My mythical story is based on St. Patrick’s Isle, a tidal island off the west coast of the Isle of Man, where the remnants of the Vikings and Celts can still be seen to this day behind the crumbling walls of a castle.
Manannán mac Lir (“son of the sea”) was repairing an inner circular fortress wall when he noticed dark funnel clouds had silently filled the sky. He placed his chisel down and stretched up to his full height of six foot six godliness and danger. Flexing his cramped fingers, he paused for a moment. His ice-blue eyes admiringly darted over the ongoing construction by his men on the mist-veiled Isle, surrounded by an unforgiving sea.
An inner and outer bailey with stone curtain walls and bonded by a liquid mortar extended to the north-west. Stones were gathered from a local beach to build a prominent tower, chambers, and two magnificent gatehouses for keeping watch and strengthening the southern wall. A carved wooden dragon hung above the entrance arch to ward off invaders and act as a symbol of the Viking’s pagan religion, and to project power and prowess. The same dragon’s head was carved elegantly on the prow of each long-ship, as well as the handles of the oars that rested in the windswept sand safely on the shore.
There was one section on the Isle that included a monastery, which Manannán firmly ordered his men to leave untouched. The monastery acted as its own entity, and unlike the rest of the majestic fortress it took on an air of rot while casting its shadow over the hill. Manannán had plans to demolish the monastery for he believed in many Gods – Odin, Thor, and Frey – but something prevented him, a strange aura, a prickling feeling. The monastery was constructed by monks who were considered to be the original inhabitants on the Isle, which lay off the rocky spur of the mainland. Though on the day Manannán and his men docked their long-ships, the monks were nowhere to be seen. Alcohol was intact and personal belongings were undisturbed.
The local folk inhabiting the mainland, when questioned, said they were unsure of when the monks vanished, but they were never seen or heard from again. Some believed there was murder and foul play at stake, others whispered about supernatural forces, but the more logical village folk said the monks fled down secret passages they had dug under the monastery fearing the Viking invasion.
Manannán brushed aside the local gossip for he had travelled across the turbulent seas from Norway in search of land and riches. Captivated by the Isle’s isolation, central location and rich fertile soil, he made it his conquest and settlement. He immediately ordered his men to carve their stories, legends and myths in stone. But unbeknownst to Manannán, one Viking warrior was disobeying orders and exploring the sacred ground…
The quiet inside the mossy-stone monastery walls was so thick Halvar could almost touch it, and he whispered, as if in an alien land – “Bless our Isle, bless us and our boats, and bless the living and the dead in the boats.”
Halvar’s emerald-green eyes then narrowed as he noticed an object mirroring the sunlight near a wooden pew. Taking a closer look, with his large feet slapping the stone slabs like wind-driven rain, he suddenly stopped in mid-stride. A dagger with bloody fingerprints on the handle and droplets of blood on the blade lay enshrouded in the dust. Halvar’s eyes widened and his ivory skin dampened as he followed the crimson flecks speckled on the floor to an oddly shaped wall that jutted out to one side.
Feeling a presence, he yelled, “Come out from there!”
The deathly silence remained intact. He then moved with caution, edging his rugged frame around the corner where he was greeted by layers of wooden planks nailed to a wall. Carefully grasping the corners of wood with his muscular hands, Halvar placed one leather-clad foot on the wall, and sucking in a deep breath of air as if it were soup yanked the nailed planks with all his strength. Rusted nails bounced against the moss-covered stones shattering into a cluster of auburn-dust on the ground. The heavy planks burst from their frame and knocked him over. Choking for air while pushing aside the lumber, he attempted to rise but fell back like a heavy sack of potatoes and then passed out on the damp stone slabs.
“Halvar,” the wind howled his name.
“Halvar,” there it was again.
“Halvar – Get up!” Startled, Halvar blinked open his eyes. He had no recollection of how long he had been out, but the smell was inescapable – a funk that clouded the air – permeating the walls, his fiery-coloured braided beard and hair, and his thin woolen clothes. He tried to fan it away, but the cloying oily entity melding rot and despair tattooed his skin.
