THE HIDDEN OLD BRIDGE OF EDINBURGH by Sergio Palumbo
“Half a capital and half a country town, the whole city leads a double existence; it has long trances of the one and flashes of the other; like the king of the Black Isles, it is half alive and half a monumental marble…”
Robert Louis Stevenson, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes
On a shabby wooden bench on Princes Street, in Edinburgh, before the well-known Scott’s Monument, sat Cayson Buxtehude, wrapped in his worn-out long dark coat. As usual his mouth was in a downturned line that closely resembled one of the long wrinkles that covered the lower half of his face, which consisted of a seemingly unending series of contrasting curves. The angle of his chestnut eyes let you know at once that he was upset about something. However, he didn’t seem interested in concealing his disenchanted disposition, nor was he concerned about what passers-by might think of him, even if they did stare at his clothes from time to time. His state of mind had long gone past the transition between anger and sadness, and the only impression you could get from his features was that of dejection and defeat.
He could always be found there during the early evening, on that same bench, with the breeze streaming through his thin, untidy grey hair. He couldn’t even remember the last time he hadn’t been sad, silent or depressed. For certain, a very long time had passed since the day he was somebody, or better much more than just someone of renown. At one point he had been one of the most respected, powerful and deeply feared members of the fabled cannie sluagh in the whole country. And not only in that country, truth be told.
Below the place called Arthur's Seat—about 823 feet above sea level—and Castle Rock, was the old city, once named ‘Auld Reekie’, with its very characteristic curved wynds (narrow lanes), connecting streets at different heights. It was comprised mostly of paths going up or down hills, and closes (or alleys) seemingly whispering with ghosts, villains, mysteries and days gone by. Oh, they really did whisper that way, if only common people took the time to focus and could carefully listen to them. Actually, as of today, Cayson had to be counted among those, unfortunately. But he was, regretfully, unable to hear them anymore.
North of the tall rock formation lay the regularly planned 18th-century new urban area, made up of broad, straight streets, handsome squares and parks. The two towns were a remarkable marriage of contrasts. As a matter of fact, Princes Street itself, where the man of about forty presently sat, seemed to have been built up on only one side—purposely leaving views open to the Old Town and the castle rising up behind. Truly, the key to the city’s early development, and the largest focus of attention for tourists even nowadays, was Edinburgh’s Castle, strategically dominating the scenery from atop an old volcanic rock. This was exactly what a small family—father, mother and their seven-year-old child—was taking pictures of at present, with their noses turned up to the walls and the diverse buildings dating from the 12th to the 20th centuries that reflected its changing role as a fortress, a royal palace, a military garrison and even a state prison.
Cayson looked at the three with a total lack of interest on his face, and it was at that moment that he happened to hear, for the first time, the cranky complaints of the child who was dressed in a shirt and trousers of earthen colour, topped by a fashionable leather jacket that was short and strait.
“Buy me the new box of toy soldiers I like… I want them now!” The boy stomped his foot as he insisted, the corners of his black eyes turning downwards while his wild hazel curls fluttered at his back because of the gusty air. He had a slightly thick chin.
The boy’s father glared at his wife who stood nearby. She had long chestnut curls with ponytails on either side of her head, which was a popular style those days, but his eyes had a focused look that only the husband and his woman knew. “It’s in the higher part of the town, and we are going in the wrong direction…”
“We can go up that bridge… by going to the castle on the rock…” the young Domhnall added, undoubtedly angered.
“What bridge are you talking about? The only bridge that can take you to the top is on the other side of the street, near Scott’s Monument, and it’s too far from here. We should go back the long way.”
“No, you’re lying! There’s that wooden bridge down there, right in front of you. If we take it, we can reach castle rock quicker!” he replied in a withering voice, harsher than one might expect from a person as young as he was.
“Dear, I don’t see a bridge... it is only there in your imagination. We must go to the other side and walk the Waverley Bridge, or the North Bridge, to get up to the Old Town…!”
“But I see it,” replied the son. “Really, mum, I see it from here… an old wooden bridge with its lamp-posts glowing.”
At that moment, a strange brilliance seemed to glitter in the previously heedless irises of the dejected Cayson Buxtehude. It was just as if some flames had awoken again from the embers of a long-outdated fireplace. He raised his head immediately and looked towards the place where the child’s words had come from. ‘He can see it… he really can!’ the man told himself, as if he didn’t completely believe in what he was saying. The child’s voice seemed to reawaken the lonely individual who sat not far from the place where the family were standing.
‘An old wooden bridge with lamp-posts!’ Cayson’s now attentive pupils narrowed as he thought again about what was being said. A smile, really more of a sneer, opened slightly between his old lips and he found himself almost laughing at it. Well, in the end he let go of his usual dejected behaviour and, for a time, after so long—he wasn’t even sure after how many years, actually… —he started feeling better, much better. It didn’t take him long before he erupted into a hee-haw that almost made him jolt visibly on his bench. Only some passers-by in the crowd happened to notice him: a poor aged man, who was obviously homeless, who sat alone in worn clothes who now rejoiced and appeared as if he had just regained life after staying motionless and in silence for a while. Perhaps he had been lost in his thoughts until just a few moments ago—or maybe he had been under the influence of too much wine, and had just woken up…
The man leaned over his crossed arms in a conspiratorial fashion. His lips started repeating the child’s words again in a whisper that only his ears might hear. Then, the sound of his beating heart became overwhelming, and he was obviously agitated.
That was a good day, a really good day for him!
After the exchange of pacey words between the child and his father had concluded, once the parents had put an end to the child’s crankiness, the family of three took the Edinburgh tram line at the end of Princes Street and Cayson silently followed them, unnoticed. He knew he had to keep close to them, though he was also aware of the fact he had to remain almost unseen. He wanted to be reputed as poor local that happened to be going the same direction, taking the same means of public transportation, that was all…
The vehicle was bound to Murrayfield Stadium, known as BT Murrayfield Stadium—the home of the Scottish Rugby Union—situated in an area in the west of Edinburgh, just a few miles away from the site of the Castle itself. There the family got off, seemingly because the father wanted to buy some sport souvenirs at a local shop within a walking distance of the Stadium itself. That place was within the suburb of old Roseburn, a zone that Cayson well knew. There were many businesses located there including: bars, restaurants, grocery stores, art studios, drug stores, car dealerships and hair salons. The park next to the Water of Leith Walkway was also very popular with dog walkers.
It didn’t take long before the discussion among the members of the family itself began again. There were some words spoken in a low tone, then the boy burst out in anger, “No! I don’t want to be here! I want to go back to that shop! I want to phone them and see if they can set a box of those toys aside for me.” That said, he moved his fingers across the display of his smartphone, probably ready to press the link that opened the web site of the shop, to find their phone number.
