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The plane landed at Glasgow Airport around 7.30 am on a sunny late spring morning, and by 9 they had dealt with the formalities, collected their hired car, and were free to head off wherever the spirit took them.
"Right, man," Blair said. "Any ideas?"
Jim shook his head. "Not really. You're the one who's been here before, the one who said I'd enjoy the peace and quiet. So take me to some."
Blair grinned. "Come on, man, don't tell me the airport noises are getting to you? This place is tiny compared to the Cascade airport, or Newark, or... "
"I know, Chief." Ellison sighed. "I'm just so tired... it's so much effort to dial everything down."
Blair nodded sympathetically, knowing exactly what his friend meant. He too was tired. It had been a more than difficult year since Naomi sent Blair's dissertation to her friend Sid; the last straw being when Brown and Rafe were seriously injured when their car was deliberately rammed by a heavy truck and were off work, Rafe for nearly four months and Brown for a little longer. Their workload was split among everyone else in Major Crimes. It had coincided with an apparent escalation in serious crime. Time off had become virtually non-existent for the Major Crimes personnel, and as the fastest typist in the bullpen, Sandburg had found himself helping everyone out with paperwork as well as doing his own work - the only thing he could be grateful for was that he was no longer trying to juggle university hours too. The driver of the truck - a stolen vehicle - had vanished, apparently permamently; there was nothing to indicate who had been responsible for the attack on the two detectives or why.
It had been harder on Jim Ellison than any of the others, for the man had taken almost none of his vacation time for years. His temper had grown steadily shorter, and when Rafe and Brown finally returned, Simon ordered him to take an extended break, use up some of his accumulated vacation time, and gave Blair the time off too to make sure Ellison did rest.
Two days after Jim's enforced vacation began, Blair went out shopping, and returned with tickets for a flight to Scotland.
"We fly out on Thursday, man. I've got a car hired that we'll pick up at the airport and we've got a month, just driving round, relaxing."
"Chief, they drive on the wrong side of the road there."
"That's all right, Jim, I can handle it. I've driven there before. As Megan would say, no worries."
This area was reasonably familiar to the younger man; he had spent time there the year before he found his sentinel. He drove out of the airport and headed north. And the simple fact that Jim let him drive, despite his initial comment about 'the wrong side of the road', without arguing about it told Blair far more about how exhausted his friend was than Jim realised.
The road was fairly busy at first, but after half an hour they found they had left most of the traffic behind and were driving along a very quiet road beside a fairly large stretch of water.
Jim gave a long sigh, finally relaxing. "Where are we?"
"Driving north up the side of Loch Lomond - if that means anything."
"Well, I've heard of it," Jim replied cautiously. "It's in a song, isn't it?"
Blair grinned. "Yes. Want to stop for a while? We don't have any deadlines." He pulled off the road onto a layby that gave an excellent view up the loch to the hills at its head.
"Do you have us booked in anywhere for the night?" Jim asked as he idly focused on a hill on the opposite side of the loch. There was a track going up it, visible even to his normal vision; when he notched up his sight a little, he could see several people walking steadily up it and two or three already at the top, early though it was.
"No. That's part of the fun of it. There are dozens of bed and breakfast places and it's early enough in the year for none of them to be too busy; we can pick somewhere that looks nice, stop for one night or several, meet the people who live here... We don't want to be *too* late looking for somewhere to stop, but we're only an hour and a half, maybe two hours, from where I was thinking of spending tonight and maybe tomorrow and Sunday nights as well - we'll have to see how jet lag hits us. I don't want to go on from there till we're over that."
"So where are you thinking of stopping?"
Blair grinned. "It's called the Valley of Ghosts."
Jim glanced at him. "I suppose you're hoping that just because I could see Molly, I might see some of these ones?"
"No, I wouldn't think so. A lot of them are five thousand years old."
"Five thou... " Jim's jaw dropped. "Recorded history?"
