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Authors: Cheryl Gorman

Cursed

BOOK: Cursed
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Cursed

 

by

 

Cheryl Gorman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheryl Gorman

http://www.cherylgorman.com

Copyright © 2012 Cheryl Gorman

 

Cover Art by Rae Monet Designs http://www.raemonet.com

 

All rights reserved. This e-book is not transferable. No
part of this e-book may be reproduced or shared in any form including but not
limited to printing, faxing, e-mailing, photocopying or by any manner of
information retrieval through electronic means or through the postal
service  without the express permission of the publisher. This e-book is a
work of fiction and a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to
any person or persons living or dead, places, incidents, locations or businesses
is purely coincidental.

 

Any infringement of this copyright will be prosecuted.

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

 

Scotland

14 March 564

 

 

Icy fingers of cold air slithered
through the rough planks and wattles of Father Columba’s cell in the monastery
on the island of Iona. Despite his thick woolen cloak and fur coverlet, he
shivered against the wintry draft blowing off the coast of Scotland. The
whispers of monks praying and meditating wafted through the walls and soothed
him on the frigid evening. He’d just returned from vespers and lay down on his
straw-stuffed mattress covering the simple bed frame. He rested his head upon a
stone pillow, the unforgiving surface a reminder of his constant devotion to
God. He fingered the worn wooden prayer beads attached to the rope belt at his
waist as he inhaled the comforting smell of melted wax from the burning candle
beside his bed.

As was the custom for monks, he
slept in full dress. A cross of wood hung on a piece of leather around his neck
and felt boots with no heel covered his feet. He listened to the shuffling of
footsteps moving closer down the hallway outside his cell followed by a soft
knock at the door. With weariness weighing heavily on his shoulders, Father
Columba rose from his bed and folded his hands in front of him, not wishing for
one of the brothers to find him in repose. “Enter.”

Brother Paul, a small man with
pale skin and light hazel eyes, slipped into the cell and walked to his side.
He wore a similar robe about his body and boots upon his feet to protect him
from the cold. “A messenger arrived a moment ago, Father.” His voice was low
and quiet so as not to disturb any of the monks reciting their prayers. “He
insisted he deliver the missive into your own hand. We offered him sustenance
in the refectory while he waits for you.”

Father Columba nodded. Perhaps
the message was a request from a follower of Christ and his teachings to join
them here at the monastery. His heart lifted at the prospect. He and the
brothers needed every good and willing soul they could get to help them convert
from their pagan ways the many heathens of this land. “Take me to him.”

Father Columba and Brother Paul
entered the refectory where the monks took their meals. Their footsteps rustled
softly as they walked over the dried rushes covering the wood floor. The
roughhewn table, though basic in design, was clean and provided ample space for
the monks to sup. An oil lamp in the shape of a small bowl sat on an iron stand
in the center of the table and spread thin light about the room.

The messenger, a man of about six
and twenty dressed in brown woolen breeches and tunic, rose from the table
where he had enjoyed a simple meal of mutton and bread. The man bowed and
kissed the gold ring on the middle finger of Father Columba’s right hand. The
large ring bore the engraved image of a dove, which symbolized Father Columba’s
baptismal name of Colum. The man straightened and held out a small folded piece
of parchment.

Father Columba looked at the
paper and noticed the seal of his family’s royal crest – a shield with an arm
on the right-hand side and a hand grasping a cross. A spurt of uneasiness
rushed through him. He hoped no one in his family had succumbed to illness.
Quickly, he released the wax seal from the missive and held it toward the light
from the oil lamp to read.

Your namesake and my daughter,
Columina, while on her journey to be betrothed to the church in Galloway, was
taken by the Pictish King Brude. I seek your help in thwarting this barbarian’s
treachery. Considering the size of his armies, attacking his stronghold would
be futile and many lives would be lost. King Brude has refused our clan’s
repeated entreaties and offers of gold to release her, but I feel that even he,
a savage and unprincipled man, will listen to you, the abbot of Iona. I beseech
you to make haste to his castle in Inverness and plead for her safe return.

Fedhlimdh of the Clan O’Donnell.

For a moment, the hard spasm of
fear gripped him at what the savage king and his men may have already done to
his cousin, an innocent maid of barely fourteen. Closing his eyes, he made the
sign of the cross and murmured a prayer before turning to Brother Paul standing
at his side. “Ready some supplies. I must leave immediately for Inverness.”

* * * *

 

Many days later, Father Columba
halted his weary mount outside the thick stone walls of King Brude’s castle.
Despite Brother Paul’s insistent pleas to accompany him, he’d traveled alone,
not wishing to endanger Brother Paul’s life should King Brude choose to wield
his sword.

After several days of wet, dismal
weather, the sun’s morning rays peeked through the cloudy sky and cast watery
light upon the gatehouse which consisted of two stone towers.

Wind swirled around his body,
chilling him to the bone and whistled over the choppy surface of the river Ness
at his back. A massive grating of wood and iron shielded the entrance into the
castle’s inner bailey. A heavy chain attached to a bell at the top of the gate
hung down in front, the end rattling in the brisk wind against the framework of
iron.