Following the new unbearable vagaries of their son, the father decided it was the right moment to put a stop to it. “That’s enough! Now hand me your phone, you’re not going to call anyone…” and he grabbed the device out of Domhnall’s hands in a single motion.
As the boy started remonstrating against his parent’s unexpected behaviour, the man turned his eyes to his wife. “And that puts an end to the matter. I should have done this long ago…”
The woman just made a compliant silent smile.
The child ran, being the prey of his disappointment and his vagaries, possibly. The mother called him back at once, but the boy distanced himself very quickly and didn’t pay attention to his name that was called out many times: “Domhnall, Domhnall!”
They were not very far from Murrayfield Stadium now, Cayson considered. He had to act soon! The man put his right hand in the pocket of his worn-out jacket and touched the concealed object that he kept inside. He was unwilling to make use of his magical device, the mist issuer, as it was his last resource in case he was in danger, but now might be the only right time to use it so as to get to his target unnoticed! The sorcerous energy it was endowed with wasn’t unending, and he had always thought it best to turn to its power only when it was absolutely necessary. However, if he didn’t put it into action now, after he had finally found a boy who could see, when else would he ever use it?
So, he squeezed the device: a sort of unusual magical haze started spreading all around, slight and feeble at first, though quickly becoming denser and denser, wrapping the whole small area in its grasp, apparently coming out of nothing, and it soon became difficult to clearly spot things or look around as visibly as before. A deep sense of desolation and estrangement now permeated every square inch of the grounds around him. This was exactly what he needed to temporarily separate the boy from his family and let him enter the scene.
The child, in fact, after running away, had already stopped his hurried steps, looking back in regret as he found he couldn’t see his parents anymore. There was that unexpected thick haze all around…
It was Cayson, instead, who stepped in. “May I introduce myself, boy?” the man said. “You seem to be lost… I’m Cayson, here to serve you if I can be of help!”
Surprised because of his unexpected appearance out of that mist, a wary Domhnall replied, “Your clothes are dirty, sir. You don’t seem to be in very good health, if I may say so.”
“Oh, well, I certainly have had better moments in my life. However, this doesn’t prevent me from being civil and courteous if the need arises. And you seem to be lost, boy. How can I help you?”
“My father and my mother told me that I shouldn’t talk to strangers…” the child said. “I’m not supposed to be listening to you.”
“Right, you probably shouldn’t…” Cayson conceded. “But I don’t see anyone else around ready to help you, with all this damn’ haze it’s hard for me to even see my own worn shoes. And downtown is far from here. It would be certainly discourteous to leave a boy like you alone, without trying to help…”
The young child appeared uncertain, and couldn’t think of an appropriate reply. The reality was that he needed some help, this much was true.
“So, let me be of assistance in finding your parents and bring you back to them. How does that sound to you?”
Again, Domhnall had some difficulty understanding what was going on, but he nodded—though, he didn’t appear to be completely convinced yet. “Actually, I don’t know this area of the city. If I still had my smartphone, I could easily connect to a map online and find the way to the Stadium, or back home…”
“Well done, boy! This is where I can be of help…” the man said, even though it was hard to miss his doubting expression. “Anyway, if I help you, maybe you could do something for me, in exchange…”
“What thing?” asked the child, looking alarmed.
“Well, you know, it happens that I have to pay a short visit to a friend of mine who runs a shop not far from here. He sells miniature figures and toys.”
“Miniature figures, you said?” Domhnall’s pupils seemed to have been revived and became wide as he heard it. “I really like toy soldiers too! Where is it? I would be curious to have a look inside…”
Cayson sneered at such words; things were going exactly as he had imagined in his mind. Having listened to the discussion between the boy and his parents before had allowed him to easily figure out what the young boy desired the most, and what might make him put his doubts aside. This was the right net to go fishing with, undoubtedly… “Oh, it should be right down this street, if I remember correctly. Just follow me and we can find it together.”
“I hope this won’t take too long,” a partly doubtful Domhnall pointed out.
“No, it’s just a matter of a few minutes. Then I’ll take you to the nearest police station so that you can get in touch with your parents. Be sure, they’ll be able to find your family quickly. By the way, what’s your last name?”
“Forster,” the boy replied.
“Got it. The name of the shop is Nachyle’s Rarities. Please, tell me if you spot it before me, you know, my eyes are not as good as they used to be. You’ll be amazed at how many miniature figures they sell inside, old and new.” This was the best tactic that had come to the man’s mind to make the child be attentive, and give him a call as soon as he saw the shop’s name. After all, he would never have been able to explain to the child that he had lost his magical sight long ago—and now he could never find the shop by himself.
“Of course, sir. I’ll do my best!”
“You seem to be a studious boy. You do like history, am I right?” the man asked him.
“Oh, yes, sir! I’m pretty well known for that at Wallace Primary School. I’m in Year Four…”
Wallace Primary School, Cayson considered, sneering. I’ll have to remember that name.
They walked for a while, cutting through the mist and talking about other things, before the boy stopped and pointed at something on the right side of the street.
“It’s here, sir!” the boy cried out, indicating a place on the wall along the sidewalk. “Nachyle’s Rarities, exactly what you called it!”
Cayson was almost taken by surprise. It had been a long time since the last day he had been here, and he really couldn’t come to terms with his current lack of second sight, so to say. “Oh, how stupid I am, I might have walked right past it! Thank you, boy, I’m glad you found that for me!”
The shop front looked worn though characteristic, and the place itself seemed to be housed in what once was a sort of Gothic redstone building dating from 1800, or maybe even earlier. Past the narrow door made of wood painted in a yellowish shade, the small building was situated on two levels that certainly hadn’t been renovated recently. However, in spite of being so tiny, there were many toy soldiers inside! Regardless of its outward appearance, this shop looked to the boy like a fine example of a well-run family business.
As Cayson entered inside, following closely on the steps of the boy, a voice from the other side of the shop was heard. “Welcome, customers… How can be of service to you?”
Domhnall raised his black eyes at once and saw part a big animal's face. “It’s an embalmed lion snout! How can it talk to me? Is there an MP3 device inside?”
The man made a face and explained, “Well, it’s a sort of… automated message.”
At that point, another male voice was heard in the walls of the old place itself and it seemed to address the adult that had just spoken. “What… the hell! Is it you, Cayson? Is it really you? How is it possible…?”
“Yes, it’s me, Cayson, dear Nachton Nachyle,” the man replied.
Then a figure came out of the shadows and revealed itself to be a tall bearded man of about fifty. “After so long…? How did you come here? How did you find the shop?”
“Thanks to him…” he said, pointing at the boy who was apparently lost, who stood near the stairs that led to the partly hidden basement while gloatingly looking at the many old and new memorable painted figures put in many rows on the shelves. “These are models I’ve never seen before, sir!” It seemed that the place was apparently empty and with no other customers, though the child considered that it should be very popular given the wide choice of objects on display they had.
