2 July 2016

Scene 3 – The monastery

Donnchadh had spent three nights on the road, carefully hiding in forests at night.  He hadn’t slept well and both he and his horse were tired.   At last he could see the monastery at the top of a nearby mountain. He rode to the mountain and dismounted.

The colour of sandstone, the mountain pass to the monastery was narrow and uneven.  Occasionally a rock would fall away, over the side of the pass and echo it’s way as it plummeted far below.  It was designed for smaller men with mules and was designed to keep out bandits and marauding armies.  Donnchadh continued to make his way by counting each step. It was his way of paying full attention, a method he had learned from the druids. These are a careful people, thought Donnchadh and felt a sense of familiarity wash over him.

The path lead from the mountain side  into the mountain itself, both sides were cut into the rock, at the end of which was a large wooden door which had been framed with iron.  Above him on each side was a clearing.  Behind the door ascended further up into the mountain. Donnchadh pounded at the door.

“Who are you stranger?” asked a man from behind.  “Have you come to rob us?”

The language was getting more difficult with each passing day.

“I don’t understand,” answered Donnchadh, thinking he could make out the words, but then feeling unsure.

The man at the gate asked again changing the inflection and word order, this time Donnchadh did understand.

“My name is Donnchadh and I need somewhere to stay, to rest my horse.”  Donnchadh wasn’t sure why he had come here.

“Go away,” said the man at the gate.

“I need to come in.”

There was silence.  Donnchadh waited patiently for maybe 15 minutes.  He pounded again. Still there was no response.  Shortly another man joined the man at the gate.  Donnchadh could hear them talk, but could no longer make out the words.  It was a strange language, almost like they were singing to each other on the one hand, and like they were growling on the other. Then there seemed to be an agreement.

“Where are you from?” asked the first man in the language resembling Donnchadh’s.

“The West.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m travelling to see the pope.”

There was laughter from behind the door.  It was hard for Donnchadh to tell whether the two men were arguing or bickering.

“There’s no pope here,” Donnchadh heard an amused voice reply.

“This is a Christian place?” enquired Donnchadh.

“Why would a celt bother with a pope?”

Donnchadh  needed somewhere to stay. The truth, thought Donnchadh.

“I want to learn about Christianity,” Donnchadh replied, which he did.  He was worried about it now.

A person dressed in a brown habit appeared in the clearing above him, watching. Donnchadh hadn’t seen anyone dress like this before. It was very different from how druids dressed and very different from even the common folk of his land.   It was clear that this person was communicating with the two people behind the door.

“Then put your arms down and come in, but as I said there’s no pope here,” said the voice  behind the door.

Donnchadh took out his knife, and put it down with his sword several feet away from the door then approached and knocked.

The person above signalled that it was acceptable to open the door.  The door opened and the person, dressed identically as the man above, beckoned for Donnchadh to follow him.

“I am Martinus,” he said. “You will be safe here. We will put your arms in safe keeping until you leave, Donnchadh.”

Donnchadh followed him up the roughly hewn steps. Ahead of him Donnchadh could see the buildings more clearly now. They were made of sand coloured brick. Along the path grew herbs and flowers.

“How long will you stay?” asked Martinus.

“One night.”

Martinus couldn’t help let out a laugh.  “You’re going to learn about Christianity in a night? How will you even speak to the pope. Did you hear us speaking at the door?”

“Yes,” answered Donnchadh.

“That’s his language. And in the papal city, no one speaks yours.”

“How long will it take?”

“To learn Latin or about Christianity? Come with me.”

Martinus lead Donnchadh into the main building.  The corridor was dark but the mountain air seemed to keep it dry. When they reached the end of the corridor they went up a flight of wooden stairs to a room where the walls were lined with books, leather bound books.

“This is called a library,” said Martinus, “where we store books. Have you heard of books?” Martinus pulled out a book.  He showed Donnchadh pages in the book with words and painted margins.

“Like your tattoos,” said Martinus.

“We have no need for books.”

“And I have no need for tattoos.”

“How will you talk to the pope, and what will you talk to him about?” asked Martinus who continued,

“Unfortunately, you have a need for books now. So, how long can you stay.”

“We don’t have time,” said Donnchadh.

