THOMAS AND MARIGOLD BY CATRYN POWER. Short listed in the Cinnamon Press International short story competition. Published in 2015 under the title ‘Mac Mora’s Daughter’.


I was kneeling over the skeleton, following the anatomical formation. The top of the skull was the first exposed part of this person. The supervisor told me how to proceed, expose the bones first, and then the draughtsman/photographer would carry out their task. Subsequently, I would be shown how to lift the bones. I carefully removed the clay, with a very narrow instrument called a mason’s leaf. I was on an archaeological dig. I had volunteered for my dream job. It was like being on a television program!

The volunteer on his first dig, excavating the next grave was Graham. We had heard of the request for volunteers on the local radio station. Graham, a banker, lived a few hours away in the city, whereas I was a gardener from a village, about two hours drive from here. I had taken my annual leave this week. The local school had been a place of learning for over two centuries and when an extension was required to house the growing number of students; ‘low and behold’ human bones were discovered. As midterm was starting, the archaeologist in charge, Angela, a former student, said that if she had a few volunteers to help, the costs of the dig would not be so high. In fact, the entire team consisted of eight people, including Angela and her colleague, and six volunteers, including Graham, and I.

One night at the end of the first week, it took me ages to get to sleep. My mind was over active, thinking of the past few days working on this dig. I had learnt so much about archaeology and the history of the area. I was staying in one of the dormitories of the school. The students were at home for the holidays, so the volunteers, all men, were given free accommodation and meals. The dormitory was a long cold draughty room. The windows rattled all night. Part of the building was built in medieval times, and later renovated during the 1960’s. Proposals for the new extension implied that this dormitory and the ground floor below would at last see some renovations, in keeping with the historic building.

As I fell asleep, I was convinced that a mist crept into the room, making the place even colder. I heard voices. When I tried to look up to ask the talkers to go to sleep, after all it was well past one am, I couldn’t move. I was fixed rigid to the bed. I struggled for a while and impressed on myself that I was dreaming. The voices continued. ‘We cannot let this man destroy Lord Galorian De Poer, our benefactor. Another man replied to him, ‘Yes, indeed, he cannot marry Lord Raymond Mac Mora’s daughter. It would destroy the dynasty. After all of our years putting the Abbot’s plans in place. The marriage has to be stopped. You, Brother Cosmas are the solution!’ ‘I don’t understand, Brother Adelphus’, the man called Cosmas said.

It was almost dawn, when I woke again. I had been spooked at hearing those voices last night, especially, when I couldn’t move. But with daylight, my fear had abated, and I fell asleep again. The monastic environment had filled my imagination. As soon as I fell asleep, within a short time I was awake again. Then something strange was happening to me. I was again rigid, and very drowsy. I tried to talk, but no words came out of my mouth, nor could I move my mouth. I must be having a stroke or seizure. I was panic-stricken. I was being lifted out of the bed by two monks, and placed on a board, and followed by the two men who had been talking in ‘my sleep earlier’ in the night, they too were monks. After going through the long dark corridors of the school, we came to a small room where a candle was lighting. I was lifted onto a wooden table. The dawn light entered the narrow slit window. I was unable to talk and move during all of this time.

I was now feeling deafness in my ears. I could barely hear what these monks were saying. My head was pounding; my body shook with unthinkable pain. One of the monks lifted my head, beckoning me to sip a colorless acrid drink. He made me drink all of it, nauseating that it was with each sip I wanted to retch. Soon the pain subsided. One of the men poured something on the side of my head; it smelled sweet like honey. A stocky man, wearing a fur coat trailing on the ground, entered the room, and said ‘Brother Cosmas, have you dealt this young fellow his destiny’. The Brother called Adelphus intervened ‘Soon, Lord John, soon. He will not recall much, not even his name when he awakens’. Lord John replied and smiled ‘The Abbot will be very pleased, very pleased indeed, as of course will my dear brother Galorian and his wife. But, under pain of death for any breaches of our secret, they will never know how this young man lost his mind, perhaps even died, after his injuries in The Holy Land? He deserves his Knighthood after such bravery. Yes, I think posthumously, it will be? Eighteen? A bit young, but nevertheless well deserved young Sir Thomas! Brother Adelphus, I must talk to the Abbot soon, about that generous donation I will be making, which should help towards the building of the new chapel.’ The two monks looked at one another. Brother Adelphus nodded to Lord John, beckoning to Brother Cosmas to continue as the Lord had indicated, and said ‘Brother Anselm, begin the prayers, and then return to the manuscript room’. Brother Adelphus and Lord John left the room, the latter gathering his long coat brusquely, the gold and precious stones on his opulent collar gleaming in the sunlight.

