There’s Always Tomorrow – Episode 27

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

“Right,” Larry said, sitting down awkwardly. “I’ll tell you my grandad’s version, like he told all these old local stories.

“To most people, the Stone of Destiny was the Coronation stone on which English kings and queens were crowned, until some Scottish crackpots stole it from Westminster Abbey.

“They panicked when they felt the police closing in, so they left it in a ruined Scottish abbey to be found,” he finished.

“That’s about it,” Helen admitted.

“Well, the place where the Stone of Destiny was found is barely twenty yards from where we’re sitting now, among the abbey ruins.”

She almost choked on her sandwich.


“Where the sunlight falls on the high altar.”

She stared, covered in goosebumps again.

“What happened?” she asked.

“The Stone of Destiny goes back so far in time that there are legends within legends about it,” Larry explained.

“Its Scottish Gaelic name is Lia Fàil, but its story starts in the Holy Land.

“In Jewish legend, it was the stone on which Jacob laid his head to sleep.

“It was called ‘Jacob’s pillow’, and so holy to them that it was used as the pedestal for the Ark in the Temple.

“Then it was stolen by a foreign king and taken to Egypt.

“When he got his come-uppance, a descendant brought the sacred stone to Ireland, where it became the King Stone, upon which the Kings of Ireland were crowned.”

“How did it reach England and Westminster Abbey?” Helen asked.

“By making a career out of being stolen,” Larry replied.

“A party of raiding Scots carried it back to Scotland, where generations of Scottish kings were crowned on it.

“Centuries later, Edward I of England, the Hammer of the Scots, took the Stone of Destiny from where it was kept in Scone, and carried it south.

“Like Cromwell later, he knew that if he took away this icon of the old Scottish kingdom, he was removing Scotland’s claim to be an independent nation.”

Helen shivered.

“We English have quite a heavy-handed history,” she said with a frown.

Larry simply smiled.

“That’s just how things were done back then.”

“Where do your Scottish students fit in?” she prompted.

“Scots are like elephants – they never forget. It maybe took centuries to get round to it, but a small bunch of young activists decided to bring the stone back home.

“Apparently, on Christmas Day in 1950, they stole it from Westminster and carried it north in the boot of their car.

“The stone disappeared for months before materialising here in Arbroath Abbey – where the Declaration of Independence had been proclaimed.”

“‘It is in truth not for glory, nor riches nor honours that we are fighting – but for freedom’,” she quoted quietly.

“Exactly,” Larry agreed. “Their action was symbolic – like the stone itself had become symbolic.

“But what were they stealing? My old grandfather used to puff on his pipe and ask me that. When I answered, ‘The stone, of course’, he shook his head.

“‘If you know someone is coming to take something you value highly,’ he always said, ‘you hide it from them.’

“Because inside the story of the Stone of Destiny, there are all sorts of local legends,” Larry continued.

“First, in Ireland, they say quietly that their King Stone was hidden away, and a useless lump of black rock left for the Scots to take.

“Then, when Edward came marching up to Scone, another local legend says that the monks from Scone Abbey hid away the real stone and left a slab of rock from the local quarry for Edward to pick up and carry home.”

“Where is all this going?” Helen smiled. “You’ve almost lost me already.”

“The real Lia Fàil, or Jacob’s Pillow, has probably been lost for centuries,” he explained.

“Legend up here says that, when the young activists spirited the Westminster stone away, they hid it while a duplicate stone was carved and left behind.” Larry smiled.

“So if you give any credence to my grandfather’s tale, people have been stealing the wrong stones for more than a millennium.

“If this is the case, successive worthless pieces of stone have been honoured for something they never had.”

Helen clapped her hands.

“I love it!” she said. “Replicas of replicas.”

“That’s highly possible.” Larry smiled. “Can I have my sandwiches now?”

“Feel free. Even Scheherazade had to be fed.”

“Who?” he asked blankly.

“My secret.” Helen smiled. “Like where the true Lia Fàil really is.”

To be continued…

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