The

Follower

 

 

 

 

Stephen Morley

 

 

 

January 2012

 

 

 

 


Copyright and publishing information

 

First published in 2012 by Exoddy Books.

 

Exoddy Books, PO Box 1206, GUILDFORD, GU1 9RH.

 

The right of Stephen Morley to be identified as the author of the work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

Text: © 2012 Stephen Morley

Maps: © 2012 Stephen Morley

Illustrations: © 2012 Eileen Morley

Cover design and Double-Cross symbol: © 2012 Eileen and Stephen Morley.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

eBook versions of this publication are only licensed for use by the original purchaser and must not be lent, distributed or made available to any third party by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher. The original purchaser is permitted to maintain a single backup only copy of the eBook.

 

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

ISBN 978-0-9570621-3-9

 

Further information is available from:

www.exoddy.co.uk

 

With special thanks to my wife for her assistance and encouragement during the writing and production of this work.  Illustrations reproduced by kind permission of Eileen Morley.

 

Exoddy Books – England.

 

 

V.1.1:28/12/11


Table of Contents

 

Prologue

Chapter One – Big City Lights

Chapter Two – Chrissy

Chapter Three – Sgurr-Cavan

Chapter Four – The Double Cross

Chapter Five – The Big City

Chapter Six – The Star Chamber

Chapter Seven – Secret River

Chapter Eight – The Snowy Mountains

Chapter Nine – Going Home

Chapter Ten – Two Hearts

Epilogue

 

Map of Suidhe

Map of Big City

Map of Mainland

 


 

 

“When history is mystery,

when reason seems unknown,

when time has lost its destiny,

let no man walk alone.”


Prologue

In the oldest fields of space, beyond the farthest galaxies, at the edge of the cosmos, shines a solitary light.  It is moving forward through a glorious vaulted arc on an inevitable journey.  The object sears the emptiness with fire and ice: a comet racing across the heavens.  Millions of millions of years pass unheeded as the trailing time-traveller flies on, until it becomes a speck of light in some ancient eye.  The light grows by night, seen by the first ancestor, for the earth is still young.  It streaks by, screaming through the skies, and flies into the void seeming to be forever travelling on, but one day to return.

Millennia pass.  The circuit of the comet will lead to its own destruction as the flare grows once more in the night sky.  This time around, it does not pass by, but crashes with devastating destruction onto the surface of the planet that we now call our home.  It lodges, a small piece of foreign matter, beneath the skin of the earth and slowly cools.  In time, it is forgotten.

The ages pass; continents take shape and shift, ever moving, into new forms.  Inside the crust of this living place, the comet has lost its outer shell to reveal within, a single massive crystal. It is buried beneath a hill, now an island.  The crystal grows and begets another and another, until all the material of the comet has been consumed.  Within this secret place, yet unfound, the crystals wait, clear and pure, a substance not of this earth.  They are formed of materials beyond our comprehension, the essence of time distilled by destiny to be a part of our future.

 

 


Chapter One - Big City Lights

It is late and the night outside is black.  The small wooden box lies open and I hold the two clear gemstones in my hand.  The firelight plays across the facets of the crystals.  Once again, I remember.  The book lies open on my desk and I turn to read the words I have written.  The desk light reflects against the black glass of the window.  Below me the town is dark and silently asleep.

I open the window and I can hear the sea as it breaks against the shore.  Everything on this island is close to the sea.  The smell of salt and seaweed permeates the fabric of our lives.  The wash of the waves and the fiery crackle of the pebbles rasping on the beach play a constant background rhythm to every thought.  Over the sea, the clouds part for a moment.  There is a sudden glance of moonlight on the wave tops and the momentary, flowing canvas of deep marine blue caresses the eyes like a mirage.  These sensations are always near.  The clouds close again, yet in the deep of night, I still sense the movement of the sea far below.

My mind wanders beyond the confines of the night to this island, to my home, to Suidhe.  The sea controls the lives of everyone here.  We live and die by the will of water and weather.  Ever changing, she exudes emotion, temper and free will like a living thing.  I have seen the gentlest waters kiss the rocks with a murmuring ebb and flow.  I have felt the earth jarring beneath the shuddering crash of stormy mountain waves that shout at the rocks in anger.

On either side of the town, low earthy cliffs rise above the pebbly beaches.  Here and there, glistening peaty streams tumble down waterfalls to the shore and into the waves.  In the late summer the seals bask and play on the rocks that emerge from the water like broken teeth beyond the cliffs.  All the while, the endless turmoil of gulls patrols the sky above.

