I got into a discussion on twitter about Scatha(ch) recently. Scathach was the warrior woman/goddess of the Tuatha de Dannan who trained Cuchalain in Scots/Irish mythology.  Many years ago I wrote some stories featuring Scatha as a character. I thought I’d lost the majority of them in a “catastrophic hard drive failure”, but I  found this today. In this, Scatha is a hidden child living in a prison/arena owned by the Lord of the Hunt.

She hid in the shadows, her back pressed hard against the rough stone of the cell, her eyes wide and her breathing shallow.  She mustn’t be seen by the guards, her life depended on it.  If they knew she existed……
The guard captain, with his ugly, pig like face and filthy yellow tusks protruding from his mouth, threw open the cell door, scattering the other inmates to the back wall where she hid.  Quickly she ducked down onto her haunches, hiding behind the skirts of the doughty Irish woman who had raised her in this horrible place.
“We’ve been hearing rumours again! Where is the Dannan Witch’s child?” the Guard Captain spat, shining his torch on the pale faces before him, “Give up the bloody child, or you’ll all be in the ring with Taireanach!”
“There is no such child!” The Irish woman exclaimed, even as she hid her from view, “Throw me to the Dragon if you wish, but you will never find this child you speak of!”
“Lies! She has been seen stealing food from the guards store!  I will only spare you the Dragon if you give her to me now!” The Guard Captain snarled, his face inches from the Irish woman’s face, his fetid breath filling the air so that the woman choked on it.
Hiding where she was, the girl felt a sudden rush of fear for her brave guardian.  The Irish woman had kept her hidden for so many years, and kept her as safe as she could be in the bowels of Ben Cuil, but she could not let her give up her life in such a way.  She took a deep breath, stood up and stepped around her guardian. 
She was a tall child, for her eleven years, and skinny.  Her ragged mop of black hair spilled to her shoulders, which were broad and bony and squared to meet her fate.  She stuck her strong chin up and stared the Guard captain right in the face with her bright  green eyes.  Beside her the Irish woman whispered a plea under her breath with a shaking voice.
“Please no, Scatha, please no.  They will kill you my child,”
“By the blood of my father and the grace of my mother, I will fight before ever I shall die,” the girl said defiantly. 
“At last!” the Captain crowed, looking her up and down and ignoring both the Irish woman’s pleas and the girls defiance, “The Lord will have some entertainment from you! Oh yes indeed,” her turned and signalled to the three brutish guards who were standing  in the doorway behind him, “Take her to the Circus cells.  She can be the highlight of the Lords Spring Feast!”
She stood proud as the guards clamped manacles on her wrists and dragged her from the cell.  Behind her she could hear the sobbing of her guardian, and she offered a silent prayer for her to Dana, the goddess of her mother’s people.

Ben Cuil, the mountain of blood.  After the Romans fled the British Isles, the Lord of the Dance went to war with the Fair Folk and their allies, the Celts and Picts of Alba, Eire and Albion.  With his powerful Wild Magic, his hoards of Beserkers and the aid of the Crone and her armies of ghosts and Undead creatures, it was not long before the Fair Folk and their allies were beaten and forced into servitude. 
Of course there were those who resisted, and when they were captured, they were brought to Ben Cuil.  The Lord had been a great admirer of the cruel ways of Roman Punishment, and he had hollowed out the Ben and turned it into the most extravagant Circus that had ever been seen.  He gathered a collection of creatures of great diversity and evil to pit against those who displeased him, from African Lions and Russian Bears to Wolves, Gorgons, Ogres and, of course,  the Dragon, Taireanach. All these fantastical creatures had been taken from the Otherworld beyond the world of men, that had once been the home of the Fair Folk, and was also the home of the Lord himself.
This was where the girl, Scatha, had been born, amid the torment and suffering of the Lord’s enemies.  Her mother had been a Maiden Priestess of Dana among the Fair Folk. She had been powerful in magic and had fought in battles against the Lord’s creatures, but had been captured and brought to Ben Cuil to fight.  Her father had been a warrior chieftain of  an Irish tribe who had been the sole survivor of his Clan after a battle against the Lord.  They had met and fallen in love in the gloom of Ben Cuil’s cells, a love that they had had to keep secret from the sadistic Captain of the Guard.  But secrets are hard to keep in Ben Cuil, for there is always some poisonous soul willing to sell another inmate out for a little favour.  Thus is happened that they were discovered, after Scatha’s mother had found herself pregnant.
