It was a Sunday evening and the light was still gently disappearing when the street lights flicked on. This was a small village not far from Hawick in the lowlands north of the border. There was a man rushing along the street heading for the hotel at the top of the small incline. The street was deserted of people because the cold rain was falling and they were possibly at home near their warm fires.
The young man was in his early twenties and smartly dressed. On reaching the hotel he looked up at the squeaking sign as it swung from side to side in the fierce wind that was only gusting. It made the night feel that much colder and the young man pulled his collar on his thick coat up, but achieving no added warmth just the knowledge that he had tried. He stepped through the main door into the foyer before he passed the reception desk. “Hello, Thomas,” the receptionist greeted.”
“Hello, Joan, is my friend here yet?”
“Yes he is in the restaurant, and I have placed him at your table. The dinner will be served shortly, but the bar is already open.”
Thomas made his way to the dining hall and sat down opposite his friend. He ordered a drink from the waitress and looked across the table at his friend. “So what forced you to come to Scotland on a terrible day like it has been, or was it you that brought the rain with you, David?”
David looked at the empty restaurant and said in a quiet voice, “My spotter woke me up early this morning and told me of a place where he has to check the gas meter. An old woman that lives alone let him through the door and the place is full of antique Crown Derby. He couldn’t snoop about too much but he saw her purse on the coffee table when he was talking to her. He had checked her meter earlier, and it was before he left when he saw the purse. It was bulging with notes of all kinds, and he believes she is loaded.”
“You know I don’t work old ladies pads. There is always a chance they hear or glimpse you and put up a fight. The last thing I want on my conscience is a battered old Lady.”
“Relax, Thomas. I have been near the house and checked it out.”
“Where is this house, David?”
“It’s in the next village, and I have the address”
“Who lives in this house with the woman, David?”
“There is only the old woman that is as deaf as a doornail. At the time of night we will do the place I expect her to be asleep or resting. My spotter accidently saw her collect three weeks pension Friday morning at the post office. These old people have many things lying about that are valuable, so you search the other rooms and I will find her purse.”
The waitress brought out the meals, and the conversation changed just before the other hotel guests entered the restaurant. Thomas took a sip of his beer and said, “You look tired, David, you need to get more sleep there are bags under your eyes.”
“Don’t even go there. I have been going to bed but my sleep is being disturbed by the same nightmare.”
“I am in this dungeon, and because of the height of the ceiling I think it is some sort of castle. I find myself in a dark cell and taken in front of a woman. She spouts a lot of shit at me that passes through my head because of my usual inebriated state earlier. The thing is that because of the alcohol it has an unusual affect on me that only allows me a light sleep.”
“It is because of the light sleep why I have been able to force my eyes open and leave the nightmare. The other thing is that because of that same alcohol I cannot remember a thing she said to me. For some reason I remembered looking at the egg timer that I bought for my boiled eggs. That was sure one hell of a mixed up nightmare, and I think they were all brought on by consuming too much of the amber nectar. I was thinking that we might do the job tomorrow.”
The wind was strong in the Scottish highlands where some of the loose heather was being blown about. The clouds like small tufts of cotton wool were racing over the blue sky being pushed by the wind. It would soon be winter when the snow arrived, and it was then the blizzards cut the tops of the hills off to all mankind. That is for all except for the bravest and most hardened. There were giant shards of rock sticking up on the sides and tops of the hills that were naked of vegetation. Even the shards served a purpose in the life of Mother Nature.
On this particular part of the highlands there were also dips and small valleys, and it was there where the sheep and other small wild animals went to hide from the fierce north wind. This was lonely country that only the shepherds in the small crofts coped with on a daily basis. Apart from the wind there was a silence broken only by the baying of sheep carried on that same wind. Now and again the sound of the golden eagle crying out high above where she soared just below the blanket of higher cloud.
There were few birds flying in this wind as they were too frightened of not being able to return to their nest. Even the grouse, pheasant, and partridge were not lifting their head above the heather thistles and gorse that littered the same hills. The areas where these birds and undergrowth grew and nested were on the southern sides of the shards of rock. The lee of these shards protected their light bodies from being blown to the lower hills too early before the winter snow arrived.
Further below there was a croft that was the cottage belonging to the only shepherd for many miles in any direction. It was hidden from the winds in a small valley that had a thin wisp of smoke rising from the small chimney. The valley was only just big enough for the cottage to sit there in comfort. There was only one person living in the cottage and it was Peter the Sheppard, and he was a young eighteen year old.
There was a small stream that ran to the right of the cottage, and it was because of the constant trickle of water running off the higher hills why the stream never stopped even when the snow and frost arrived. The stream would eventually join a river further down in the hills. The bigger river ended where it cascaded over the edge of a cliff as a waterfall into the loch in the wide valley.
On top of the hill opposite the cottage and silhouetted on the skyline was a mansion that was huge building made of grey and pink stone. It was always a noisy place during the day because there were always lots of rooks circling the towers. The wind never bothered them because at night they retreated in through the thin windows to nest. Peter the boy that lived in the cottage walked by the house one day, and the noises stopped until he had moved on. However, it was something he had not realized nor had his mind registered until he was a long way from the mansion.
There were two wrought iron gates that were locked that sat back inside one of the giant walls. There were stone eagles on top of every buttress that helped hold the wall up, and each of the statues was looking down and along the walls. The statues looked out of place with the rest of the building as they looked newer than the rest of the grey stone. Although there was no mistaking the eagles were made of stone they looked so very much alive. The other thing about them was the eyes of these stone eagles gave him the impression they were looking deep into his soul.
Even strangest was the underlying fact that Peter could not remember how long the house had been there. It was as if it had appeared there a long time ago, but in the back of his mind knew that it had always been there. It might be a factor that because he was so familiar with it being there that he had not taken enough time to look at it closely.
There were sheep scattered over the hills grazing like white dots against the green hills. They had their winter coats on as the winter months were only a few weeks away. It was that time of year when Peter would gather all the sheep together before they were taken down to the lower hills. lower down there was better grazing and few harsh winds during the winter.
Peter was eighteen and had lived in the cottage as long as he could remember. His mother and father had died during one of the bad winters when he was sixteen. He worked as a shepherd for the owner of the sheep, but he found that it was a very lonely job.
Peter walked out of the cottage and felt the biting wind and turned to face it. He closed his eyes while he held his arms open to allow the wind to caress the whole of his body. When he opened his eyes he was looking upwards where high above him was an eagle soaring just below the clouds. The eagle looked as though it had stopped because it was looking head on into the wind.
Then unexpectedly the eagle dropped like a stone but was looking as though it was heading straight for him. Knowing that eagles never attacked humans peter never moved from his position with his arms outstretched. The eagle was about fifty feet away from him when its wings opened and glided on the wind over his head. The eagle was so close that he heard the feathers rustling as it missed his head by a few feet. As the eagle turned and climbed in the wind Peter laughed out loud.
He had seen this eagle many times but that was the closest that he had ever been to it. He made sure that the door to the cottage was closed and then walked up the hill towards the sheep. When he stepped out of the tiny valley he looked up but the eagle had already disappeared.
He walked to where he could see the sheep that had gathered all together in a small flock. It was as if they also knew that it was the time of the year that they would be going down the hills to lower ground. Peter would take them after walking about the hills for the rest of the day fetching the strays to the flock.
He left the flock grazing as he knew they would not be moving from where they were, and walked over to the next hill. He knew there would be many hills to climb that day before he would have ninety percent of the sheep together.
It was late when he walked back to the cottage and the light was falling behind the hill across the loch. He walked inside and lit the gas light then put some large wooden blocks onto the fire that only had tiny embers left alight. The farmer would be up with the tractor in the morning with another trailer load of wood to keep him warm throughout the winter. He would then take the sheep back down with him, and that would be the last Peter would see of him until the supplies were fetched up in a week’s time.
Peter had been born with a rare blood disease and the chances of him lasting long in life were nonexistent. It never bothered him to the point he was paranoid but he thought about it now and again. He never suffered from any other ailments and apart from that fact he was in good health.
Tomorrow he would be going down to the village as he always did once a month. He never stayed there long because the villagers treated him as a freak. It was because he was young and he lived on the highlands by himself. Not many of the village people would speak to him and when he said anything to them they turned the other way as if he had not spoken. The shop keepers had no choice but to speak to him, but even they all concluded their business fast. The only one that was indifferent to him was the old lady in the sweet shop.
Peter sat up until late reading and after locking the door went to bed. Because of his work load his eyes closed as soon as his head touched the pillow. Like most nights Peter started to dream but the dream that he was dreaming now was unlike any other he had ever had.
There was a clattering of a large lock being opened and a voice saying, “Please no more.” Then silence until he heard the walking of feet on the stone floor that he had just been walking. Two men wearing black coats that had tails and while starched shirts walked into the room. Between them was a young boy many years younger than Peter, he was dressed in pyjamas and had shackles on his ankles with a chain attaching them together.
“Please no more, why are you doing this to me?”
The woman in a softer voice said. “It is because you have been found guilty of your crimes and this is the punishment allotted to you. This is your warning to change your ways or be damned forever and sent to the lower place. You avoided coming here yesterday but sooner or later you all realize that you cannot escape from me.”
“I have told you many times that I have done no crimes but you will not listen.”
“No Raymond, you are wrong. I always listen but you are not saying the things that I wish to hear, and until you do you will always return here to my domain.”
