The first few scenes
I want to leave these first few scenes outside the paywall as we get to know each other & what will be happening in the project. This type of post will be only available to subscribers in the future.
As of now I am thinking that the way into the story is the same as it is for any of us trying to access a connection to the forgotten ones and landscapes. It starts with connection to a place, the good luck of meeting someone on your journey who provides inspiration and context and general “no you are not crazy” support.
So our way into this story begins in the present day with Tilly, a writer, as she arrives alone to hide herself away and finish an overdue book. But she is completely unaware of what is about to come for her and the stories that landscape has chosen her to hear. She encounters Eileen on the side of the road and a friendship has a chance to begin.
Some of this is obviously based on my own arrival to Argyll, but most is imagined—besides the potholes.
Thank you for being here.
“Where do you stay?” The friendly man behind the grocery counter asked as he rang up the purchases. She’d grabbed some local things to make a picnic for her first night in the Cottage. Local sourdough bread, a smoked salmon pate, Arran cheeses, and some dodgy over-priced red wine. Note to self to order in wine.
“I’m on my way to Ardmarnoch.”
“Inchmarnock? Are you on a boat? I didn’t know you could get to the island from here.”
“Oh no, sorry, Ardmarnoch, the estate up on Loch Fyne side. That’s where I’m going. I’ve rented a lovely cottage there for the year. To do some writing.”
“Oh yes they aren’t much around at the big house there. Not known for being a part of things if you get my meaning. A writer? Well we already have a writer around these parts. He writes crime stories and everyone in the village has been murdered one way or another at least twice. I recommend the strategy for selling books!” He laughed as he finished packing the groceries.
The store was heaving with all you could need to live a life without too often venturing across the water to the big stores in Glasgow. The short aisles were stacked with the excess of bulky popular items like flour and paper towels. Tilly loved being in stores like this. A labyrinth of possibility and usually some eclectic treasures depending on the taste of the proprietor.
She tapped her card and thanked him as she picked up her bag. Walking out the door and taking in again the sweeping watery views of the Kyles of Bute, she turned her head to the right and spotted the island of Inchmarnock in the distance off the western edge of Bute, the mountains of Arran towering above it, further in the distance. She wondered about the connection to the estate and then, with more concern, wondered how long she could delay becoming an easy anecdote for the grocery clerk too.
Tilly Meets Eilleen
The little rental car bounces out of a pot hole as it passes the quartz capped stone pillars marking the start of the estate road. Inside Tilly curses aloud.
“That one was the size of this car!!! I am never getting my deposit back.”
She turns right on the way into the village loving that on these single lane roads she never has to remember which lane to pull into. Tilly is zooming along enjoying the curves and the hills, but is always aware of how despite appearances another vehicle can appear like a ghost in front of you on these one lane two direction of travel roads in the Scottish countryside.
Just as the thought crosses her mind mind a car appears on the passing place ahead of her, trunk open. There’s a small woman with her hands on her hips staring at her tire.
Oh dear, Tilly exhales as she stops and pulls over lowering her window.
“Hi there! Everything ok?”
The tiny woman turns around and beams at Tilly. The sun catches her hair it looks white or silver and glows around her. She seems to get taller and older as she clutches a wooden staff in her hand bringing it to the ground knocking once. Around her long thin neck is a tong beautifully knotted around a carved piece of white quartz with a hole in the centre. She nods while she smiles at the impact she made.
Tilly shakes her head and the vision recedes into the young, tiny woman in front of her smiling like she understood the weird pause.
“All is well. Thank you so much for stopping. I just like to use the level spot on the road to check my tires! The locals all know what I’m doing and wave as they go by. Sometimes the Posty gives me my mail! But it’s a fun sorting mechanism for visitors and new neighbours. The good ones always stop.”
She laughed and turned to lean on my car.
“You must be the writer staying up the road at Ardmarnoch.”
