A shortened version of our columnist Tim Porteus’s new book, Road of Legends, is exclusively serialised each week in the Courier. Here is the next mini-chapter.

IZZY knew she had to get Ewen out of the room, otherwise Finn was going to wake.

She put her hand around one of his arms and tried to pull him towards the door.

Eventually he responded, desperately trying to pull himself together for the sake of his son. Still unable to control his weeping, he began to crawl backwards. Izzy opened the door and cradled him as he crumpled onto the floor in the corridor outside the room.

Izzy glanced quickly inside, checking Finn was still asleep. He moved for a moment, then turned over. She slowly and carefully closed the door and sat down with Ewen, putting her arms around him.

She had no words, but knew words were not what was needed. She just held him in a hug as he wept his soul out.

A fellow guest walked by on the way to the showers. He paused for a moment with a towel hanging over his right shoulder.

“You all right?” he asked.

“My friend has just had some bad news,” said Izzy.

“OK, yeah, I can see that, hope it works out,” he said awkwardly and headed for the showers.

Finally, Ewen began to compose himself and appeared from behind his hands, his face a sodden mess. Izzy took her arms away, gave him a sympathetic look and stood up.

“Let’s find a place we can sit and talk,” she said.

Ewen nodded and pulled himself up off the floor with Izzy’s help. When they entered the kitchen area, everyone instinctively moved away and left them alone. Ewen sat at a table and Izzy put the kettle on.

Then she came and sat next to him, putting a supportive hand on his left arm. They both sat, not speaking. Ewen finally stopped crying and Izzy got up and brought some paper kitchen towels so he could wipe his face, then went to make tea for them both. She returned with two steaming mugs and sat by him again, still not speaking, just being there for him, her best friend.

He stared at the mug of tea, lifted it to his lips, then spoke before he drank.

“I hardly recognised him,” he said.

He took a gulp of tea and looked up at Izzy.

His voice began to break as he tried to explain: “It’s been four years since I saw him – last time was just before his eighth birthday. He’s changed so much. But then I heard his breathing as he slept, that’s the same, I recognised that.”

He drank some more tea, took in a deep breath, then exhaled loudly with a sigh.

“He used to fall asleep after I’d told him a story and I would stay for a while and listen to him breathe.”

He could feel tears welling up again. “Sorry Izzy, I can’t help it, so embarrassing.”

Tears streamed down his cheeks again and he lowered his head.

Izzy walked to the sink, tore some more kitchen towels from the rack and gave them to him. She sat by him.

“I can’t imagine what it feels like, Ewen, all those years of pent-up emotion missing your son, there is no need to apologise. I should have realised how hard that would be for you. It was my mistake.”

Ewen looked up. “God no, Izzy, thanks to you I’ve seen Finn, close up, in the moonlight and sleeping. I was able to whisper to him under my breath that I loved him, just before I lost it and made that scene.”

Izzy looked round the empty kitchen.

“I think everyone in here thinks we’re a couple who’ve fallen out,” she said. “I’m a bit concerned that people will talk about it tomorrow morning and Finn could overhear. I think, to be on the safe side, we will leave as soon as possible and have breakfast by the loch. At least then you will get to see him in the morning in the way we’ve arranged.”

“Yeah, that’d be great. I’ve pitched the tent in the hidden spot in the trees, I’ll keep an ear out for you arriving.”

Ewen realised he was hungry.

“You haven’t got something to eat, have you?” he asked. “I’ve not eaten since lunchtime; just not been hungry, till now.”

Izzy gave him a packet of crisps: “Sorry that’s all I have to hand.”

“No, that’s perfect, thanks, I just need a snack. I’ll cook something by the loch later.”

He opened the packet, then scrunched the crisps into small bits. Izzy watched as he tipped them into his mouth and carefully folded the empty packet into a small square.

“Finn does exactly that when he eats crisps,” she said.

“We’d have a competition,” explained Ewen, “to see who could fold the packet into the smallest square. It was just one of the things we used to do. I dunno how we started it. I think the idea is you can’t fold anything more than seven times, so we would try to.”

“Well, he still does it.”

Ewen smiled but it was a sad one. Izzy wasn’t sure if she was making things worse or better for him by telling him such things.

“Does he like his boots?” he asked.

“Loves them and they fit perfectly.”

Ewen nodded, then clenched his hands together on the table. Izzy could feel his pain. She placed her hands on top of his.

“Ewen, you are doing amazing, this must be hell for you, I know how much you love Finn and want him to know it. But please, be careful. He could have seen you at the Falls of Leny, and he definitely saw you talking to me at Balquhidder. He’s seen your car. We have to be super careful to ensure he doesn’t recognise you or realise.”

Ewen nodded: “Sally comes up with a different hire car tomorrow, so that should make things less obvious. I think she’s worried about me.”

“Me too, you be OK tonight?” asked Izzy.

“I’ll be OK. This evening, even though it was for a brief moment and he didn’t know it, I was with Finn. I’ll know he’s near and will have a distant view of him in the morning. I feel closer to him than I have for four years, although it’s making me feel like a stalker.”

“You’re not a stalker, Ewen, you’re a dad who loves his son.”

Ewen clenched his hands again. “Thank you.”

