Prologue to Celtic Crossing: A Novel by Len Mattano
Tuesday, 19 March 1191, Skellig Michael, Éire
Brother Murrough prayed silently as the westering sun descended into the sea and nightfall arrived. Few waves broke against the granite crags seven hundred feet below, washed gray by the late winter moon. At this height the winds were forceful and constant, gusting freely through the deep horizontal window. Chilled, he lifted the weathered alder plank, thrust it into a shallow groove on the sill, and secured it firmly with jamb wedges. It was at best a partial shutter against the cold.
In three cautious strides the monk was across the dark chamber, a barren stone hut set precariously on a narrow cliff in the shadow of the island’s peak. The sole furnishings were a low, shoulder-width wooden platform draped with a scrap of blanket, and a small stand sufficient for a tallow taper, a rosary, and the monk’s parchment-leafed breviary.
Light seeped from a candle cup that hung pendulous on a soot-black hook at the door. With his left hand he groped for the unlit taper and brought its wick to the flame. Holding the cup tipped, a flare erupted as melted mutton fat puddled aside. He placed the taper on the stand, pushed fast the door, and swiveled the latch into the drop handle.
It was time to begin Vespers.
The thirty-two-year-old Augustinian was alone on Sceilig Mhór: jagged, desolate, far from shore. Alert against the return of Viking raiders, he kept constant watch, his only sleep stolen as fragmented naps during sunlit hours. He knelt weary at bedside—hands illumined by a dim arc of wispy candlelight— and opened the breviary to the First Vigil. Softly, softly he began to chant the litanies designated for the Feast of Saint Joseph.
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti . . .
Peace ached to enter his anxious heart. At last he surrendered—tranquil, silent, carried aloft in spirit by the lilt of Latin to mystical reverie, then unintended slumber.
Rest was brief. He awoke instantly to the crushing sounds of a score of men marauding about the nearby abandoned monastery, their anger rising in foreign tongue as they discovered little to plunder and raged into the wilds.
He extinguished the taper, hand quaking in fear of discovery. The candle cup had guttered out and the room became pitch. Clasping the rosary, he pressed the crucifix to his lips and began to pray fervently for the safety of the venerated relic under his guard.