“So, Cayson, really I’m curious… how were you capable to get here? I thought you were without… well, after it all happened…” The shop-owner seemed uncomfortable and almost stumbled over his own words.
“You see, he sees…” the man told the shop-owner, making a certain face.
“Ahhhh… I’ve got it, he sees, you say…” and an expression of amazement filled his face as he began to smile, as if he had finally understood what Cayson had really meant.
“Your beautiful toy soldiers really look lifelike! There’s much on attention to detail!” the boy suddenly said, complimenting the tall shop-owner. Then he asked: “Do you have other toys also in the basement? If there is a warehouse down there, may I have a look, please?”
“Yes, there’s a warehouse there, boy, but it’s not for you to see. The stairs are very dangerous…” the other said. The reply didn’t please him, but the two men exchanged a wary look and put that matter aside.
“Now, boy, just let me talk for a moment with my old friend, as it has been a very long time since I last saw him… Then, as I promised you, we can go to the nearest police station and call your parents. I’m really eager to meet them!” Cayson said in a happy tone.
After leaving the shop, Cayson took the boy to his parents who were relieved and thankful for his help in finding the son they had lost that day. He paid careful attention to where the Forsters lived in order to be able to find them again, when the proper time came. The man moved away from the police station where he left the small family together. He hadn’t accepted any rewards for his actions, regardless of the persistence of those pleased parents; after all he had already had what he really needed most… Then, he headed for an ancient house in Old Town.
The man, very cautiously, walked along to an old three-storey stone building within a cobbled street, its architectural shape dating from the end of the 1700s. The building’s roof was filled with the characteristic chimney stacks built of brick rising above roof level—typical of the country house tradition in that part of the high city. He slowly looked both left and right as he approached the doorway, to be certain his movements had remained unseen by anyone who might be around.
He noticed there was some smoke and fumes belching out of the chimney stacks up there above the roof, and it couldn’t be different given what was underway inside the house. The smoke wasn’t coming from a fireplace lit in some rooms, as he well knew. Although the house was supposedly unoccupied, an attentive eye could easily make a connection between the lack of people and the presence of smoke. After all, this wasn’t something that could be helped, they were forced to show their hand…
Cayson went in the building stepping inside the old, unwelcoming entrance hall, his shoes making the worn wooden floor coverings crackle as he walked on. Situated in the heart of Edinburgh city centre, the house certainly hadn’t been renovated for decades and no one was planning to improve it or even repaint it in the near future. You couldn’t even find modern light fittings and integrated appliances. The whole place was just a shell for further activities. There was not a single window that hadn’t been nailed shut or darkened from the inside by means of dark paper, or entirely boarded up. And for a reason…
That property featured only two bedrooms, one public room, the kitchen and one bathroom, but it wasn’t for this that it was noteworthy or interesting: it was what was going on in the basement of the structure that was important. Down there, away from the prying eyes of curious people, and even from the watch of the many snitchers or any caomhnóir of the Asarlachd government, three former cannie sluagh were busy doing their work.
The man went down the narrow stairs where you could smell an overwhelming odour of decay, opened the heavy door leading to the basement by inserting a metallic key into it and entered. There was the sound of a continuous sequence of blows, removing the rocks that filled the place, as the three removed materials from the rocks that made up one corner of the main wall of the building. The men didn’t care too much about the steps of the newcomer, nor did look up from what they were doing. It was, anyway, his voice which they seemed to know well that broke the hurly-burly setting, and attracted the attention of everyone present.
“Stop your digging, boys… this isn’t getting us anywhere,” Cayson said, addressing the three who were in the basement.
There was a moment of silence, as if unexpected lightning had pierced through a sunny sky, apparently coming out of nowhere. Then the tallest of the three men, named Jeb, slowly rose to his feet and turned to the newcomer who had just spoken. He moved towards him with a heavy pace, an angry expression visibly shaping his mouth which was almost unseen beneath the fair beard that concealed part of his face. He then said in a biting voice: “What are you saying, Cayson? That all of our efforts until now have been entirely pointless? That we must simply cease to search for our own good, and accept what we have become, after all this gruelling labour?” The man, still dirty with dust and sweat, looked awry at the other who stood beside him. “So, tell us that we have to give it up, but don’t expect me to bow my head… as I’ll never do it!”
Cayson returned the twisted look, but his lips soon opened and turned into a sort of sneer. “Oh no, my dear fellows… that is not what I’m telling you…”
“You were the first one among us who voiced the idea that we had to make them pay for what they did to us, that we had to hit back at the Asarlachd government. You also said that we could do that if we dug a tunnel that was deep enough to get past the defences of the castle, deep underground, unnoticed by them.” It was the shorter, and fattest of the three, named Stephen, who was speaking now, his dirty head of copper hair shaking as he spoke.
“The fact is that there is a new, unexpected occurrence on the surface,” the newcomer added. “And what’s happening up there will turn to our advantage—which is why I’m saying that this work can be stopped eventually. It isn’t going to take us all of our life to get to our target…”
“What are you talking about?” asked the last of the three men, slender and chestnut-haired, who approached them now, a surprised look on his dusty face.
“I’ve found what we have been searching for so long, before we gave up all our hopes… before we started all this back-breaking work underground, with all the difficulties involved in trying to keep them as secretive and as silent as possible. What I discovered today has been really a windfall! I’ve been to Nachton Nachyle’s shop.”
The pupils of all the men in the basement immediately focused on Cayson. “What, at Nachton Nachyle’s? How did you do that? How did you find that place? The shop-owner still possesses his sorcerous powers; he wasn’t punished as we were, but he is not supposed to be able to help us. Actually, no one among the cannie sluagh is allowed to assist us. There is a very strict enchantment that prevents them all from doing so…”
“Yes, my dear fellows, I was there today! I’ve found, by chance, a young unlisted cannie sluagh who has the second sight! He can find the paths we have long been searching for without any luck, and he will lead the way. That boy is going to allow us to easily reach our most desired destination… Let’s prepare everything from this moment on, we’re going to move in a week!”
Once everything was ready and the small group was almost on the move, it was time to set things so that the last important detail could be put in the right place. For Cayson finding the young Domhnall again wasn’t difficult, anyway. He and his friends couldn’t see the magical world anymore, but there were other means to get to what he wanted, like the internet… More than that, he already knew the name of that family and where they lived, so finding the site of the school where the boy went didn’t take long. Besides, the boy had told him where his school was during their previous encounter.
Before getting there, Cayson ordered his three associates to be prepared and do as he had ordered. They exited the seemingly abandoned house where they had been digging for years and walked for a while before Cayson told the three to stop, as they had arrived at the place he had been leading them to all along. Then, they waited until school let out.
