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Apollo's Soldiers
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 24

     Monday morning class was always the worst. Trying to get back into the school mode took a lot of effort on everyone’s part. Professor Morrison welcomed each lad. “Today we’re going to study poetry. We’re not discussing any of the famous poets, but the ones in this classroom. Each of you is to write a poem. It can be on any subject, but has to be at least thirty lines long. You have one hour to complete the assignment. Keep in mind that you will be reading your poem in front of the class, so mind your manners.”

     After the moans and groans had settled down, each boy began scribbling notes. Many erased lines and started again. Leith chose to write his about Fingal’s Cave. Sandy wrote about goblins and Fraser wrote a poem about his favorite foods.

     “Time’s up, lads. I will call you up one at a time. You are to recite your poem clearly.” Professor Morrison handed each boy a stack of paper. “You are to fill out a critique for every poet and his poem. Be sure and write the poet’s name on top of the paper so we know who to hand it to at the end of class. Just jot a few notes on how you liked it, if it flowed well, and if you felt the subject matter was conveyed appropriately. You’ll have to listen carefully.”

     Grant was the first one called upon. He read his poem about football. Professor Morrison nodded with approval. When Monroe McAllister read his, the entire class burst out laughing.

     “Master McAllister, that was pure genius; delightful. Who would have thought a poem about your baby sister’s dirty nappies would have the class roaring. Thank you.” Fraser went next. “Master Laird, I am famished after listening to your poem about fish and chips and haggis. Excellent.”

     Lyle Sinclair’s poem was so poorly written that the class booed him. The professor asked them to keep their comments to themselves and write their feelings on the critique paper.

     Rory Knox wrote about how his father never paid any attention to him. Professor Morrison had no comment. Payton Crawford wrote about his older brother’s car. Gavin Oliphant’s poem, Ode to Seaweed, went on and on, three pages worth. When he finished, everyone sighed with relief. “Master Oliphant, you were not required to write an epic poem.” The boy blushed. Creighton Napier’s poem was exactly thirty lines and no more. Each line had one word in it. The class laughed because it was so short. “Master Napier, the poem was to be thirty lines or more, not thirty words.”

     Sandy’s poem about goblins didn’t make sense to anyone but him. Leith was the last to read. He stood and cleared his throat and spoke of the music in Fingal’s Cave. The other boys thought it boring, but Professor Morrison clapped. “That was the best poem of the day, Master Wallace. I’ve never heard an eleven-year-old boy deliver such a masterpiece. Well done.”

     They passed around the critique sheets and each boy was allowed half an hour to read them quietly. When the bell for lunch rang, they rushed out of the room, stuffing the papers into their notebooks.

     “Can you believe that? Having to write poems?” Sandy scoffed. “You did a good job with yours, but I was horrid. I’m starving. I hope lunch is good and there’s plenty of it.”

     While they ate Irish stew with hot Irish soda bread and cabbage, Leith brought up a point. “We’re going to Professor Wilson’s room after we eat, but I have reservations about it.” Leith didn’t speak until Grant and Rory had left. “I think we need to take all of the things that we’ve collected so far from the professor. I have a good hiding place for them. I think Murray might be right. He’s up to no good. I saw that look in his eyes and I don’t think he can be trusted.”

     “Finally someone believes me. He’s not a good man,” Murray said.

     “He’s not going to like that,” Duncan said.

     “We’ve got to have a plan. If for some reason he refuses then Sandy will have to borrow his keys, especially the one that opens the drawer,” Leith said.

     “No problem.” Sandy grinned.

     “Let’s get it over with then.” Leith led the boys up the stairs to Hall Nine.

     The professor welcomed them in, curious as to what they brought. Leith showed him the thorn from Glastonbury, the puffin feather and piece of pillar from Fingal’s Cave. He shared the story of Paisley and the Lord of the Underworld and their adventures on Staffa. “Professor, we’ve been talking and think it’s best if we take all the items and keep them in our possession. You see tonight we’ll be going to the tenth place. We have no idea what will happen there. We need to have all the gathered things with us. I hope you understand.”