“What must I say for you to stop these nightmares? I am tired and want to sleep.”
“All that you have to do is tell the truth and learn from your mistakes.” By the time the woman had stopped talking Raymond was locked in a chair behind a desk.
“Hand me my tools for tonight’s teaching.”
Peter watched as a man with a shock of yellowy hair in the centre of his black hair walked over to her with a book and pen. Taking them from his hand Peter saw her place them on Raymond’s desk and although Peter could see Raymond in tears the woman showed him no mercy. “You know what you have to write, one-thousand times.”
“Is the reason I am here because I have been wicked to my parents?”
The woman pointed at the book and pen and it disappeared.
“So you have found the key to your release, but I warn you Raymond it is only the key to your release. Your soul is still in the hands of the lord until you show the world that you have learnt your lesson. There are no second chances because unless you change your ways, the next time you will see the likes of me will be when I leave you at a much darker place of residence.”
Then as Peter watched Raymond disappeared. The woman dismissed her servant before she said, “Peter.” On the sound of his name Peter started to tremble a little. “There is no reason to fear me, Peter, because that which has happened to Raymond will never happen to you. You have done well and come when I have called now you must rest.”
The light was filtering through the window and Peter opened his eyes. He remembered the dream and started to ponder on what it was about. He remembered his mother had always told him that dreams always had a meaning for the person asleep. The woman knew his name, but then she would do because it was his dream. He never saw her face but then again did it matter? He was only sure that it was a woman because of the shoes that she wore. Without looking she had known he had followed her and had been watching what was going on. If this did have a meaning then why had she not shown her face and given him some sort of clue as to who she was?
Peter slipped from the bed and dressed before he did his ablutions. He walked into the only other room in the cottage and that was the kitchen. He looked at the clock and realised that it would soon be time for farmer to bring the wood up and take the flock back with him. The farmer always brought several men with him to shepherd the flock down to the farm below. For the next week Peter would be walking the hills rounding up the sheep that had missed the first flock and the farmer would take them back when he brought up his supplies.
The wind was still high when Peter walked outside and he automatically looked up. There flying high above him was the eagle with her wings outstretched soaring round in circles. Why Peter thought the eagle was a female he had no idea, but felt that he was correct in his assumption. He believed the wind was more powerful this morning, and again he stretched his arms out and caressed the wind. His back was arched with the force of the wind and he closed his eyes thinking that he was flying like the eagle.
When his eyes opened the eagle closed her wings and dived, and once more it was in his direction. She was about fifty meters out and the same high when her giant wings opened. Again she passed over his head as he looked up at her belly. She was inches away and when he turned she was on her way back up giving a cry as she flew higher. As she did so Peter laughed out loud then shouting, “Go, go, you beautiful bird.”
It was not long after that when he saw the tractor coming over the brow of the hill. It stopped just outside the cottage and without the men being told they unloaded the wood for his winter fires. There was always more than enough just in case there were problems getting back. It was pointless trying to talk to the three men because they were the same as the people in the village. He had noted on several occasions that they had avoided looking at him in case he spoke to them.
The farmer was looking across at the mansion on the hill when Peter walked up to him. “Who lives in that mansion, Sir?”
The farmer looked around at Peter, “To be honest, laddie, I am not quite sure. I have been told that it is a person that is a Lady of some kind.”
“How long has that mansion house been there?”
“A very long time,” but Peter could see by the expression on the farmers face that he was having reservations on his answer.
“Hamish, how long has that mansion on the hill been there?”
One of the men looked about and the smile left his face, “As long as I can remember, Sir.” It was at that point that the other two men looked at the mansion, when they turned back to the task of unloading the wood their actions were faster.
“I have placed your wages in the bank account that you mother started for you, and there is also the credit in the shops you use. I will go and pay the bills as I do and take it out of your wages before you get paid again.”
The farmer then walked back to his tractor while the farm hands walked off with the sheep. It was a while before they all disappeared over the hill once more. Peter locked the cottage and walked off to start a search of the hills for lost sheep.
The men were talking to each other on the way down as they followed the tractor. “I’m telling you, Hamish, there is something strange about that boy.”
“Don’t be silly I see nothing wrong with him. Okay he lives up here by himself that does not mean there is something wrong with him. I knew his mother and father and they were very nice people, and he looks like his father.”
“If you say he is ok, Hamish, then why don’t you talk to him?”
“Well to be honest I have had no need to talk to him, and I cannot remember the time when he has spoken to me.”
Hamish was the oldest of the three men and the foreman as the other two were not a lot older than Peter. Tom and William carried on talking to each other while Hamish stepped to the front of the flock now that the tractor was out of sight.
Peter walked up higher onto the hill and looked over to the mansion and noticed the rooks flying about the walls. He knew that it was mid morning as this took place the same time every day. He had been walking for an age before he came across the stone outcrop. He knew that there would be a few sheep here as there always were.
It was as he got to the centre of the outcrop that he saw resting on the ledge of the giant shard was the eagle. The stone she was perched on was three metres in height and as he walked closer the eagle looked at him. Peter kept walking forward expecting the eagle to fly off, but she stopped where she was and just kept an eye on his movements. There was a rock in front of the eagle and Peter sat down on it.
The eagle had still not attempted to fly off and Peter took the bag off his back and took out the sandwiches he had made that morning. As he was eating he looked up at the eagle and said, “You are a very beautiful bird. In fact, I would go as far as to say the most beautiful bird in this part of the country.”
He took a bite of his food and sat looking at this magnificent bird and as the eagle was not flying off he talked more. “It must be really magnificent to soar as high as the clouds while looking down at all of us people below. To feel the wind about your body knowing you are a royal bird and Mistress of the wind.”
Peter had another bite of his food and looked at the eagle, “I wonder if I will be missed when I die. I have never thought of it before, but I suppose you will still be flying above these hills. The doctors say I only have two years or less to live and that will be me gone and forgotten. It does not bother me because we all have to die sometime, but it would have been nice to live longer.”
Peter finished his food and put his bag on his back once more and looked at the eagle. “Well it’s been very nice talking to you, but I must get on with my work. I know that I have been doing all the talking, and I thank you for sitting there and listening.”
He then stood up and turned to walk away but stopped before he set off. “I enjoy your air display in the mornings. I doubt that you understand me, but I hope to see you tomorrow morning.”
As Peter walked away the eagle took off once more as if she too was only there for a rest during her morning. By the time Peter got all the stray sheep gathered the eagle was once more high above looking down at the world below.
Peter had returned to the cottage it was late and the light had almost faded. He put the sheep in the stock pens and walked into the cottage. He cooked himself a hot meal and sat down to read one of the books he had taken out of the library in the village.
Peter was walking along a passageway once more with the same woman walking to his front. At the large chamber they stopped and the woman’s voice was heard, “Bring my new charge.”
There was a lot of shouting and a young man the same age as Peter was pulled into the chamber. “What am I doing here you bitch?”
“You dare call me names. You know why you are here yet you deny that fact, and your place of residence has already been marked. It is not too late to change, but it is down to you to learn from my teachings.”
“Listen to me you stupid bitch I am not afraid of you. You will not be teaching me anything because I am only allowing these thugs to man handle me. When they release me I will set about you.”
“You had better change your ways, Thomas, because if you don’t allow me to help you then your fate will be sealed for all time. Place him in the frame and I will teach him the error of his ways.”
“Where is my shirt and vest, you twisted bitch.”
Peter could see now that the man was naked from the waist up and spread eagle in a frame. The woman spoke once more, “Show this evil creature the tools that I will be tormenting him with.”
The same person that he had seen in other dream had an iron brazier that was full of red hot coals. He walked past Peter over to the man pushing the brazier on iron wheels and stop in front of the man so that when he looked down he could see better. The man shouted, “I dare you to touch me with those coals, bitch.”
“I like to be tested, and because you have dared me I might take up your challenge. I think just ten seconds of real pain will show you what your nights will be, but as you hold back the truth longer than I see fit the length of time in my domain will get progressively longer.”
“You are a dream, or a nightmare. If I open my eyes I will wake up and you will disappear out of my life.”
“If your words are what you think is true then you had better look at the reality of your predicament.” The woman clicked her fingers and a giant mirror appeared behind her and Peter. “I will give you fair warning that if your eyes open and you fade away, this same nightmare will return tomorrow and it will be progressively harder to resist my willpower.” She turned fast and pointed at the mirror and said in a quiet voice, “Look at your eyes, Thomas, do they look closed to you?”
The eyes of Thomas stared at the mirror and could see that his eyes were open. Peter could see that Thomas was now stretching his eyes to try and break the nightmare by waking up.
“Look into the coals, Thomas, and see the fate of others that where in the same position as you are now. They were the ones that never learned the lessons of living life for the goodness of others.” It looked to Peter as if the brazier was getting bigger but the truth was it was still the same size.
“Stand behind me, Peter, this is not for you to see.” Peter never argued but was behind her in the speed of one step.
For the first time the woman shouted, “Look at the coals, Thomas, with your eyes wide open. Do not defy me at this time.”
Thomas looked down into the coals against his will power like a rabbit trapped in the headlights of a car. It was as if the brazier had turned into a cauldron of molten lava. There were the sounds of voices begging for forgiveness and redemption, then the sound of a whip cracked and the voices went silent.
