The flames flickered high into the clear night sky.
‘Goodbye my beloved,’ whispered Brigid.
She placed her paw to her lips and blew a kiss towards the pyre as it was smothered by the flames.
She could no longer see the body on top, wrapped in the insignia of the Cait of Ce as the material charred briefly before sparkling heavenward, as though Nechtan’s spirit rose piece by piece towards the ancestors.
A few steps away from Brigid, her mother Eithne, hugged her grandkittens close to her, running her paw over the head of little Cru. He was so like Nechtan, she worried about him, losing his father at such an early age. Eithne knelt beside him, her heart aching at the look on his face, so determined to be strong, as he stared directly at the flames, hardly blinking.
‘Cru, go to your mother, she needs you now,’ Eithne whispered to him.
Cru blinked, turning to her with a look of surprise on his face, as though he hadn’t been aware of her presence. He nodded and closed his eyes briefly, as though stealing himself for the emotions he was about to feel in his small body.
Slowly Cru walked to Brigid and slipped his paw into hers. She looked down at him, startled for a moment that someone was beside her then she smiled.
‘He will suffer for this Cru, I’ll make sure of it,’ Brigid said, her face once more towards the funeral pyre of her beloved Nechtan.
She lifted her paw into the air, the cats around her did the same.
‘Peace be with you Nechtan, may you find love and harmony among the ancestors.’
A beam of sparkling light shot out from her paw, stretching out into the star sprinkled sky. The surrounding warrior’s paws burned with light and as the beams converged, the soul of Brigid’s beloved Nechtan rose to unite with those who had moved to the other realm before him.
The dawn the next morning was grey and unforgiving. The icy waters of the North Sea rolled and frothed below as Brigid sat astride her horse, looking out towards the sea, her eyes closed, feeling the mist land on her face, cooling and easing the tightness of her tear stained skin.
Hearing hooves coming towards her, Brigid opened her eyes and wiped a paw over her face. Cru was riding towards her on a black horse, his ginger fur luminous against it. He pulled the horse up as he reached her.
‘I’m coming with you mama, wherever you’re going,’ he said, straightening himself to his full height.
‘I’m going to kill your uncle Talroc, are you sure you want to come with me?’ Brigid replied, searching Cru’s eyes for any sign of fear for the task ahead.
Cru nodded and held Brigid’s gaze.
Brigid smiled at him, ‘then let’s ride.’
They travelled for days, across the barren landscape of the northern edge of the Cairngorms and towards the region of Cataibh, where Talroc lived with his clan followers in a Broch on the edge of Loch Brora.
Finally, Cru could see a Broch in the distance, surrounded by low mountains.
‘Is that it? Is that where Talroc lives?’ he asked Brigid.
Brigid nodded, the emotion of the moment nearly taking over her. She couldn’t give in now, she had to do it for her beloved. But the thought of killing her brother made her feel sick. Killing Talroc wouldn’t bring back Nechtan, but she had to avenge his death, and killing Talroc was the only way.
‘We’ll rest here for the night then start out fresh before dawn tomorrow,’ Brigid said, her gaze still on the stone building in the distance.
The next morning when the sky was still sprinkled with stars Brigid rose. She walked down to the water and submerged her paws in it. She could feel the current push the water through her pads, she stretched out her claws and let the water flow through them, enjoying the sensation. Suddenly a light appeared in the middle of the river. As it moved towards her Brigid could see that the light was beginning to take the form of a warrior. Brigid gasped as the glowing figure stopped in front of her, still hovering above the rushing water.
‘Nechtan?’ she whispered; the words barely audible on her lips before the breeze whipped them away.
The figure of Nechtan smiled at her and nodded. Brigid started to sob, reaching her paw out towards the apparition, trying to hold onto her beloved.
‘Brigid,’ Nechtan’s spirit said, ‘if you slay Talroc you will destroy yourself and everyone around you. Do you think our cherished kitten Cru should see his uncle killed in front of him? How will your father reconcile his daughter killing her brother, his son?’
Brigid began to speak but the spirit held up his paw to stop her.
‘I may be gone from your realm, but I will always watch over you and protect you. My death will not cause any more pain and suffering among the cats I loved. I will always walk beside you, each and every day. I cannot stop you if you truly decide in your heart that you must take Talroc’s life to avenge mine, but that is your decision, not my wish. He will be dealt with, the Cailleach’s will see that it will be so, but do not have his blood on your paws, for me. I love you Brigid, look after our kittens well, and remember, I am always with you.’