"Well, no, not really. I'm not sure how they were dated. There are standing stones; a stone circle; burial cairns and dozens of rock carvings called cup and ring marks. Nobody knows why they were carved, but the area has the biggest accumulation of them in Scotland, maybe even in Europe. Neolithic, and dated at around 3000 BC, give or take a few hundred years. Then there are some hill forts which are a little younger than that, and Dunadd, a small hill where the kings of Scotland were crowned fifteen hundred years ago."
"And you'll be taking notes about all of them." He was only half teasing.
"No, I don't need to; I spent a summer there five years ago, took all the notes then that I'm ever likely to need. I'd like to see some of the places again, sure, but as a tourist, not an anthropologist. Anyway, anything I write now is going to be purely for my own amusement; nobody is going to want to publish it. I'm not an anthropologist any more, I'm a cop." His tone was completely matter-of-fact.
"Blair... " Jim hesitated; it was a subject he was nervous of bringing up, no matter how little Blair appeared to resent the enforced change of career.
"Blair, do you ever regret... well... "
"Jim, I already had the brass ring. I knew what I was doing. What I'm doing now is probably of more value to society than anything I could have done as an anthropologist, and I do enjoy the work." He was silent for a moment. "Besides, I'm your guide. You still need my help, even if it's only occasionally. I couldn't have pursued an academic career without abandoning you - even with those three letters after my name, there was no guarantee I could have got tenure at Rainier even if I'd wanted it; and I don't think I did want it. The Chancellor and I never really did see eye to eye. I'd have had to leave Cascade, look for work in some other university. I didn't want to do that, either."
Jim sighed. "That's one of the things that's been depressing me these last few months," he admitted. "Feeling guilty that I lost you your chosen career. Feeling guilty about all the things I accused you of. I was terrified of losing you, terrified that I'd go back to being the nervous wreck I was before we met. You were right, you know. A lot of my actions *are* fear-based."
"That was never how I meant that comment," Blair said quietly. "I meant that you were afraid of failing the tribe, not that you were afraid for yourself. But all disciplines have their own vocabulary, their own way of using words that you might know perfectly well but don't, in that context, mean quite what you think they ought to mean; and we never did discuss it beforehand so that I could explain what everything meant. And then afterwards there was no point in trying to discuss it. But believe me, Jim, I would never have submitted it without discussing it with you, without making sure you understood exactly what I meant by that kind of comment."
"Have you heard from Naomi since...?"
Blair shook his head. "No, but that's nothing new. Wouldn't be the first time she's dropped off the face of the earth for more than a year."
"Don't you ever worry about her?"
"She wouldn't thank me for it. I do sometimes wonder what she's doing when there are these long silences, but worry? No. She always lands on her feet."
Jim nodded, accepting his guide's comment. He yawned. "Sorry," he muttered.
"Jet lag," Blair said matter-of-factly. "Try to stay awake, though - because a, we'll be passing some quite nice scenery, and b, you'll sleep better tonight and with luck be over the worst of the jet lag tomorrow if you do."
"Yeah, I know." He opened the car door and got out, stretched, and walked a few yards across the layby and back. "That should help waken me up."
"Right. Want to go on now?"
"Why not?" he replied as he resumed his seat.
As Jim fastened his seatbelt, Blair started the car, returned smoothly to the road, and drove on.
Blair does know his times and distances, Jim registered when, a little less than two hours later, Blair stopped at a small town, easily finding an almost-hidden car park. A hotel bar provided them with an excellent and reasonably-priced meal; half an hour was more than long enough to let them see the local shops. ("There has to be more to this town than these two streets, Chief." "Yes, over that way," Blair gestured, "but it's all just houses. Nothing actually worth seeing.")
They returned to the car and drove on for two or three miles; then Blair turned off the main road onto a side road that seemed barely wide enough for the car, and Jim found himself wondering what would happen if they met another one coming in the opposite direction. A few hundred yards up the road, Blair stopped beside a house with a big sign - BED and BREAKFAST, Vacancies.
Five minutes later, they carried their luggage into the house and up a flight of stairs to their twin room.
The room overlooked a small and surprisingly busy canal. Jim stood at the window for a minute watching as four yachts heading in one direction passed another four going in the opposite direction, and he commented on it.