Peter had not heard any sounds and could not see the same as Thomas. “Is that supposed to frighten me you, stupid bitch? It is no more than speakers and cheap magic. I don’t know how I got here, but I will find you and give you a lot worse treatment.”
“You will be far too tired to search for me tomorrow while awake, and during the night you will return here on my call. You will be having further lessons teaching you the realities of your fragile life. Tomorrow in your awake hours you should search your soul for the words I wish to hear. You have been granted three lessons and it is up to you to learn and change your destiny during the first two lessons.”
“I have news for you, bitch. I will never return here I know that people only have a nightmare once and then it is history.”
“There you are wrong, Thomas. You will be in my domain if not tomorrow one day soon, and it had better be then when you change your ways. The sands of time for you are running out.”
The woman stepped to her side allowing Peter to see what was taking place. A big sand glass appeared on a pedestal between her and Thomas. Around the top of the time glass was the name Thomas repeated many times. “This is your designated time before I become unable to help you.”
The woman turned the glass over to start the sand running, and as she sat it down once more she added, “These are your sands of time, Thomas, with each grain being a short time in your life. As the sands run out your time for changing your destiny will get shorter.”
“You do not frighten me, witch. Unless I believe, your craft will not work on me. I have no work tomorrow so I will rest all day and have no need of sleep or nightmares.”
“You are correct in saying you have no work, because your work is wealth and the misery of others, and the cost of your wages are heavy.” Peter watched as the eyes of Thomas closed and he disappeared from the frame that held him.
“Peter,” fear gripped him on hearing his name once again, but she turned and touched his cheek. “You will never have any need to fear me, Peter. I have kept you from your sleep but it is only the blink of an eye in your time. There are sheep to find in the morning and your day will be long.”
“Can I ask you a question Ma’am?”
“Ask your question, Peter. You may call me, Arella, as you are a very dear friend.”
“Thomas, that was in your domain tonight. Did he see me standing near you?”
“No that is impossible, Peter. You were not in his dream or nightmare. He was strong tonight because he had the strength to break the dream and wake up. It will do him no good because it is the law of nature that the body and mind must rest. Then when he is asleep he will return here of his own free will because he needs to know how the dream will end. Now you really must rest and we will talk again.”
Thomas was awake looking through the open curtains at the dull grey cloud that had been covering the sky like a blanket for well over a week. He turned in the bed and picked up his mobile phone. He needed money to travel to London to see his brother. His brother John was the only relative he had left in the UK as his parents and sister lived in Australia. David owed him money and it was best to get it now before David gave it to the landlady of the Crown and anchor public house.
“Hello, how can I help? If it is David you are after he is not here.”
“Who are you, and do you any idea when he might return?”
“I have been sent here by his parents to clean his flat because he will not be returning. He was struck by a car last week late at night and the police believe it was a hit and run. He died the following morning and it was all over the local papers how they found the purse of an old woman that had been burgled over the boarder somewhere. That is all I can say about what has taken place but the local papers will tell you more.”
The phone went dead and Thomas switched his own phone off. He decided that he needed to read the Hull local news and would have to go south to hull.
Peter was up early and as soon as it was light enough to see he walked out of the cottage. He locked the door but there was really no reason to do so, because it would take three hours to walk up from the village. He made his way north where the huge shard was and go past that and head west to where the small forest of pine trees nestled in a dip.
He always found many of the sheep there waiting for him to arrive and collect them. The sky was very overcast and the wind was getting stronger, but he had seen the weather a lot worse over the years. He walked on for another half an hour before he saw the sheep near the forest and as he walked closer to them they lifted their heads and started walking towards him as if they knew he was there to take them lower down.
It was almost midday when he looked up at the clouds rushing across the sky, at the same time he could see the eagle that was facing the wind and as still as if she was stuck to the cloud above. The sheep were in front of him as he spread his arms out wide as if he were flying. As the two times before the eagle dropped like a stone and just above and in front her wings opened allowing her to glide over his head.
Peter let the sheep keep following the trail as they would go no further than the cottage. He walked the few paces more before sitting on his seat near the shard. He removed a sandwich to eat, but before it touched his mouth the eagle had landed on the shard but a lot closer to him. “Good afternoon to you, Your Majesty, the wind is very powerful today but you would already know that. I have read that the eyes of the eagle are the sharpest ever and the strongest of all rafter birds. The owl is a night bird so they must have the stronger eyes at night for them to do their hunting.”
“While flying the height you do, you must see everything and everyone. Tomorrow I will have to go down to the village. I don’t mind the walk but the people are very unfriendly and rude. I say to them good morning and they face the other way and rush away pretending they never heard me. The shop keepers have their doors open before I have completed my business, and it is as if they cannot wait to get me out of their premises.”
“What I buy the farmer will fetch up when he comes to collect the sheep. It has been very nice talking to you even if it was me doing all of the talking, but I must catch the sheep up before they get to the holding pens near the cottage.”
Peter closed the bag that he carried his sandwiches in and put it on his shoulder. It was at that same time when the eagle took to the air and flew over Peter’s head. He laughed at how close she flew near him and said, “Fly high you beautiful bird,” before he started following the sheep on the trail to his cottage.
Thomas was in Hull in the library flitting through the pages of the local newspaper for the last two weeks. It had taken a long time to find the story headlined.
“Hit and Run.”
“It was reported last night that a man was run over by a car travelling at high speed. He had just left the public house in his village when the hit and run car sped through the village high street. Witnesses said the car hit him so hard that his body was lifted twenty feet up in the air and fifty feet forward. He died while being transported to hospital of multiple internal injuries. Police are calling for more witnesses because the dark car has not been found. There will be more on this story in tomorrow’s edition.”
Thomas turned over the page and saw the follow up and again on the front page.
“Hit and Run victim named.”
“The victim of the hit and run on the night of the 23rd November was Mr, David Anderson, of Cork drive. His death has caused the police to ask a great amount of questions in reference to his nocturnal habits.”
“During the morning of the 24th November after the confirmed death of David Anderson, the police carried out a routine search of his flat. It was there they found the purse of a Scottish woman in the highlands that had a large amount of cash inside. After investigations and enquires with police Scotland it was found that the purse belonged to 73 year old Mary Hague.”
“Two nights previous on the night of the 22nd of November she was sitting in her lounge when a man pushed through the door. On seeing her look at him he rushed over and started punching her about the face until she passed out. It was only by luck her daughter called in and on seeing Mary she phoned for an ambulance. Paramedics that were first on the scene told our reporter that Mary had been beaten wicked in an act of savagery.”
“Until Mary returns home the daughter is unsure if anything more was stolen during the theft of her mother’s purse. It is because of the little conversation the police had with Mary why they are not looking for any other person involved in this heinous crime of robbery with violence.”
“It has also been reported that Mary was half blind and deaf which makes it more important to find any other person. Mary Hague is still in hospital and from what her daughter has told us her health is deteriorating. On hearing about David Anderson in England and the circumstances of his death the daughter of Mary Hague said, “I would not wish that death on anyone, but if he was the one responsible then he received his just reward.”
There was a picture of old Mary Hague in the hospital and it made Thomas sick to look at it. David when walking out of the lounge to meet him had not said anything about the old woman or what he had done. He was glad at this point that he had left the jewellery box untouched. Thomas closed the newspaper page and left the library.
Peter had woken up early once more and had his breakfast before getting ready for the long walk down to the village. He looked out of the cottage window and could see that for once the sun was shining and the wind was not as strong as it had been the last few days. He made some sandwiches and a flask of hot chocolate for the journey before going outside. He locked his door and walked down the track the farmer had arrived along.
It was mid morning by the time he had entered the village and the first place he went to was the clothes shop. He ordered some gloves to use outside when fetching the cut wood into the cottage during the snow and frost. All the time he was in the shop the other customers were giving him strange looks, and when he looked back and smiled they turned away fast.
He did the rest of his shopping in the other shops before going to the sweet shop that doubled as a bakery. As he walked in the old woman at the counter smiled and said, “Hello Peter.”
He replied, “Hello, Mrs Brown,” and to the other two women that were talking to her he said, “Good morning to you also.” They never replied but turned sharply and rushed out of the shop. “They were very rude, Mrs Brown, do I smell or look dirty?”
“No, Peter, and you are correct that was very rude of them. Is it your usual that you want?”
“Yes please, Mrs Brown.”
“I thought you would be down this morning and I have your order already. I have also put in the carrier bag some of your favourite cakes at no extra charge.”
Peter took hold of the bag offered and said, “Thank you very much, Mrs Brown, I will see you again in another two weeks weather permitting.”
He walked out of the shop and as he did the two women that hurriedly left turned to walk in once more. As they disappeared inside Peter turned and opened the door and stuck his head inside and said, “I hope I never kept you ladies waiting too long in this cold weather, have a nice day.” Peter smiled and closed the door and Mrs Brown was quietly laughing.
The two women on hearing the door close turned to the counter once more. “Now that the freak has gone, Mrs Brown we can do business.”
“Did I just hear you calling Peter a freak, Mrs Cameron?”
“Well he is, Mrs Brown, living up in the hills on his own it begs belief that you allow him inside your shop.”
“Let me tell you something Mrs Cameron. Peter and that is his proper name is better mannered than you or Mrs Gordon. Our business is concluded until both of you get an attitude.”
The two women were stunned and speechless until Mrs Gordon said, “This could be the last time I use this shop.” They both turned and walked out of the shop once more.
