Jack Shian and the King's Chalice (6 page)

BOOK: Jack Shian and the King's Chalice
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“I would,” replied Jack, his boldness returning. “But I seek information. Do you have the information I ask for?”

Another pause.

“Yer bravery does ye credit,” the tree spirit said at last. “But the water horse exaggerated. Aye, the Oakshee hear mony things, and Phineas from Rangie
was
travelling north wi’ Konan the Brashat some years ago. They made camp near here, but mair than that I canna say. There are ithers who may ken mair than I. Seek ye Tamlina.”

After a pause, the voice came again. “Now go. Jack o’ Rangie, yer courage will tak’ ye far. As for ye, Ossian, son o’ Hart, tak’ care. There are ways o’ consultin’ the Oakshee. This time, ye may leave in peace.”

As the tree root disappeared, Jack turned to face the others.

“Let’s get out of here.”

Petros watched Jack sullenly as they walked along. While he admired his bravery, he resented Jack’s having taken the limelight. Unsure of what to say to Jack, Petros turned on Ossian instead as they untied the boat.

“What did you do to upset it, Ossian? I thought you knew your way around these woods.”

“I do. But we should’ve sent someone ahead to let the Oakshee know we were comin’. Like I said, they don’t always like visitors.” As he rowed, Ossian kept his eyes fixed firmly on his own feet.

Who was Tamlina?
Jack had heard the name before, but where? His grandfather?
And how could she know about his father?
It grated that others knew more than he did.

As the boat approached the bridge, Ossian looked up at Jack. He gulped once or twice before muttering, “Thanks.”

“No more ‘Rabbit’, then. OK?”

Ossian nodded.

10
Tamlina

The next few days passed in a haze of sunshine, rowing on the loch and playing on the outskirts of the woods. But all too soon the final day came, and after lunch Jack and the others went upstairs to pack. As Jack and Petros came downstairs, Ossian appeared at the front door.

“I’ve a surprise for you. Come on, it’ll take a while to get there.”

Rana and Lizzie bounded down the stairs, each trying to reach the bottom first.

“Where are
you
going?” called out Rana.

“Shhh!” hissed Ossian, glancing nervously towards the kitchen. His face registered dismay as his mother appeared.

“Where are you off to? Mind that they’re leaving before suppertime.”

“I’m just goin’ to show them the waterfall again,” said Ossian. “We’ll be back soon.”

“Well, don’t be long. Jack and Petros start work tomorrow, they mustn’t be late.”

The boys made their way outside, but were inevitably followed by Rana and Lizzie.

“Where are we going?” asked Lizzie.

“What d’you mean, ‘we’?” said Ossian. “This is boys’ stuff. You can go and play by yourselves.”

“If you don’t let us come along, we’ll tell Aunt Dorcas,” said Rana simply.

Seeing that he had been out-manoeuvred, Ossian motioned to the girls to follow. Although his pace was fast for them, they knew that complaining was not an option. A good fifteen minutes later Ossian stopped and turned round.

“We’re goin’ to see someone,” he stated simply. “And you’ve to swear not to tell Dad. He’ll go spare if he finds out, so you’ll all be in trouble too. Got that?” The others indicated assent.

“Jack,” continued Ossian, “d’you remember the Oakshee mentionin’ Tamlina? Well, I’ve found out where she is today.”

“What were the Oakshee like?” asked Rana, wide-eyed. “Dad says they can be dangerous.”

“Never heed them now,” said Ossian irritably. “I’ve sent a grig ahead to let her know we’re comin’. We don’t want a repeat o’ last time.”

“Who
is
Tamlina?” asked Jack. “I’m sure I’ve heard the name before somewhere.”

“She’s the Enchantress,” explained Ossian. “And today she’s comin’ to collect plants near here. A Ghillie-Doo told me last night.”

“A what?” said Petros.

“Ghillie-Doo. They’re tree guardians, they hear all sorts o’ things. One o’ them told me last night that Tamlina’s goin’ to be near here today.”

“D’you talk to trees a lot, then?” laughed Rana.

Ossian’s eyes narrowed.

“Just because you’ve no’ met different Shian in your cosseted wee life doesn’t mean they’re no’ important. This one knows a lot more than you, for a start.”

Rana blushed, and averted her gaze.

“Which plants is she collecting?” asked Lizzie, breaking the awkward silence.

“There’s hawthorn here, but she does all sorts – could be almost anythin’.”

Reaching a small clearing, Ossian stopped. “We’ll wait here. The grig’ll find us.”

“A grig’s like a pixie, right?” said Lizzie. “Mum told me. They’re friendly.”

