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Rolfin's Orb
Book 7 - Amber
Chapter 9

Penelope Steele woke up early. She knew Drayton would be arriving soon. Nervous, she puttered around the house, making sure everything was in order. She went into his room and straightened it up. Filling her teacup, she sat down, resting her arms on the doily-covered armchair and waited for his return.

His eyes were raw and sore from driving all night. When he pulled up to the house, it gave him comfort. Truro was somewhere safe, away from Phelan and the nights of pain he’d suffered. He parked the car and walked in the front door.

“Drayton! You’re home. I’m so glad to see…”

“Don’t start with me, woman. I’m going to bed.”

“Your hair! You’ve cut it and your earrings are gone.”

He stopped and sighed. “I’m tired. I drove all night. Just leave me alone for a few hours. When I get up, I’ll want something to eat.”

Penelope noticed the book. “What’s that book? Is it your fathers?”

Ignoring her, he went upstairs to his room. He put the book on top of his drawers and fell down on the bed, exhausted, yet relieved.

 His mother, remembering her sister’s words of warning, tried to put them out of her mind and worked on her crossword puzzles.

                                                *  *  *

Fiona woke up. “Hurrah! It’s Saturday and I don’t have to go to school today!”

She slid her feet into her slippers and wrapped her bathrobe around her, tying it with the belt. She went down into the kitchen. Her mum was putting on some water for tea. “Mum, what day is it? It’s Saturday, isn’t it?”

            “I’m sorry, luv. It’s only Friday. That means you’ve got school.”

            “Aw no! I thought it was Saturday.” Fiona sat on one of the chairs. “Do I have to go to school today? What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to see if Johnny and some of the others will go over to the castle with me, in daylight, so we can start making plans to renovate the castle. I’ll need Julian to check out the gardens. Jeffrey said he could work on the walls. Jack and Jesse offered to cut down the dead pine trees. We’re not doing anything exciting. Of course, when you get home from school, you’ll be off to the next place with Elspet and Callum. I think they suspect something, don’t you?”

            “Malcolm knows,” Johnny said, walking into the kitchen. “He was getting suspicious, so I took him into our confidence.”

            “Oh dear. He won’t tell Anne will he?” Mairi popped some bread into the toaster.

            “No. He doesn’t want her frightened. I was half expecting Jamie to start asking questions, but he didn’t seem to bother.” Johnny sat down next to Fiona. “You’re off to school soon, aren’t you?”

            “Don’t remind me. I want to stay home so I can go with you guys,” Fiona said.

            “Oh? And where are we guys going today?” Johnny turned to look at Mairi.

            “Mum wants to take you all over to the castle to inspect it and see what needs to be done,” Fiona said.

            “You still want to renovate?” Johnny stood up and poured himself a cup of tea.

            “Of course. I’m not going to let a silly thing like a monster in the loch nearly eating me stop me.”

            “Don’t forget the banshees,” Johnny added.

            “Not banshees, not ghosts, not serpents. Nothing is going to stop me from fixing up that castle.” Mairi spoke with determination.

            “Well then, I’ll gather some of the men and we’ll head over there with you.”

            “I need Julian, Jack, Jeffrey and Jesse and then any of the others that wish to come.”

            “So be it.”

            “We’re going to the castle to assess it. Mairi wants to move into it after we renovate,” Johnny said. “You three can come if you want, but someone needs to stay with Angus.”

            “I’d like to spend some time studying the book, if you don’t need me. I’m working on finding a way to call Zerahemna back. I know he’s gone to Xilia, but I saw some clues in the book. I may find a way.” Jason asked for a cup of tea.

            After Fiona went to school, Johnny went to the croft to gather the men. Jack, Jesse, Julian, Jeffrey and Jared came with him. Jason stayed with Angus and Jimmy, who insisted, worried that Phelan might try another one of his tricks. The others headed for the castle, with saws, hammers and other tools. Mairi met them there shortly after they arrived.

            “I’m glad you’re all here. I appreciate your help. Jack, will you and Jesse please start cutting down those dead pine trees. I hope Angus told you how to do it,” Mairi said.

“I used to cut down trees in Burill. We had a problem with some of them now and then. I’m sure Jack and I can handle it.” Jesse picked up the saw. “Come on, Jack. Let’s do some chopping.

“If you stack the wood in a pile, we can take it back to Angus’s. I’m sure he’d like the firewood, even though he usually uses peat,” Mairi said.

“Will do, Mairi.” Jack said.

“Julian, look at this mess. The gardens I’m sure were lovely at one time.  What can you do to help?” Mairi pointed to the many overgrown trees and shrubs.

“I’ll start with the yew hedge inside the walls. I borrowed some of Angus’s clippers and gardening tools. You leave this to me.” Julian picked up the clippers.

“What about the maze? It’s so magnificent. I’d like to keep it. I’m sure Fiona and her friends would play in it,” Mairi said.

“If you go into the maze, Julian, cover up that hole and don’t fall in it. It’s a long drop,” Johnny said. He and Mairi left Julian to his work.

“Jeffrey, what about that wall? It’s really not in that bad a shape.” Mairi walked over to it. “Most of it is sturdy still, after all these years. I’d like the archway fixed too. Can you do it?”

