I pulled the curtains open and looked down at the street. It was hot, too hot for London in the middle of July and I was angry. I closed the curtains and returned to my mother’s room. She lay in bed and I could hear her breathing. She looked so thin and I sat next to her and held her hand.
‘I’m not going,’ I said. ‘You can’t send me away.’ I looked at my mother and her face was white like the sheets and pillowcases.
‘It’s only for a month, until I feel a little better, my darling,’ she said. ‘Then you can come home.’
Doctor Barns stood on the other side of the bed. ‘Has Megan got any friends?’ he asked Mrs Brown, our home help.
Mrs Brown shook her head. ‘Megan doesn’t have any friends,’ I heard her whisper. ‘She’s a strange child.’
Friends! Of course I didn’t have any friends. We moved to this part of London six months ago and my new school was horrible. Mother didn’t know. I didn’t tell her about the bullies and the nasty text messages.
Doctor Barns put his glasses on. I could see that he didn’t know what to do. We needed a miracle. ‘Your mother is very unwell Megan,’ he said. ‘She needs to rest and you can’t stay here for the summer holidays.’
I don’t want to leave you, mum. You want to send me to the Highlands of Scotland to stay with Uncle Fraser, but I hate the countryside.’ I stood up and looked at the doctor. ‘I’m not going and you can’t make me go!’
But Doctor Barns could make me go… and he did.
I watched the country side change through the window of the train as we travelled into Scotland. I could see fields, dry stone walls and lots of sheep, but where were the people?
Mrs Wallace, a friend of Doctor Barns, was with me. She wanted to chat, but I didn’t. ‘The Isle of Skye is beautiful. The air is so fresh,’ she said.
I hate fresh air. I like the air in London,’ I said. Mrs Wallace sighed and opened her book.
We changed trains and the next one was very old. A man sat singing quietly in the corner. He had a long white beard.
In another corner there was a woman with a basket of chickens. I looked at these people. I came from a different world. In my world there were shops, people and traffic.
We caught the ferry at Mallaig. The wind blew my long dark hair and my pale blue eyes searched the island for people, but it looked so quiet.
‘Cloud Island,’ said Mrs Wallace, giving me a sweet. ‘In the old Norse language, Ski means cloud and ey means island. It’s often misty here.’
I didn’t answer. I could only think that I wanted to go home. We got off the ferry at Armadale and I stood by the sea and waited for my uncle. I felt wrong in my London clothes. I took my mobile phone out of my pocket and called home. Mrs Brown answered, but mum was asleep.
‘Your uncle’s here,’ said Mrs Wallace. I said goodbye.
‘Megan,’ a strong voice called. He was a tall man with wavy hair and a big smile. ‘I’m over here.’ He disappeared behind some trees.
Pulling my suitcase, I followed, but my uncle didn’t have a car. He was standing next to a beige-coloured pony and he put my suitcase into a little red trap.
The journey was uncomfortable in the pony and trap as we trotted along the narrow roads, but it was fun too. I could see the bay, the seaweed and the rocks and smell the salty sea. Seagulls flew overhead. I looked at my uncle. He had my mother’s smile, but they were very different. He saw me looking at him.
‘So, this is your first visit to Skye, Megan. I’m so pleased you’re here,’ he said.
‘I want to bring mum next time, when she’s better,’ I said.
His eyes looked sad. ‘I want her to come here, too,’ and then he took a deep breath and there was silence.
We trotted on through a forest and then we stopped at a place where the view of the mountains was spectacular.
‘The Cuillin Range,’ said Uncle Fraser. ‘This is the best place to see the mountains.’
I got out of the trap and looked around. It was a magical place. There was a ruined castle and below a sandy beach. The waves crashed and I thought I saw a silvery-white horse playing in the water. It ran and jumped and I am sure that I heard it call me.
‘Uncle Fraser,’ I shouted. ‘There’s a white horse.’ He didn’t hear me and when I turned, the silvery-white horse was not there.
We got into the trap. ‘I saw a silvery-white horse down by the sea,’ I said. Uncle Fraser stopped and looked at me with surprise. ‘Did you?’ but then he said no more.
