Spoiler warning! Don’t read these if you haven’t yet read The Sixth Labyrinth!
“You’re hurting my ears, child. Where have you been?”
“Walking by the bay.”
“I wish you’d come back before dark, Sophie.”
“Because of the selkie?”
Eleanor laughed. “Because I don’t want you getting lost, or falling and hurting yourself.”
“Auntie, listen to me!”
“I saw it!”
“The selkie! It came out of the water and turned into a man.”
“Ah, well, it must have been a selkie then. What did he look like?”
“He was old. His hair was white. Long, like a king’s. He was tall.”
“And what did he do?” Eleanor pushed her great-niece into a chair and brought her a slice of orange marmalade cake.
“He went over to that old blackhouse by the bay.”
“Aye. He was greeting, Auntie!”
“Was he? And what did you do?”
“I watched and didn’t make a sound.”
“Aye, thank you. Olivia Ramsay says it’s bad luck to go to the beach at the full moon.”
“That’s a well-worn tale meant to get children home before dark.”
“She said anyone who does it is cursed. She said only fools walk on Glenelg’s beach during the full moon.”
“Olivia Ramsay has an imagination.”
“She said the selkie is her da’s brother.”
“So Curran Ramsay has a selkie brother, does he?”
“She says the selkie cries for the human girl he loved and lost.”
“Is that so?”
“Auntie, I don’t want to go home.”
“You must. If you never went home, your mam and da would miss you and be sad.”
“Like the selkie?”
“Aye. Like the selkie.”
“Why is it sad? Did it really lose its true love?”
“How would I know?”
“You know everything.”
“Oh, child, I wish I did.”
“You do know, though. I can tell. You look sad, too.”
“I can pity those who suffer, even when they might deserve it.”
The first of September became the traditional date for holding an annual charity fundraiser at Kilgarry for the orphan project, as the weather was generally beautiful and the Michaelmas daisies were in bloom. It soon became the social event throughout the surrounding Highland counties, drawing Curran’s wealthy friends and associates from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and even as far as London. Every year the guest list grew, until Glenelg had to build a new inn to accommodate those who couldn’t fit into Kilgarry. Extra help was hired from Fort William and Mallaig to assist with cooking, cleaning, and serving; musicians were brought in for the evening balls and dances, and the manor house nearly burst its seams with so many people.
The first of September 1883 cooperated with warm sunlight and gentle breezes. Pavilions and tables were set up around Kilgarry’s pond, near the old oak. Guests wandered in and out of the gardens, enjoying lemonade, tea, and whisky, and there was a great deal of food for anyone who was hungry, as well as horseback riding, hunting, fishing, archery, and of course the ballroom was in great demand every night. The ferryman was kept busy transporting explorers to Skye for sightseeing, and for the most intrepid, there was mountain climbing. Interspersed with all the entertainment were the speeches, promises, and donations.
Morrigan, Eleanor, and Diorbhail sat together upon cushioned chairs beneath the oak, a table between them holding lemonade and cakes.
“You haven’t taken your eyes off Mr. Abernathy,” Morrigan said to Eleanor, only half teasing. “Are you going to marry him and leave us?”
With one of her signature snorts, she replied, “The most he’ll get from me is a night or two. He is rather handsome.”
“Eleanor!” Morrigan pretended shock then giggled with Diorbhail at the midwife’s brazen ways, but a moment later, she winced and rubbed the side of her stomach.
As usual, Eleanor didn’t miss it, and questioned with raised eyebrows.
“It’s fine,” Morrigan said. “Just my bones being stretched. I remember this from Olivia and Eirene.”
“It won’t be long now,” said Diorbhail. “We’ll have another wee lass to spoil.”
“I do think Curran might want a son. Can you arrange that?”
“No,” Diorbhail said with a wide smile. “You’ll only ever have girls. Girls and more girls. If you were having all the babies, the world would die out for lack of boys.”
At that moment wee Seaghan ran up to them, nearly falling as he hadn’t quite mastered running yet, and placed his fists on Morrigan’s knees. His right hand was stuffed with daisies, and he turned up his face, seeking approval.
“Are these for me?” she asked, taking them.
He nodded. She picked him up and placed him on her lap. “You’re a grand lad,” she said, kissing his cheek, and he nestled in as best he could against her.
To think what might have become of him, if he hadn’t been found two years ago in that awful place in London, barely six weeks old, sold by his father. Now he lived at Kilgarry, and had twenty other orphans for playmates, along with the local children, and since he’d had no name, he was called Seaghan in honor of Morrigan’s father, even though hearing it made her suffer his loss all over again.
