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Apollo's Soldiers
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 1

“Straighten up, Leith. For heaven's sakes lad, don’t walk with a slouch.” Muirfinn Wallace placed his hand in the middle of his only son's back and pushed in. “That’s better. I didn’t send you to private tutors for nothing. You are a refined gentleman and you’d better not forget it.”

Mrs. Wallace smiled a confused grin at Leith, not sure which of the men in her family deserved her loyalty more. She took only a few moments to make her choice. “Leith, your father's right. You’ve got a reputation to uphold. Imagine how it would look to Headmaster McDiarmad if he saw our son, a descendant of Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret, walking with a slouch.”

“Yes, Mum.” The scolded boy frowned, his light brown hair falling into his steel blue eyes. His father coughed and leered at Leith. “I mean yes, Mother.” Mr. Wallace nodded with approval.

The three of them walked up the cobblestone path to the front door of Ewan McDiarmad's School for Boys. Two other families stood waiting.

“Good morning to you both.” Mr. Wallace reached for the men's hands, ignoring the wives and boys. “My son, Leith, will be attending, starting today. Your sons too?”

Mr. Bruce accepted Mr. Wallace's grip. “Good to meet you, Wallace. This is my son, Duncan. His eighth birthday is today, August 8th. What better place to form a strong character than here. His ancestors have been coming here since the school began.” The boy blushed with embarrassment, his gaze aimed at the ground.

Mr. Wallace released Mr. Bruce's hand and took the other man’s. The bald-headed father squeezed back with a firm grip. “I’m Magnus Tait. This is my son, Murray. Like your two lads, it’s his eighth birthday too. I agree with you, Bruce.”

“My son, Leith, is late starting school. He’s eleven, not eight. I’ve been stationed overseas in Dubai…” Mr. Wallace gasped when a dark blue balloon fell on top of his head, exploding with ice-cold water, which ran down his face onto his clothes. “What in the…”

The wives dashed off at the first sign of water, each patting their hair as if to protect it. Another balloon followed, splattering on Mr. Bruce’s back. Duncan, Murray and Leith jumped out of the way. “Look out!” Leith tugged at his father’s arm as four more balloons rushed towards them. They burst in a circle around both. Leith tipped his head back and looked up. “Stupid idiots! Ha! You missed us.”

Mr. Wallace pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. “Who is responsible for that? Did you see who it was, Leith?” He glanced upwards, but couldn’t see anyone at the windows above. He grabbed Leith by the arm and pulled him to the side. “I’ve warned you once boy; a Wallace does not call people stupid idiots. I hope you’ll not make a spectacle of yourself once you begin your studies here. Remember who you are.”

“Wallace, calm down. They’re only lads having a bit of fun.” Mr. Tait squeezed the water from his handkerchief and wiped off his glasses.

“Fun? I wouldn’t call that fun. They’re not just ordinary street urchins. They are students of Ewan McDiarmad’s School for Boys. I expect more from them, as you should too. I’m sure their parents would frown if they knew their sons were involved in such things. What sort of welcoming is that for our lads? Wait until the next board meeting. I assure you I’ll bring it up.” Mr. Wallace stepped down to the grass where his wife stood. The others followed. “Are you ladies all right?” Each nodded. Seeing  the bombardment of water balloons had ended, Mr. Wallace cleared his throat. “Now, may I finish my story? I’ve been stationed in Dubai for the last four years. I am aware of the rule stating boys must enter on their eighth birthday, such as your lads are doing. I had hoped Leith could start when he was eight, but traveling pre-empted him being able to do that.” Mr. Wallace took a deep breath. “But as I’ve always said, it’s better late than never.” He swallowed, scruffing his son's hair. “You are all aware that Dubai is one of the United Arab Emirates, eh?” Leith blushed as his father rambled on. “I’m CEO of one of the big companies linked with North Sea Oil. My job has kept us moving from place to place.  My son was born in Kirkwall, Orkney and lived there until he was seven, before we moved overseas. I hope he will have no trouble adjusting to the routine with such a late start.” Mr. Wallace ignored his son's reddened face. His gaze kept darting upward, ever watchful for more balloons.

