Saturday Snippet: Port of Call

Mike, Rich, and Friend are on the west coast of Scotland.

Alyssa McMasters, or Luciphera as her Goth scene name proclaimed, nodded at the Victorian bar-brooch in the water-front antique shop. Jet, marcasite, and silver formed a delicate, glittering lacework around an oval of jet. The letter L in Gothic script took up most of the central stone. “That’s lovely!”

Mike reached inside, drew a tiny thread of magic, and sent it out to touch and read the jewelry. Nothing. He didn’t sense any “tarnish” of bad wishes, and it wasn’t an empty focus, unlike the ring now tucked into his bag. “It really is,” he said. “And it looks sturdy.”

Luciphera sniffed and said, “You are too practical by half, Mike,” then winked. Her tone of mild exasperation brought an answering smile from the shopkeeper. Luciphera turned back to the nice lady. “I’ll take the bar-brooch, please.”

Task done, Mike eased out of the cramped confines of the antiques shop and back into the street. The clutter did not agree with his broad-shouldered frame. Nor did leaving his Familiar unchaperoned even for a moment. Where had Rich gone off to? Thump. Something thudded against his left shin. Mike glanced down. Rich had found a blue and white striped ball almost as big as he was. The white-tailed mongoose grinned up at his mage, then chased the ball back toward a group of small children who squealed and bounced with delight. A wild game of “chase the ball and the mongoose” ensued. Mike took his time, only interrupting his Familiar when Luciphera emerged from the shop, smiling with triumph. “OK, Rich, time to go.”

“Aaawwwww,” he groaned as Mike scooped him up. “You’re no fun. I never get any fun.”

“Dude. Your fun is my nightmare. Expensive nightmare.” He settled Rich across his shoulders. Rich dug his claws into the special canvas pads now worked into the jacket’s shoulders. Mike had borrowed the idea from Lelia Lestrang and Tay. No one paid attention to that sort of trim on a tweed jacket, especially not here in far western Scotland. He’d found one of the few places where big red-heads attracted no notice, almost. Mike mirrored Luciphera’s smile.

“Thanks for checking this.” She lifted the box, then tucked it away in her bag. “Do you want to do the coastal walk now? We seem to be between traffic rushes.”

He considered, then nodded. “Yeah, or we go at sunrise.”

A discreet rude gesture greeted his suggestion. “Only if we have closed a club first, then gotten food.”

He drooped, then waved her ahead for the moment. The teen lounging on the bench near Mike leaned forward. He gave Luciphera a leer and started easing to his feet. Mike caught his eye and frowned. The kid returned to his sullen slouch. Good choice. He and Luciphera weren’t flying their freak flags that high. Her full black skirt and long-sleeve grey blouse looked more like mourning than modern Goth, if someone ignored her boots. Shoulder-length black hair wasn’t all that rare, either. Mike kept going and caught up with his friend. “So,” she began, then paused until the diesel roar of the “lorry” faded. “Today we hang out and rest. Tomorrow Glen Coe?”

“Weather permitting, yes. The part about ‘expert hill walkers and experienced mountaineers’ makes me twitch.” He rested one hand on Rich, forestalling a demonstration. There was another reason Glen Coe bugged him, but he could shield against that.

Blaaaaaaatttt. A big, black-hulled Caledonian-MacBryer car ferry sounded its horn. The sound rolled over the water and echoed from the stone facades of the Victorian seaside holiday hotels lining the harbor frontage. A small fishing boat eased farther over to the other side of the channel. The white and black Cal-Mac could eat four fishing boats and not notice. The ferry departed with ponderous dignity, headed for the islands. Gulls screamed overhead as semi-quiet returned to the harbor. A small, shaggy dog took offense and barked at the closest seagull. The gull ignored the yapping. Rich giggled, then subsided.

Luciphera stopped to read a sign about languages and place names. They had crossed into the Gaelic part of the world, the western Highlands. “That’s a lovely way to describe a moment,” she said, pointing to the line of verse across the top of the sign.

He read over her shoulder. “It is.” They shared a taste for poetry, among other things. “Too bad you can’t use so few words to convey meaning and sense in an official document.”

A small, blunt elbow thumped his midsection. “No work talk.” She shook a warning finger at him, then flounced off up the walk way.

Thppppth came from his Familiar. “Told you so,” Rich proclaimed from his perch. Mike didn’t dignify the comment with a reply. He took a deep breath of sea-scented air and caught up with his friend again. He waved away a swarm of something. Probably midges, with his luck. European insects loved him.

