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Rolfin's Orb
Book 7 - Amber
Chapter 8

            “Are you sure Mairi’s home? Her house is dark. I hope she’s not in any trouble,” Angus said.

            “She’s home. Maybe she’s out back and just forgot to put on the lights.” Fiona held her uncle’s hand. “Callum, Elspet, why don’t we run ahead and see.” She winked at them and the three darted off, leaving Angus and the others behind.

            “This is the first time you’ve been to Mairi’s, isn’t it, Jason?” Jeffrey tried to distract Angus.

            “Yes. I’m afraid I’ve not seen too much of Inveralba since I arrived. Maybe you can show me around town one of these days. I hear it’s quite lovely.” Jason patted Angus on his back. “You’ll show me around, won’t you, Angus.”

            He nodded as they stepped up to Mairi’s front door. “Go ahead and ring the bell,” Jeffrey urged Angus.

            The door flung open. “Surprise!” Twenty or more people shouted together.

            “What’s all this?” Angus stepped inside as the lights went on. “My birthday? Why, of course it is! With all this commotion, I’d completely forgotten.”

            “Happy birthday, Angus,” said Mairi, kissing him on the cheek. “I suppose you’re 29 again.” She laughed and gave him a hug.

            “Let the festivities begin,” Johnny said.

A bagpiper marched into the balloon-filled room. Sounds of ‘Scotland the Brave’ filled the house. “Colin Campbell! I’m honored to have you play at my birthday party.” Angus sat on one of the settees and clapped along with the bagpipe music.

The guests arrived family at a time. Jamie and Catriona McAllister came in the back door with Elspet, wee Malcolm and Alastair. Catriona had cooked three haggis and a bowl of neeps. Anne and Malcolm showed up at the same time as Nellie and Elsie. The house soon was full and crowded. “Help yourselves,” Mairi announced between a round of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Highland Laddie’. “We’ve got haggis, neeps, bridies and Cornish pasties, shortbread, mince and tatties and stovies. There’s enough for you all.”

As they ate, Mairi introduced everyone to each other. Nellie sat next to Julian and started a conversation with him while nibbling on her shortbread. “Julian. You’ve certainly got a lot of brothers. Is Jason you’re brother? If you don’t mind me saying so, he looks a bit different than the rest of you.”

Julian laughed. “Jason’s a cousin. His mother and father are from Africa.”

“Och, of course. What do you think of our wee town of Inveralba?” Nellie patted his hand. “It’s very lovely, isn’t it?”

While the conversation went on between the two of them, Fiona gathered the little ones around and they played some games. When Nellie heard the name Drayton, she dropped her plate onto the floor. Julian picked it up. “Is everything all right, Nellie?”

“Fiona, dear, did you just say the name Drayton?” Nellie waved for Fiona to come closer.

Elsie, who was sitting on another settee, also heard. She jumped up and went over to Nellie. “I know that Drayton. He’s the man who broke into Mairi’s house and vandalized it. He also trashed John and Susan’s McAllister’s, stole a car, skipped out of the B&B without paying and accosted me at the café. Not only that, he threatened to hurt me right in front of Agnes.”

Nellie’s face turned white. “What is it, Nellie? Have you had a run-in with Drayton too?”

“Are you talking about Drayton Steele?” She wiped her forehead with her hankie.

“That’s him. An evil one, that lad,” Nellie said.

Julian squatted in front of Nellie. “What’s the matter, Nellie? Do you know him?”

“Drayton Steele is my nephew. He’s the son of my sister, Penelope. They live in Truro, Cornwall. His father was a drunkard and abused my sister. The boy must have decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. Why was he in Inveralba and why in heaven’s name would he do all those horrible things to Mairi and the McAllisters, and you, Elsie?”

“He’s got a mean streak in him, that’s for certain, Nellie. I had no idea he was your nephew. His poor mother,” Elsie said.

“Do you think she’s in danger? Do you think I should telephone her and see how she is?” Nellie got flustered. “I don’t want him hurting my sister. Maybe I should ask her to come here for a visit, to keep her out of harm’s way.”

Julian went into the kitchen and told Mairi and the others what had just happened. Mairi hugged Nellie. “You go into the bedroom and make that phone call, if you think it will make you not worry so much. Take your time.” She led Nellie into the back room and shut the door behind her.

Malcolm sat next to Johnny. “There’s something very odd going on here, John. You hired me for a week to take you hunting and fishing and after two days disappear to Angus’s house. You’ve got six or seven brothers, or relatives,” he said, looking at Jason, “that show up and all kinds of strange things start happening. All of a sudden we’ve got monsters in Loch Doon, Castle Athdara seems to have come to life. I’ve seen the lights in the windows at night. Something’s going on and I want to know what it is.”

Johnny thought about it for a few moments. He looked at Jimmy, who nodded. “Malcolm, why don’t you come outside with me. I think it’s time we had a talk.” Johnny and he sat on the front porch swing. Johnny told him everything that had happened since his arrival.

                                                *  *  *

            Jared stood near the closed door. “Ah, Chessa. You’ve arrived.” Jack took him to the settee, sat him down, and told him the current events.

