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Return to Rhonan: Chapters 9 & 10

Mark your diary, because every Monday and Thursday, I will post two chapters of my exciting historical paranormal romance novel, Return to Rhonan (that’s four chapters each week). Set mainly in the Scottish Highlands, the reader will find much to enjoy on this mysterious well researched journey.

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!


Return to Rhonan: Chapters 9 & 10

Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved

Chapter 9

Duncan’s heart was heavy. He felt like giving up the inheritance; of departing for the Jamaican Plantations bequeathed to him by his late grandfather. At least he and Muriall could marry without condemnation from the Ton. But he knew he had to stay, had to do something. Kelping was a dangerous trade, cutting the seaweed under the rocks, in waist-high water. Because of the distance from their crofts, the fathers and sons sheltered in tarpaulin tents on the beach. Or, they slept in wet clothes out in the open, suffering all manner of ills and often death. However, he could ensure they had enough to eat and adequate shelter inland.  Duncan hurried past the stables to the small group waiting at the Orangery. Except for the glow of lanterns, it was almost pitch black. He nodded to the second footman and groom already seated while the kennel man sat in the back with Muriall and his sister, Meg.  As they set off into the night, shadows darkened around the old stables.

Muriall shook her head; she had hardly slept the night before, tossing and turning, she schemed how she could procure more victuals for the peasants. The Duke had forbidden them to raid the larders for food, but stealthily with the aid of the servants, they managed to pile the cart high with fresh food, clothes, and bedding. 

The small cavalcade moved forward with Duncan’s youngest brother Guy, riding behind, while half a dozen deerhounds ran ahead. After traveling a mile or so, the thatch of the huts loomed dark against the night sky. Wordlessly, they split up into pairs, each going to different shelters.  Muriall was glad of her breeches, as she walked through the mud towards the dwelling.  

Only a small peat fire lit the gloomy interior. Muriall’s friends of childhood, Robert and Alice, rose to their feet. At the same time, six children, their skeletal bodies covered with rags, crouched around the peat fire. Hastily, Muriall took off the linen cover, showing them the basket of fresh food. Kneeling, she spread a red and white check cloth on the floor, laying out slices of mutton, ham and freshly churned butter. 

After wiping their small hands, Muriall gave them white rolls, which they pushed into their mouths, their eyes, and cheeks bulging as they chewed.

Pulling clothes from the sack, warm flannel shirts for the little boys and dresses for the girls, she said, “The ladies of the district are sewing as fast as they can.”

Turning to Robert, her childhood playmate, she handed him a pair of warm cloth trousers with a shabby coat. To Alice, she gave a cotton chemise and a wool dress.  Muriall tried to cheer her, saying the blue would suit her eyes and hair – hair once so beautiful, falling in sun-kissed waves down her back, now a dirty blonde and dull.

 It was then she felt small arms creep around her neck, a soft kiss on her cheek. Turning her head, Muriall looked into the sea-green eyes of little Bonny, only four years old grinning as she chewed on some ham.  Slipping on a flannel chemise over the child’s mud-caked body, followed by a pink flannel dress, she tried not to wince as she felt the child’s bones.

Little Patrick, who would soon be six, squealed, ‘Trousers  Mammy, and would you believe it, socks for me feet.’

Speaking in low tones, Alice asked if they had any news.  Were they to be evicted or were they to be allowed to stay on their tiny farm. It was a hard patch of land, but on it, they managed to grow corn, raise chickens, and sustain a cow.  Lowering her eyes, Muriall shook her head. ‘We are still arguing Alice, but it is not good news. It seems the Duke is intent on clearing the land, all the land for the sheep.  The Duke of Glennard opposes his view and intends to keep his tenant farmers, but here on Rhonan, I am afraid it is dire news.’

Alice gave a little cry holding her fists to her head while Robert drew her close into his arms as if to shield her from the coming disaster. 

Alice wailed, ‘This cottage has been in my family for over two hundred years, it is all I know, Muriall – all I know. We can barely scratch a living, but it is ours even though the rent is high.’ 

Muriall clung to them both, as Alice put her head on her husband’s chest and sobbed. This small cottage had been a place of childhood joy, They’d chased each other through the heather; lain sprawled on the baked earth floor listening to stories from Alice’s father. 

Alice, in a strangled voice, said, ‘Where – where will we go?’ So many have starved there, others drowned in the wild waves cutting the kelp.  The bairns are so little but cut the kelp they must. Oh dear God save us.’

Muriall whispered. ‘It is the coast – Duncan fought hard, but he lost Alice – he lost.  However, don’t despair; it is not far from us. We will make sure you have food, and we will help you build a cottage.  I promise you, Alice, we will not forsake you.’

Robert lifted his head, looking at the children, as he said, ‘They have not broken us, and they think they have broken the clans, destroyed our Chieftains, but the spirit is still there.  Tis a different world we had Muriall before Culloden, a world of sharing,  compassion, and love.  The land belonged equally to all the clan from the eldest to the youngest. The Chieftain, too, shared all.  These terrible deeds would not have happened in the days of the clan. It was a hard life, but the clans lived for thousands of years.   We ate together we starved together, each a brother, a sister.   A different world Muriall – lost in the hardened hearts of these greedy landlords. 