My mobile phone beeped. ‘You have one new message,’ it said.
I pressed Read.
‘Have a sad holiday.’
I pressed Eliminate. It was from one of the horrible girls at school. I switched my phone off. I needed to forget about them.
The roads were very narrow now. ‘Were nearly home,’ said my uncle. I stared at him. We couldn’t be nearly home. We were in the countryside. I could see some small houses, lots of animals and grass, but there was no town. Uncle Fraser turned right into a small track.
‘Home, Darwin,’ Uncle Fraser said to the pony. Darwin walked slowly because there were chickens running in front of him.
At the end of the track there was a little white house with a front garden full of flowers. In one field I could see four cows waiting patiently by the gate and in another there were some goats and a donkey.
‘We’re home,’ said Uncle Fraser. ‘Welcome to White Heather Cottage.’
I was shocked. Uncle Fraser lived in a thatched white croft near the sea and surrounded by grass. White Heather Cottage had a tiny wooden front door and Uncle Fraser had to bend his head to go in and out.
There were three rooms downstairs. Inside the croft it was cosy and warm. The kitchen was at the far end and there was a table near the window. A small fire burned with cooking pans hanging above it. I looked out at the bright orange sky.
‘We have great sunsets here,’ said Uncle Fraser.
He showed me his study. He was a writer and he wrote historical novels. There were pens and paper all over his desk and books everywhere.
‘Crofts don’t usually have an upstairs, but this one does,’ he said.
He took me upstairs to show me my room. It was lovely. There was a wooden bed and a red rug on the floor. Next to the bed there was a chest, which looked like a pirate’s treasure chest. There was a small desk near the window and a vase of fresh white heather. There were pictures of animals and wild flowers hanging on the walls.
Uncle Fraser’s bedroom was at the end of the corridor and there was a small bathroom with a bathtub and a pile of soft white towels.
‘It’s very pretty,’ I said to Uncle Fraser. ‘But do you get lonely here?’
‘Oh no. I have friends who live in the village and I have my animals.’
We went downstairs and had dinner. There was homemade bread, creamy butter and goat cheese. For pudding we had wild raspberries and cream.
It was a delicious meal.
It was getting dark and I looked for the light switch. Uncle Fraser saw me and smiled. ‘Sorry, Megan, there is no electricity at the croft.’
‘No electricity! So you don’t have a dishwasher,’ I said looking at the plates.
‘No, I’m the dishwasher,’ said my uncle laughing.
‘And you probably don’t have a computer?’ I said.
‘No, and I don’t have a television. On Skye we create our own entertainment. I play the piano after dinner when friends come round, or I read by the light of candles and oil lamps. There are lots of board games in the corner, so we can play chess, draughts, monopoly or scrabble.’
Piano! Board games! I couldn’t believe it. No electricity! I wanted to go home, back to my technological world.
‘So, where is the fridge, Uncle Fraser?’
‘I don’t need one. There is a cold cellar in this croft and I grow most of my food. I milk the cows and goats early in the morning so there is fresh milk every day and I make my own cheese. I buy meat from the butcher’s when I want it. It’s a perfect life, Megan.’
‘Perfect,’ I said to myself as I climbed the stairs to bed. I went into my bedroom and put the candle on my desk.
I looked out of my window.
The moon was bright and there were so many stars and standing in the heather stood a silvery-white horse.
I woke up, but there was something wrong. Then I knew what it was. It was the silence. There was no sound of cars or traffic. Nothing. I opened my window and listened and then I heard a bird sing and a sheep call under my window.
I dressed quickly and went downstairs. A big cat sat in front of the fire. It looked like a tiger with its red, white and grey stripes. My uncle was in the kitchen.
‘Good morning, Megan. Did you sleep well?’
‘Yes, I did. I slept very well,’ I said ‘and I saw the silvery-white horse again Uncle Fraser, before I went to sleep.’
My uncle looked surprised, but he said nothing and put two bowls on the table.
‘Why do you look surprised, Uncle Fraser, when I tell you about the white horse?’