This eastern coast is sheltered from the extremes of the weather and is softer and gentler than the exposed western shore.  The rocky coves and inlets, hidden in the folds of the hills, reach green fingers out from the island to touch the water’s edge.  Streams rise from the springs on the hills, at the centre of the island, and fall dancing down through small ravines.  They gather into a river that flows across the plateau above the sea cliffs.  The waters surge down the final valley and pass into a stony estuary which shelters between steep wooded hills down to the old bridge.

This small town is my home and lies on the lowest part of the coast.  Here, we face bravely out across the water towards the mainland and the Big City, a glistening ribbon of light on the horizon.  On the mainland our town would just be a modest village but here on our small island, it is the centre of living and proudly considered a town.  Oldford is a quiet, slow, settled place with winding streets that climb above the harbour.  The old houses rise from the stony ground on either side of these steep lanes.  They stand one above the other so that it seems each one perches on the roof of the house below.  The stone in the walls was hewn from the old quarries in the hills, even the roofs are tiled with slabs of stone.  These old houses emerge from the hills with seamless continuity, grey and hard.  Yet the stone has softened with the ages and the weathered walls are covered with lichens and moss pillows the roofs.

On the western side of the island, the storms blow in, wild and windy, from the vastness of the empty ocean and batter the ragged shore.  Gulls and gannets noisily cruise the air above the stony heights and ceaseless waves.  Cool, dark caves pierce some of the steeper cliffs, issuing streams from their ferny shadows.  Few trees grow here, where the salty wind stunts the growth of all living things.  One sheltered inlet hides behind a spur of rock that curves around a small bay and the foaming sea pounds turbulently through the entrance to this natural harbour. It carves the rocks and cliffs into gullies with the rise and fall of stormy tides.

The small fishing village of Newbridge shelters in a gap between the ragged cliffs.  The grey-brown rock walls protect it from the worst winter gales.  Buildings cluster around the inner harbour.  The tiny, bleak, shed-like cottages are solid and low.  They have small shuttered windows and heavily braced doors.  The wildest winter will not penetrate those solid white walls.  Inside, each parlour is a cosy place and the rosy cheer of peat firelight flickers on faces in friendly warmth.  The whitewashed walls and turf-covered roofs are home to no more than a hundred inhabitants, but only four families.  A dozen small fishing boats rest with their keels in the mud, awaiting the tide to rise.  Then, the stalwart fishermen: uncles, cousins, sons and fathers, will sail them out to sea once again.  Meantime, while the boats are out, the womenfolk keep house and garden, praying all the while for good weather, a good catch and a safe return.

Life on Suidhe is always about the weather.  Midnight storms give way to silent calm dawns.  Bluster winds free the days from the monotony of drumming rain.  Strange and enclosing fog binds everything in cold, close, wet white.  But clouds fade as quickly as the sun to rise again, in perfect blue mornings, bathed by the happiness of a refreshing early light.

Oldford and Newbridge are the only settlements on the island.  A single road rises up the valleys to the cliffs and winds its way between them.  It follows the coastline around past South Point and Stony Haven.  The centre of the island is too hilly for roads to traverse.  There, the goat tracks and old drovers’ ways twist and climb their way up the tight valleys, until they reach the broken moors that surround the rocky heart, but these tracks are only narrow ways.  In the south and the east the valleys are spread with small fields cultivated by centuries of fishermen’s wives, who tilled the land while their men folk were at sea.  The north and west remain untamed and wild where great herds of deer roam freely in the valleys we call the Deer Gardens.

I spent my childhood on this island.  There were not many children then, there are fewer today.  In our free time, we filled our lives with the ancient pastimes, uncorrupted by most of the modern world.  We helped in the home.  We helped with the crops and animals.  We helped on the boats when the weather was fine.  Playing, exploring, adventuring together and alone, we came to know and understand our island home.  We spent the evenings by the fire with our families, or alone, reading in our rooms.  The distant sound of voices raised in song issued from houses and tavern to break the silence of the dark winter evenings.  Some thought the old ways would never end while others, less comfortable, saw through the idyll to a harsher reality.

But we were not adrift on the ocean and the twinkling lights on the horizon stayed ever present in our minds.   It stood curving and coaxing our thoughts into temptation, to cross the sea.  Life on the island was changing. We were still insular but not completely isolated from the mainland.  Early every morning, a ferry came in to dock at the harbour, bringing provisions and visitors.  It then returned to the mainland, taking some of the men from the island to the Big City, where they worked.  Each evening the ferry repeated the trip.  The ferry became our lifeline, as regular as the tides.  Without it, we could no longer survive.