At the right moment, Domhnall Forster exited the building, leaving behind his five most important friends: the tall and massive Richard, the beautiful Johanna, the short and nervous bespectacled Anabel, the studious Fabrice and the artful Ernest. The boy began quickly walking through the courtyard, with his small knapsack on his back. Truth be told, it was much to his surprise when the boy saw the same man who had brought him back to his family that day, just a week ago. “Mr. Cayson!” he yelled. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Oh, Domhnall… I had to be in this part of town today, so I asked your father if I could take you back home, instead of you needing to take the school bus. So your family could attend to other important activities instead of waiting for you.”
“Oh, I see…” the other replied. He saw no reason to send his father a text message about that, because it had to be all okay. He also had no reason to have doubts about that man who had helped him so much a week ago. “Who are these people with you?”
“Well, boy, allow me to introduce you to my dear friends: Jeb, a bit cobby, but a good drinker. Then comes Stephen, short of stature but a good worker, and last but not least—Alexander. Well, I don’t know what to say about him except that he’s an old friend of mine.” The last one mentioned made a face, looking like a mix of anger and dejection.
“Have you been back to visit that other friend of yours, at the toy soldiers’ shop?” Domhnall asked.
“The three of us were thinking about going to Nachyle’s Rarities today, before the shop closes,” the man added, so as to better convince him to follow them. “If we hurry, we could get there in time. What do you think?”
“It would be wonderful, sir!” The other almost couldn’t keep his happiness concealed. “That shop is wonderful, indeed!”
“Perhaps I have a suggestion, so as we can get there as soon as possible, boy. Why don’t we take a shortcut, to get there quicker…?” the man told him, with a grin.
“What shortcut?” Domhnall asked.
“We could take that bridge. Do you remember it? The wooden one with those old lamp-posts on it,” Cayson whispered in a convincing tone. “You remember seeing it, don’t you, boy?”
“Oh, yes, indeed… it was just down there, past the Scott’s Monument, over the West Princes Street Gardens!”
So, the five people went on, walking away from the school, and after a twenty-minute walk they reached Princes Street. Then the boy led the group to the bridge.
At that moment, the eager Cayson raised his eyes upwards. There was a strange mist in the air that day for that hour, coming from the sea, as it sometimes happened in the city, that seemingly, and in an unexpected stepped effect, was hiding and separating the lower part of the New Town from the rock where Edinburgh Castle stood, making it weirdly appear like an island suspended above the clouds. A magical rocky island, the man considered, and his eyes filled with regret, thinking over the many memories he had of the place. Even though there was that feeble mist near the ground making the buildings nearby look pale and indistinct, the sky above was completely clear, allowing heat to escape the area. Because the air contained a lot of dust and smoke, most of the local moisture had probably cooled enough, condensing into tiny droplets of water, forming the vaporous haze that was now girdling the rooftops all around.
Getting to this point wasn’t enough, the men considered. Because knowing where the bridge to the Castle was situated wasn’t everything they needed. They still lacked the power to walk on the bridge as they didn’t have their magical sight anymore. Unless they all closely followed someone who could plainly see it below their feet, while guiding the others’ next steps. “Head on over, my boy, and we’ll be in Old Town in a matter of moments…” he told the child, in an impelling voice. The three fellows nearby looked at him, in silence.
Then, the boy stepped forward, and his feet walked on something that the man and his friends couldn’t see and it was as if he was moving through the air. But Cayson and his friends knew that the bridge was there, right before the eyes of the young Domhnall. They well remembered walking that bridge long ago, even if their magical powers had long been forcibly removed—also from their eyes. There was no way they could spot it now, the shape of that mile-long uncovered bridge built on large trestles, with the ancient characteristic lamp-posts placed on both sides that were lit with magical gas. They could not see the ancient symbols carved into it and the smell of the very ancient wood coming from it, as that had never been destroyed nor reconstructed. The four men had walked on its surface many times in the past, when they were still allowed in, when they still had magical powers running through their bodies.
So now, he and the others had to have faith and follow the boy’s path. In his mind, the man could almost imagine that he could clearly see the wooden centre bay of the long bridge as the four moved onwards, like a sort of aerial walkway that stretched ahead, though invisible. It was as if they were slowly, though continually, rising from the clouded surroundings to the much higher ground on top of which the Castle stood. That was their destination and this was how they would once again enter the seat of the Asarlachd government that had long ago banished them all.
The group of five kept walking, apparently in the air, over the tops of the buildings of Edinburgh Castle whose walls and shapes seemed to reflect its changing role over the course of the time. Then, a giant open gate made of stone stood before them all, at the end of their magical path. There was almost nobody around.
As they went in, the boy looked a bit uncertain, being unsure if this really was the Edinburgh Castle that he was familiar with—as he had already visited it once with his family, but it hadn’t looked like that. He began to be afraid. What kind of shortcut was this? Where had they really arrived at? Maybe a wing of the buildings of the Castle he had never noticed before…?
Cayson saw the surprise of the child and said, “You know, boy, this castle was built on a volcanic rock, and it was always clearly visible from the West Port area of the city. Known in old legendary tales like Y Gododdin by the name of Din Eidyn, ‘the stronghold of Eidyn’, though some thought that it generally referred to the Castle Rock itself. Fables told of a time when a band of warriors, following King Mynyddog Mwynfawr, set out to do battle with the angels at Catterick in Yorkshire. Despite performing glorious deeds of valour and bravery, in the end the whole band was said to have been wiped completely out as Eidyn was besieged. However, they didn’t die, as they were thought to have done, and it was their sorcerous leaders who simply disappeared from the sight of men, along with their ancient fortress that was supposed to be lost.”
The boy nodded, silently.
“However, as you know probably know, there has never been any archaeological evidence discovered for the period in question, and the studies didn’t find any ancient structures of that stronghold. Researchers think that it simply never existed, though the fact is that it just became invisible. At least, it is no longer visible by common eyes… What better way to keep it concealed, without moving it from Castle Rock? On the other hand, it became taller and taller over the course of the next centuries, until it was situated right here. This is the seat of the Asarlachd government—that rules over the cannie sluagh, which means ‘the wise people’, the ones who are gifted with magical powers and who live in this country.”
Domhnall stared at the man, as if it was an interesting, though strange, fairy tale worth listening to.
“You know, it’s funny that the first documentary reference in history to a castle like the one common citizens can see today here in Edinburgh is John of Fordun's account of the death of King Malcolm III. Fordun spoke about his widow, the future Saint Margaret, as residing at the so-called ‘Castle of Maidens’. Between 1139 and 1150, the king held an assembly of nobles and churchmen, a precursor to the Parliament of Scotland, in this site. But this was a new stone castle that had been built during the subsequent period, never knowing that they were working in a place where another magical fortress had previously been built, and still existed, though unbeknownst, and unreachable, to them all. This older magical castle was perfectly concealed from their sight thanks to the sorcerous activities that had put it in a safer, more secluded place. In a way, the stronghold of the Asarlachd government is on Castle Rock, but in a way, it isn’t there at the same time. The older castle is hidden in plain view, far apart from the ordinary thoughts and past memories of men, while overlooking the whole city with its narrow streets that meekly stretch nowadays, like in the times of old, just below that…”
Domhnall remained silent as his fancy tried to visualize the features of that magical building of old.
