Return Of My Abilities
The seer answered Conall’s question before he had asked it. The Cailleach’s answer had though explained how Joe had managed to stay in a dead body for thirteen months. I was confused as to how exactly a Brollachan took the breath of others, and what happened to the humans they did this too. “Agnes what happens to the people that lose their breath to a Brollachan?”
“They die lass.” she answered coldly.
What did I expect really, I didn’t want to think how many had lost their lives to Joe. “So, about my abilities. Can you restore them and do you know what they are?”
The Cailleach smiled at me. “Lass ye ay already restored. As fer ye abilities. Ye màthair was bound to fire and water. Ye are bound to earth an healing. Ye heal quick lass and ye can heal others if’n ye hae a mind to.”
“Really? I am bound to the earth. I don’t understand. What does that mean I can do?”
“Lass ye will hae to find that oot fer yerself, ye need to connect with tha energy of tha earth.” The Cailleach could see the look of confusion on Morgan’s face. “I cannae tell ye how ta do it, but just remember tha’ ye need to become one with earth energy.”
“Ok” I sighed. I had no idea what that meant but I assumed I would find out soon enough. “So, I will be able to go home now?”
“Nay lass yer journey hae just started.” the Cailleach shook her head.
“What? But I thought that this was the end of my journey and I could go home.”
“The Cailleach exhaled loudly. “The pendant ye wear hae been passed down from generation to generation, tha parchment and dagger are no safe either. Tha Nuckelavee can nay have the pendant. Inside it carries tha black crystal. If’n he gets hold o’ it, he will be released from his bounds. It needs tae go home with parchment an dagger. Ye need ta finish what ye faither an màthair could not.” The Cailleach looked troubled by her own words.
“How does the crystal set him free?”
“The first who signed the parchment bound him within a ring of fresh water, he can nay leave his place. If’n ye crystal is placed in the centre of the ring he will be released. Tis why it warns ye of Brollachans approaching. If released he would take his revenge, an no a person wouldnae be safe, human or otherwise.”
“Agnes where do we need to go?” asked Conall
Conall nodded his head. He seemed to know the place she was talking about.
“Callanish stones?” I asked looking from Conall to the Cailleach.
“They be the stones on the Isle of Lewis.” answered Conall.
“The Hebrides?” I wasn’t exactly sure where in Scotland we were but I was sure that the Isle of Lewis was not close by. I believed I would be going home once I had visited the Cailleach. The thought of staying in this time period did not sit easy. But how could I not finish the task that my parents had started. “So, when we get to these stones, how do I send the pendant home?”
“Ye need to give it ta màthair when she awakens. When tis làn ghealach is o’er stomag of Cailleach na Mointeach. Be warned ye only ha till the next full moon.”
“I’ll explain to ye later lass.” Conall answered knowing what my question was. He took my hand but continued to focus on the Cailleach. His hand radiated heat which was welcomed as the room was not the warmest. In fact, it was downright mausoleum cold.
“Morgan ye ay a brave lass. Braver than ye think, but no fail the strength o’ others. Tis no a journey ye take alone. Lass yon journey tis no just aboot ye gettin’ tha pendant, dagger and parchment home, tis also aboot ye findin’ ye cridhe anam.” with that she passed her hand over the box. The box once again became the impenetrable chest, and promptly disappeared. Hopefully back into the bag attached to the saddle.
I had the sudden thought it had been left outside with the horses. What if Brollachans had come along? It could have been lost along with everything we travelled with. I looked up to see the Cailleach, eyebrows raised, a questioning look about her face. The look gave me pause. Of course, the horses were safe. Would not the Cailleach have ensured that. Then she nodded to me as again she knew exactly what I was thinking.
“Tis time ye left the noo. A long an hard journey is set afore ye. Guid luck to ye.”
Conall pulled me to my feet by the hand he was still holding. The next we were back outside facing the tiny door. I was puzzled by the fact that the Cailleach had said absolutely nothing about the strange pendant in the pouch.
Conall lifted me once again into the saddle. “Lass we will go to Altnaharra, ye can see it just o’er there in the distance. They have a tavern where ye can rest and eat.”
I had been so focused on the ruin when we first arrived that I hadn’t noticed buildings in the distance. It seemed like we had been in there for hours. The thought of a bed was inviting. I didn’t mind the bannocks and dry cheese on the journey so far, but something perhaps hot and appetising would be duly welcome.
