A Preface to The Iona Conspiracy--Book III of The Remnant Chronicles
The boy sat on soft ground in front of the cold grey stone. He had chosen it months before as his favorite spot from which to watch the sea. The soft green moss was long gone from his slouching and squirming. The seas rolled; the sun bounced off the water hypnotically. Leaning his head back against the stone, he wallowed in his dejection.
Family lore told of his great-uncle having come with Columba himself to this little island in the Scottish Hebrides. His kinsman had served the Saint in the darkest hours of bringing the new word to Scotland, and had helped stack the very stones of the monastery where the boy now lived. He had served and been a hero. Now young Cullum longed for his own day. He was frustrated at being sent out, day after day, to sit on the hill by the shore and watch for trouble coming from the sea. Though he had heard of the Viking raids that happened before his arrival, he only half believed the tales. Had the monks just sent him to the hill to get him out of their way? He didn’t have the skills they had, true, but he was sure he could do more than this. He longed to feel useful, to contribute.
He bounced the leather pouch that lay on his lap, fiddling with one of the three tassels that hung from the old leather. It was said that this sporran pouch belonged to his great-uncle, and he hoped the story was true. He shifted it back and forth absent-mindedly upon the leather strap that hung it from his waist, and looked up at the clouds being puffed along overhead by the eastward wind.
When will my time come? I hate just sitting here.
Under the warming sun, his eyes closed. They were shut for what he thought was just a moment. In that time, however, the world had turned.
The first ships had already been beached. A pair of large painted dragons glared up at him from the front of the two ships being pulled further onto shore. With a clank of arms and cursing, men scrambled up the stony beach of Iona. Other ships were in the shallows and coming quickly toward the shore. The boy’s heart jumped, his stomach turning. He dropped sideways onto the ground, hoping with no reason to hope that the broad men with wild hair and unkempt beards had not seen him. Crawling behind his sitting stone, he peeked over the edge and saw the first group beginning to walk up the path from the sea.
“Boy!” one of them shouted.
The boy in the brown wool robe of a monk’s apprentice froze.
“Boy!” the man bellowed again.
Cullum jumped to his feet and without looking back he ran as fast as his legs would carry him down the other side of the hill. He ran and ran. His brown robes waved in the air and his sporran bounced ferociously against his loins. As he approached the monastery, he began to yell. “Vikings! Brothers, the invaders have come! Vikings!”
The monks began to scramble. Having been raided before, they were ready this time. Each sprang to his own emergency role: Some threw stores of food down into the holes hidden beneath their floors while others took treasures out to be hidden amidst the rocks and in secret crevices behind stone walls in the unadorned buildings.
Cullum kept running as he yelled the alert. He burst into the chapel, fearing the monks in prayer might not have heard his calls. They had heard, and only one man still stood in the center of the room. Cullum approached the Abbott. Out of breath and frightened, the boy knew he had failed in his duty to give ample warning of the terrible Norse warriors behind him. He should not have allowed himself to drift off in a daydream. He should not have closed his eyes. He could now understand that he had been given an important job; he had not performed it well.
“Do you still have a bit of swiftness left in those legs, Cullum?” the Abbott asked, his head bowed to look into the boy’s eyes.
Cullum nodded in the affirmative, though he was still catching his breath.
The Abbott turned, picked up a large book that stood on the center table in the chapel, and rubbed his hand across its cover with a mixture of admiration and deep dread. “This, lad, is Columba’s great book. Some will call it the Leabhar Cheanannais. We have labored many years in the scriptorium to create this book.” The man wiped a small tear from his right eye and the act confused the boy. The Abbott brushed his hand across the ornate cover, fingering the gold lettering and the jewels. He paused and traced the shape of the solid silver cross that came together at the exact center of the cover.
“Lad, the pages are of the finest vellum, but what is on them is more important still. This cover is inlaid in gold and set with jewels, but its leather is more important still. Can I trust you with it?”
Cullum could feel the pride rising in his chest. “Yes, teacher. In the name of my Uncle who served Columba in his time of need, you can trust me.”
The two were startled by the sounds of a skirmish from the courtyard outside. The Abbott ran to the wooden door and slammed a metal rod across it and into the stone frame. There was yelling and screaming and the sound of the pounding of boots, hammers and shields against doors.
The Abbott turned to Cullum. “This, lad, is why you were born. This is your destiny. This is your story, just now beginning to unfold. Take this book and guard it with your life. It must not fall into the hands of the evil men of our age or any other. It is not just a book. It holds secrets more important than the gold leafed upon the pages. It holds a truth more powerful than the jewels on the cover. Share its story with anyone, but protect its secrets from everyone.”
A slight rattling at the door made the two turn. Finding the door blocked, the invaders then began pounding with sledges on its thick wood. The hammering rattled the formerly peaceful air of the chapel.
“You have no time, Cullum. Back here. Quickly. Out this window and then down to the beach. I’ve hidden a small boat down amidst the bushes by the sea. Take the boat and go. Don’t look back. Just row as fast as your arms can move. Get to another of the islands and run. Find a place to hide. Tell no one what you carry. Let no one see it. Make your way then to Kells in the land of Patrick. There you will find an Abbey. Trust our brothers at Kells. They know what we have done. They will then protect the book. Don’t come back here. Stay at the Abbey at Kells and never return to Iona. Your destiny is elsewhere.”
Cullum stood confused. Was he being sent away? Why couldn’t he come back? This was to be his new home since his parents had passed away in the cold winter of 894. He was to serve where his great-uncle had served. A great cracking in the wood of the door sent splinters flying into the chapel, giving focus again to his thoughts. The Abbott pressed the great book tight into the boy’s chest. Cullum’s arms folded around it. The man leaned down and kissed the boy in the center of his forehead.
When the door finally shattered off its hinges, the Viking invaders entered to find a lone man kneeling in prayer in the center of the Chapel.
Almost twelve centuries have passed since the boy rowed off the island into a web of destinies not completed even now.