"Yes. The locks each hold up to four boats, and they're often put through four at a time to conserve water." Blair joined him, and pointed to the hills on the opposite side of the canal. "There are reservoirs up there that feed the canal. Last time I was here, there had been very little rain for weeks, three of the reservoirs were almost dry and the others were all pretty low. Although the canal is only nine, ten miles long, it uses up a lot of water in the summer."
Jim accepted the explanation without comment. "So - what are you planning for the rest of today, Chief?"
Blair glanced at his friend, carefully not letting him see how concerned he was that Jim was apparently happy to let the younger man make the all the decisions. If he had needed any additional proof that Jim was exhausted, this would have provided it. "Well, how energetic are you feeling?"
"Not very, but I reckon I could walk a mile or two," Jim said.
"Right. We could go and have a look at some cup and ring marks. The road isn't absolutely flat but it's a reasonably easy walk - there and back, probably not more than three miles. Then we can put our feet up till dinner time."
"Chief, what are 'cup and ring marks'?"
"Good question. They're little cup-shaped hollows carved in the rock, with circles carved round them. Nobody knows why they were carved or what they were for or if there even was a meaning to them, but there are dozens of them on the rocks here. They could easily be the neolithic equivalent of 'Kilroy was here'. Last time I was here, I thought there were probably a lot more still hidden under the turf, not excavated. But as I remember, what is above ground is pretty impressive, especially when you consider that they were all carved by hand, by repeatedly tapping the rock with stones."
"OK. Let's go, then."
They walked back down the narrow road, and soon turned up a potholed track that took them into wooded ground. About half an hour into their walk, they saw a small parking lot ahead of them; there was only one car in it. Just then, a woman appeared round a bend in the track, accompanied by a dog. It ran towards them, tail waving furiously.
"Nice dog," Blair said as he stroked its head. He glanced round. "You've got good walking here."
"Yes, and this is one of our favourite walks," she replied. "You on holiday?"
"We just flew in this morning," Blair said. "We're staying here over the weekend - maybe till Tuesday, we haven't decided yet - then going on north."
"Have you been to Scotland before?" she asked as they turned to walk towards the car park, the dog running ahead.
"I was here about five years ago, but my friend has never been to Britain," Blair said. "So to make it worth while, we're here for a month."
"Not really." "Did you get to Mull when you were here before?"
"No, I was never off the mainland."
"Well, if you've got no plans at all, Mull is well worth a visit - in my opinion, much more interesting than Skye, which everyone wants to see. You can get the car ferry from Oban - and from there you can get to Iona and Staffa. A day trip from Fhionnport would cover both."
"Staffa? That's Fingal's Cave, isn't it? Mendelssohn?"
"That's right. The boat usually gives you half an hour to an hour on the island, so you have plenty of time to look round it. But wrap up well - it can be cold on the water, even on a sunny day." She unlocked the car and opened the back door; the dog jumped in and she closed it. "Enjoy yourselves."
"Thank you. I'm sure we will. And thanks for the recommendation."
Blair indicated the track marked 'ancient monument' that led away from the car park and they set off up it.
The first half of the track was fairly level; the second half climbed steadily, though not very steeply, until they reached a small area surrounded by a metal fence.
They paused, looking at the marks; Jim read the sign beside them, finding it gave little more information than Blair had already provided apart from a few suggestions as to what the marks were for.
"There are more carvings up there." Blair pointed, and headed round the fence; after some moments he climbed over it and scrambled up a ten-fooot-high slope. Reluctantly, Jim followed; surely the fence was there to keep people from walking over the rock face?
"The carvings here are better than those other ones," Blair said. "Clearer."
Jim stood looking down at the carvings. "Yes... They are, aren't they... " He raised his head and gazed towards the south. "Blair... I know this place."
Blair looked at him. "Could you have visited here as a child?"
Jim shook his head slowly. "Pops visited a few places outside America and often took one or other of us with him, but it was always to a city where he had business. Even if he had ever brought me to Scotland, this isn't the sort of place he'd think of visiting."