Father Columba dismounted and
pulled the chain hard twice, ringing the bell. Soon thereafter, a man with
tattoos drawn over his face and chest stared at him through the grating with
beady, black eyes. His hair hung in unruly hanks around his head. His arms and
chest were bare except for the pictures painted over his skin. He wore tartan
breeches and a dagger hung from the leather belt at his waist. Leather boots
secured around the ankle with rope covered his feet. In his right hand, he held
a long pike.

Father Columba had never actually
seen one of the Pictish people up close but he had heard that they painted odd,
primitive pictures on their bodies and wore little clothing even in winter. Now
he knew it was true.

“What is your business here?” His
voice was low, rough and menacing.

Despite the man’s attempt to make
him cower in fear, Father Columba drew strength from his faith in God and his
resolve to free his helpless cousin. “I am the abbot of Iona.” He was thankful
his voice did not waver. He was thankful he had God on his side. He was
thankful he had survived the journey. “I have traveled far seeking King Brude.
I wish to speak to him about the Christian maiden he holds in his keep.”

“Wait here.” With a grunt, the
man turned and disappeared into the inner bailey.

Father Columba waited in the cold
wind until finally the man returned. “The king will see you tomorrow. You can
stay in the village.” He motioned toward the cluster of huts where the
villagers sought refuge and protection by making their home near the castle
walls.

“I must see him today.”

The man ignored his firm request
and turned abruptly to go.

Father Columba removed the wooden cross which
hung from his neck. Neither this savage nor his barbaric king would ignore him,
a faithful follower of Christ. He gripped the cross in his hand and held it out
toward the door. Closing his eyes, he whispered a prayer. The gate groaned and
creaked before it flew open with a deafening crash.

The guard who had just spoken to
him whirled on his leather-booted feet. With a loud, guttural cry, the man
raised the pike above his head and charged.

Despite fear for his life, Father
Columba stood his ground. He raised the cross once more in the direction of the
swiftly advancing guard. Suddenly, the man stopped as if encountering a wall
and abruptly dropped the pike. He screamed in pain, lifted his right hand and
stared in disbelief at his palm. The imprint of the pike’s hilt had been burned
into his flesh.

Father Columba looked at the man.
“Take me to King Brude. I
will
see him --
now
.” He replaced the
cross around his neck while the guard watched him in silence.

Muttering to himself, the guard
led him across the inner bailey and into the great hall.

Father Columba entered the massive
room behind the guard, who motioned for him to wait.

The guard crossed the large hall
containing rows of stone pillars supporting a wood roof. At one end, away from
intruders and drafts, a dais of wood stood. A brute of a man sat in a large
chair on the dais. The guard spoke to the man who Father Columba assumed was
the king.

After a moment, the guard
returned. “King Brude will speak to you…before he runs you through.”  The
man smiled with uneven, stained teeth.

Father Columba ignored the
guard’s warning and walked toward the dais. When he was a few feet away, he saw
his cousin, Columina lying motionless at the feet of the Pictish king. His
heart caught in his throat knotted in love and pity at the sight of her. Her
hair lay in tangles about her shoulders and bruises mottled her skin. She was
no longer dressed as a maiden meant for the church but as a common harlot with
her legs and feet bare, the bodice of her gown ripped to reveal the gentle
curve of a young girl’s breast. When her hollow and despair-filled gaze
connected with his, Father Columba’s heart wept bitter tears for her but his
eyes remained dry. He must be strong. He must be fearless. He must be resolute
if he intended to save her.

King Brude motioned for him to
step forward. “What do you seek, Abbot of Iona?” He asked the question in a
bored tone.

Father Columba straightened his
shoulders and inhaled a deep breath before he spoke. His next words would be
some of the most important he ever uttered. “I ask in the name of God that you
let this maiden go, for she is meant for the church.”

The king, his skin painted with
odd symbols and markings, his tawny hair hanging in thick, unkempt ropes about
his face, curled his lips back in a fierce grin. His sparkling blue eyes stared
at Father Columba like those of a predator in a forest. Suddenly, he roared
with laughter. “You are too late, Abbot of Iona,” he scoffed. His shoulders
shook with mirth once more. “She is no longer a maid!”  He yelled the
words on a burst of laughter. The unkempt ruffian shoved his big hand inside
the torn bodice of Columina’s gown, withdrawing her breast and squeezing it
hard like a melon. Columina screamed and tried to pull away but he rewarded her
efforts by grabbing between her legs and giving her a rough kiss. Afterward,
Columina slumped to the floor, her golden locks falling like a curtain over her
face, her head lowered in shame.

Since hearing of his cousin’s
plight, Father Columba had done everything within himself to curb his anger,
but he could not allow this barbarous man to continue to brutalize his cousin.
The king had defiled her; he had taken the innocence preserved for God and the
church. This could not be borne. With rage pouring through him in a hot,
vicious torrent, Father Columba stepped forward. “King Brude, will you free
her?”

“She is mine.” He growled the
words like a wild animal.

Until this day, Father Columba had never
purposely used his spiritual powers to harm anyone, but he had no choice. He
must save his cousin from the clutches of this savage king. He removed the
cross once more from around his neck and held it out toward the king. “In the
name of all that is holy, I curse you, King Brude, to immediately endure a slow
and painful death.”

BOOK: Cursed
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