Vol. 5 No. 3 · 17 February 1983

The Señor and the Celtic Cross

John Murray concludes his strange story

5623 words

One summer in the Scottish Hebrides young and mysterious Mr Stone meets up with middle-aged, forceful occultist Mr Dukes. Mr Dukes is sexually attracted to Mr Stone but Mr Stone is attracted more by flighty, playful barmaid Kate. Dukes reacts by subjecting Stone to aggressive Tarotist analysis. Stone is mortified and flees from Muile (Mull) to I (Iona). Now read on.

Early the next morning Mr Stone departed without a word to anyone. Without telling Dukes nor Kate nor any others he slipped off to the other side of the island, down to Muile’s south-west corner.

Whether it had been Dukes’ confessions and donation of advice – if advice was what it had amounted to – that had precipitated a kind of internal dissolution, or whether such a dissolution had been fated by the years that went before, or whether both or whether neither, Mr Stone did what all of us do when cornered – he bolted like a cony.

He hitched two lifts and finally took a bus. Waiting for that bus, he had observed a wrecked fishing boat rotting in an estuary of cracking mud. This made him anxious and uneasy, innocent a sight as it was. The old wreck had been as good as melting in the scorching midday sun, just like Mr Stone himself. However, by early afternoon he had arrived at the village where the ferry departed for the isle of I. And when Stone observed I, just a stone’s throw across the sound, he could not believe his tear-filled eyes. Firstly that it was so small, secondly that it was so green, thirdly that its gentleness was so brilliantly meek in the burning sun. It looked like a skylark, like a little lark turned into an island. The green was turquoise green, the colour of Christ knows but not an earthly green. Nor was it ‘extraterrestrial’, he thought to himself contemptuously. Stone breathed deep to have escaped the presence of crankish Dukes, for he was so glad to be on his own again. He looked to I as if to a magic land. He saw its magic, its green goodness like a lark stretched out in the bay.

An astonishing interlude occurred just before Stone took the ferry across to I. As he turned from the piece of cheese and apple he was consuming, there about five yards before his eyes was the alarming presence of Kate the barmaid ...

Stone could scarcely breathe at the sight. For she should be at least forty miles away by rights. From the vision of gentle, violently gentle I to this vision of violent, gently violent Kate. She smiled at him with a full sweet countenance. Today she wore a sleeveless shirt and her arms glowed blonde with the little hairs that shone upon their surface. Her presence breathed ...

‘What?’ he murmured drunkenly.

Kate laughed gaily at his stupefaction. Stone laughed back with assurance, a queasy assurance. Melting in the liquid of remorse as he was, his contrition for times past, forbears, roots, history – himself, has he to say it? – he was confronted with the Qabbalist’s demon, the flighty woman, card one thousand in the pack not yet invented. His belly lurched for possession. She had followed him, it was as simple as that. Her eyes twinkled with the same gentleness as the appearance of I. Stone knew she was profane, of course he did. Her mouth lines were calculating, her very gaze was devious. She confused good and bad wittingly, she was as bad as the worst of them. So indeed was Stone. So indeed was Dukes, who hankered plentifully himself. He hankered after hankering young men. Kate hankered after foolery and teasing, after spurious power. Stone held out his neck for lustful decapitation.

‘It’s my afternoon off,’ she glinted. ‘I have to return inside an hour.’

‘How did you know I was ...? ’

‘The manager saw you. He was driving the other way, and saw you get onto the ferry bus. Why on earth did you make such a bolt for it?’

‘Dukes’, said Stone honestly. ‘I got sick of his presence. He was after me. He was. He was literally.’

Kate laughed riotously at that. Stone’s dancing lust made him cannibalistic. He would have been content to eat her in carnivorous portions. Sure enough, she had quixotically driven the forty miles behind him, tailing him for obscure ends. Just for the diversion. Now she was due to return the way she’d come. She had borrowed the dupe’s car who was walking carless in the mountains near Salen. Her companion Jane? Oh she was in the shop buying ice-cream. Ahah. And Mr Stone’s ferry for I was fast approaching, one that shuttled to and fro all day, until early evening when the bay here was deserted.

Had she tailed him in order to make one last bootless act of self-abasement manifest itself in Stone?