Uncle Fraser sat down. ‘There is a legend Megan, of a silvery-white horse. Some people say it is a unicorn.’
‘A unicorn!’ I said. ‘Maybe the horse I saw was a unicorn. It was a long way away and it was difficult to see. What does the legend say?’
‘I don’t know.’ Uncle Fraser put a big bowl of porridge on the table. ‘A shepherd saw the unicorn, but it was a hundred years ago now.’
This was exciting news. ‘Who can tell us about the unicorn?’
My uncle poured me a glass of fresh milk. ‘Old Mrs McTagerty knows the legend. She’s the old woman who lives on the other side of the village. We can ask her. Now eat your breakfast and no more questions!’
The porridge was delicious and I ate it with cream and sugar. The cat came and sat next to me.
‘This is Marmaduke. You didn’t see him last night because he likes to catch mice in the barn,’ said my uncle. ‘Let’s go outside, Megan. I have a surprise for you.’
Uncle Fraser showed me his vegetable garden.
There was spinach, carrots, potatoes and leeks and there were rabbits trying to eat the lettuce. Uncle Fraser chased them away and they jumped over the dry stone walls.
Uncle Fraser had a field of sheep, four cows, three goats and a lot of chickens. He showed me how to milk the cows and it looked easy when he did it. The milk squirted into the bucket, but when I tried, nothing came out.
‘Oh, Uncle Fraser, I can’t do it,’ I said.
The animals don’t know you Megan,’ said my uncle. He took my hands, ‘and you need warm hands.’
Near the croft there was a small barn and stables.
I looked inside the first stable.
‘You met Darwin yesterday,’ said my uncle patting the beige pony’s neck. ‘He’s my trap pony.’
In the second stable there was a cream-coloured pony with black spots.
‘This is Moon. My neighbour’s son, Ben, often rides him.’
I touched his nose. It was so soft.
‘Why do you call him Moon?’
‘Because when you look at the moon it is cream-coloured but there are little black marks. I think he’s the colour of the moon.’
Uncle Fraser moved to the third stable where there was the prettiest pony. It was beige with a blonde mane and tail and had big dark eyes.
‘This is your pony, Megan, and her name is Dolly.’
The Arrival of Idris
When I woke the next day I felt so happy. I had a pony, a beautiful pony, and I wanted to ride her. Then I thought of mum. It was fun at the croft, but I missed her. I wrote her a text message.
I’m fine. I’ve got a pony called Dolly. How are you? Lots and lots of love Megan.
I pushed Send and waited.
I’m not too bad my darling. How lovely! A puny! Lots of love Mum
I typed another message.
Got better quickly. I want to bring you here!
A message came back.
I could hear voices downstairs. One was Uncle Fraser’s, but there was someone with him. I went into the sitting room. A boy stood near the fire. He was about my age, but he was very tall and he had wavy blonde hair and pale blue eyes. He was wearing jeans and a checked shirt and he had a box in his hands.
‘Megan, this is Ben, our neighbour,’ my uncle said.
‘Hi,’ I said.
‘Hi Megan,’ Ben gave me the box. ‘I found this,’ he said as he opened it. ‘We can look after it together.’
Inside the box was a baby otter. It looked at me. It was so sweet.
‘Its name is Idris,’ Ben said, ‘and I think it’s hungry.’
Uncle Fraser knew what baby otters like for breakfast. He put some homemade bread in a bowl and poured milk on it. Then he added a little fish oil. Idris loved it. He ate it all and then licked the plate.
‘I think he wants some more,’ I said.
‘Babies have lots of small meals,’ my uncle said. ‘He needs a bed. You can find a box and some straw in the barn.’
So Ben and I made Idris a bed and put it in a corner of the sitting room near the fire. We introduced him to Marmaduke, who was not very pleased to see another animal in the house.
Then after lunch my uncle appeared with the pony and trap.
‘Come on, you two. We have to buy Megan some riding trousers, boots and a jacket. We are in the Highlands of Scotland and sometimes mists come down and it can get very cold.’
We drove into Portree, the main town on Skye.
‘Portree in Gaelic means King’s Port,’ said Ben. We went to the harbour and watched the boats.
