The end of the season

Linda Leestemaker

“No, please. I’m begging…” Last words turn into a desperate scream, the desperate scream turns into a final breath.
It took him years before he realized that you can only realize what death looks like, when you have seen it in the eyes of others. And he had seen death too often, too often in the eyes of friends and enemies alike. In the eyes of conquered opponents, in the eyes of fallen comrades. For years, he was surrounded by desperate screams that resonated with dying breaths and by pleas for mercy, he knew all the words one could speak in the final moment.
It had confused him for a long time when those screams were replaced by the screams of playing children, by the sounds of flashing cameras. It had taken a long time before he found peace again, although he suspected that it would never fully return to him. At night, when it was quiet and the only thing surrounding him were the stars and loch, he could relax and organize his thoughts.
When he was staring into the darkness of the loch, or into the darkness of the universe, that was the time when he could think of his friends, think of what he had seen and heard over the years. He had been here for so long that he had forgotten his own name. His identity was completely connected to the castle, he even moved around like he was part of the structure.

“Urquhart and its surroundings have been inhabited since the Picts, who might have built a fort here.” He couldn’t help but grin when he heard the voice of his favourite guide, who was followed by a group of tourists armed with camera’s. James was a little brat, only 17 summers old, who by morning already walked around in a cloud of coffee and cigarette smoke. But he was the most fun to hang around with, it was great fun mess with his tour. Sometimes it worked, and today he would try the hardest as it was the last day of the high-season. The wind had started to feel colder, whispering to summer that it was almost time to hand over the reins. He could feel it, hear it almost, when he was looking over the water at night. Staring over those waters that had never reached temperatures over 10 degrees, not even in the hottest months. And they had some hot days this year. Days in which the tourists were sweating almost as much as him and his partners when they were taking the heat during battles.
“Yes, the Picts,” he pondered, while he walked over to James. “Fun guys they were. Although they didn’t really like Columba when he stopped here. Turned out to be Emchath’s stable boy’s undoing. Gartnait wasn’t really keen on listening to some church.” James ignored him, but that was something he always did. It didn’t change their game though. It was his duty to talk about the dark side of Urquhart’s history, whereas James only talked about the glorious history of battles. Aah well, everybody had their own thing.
“But the first real castle was not build until the 12th century,” the young guide went on.
“By the MacWilliams.” At ease with the situation, he munched on a piece of grass. “All hanged or beheaded after that failed revolt of Gille Escoib. Even his daughter, born right here only a few days earlier.” Life had been tough in those days, your name could be your sentence by birth. He did understood why James never told any of this, nobody would show up for his tours anymore.
“But none of that was as bad as William Wallace and his war for independence. Every time the other side took over, they made it look like the castle had just been repainted! You can say a lot of things about the English, but they do know how to pick a fight.” He heard James talk about the MacDonalds, and how they took over the region and castle, in the distance. He remembered those raids clearly, looked at the sky with a smile on his face. “Those were the days James,” he sighed with a slight shiver of melancholy. “We didn’t answer to any king, only to the Lord of the Isles. But he didn’t really mind what we did, as long as we taught those arrogant Grants a lesson.” With a shock, he suddenly realized that he had talked about ‘we’. Had he been a MacDonald? A Scot who fought the English? But just as quickly as the thought had come up, it disappeared again into grey vagueness. Disappeared along with his vanished identity. He sighed again and threw away his piece of grass, after which he climbed down from his wall, beat the dust of his clothes, and re-joined James and his group.
“So, James,” he said, leaning against the guide’s shoulder. “You want to tell him about the explosion to keep the Jacobites out? Or about that German soldier who drowned when his plane took a nosedive? No, you might be right. We’ll save that for the next group.” He grinned at a couple of tourists, who took a photo of him. That was the only appreciation which he hoped for, which he craved. To not disappear, like so many of his kin had done. That was why he stayed around the castle. For almost 500 years…

 

 

 

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