 

*****

It is late; I can hear the parlour clock striking two, calling me to sleep.  But I will work just a little longer.  I should tell you who I am.  My name is Harold Small, Harry to everyone who knows me.  I live in this old cottage, near the steep top of the steep hill in Oldford that overlooks the harbour and the sea.  Sometimes, on autumn days, I see smoke rising lazily from squat chimneys below me; it drifts out and hangs in a pall above the valley and obscures the cottages.  But now, as I sit in my room and look out through the dark window, I can see across to the mainland and the Big City.  The lights of the city shine and twinkle on the horizon like a distant fairground floating on a sea of black.

I look at those lights and I remember back to when I was a lad thirty years ago and the things I did then.  You see, I went to the Big City, a long time ago, and this is the story of how I came to go there and why I shall never go back.

I can see it all quite clearly in my mind.  It was late in the summer holidays of my sixteenth year and once again I went down to the old harbour at Oldford.  I loved the island but I was an eager teenager.  I wanted a change, a chance to break free from these close confines.  I yearned for distance, excitement, for life on a grander scale.  There was not much for me to do here and always I dreamed of going over the sea to the Big City.  Some nights, long after dark, I would get up, go to the front window, look out across the water and watch that shimmering horizon.  Each night I would dream about life in the Big City, the glittering lights and glittering dreams, dreams that had no hold in reality.

Our island is ancient and remote, and years ago the roads were only stony paths.  When I was a boy there were few vehicles on the island, just two or three old tractors and some bicycles.  I longed so much to see all the exciting things that I had heard about and, most of all, I longed to be in the Big City at night and to see the Big City lights.  But instead I was sitting on the quayside watching others go.

My best friend was a lad about my age called Frank and he had been to the Big City with his father twice that year.  He never stopped talking about it: the sights, the cars, the shops, the ships, the people.  Everything he had seen was the biggest, the brightest, the grandest, the best, and I wanted to see it all, too.

“You should see the roads, Harry, they’re so wide and long and straight.  And they’ve got golden fountains in the city square shaped like lions only much bigger.  There are buildings so high you can’t see the roof.  It’s wonderful and fantastic,” Frank went on and all he said enthralled me.

“One day soon I’m going to go there at night,” bragged Frank.  “My father promised.”

“In the Big City they don’t have night,” I replied.  “The Big City lights never stop shining,” I said sullenly.  Then I added, “Can I come too?”

Frank shook his head.

“No, Harry, your father won’t let you, remember?”

I knew he was right and looked down, but in my head I heard a familiar voice calling out in song:

ʻBig City Lights

Turn night into day;

The sounds and the sights

Take you away

To a magical land

Of neon and gold

Where life never stops

And no one grows old:

The Big City lights up the sky.’

 

Only yesterday I had asked my father:  “Can I go soon?” I pleaded.  “Please?”

“No,” came the simple reply.  “You’re too young.  I’ve seen youngsters twice your age go there and never come back!”

“Why not?  Frank’s going again,” I persisted.

“One day, no doubt, you will see for yourself.  I can tell you, life is hard in the Big City.  Not all that glitters is gold, you know.”

I knew my father was exaggerating.  After all, my best friend’s father went there once a month and he always came back. 

It wasn’t that my father was a hard man or unfriendly.  He was the teacher at the island school and inclined to be jovial and serious all at once.  We got along fine but there was something about the Big City he didn’t like and that only made it seem more fascinating to me.

Often I sat by the harbour making up plans for escape and adventure.  The hill behind my house curved up steeply into a jagged cliff that passed within a few feet of the walls.  If no one was watching, it was possible to jump out of a rear window and onto a ledge of rock that jutted out over the back garden.  Sometimes, I would creep out secretly and leave the window open for my return.  My father would have been horrified and angry if he had known I was being so foolish as to leap across.  But it never entered my thoughts that it might be dangerous.

If only I could slip silently down to the harbour one evening after dark and climb aboard the ferry just before she sailed, then I would be able to hide away on board.  When we arrived at the mainland I would explore the Big City all night.  After the ferry had returned to the island in the morning, I would run up the hill and climb into the house just in time to go downstairs to breakfast.  No one would ever know that I had been away; it would be my secret.  The plan would never work, of course.  The problems seemed insurmountable.  How could I avoid being seen?  How could I board the ferry without buying a ticket?  I certainly could not afford the fare.  I never gave a thought to what would happen to me if I was caught.

