Born of Fire - Kella McKinnon

A bedtime story…

“Once upon a time, there was a King, and his name was Bridei. He was very powerful and very wise, and he was about to lead his people into a battle that would either win them their freedom, or destroy their way of life forever.”

The little girl hugged her stuffed bear tighter, her eyes lighting up with anticipation. “But he won the battle, right Gramma?”

Her grandmother smiled. “Aye, he did. Because he knew that if he had lost, the Picts would be swallowed up by the invaders, and that eventually, everything that made them special would be lost forever.”

“How did he know that?” She tried, and failed, to stifle a yawn.

“Because that’s what happens, when people lose a battle, and someone else takes over their lands. So he did something no one had ever done before, just to be safe. He gave one family all of the knowledge of the Picts, and told them to keep it safe forever, no matter what happened. No matter how much time passed.”

“And they did?” She already knew the answer.

“Yes, to this day. And that is why we speak our secret language that no one else knows, Nessa.”

“But he won the battle. Tell me about the torches.” The little girl yawned again, and her grandmother gently tucked the blanket higher around her chin. For a moment she felt…not quite a sense of déjà vu, but more like a strange quickening of fate. It was not the first time she had felt this way when looking at her small granddaughter.

“Yes, the Picts were waiting when King Ecgfrith marched north to Dunnichen Hill to put down the rebellion. Some of them pretended to run away, and when Ecgfrith went after them, the rest came out of hiding. They won of course, and after the battle, they went looking for the men who had fallen, because it was a great honor to die in battle, and they would have a special celebration for those that lost their lives that day.”

“And they had torches,” the girl mumbled sleepily, her eyes growing visibly heavier.

“Yes, they searched well into the night to make sure they had found every last man, and because there was such violence and emotion there that day, they say that even the hill itself remembers it.”

“Like ghosts.”

Her grandmother nodded. “Kind of. Maybe like the ghost of a moment in time. Places, and even things, can hold memories, like a photograph or a video. Even today, when the night is just right, you can see the torches moving about Dunnichen Hill in the darkness, as the ancient Picts search for the bodies of their dead.”

“I want to see them.”

“Maybe someday you will Nessa dear, but now it’s late and time for sleep.”

Orkney Islands 682 AD

Bridei, King of the Picts, stood tall at the stern of one of the largest boats in his fleet, watching the distant strip of land grow larger. All of his attempts at diplomacy had long since failed, and now his heart pounded in anticipation of the impending battle. The people of Orkney would know by now of their arrival, and would be preparing their weapons, hiding their treasures, and secreting away their women and children. But they didn’t stand a chance against the five thousand men he had brought with him, all trained with the sword and the axe, and all prepared to die for Pictland…and for him.

Their clothing was torn and spattered with dirt and blood when they finally sailed away that night. The fires they’d left in their wake were still visible, glowing orange and red against the pitch black of the sky.

They had destroyed everything in sight.

It would be a very long time before the Chieftains of Orkney were again a threat, and those that had lived had pledged their oath to him as their King, as they should.

They camped that night on the shore of the mainland, and if he had expected dreams of fire and blood-soaked swords and the screams of dying men to haunt him, Bridei would have been greatly mistaken. He woke with a start, and the woman he had been reaching for in his dream vanished like a mist. He hadn’t seen her face, but she had felt perfect in his arms, and his cock was hard and aching as if he’d been about to take her in the dream. Such a pity he’d woken too soon. For a brief moment he thought he could still smell her, a soft, feminine scent that had