Merrily swim we, the moon shines bright, Downward we drift through shadow and light.

Under yon rock the eddies sleep, Calm and silent, dark and deep.

The Kelpie has risen from the fathomless pool, He hath lighted his candle of death and of dool:

Look, Father, look, and you'll laugh to see How he gapes and he glares with his eyes on thee! (Sir Walter Scott)

It had been a great year so far. That summer Fergus had passed his last school exams and bid a final farewell to his school. It was academically good, but not famous. In October he would be going up to the university of his choice. He was now his own master from July until late September. He felt that he deserved a holiday. He had put by some cash by working over Christmas and Easter. Later, he could not recall exactly why he decided to pass that special long vacation of transition from boy to... maybe not man, but undergraduate, at any rate, in the north-west of Scotland. It was probably because his family was originally from the Highlands and he felt a romantic, atavistic attachment to that region, although he had never been there before. Apart from that, Fergus had heard on the school grapevine about a "very basic," but affordable cottage available for hire near the village of Kildonan. It belonged to a Major and Mrs Pattullo, the parents of a friend of a friend. He could have it for a low rent. It would be his first independent holiday: not with his parents; not with other relations; not with a group from the school; a bit of an adventure and exploration.

The cottage stove used bottled gas; Fergus would have to refill the cylinder in the village when it ran out. There was no immersion electric heater. If he wanted hot water, he must heat it himself by lighting the living-room fire, which also heated the tank. He would need to remember to light the fire two hours before he wanted a bath. For that he would need peat and kindling. Fortunately there were a lot of both in the shed. Peat-cutting is hard work. But if he forgot to light the fire, the bath taps would run only cold water. There was an old-fashioned telephone, but it could only receive inward calls. Fergus could not dial out and run up a phone bill. There was a pre-war public phone box in the village. There was likewise no television set, although there was an antique radio. The village was two miles away. It had two shops, a small hotel and a Post Office, which was also a newsagent. On a good day Fergus could hope to get the previous day's London papers there. Otherwise there was only the local weekly newspaper, which was of limited interest.

Given that he intended to do some advance reading for his course of studies, this lack of distraction sounded good to Fergus. Later he expected two friends - brothers with whom he had been at school - to join him. In the meantime he would be completely alone. He could get on with his reading and get himself fit. There were some promising mountains nearby. Jogging along the forestry paths and hill-walking would form part of his new healthy regime. It would be fun and therapeutic to explore and look at the wildlife. Fergus was also learning to angle; he had brought his trout rods and fly book with him. He had permission to fish a local river that was reliably reported to contain both brown and sea trout. Whether they would cooperate by allowing themselves to be caught was another matter.

Driving his first car, a second-hand "half-timbered" Morris Traveller, Fergus found the place easily enough. He collected the keys to the cottage from the estate factor's office and bumped along the cart-track to Am Bothan, as the cottage was called. It was as Spartan as he had expected. Once a gardener's cottage, it was now mainly used to put up overspill bachelor guests at the big house during large shooting and stalking parties. Bachelors were expected to be hardy and uncomplaining. The main difference was that Fergus, as a paying guest, was not being given the option of using the facilities at the big house when he wanted a hot bath or to dry his clothes. In any case the Pattullo family were not in residence. The big house was shuttered; its contents under dust sheets. Fergus would be on his own. Occasionally he would see the gamekeeper, Mr McRae, a massive and gloomy man who remembered the estate in happier times before the Second World War, in which he told Fergus that he had served in the Lovat Scouts. He sometimes collected and dropped off Fergus's mail, of which he received very little, however.

