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Rolfin's Orb
Book 9 - Sapphire
Chapter 11


“You know what I feel like doing today?” Fiona woke up in her own bed. 

Her mother came into the room and pulled the curtains open. “Hopefully lie around the house and do nothing.”

“I want to go river rafting. I want everyone to come, even Uncle Angus and Jasper.”

“Someone has to stay home to guard the orb and the three books. After yesterday I’d think you’d not need reminded of that.” Mairi walked to the door. “Come on. Get up. We’ll talk about it over breakfast.”

Fiona joined her mother and Johnny in the kitchen. “Mum, I want to go river rafting. Think of how much fun everyone will have. Johnny, what do you think?”

He sipped his coffee. “I’m not sure what river rafting is, but it sounds like fun to me. Maybe we should invite Callum and his family and Elspet’s too. Afterwards we can barbecue.”

Mairi burst out laughing. “Barbecue? It is hilarious to hear a man who lived hundred and hundreds of years ago talking about such things.”

“It’s not that funny, Mum. Johnny’s right. We’ve all been through so much. Yes, I should go to the next place for the stone, but I want a break. One day won’t hurt, but I don’t think we should invite Callum. He’s pretty exhausted after his time with Phelan. And Elspet, she needs a break too. Let her stay home and play with her wee brothers.”

“Fiona’s right again.” Johnny picked the plate of bacon up and carried it to the table. “I’m glad I spent the night last night. I heard all sorts of strange noises from outside. I had to get up a few times and investigate. Turns out it was only a couple of raccoons.”

Fiona chuckled. “Oh, that’s Ian and Mac. They raid our rubbish bins now and then.”

“Ian and Mac? You’ve named a pair of wild raccoons?” Johnny leaned back in his hair.

“Don’t laugh. Mum named all of her bees.” Fiona pointed at her mum.

“Fiona! Enough.”

Johnny burst out laughing.

After a few minutes, all went quiet. The three of them sat around the table. “Who should stay and guard the books and the orb?” Mairi poured orange juice into their glasses and tried to be serious.

“Probably the two angriest, Jasper and Angus. Angus won’t go river rafting. He’s dead set against anything and has his mind made up to stay and keep guard from now on. The rest of us can go.”

After cleaning up they made their way to the croft. The others sat outside on fallen logs holding cups of steaming hot tea.

“Fiona’s made up her mind to go rafting on the River Alba.” Johnny sat next to Angus.

“River rafting? Very interesting.” Angus shook his head. “Don’t you think you’ve been through enough danger? River rafting on River Alba can be treacherous.”

“Uncle Angus! The only time it’s bad is in early spring, because of the run-off. You told me that yourself,” Fiona said.

“Did I? Well, imagine that.” Angus snickered.

Jacob looked confused. “Would one of you please explain to us ancient folks what river rafting is? Do you have a raft made of wood?”

“No, Jacob. It’s much more fun than that. The rafts are safe. We rent them. They’re made of rubber. They can’t break, fall apart, or sink.” Fiona chuckled. “You’ll see. So, that means that Johnny, Jimmy, Jesse, Julian, Jason, you Jacob, Jeffrey, Jack, Jared, Mum and me are going. I think we can fit into one raft, don’t you, Mum?”

“They’re big enough. Let’s go then. Duncan Donaldson rents out the raft. We’ll give him a ring in town, before we go to his croft. Angus, can you leave Jasper here for a wee while and run some of the men to Duncan’s?” Angus nodded and then Mairi led them to the cars.

          An hour later they stood on the banks of the River Alba. Angus had returned to his croft.

          “That’s a wide river,” Jared said. “It flows into the loch?”

          “Yes, but it winds around the hills and the River Alba has a few small waterfalls and rapids before it hits Loch Doon.” Duncan explained the route to the group.

          “Waterfalls?” Julian gulped. “We’re going over waterfalls?”

          “They’re not big, Julian. They’re small. Duncan, you’re just trying to scare them. Stop it.” Mairi gently patted Duncan on the back.

          Duncan burst out laughing. “Sorry, lads. I just wanted to see your reaction. You fell for it. Where are you gents from? Your accents are all different. Did you say they were brothers, Mairi?”

          Mairi coughed and glanced at Johnny. “Some of them are brothers and other just cousins. They’re all from London. You know how London has become a melting pot these days, don’t you, Duncan?”

          “Mr. Donaldson, don’t you ever watch the news?” Fiona pulled at the man’s jacket.

          “Of course. Well then, let’s climb in, one at a time.” Duncan held the raft steady while they climbed in. “Scatter yourself about so there’s a balance.”

