‘Someone in our clan, in the long-distant past, had seen a beast. A monster. What did that mean?’
Extract from The Beast On The Broch
By John Fulton
Published by Cranachan Publishing
I wandered into the centre of the village. The peaty smell of cooking-fires hung over the roundhouses, and my stomach rumbled. I’d had only oat cakes again for my morning meal. If it was going to be a while before we had any more fish, I’d have to take a look at the vegetables growing in our plot of land and see if any were ready to harvest. Even a few crisp leaves would make the oat cakes go down a bit more easily.
We had some cows, and some geese, but slaughtering any of them too early was a recipe for starvation once winter came. That was how we lived our entire lives—in preparation for the next winter.
Maybe I’d take a trip to the shore to gather some shellfish. That would be better than nothing.
I found myself standing right in the centre of the village, in front of the clan stone. It was a massive rectangular slab, slightly taller than me and half as wide as it was tall. On one side, facing the monastery, was engraved a circled cross with detailed knot-work. I knew that the cross was old, but not as old as the design on the other side—the Old Woman had told me that the stone was put up when the monastery was built. I walked around the cross to look at the other side. This side showed a much more ancient design. The Old Woman had said that a rough boulder had stood on this site for hundreds of years before the monastery came, and it had been carved with the same design that had now been copied onto the cross-slab. At the top was a crescent, turned so that its horns faced downward, marked with curled patterns and a snapped arrow design in a V-shape. Next was a strange two-bladed sword, of a type I’d never seen, then a snake with a broken Z-shaped spear.
At the bottom was the beast.
There was no mistaking it. The stone showed the beast in profile, with its long horns stretching along its back, its long snout and huge round eye, and tight curls where its feet would be. It was a strange way to depict those curved claws that I’d seen—there was no hint on the stone of just how sharp and cruel they’d looked in reality. I rubbed my wrist where the claws had left an imprint.
Someone in our clan, in the long-distant past, had seen a beast. A monster. And had drawn this symbol, and adopted it as the sign of our clan. What did that mean? If my father’s clan used the salmon on their clan-stone to show that they were salmon-fishers, had my mother’s ancestors been beasts-hunters? Friends of beasts?
I didn’t like the idea of us being beast-hunters.
I had to find out what it meant.
There was only one person in the village who might possibly know—the Old Woman.
The Beast on the Broch by John Fulton is out now published by Cranachan Publishing priced £6.99.
‘The island was not separated from the Continent by water; it was connected to it by water.’