Life and peril, the clash of light and dark, none exists more than in Orkney, a land beyond Scotland, home of legends, tales and drowned sailors.
A rich, fertile land, comprising a series of isles, it is Scotland but not Scotland, the United Kingdom but no. Floating through a different time haunted by the past misdeeds and passions, it is a land of weavers, singers, fishmongers and new advanced industry.
Ancient tribes engraved their runes on the stones, Nordic raiders conquered and stayed, free folk moved from Scotland and elsewhere to find opportunity, even as many locals left.
Truth became myth and slumbered; old stories were forgotten, old warnings dismissed. Orkney was to reach its golden age but then that winter went through to March and everything changed.
Charles Gow didn’t like change. He was a man of simple habits and married to the same woman for over thirty years. He had never strayed, never thought of straying, he was destined to be buried in a plot with her, though her tenacity meant he would go first.
He was in town collecting a few things when the phone rang and Marion, his dear wife, was distraught. He had only heard her once like this, back when her father died, but the message was simple, “Ah need thee home, right noo.”
He hurried to his car and nature came to greet him; it was bucketing down with rain, swept in from the harbour, and he was drenched before he reached his late model Range Rover.
The Range Rover was most accommodating to his burly, soaked frame- plush leather seats seem to encapsulate him as he started the car and turned on the heater and the mandatory seat warmers.
Wipers already sweeping away the foreign horde of water, he threw on the fog lights, even though in town, and made a quick exit from Stromness, back towards home.
Orkney had been good to him. He first discovered the place when he was in the Royal Navy based at HMS Vulcan in northern Scotland. Back then, tourism was undeveloped and diving wasfor the foolhardy and suicidal.
Though originally a Stoker, a mechanical engineer for Her Majesty, after a stint on submarines, he began work on experimental nuclear reactor cores and was transferred to the shore base, HMS Vulcan, to undertake work there. In his free time, while Scuba was at its infancy, he spent more and more holidays looking for dive wrecks to hone his craft.
This led to Orkney, notably Stromness, which had the largest collection of undersea wrecks anywhere in the world- courtesy of the scuttling of the World War One German High Sea Fleet, right there and the tragic sinking of HMS Royal Oak.
As his time at Vulcan came to a close, he caught the eye of good Orcadian woman, Marion Sinclair, and they married.
He only took two risks in his life, one was biting the proverbial bullet and discharging from the Navy and subsequent move to Orkney, opening up a dive shop and charter boat right at the beginning. He owned two more and was now a silent partner in two others, and he was prosperous enough by local standards.
The second risk was his other business, which came much later, and why he could drive his Range Rover through inclement conditions and have his pride and joy, his Mark II Jaguar Manual with overdrive. The favourite pursuit and getaway car of a forgotten era of cops and robbers.
There wasn’t much in the way of hills on Orkney sans on the isle of Hoy, but still there was a small rise out of town from the harbour, awash now with a torrent of water. His car could handle it.
Still, visibility wasn’t what it ought to be, even with his blaring lights, and he came close to missing the turnoff to his driveway.
Asphalt gave way to lose gravel, sodden with the downpour. His car made quick work of the drive, which might have made a lesser car succumb to the quagmire. And he was home.
He paused, contemplating how wet he wanted to be, then eased up to the porch which had a curtain of water, a decent attempt at a waterfall one had to step through for the safety of their abode.
He could see the lights on in the whitewashed cottage, now a menacing and aged grey under the storm.
His garage, where his Jaguar rested awaiting to prowl again, was to his left and not connected to the main building. An oversight when buying the place and renovating it. They had focused his renovation plans more on something else, but he wished he had the foresight back then.
He looked out into the storm. Despite his years here, he wasn’t a native, an Orcadian. His speech, he was from the Isle of Skye, gave him away as much as he tried to pepper his language, sometimes too much, with the local vernacular.
Still, he was nostalgic at heart and not just for old ships and cars but legends and folklore. And in folklore, here at Orkney, was the tale of Teran, the fearsome God of Winter, who fought a losing battle in March with the Mither o the Sea, the Mother who gave warmth and light to the islands. The battle repeated later in the year, this time for Teran to triumph and for Winter to begin.
“And what a fight Teran was puttin up this night.” He said to himself. And then there was the urgent phone call from his Wife. Something made him feel uneasy.
Nothing More to it, he was a man of few words but decisive action. He dived into the rain, not even pausing long enough to press the clicker on the car to lock it. Through the cascade he went, full of the promise of a lit hearth and a warm meal. He reached for the door and found it locked. He banged on the glass, hoping to be heard over the cracks of thunder that had been getting louder on the drive home.
Despite the tension in him and the wind biting into his drowned form, he remembered his wife’s voice, not what she had said but the tone behind it. Not the time for anger and shouting, “Woman, open the door!” but just her name;
“Marion! Open the door, please Marion.”
He could hear the quick shuffle and fiddling with the lock and the door opened to his wife of three decades, who looked, at that moment, that she had aged another ten years or more.
She grabbed at him and pulled him in; she seemed to forget the door, so he swung it shut behind them, as she in all her finery met this creature from the cold and hugged him.
“Marion?” He said, pushing her away and searching her face, perplexed she would hug him rather than order him to a hot bath and to change his clothes.
Her face was red with tears, her eyes mournful, and she was unsteady. ‘What could be wrong?’ He wondered.
It didn’t take him long to find out as the love of his wife, whimpering but not saying a word, led him to the back patio, the wooden floor spoiled by the body of a man face-down on the floor and clearly dead.