“We have time.”

Martinus walked to the window and pointed down into the ravine below.  “We pulled each brick up here into place with ropes and pulleys.  It took 22 years to lift each brick and 22 days to build the monastery.”

Donnchadh paused to think.  It has taken me almost a week to get this far maybe a day or two won’t matter.

“How long?” asked Donnchadh.

“If you stay here a week and practice day and night.”

“I don’t have a week.”

“You don’t not have a week.”

“Let’s begin now,” said Donnchadh

Martinus closed his eyes, pressed his palms in prayer and looked towards the cross that was on the wall.

“Our father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

“They kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” continued Martinus.

Donnchadh was suddenly alert.  He turned towards Martinus.

“What does this mean?”

“It means that we believe that the whole world will become Christian.”

I wonder, asked Martinus to himself. Does this mean that the armies on our border are going to start a holy war?  A war with Gaul?

“Are all Christians at war,” asked Donnchadh

  “At war with each other, at war with themselves, at war with other Christians. We all interpret it differently.”

“So why are you hidden away up here and not fighting?”

“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand victories.”

Now Donnchadh understood, or at least he thought that he did and it became even more urgent to get to the pope.

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2 July 2016

Scene 2 – The Ride

Donnchadh rode  through town and village. It took him three days to reach the border.  Like his clothes, the horses  were plain but they had stamina and speed  Donnchadh could have been any traveller, except that he carried the seal of Secretary of State.   

Although Donnchadh had never crossed the border before, his spies had given the mapmakers enough information and detail to make the journey.  The Christians were good map makers.   They had learned that from the Muslims.  The journey would take two weeks, but even on the first night in the new land he was to find everyone a stranger. He passed over the border without being noticed.  He passed through each village until night fall when he needed to find lodgings and somewhere to rest his horse.

The inn was a wooden building on the street.  Roman stone buildings hadn’t made it this far West   Donnchadh walked through the main entrance which lead directly to the tavern.  A smell of ash and stale nettle beer permeated the air.

The crowd hushed to a quiet din when Donnchadh entered.  These were a darker complexioned people. Their manner was boisterous, but he was tall to them, almost a giant.

“Shouldn’t you be out with the horses,” a voice shouted from the din.  

Donnchadh ignored it and approached the bar and waited his turn.  It took some time for the inn keeper to get to him. 

“Can I have a room,” asked Donnchadh.

“You don’t want a drink first?”

At first appearance, the inn keeper was dressed simply enough:- trousers well worn, but well kept, a tunic, and a red waistband.  His hair was neat and short.  This was a proud man.  Donnchadh then noticed the accessories, a thick gold ring on his middle finger, a copper arm band.  It was a display that his people wouldn’t tolerate – a desire for more. But then the inn keeper and all the people in the inn lacked tattoos and facial hair.  The people in the bar were either fully bearded or clean shaven.  Donnchadh felt a stranger here.

“You not be from here,” said the inn keeper as he looked up and studied Donnchadh curiously.

It was a struggle for Donnchadh to understand this inn keeper.  After only one days ride across the border, the language had become difficult.   

“I’m from the North West.”

“That you be. I heard they not travel much. What you doing here then?” The inn keeper was neither friendly nor hostile.

Donnchadh knew though that word would get out, so felt it best to be as honest as possible. The pope would know of his arrival.

“I’m to see the papal city” was as honest as he could be.

“There be only one God,” replied the inn keeper.

Iomara’s people worshipped many gods, not even gods, they were more like nature spirits.  And it wasn’t so much worship it was a sense that they needed to work with them.  The inn keeper was challenging Donnchadh.

These southerners are fanatics Donnchadh thought.  They may have only one god, but this is not a simple religion.  Donnchadh was filled with doubt.  He wondered how his people could convert to this level of intensity, this disconnection from the land.

“How much for a room by myself?” Donnchadh enquired.

“Five silver pieces.”

“And to feed the horse?”

“One.”

Donnchadh pressed ten  coins towards the inn keeper, telling him to keep the change.  The inn keeper  beckoned for Donnchadh to follow him.  He lead him up a short wooden stairway to his room.  The room was simple, a straw mattress thrown on a wooden floor, a shuttered window, bare walls and a small table.   