It took no more than ten minutes to reach the tavern. A two-story construction of red sandstone. The front of the building sat on the gravel road but the rear went down a further level. Conall brought the horses to the side of the building near stables, a young man running out to take the reins.
After lifting me down Conall told me to hold the front of my cloak closed so as not to draw attention to the fact that I was dressed in trews and jerkin. He removed the saddle bags, my tapestry bag and Abbey from the horses before the young man led the horses into the stable. Conall handed me Abbey and the tapestry bag. The air was cold and angry grey clouds threatened to bring down more rain. The idea of spending a dry night in a tavern instead of on the road was a blessing.
Still grasping the front of my cloak together tight to hide my apparel we entered the tavern. I was struck with the odorous smell of strong ale, unwashed bodies and wax from the light tapers about the room. The room itself was dim with an assortment of tables and chairs.
Barrels sat against the walls where patrons could stand with their ales. To the right sat three men with their heads together in private discussion, each clutching a pewter cup. In the middle was a man, arms folded, his cap over his eyes. He looked to be sleeping. unlike the two young men at our left. Watching us with interest.
At the back of the room was a bar of sorts on which a ginger cat was curled up sleeping. As soon as we entered we were approached by the keeper of the establishment. A short bald stout man with wisps of grey hair leaping up from his ruddy face. He wore a dirty apron that looked as if it had not seen a good cleaning in some time. Conall spoke to him in Gaelic and we were ushered to a table at the back left of the tavern.
We placed the saddlebags, Abbey and the bag down behind the chairs out of view of the other patrons. I was happy that the light was dimmer here. The keeper disappeared returning a short time later with two ales in not so clean dented pewter cups. He apologised to me for not having any wine and hoped the ale was sufficient in a thick brogue accent. I simply nodded and smiled at him. My first taste of the ale wasn’t what I expected it to be. It was bitter and just plain nasty.
Conall noticed the grimace on my face. “Ye’ll get used to it lass. It’s no easy to take on ye first sip. A few more an ye won’t notice the taste so much.” he chuckled as he took a large gulp of his own ale, leaving a frothy line above his lips. I motioned to his lips, he took the hint and wiped the back of his sleeve across his mouth, looking totally satisfied with his ale.
As I turned around the keeper laid two wooden bowls of stew like substance in front of us and a wooden plate holding four bannocks. I leaned over the bowl and sniffed it suspiciously.
“Do ye wish to give a name to ye pottage afore ye eat lass” Conall said with a grin on his face.
Hmmm, he was making fun of me, from when I had apologised to bugs the wretchedly cooked rabbit at his cottage. I raised my eyebrow and gave him a goaded look. The contents of the bowl smelt rank. A strong greasy meat flavor with a slightly burnt odour. “Are you sure it is safe to eat?” I asked still eyeing the contents. Conall had already tucked into his. His mouth filled with pottage and bannock.
The keeper reappeared addressing Conall. “Would ye wife like a bath sent up.” I shot Conall a sardonic look.
Conall replied without looking at me. “Aye my wife would thank ye.”
“Ay then I will ha one sent ri’ up’t ye room.” the keeper nodded at Conall. He then noticed I had not yet started my meal. “Milady is something amiss wi ye food?”
“Nay she is just thinking what ta name it.” Conall uttered.
The keeper’s expression was one of bewilderment looking first at Conall then at me.
“No, it is ok, thank you. But can I ask what kind of meat this is?” Hoping not to insult the man.
“Tis taghan me lady. Tis a shame ye wi no ere a sennight ago, we ha some rostit bubbly jock. Right nice it was too. If’n ye are no up ta pottage I can ha Marta bring ye sum clootie dumplings or wi may ha a wee bit of cranachan left. Marta can bring to ye room, after ye bath that is.” the keeper stated.
“Yes, that would be fine thank you.” I said pushing my bowl towards Conall. I had no idea what taghan was, but I didn’t like the sound of it, the smell from the bowl turned my stomach. I had no idea what a clootie dumplings or cranachan was either but I was hoping they were more appealing than the pottage. The keeper bowed and returned to where he kept himself when he was not out front with customers.
I whispered to Conall who was eagerly tucking into my bowl. “What is a taghan?” I asked hoping no one could hear me.