Peter was walking through the woodland on his way home when he heard what he thought was two boys laughing. Then there was a noise Peter had never heard before and he watched a bird fall out of a tree. Then two boys ran over towards where the bird was hopping about. “I have only stunned it so shoot it, Angus. Kill it and let’s get out of here.”
Peter could see that it was a Sparrowhawk and shouted “That is a protected bird, leave it alone or I will tell the police of you.”
“Let’s get out of here, Angus. That is the crazy freak from up in the hills.”
“I’ll show you how frightened I am of crazy peter,” and Angus ran at Peter knocking him over. The carrier bag fell from Peter’s hand and Andy stopped and looked inside. “That is far too many sweets and cakes for a freak. Take the bag Angus.” He closed the bag and handed it to Angus before he started to run away. “Come on Angus let’s get away from him and have a feast.”
Peter was still a little stunned but walked over to the hawk that tried to hop away from him. However she was caught in the small gorse bush because her open wing was stopping her going too far. He pulled from his pocket one of the gloves he had just bought and fitted it on his hand, then closing in on the bird he said, “Now don’t be silly, as I am going to help you. You will need to come to my cottage and rest that wing."
As he placed his hand closer to lift her near the legs she surprised him and hopped onto his arm. Peter stood up once more and carried on with his journey up the hill with the bird perched on his arm. A short time later the bird hopped once more and was perched on his shoulder. Peter never minded because his arm was aching from holding it in one position.
The sun was going down and the wind was starting to rise when Peter arrived at his cottage. He unlocked the door and walked in with the hawk still sitting on his shoulder. The bird hopped off to perch on the back of the wooden chair while Peter went about making the fire up to warm up the cottage.
Once it was burning he stepped close to the hawk and looked at her wing. There was a mark where the stone from the catapult had hit the leading edge of the wing close to her body. The bone was not broken but there was a tiny bit of blood and he took out the first aid box and dipped a cotton bud in antiseptic liquid and dabbed it on the spot. The bird let him do it and as he made his evening meal she sat still on her perch with her eyes not leaving him.
It was dark outside when he locked the door and was eating his evening meal. It was after the meal peter stepped into one of the two other rooms. When he stepped out he had a mouse in his hand held there wriggling about. He was holding it by the tail with his thumb and forefinger. He walked over and offered it to the Sparrowhawk that snatched it from his hand with her sharp and powerful claw. Peter fell asleep in the soft armchair that was next to the fire and was still there the following morning.
Knowing the farmer would be there that morning with his groceries he went outside taking the hawk with him. He placed her on the holding pen fence and sat waiting for the farmer that was always early. On his arrival he stepped from the tractor and removed two boxes from the loader shovel on the front. Peter helped him take the boxes into the cottage and sit them on the table.
It was when they were outside once more when the farmer could see the hawk. “It appears you have a friend, Peter.” Peter then told him of all that had taken place on his way home from the village. He told them about the two boys and their names they called each other. It was as the farmer was returning to the tractor when Peter said, “As they left the one called Angus run at me and knocked me over before they both robbed me of the carrier bag that Mrs Brown had given me in the bakery.”
“Did they now, laddie. I will see to this before I return in two days to pick up the few sheep. I have done a rough count and there is only a handful of sheep not counted for yet. If you cannot find them don’t panic they could have died or any amount of other reasons.”
It was later down in the village when the farmer was talking to the policeman. “That is right Constable James, Peter told me that the boys that attacked him were named Andy and Angus and there are only two boys in the village with those names. They also robbed him of his bag of groceries that Mrs Brown gave him when seeing him in her shop. He is employed by me and has the same rights as my other workers and I want this persecution and stupid name calling put to an end.”
“I will get right on to it Mr Grant. You say the bird is at the cottage of Peter. It is not legal to have a Sparrowhawk in captivity without a licence. I will get onto the RSPB for them to go and talk to Peter and inform him that he is in the wrong.”
The constable was walking his beat through the village when Mrs Brown stepped out of her shop. “Is everything alright with Peter on the hill, Constable? It is just that last evening that Gordon boy walked past my shop with the carrier bag of food I gave Peter yesterday. That Cameron boy was with him and I’ll bet they had been up to no good.”
“How do you know it was the one you gave Peter? There are many bags with your name on in the village.”
“Now there you are wrong, Constable, because the one I gave Peter was the first of the celebration bags. Peter has the only one that I have handed out. On seeing the bag I walked out and asked, “Where did you get that bag, boys?”
“The Cameron boy turned and replied, “Mind your own business you old bag.” I have been called worse names in my life, but I will ban both of their families in their entirety for that disrespect.”
“I can tell you, Mrs Brown. Mr Grant has put in a formal complaint to me. Stating those two boys roughed Peter up and robbed him of the bag and its contents, and I am driving up to his cottage to get a formal statement from Peter in the morning.”
“Then I will pop around to your house this evening with another bag for him, if you wouldn’t mind. I will drop you some freshly made shortcake that I know you and your family love at the same time.”
Once again Peter found himself following the woman through the long corridor under the stone archways. When she turned he followed her into what Arella called her cathedral like domain. It was then she said, “Fetch my charge to me so that I might speak with him.”
Once again Thomas was brought into the chamber and placed in the frame. “So, Thomas, you have returned here like I said you would. You avoided me the previous night, but sleep is what all mortals must have.”
“I have had a lot of thought about you, and I now believe that you only exist in my imagination. If I will myself to wake up I will disappear from your clutches.”
“Now that you are here, Thomas, allow me to show you things that for your sake you had better see and remember. You are treading a dark path that will lead you to a destiny not of your choice.”
She pointed and the pedestal with the sand timer with his name about it appeared. “I am sure that you can see that your life sands are running faster than last time we met. However there is still a lot of sand left to help you along the correct path if you change your ways.”
“I had your friend David here but after three days he still would not listen to the lessons. However he was abusive towards me no different than you were the last time I called you here. You are not so abusive tonight, Thomas, and you have come here of your own free will. You are looking to find the answer to those questions that are swirling about your mind.”
“You tell me you had David here, but I am in no doubt that you are wondering why he has not returned. David was killed in an accident over a week ago, and probably caused by his drunken stupidity.”
“At least we agree on something, because it was his drunken stupidity that was the cause of him failing to learn my lessons. I knew before you came here tonight how and when David died. Look at your sands of time they have slowed down because they know you are listening to the lesson. They are now falling at the speed that all life travels. As I was teaching David his sands went faster and faster but because of his drunken sleep he was not listening to the ways of slowing them down.”
Another pedestal appeared with another timer sitting on its small table top. The name engraved about the gold seal about the top was David Anderson, but all the sand was in the bottom half of the glass. “Time had run out for your friend David to change his ways and time had ran its course.”
“I have listened to your lesson in its entirety, but I fail to comprehend what the subject is.”
“Thou shall not steal, is a command from God, Thomas.”
“But I have stolen nothing, I admit I looked through the jewellery box, but I could not bring myself to take away the old woman’s memories.”
“It is because of that act alone why you have been given a second chance. Thomas.”
“It said in the paper that the old woman’s health was getting worse do you know how worse?”
Another pedestal appeared with a sand glass on top around the golden edge was the name Mary Hague. There was very little sand in the top glass and Thomas said, “Is it not in your power to slow or stop the sands?”
“Only you have the power to do that, Thomas. You have listened to the lessons and now it is up to you to do the correct thing. I can teach you no more, and you will never see me again.” Thomas like the previous time faded before their eyes.
“Arella, can I ask you a question that you might not want to answer.”
The woman turned to face him and he could see her face for the first time. He noted that she was not young, but neither was she old. He could see there was a soft patience in her face no different from his mother had when she was alive, there was also an added look of knowledge that had been etched deep in his father’s face. He thought it was impossible but her face was etched with sorrow, happiness and what he thought was experience.
“Peter there is not now or any time in the future when there will be a question that you ask me that I will not answer.”
“I understand why you have been speaking with Thomas, and I am unsure how but I know the reason he was here. What I do not understand is why you call me here to watch you do what you are so very good at.”
“Unlike the wicked, Peter, I do not call you here. You come of your own choosing because you have a need to learn. My teaching to you is far different and by what you have asked and also told me you are learning the lessons well. I will place dreams in your mind when you are asleep that will be lessons of another kind. You must now return to your sleep, Peter.”
The following morning Peter had breakfast and walked outside with the Sparrowhawk and sat her on the fence post. Near the gate to the sheep pen five sheep had wondered down during the night and he let them in with the others before giving the small captured flock some dry food. He stepped closer to the hawk and gently pulled her wing out as if in flight and she allowed him to do it. “I think your wing is healed and it is time for you to take to the air once more.”
He was sitting counting the sheep in the pen when he heard the vehicle come over the hill to his front. The policeman stepped out with another man in uniform and walked over to him. The stranger was the first to speak, “I have been told you have a Sparrowhawk in captivity, young man, and that is against the law without a licence.”
“No I have no birds in captivity.”
“It’s no good denying the offence laddie because it is behind you tied to the fence.”
“The Sparrowhawk was shot with a catapult by two boys in the village and I saved its life by carrying it up here before seeing to its damaged wing. I think it will fly again today because it can spread its wings once more.”
“I will be the judge of that lad.” The RSPB man walked towards the hawk and it hopped onto Peter’s shoulder, before it gave a loud screech and took to the air.