I racked my brains for weeks, without success, to find a way of crossing the sea, but I rejected each idea at the outset.  The island isolation seemed complete, until one day something happened which gave illogical hope to my plan.

Close to the centre of the island there is a hill called Sgurr-Cavan, which raises its rocky summit higher than all the others.  You can view the sea around the compass from the top.  The islanders call it the ‘Temple of the Wind.’  It is a good name; it is always windy there.

I had heard there was an old island legend about the place but no-one seemed to know it.  I only knew it had something to do with going to the mainland.  Time passed and I found out nothing more.  If I asked people about the old legend, they just laughed at me, or worse, they wanted to know why I was so interested.  Of course, I couldn’t tell them.  I concluded that no one knew the information I sought.

Every day, whatever the weather, an old fisherman would wander slowly down to the quayside and watch the boats.  His name was Eric, although everyone called him Old Eric.  All the boat crews knew him and they would stop and tell him their news from the sea.  He loved to hear their tales and tell his own.  He always sat on his special bench overlooking the harbour wall and he soon noticed my new interest in the place.  Of course, he knew who I was.  Everyone knew the school master’s son.

I sat down beside Old Eric one day.  His nut brown old face held twinkling clear eyes, half hidden beneath thick bushy eyebrows.  Years of sharp sea air had roughened his skin and made him swarthy.  He seemed as old and wise as Neptune himself.  I sat there and wondered how many ships he had sailed in and how many lands he had seen.  He looked intently at me but I pretended to gaze out to sea.

“What you say, boy?” rasped Old Eric.  “I ’ear you want t’know ’bout legends,” and he laughed.

When he laughed, which was often, it was like the sound of a cackling crow, raucous and broken.

“Folks don’t want t’know ’bout legends these days, boy.  They’re too busy, too young, too modern, too much of a hurry t’understand legends, Harry.”

“Oh! But I really want to know,” I insisted.  “Tell me about the olden days and the ‘Temple of the Wind’.”

I looked at him earnestly and he caught my eye.  Just for a moment I couldn’t look away.  I felt I was being tested.

“You got a while, boy?  Sit tight an’ I’ll tell you a tale.”

He bent down close to me and looked at me fiercely.

“But first you must swear that you’ll never repeat a word of it to any folk that don’t live ’ere.  This is island lore, no Big City stuff ’ere, boy.”

His old fingers stabbed the air in the direction of the mainland and he lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper.

“They must never know our secrets.  Do you swear and promise, young ’un?”

“Yes, yes,” I stammered.  “I swear.”

The hard, penetrating gaze of the old man scared me as I spoke.

Then he turned away and looked out across the water and his story began.

“A long time ago, they say, there lived an extraordinary man who came to Suidhe.  He was a traveller and a magician a doin’ his magic for them that could pay.

“The magician was a great tall man with white flowing hair and strange ways.  He had a large black cape he’d wear to cover all.  He was an imposing figure.  Stood out in the crowd, you might say.  He had bright eyes set in an old man’s face.  He never walked slowly.  Wherever he went, he took mighty strides like a man with a purpose on his mind.  Some folk thought he was just an entertainer and that he played games with his magic.  Others took ’im more seriously.  They had a name for ’im, although if it was his real name I couldn’t say.  They called him Mythras, after some ancient myth.”

Old Eric took out his pipe and started to methodically stuff the bowl with tobacco as he continued his tale.

“He stayed here a while and entertained the High Folk and Elders.  He cast spells to keep away vermin.  ’Tis said Mythras had magic water that could make people laugh or cry.  He talked about the stars and the planets and the earth.  But the one thing that folk wanted to see he kept hidden, except to the special few he chose.  He had a small wooden box: all inlaid it was, with mother of pearl carved in fancy patterns and magical signs.  He would say that he made the box himself from the wood of a special tree in a distant land.  Inside the box he kept a massive gem stone.  The pale glassy crystal was magic and could change colour.  It seemed to glow as you looked into it.  The more you looked, the more you were drawn into it, like looking into your lover’s eyes.  Stories tell that once you had looked into that magic stone, you could never forget it.  It glowed and formed pictures in your mind, like the embers of a fire.  The crystal pictures filled your dreams with patterns and light that stretched back into the night.

“The minister at chapel, at that time, was strict; not like we have now.  He took a dislike to the magician and called him a charlatan and a bad man.  He made the folk believe the magician was evil and a fraud.  ‘Magic ain’t possible’, he said.  Folk was very superstitious and believin’ in those days and the magician was not made welcome any longer.  Before long he packed his bag to leave.