In Wentworth Street my uncle bought the clothes I needed. Then we went to the post office and I sent mum a postcard with a Highland cow on it.
Ben had dinner with us in the croft and after dinner Uncle Fraser played the piano. We sang hymns and old songs. Then we all sang the Skye Boat Song.
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Onward! The sailors cry
Carry the lad that’s born to be King Over the sea to Skye.
Idris and Marmaduke thought we were very strange.
Ben came to the croft the next morning. He gave me a riding lesson and then we decided to take Idris out for a walk and pick wild raspberries for tea.
‘Don’t forget your jacket,’ said Uncle Fraser. ‘The weather looks uncertain. And don’t go far.’
‘OK’, we both said.
Idris was happy to go out with us. He ran and jumped among the wild flowers and when we reached the small loch he swam. Otters are playful animals and Idris made a mud chute. He was very happy, because now he could slide into the water. Ben and I sat in the warm sunshine and watched him.
‘Why did Uncle Fraser tell me to bring a jacket?’ I said to Ben. ‘The weather’s hot.’
Ben smiled. ‘The weather’s warm now, but it can change very quickly.’
We decided to pick some raspberries. There were some growing near a small wood and we picked lots. Then we saw blackcurrants so we went into the wood and Idris followed us. The blackcurrants were big and delicious.
‘Did I tell you I saw a unicorn?’ I said to Ben as we walked along a little path.
Ben laughed. ‘Unicorns don’t exist.’
‘That’s what I thought, but Uncle Fraser said that a shepherd saw one here a hundred years ago. There’s a legend, he says, but we need to speak to old Mrs McTagerty.’
Ben turned and looked at me. ‘You want to speak to Dolores McTagerty? Do you know who she is?’
‘No,’ I said eating some more blackcurrants. We went down another path.
‘Some folk say she is a witch. She lives in ‘The Blackhouse’. It’s the croft on the headland down by the beach. She doesn’t come to the village very often. Mr Mackie, who owns the grocer’s in the village, takes her food.’
‘Why do the villagers think she is a witch?’ I asked.
‘Because the wild animals come to her. Eagles fly down and sit on her hand, the red deer come to her door for food and so do the seals.’
‘That doesn’t mean that she is a witch,’ I said.
‘Well, you can’t go to her house alone. I’ll come with you.’ Ben said and then he stopped and looked up at the sky.
A cold wind blew and the blue sky was now grey.
‘We must go back,’ said Ben and he put Idris in his pocket. We turned round, but the mist came down. The white mist swirled all around and we couldn’t see the path in front of us. We were lost!
‘Walk slowly and hold my hand,’ said Ben.
It was very cold and soon our hair was wet. Thank goodness I had my jacket!
Ben had a small torch and whistle tied on his jacket, but we were far from any houses and crofts. No one heard our calls.
We walked on until suddenly there was a noise. It came from behind a tall tree.
‘What was that?’ cried Ben shining his torch, but I knew.
Just in front of us, in the circle of torch light, stood the silvery-white unicorn. It bowed its head and looked at me with its dark eyes. It called softly.
‘It’s the unicorn,’ I said to Ben. ‘It wants to show us the way home, but then you don’t believe in unicorns.’
Ben smiled, ‘I didn’t, but I do now. Let’s follow it.’
We could see the silvery-white unicorn clearly as we followed it through the wood. Slowly and patiently it led us across the fields to White Heather Cottage. The lights were on and as we walked through the gate the unicorn turned and looked at me. Then it galloped away across the heather.
Uncle Fraser opened the door. His face was pale. ‘Thank goodness you’re home.’
Dolores McTagerty lived in ‘The Blackhouse’, where the sea crashed and the seagulls flew. It was a wild place. No one went there, not even the fishermen.
Uncle Fraser wanted to come with us, but we were determined to do this alone. He drove us to the grassy path which led to her croft.
‘Take her some raspberry jam,’ said uncle Fraser. ‘Tell her it’s from me.’
Ben and I followed the path to her gate, but when we knocked on the front door, no one answered.