None of this; neither the isolation nor the basic facilities, worried Fergus. Given that the weather in Scotland is often bad and anything but predictable, he was unexpectedly blessed with glorious summer sunshine on arrival. By some freak of meteorology most of Scotland was sodden and sullen under a dark cloud-canopy and non-stop chilly drizzle. This can happen at any time of the year, including July. The Western Highlands, however, were basking in almost-Mediterranean warmth. The hills were aromatic and purple with bog-myrtle and heather, in which a million bees buzzed. Grouse, oblivious of their approaching doom on the Glorious Twelfth of August, cackled noisily. Small butterflies flipped lazily around, glutted with nectar from the summer flowers. The Minch was as calm as a millpond; distant islands were clearly visible. Late every evening, high, feathery fine-weather cirrus clouds and a flaming Turner sunset over the Atlantic would herald another fine day to follow. It could not go on forever, Fergus thought, so let's enjoy it while it lasts. He walked with his knapsack or drove to the village every week to buy essentials. Apart from that, he also went there once or twice to have an evening drink in the hotel - really a glorified pub - or to go to church but, as the days went by, he became less and less sociable. Why go anywhere else when it was so beautiful and quiet where he was? Aromatic old-fashioned roses bloomed in his unkempt little garden. Birds sang in it. Deer sometimes wandered past the windows. Twice he saw an eagle. It was great: Fergus needed no other company.

Looking back, Fergus told me, he could see that he was in that state of heightened awareness that often goes with falling in love; something of which he knew nothing at the time. It can also be induced when someone is flatteringly in love or in lust with you. He was an only child; he had been educated at a religious school; he was still a virgin: he had had no close relationship with anyone. Fergus was not emotionally involved with anyone in Kildonan village: he saw very few people. Instead, he displaced his emotions onto the land. He found great satisfaction in the Highland landscape. he loved it passionately. He wanted to explore it thoroughly. I suppose that he equated it with the body of a lover; a masculine and rugged lover, albeit one who was also spectacularly beautiful. At the time Fergus thought that it was his long-dormant Highland blood rising to the occasion: he was back where he belonged. One day, he thought, he might come back to work and live there.

It was while he was following the river upstream to find a place to cast a trout fly that Fergus discovered the pool. He later learned that it was called the Kelpie's Pool. There was a waterfall. Below it the river widened into a deep, roughly circular pool; almost a small lake. On both sides there were steep rocky cliffs, crowned by thick woodland, which hid the pool until you got very close. If you stuck to the cart track, it would be easy to miss the pool altogether. A ruinous summer house stood to one side. Once it must have commanded a fine view, before the surrounding trees had grown so tall and thick. Below it narrow stone steps led down to a broad rock ledge overhanging the pool, which struck Fergus as a good place to cast a fly.

The trout however had other ideas. After waiting vainly for more than two hours for them to show an interest, Fergus started to get bored and look around. he was tempted by the idea of a swim. (If you can't beat the trout, join them.) A problem was that he had no trunks with him; he was not sure that Mr McRae, the gamekeeper, would approve of nude swimming if he were to happen by, to say nothing of anyone else. Then the idea came to him: he'd swim late at night and he'd swim naked. He was already taking cold baths and getting quite used to them. The weather was warm; he often forgot to stoke the peat fire early enough to heat the boiler. His water supply came from the river anyway, so it made no difference to him. Why not swim last thing at night, instead of taking a bath?

That night was moonlit and pleasurably eerie. Fergus had no need of a torch. The valley and the woodland seemed even more remote, beautiful and mysterious than by day. The river was murmuring quietly as he approached the pool and walked down the rock steps. The air was still slightly warm, although not as hot as it had been that afternoon. No-one seemed to be around, although he had the odd sensation of not being alone; maybe he was imagining it. Fergus had been reading Scott's novel "The Monastery." He could imagine that the White Lady of Avenel, or her Highland equivalent, might manifest here, on such a night. ("Merrily swim we, the moon shines bright!")