"Could you have seen a picture?"
"I don't think so. No, I know this place. He looked round. "There should be a lot more sheep in the fields down there, and some cattle... and the trees should be oaks, not conifers." He looked down at the carvings. "It's a sort of map of the area. The cups indicate homesteads; the rings mark both how big they are and the distance they are away from here."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes... but I don't know how I know."
"Reincarnation? Could you have lived here... five thousand years ago?"
"I don't think I want to go there, Chief." He shivered. "Let's get back. It's interesting, I give you that - but it's too weird, this feeling that I know it. It's like living in a dream."
"You want to skip looking at the other antiquities around here?"
"Yes." He hesitated. "No. No, I would like to see them, and I know you want to see them again. And it'll be interesting to see if I 'know' anything about them, too."
They headed back, and as they approached the car park again Jim said, "It's gone. I don't have the feeling of walking through a dream any more."
They walked briskly down the track and back to their B and B.
Next morning, after an excellent breakfast, they drove a few miles north and visited a local museum. Blair kept an eye on his friend, but Jim had no 'flashbacks' while they went round the museum looking at artifacts that had been found in the area. They had coffee and a sandwich in the tiny cafe attached to the museum before they left to drive south again to look at some of the antiquities. After about a mile, Blair pulled into a small parking lot beside two standing stones.
They followed the signs that took them about half a mile over a field to a circle of not-very-big standing stones. They went through a gate in the low wall surrounding the circle and walked over to it. As they wandered round it, Jim said slowly, "You know, Chief, this looks familiar too. But there should be a single stone over there - " He pointed towards the north-east.
Blair looked, and shivered. "Bigger than any of these ones?"
"Yes. About three, four times taller."
"And from here, where we're standing, the sun rises - I mean, rose - behind it at midsummer?"
"You're aware of it too?"
"I wasn't till you mentioned it. I don't 'see' it, man, it's just that I know what it would be. I know what you meant yesterday, it's weird; Jim, we've seen the place - let's get away from here."
The quickest and most direct route to the entry gate took them across the circle. As they stepped out of it, both men were aware of the air around them shimmering; and then they realised that everything had changed.
Instead of the almost-silent, deserted landscape of a moment before, the valley was full of people and animals - mostly sheep and small cattle, but there were a few stocky ponies too, hardly big enough to be ridden. There was the sound of restless animals calling; Jim could see dogs running round groups of these, keeping them together, and knew that each farmer was keeping his beasts apart from all the others. There were the whistles of farmers controlling their dogs, but no human voices apart from one or two children crying; for as many people as there were, men, women and children, everyone old enough to know what he or she was doing was silent.
The wall round the circle was gone, as was the road; in what had been the field on the opposite side of the road were two huge piles of logs, some three or four yards apart. And instead of the brightness and warmth of mid-morning, there was no sign of the sun, although the sky was clear and bright to the east; and there was an early-morning nip in the air. A feeling of expectancy permeated everything.
The sentinel looked at Blair, and stiffened.
His guide's clothes were totally changed; he was wearing a knee-length tunic made of animal skin, and on his head was a cap adorned with a pair of antlers. His legs and feet were bare.
Jim glanced down at himself.
His clothes too were changed; he was wearing a loose tunic and trousers, and what looked and felt like fine leather was wrapped round his feet, tied with thonging that also wrapped round his legs to the knee, where the thongs were fastened. He felt the weight of something at his neck, and lifted a cautious hand to it; it was a band of metal; he could clearly make out engraving on it, in an intricate and repeating pattern.
They were standing beside the stone circle, a little apart from everyone else; the nearest man to them was dressed in similar fashion, and he too had a metal band round his neck, as ornately engraved as Jim's. His whole attitude was that of a man used to being obeyed.
Jim glanced back at Blair. "Chief? What's happened?" Instinct kept his voice low.