Donnchadh opened the shutters. The night was cool.  He pulled the mattress away from the door to the opposite side of the room, and moved the table beside the bed.  He lay down with his sword by his side and a knife easily accessible from his tunic and fell half asleep – easily.  Donnchadh wasn’t expecting trouble, but he was a warrior.

Hours later and still only half asleep, Donnchadh heard a creak of the door.  Soft, but heavy foot steps entered the room.  Donnchadh counted four feet.   He stood up quietly and edged himself against the wall.  A knife was thrown at where the bed was and went straight into the floor.  Thieves thought Donnchadh.  Murdering thieves.  Donnchadh threw his knife to where he sensed a body.  There was a scream and the body fell to the floor. Donnchadh drew his sword and spun it in a circle protecting him, feeling where it might engage.  At the end of the circle was the sound of steel upon steel.  The feeling told Donnchadh that the other body was directly in front of him.  He could feel its weight shifting.  Donnchadh slid down to the floor.  Then from the floor he jumped suddenly sword thrusting up.  The air was empty.  The sound of his landing revealed his position.  He swung his sword in a circle once more.  Once again steel upon steel. This is no thief, thought Donnchadh.

The sword pulled away, then Donnchadh threw his body into the direction of the swordsman.  The swordsman crashed against the wall. Just as quickly Donnchadh pulled a knife and thrust it into the muscled stomach.  That’s both of them thought Donnchadh.

The door opened and a light streamed into the room.  He could see more men coming.  Donnchadh ran across the room and leapt through the open window onto the damp ground below.  He had to get his horse.  A shout came through the window.

“We will find you.”

Donnchadh ran down the middle of the brick street and around to the inn’s stable.  It was quiet.  He slipped in.  He could see a door.  Will I chance it, he thought to himself.  Donnchadh found his horses stall.  He calmed his breathing.  Then a hand was on his shoulder.  Donnchadh didn’t move.  He could tell from the pressure what would happen next, and the pressure was friendly.

“I thought you‘d be back.”

“Best you sleep here tonight. They’re still waiting for you inside,” whispered the voice from behind. “I will find you some extra straw. You’ll be safe, god willing.”  It was the inn keeper. “Then at first light you need take your horse and leave. These people fear you and your people.  They want you dead. Don’t go into a town. Go to a monastery. You need help.”

Donnchadh turned to face the inn keeper.  He held a knife in his hand – unthreateningly.

“I think this is yours and probably want it back.”

It was a gallic knife, but it wasn’t his.  Donnchadh took the knife anyway and gave the inn keeper a gold coin for his troubles.

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2 July 2016

Scene 1 – The Council

The Celtic people had realised with Vercingetorix’s victory that they would need to unite under a single leader.  Iomara, centuries later, lead a confederation of tribes, each chief ruled their own area autonomously, but paid taxes and gave warriors to support Iomarra’s army and administration.  The druids too contributed representatives to the Iomaran government, a government of consensus except in matters of security, in which Iomara truly was queen.  This system of government was birthed by Vercingetorix and continuously refined.  It gave the Gauls the ability to defend themselves against the Roman Empire.

The council chamber was a single roomed building, a stone rotunda placed on top of a small hill and surrounded by luscious, green fields.  The chamber housed the council table and chairs and enough room for two or three people to pace in.  Wooden shutters could be drawn closed or opened depending on the season.  Today was a warm summer’s day, so the shutters were open letting in the day, the warmth and an easy light.  Around the rotunda stood the queen’s personal guards. The room itself was reserved solely for the privy council.

Each person here was either a druid or a prince and a warrior, whether male or female.  They came as equals, with Queen Iomara being first among them.  The room turned expectantly towards Donnchadh.  Donnchadh had called this special meeting to discuss recent events.  Even the queen had heard the whispers.

Donnchadh stared at the table in front of him – wooden and at first glance unornamented. If one looked more closely a subtle and exquisite carving that told tales of their people and their gods could be seen.  History could be read at this table, history and an affirmation of the people.  Around the table the queen’s advisors, her privy council,  sat silently, waiting for Donnchadh to speak. The usual jollity had given way to whispers of an awful purpose.