                                                ****

Drayton lay still, unsure of where he was. Water lapped at his fingertips. He pushed himself up; a wave of nausea and dizziness rolled through him. A groan flew from his mouth. His hand went to his head. “What happened?” He turned to look at the castle. “The redcaps and sluaghs.” The piles of ash still smoldered. “Phelan. He killed them all like they were midges. Fiona. I’ve got to find Fiona.”

The morning sun broke through the trees. “I’ve slept all night. If Phelan sees me, I’ll be joining the piles of ash.” He staggered, swooning from side to side. “I’ve got to get to Angus’s croft.” He made himself grow. “All this does in make the headache bigger.” Stepping over the loch, he headed for the croft. When he arrived he went down to normal size and hid in the trees.

“Where are they headed this time?” He listened as the men piled in the cars. “Duncan Donaldson? Who is he?” The two cars drove off. “Angus went with him. I don’t suppose he left the house unattended.” Drayton pulled himself up and looked through the glass. Someone’s there. I could go in and kill him, or burn the place down, but his royal wizardship didn’t say to get the books and orb. He wants Fiona.

Walking unsteadily, Drayton made his way into town. He stopped in front of the bakery and asked a man who came out if he knew where to find Duncan Donaldson.

“Och, you mean the river rafting man. He lives north of toon. What happened to you? Did ye get into a bar room brawl over a glass o’ whiskey?” The man laughed.

“Yeah, that’s what it was. I lost.” Drayton scowled.

“That’s a shame, lad. There’s nothing worse than losing a glass o’ whiskey. Enjoy the day.” The man walked down the street with a bag of pastries in his hand.

          As he made his way through town, people stared at Drayton. Between his bashed in face and ragged, dirty clothes, he looked a real mess. “I need a car.” He sat on a bus-stop bench and watched people driving by. When he saw the first car left unattended, he sauntered over, grinned when he saw the keys in the ignition, jumped in and drove away.

          Drayton parked the car down the street from Duncan Donaldson’s and tossed the keys into the weeds. He crept through the tall grasses and gorse until he came to the river. Talking attracted his attention. “So there you are. Going for a wee raft ride are you?”

          “That’s one big raft. How many of you are going? Will you leave room for me?” He rubbed his hands together, turned invisible and walked over to join the others. When he saw an empty space, he climbed into the raft and pulled his legs close, so nobody would trip on him.  There’s Fiona and her mum. This is going to be enjoyable. I think I’ll just close my eyes for a few moments and rest, enjoy the ride down the river.

          A sudden lurch woke Drayton. He looked around. The raft was in the middle of the rapids, bouncing up and down on the waves. Fiona, her mum and the men were laughing, enjoying themselves.

          I must have dozed off. This looks like a grand place to put my little plan into action.  He threw himself out of the raft into the water, turned himself into an invisible giant and stepped onto the bank.  “River, I command you to go wild. Make your waves larger, the dips deeper. Flood that raft and all on it. Kill them all except the girl. Carry her to the side.” Drayton shrunk to normal and clapped his hands. “Now, to watch the excitement.” He climbed to the top of a boulder and sat to watch.

                                      *  *  *

“Whoa! The water’s getting a bit rough here, isn’t it, Duncan?” Johnny grabbed onto the rope that ran around the raft.

“I’ve never seen it like this before, especially in autumn. This is more like spring rafting. Hold on everyone. It looks like we’re in for a wild ride.” Duncan urged them all to wrap their wrists in the ropes.

The waves came at them like brick walls, crashing into the raft and bouncing them up and down. The raft sank into the depths, only to be washed over with icy water as it surfaced. Mairi watched Fiona for signs of trouble. Everyone had on their life jackets and she felt relief at that.

A monstrous wave of water pounded the raft. Jesse was thrown out like a cloth doll; he took the brunt of it. “Mum! Jesse is going to drown. We’ve got to save him.”

Mairi watched the man sink under the water. “I think Drayton has something to do with this. Can you make the water calm, Fiona?”

“I’ll try, Mum.” She had to shout to be heard. “Water, I command you to stop this and be calm.” Nothing happened. “Drayton has put a strong spell on the water.” She thought for a few moments. “I’ve got an idea. By the power of Xilia, I command you to calm your waves.”

The water went still. “It worked, Fiona. Good job!” Johnny patted her back. “Where’s Jesse?”

“I thought it might, if I said Xilia. Drayton did put a spell on it. The water told me so. He’s around here somewhere too. Probably laughing and watch us. There’s Jesse. He’s caught on a branch of that old willow tree.”

Duncan instructed the others to row to the riverbank. “What’s all this about spells? Don’t tell me you are some of those crazies who believes in magic?” Duncan shook his head back and forth. “I knew there was something wrong with you all. I’m taking my raft and getting out of here.” He ordered them out of the raft and paddled away, back the direction they’d come.

