For almost 2,000 years a small highland community survived war, famine and betrayal all because of a small roughly forged nail.
Fashioned into an arrowhead, this nail, which came from the cross that bore the body of Christ, carried immense protective power.
It is this power that prevented the destruction of the highlanders and their way of life.
All treasures require protection and this came from one family with whom the arrow lived secretly, passed down from one generation to another, brought out from its safe abode when needed: from Vikings to the Reformation, Napoleonic times to German submariners and finally facing the Nuclear power industry intent on destroying the viallagers' valued way of life.
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A very easy read with several stories in one.
Started a bit strangely for me so that I was worried that I might have stumbled upon a children's book. But then the flashback stories were excellent, well written (edited) and interesting. It didn't take long to read and that had more to do with it taking my interest than it being too short.
I'd like to see a sequel with a modern day threat to the village of Bencairn, please!
Dedicated to my late wife Madeline
© 2003–2012 Stanley F. Mazur
The West Coast of Scotland, March 302AD
Watching from the deck, the man sighed contentedly as the Roman galley travelled slowly along the coast to Fort Augustus, heavily laden with men – sailors, soldiers and traders – weapons, horses and provisions.
He was of slight build, with dark hair, with an outward impression of quiet confidence, yet this man, a priest, was secretly apprehensive of the task he had been given.
He was under orders from Emperor Constantine to bring Christianity to Caledonia, the most northerly outpost of the Empire, and the most difficult area to administer despite the fact that, as with all things under the control of Rome, the country received the same due attention and government as any other place.
The galley was only a day’s sail from its destination when it was beset by a storm hurtling in from the Atlantic. Its rage soon tore the ship to pieces, and as its timbers split and broke under the onslaught of the waves, those on board frantically tried to save themselves from impending doom.
Amidst the roar of wind and rain, the screams of men and horses could be heard as they all plunged to their untimely, watery death. All that is except the priest.
Seeing that all was lost, he clung to the mizzen mast as it was wrenched from the ship and cast into the sea. Although separated from the stricken ship he was still far from safe as the huge waves crashed over him and tried to prise him from the mast.
Never before had he prayed so much to God, and his prayers were finally answered as the fury of the storm abated.
Although it was spring, the temperature of the sea was still extremely cold, bringing almost certain death to anyone unfortunate enough to be shipwrecked.
Eventually, through the sheets of rain, he saw land and, with his remaining strength, let go of the mast and swam towards it, reaching the beach exhausted and barely conscious.
With the sea now peaceful, the fishermen from the small village of Bencairn prepared to set out in their small but sturdy clinker-built boats to catch food for their families. As they came down to the shore, dragging their heavy-timbered craft, they found the wreckage of the galley, and the priest near to death. Fortune, or God, smiled on him as the Highland fishermen brought him quickly to a small windowless croft, where he was revived and warmed by the village women. With his pale sallow skin, dark hair and slight build he was a strange sight to these rustic folk, compared to their own men, who were strong and rugged with red or blond hair.
While the priest rested and regained his strength a young lad kept him company. Artúr was himself resting, having broken his leg whilst chasing the deer. During their recovery the seven-year-old taught the priest some of his Celtic language and the priest in turn taught him Latin.
The priest told him about Jesus and the many wonders he had performed. He took a small pouch from a hidden pocket and explained there was something inside of infinite value, with the power to protect against evil. Whoever called upon it, be they of good heart, then it indeed would be their saviour. The young Artúr was not to know that one day he would witness these powers and remember the priest with thanks.
After some weeks of nursing, the priest was up and about and keen to continue his journey, so a boat and crew were made available to take him on to Fort Augustus.
He explained that although he had no silver or gold with which to pay the villagers for their kindness, he did have something precious with him and that he wished to give them in recognition of all they had done for him.
From beneath his robes he produced the pouch, which contained a long black nail suspended from a strip of leather. He explained that the nail came from the very cross on which Jesus Christ had died and that he wished them to have it, saying that it would give the people and their land protection from evil.
The Highlanders were still of the old Celtic faith and had no knowledge of this Jesus; however, as the priest was so passionate and sincere and they had no wish to offend him they accepted the gift, though no-one believed it was a talisman.
For safekeeping, the nail was given to the small group of Celtic priests who lived close by, but eventually it was forgotten, lying on a dust-covered shelf in the dark recesses of the small building.
Some fifty years later, when Artúr had become a village elder, there came a time when the weather was so dire that the meagre crops failed and disease struck sheep and cattle alike.
It was not just the village at the foot of the Great Glen that suffered but the whole of the surrounding area, which had no food. Adding to their misery, all efforts at hunting failed to bring meat home to the starving inhabitants of Bencairn. Each hunt saw the loss of spears and knives with no resulting meat, and once again a storm had smashed their boats to pieces on the rocks, resulting in panic as starvation slowly took effect.
Suddenly Artúr remembered a storm many years before, when the village had been given an iron nail sufficient in size to make a single arrow head. He recalled it had been given to the priests for safe-keeping and, trying hard to recall where it had been kept, went alone to their building to find it.
After a fraught and intensive search of every nook and cranny, with every piece of furniture moved and dragged away from the walls, he finally found the small pouch on the shelf, covered in dust and dirt.
Returning to the village he handed the nail to the blacksmith instructing him to fashion it into an arrow head, and warning him that it was their last hope. The blacksmith set to work immediately creating the arrow which, to the amazement of all, shone like gold when touched by the sun.
Quickly the arrow head was fastened onto a shaft of the straightest ash, with flights of the finest goose feathers taken from the top edge of the wing, which gives birds their ability to fly high and straight.
Finally, a hunting party was formed, including the village's foremost archer and the one arrow.
Early next morning the small group left the village to seek meat for their kinsfolk with little thought of success but showing good spirits despite their lack of confidence.
In time they came to the top of the glen and saw across the way a large antlered stag. Crouching down and carefully stalking through the heather and scrub they got close enough for the arrow to be let loose.
As it flew it seemed to shine with the light of the midday sun, a stream of bright burnished gold, and this time to their great joy the arrow hit its mark. The stag was down and cleanly killed, and the undamaged arrow recovered.
The hunters moved on, finding several other animals and killing them with single shots. To their surprise the hunters found they had no need to finish off any of their kills as the arrow killed every time.
Bencairn and the other surrounding villages benefited from this hunt and many others during the succeeding months, and so survived the famine due to the power and accuracy of the arrow. Back home, the talk was not only of the success of the hunt but also of the arrow that had shown itself to be more than just a simple weapon.
And so this is the beginning of our tale, of a simple nail now fashioned into an arrow, the power of which was recognized by the inhabitants of the glen as it saved them from death and destruction on many occasions over the centuries. However, the arrow itself needed protection from those who would steal it, as the knowledge of its power went far and wide throughout the land, so it needed a guardian, one who would sacrifice his life for the arrow and safeguard its future.
And that is why with Artúr's passing a young man was chosen to be the guardian, thus beginning a tradition of there being a protector of the arrow. Over the centuries this grew into a family responsibility and to this day it is followed by each generation.
It was early evening in Los Angeles. The sun had set and six young men were heading for the bars to celebrate their graduation day.
For one of them life would never be the same again.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, either living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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