They came in force. Attacking at random. Not caring who they killed, the pirates swept across the coast. There were times when they would stop killing but only because they were taking captives.
I was captured in a raid. That’s why I’m here, tending sheep in Ireland and not at home, tending sheep.
Every day I feel great pain. Taken at the age of fourteen, I lost it all that day. My mother and father slaughtered like animals, I didn’t see it happen but the pirates described their terrible doings in great detail. I have nobody.
To ease my pain, I talk to God. This green and fertile land doesn’t have any proper religion. You can be a pagan or you can be a druid, there’s nothing else. But I know of a greater god, one true god, the god of Christianity.
There was a day when I prayed a hundred times and pray again as many times at night and for my prayer, God keeps me safe. Because of my faith and love of God I no longer get hurt by the snow or ice or rain.
And without the physical pains I work as a slave on a farm, tending the sheep from dawn ‘til dusk.
Dusk arrives and I go inside.
I don’t eat anything, I just don’t see the point anymore. God will protect me.
I complete my nightly ritual of praying as many times as gives me relief from the pains of the day before laying down.
Curled up on the floor, trying to keep warm from my own body heat I slowly drift off to sleep.
“Patrick. Patrick dear child.” The voice is deep and rich and warm. “Your suffering is over. I’ll show you the way.”
An image of a golden, sandy beach covers my mind as I struggle to make sense of this strange dream.
“The coast Patrick, that is where you must go. I give you absolution for the strength of your faith.”
Back to blackness, the images gone. The sweet serenity of the sea, the golden sandy beach, the voice that gives me hope are all gone. The hope is still there… that hasn’t left me.
Is it that simple? After six years am I really going home?
I think it was a dream, a dream about God, maybe a message from him. There’s only one way for me to find out. I have to head for the coast.
I make sure the sheep are fed before turning my back to them, and to the home to the place that I had lived in my six years of slavery. I long for home but in a strange way, I think I’ll miss this place.
Onwards I go, retracing the path that the pirates had dragged me along all those years ago, using faith as a guide and memory for directions.
Now I am free, getting what every man truly dreams of.
The sound of gulls in the distance. The smell of salt in the air. And now, I can see the sea.
A ship. A ship! My God! God has saved me. I’ll just go and explain my situation to the sailors on the beach and I’ll be home before the pirates know I’m gone.
“Ask the captain.”, “Ask the captain.” Why will these people not give me aid? Has God abandoned me?
That one is dressed better than the others, maybe he’s the captain.
“I’m the quartermaster, ask the captain.” The words echo through my head. Maybe faith alone isn’t enough; I’ll have to accept it, I’m stuck here on this island.
All of a sudden I feel a hefty smack on my back that if I was sat slightly differently would have broken me in half.
“Come on lad, board me mighty vessel.” The voice is deep and rich and warm. This is the captain.
Finally home after years away, living as a slave on an island where the land is pure but the religion isn’t. This place will be different now… now that my family are dead.
As I stride towards the family homestead of my childhood I feel the good, wet, British mud squelching down beneath my feet. I look down a feeling of nostalgia flooding over me.
Suddenly I am surrounded. My family have come to greet me. They’re alive!
I embrace my mother, tears in her eyes, tears of joy for the boy she thought lost.
Next my father, strong without tears but loving all the same.
This is my fictional version of the story of St Patrick, years after this he returned to Ireland to preach Christianity which is why his saint day is celebrated on March 17th.
Featured image credit to Lloyd of LLOYD’S LENS PHOTOGRAPHY LLC