Muriall wiped her eyes and lifted her head, ’But another world will come to be Robbie, a world that will not forget what happened to the brave Highlanders.  They will mourn Robbie – somehow in my heart, I know that. And those that write of these days will weep for us even though we are in our graves.


Chapter 10

Present Day
Thornton Castle, Sussex, England.

Dinah gazed up at the Thornton castle, looming overhead. No wonder Jessie and Pete had been so excited about it when they last visited England.  The castle invited the macabre, with grey stone walls soaring through darkening clouds, the moon racing over turrets jutting black against the twilight sky. It was a medium’s dream, which would suit Jess. Its history went right through to the dark ages, with a record of suicide leaps, bartered brides, walled up monks, and the imprisonment of traitors in the cellars. 

 Tickets for the legendary Ghost Tours sold out each weekend.  Luckily, Jessie had already ordered them before leaving America. Climbing the stone steps leading to massive double oak doors, Dinah slipped, her arms flailing only to feel strong arms catch her, holding her tight.  She looked up into slate grey eyes and even white teeth, the freckles over the bridge of his nose complimenting the shock of sandy hair. As he lifted her quite effortlessly to her feet, she found him to be inches taller than her own five feet ten inches, which was gratifying. 

 ‘Hey there, you okay?’  

 She found the accent intriguing, a soft burr so different from the sharper London accent.  ‘Uh, yes, thank you. Just, my ankle twisted, I think. ’ 

Dinah’s stomach sank as a young woman ran up to them. Slender with pale blond hair, she resembled a pre-Raphaelite nymph coming just up to the guy’s shoulder. Blast, he was attached.  ‘George, everything all right?’ 

‘Yeah, just helping this young lady here.’ Turning to Dinah, he said, ‘Can you stand?’

Very much aware of his hand on her waist, she said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’

The young woman exclaimed, ‘Oh, you’ve cut your leg, let me have a look.’  Delving into the depths of a bag the size of a haversack, she took out a packet of tissues.  Dabbing at the wound, she said, ‘Seems okay, just a surface scratch wound, but I’ll put some TCP on.’  Looking up, she grinned, ‘I’m a teacher, so I always carry first aid equipment with me. By the way, I’m Lucy Ames, and this gallant rescuer is my brother, George.’

Dinah grinned inwardly, so the gorgeous hunk was unattached. However, she winced as Lucy applied the TCP, only to feel George’s hand tighten around her waist, his hand massaging her shoulder.  To her surprise, she found it more than pleasant.  ‘Err I’m Dinah Shibley – I‘m over here with my friend Jess.  We’re American.

‘Lucy smiled. ‘What part of America are you from?’

‘Hum – New York.’ She’d been asked that question a thousand times since they hit England three weeks ago. 

Looking up at her brother, Lucy said, ‘I think you can unhand the lady now George.’

George found himself flushing, ’Huh, oh yes.  Sorry, just making sure you were okay.’

‘Yes, thank you – must’ve slipped somehow.’

George looked down at the killer stiletto heels and decided not to comment. Great ankles, like a racehorse. He turned to the sound of a female voice calling out,

‘Hey, Dinah – goodness you okay?’

Dinah gave a wry grin.  ‘No don’t say it – ‘

 Jessie sided, ‘I told you to wear flats. But, never mind as long as you’re alright.’ 

 ‘Huh, let me introduce George and his sister Lucy Ames. Err look; I think the guide is coming. ’     

 The guide to Thornton Castle, a tall, slender woman with golden hair in braids to her waist, emulated the medieval style of dress complete with a wimple, veil, and a long trailing dress of deep purple with tapering sleeves.

Waving an elegant hand, she guided them down the stone steps.  ‘This is home to the present Baron of Thornton. It was renovated in the fifteenth century from a ruin dating back to nine hundred and something.  Now, if you’ll follow me.’

She swept past gargoyles sprouting from the massive arc over the high oak doors. In the flickering torchlight, the grotesque stone statues appeared to leer with empty socket eyes glinting as the moon bounced off cracks and fissures, their hanging tongues glistening with the mist. 

On entering a cavernous hall, the guide smiled. ‘Now ladies and gentlemen, I don’t want any of you wandering off.  There are numerous corridors, cellars, secret passages, and I would hate you to be lost in the dark. As you see, only candles light the castle. We do have electricity, of course, but the candlelight gives you an appreciation of the atmosphere of medieval living.  You do have your torches should you lose your way.’  A couple of people automatically switched on their pencil torches supplied at the beginning of the tour.  ‘This will give you an idea of how people lived for centuries in this magnificent castle.

Holding up a lamp, she continued. ‘Now you see before you the stuffed heads of various animals hunted by the barons throughout the ages.  Here, we have a giant stag, over there you will see a tiger and a lion.  The Barons loved to travel far and wide – guests of the   Indian Princes, Sultans, and the Prussian Court.  However, let me show you this. She waved towards a glass cabinet in which stood a cadaver in Elizabethan dress. The guide said in hushed tones.  ‘I would warn you that this particular figure is known to haunt the castle so stick together, don’t go wandering off on your own.’