The large wooden door opened. A giant of a man, bald with curly gray hairs around his ears and bifocals barely hanging onto his face, grinned and stepped towards them, their portfolios clasped in his hands. “Ah, Mr. Wallace. It’s good to see you, and you too, Mr. Bruce and Mr. Tait and your lovely wives.” The Headmaster shook the men’s hands. “Where did all this water come from?” He spotted the burst balloons. “It must be the Hall Three lads. Their Hall is the closest to the front of the school. Boys will be boys.”

“Does this sort of thing happen often? Standards seem to have lowered at the school. I certainly hope you will have those boys properly disciplined, Headmaster McDiarmad. That sort of behavior is not acceptable.” Mr. Wallace dabbed his jacket. “This is Harris Tweed, one of a kind and if it is ruined, I assure you the lads of Hall Three will be purchasing me a new one.”

The Headmaster glanced down at the boys, ignoring Mr. Wallace’s outburst. “Good morning, gentlemen. I hope you are having a marvelous birthday. What an honor to have these three great families represented at Ewan McDiarmad's School for Boys. I trust the three of you were students here at one time?” He raised his glance to the fathers. The men nodded. Leith noticed his father's stern glare at the Headmaster. “Of course, we know your family has been coming to this school since it opened, Mr. Wallace. You are a member of the Board after all.” Headmaster cleared his throat.

The wives, who had been overlooked, glanced at each other. Mrs. Wallace chose to speak for them. “Headmaster McDiarmad, I’m Leith's mother. I’m simply thrilled that he will be attending this fine academy, as I’m sure Mrs. Bruce and Mrs. Tait are too.” The other two women each gave a quick smile and lowered their gaze.

“Thank you, Mrs. Wallace. I apologize on behalf of the lads and hope you didn’t get too wet. I trust you’ll have a safe drive home. Now, if you’ll follow me lads.” The Headmaster turned and stepped inside the door.

The boys gave their parents a quick goodbye. Leith stared at the gargoyles above the door and the unusual Celtic carvings of greenmen, crosses and designs that had been etched long ago into the wood. They stepped forward and pulled the door closed behind them, following the Headmaster into the mystery and fear of their new world. Leith tried his hardest not to show the other boys his anxiety by wrapping his arms tightly around his travel bag.

Headmaster McDiarmad stopped without warning; the nervous Leith crashed into him. “My fault, Master Wallace. Your luggage has been taken to your dormitory, but before you go, I would like the three of you to come to my office. I have a few rules and regulations I wish to go over. You may call me Headmaster McDiarmad.” The boys stared up at him, each nodding. They followed the lanky man to his office. “Please sit.” He pointed to a row of chairs against a wood-paneled wall. His desk was made from gean, the finest cherry wood in Scotland, as was the paneling and the chairs. “Pardon me for asking, Master Tait, but are you chewing gum?”

Murray swallowed it. “Um, no Headmaster. I was just playing with my tongue. It’s a nervous habit. Sorry.”

“I see.” Headmaster gazed over the top of his glasses at the boy. “I’m happy to hear that. No gum chewing allowed in the school.”

Leith moved to the end chair, sinking into the deep green leather. His gaze wandered to the frescoed ceiling.  Tiny cracks spread throughout the pictures of deer, ravens, grouse and wildcats, making it look more authentic. Fern, broom and gorse filled in the empty spaces, as did trickling burns and heather covered hills.

“If you would please put your travel bags down, I'd like each of you to begin by telling me your full names. You may proceed, Mr. Wallace.” The Headmaster picked up a quilled pen and held it above an open book.

“My name is Leith Muirfinn Wallace.”

“I’m Murray Andrew Tait, Headmaster McDiarmad.”