“Mythras went to the harbour, right where we are now, to hire his passage to the mainland and the Big City.  But none of the locals would take him; they were scared of him.  The people got together and chased him to the edge of town and told him to magic himself away or wait for a boat with mainland folk to take him.  They told him not to come back into their town.

“The magician stopped and turned on them and, in their turn, they stopped and faced him.  He looked magnificent with flowing beard and glowing eyes.  The children hid behind their mother’s skirts.  The will of the men wavered as they felt his power.  Magic or none, he was a strong man and his piercing eyes blazed at them.  Then he spoke out in a grand voice saying:

“ ‘Curse you all.  You have refused me passage and you treat me like a criminal, yet I have done you no harm.  I have helped you many times if you only knew it and this is how you repay me.  You call me a fraud, but now I cast a spell over you and you will see the truth of me.  None of you here will ever leave this island and live.  All of you present, to the smallest child will be held a captive of this place.  Do not try to get away; you will not succeed or you will die in the trying.  Now leave me; you will not see me again but you will remember me.  Oh, yes!  You will all remember me!’

“So saying, he turned and walked on up the hill, leaving the islanders gaping and silent.  Nobody moved: they were spellbound.

“Mythras made his way to the centre of the island and climbed Sgurr-Cavan to its summit.  He stood at that place silhouetted against the lurid sky and raised his hands to cast his spell over the whole island of Suidhe.  Almost at once, a great storm began to rise on the horizon and dark clouds filled the sky all around.  It got so dark it was like an eclipse.  A strange spinning wind came racing across the seas towards the island.  The islanders could hear it screeching like hundreds of wailing souls.

“When the storm began, many ran for shelter, fearing the work of the devil.  The sky was black as night and lightning forked down like snakes’ tongues, so close folk could hear the hiss and crackle.  Billowing clouds formed above as tension filled the air.  Men ran down to the harbour to secure the boats.  Then the rain began.  Great heavy sheets of water swept across the harbour and lashed down as the strange dark vortex came closer.

“A cry went up, ‘It’s a tornado, take cover.  Run, run, run for your lives!’

“But the voice was lost in the screaming wind.  The whirling fountain of air seemed alive as it sucked up jets of seawater and consumed anything that fell into the swirling cauldron at its base.  Fearing for their safety, the men abandoned the boats and struggled up to the chapel.  At that time it was the only stone building in the town.  The chapel bell was swinging wildly in the steeple and pealing out the disaster.  Inside, the folk were gathered wondering and praying.  Children screamed as the window glass blew in and tiles were ripped from the roof.  The noise was awful and the place seemed filled with a fearful madness.

“Outside, the tornado rushed across the island like a mad, wild thing, terrifying the animals, pulling at anything in its path.  They say that it went right to the summit of Sgurr-Cavan and plucked up the magician where he stood, placid, with arms raised, waiting.

“In the chapel, the people found the minister cowering in a corner and whimpering pathetically.  All attempts to talk to him failed.  It is said, to this day, that in a storm, you can hear a man whimpering in the chapel, but ’tis most likely just the wind in a flue.

“The storm died down as quickly as it had come.  Folk tell that the winds were like the sound of ghosts laughing as they sped off to the horizon.

“The island, and everything on it, was soaked by the heavy rain.  Torrents had gouged ruts in the roads and swept away the bridge.  Everywhere, trees were leaning over or had fallen across the paths.  Broken boughs had crashed onto roofs.  The animals in the fields had broken through the fences and ran wildly and panic stricken from place to place.  Worst of all, the boats in the harbour lay smashed, submerged or gaping.  Splintered wood was strewn across the decks.  There was not a single craft left that could endure the dangerous journey to the mainland.  It seemed that the magician had exacted a terrible revenge on the islanders.

“Yet incredibly, except for the ordeal of the experience, and the downfallen minister, not one of the islanders had come to any real harm in the storm.

“Some of the elders, having satisfied themselves that everyone was well, sent a team of young men to salvage what they could from the harbour.  Without boats for fishing they knew they would soon starve.  Others were dispatched to attend to the old or young in their houses and to clear the town as best they could.  They knew it would be a long task and so it was.  Many weeks passed before normality could return, and many years would pass before the curse was finally forgotten.

“The next day, five men set out to climb to the top of Sgurr-Cavan to find what they could of the magician.  They hoped he would not be found, but they armed themselves in case of trouble.

