The Boggart Fights Back
Out of the cold grey water of Loch Linnhe, the seals hauled themselves up onto the rocks, one by one. There they lay on the wet brown seaweed like large glistening pillows, flippers folded over their round chests, enjoying the sunshine. A herring gull swooped over them and away, watchful, keening its long mournful cry.
Inland, the mountains rose grey-green on the horizon, with cloud-shadows drifting over their slopes. Smoothed by time, the land was like a great hand holding the loch peacefully in its palm—and the seals lay there happily basking in its peace. The small waves lapped at the rocks around them.
And then noise broke in.
Up the loch from beyond the Isle of Lismore a motorboat came roaring, headed toward the rocks, white water foaming from its bow. There were three men in it, hunched down. Banking overhead again, the herring gull saw sunlight glint on the shiny bald head of the biggest of them. Then the shiny head jerked up and there was a shout, and the roaring engine gave a louder roar as the boat and its foamy wake suddenly slowed down.
One by one, the seals slipped into the water and disappeared.
The boat swayed there alone.
“Hey—seals!” the big man called out, grinning. “That’s a huge attraction, huge! We got a real live Scottish castle and real live Scottish seals! People are gonna just love that!”
“These are called the Seal Rocks, Mr. Trout,” said the man at the helm quietly. The engine purred. The boat rocked on the echo of its own wake.
Big bald Mr. Trout stood up, beaming, clutching the windshield for balance, peering at the rocks. “And they’re so close by! It’ll be a perfect side trip from the hotel, perfect—come swim with the seals, folks! We’ll give them snorkels and flippers! Guess they’ll need full wet suits too, in this place.” He gave a loud snicker.
The helmsman did not smile, but the third man in the boat, younger, laughed heartily. “Great idea!” he said. “Great!” Like Trout, he was wearing a black rain jacket with a large letter T printed in yellow on its back.
The helmsman said politely, “Seals are a protected species in Scotland, Mr. Trout.”
Trout snorted, and waved his free hand. “So what? Nobody’s going to shoot them, man! The seals’ll love it too, believe me, I know about these things! Dolphins swim with people all the time at my Florida resort—everyone knows they enjoy it!”
“Absolutely true!” said the younger man firmly, and Trout smiled at him in approval. Then he turned away from the seals, facing the loch.
“And here’s our biggest selling point—the castle!” He flung out his arm in a proud sweep toward the very small island
beyond the Seal Rocks. It was not much more than a rock itself, but from its grassy back rose the neat square shape of the oldest and smallest castle in all of Scotland, Castle Keep. The water of the loch lapped peacefully around its edge, and beyond it the mountains rolled green and timeless into the distance.
“Perfect!” said the young man. He reached into an inside pocket for his cell phone and began taking pictures.
The helmsman waited in the rocking boat, silent. The engine thrummed.
“We’re renting, but it’ll be mine soon—just got to clear up a few legal details,” Trout said. “Then I might make it look more the way people expect a castle to look—you know, battlements, all that stuff. On the shore, we got two hundred acres now, and there’s nothing in the way—just a tacky little store. We’re buying that, of course. Perfect! Plenty of room for the hotel and the condos, and all of it only ten minutes from the golf course! I’d buy that too, make it much, much better, a real Trout course—but it’s municipal, belongs to the town.”
The herring gull drifted high overhead, keening.
“But you got the castle, that’s what matters!” the young man said. “I love it! You really hit the jackpot this time!”
“So I want you to get the website up just before we make the announcement, okay? No point in stirring up the screaming tree-huggers before we have to. And they’ll be waiting, oh yes—all these fabulous developments I’ve done, but the lying agitators always try to make me the bad guy.” Trout scowled for a moment, then brightened again. “Well, not this time ! We’ll set up the website with all these beautiful pictures you’re taking and then we’ll announce—and I want a press
conference that very day. Bring ’em all in by bus, buses from all over. Right?”
“Right!” said the young man fervently.
Mr. Trout swung round toward the man at the helm, flashing snowy white teeth in a broad suntanned face. “Okay, Dougal! Show him where the Trout Castle Resort’s going to be! Let’s go!”
He whacked him happily on the shoulder, ignoring the fact that the shoulder led to the hand on the boat’s controls, and again the engine gave a sudden earsplitting roar. Hastily the helmsman calmed it, as the other two laughed, and the motorboat creamed away from the Seal Rocks, round the quiet unsuspecting island where Castle Keep stood.
* * *
And deep at the bottom of the loch, far below, a little twirling cloud of sand puffed up into the dark water, as something stirred. Something formless and ancient, which had been sleeping peacefully there in the sandy mud for years. One of the Old Things, a creature bound by no rules but those of the Wild Magic; a creature who might well have slept on for the rest of this century, if that sudden snarl of that boat’s engine had not jolted it conscious again.
The Boggart was waking up, just in time.