“I’m Duncan McAllister Bruce.”

The Headmaster scribbled their names, adding them to one of the end pages of a thick book. “When I speak to you, I shall call you Master Wallace, Master Tait and Master Bruce.” He stood behind his desk and handed each of them a piece of paper. “These are the rules and regulations. As you can see, there aren’t many, but I wish to go over a few of them with you. I understand you are frightened, as this is probably the first time you have been away from your parents. Let's start at the top of the page. If you’ll follow along with me please. Number one; no student shall chew gum on the premises. It is strictly forbidden and a disgusting habit. If caught with gum in your mouth, you shall spend your weekend in the library, studying instead of playing. Number two; no student shall attempt to leave the island at any time. If an emergency arises, we will inform your father, who will come to collect you. This island is quite isolated, as you noted on your travels this morning. The school sits in the middle of Loch Ardith in the Scottish highlands and the only way to get to, or leave the island, is via the narrow road. There is a gate at each end to stop unwanted visitors.”

Leith thought about his father and the events earlier that day. They had stood at the gate for ten minutes, waiting for it to open; he had been in a rather foul mood after that. Leith smirked.

“Is there something you would like to share with us, Master Wallace?” The Headmaster glared down at the boy.

“No, Headmaster McDiarmad. I was just clearing my throat.” Leith lied.

“I take it you understand rules number one and two. There is no reason for you to leave here. All of your needs will be met. Let's go on then to the rest of them. If you have any questions, please feel free to raise your hands and I shall do my best to answer.” The boys nodded in agreement. “The cemetery is located on the west side of the school. If you choose to, you may wander through the newer part, but to enter the older part of the cemetery is strictly forbidden and will result in immediate expulsion from the school.” A shaky hand went up. “Yes, Master Bruce? You have a question?”

The boy nodded. “What’s in there? Why can't we?”

“Students don’t need to know why. They only need to obey the rules, which state quite clearly it’s forbidden. However, since you are new and curious, I shall answer your question. There are three parts to the cemetery. The oldest part at the back is a Pictish cemetery and the headstones and markers are quite fragile and worn. In front of that is the Celtic cemetery. The crosses are also fragile and rare. Many of the inscriptions contain valuable historical information. In the past we have had a few pranksters who have gone into these off-limits cemeteries and damaged some of the priceless relics there. They were quickly dealt with. I warn you; stay out of the cemetery.”

Leith, Duncan and Murray glanced at each other; fear shone in their eyes.

Headmaster McDiarmad shook his head. “I’ve decided not to go over the rest of the rules at this time. Take the paper with you to your hall and study it before going to bed. Ignorance of the rules is no excuse if you get caught breaking them. I’ll call for the Head Boys from your halls to take you to around and show you where everything is located.  We call the dormitories, halls. You two young lads will be going to Caledonia Hall. Master Wallace, since you are eleven, you’ll be put in Thistle and Heather Hall. You’ll meet your professors later on and I’m sure you’ll adapt to the routine soon enough.” He picked up the telephone, spoke to his secretary, Mr. Green, and then sat in silence, staring at the boys.

A few minutes later a knock on the door broke the tension in the air. Mr. Green opened it and announced, “Headmaster McDiarmad, Master Hume is here to take Master Wallace to Thistle and Heather Hall. Master Wallace, if you’ll please grab your travel bag and follow Master Hume.” The wavy-haired man nodded, gray strands mottled with brown fell into his eyes. Leith stood, picked up his bag and followed Mr. Green into the outer room.

A boy dressed in a uniform smiled at Leith. He wore deep purple slacks and cardigan sweater, a white shirt with a black, purple and white striped tie, black shoes and socks and his red hair was neatly combed to the side. Mr. Greer dismissed them, leaving the two boys standing outside the door in the hall. “I’m Grant Hume. You can call me Master Hume,” the boy mocked the Headmaster, “or you can call me Grant.”