     The professor sat with his mouth agape. He had not expected this and wasn’t prepared with a come back, or another plan. “Uh, well, if you feel it’s best.” He unlocked the drawer and placed the box on the table.

Leith fidgeted. The lads reviewed each item. “We will keep you posted on all the things that happen overnight. We still have you in our confidence and trust we are in yours.”

“Yes, of course. I hope all goes well tonight and am eager to hear about your adventures.” With that, the boys left, box in hand.

“That went easier than I had expected,” Fraser said.

“That’s what bothers me. It was too easy. I think the professor’s mind is going right now, trying to figure out how to get his hands on all of this,” Leith said. “I am going to take this box and hide it until tonight when we go out. I’ll go alone, just incase the professor has something up his sleeve. I’m not going to tell any of you so he can’t force it out of you. Tell Professor Morrison that I wasn’t feeling well and went to the Infirmary. I’ll be back soon.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Sandy said. “If we don’t see you before then, we’ll see you tonight in the hallway.” He glanced at Duncan and Murray. “This is our last night. It’s exciting to think about, isn’t it?”

“I can hardly wait,” Duncan said. “I’m off then. Coming Murray?” The two dashed toward their classroom.

     Sandy and Fraser went to class. Leith, keeping his eyes open for wandering professors, snuck out the front door and headed for the cemetery. He peeled back the grass and hid the box of objects he’d placed in a backpack at the end of one of the tunnels. He made it back to school in a few minutes and went to the loo. Stopping in his hall to pick up his books, Leith was surprised when he saw Professor Wilson fiddling with his bed. “Professor? What are you doing in here? Why aren’t you teaching?”

     The professor stood straight, keeping his back to Leith for a few moments. “I was going to put some money under your pillow in case you needed it tonight. I’ve often wondered how you lads eat when you’re out on your journey.”

     Good lie. “That’s kind of you, Professor. We find ways. Usually we take some pocket money with us.”

     “Then I won’t worry any more. You’d better be off to class then. I’ll follow you out.”

     On his way, Leith ran into Headmaster. “I was just on my way to collect you from class, Master Wallace. I would like to talk to you in my office. I’ve cleared it with Professor Morrison. I trust you are feeling better now?”

     “Yes, Headmaster.” Leith’s mind raced with confusion, wondering what the topic of conversation would be.

     They entered the office. Headmaster unlocked his door and invited Leith to sit. “I have a delicate matter to discuss with you this afternoon, Master Wallace. The other day when your father was here…”

     Leith rolled his eyes. “I don’t want to talk about my father, Headmaster.”

     “I think we need to. I am aware of your shaky relationship with your father and noticed the way he spoke to you. I wanted you to know I am here, if you ever need someone to talk to. I am a father now and I was once a son. I am willing to listen to anything you have to say, without criticizing, or judging you in any manner.” Headmaster cleared his throat. “Life isn’t easy for us. It’s quite unfair actually. We are born into this world and we expect to be treated a certain way by our fathers and mothers. Sometimes we are disappointed by the way it truly is in reality.” Headmaster waited for Leith to speak, but he sat in silence. “While my only son was growing up, I had dreams and hopes that he would want to take over as Headmaster when I had finished my term of office. I brought him here to work and tried to show him the positive side of life in running a boy’s school. He wants nothing to do with it. We have had several arguments over this subject. It took me a long time and much heartache to realize my son would never be the son I wanted him to be. He had his own ideas and hopes and dreams and they weren’t the same as mine. I will soon need a replacement. You’ll be twenty-one years old by then. How about it? Do you want to be Headmaster?” The man burst out laughing.

     Leith laughed too. “Me?”

     Headmaster stood and put his arm around Leith’s shoulders. “Think about what I said. I’m here for you. I’ll walk you back to class.”

     “Thank you, Headmaster. I’ll think about it.”

     After class the lads met up in the main hall. While they were talking Sandy glanced over to the stairs on the other side and saw Professor Wilson glaring at them. “I think he’s mad at us.”

