Northern Lights – Episode 13

Lilias had lain down fully dressed under the quilt, her few belongings packed in the old tarpaulin bag that held memories of her husband. She dozed off and on, her mind too active for sleep.

She reasoned that, if she left the house when the captain’s wag-at-the-wa’ clock chimed four, a fast-running tide would help the Boatie on its way to Auchmithie at first light. She was not so sure what to do once she reached her old home, for it was home no longer.

Rent a room from a former neighbour till she found an old bothy to creep into to provide a roof over her head, perhaps?

As always, the beloved Boatie was her security. The Boatie would provide her with a living from lobster fishing, even a place to sleep if the worst came to the worst.

The Boatie was Orkney built, by the finest boat-builders in the land, whose Viking roots stretched back to ancient history.

It had been Lilias’s husband’s pride and joy and would protect and keep her safe, just like that dear good man had done, Lilias thought, smiling as she dozed.

She was up and ready to go before the clock chimed. She took one last glance around the room, kissed her daughter’s image tenderly for the last time and tiptoed out the door.

She felt sad, leaving without saying goodbye to her grandchildren, but maybe it was better this way. At the end of the dark corridor she saw light from an expertly stoked fire and felt its warmth heating the house.

Her granddaughter had successfully mastered the fire. That was the legacy Lilias left them. Her heart lightened at the thought.

Terrified of waking the sleeping children with every creak of a floorboard, she crept to the end of the corridor and into the darkened room.

The sight she saw there made her drop the tarpaulin bag with a clatter. Amy and Cathy Mary lay sound asleep on the fireside rug, smothered in blankets, Alec and Maggie dozed in chairs either side of the fire, wrapped cosily in quilts.

They roused at the sudden clatter, rubbing sleep from their eyes.

“So ye planned to sneak away quiet as a wee mouse, did ye, Grandmother? Well, we made a plan tae stop ye!” Alec grinned, throwing aside the quilt.

The others sat up, yawning.

The scene was so weird and unexpected Lilias thought she must be asleep and dreaming, though she heard the fire stir and crackle as the coal settled, and a kettle gently steamed on the hob.

“It’s the seventh day,” she faltered. “Maggie’s learned the knack wi’ the fire and my work’s done. That was the agreement.”

He shook his head.

“No. There had to be a vote. That’s why we waited for ye out here.”

She straightened her back and stood very still.

“That’s so, Alec. But it’s a vote I daren’t face. It seemed better to steal awa’.”

Her grandson turned to his sisters.

“Those who want our grandmother to bide, raise a hand.”

Alec led the way, right hand raised. The two solemn lasses crouched on the rug followed suit, then all three turned apprehensively to the eldest sister, sitting with the quilt hugged tight around her.

“Maggie?” Alec prompted.

Granddaughter and grandmother faced one another.

The others held their breath, sensing hidden issues between the two they did not fully understand.

Alec knew the vote hung in the balance. Maggie was the eldest, the rock he turned to and depended upon, the one who made decisions, the one they all respected and loved dearly. Without Maggie’s approval, how could any vote survive? Only Maggie’s vote counted.

Maggie leaned forward, intense brown eyes meeting her grandmother’s steely blue.

“Your actions saved Alec from a hazardous fate for now, Grandmother. For that we are grateful,” she said sincerely. “But Alec tells me the blacksmith made a bargain wi’ the press gang for his freedom.”

Lilias was astounded.

“What? There was no bargain!”

“There was!” Maggie cried out harshly. “The smith has volunteered to work building a lighthouse on the Bell Rock and my brother will work with him.

“That was the bargain that released Alec from the press gang, and the gang vowed to hold him to it if they returned, or they’d take him for a powder-monkey.”

She shuddered.

“So my brother’s condemned to work knee-deep in water for many months, far out yonder on the perilous rock that drowned our father. When that time comes we’ll never know a moment’s peace o’ mind, will we, Grandmother?”

There was not a sound to be heard in the quiet room except wee Amy, sobbing softly.


Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!