“It’s not ‘pixie’, it’s ‘pisgie’,” snorted Rana. “Only humans call them pixies.”

Ossian withdrew a small pot of heather honey from his pocket. “We’ll have to pay her; they like this.”

They all sat down in the clearing and waited. Small insects buzzed in the sunlight, and Jack started to feel sweat trickle down the back of his neck. He swiped irritably at the midges.

“Have you met Tamlina?” he asked Ossian. “What’s she like?”

“I’ve seen her once. She doesn’t go out o’ her way to meet people, but if we’re lucky she’ll maybe tell us somethin’.”

After what seemed like an eternity, Jack heard a faint whirring sound. There weren’t any grigs in Rangie, and he wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

A tiny winged creature flew towards them, no bigger than Jack’s hand. It flew straight to Ossian, and hovered in front of him, performing a bee-like dance. Ossian nodded.

“She’s nearby. She knew we were comin’, but at least she doesn’t think we’re tryin’ to sneak up on her. Nobody’s to speak unless she asks a direct question, and be careful about lookin’ her in the eye.”

They made their way cautiously across the clearing and carried on along a barely discernible path. Little sunlight filtered down this far. They had walked only a couple of minutes when a young sapling fell across their path.

“That’s far enough!” commanded a voice.

Jack looked, but couldn’t see who was speaking. His heart started to beat more quickly, and the sweat now ran down his back.

“Yer grig telt me ye were comin’, Ossian, son o’ Hart. Ye dinna usually venture intae the woods this far. Whit brings ye here?”

Ossian looked vainly to see where the voice was coming from. As had happened when the Oakshee had tried to grab his ankles, Ossian didn’t – or couldn’t – speak. On impulse, Jack stepped forward, his blue eye flashing in the gloomy light.

“I am Jack Shian from Rangie,” he announced. “The Oakshee told us you might know what has happened to my father, Phineas of Rangie.”

He paused, unsure if he was facing in quite the right direction. Gradually, an old woman appeared in front of him. She wore a black full-length cloak, but her head was uncovered. Her eyes were set deep in her worn, creased face, and her hair was matted and dirty, its true colour unknowable. Jack guessed that she was old, but he had no idea how old.

“Ye’re a bold creature tae walk this far intae the woods,” she said, staring at Jack.

Excitement and nervousness competed within Jack.
Was that a compliment or a warning?

“Aye, I’ve heard o’ yer father,” continued Tamlina, in her powerful voice. “Tamlina sees all. Whit dae ye want o’ me?”

“Is he alive? Where is he?” The questions exploded out. Unsure what to expect, Jack hadn’t prepared a speech. “I just want to know where he is.”

Tamlina stared intently, as if appraising Jack’s worth. Then she nodded.

“Come along, and bring the lassies wi’ ye. The ithers can bide here.” Her voice was authoritative. She turned and started to walk away.

“Where …” Jack began, but a ferocious look from the old woman halted him. Her eyes seemed to bore right through him. Unable to hold her gaze, he looked down. Tamlina snorted, turned and swept away. Jack glanced back, and drawing on his reserves of courage motioned to Rana and Lizzie to follow.

Tamlina stopped abruptly beneath an old oak, and turned round. A black pot bubbled away over a small fire, a sharp, acrid smell rising from it. Lizzie, glancing back nervously, saw that Petros and Ossian were just in sight.

Tamlina picked up a long wooden spoon and stirred the contents of the pot, muttering to herself. Jack, Rana and Lizzie shuffled awkwardly, unsure of what to do.

“Sit doon, sit doon,” barked Tamlina, apparently aware of their unease. “I’m jist makkin’ some broth. Mebbe ye’d like tae try some?”

Rana and Lizzie exchanged anxious glances. Their unease increased as Tamlina dropped three large mushrooms into the pot. The broth sizzled briefly, and steam rose up, partially obscuring Tamlina’s face.

“We’d love to,” announced Jack, glaring pointedly at his cousins. Rana and Lizzie looked nervous, but said nothing. Tamlina clicked her fingers, and four leather goblets appeared in front of her. Pouring a small measure of broth into each, she handed them round. Jack blew gently into his goblet and waited.

“Ye’re wantin’ to find oot whit becam’ o’ young Phineas o’ Rangie?”

Jack felt the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. He glanced at his cousins, who sat transfixed; neither had touched the broth given to them. Tamlina, gazing above their heads, seemed unaware of their presence. Abstractedly, she took a deep draught of the broth, slurping the fluid around in her mouth. Slowly, a look of intense concentration came upon her face, as if she gazed far back through the years. She began to speak, but her voice was quite different. The firm, commanding intonation had gone, replaced by a low mumble – it was almost as if she was a different woman. Jack, Rana and Lizzie all sat forward to try and catch her words.