“I told you that she was not a prisoner she has always been free to do as she likes.”
Peter then spent an hour with the constable telling him what had taken place when the bird was attacked. Just before the officer left with the other official he handed the bag that Mrs Brown had sent him as a replacement.
At a police station in the lowlands of Scotland a young man was with his solicitor when they stopped at the desk. The Sergeant said, “Good morning, and what can I do for you two gentlemen?”
“I would like to speak with the officer that is in charge of the robbery and assault of Mary Hague.” The Sergeant became alert and rushed off towards the back room, and returned with a more senior officer.
“I am Detective Inspector Aikin, how can I help you gentlemen?”
“I am Robert Wilson, and this is my client Thomas Innes. I will also say that it is what my client has to say to you about the Mary Hague robbery that will help you.”
“I think you had both better follow me to my office where it is more private.” Once inside they all sat down around the inspectors desk and once comfortable Wilson handed the Detective Inspector a handful of papers. It took him some time to read them all before the solicitor said, “You have a full statement that will not be changed. I am in no doubt that you will have your own questions but they will only be asked in my presence.”
The detective nodded and said I think it might be best to go to an interview room for the safety of your client’s rights. In the new room the inspector asked, “What made you come here today?”
Wilson nodded and Thomas said, “After I heard that David was dead I went down to hull and read their back copies of the local rag. The picture of Mary was there and it made me sick because that was as the paper said a heinous crime.”
“You say you ran your fingers through the jewellery in the box but never stole anything. Why? We know that what you say is true from what Mary’s daughter has told us.”
“It was as I ran my fingers through picking up the odd valuable item and there was many. I then had a thought that I could be a stranger and this box could be full of my mother’s memories. I just could not go through with stealing them because although some were cheap imitations they were still very valuable to her.”
“On finding out I had not stolen anything David was not very happy but I didn’t care. At that moment in time I was only guilty of entering a property with intent to steal. It was once I had seen the picture of that dear old woman when I realised it was a lot more serious.”
“There is one thing more that I can tell you, Detective Inspector. David got his information about that house from a gas inspector. It was something he told me the day before when I met him in the hotel I was stopping at.”
“I will pray to god that the old woman gets better, but I am sure she will have nightmares for a long time to come.”
After Thomas was charged the detective said, “You’re thorough confession and the other information you volunteered and your remorse will go a long way to reducing your sentence. The fact that you handed yourself in will also help.”
That afternoon while he was feeding the sheep in the holding pen he left his cottage door open. The farmer would not be there for another two days to take them down. He stepped out of the pen and over to the cottage and perched on the rear of the wooden chair was the Sparrowhawk. She was pulling a mouse to pieces ignoring Peter completely. “So, you have only returned for your supper, but I am happy to see you just the same.”
Peter treated the hawk with the same indifference and went about making his own supper. She had made no attempt to fly out the door after she had eaten in fact to show her trust of Peter she never moved from the perch. It was when he closed the door to keep the heat in the hawk closed her eyes.
Later that evening as Peter sat in the armchair near the fire he too closed his eyes in sleep. He knew he was in a dream because of where he was which was resting on the large shard of rock. He could feel the powerful wind striking his face and body but could not feel the coldness or the chill that arrived with it. “Look at me Peter.”
It was on hearing the voice he turned his head to the left, and sitting beside him was the eagle. The eagle opened her beak to give the usual screech that he knew was her voice, but was shocked to hear the words, “I have seen you in the mornings caressing the wind and know that you have a wish to fly. Arella has allowed me to enter your sleep and teach you to do that very thing. Look down at yourself and see how you have changed into a royal bird of the Scottish Highlands.”
Peter looked down at his body and was shocked to see he was covered in feathers at the same time he realised he was now the same height as the eagle. “Now watch what I do and do the same it is the movements of your wings.” The eagle for a long time showed him how to steer in the wind and how to use the wind to almost hover by facing into it.
“Stretch out your wings, Peter, and catch the wind. Always trust me Peter I will never allow you to fall or leave your side.” Peter stretched out his wings against the wind and found that without trying he had been lifted from the shard. He looked to his left and her open wing was almost touching his and they were both leaving the shard below. They were now up high but Peter felt safe knowing the eagle was there to give him help if he should need it.
The eagle taught him to circle and soar and eventually bringing him about to land on the shard once more. “That is enough training for tonight, Peter, but there will be other times. As your wings get stronger and your body gets used to the different movements then I will take you higher.”
Peter opened his eyes and the sparrowhawk was pulling to pieces another mouse. “Good morning you beautiful bird I enjoy your company during the night even if we are both asleep. I had a dream last night that I was with the eagle flying above the earth, but it was all so very real.”
Mrs Brown had only just unlocked her shop when Mrs Gordon stepped through the door. “I am glad you have popped in, Mrs Gordon. It will save me posting this bill to you.”
“I don’t remember having anything from you that I never paid for on the day, so you must be mistaken.”
“No there is no mistake, Mrs Gordon, and your friend Mrs Cameron will be getting one as well. Andy and Angus assaulted Peter while he was on his way home the other day before they robbed him of his shopping he collected from me the morning you where here last. I sent a replacement up with the constable yesterday morning and as it was your boys that robbed him you get the bill.”
“Just because that freak has made a complaint and said it has taken place means nothing, do you honestly think anyone will believe him.”
“Let me place you in the correct frame of mind, Mrs Gordon. Andy and Angus walked past my shop with the bag full of groceries that I gave Peter and gave me nothing but verbal abuse. I have made my statement and it was not Peter that has made the complaint to the police but Mr Grant. I think I am correct in saying that I believe your husband works for Mr Grant and so too does Mr Cameron.”
Peter had decided to go up to the top of the hill to see if there were anymore sheep making their way back that he might have missed. He went to pick up the hawk but she hopped away from him and hopped onto the back of the chair and closed her eyes. “Well I will be away a short time so if you decide to change your mind I have left the window open.”
Peter walked to the brow of the hill near to where the small stream starts to flow past the cottage when he heard the cry of the eagle above. He looked up at the eagle high up circling below the clouds and it was automatic for him to hold his arms out to feel the wind caress his body. The eagle appeared to stop before looking down, and then like the previous times dropped like a stone.
Once again after gliding close over his head he found her resting on the shard when he walked near. He sat down near her and removed his lunch and started to eat. “I had a strange dream last night, but just lately all of my dreams have been strange. In my new dream you were teaching me to fly and I was also covered in feathers and you and I were the same size. It is in those dreams when I forget about my illness and impending death.”
“On the way home from the village the other day I stopped two boys from the village killing a Sparrowhawk. They had already struck her wing with a stone and were going towards her to kill her for fun. I stopped them but they pushed me over and run off with my shopping, the policeman was here yesterday and Mrs Brown had sent me another bag of shopping.”
“After they ran off I carried the hawk up to my cottage and fixed her wing, and after she had rested for two days let her go. She returned last night and stopped in my cottage the night eating the mice that have invaded my rooms. I know she closes her eyes to sleep on her perch when I fall asleep in the armchair, but she is very good company. I thank you for allowing me to talk to you once more, but I must go and find the other sheep.”
When Peter started to walk away the eagle flew from the shard and Peter watched her gain height. He could see the Sparrowhawk in the sky near his cottage going slowly about in its own hunting circles. Peter saw the hawk once more that day on his return journey to his cottage with the last sheep. It was dark by the time he had penned the sheep with the others and walked into the cottage. It was when he turned on the gas light he saw the hawk sitting on the back of the chair.
“Hello, bird, I saw you flying gracefully above the cottage today, and I never expected to see you here now, but I am very thankful that you are. Looking at the other birds flying south today I think the winter snow is on its way.”
Later that evening the hawk was asleep and Peter had fallen asleep in his armchair he found that he was walking down through the archways once more. Arella was once more walking to his front heading towards the large chamber in what Peter thought was the centre of the building. When she turned right the frame that had held Thomas captive was no longer there.
“Bring out my charge and see how he pleads against irrefutable evidence.”
There was a slamming of a door and then a voice that Peter recognised. “You wait until my father gets the police and then you won’t be so big. I have been abducted from my bed and that is against the law.”
Angus was carried kicking into the chamber and where he was stood upright on the floor before being turned to face Arella. He looked straight at Arella and shouted at the top of his voice. “Who are you and what am I doing here? Let me go now and I won’t tell the police where you brought me too.”
“Where are you, Angus?”
The question was met with silence until Angus gave himself time to think of an answer. “I am still in the village somewhere because I felt no movement of any kind of transport.” He was still shouting in a loud voice hoping that someone on the outside might hear him.
“It is no good shouting in the hope you will be heard because that will never happen. You are at home asleep in your bed but still a long way from the village to where your living nightmare has taken you. There is always a price to pay for the things you do wrong in your life.”
“I have not done anything wrong in my life to be in trouble for.” Angus was not so loud now when talking to Arella.
“I have it on good advice that you were involved with several crimes only a few days ago with your friend Andy.”
“We were asked a lot of questions today by the police about the attack on Peter the freak. After telling him what had taken place he went away without charging us because he knew we were telling the truth.”
“Tell me what you told the policeman for him to believe you.”
“Why should I tell you it is none of your business?”
“If it is the truth it will free the small shackles that bind your wrists and ankles. If it is a lie then you will receive further restraints that are of your own making. Remember that you have already told this story to the police and have set your own punishment, Angus.”