The path joined the road. A stern sign warned drivers to pay attention to pedestrians and give them the right of way. Mike still made himself as small as possible. He also cast a “please look” spell, encouraging people to notice him and Luciphera both. With a stone wall on the sea side of the road, they had no room to dodge traffic. He could vault the wall if he had to, but the thirty-foot drop would hurt, and he couldn’t drag her with him. Mike didn’t relax until a footpath reappeared just as they reached the tight bends at Dun Ollie. Traffic sped up again, he noticed, then hurried to get ahead of Luciphera and open the gate. It had one of the “reach under, lift, then slide, then move gate” latches on the inland side, where most people had trouble reaching or seeing. Allister had showed him the trick, thanks be. Luciphera smiled and eased through. He followed and re-latched the gate. He didn’t see any sheep, but that didn’t mean much, he’d learned.

“Are you expecting the sheep to have a scout?” she teased him. “One up in the trees, with a spy glass, waiting to make an escape attempt?”

Rich giggled, then started to bounce. Mike helped the mongoose down to the ground before answering. “Of course. I’ve watched Monty Python and Shaun the Sheep. I know what sheep are capable of.” Especially when you needed them to ignore you, like back in— He slapped the memory down hard, pushing it away to where it belonged. This is not there. This is Oban, Scotland, with Lu, on leave. The moment passed. “Plus, they are dumb enough to run into traffic for the hell of it.” Why sheep preferred the edges of roads to their own lush pastures he didn’t want to guess. Pure stupidity, probably.

Rich emerged from several clumps of grass. “No snakes or lizards. No fair.”

“Too cold.” Mike got Rich back on his shoulders and they continued up the trail. It wound around the remains of the first Dun Ollie, home of Clan MacDougall. Scotland seemed to grow ruined castles. Mike read the history sign and studied the remaining wall and tower. He boggled. “Early castle sacked in 689, first MacDougalls in the 1200? Good grief.” People had used the hill under the castle for eight thousand years. He shook his head a little.

Luciphera took a few photos of wild flowers and an especially dark and twisted, half-dead tree, then started ahead once more.

“What?” Fast twitching whiskers tickled his ear.

“I should stop being surprised at how long people have lived here.” Mike nodded at the castle. “Or on the mainland. People re-use good spots. But they’re so casual about it here.”

Rich sniffed. “Yeah. Different scale, different priorities, different culture. More people in less space, so more reuse. Back home, build out, not up.”

Also a good point.

By the time they wandered back to town that afternoon, breakfast had worn off. They’d stopped at the war memorial, and he’d read the names. A generation, probably, lost. Lots of brothers and cousins. Luciphera hadn’t said anything, but she’d leaned on him a little, being there. Now she scooted her chair out and set a very full dish of ice cream on the small table. She didn’t have the accelerated metabolism of a magic worker, but she’d been up early doing some work before breakfast. They opted for ice cream at a shop full of locals. “Plain,” Mike informed his Familiar as he set the dish down on the floor. “No, you can’t have mocha or whisky-flavored. Just vanilla, very vanilla.” Oh shit. Wrong phrase. Wild giggles rose from under the chair, and Luciphera had to cover her mouth, then cough to hide her snickers. His face turned a little warm and he sighed, “I know better than to use that word in this company.”

“Yes, you do. Even in this context.” She winked, then took a bite of her top scoop. Her dark, perfectly-curved eyebrows rose to her hairline. “The peppermint is quite strong,” she squeaked

“Curiously strong?” It was his turn to wink. The little tag on the case stated that the ice cream included the actual mints, so she’d been warned. The mocha reminded him of his one experience with Cuban coffee, in a cold, sweet, and wonderful way. The walnut didn’t seem as strong, but tasted richer. A lot of people ordered the seaweed flavor and acted delighted with the taste. He wasn’t quite sure. Maybe it’s the Calvinist streak, eating vegetable ice cream. Or they are messing with us tourists.

“Are we still on for Glen Coe tomorrow? I know you said you and Rich wanted to look into some things about it?” She asked as they strolled later, glancing into shops and oogling a book store’s display windows. “That must be a first edition.” She leaned closer and peered at the card under the leather-bound volume. “It is, the limited release English-English anniversary edition.”

The purported icthyology of the Lock Ness Monster interested him more, until he saw that it was a novel. “Yes, unless there’s something you’d like to do more. I don’t think we have the gear to climb Ben Nevis, and Rich doesn’t do fishing.”

“Why not? I like fish, fishy fish, not eely fish. Eels feels funny, eely eels, squealy eels,” Rich chanted, then snickered.

Luciphera shook a finger at the Familiar. “Because fishing here requires being calm, quiet, patient, and sneaky. You only match one of those four. And the streams are cold, very cold. Even the lowland streams are cold. Trust me.”

Rich sagged flat, pretending to be fur trim, then flapped his tongue at her. Thppth.

“And this is why I don’t take you nice places.” Mike shook his head. “Since we won’t be camping overnight, Glen Coe should be fine, as long as we take rain gear.”