He entered the ferry, no more than a full-size rowing boat, and waved goodbye to Miss Kate. She waved goodbye perhaps affectionately. Startled, doltish-looking Jane reappeared with ice-creams from the store. She noted Stone and nodded nervously, half guiltily towards him. She was no more than Kate’s accessory, her unthinking inferior partner. Stone rued the fact that he had not stayed behind at the hotel to frustrate himself some more. Certainly if there had been no Dukes about he would have consented to stay there for ever. Such is the attraction of the never-arriving.

Here was peace that actually did pass understanding, on this isle off this island off the largest island. On its northern inhabited end, where there was village, hotel and a field for campers, even in this most bustling part there was a vast blanketing of tranquil meekness. Godless Stone abhorred adjectives like ‘sacred’ and ‘blessed’, yet even he was obliged to search for a word that speared this core of peacefulness, sheep, and sanded bays whose plangent cream and dappling turquoise water were enough to make him doubt his own capacity to doubt. Whatever it was that he doubted.

There was an old and ruined abbey near to the jetty, and further off lay the New Abbey, a place constructed in ancient style for present devotional use. The island was something of a pilgrimage place for religious individuals, who wandered about in cheerful groups, engaged in this or that residential course or earnest, loud discussion group. They, like Dukes, gave Mr Stone the frights. He could see what they were after, God himself no doubt, but such a target seemed a long way away from fervid chatter and this boneless good humour. He had heard the rumour that God was great and terrible while these souls here were surely far too vocable and puny. They never stopped talking. They were always, always pleasant. Fortunately it was easy to get away from them. Away from the café and the Abbey were near-deserted beaches, lonely paths, small patches of gold sand hidden away by protruding rocks and stones. There one might have been spied by a telescope from Muile, but otherwise complete privacy was assured.

Soon evening came on, twilight stole across the field where Stone was camped. There must have been twenty tents, all at generous spacings from each other. There were no Christians here, thank God. There was an instrument being played but it was unobtrusive. The light became frozen and more concentrated, the acoustics stretched out miraculously across the bay between I and Muile. Seabirds pierced the evening like stars. On I there were corncrakes, and they scratched their throats, and the scrape of their crake thumped through the evening like a hammer. One blow after the other. It was like nothing on earth nor in heaven. The sheep chewed quietly and the suffocating tranquillity of the place became almost too much to bear.

Mr Stone obeyed the Qabbalist. Sat outside his tent, he took out some notepaper and wrote a letter to those he had offended and those who had offended him. He found forgiveness rather an easy task. It certainly did not feel like his usual nature. All the while he wrote his letter, in fact all the time since that discussion yesterday afternoon with Dukes, he had felt himself becoming more and more liquid and contrite. About what? And why? The corncrake scraped and gave the answer. Because, because, no more, no more ...

Stone rose from his duty and took his letter down to the Post Office in the village, the small shack of a place where faded old black and white postcards – tinted turquoise where the sea had been photographed – were arrayed inside the window. He passed by the tumbled ruins where Columba had built the first abbey. Mr Stone stopped and felt his own collapsing, ruined self. St Columba and his followers had sailed from Eire and landed at the bay down the bottom coast of I – a surpassingly sacred place, Mr Stone had been informed. Soon he would go down there and look seriously for all the evidence.

He continued up to the New Abbey. In its surrounds were a tumulus where the ancient Scots kings, including Robert the Bruce, had had their bones interred. And Macbeth himself? Around those grounds were numerous Celtic crosses, planted like miniature saplings, most of them only replicas of destroyed originals. The shape of the Celtic cross was remarkably endearing to Mr Stone. He found that shape beautiful, heart-warming, and proper to this isle, the essence of the very gentle, the spirit of I, and even of himself in some furthest reach of his dissolving self.

He entered the New Abbey, or rather walked into its inner quadrangle, which turned out to be similar to the cloisters of a college in the city of Oxford. He skirted the church itself and walked the perimeter of the quadrangle, stopped to read this or that notice advising the pilgrim devotees of a certain conference or a discussion group. Such information, all those ciphers of information, seemed to Mr Stone nonsensical. Why confer in such a place? Just to breathe the air was surely sufficient. Their severe chatter and earnest clusters, their gossiping, made him feel the ubiquity of language-sated humanity. Which filled up the spaces from Reykjavik to Mongolia with this incessant aimless garble. As antidote to which what was meeter than death, than dissolution into the speechless elements? Nothing whatever, mooted Stone, for all the nostrum made him panic. Being so labile, so fully volatile as now he found himself, he was in no position to see these matters merely academically.

