A Mericup Story

The Raid

Aibhlinn was gutting fish in the early morning fog with her family. It had been a terrific catch and the entire village had been working hard all night to prepare the fish for preservation. They had run out of salt already, so mum was building up the fire to smoke the rest of the fish.

The smoke smelled heavy in the still air, which covered the stink of the fish guts a little.

Struan and some of his friends had gone out to the forest to get more wood, mainly branches to set the fish on. Aibhlinn liked Struan. He was a strapping lad, he made her feel a little funny inside and she tended to giggle for no reason whenever he looked at her. She was almost of age to start walking out with him. She was hoping so hard he would ask her, she tried to be near him as much as she could. He looked at her sometimes with such a gentle look on his face. Her pretty brown braids were falling apart from all the work, but she would make herself look extra good after a good sleep and everyone would celebrate the phenomenal catch.

Aibhlinn looked around, wishing Struan would drop off some more branches for their fire. It was so foggy though, a thick pea soup fog that barely let her see her Da across the fire from her. The fire made the fog a sickly yellow around them them but opaque white away from the house.

Aibhlinn saw a heavy figure walking towards them; it took her a moment to realize she didn't recognize the person. Then she noticed the sword.

Aibhlinn screamed.

"Vikings!" Da shouted as he knocked over a raider with the large salmon he had been about to gut.

"Run!" cried Mum as she bashed the Viking coming towards her with a flaming branch from the fire. Aibhlinn leapt forward to help with her little gutting knife.

"No! Make for the forest!" Mum cried as she fought the heavy fur covered Viking. The Viking tackled her. Mum fought back but they fell over into the fire. They both began to scream as their clothes and hair caught fire.

The girl turned; though her stomach clenched to think of running while her parents were in danger. A Viking with wild black hair stepped out of the fog. She flailed wildly at him with her little gutting knife and the fish in her hands. There was the sound of tearing fabric. He slapped her little knife away, threw her over his shoulder and ran.

Aibhlinn screamed.

"Aibhlinn!" cried her Father.

"Dada!" She wailed as she saw her father run through from behind and fall just as the fog swept around them.

She beat on the back of the Viking carrying her and fought with all her strength but she was much smaller then the hulking beast of a man. He threw her down and Aibhlinn saw stars as her head knocked into the rocks of the beach. She tried to hit or scramble away but hands grabbed her and held her limbs. She screamed for all she was worth as they cut away her dress in two efficient slices and slaves chains placed on her. They dragged her to the longboat and placed with the other captives.

Aibhlinn found herself next to Aideen, her best friend and Struan's sister.

"Oh Aideen, what is to become of us?"

"I don't know. I think they will sell us as slaves. Do you think anyone will rescue us?" said Aideen in a shaking voice.

"I don't know. I-I saw Dada die, and Mum was on fire." Aibhlinn wept.

Aideen undid their braids to cover themselves with their thigh-length hair. They held each other as best as they could, to try to comfort themselves, as they heard screams and shouts as the fighting continued.

# # #

"Your Majesties, please. You must do something. They killed my parents and most of the village, they stole my sister," said the boy in anguish. He held out a bundle to the King, Queen and Princess.

Princess Merida stood and took the bundle from the boy as Queen Elinor came and held the boy. They sat on the edge of the dais and King Fergus clumped over and said, "We'll do what we can. What is your name and where are you from, boy?"

"Struan, sire. I'm from Helmsdale." He had walked from the coast to the inland capitol of the kingdom, it had taken a few days.

"What happened?"

"I don't know, exactly. There was a fog. We had a great catch of fish the day before. The biggest haul ever. We worked through the night. It was just getting light again. I had been sent out to get wood for smoking the fish. We'd run out of salt, you see. Then there was fighting and screaming. A few adults escaped into the fog and forest. They told us to hide. I wanted to fight, but we hid until it was over. It didn't take long. So many dead, we buried them, but we know they took several girls and women." He gestured to the bundle.

Merida unrolled the bundle, it was a girl's dress sliced down the middle and arms, the sliced underwear fell to the floor.

Elinor and Fergus exchanged hard looks. Merida paled as she bent to pick up the underwear.

"They took my sister, Aideen and Aibhlinn, too."

"Who is Aibhlinn, Struan?" Asked Elinor, noticing how the boy's face changed at that name.

"She was the girl I liked. I hoped to marry her someday. Can't you do something?" He pleaded.

"I don't know," rumbled Fergus. "We don't know who did this other then Vikings. There are too many tribes and places they could have been taken to be sold as slaves."

"I found this. Would this help?" Struan held out a ripped bit of fabric with a button on it. It showed an inverted truncated isosceles triangle intersected by a hooked T-handled skinning knife.

"It might. It just might."

# # #

"By Caillech. Throwing back an invasion is easy, but how can we defend against these raids?" Fergus asked rhetorically as he paced back and forth in the upstairs sitting room. "These raids are too small and fast to gather our people to the defense. They are gone before we even know they are there."

Queen Elinor was sitting at the table, going through a book, "This button doesn't match anything we have on Vikings. This may be a new tribe trying to establish themselves."

"And how does that help us?" asked Merida. She had laid out the cut dress, and it tore at her heart to see it on the table, since it was the same color as her own. She wanted to help but didn't know where to start. She had dragged up the memories of geography Mum had taught her about the Vikings but she didn't really know all that much about them.

"If this is a new tribe they would have come for the women for brides." explained Elinor.

"Brides!? You mean marry your kidnapper!? That's awful," exclaimed Merida.

"Indeed, but when the choice is marry or die, which would you choose?" asked Elinor.

"I would rather fight and die." Merida stated fiercely.

"You would, my dear lassie," replied Fergus. "But not everyone is as brave and strong as you."

"You are very brave. Do you think they didn't try to fight?" said Elinor gesturing to the clothes on the table. "When Mor'du had you pinned to the ground and had his teeth on your head, would you not have chosen marriage, if given the chance?"

Merida bit her lip and looked away. Her guts had wound into a knot, she wasn't sure all of the sudden. "Can we get them back?"

"I don't know. They are just a collection of tribes, much like the clans, before I was raised as their king. We still have to find where this new tribe was and then try to negotiate, but if they came for wives, I don't see them giving them up," said Elinor.

"Oh," said Merida disappointed. "What are we going to tell Struan?"

Elinor and Fergus shared a look.

"The truth," said Fergus. "He deserves that."