the ones the Oakem served, guarded.
These were the Taboo, finally looking upon the faces those who had lived within a stone’s throw of their glen for more than four hundred years. These were the souls their kind had been sent to protect from the Dark and others like it. The villagers stared at the small family in disbelief. Otherworldly power swirled about them like a cloak as they moved deeper into the oak grove, the lady at the fore; her young children on either side with her husband bringing up the rear. This was a critical moment, a time of change and passing. If the village turned on them now, it would be the end.
The denizens of Oban were enticed to follow. No force on earth could have stopped them, the curiosity was too great. None but the Oakem had ever breached the confines of the oak wood before and now the village had the permission of the Taboo to enter the realm of the forbidden. Always they had come out, now they were to look upon the fabled lands of the Taboo, a race they had grown to love and fear.
These were the creatures from the stories no one dared to voice aloud, the ones the bishop sought to destroy. Demon killers or demon spawn, none knew the answer. Still they came.
Not a word was spoken as they glided across the autumn grasses. Their audience followed at a respectful distance, not knowing what to expect, whether these soul be guardians or harbingers of death. Slowly the entourage made its way away from the beach, beyond the sight of the road as the massive trees of the ancient grove closed in around them. They followed a faded path that wound between the trees, coiling up and over the hills surrounding Oban. About a mile into the walk a weathered stone wall suddenly erupted out of the withered grass, rising to a height of more than twelve feet. The holly hedges on the far side added another six feet to that.
Everything in the secluded glen, with the exception of the Taboo lady and her young children, seemed to reach monstrous size, even the lady’s golden haired husband. He stood like a shield at her back, guarding her from the villagers trailing in their wake. None drew within his shadow; they kept a respectful distance. They took in the sights of the glen, drinking it up with greedy eyes. Even in the fall of the year, with the leaves stripped bare and the grasses withered to a golden tangle, life was pungent and thick here. The very air seemed to sing. As the lady turned to face the villagers, the music swelled penetrating stone, bone and soul.
She stood before the solid, ivy covered wall eyes burning with an unearthly light. Her voice was soft and lilting, that of a siren made to lure men to their doom. Her words, however, were at odds with the hypnotic sound. They were angry and pain laden, belying the agony they carried.
“We stand here now at the edge of the abyss brought by fate, blood and duty. For generations we have fought to keep these lands out of the hands of the Claymores and others of their ilk, but no longer. Our numbers have been broken, our lines fractured and weak. The songs of our kin, once the lifeblood of this land have failed, note by note, until naught remains.
Your children, like ours die without knowing hope, joy, or laughter; their lives cut short before they even begin. They toil like beasts to break the stones in the quarries and chisel through the bedrock of this peninsula. The Claymores hold them mind, body, and soul, all because you banished our songs and slaughtered the Oakem. You killed out of fear and anger, but you struck at the wrong target. It is a blood oath we have sworn to the stars and sky to protect the innocent from the sway of the Darkness, but our innocents are begin destroyed because of that vow.
We can no longer bear the burden of your fear and doubt, so we are doing the only thing we can. We are leaving you to the fate you have chosen for yourselves. Stripped of wing and song, the stars weep as we have longed to escape, but we are now bound to the ground and our fate, but that fate will be of our choosing, not yours.
The Darkkin and Oakem have stared into the abyss yawning at our feet and we have made our choice. We will shed no more blood for you; we can no longer afford it. We are departing these shores for more accepting climes where our name is still spoken, where our songs still spin, and wings still brush against the sky. We are taking a leap of faith; follow if you will.”
A slightly maniacal laugh escaped her as she turned away from the villagers, gathered the hands of her young children into her own and started to walk straight at the solid wall before her. No one saw the subtle flick of her husband’s lean, elegant hands as he summoned the symphony of earth, splitting the wall, forcing it to open. The lady never turned, never stopped as she moved deeper into the shadow of the walled meadow.
What the people saw beyond the confines of that massive wall would become legend. Craved stones rose out of the short golden grass, row upon row, stretching as far as the eye could see. Silhouetted against the blood tinted sky, mortal eyes were looking upon the final resting place of the Darkkin and the Oakem. These were the markers of the ghost glades’ fallen, the blood that had been spilled needlessly. As they watched the gathering shadows swallowed the lady and her young son, but the younger of the two children stopped, breaking free of her mother’s grasp and raced back across the graveyard, her skirts bouncing around her knees.
Just before she reached the wall her father moved to block her path, gathering her in his arms as he swung away from the villagers. Her eyes were black as night and illuminated from within as she stared at the gathered spectators. It was blatantly clear that this was no human child…This was something else completely.
The child’s voice was quiet and melodic as she pierced the silence. “She will return one day. She will return with wing, song, talon and flame. The golden line fades this night, but silver will rise from the ashes. Silver it began and silver it will end. Scarred and shadowed she will come, her voice heard only by those who know how to listen. She will know how to find the Sliver. She is our Star, our Light, your last Hope. Wing, Morph, Eyes, Star, Flower…” Her words faded into nothingness as her father was swallowed by the shadows.
06-14-2012 02:50 PM
Well, when you write a history you don't mess around, do you . All that italic was messing with my eyes.
There was one, you know, weird thing, that threw me off:
The open area that had once been the castle gardens had been left unattended for more than fifty years.
I think it was "open area" that was throwing me off, but this sentence for some reason was messing up the flow for me. I guess because everything else had so much detail, that the general "open area" seemed out of place. I told you it was weird.
Can't wait until you get published so I finally know how all this stuff goes together!