“It’s a wee beastie.” he stopped eating and thought for a moment. “I’d say in yer time it would be something between a rat and a squirrel. A fierce wee beastie it is too, no easy to catch.” Conall returned to eating, clearly relishing the taghan.
My eyes widened with the thought of eating rat, “Oh yuk! “well I hope the clootie or cranachan isn’t another one of the ‘wee beastie’ from around here.”
“Nah, tis a wee bit sweet fer me. But if ye no eat it I will.” he said with a crooked smile.
“No doubt you will.” I sighed thinking he would eat a shoe if he was hungry enough. “What is a rosty boobly jack anyways?”
“Rostit bubbly jock. Tis roasted turkey.” he answered as he finished the last spoonful of my bowl.
“So how long have you known the Cailleach for?” I asked watching his face. “You seem to be quite buddy, buddy with her.”
Conall shrugged. “Since I was a lad.”
I thought about this. “She must have been young then?”
Again, Conall shrugged. “Nay she looks the same as she did today.”
This couldn’t be right, the Cailleach looked to be in her mid-fifties. That would mean she would have been in her late twenties or early thirties then.
Conall saw the confusion in Morgan’s face over his answer. “She is the Cailleach, as old as time itself, or so she says. Da said she looked the same when he was a lad. She never changes.”
I knew my eyes had grown as big as saucers. I don’t know why I had thoughts that she was just an ordinary woman. An ordinary woman that could read minds. Was that even possible? It had to be because she had definitely read my mind, and she had restored my abilities.
“Morgan, you no thought she was just a village woman, did ye?” He suddenly remembered a conversation with his da just before he had left for training. He had said that he himself recalled his grandsire telling him that she looked the same when he was a lad. Conall had always taken it for granted that the Cailleach was what she said she was, as old as time.
“Wow, so I guess she is really old then?” I said without thinking what I was saying. To my question Conall raised his eyebrows. I flustered as a blush crept up my face. Then I laughed, I could be such an empty head at times. Conall shook his head, a slight smile to his face.
“You know I thought that I would be going home after we met with her today. It would now seem as there is quite a journey before us.”
Conall reached over a put a hand on mine. I looked down at it, feeling my skin tingle. “I ken ye thought so, and perhaps I did too, but are ye saddened by this?”
I smiled at him. “No, I guess not. I need to finish this for my parents. If I don’t then my dad would have died in vain.” I took a breath and straightened my back. Yes, I would finish this for them.
Conall finished his ale and motioned for the keeper to take us to our room. The keeper led us down the stairs to a narrow hall. We followed him to the last room. The door opened to a very small room with a bed to the left and a small cupboard and chair to the right. A fire was already lit in the hearth. In front stood a metal bath.
“This be yer room. If ye want anythin’ further just let me ken. Marta wi bring ye some sweets a wee bit later. A good night to ye both.” He bowed slightly then disappeared shutting the door closed as he left. Conall put our belongings on the floor in front of the cupboard.
“Lass give me ye cloak and I’ll hang it up.” said Conall hand outstretched. I took the cloak off and handed it to him staring around the room. “Take ye clothes off and jump into the bath, while the water is hot. I’ll turn me back while ye get undressed.” he said as he went over to the bed to remove his boots before turning around.
I let out a breath and began removing my clothing placing them neatly on the chair. The water wasn’t exactly hot but it was warm enough to wash the dust and grime from the ride. I sat in the bath so I could see Conall, just to make sure his back was still turned. He was removing his plaid. Then he turned around and sat on the bed.
“Do you mind?” I declared bringing my hands to cover my bust. Not that he could see from where he was sitting.
“Nay.” he said removing his sporran, belts, claymore and dirks, placing them on the floor at the bottom of the bed.
“Are you just going to sit there?”
“Aye.” he replied as he stretched out on the bed with his shirt and kilt still on.
“What about when I have to get out of the bath?”
He turned his head towards me and with a measured look he said. “Can ye no get oot the bath by yeself lass?”
“Of course, I can get out by myself. Are you just going to lie there?”
“Where would ye have me lie then lass?” he asked staring at the ceiling. “This rooms no too big that I can lose meself.”
“No, you are right there, it’s more a cupboard than a room.” I derided looking around at the small space. Still it was better than sleeping out in the rain.