Shuffling over to the passage he noticed something move deep inside. “Show yourself!” bellowed Halvar. His vision was cloudy, but there was no denying the glint of two black eyes in ill-shaped sockets peering at him from the shadows. Slowly Halvar pulled his body inside towards –
There was a beat of silence. They stared at each other in the dark with an intensity that cut right through the space between them, before the maniacal laughter began. Halvar’s face went ghastly white and twisted with terror as his vision adjusted.
Transparent skin hung like melted wax. Thin, cracked, curved-up lips revealed rotten teeth and blood flowed everywhere. In his delirium, Halvar tried to raise himself with one heavily-built arm pinned beneath a heaving chest, while the other shoved at the slippery floor, but his body felt too weak.
“I’ve been waiting,” hissed the hooded figure from the shadows. A rosary hung around protruding bones – a mockery. A woollen brown tunic tied with a leather belt covered a deathly-white body and thin silver hair coiled down to the waist.
Halvar heard the blood rushing to his ears and his head pounded. Thrusting his arms into the air he pulled at anything that could support his weight and his escape. He knew that if he stopped moving the dark creature would catch up and the passage would become his coffin. The thought of an unceremonious death was a burden a Viking did not want to carry. Shaking the image from his thoughts and crawling out into the monastery, Halvar remembered the dagger. Using his remaining strength Halvar lunged towards the pew, but slick with blood the blade slipped twice from his grasp.
Outside the wind was blowing ice-cold air from the sea reminding Manannán that winter was approaching. He watched the gulls resting on the green water as if they were asleep, until a muffled shriek awoke the silence. The noise emanated from the hill where the monastery was perched. Manannán snapped into action fearing invasion and gathered his men by his side. They marched up the hill and burst through the wooden doors of the sacred ominous building.
“Who’s there?” Manannán ringed down the aisle and into the chambers. No reply. His warriors followed pursuit, before a maniacal laugh began to crescendo down the corridors and engulf them.
“We’re trapped,” whistled one warrior clenching his sword and ready to fight, as something shuffled from behind. Turning on his heels and nudging the other warriors, they widened their eyes to adjust as the remaining light was engulfed by a hovering hooded figure. Its darkness went deeper than physical and the warriors courageously drew their swords and raised their rounded shields.
Dark clouds encapsulated the sun as the English started to line their boats on the windswept shore of an enchanted looking mist-veiled Isle. Ordered by King Alfred to conquer as much land held by the Vikings as possible while also converting these heathens to Christianity, the fortress they stumble upon appears empty. Searching the grounds, the Vikings are nowhere to be seen. Alcohol is intact, personal belongings are undisturbed, and their long-boats rest silently on the shore.
Local folk inhabiting the mainland, when questioned, say they are unsure of when the Vikings vanished. Some believe murder and foul play is at stake, others whisper about supernatural forces, and the most logical village folk believe the Vikings left after finding the Isle’s soil unfit to farm while leaving belongings behind as a poignant warning to others of their stake. But one mysterious outcast from the village claims to have witnessed it all —
In the shadows of a cave overlooking the Isle, a hooded figure in a woollen brown tunic stirs the embers of a crackling fire. The flames dance around black eyes in ill-shaped sockets and highlight deep-set lines of transparent skin that hangs like melted wax.
Standing his ground, a brave young English soldier steps into the ominous airy cave and points with his long chiseled arm to the spur of land across the sea while demanding the hooded figure speak-up and explain.
“You there – tell me what happened to the inhabitants on this Isle?”
“If I tell you,” hissed a muffled voice under a protruding hood. “Then you must promise me…” Continued the figure as it started to rise, “You will never tell a living soul.” Thin, cracked lips curve to reveal a set of rotten teeth and the flames between them grow with intensity, leaping, devouring the air.
The soldier, edging further back while trying to make sense of what he sees, breathes out with a frail almost whisper – “I promise.”
There’s an inexplicable sound and the flames emitting black smoke, engulfing the cave, burning wood, poof out – and the soldier never told a soul.