“I’m Leith Wallace.”

“Rumor’s spreading that your father got clobbered with a few water balloons.” Grant leaned against the stone wall.

“You know about that?” Leith snickered. “He did and he was furious. ‘I’m going to bring this up at the next board meeting.’” Leith mocked his father. “I’d be getting my ear cuffed if I used the word clobbered.”

“Fathers, eh? You didn't start here when you were eight, like the rest of us. That’s the first time I have heard of it. I suppose that’s because your father’s on the Board so he’s got a lot of pull.” Grant pulled a piece of lint from his pocket.

“My father has money,” Leith scoffed. “He buys his way in and out of everything. When you are rich and fund the school, you have all sorts of say. My father says money can buy anything. It seems he is right.”

“Money, or a title of nobility. My father is Lord Grant Hume XXVII. That makes me, the eldest son, Lord Grant Hume, XXVIII. We have plenty of money too. My father helps fund the school, but has no interest in being on the Board. I’m glad for that. Now that we’ve settled that, I’ll show you around. Right now we’re on level one. There are three levels. Did you know this used to be a castle? Headmaster Ewan Uisdean,” he spelled the second name out, “McDiarmad; Uisdean is pronounced oosh-jan, is a direct descendant of the original Ewan McDiarmad, who founded the school in 1496. He believed nobles and royalty should be better educated than the normal folks, so he built this place. It’s in good shape. The castle was converted to a school and then modernized with heating, electricity, sewer and running water about fifty years ago. I have no idea what it was like before then. It’s drafty enough now as it is. Some spots of the castle are so bad that there is moss growing inside on the stone walls. If you ever get sent to Detention, Mr. Arbuckle might have you spending the entire time scraping it off.”

     Leith glanced at the other boys passing by. “I’ll be careful not to. Why is everyone wearing different colors?”

Grant snickered. “Headmaster didn't tell you much, did he? All right, I’ll do my best to explain it to you. There are ten halls and each hall has ten boys. You should know that part. Your father is one of the Board members who select which boys can and cannot attend. Only direct descendants of Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret are allowed in and the only time a new boy is allowed is when another one leaves. You’re lucky.”

“It wasn’t luck. My father could not face the world if his son did not attend Ewan McDiarmad's School for Boys. I’m sure he made a large donation so that I could have the honor of coming here. I have been groomed for it since the day I was born.” Leith scowled.

“Your father is a bit controlling, eh?” Grant scuffed his feet on the stone floor.

“Yes he is. Go on; tell me more about the school.” Leith let out a deep sigh.

“We have to wear uniforms. Each hall's uniform is a different color. After a while you’ll know which boys go with which hall. Take those blokes coming towards us.” Grant nodded their direction. “They are the oldest in the school, sixteen and a half to seventeen years old. I know that by their black slacks, gold sweater and gold, silver and black striped tie. They are in Kenneth McAlpin Hall. It’s best to stay out of their way. You’ll learn soon enough. Don’t worry.”

Grant stopped in front of each door so Leith could take a look. “That’s the auditorium. We gather together once a week for a lecture. Usually it’s Headmaster McDiarmad who speaks, but now and then we have guest speakers who come in from the outside. I wouldn’t be surprised if your father comes and speaks to us one of these days.”

Leith ignored the comment and glanced inside the room. Rows of bolted-down chairs led down to a polished hard wood stage. “Do they have plays and concerts here?”

“We do now and then. Are you an actor?” Grant stepped into the room.

“I write poetry, but I have never acted.” Leith's gaze wandered to the chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

“Poetry? Are you one of those girly boys?” Grant chuckled. “Sorry, just kidding. Impressive, isn't it?” Grant stood back and let Leith soak in the artistry and charm of the enormous room. The walls were covered with gold leaf wallpaper. Each seat was padded and enshrouded with luxurious maize-colored velvet, with spacious leg room. The stage, made from the finest Tasmanian eucalyptus burl, had been imported from the country by boat decades before. It shone with a glossy polish and sat cupped, bordered with heavy brown curtains. After a few moments he broke the silence. “What do you think?”