Small Celtic crosses were stood at the corners of the quadrangles, almost like planted shrubs in their postures. A single cross was fixed in a corner, raised up beside the stonework of the Abbey. It was made of some hard metal instead of the usual stone. It was long and thin and gleaming. It looked powerful as a dagger in its way. Behind it shone a candle, a clear, small, luminous, powerful flame. In strength is meekness and in meekness strength. Was that Dukes whispering into his ear from all of forty miles away?

He entered the church like some stealing mendicant. It was dark and virtually empty, the twilight had made artificial lights already needful. It was a gaunt, gigantic building, tantamount to a miniature cathedral, and the scent within was one of dust, wood, cooling stone, human bodies in a different state than if they had congregated for washing or shopping or debauchery. Two or three people were praying in the aisles. From a hidden recess there was a record playing loudly, a Peasant Mass sung in Spanish, evidently some South American villagers who were crying with heart and soul ‘Señor! Señor! Señor!’

That Peasant Mass was more than remarkable. It was overpowering. It filled up the church like flame itself. Mr Stone felt no wish to pray, but the violence of that Mass was sufficient to take the strength in his legs away, what minimal strength survived after these astonishing twenty-four hours. The weakness of earlier had become almost complete faintness of limb. He collapsed into an empty row of distant pews. Mr Stone felt mutable, unhinged and quite strongly in personal danger, even if he knew neither from what nor whom. From hocus-pocus or from the Señor himself?

He felt his heart beating very violently. It was the passion in that music that made Mr Stone feel in some obliquest way he was enduring an execution himself. The sweat was beginning to flood from his armpits and neck. If he had not known otherwise, he would have felt himself in fever. But fever was something of the Orient, not of the Occident. In any case, he knew the difference between fever and the other. This was the other. This was hocus-pocus, call it what you will, subjection to forces beyond intellectual or physiological control. It was intimately connected with that homily from Dukes, also associated with the leaving of Miss Kate the horned, fanged goddess who burnt little men up like a blast furnace. Stone could see in his mind already the young earless dupe ascending a short set of steps into the flaming incinerating cunt of Miss Kate. Not that the dupe’s sex would enter Kate’s sex but that she might subtly retract him into her womb like a birth effected in reverse – a uterine suction, so to speak.

Such a conceit made Mr Stone sweat blood. He started to shake. No one could see a thing in the church, of course: he was alone and yards from the centre of the building. Curiously, the church felt not so much a sanctuary as a violent melting pot. As if to shriek, in fact, that God, Hocus-Pocus, Señor, call it what you will, is great and terrible and not to be mocked.

Señor! Señor! Señor!

The peasants sang as if their hearts were in their very spittle. Those ecstatic peasants were all Señor, infused and powered by the man, not by elastic-aura Mr Dukes, muttered Stone. No, it was not the likes of Dukes was orchestrating this, not at all, but something that mastered Dukes was presently mastering Mr Stone as well. Dukes was in all likelihood befathering the carless dupe right now and rescuing him from Miss Katie. Perhaps he might even succeed in bringing him to the arms of the tender, neglected wean that cried out for pitiable young men to caress and lend comfort. Good luck to them both, thought Stone – but who will be my father today, Señor?

He stared terrified at the stained glass that covered the far end of the Abbey. Bright green, rich blue, fiery yellow, burning white. There was such power in sheer colour, in bare physical elements such as those. His eyes tried to focus on the figures upon the glass. There was a Christ with woe and compassion upon his anguished face. His lips were flecked with blood. Yet Stone’s eyes refused to adapt or accommodate. He actually gaped as the colours began to melt, to run free and trickle down and down like drops of ... life ...

Now he knew his own recent melting to be such a poor imitation of the Señor’s – the destructive melting into compassion he had undergone since the discussion with Mr Dukes. For this man had aptly been called Mr Stone. To feel pity cost him the strength of his legs and arms. To take pity cost him the loss of his limbs. For who on earth was ready to become an invalid, in order to afford this crippling pity? Why, it was monstrous! It was ...

At this point a troop of mongols entered the church, open-mouthed mental patients being shepherded by some kindly and fatigued-looking superintendent. She had brought them here on pilgrimage, these charges with their excess or deficit of chromosome. They went to their pews and opened their mouths even wider. They prayed. And not one of them could mouth the world ‘chromosome’! Wasn’t that remarkable? How had their malady been explained to them then, thought Stone hysterically? How on earth?

Their motleyness appalled him. The pity at that motleyness was crucifying. It was too much for gravid Stone. Gravid in the particular sense of ready for parturition.