Blair licked his lips. "This is - has to be - the valley as it was, three, maybe four thousand years ago. It looks like everyone is here for a sunrise ceremony - midsummer, probably, though a lot of the preparations look more like Beltane ones - the bonfires, the animals here to be blessed..." He shrugged. "Let's face it, nobody knows what the religious ceremonies of that time were really like. We can only guess."
"Sunrise? But it's pretty well full daylight."
"This far north, midsummer, it's full daylight for an hour and more before the sun rises."
"Oh. We're that far north?"
"About the same latitude as Labrador. It looks as though we were here back then, participating in this ritual," Blair added.
"Why are you wearing antlers?"
Blair stopped the movement of his hand almost before it started. He closed his eyes. "Oh, man. I must be a tribal shaman here... though I'd have expected the shaman to make his appearance with the sun. What about you? Are your senses...?"
"Sharp as ever, Chief."
"Then you must be the tribal sentinel, watchman, whatever they call it here. As shaman, I'm probably still your guide, companion, whatever word they use." He looked round. "That's probably the tribal chief - see how much richer his clothes are compared to everyone else's?"
"That's what I thought. So what's going to happen? Have you any idea?"
"No, but I'd guess our bodies will probably know."
Jim grunted. Then he said, "Chief."
Blair stiffened at the note of alarm in his voice. "What?"
"It's hardly noticeable yet, even to me... but it's getting darker. If we're coming up to sunrise..."
Blair looked towards the north-eastern sky, noting a faintly greenish tinge in the light. "Oh, man, this is not good."
The change in the quality of the light was rapidly becoming more marked, and the people had noticed it. There were screams of terror already sounding. The chief turned to them. "Shaman? Guardian? What is happening?"
Blair licked dry lips, thinking desperately. At least they could understand the language... How to explain an eclipse to a people who had probably never seen one, never heard of one?
"Occasionally, very occasionally, the sun and the moon meet and the sun hides behind the moon for a little while as they commune. We are blessed to be seeing this."
The chief stared at the eastern sky. "The moon has returned to the nether world for a few days to regain her strength. How can the sun and the moon meet if the moon is not there?"
About to say 'The sun is also in the nether world as they talk', Blair was interrupted when several men came running up. "Save us, Shaman! Save us!"
A sliver of sun showed for a moment above the horizon, and disappeared, to be replaced by what Jim and Blair knew was the corona as the eclipsed sun rose. Stars were suddenly bright in the darkened sky. In the sudden dark, there were more screams of terror from all over the valley.
"The sun will return in just a few minutes," Blair said with more confidence than he felt.
"Lugh demands a sacrifice!" someone yelled. One of the men plunged forwards; in the faint light of the corona, Jim could see the knife in his hand, and he yanked Blair safely behind him as the terrified man reached them and thrust...
There was a sharp pain in his chest. He fought to remain on his feet. He had to protect Blair. Let him just stay on his feet for a minute or two and the sun would reappear, and then Blair would be safe, they would see that his words were true...
Another knife stabbed him, and another... He staggered... and then there was a flash of light from the sun as the moon began to move away from it.
The sigh of relief from the valley was overwhelming.
Jim fought for breath, knowing that Blair was safe now... this time...
He staggered and fell, his last conscious awareness, Blair's voice screaming.
Jim opened his eyes and blinked up into his guide's concerned face. "I... What happened?"
"You know damn' fine what happened! You sacrificed your life to save mine!" But the gentleness of the arm under Jim's head was totally at odds with the note of anger in his voice.
Jim tried to look round. He was lying just outside the stone circle, with the sun shining down from high in an almost cloudless sky; and around them was silence apart from some spasmodic birdsong. They were once again wearing their normal clothes.
Blair helped him to a sitting position, supporting him. "Why did you do it, Jim? They were afraid, they thought the sun had gone out, and under those circumstances the tribe would believe the gods want the sacrifice of someone important - that the gods want that important person to join their retinue. Usually it's either the chief or the shaman, both of whom know it's part of their job description."
"I remember," Jim said. "Though when I stepped in front of you, all I knew was that you were safe - as you had to be. I know... somehow I know... somehow I have two sets of memories."
The first memory was too, too clear to him.
It was getting darker.
