Welcome to your new adventure At World's End. Here you will find not a story, but a collection of many stories belonging to many people. Although they live their separate lives and each has his or her separate motivation, their stories are intricately entwined, combining to create an epic tale of conquest, ambition, betrayal, subterfuge, treachery, love, honor, and, one would hope, redemption.
I am Brude mac Maelchon, High King of all the Pictish tribes. Or at least I was until I met the fate that all men must face. Although my time in these lands has passed, I yet watch over them. Old habits, you see.
These stories belong to others now, but I will tell them. Better that way. Most of them are far too involved in their own stories to understand the impact they will have on shaping the world. But where to begin? It is a hard thing to know, as the weave is complex beyond human comprehension. So I will begin with one who might seem to be the least significant of all, although many may be surprised to find him of greater significance than any could have possibly thought.
Meet Bile of the Gaol. He's had a most unfortunate life, this one. His mother a whore, left to die on the midden heap when he was but a small child, his father completely unknown to him. But he has a talent for landing on his feet, young Bile does. The life of an orphan child in Tarbert is not a fair one, but he's a strong and resourceful lad, managed to keep body and soul together long enough to become useful, then found himself gainful employment at the Tarbert Gaol. Not easy work, nor gentle, but it provided him a warm place to sleep, clothes such as he could find, and food enough to go on living.
Not much interesting when you work in the gaol. Bring moldy bread and foul water to prisoners, watch them slowly fade, wait for them to die so you don't have to empty their slops any more. Not many walk out of the Tarbert Gaol. But, on very rare occasions, a man is escorted through the strong gate, and one finds he is more than just a man, he is also a myth and a legend rolled into one. He is a man with many names and he speaks in strange riddles. He spins tales of magic and wonder that, to a boy who has spent much of his life inside the walls of the Tarbert Gaol, open the mind to something much more valuable than gold or land or cattle. And the boy begins to see... possibilities. Yes, the man has a much older story, and perhaps we will get to that someday. But for now, I think it best to meet him through the eyes of Bile of the Gaol.
Now we come to a much more tiresome part of our tale. Saoirse of the Niall, curse her name. She has a long history of meddling in my lands. Her first appearance on these shores, she was but sixteen and in the company of her brother Caoilfhionn. I took them and their band of followers, ne're do wells all, into my employ. Mercenaries, they were then. They had entered their families too far down in the birth order to have much promise of wealth or power. Indeed, they were efficient at those tasks they were hired to address. They were skilled in battle and other, darker things, services that a king has need of from time to time. It was their extra-curricular activities that created such a stir. Caoilfhionn unable to resist the lure of the wife of a nobleman Saoire an irresistible temptation to the nobleman himself. In the end, a woman's honor ruined, the leader of a noble house dead, and the pure heart of loyal Cruithne subject tainted by his own betrayal to his king. These children of Diamait fled my lands, a price on both their heads. If only they had the compassion to stay away.
Many years had passed before Saoirse turned up in these lands again, this time to create greater turmoil with more far reaching impact. The details? Again, that is part of the older story I keep promising to get to. And I will, in my own time. Have some patience with a dead man. I'll skip to the results of her meddling. Married to one of my highest-ranking lords, in possession of Dun Garbh as a wedding gift, all of Fortriu promised to the control of her son, should she have one. And yes, she had one. Left Dun Garbh only weeks after her marriage, sheltered at Dunollie for the winter, then departed for Fermanagh with her son the follow spring. They have kept the child behind those safe walls since. One might think his a life of perfect ease, but then one must consider the mother. Perhaps this is a good time to join her present story, and to meet her through the eyes of that child. Meet Donnchada, now in his sixth year, as he waits for his mother and begins the Tale of the Red Devil Woman.
My Lord Orquist, so many memories. First brought to my attention as an upcoming youth of extraordinary ambition. And absolutely no qualms about doing what must be done to further my aims. A man completely untroubled by the annoying presence of any sort of moral compass. His rise to the Maerdom of Moray a bloody trail best not too closely examined. Suffice to say he earned his sobriquet Brude's Hammer. He has only failed me once, and for that, I assure you, he is paying a most terrible price.
Ahhhhh.... the failure, a small thing really. He took action in a manner that did not surprise me. For all the years he had been in my service, he showed an excellent talent for leaving no witnesses. Except for that one time, one witness. The incident belongs to that older story I keep referring to, and I will get around to telling it, but here, let me distill the thing to its essence. I was left with a choice: Kill the Lord Orquist and wash may hands of his deeds, or enter into negotiations with the Niall to avoid a war I was not prepared to fight. At least not right at that moment. And, perhaps because I had so recently lost my son and was feeling sentimental, or because I had actually grown old and senile, I chose to save his miserable life, married him to Saoirse of the Niall, paid her exorbitant bride price, and promised control of Fortriu to their first-born son. Had I known she would actually produce said first-born son, I might have saved myself a great deal of trouble and killed Lord Orquist without a second thought. But that is all water under the bridge, as they say. He and his wife now live very happily. On separate islands, of course. And Lord Orquist today? Well, you can find him The Tale of the Devil's Keep. Check your sanity at the door.
There are some places so steeped in history, the threads of so many lives intersecting that it is difficult to distill their essence. This is the case on the blood soaked fields of this deceptively tranquil Glen Airchartdun. The story a long one, blood feuds usually are, especially feuds entering their third generation. But here, I will be brief. A miscalculation on my part, an Eirish upstart with familial ties to the land, a conflict of the usual sort and, in the end, my only son lay dead and Conachar of the Airchartdun had won possession of The Strone and, with it, claim to a rarity in the parts, a wide, fertile valley. I could not shake loose of the treaty that had been joined, these people had too many friends. So I turned the matter over to Lord Orquist (you'll remember him from other stories, no doubt, a very useful sort of man, indeed). If became his job to give me an excuse to break the treaty in whatever way he could manage. Of course, I was not aware of his plan, best that way. But in retrospect, I will still say that it was a good one. Even though it failed miserably. He made an error, you see. He left a witness. And not just any witness, but a witness of rank and standing, one who was in position to challenge his version of events.
Yes, the witness was none other than Saoirse of the Niall. My second encounter with her and even more disastrous than the first. She went directly to the Airchartdun, made her claims against Lord Orquist, and sent word to the Dalriadan kings, Iona, Armagh, and her own people in Ulaid. I could have fought, but it would have been a slaughter. And so, instead, we were forced to negotiate a truce. The result? Saoirse of the Niall married to the Lord Orquist and in possession of Dun Garbh and the Farigaig Forest, Orquists lands promised to her first male issue, along with control of Fortriu; her brother Caoilfhionn married to the ranking female of the Airchartdun. These Eirish upstarts now had control of lands on both sides of Loch Ness, the glen now populated by half-breed Scotii and Picts, Dun Garbh being run by Eirish lunatics. But things have not gone smoothly for them, as you will see when you read the Tale of The Fertile Glen.
Please note that the archive is still under development and there are yet more stories to tell. While moving through these pages, you may, at times, find links that go nowhere or may be unable to pick up the thread of a particular character's tale. Patience, patience, all will come in time.