The light began to fade and the spirit of Nechtan disappeared. Brigid ran out into the river, paws outstretched, reaching for Nechtan and only capturing air.
‘No!’ she cried, her paws outstretched, ‘don’t leave me.’
A crunch on the gravel behind her made her turn. A Cailleach stood on the shore, her blue furless skin flashing beneath her cape.
‘Come child, your destiny awaits,’ the Cailleach said, holding her paw towards Brigid.
Brigid glanced behind the Cailleach, Cru was standing, his eyes darting from the strange blue creature in front of him to his mother standing almost waist high in the middle of the river. She grasped the Cailleach’s paw and allowed herself to be pulled onto the dry shingle. Brigid glanced at the Cailleach before moving her gaze to Cru.
‘We have to go now.’ Brigid said, walking past the Cailleach and towards the foreboding stone edifice of the Broch.
The working cats in the fields surrounding the Broch glanced at the bizarre trio as they marched towards it. A kitten, a queen and a Cailleach. At the opening to the Broch, Brigid turned towards the Cailleach; she nodded, and Brigid entered, followed by Cru then the Cailleach.
The central meeting room was empty apart from Talroc, seated at the top table beside a brown tabby whom he was in deep conversation with. At their entrance Talroc stopped talking and stood up.
‘Well, well, well. Brigid, what brings you here?’ he asked, winking at the brown tabby.
Before the tabby had the chance to laugh, Brigid was on top of Talroc, pinning him to the table with her claws in his throat.
‘I’m here to settle a debt Talroc,’ Brigid hissed in his ear, her claws digging deeper into his flesh. She could feel the blood rage surge through her body.
The Cailleach walked up to the squirming mass that was Brigid and Talroc and placed her paw on Brigid.
‘Release him,’ the Cailleach said, before stepping back.
Reluctantly, Brigid removed her claws from Talroc’s neck slowly, not trusting him to be compliant to the Cailleach’s wishes. She slid from the tabletop and walked backwards away from Talroc, her eyes on him the whole time, a guttural growl rumbling at the back of her throat.
The Cailleach stepped forward, ‘Talroc, you and your cats are banished from this land. You will never return to this place. If you do not comply you and your descendants will be cursed forever more, in this life and the next. The power of the Cailleach will be invoked if you break this banishment. Do you understand?’
‘No! I will not leave this place! Who are you to tell me what to do, these are my lands and I will rule them as I see fit. No old hag, a grieving widow and a kitten will tell me what to do!’ Talroc screamed at the Cailleach, rushing towards her, his paws raised in anger.
The Cailleach raised her paw and a light shone out of it, hitting Talroc directly in his chest, stopping him where he stood. Immediately he began writhing and screaming, begging to be released. As the ribbon of luminescence twisted itself around Talroc’s body it lifted him higher and higher into the air, turning him this way and that as it did so. For a moment Talroc remained suspended upside down, his tail almost touching his ears before with a shriek he plummeted towards the ground, stopping just before his head hit the stone. Cru mewled and darted behind Brigid as the Cailleach simultaneously raised Talroc high to the ceiling of the Broch before plunging him almost to the floor.
The Cailleach turned at Cru’s mewl, her intense glare scared him almost as much as the scene in front of him did.
‘Take the kitten and go,’ she said to Brigid, ‘Talroc will be gone before you return here. He has a Cailleach’s curse upon his head now, he will bring you and your kin no harm from now on.’ She smiled at Cru and ran her free paw through the fur on his forehead, ‘this one will be a great warrior, just like his parents, teach him the value of love for his fellow cat, for that is the most important lesson he can learn,’ the Cailleach touched Brigid gently on the paw, ‘trust that I will deal with your brother accordingly. And Brigid, you are the greatest queen Alba has ever seen, be wise and rule with love and truth.’
Brigid blinked back a tear and nodded. She took Cru by the paw and walked out of the Broch without looking back.
Three weeks later, with her kittens and clan in tow Brigid returned to the Broch where she had last seen her brother. There was no sign of Talroc, or any of his followers, as she walked through the Broch it was although he had just got up and walked out of the building. She walked through the rooms floor by floor, but there was no one, the whole place was empty. The staircase opened up onto the stone roof, and as Brigid looked around her, she could feel a presence beside her, enveloping her.
‘I know you’re here with me Nechtan,’ she whispered, ‘I love you, always.’
A luminous orb hovered in front of her, Brigid reached out her paw, feeling it’s warmth and love just as Cru burst through the door and into Brigid’s paws.
‘Can we stay here forever? This is amazing’ he cried.
‘Yes, forever.’ Brigid replied.