“Andy and I met Peter in the wood at the bottom to the trail up the hill. He had a bag full of cakes sweets and rolls that we offered to exchange for the Sparrowhawk that we found injured on the ground. We shook hands on the deal and we left for home, that is what we said to the policeman and he said he would have to take our word for it because it was our two words against the freak.”
“Why do you keep calling Peter a freak, Angus?”
“He is a freak because he lives on his own in the cottage and never spends more than a day every month in the village.” As he was speaking a metal cage was forming about him that he never saw until it was at his waist. “What is happening? Set me free you old bag. I have told you what you wanted to hear so what is your problem?”
“I do not have a problem and your story that was lies from beginning to end was not what I wanted to hear. The cage is one that you have made yourself and only you have the power to break the shackles around your limbs and disintegrate the cage.”
“I believe you go to church, Angus.”
“Of course I do and with my parents.”
“Then unless you wish to sleep shackled in a cage for the rest of your life. I will suggest you find out the true meaning to the words, “Thou shall not bear false witness and thou shall not steal. The story that I wish to hear from you is the truth, but your story falls well short of that mark. Remember that when you are asleep in your cage only you can free your soul.”
In a matter of a few seconds the cage with Angus inside disappeared and Arella turned to face Peter. “Peter, I could sense the hurt in your heart on hearing the names that Angus called you. You have to remember that they are only words, and they cannot harm or hurt the person inside you. Your heart is strong and pure and I will not allow the wicked to torment you.”
“Your mind is still on Angus, but he will be back in a few nights. Hopefully by then he will have learned his lesson and his self inflicted chains will be removed. I know that your impending death is constantly on your mind, but you must never be afraid of what the future holds. Tomorrow you have a lesson of a different kind that you will like.”
The following morning the constable was walking near the bakery/sweet shop and stopped to talk. Good morning, Mrs Brown. I am glad I have met you because I have been told by the police solicitors to drop that case against the two boys. Insufficient evidence and it’s their word against Peter’s.” He could see the look on Mrs Brown’s face and added, “I don’t like it either, but the solicitor said the case was unsafe to pursue.”
One good bit of news about that old woman that was robbed and beat up. They never knew there was a second person involved but one handed himself into the police. He gave a statement that is written in full in the papers. Although he had no idea the other person had done the heinous crime while he was upstairs, he was full of remorse for the beating ever taking place. He had already sent an apology by courier to Mary Hague before he went to the police station. He gave the police information of a secret third man that has led to his arrest. The judge because of his remorse, surrendering himself and helping the police with their case he gave him four years imprisonment suspended for the same four years.
“The old Lady, Mary Hague, is recovering and will be out of ICU within the next few days.”
Peter opened his eyes and stretched his arms above his head as he looked at the Sparrowhawk. The hawk that had her eyes open looking back at him opened her wings as if mimicking Peter. He laughed as he washed and made his breakfast, he needed to be ready before the farmer came to take the remaining sheep down to the lower pastures. He made up the fire and opened the door to allow fresh air into the cottage.
It was Saturday and there was a short time before the farmer and his helpers would arrive and he made a tea. As he sat sipping the tea he talked to the Sparrowhawk. “I am so glad that you have decided to stay with me for a while. It is very lonely here on top of the earth on my own, but on the other hand I feel very safe. When I am on my own I start thinking about the end of my life and what might take place.”
“I sit for hours wondering, if I die while I am asleep in my cottage how long I will be here alone before someone misses me. That brings many more questions to my mind with the main one being, will anyone miss me. Is there anyone at all that will even think about the freak on the hill? I think that when I eventually die it will be no different than my life has been, lonely and empty.”
He wiped the start of a tear away that was in the corner of his eye and stepped outside. It was moments later when he heard the tractor rounding the corner and appearing over the hill. The tractor stopped at the fence “Good morning, Peter, I see that you found the other sheep.”
“Yes, Mr Grant, they all returned here on their own the other morning and were standing outside the gate when I walked out.”
It was then they both heard one of the men say, “I see that the freak has still got that hawk. He tried to get my boy into trouble with the police, but I will fix him now and report him to the RSPB for having a protected bird in captivity.”
“Cameron. If I ever hear you use the word freak when talking about Peter from anyone you will not be here much longer. As for telling the RSPB, if you look in the air about a thousand feet above your head you will see that bird that is captive. If I hear at all that the RSPB have been here your next journey will be to Edinburgh to sign on as unemployed.”
“I will also point something important out for you and your boy Andy to remember. It was me that reported him to the police not Peter. He was in my eyes as guilty as all the sin in hell, and if I catch him killing birds on my land I will have him prosecuted.”
The farmer said, “There are not many sheep so let’s get them walking down the hill.”
As the three men walked away the foreman called Hamish said, “Peter, be careful over the next few days when walking on the highlands. There are reports on the news of possible flash snow storms.”
“Thank you, and I will remember that, Mr Gordon.”
“I will also be talking to Angus when I see him, mark my words.” He then went and caught up with the other two men with the sheep.
“You now know the truth, Ted. It was the boss that told the police about the lads and I will be speaking with Angus tonight and you can believe that. They both walk about with those catapults shooting stones and before long someone will get hurt.”
It was later that night when Peter was dreaming of the eagle once more and he was up near the huge shard of rock. He had been sitting looking over the windblown hills when he sensed the giant bird land near him. He faced the eagle and saw her beak open, “You are in deep thought, Peter. Is something troubling you?”
“I have not been feeling very well today as if I was not at full strength. The doctor told me it would be like this in the early days of my life ebbing away. I believe this will be the last winter that I will see on these hills I have come to love. I am thankful to the Sparrowhawk for visiting me every day it gives me comfort knowing she is perching near where I sleep. It gives me pleasure when every time I look her way, her eyes are looking at me.”
“You must stop worrying about the future and enjoy the present and part of your present is allowing me to teach you to fly. Tonight I am going to take you up to touch the clouds, and you must always remember that in your dreams you will always be safe. I will never let you come to any harm so trust in all that I tell you, Peter.”
Peter looked down at his body and could see he was covered in the feathers of an eagle and he was the same size as his teacher. “Tonight you need only to do as I do as this will be your last lesson needed before the celebration.”
Peter was going to ask her what she meant but her wings were spread and her feet were leaving the shard. By doing all that she was doing his feet had left the shard too. “You know how to use your wings, Peter, now pull yourself into the air. I will be with you all the way up. Peter flapped his wings in a forward and back motion and was now lifting at a tremendous speed but the eagle was only a wing length away and slightly to his front. She looked back at him several times that made him feel safe, but there was already a feeling of safety rushing through his body.
Peter watched as the eagle stopped using her wings for lift, and without being told he copied her movements with his own wings. She dropped a wing and moved her tail slightly causing her to gently soar around in a circle. “Look down at the earth, Peter, and embrace the moment because this is your time.” They both circled for a long time before they both eventually came to land on the shard. “You must rest, Peter, your friend will be there when you open your eyes. It is the cold northern winds that are making you tired and not your illness, it is still not your time.”
The following morning Peter opened his eyes to see the hawk looking back at him. He washed and made breakfast after making up the fire. He scraped the frost of the windows and looked at the thin layer of snow on the ground. It only meant there had been a light flurry during the night because it was still far too early for bad weather.
Peter stopped in the cottage all day where it was warm and read one of the books he had walked out of the library with.
Down in the village Angus had gone to church with his parents and the vicar’s sermon was all about truth and lies. It had been the evening before when his father had lectured him for an hour on the same subject. He had also been told by his father what Mr Grant had said about the statement they had given, and in truth it was not the way he had been brought up.
Andy was the same age as Angus and until Andy came to the village two years previous Angus was never in trouble. It was at the end of the sermon when the vicar said, “A piece of distressing news has been passed my way in the last few days. It has been reported to me that certain people are calling Peter the young shepherd on the hill a freak. I and the village seniors do not like the use of this word or name. You should keep in mind that god will judge you as you judge others.”
It was after the service when his parents were talking to the vicar Angus walked over to the constable. He looked up when Angus was near and asked, “Angus, what can I do for you?” There was a touch of disrespect in the policeman’s voice.
“It is about the things I said took place in the wood with Peter, none of it was true and I would like to change my statement. I will see Mrs Brown tomorrow and pay for the replacement bag that was sent up to him.”
“I will visit you this afternoon after I have had dinner, and I will work something out to help you.”
Angus went to join his parents as they walked home. Mrs Brown that had been standing behind the policeman had now stepped around to talk with him. “I couldn’t help overhearing that conversation, Constable, and it was a little unexpected.”
“Yes I agree, Mrs Brown, but he also sounded and looked very tired.”
The constable did visit that afternoon and a new and truthful statement was made. He went away happy but knew after the dropping of the case and Angus paying the bill for the replacements. He knew that even with the voluntary confession the CPO would be reluctant to change their minds.
That evening Peter fell asleep in the chair near the fire and was once more in a dream following Arella through the arches. It was when they turned into the big chamber he saw the difference. Angus was already there but there was no cage about him or shackles on his limbs.
“Why am I here? I have told the truth but you still called me.”
“I never called for you, Angus. You came here on your own free will because deep in your heart you knew that it was not over. You have told the truth and redeemed part of your soul but to get full redemption you will have a task in life to fulfil. The task will not be given to you by me but by one that is also tasked to inform you. What this task is going to be is beyond my knowledge, but it will be your penance for past deeds.
