Books


The Banshee of Castle Muirn


So my first novel is set in Scotland in the 17th century and the heroine is a banshee, a nice banshee of course. This except from The Banshee of Loch Muirn gives you an idea of what a banshee does.

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The crow had a more important task--to find out if Morag had secured an apprentice. Only one other of Morag's kind lived in the district--Shona, the chief's daughter. Both women had silver-grey eyes, a sure sign.

The crow nibbled seeds spilled on the floor. "Keep your mind on your business, old dear."

 Morag put on a worn linen shift and an earasaid of grey and white, and belted it with a sash of green silk, the emblem of her calling.

"You're dragging your tail feathers." The bird jumped from floor to chair to chest.

"You'd know more about that than I."

"Someone's outside. Stay here. I'll go see." The bird flew out the smoke hole, and found a young man with his arm about a girl by the garden wall.  They thought birds had no power to understand human speech, and they'd ignore her. When they left, she returned to Morag's and landed sideways on the chain holding her old bronze cauldron over the fire.

"Two young lovers. And the men in black cloaks and breeches nearby. Too bad the young ones will be caught up in this. But the death of one of them is the beginning of change in Glen Muirn. I saw it.”

“It can’t be changed."

Morag pinned her garment with a silver brooch so big that the bird could have built a nest on it. "Let's go," she squawked.

"Hush, rude bird. You'll wake the dead."

"They'll wake with all the people to join them this year."

"Ready."

The crow enabled the old woman to keep her nocturnal walks a secret. Morag skirted the edge of the village---she had to appear from the west if anyone saw her, and the crow flew overhead to make sure no one encountered her while she was working. During all the years the old woman had done her job, the villagers had remained ignorant of who predicted death among them.

The people of the baile knew Morag only for her knowledge of herbs and simples. And so they should. Now the crow had the duty to help her find a replacement. "Only one silver-eyed woman has the copper in her blood. Only one person sickens with iron."

"You're nagging." The old woman's face looked drawn under its white mask.

"My people have seen what may come. A generation of blood and death unless we do something."

Morag's shoulders sagged. "I knew evil was gathering."

Only a sliver of moon cast light on the path. Although Morag knew the way, she stumbled and muttered a curse. Her bad leg had collapsed under her.

"You must ask Shona. With her father away, there's a chance she may agree."

"You think I haven't thought about it?" Morag picked herself up and rubbed earth and tiny pebbles from her hands. "Her father won't allow it. He wants her married."  She leaned on the wall of a house.

Crow hovered above. "You'll think of something." 

"So I will." Morag smoothed her shawl. "I'm all right for a few years. Just do your part." A tinge of anger coloured her words.

"I'll help you when I can." She wondered how long Morag would last. She lighted on the woman's shoulder and nuzzled her neck.

 "Blessings on you, kindly Crow."  

"Go now, dear one. Perform your sad task." 

After a short rest, she straightened, her hand on her back, and walked to the house where one soul had less than a day of life.

From inside the house a woman sobbed and, at his door, a man uttered a stream of invective. Quick as a ferret, he darted out before Crow had time to warn Morag. He almost hurtled into her. "Woman, what are you doing out here in the dark?" 

Morag's white hair hung unbound below her shoulder blades. By the light of the moon, Crow saw her turn her pallid face slowly toward the man. She said nothing. Clever woman. She let the man speak.

"It's you! It's me you're warning? Someone in my house?" He dropped to his knees. "A little more time. Just a bit. To make things right."  

Morag's face shone white in the moonlight. She stared at the man and he covered his face and wept. 

"I'll never argue or shout again. Let us be and I'll be good man to my wife. The best. Please give my family more time."

"Too late." Morag raised her palms and pushed the air. The man flew up and landed on his back; then he lifted his head and shook it. Fear warped his face. "Go home," she said.

Above her the bird screeched, and the man scuttled away on all fours. He never stood until he reached the safety of his threshold. Silly man. Fear would keep them shut tightly in their little houses, but those tiny wattle doors wouldn't protect them from what Crow saw. Not now. Not ever.

From the direction of the setting sun, Morag the Banshee trudged between the houses and cried a warning of death to the living.          

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Morag wants Shona Campbell to be her apprentice, but Shona is the chief's daughter and destined for marriage and children to keep Clan Campbell strong. A banshee is weakened by iron and childbearing—in my story at least. Folklore has inspired the story, but I've changed a few details.    

  © Sheila Currie  2018