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Apollo's Soldiers
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 13

      “Blimey; and I thought it was cold at school. This is the worst yet. Where are we, at the North Pole?” Fraser’s teeth chattered.

     “It’s worse than the North Pole. We’re in Shetland,” Sandy said. “Shetland is a set of 100 windswept, barren and freezing cold islands.”

     “We had better find Duncan fast then. He’s been out here for almost twenty-four hours. How do you know this is Shetland?” Leith looked around. “Have you been here before?”

     “No, but I know about the islands. My gran was born and grew up here. She said the ground is spongy because of all the peat.” Sandy jumped up and down and the ground squished. “Do you see any trees? Shetland has few trees. The main reason I know it’s Shetland is because there are oil rigs out there in the North Sea. See how they’re all lit up?”

     “Look over there. Those look like some sort of ruins. There’s a city not far.” Murray pointed. “More lights.”

     “That must be Lerwick, the capital, and it’s not a city. I’d call it a large town,” Sandy said. “My gran said a lot of good things about Shetland. She loved living in Lerwick.”

     “Here is a sign. This is Clickhimin Broch. It says  this site was occupied in the Bronze Age, about 700 BC. There used to be a fort here,” Fraser read.

     “What’s a broch?” Sandy walked towards the ruins.

     “A broch is a large stone tower; just what it looks like. It’s a circular, two story, dry stone tower and has one entrance down at the bottom. There are two walls with a wide gap in between; a great hiding place for spiders,” Fraser said. Leith and Sandy stared at Fraser. “What? You’re surprised I know that?” He shook his head. Leith winked at him.

     “It’s way too cold for spiders to survive out here. Do you think Duncan is in there?” Murray jumped into one of the lower levels. “Duncan! Duncan! Are you in there?”

     “This place isn’t that big. We should split up. I hope he hasn’t frozen to death,” Leith said. “Start looking.”

     Sandy wanted to check the tower, so he crawled in through the hole. “Let me have your flashlight, Fraser.” Fraser knelt and handed it to the lad. Sandy turned it on and swung it around. “No sign of him in here.” He stood and shone the light from top to bottom. “But it’s warmer.”

     “Leith! Fraser! Sandy! I found him. I think he’s unconscious. I’m down here.” Murray shouted and the others came running.

     Fraser shook Duncan. “Wake up. He’s not moving. Is he dead?”

     “Let me check for a pulse,” Leith said. “He’s alive. We need to get him back to the school where it’s warm. Help me carry him.”

     Murray stopped. “Wait. When we go back into the tunnel to the school, will we be in our time or in Duncan’s time? Time is supposed to stop. Does it stop for him or us?”

     “I guess us. Since he missed his time to come back through the tunnel because he lost his way, it will probably mean he is now in our time. We’ll soon find out.” Leith glanced around. “Help me, Murray.”

     They grabbed his arms and legs and lifted him. After dragging him to the time warp, they walked into the tunnel. “How will we get him out of here? We can’t lift him.” Murray cried with worry.

     “One of us has to go and collect Professor Wilson,” Leith said. “Who can run the fastest?”

     “Me. I’ll go and fetch him.” Sandy climbed out of the tunnel and ran, showing up half an hour later with the professor. “I guess we came back in our time. All this time stuff is real confusing, isn’t it?”

     Professor Wilson showed up and with the help of Leith and Sandy, lifted Duncan out of the tunnel. “Sandy filled me in. I’ll carry him, but I’m taking him to the infirmary. You four get to your beds. I’ll make something up if someone catches me there. Off with you.” They ran ahead and the professor took the lad.

     None of them slept well that night. All four arose bright and early and ran to the infirmary. They didn’t see the professor or Duncan, so they ran back up the steps to Professor Wilson’s room and burst through the door.

     “Duncan! You are all right!” Murray gave his friend a hug.

     “What happened?” Leith sat in one of the chairs.

     “I had to tie my shoe and you all left without me. I thought I was going through the right tunnel. I searched everywhere and couldn’t see you. I had my bearings wrong and forgot where to find the time warp. All the stones and patches of dead grass looked alike. I knew you would come and find me,” Duncan said.

     “But you were unconscious,” Sandy said.

     “I was exhausted. I had to hide during the day when the tour groups came. At night I was freezing and fell asleep. I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. The next thing I know, I’m in the Infirmary and Professor Wilson is standing over me. I missed a whole day and night. Did you miss me?” Duncan chuckled.

     “He’s lucky not to have frostbite and that he didn’t die from hypothermia. From now on I suggest you keep your eyes open and make sure you keep together all the time,” the professor said. “Duncan and I have had our breakfast. You lads run along and eat and then get to class. I would suggest you go out again tonight. Will you be up to it, Duncan?”

     “I feel fine. I hope we go somewhere warm next time. I’m sick of freezing to death.” Duncan grinned.

     “On second thought, I think it’s time to find out about this girl that you have told me about. I have a phone call to make. Run along all of you, but come back after you’ve had your lunch.” The professor searched through his desk drawers for a certain piece of paper.

     Duncan and Murray attended their own class and the others theirs. After gulping down their lunch in anticipation of meeting again with Professor Wilson, they raced up the steps together.

     “Lads, come in. I would like you to meet a friend of mine, Fern Willowtail.” The professor pulled out a chair for her.

     Leith’s gaze went to her orange, yellow, lime green and purple striped dress, her leather sandals that had straps up the calf of her leg, and her green-tinted hair. The other boys gaped, having no idea they were staring with mouths wide open. “Is that your real name?”

