Mairi looked around at all the people in the croft. “I don’t know about the
rest of you, but I’m tired of being cooped up. Who would like to go to the
castle with me and look around? I still want to restore it.”
“I’ll go,” said Johnny.
“You’re not going without me,” said Jesse.
“Me neither,” Jack added.
“I’ve got to finish the gardens,” Julian said.
Jeffrey stood and stretched. “I can work on the wall, but I could use some
help. Jasper? Jared? Come and help?”
“Of course.” Jasper answered for both of them.
“Good. The rest of you should stay here and protect the orb and books.
Jason, I’m sure you want to study the book and you too, Angus.”
Mairi grinned at them. “It’s quiet without Fiona and Elspet and Callum,
“What about us?”
Nellie took Penelope’s hand. “We don’t want to stay here forever.”
dangerous for both of you. Why don’t you take Jeremy into town and show him
around Inveralba. Pick us up something smashing for supper tonight,” Angus
suggested. “Stay together at all times and come back here this evening.”
wonderful. Thank you. Come on, Jeremy. Surely you don’t mind escorting the
two loveliest elderly ladies in Inveralba through the streets of town, do
you?” Nellie chuckled.
Jeremy laughed. “It
would be my honor and privilege.” He left with the two of them, one on each
After everyone had left, only Jimmy, Jason, Jacob and Angus were left at the
croft. “Surely you don’t need all of us to stay here, do you Angus?” Jimmy
glanced at the man.
“What’s on your mind, Jimmy?” Angus moved to the settee.
“I thought I’d take Jacob and go to the golf course. I’d love to learn to
play. You don’t mind if we’re gone for a few hours, do you?” Jimmy asked
with pleading eyes.
“Go on. Here’s some money. Have a good round of golf,” Angus said, roaring
with laughter. After Jimmy and Jacob had left, Jason and Angus were alone.
“Well, Jason, it looks like it’s you and me and the books, again.”
“That’s fine. I could do with a quiet afternoon. There’s so much I still
need to learn.” Jason sat with the book on his lap.
“Aye, I feel the same. I’ve got two books I’d like to look through,” Angus
said. Neither said another word, but sat in the silence and read.
* * *
“I do want to do the house in Inverdrochit up too, but right now the castle
is calling to me. That sounds odd, doesn’t it?” Mairi snickered.
“Not at all. We all are attached to this place.” Johnny looked up at the
castle. “I’m glad we brought Angus’s row boat. I don’t feel like going via
Jeffrey and Jesse had the boat on their shoulders. They put it in the water
and all climbed in. Julian and Jack rowed to the island. They jumped out the
water, pulled the boat onto the rocks and headed for the castle door.
“I’m staying out here to look around the gardens. I’ve been thinking up some
ideas for landscaping this place. I’ll be around the back if you need me.”
Julian waved and ran around the side of the castle.
Jack patted Jesse on the back. “We’d better finish up these pines. The first
real storm they’ll topple. Are you ready? I believe the saw and axe are
right where we left them. We’re off,” Jack said and he and Jesse walked
towards the trees.
“All right, Jasper, Jared, you come with me. There’s a wall to be built and
I can’t do it by myself,” Jeffrey said. “Come on. You didn’t come over here
to lie around, did you?”
“We’re coming,” Jared said. “Slave driver.”
“I heard that,” Jeffrey said, laughing.
“It’s just you and me, Mairi. Let’s go inside and see what needs to be
done.” Johnny took her hand and they ran into the castle. “This place used
to be so grand. Come on upstairs and I’ll tell you all about it.” They
climbed the steps and stood on the highest level. “This is where everyone
slept. The girls shared a room, as did the lads. I’ve looked. There’s
nothing left of their beds; nothing of their lives.”
“Don’t get down, Johnny. We look to the future, right? We will fill this
castle with laughter and invite their spirits to stay with us in our
hearts.” Mairi’s eyes glittered with tears.
“Mairi, I love you. I’ve never told you that yet, but it’s true. You’re such
a special person. I love you.” Johnny leaned over to kiss her.
“I love you too, Johnny.” She threw her arms around him in a loving embrace.
“Enough of this mushy stuff. Let’s go down to the kitchen. There’s so much I
want to show you there.”
“I’ll race you,” Mairi said and ran ahead of him.
“Cheater! Cheater!” Johnny laughed and raced after her.
They stood in the kitchen, or what was left of it. “It’s huge. I’d love a
kitchen like this.” Mairi turned in a circle.
“There are many small rooms off the main kitchen.” Johnny pushed a door to
one open. “Each had a use. Would you like to hear about them?”
