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Apollo's Soldiers
by Margo Fallis
Chapter 6

      “Where are we going tonight, Perth?” Duncan zipped up his coat.

     The group stood in the kitchen near the back door. They could hear the rain pelting down and the wind howling. “Do we really want to go out there tonight? We could always wait till tomorrow,” Fraser said.

     “You aren’t going to let a little Scottish highland’s autumn storm stop you, are you, Fraser?” Sandy laughed at his freckled-faced friend.

     “How will we know where we’re supposed to go? I know if we find the book we can go straight to Atlantis, but what if we don’t? Abaris said we would have to go to ten places and bring something back from each that would give us clues. We’ve got the scroll from Iona. Do you think that counts as one, if we end up having to do it that way?” Murray tied the coat string around his neck, pulling the hat closer to his face.

     “I think so. I’m not sure if the scroll is the right thing. I guess it just feels right. Maybe there isn’t anything in particular we have to bring back, just something from each place. I suppose when we’re in the tunnels and select one, it will just feel right to us too,” Leith said.

     “What’s with all this feel right stuff?” Sandy grabbed hold of the door knob.

     “Sometimes we have to learn to trust our own instincts. Warriors, kings and leaders always use their gut feelings and so will we. We are Apollo’s Soldiers!  You can always stay here if you don’t want to go, Sandy.” Leith stared into the boy’s baby blue eyes.

     “You aren’t leaving me out of this. I suppose I’ll have to learn to trust your instincts because I sure don’t trust mine.” Sandy frowned and opened the door. Rain shot at their faces like pointed darts. “Quick. Don’t let the floor get wet.”

     They ran to the cemetery, too cold and miserable to care if they were seen. After pushing the iron bar to the side, they rushed over to the Pictish cross. Leith pulled the sod away and they jumped into the hole. Sandy covered the opening with the loose clumps of grass. A beam of light shot from Fraser’s hand. The others looked over at him. “I brought a flashlight this that’ll make it easier on us.” Leith glanced at the tunnels. “The one we went in last night isn’t glowing, so we know not to go there. Oh look, up ahead. There’s a faint glow.” They marched toward the light. The time warp sparkled and popped and rolled back and forth in a wave-like motion. “This is it. See, Sandy; all that worrying for nothing. The tunnels will light up for us. There’s no need to worry about instinct now.”

     One by one they went through the filmy warp. Fraser put the flashlight in his pocket. When they came out on the other side, they stood under an enormously wide tree. Branches grew out forming an open umbrella. A church stood to the side. “Where are we this time? I don’t recognize this tree. Look how wide it is. It must be old. Search for a sign that might tell us where we are,” Leith said.

     “Here’s one. It says this is the Fortingall Yew. Holy cow. This tree is 5,000 years old and is over fifty-six feet in diameter,” Fraser read.

            “We learned about this tree two years ago. It’s supposed to be linked with magic.” Sandy burst with pride at his knowledge. “This tree sits at the entrance to Glen Lyon and there is an oral tradition that Pontius Pilate, the Roman Emperor, was born right here. Professor Wilson believed it was true. He said there was proof.”

     “What sort of proof?” Duncan wasn’t sure if he believed Sandy or not.

     “There is a headstone around here with the initials ‘PP’ on it. Pontius Pilate is the man who sat in judgment over Jesus Christ,” Sandy said.

     “That’s cool. He was born here? I’ve never heard about it,” Murray said.

     “Apparently way back in about 10 B.C., Caesar August sent some Roman soldiers up here. An ambassador for Scotland came to meet with the Romans, who had set up camp in Fortingall. The king’s name was Metallanus.” Sandy struggled to remember.

     “Metallanus? I’ve never heard that name; it sounds made up,” Fraser said. “I don’t remember Professor Wilson talking about him.”

     “Duh, Fraser. You never pay attention in class anyway. This king brought jewels to the Romans, trying to be their friend and have peace with them. While the Romans were here, they flirted with the local women and one became pregnant by a soldier. She later had a son, Pontius Pilate. The Romans took the baby back to Rome and the father, who was one of the bigwig generals in the army, raised the boy. Another part of the legend is that later, Mansuteus, the son of Metallanus, went to Rome and found Pontius Pilate and told him the story. Pilate was so touched that he came back to Scotland, right here, to die. You know, Pilate was never the same after the Crucifixion. He was glad to get away. He’s buried around here somewhere.”

     “That’s it then. We should look for something Roman, like a coin.” Leith glanced at the scenery.

“What about the book? Why did we come here anyway? Cruithne’s son hid the book. What’s with the Roman coin?” Fraser’s voice rose with stress.

“Right, the book. All this talk of Romans distracted me. I’m not sure where the book might be. Do you think it’s hidden in the tree? Wait a minute, what mountain is that? I have this feeling we need to go there.” Leith rubbed his hands together.