My eyelids had become heavy; I could not keep them open for long more. The room was now floodlit with the sun, feeling the warmth on my face. Smoke was rising; the room smelled strongly of herbs, hemlock, and mandrake, but I recognized none of the others. My head went into a swirl. I felt wetness, like a sponge touching my forehead, armpits, and the soles of my feet and then the palms of my hands. Were they preparing me for death? One monk held a knife over my head. Occasionally my head would feel a great searing pain. Brother Cosmas held his hand high over me, in it was placed a small circular saw mounted on a rod of metal. I was petrified. I cannot remember more, for I must have fallen into a deep sleep.

When I awoke, I recognized that I was in the dormitory. It seemed bare and quiet and no volunteers were here. The searing pain in my head was mind blowing. I could not think, and I still couldn’t speak nor move. My dream or nightmare was still not over. One monk was busy cleaning me with a sponge, and I realized that the sponge was dripping in blood, as he dipped it into a small wooden bowl. His hand was mopping blood from me. What was happening? What had they done to me? What a nightmare? How did I get into this mess? What kind of lunatics were they? Brother Adelphus appeared. ‘Brother Cosmas, how is he doing?  Brother Cosmas replied with a genuine air of sadness ‘He has lost a lot of blood, and is still very weak. He will shortly pass away due to the serious injuries to his head, which were incurable. The O’Burnagh clan will know that we did everything, which we could to save his life’. Hearing these words I was petrified.

When I next awoke, I looked around the dormitory, and everyone was asleep. It was dark, and the room was quite untidy, with books, bags, and someone’s socks lying a distance from the bed. This was no monastery. I touched my head with my fingers, and felt a bump, but no deep incision or scar. I had no pain. I could even move; the rigidity was gone. It can’t have been a dream. I felt all of the pain. I experienced everything. I wandered around the room in the dark. Graham quietly said ‘Go to sleep, you had a difficult day. Do you need water?’ ‘What do you mean; I had a difficult day? Were you present? You saw them opening my head?’ I asked excitedly. ‘Are you ok?’ Graham replied, ‘You had a bad bump when you hit your head and collapsed. The doctor said that you would be fine.’ I frantically replied, ‘But my head was cut open!’ Graham smiled ‘You are still traumatised, go back to bed. You will wake everyone!’ ‘When did I bump my head?’ I queried. ‘Yesterday, when we were going for tea break, you walked into an arch of the old building’, Graham replied. ‘I have to talk to you and tell you what happened!’ I explained. ‘Sshh’ came from an annoyed person trying to sleep.

After breakfast, I explained to Angela and Graham, what I had encountered in my sleep. Graham said “It is amazing what a bump on the head can do”! They both advised that I should rest for the day, and the doctor would visit later. Angela came back to me by midday and recounted the removal of the skeleton. It was a young man in his late teens. As she lifted up the extremely fragile skull, she was amazed to see an opening on the side of his head. It was about an inch in diameter. This was a trepanation, or aperture resulting from surgery. The opening had not healed and therefore the person had not survived the operation. We were astounded. I was badly shaken. Angela said that it was similar to the very experience that I had ‘dreamt’ in my sleep.

Angela had more information about this skeleton. He was a knight who had been to Jerusalem during the crusades; his grave contained fragments of a grave slab which had covered his burial; the slab had decorative motifs engraved on it; typical of those of certain knights. There were also some artifacts in the grave, a piece of wood with a nail attached, held in his hands, which were crossed over his chest, and also a rather thin worn silver coin or token. Angela suggested that this young man, aged in his late teens, had lived in the thirteenth century. This skeleton also had some healed injury marks, perhaps cuts from a sword, on his forearms, probably from warding off an attack in combat. Graham had also finished excavating the second skeleton, a female, aged in her mid to late teens. Angela said that it appeared that her neck might have been broken, and was the most likely cause of death.