Seaghan’s body was found, stuffed under a pile of rocks, a week after the events on Mingulay. Someone had murdered him with a knife, and a local man went missing right after, but he was never found, and the investigation languished. Right when Morrigan learned she had a true father, he was taken from her; not being able to speak to him as his child remained an unrelenting anguish and regret.
Soon Sophie joined them. Eleanor’s great-niece was a little lady, at ten. She and Olivia were the same age and the best of friends, though very different, with Olivia being a wild boyish child who, more often than not, could be found in the branches of the oak rather than sitting demurely beneath it. Sophie came to Glenelg every summer at her own insistence to stay with her aunt. She never wanted to go home to Edinburgh, though she loved her mother and father, and often wept for missing them. Her dream of a perfect world was one in which her papa agreed to move to Glenelg.
She perched on the edge of a chair and sipped tea.
“What is it?” Eleanor asked, in her usual perceptive way.
The girl didn’t answer immediately, but pursed her lips and frowned.
“Well?” Eleanor pressed.
“Livvy’s telling that story again,” the child said in her soft Edinburgh brogue.
“Which one?” Morrigan asked. Olivia loved making up tales. She was turning into Kilgarry’s own seanchaidh.
Sophie would only say that she wasn’t supposed to tell, but she hated the story because Livvy always refused to give her a part in it.
“Where have those lasses gone off to?” Diorbhail asked then. “I haven’t seen any of them in an hour.”
It was true. There was no sign of the local girls. “We’d best find them,” Morrigan said, “before they get up to mischief, if they haven’t already.”
Sophie wanted to stay, have cake, and admire the pretty dresses, so the three cronies left Seaghan with her and went off in search of the missing girls. They weren’t at the pond, nor the walled garden, or the gazebo. Guests stopped them to chat and ask after Morrigan’s health as she neared her ninth month of pregnancy, hampering their search. Lily found them and reported happily that Sir John Beechforth had promised to donate a building in Soho that had been in his family, unused, for years. She whispered that the old sot hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her bosoms, so she credited them for the prize.
Eventually, the three took note of a striped pavilion set some distance away from the others, and Diorbhail remembered that Olivia had asked Kyle and Logan to erect it for her and her friends.
They couldn’t see the children as they walked up, but heard a flurry of female chatter, and paused outside the pavilion to listen.
“How many sisters do you have?”
Morrigan recognized the voice of Rachel’s daughter, Jean.
“I don’t know,” she heard Olivia reply. “Lots.”
“Am I there?” This was asked by Eirene, Olivia’s younger sister.
“Of course you’re there,” Olivia said impatiently. “I told you already. The new sister will be there too. All my sisters will be there, all, from the first.”
“But how, if they’re dead?” This was Jean again. Though she was only nine months older than Olivia, she often expressed disdain for what she called the younger girl’s silliness.
Olivia huffed. “The lady says they’ll come back to life and we’ll be together.”
“People don’t come back to life,” Jean said.
“My sisters will. The lady promised.”
“How can they be your sisters? Your mam’s only had the two of you.”
“I want to dream of my other sisters!” Eirene said plaintively.
“Maybe you’re not old enough,” Olivia said. “I only started having the dream two months ago.”
“Tell us their names again,” Jean asked. She sounded disbelieving, like she thought she might catch Olivia in a mistake and prove the tale was make-believe.
Olivia gave a sigh and Morrigan heard a whimper, probably from Violet’s baby, Grace. Olivia loved that child, and was always running off with her.
As she began to speak, a large eagle landed on a nearby rowan branch. It made no sound but cocked its head and leveled the women with a fierce stare.
“There’s Romy and Claire and Evie. There’s… oh aye, Rosabel. And the ones with the unco names— Xanthe and Pasithea. And Iphiboë. And Alecto. And the new baby. The lady said her name will be Willow.”
Morrigan had sagged against Diorbhail as Olivia spoke the first three names. Her legs felt too weak to support her.
“Alecto,” Diorbhail whispered.
Morrigan took in a breath and straightened. The three women regarded each other, their eyes shining, and reached out, placing their hands on each other’s shoulders, creating a perfect circle.
The jeweler frowned upon seeing the items. He spent a long time studying them with his magnifier, turning them over repeatedly.
“What is it, Philip?” Curran finally asked. “Are they sham? Stolen?”