They moved to the next block and rolled their eyes at the tourist goodies. “I think you need to take the plaid Highland cow back for your sister-in-law,” she said. “What’s wrong with nights there?”

Shadow’s daughter will want a dozen, one in every plaid they offer. He glowered at the long-haired, tartan-colored stuffed animal. “I know someone else who would want it even more. Sheila would just beat me with it.” He shifted topics. “Something in the valley disagrees with magic workers, or vice versa. I can’t get a solid answer as to what, but I can guess why.” Things like the Glencoe Massacre left very strong traces on the landscape, and attracted things that throve on death, pain, and betrayal. Three hundred years wasn’t long enough to wash the stain away, especially not in a land that still remembered the Romans quite clearly, as one of his colleagues had discovered during a night nature hike along Hadrian’s Wall. “Now, the framed watercolor painting of the wild haggis in it’s native habitat there for my brother, that might work.”

She elbowed him as Rich chanted, “Do it, do it, do it.”

Mike glanced at the price tag. “Never mind. It doesn’t include shipping.” Maybe he should ask Shoshana if she could do one as a joke. Except she might discover a plane where free-range haggis roam the moors and dales. Yeah, no thanks. He was afraid to ask if any of her cute, pastel creations came from Elsewhere.

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved


21 thoughts on “Saturday Snippet: Port of Call

  1. “”Because fishing here requires being calm, quiet, patient, and sneaky. You only match one of those three. ”
    1 2 3 4 ^

    Why, yes, I do beta-read as I go. 😎

  2. My late MIL visited Scotland and noted the pub signs saying (among others) “No Campbells”. She went in anyway. (Family history says their branch of the clan departed to Ireland shortly after the, er, excitement.) Yes, she was odd, even by Odd standards.

    No clans in my side of the family, though Grampa Pete had some of the ancestral Viking traits.

  3. The sign “NO PEDDLERS OR CAMPBELLS” (yes, all caps) is under the registration countertop at an inn just outside Glencoe village. The valley felt like it was still under a metaphorical cloud, never mind the snow flurries at sea level in early May.

    The B&B we stayed in was just off the right of your photograph, IIRC. We had only one night, as Clan Argyll had their gathering that weekend. Nice reminder!

    Ben Nevis — sure, ascend with a mongoose! At 1500 ft, Rich begins chanting “Are we there yet? There yet?” and “Cold – cold – cold!” At 2000 ft, Rich goes hang-gliding back down to the park …

    • In the same vein, perhaps a hike through Glen Nevis isn’t wise. The views on the far side are really good, but there are places on the path where the hiker needs to take due care and attention – so Rich distracting Mike by running here, there and everywhere, and commenting that he’s either found or can’t find a worm wouldn’t exactly be helpful.

    • Glen Coe, either some houses in the village or up the glen, isolated under the Munros … a few places made me uneasy in daylight. The *least* of the Campbells’ misdeeds was breaking the ancient laws of hospitality, in winter. If – when – Rich fluffs, hisses, and goes on alert, I may wait until strong daylight to read further.

  4. Mike and Rich in those puts me in mind of the anxiety I felt going through shops and such in Scotland with two very energetic teenagers in tow and answering their questions about the signs saying No Campbell’s

  5. Nice snippet.

    Free range haggis? (Shudders) Was that watercolor something you saw on your trip to Scotland?

    (For the typo patrol) Lock Ness should, of course, be Loch Ness. I assume that auto-corrupt was being ‘helpful’ again.

    • Yes, and I giggled madly at both the painting and at the pastel “Hieland Koo” for sale. No, neither came home.

      It’s a long-running joke the Scots play on tourists to talk about the dangers of the wild haggis, and the havoc they can wreak if you accidentally surprise one . . .

  6. Should eight thousand years be 800? (Counting from 689 or 1200). Of course it _could_ be 8,000 but that doesn’t agree with the previous sentence.

    • If you look at the archaeology, it really is 8,000 years. The sign mentions that later on, but the fortification that has been found “only” goes back to the 800s or so. I’ll clarify that in the final version.

  7. Great transition snippet, presumably just before things get interesting again.

    ?? The bar pin might better be described starting with ‘A lace of silver and marcasite surrounded a jet oval with an large Gothic ‘L’ inlet into it,’ rather than using ‘jet’ twice in such close proximity. I am assuming tgat the pin is an openwork of silver, set with semi-precious stones.
    “A small, blunt elbow thumped his midsection.” Lucipheras’ description makes her sound lean, so wouldn’t it be a sharp elbow?
    The wild Haggis. Are these related to the Australian Drop Bears?
    Thanks. John

  8. When Rich was commenting on fishing, there were Four traits mentioned, not three. Am impatiently awaiting next book from Ms. Boykin to be released.

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