“Will I ever come here again?”
“That will never take place, because now you have changed your plea you are obligated to lead a changed life.”
“How will I know this task will be the correct thing to do?”
“You must search your heart because the answer lies within. You must rest, Angus, because tomorrow you will be tested and you cannot fail a second time.” Peter watched him fade away.
“Fetch my new charge,” Arella said in a firm but quiet voice. A short time later Andy was walked into the central cavern pulling at the hands that were holding him. “Let go of me you pigs, you have no rights to pull me from my bed. I will get the police to have you all arrested.”
He was brought to a halt in the centre of the room and turned to face Arella. His eyes opened wide on seeing her as if he was in a wild rage, and he was a man to be feared. The problem was that he was no man he was just a boy of sixteen. “Well what are you looking at, bitch? I have a photographic memory and I will recognise you when I leave here. Your days on this world are numbered and they are running out.”
“Silence you noisy worm. My time on earth has only just started, and it is you that is destined to leave early. You shout and stare with evil eyes to intimidate those you really fear. You are a child that has never matured to reach puberty and have been left to make your way in life without discipline. You have been left unchecked for far too long by your parents and are now beyond their control.”
“Shut up you, stupid woman. I am clever I have three school leaving certificates I am too old to be disciplined and I am now a man. I am guilty of nothing so I have done nothing to be disciplined for, if you are so sure of a crime then mention it.”
“Then I will start with the will to kill birds and animals not for food but for quenching your lust and pleasure. Is that what you achieve, Andy? You get pleasure in watching God’s creatures die. Or are you so sick in the head that you cannot kill them yourself and need others to do the final task for you?”
“You goad others to do tasks that you cannot do yourself so that if blame is to be placed it will not fall on your head.”
“I do not do things like that, so you are a liar and know nothing.”
“You told Angus to kill the bird and gave him the bag to run away with, it was also you that ate the cakes and sweets on your own.”
“That is a lie and I’ll bet it was you that told that to the policeman and that was why he gave me trouble today. My father told him that I had nothing to do with eating them and it was that pig, Angus, while I sat and watched.”
“I am going to allow you to leave here tonight, but you will be back tomorrow. Tomorrow I will expect the truth at the same time I will give you some truth that you will not like.”
“Now it is you that is crazy if you think I will return here and your men will not get near me in my room. I will never return here because there is nothing more I have to say to you.” He then faded from the room.
When Peter opened his eyes the Sparrowhawk was perched looking at him, he rose from his seat and poured water in the bowl before washing. It was as he opened the door to let in some air when he heard the tractor close by. While he was waiting for it to arrive he looked about the hills at the snow that had once more fallen during the night. It was only a couple of inches but if it was going to fall the same amount every night the trail up to the cottage would soon be blocked.
When the tractor came into view Peter noticed it was towing a trailer loaded with fence posts and rails. Mr Gordon was driving and he had two helpers with him. He stopped near the cottage and said, “Good morning, Peter. Mr Grant has said the sheep holding pen needs renewing and we will be here every day for the next week. There is no need for you to help as it is not your work to do.”
“Good morning to you Mr Gordon. I think the winter will be early this year as there was more snow last night.”
“Aye I think you are right, laddie,”
The men were unloading the trailer while Mr Gordon was walking about the sheep pen looking at the uprights.
Down in the village Angus was indoors when he heard the door get knocked. On opening it Andy was standing on the step, “What can I do for you, Andy? I am not coming out it is too cold and there looks like more snow on the way.
“That’s a great pity. I have three other lads with me from the other village, and we were going to take a walk over the hills. You never know we might even end up near the freaks cottage.”
“If I was you I would stay away from Peter’s cottage. Mine and your fathers are there fixing the sheep pens, and I think it might be a big mistake messing with my dad.”
“Go and read your books you big soft Jessie. I had the police around my house yesterday afternoon, and it no worries me.”
“Well I had them around and it worries me because I told them the truth of what took place. You go up those hills you will be bringing heaps of trouble down on your head.”
“You’re spineless, Angus Gordon.”
“Away with you and grow up, Andy. One day you might grow up and be a man, but don’t take my word about that being true.” He closed the door in Andy’s face.
The men were working most of the day and just before they left Mr Gordon walked to the door. “Peter, Mr Grant is going away for four weeks to Australia over the winter. He has told me to come up and check that you are alright for food every two days. We have some iron wheels we put over the tyres that will help me drive the tractor up here in the snow.”
“Thank you, Mr Gordon, I will remember that.”
The tractor had gone over the hill and could be heard in the distance. It was a short time later when Peter went out to fetch the fire wood in. It was during his second trip when a stone bounced off the door frame and struck him in the forehead. It was not hard but enough to draw a little blood, and on touching his forehead he heard laughter. On walking in he realised someone was shooting at him.
The Sparrowhawk looked alarmed at the loud bangs of more stones striking the cottage. Peter walked back to the window and slowly released a thin chain that brought down a small metal shutter over the glass window. He then locked the door and put the oak lock board through the metal loops stopping anyone getting in. The stones stopped their hitting the metal sheets leaving whoever it was outside shouting. Then there were the sounds of timber being broken and the noise of heavy objects hitting the floor. Peter walked over to his spy hole where he checked on the sheep pens when they were captured. It was utter devastation because the new pens had been pulled down and the old ones smashed to the ground.
Mr Gordon walked indoors for his tea and saw Angus sitting near the fire reading a book. “You not out with that mate of yours, Angus.”
“No, and he is no mate of mine, Dad. I am surprised you never saw him on your journey because he is somewhere walking on the hills. When he said he might call into see Peter, only he never used the name Peter. I told him to go and grow up with his three mates from the other village. They looked a proper handful it was too cold outside and my diabetes is playing up today. He is trouble and I told him you were up there but he took no notice.”
Mr Gordon faced his wife in the kitchen, “Put my dinner on hold as I need to go up the hill once more, Margret.”
“Do you need me to come with you, Dad?”
“No Son, I will pick Constable James up on my way through the village. One other thing, it was good of you to tell the truth on Sunday and change your statement. But it was a bad thing to do in the first place.”
The constable stood in the bin on the way up the hill and when the tractor stopped near the cottage. Mr Gordon went and knocked on the door, “Peter it is Mr Gordon and I have Constable James with me.”
They heard the wooden bar being taken down and the lock being turned, before the door opened very slow. On seeing that they were who they said they were the door opened fully. Peter allowed them to walk in and sit down before he closed the door and made the fire up. Hamish looked at the gash on Peter’s forehead and said, “That will be painful in the morning. You are lucky that fool never took your eye out.”
The constable was looking at the Sparrowhawk on the rear of one of the chairs. Peter could see it taking place and said, “She flies off in the morning and hovers over these hills hunting during the day before she returns in the evenings.”
“I am not here about your friend, Peter, she must know you are not going to hurt her or she would not return. Tell me what happened here tonight.”
“While you two are talking I will go out and survey the damage and there is much.” He walked out and could see that all the posts they had put in that day had been pulled out. The rails had been thrown down the side of the hill and would take another day to get them all back to the sheep pens. Hamish thought about firing Ted Cameron, but it was not his fault it was his son that was off his head. He decided that the way to go was have Andy arrested and let the courts deal with him. He would talk to Constable James about having it done first thing in the morning when Andy would be in the house.
Inside Peter had made a cup of tea when Hamish walked in, “Would you like a tea, Mr Gordon, but there is only powdered milk?” He thought about the powdered milk and was going to refuse, but because of what Peter had just been through he accepted. On taking a first sip he decided it was not that bad after all. It was later when they all decided to leave knowing the boy’s would now be back in the village.
As they walked out of the cottage Constable James said, “When I get back down to the village, I will get on to HQ and get the air service to fly over a couple of times just for safety. They will shine a light around the area but they will not land or bother you, Peter. Tomorrow this will be history because the lot of them will be behind bars. You get some rest, Peter and forget tonight took place.”
Peter washed up and locked up before he sat down in his armchair and looked up at the hawk that still had her eyes on him. He was soon asleep but the hawk only half closed hers.
There was no walk to the chamber tonight he was there at the side of Arella, “Bring in my wretched ward for this evening,” and minutes later Andy was being brought in shouting the odds.
“Silence, child, and a child’s mind is the full capacity of your head. I am going to point out some facts to you that only a few get to know. The life of a mortal is measured from the cradle to the grave. The sand in the glasses of life should always run even, but yours are a mess. Show Andy his glass of life,” a pedestal appeared and an hour glass stood on top with the sand at the top of the hour glass full. You have a full life ahead of you as you can see, and that is how it should be.”
Arella saw the smile on his face as if he had beat her at her own game. “Now show me his health during these long years.” Another plinth appeared with another hour glass, but the sand at the top was only half full. The smile had gone and the face of Andy was ashen. “Your health is deteriorating as we stand here talking and I need to wonder why?”
“Show me the glass of freedom,” and like before another hour glass appeared and the top was almost empty.
“Turn the glass over.” Andy shouted.
“I am not permitted to do that for you. The glass can only be turned on death when designated to another soul. All is not lost, Andy, because unlike health and life this glass of sand has the ability to run both ways. If you are good then the sands run upwards, if you are bad they run out. You have to be good all the time because if the glass thinks your good intentions are false, then the sand is faster at running out.”