Anyway, what the hell! Fergus now stripped completely and stood for a few minutes, enjoying the sensation. He found that he loved the feeling of being naked out of doors. He had never done this before; it was quite different from wearing even the briefest trunks. The night air kissed and caressed his skin. On impulse he bent down, seized a handful of dark, peaty soil and smeared it over his face, neck and chest. It smelt good. Not satisfied with that, he rolled on the ground and got damp peat and leaf-mould on him: getting back in touch with his native earth. For some reason Fergus suddenly started to feel very randy. He got a stiff erection. He needed release. After deciding that there really was no-one else there, he grabbed his cock and masturbated fiercely. He lost control; a libation of pearly sperm fell on the ground, while Fergus leant against a rock, gasping. The sperm drops lay there for a few moments, like a string of baroque pearls; then they soaked away. Fergus had asserted his right to be there and had mystically married his Highland ancestors' land; so he later rationalised this strange act.

"Cold shower for you, my lad," thought Fergus, in the accent of an absurd and disliked former schoolmaster, adding a silent chuckle. "I need never hear or see him again, thank heaven," he thought.

Fergus now definitely needed a bathe. He wanted to dive in, but remembered that he had not reccied the pool. There might be submerged rocks. He lowered himself in, cautiously. The water was chilly and refreshing. Fergus need not have worried; the pool was very deep and there were no rocks near the surface. He would be able to dive. He swam around, surface-dived, washed off the sperm, the mud and the worries that he should have left behind. The soft, clear water was kind to the skin. He felt clean and re-born. He was eighteen and finished with school. A new and challenging phase of his life was about to open. Anything might happen. He clambered out for a few moments; then dived in again. It was a satisfying dive that took Fergus deep. He came out and stood for a while beside the river. The water ran off his skin and the night breeze helped to dry him. Fergus was in no hurry to cover up. He found some wild mint, picked a few stems and rubbed it on his skin, enjoying the sharp, clean smell. He listened to owls hooting. A cock pheasant, which something had disturbed, squawked angrily.

Then Fergus saw someone. It was not the gamekeeper. Whoever it was was standing under the trees at the top of the cliff opposite. Like Fergus, he was naked and looked as though he might be about to swim. But he was surely not going to dive from up there? That had to be risky. Fergus wondered whether he could see him. But he made no sign and seemed to stare straight ahead at something above and beyond Fergus. At any rate Fergus was getting a good view of him. Of course; he was below him in shadow, while the unknown man was lit by the moon, which was nearly full. He probably could not see Fergus, yet he intuitively felt that he must be aware of an intruder. Fergus could see that the man was tall, athletic and fair-complexioned. He guessed that he was in his early twenties. His pale skin and hair reflected the moonlight. His hair was unfashionably short. He looked like a serious athlete; maybe an oarsman. Then suddenly, he was gone. Fergus did not know whether he had seen a ghost or a living person, although he did not really believe in ghosts. It had to be a man. But why, if he wanted to swim, did he not come down to the river to join Fergus? Surely he could not be shy? Hunky athletes rarely were, in Fergus's experience.

The next evening Fergus again went swimming, saw no-one, but again had that sensation of being watched. He did not repeat his masturbatory feat, although once more he felt unaccountably randy. Maybe it was all that simple food, fresh air and exercise. For two nights running after that, Fergus remembered to light the peat fire early and enjoyed a warm bath at home. However, the fourth night after the original sighting, Fergus went swimming and saw the man once more; this time much closer. Fergus was sitting at the side of the pool with a towel over his shoulders after his swim, when the man appeared on the cliff opposite. Again, Fergus could not be sure whether he had seen him, so he stayed still. The man poised himself at the edge of the cliff; raised his arms and made a superb dive into the water. It must have been nearly twenty feet from the top of the cliff to the surface of the pool. Having no head for heights, Fergus was full of admiration. It was one of the most accomplished dives that he had ever seen: slicing cleanly into the water. The unknown man must have known the pool well and he had gone very deep. He did not surface for several minutes. Fergus began to worry that he might have had an accident, when suddenly he erupted from the water at his feet like a seal or an otter, and hauled himself out. He shook the water from his short, springy hair, which Fergus now saw was reddish-blond. He had the greenish eyes that often go with that colouring: he was ruddy and tanned all over. There was no sign of any tan-line. The man had quite a few freckles, which made him look boyish. He looked at Fergus closely and unsmilingly. Then, suddenly, he grinned. His teeth were large and white.

"So, someone else has discovered my pool," he said. His voice was pleasant and lilting: educated English softened by a slight Highland Scots accent.

"Your pool? I thought that the fishing belonged to the Pattullos," said Fergus.

"It does," he said. "But they are rarely here. I've been swimming here every year since I was a lad: obviously not when anyone else has been angling."

"May I know your name?" Fergus finally asked.

"Rory McKinnon," he said. "May I know yours?"

Fergus told him: "Fergus - Fergus Colquhoun." (pronounced "co-hoon")

Fergus explained that he had rented the nearby cottage from the Pattullos. They shook hands stiffly, formally, and rather ridiculously, given that they were both bollock-naked and, in Rory's case, dripping wet.

"I live locally, too," said Rory. "My family's house is in that direction. " He pointed north-west. "But they aren't there; it's just me. You can come and see it, if you like."

"I'd very much like to walk across; maybe tomorrow? I suppose your kit's on the other side?" said Fergus.

Rory laughed. "There's not much of it. I wear as little as possible in summer. If I don't have to leave our grounds, I often wear nothing at all for days at a time. If it's hot it feels great and if it rains I don't mind. And I always swim naked. Trunks are a waste of money and cloth."

"I tend to agree with you," said Fergus.

"Good." said Rory. "Come over as soon as you can. It's along the cart track across the river. There's a bridge higher up, or you could wade across one of the shallow bits. It's marked on the Ordinance Survey map. It's called Castle Roy, but it's not a real castle; just a pseudo-baronial house with turrets."

"See you then!"

He smiled, turned and dived back into the pool. Fergus watched him climb out the other side. He stood dipping wet on the bank; raised his hand in farewell; then he was gone among the trees.

Solitary and unsociable - and content with it - though Fergus had been since his arrival, he was now pleased to have a new friend who presumably knew the area very well indeed. Even so, he was slightly apprehensive. It was clear to him that Rory and he moved in different circles: after all, Rory lived in a sham castle. It was not a certainty that they would hit it off. Fergus would try not to put a foot wrong. However he took Rory at his word and set off on foot for his house soon after breakfast. It was going to be a fine, warm day and Fergus wanted to get there before the heat of noon struck. Fergus must have walked a good five miles before he caught sight of Castle Roy. The top floor was visible above a grove of trees, mainly pines. It was indeed a Victorian house in the "Abbotsford Scottish Baronial" style, adorned with battlements, pepper-pot turrets and crow-step gables. Fergus guessed that it was no more than a century old, despite some meretricious touches of antiquity, in the form of gargoyles and coats of arms.

"Hi, Fergus!" shouted Rory. He was standing on the roof, leaning over the battlements. He was wearing sun- glasses and, Fergus suspected, nothing else. "Come up here and join me. Here's the key!"

The key came floating down, attached to a small blue silk parachute. Fergus caught it. It was massive.

"Good man!"

Fergus unlocked the front door, which was heavy, metal-studded and made of oak. He locked it behind him. He then climbed the stairs. He noticed dark, old oil paintings; many of them of stags and Highland cattle. Stags' heads were displayed on the walls. Glass cases contained stuffed animals, many of them mounted as if engaged in violent combat. Two eagles fought forever over a cowering Arctic Hare. A fox and a wildcat contended ferociously for a grouse. The ground and first floors were furnished with heavy, old Victorian furniture; some of it dust-sheeted. Rory was evidently not using all the rooms. On the second floor however Fergus noticed that some of the numerous bedrooms were empty or contained very little furniture. Perhaps they never had been furnished. Had the money run out?

In a corridor on the second floor Fergus saw a ladder, which led by an open hatchway to the roof. He climbed it and walked out onto the hot, flat leads. The roof was extensive and there were several rows of chimneys. At first he could not see Rory.

"Over here!" he shouted. Rory's voice came from behind a range of chimneys.

Fergus soon found him. Rory did not bother to get up. There he lay on a beach towel; a naked red-gold giant sprawled in total surrender to the sun. He was wearing only a watch and a pair of sun-glasses, although a very brief and faded pair of blue trunks was lying nearby; in case they were unexpectedly needed, Fergus supposed. Clearly his own visit did not merit any show of modesty. Rory's hands were clasped behind his head; his legs were wide apart; his body was covered with a slick of suntan oil that shone and made his muscles stand out. There was a fiery sunburst of red-gold hair at his crotch. His cock was lying at ease, pointing northwards towards his head. It was large and uncut. His armpits were plumed with small clouds of coarse red-gold hair, but his chest was bare and smooth. Fine gold hairs glittered on his bare arms and legs.

"Come and join me! There are some more beach-towels over there. There's cold orange squash in the big thermos. I've got a pile of books here in case we get bored. The lunch I've prepared is cold; a sort of picnic or buffet. We can feed whenever we like. Grab yourself a towel and strip off. There's no-one here except us."

Fergus followed his advice and stripped off.

"Your skin is very fair; you should use some of this sun-cream," said Rory. "You don't want to get burned."

Fergus smeared some on.

"No no, you need to put on more than that. Lie on your stomach."

Fergus did so. A moment later Rory was kneeling astride him. He started to smear the cream onto him and then work it in. Fergus found himself enjoying the feeling. Rory was evidently an accomplished masseur. He started on Fergus's shoulders and worked his way down. Once or twice his warm, heavy cock brushed Fergus's back or buttocks. Once Fergus got a slight but enjoyable sensation in his asshole, like a mild electric shock. It was so fleeting and so unfamiliar that Fergus thought that he had probably imagined it. Much later he worked out that he had not.

"Right! That's your back, ass and legs done. Now that you've got the hang of it, you can do your front yourself."

Rory stood up and walked back to his blanket. He sat down and continued looking at Fergus and chatting, while Fergus smeared more of the sun-cream on his torso, arms legs and face.

"Don't forget the sensitive places. Anoint your ear-lobes! They always get burned. Make sure that you oil your cock too. There's nothing worse than a raw, blistered foreskin!"

Fergus had not thought of that. He applied the stuff carefully but, to his embarrassment, his cock started to swell and stiffen.

"Boy, oh boy!" chuckled Rory. "Quite well-hung, aren't we?"

"You are so bloody rude!" Fergus shouted in mock-anger.

Rory rolled about laughing. "Kettle calling the pot black-arse, I think!"

"I didn't do it on purpose!"

"I don't suppose that you did. Your embarrassment was very comical."

"Fuck off!"

"Ah! That bad language calls for reprisals," said Rory.

Seconds later the chilly contents of a very large water jug, with ice cubes, landed on Fergus's stomach, temporarily winding him. The moment after that, Rory was on top of Fergus, pinning his arms to the roof and with his long, muscular legs between Fergus's. Rory was a lot stronger than Fergus. His genitals were pressed against Fergus's. His eyes were a few inches away. They bored mockingly into Fergus's. Fergus noticed for the first time that there were golden flecks in Rory's blue-green irises. Although he was still grinning, he did not look well-disposed.

"Apologise!" he laughed harshly, "or it'll be the worse for you!"

"Damned if I do!" retorted Fergus.

"Damned if you do, damned if you don't!" Rory chuckled.

His laughter was infectious. Fergus started to laugh too. "You're an appalling man!"

"You're probably right. It's not the first time I've been called that," said Rory after a moment's pause. Then he continued more soberly. "Even so, you shouldn't insult your host. I'm going to claim a penalty."

"Like what?"

He thought for a minute. "Well, like this!"

He kissed Fergus roughly on the mouth, thrusting his tongue inside. This had never happened to Fergus, with either sex. A kiss for him had always been a peck on the cheek from a member of the opposite sex; usually a female relation. Fergus had the wit to realise that this was rather different. He was not going to pretend that he did not enjoy it. They started to breathe heavily and gasp for air. Moments passed. Fergus's conditioning started to reassert itself. Even so, the h-word (homosexuality) did not immediately shoot to the surface of his mind. It was more the simple sensation that he was being carried away out of his depth.

"Whoa, Cowboy! This is going a bit far, isn't it?

Rory grinned at Fergus. "Believe me; I can go a lot further than this!"

He then did so. He started to kiss Fergus's throat, nipples and belly. From time to time he would gently bite his nipples and armpits. While Rory's hands were caressing Fergus's neck, face and hair. Rory worked his way southwards... He now had Fergus's cock in his mouth, teasing it with his lips and tongue. It stiffened and Rory tatsed Fergus's pre-cum. Then he took it, all of it, and swallowed it to the root.

Fergus's experiments in solitary sex had not prepared him for this sensation. He almost passed out.

"Uh uh oh oh oh oh...."

Fergus's eyes were shut. His mouth was open in an almost-soundless scream. He was gasping like a stranded fish. His fingers were twined in Rory's hair. Rory's head was still at Fergus's crotch-level.

"Rory, we should stop this now," shouted Fergus. "Otherwise, much as I like you, I'll have to leave."

"Fie, fie, Sir Jasper!" Rory was still laughing. "God, you've no idea how pompous you sound. Like the heroine in a silly Victorian melodrama! Anyone would think that you were still a virgin."

"Actually, that's exactly what I am." Fergus said quietly. For some reason he felt embarrassed about this.

There was a shocked silence; then Rory laughed for several minutes. "You're not joking? You're how old: eighteen going on nineteen? And you've never done it with anybody? I find that so hard to credit."

"You make me sound like a freak, but it is quite simple. I'm the only child of elderly parents; I've had a pretty sheltered and very religious upbringing. I went to an all-male school in a remote district of Yorkshire. How could I have had a romance? "

Rory laughed again. "I don't believe this! I'm talking about sex, not romance! I can see that you might have had difficulty meeting nice, suitable girls to date and take out but being at an all-male school is no excuse. I was at one too and I didn't live like a monk!"

"What did you live like?"

"Like a rabbit! I was in and out of holes all the time!"

"Rory, I do not appreciate that sort of humour," said Fergus quietly. "It's really off-putting."

Rory looked at Fergus with renewed interest, as though he were some new and bizarre life form: Charles Darwin identifying a new species of barnacle, perhaps. After a pause:

"I believe you mean that. How strange! I'm sorry if I've offended you. But I'm prepared to believe that you have strong urges and appetites too. I was petty impressed by that rainbow you shot the other night."

"Rainbow?" Fergus was mystified.

"Oh for fuck's sake! Must I explain everything? You must know that expression. I mean that I saw you having a wank by the river a few days ago. It was a pretty impressive performance!"

"Crikey, how embarrassing!" Fergus could feel himself turning red. There really had been somebody else there: Rory.

Another peal of laughter from Rory: "Well, you should be more careful where you do that! But I wasn't offended: I enjoyed the spectacle! I almost came down to congratulate you!"

"I'm glad you didn't!"

Although Fergus now had a lot to think about, he didn't think for very long. It was hot up there on the roof. Presently they started to drowse. Fergus was soon asleep. When he woke up, the sun was westering, although he knew that there would be a long, golden twilight. The nights are short up North at that time of the year. It would not get properly dark until much nearer midnight, if at all.

Rory was nowhere to be seen. Fergus looked around. Presently Rory reappeared. He looked as though he'd had a shower; his hair was damp and spiky. Now he was dressed in a dashing black silk Japanese kimono with a circular white Mon (a Japanese coat of arms) embroidered between the shoulder blades. He was carrying another one, and a pair of slippers of vaguely oriental design.

"I offered you some lunch, but it's a bit late for that now. Please stay for supper, to show that I've been forgiven! Even I draw the line at eating in the nude. Here we dress for dinner, although not in the usual way." He handed Fergus the spare kimono. "If you'd like to shower first, I'll show you the way!"

Fergus accepted all three: the kimono, the offer of a shower and the invitation to supper. The chance of a warm shower was a treat after his Spartan cottage and its chilly baths. And besides being handsome, Rory was extremely charming; albeit wicked and mischievous with it. His appearance and manner were beguiling and misleading: he might look like a boy's story hero but, unless Fergus did him a great injustice, he was starting to suspect that Rory's character was more like that of Rupert of Hentzau or some other dashing villain. There was something about his smile... He fascinated Fergus. That was the only excuse that he could offer for not running away after Rory had made such an explicit pass at him.

Supper was served in a small baronial dining hall. It consisted of what seemed to Fergus a sumptuous and decadent cold collation, including pate de foie gras, game, salad, cheese and fruit. The reason why Fergus's memory was clouded is that they - or at least Fergus - got very drunk. Fergus was almost a teetotaller at that time; it did not take a lot of champagne to make him high. The hours ticked by in a delightful way. Rory was a perfect and attentive host, constantly refilling Fergus's glass and telling him outrageous stories; one of which concerned his rustication from his famous school.

"I think that I might easily have been expelled, if my mother had not been living abroad at the time," he chuckled, "but the school was lenient, thank heaven. My parents had recently divorced and my father had gone back to Canada: he is a Canadian Scot, though educated over here. Mum was in Italy, in an apartment that she used to own in Rome, when my disgrace fell. I was sent down for a term. I joined her in Italy and had a very cultured time mooching around the Vatican, the Pio- Clementine Museum, Hadrian's villa, Tivoli and places like that. She was very nice about it, all things considered. She just said 'I've had a long telephone conversation with the Headmaster. You can go back at the start of the summer term. Let's not talk any more about it!' So we didn't. I liked her for that."

"And what didn't you talk about?"

"What I'd done, of course! It was nothing much, really. Well... I'd fucked the son of the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex. He loved it, but his father got all upset when he found out. The pompous man! Their name was Hardy. I leave you to guess what the son's nickname was!"

"'Kiss me Hardy,' I suppose?"

"You got it in one!" He raised his glass and gave Fergus a show-stopping smile. "You know, you're an amusing chap: I find you challenging. Cheers!"

"Thanks, Rory, I think that I should leave now. It's quite a walk back to my cottage."

"I don't think that you should go. You've had too much to drink. You'd never get back by yourself: you'd probably drown in the river. And I've had quite a bit as well, so I'm not volunteering to escort you. Stay the night!"

"I couldn't impose..."

"Oh yes you could! Let's see whether you can stand, never mind walk....!"

Rory was right. Fergus felt distinctly unsteady. The combination of a lot of sun and a lot of champagne had been too much. The room was spinning slightly.

"There's no problem at all," said Rory. "This house is not short of bedrooms. You can have my father's one. He never comes here now. He hasn't set foot in Scotland for years. Let me show you the way. Take my arm."

Rory's father's bedroom was like a Gothic chapel or baronial chamber. It was possibly inspired by a Victorian idea of what King Arthur's private quarters might have looked like, with touches of Lohengrin's bridal chamber and the Palace of Westminster. The enormous bed was curtained. Tapestry panels depicted knights doing intrepid things and ladies in wimples and distress. A vast Gothic window gave a dramatic view across the bay through its small leaded diamond-panes. Some of the smaller windows were filled with what Fergus suspected to have been irrelevant or purely decorative stained glass heraldry. One was that of Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem. Rory drew the window curtains. They did not quite meet, but left a white shaft of moonlight across the bed and the floor. The moon had now risen and was very bright.

"Sleep well," Rory said, and smiled.

He raised both arms in salute; the long sleeves of the kimono making him look for a moment like a huge black bird. Then he swept out; his black kimono swishing along the floor behind him. Fergus heard his light steps die away down the corridor. He pulled off his own kimono, hung it over a chair, and climbed into bed. Fergus drifted off to sleep. What a giddy day.


Max Markham


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