The Captain of the Guard, whose taste for evil knows no bounds, pit them against each other in the ring, but they refused to fight.  He sent in wave after wave of his own guards, beasts and finally a mighty Minotaur to destroy them.  Scatha’s father fought them all off, to the very last one, to protect his beloved.  The Lord grew bored of the show and dismissed them from the ring, but not before Scatha’s father was mortally wounded.  He died hours later, and Scatha’s mother was heartbroken.  She lived long enough to give birth to her child and give her into the guardianship of an Irish woman who had been a cousin of Scatha’s father, then took poison to be with her lover again in Elysium, the place of eternal summer, beyond the Otherworld.
So Scatha was raised in the shadows, hidden always from the Captain of the Guard to protect her from his cruelty.  He would think nothing of throwing a mere babe to Lions.  She had to learn stealth and silence from a very young age, which as she grew older she turned to the advantage of the other prisoners, stealing food and running messages between them.
There was always the chance that one of the guards would find her, so she learned how to use a knife, but she had never had occasion to use it.  Now though, as she sat in the tight confines of a circus cell, listening to the gathering crowd in the arena above, she clutched her small knife in her hands and prayed to Dana that she would have the strength to face her impending death with dignity.
A sudden burst of light made her snap open her eyes, and she found herself staring in amazement into the face of her goddess.
“Do not be afraid, Scatha.  You are not meant to die here on the bloody sands of Ben Cuil.  I intend much greater things for you than that,” she said, a gentle smile spread across her face.
Scatha opened her mouth to reply, but the goddess put a finger to her lips to silence her and then faded from view.  Then the door of Scatha’s cell  swung open.
“The Lord awaits ye, child,” said the gruff voice of the Captain.  There was no hiding the glee that dripped from his tone.
Scatha stood up, squared her shoulders and took a single deep breath.
“Lead on Captain, I am ready for whatever death ye wish to throw at me,” she told him, holding her dagger fast in her clenched fist.

As she followed the Captain out onto the sand, the crowd and howled.  The sound washed over her like a giant wave, threatening to smother her with it’s ferocity.  She was used to the shadows in the deep belly of the Ben and had never been close enough to the Arena to hear more than a distant ghost of the sound that assaulted her now.
She hadn’t even realised she had stopped until she felt the heavy hand of a guard land on her shoulder and shove her forwards.  She almost lost her balance, but fought it with a sudden surge of determination not to be humiliated before her enemies.  She recovered her balance, stuck her chin up, swallowed her fear and marched into the centre of the arena where the Captain now stood.
The Captain turned to the Lord’s private box and bowed deeply.  Scatha saw the Lord himself.  She had heard tell of his shimmering, feathered cloak and the proud white stags head he wore on top of his own, but what she saw when she looked into his face was a brown haired, brown bearded man with the soul of a devil peering out through his brown eyes.  Somehow he seemed smaller, and meaner, than legend had told her and she felt some of her fear fall away.
“My Lord, I present to you the highlight of this years Feast Program,” the Captain announced, bowing low to the Lord and indicating Scatha with a flourish.  Jeers erupted around the Arena and the Lord got to his feet.
“This is but a child, Captain!  We should have more entertainment throwing you to the lions!”  the Lord exclaimed, hiding nothing of his disdain.
The Captain had obviously anticipated the Lord’s reaction, and, exactly on cue, two handlers appeared with a number of rangy, black coated Wolf pups each on leashes.  Scatha eyed them warily as a murmur of interest began around the crowd.  These pups, who were perhaps a year old, were Black Wolves and were larger, stronger, faster and more wicked that their grey coated brethren. They were Otherworld creatures too, and had magic of their own that made their coats thick enough to turn a blade or any magic cast upon them.
“The child will not last five minutes against them.  Bring me something more worthy of my interest,” the Lord snarled, sitting himself back down with a look of contempt upon his face.
“But my Lord, this is no ordinary child.  She is the offspring of the Dannan witch Brigid and the Irish chief Finn. She has eluded us for many years and only last week she killed one of my men who stumbled upon her stealing from our stores.  Her lineage alone should make excellent sport for you, my Lord,”  the Captain explained while the crowd looked at Scatha again with interest.  The Lord leaned forward in his chair.