It was close to sunrise, and it was getting darker.
The bawling animals were quietening in the early darkness; children huddled beside their parents as the farmers drew their families close in what they knew was a vain attempt to protect them from what had to be the god's disfavour.
Why? was the thought in many minds. What had they done? Someone voiced the question.
"We have been too complacent. Lugh demands a sacrifice!" someone else suggested.
"Why did the shaman not know this?" a woman asked.
"You're right. The shaman has failed us. It is time for him to serve his final purpose!" the first man said as a fragment of sun showed for a second then vanished, to be replaced by a circle of light. "Lugh demands a sacrifice!" he shouted.
Some men had already run towards where the shaman stood beside the stone circle, calling out, pleading for the shaman to tell them what was happening. As the god's halo appeared where the sun should be, one of them heard the voice behind him, and drawing his knife, he lunged at the shaman. His blow was sure and accurate; the shaman fell. The other men, determined to share in the glory of performing the sacrifice, also stabbed at the dying man.
Beside them, the tribal Chief and the clan's Guardian could only stand, helpless.
The god's halo vanished as a sliver of sunlight showed, and slowly, slowly, the disc of the sun reappeared.
"Lugh has accepted the sacrifice!" It was a general cry.
The Chief waited until silence fell again, knowing that the people would still expect the Solstice blessing. When he knew his voice would be heard, he said, "Light the bonfires!"
The two great piles of wood in front of him were set alight. Once they were burning steadily, with plumes of smoke rising high into the sky, the first of the farmers drove his beasts through the space between the fires - but there was no verbal blessing for them, because the man who would have uttered it was dead. The farmer and his family followed their animals, and then, with only the briefest of pauses before they realised there was now no shaman to bless them, began to drive their beasts home as the next farmer whistled his dog to bring his sheep and cattle forward.
After the last of the clan had gone, Chief and Guardian stood for a long time watching as the glow of the embers faded. At last the Guardian bent and picked up the body of the Shaman. "I will bury him," he said quietly, "and let no other man know where he lies."
The Chief watched him as he walked between the two piles of smoking ash and turned towards the tree-covered hill.
Suddenly he was afraid for the welfare of his people.
"Last time, you did die," Jim said quietly. "But although a shaman can live and do his duty to the tribe without his sentinel, a sentinel - a guardian - cannot live and perform his duty to the tribe without his guide. So the tribe lost its guardian too; without the guidance of my shaman, I slowly went insane.
"Because the eclipse happened at sunrise, the dawn ceremonies were late; because the shaman had been sacrificed, the proper rituals were not performed. Illness struck the tribe early the following winter, and you were not there to prepare the proper medicine. Many died."
"Wasn't there another shaman? No - I hadn't started training one, had I?"
"None of the children in the tribe had shown any sign of possessing a shaman's gifts, so you had been content to wait. You were still young; so you did not think there was any urgency.
"You had to live, Chief. For the welfare of the tribe, you had to live. So someone else had to die, and who more important than the tribal guardian?"
Blair laid his forehead against the sentinel's shoulder and without forethought they wrapped their arms round each other in a comforting hug. "A shaman can live without his sentinel," Blair said quietly, "but I don't think this shaman wants to. Please, Jim - promise me you'll be careful."
"And I promise I'll be careful too."
The moment was broken when Jim cocked his head slightly. "Someone's coming."
"Feel up to standing?"
As Blair helped Jim to his feet, steadying him, the gate creaked and two women and a man entered the enclosure. Jim grunted. "I think I banged my knee when I went down," he said.
"Are you all right?" one of the women asked.
Blair glanced round. "More or less. My friend tripped - he's hurt his knee. Jim, if you sit on the wall here, I'll go and get the car."
"It's easing off already," Jim said.
"Jim, it won't take me five minutes to get the car. You rest your knee now, it'll probably be all right by tomorrow. Try to do too much on it today, it'll bother you for two or three days."
"Blair, you're a bully."
"If I was the one who'd hurt his knee, what would you be doing? Huh?"