Resuming her lecture, she shone her torch into another corner. A few of the group gasped as the grey leathery body of a stuffed crocodile appeared, the eyes ancient with the coldness of death.   ‘The barons were often fearless and this, as you see, is over fifteen foot long. Besides the animals, the castle has a coterie of ghosts, which we may encounter tonight, so stay close.’

As they made their way through the baronial hall, Dinah whispered to Lucy, ‘Jessie’s a psychic artist. Besides her job, she paints the spirits.’

Lucy shivered visibly. ‘So has she picked up anything yet?’

Dinah shook her head. ‘She’ll let us know if she does.’

They made their way up the main staircase through numerous dark and draughty rooms. The guide talked of various sightings of the inevitable lady in white, the knight clanking his chains, the moaning of the monk walled up, the bedroom of the bartered bride. The latter threw herself from the window, plunging fifty feet to her death.

On the second floor, before they reached the dreaded battlements, the four of them explored one of the small tower rooms. Dinah, by now, hobbled on her stilettos. Seeing her wince and rick her ankle, Jess said, ‘Take them off Dinah, you’ll feel better.’

As Dinah kicked off her shoes, Jessie raised her hand, uttering a low warning, ‘Ssh.’ 

Dinah stiffened. ‘What is it?’

Jessie whispered. ‘Can’t you smell it, decayed roses and something else – feces?’

George gasped behind. ‘God, it’s foul.’

Lucy grasping hold of George’s arm, whispered, ‘I can’t smell anything.’

Jess stood very still.  ‘In the corner – look, the shadows – is that the corpse – the one in

the cabinet?’

Dinah’s heart now thudded. ‘You’re frightening me, Jess.’

‘It can’t harm you.  If you want to leave – go quietly or if you stay blow out your candles now.’

 George looked down at Dinah, who blew out the candles.   The darkness seemed heavy, the odor stronger, cloying, cloaking them in fear, the only relief being a spear of light from one of the arrow slits in the stone wall.  The shadow now became hazy as spirals of soft light rose from the floor, forming a figure.  Lucy shrieked, running from the room.  George jumped, then stood stock still mesmerized, while Dinah caught her breath.  A circle of light wafted over the top of the figure – a face, old, almost scowling.

Jessie felt a tingle of terror creep up her spine. It was so different from drawing spirit figures in a brightly lit church.  She stepped back, her legs trembling.  As she did so, George turned and grasping Dinah’s arm ran from the small round room.  The figure suddenly glided forward. Jessie’s breath froze in her throat. She tried not to scream as she sprinted from the menace, then stumbled. Regaining her balance, she ran, not even waiting to slam the door behind her.

They sat gasping on the stairs as George gave a strangled laugh.  ‘Come on; I’ve had enough; let’s find a drink.’

***

 George sat back luxuriating in the mellowed light of an old Tudor pub, the oak beams above them blackened with centuries of tobacco and open fires.  George lifted his pint of beer in salute.  ‘Here’s to whatever that apparition was.’

 Leaning close to him, Dinah clinked glasses. ‘So you think it was an apparition then?’

George looked appreciatively at the violet shade of her cleavage.  The pub light accentuated the bronze highlights in her dark hair rolling in fat ringlets over her shoulders and down her breasts. ‘Well, I’ll leave that to the expert. But, I was terrified, I can tell you.’ 

Jess frowned. ‘I wouldn’t call myself an expert.  I draw spirit figures, but I have never seen one. I’d die of fright if I did.’

Lucy sipped at her Spritzer. ‘So, where are you staying?’

‘Oh, it’s a cute little town along the coast from here, Brighton.’

George laughed. ‘Little? You should visit Bognor Regis, that’s where we come from.’

Jess laughed.  ‘I’ve heard of that, King George – when he knew he had to go there to convalesce again, swore.’

‘His last words were ‘Bugger Bognor.’  They won’t let us forget it.’

Lucy said, “We’d ask you to stay, but we’re off to Scotland in three  weeks.’ 

Dinah put her drink down.  ‘Scotland?  Whereabouts?’

George answered for Lucy, ’The North-West, Lucy and I have a friend up there – just opening a hotel with his brother.  He taught at the same school as us but then inherited this manor house and ruined castle along with a few million.’

Lucy said, ‘We’re teaching over there for the summer season – English Literature and Poetry.  I’m the Eng Lit’, George is the poetry.’

George fixed his eyes on Dinah. ‘“Why don’t you come over?  The Highlands are magnificent – towering mountains, lochs, ruined castles, ancient monasteries, convents– a wealth of history. You’d love it. Meanwhile, let us show you around here. There are some historical spots around here.’ Pausing, he gazed directly at Dinah, ‘We can get to know each other better.’

Dinah flushed, feeling her stomach ripple. He was one gorgeous hunk.


Copyright.

No part of this book may be stored, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express permission of the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters

All rights reserved


Other Chapters

Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:

All Available Chapters!

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