CILLIAN & AOIFE
1500 – The White Goat Tavern, Edinburgh, Scotland
Three hours past midnight, the streets of Edinburgh are all but deserted. The only ones about are those who don’t want to be seen on the streets in the light of day but instead choose to stay to the shadows of the back alleys at night.
Not wanting tongues to wag, and to save the sensibilities of those in the castle who know not where their mate is, I don’t bother with a coach to bring me to a place I hate to venture to. So, I walk the distance from the Castle on the Rock alone and keep my sword in plain view, lest some unsavory cad think I am easy pickings.
I walk along the dockside, and then I turn down an alley off Roseland Street, located in the part of Edinburgh that would put Pigalle in France to shame. This part of the city is littered with ladies of the evening in almost every doorway or sitting high on a balcony, half-clothed, showing their wares despite the garbage in the streets and drunkards littering the stoops.
The smells of rotten meat, piss, and human waste come from the sewers that run right in the middle of the street. I use the sleeve of my overcoat to try to keep out the foul smells of the underbelly of Edinburgh in the summer night’s heat.
The messenger was sent to me in the palace with an urgent message, one I could not ignore. I wished I could, but the sender of the message is not a figure to be dismissed.
I have long since regretted my association with this unscrupulous figure, but certain I am in duty to his father, the king of Scotland, and I cannot ignore a command from the king to bring home his wayward son.
Certain vices that his son are prone to came to the surface months ago, and this son has chosen to enjoy these weaknesses, no matter what they do to his family and lineage. Unfortunately for me, I have been sent to bring him back by force, if necessary.
I come to my destination and look at the wording on the door: “The White Goat,” a tavern frequented by thieves, ladies of the evening, and drunkards. What shall I say about my charge? His position, even if he was born on the wrong side of the blanket, is out of place in a place like this, but it’s not unlike his character to frequent such an establishment.
Made of red brick, the building looks as if it hasn’t ever seen better days. With a dirt floor and misplaced bricks, leaving large gaps in the walls with holes, this place is not a tavern but a hovel.
“A Scots penny, govnae?” a harsh-looking woman asks, standing just inside the tavern by the door as I walk in.
I reach into my overcoat and pull out a coin, I know not what kind. “Aye,” I say sternly and give it to her.
I stand by the door and wait until my eyes get accustomed to the dim lighting; my ears, the crude loud noise; and my nose, the smell of unwashed bodies.
I press my arm again over my nose as I try to blot out the stench of this place. Of all my years in battle, this tavern and battlegrounds are the worse places I have ever been.
The inside is no bigger than a small barn, with broken tables scattered about, somehow still standing upright with one or two legs; benches that are either being used to sit on, are turned over on the floor; broken pieces of wood on the dirt floor, possibly from a recent brawl; and candles placed on the rafters that have dripped wax down onto the dirt floor and tables.
One table in the corner has a lone candle on it, and in the flame’s flickering light, I see my charge, so I make my way in the direction of his table. It seems, in this place, a bow to formalities and status is out of sorts; so, I just stand across from him at the table, staring down at him.
Just as I stand here, a doxy woman comes over, puts his drink on the table, and sits on his lap to give him a sloppy kiss. Wanting to get this over with, I say, “John.”
As always, whenever I have to return him to his father, I retrieve him from a place like this, and he likes to show what authority he thinks he may have and make me wait.
My overindulged peer is preoccupied now. No stranger to his ways, and no longer uncomfortable witnessing such acts from him, I look away, preferring not to watch his gluttony, and say a silent prayer to God.
For weeks now, I have had to endure chasing after him as a favor to his father. A favor that has me regularly escorting him back to the palace from whatever hovel he chooses and a service-type bondage to him for my service to the king.
“I dinnae have a problem sharin,’ Cill,” he says.
I hate when he calls me that. I don’t bother to look. I stare off at a hole in the wall and simply say, “Nay, thank ye, John.”
“Aw, yer nay fun,” the woman says, and I hear the sound of wet kissing.
I’ve played this game before. All I have to do is show no reaction to his crude ways, and he soon gives up this antagonizing of me, and we get down to business.
“I need tae talk business, lass. Dinnae go far,” he growls.
His entertainment stands up and flounces off.
