Here’s the opening excerpt from my new work in progress, Sons of Alba. It’s a sequel to my recently published 3 part saga, Daughters of Alba, so if you haven’t read Daughters, here’s your SPOILER ALERT.
In this scene, Anndrais, the family patriarch, has gathered his family to receive his last blessing, and we are introduced to the three “sons” from the title.
As always, feel free to give me feedback of all kinds, and share your own work too.
As each breath became more difficult, Anndrais mac Eoin thought more carefully about what he would use it for. Pain gripped his chest, his throat, as his body laboured for air. The room was in a fog – shapes moved beyond in the vagueness, becoming more and more corporeal as the forms of his family began to lose their substance. Still, he waited. He would not speak until they were all here.
At last, someone was coming – it was Ruairi, grimly herding young Seumas into the room. Anndrais could only recognize his middle grandson by his fiery red hair. So like his mother, he thought with a smile. It was a shame he would not be there to help to raise him. They would need help. But there was a Help greater than any Anndrais could offer, and Anndrais would be with Him soon.
At the thought, the soft, bright mist seemed to envelop him a little more, and Anndrais felt joy beyond any he had ever experienced in his mortal days. There was a brief temptation to let go and slip into that joy, but no – he had unfinished matters. He took an agonized breath as deeply as he could, clinging to the pain as his only anchor to the flesh.
“Everyone’s here, now, mo leannan,” Ceanna’s voice said somewhere nearby. Anndrais sought her in the mist and found her. Hers was the only clear face in the room – beatifically sweet, smiling, but tearful. She felt the moment as he did – regretting the parting that must soon take place, and yet clinging to their last moment together with thankfulness.
“Ceanna, a bhean, the hearth of my home,” he began, and the room was silent as everyone strained to hear his last words. It took all his strength just to speak them, and between words he slumped in his bed, panting with the effort. “I loved you always, and I love you still.” He felt her squeeze his hand. No more needed to be said between them. She knew.
“Aigneis,” he said, and focused on her face, framed by fair hair so like her mother’s. “Ealasaid,” he found his second daughter’s face, sorrowful and pale amid her dark locks. “Eithne,” his youngest was easy to find with her bright hair. “I am proud of each of you, and what you have become. You are all wonderful mothers, each in your own way. Care for your mother. Raise your sons . . . in the way of the Criosd.”
Then Anndrais turned to his sons-in-law. “Domhnall, you have cared well for Aigneis, and I thank you. Dun Na Cloich Leith will always look to you, and give you fealty in return.” Anndrais gathered strength again. This was the most important part of what he was to say. “But you will be away in Allt Na Cathrach, and the dun needs a chief to lead here. I ask you, Ruairi a’ Gobhann, will you carry on the chieftainship of Dun Na Cloich for my clann?”
There was a shocked silence, then a murmur of approval ran through the room.
“What say you, Ruairi?” Anndrais gasped. The fog was drifting in, again. He must not slip away before he was finished.
“I am not worthy of such an honour, m’athair-ceile,” he said, and Anndrais could hear the emotion thickening his voice.
“You are worthy as my son. Please care for my clann.”
“I will, m’athair-ceile,” Ruairi answered.
“Then from this day, you will be known as Toisiche of Dun Na Cloich Leith, and I will give my fealty to you.”
Anndrais lay panting as he listened to the others congratulating Ruairi. His people would be cared for. Quietly, he beckoned his grandchildren closer, those least in his family. Yet they were the future of his line, the legacy that would last beyond his final breath.
Uilleam came first – he was a strange child, in that he seemed to recognize what other children, and often other adults, did not see. He looked upon death with grief, yes, but an acceptance that surpassed even Ceanna’s peace. Uilleam understood as Anndrais now did, the joy awaiting those who died in the Criosd.
The other children came to the bedside, and Donnchad ensured that Catriona and Muirne had a place in the front where they could see. Anndrais was surprised by the fright in their eyes, especially the little girls. They had seen death before, but never at such close range. Anndrais realized he must look frightening to them, after months of wasting illness. But there was no time to calm fears.
“Caitidh, Muirne, my darlings,” he whispered, smiling at their wide eyes. “Grow in the beauty of the Criosd, as your mother and aunties did.” He looked up at his three grandsons, now at the threshold of manhood.
“Donnchad,” he said to the eldest, “Your life is plotted out for you, so you are blessed in that. Rule always as the Criosd would have you rule – with justice, righteousness, and mercy. Do not rely on the strength of your arm,” he said, and Donnchad laughed nervously – he was already a large-boned boy, like his father, “But the strength of your heart.” Donnchad nodded solemnly, holding onto his little cousins’ hands.
“Seumas,” he said, turning to his redheaded grandson, “I love you dearly, and I think you may become chief after your father. But you have much to learn before you become a man, and your blessing will lie in a steady life, an honourable life. Care for your sisters, and always care for those in need.” Seumas was scowling slightly – it was a habitual expression for him, especially when he was receiving the counsel of his elders.
“Uilleam,” Anndrais said, seeking the wise gaze of his youngest grandson, “You have journeyed the farthest to come home to me, and I am blessed to have met you. I know that nothing can restore to you what you have lost, but God will be your Father always. Care for your mother. God has a destiny for you, and I think it will be a great one.”
Uilleam met his gaze with steady blue eyes, and Anndrais was suddenly reminded of the night, seven years before, when he had stood eye-to-eye with Uilleam’s father. The boy was so like his father in looks, it was uncanny. But there were never two people more unlike. Anndrais found himself drifting again, loose on the current of thought and memory, and Uilleam spoke, breaking his reverie.
“It is time to leave,” he said. He paused to kiss Anndrais’ forehead, and left. The others followed suit, and Anndrais felt his forehead cool from the touch of their soft lips long after they had left the chamber. With tearful embraces, his daughters took their leave of him, one by one. Even his sons-in-law came near to embrace him. And then Anndrais was alone with Ceanna.
She spoke no word, but came to lie on the bed beside him. Her fingers wove in amongst his, and her cheek pressed cool against his forehead. In the quiet, when words became unnecessary, the pain began to ebb. Breathing, essential for talking, was irrelevant now, and Anndrais would take a deep breath after a long pause, wondering how long it had been since his last. Robbed of anything solid to focus on, his eyes roamed on things he might once have called unreal. But he had been wrong. The things he saw were more real than the bed on which he lay, than his wife curled up against him and the tears that rolled into his hair.
Indescribable colours flooded his vision. He longed to share it with Ceanna, but he could not make himself heard. A breath plunged him back into pain – the intervals between were growing longer now. Now he could no longer feel Ceanna beside him, and the soft noise of her breathing grew distant. Oh, yes, breathe. It was shallower now, barely a breath at all. The music, the sweet perfume, the joy . . .