“How does he think we’re going to get back to our cars?” Jason stood and put his hands on his hips. “He’s left us stranded here with a sick man.”

“Some people are like that, Jason. Duncan has a reputation for being a bit odd. And he’s got the nerve to call us strange. Ha!” Mairi spat the words and then went to help Jesse.

“It’s obvious we need to get help for Jesse. I see an old house up there. Let’s carry him.” Jimmy pointed to a dilapidated home.

“I don’t want to go there,” Mairi said. “Let’s take him somewhere else.”

“What’s wrong, Mairi? I’ve never seen you behave this way before?” Johnny put his arm around her shoulder.

“I can’t go to that house.”

“Why not? What is it? Tell me.” Johnny squeezed her arm and pulled her off to the side. Fiona followed.

“That’s my old house. I’ve never told anyone this before. I suppose it’s time. Fiona, what I’m about to tell you might shock you.”

“Mum, after all the things I’ve been through in the last few weeks, there’s nothing that would shock me.” Fiona hugged her mum.

“I was born in that house. My mum and dad made sure I had everything as a child. We were happy. I had no brothers or sisters, but that didn’t matter. My mum and dad were my friends. After I married your father, Fiona, I moved to Inveralba. This is Inverdrochit, on the other side of the loch. It broke my heart to leave Mum and Dad, but I went to visit them every day. One day I stopped by with some honey and found them both dead.” Mairi wept.

“Mum? How did they die?” Fiona went pale. “I thought it was a car accident.”

“They’d been murdered. Someone broke into the house while they were asleep, ransacked it, just like someone did to my house not long ago, and stabbed them to death. I will never forget the blood. I…I…I…”

Johnny took Mairi and pulled her away. “Mairi, I wish you’d told me this sooner.”

“And me too, Mum.” Fiona wrapped her arms around Mairi’s waist. “Someone murdered my grandparents?”

“They caught him. It was a vagrant. He stole things from their home after he killed them. They caught him down the road and he’s still in prison in Glasgow.” She wiped her tears. “I had counseling and your dad helped me get through it. I can talk about it usually, but seeing this house brought it all back.”

“How long ago was this, Mairi?” Johnny gazed into her eyes.

“About fourteen years ago, before Fiona was even thought of.”

“Jesse needs to be out of this cold wind. He needs protection and that’s the only place around. I’ll send Jimmy and the others with Jesse and you, Fiona and I will go into town to find a doctor. You don’t have to go inside if you don’t want to.” Johnny walked over to Jimmy and explained the situation.  Jimmy and Julian picked up Jesse and carried him toward the house. The others followed.

“I’m coming with you and Fiona,” Mairi said.

“Inverdrochit. What a quaint town,” Johnny said as they walked down the main road. “Not nearly as big as Inveralba. What do you know; you can see Castle Athdara on the island from here.”

Fiona strained to look. “I can see it too. It doesn’t look as scary from here.  This is where Princess Anna and Isabella’s husbands lived before they got married. That’s cool. I wonder where in town they stayed.”

“Och, Fiona, it’s changed a lot since then. If I remember correctly, though, I think they lived down at the other end of town. There are no houses or building ruins, just local gossip. You know how it goes. Things get passed down over the generations.”

It took them ten minutes to find the doctor, who gladly followed them to the old house. “I remember you, Mairi. How have you been?”

“Fine, Dr. Gillespie. I don’t come to Inverdrochit much any more. You understand, don’t you?” Mairi raised her head.

“Aye, lass. I understand. Tell me about this Jesse. What happened?” Dr. Gillespie questioned Johnny.

Johnny told the doctor about the rafting accident. When they neared the house, Fiona took him inside, leaving Johnny and Mairi out in the field.

“It’s a spooky looking place, isn’t it, Johnny. The wood is all weather-worn and gray. The slate tiles are falling off the roof. See that room on the top floor to the right? That was my bedroom. I used to sit at the window and watch deer run through this field. Dad built me a rabbit hutch and I used to let them out. They’d romp about the field, but always came back to the hutch at night.”

Johnny let her speak, uninterrupted. “When I was a little girl, my mum would tell me stories about the people who built this house. A man and woman moved here from the Shetland Islands. Have you heard of those, Johnny?”

“No. I don’t think so. Where are they located?”

“North of Scotland in the North Atlantic, near Norway. The people who came were called the Fordyce family. The man, Alexander, used to build castles. He married some Lord’s daughter and brought her here. She didn’t like the cold or isolation of Shetland. They had a horde of children. I think they had eighteen of them. One year the smallpox came through Inverdrochit and within a week, seventeen of the eighteen children died. The only one that lived was the eldest son, Hugh. He’s my mum’s sixth great grandfather. Funny how that works, isn’t it? They stayed in this house, with all that heartache and loss.”