He is not very popular at court and simply does not care to be, or he does care and acts an ass to any and everybody who snubs him for being the king’s bastard. Because of his arrogance and spoiled, hateful nature, no one at court dares to befriend him unless they absolutely have to, and even those false friendships are temporary.
I look to my already drunk companion. “Yer father, the king, has sent me tae bring ye back tae the palace,” I press, getting angrier by the minute.
“Aye, I figure that’s why yer here.” He looks at me with sly eyes. “Tis said, ye dinnae enjoy the flesh as men aught tae do. Tis said ye are a man of God,” he says, not asking.
It is no secret that I have made it my way of life not to succumb to the lusts of the flesh; instead, I choose to remain untouched by a woman until such time as I am joined with a wife. The power of prayer is credited for a strong will and the ability to see beyond the flesh and into my Spirit, to continue to keep my Spiritual life strong.
From as far back as I can remember, Seamus, my father, counseled me on how not to fall victim to the lusts of this world. On one of the few occasions that Seamus was home from being about his business for the king, he returned once with scrolls. Scrolls that were copies that he said to have been in the hands of a prophet from the Holy Land.
With these scrolls, Seamus also brought back with him a holy man to help him interpret those writings. It was when those writings were laid bare that the fierce Pherson clan began to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Almighty Savior.
“Aye” is all I say, not wanting to engage with him about my private life.
“Dinnae act so hordy-tordy. Ye are a man, same as I,” he slurs.
“Aye. But I choose tae act as a man should,” I say, looking at him intently.
I don’t have a problem having words with the king’s illegitimate son, John or the crowned prince, Jamie. No man on this earth is beyond the Will of God, and I live my life as such.
“Be that as it may…” He leans over the table. “…I came across some information ye may want tae hear about.”
Normally, I would not engage him in his drunken conversations. They come to naught usually, but there is always some bit of truth when someone has been into their cups. “What would that be?” I ask.
“Tis no’ that easy, Cill. What will ye give me tae get the information?” he asks with a smile, thinking he may have me.
“If I dinnae ken of it, then I will wait until it comes tae light.” I stare down at him. “Tis time tae go, Yer Grace.”
Although my companion is a crude and ignorant man, he is also part-royal, though still born on the wrong side of the blanket with a joy of abusing and taking advantage of the class set, the very ones who snub him.
He sits back in his chair. “Ye ken, mi father doesnae want me at court. He only tolerates mi company acause he has tae.”
That I know to the fact, but I am not here to dip into his past or present, only to bring him back.
“Aye, tis somethin’ ye need tae look at. Let’s go.” I say again and move to the side of his chair.
He looks up. “Ye dinnae want tae hear what I ken about yer future, Cill?”
“Nay,” I say impatiently. “No’ unless ye are a prophet of the Lord, which ye are no’.”
I grab his forearm, not too gently, but he pulls from my hold and stand up with his chair between us. Most people in our circle know of his evil ways, especially when he’s been drinking—in private, of course—but that bothers me not.
“Ask me. Ask me and I will tell ye. Ye are no’ so high and mighty that ye are no’ above the king’s dealin’s and trickery.”
I have known for years that John Stewart, the king’s bastard son, carried the spirit of jealously for any of those who have the king’s favor, or for any who John thinks is not deserving of his father’s favor, or those that he thinks are in higher esteem than he is, and that is most likely true.
My first stay at the Castle on the Rock, I was fourteen springs old. I’d come with Seamus to Edinburgh to start my training under the king men. John and I were paired up as sparing partners on the first day of our training. I bested him easily, which, of course, embarrassed him not only in front of our peers but also before his father, the king, and the king’s heir, John’s brother, Prince James. That day was the first that John was in the field for training; it was not so for me.
Seamus Pherson has, for some time, been in some service to the king in one way or another. Whether it be going out to put down border clashes, fighting the English, or serving in the French court for his king, Seamus has always been a fighting man.
And he taught his son to fight. I am Seamus’ only son, and it was in me, he put all his years of fighting knowledge, as well as in our clan warriors. Seamus brought back a new knowledge of warfare from the Holy Land. The Pherson clan warriors are the fiercest in Scotland.
“Ask me,” he insists.
“Nay. John. I’ll no’ be baited by yer childishness. We leave now,” I command, and in moving the chair out of my way, it hits the wall.