“You know, what is strangest of all, the surface covered by Edinburgh Castle is said to be about 45,133 sq. yards and reaches a height of more than 460 ft. above sea level, but the invisible stronghold of the cannie sluagh is twice the size of Castle Rock itself, as new floor, archways, covered passageways and great structures have been added on during the many centuries that followed, being kept together and held tight only thanks to the tricks of sorcery, obviously… All of this is completely invisible to common human eyes, just like the wooden bridge we previously walked on… And you can see it all, boy! This is a gift not given to everyone…”
“Why are you so impressed that I can see this, along with that bridge, Mr. Cayson? Everyone can do that…” the child said in a curious voice.
“Oh, no, boy… not just everyone!” the man retorted. “You can do that because you are one of us, the cannie sluagh, though not completely a part of our world. This is the only reason you are able to see those structures that carry a path to the top of the rock. But the stronghold is completely another matter, because it only becomes visible when you get past the main gate of Edinburgh Castle, the magical version of it! The seat of the Asarlachd government is well protected, of course, and not even the people gifted with magical powers can directly see its walls or the towers if they remain outside of this specific ground. That is why, boy!”
“Are you saying that I could be one of those sorcerers, the ones you called, the cannie sluagh?”
“The sorcerous abilities of anyone among the cannie sluagh develop as you grow up. When you are a child there are only some hints, and no real power… Just think of it: have you always lived here?”
“My family is from Glasgow. We moved to Edinburgh one year ago…” the child replied in a pensive voice.
“And have you ever spotted that wooden bridge any time before now? Or maybe you just didn’t notice it near the West Princes Gardens?” the other asked him, in a low tone.
“Now that I think of this, actually I must confess that a couple of weeks ago was the first time I saw it, on that day I got lost and I met you…”
“And didn’t you find it unusual that you hadn’t read anything about that old beautiful bridge in texts, or in guides, also at school, anywhere?” the man insisted.
“Frankly, I didn’t check it out…” Domhnall admitted, lowering his head in a sorry gesture. “It’s usually Fabrice, the smartest friend I have, and Ernest who are the most interested in ancient history.”
“You see…? Your powers are getting stronger as you grow up. It’s always the same for any of us. We, too, once were children who didn’t know we were endowed with magical capabilities.”
“Are you saying that you three, too, are people endowed with magical powers? That is amazing.” The child looked them over doubtfully. “So, why can’t you see the bridge any longer? Don’t you see for yourselves the old fortress you’ve been telling me about?”
“No, we can’t, not anymore. On the other hand, your family, the Forsters, couldn’t see it either, since they’re just common humans, and they have always been so…” Cayson continued.
“These cannie sluagh you are speaking about… Why are you sure I’m one of them?”
“It’s obvious you are one of us. You see things that others can’t, and you can do things that others can’t. You must know that there have always been people like us spread throughout the common population. Certainly you have heard news on TV about individuals that are supposed to do things that are unbelievable, beyond common human possibilities…”
“Like in the comics…?” The child was very interested now.
“We are real, we don’t live in comics, boy… Usually such people are chosen and trained to improve their powers and become even more skilled, but this occurs only when the Asarlachd government decides to do so, to recruit new sorcerers. However, sometimes others are never discovered or thought to be worthy by the Tanists in the end. Mankind had called them by different name: mutants, espers or the likes… Their power is in them, but without the proper training they never learn how to use it. Anyway, in some, like you, that power finds a way to get to the surface and can be used, but it doesn’t occur all the time. This also means that, possibly, your power is really strong, though you don’t know how to activate its full potential right now.”
“I’ve never thought of myself as a magical person,” the boy said in a doubtful tone. “People gifted with magical powers that can see walls or towers that nobody else can, this is a fairy-tale. Well, you told me about this, but I heard you say that you yourself are unable to look at the bridge we walked on… Why? Aren’t you one of the cannie sluagh? And how can you see these walls and these buildings inside the Castle now?”
“I am, boy. But I and others like me had our magical powers forcibly removed years ago, as well as our magical sight. And without that powerful sight you just can’t see magical objects, places and symbols. You can’t even draw sorcerous energies and activate enchantments, not anymore. We were cruelly punished, in the worst way, and this is why we are now enemies of the Asarlachd government! In answer to your question about the walls and the buildings that stand here: well, you see, my boy, we can certainly look at them because—once you get past the gate of the Castle—the concealing spell that usually protects and keeps them well hidden from the outside doesn’t work inside…”
“You don’t really want to go to that shop, do you? Why did you come here?” Domhnall asked the men, feeling uneasy. “What do you want to do in this place?”
“Oh, boy, you’re right, of course, we weren’t following a shortcut to make you arrive earlier today. We came here with one target in mind! We want to put our hands on the magical Stone of Scone…” Cayson said in a fierce voice.
“The Stone of Scone?” the child looked wavering in a way. “Are you talking about the Stone of Destiny, the Coronation Stone? Are you thieves?”
“No, we are not thieves. And I’m not talking about the Stone of Destiny that everyone knows about today. It’s the Magical Stone of Scone we want to reach! Externally, it might look like the same reddish sandstone that was used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland, and later the monarchs of England and the Kingdom of Great Britain. But that was the stone that common humans made use of for their rites, possibly in resemblance of what the real sorcerers had at their disposal for their ends. We aren’t just searching for it. The Magical Stone of Scone is the only sorcerous one that legitimates and makes the whole Asarlachd government lawful. Without that stone, all the rights of the old Tanists will become a matter of debate! Enough with the traditions of the Old Tanistry! It’s time to turn back again to the ancient rules that required that only the most capable people endowed with sorcerous powers should inherit their rights by murder and war. And a new stronger government will start in the
world of the cannie sluagh!”
“Do you want to subvert the rules of your world?” the child asked him.
“Our world, as you call it, is not what we respect! It was our former world and is now controlled by the Tanists of the Asarlachd government, they are the ones who banished us, who cruelly took away our powers. Once the present leader of the government, Iarlaith Zavrazhin, got into power, many thought that things might change sooner or later, but our hopes were completely chagrined! We always fought against most of the eldest Tanists of the Pàrlamaid before we became outcasts, and that is the reason they punished us! Now things are going to get back on the right track, finally! Exactly as the fabled Maker of the Dark Spells ordered the true believers to do long ago… and we have always followed his principles grounded on the oldest traditions of the cannie sluagh!”