Mr Stone scuttered from the church, choking on pity. By now it was dark, the quadrangles filled with blazing Celtic crosses. It was black as hell save for the few torch-illumined crosses grinning at him in that deserted quadrangle. And Stone was filled with mortal terror, nothing less. He was on the run, the cry of that heart-tearing clutch of Latin American peasants, bawling to ‘Señor! Señor! Señor!’

Terror has a stage where it turns into apprehension of imminent death. Stone’s terror, as he stood with palpitating heart in the empty cloisters, rose to such heights of mounting limitless blackness that the horse of death appeared before his eyes and began to snort and pitch its hoofs against his dilating panic-stricken eyes.

Mr Stone ran. Mr Stone scuttered. He dashed from one end of the cloisters to the other – and then back again twice as speedily. He disguised it as a nervous restlessness for any hypothetical audience, for he covered his tracks very smoothly as a rule. The Abbey was empty, though, the island was fully deserted at that very moment. At these precise moments the world is swallowed up and all that is left is ... terrified prayer ...

‘Oh Christ!’ went Mr Stone in bilious terror. It was a vocative embarrassedly disguised as an exclamation. For even in mortal terror, Mr Stone maintained his human pride.

He swooped on the metal cross of I that looked like a dagger, and clutched at it, desperate for support. As the horse approached with steaming breath he clutched the harder and grasped as at a lifeline. He even begged for deliverance, though in an underbreath. After all, even if he was dying, there might be someone listening, there might be a danger of cynical eavesdroppers, was his ludicrous anxiety.

The terror focused to a point where Stone did experience the tunnel of his dying. The horse reared and bellowed in time with the Spanish Mass, the music suddenly stopped and the horse went up in a puff of smoke. Mr Stone died and felt his veins suffused with the energy of a white and sprightly mare. He knew in a word what faith meant. He went from the end point to the beginning. All in a twinkling and without an inch budged. In doing so he actually laughed out loud for with fire’s clarity he saw that his death was indeed only of the imagination. It was nothing more. He had gone from mortal terror to immortal freedom in a second’s grasp. And this thing mortality only existed as a thing imagined. Once attained, it impishly turned itself inside out and dissolved into, among other things, riotous bellyache.

Mr Stone left the Abbey on wings of mercury. He flew, or rather his feet took wing and bore him the quarter mile on to the deserted little beach – the Traigh Bhaigh, for want of a name, for the man who had died was filled with what could only be called an excess of joy. It would have been an impertinence to call such a thing happiness. Or even bliss, which means nothing these days, sure enough. A great exultant joy took hold of his body, thin, dismal, stringy an appurtenance as it was, and put such vigour into his feet that Mr Stone was tempted to hum and dance with joy.

In fact, he did. Stone danced with irregular whoops on the plashing white sand in the pitch-dark summer night, alone, free and unafraid, and beyond the call of all anxiety. Someone had left a little beach fire burning and upon it drunken Stone pissed with fearless charity. For the first time in twenty years he had no jot of anxiety for time – as in brooding for the past, anticipation of the future, cares for friends, delights of sense or lack of such. He found it a great effort to fix his mind on his cares as he danced. He found it hard to fret as he whooped. He experienced difficulty in feeling short of anything throughout. It was a problem for him to blame or criticise persons algebraic or factors algebraic. It was all a mystery. Yet this mystery had no portentousness. That was real mystery. It was all most richly humorous. Now he saw who the great Señor was. The Señor liked to dance, to laugh with vast hilarity, to turn everything inside out so that the dire was beautiful, the anxious trifling, the lugubrious comical, the phantom Death the phantom Life. The Señor was the cat’s anus and Kate’s lovely smile together. And words, words were such poltroonery, such feeble foolery. What beat the taste of this, what beat its very flesh and savour?

After his shaman’s dance Mr Stone lay down and sank into great exhaustion. He felt such fatigue as only comes once in a life-time. The concussed, the unborn and the blissful know this. He dragged himself feebly into a hidden-away cove, just far enough away from the fluctuations of island tide, and there collapsed into depthless terror.

Before hitting sleep he saw ramming pistons, whirling gigs, fast-moving trains, steaming rockets, flying trapezes and like violent images. He remembered the books of Ezekiel, Hosea and Daniel. He rued the fact he was not a Jew. He sank into the exhausted man’s sleep and lay there thus for a good twelve hours.

