April 4, 2023

Cellach had always wanted to die, so much so that he was disappointed to find that he was still breathing, albeit barely. Certainly the crack of his skull against the limestone as his body was hurled through the air should have carried him straight to martyrdom, but it seems he’s more resilient than expected. Scanning the room, he struggles to sharpen the fuzzed shapes as they float before him, while above the roar of the ocean waves he hears the shouting, distant and blurred, a smudge of sound across the horizon of his perception.

Squeezing his eyes shut and opening them brings into focus the leaves of parchment fluttering through the room like rattled doves seeking their escape from a cage, coming to rest on the bodies of his fellow scribes. Cellach’s head lolls forward on his neck, snaps back suddenly, and that’s when he registers Eadfrith, whose dead eyes stare blankly at the pool of blood gathering beneath his chin, his left hand still clutching his quill. They had been working on the gospels–a tribute to Saint Cuthbert–when the doorway had gone dark and death strode across the threshold.

Spots begin to gather on the periphery of Cellach’s vision, and his silent slip into unconsciousness is interrupted by the involuntary shaking of his entire being at the hands of the interloper. Holding Cellach up, the man’s forearm across Cellach’s throat, spittle sprays across Cellach’s face as the man shouts his foreign words. Sending warm waves of rank breath to wash over Cellach with every exhortation, the man’s shouts are a rancid mess tumbling through Cellach’s mind.

The glint of the blade catches Cellach’s eye, filling his world with fear and a sudden instinct to stay alive. Resurrected like Christ himself, Cellach’s arms and legs thrash about as he claws at the interloper’s forearms and face, gurgling his pleas for breath with manic desperation. In that instant all Cellach wants is to be free, and feels no shame as he realizes he would gladly abandon the monastery to these monsters for the chance to breathe again.

“Gull! Hvor er gullet?” the interloper bellows as he releases Cellach, who crumples to the floor and takes in the salty air with greedy gulps. “Gull!” the interloper demands and Cellach, assuming the man is looking for something valuable, lifts a trembling finger to the corner. This is not enough, and the man hurries him along with a kick to the back of his legs, sending Cellach skittering forward trying desperately to keep from getting tangled in the rough linen of his robe. Cellach bloodies his fingers as he frantically scratches at the stone tablet shielding the riches of Lindisfarne. Tired of waiting, the interloper sends Cellach rolling and retching out of the way with a quick boot to the ribs. Squatting down the man levers the tablet up with the blade of his axe.

“Gull,” the interloper growls, as a smile of satisfaction slinks across his face.

Historical note: this is a piece of fiction loosely inspired by true events. The essay is set during the first Viking raid on the Lindisfarne monastery, in 793. At that point in time Eadfrith, believed to be the sole scribe and illuminator of the Lindisfarne Gospels, had been dead for over 70 years. To the best of my knowledge there was no monk named Cellach at the Lindisfarne monastery in 793, although it is possible. If you’d like to read more about this particular Viking raid, Brittanica has a good overview

Posted on:
April 4, 2023
3 minute read, 585 words
essays and shorts
creative writing essay fiction
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