“But I don’t understand, I didn’t see any of the signs you said I would, not a one. How can this be true?” McLane boomed in his most menacing voice. The mystic slowly stood and returned the large, brutish man’s stare, seemingly unaffected by the legendary McLane temper, which has been known to reduce even the most courageous of warriors to a quivering mass of cowardice. Seeing the mystic would not be cowed by his usual tactics, McLane warily considered his current options, and was immediately discouraged… and if he was being honest, he was exhausted.
For the last fourteen months, Blane McLane had scoured the Scottish Highlands in search of The Three Signs, as charged by his dying sire as he clung to McLane’s arm before finally succumbing to his wounds. The Three, as they were known amongst the Highland tribes, were magical objects that possessed incredible power and when they were found and brought together there was nothing on earth that could contest their power. As explained by the now deceased Laird McLane to his eldest son and heir, The Three could save their people, if only they were found and brought to their lands, otherwise the McLane line might be obliterated from the face of Scotland by the dastardly English who were set on securing their coastal lands (and crucial ports). That day loomed ever-nearer, and, on the day of his father’s death, McLane was charged with finding The Three and in doing, saving his family and his people.
That had been over a year ago and McLane was no closer to protecting his home and people now as he was that fateful day. The agony of being away from his lands and unable to fend off the encroachers had slowly eaten away at the mighty man- leaving a hollow-eyed shell on the edge of obsession in his stead. For better or worse, McLanes didn’t know the meaning of failure and Blane was no different. So, he had returned to the bowed little man who had, he thought, provided insight through his otherworldly powers on where he would find The Three, ready to split the man in twain if he did not produce what McLane believed had been promised. Before he could even question the man, the mystic had turned to him and said, “So, you have found them. We are saved”.
“What do you play at, old man? I have found nothing, as I told you,” McLane spat.
“Oh, but ye have. There, in that leather pouch around your waist,” the mystic pointed a gnarled finger at the small carrying pouch on McLane’s hip.
“There’s nothing, just some coins and a small keepsake given to me by a child in one of the villages we passed through,” McLane said as he emptied the contents of the pouch onto the table in front of the man. Plucking the keepsake from the pile of coins, the mystic peered closely at the small, round object. It appeared to be forged from a type of alloy or perhaps even silver and was about the size of a large pebble or small stone. Turning the thing over and over in his hands, the old man closed his eyes and worked his finger to one of its edges causing it to suddenly spring open with a sharp metallic ‘click’.
“What the devil!” McLane exclaimed as he watched the object transform in front of his eyes. Turning the thing towards McLane, the object had somehow transformed it’s and split down the middle. One side looked to just be the shell, or protection of the other side which seemed to be some sort of display.
“This, Laird, is a clock- a time piece, a watch. It can tell the hour of the day or night by counting each moment that passes mechanically and mathematically. It is one of The Three- the watch,” he said with reverence.
McLane had never seen anything like it in his life. Something that could calculate the hour without even conferring with the stars or the sun? The impossibility of it almost overwhelmed him. Where had this strange watch come from? Or… when? Not allowing the improbability of the watch’s existence detour him from his purpose, McLane gathered his wits and asked, “Ok, so I have found one, even without knowing of its true nature. But what of the other two? Do I also possess those in my little pouch?”
“No, no McLane,” the mystic chuckled despite himself, “not in your little pouch, as you call it, but one does stand behind you,” he said and nodded towards a young maiden just outside the mystic’s tent. Confused, McLane turned to where the old man was pointing and had to suppress his own chuckle as he saw that the man was indicating his fifteen-year-old cousin Brìghde, who had joined his convoy several weeks ago after her family fell to the scourge of Britain.
“There must be some mistake, one of The Three cannot possibly me my sweet cousin, she is but fifteen and I know these signs are older than time itself!” McLane declared.
“Ah, but there you are wrong, my Laird. Come child!” The mystic called to Brìghde who quickly did as he bid and timidly entered the tent. “Tell me girl, what be thy name?” he asked. Turning to face his cousin, McLane waited with frustration to see what game the mystic might be at.
“Brìghde,” the young lady answered modestly.
“And do ye know for who ye are named?” the mystic asked.