            “You mean I have to go by the name Jared now? The girl and Angus were on their way to a birthday party.”

“We’re going too. We have to take two books and the orb with us because Phelan is on the loose with his co-hort, Drayton Steele, King Dugan’s descendant? As unbelievable as this all is, it’s true. You’re probably wondering how you can speak this language and understand what others say?” Jack watched Jared’s nod. “I was too, but it has something to do with the time portal. Just enjoy it.  You’ll get used to it.” Jack laughed and slapped Jared on the back. “Come on. Welcome to Inveralba and the 21st century.” They left the croft and headed for Mairi’s, with books and orb in hand.

                                    * * *

            Nellie came out of the bedroom, holding on to the wall as she walked back to the living room. Julian saw her and rushed to help her back to her seat. “Is your sister all right?”

            “I’m afraid she’s not. She ended up telling me the whole sordid story. Drayton’s been abusing her since he was sixteen years old. She lives in terror of him. She said he’s not there right now, but she got a call from him a while ago to tell her he’s on his way home.” Nellie sat down on the settee. Mairi brought her through a cup of tea.

The bagpiper had stopped playing, long enough to have a bite to eat. Fiona and the children had gone up to her bedroom to play a board game. Nellie’s hands shook as she sipped her tea. “I told Penelope to pack a bag and get out of there before Drayton came home, but she refused, even after I told her what he’d been up to in Inveralba. She said he needed her and that he was still her son, no matter what. I’m afraid for her, but she’s made the choice.”

            Mairi looked at Julian. If she only knew what he’d really been up to, she’d send the army in to get her sister. At least Drayton’s not around here, so we’re rid of him for a while.

            Johnny and Malcolm came back inside, mumbling things to each other. They took a couple of chairs over to the fire, joining Jimmy, Jesse and Jason.

            Julian stayed with Nellie, trying to cheer her up. When the doorbell rang, Mairi ran to open it. “This must be Jared,” she said, taking his hand in hers. She looked at the dark haired man. His long hair was tied back in a pony tail. “Welcome, Jared. I’m Mairi. Come in and have something to eat. You too, Jack. Don’t stand out there and freeze yourself, come in.”

            Jack handed the box to Angus, who was talking to Elsie and the bagpiper. He put it down near his feet.  Jared and Jack then wandered around the house, re-acquainting him with his old friends. He then introduced him to everyone else downstairs and then took him up to Fiona’s room to meet the children. “I’ll fix you two a plate of food,” Anne said, grabbing two empty plates and loading them with some of everything.

                                    *  *  *

Phelan stood in the woods near the castle and summoned another one of the sluaghs. Silhouetted against the moon, the creature swooped towards Phelan, landing in the clearing. “Yes Master,” Dorigon said, bowing.

“I’m glad you realize I am your master. I will now take command of your body.”

“But, Master, what will become of me?”

“I cannot leave the vicinity of the castle as I have no body. I need a body. Your spirit will be released and go to Castle Athdara and stay there until I return. When I do, I will give your body back to you. I will have no more need of it.” Phelan scowled at the sluagh.

“But, Master, what if something happens to my body. What will become of my spirit?”

“I shall guard your body. There is no need to fear. Your spirit can roam the castle grounds freely until I return.” Phelan didn’t wait for another response. He dove into the sluagh’s body, pushing out it its spirit. “Go! The castle is ready to receive your spirit.” Taking possession of the hideous creature, Phelan watched the spirit soar toward the castle. “Now, I have work to do.” He flew into the darkened sky, heading for Mairi’s house.

The house radiated warmth and cheer through the draped windows. Phelan stood outside, his anger building. “They’re all inside in one place, every one of them.” He lifted his arms high above his head and chanted a spell. “Let’s see how they like this one.”

Stems burst through the ground, spreading all over the outside of the house. Vines wrapped themselves around the chimney, the windows, the door and sprouted leaves. Within minutes, the entire house was cloaked in a green prison of ivy. “That should  keep them for a while.” Phelan’s evil laugh was impervious to the people trapped inside.

He appeared in Angus’s croft and began a search for the orb and the books. Everything flew from the shelves, the sheets blew off the bed and it lifted into the air. Phelan rummaged through every nook and cranny of the croft. “It’s gone! They took everything with them!” Rage shot from him in a huge explosion of smoke. In anger he flew back to the woods near the loch and left Dorigon’s body lying on the ground. Back on safe ground, he turned, gazing at the sluagh’s form. He was about to destroy the body, but hesitated. “Perhaps I will need him again.” He called the sluagh’s spirit back and watched as the body came to life again.

“Thank you, Master. How can I repay you?” Dorigon knelt.

“I will need you again in the future. I ask you to be my guest at the castle until that time.”

“It will be an honor, Master,” the sluagh said, following Phelan to Castle Athdara.

                                    *  *  *

            Mairi brought out the cake and ice cream. Angus blew out all the candles in one breath. After a rousing round of ‘Happy Birthday To You’, Mairi sliced a piece for everyone. “Marzipan icing! My favorite,” Fiona said.