     “Oh boy. He’s having one of those feelings again,” Sandy said. “There is no use arguing with you, is there? We are going to the mountain. Do you think the book is there?”

     “I’m not sure,” Leith said. “It’s only a five mile walk. We can do that.”

     “But it’s freezing.” Murray whined. “We should just look around here for the book and the coin and then go back home?”

     “Murray, you and I are important in this. We can’t leave it up to Leith and the others. Remember what Abaris said?” Duncan grabbed Murray’s arm.

     “Yes. He said we were a big part of it. All right. Let’s start walking.” Murray put his hands into his coat pockets and the boys walked toward the mountain.

     “All right, Mr. Know-it-All. What mountain is this?” Fraser stopped at the bottom and looked up.

     Sandy, desperate to hold onto his pride searched for a sign. When he saw one, he ran over. “We are at Mt. Schiehallion, also called ‘The Fairy Hill of Caledonia’. It says that this mountain is at the geographical center of Scotland. That’s brilliant!”

     “What do we have to do here? We don’t have to climb the mountain, do we, Leith?” Fraser tipped his head back. “It’s way high.”

     “We need to look for a cave down here at the bottom of the mountain. The book might be hidden in it. Did you learn anything about this place, Sandy?” Leith read the sign. “We don’t know much.”

     “I sort of remember some things. I think King Robert the Bruce hid here after a battle with the English,” Sandy said. “So there must be a cave.”

     “Why is it called the ‘Fairy Hill of Caledonia’?” Murray looked over at a pile of boulders.

     “Somewhere around here, at the base, is a lot of heather and boulders,” Sandy said.

     “Boulders like those?” Murray pointed. “There’s heather there too.”

     “Yes, like those. One of the boulders has a lot of cup marks, more than any other boulder in Britain. There is a cave behind the boulder where two burns meet up. Fairies and goblins supposedly live there,” Sandy said.

     “Do you think one of those boulders is that boulder?” Duncan stepped backwards.

     “Go find out. Maybe you’ll see a fairy, or worse, a goblin, and then you could spend some time playing marbles with them. You’d love that, Duncan!” Fraser laughed out loud.

     “Stop teasing the lads. It isn’t funny. This is a sacred mountain to the Gaelic Highlanders of long ago.” Leith picked up a stone. “It’s quartz. I wonder if the entire mountain is made of this.” He stuck the quartz in his pocket. “I remember a few things now. It’s all coming back to me. There are a lot of caves inside this mountain. For some reason this place is linked to a Mt. Shasta in California. Someone, like a priest, went into one of the caves and saw a wooden door. He opened it, went inside and never came back out. He may have gotten himself lost, or he may have been taken prisoner. This mountain is also linked to the Masons. Weird.”

     “My uncle and granddad are Masons. Do you think the goblins took the priest prisoner? Maybe they ate him.” Duncan swallowed.

     “Maybe they did,” Leith said.

     “The book. Have we forgotten about it? What do we do now? I don’t want to go into a cave and find a door and be stuck in there with goblins; book or no book. Let’s go back to Fortingall.” Fraser turned and started walking away.

     “Wait, Fraser. Duncan, Murray, pick up a piece of quartz and give it to me.” The boys did as Leith asked. He pocketed all three stones. “These bits of quartz are glowing. That is strange. Oh well; now we can go back to Fortingall. I don’t think the book is here. I think it’s gone, maybe to some other part of Scotland.”

     “How do you know? You mean that Cruithne’s son didn’t hide it here? Did they hide it anywhere, or did they give it to someone else? Where is the book?” Sandy flung his arms out to the side. “I say we look a little longer.”

     “Cruithne tricked us, or someone else did. None of his sons took the book. I think it’s in Atlantis,” Leith said.

     “But Atlantis was destroyed,” Fraser said.

     “I think someone came through the time warp and took it there,” Leith said.

     “Who?” Sandy gasped.

     “I don’t know. Maybe the ancestor of Taygetus, or the wizard himself. Let’s get out of here.”

     “Wait. Why would Cruithne trick us? What’s going on here?”

     Leith took a deep breath. “I don’t think Cruithne was involved at all. I think whoever took the book put the scroll there for us to find, so we would think Cruithne and his sons took it and we’d go on a wild goose chase. Someone has either come from the past and has taken the book back to Atlantis, or lived in Atlantis and left on a boat to Iona. It has to be that ancestor of Taygetus. She must have taken it when she was in Iona and planted the false information.”

     “We are in big trouble,” Sandy said. “Our only hope is to get the ten things and go back to find her.”

     As they walked past the boulders, Murray gazed at the stack. One of them was pocked with dents. He saw a movement and then before he realized what was happening, a small goblin jumped out. It ran up to him, grabbed his leg and tried to drag him into a cave. “Help! A goblin has me!”