Jim grinned. "Okay, you've made your point. Go and get the car, Chief."
As Blair jogged off, Jim looked back at the stone circle, then gazed over the field where the bonfires had been to the spot where the eclipsed sun had risen. In his mind he could still hear, faint and getting steadily fainter, the echoes of dogs barking as they drove sheep and cattle away, the whistling of the men directing them, the sounds of puzzled animals anxious to get back to their familiar pasture, and wondered; had he been given a chance to put right a mistake he had made by not acting more quickly thousands of years previously? Or had it been a mistake to save the Shaman? Had he, in any way, changed the history of the people who had lived here?
Whichever it was, he doubted he would ever know and at this point in time it didn't seem particularly important.
He and his Guide had a new history to make, and somehow he knew that in this one they would live and work together for many years. Looking once more at the circle, he bade a mental farewell to the shaman and guardian of the people of the past.
Blair stopped the car in the space marked 'Disabled parking' and moved briskly through the gate to rejoin his friend. "How's the knee feeling now?" he asked.
"Not too bad. It's probably just bruised - if we go back to the house I can bathe it in cold water, then it should be all right tomorrow. Sorry to spoil the rest of today, though," he added.
"Sure, man, you deliberately chose to fall like that!" Blair teased. "Want a hand getting to the car?"
"No, I'll manage, thanks."
Despite the assurance, however, Blair hovered as Jim, limping slightly, made his way to the car.
Once in it, however, Blair said, "I think we do need to get that knee of yours seen to, even if it is just the cold water treatment." He fastened his seatbelt and started the car. "Should we take it to the local hospital? Make sure you haven't done any major damage?"
"I'm quite sure I haven't, Chief. Cold water and rest should do fine."
As they entered the house, Mrs Fraser came out of the kitchen. "You're back early, gentlemen."
Blair explained what had happened; Jim assured her that as an ex-medic he knew exactly what to do to minimise any swelling, and they escaped to their room.
"Okay, Jim. Get your pants off."
As Jim obeyed, Blair went into the bathroom, returning with a soaked hand towel. He looked at the bruised knee, which was already darkening and slightly swollen, grunted and wrapped the towel round it.
"That's cold!" Jim yelped.
"Of course it is. Tell me when it warms up and I'll resoak it."
There was a knock on the door. Blair dived into the bathroom, returning with another towel which he threw to Jim before opening the door; quickly, Jim draped the towel over his lap.
Mrs Fraser stood there, a tray in her hands. "I thought you might like a cup of coffee."
"That's very thoughtful of you," Blair told her as he took the tray.
"How's your knee?" she asked, looking past him to Jim, and Blair knew instantly that the coffee wasn't just kindness, it was also curiosity.
"I think it'll be all right tomorrow," Jim said. "Blair put a cold compress on it but I don't think it's really necessary; it was just one of those bumps that's sore when you do it but the pain soon wears off."
"You didn't have to walk far on it after you did it, though?"
"No - we were at the stone circle, and Blair went and got the car so I didn't have to walk."
"Did you get the chance to look at any of the chambered cairns?"
"No," Blair said. "But we can do that tomorrow if Jim's knee is all right. We were at the museum first - that's really interesting."
"Yes, it's good - it's had one or two awards," Mrs Fraser agreed.
They spoke for a few minutes while the men drank the coffee, then Mrs Fraser took the tray away and left them in peace.
Suddenly sleepy, Jim leaned back and closed his eyes. Blair studied him for some moments, then, satisfied that it was just jet lag still affecting his friend, moved to sit at the window, watching the intermittant traffic on the canal while he processed the memory of their vision - or memory, or whatever it was - as he waited for Jim to waken again.
The places mentioned in 'The Valley of Ghosts' (Kilmartin Glen) all exist and date back to between 2000 and 3000 BC. The cup and ring marks are at Achnabreck, the stone circle is at Temple Wood. The museum is at Kilmartin.
There was an eclipse of the sun in the area just before noon on July 29th in the year 1629 BC. For dramatic purposes, I took the liberty of altering the time to sunrise and the date to probably midsummer.