“Look at the size of the
stones? How did they carry those things? They’ve got to be the size of an
elephant.” Elspet ran her hands over the cold wall.
“They’re all mossy. Be
careful. There are big stones all over the place in here and it’s dark.
There are some more of those gargoyles.” Callum pointed to the wall above
them. He crept on. “It must have been a horrible place to live. There’s
nothing on any of the walls except cobwebs and a lot of mice.”
“And ugly gargoyles. I hate
cobwebs and spiders.” Fiona pulled her shirt tightly around her neck.
“I hate mice. I hope I don’t
see one,” Elspet said, ready to jump at first sight.
“They’re in here.” Callum
chuckled. They found themselves in the middle of a room. “Wow, this must
have been the great hall. Look how huge it is. I can hardly see the
Elspet and Fiona looked up.
Just then a small red fox came scurrying out of one of the corners. Elspet
screamed. “What is that? Is it a mouse?” She ran and hid behind Fiona.
“It’s gone now. It wasn’t a
mouse anyway. It was a fox,” Callum said. “I wonder where it came from?”
They looked toward the wall
and saw a flight of stairs leading down. “I don’t think I want to go down
there,” Elspet said. “It’s dark and it’s starting to get late. Why don’t we
go back home.”
She turned to leave, but
Fiona caught her by the arm. “Come on, Elspet. Don’t be afraid. Look,
there’s an old torch on the wall. Do you think it still works?”
“There’s only one way to find
out.” Callum jumped and grabbed hold of the handle. “Ick. The wood is
covered with something black and sticky. Do you have any matches?” He looked
at the girls, waiting their answer.
“Why would we have matches,
Callum? Don’t be silly. My mum doesn’t smoke,” Fiona said.
“I don’t have any either. We
don’t keep them around. Malcolm and Alastair would get into them and burn
our croft down,” Elspet said, talking about her younger brothers.
“I might have some. Hold
this.” He handed Fiona the torch.
“This is disgusting. Yuck.
What’s on it?” Fiona wiped her free hand on her pants and then sniffed it.
“It smells like moldy tar.”
“It’s probably old kerosene.
It won’t kill you.” Callum rifled through his pockets. “Ah, here they are. I
remembered my dad had me hold these for him the other day when we were
burning heather and weeds. I forgot to give them back to him. Oh well.
That’s good for us, isn’t it? Bend the torch over, Fiona.” He lit the
goo-soaked straw with a match. It burst into flames immediately. “Whatever
is on it still works.” Callum smiled and took the torch from her.
They went down one step at a
time. When they entered another empty room, Fiona said, “It’s the same as
the other one, except for the large fireplace built into the wall.”
Elspet said, “It’s not a
large fireplace, Fiona. It’s a huge fireplace! It’s almost as big as my
bedroom. Why in the world would anyone want a fireplace this big? Look at
the mantle. Imagine the Christmas stockings they could hang from it!” She
ran inside it and shouted. “Come and stand in here. There’s no soot.” Her
“Wow. This is cool. Do you
think it’s one of those fireplaces with a special brick?” Fiona touched the
“What do you mean?” Callum
joined the girls inside.
“I mean one of those
fireplaces where if you push a certain brick, the back of it opens up into a
secret tunnel.” Fiona started pushing at random.
“Let’s find out.” Callum
pushed the bricks after handing Elspet the torch. Fiona tried too. They
heard a grating noise. “Who did that?”
“I don’t know, but I think
one of us found the right brick. Quick, back up and let’s get out of here,”
Fiona said. No sooner had they jumped back into the room than the bricks
separated, splitting open, revealing a dark corridor.
When it stopped moving,
Callum walked over to the gaping hole and looked down. “That was cool. It
looks like more steps leading to another room. Should we go and see what’s
“I don’t want to. I want to
go home. This is way too scary,” Elspet said.
“What? You were just telling
me I was too old to be scared. Now look at you. You’re almost as old as me.
You’re ten and a half years old now.” Fiona pushed Callum out of the way and
looked in the dark room. “Come on, Elspet. Bring the torch and stop being
Elspet, glad her reddened
cheeks couldn’t be seen because of the dim light, joined the others. “It’s
only another room. There is something inside it though.” She tried to act
“It’s a table. It’s made of
wood and has benches on both sides.” Callum held the torch near the table.
“There are all sorts of hallways and smaller rooms off to the sides. I
wonder where all these staircases lead? A dungeon? This castle is much
bigger inside than it looks from the outside.”
Fiona looked up at the walls.
“Look at the tapestries. They’re old and dirty and ready to fall apart. I’m
sure they were beautiful at one time. Oh! There’s a stained glass window.”
The sunlight struggled to shine through. A coating from centuries of dirt
and grime made it difficult for them to see it’s true beauty. “I’m sure it’s
gorgeous under all that filth.”
Elspet looked up at it. “Wow,
it’s pretty. It looks like whatever is on the torch might be on the window
“Look what I’ve found. It’s
an old chest. It must have been here for a hundred years.” Callum searched
for a handle.
“It’s covered with cobwebs
and rust. Who’s going to be brave enough to open it?” Fiona didn’t want to.