“Impressive,” Leith said.

“Only the best for us. We had better get on with our tour.” They closed the door to the auditorium. “Those steps,” Grant pointed, “and those at the other end of the hall lead to the upper two levels. Down there, next door to Headmaster's office is the gymnasium. Come on. I’ll show you.”

They went into the room. “There’s a swimming pool! Marvelous! I love swimming.” Leith took in the sight of the Olympic-sized pool.

     “You’ll get plenty of chances to swim. We have an exercise period each day. Some days we do calisthenics, or aerobics, and other days we swim. See that room at the back? That’s the chemist and there’s a small infirmary office. Try to avoid going there.”

“I’ll remember that too,” Leith said.

“Across the hall is the dining room. Oh, before we go any further, look up. Every piece of that chandelier is made of Edinburgh Crystal, designed just for our school.”

Leith tipped his head back. “That’s bigger than the one in L'Opera in Paris. There are a lot of chandeliers in this school.”

“This one is rather magnificent. When it’s turned on at night, it’s even more spectacular. Each piece of crystal acts like a prism and this entire hall looks like you’re surrounded by a huge nebula. Now to the dining room. Your paper has the times for meals. The food is fairly tasty. During the week we can sit with whoever we want and there is a whole hour for lunch. They want us to stretch our legs and release our pent up energy so we’ll sit still in afternoon class. Once every ten days our hall has kitchen duty. Each hall takes turns cooking the meals for the day. That means we cook and clean the kitchen about three days a month. On Sundays we have a huge feast. They bring in cooks from Dunstan, a local village, and every meal is a full ten courses. It’s my favorite day of the week.” When he pulled the door open he pointed to the table. “Our table is that one over there, second from the end on the right side. Everything is organized here. Did I mention we have to sit together as a hall on Sunday?”

“What’s that room?” Leith walked back across the main hall.

“It’s the computer and television room.”

“We’re allowed to send emails and watch television?”

“You are allowed to communicate via email with your family, but nobody else and only on Saturday. We have no school on Saturday. There is a great selection of DVD's to watch and once again, we can watch them on Friday night and all day Saturday. Sometimes the teacher gives us assignments and we are allowed to use the computer, but that’s only if we go as a class and are strictly supervised.” Grant did not open the door, but kept walking to the next room. “Over there, next to the dining room is the kitchen. It has all the modern conveniences, microwaves, dishwashers and all that. This is the laundry room. Each hall has to come here to do washing, drying and ironing and there are clothes lines to hang up your wash if you want. We have to wash our own clothes once a week.  We can wash early on Tuesday morning, or between 7-9 P.M. that evening. I hope you have plenty of clean socks and underwear.”

“I have never done washing before. I hope you’ll teach me.” Leith sighed.

“No problem. Let's go upstairs. All the halls are on the second floor.” Grant led the overwhelmed boy up the flight of stairs. Pine green carpet clung to each stone step, bringing warmth and color as it snaked upwards towards the next floor.

A group of boys dressed in red slacks galloped down the stairs. Grant pulled Leith out of their way. “St. Ninian of Iona Hall. We’ll be there next year. You just turned eleven. I’m the oldest in our hall. I’ll be twelve in two months. I’m Head Boy until I leave. They are on kitchen duty today. We just had our turn. You missed that too.” Grant winked.

Leith stopped at the top of the stairs. A long hallway led from where he stood to the other end of the building. Ten pine doors broke up the stone walls. “Will you be leaving our hall on your birthday?”