Angela had decided that there were only two skeletons on the site proposed for the extension for the school, and they were not associated with any other burials. It was a mystery. From the beginning of this dig, she had believed that this area was not typical for burials within a Christian graveyard, so burials would not be common. People were usually buried to the east and south of the church; when the grounds got full, then the western side would be used, but rarely on the north, which was considered the dark or devil’s side. The burial of murderers and criminals was reserved for the northern side of the graveyard. In this case, this young man and woman were buried on the north side of the church, close together. She added ‘Not at the one time, but within a short time frame’. Angela explained that an expert local historian would be joining them after work that day.

The team was excited at Mrs. Egan’s arrival. She was animated about the discovery of the skeletons, explaining that they might be Marigold and her lover Thomas O’ Burnagh, the Knight. He went to the holy land during the crusades to protect pilgrims, but also to pray that he would be able to marry Marigold. He would also earn his knighthood.

When Sir Thomas, was a young lad of eight years, his father had sent him to his good friends and neighbours, the Mac Moras. He was trained there, first as a page, then a squire and finally for his knighthood. He loved wrestling and horse riding. He was also taught to read and write by a French tutor. It was during one of these classes in the castle, that he had seen Marigold, the young daughter of Lord Mac Mora. He was immediately smitten by her. He dreamed one day that he would marry her. The young daughter knew that the young knight was in love with her. She also wanted to marry him. She looked forward to the young man’s classes with her mother, the lady of the castle, who taught him how to sing and dance, as well as how to behave in the king’s court. Marigold secretly watched these sessions and laughed quietly. The young man was not the best on his feet, nor with his voice, and as for manners, the O’Burnaghs were known to be rough and uncouth. However, Thomas was different and ever so dark and, handsome, everything a girl could want in a young man. He had the latest style in long wavy hair and a small pointed beard. He also wore the very latest in fashionable pointed shoes and far too much embroidery on his clothing for his age. Her father didn’t approve of his arrogance.

Marigold also had to be educated and consequently she was sent to another castle the home of some distant cousins, where she was taught how to sew, read and write. At the age of fifteen, she became engaged to Lord De Poer’s son Oliver.  Her father wished to give a dowry of a large tract of land, to the future bridegroom’s family, in return for access to a fording point at a major river. The two families had been warring for years, and this marriage would seal a peace, and all would benefit financially from this union. Marigold and her knight foolishly believed that they would be together. However, Lord De Poer had other ideas. He knew of the friendship between Marigold and young Thomas O’ Burnagh. After all, arrangements had been made with his family and his son Oliver would be the future groom for Marigold Mac Mora.

When Lord Mac Mora reminded Marigold of her engagement to Lord De Poer’s son, she flew into a temper, the like of which he had never seen before. He felt sorry for her, but reminded her that it wasn’t up to his daughter to make the rules on marriage. It would be treacherous if the marriage was cancelled. Bloody and brutal war would commence between the two families again. He cautioned Marigold that she had a lot to bear on her shoulders.

I asked Mrs. Egan what happened to Marigold and Thomas. She said that Thomas had gone to the Holy Land for an unusually short time, and was back with numerous injuries. His family was informed that he had been taken prisoner after a short period in Jerusalem, and was brought back to the monastery here, where he died soon after his return. The holy men in the monastery did everything to save him. Thomas was given a knighthood posthumously and was one of the few knights in the crusades that had accounts written about him. A poet retained by his family composed many ballads about him and Marigold. There was even a partially written manuscript found some years ago, hidden in the medieval walls of a small chapel. It was currently being examined and conserved in a museum. The results were due to be released soon, in particular to tie in with the foundation stone of the new extension, and the commencement of the local mayoral elections.

Almost afraid to ask, I said, ‘what did happen to Marigold?’ Mrs. Egan replied ‘Well, we are not sure. Her family, the Mac Moras and the De Poers began feuding again. Marigold had delayed her wedding to Oliver De Poer. The delaying tactic had been a request by her mother for a manuscript, written by one of the monks in the monastery. It was taking a number of years, but it would include a history of the two families and the truce that would result with the young couple’s union.  In the meantime Marigold heard of Thomas’ death and it is said that she hung herself off the castle tower, for the surrounding countryside to see.

Mrs. Egan continued ‘Coincidentally the press release on the results of the museum’s work is on the evening newspaper. Look I brought out a copy: “A manuscript written by a scribe in the monastery, Brother Anselm, changes historical facts, about local dynasties feuding in the Middle Ages’’.


%d bloggers like this: