Monday, June 6, 2011     17:19

QUEST FOR A KELPIE

Available in hardback.

Price £5.99


How can a wee fisher lass affect two kings, and ride the Kelpie, the most fearsome beast in Scotland?  And among redcoats and Highland warriors, will she survive the adventure?

My first book, and still my favourite.

PAPER EDITION
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The gipsy girl, Mag Davidson, was behind me.
"What d'ye want wi' me?" I asked, my mind going first to her - well, my - earrings safely stowed behind the loose stone in the fireplace at home.
"Ma's ta'en," she said quietly.
I didn't understand at first. "Taken? Taken where?"
"The Tolbooth!" she said impatiently. "She's for hangin'. She lifted a hen out o' Geordie Grant's henrun, an' she was spied. They gripped her yestre'en. She'll be up at the Assize the morn. Ye've to go see her."
"What? I canna walk off an' visit prisoners in the Tolbooth, just like that!" I said, alarmed. "Mistress Clark would have my backside raw!"
"I ken that," Mag shrugged. "But that's what she says. Ye'll find a way." And without another word she slipped away among the passers-by.
I went back to work, wondering what to do. Then, as if it was meant, a  man came to the door looking for the surgeon, to come up the country to his son who'd cut his foot near off with a sickle.  "Henny, go an' tell Hugh to saddle up," said Mistress Clark. "Jeannie, you go over an' tell the master he's needed. He's in the Tolbooth." My jaw dropped, and I stood hesitating for a second. "On you go, now!" she urged. "Dinna be shy. He'll no' eat you."
Wondering, I ran up and across to the old half-ruined Tolbooth. The master was there, talking to somebody in the one whole cell. When I gave him the message, he turned to shut over the door.
"Well, Maggie," he said, "I'll see ye in Court the morn."
"Aye will ye, Sheriff Clark," said a voice that was familiar, yet strange. "But ye'll no' be hangin' me. No' this time."
"I wouldna be so sure o' that, Maggie," he said, locking the door and handing the key to the jailer, who hung it on his belt. I couldn't get it there. "But I wish ye luck. Come, lass."
But as they went down the stair, I waited behind, and the jailer didn't see me. I tip-toed up. The barred peephole was too high for me to look in, but Margaret Davidson spoke to me without even seeing me.
"Jeannie Main. Mag found ye, then." The straw rustled as she came over to the door, and I saw her smiling down at me. "Ye've come quicker than I thought. I telt ye we'd deal together, did I no'?"  I didn't need to speak at all. "Ye'll save me, quean." Why should I? She answered the thought. " It's written. We're no' done wi' ane another  yet."  But how? "I dinna ken how. I just ken. Now off ye run, quean, or ye'll get into trouble, an' that wouldna help none. But mind, ye'll dae it. It's my life that's at stake." There was no tremor in her voice.
"Wha's that?" came the jailer's rough tones from below. "Ye're the Surgeon's servin' lass, are ye no'? Awa' hame wi' ye, ere I tell Mistress Clark on ye. She's a rare Tartar, yon ane. Aff wi' ye, quean."
"Thank ye, sir," I said politely, and scampered back before I did get into trouble, as they had warned me.
They were all talking about how she was a known thief, and this was the third or fourth time she'd been caught. She'd been imprisoned and put to stand three days in the jougs at Cawdor earlier in the year, and had been warned that the next time she'd be for the gibbet.

All that day, as I did my work, I puzzled how I could help the gipsy.  Could I break her out, like a Mackenzie chief broke one of his sons out when the lad was arrested for reiving cattle? No, that wasn't practicable. What, then?