Tilly’s smile dropped and she sighed. “I forget how small places work sometimes. I grew up in one, so I should know better! They always write stories about the mysterious stranger. But it’s really the opposite! Everyone knows a lot about me, but I don’t even know who or how many everyone is! Maybe you can help me dream up my own sorting mechanism.”
“Well I’m Eileen and I am no longer a stranger, but I hope I’ll keep a little mystery. My family used to live on Ardmarnoch for generations.”
She looks wistfully at the hill dividing the road from the lands of the estate and the loch behind it.
“But we’ve not gone far,” she laughs with a conspiratorial smile.
“I live at the cottage just at the end of that drive. Come by for a cup of tea over the weekend and I’ll tell you some of the tales of the place you’ve found yourself—and which of the neighbours to avoid.”
They laugh and wave as Tilly pulls away.
The beginning of the tale. Tilly’s House.
“Come in, come in!”
The carved door to the little cottage opened before Tilly could even reach it to knock. The chickens cozied for a last bit of sun-warmed path clucked their disgruntlement as Eilleen shooed them away with her foot, a warm smile on her face.
“I’m just about ready for you. You lot,” she scolded at the chickens, “should go to your roost before Marten comes looking for you!”
“Oh is someone else joining us tonight?” Asked Tilly.
Eileen laughed out loud and said, “No, no I was referring to our neighbour PINE MARTEN whose wee black face is often waiting over there in the bushes for a chicken to be too slow to seek the shelter of the roosting shed. It has an automatic door that shuts at dusk to keep him out. I wonder what kind of stories the Martens tell about that?”
She giggles to herself and gets lost for a moment in the idea of it. Tilly takes in the moment. The small woman with her bright blonde hair catching the last of the light, the white stucco of the cottage a perfect back drop for the bright flowers and silky green leaves of the plantings reaching up to wrap the windows—like their ambition was to wrap the house in themselves and protect it with their beauty. A short dry stone wall wrapped around the garden to add another ring to the defences.
Eileen shakes herself from her amusement and smiles at Tilly again.
“But you are here for different stories and you’re very welcome. Come in. Come in.
Did you gather the things I mentioned on the walk over?”
Tilly dips into her coat pocket and passes Eilleen a handful of offerings of grasses and flower heads and empty acorn tops like a child whose been to the seaside turning over her treasures.
Eileen nodding beckons Tilly through the door into the dim interior of the cottage.
Tilly enters caressing the carving on the door as she goes. Smooth, polished oak pieces sliced unusually showing the rings of the tree masterfully joined together formed the face of the door. A carving of a wind-twisted oak centred almost like a replica of an iron age shield she had seen at the British Museum once, with the shapes of recognisable and mythical creatures carved amongst knots to make up the border.
Eileen settles Tilly in a soft, deep chair next to the wood stove and places herself on the other side. She is framed in black and in the dimmer light of the cottage she glows. She fusses a bit with the candle placement on the mantle after she lights them and slowly places a selection of stones from her pocket in a circle on top of the stove. Between each stone she places one of Tilly’s treasures. When she is satisfied she perches onto her stool. It was mesmerising to watch for some reason.
"When you tell the old stories you must do it with respect. Not the modern kind of respect like shushing for a hush you didn’t earn, reverence is what’s required, and offerings. To be a story teller is to become again part of the earth and all her beings, so-called animate or not.”
She winked and picked up a stone.
“For humans, our stories are the rocks of our beings. Their substance prevails even when we ignore them or find them unremarkable. And of course they are changed over time. Like a pebble is changed by the sea and the weather. Smoothed sometimes to loss. But as the storyteller it is my job to reimagine for you all the sharp edges and meanings and hopes and dreams and travels of the stories. Even when we can’t quite remember.”
She passes Tilly a smoothed white quartz with a seam of pyrite that glitters in the firelight.
“It’s good to hold this as I go”.
Eileen settles onto her soft stool, her back straightens, and her voice drops low and somehow gets fuller. Tilly is hooked and tries to remember that German word for sing-talking. The stone feels good in her hand. It settles comfortably.
Eileen watches her.
“Can you hear that stone?” she asks.
“Once we could.”