Donnchadh stood up from his chair and faced the queen.  He was wearing simple clothes, the common folk dressed more brightly than him.  Queen Iomara had ordered that her privy council dress this way.  They were servants to her and to her people she had insisted.  It made Donnchadh feel anonymous, and often unimportant.  He was tall, with rippling muscles under clear, almost translucent skin. His thick hair was pulled back from his forehead and braided and had obviously been recently bleached. Except for a broad moustache, which too had been bleached, he was clean shaven. Donnchadh knew that Queen Iomara could see the bead of sweat upon his brow.   He wanted to wring his hands, but resisted the urge.  This was a truth that had to be told and he didn’t want fear to get in the way.

As Donnchadh went to speak he remembered the rumours of Iomara.  “The Queen had a man skinned alive”.  “She can’t feel pain.”  “She has a wand that strikes a man dead.” They were the whispers in the streets. Donnchadh had never witnessed any of this, but he dared not put them aside. He wondered how she’d take this news.

Iomara with wasit length golden hair  was also dressed in brown, like the table had been carved, a very careful, detailed stitching that had taken the embroiderers months of dedicated artistry paneled her clothes. On one side were images of the celtic war gods, Andarta, Agrona and Andraste and on the other the protective goddesses,  Damara, Erecura and Sirona; success in war  contrasted with fertility and the well being of the land and people, brown stitching upon brown fabric to be revealed by a careful eye.

Donnchadh clenched his fists to sure himself, he straightened up and composed himself once more.  This isn’t about me, he thought.  Matrona, divine mother goddess , protect me. Matrona protect us all.

“The kingdom is under danger of attack from the South,”  started Donnchadh.

The silent chamber turned to face Iomara, her hair golden and waist length.   Iomara was expressionless. She turned towards her spymaster, Bran, for a look, a sign.  Bran, looked to Donnchadh.

“How do you know?”  she asked in her harsh voice and returning her gaze to Donnchadh.

Donnchadh responded.  “First we heard rumours, then Bran’s spies saw battalions gathering only miles from our borders.”

“Is this troublesome? Perhaps they fear us attacking them? Perhaps they fear me?”

Bran as his ancestors before had spread rumours through the nearby kingdoms of Iomara’s witchcraft, rumours of human sacrifice and rumours of an evil people. Generation after generation of queen held the same name so that people, especially foreigners were lead to believe that Iomara was the same person. It created an awe of the land and it’s people.  Night time ceremonies were often held with ghaulish cries sounding out from the forests across the valleys.  Foreigners were afraid to come and those that did left in a hurry.

“We are a lone kingdom, the religion of the Southerners and Easterners acts to resist our rumours and now new alliances are needed.  Word is that they fear us, but not enough.”

Iomara was cool as she responded. “And how do you propose we form such alliances? We are a simple people and no spare lands to offer. They already buy all of our wine.”

“Marriage, your majesty, is the most obvious way.”

Iomara pounded the table and stood facing Donnchadh squarely.  She had a harsh voice, and now it was almost furious.  “You know I will not marry. I cannot marry.”

“Then perhaps the people should adopt Christianity, your majesty?” Donnchadh was nervous.  Perhaps I am pushing things too far, he thought, but something must be done.

“Our simple religion serves our people well.  Christianity ruins a people.  It turns them into fanatics.  It creates wanting and desires and the urge to conquer other nations, raping and looting where marauding armies go.”  Iomara was strong in her beliefs.  Bran nodded in agreement.

“This pope, I have heard, is not a religious man but a manipulator. Is that true, Bran?”

“It is true,” answered Bran.

Donnchadh felt in an impossible situation.  “Then what does our queen propose?” Donnchadh asked.

“Go and talk to these Christian’s high priest and see what we can arrange with him.”

“We have nothing to bargain with.  What can I possibly offer?”

“Nothing, just begin the discussion. Let him know that we are willingly to talk.  Hopefully that will buy us time.”

“Bran knows the foreigners far better than me.  Perhaps he should go, dear Queen.”

“You are my first in council, Donnchadh.  You understand my purposes and goals better than anyone here.  Is everyone here in agreement?”

The room nodded as one.   

“Then go!”

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