Angus opened his birthday presents. Wrapping paper soon piled around him, as did ribbons and bows. He held his gifts on his lap. “Thank you, everyone!” Johnny had carved him another set of wooden animals to go with the ones at his house. Jimmy had chiseled a set of chess pieces out of soapstone. Each piece was intricate and looked like either one of the twelve men, King Kegan, his wife or their children. Jesse had found another kitten and tied a bell around its neck with a pink ribbon. Angus named the black and white patched kitten, Asma, at Jesse’s suggestion. He told Angus ‘Asma’ meant ‘precious’. Nellie had crocheted him a doily for his living room table. Elsie bought a box of chocolate truffles. Every gift was treasured and Angus was very appreciative.

            Jamie and Catriona picked up their empty dishes. “I’m so glad we came. We had a grand time. The cake was delicious. I love marzipan.” Catriona squeezed Mairi’s arm. “We’d better get Elspet and the lads home now. It’s getting late.”

            Mairi opened the back door. “What in the world?” A wall of ivy, tightly woven and impenetrable, blocked their way.

            “That’s strange. There was no ivy here when we came two hours ago,” Catriona said, her arms full of dishes.

            Jamie held wee Malcolm in his arms and Elspet held onto Alastair’s hand. Right away Elspet knew what it was. “Let’s just go out the front door,” she said, turning and marching into the living room. When she opened the front door, it looked the same. “Johnny? Jimmy?  You’d better come here.”

            Everyone in the room stopped talking and looked at the door. Elsie pulled the curtains open. “The ivy is all over your house. We’re trapped inside.”

            Nellie looked at Julian. “Did Drayton do this too?”

            “Drayton’s not here,” Julian reminded her.

            Johnny pushed on the ivy. “It’s wrapped around the whole house.”

            Fiona, who came downstairs with Shone and Murdock, saw the ivy. “What’s going on, Mum? What’s all the ivy doing on our house? I saw it out my bedroom window too.”

            “Do you have any scissors or large butcher knives?” Malcolm asked.

            Mairi ran to her knife drawer and came back with half a dozen huge carving knives. She handed them to some of the men, who proceeded to hack and cut at the vines. “This must be an arm’s length deep,” Johnny said.

            “We just need a hole big enough to get out,” Mairi said.

            Wee Malcolm was the first to notice the ivy vines creeping down Mairi’s chimney. “Mummy! The plant is coming to eat us!”

            Catriona gasped in horror as the snake-like vines wrapped themselves around the furniture. “It’s inside now.”

            Shona screamed and ran into her father’s arms. “It’s a plant monster, daddy.”

            Jimmy left the others to tackle the vines trapping them inside and he hacked away at the ones coming inside. Even after he chopped them up, the pieces wiggled around, wrapping themselves around anything in their path.

            Fiona closed her eye and thought about weather. “Julian, you’re a gardener. What sort of weather is bad for ivy?”

            Julian knew what she was thinking. “Ivy doesn’t like frost, Fiona.”

            She closed her eyes and thought about bitter cold weather. A freezing breeze blew down the chimney and swooshed through the holes in the ivy. The men jumped back. The mothers grabbed their children and backed away from the living room. The ivy turned brown and died. Julian whispered something in Johnny’s ear. He turned and winked at Fiona. “Chop it up,” Johnny said. When the men hacked at it, the ivy fell apart. The icy wind blew inside the house.

            “Fiona, stop!” Julian got her attention.

            Trying to come up with an explanation, Mairi laughed. “Julian, the next time I ask you to do gardening for me, don’t use so much fertilizer on the ivy.”

            “Don’t worry. I won’t do that again,” Julian said.

            “But it came down the chimney and was going to hurt the children,” Nellie said.

            “It’s a new variety of ivy that I brought with me from London,” Julian said, thinking quickly. “It wasn’t going to harm the children. It just grew so quickly that it moved…”

            “Like a snake,” Catriona said. “Like hundreds of snakes.”

            “You mean all that grew from fertilizer?” Elsie turned to Julian. “What sort of fertilizer did you use, Julian? I’d like to get some of my plants to grow bigger, but not quite that fast.”

            “That was quite a cold spell we had there for a few minutes. I’ve never seen anything like that before in all the years I’ve lived in Inveralba,” Jamie said.

            Johnny, Jimmy and Jeffrey went out and swept the dead ivy into a pile. Fiona changed the weather back to normal.

Mairi said goodnight to her guests, leaving only Angus, Fiona, and the seven men at her house. “I suppose we can give credit of that little fiasco to Phelan. I don’t know how many of you heard, but Drayton has apparently flown the coop. Drayton is also Nellie Crawford’s nephew.” Johnny sat across from the others. “We’d better get the orb and books back to the croft. I’ll stay here with Mairi and Fiona. Jason, will you stay with us?” He nodded. “I’m sure Mairi and Fiona would love to have time with you to get to know you better.”

 “Take all this left over food back to the croft with you, Angus. It’s enough to feed you all for a day or two. Just put it in the pantry and it will keep.” She handed them bowls and plates piled with food. Angus put his gifts into a bag and carried it home. Jared held the orb and Jimmy took the two books.

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