Jack Shian and the King's Chalice (5 page)

BOOK: Jack Shian and the King's Chalice
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He and Ploutter ran off down the road away from the castle, leaving Jack and the others watching the scene in front of them with bewilderment. Only Petros seemed untroubled, but he knew better than to get caught for someone else’s pranks.

“Let’s get up to the esplanade,” he said. “It’s best not to stick around.”

“That wasn’t exactly clever,” said Lizzie. “Making someone spin was funny, even the humans were laughing at that. But making those cars crash, that’s just stupid.”

“Kedge and Ploutter
stupid,” agreed Rana. “And so much for not drawing attention to yourself. They’re bound to get caught.”

“It must be nice to know those hexes, though, ’specially as they work better with the Stone nearby,” mused Petros. “Could be useful one day.”

Jack changed the subject. “Can we try some ice cream? I’ll pay.”

Leading them towards a kiosk, he put his hand into his pocket. Petros moved in front of him and shook his head.

“How’re you going to pay?” he asked quietly. “They don’t take silver shillings here. Human money’s different. Didn’t Dad say?”

Jack dreaded to think how Rana and Lizzie would have teased him if they’d found out. Fortunately, they were too busy arguing about trolls to have noticed.

“Watch,” said Petros. “It’s not difficult.”

Petros joined the front of a queue waiting at the kiosk, and Jack saw him take in a couple of deep breaths and cough loudly. To Jack’s amazement, Petros seemed to become a little bigger, more
. The woman standing behind him blinked, and anxiously stepped back a little to create room, as he placed some coins on the counter.

Petros handed round the ice creams and they made their way towards the esplanade. Jack took a couple of licks, and spat in disgust.

“Don’t you like it?” said Petros. “Most Shian can’t eat human food. I’ll eat yours. We’re all right because Mum’s dad was human. Speaking of Mum, she’ll be wondering where we are. D’you know who’s coming for lunch?”

“We must be going,” said their neighbour Festus as the meal drew to a close. “I said I’d show the girls the castle from the outside.”

As he laughed at his little joke, his daughters Freya and Purdy expressed their feelings with a look of experienced resignation.

Jack showed them out and traipsed slowly back into the kitchen. Throughout the meal, he had avoided eye contact with his uncle and grandfather, fearful of recriminations after the previous night’s outburst. With the visitors now away, he was predicting a dressing-down. As he entered the kitchen, his grandfather stood up. Jack looked fearfully at him, then at his uncle, but there was no hint of anger on either’s face.

“Last night didn’t end quite the way I’d hoped, young Jack. But I hope now that you understand a bit more about why your mother left.”

“I think so. But whenever I asked anyone before, they just changed the subject.”

“Sometimes youngsters grow up faster than we realise, young Jack.”

“Grandpa,” began Jack. “Could … could you just call me ‘Jack’? I’m not a kid any more.”

“Of course. ‘Jack’ it is. And as a mark of how much we think you can handle yourself, why don’t you and the others go up to Keldy to see Ossian? You’ve a few days before you start your apprenticeship. Uncle Hart will make sure you’re safe.”

“How are we going to get up there?”

“It’s taken some time, but the Stone’s opening up a lot of the low roads again.”

“Can’t we stay here?” complained Petros. “There’s nothing to do in Keldy.”

Although Ossian and his family had visited Rangie many times, Jack had never been to Keldy before. He had heard many stories about the loch, and the strange Shian that lived in the woods. His eyes glowed with excitement.

I’m going on the low road!


Two days later, Uncle Doonya led the youngsters down behind an unoccupied cottage at the bottom of the square. In the corner of the gloomy garden was a mound of earth. Doonya corralled the four youngsters until they were all standing on it in a circle, facing inwards. Jack’s heart began to race.

“Come along! Put your arms through your bag straps, and hold hands,” said Doonya firmly, raising his arms so that his cloak covered the others. “Otherwise you could end up anywhere.”

“Just a minute!” called Rana. “We’ve left Nuxie behind.”

She scampered quickly back to the house and returned two minutes later cradling the small creature.

“Wind-flock Keldy,” intoned Uncle Doonya.

A loud low whisper reverberated, and Jack began to feel his whole body spinning. His head whirled faster and faster, and instinctively he closed his eyes to stop himself feeling sick. The low whisper increased to a drone, with moaning and wailing mixed in. An eerie sound, it reminded Jack of times when someone had died at Rangie and the local Shian gathered to mourn. He felt dizzy. When he opened his mouth, he found he couldn’t speak.