“You are outlaws! Enemies of your own kind…! What do you plan to do once you get that magical stone?” Domhnall looked openly worried now.
“We want to destroy it! And there’s only one way to accomplish that…” Cayson added with a sneer.
“The stone is made of an unusual semi-metallic material, so only something similar can damage the powerful Magical Stone of Scone,” the man explained in a low tone.
“Why are you telling the boy such things?” Stephen intervened suddenly.
“Silence! I’m telling him why we are doing all of this. He’s one of us, one of the cannie sluagh. And all the cannie sluagh will need to know one day who took things back to the old ways. They will know it was Cayson Buxtehude who restored the old traditions…” Cayson cried out. “Years ago we found that same rare material and kept it for ourselves. But the Asarlachd government took us and ordered us to testify. They wanted to know where it was, they knew it was dangerous to them. But we didn’t say anything, we kept it concealed for a very long time. As a consequence, they cruelly punished us. They told us that if we didn’t give them what they wanted, they would remove our sorcerous powers, our magical sight, so that we couldn’t come into the Castle again and endanger the stone. I still remember the pain, the sense of loss and the surprise as I fell to the ground and then awoke without the chance of spotting the magical entrances any longer or the secret paths of our world, the taverns on the streets where I had been living my entire life. The recollection of the moment the caomhnóir of the Tanists made my friends and me unable to activate the symbols that create sorcerous effects and turned us into common humans, with common eyes, is something we can’t ever forget or forgive! They did this and we were forced to live in the world of the common stupid men and women, like your family, for many years… until I stumbled onto you that day, a few weeks ago.”
“That’s why you befriended me,” a dejected boy considered. “You are using me for your crimes…”
“Exactly. But the real crimes are those that were long perpetrated by those cruel Tanists against their own people, forgetting about the old traditions.”
“Don’t you think this magical stone of yours is protected? Isn’t this the seat of the government in your world, after all? Even in our common world we have alarm systems to keep buildings, banks and museums protected. We even have one at home…” the child contrarily asked them.
“Yes, it is well protected… You’re right. You are just a child but you’re not as stupid as I thought you were when I first took you to the toy soldiers shop…” a smiling Cayson nodded. “Anyway, though we are impeded from using our sorcerous powers right now, there will be no need for them. If someone possesses the same semi-metallic material the Magical Stone of Scone is made of, there is no protection that can keep you away from it. You can simply walk through defences magically protected, or enter secret rooms that would stop any other cannie sluagh or even the most powerful and oldest Tanists. The fact is that it’s that material itself which will allow us to get inside. That material is so rare and that the Asarlachd government tried to make us reveal its location by force! All we needed was to find somebody like you, a person endowed with sorcerous powers who didn’t imagine to have them, and didn’t know anything about the magical world, so that we could be brought to the wooden bridge leading to the entrance of the Castle. You have done us a great service and greatly helped us, boy!”
“I didn’t want to make problems for anyone! You tricked me!” Domhnall ranted.
“Yes, we did! And look at where you brought us...”
“So, even that man, the shop-owner at Nachyle’s Rarities, is one of your friends?” the boy continued, in a sorry voice.
“Yes, he was one of your group, long ago, but he escaped the punishment, very luckily for him! And he never told on us, even after all these years. But he couldn’t ever be of help to our own good… actually, no one among the cannie sluagh is allowed to help us out. There is an overstrict enchantment that has made it forbidden…” a serious Cayson replied. “However, getting into his shop was very important because it concealed the key to retrieve that material! Only I knew about the site where it was, but without the key everything was useless. And here comes the interesting part: when we were discovered, before we lost our powers, I left a key hidden in one of those toy soldiers on the shelves of Nachyle’s Rarities—the only key available. Of course, I had put an indestructible enchantment on it by using the Blood Celtic Round Symbol, as everyone who would try to remove it had to face certain death. Not even that shop-owner knew what precisely was inside it, although he kept it safe for me for many years. He didn’t try to discover what was in the toy soldier, because he knew of my powerful enchantment. And he didn’t talk to anyone about it, as he was simply too afraid to tell anyone. And here it is, that toy-soldier. Now, it’s exactly the moment to get the key, and make use of it to take that rare material!”
That being said, he took out of the pocket a miniature figure representing a very detailed old Celtic warrior with a short sword. The child noticed that on the shield the toy soldier had in his other hand a strange Round Symbol was clearly depicted. Then, the man pressed both hands against its surface and broke it into two parts. And a metallic key appeared from the inside of the small Celtic soldier. “You see, only the one who set first the protective indestructible enchantment can remove it without consequences. And the funniest thing of all is that the place where that material the Asarlachd government fears so much has always been just inside Castle Rock itself where we are now, and no one ever dreamed it was here! You see, for so long I have had regrets about the fact that I knew where the key was, and also where the material was concealed, but I had no way to get to the shop where I left it, and I also couldn’t find the magical way to this Castle again.”
“Because you didn’t have the powers of the cannie sluagh any longer. Is that right?” the boy said.
“Yes, exactly, Domhnall! Thank you again!” The words of the joyful Cayson fell on the child’s face like a downpour making him feel even sadder, and dejected. What have I done? Domhnall thought.
Within a very short time, the five covered the distance that separated them from the designated destination that Cayson knew, getting past arches, ancient walls and battlements that really seemed to be straight out of a fairy-tale. After the unexpected revelation, and the evil purposes expressed by that man, the boy tried to resist and run back to the bridge, but the frightening stances of the other three fellows kept him with them. Still, nobody seemed to be around to help him and, as he cried out to attract the attention, the tallest among them put a powerful hand on his small mouth and easily forced him into silence.
Then they reached a tall, wide dark wall that had no entrance, apparently. Cayson didn’t look surprised, and simply held that key he had previously retrieved in front of him, touching the stone surface. Magically, a vivid symbol appeared on the other side of the key, and an opening widened before their own eyes, letting them in.
“This is the Triquetra Symbol, my young member of the cannie sluagh. The key can remove the protection and open the site where I left that important rare object hidden so many years ago! Now we can take it and head for our next destination.”
Another one of the men motioned to the boy and Domhnall was convinced to follow them again.
“How is it possible that those Tanists you talked about, the representatives of your magical government, don’t know how many people, and where, are endowed with sorcerous powers? Shouldn’t they easily recognize the cannie sluagh, using some type of device or something?” Despite how grave the situation was; the boy was still curious anyway.
“Oh, it’s not that easy. The powers of anyone among the cannie sluagh are, at times, very elusive and not even a wise old sorcerer, or the most powerful Tanists, could discover them in a person before the right time. But they have other means, and they always keep an eye on all the citizens, in case something strange, some apparently unearthly happens. This is how they can find it out and act accordingly. However, they certainly can’t know everyone in this country who possesses powers before something gives them clues about it. Then, when they discover what they consider to be important, it’s their decision to do something or leave that person alone.”