“As they got closer to Sgurr-Cavan the devastation increased.  The stunted trees and bushes had all been ripped away from the lower slopes.  Close to the summit of the hill is a vast amphitheatre shaped corrie.  It is a fearsome place in a storm where the winds gather and rocks tumble.  Here, the whirlwind had dumped its load of debris from across the island.  Rocks, boulders, roof tiles, uprooted bushes, even wood from the boats in the harbour, were deposited like so much jetsam on a beach, yet it was the top of the hill.  At the centre of this bizarre and strange old place, they found a pillar of glimmering rock crystal as high as a man.  None of them had ever seen it before and none knew from where it had come.  Some said it came out of the ocean.  Others said it was the magician turned to stone.  But everything had changed there forever.  As good as his word, Mythras had gone without trace.  He was never seen by any of the islanders again.

“A long time passed, but the five men told no-one else of what they had seen on the hill.  The townsfolk were too busy repairing and rebuilding to be bothered.  The magician had gone: that was all that mattered.

“During the weeks following the storm, nobody left the island.  The memory of what the magician had said was still fresh and folk were not keen to try to tempt fate again.  But the need to go to the mainland for supplies was urgent.

“In those days, there was no ferry and the islanders had to fetch their own provisions.  Usually, they sent a pair of boats each fortnight to take produce to market and bring back essentials.

“The time had come to go to market and two boats had been salvaged and repaired.  Each boat had a volunteer crew of two men: four of the men who had been to the top of the hill after the storm.  It was early morning and a perfect day for the journey.  The weather was fine and the sea was calm when they set sail for the mainland.  Many of the island folk watched the little boats move off across the waters.  They felt happy that life was at last returning to normal, but a few of them also felt a little uneasy.  What about the curse of Mythras?  Would the boats ever return or had the minister been right about the magician?  Storms, after all, were not unusual on the island, although no-one living then had ever seen a tornado there before.

“The sailors were not expected to return until evening and it was late in the day before people began to gather on the harbour wall to await the boats.

“The first star shone through the clear evening light as daylight faded and two sails approached the harbour walls.  There were exclamations of relief from the small crowd gathered on the wall.

“The evening breeze blew the heavily laden boats briskly homewards.  It was not light enough to see into the boats as they neared the quay.  Not until the last moment did anyone realise that something was wrong.  The boats came in, low in the water, weighed down with their cargo.  The sailors were surprised.  Why hadn’t the sails been dropped.  ʻLeaving it bit late, what’s up with ’em?’  But the boats rode on straight into the harbour wall.  Men scrambled down to help unload the boxes and crates only to discover that the crews had gone.  The boats were full of provisions but the four men had disappeared.  There was no sign of them, no clue to signify why they had vanished or how the boats had returned without crews.  There was nothing they could do but unload the supplies.

“Some days later, when a mainland boat arrived, enquiries were sent back to the Big City, but came to nought.  The mystery was never solved, the men were never found.  From that time, the mainland crews brought the provisions and that was the beginning of the ferry.

“Time passed by and healed the wounds wrought by the great storm.  The islanders slowly forgot about their ordeal and Mythras the magician.  There were, however, two other strange events that took place at about that time.  The first was known only to a few who had been to the top of Sgurr-Cavan and seen the pillar of crystal.  Exactly one year after the storm, the strange pillar vanished.  No one knew where or how.  Some time after, one dark night, the two boats, which had sailed home so mysteriously empty, also disappeared.

“No-one recalls if the magician’s curse came true.  Generations passed and many years after all the folk who had witnessed the great storm had grown old and died, a new minister came to the island.  His name was Reverend Finder and he became interested in the history of the place.  He heard the old tales about Mythras and the storm, just as I have told yer, and he became intrigued and started to investigate the mystery.  Research he called it, but island folk didn’t take to it.  His investigation didn’t last long because he went missing whilst out walking one day but ’tis said he found the crystal, the ‘white crystal’ of Mythras.  A search was made but he wasn’t found.  Later on, the body of a man was found at the bottom of a ravine out by the western coast.  He appeared to have fallen and he was quite dead.  But he was not the Reverend Finder, nor anyone from the island.

“Most folk thought little of it.  They were not minded to believe in legends.  But ’tis said that the minister had set out to walk to the top of Sgurr-Cavan that day, which is many miles from the place where the body was found.  Yet, there seemed to be some connection and some said that there had been foul play.  The mystery remained unsolved and now no one will ever know what happened.  We don’t have any crime, nor any police to solve it here, see?”