“If I am good and stay good how will I know which way the sand is running?”
“You do not, Andy, because that will always remain the biggest mystery in your life. It is up to you to show the sands of freedom that you deserve the freedom you are seeking. I will tell you now that your sands of freedom have been put on hold for the next five years of your life. In the days to come you will understand why I have told you that fact. It will be then that you will know that these hour glasses of sand are really what I told you they are. This is your second chance to get things right, but in fact it is your one and only chance.”
Andy faded before their eyes and Arella turned about to look at peter her hand went up and touched the cut but there was no pain. “I could sense your thoughts during that interview, Peter and know of your concern. Show me the measures of life belonging to Peter.”
There were three hour glasses and they were all filled at the top. “Yes Peter they are yours as I would never lie to you. The sands of time never lie and yours are now telling you what will be. I see confusion in your face but it will all become clear soon. Your worries are understandable but they are also unwarranted.
The following morning after Peter had eaten and done his ablutions he walked outside to see the devastation of the sheep pens. It was as he was standing there he heard the tractor coming up the hill with Hamish driving. He stopped the tractor between the cottage and the sheep pens. The two workers that had been standing on the trailer were standing stunned with their mouths open.
Ted Cameron stepped off the trailer and walked into the centre of the broken and pulverised sheep pen. He sat down on the locked box that had all the farm tools inside and wept real tears. “Dear God, look what that lunatic son of mine as done.” What Andy had done had almost destroyed his father in spirit and mind.
Peter walked up behind him and put a hand on Ted’s shoulder. “Mr Cameron, Andy had to do this final act of stupidity to get his last chance. He will be a better person from this day forward.” Ted Cameron looked up and was going to tell Peter he was talking nonsense, he had no idea why but he changed his mind.
Instead he put his hand on top of Peter’s and replied, “At least you are safe now, laddie, and there was no harm done to you.” Peter walked away and over to the cottage but before he got there the hawk hopped from the post onto his shoulder.
The men were there all day but most of the time was spent recovering the fence poles and posts that had been thrown down the hill. The policeman arrived in his over rough terrain vehicle and was speaking with Ted about his son Andy.
“I thought it only right that I should come and inform you of what your son has been charged with. Your son was charged with numerable offences with the main one being carrying a dangerous weapon with intent to cause harm to another person or damage property.”
“Your son admitted guilt to all the charges placed on him without complaint or argument. It was after I had finished laying them out when he surprised me by admitting that all he said about the day of the trouble with Peter and the shopping was false. I took another statement but because it has been dealt with already it is only for the records. He has been arrested and taken to a secure hospital facility for assessment.”
That evening as Peter fell asleep by the fire the hawk had her eyes wide open looking at him in deep sleep. Peter was this time met in the arches by another woman in a light gown and cape similar to the clothes that Arella had always worn. “Follow me, Peter, Arella and your guests are waiting for your arrival”
It was at that point when Peter looked at how he was dressed and his clothes were no different. At the end of the arches the person with him turned into the huge cathedral like chamber and it was full of others dressed no different than he was dressed. At the end of the room Arella was sitting at the head of the table and next to her was an empty chair. She beckoned him with her hand and said, “Take your place of honour at this our celebration of your life.”
Peter had no idea what Arella was talking about but he complied with her instructions. On reaching her he sat down in the empty chair and a glass filled to the brim with drink was placed in his hand. There was no taste to the liquid but he sipped the offering slowly. There was a hub of noise but could see no one talking and what he heard he could not understand.
The tractor arrived at the area between the cottage and the pens. There was no sign of Peter and Hamish walked over and looked through the window. He could see Peter sleeping in the armchair near the fire, but the fire was cold and no smoke had been seen rising from the chimney. Hamish removed the key from his back pocket and unlocked the door before entering and walking over to where he was sleeping.
Hamish knew he was dead before he touched the flesh. He pulled the sheet over his head as a tear ran down his face. He turned and walked back outside and said, “Put the tools back on the trailer as we need to go down and get the doctor up here. Peter passed away in his sleep last night.”
Over a fortnight had gone by and on the day of Peter’s burial nearly all the village turned out so show their respects. There was not a dry eye in the church after the vicar had spoken. For a time life went on as normal and the death of Peter was forgotten in the now thriving village.
The grave was over grown with weeds and other tiny rogue shrubs and the tiny wooden marker cross had never been changed for a stone one like the other graves. Unless a person knew there was a grave there it could have been said it was a bit of waste land. The grave had not been touched or tended for so long that the new keeper of the grave yard had no idea it was there.
It was late evening one summer Sunday a decade later when a young man dressed as a vicar stepped into the grave yard. He was dressed in a black cassock and sported a tiny goatee beard with a thin moustache. He was tall and thin in build and the way he was walking it could have been said he was on a mission.
The man of faith was walking in a deliberate line along a long ago unused path heading for what could only be described as a dumping ground for cut grass and waste flowers. He disregarded the other graves with their trims, crosses and angels depicting the death of a loved one. On arriving at the far corner and lifted the little wooden cross up that was half covered in weeds and old cut grass, and read the name, “Peter the Shepherd.”
He shook his head in dismay as he pressed the point of the eight inch wooden cross into the earth once more. The vicar went down on his knees and said, “I promise you that this disrespect to your life stops here today, Peter.” He stood up and turned about to walk away when he could see an old man walking towards him. The vicar recognised the man but just gave a curt good evening as he passed. He looked to where the old man walked and he also stopped near the grave.
The vicar that was now dressed in normal clothes was working on the grave every day all day. It was now looking no different than any other grave in the grave yard and he had even re-laid the turf. People had been coming and going into the church yard not knowing who he was as he never wore his collar or cassock again. One day during the week a group of three youths walked to where he was working and one said, “You are wasting your time doing that because no one will tend the grave of Peter the freak.”
On the Friday a man and a boy arrived and placed a four feet high cross at the head of the grave. After the two masons left the man of the cloth said, “I have put the grave right, my Lord. In twenty-four hours I will start putting your congregation right.” It was a short time later when the vicar looked up on hearing a bird cry. There was a bird high up circling for a moment before the Sparrowhawk fell like a stone to land gracefully on top of the cross. The vicar smiled towards the hawk before picking up his tools to leave the graveyard.
On the Sunday the morning service was going as planned until the talk from the pulpit. “Everyone has sat here today knowing I am not your normal vicar, and I am sad to say that reverend Kane was rushed to a care home with heart troubles and will no longer be attending this church.”
“I am happy to say that I am your new vicar. Some of you might think you know me and some of you might only have heard of me, but I am sure that we will all get on together. My name is the Reverend Andrew Cameron.” On hearing this there was an instant murmur of talking. “It has been ten years since I was here last but I assure all here that I am far more peaceful now than I once was.”
“Some of you have seen me tidying up a grave in the rear of our church yard. It is the grave of Peter the lonely shepherd that lived in the cottage on the hill. He was treated badly by this very same congregation of Christians including myself. The other day three youths walked over to me and said, I quote, “You are wasting your time doing that because no one will tend the grave of Peter the freak,” un-quote.”
“I am not going to shame this person by pointing the finger. I will just say that you should judge people as you would wish to be judged. The grave will always be tended but not by just anyone, because there is one among you that was tasked with that very task many years before Peter died. It will be only he that looks after the grave through the entirety of his life. Show yourself to the congregation because you were told your penance in a dream who you are.”
Now the eyes of the congregation were looking about the full church and there were more murmurs as one person rose from his seat. Andrew smiled and said, “Thank you, Angus, it appears we have both been given a second chance to do the right and proper thing. I will meet my congregation after this service so that we all know each other.”
Peter opened his eyes and there was light shining through the open windows, he was lying on a bed with many faces looking down on him. Arella came into view and said, “It is time Peter to start your new task.”
“It is light, Arella; how long have I been asleep.”
“In your old time it has been ten years but in my time and your new time it has been a blink of an eye. The celebration of your life was the night your body died and you were surrounded by your friends. It was that night when your mortal eyes closed for the last time.”
“Your new task is helping me. Step outside with me, Peter, and I will show you the earth about you.”
Peter followed her out through an archway and found he was on one of the towers of the big house on the hill. It was as he was walking through the arch he noticed the shape of Arella had changed and where there was once her clothes they had changed to feathers. He noticed at the same time that he was once again an eagle. “Come follow me down, Peter, I have something to show you.”
Her wings opened before she slipped gracefully into the wind, Peter did the same and they both circled the open sky. Peter realized that on every circle she was taking him lower until they were near the belfry of the church. Arella landed first with Peter landing at her side. Down below there was a young man tending a grave in the corner of the church yard. There was also a young woman near the cross dressed not a lot different than Arella. With his now sharp eyes he could see his own name on the cross.
“Look again, Peter, things in your life now are not all that they first appear to be.” When Peter looked once more the young woman appeared to him as a Sparrowhawk. “She is a guardian and will never leave Angus because through life Angus like you did, will need her quiet comfort.”
“I have always wondered but have been too afraid to ask, I have never heard the name Arella before.”
“It is a Hebrew name and it means, “Angel, or Messenger. I am the messenger of a second chance and you are my assistant. You remember your glasses of sand and I told you they never lie. The sand has still not moved and for you and me they never will. We must go, Peter, as our charges are waiting.”