“Yes, it is. I had six brothers and six sisters. My mother was a beautiful lady, with long dark hair and big brown eyes. I was the seventh son. My dad was always off fighting in some battle or sleeping with his concubines. My mother stayed by us children and cared for us. I could never have asked for a better mother. One by one her sons grew up and went off to battle with my father. One by one they died. She refused to let my father take me, insisting that I was needed at home to help her. I think I was her favorite. My mother and I were quite close. My sisters were married off to different men. They had no choice. They never knew love. My father picked their husbands; some were older than he was. I always felt sad seeing my sisters go off, knowing they’d be miserable, but that was the way it was in those days. Love wasn’t an option.”

“That’s terrible, Johnny. What happened to your mother?” Mairi’s eyes pooled with tears.

“She died of the Black Death when I was sixteen years old. My father died in battle with the Franks. I found myself alone. That’s when I went to Burill and met King Kegan. I was blessed. My mother taught me to read and to write. Quite rare for those times.”

“Wow! My story doesn’t seem so bad compared to what you’ve been through, Johnny.”

“Each of the men, Jimmy, Jacob, Jared, every one of them, has had similar, if not worse things going on in their families. What I’m saying is, Mairi, don’t let this get to you. It’s been too long now. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of fond memories. Don’t let this one thing, as horrible as it is, ruin the good memories you have of your parents.” Johnny lifted her hand to his lips and kissed them. “Come on. Let’s go inside. If you can do this, Mairi, you’ll be able to do anything.”

She took a few deep breaths. “I’ll go.”

When Johnny opened the door for Mairi, Fiona came running up to them. “Mum, this is such a cool house. There’s a spiral staircase and all sorts of secret passageways and giant rooms. I wish we could live in this house. Let’s not fix up the castle. Let’s fix up this house and live in it.”

Mairi chortled. “I’ll think about it. How’s Jesse?” She and Johnny went into the living room. Jesse lay on a couch; the doctor hovered over him.

“He’s going to be fine, Mairi. Aside from a little water in his lungs, which he’s coughed up, there are no broken bones. I’m sure he’s exhausted from the ordeal. It’s far too far to walk. I’d suggest some of the more fit men go and get your car from Duncan’s house and drive back to pick up Jesse and the others. Now, I’ll be off. It was good to see you again, Mairi.”

“You too, Dr. Gillespie. Take care of yourself.” Mairi walked him to the door and waved as he cut through the field toward town.

          Jacob pulled the dusty curtains open. “There’s still plenty of daylight. Why don’t Jason, Jeffrey and I go and get the cars.”

          “Duh, Jacob. You can’t drive. Remember?” Fiona shook her head from side to side.

          “I think I can,” Jacob said.

          “And I think I can too,” Jeffrey said. “Why don’t you let us try? We’ll take the back roads. If we run into trouble, we’ll stop.”

          They both made puppy dog eyes at Mairi.

          “Mum, let them try. Can you imagine how fun it would be for them to drive a car?” Fiona tugged at her mum’s shirt. “Mum?”

          She thought about what Johnny had told her and smiled. “Go ahead. Be careful. If you have any trouble at all, pull over. That is the only car I have. Do you promise?”

          Jacob kissed her on the cheek. “I promise. Don’t worry. Come on, Jeffrey. Jason, why don’t you bring Julian too and the four of us will take turns.”

          “What about me? I want to drive the car too,” Jared said.

          “Oh, all right. You come too. Do you want to come, Jimmy? How about you Jack, Johnny?”

          “I think the five of you will be enough. Jimmy, Jack and Johnny will stay here with Jesse and Fiona and me.  You go and have fun. On second thought, why don’t you drive the cars to Angus’s croft. Bring back some bandages and things.” Mairi grinned from ear to ear.

          “Cool, as Fiona would say.” Jacob and the others rushed out the door. Fiona watched as they raced through the grasses towards Duncan’s.

          “Silly guys. Mum, can I take Jack and Jimmy and go exploring.  You and Johnny can stay here with Jesse. This house is so cool. I want to check it out.” Fiona took Jimmy and Jack’s hand.

          “Go ahead, but be good.” Mairi knelt next to Jesse.

          “This is going to be way more fun than driving a car,” Jack mocked.

          “Jack, are you being sarcastic?” Fiona lowered her eyebrows together.

          “I have no idea what that means, but the answer is no, I’m not.” Jack chuckled.

          “Where should we start?” Jimmy looked around. “Upstairs or downstairs?”

          “Let’s go downstairs first. There’s another staircase that winds. Maybe there will be a monster down there, or a zombie.” Fiona laughed.


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