“I will,” Elspet said, trying
to redeem herself. “I’ll bet its been here for 1000 years, not just 100
years.” Pushing with all her might, she still couldn’t lift it an inch.
“It’s way too heavy. Let’s all try together.”
“What if there’s something
horrible inside it?” Fiona stepped back.
“What do you mean?” Elspet
let go of the chest. Her reddish-brown hair caught in the rusting lock.
“Ouch!” She tugged it out, leaving several hairs stuck to the chest.
“Well, what if we open it and
a ghost comes out, or a million black beetles that we can’t run away from?”
Fiona gave a nervous giggle.
“Stop that, Fiona. You’re
scaring Elspet,” Callum said.
“She is not scaring me!”
Elspet tapped her foot on the ground.
“Come on. Let’s just lift it
up.” Callum grabbed hold and pushed it open. It creaked. “It needs its
hinges oiled and it does have a lot of cobwebs in it, but no beetles, mice,
or spiders.” Callum used his foot to part the webs. “Whoa! It’s a skean dhu,
with a deer horn handle.” He reached down and picked it up. “It’s covered
with tons of dust and dirt.” He wiped it off with his shirt. “It’s a beauty.
Look at the blade. It’s got carved stuff on it. I’ll bet it’s ancient.”
While Callum admired the
knife, Fiona saw a book hidden in the corner. “What’s this?” She reached
into the chest. Bits and pieces of its leather cover crumbled in her hand as
she lifted it. “This book is very old.” She sat down on the floor and opened
it. “The pages are yellow and faded. I can’t read it. I think it’s written
in Gaelic. The writing looks the same as the stuff on the old library's
“I can read Gaelic,” Elspet
said. “I can’t read it as well as my mum and dad, but I can read a little.
Let me have a look.” Her cobalt blue eyes sparkled, catching the reflection
of the torch.
Callum held the flame close
to the book so she could read.
“I can make out a few words.
‘Ionmhas’ means treasure in Gaelic. It says something about a treasure, but
it’s so old; it’s just too hard to read.”
“Treasure?” Callum’s golden
brown eyes bulged with excitement. “Is there a map or anything?”
“I can’t tell. It’s too dark
in here. Fiona, doesn’t your Uncle Angus read Gaelic. I don’t want to show
this to my mum and dad. I’d have to explain that I was over here in the
castle.” Freckled-faced Elspet looked at her friend.
“Yes, he’s an expert. He and
my dad both studied Gaelic.” Fiona pictured her uncle.
“We’ve got to get this book
to him. Come on. I’ll button up my coat and slip the book inside until we
get back to the village and then we’ll have to sneak over to your Uncle
Angus’s house.” Callum put the book inside and buttoned it up tight, tucking
it into his pants. He lifted his pants leg and slipped the skean dhu into
his woolen sock.
“You’d better be careful with
that knife,” Fiona warned.
They reached the arched door
in the front of the castle. Callum stomped on the flaming torch. Tiny orange
sparks floated into the misty air. He put it back on the wall in case they
needed it again.
Fiona climbed into the boat.
“I’ve still not seen one grouse, Callum. You’ll have to tell your dad that
auld Mr. Lamont doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Elspet ran to the boat.
“Fiona, we didn’t see one monster the whole time. How disappointing.”
“Funny, Elspet. Very funny,”
Fiona said, not pleased with the teasing.
“No funnier than you,” Callum
The setting sun cast its
blazing colors, like a red mirror on the loch’s water. After tying the boat
to a tree on the other shore, they looked once more at the book. “You’d
better keep this at your house, Fiona. My mum and dad would find it right
away. If they don’t, Murdock or Shona will.” Callum handed her the book. “Be
careful with it. Tomorrow, after school, we’ll go and see your Uncle Angus.”
After tying the boat securely
to a tree, Callum and Elspet ran home.
Fiona lived closer to the
castle than her friends.
When she opened the front
door, her mum called to her from the kitchen. “Haggis is nearly ready,
Fiona. Go and wash up. Did you have a great adventure with Elspet and
“Yes, Mum.” She ran to her
room and shoved the book under her bed. After washing her hands, she went
into the kitchen to help. “Smells good.”
“I’m sure Wullie McEwan will
be pleased to hear his haggis is appreciated. I’ve boiled and mashed some
neeps I picked this morning from our garden. I’ve also cooked some mashed
tatties just for you. Eat up. Wait till you see what I brought home for
Fiona’s eyes lit up. “I hope
it’s marzipan. What did you do today, Mum?
“I went to work and I met
“Oh? Would that someone be a
man?” Fiona giggled.
“Why, yes it was a man. His
name is Johnny Thomson and he’s from London. His brother is joining him
soon. They’ll be here for a week to fish and do a little hunting too. I sent
him to Callum’s dad, Malcolm.”
“Johnny? Are you going to
marry him, Mum?” Fiona teased her.
“Eat your haggis and neeps
lass. There’ll be no more talk of Mr. Thomson.” Mairi blushed.
“Whatever you say, Mum.”
That night, as the early
autumn wind howled outside, Mairi fell asleep thinking of her trip into
town. Fiona tossed and turned in her bed with dreams of ancient spells and
wizards and far off places.