“I’m doing it for Finn as much as for you,” said Izzy. She was still sure she was doing the right thing, but was terrified of the risks.

“Please remember to be careful and stick to the plans we made,” she pleaded. “We have to keep him safe. He’s been through enough already.”

“I will, I promise.”

Ewen finished his tea and left the hostel.

Izzy sat a while, trying to calm herself, eyes closed and breathing deeply.

“You all right, honey?”

She opened her eyes: it was a woman who had come into the kitchen. Izzy wanted to say yes but the woman’s concern and kind words triggered a flood of tears. It was her turn to be comforted, by a stranger who knew nothing of the burden she carried, of her guilt and overwhelming feeling of responsibility.

“Thank you for being so kind,” she said to the woman. “I feel much better now after a wee greet.”

“No man is worth such upset, my lovely,” the kind woman said. Izzy just nodded and smiled at her. If only it was that simple, she thought.

She returned to the room and opened the door slowly; Finn was sound asleep. Izzy felt emotionally exhausted and hoped she’d fall asleep quickly, but as she lay in her bed after a hot shower, she couldn’t stop her mind racing; it had been so close, what if Finn had woken? She trusted Ewen to be careful. But she must be careful too. Finally, under the gaze of MacFarlane’s Lantern, sleep overtook her.

Finn was first to wake in the morning.

“Aunty, aunty, it’s morning!” he said while looking out of the window. It was daylight but the sky had clouded over and thick mist hung on the hills.

“A typical Highland morning,” he said cheerfully.

Izzy got things packed as Finn had his shower and they left the hostel before most of the other residents were out of their beds. After a phone call to Finn’s mum, they set off.

“Where we having breakfast?” asked Finn.

“Very close by, on the banks of Loch Dochart.”

They drove for just a few minutes and pulled into a layby. Izzy performed her usual routine of bringing her rucksack. They walked through some woodland and arrived at the water’s edge.

“Wow, is that an island with a castle on it?” asked Finn.

“It is,” said Izzy, “and what stories are here! I’ll tell you some over breakfast.”

Finn helped Izzy set up her stove and they took turns stirring the porridge. There were midges in the air, at times annoying, but it was late in the season and their biting was minimal. A breeze from the loch kept them away most of the time.

She told Finn of the castle’s history, how the island was once a MacGregor stronghold, but that ‘Black Duncan Campbell’ built the castle they saw now after he took the land.

Then Izzy told an ancient legend: “It was here that Fionn MacCoul met his death, at the hands of a giant named Taileachd.”

Finn scooped more porridge into his bowl but he nodded, showing he was listening and wanted Izzy to continue.

“The giant lived with his sweetheart, who was a beautiful faery maiden.”

“Of course,” said Finn, smiling cheekily.

Izzy returned the smile and continued: “Some versions of the tale say they had their home on an island on Loch Lubhair, just downstream, while others an island here on Loch Dochart, maybe even that one.”

Finn studied the castle’s ruins, which peered out from the trees which covered the island. It looked so mysterious.

“One day, Taileachd discovered that his sweetheart had met Fionn and they had fallen in love.”

“So Fionn ran off with her, that’s ironic!” laughed Finn.

“No, you see she loved them both, maybe in different ways, but she was now torn between them. They were going to fight over her, and she knew one of them would be killed, so she came up with an idea.”

Finn put his bowl down and listened as Izzy acted out the tale.

“‘Please put your anger away’, said the faery woman. ‘I love you both, but whoever can leap the furthest I shall be with.’”

“A jumping competition!” exclaimed Finn.


Izzy dramatically described how the two competitors leapt from the island trying to outperform each other. They were equally matched but when they jumped backwards, Fionn momentarily lost his balance and the giant, fearful he was going to lose his sweetheart, took the opportunity to cut off Fionn’s head!”

“Aw, ouch, foul!” cried Finn.

Izzy nodded and spoke with a solemn tone.

“In that moment of violence, they all lost everything. The faery woman fled: she no longer loved Taileachd because of his brutal act, and Fionn, whom she loved, had lost his life. His body floated down the river, and was found by the Fiann, his band of warriors. They buried him at Killin and now they were full of vengeance, so went to search for Fionn’s murderer.”

“Did they find him?”

“Well, Taileachd fled to Rannoch Moor and I’ll tell you what happened when we get there, later today.”

“Aw, aunty!”

Finn’s protest was interrupted as his attention was suddenly caught by the sight of a man in a dinghy rowing out into the loch. They watched as he struggled a bit in the current, then vanished behind the eastern side of the island. A few minutes later, the man appeared on top of the ruined tower, half hidden by branches. He sat there.

Finn waved and the man waved back.

“I really want to go onto that island and see the castle and where the giant lived. Maybe that man will lend us his dingy?”

“He’s probably going fishing, Finn, and is just looking at the water to see where the fish are. He’ll be there all day.”

“We could swim?”

“The current is too strong here Finn, but we could swim at out next stop: St Fillan’s healing pool, it’s part of the river, just upstream from here.”

Finn stood by the water’s edge looking out to the island, disappointed. But he accepted his aunt’s decision.

They packed up and headed for the healing pool. Ewen watched them go from his vantage point atop the ruins on the island.

Here are the links to chapters one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 and 11.