‘Let’s go round to the back.’ I said. Ben wasn’t so sure.
‘She may cast a spell,’ he said, but he came with me.
The back of the house was beautiful. There was some grass, then black rocks and then the white sandy beach.
An old lady stood by the rocks, a shawl about her head. She was surrounded by animals. Red rowan deer ate bread from her hands, birds flew near her and seal pups sat on the rocks calling to her with their husky voices. Near the grass, I saw puffins chattering to each other and red squirrels eating nuts.
The old woman spoke to us. ‘Stand quite still. Now move forward slowly.’
We did as she asked.
‘That’s right. Now come here, laddie.’
Ben moved to her right-hand side. She caught a young eagle in her hand and she put it on his arm. The bird looked at him.
‘Talk to him, laddie. Tell him how beautiful he is,’ said Dolores McTagerty.
‘Now you, lassie,’ she said to me. I moved to her left side. ‘You can give the deer some bread.’
The deer were not afraid, because the old woman was there. They took the bread from my hand.
‘That’s all for today,’ Dolores McTagerty said to the animals. The eagle flew into the air, the deer went off across the field and the seals returned to the sea. Mrs McTagerty looked at us.
‘Let’s go in and have a nice cup of hot chocolate.’
‘The Blackhouse’ was dark and oppressive from the outside, but inside it was light and cosy.
‘Mrs McTagerty, here is some raspberry jam for you.’ I said giving her the jar. ‘It’s from my Uncle Fraser.’
Dolores McTagerty thanked me for the jam, but as she took it she looked into my eyes.
‘Oh!’ she said. ‘The tea leaves. The tea leaves said a girl will come.’ She took my hand and we sat down.
‘It’s her eyes,’ she said to Ben. ‘This girl’s got magic in her eyes.’
‘Has she?’ said Ben. ‘We came to speak to you about the unicorn.’
Dolores McTagerty stared at us. ‘So it’s true,’ she whispered. ‘Kendra, the last unicorn, is back. The seals told me he was here.’
‘Mrs McTagerty,’ I said. ‘The unicorn helped us the other day when the mist came down. It led us back to the house. Uncle Fraser said that you know the legend.’
‘Oh yes, I know the legend. It’s your magic eyes that woke Kendra from his sleep and now he wants to help. The legend says that Kendra will come back, when he is really needed. You need him, lassie, don’t you?’
I nodded. ‘Yes.’ I said softly.
‘Touch the unicorn and you can have whatever wish your heart desires.’
Dolores McTagerty took us to the door and she brushed my face with her hand. ‘Go, lassie, and find Kendra.’
The Full Moon
‘There’s a full moon tonight and the weather’s warm. Let’s have a barbecue on the beach!’ said Uncle Fraser.
‘That’s a great idea!’ I said.
‘We can collect wood and build a fire. I’ve got potatoes and hamburgers. I went to the butcher’s in Portree this morning,’ Uncle Fraser said, as he went down into the cellar.
I sent mum a text message.
HOW are you? I love you. Megan
I waited, but she didn’t reply, so I phoned. Mrs Brown answered the phone. Her voice was sad.
‘The doctor’s here, Megan. Your mum’s not well at all. I’ll ring you later.’
I bit my lip, but the tears still fell and I went outside to talk to Dolly. I put my face in her mane until I felt better. ‘Kendra, where are you?’ I said to the wind.
Before the sun set, Ben, Uncle Fraser and I carried our baskets of food to the beach. We collected firewood and soon we had a big fire. The flames jumped and we had a wonderful barbecue.
The moon came out full and bright and we sang round the fire. Uncle Fraser wore his kilt. He brought his bagpipes and his accordion and played us some bagpipe music first. He was really good. Then Uncle Fraser played his accordion and Ben showed me some Scottish dancing. It was wonderful and I laughed and clapped my hands. Then we sang all the songs we knew. It was when we started singing the Skye Boat Song that I saw something silvery-white galloping towards us.
‘Kendra. It’s Kendra,’ I shouted and I started to run towards the unicorn, my unicorn, the last unicorn.