     “Who?” Leith had no idea what he was talking about.

     “Professor Wilson. His eyes are full of greed and hatred. What will we do? I’m afraid of him,” Sandy said.

     The others turned to see the professor heading towards them. “Run and find Rufus and have him come right away and open the door to the dungeon.” Leith pointed at Fraser. “Meet us by the door. Come on. We’ve got to lose him.” Leith took off running towards the pool. The others stayed close.

     Sandy turned and looked back. Professor Wilson bounded towards them. “He’s coming after us.”

     They wove in and out of rooms, keeping their eye on him, hiding behind walls and doors, until they saw Rufus and Fraser. “There’s Fraser,” Duncan said.

     “Hurry, Rufus. Open the door.” Leith shouted as they rushed through. “Lock it behind you.” They heard Professor Wilson shaking the knob.

     “You can’t hide in a broom closet all day. I’ll sit here and wait. I have all afternoon.” After screaming at the door, Professor Wilson found a chair and sat.

     “He thinks we’re in a closet. I don’t think we can wait. Rufus, did you close up all the tunnels?” Leith glanced down one or two of them. “We need to get to Dunstan.”

     “It’s blocked off. You’ll have to go the long way around. You can go through the tunnel to the loch and then walk around, climb the fences and hope nobody sees you,” Rufus said.

     “We don’t have time and can’t risk being seen. We need to move the rocks and unblock the tunnel,” Leith said.

     “No. Those goblins will come and steal my gold.”

     “I thought you killed them all with your bow and arrow?” Fraser scratched his head in confusion.

     “I got most of them. I can’t trust that I got them all.”

     “If you help us get out, we’ll help block it back up from the other side. Please Rufus. It’s a matter of life and death.” Leith clasped his hands in a begging position.

     “I’ve probably lost my job by now. That no good professor knows I am in cahoots with you. Luckily I’ve got my gold.” Rufus grabbed the wheel barrow. “Come on then.”

     It took them two hours to move the rocks, climb through and rebuild the wall. Once they were free they headed for Dunstan. “How will we find Paisley?” Murray glanced at the narrow streets.

     “What’s her auntie’s name again?” Sandy ran to a telephone booth.

     “Auntie Bessie is all I know,” Duncan said.

     “How many people live in this tiny village? Look up Dunstan. There can’t be more than one Bessie.” Leith nudged Sandy. “Look it up.”

     Sandy turned the pages of the book. “Ha! There are only a few names listed under Dunstan. Here’s a Bessie. 14 Oak Street.”

     They found the house within five minutes. Leith walked up to the door and knocked, leaving the others hiding behind a bush. Paisley answered. “Leith! What are you doing here? It’s only 3 P.M.? How did you find me? How did you get away from school?”

     “We have an emergency. Professor Wilson is trying to kill us and get all the things we’ve gathered. He knows everything. We have to go right away to the cemetery tunnel. The professor thinks we’re hiding in a broom closet, so we’re safe for a while. Can you come right now?” Leith moved his feet around with impatience.

     “Where are the others?”

     Leith pointed and they waved.

     “I’ll think of an excuse. I’ll meet you by the loch in five minutes. We’ll row over.” Paisley shut the door and the lads headed for the loch. As expected, she showed up a few minutes later. They climbed in the boat and rowed, keeping to the far side and out of view of the school. After pulling the boat onto the rocky shore, they sprinted to the cemetery.

     “Be careful to cover the hole. Professor Wilson knows the tunnels are here in the Pictish part, but he doesn’t know which cross. Put the pieces back in place and take your time,” Leith said to Fraser. “I brought my backpack earlier and hid all the things in it, so it would be easier to carry. We can’t let anything out of our sight from this moment on. We’re in this till the end, one way or another. Agreed?” All nodded. Once Fraser had finished his task, they headed down the tunnels. “We didn’t bring a flashlight. Keep your eyes open.”

     Duncan was first to see the dimly lit tunnel. “There it is. Come on.” Without hesitation they rushed through.

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