The black cat was always there when she visited. Typical feline; it wanted a stroke, a rub, and a scratch around the ears. Daphne was happy to oblige. A few minutes fuss and then, so it seemed, the cat would escort her up the hill to the monument. It would never cross the mote, but always stopped short, watching as she crossed to the grassy hillock where the Doocot* stands.
The black cat met her again now at the boundary, escorting her down the hill, and she wondered, not for the first time, if he did that to everyone who visited the monument, or was it some fancy of her own making? Day dreaming of Robert the Bruce, or more accurately, Mel Gibson in Brave Heart, Daphne let herself into the tiny cottage and tried to get back to work. She kept thinking about the ancient monument. She’d meant to do some research when she’d moved to the village, she was sure she’d read somewhere that Robert the Bruce had stayed there once, but like so many other projects it was still on the ‘to do’ list, and she preferred to walk and think and take in the scenery; imagine the past rather than investigate it. She gazed at the hazy firth, took in the lines of fields, the mountains, the spires of the local town. She liked breaking the monotony of work with the short walk up there; it gave her thinking space, some fresh air, and sometimes some sunshine. Daphne closed her laptop. So much for getting back to work.
She made herself a coffee and picked up the local rag. A paragraph caught her eye: ‘excavation for new housing, castle ramparts unearthed.’ Well, they knew the ditch was there, it made sense that the walls were buried somewhere, that wasn’t such a big deal. She read on: The current clay and lime building is from the 17th century, but the motte and bailey castle, whose ditch is still so clear, dates back to the 12th century – the Royal Castle of Auldearn of William the Lion. No trace of the building exists now, and the ditch is the only clue to its regal past, that and the name of village: Old Eren.
Daphne grabbed her coat against the autumn, and now, evening chill, and headed off for the ancient dove loft on the hill again, hoping that none of it was out of bounds. She certainly hadn’t seen anything fenced off earlier. She lingered at the bottom of the path, waiting for her furry usher, but he didn’t appear. In for his tea she thought, and strode up the mound, cursing for the lack of a flashlight.
The moon was low behind the doocot, but she could see quite clearly up there. The sunset still lingered and the first stars were starting to accompany Saturn. The site was partially cordoned off by wire fencing at the very back, she’d not noticed that earlier, but she could easily slip through the gaps.
Daphne thought she saw a shape in the doorway. A gentle mew confirmed her suspicions, as the black cat ambled around the back of the building. Unusual that he was up here, but perhaps after all the night time was more his domain. She walked across the mote, intending to follow him behind the building, but as she approached she was dazzled by light, white and chilling. She covered her eyes with her arm and staggered backwards, temporarily blinded. As her eyesight adjusted, she peeked out from underneath the crook of her elbow, still shielding her eyes with her forearm; she couldn’t believe what she was seeing: a man dressed in robes, wearing a crown, was standing, gazing solemnly across the fields. Daphne blinked, and rubbed her eyes hard, disbelieving. She stared again, bewildered. She must be hallucinating: a lorry from the A96 with its lights on main beam causing some sort of visual distortion, or a rescue helicopter. She rubbed her eyes harder and stared again. No, there was definitely a regal figure standing there, apparition or real she wasn’t sure, but definitely not a visual disturbance; definitely not Daphne going insane! As her eyes adjusted to the aura she walked closer, hoping to get a better view, but the vision had gone. The ‘king’, if that’s what the apparition was, had disappeared, however, promenading towards her was a small black cat, head high, tail up, and clearly not in the mood for fuss.
*Scottish word for Dovecot