“So, all the boys like me, as you said, with magical powers… are we all to be admitted to your sorcerous world and follow the rules of your government?” Domhnall continued.
“According to the principles the old ones like me follow, all the gifted people, like you, even if they don’t know yet that they are one of our magical kind, should be admitted into the cannie sluagh. We shouldn’t allow such individuals to be separated anymore from the rest of our people, they should join us, willingly or unwillingly, or pay the consequences for staying outside of our world.”
“Didn’t you say that it is the Asarlachd government that decides who should be admitted and who doesn’t deserve to be admitted?” the boy asked uncertainly.
“Unfortunately, there are only a few among us that think as I do. But the viewpoint of most in the Asarlachd government is in favour of keeping new magicians away from the other cannie sluagh. Anyway, this is all going to change… All the people with powers will be able to join us!” Cayson made it very clear.
“What if they don’t want to?”
“They can’t be allowed to choose…” the man sneered. “After the present Tanists fall, you’ll see what will happen.”
The Great Hall of the Pàrlamaid, with its vaulted wooden roof and its many ornate decorations, looked spectacular and undoubtedly imposing, its shape being architecturally thrilling. A wide stained-glass window full of colourful and ancient magical symbols—like the Awen, the Celtic Heart, the Scottish Thistle, the Dog and the Dragon—was wrapped in a continuous circle of unending movements. Another window was at the other end of the wide room with figurative depictions of three-dimensional structures and sculptures. In the middle of it all, on a decorated wooden platform, stood the Draoidheach Clach-Na-Cinneamhain, the Magical Stone of Scone with iron rings at each end, being the true symbol of the power and the legitimacy of the whole secluded society of the cannie sluagh.
Many centuries had passed since that site, on top of the tall rock formation, had been chosen as a suitable location for the Main Assembly of the Tanists in that country. Here the first Deddfwr or Lawgivers, elected for five years at a time, had presided over the crowded representative members and recited the law of the land. This was also where legal actions were brought and other announcements were made about the entire population.
When it had started being used for the first important assembly proceedings, it had also become clear that it was recognized as the Highest Legislative and Judicial Authority. The tradition had lasted since the most ancient times, when the few ones endowed with sorcerous powers had begun joining larger groups, giving themselves the main rules to be followed and, most generally, the comeuppances had applied for various purposes: be they fines, corporal punishments or custodial sentences to encourage and enforce proper behaviour as defined by society or family. Anyone of the cannie sluagh attending the assembly was entitled to present his case on important issues, undoubtedly. The Law Council nowadays served as both the Asarlachd government, within the Pàrlamaid, that was a closed body in which only certain people, according to the rules of the Old Tanistry, held offices for life and enjoyed certain special rights, assignments and powers, and the Highest Court. Laws were passed and approved here every day, and rulings made on points of law.
In the hall itself there was almost nobody at present but four high personalities, and they were slowly talking to each other about several matters of the day. The political leader of the present Asarlachd government, named Iarlaith Zavrazhin, wore his long traditional reddish léine full-length robe, similar to a richly embroidered close-fitting smock, while his figure was wrapped in a wool cape coat of greenish silk, with a border of reddish gold. The bearded Eldest Tanist who walked next to him—Artair Canning—had on a longer garment that ended up on top with a sort of old pleated shirt, being not less customary, with a smaller tippet on his back. According to the ancient ordnance which distinguished the various ranks and professions by the colours of their dress, only the Leader might wear seven colours, while the others weren’t allowed to make use of more than six at a time, depending on their importance or rank. Behind them, another noteworthy figure of the Pàrlamaid, a wizard named Somhairle Carruthers who was the Presiding Officer, followed their steps while scratching at his whitish whiskers.
With some medium hair that had just started greying, the imposing Iarlaith usually appeared to be somewhat self-restrained, as if he always properly kept his countenance, unless he was making some special efforts not to do so. As a politician, and the present High Representative of the Asarlachd government, he was used to being in charge of any situation in which he found himself. With pale blue eyes and a large nose, on a face that might look too flat, the man was in his mid-fifties and his knowledge of things and his energy made him more attractive than his features would indicate, actually.
In his long reddish leather overcoat that partly covered the traditional léine and that seemed to better outline his tall figure, Iarlaith appeared to feel at home. The inside of the coat, looking deep but not dark, was always in accordance with the dark grey colour of his streamlined trousers. When he spoke, his hands always came into play, characterizing the performance of what he did or the meaning of the things he wanted to make clearer, or more accurate. This didn’t happen too frequently, as he wasn’t a very talkative man outside of the political scene.
All of a sudden, while the three still were talking, there was something strange and the stone wall on the other side of the wide room slightly trembled, until a small group of people, with a child, unexpectedly passed through it. It was the man in the lead who said “I told you! By means of this rare material, we can overrun every magical protection in this Castle! It’s so easy…”
“Cayson Buxtehude, you’re here… You and your cronies were banished! How did you get into the Castle?” Somhairle Carruthers spoke words with hatred as he identified the outlaws.
“It was thanks to this boy that we got inside...” the other replied, with a grin. “A young, unlisted child of the cannie sluagh.”
The Eldest Tanist Artair Canning stepped forward, with a strange copper device pointed at the child. “He's not in our records…” he eventually confirmed. “He is an unregistered one.”
“Why are you here?” the Presiding Officer of the Pàrlamaid asked him.
“Is that not clear?” It was Iarlaith speaking now. “They want to complete what they had on their mind long ago. They want to destroy the Magical Stone of Scone and overrun the rule of the Asarlachd government. And they made use of an innocent, unlisted boy with the powers of the cannie sluagh!” The man turned to the other two members of the Parliament that were next to him and cried out, “You see? It's just as I said! We should have stronger control of all the people with magical powers, even the unregistered ones, and put a limit so that they are not allowed to make her abilities grow. Or they could pose a threat, exactly as that stupid child has today.”
Domhnall didn’t like to be talked about like that, and he thought he had been put in the middle of it all contrary to his will. Those outlaws—Cayson and the others—had made use of him for their evil ends… And look at where he was now! The boy knew he had to do something; he didn’t know those new people but it was obvious that they were some important figures in that world made of sorcery. “That is not for you to say, sir. Please, believe me… I have nothing to do with these four delinquents…”
“Silence, stupid boy!” the High Representative retorted. “Your actions are bad enough…”
Domhnall was displeased about those words, and he turned to the four men that had brought him here and answered back. “It is not my fault that they'll destroy all this, sir! I want to show you that I’m not as evil as they are.”
Before Cayson could react, and even without the others noticing it on time, the boy grabbed the hands of the man that held the semi-metallic material he had previously removed from the hiding place behind the wall, as a neurotic child who was seriously upset because of the reproach, and a sort of short fight followed.