“It’ll take some time, Mairi, but I can do it. I used to work for King Kegan in Burill, helping him with his fortifications and such. I’ll get on it right away.” Jeffrey walked around the perimeter wall, examining its strengths and weaknesses.

“And what would like us to do?” Johnny nodded at Jared.

“Come with me. Let’s go into the cave and have a look at those tunnels. I’ll show you what I want done,’ Mairi said. She turned on her flashlight. “Follow me, boys.”

As they walked through the main level, Mairi pointed out that she’ll need to put plumbing and electricity into the castle and that it would cost a lot of money. They headed down the stairs, stopping at the room with the time portal. Mairi peeked inside. “It stinks in there, like death.”

“That’s what it is, Mairi. Phelan obviously took great pleasure in murdering our capturers,” Johnny said.

“Can we move to time portal?” Mairi didn’t see anything in the room aside from bones and scraps of fabric.

“The time portal isn’t something physical that you can move. It’s more other dimensional,” Johnny tried to explain. “It’s not a door, it’s an entry way through time. Does that make sense?”

“What you’re saying is that there’s nothing to move. The time portal stays where it is and we work around it,” Mairi said, smiling.

“In so many words, yes. We should clean this room and make it a little more inviting for the next five men who will be using it,” Johnny said.

“It wasn’t too positive a thing for me when I arrived last night. I left my time to enter a world that smelled and felt of death. I agree with Johnny. Let’s tidy this room up first,” Jared said.

“Will do. First let’s go down to the tunnels and I’ll show you what to do and then we’ll come up and do some cleaning,” Mairi said. They headed down the long flight of stairs into the darkness of the cave. “I know there are torches on the walls that light the cave up.” They walked around, finding each torch, lighting it and moving on to the next one.

“I want each of these tunnels filled in with dirt. It’s impossible to do by hand, so we’ll have to get a truck to come and dump dirt in here,” Mairi said. She looked at the confusion on Jared’s face. “You’ll see soon enough, Jared. This is a whole new world.”

He was still trying to understand electricity and flashlights. “Why don’t the two of you go and see what needs to be done. I’m going to run home and get some cleaning equipment for the room.” Mairi kissed Johnny on the cheek and ran back up the stairs, leaving the two of them in the cave.

“I see. You and Mairi are…” Jared winked at his friend.

“We love each other, yes,” Johnny said. Changing the subject he headed into a tunnel. “I hope this isn’t the one with spiders.”

“Spiders? What sort of spiders? Not sand spiders, I hope,” Jared said.

Holding the torches, they walked down the tunnel. Jared was relieved to see no spiders crawling about. Up ahead they saw flickering lights. “What’s that?”

Johnny pushed Jared behind him. “I’ve no idea, but let’s play it safe.” With backs against the tunnel walls, they walked slowly toward the lights. When they reached the end there stood another cave. Cautious about entering, they stood at the entrance, watching the colorful lights darting about the room. “What sort of place is this? It reminds me of the lights that appear when Fiona disappears to another country.”

“They don’t look dangerous. There’s nothing else in the room except the lights,” Jared said. “Come on. Let’s see what’s going on.”

He dropped his torch, as did Johnny and they stepped into the cave. Tiny explosions of light swirled past them, around them and between their legs. “Purple, green, orange, yellow, red, blue, white, pink. This is beautiful.”

No sooner had Johnny said that when the two of them disappeared, leaving the swirling lights and dying torches behind.

                                    *  *  *

.  Mairi came back and hour later with a bucket full of cleaning supplies, a broom, dustpan and a huge roll of plastic garbage bags. She stood watching Jack and Jesse cutting down the pines. Jack had climbed to the top of a tree and was sawing branches off. They fell to the ground in a pile, the brown, dead needles falling off when they hit the ground. Jesse picked up the branches and sorted them. Some were too small to cut into logs for Angus’s fire. Mairi stood next to Jesse. “I think we should have a bonfire tonight and burn all those small branches, don’t you?”

“That would be grand, Mairi. I imagine these branches would burn without any kindling. They are so dry and without moisture,” Jesse said.

“That’s the plan then. We’ll do that after Fiona, Callum and Elspet get back from their next trip this afternoon. I’m going inside. Jared, Johnny and I are going to clean up the portal room. Keep up the good work,” she said and disappeared into the castle.

She went down the steps, stopping at the door to the room to drop off the cleaning supplies. She rushed down the rest of the stairs. When she got to the bottom she called for them. “Johnny! Jared! Where are you? I’ve got the cleaning supplies.” Nobody answered. “Johnny? Where are you?” Still no answer. She went down one of the tunnels. “Johnny? Jared? Where are you both?”

Afraid to go down any of the other tunnels, she ran back up the stairs and found Jack and Jesse. “Johnny and Jared are missing,” she said to Jesse.

Jack climbed down the tree. “What do you mean?”

“I left them in the cave and when I came back, they weren’t there.” Mairi sighed.

“They probably went exploring. Don’t worry about it. Why don’t you stay out here with us. I’m sure they’ll show up sooner or later,” Jack said.

“You two continue with the trees. I’ll go and see how Julian and Jeffrey are doing. Maybe there’s something I can help them do while we’re waiting,” Mairi said.

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