     “Of course, Master Wallace. Miss Willowtail is a Pecti-Witan. She studies and practices the ancient religion of the Picts. I thought she could help us find Paisley. That’s her name, correct?” The professor waited for Leith’s nod. “Miss Willowtail…”

     She interrupted. “Please, Professor, call me Fern. You lads can call me Fern too. It’s who I am,” the woman said, grinning.

     “Yes. Of course. Fern is adept at using a keek-stane, which is actually a scrying stone.” The professor coughed, clearing his throat.

     “It looks like a crystal ball to me,” Fraser said.

     “You are correct young man. What’s your name?” Fern took his hand.

     Fraser tried his hardest to pull it away, but she held on tight. “Can’t you tell by looking in your crystal ball?” The other boys laughed. Fraser saw the scowl on the professor’s face. “Sorry. My name is Fraser Laird. This is Duncan Bruce, Murray Tait, Sandy Stewart and Leith Wallace.”

     “Those are all such fine Scottish names. I hope you don’t mind, but I have also brought my staff and the athame, which is the same as a dirk. Or you can simply call it a knife.” Fern picked the objects up.

     “Why do you need a knife to look into a crystal ball?” Fraser was full of questions. “You aren’t going to cut us and use our blood are you?”

     “Master Laird! What do you think this is, the Middle Ages?” The professor’s face was red with anger. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.”

     “Sorry. I don’t know what she is going to do with it. I won’t ask anymore questions,” Fraser said.

     Fern spoke. “I’m not offended Professor. An athame is simply a double edged blade with a short black handle. It isn’t sharp at all. You can see how wavy it is. I only use it if I have to chop a few herbs. There isn’t thing to fear.”

     “Gather around lads,” the embarrassed professor said. “Pull your chairs in closer to the table.”

     Murray stared at Professor Wilson. “I don’t mean to be rude, but what would Headmaster think if he knew you were doing ancient Pictish rituals in his school?”

     “I can’t tell him about it now, can I? He would ask questions, and your quest, or whatever you call it, would end. Is that what you want?” The professor glanced at all the lads. “This must be kept quiet too. Now, Miss Willowtail, Fern, please begin.”

     “Do you know what we are looking for?” Leith asked the oddly dressed woman.

     “I could use more details, if you don’t mind sharing them with me.” Fern ran her long, boney fingers through the ratty looking strands of hair.

     “There is a descendant of Macbeth alive right now. She comes through the bloodline of an illegitimate son, Robert; and she will call a wizard back to life. This wizard will go back in time and change things so Macbeth kills Malcolm Canmore,” Leith said. “Robert would then be crowned king and Paisley would be rich and own most of England.”

     “Oh my. That wouldn’t be a good thing, would it?” Fern gasped. “Think of all the great things Queen Margaret accomplished. If Malcolm Canmore wasn’t the king, then all that wouldn’t have happened and we would be worse off for it.”

     “No, it wouldn’t be a good thing. The descendant is a girl named Paisley Opis Greer and she is ten or eleven years old. We need to know what she looks like and where we will meet up with her. We were commanded to stop her from calling the wizard, Taygetus, back to life. She is Scottish; that much we know. Can you help us?”

     “I’ll certainly try. Duncan, would you please turn the lights off,” Fern said. Duncan did as asked. Fern placed her oak staff on the table next to the keek-stane, as she called it. She then put her fingers on the crystal ball and started chanting.

     Sandy whispered to Leith. “This is a lot of rubbish.”

     “Shh. Don’t be rude. It might work.” Leith put his fingers to his mouth to quiet his friend.

     Gray smoke filled the glass ball. Sandy leaned over to see if it was coming from under the professor’s desk. He saw nothing. The smoke turned aqua blue, then pale green, rosy pink and lemon yellow. A face appeared. “That is your Paisley. Examine this face and background images carefully. I don’t know how long I can hold onto the image.” Fern closed her eyes. The boys stared at the girl. Long brown hair enveloped her oval face. Leaf-green eyes gazed into space. Nobody said a word. A few seconds later she vanished from the ball and it went clear again. “I’m sorry. It’s draining to call forth an image.”

     “Did you see that girl? How did Fern do that?” Sandy nudged Leith in the ribs. “It didn’t show us where we’d meet her.”

     Duncan scowled. “You just used witchcraft. The Picts weren’t witches. Professor, what you’re trying to do is wrong. I’m not staying here any longer. I know Headmaster would be furious.” Duncan stomped across the room and threw the door open. “Are you coming, Murray?” He stood and left with his friend.

     “I hope you boys are a bit more mature and open minded than those wee lads,” the professor said.

     “I appreciate you finding the girl for us, Fern, and you are a nice woman and all that, but from now on, no witchcraft. Please don’t be offended. Our parents wouldn’t approve of us doing this and I don’t think we should any more. If you’ll excuse us.” Leith rolled his eyes at Fraser and Sandy, who stood and followed him out of the room.

     “That was the oddest person I have ever met in my life. I don’t think she was a real witch. It must have been a trick of some sort. There is no such thing as a crystal ball,” Sandy said. “Why did the professor sneak a woman in here anyway? Women aren’t supposed to come here without permission from Headmaster. It’s a rule. I think it’s a silly rule though.”

     “I agree with Sandy. We should handle this on our own from now on. There is something creepy about Professor Wilson, but it’s convenient for us to have a teacher on our side for now and he is keeping all of our things in that box.” Fraser sighed. “I didn’t have enough lunch. I’m still hungry. I want to go and get something from the kitchen before it closes. I’ll meet you in class.” Off he ran.

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