The drone had become a whine, and suddenly Jack felt as if he was flying. The gloom of the garden had gone. Cautiously he opened his eyes, and through the flapping of his uncle’s cloak, was aware of light slipping past at great speed.

It seemed like hours before things slowed down, but gradually the whine dropped in pitch. With a jolt he recognised Lizzie’s voice.

“Are we nearly there? I feel sick.”

What had been blurs came into proper focus, and the spinning and whining slowed right down.

“Everyone all right? We’ve arrived.” Uncle Doonya lowered his cloak.

Jack looked around him and saw that Lizzie still had her eyes firmly closed.

“Come on, Lizzie.” Petros was grinning. “We’re here.”

Lizzie warily opened her eyes, but her pale face revealed her continuing nausea.

“That was horrible,” she gasped. “I want to lie down.”

“You’ll be fine,” said her father. “It’s a strange feeling, but it’ll soon pass. We’ve travelled seventy miles in under ten minutes. How are you, Rana? And you, Jack?”

“I feel all right,” said Rana. “That was weird, though, wasn’t it? Like being a spinning top.”

Jack didn’t feel quite as brave as Rana sounded, but wasn’t about to admit this.

“Come on,” said Petros, “the house isn’t far.” He pointed to a track that led away from the gate. “There’s Ossian now. Hey! We’re here!” He waved at a distant figure, which began running towards them.

Jack hadn’t seen his older cousin Ossian since a visit to Rangie several months earlier. Ossian came running along, an agile, healthy-looking lad of fifteen.

“How’re you doin’?” he called, while still ten or twenty yards away. “Enjoy the trip?”

“Lizzie feels sick,” said Rana heartlessly. “I thought it was fun. D’you like going on the low road?”

“I do it all the time,” he answered casually. “You meet up with all sorts. How’re you doin’, Rabbit?”

Jack groaned inwardly at Ossian’s joke. A couple of years earlier, Ossian had heard Aunt Katie repeatedly saying ‘Jack dear’; since then, he’d decided that ‘Jack Rabbit’ was a better name than ‘Jack
’. Jack looked up to his big cousin, but the joke had worn off.

“Hurry up! We’ll get up to the house,” said Doonya. “Lizzie may have to rest for a while.”

Jack gloried in the scent of the cornfields, the feeling of truly fresh air on his face. The buzzing of insects was a soothing contrast to the harsh city sounds he’d lately grown used to.

“Come away in, you lot.” Aunt Dorcas stood by the door. “Petros, show Jack where the bedrooms are. Just dump your bags; lunch is ready.”

Aunt Dorcas
, thought Jack happily,
does not stand on ceremony
. And her cooking, based on what she had brought on various trips to Rangie, was a whole lot better than Aunt Katie’s.

Jack’s eyes opened wide as he wandered through the large house.

“There’s just the three of you here?” he asked incredulously. The dining room alone looked as big as the whole ground floor of the houses in Edinburgh.

“I hate bein’ cramped,” replied Ossian. “I couldn’t live under that castle, I need room.”

“But Edinburgh’s great, Ossian,” said Petros. “There’s wicked things to do there. There’s the people, and all the shops. The humans have some cool stuff.”

Lunch was eaten amid happy chatter. Jack cleared his plate quickly. Aunt Dorcas’s cooking was
– even Lizzie was eating heartily.

The meal over, Dorcas shooed the youngsters away. “Ossian, show your cousins around. But Jack’s not to go too far, and don’t any of you touch any of the toadstools and mushrooms.”

“Yes, Auntie,” chorused Rana and Lizzie.

“Mum already warned us about them,” added Petros.

“I’ll show you the loch first,” said Ossian, leading the others outside.

“Can we go fishing?” asked Rana, trying to keep up with her big cousin.

“Sure,” replied Ossian. “I’ve got some rods.”

Squatting down by a large tree, Ossian reached inside the trunk’s hollow base and withdrew two fishing rods.

“I got these ready earlier. Come on, the loch’s just around this corner.”

As they turned the bend in the track, the great expanse of Loch Keldy spread out before them. Jack’s eyes sparkled with excitement.

“Now, if you girls set up here by the bridge, there’s somethin’ I want to show the boys.”

Ossian led Jack and Petros down below the bridge, where a small boat was tied up. They clambered in, and Ossian started rowing out onto the great loch.

The Kelpie and the Oakshee

After several minutes, Ossian stopped rowing.