The heavy scent of pipe tobacco faded and Old Eric tapped out his pipe on the heel of his boot.  He put the old briar back in his pocket before he spoke again.

“Now, young ’un, that’s all I have to tell ’ee.  It’s getting late and I’m going to get my supper.  One last word from an old sailor who’s seen a thing or two in his time: don’t go meddling with the past.  Folklore is for the old folk to tell; it’s a story been passed down through generations and where’s the truth in it I couldn’t say.  Now Harry, you run along and look to the future, not the past.”

I wanted to speak, to say something.  I felt very excited inside but I could not find the right words to say.  My mind was too full of stories.  I was sure there must be something in what I had heard, something magical.  The old man slowly stood up and I followed.

“Thank you,” I cried.

“Run along, then,” he said and laughed.  “Just a story, Harry, boy!”

I turned away and ran off up the street.


Chapter Two - Chrissy

The girl looked at the letter again.  She was a red headed teenager, tall with lively grey eyes.  She was always on the move, even when sitting: fidgeting, twisting, constantly picking up, putting down.  She wore old, dirty, shabby clothes: patched and faded jeans and a threadbare shirt.  The room in which she was sitting was also haphazard.  The old farm kitchen had hardly changed in a hundred years.  The furniture made from heavy, unpolished wood had a rough, time-worn appearance.  Plates and dishes, ornaments and sundries covered the sideboard and table.  Freeway and Bess, the two labrador dogs, lay in a large wicker basket that was in front of the old cast iron range.  There they dozed, with heads lolling over their black and golden forepaws.

Despite the wavering midsummer heat blowing in through the open window, the mica windows in the door of the range glowed red as the woody embers flickered, lazily casting shadows across the stone flagged floor.  The fire burned there every day, no matter what the weather, as it had for as long as anyone could remember.  Old nails and hooks studded the blackened beams of the ceiling.  Cooking pans, tools, implements, a string of onions, bags of herbs, tankards, leather belts, old horseshoes - a thousand items accumulated over many lifetimes, some used and some forgotten, awaiting their time, occupied the hooks.

This kitchen was the centre of farm life: meeting place, office, dining hall, surgery, occasional boarding house.  The old place was full to the rafters with memories and histories.  The lives of generations of farm families had been played out in the theatre of this room: comedies and tragedies, music hall and farce.  The echoes of those memories reverberated from the ancient walls.

It was late morning when a tall, thickset man with wild auburn hair and pallid skin, walked in through the open stable doorway.  He was the farmer and the father of the red headed girl.  He seemed weary and angry as he pulled off his worn out boots and left them sagging where they lay.  His shirt sleeves, rolled back to the elbows, revealed powerful arms and large hands with long, stained fingers.  He wiped the sweat from his brow with a large red handkerchief.

“Chrissy,” his rough voice boomed, “get us a tea, love.”

He sat down heavily and leaned across the table.

The girl went to the range where a hot kettle stood black and steaming.  She refilled the pot and let it steep.  The room was silent for a minute, then she brought a mug of tea across the room and placed it on the grey boards beside him.  He looked up thoughtfully and opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again.

“It’s okay, Dad.  I read the letter.  It’ll be all right, I know it will.  Won’t it?”

Her father looked up again and gripped the mug fiercely.  His eyes were alight with his anger.

“It’s not okay,” he shouted.  “They have no right an’ I don’t know what we’re going to do.  I never worked harder, but this is killing us and I can’t do any more.”

“I can help.  You know I can help.  Please let me help,” pleaded Chrissy.

“No.  This is no place for you.  Your mother an’ I have talked it all through.  We want you to go to your aunt’s house in the Big City.  She’ll look after you until we settle up here and then I’ll find some place where we can be a family again.”

Her father looked straight at his daughter as he spoke, but his mind was full of the dam: the dam that held back his future life and left it empty and dry.  He could not understand how it had happened.  He never believed that it was possible until the day the river began to run dry and he had seen it with his own eyes.  Now, the huge new reservoir on the hillside was full and the water, that had been his, filled the great steel pipeline that snaked across the plain to the Big City.  How could they have stolen his water, his livelihood, and just left him there to starve with his loving wife and his beautiful daughter?

The water company had offered to move him to a different place.  They had offered to buy the farm.  They had warned him that if the weather was dry he might run short, but he had never admitted the truth to himself.  He was too proud, too indignant, now he was hurting and his family was suffering.  He had dug a well but it was already dry.  He had wanted to sink a borehole but he couldn’t afford it without his neighbours’ help and they had all taken the water company’s money and gone.