“No, Mr. Ramsay. Well, I know nothing about any theft. I do not believe they are imitation. Excuse me, sir.”
He went through a curtain into the back and soon returned with another man, who also inspected the knife and necklace carefully.
They spoke together in low, rapid Greek. Curran understood only a few words, having lost most of the Greek he’d learned at university.
“Will one of you tell me what is so interesting?” he interrupted.
The two men exchanged glances. Philip, whose surname, Curran suddenly remembered, was Christopoulos, said, “I believe these are ancient, truly ancient, but I would like the opinion of an expert. There is a fellow connected to the new museum in Athens, the National Archaeological Museum. With your permission, I would like to take these items there for him to examine.”
“You want to take them to Athens? I don’t know. They belong to my wife. It took her years to agree to this appraisal.”
The men exchanged another glance.
“You aren’t telling me everything,” Curran said.
“How did she acquire these pieces, may I ask?”
“They were gifts.”
“From a collector, perhaps?”
“No. Just a man.”
Christopoulos stared at him, frowning deeply.
“They are stolen. Is that what you are not saying?”
“No, no, Mr. Ramsay. Please forgive me. It is odd, of course, how pieces of such antiquity could spend years in… your wife’s possession? These should be in a museum.”
“And you have now suggested that twice. What guarantee do I have, Philip, that they will be returned if you take them to Athens?”
The door at the front of the shop opened just then and Morrigan came in, flanked by Diorbhail.
“There you are.” Curran held out his hand.
She came forward, clasping his hand and smiling at the two men behind the counter. “We’re finished with our errands,” she said, and perused the knife and necklace. “Well? Is there a verdict?”
“Not really. These men want to take your antiquities to Athens.”
Morrigan did not react as he’d thought she would. She blinked, but her smile didn’t falter. “They are wonderful, aren’t they?” she said.
“Yes, Lady Eilginn,” Philip said. “In fact, they are astonishing.”
The other man came out from behind the counter. “I am Spiro Michelakis, Mrs. Ramsay,” he said. Philip sounded like a native Londoner, but Spiro’s Greek accent was pronounced.
She held out her hand and he took it briefly. “May I tell you about our new museum in Athens?” he asked.
“There’s a new museum? I would be very interested,” she replied, and the two walked over to another counter, where he brought out several cases as he spoke to her.
“Mr. Ramsay, sir,” Philip said, “Greece has a moral right to her artifacts.”
“You are certain these are Greek.”
“The meander on the necklace suggests it might be Cretan. There have been other items found there with this pattern.”
“Does that mean something to you, Mr. Ramsay?”
“How was the knife broken?”
“It was dropped. I suppose that hurts its value.”
“I suspect nothing could harm the value of these pieces.” He picked up the knife, very carefully, and ran his thumb over the sheared-off edge. “Obsidian,” he murmured. “The hilt is ivory.”
“My wife believes the figure is Athene.”
“Oh yes, no doubt of it. The owl and the aegis tell us this.” His eyes filled with tears.
“Philip?” Curran said. “What have I done?”
“Oh, sir, it’s just that… look here. You can see the tool marks. I feel certain I am holding something in my hands that was created thousands of years ago, in my country, by men just like me, perhaps. Artisans. I feel them, you see, in my flesh. I feel I am looking through their eyes as they carve this image. I can almost smell their forge fires.”
Curran didn’t know what to say. It was odd, for he too sometimes saw flashes of things when he held the necklace and the knife.
“Is your wife knowledgeable about our history?” Philip asked.
“Very much so.”
Morrigan returned to his side. “Curran, I have an idea. You know how Livvy has always wanted to see an excavation. Let’s gather up the weans and go with these gentlemen to Athens and see their museum for ourselves.”
“We can take the lasses to see Schliemann’s Troy and his other excavations, at Mycenae, and Tiryns.”
“I would be honored to escort you to Crete,” Spiro said as he joined them. “Sixteen years ago, part of a building was dug up beneath a mound there, and many of our antiquarians believe this is the actual palace of Knossos— the legendary place named in Homer’s Odyssey! And as I was just telling your wife, sir, I am most intrigued by the pattern on your necklace, for it matches the pattern on coins that have been discovered nearby.”
Morrigan’s excitement was clear to see, as was Diorbhail’s. Curran felt excitement rise inside him as well, almost as though he was contemplating going home.
His wife was looking at him in that way she had, communicating without words.
He realized he was nodding.
So be it. They would embark on a new pilgrimage— this time with their children.