“That’s Lawse Mountain.” He nodded towards a great hill that rose above the loch. “And over there’s the Dameve village. We mostly keep away from them.”

“‘Dameve village’?” asked Jack.

Ossian looked at him closely. “It means ‘human’, but don’t say it near Dad. Come on, I’ll show you somethin’.”

They were near the far side of the loch now. Ossian shipped the oars inside the boat, which bobbed up and down gently. Taking a small bottle out of his pocket, he dribbled the contents over the side. After a minute or so, he called out softly, “Hicka, hicka, yakooshk.”

Jack and Petros watched in wonder as the water around the boat started to tremble. Suddenly, a horse’s head broke the surface of the water.

“It’s a kelpie!” yelped Petros.

“Shh!” urged Ossian. “He doesn’t know you yet.”

Ossian muttered soothing sounds – were they words? – that neither Jack nor Petros understood. The kelpie seemed reassured, for it remained with its face above the surface. Then, to Jack and Petros’s astonishment, it appeared to be talking back.

Jack whispered to Petros, “I’ve never seen a kelpie before. Is it safe?”

“It’s a water horse,” answered Petros out of the corner of his mouth, clearly not wanting to upset the creature. “They’re dangerous to Dameves, but they’re usually fine with Shian.”

You’re a quarter Dameve yourself, if it comes to that
, thought Jack, but said nothing. Ossian and the kelpie carried on their strange conversation.

“I’ve told him you’re my cousins,” Ossian said sternly. “He’s heard about you, Jack.”

Jack’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “How can he have heard of me?!”

“He’s heard about your father. He says there are creatures nearby who know what happened.”

Ossian avoided looking at Jack, who sensed this was not the whole story. Jack was caught in a dilemma. Did he want to know the truth, whatever it was? Quickly he made his mind up.

“Who? If there’s anyone here who knows more, I want to meet them.”

“It’s no’ that simple,” replied Ossian evasively. “The creatures he talked about bide in the woods; some o’ them don’t like visitors.”

“I still want to see them,” stated Jack emphatically. “If they know what happened to my father then I’m entitled to know.”

“Do we have to go?” asked Petros. “Maybe we should get Dad or Uncle Hart to come with us.”

“We don’t need any of the adults,” Jack insisted. “You know your way around the woods, don’t you, Ossian?”

Ossian’s pride was at stake. “All right. But you have to do what I say. No’ everyone in there welcomes visitors.”

He began rowing over to the other side of the loch. Reaching the water’s edge, the boys clambered out, and Ossian silently led the way up into the woods. Jack couldn’t resist shuffling the dead leaves on the ground, but Ossian turned round and glared at him to stop. After fifteen minutes or so, he paused and held up his hand. Jack and Petros halted abruptly, neither making any sound. Turning round, Ossian motioned to them to remain still. He then edged slowly towards a large oak. Standing erect, he called out in what he hoped was an authoritative voice, “I am Ossian. I crave the wisdom o’ the spirit o’ this great tree.”

After a minute or two, the leaves of the tree began to shake, and a soft rumbling came up from the ground.

“I am Ossian, son o’ Hart. I wish to consult the spirit.”

The rumbling faded. Then, from somewhere deep inside the trunk, a booming voice came. “Speak, Ossian, son o’ Hart. But tell me, who are these strangers ye’ve broucht?”

“Spirit, these are my cousins from Rangie. The great kelpie told me that you know what happened to Jack’s father, Phineas o’ Rangie.”

“The kelpie had nae business tae be tellin’ ye this, Ossian, son o’ Hart. And ye’re very bold tae come this way yersel’.”

“But can you tell him anythin’?” Ossian persisted.

There was silence. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Jack noticed a tree root emerge slowly from the ground and edge towards Ossian’s feet. He stared in disbelief then suddenly darted forward, pulling his cousin back.

“Look out, Ossian!”

Ossian saw the root and instinctively leapt back, but instead of retreating with him, Jack stood there defiantly. Petros took half a pace forward, his arm out to restrain Jack, then stepped back.

“I am Jack Shian from Rangie,” Jack called. “We have come for information. If you can tell me where my father is, I shall be grateful.”

For a moment there was silence. Jack’s initial courage began to waver. Then the spirit spoke again.

“Ye’re also bold, Jack Shian. Would ye tak’ the punishment that should have gone tae yer cousin?”

BOOK: Jack Shian and the King's Chalice
9.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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