“Bring her before me so I may look more closely at her,” he decreed, and Scatha moved quickly to comply before one of the guards could lay a hand on her.
“She has the look of a feral beast but the eyes of the Dannan,” he said after looking her up and down for a few moments, “Very well, you may proceed, although I warn you that if I am not sufficiently entertained I will feed you to these wolves next,”
With a curt bow, the Captain and his guards retreated from the ring, leaving just Scatha, the snapping and snarling wolves and their handlers on the sands.
Scatha turned slowly to face them, counting them as she did.  There were  six altogether.  They were lunging and straining, trying to get towards her, their yellow eyes ablaze.  Most of them were frothing at the mouth and Scatha could not help but notice how thin they all were.  Obviously they had been starved to sharpen the viciousness of their tempers.  They looked just hungry enough to be desperate, but not hungry enough to be weak, and Scatha was under no illusions as to how dangerous they were.
The noise of the crowd was beginning to rise again, they were growing impatient for the handlers to loose the cubs.  Somewhere in her mind Scatha registered the noise, but it was no longer important.  All she could think about was how she was going to survive once the wolves were unleashed.  Yet as she stared at them, she realised she wasn’t really afraid.
She hefted her knife between her hands and watched her foes, looking into their eyes and sensing how they did not seem to like such directness. With a metallic “clink” the first cub was unleashed.  Instinctively, Scatha drew all of her thoughts in, focusing now solely on herself and her foes.  Around her the world seemed to slow so that the wolf cub leaping toward her with death in it’s eyes did so as if the air  had suddenly turned to treacle.
Scatha dropped into a defensive crouch and waited, seemingly forever, for the cub to close with her.  She feinted at it with her knife, expecting it to react, and found it’s fur with surprising ease.   For a second Scatha felt confusion flood through her.  This seemed far too easy, yet even as the confusion gripped her, her focus failed her and suddenly the cub was retaliating against her.  She twisted away from it’s claws but they still raked her arm.  The cut burned so intensely that she cried out.  The crowd, who she had forgotten, jeered.
By now all the cubs had been unleashed and they were circling her as she clutched at her injured arm.  Panic began to rise like bile from her stomach.  Any moment now the cubs were going to close in on her and tear her to pieces.  The last thing she would hear would be the roaring of the disappointed crowd.  But then, like an echo sounding in her mind, the words that Dana had spoken to her returned.
“Do not be afraid, Scatha.  You are not meant to die here, on the Bloody sands of Ben Cuil,”
Strength flooded back into her quailing heart and she looked directly into the eyes of the largest cub.  The sound of the crowd melted away into obscurity and again the world began to slow.  Energy began to flow through her limbs and the fiery pain in her arm died, as if snuffed by icy water.
This time she did not wait to be attacked, this time she leaped forward, plunging her dagger straight towards the wolf’s heart.  It yelped and rolled away, slowly, but it seemed the magic of it’s fur had turned the worst damage of her blade.  No longer willing to wait for a response, Scatha attacked again, redoubling the force of her blow.  This time the spark went from the cub’s eyes and it lay still.
Five still remained standing though and she had not forgotten them. She stood over the body of the one she had killed and waited for them to come at her.
For an eternity they held back and she did nothing but stand and breathe.  Then suddenly as one, and at a speed that surprised her, they attacked.  They had used some of their own inner magic to enter the same state of mind that Scatha had discovered.
In spite of her surprise, Scatha still managed to leap clear of them before their claws and teeth could mark her.  She landed in a crouch behind them and struck out low with her dagger at the hind legs of the nearest one.  It yelped and collapsed, falling under the paws of the others as they turned to face her.  Scatha was prepared for the rush this time and she sliced low with her dagger once again, cutting at the front legs of the cubs.  They fell back, wary, blood dripping from the forelegs of two of them.
Somehow she sensed the next attack before it came, and was prepared for the way the two remaining cubs tried to dart around her.  She stepped straight into the path of one and brought her dagger up under it’s chin where it’s fur was softer and shorter, and it fell instantly dead at her feet.  She spun away from the corpse, keeping her distance from the remaining cubs.