“Ken yer place, Cillian Pherson. I am yer—”
“Ye are no’, mi’ Lord. We are equals, John. Let yer hatred go,” I command.
Aye, that did it. I know that it was not that embarrassment he suffered that day years back that makes John so hateful. His brother James would be the next king, and John, though a duke and older than James by three years, will never wear the crown.
I stare at John, and his unwavering gaze tells me that he still harbors resentment toward me, too, and toward his half-brother, and he may always will.
I sigh. “Tell me, John, what is it ye have knowledge of?”
John smiles wickedly. “What is the one thing in all of Scotland that will best you? What will brin’ the great Cillian Pherson, they call ye the warrior without a heart, so easily tae yer knees? Ye will no’ so easily get out of this.”
I don’t say a word. I just stare down at him.
“I have had tae watch ye fight off the advances of Scotland’s most beautiful women. Still, time over, they come back tae ye, and ye never even gave them a by-pass look, where I have tae beg for a simple favor of a conversation. I had tae take the scraps from beneath yer table while the fine, courtly mams flaunt their precious daughters before ye, and mi brother, openly at court.” He stumbles back and continues his drunken tirade, smiling as he says, “Well, finally, I will watch ye take up the yoke that I have had tae endure, because he…” He points in supposedly the direction of the door. “…made me take a wife, that I dinnae want.” He steps closer. “And now, so will ye. Ye stood witness at mi weddin’ and then went about yer merry way tae live yer life as ye please while I am married ta that shrew. Now, tis yer turn tae finally get yer due,” he finishes with a sly grin.
I look down at John, staring into his bloodshot, watery eyes, and all I see is hatred. But I tread lightly with my question, lest he think I am moved to anger by what he has confessed to me.
I close the distance between us. “And ye ken this how?”
He smiles, walks over to where the chair lays turned on its side against the wall, gets the chair, sits back down at the table, takes a drink, and looks up at me.
I say another prayer beneath my breath, waiting on him to tell me what he knows that I do not. If the king knows this secret, and John knows, then it stands to reason that Seamus knows too.
Seamus, that is his name. I was never made to call him father, not even by my mam. All I know is Seamus. When I left home to take up arms with the king against the last fight with the English, Seamus tried again to tell me that my duty is to the Pherson clan and to send my cousin Teagan in my stead to lead the Pherson warriors alongside the king’s army.
But I had no intention of putting someone else in my place to take up a duty that I willingly wanted. I enjoy the strategies of warfare—not the killing, but the true strategy of anticipating the opponents’ moves before the battle, the art of hand-to-hand combat. And it is that enjoyment that has given me the name of “Cill.”
“Do ye remember when ye were called home tae BlackRidge acause of yer mam’s sickness?” he asks. I don’t respond, but he goes on, “Well, mi father, in one of his generous moods, took me along with him, and Jamie up tae Inverness tae meet unawares with the chieftain of the Grants. Well, it just so happens…” He chuckles. “…that yer da was also there.”
I walk around the table to face him. “John, whatever tis ye have tae say, ye will no’ control mi Spirit with whatever tis. Get tae it,” I command. All respect for him as the king’s whelp is gone.
“Well, ye should no’ have made the declaration that ye will ne’ver marry in the King’s Hall in front of all at court because, on that fateful trip, our fathers and a certain baron made an agreement that ye…” Here, he stands up after picking up his goblet of drink and holds it up. “…and the baron’s daughter are, in fact, all these eight years have been betrothed tae marry.” He then falls back into his chair, laughing so loud, this crude shack is silent but for his noises.
A fire starts to boil in my blood. I clench both of my fists at my sides. I am no fool. Though this wasteful and hateful person before me is vile, and at times cruel, he is still my king’s son, a royal child.
It is true, I chose years ago as a young lad to never marry. I knew I would have to fulfill my service to Scotland, and so have I been in Edinburgh for two years. Before that, I fought for Scotland’s continued independence, and in a few days, I will be released from my service and return home to the Highlands of Scotland, to BlackRidge Castle.
Now I find out, from this drunken slob, that my life has been planned out since I was a lad of seven and ten years. God has planned out my life since before I was born, aye, but I desire not to put any woman through what my mam went through every time Seamus left to be about clan or the king’s business that sometimes kept him away for months, years.