The next day dawned upon a wears child. Mr Stone was as weak as liquid, as if suddenly recuperant from fever. The memory of last night’s adventure was returning and the erstwhile contemplative began to panic at such violent revelation. His neck thudded with alarm. He tried to disbelieve it, to write it off as a dream. Then all of a sudden he disdained his unnecessary fear. For now he was sure enough himself again. Why, he found himself worrying about his tent, his breakfast, his plans for today and tomorrow and so forth. That was Mr Stone. Whereas last night he had been crazily exalted and beyond such things of the world, such abysmal laukika concerns.

Here he lay in his hidden cove, an innocent sunbather. The morning’s heat had made him even more nut brown and tanned. Here he lay on I, island off an island off an island, with his adventure in the past tense and all safely hidden away. No one knew anything of any of this, except perhaps Señor and except perhaps – though he doubted it – Mr Duke with his occult sensitivity.

Hence it was fiction and secret fiction at that, fiction unwritten and thus fable. No one would believe him back in Sasainn, not unless they put that magic down to a nervous phenomenon or an excess of intoxicants. Despite the fact that Stone had had no more intoxicants than a few glasses of beer several days ago. Or some would refer to it as an adventitious phenomenon related to the nervous system. That Señor was just a dose of nerves, an exercise in biophysics and neurology. Stone began to laugh. Or a hell of a lot of aura, according to Dukes! Stone laughed even more. He guffawed like a madman. Sufficient of last night’s power was with him still to scorn the pusillanimity of this age that ignored the like of Señor. It took wretched peasants in some blood-drenched capital like Bogota or Lima to put any passion and blood money by Mr Señor! Even occidental Tarotists were weighed down by an excess of polysyllabic junk. Stone sneered as he thought of Dukes reading his Tarot and lusting after frail young men. The religious and the profane so acutely paired and prostituted ...

He raised himself onto his shoulders and stared about him. This rock surround had a fissure that allowed him to peer beyond onto the lovely white desert dune sand that was more like the Peloponnese than Alba. The water’s turquoise had a purity and pellucidity that took him back to infancy, to the stage where without effort he had known some of last night’s freedom and hilarity. How at the age of four he would have joyed to intoxication at the sight of that water, the feel of that sand, the power of this sun. In fact, it was not that last night’s visitation had come mysteriously from outside, but that it had long years lain inside and had been part of the man that tasted it then for a few hours.

He stared, too, at the groups of people sucking up the sun. About eight or nine were scattered in twos, threes and a couple of loners. His eyes took sweep until the signal came. Then – the predictable occurred. One of the loners proved to be a young woman and automatically commanded Mr Stone’s hungry interest. As soon as he saw her he wished to be in her company. It was his disease, as shamefully admitted two days earlier to old Dukes the man-lover. See what a thin, scratty little woman she was. Twenty years old, he guessed, and with a nose that was too big for her face, a chin too thin and too forward-reaching. Her hair was short and she might half have been a boy. There was meekness in her eyes, a shyness which told Stone that she was either a foreigner or from Alba. She had such gentle homeliness upon her face. She had a slight cast to her left eye which immediately endeared her to him. All alone she sat as he too sat all alone. He knew of her while she knew nought of him. That needed sharply to be rectified. For even with Dukes’s admonitions in his ears he sensed with conviction that this was a good woman, and were he to tell her that last night on this very beach he had tasted what lay beyond death, he would not have been casting his pearls before swine. This woman was a good woman, that he knew also. How did he know? Why, by her eyes, by the spirit that shone in those unassuming, humble eyes.

Limp-limbed Mr Stone arose, dusted himself down, went down to the green sea, the pure dream of a child’s ocean, and proceeded to wash himself unseen. He finished by gargling and expectorating some sea water by way of cleansing his palate. He patted down his spiking hair and proceeded out from his cove, remembering too that Mr Dukes had been a man for his seclusion. Nor was it too much of a spurious gambit to walk towards the young woman and inquire the time in a friendly voice. For he did want to know what time it was, how long he had slept, how close it was to eating-time and so on.

The young woman looked up expectantly and smiled. Her eyes squinted in the dazzle, for Stone’s hair was framed by the sun. She commented humorously on that. Her thinness he found most amusing. Her gaze twinkled like a small beck inside the woods. He could see an animal, perhaps a deer or hare in there, inside her eyes. He recalled Indian poetry, the does, the doe-eyed, the gazelle-face, the fawn-glance. Down in his navel the songs were being born, the music making ready. This time he went beyond himself into tenderness. She had such a bonny yet motley face, this woman. Her voice spoke of Glaschu, nor was she well-spoken but coarsely, and yet sweetly in her coarseness, For she was a woman of the humblest roots, he could tell by the way she responded. She had a thick accent. She said of all words ‘jings’ as an exclamation at her own clumsiness in trying to find her watch inside her bag.