By now their wariness had become fear and Scatha could sense it in them.  Even so she had no thoughts of mercy for them.  Her life would only be spared by the Lord if she killed them all.  So she picked her moment, leaping in the air, twisting and landing hard on the back of one of the wounded ones.  A crack reverberated around the arena as it’s spine snapped and she grabbed it’s head and drove her knife into it’s throat.  It went instantly limp, as blood gushed from it, soaking the front of her clothing.
Without pause she turned on another, landing a kick on it’s jaw and knocking it sideways.  She leaped on it quickly and despatched it before it could get it’s bearings.  But then suddenly she felt agony lance up her already injured arm and found that the last able cub had sunk it’s teeth deeply into her flesh.  Her knife fell from her now gripless fingers.
She lashed out at it with her foot but didn’t manage to budge it.  She grit her teeth as the pain threatened to overwhelm her and brought her right fist round to smack it in the head.  While this barely stunned the cub, it sent shards of pain up along her left arm.  Her brain was racing now and she knew she had to think quickly.  She grabbed hold of it’s soft nose, smothering it in her fist and pulling it upwards.  With it’s mouth full of her flesh and blood it would either have to let go or suffocate.  It began to growl and and froth bloody foam from it’s mouth, so Scatha tightened her grip on it’s nose and yanked upwards with all the strength she could muster.
The cub let go, yelping and fell back, snarling, blood pouring from it’s snout.  Scatha looked around for her knife and saw that it had been kicked several feet away in the scuffle.  Before the cub could gather itself again and lunge at her she dived for the knife, but it sprang after her, this time sinking it’s teeth into her calf muscle.  She let out a roar of pain which caused several surprising things to happen at once.  Firstly, it reverberated around the arena so loudly that it caused the crowd to take a sharp intake of breath and the cub to let go of her leg as it shied away from the noise.  Secondly, and possibly more surprisingly, it whipped the air in the bowl of the arena into a sudden frenzy, causing it to whirl and spin as if a storm were passing through.  Seeing this brought the Lord of the Dance to his feet, a cruel smile playing across his face.
“Kill them now, Scatha daughter of Birgid, and you can have pride of place among my gladiators!” he said with a laugh.
Grimacing and more aware of the cub that had just bitten her than the words of the Lord, Scatha lunged at her knife and grasped it.  The cub was recovering slowly, it kept shaking it’s head as if it’s ears were still ringing.  Scatha dragged herself to her feet, tears standing in her eyes as she tried to put weight on her injured leg, and she hobbled towards the cub.  Still shaking it’s head it backed away from her, and she suddenly felt a surge of pity that quickly turned to nausea.  She knew she had no choice but to kill it, but killing it in cold blood seemed innately wrong to her.  Best to get it over with quickly, she told herself, so with another roar to take her mind away from the pain and the guilt, she launched herself at the cub and tackled it, bringing her knife to artery in it’s hind leg and severing it with a vicious thrust.  It yelped then went still, as it’s lifeblood poured out on the sand.
“And the last one, Scatha,” she heard the Lords voice say as she backed away from the corpse.  Confused and dazed, she looked around and saw the last one, the one whose hamstrings her knife had severed earlier.  It was crawling on it’s front legs away from her, it’s back legs useless.  Scatha closed her eyes and tried to steel her soul against the revulsion she was now feeling.  She wished suddenly to return to the familiar darkness of the Ben’s lower tunnels, and the tears began to flow freely down her muddied and bloodied cheeks.  She became aware of the crowd once more, urging her, in no uncertain terms, to kill the last cub.
“There is no mercy for those who refuse to do my bidding on the sands of Ben Cuil, girl,” she heard the Lords voice drift above the sound of the crowd.
Her feet carried her forward, although her heart burned inside her chest.  She knew that the cub would be killed anyway, it was no longer of any use, but it wasn’t making her feel any better.  She reached it and stood above it with her dagger poised to strike.  It looked up at her, and for a second she felt her heart quail and saw her hand begin to withdraw, but then it closed it’s eyes and lay down.  Scatha gulped and tightened her fist around the hilt of her dagger while the crowd roared her on, then with a swift strike she brought it down and buried it in the side of the cubs neck.  Then thankfully, everything went black.


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