“Tamlina has seen many sorrows. Only the Grey has seen more than she. Foolish Shian and devils from Adam’s race all seek the Stone … Thoughtless of the Trinity, all pursue its power … Young Phineas of Rangie and Konan the Brashat, trying to trick each other as they passed through Keldy … Neither saw the danger … If sphere and silver they would gain, the Seat of Power they would attain …”

Her voice trailed off, her gaze still vacant.

Jack nudged Rana, and showed her that he was tipping out the contents of his goblet. Catching on, Rana followed suit, and indicated to Lizzie to do the same. Jack saw with some alarm that the dried leaves onto which the broth had been poured sizzled briefly. Hurriedly each picked up some loose earth and covered the evidence.

They needn’t have hurried; it was fully two minutes before Tamlina emerged from her trance. She blinked slowly and cleared her throat, looking curiously at the three in front of her. For a moment she appeared not to recognise them. As realisation dawned, her manner and voice returned to what for her passed as normal.

“Tamlina sees that ye all ha’e learnt much this day. Did I speak o’ the Raglan Stone?”

The youngsters all shook their heads.

“Be shrewd with yer wisdom, young anes, for wi’ knowledge comes responsibility.” Her voice was strong and confident.

“You said they were trying to trick each other,” said Rana. “But what happened?”

“Foolish girl!” boomed the old woman, standing up quickly. “Dinna presume tae question Tamlina, she wha’s seen a thoosan’ tales unfold. Now, begone!”

And in a flash, she disappeared, together with all traces of the pot and the fire.

Rana looked stunned. Jack quickly got to his feet and grabbed her arm and Lizzie’s. “Let’s get back to the others.”

As they walked hurriedly back the short distance to Petros and Ossian, Lizzie said, “D’you think she remembers what she said? It was like she was in a trance.”

“What were those mushrooms she put in the broth?” Rana pulled a
yeuch
face. “I’m glad we didn’t drink any of that.”

“It must’ve been a potion,” said Jack. “She
was
in a trance. When she came to, she didn’t even know who we were.”

“Did you see the ring on her finger?” asked Lizzie. “It was round with a strange pattern.”

“I saw that,” said Rana. “I couldn’t make out what the pattern was. Did you see it, Jack?”

“Why couldn’t I come with you?” asked Petros moodily as they approached.

“Were
you
going to argue with her?” demanded Jack. The nervousness he had felt earlier on had given way to relief now that they were away from the Enchantress.

As they walked back through the woods, Jack, Rana and Lizzie recounted the story of the broth, and what Tamlina had said.

“You didn’t drink any o’ it, did you?” said Ossian. “There’s strange things growin’ in here. I reckon she uses some o’ them to get into a trance. But she’s hundreds o’ years old, she can deal with stuff like that; it might kill you.”

“Is she really that old?” enquired Lizzie.

“She’s been around for centuries,” said Ossian. “She knows everythin’ that happens around here. I don’t know what she meant by Uncle Phineas and the Brashat tryin’ to trick each other, though. And ‘sphere and silver’, and ‘the Seat of Power’, I’ve no idea what that is.”

“The Icelandic elves told a story about a globe the other night,” said Jack. “Could that be the sphere?”

“Who knows?” said Petros. “It could be a football for all we know. And what’s the Seat of Power?”

“That used to mean a king’s throne,” stated Rana, “or the most powerful people in the land. How would you gain that?”

They had reached the edge of the woods. As they neared Ossian’s house they saw his mother standing by the front door.

“And where have you been?” she demanded.

“The waterfall …” began Ossian, but his mother held up her hand.

“You needn’t try any of those tales with me, Ossian. Domovoy’s been down that way all afternoon, and he hasn’t seen hide nor hair of any of you.”

“I asked if we could go and find some Oakshee,” said Jack. “We don’t have them in Rangie. I wanted to know what they’re like.”

Aunt Dorcas looked hard at Jack, trying to judge whether this bore any resemblance to the truth. Sensing that further enquiries would be unproductive, she said, “Come away in. You’ll need to get your things together.”

As Ossian made to follow the others, his mother put her arm across the doorway, blocking his route. Ossian was taller than his mother now, and much stronger. She looked at him, her eyes seeking some point of contact. Ossian stared back. Aware that this particular battle was lost, she lowered her arm, and watched sadly as her son passed into the house.

BOOK: Jack Shian and the King's Chalice
7.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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