Stone who was as a rule a most hopeless gallant sat himself down beside her in a friendly, companionable way. This was taken naturally and approvingly by the bather, who introduced herself as Mae. She was a music teacher, she told Mr Stone. She taught little ones up to the age of eight years. Stone confessed he would have forecast all of that. Mae bristled and laughed, in a generous way. Stone bristled and laughed also. It is not often one wishes love to out and sing after a few sentences like this, but Mr Stone did right enough. The eyes and nose of Mae also seemed to want something. She was a woman hewn with native unaffectedness, an easy, modest girl. Mr Stone could easily see her tantalising the pupils with her music, the presents they would bring her.

How is one to view this falling in love in the summer? This five days of roaming hypnotised and hand-linked on an island that is baked by a Mediterranean heat – a landscape no bigger than a village and surrounds, or an Asian tribal area, with the old and new abbeys as uncompromising landmarks. How they would sit in the busy café and just gaze at each Other like animals. How they raced to the comical little ceilidh on I and danced folk dances to the sound of ancient reels on the record-player, They danced like mythological lovers. When Mae danced, she did it like a Hellenic gymnast, attuned, most graceful movements. She melted in his arms like a bird to its mother. She was a head shorter and nuzzled like a lamb to Stone. Mr Stone softened with the contours of a throbbing heart. It affected everything. His body became a kaleidoscope. Mae turned out to be in the company of some women friends – though they gently left her to her adventurous romance. She would come to him, then return to her friends in the tent, then come to him again, then back again. He kept to his tent and kept it open for her. There was so much simplicity to this affair that it would have touched the devil. Yet Mr Stone told her nothing of his encounter with the horse in the abbey. He told her very little. The elements were so strong in this island, light, heat, earth, water so aglow with their own unstarved powers that speech became a superfluity. They spent whole hours in easy silence. Their sex was as rich as bright apples. Yet they did not couple until the second or third day, and when it was done it was more of a rite than a selfish passion. Stone’s heart spurted tenderness, pity, affection in great gouts. Mae melted beyond meltings. Her small face went beyond itself into child, infant, embryo, female homunculus. Stone watched her ontogeny and phylogeny as if she had been a butterfly turned from imago to the final fluttering miracle. Their love affair was not believable. It did not believe itself. It was magic, pure fiction ...

They lay in the secluded little bay where Stone had slept off his earlier miracle. They lay breast to breast, her paps as sweet and small as little quails. Stone kissed her nipples and sucked the juices. They fucked fecundity into each other. No one saw. No one knew. There were only yards between them and the world, and yet no one knew of the seeds and the eggs that met and turned into a zygote of ... magic. Then when twilight came on they sat and stared at the Treshnish Isles, small fibrillating animalcules, small zygotes drilling dark blue as the sun sank down. Lunga, Fladda, Bac Mor. They walked out to them in their imaginations and lived alone as lovers that have left the earth. No trace then of Mae or Stone, simply evanesced into the skies or that area whither the sun disappears.

Until Mae departed, as ordained. For she had her home to go to, a future, the rest of her twenties. Mr Stone too had to move on to Tiriodh. It was all planned long since. They parted thus with haemorrhages, knowing it was all of the place and the time and the memory. It didn’t have to be said. Each had a future and a world of his own making.

The day after she had gone back to Glaschu with her companions, Mr Stone departed for Tiriodh. But the final afternoon on I he look himself down to the delicate bay where Columba had landed – and sat stark alone at the end of the isle. He gazed across to the empty ocean. It melted away into whiteness, lostness and absence. The rock pools that bordered the bay were red, green, grey, jasper, agate, the stuff of speechless millennia. Bright hot sun fell on the little pools where the seaweed shone viridian and the crabs scuttered just as he had scuttered at the peasants bellowing to Señor. The heat turned the pinkness to goldpinks or the colour of the beyond, of the smile of Mae in embrace, the memory of all islands real and imaginary, a tinted picture of lonely Dukes staying safe in his guarded seclusion. Then it was that he stepped out onto the smallest rock which stood quite discrete from the bay. It was a rock off an island off an island off an island. Here at last Stone stood in true fidelity.

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