Dylan and the Lights of Ulva is the working title of another novella featuring Dylan and Dougall, those Princelings of the North. I’m working hard on it so apologies for no proper flash fiction today. It’s a companion volume to Dylan’s Yuletide Adventure, and I’m doing it as a downloadable ‘thanks’ to anyone who contributes to my fundraising. The people of the isle of Ulva are raising money to buy their island. You can see more here:
Pictures from various trips to Ulva; in my story the cafe on the quay isn’t there, but the dishevelled croft (now the visitor centre) is – to the right of the boat. The picture with the tree looks from the north side towards Haunn (or more properly, towards Treshnish). The peak above the clouds is Ben More, miles across the sea loch; last two are of the south side, where Dylan will arrive later in the story! I could do with editing these pictures.
Dylan and the Lights of Ulva… an excerpt
Dylan crouched on the windswept headland, frowning at the lights in the south. In the light nights of the northern May, the sea glowed silver and indigo. The sky, stars barely visible against the washed out blue, showed streaks of near-black clouds, shifting and separating as they approached the cliffs.
Dylan’s stare was focused on the large island, itself almost a peninsular, unlike the group of rocks further out, the Dutchman’s Cap, Lunga, Fladda and the rest. He shifted his gaze towards them. Darkness. Maybe the seabirds were still wheeling in and out of their burrows on the cliffs there, but on Ulva, there were lights. A string of lights bobbing along from the eastern end, low down on the shoreline towards the neck, then concentrating together before they disappeared.
This was the third night he’d seen them, and he’d never seen them before.
[…. next day Dylan has to take a message to a castle on the other side of the main island. He comes back on the route that brings him close to Ulva]
The sun was already north of west by the time Dylan left the track that led through the pass from Sarlen to the long narrow Loch Na Keal. He scrambled over the rocky headland and stopped to admire the view in the evening light. It would be easy to think Ulva was just an extension of the headland, but a narrow passage divided the small island from the large one. The passage was wooded on both sides until it opened out into a sheltered bay where seals lolled on the rocks until high tide. Dylan wondered whether anyone went down that side thinking they could just walk across. Could they swim?
Dylan had swum on occasions, but it wasn’t his favourite thing to do. Salt water made his skin creep, and it meant he’d need a bath afterwards. As he stood there, contemplating the rocky shore, he identified the start of the path the lights must use. He also contemplated getting his feet wet.
He clambered down off the rocks and ran over the springy turf towards the lines of boats moored at the place they called Ulva Ferry. Would the boatmen mind if he borrowed one?
He stepped into a rowing boat, adjusting to the wobbles as it moved under his weight, and lay in the bottom, just trying it out for size. He had tried rowing at Port Haunn, and he wasn’t very good at it. He reckoned he could do well enough on the calm water here, though. This boat was small enough for him to handle. The oars were stowed neatly; it had ropes at both ends for mooring.
A shadow moved across his face, slowly. He shrank down further in case it was an eagle. Then he heard voices, flapping noises, and orders being given, although he didn’t understand what they were saying.
Dylan rolled over onto his tummy and peered out over the gunwales. A ship was sailing into the bay. The shadows had been from its mast. They were taking the sails down, swinging around, going up to the mooring on the other side of the little waterway.
This must be to do with the lights!
The ship finished its manoeuvres and tied up at the quay opposite. The sailors did it all very smoothly; Dylan was impressed. He could count seven sailors working in the boat, plus one giving orders, and one standing by him, looking important. He was dressed all in white with white hair, but he had a tan coloured patch over his left eye. He nodded occasionally, and sometimes replied to the person giving orders. Dylan watched him carefully: he was the only one who was looking around, at the waterway, at the land on his side—and the land on Dylan’s side. Dylan stayed very still and hoped he looked like a bundle of rope in the boat. The other thing Dylan hoped was that someone on this side wasn’t going to arrive and take a boat over to meet the strangers. Especially not this boat.
Dylan’s mind was working furiously. If there were only nine people in total on that boat, then they weren’t the source of the lights. There had been more lights than that. The first night he’d counted twelve. Last night it had been seventeen. Where had the others come from?
Unless these people were nothing to do with the lights.
The sun was setting. The light was fading into a sort of grey-pink fug that it sometimes gets when the sea surface is warm. The people were still tidying up the ship, the person in white had gone below decks. Dylan thought the person giving orders had gone ashore. He wondered why.
If nobody lived on Ulva any more, why had he gone that way? In fact, why had they moored that side and not this? Surely if they were meeting people, or needed supplies, they would have moored on this side. And please would they do something soon so that Dylan could stand up? His knees and elbows were in all sorts of pain, and something had been digging into his side for the past ten minutes. He feared it would break through if he lay there any longer.
At last the person giving orders came back. He might be the captain, but then who was the one in white?
He gave plenty more orders and everyone went off the ship, some using ropes, others jumping over the side onto the quay. One of them helped the passenger in white step over the edge and someone on the land helped him down. They strode off along the path and disappeared around the corner. Dylan eased himself into a sitting position, only to crouch down again. They had appeared again, heading towards a dishevelled thatched croft, but nobody looked back at him. He relaxed again.
His tummy grumbled.
Dylan laughed to himself. Well, it was an hour or two to Castle Haunn, and if he went now he’d get a late supper. Then he could tell Dougall what he’d seen and they could make some plans. But then… when would they come back? If these were the cause of the lights, he’d have to come back in darkness another time. There was no guarantee they would be here then.
Maybe he should follow them right now.
He carefully took the oars from their resting places, slotted them into the holes at the sides of the boat, untied the rope, and started to row across the darkening sea.
© J M Pett 2017