The man was certainly much taller and stronger than Domhnall, but his surprising, unpredictable action and his vehement behaviour made him loosen his grip on the rare object that fell to the wooden floor. As Cayson tried to take it back, the boy made his feet kick the material, throwing it into the distance.
“Call the caomhnóir! Tell the guards to get in here!” Somhairle bellowed at once.
It was the old Artair Canning who, before all the others, bowed to the ground and grabbed the material with his long fingers. Then, with a look of relief, he lifted the object and raised it to his face, looking at what they all knew was so dangerous to the Magical Stone of Scone and the sorcerous legitimacy that came from it. Then he turned to Iarlaith to give it to him respectfully, but the political leader himself, very strangely, stepped back with a fearful expression on his features.
The material was now glowing brilliantly, and its colour had turned to a vivid reddish/orange shade. The man approached the High Representative with a few more steps, but he distanced himself even further, and the brilliance increased.
What was that? Artair was taken by surprise. This was really unusual, and unintelligible, unless… Unless it was something else. Was it possible? The Presiding Officer who stood nearby looked worried now.
“It’s not possible… it shouldn’t be!” the Eldest Tanist cried out.
“But it seems to be so…” the Presiding Officer confirmed.
In the meantime, Cayson and the boy had stopped their awkward fighting, and the other three men stood still, watching the brilliance of that material as if it was an unbelievable occurrence.
“There is only one person who can’t touch the same semi-metallic material the Magical Stone of Scone is made of. Oh, yes, he can touch the stone, but not other objects made with the same material and with the same sorcerous properties. This is because of an ancient curse that was put on the stone itself long ago, when the first cannie sluagh created the first laws. I’m speaking of the Maker of the Dark Spells who isn’t allowed to touch such similar material, for the safety of the Magical Stone itself. And you, Iarlaith Zavrazhin, our political leader, although this might seem unbelievable, are that dark one!”
There was a quick muttering that did run among the people present in the place, then Cayson was the first one in his group who really understood who that man really was and bowed his head in silence and fear. He was their fabled and wholly worshipped Master, the ancient Maker of the Dark Spells, and the one whose principles he and many others outcasts like him had been following without ever imagining it could be the same person who sat on the Major Seat of the Asarlachd government itself as its High Representative! This was the political leader himself—the one who made the traditional, bloody rules of old based on murder and war they wanted to restore, against the Tanists of nowadays. There were many opposing thoughts on his mind at the same time. How was it possible? How could be he still alive, safe and sound, after all those centuries…? And why was he in disguise here in the central hall?
Before Cayson could speak, it was Iarlaith who cried out. “You four, stupid, so stupid…! After everything I made! It was me that let you find the texts indicating where you could retrieve the same material of the stone! And it was also me who allowed you keep it concealed for a better time. But you failed me, you have ruined everything.”
“You… Why are you telling us this, Maker of the Dark Spells?” Cayson appeared still confused, and surprised. “So, it was you that let us know where that object was, you wanted us to come here one day and destroy the Magical Stone of Scone! You, the one we have always worshipped, hoping to bring back your ancient bloody rules and traditions to our sorcerous society. But you used us a pawns, allowing the Asarlachd government to remove our powers and throw us into the world of common men for so many years. Why?”
“Because it was necessary, stupid!” the political leader made it clear. “You disappointed and displeased me!”
There was some turmoil as the first caomhnóir, along with other guards of the Pàrlamaid, came into the room, but it was at that moment that Cayson thought he had to certainly make use of the full power of his device, the mist issuer he always had in his pocket, anyway. Or he would never get out of there alive…
A sort of deep, heavy haze began to envelope the whole place, much denser than the one the man had used when he had turned to its power in the city to separate the boy from his family. The turmoil got crazier and wilder, as voices in the mist were heard and missteps were made, but no one could see anything at all. Once the Presiding Officer eventually dissipated it by using a powerful spell, along with the vivid symbol of the Blue Spiral that stood in the middle of the Great Hall, it appeared that Cayson, his fellows and even the fabled Maker of the Dark Spell had already disappeared.
There were many questions still to be asked, and things to be explained before that strange, awful day was over. And Domhnall Forster—who was left standing there—felt all the eyes of everyone present trained on him almost immediately.
Maybe it was simply his innocence, or his boyhood as he was only seven-years-old but his pupils were staring at it all in wonderment. And it was at that moment, as he apparently looked outside of one magical stained-glass window in the room that he noticed something and said, “Sir, if I may… What is that other worn hemp bridge? It’s very long… Where does it lead?” The child looked up at Artair Canning wide-eyed, as he waited for an answer.
“Uhm?” the other replied, doubtful.
“That one, out of the Castle, that goes up to the clouds…” the boy asked, repeating his words.
“Well, dear child, there will be another time to talk about it… Now we have to decide what we have to do about you…” the Eldest Tanist spoke.
From that moment on, the boy’s mind was filled with worry.
Once everything was set, and the Parliament had dealt with the betrayal of their political leader, the one who also was the fabled Maker of the Dark Spells and who had long been posing as an upstanding man, deceiving and misleading them all, the Tanists trained their minds on the condition of Domhnall Forster. Certainly it was obvious that the boy was endowed with sorcerous powers, and had to be accepted into their world. More than that, he had been important in thwarting the plans of those outlaws, although he seemed to have helped them, at least at first… But he had been deceived, too, and after all he was just a child. So, orders were given and arrangements were made.
Anyway, it seemed that the Maker of the Dark Spells and Cayson, with his evil friends, had been eventually able to escape their grip, which was bad. Such an occurrence had also almost started a sort of fight among different political parties, which wasn’t going to end soon.
That morning, as a thoughtful Artair Canning was still considering, again and again, everything that had recently happened, while walking in a side room of the Parliament, he put his mind to something that boy had said, at the end of that day in the Castle. He had displayed that he had the powers that might rightfully include him among the recognized cannie sluagh. The fact that he had been capable of seeing that hidden wooden bridge in the city and had come to the seat of the Asarlachd government made it all clear. But there was something else that made the old man wonder, and worry.
The child had also mentioned another worn hemp bridge that he could see outside of the stained-glass window. Was it the fabled long bridge that was once built in this Castle and that led to another higher sorcerous place? This had long been the matter of many legends, and only a few people endowed with powers were reputed to have had the ability to spot it in the past. He particularly remembered a well-known figure from the ancient times, someone that had long been praised, or feared, at the same time when the Maker of the Dark Spells was born. Maybe that boy, Domhnall, had in him the same power, which was very unusual. Maybe that power would eventually bring them all into an entirely different locale, which might turn out to be interesting and very good, or very dangerous and very dreadful.
As he was still walking across the room, his thoughts lingered on that idea for a long time, and deeper worries crowded his mind, truth be told…