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Apollo's Soldiers
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 23

     The sound of puffins, shags, cormorants and other sea birds woke them up. Birds nested and lived on the cliffs. Leith rolled onto his stomach. “I’m hungry.”

     Sandy smirked. “You can always eat seaweed. Some of those birds use seaweed to make their nests. Imagine the stink!”

     “We can eat raw puffins with their feathers,” Fraser joked.

     “No thanks. I’ll pass. The tide is out. We can walk down to the cave, if this is indeed Staffa. Do you still think it is?” Paisley had rolled away from Leith the moment she’d opened her eyes.

     “I know it is. We need to go to Fingal’s Cave.” Leith tucked in his shirt.

     “Fingal’s Cave? Is that where we are? We learned about it in class a week or two before you came to the school,” Sandy said.

     “Don’t tell us anything about it yet. We can talk when we’re inside the cave. It’s safe, isn’t it?” Duncan turned to Leith.

     “As long as the tide is out, it’s safe. We’ll have to  hike down the stairway,” Sandy said. “Murray and I were there last night. There’s a rail and steps.”

     They clambered down the concrete to the bottom of the cliff. A handrail led the way to the columns. There were warning signs for less agile climbers. Without speaking to each other, they carefully made their way toward the cavern. Birds swooped at the waves and flew up with fish in their bills.

     “Isn’t that Iona?” Sandy pointed to another island. “It looks like the abbey.”

     “It is,” Duncan said. “That’s cool. That was our starting place. Here we are at our ninth stop and in view of our first. It seems like ages ago we were there and yet it was only a little more than a week.”

     “Time is that way; it flies,” Paisley said. “We’re here.”

     They entered the cave, having to climb on a ledge of columns. Both Fraser and Paisley turned on their flashlights so they could see. “This is sort of scary. If we slip, we’ll fall into the water and I don’t think there’s any chance of being rescued.” Paisley grasped the stone pillars.

     “It goes quite a ways back, but it’s not that wide.” Murray looked at the roof. “That doesn’t look too stable. It’s only volcanic debris.”

     “And pieces of broken pillars. It’s amazing how it arches.” Fraser used his finger to show the arch shape.

     “Come to the back,” Leith called. “It sounds weird.”

     The waves echoed. “It sounds like the pillars have heartbeats. Boom! Boom! Boom!” Duncan sat on a column, dangling his legs over the edge. “Who named this place Fingal’s Cave and who is Fingal?”

     “Sandy, why don’t you tell him, since you just learned about it in class,” Leith said.

     “I’ll give it a try. It’s another one of those legends. There was this Irish leader, a warrior, named Finn MacCumhaill. He was better known as Fingal. This was about 250 A.D. He had a son named Ossian, who was a Gaelic poet. Ossian wrote stories, ballads, poems and songs about what a hero his father was. Sometimes he sang them. Some of the Gaelic people left Ireland and moved to Scotland. All these songs and poems made Fingal sound so mysterious and heroic that they named this cave after him.”

     “Good job, Sandy. Do you have anything to add, Fraser?” Leith slapped Sandy lightly on the back.

     “No. Sandy said it all. What do we have to take back?”

     “I’d say one of these columns, but I think we’ll have to be content to take back a chunk of one.” Leith searched for a decent sized piece. “Here’s a good one.” He shoved it into his pocket. “Did you get your seashell and stone, Murray?”

     “A handful of them.” Murray pulled a few out and held them in his palm for the others to see.

     “What about a puffin feather?” Paisley stood on one of the columns. “I saw hundreds of puffins.”

     “Good idea. We should head back now. We’ve been in here for a couple of hours. The tide will come in soon and I don’t want to be stuck here.” Leith moved toward the entrance. They made their way along the path and back up the steps. Several feathers lay on the grass atop. “Found a few. Let’s get back.”

     They ran into the tunnel and climbed out onto the turf around the Pictish cross. “It’s the early hours of Monday morning. That means  work. At least I don’t have to go to Detention any more, though it wasn’t that bad.” Leith took a deep breath. “It’s hard to think we were somewhere else and it was daylight and it’s still midnight here.” They walked Paisley down to the beach and waited until she went around the bend in the rowboat before heading back to school.

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