(previous chapters one through six are on menu header)
The day after Muireal’s disappearance the bodies of two young men washed up on the shore. A small boat had apparently overturned out on the loch. A third man had managed to make it to shore. It had been Alasdair. The news of this tragedy overshadowed Fiona’s loss and gave her an even greater sense of distress as she continued to search for her missing daughter. She wondered if the accident was in some way linked to her own misfortune or just a terrible coincidence.
Fiona was once again alone. Hamish eventually left for the mainland to take up his new position and Donal went back to school. The Captain was still across the world somewhere, sailing on his own bitter ocean of grief. Most of the neighbours felt that Muireal must have drowned off the point or perhaps had even thrown herself into the sea as a person of unsound mind might do.
Over the weeks they did come by to offer help and sympathy, with plates of food and stumbling words but none of them had ever really understood or taken the time to know her strange and wonderful daughter. Fiona’s mouth was full of memories and reproach that had no utterance and she became as silent as Muireal had been.
Her nights were filled with dreams of Muireal and Duff, of the echoes of Muireal’s flute and of Duff at the door, the touch of his hand on her face, and of him fleeing wounded into the night. She saw Muireal sitting on the point enraptured, the light of St. Elmo’s fire coursing through her sweet bones and Fiona would wake sobbing. Where were her daughter’s bones? Were they lying at the bottom of the loch with those of Duff?
Finally all her fears and questions were answered one dark night by a familiar visitor. When Fiona opened the door, young Alasdair stood there at last. She knew immediately he was going to tell her something she did not want to hear. Her heart dropped like an anchor hitting the ocean floor and for a moment all was still. She was a ship waiting, but the new shore that beckoned was a dark and foreboding place.
Alasdair walked in slowly and sat by the fire. He looked at Fiona anxiously and taking a breath the story spilled out like water falling off the ocean cliffs.
He had seen Muireal on the rocks under the point that day she disappeared. He had sat beside her as she played her flute. He said she looked so beautiful he picked some seaside daisies and had given them to her. She put one of them in her hair and smiled at him.
Two boys from one of the further islands happened to be out in a small boat that afternoon. Alasdair knew them and waved, so they came in to shore and invited him to join them in fishing over by the old lighthouse. Muireal always loved to be out on the loch and she too went along happily. He remembered that a seal swam along beside them much to Muireal’s delight.
They were all in high spirits when they went ashore. They shared a small meal and explored the old abandoned lighthouse. One of the boys had a small jug of whiskey which he passed to the others. Muireal wandered off with her flute and at some point Alasdair walked down the shoreline looking to find some mussels and other shellfish in the shallows. The sun began sinking low in the sky and Alasdair knew it was time to head back to the harbour.
When he climbed back up the rise, he saw one of the boys trying to force Muireal to drink from the jug. The other boy was trying to kiss her and she was struggling. His hand was inside the blouse of her dress. The boys were drunk and laughing. Muireal saw Alasdair and looked up at him pleadingly with eyes full of fear. He rushed over angrily and as he tried to pull them away Muireal got up and began to run in panic. Before Alasdair could stop her she slipped and fell, hitting her head hard against the rocks. She didn’t get up or move after that.
They all panicked then. “It was only in fun!” they tried to explain to Alasdair. “We didn’t mean her any harm.” They carried her into the boat and wondered what they were going to do. One of them suggested they might put her body overboard. No one would ever need know what had happened. Alasdair was in an agony of guilt and torment. He sat on the bottom of the boat and cradled the motionless Muireal in his arms protectively. He hated his friends at that moment. It was dark as they rowed back silently into the loch. The air had become heavy and it was hard to breathe. There was no wind to unfurl the small sail and they lit the lantern at the bow. A strange ominous atmosphere had descended over the inlet. Something was about to happen that was beyond anyone’s control.
The fisherman’s lament by silly wizard