“Yes. As soon as I turn twelve on October 28th, I’ll go up to the next hall. Usually it works out. Someone leaves and another takes his place without too long a wait or back up. This is our floor. We are in Hall Seven. They are actually big rooms. Headmaster doesn’t like us to call them dormitories, but we all do anyway. Come on. We are on the west side. That’s at the back of the school and you can see the cemetery from our windows. We’re right above it. Creepy old place, mind you.” Grant stopped at the door. A number seven hung in the middle. “This is us. Hall Seven.” He turned the knob and the heavy oak door creaked open. The room was empty. “Everyone is off at class. Here is your bed. Looks like they brought up your uniforms.”

Leith saw several pairs of purple slacks and cardigans, white shirts and black, purple and white striped ties. A polished pair of shiny black shoes and a few pairs of clean black socks lay at the bottom of the bed. “Why purple?”

“I know it’s an awful color. We look like grapes. Last year’s color, dark green, was better. Next year it’s red. I think I would rather have purple.” Grant stopped at Leith's bed. “If you’ll notice the school's emblem is embroidered on everything, even your socks.”

Leith picked up the shirt. Emblazoned on the pocket was a symbol. “It’s swirly. What is it?”

“It might be some old Pict symbol. Who knows; I’ve never figured it out. I just accept it as the school's symbol. You might as well too. You’ll notice the carpet is purple and the drapes too. They don’t want us to forget! By the way, there are ten of us in here. My bed is the first one, closest to the bathroom. We are in two rows of five. The older ones are on this side of the room and you younger ones are by the windows. Pull the drapes shut tight; sometimes there’s a bit of a draft. You’ll meet the other lads later. Back there,” Grant pointed, “are the toilets and showers.”

“Whose bed did I take?”

“Tavish Ballantyne just turned twelve and moved on to St. Ninian of Iona Hall,” Grant said. “The lad sleeping next to you was using your bed.”

“What are the other boy's names?” Leith saw his suitcase on the floor next to his bed.

“There’s me and you and Sandy Stewart. He’s always getting into trouble. I would stay away from him if I was you. Creighton Napier sleeps next to me. His family is wealthy and he always has sweets. Keep him as a friend. There’s Gavin Oliphant, Payton Crawford, Lyle Sinclair, Monroe McAllister, Rory Knox and Fraser Laird. They are ordinary lads. We are all of old Scottish blood. My father says we should be proud to be descendants of King Malcolm III and Queen Margaret. I suppose I am.” Grant coughed. “I’m going to leave you here for a while to settle in. I’ve got to run to class. I’ll be back later.”

“Wait. Tell me about our professor. Is he nice?”

“That would be Professor Roderick Morrison. He’s a bit on the plump side with no hair and he wears thick glasses. This year we are learning about Scottish art, poetry, story writing; you know, that sort of stuff. You should enjoy it. I’m off.” He waved goodbye and left Leith alone in the vast room.

Leith sat on the edge of his bed. A pile of clean sheets and pillow cases lay stacked on top of two tartan blankets. “At least the classes sound interesting. I wonder what I’ve missed.” He pulled a pile of papers out of his bedside table drawer. “Hall Ten learns about writing ancient languages. Hall Nine studies obscure subjects, such as Knights Templar, Iona, and Druids. Hall Eight learns about Scottish plants and animals. Easy enough. I’ve been studying that for years.”  His gaze wandered around the room. The top and bottom part of each window was decorated with stained glass. Leith ran his fingers over the smooth surface and noticed that a name was etched into one of the pieces of red glass. “Aileen Ogilvy. She must be the woman who designed and worked on these windows. They look fairly new.” From close up they just looked like bits of glass, but when he stepped back he noticed that each window was a piece of a larger picture. “Aileen Ogilvy did a good job. I’m sure Ewan McDiarmad’s School for Boys hires only the best.” Shapes of thistles and heather-covered hills decorated the room.  “I see why it’s called Thistle and Heather Hall.” He stuck his head in the loo. “I suppose I should get to work.” Leith spent the next hour making his bed, putting his clothes away and hanging up his uniforms.  “I hope the other lads are friendly.”

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