“Ay, for my mother and her mother before her. But, we all are named for that powerful goddess of the Highlands, wisdom and all things high and good- the goddess Brìghde,” she said as if she had memorized this bit of knowledge for just such an inquest.
“Very good, my child. And, pray tell me, how came you by that lovely pendant that hangs from your neck?” he said and pointed to the item of his interest.
“This?” the girl clutched the pedant in her hand protectively. “It has been in my family for generations, it is very old,” she said proudly. “My mother gave it to me just before-“, Brìghde was quickly overcome by emotion and very nearly began to sob as she thought of her family- all now gone. But, like all McLanes, she was resilient and continued, although chose to skip how she came to inherit the item. “It has a secret,” she said to the mystic. “Mother said if I were ever in trouble or needed to be found if lost, I was to place this to my lips and blow,” Brìghde said as she raised the curious pendant to her lips, and blowing softly into one hollow end, produced a melodic note from the other end.
“Do you know child, that your namesake, that high goddess had a whistle just like that one? In fact, she is the one who crafted such a device. Would it surprise you to know that pendant, the one that now hangs round your neck, is in fact the very whistle forged by the hands of the goddess Brìghde?” the mystic smiled as the girl’s eyes grew huge with surprise. “It’s true, my dearest one. Many have forgotten Brìghde, and those who have not have disgraced her name by calling her witch. But the goddess has not left us, no. She is sleeping, sleeping away until there comes a time when the people need her once again. And do you know how she should be called, when that time arrives?” he asked the girl.
“I must blow this whistle from the highest peak, three times,” she said, her voice pssessing a trance-like quality.
“That’s right. Your family has served the goddess well to continue her teachings so fastidiously. Well done,” the old man said. Turning to McLane, who had stood in quiet disbelief during this exchange, and said, “You see? That is two of The Three”.
“And the third?” McLane was almost afraid to ask, should his belt somehow reveal itself for a magical lasso or serpent.
“Your belt is safe, McLane,” the mystic said with a chuckle, having read McLane’s thoughts. “But what of that pup I saw chasing its tail by the horses? Might I see it?” he asked obtusely.
Knowing better than to question the man, McLane had his man retrieve the dog. “We found it just yesterday. Half-starved and completely wild. My men thought it could make for a good hunting dog if properly trained, although I have my sincere doubts,” McLane said as the pup was brought inside the tent on a rope lead.
“You have done well to bestow your charity on this beast. And you shall be rewarded. This mangy pup, this wild and starved dog is in fact the final sign of The Three,” the mystic said as he knelt in front of the dog. Covered in dried mud and matted fur, it was hard to get a good idea of the dog’s size and breeding, but by all accounts it looked more than a little like- a wolf. Grabbing a pitcher of water from a bench behind him, the mystic poured some of it on the animal’s chest and began to rub some of the filth from its fur. McLane didn’t have long to wait before he understood what the mystic was doing as the dirt and grime was removed, a large white patch of fur in the shape of a five-pointed star was revealed.
“Just as I knew it would be, this is the one, the final sign- the wolf,” the mystic said and bowed slightly to the animal. As if being acknowledged awoke it’s ‘intelligent self’ the wolf pitched its head forward slightly to return the gesture.
Standing up slowly, the mystic turned to McLane, “Bring The Three to your lands. Brìghde knows what she must do, and she will do it without any time to spare. Once the girl has returned, place the witch within the whistle, the watch and the wolf in a circle of stone during the next full moon. Do these things and your people, your lands, your family will be saved”.
And so the McLanes were able to stay off the English invasion that overtook the lands of their neighbors. To this very day, that coastal patch of land in the Highlands remains the only Scottish land to remain in Scottish hands, in McLane hands.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: Ok, so this one turned into something I wasn’t expecting (serves me right for reading too many ‘historical romance’ novels a few years back). Honestly, this story sprung from three things that happened to me today: I found a watch I have been looking for for like, uh, ever.
I started reading Wicked, by Gregory Macguire (I think his Scottish name might have somehow subconsciously influenced me).
I took our wolf(dog), Zorro, for a walk today, just me and him, for the first time.
I have kind of a thing for alliteration (I think all word-lovers do) so the idea of writing about a watch, witch and wolf really appealed to me. And boy, did it take off from there. Whew, I’m a little exhausted to tell you the truth. Time for some sleepy time.
Love & Squirrels.