“I’ve nothing better to do. If we’re going to restore, I want to keep it as
original as possible.” Mairi pulled a pen and paper out of her pocket. “Show
“This room was called a spicery. They kept all the imported dried fruits,
herbs and spices in here.” He watched as Mairi jotted it down. “I used to
stand here at the door just to smell the cinnamon.” Johnny took a deep
breath. “I can almost smell it now.”
They moved to the next small room. “This was the Fresh Larder. It was always
full of venison, pheasants, rabbits, quail and other wild game.”
“This room,” Johnny pushed the door open hesitantly, sniffing the air, “was
the Wet Larder. They kept fish in here. It used to smell awful. It still
“This was the Dry Larder. Nuts, berries and other dry goods were kept in
here.” They moved on. “This was the Pastry Room. “They baked sweets and
savory pies in here. This was my favorite room. I’d sneak down here with the
children after all the cooks had gone to their rooms and we’d sneak the
pastries. I remember one night Gelis and I were nibbling on an apple pie
when Ailen came in and caught us. She tried to act furious with us, but I
knew she wasn’t. She ended up sharing the pie with us and every night met us
there and gave us something yummy. I’d take wee Gilian down there often. She
loved plum tarts. I miss those babies.”
“Johnny, this is hard for you. I’m sorry to see you so sad. Maybe it would
be better if you went outside and helped Jack,” Mairi said.
“It breaks my heart, Mairi, but it also brings me joy. I want to stay in
here with you. Come on; let’s go into the main room.” Johnny took her hand.
In one of the corners they found a stack of old copper pots. They were
covered with century’s worth of cobwebs. “Look at these,” Mairi said,
pulling one out of the silky woven threads of spider webs. “I could take
these home and polish them up. They’re old, but not useless.”
Johnny helped her brush the dust off. They set them on the floor in the
middle of the room and went to look for more treasures. “What’s this?”
Johnny called to Mairi. “Come and see this. You won’t believe what I’ve just
Mairi ran over to him. “Books?”
“Not just books, recipe books. They’re written in Arabic. Queen Sarmantha
brought them with her. They’ve been in this cold castle, but they seem to be
in relatively good shape. They’re a bit torn and water marked.”
“I can save them. If you will read them to me, I’ll write them down on paper
and oh, Johnny, this is so exciting. Imagine finding recipe books from my
ancestors.” Mairi squeezed Johnny.
“That’s right. They are your ancestors. I forgot.” Johnny carried the books
and put them near the pots. “The cooks were marvelous. I told you about
Ailen, the pastry cook. I adored that woman. She was plump and jolly and had
a heart as big as a loaf of bread.”
“I’d love to hear more about them. You talk while I search,” Mairi said.
“The head cook was a man named Ackley. If you ever tried to put your fingers
in the food, he’d hit your hand with the wooden spoon. I got quite a few
bruises from him. Our original cook didn’t come with us from Burill. None of
our cooks did. Most of them came from England. The books did, but not the
cooks. King Kegan picked them up as we traveled to Scotland. Ackley made the
best leek and pea flan you’ll ever taste. We didn’t just eat the foods in
the recipe books. Each of the cooks had their own secret recipes and shared
them with nobody.” Johnny loved talking about the past. Mairi saw it in his
eyes and encouraged it.
“There were two other cooks, Carling and Locke. The three of them made the
main meals, like lamb stew and steaks. We had a butcher named Marlow. There
were three men who hunted for food, Whit, Tomkin and Stroud. They knew these
woods and could find a deer, or some good kill whenever Kegan asked for it.
Selby served our food. I’d pinch her bottom sometimes when she walked past
and blame it on Rayad. She knew it was me, but always gave Rayad a hard time
for it. We were a happy bunch here.”
“Yes, it sounds that way. Aha! I found some candles made from beeswax. Oh
look, here are some peacock feathers too.” Mairi was in seventh heaven.
“This is so much fun. As Fiona says, it’s cool. I wonder what she’s up to. I
hope having a grand time with her friends and staying out of mischief.”
“Kegan had oranges brought here from Spain. We only had them now and then. I
notice you can get them at your shops any time you like. They’re in
abundance. Do you realize how fortunate you are to live in this day and
time?” Johnny wrapped his arms around her waist.
“I do know we’re blessed. Now, stop hugging me and help me carry all this
back to my house. Once this is all over, I’ll have time to go through it
all.” Mairi picked up the box of candles.
“We’ll be back in a bit,” Johnny called to the others. “We’re taking this to
Mairi’s house. We’ve got about five loads. “Jesse, will you help me row
across and then you can row back?”
Jesse was glad for a break. “Of course.”