‘Wait for me,’ shouted Ben, but I couldn’t hear him. The unicorn was close now. I could see the horn in the middle of its forehead and its silvery mane and then it stopped and stood quite still. Its dark brown eyes looked into mine and it made a soft sound.
Slowly I went up to the unicorn. I touched its velvet nose, brushed its neck and its silken mane.
‘Make a wish,’ came a thousand whispers. ‘Make a wish.’
I thought of the bullies at school. I wanted them to leave me alone, but there was something far more important.
I touched the unicorn’s horn and made a wish.
The moon shone brighter and suddenly I was alone. Kendra was galloping away, out, out to sea.
It’s Not Goodbye
The bright sunlight woke me up. It was late and I had slept deeply and I felt happy, really happy, for the first time in a long while.
My mobile phone rang and I jumped out of bed. Where was it? I didn’t use it very much at the croft. I had so many other things to do and phones and televisions were no longer important. I looked under my clothes and found it in the pocket of my jeans.
‘Megan, it’s Mrs Brown. Doctor Barns is here and he wants to speak to you.’
I felt cold. Did he want to tell me something terrible?
‘Good morning, Megan,’ came his loud voice. ‘I have good news, great news. Yesterday evening your mother was very ill. I didn’t know what to do. She had a high temperature and Mrs Brown and I sat with her. Then suddenly at about midnight, she sat up in bed and said, ‘I feel better. Could I have a cup of tea and a slice of toast, please?’ Her temperature was normal. It’s a miracle, Megan, a miracle!’
I ran downstairs to tell Uncle Fraser.
‘The unicorn, he gave me a wish. Mum’s better and it was Kendra’s wish that made her well.’
My uncle turned and walked over to the window and looked out at the sea. I left him alone. He didn’t want me to see his tears of happiness.
I went outside with Idris. Ben was there with Dolly and Moon. He helped me to get on Dolly and, as we took the path that led down to the sea, I told him about mum and Kendra’s wish.
‘What will you do about the bullies at school when you go back, Megan?’ he asked.
I’ll speak to mum when she’s completely better and to a teacher at school. It will be alright. I want you to come and visit me in London. I’ll miss you,’ I said.
‘I’ll miss you more,’ said Ben.
A month on Skye passed so quickly. I wanted to see mum, but I didn’t want to leave Ben, Uncle Fraser, the ponies and Idris.
Ben and Uncle Fraser looked at each other. It was a secret look. ‘Megan, you can’t take Idris or Dolly back home, so we have a present for you,’ said Uncle Fraser. ‘It’s outside in the trap. Dolores McTagerty gave it to me and she thinks you will be happy together.’ Sitting on my suitcase was a beautiful cocker spaniel puppy. ‘Thank you,’ I said and I hugged them.
‘She’s beautiful, but I don’t want to leave you.’
‘We can write and speak on the phone. And you can come back soon,’ said Ben.
‘Come back with my sister,’ Uncle Fraser said as he kissed my cheek. ‘Come for New Year. We call it Hogmanay in Scotland. We have wonderful celebrations in the village. There is a custom here which brings good luck for the coming year. When the clock strikes midnight, some of us from the village go to Betty Maculister’s house. We take a piece of bread, some money and some coal. All these things bring good luck. The coal is so that the house is always warm. The bread is so there is always food to eat, and the money so that there is always money. Then we throw ashes out of the back door.’
‘Why do you do that?’ I asked.
‘It’s the old year leaving,’ continued Uncle Fraser.
‘Then we have a party,’ said Ben.
My uncle smiled. ‘A fine party,’ he said ‘we sing and dance until morning. Do come Megan.’
I looked at them. Hogmanay on Skye and Betty Maculister’s party, singing songs round the piano with Uncle Fraser, Ben and mum. I wanted this more than anything else in the world.
‘Yes,’ I said and I hugged my uncle again.
Then it was time to go. We rode in the trap to Armadale and when we passed the ruined castle, I thought I saw a silvery white horse arching its neck and galloping in the waves.
‘Goodbye Kendra,’ I whispered and on the salty air there came a cry, and the little white horse called out to me.
Of course, we knew this was not goodbye.