     The others turned to see. “He isn’t fooling,” Fraser said.

     Several other goblins with pointed ears, tufts of red hair, and gray mottled skin came out from behind the boulder. One took Murray’s left arm. One held on to his right arm and the other two grabbed his legs. “Help!” Murray screamed. “Ouch. It bit me.”

     “What should we do?” Duncan felt tears rolling down his cheeks. “I hope they don’t have rabies.”

     “We are much bigger than them. Let’s help him.” Leith ran over to the goblins and grabbed one by its hair. “Come on. Help me.” He called to the other lads.

     The goblins dropped Murray, who stood and ran away as fast as he could, heading for Fortingall. The creatures bit Leith and the other boys on their legs. “Get off me.” Leith pulled one from his leg. “Watch out! They have sharp teeth.”

     Sandy watched in horror as the five goblins attacked Duncan, pulling his hair and biting his toes. “They took off his shoes and socks.”

 “Don’t let them take me into the mountain,” Duncan screamed.

     “Did you bring your golden arrow of Apollo, Leith?” Sandy bit his fingernails in nervousness. He glanced around for Duncan’s shoes and socks. They lay near one of the front boulders.

     “I left it under my pillow,” Leith said. “I have had enough of this. Each of you grab hold of one of the goblins. Don’t stop punching until it lets go of Duncan.” With fists wadded tight, Sandy, Fraser and Leith pounded the goblins, boxing their long ears and wrinkled, puckered faces. Finally, after ten minutes, the creatures let go of Duncan. Leith picked up his friend. “Let’s get out of here. It’s obvious we aren’t getting any book tonight if it by chance is here. At least we tried.” Sandy grabbed his friend’s footwear. The goblins danced around, holding their sore ears and shouting high-pitched screeches. The boys did not look back, but bolted. Soon they caught up with Murray and did not stop running until they reached Fortingall.

     “I’ve got bite marks all over my arms and legs. How will we explain these to our class mates? They’ll see them.” Sandy pulled up his pant’s leg. “Look at this. Those little devils drew blood. I hope I don’t get some sort of weird infection. Can we go home now?” Sandy yawned. “I’m dead tired and I want to wash out these wounds. Next time bring the golden arrow! Here are your shoes and socks, Duncan. You’d better put them on right away.”

     “We need to go back to the yew first and look in the bark and around the roots. It won’t hurt to search for a Roman coin.” Leith saw the churchyard up ahead. “If we can’t get the book, we have to bring back the other things; the quartz and a roman coin.”

     “We can’t get in there. Someone has put bars around it to keep people out,” Fraser said.

     “Since when is that a problem for Apollo’s Soldiers? We’ll just hop over it.” Leith stood on a stone and pulled himself up and over the fence. “Come on. It isn’t difficult.”

     Murray refused to go. He turned his back to the tree and watched in case the goblins had followed them. The other four climbed over. Fraser used his flashlight, shining it at the tree roots. Sandy fell to his knees and dug in the dirt. “Aim it over here,” he said to Fraser. The light hit something shiny. “What’s this? I think I found something.” Sandy dug deeper and pulled out a coin. “Ah ha! Got it.” He handed it to Leith, who examined it.

     “Let’s go, please,” Murray said. “I think the goblins are coming. I hear strange squeaky noises.”

     “It’s probably just the wind blowing through the trees,” Fraser said.

A pack of at least a hundred goblins came rushing towards them, all holding clubs in their bony hands. “That’s not the wind,” Sandy said.

“Let’s get out of here. Everyone into the tunnel.” After leaping back over the fence, Leith found the entrance.

“How are we going to stop the goblins from following us?” Murray wept with terror.

“If we hurry, they won’t be able to figure out where we went.” Leith jumped inside. “Sandy, you go last and make sure the hole is covered.” After he’d done as Leith asked, they ran toward the time warp and popped out in the cemetery.

“Are you sure those goblins won’t follow us?” Duncan glanced at the hole.

“No, I’m not 100% sure, but let’s hope the time warp scares them enough to hold them back.” Leith covered the entrance with sod and they crept back to the school.

None of them noticed the goblins climbing out of the hole at the bottom of the stone cross. The creatures ran down to the loch’s shore, followed the beach around to the front of the school until they came to the road. Running in single file, they scaled the gate and fence and disappeared into the woods.

“Good thing Mungo wasn’t about tonight. We aren’t being too quiet,” Sandy said.

Duncan stopped. “Did you guys hear that noise?”

“What noise?” Leith listened to the silence.

“I suppose it wasn’t anything; just the wind,” Duncan said. Once inside they were more careful and silent. They parted at the doors to their hall and disappeared.

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