It took them five hours to get all the pots and pans and books over to
Mairi’s house. By then all the men were exhausted and ready to call it a
Fiona came back to her house. She opened the door and saw her mum. “I’m glad
someone is here. I saw a light.”
“Did you have fun with Elspet and her wee brothers? Did Callum come?” Mairi
gave her daughter a big hug.
“It was great fun. I do have something to admit though,” Fiona said.
“Oh?” Mairi noticed Johnny, Jesse, Jeffrey, Julian and Jack all stopped what
they were doing to listen. “You all might as well come and hear what Fiona
has to say. I’m sure you’ll all be interested.”
“Mum! All right. Don’t be mad at me. I couldn’t resist,” Fiona said.
“What have you done, Fiona? You’ve got me concerned,” Mairi said, sitting on
the settee next to Johnny.
“I’m alive, right? Don’t worry so much. I’m eleven years old, not a baby
anymore.” Fiona sighed. “All right, I’ll tell you. Since I have the power to
travel anywhere I want, I went to see some places.”
“What sort of places?” Mairi’s eyebrows arched with curiosity.
“Well, uh, I went to Hadrumetum, Zanaad and Burill.” She blurted it out.
“What?” All the men and Mairi shouted at the same time.
“I wanted to see what it was like there now. I was curious to know if there
were ruins or anything.” Fiona pulled an arm chair over and sat in front of
the group. She now had all of their devoted attention. “I went to Hadrumetum
first. It isn’t there anymore. There are a few marble pillars.” She showed
them her ring. It is in Tunisia now and called Sousse. People have always
lived there. The name has just changed. I brought you this, Mum. It’s a
pendant necklace and the stone in it is a desert diamond.” Fiona pulled it
out of her pocket.
“It’s beautiful, Fiona. Thank you, but I’ve got a million questions going
through my mind,” Mairi said.
“As do the rest of us,” Johnny said.
“Let me finish telling you about it and then you can ask me when I am
finished. I went to Burill next.” Fiona noticed the men’s eyes light up. “It
is now called San’a, Yemen. It’s a strange looking place. I took a lot of
photos. If you want, Mum, we can hand the film in and get it back in a
couple of days. Anyway, I met a man in San’a. He was a Wiseman. His name was
Temani. He was blind. He told me that his ancestor used to live in Burill
and when King Dugan attacked and destroyed Burill, he managed to escape. He
lived in Burill, in the ruins, and got married and had kids.”
“You mean that
swine, Dugan destroyed our beautiful city after we left?” Johnny stood and
rage covered his face.
“Yes, he did, with
the help of Phelan. There’s nothing left of Burill now. I’m sorry to have to
tell you that, Johnny, Jimmy, and the rest of you. I knew it would make you
sad.” Fiona frowned.
“It was to be
expected. I’m glad King Kegan had the sense to leave when he did. I suppose
Dugan took all the wealth too,” Jimmy said.
“All of it,” Fiona
“What was the name
of Temani’s ancestor?” Julian looked over at Fiona.
“Qahtan, I think,”
“Qahtan? Did you
hear that?” Jeffrey leaped off the floor.
“Why are you acting
like that? Do you know him?” Mairi grinned.
“Qahtan was King
Kegan’s Wiseman. He was a seer, of sorts. He interpreted the king’s dreams.
We all knew him. I’m glad to hear he made it to safety,” Jeffrey said.
“Sounds like he’s
passed his talents and gifts on to his posterity. I’d like to meet this
Temani,” Johnny said.
“Maybe you can,
after this is all over,” Fiona said. “Oh, Mum, I brought you a present from
Yemen. It’s called Zhug. It’s some sort of hot spice, typical Yemeni stuff.”
She handed the bag to her mum.
Mairi sniffed it.
“Whoa. It smells hot. Thank you, sweetie.”
“Fiona, this is
amazing. What about Zanaad?” Jimmy sat back down.
“Zanaad isn’t there
anymore. When I went there it was just sand. There was this tent made of
goat hair. It was black and huge. A family lived there. They had a lot of
kids. They told me that Zanaad was completely buried by a sandstorm that
lasted for over one year. The funniest thing is that this boy, Muhair, asked
me to marry him. He was only about fourteen.”
“He wanted to marry
me, Mum. Truly. I said no and left as fast as I could,” Fiona said,
giggling. “Here’s your last present. The Bedouin kids made these for us.
They went out into the desert and gathered different colored sand and put it
in these old jars in layers. It’s pretty, isn’t it? I’ve got one too.”
Well, you’ve had a busy time, haven’t you? So much for playing and enjoying
being a child,” Mairi said.
She spent the next
hour answering their questions to the best of her ability.