He turned his bowed head and looked out through the dusty window.  The fields stretched wide across the plains towards the Snowy Mountains.  The farmhouse stood at the centre of the farm.  A ragged old track scratched across the surface of the fields, dustily tracing its way towards the road.  The farm lay at the farthest edge of the vast prairie called the Heartland that stretched across the arid miles of featureless flat lands between the mountains and the sea.

The crows stalked in the fields, among the remains of the crops.  Dirty grey trees stood skeletal and leafless on the plain.  Dusty mounds and dykes showed where the ditches once ran with water.  The pond in the farmyard was almost empty.  A few inches of slimy green water buzzed with mosquitoes.  One sad duck stood on the bank looking quizzically down at the scraggy weeds.  All about and above the world was an intense, fire-like heat.  The sun seemed to fill the sky as it blazed down.  All creatures walked with bowed heads in that lethal light.

The blistered grey trunks of once elegant trees lined the edge of a distant field, and traced the path of the dried up river bed through this sorry place.

“Look outside, Chrissy, just take a look.  I can’t fill the river.  We have got to go now.  We can’t wait till the rains come this year.  We won’t last that long.  It might not rain for weeks an’ it’ll take more than rain before that river flows again.  You know what’s happened.  When man goes meddling with nature it always ends in disaster.  They’ve undone the balance, that’s what they’ve done.”

Chrissy could see the anger in his eyes but she wanted to stay.

“But what about the farm, Dad? You can’t just leave it.”

“We can’t sell it, love, it’s not worth a bean.  Only a madman would come out here, to this.”

The farmer waved his hands vaguely behind him.  He looked sullen.

The sound of movement pierced the walls, and the door to the parlour opened.  A woman sailed in, dressed in flowing blue.  Her long black hair was tidy in a bun.  She wore a dark blue sash around her slim waist and a delicate gold brooch, in the shape of a fish, on her dress.  She walked across the room humming to herself, seemingly oblivious to the girl and the man already present.

The sad man looked up at his wife.  She was a beautiful woman and their love was great.  Now, the crisis of their lives was proving too much for all of them.  She had shut out the truth.  She lived in a make-believe world, pretending that life would go on as normal.  She could not conceive of a time when they would have to leave her parents’ farm.  She had lived there all her life and her parents and grandparents had lived there before.  The generations reached back to the first settlers: one family, one farm.

He stood up and went over to the proud and serene woman, who was standing by the old, spotless sink where she was incongruously singing a sad song to a soft melody.

“I love you dear,” he said to her quietly.  “Listen to me, now.  Chrissy must go soon.  I will take her out to the coach in a little while.  You must say good-bye.”

His wife looked up then.  She turned to her daughter.

“Well,” she gushed, “you and I must get ready.  I will dress you for the journey.  I do hope you have a lovely holiday, darling, and by the time you come back we will have everything fixed.”

Chrissy looked at her mother and saw the tears in her eyes.  Even now, her mother did not have the strength to face the truth.  They all knew that there would be no return to the farm.  The mother and daughter went silently upstairs.  They came down a while later carrying an old case.  A transformation had taken place and Chrissy looked the essence of a country society girl.  She was at once older and younger than before, self possessed but vulnerable.  She had her hair arranged tidily and wore the best clothes she possessed.  Standing side by side, mother and daughter presented a picture of pathos and beauty.  Chrissy carried a bag containing all that she valued: her notebook, an old book of poems, a small wooden box with a carved lid and her favourite old togs.  On her dress, she wore her mother’s treasured brooch.

Outside, her father had their old car ready.  They seldom used the rusty black relic.  They had always gone about the area on horseback.  But now the horses were sold.  The car’s old engine had been running for a few minutes and it smelt of hot oil as it idled in the yard.  The tyres were cracked and the leather seats creaked, but the car still worked: enough for one last journey to the highway.  He packed the bag in the boot and opened the door for his daughter.  Chrissy started towards the car, but then she hesitated and looked back to the house and the silhouette of her mother standing at the open door.  Suddenly, she turned and ran off.

“Chrissy!” shouted her father.

But she kept running until she came to the bank of the old river, which now lay desolate and murky.  She stood and looked into the place and remembered a childhood of dreamy, sun soaked days when she had swum and splashed in the cool water.  All through the years she had walked by the banks of the river or waded through the clean clear waters.  Through a dozen winters she had seen the icy beauty of that place.

“Remember me,” she whispered.  “Remember my secret, river and good-bye.”

You've finished reading a sample of
The Follower