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.

FINN walked by the side of Lochan nam Arm, peering into the water in his search for Robert the Bruce’s sword. Then, something caught his eye.

He ran to Izzy: “Aunty, aunty, look what I found!”

He was holding a scarf.

“It was hanging on a tree over there,” he said.

It was a short neck scarf, with Celtic interlacing design; it looked new and unworn, possibly even handmade.

“I really love it aunty, can I keep it?”

Izzy pursed her lips in thought.

“I dunno, Finn, someone may have dropped it and another person found it and placed it on the tree to keep it safe. Perhaps one of those walkers earlier. Maybe they will come back and look for it?”

Finn wasn’t even half listening. He put the scarf on and rushed to the loch side to look at his reflection.

“It would be safer round my neck surely?” he called out.

As he arranged the scarf, a folded piece of paper fell to the ground and landed by Finn’s feet. He picked it up, unfolded it and ran to Izzy, very excited.

“Look, the scarf is for me!” he exclaimed.

A worried look came over Izzy’s face as Finn handed her the piece of paper. There were beautifully drawn Celtic designs, with images of what looked like faeries hiding in a wood.

There was also a sleeping dragon curled round a heart shape in which there was handwriting: “If you have found me, and you like me, then I’m yours. Keep me safe, until it’s time to give me away.”

Izzy looked at Finn, nodded and smiled. “So it seems.”

“I will never give this away!” he insisted. He looked around at the trees and returned the gaze to his aunt.

“Maybe you’re right, aunty, maybe fairies do exist after all, at least here; we are in the Highlands after all.”

He thought for a moment. “Or maybe it’s just someone kind who likes to give presents.”

Finn headed back to the tree where he’d found the scarf. He arranged twigs and broken bits of heather on the ground next to the tree and beckoned his aunt to come see.

She looked down at what he’d done. She didn’t immediately see it, but then realised that the twigs and heather formed letters.

He carefully read it: “Thank you.”

“That’s lovely Finn, whoever left the scarf will see this and be very happy, I’m sure of it.”

Izzy looked up to the sky. The predicted rain was going to hold off.

“Finn,” she said hesitantly, “would you be up for a bit of an adventure?”

“You mean a walk, don’t you?”

“Kind of, aye, but this is to a place I have never been before, although I’ve often seen it from a distance.”

“How far?” asked Finn.

Izzy pointed: “Just there, where those old trees are. It’s a small remnant of the old Caledonian forest, I’ve often wanted to visit it but have never had the opportunity. It’s not so far, but it might be a bit difficult to reach, I’ve never explored it before.”

Finn wasn’t sure.

Izzy helped him decide: “It might have a connection to the original Merlin.”

That sold it to him.

“Well, I have my boots,” he smiled, “can I lead the way?”

So they set off in the direction of Coille Coire Chuic, a small remnant of the ancient Caledonian forest. Izzy let Finn decide on the route and as they neared the wood they arrived at the River Cononish. There was no obvious and safe way to cross, but Izzy was sure there was a small bridge downriver.

The route got increasingly boggy and Izzy suspected Finn may want to give up, but instead he took the role of leader seriously and carefully planned each step, identifying dryer patches and helping his aunt. They made slow progress, but with much hilarity as they balanced on small tufts of dry land surrounded by bog myrtle.

Finn paused and listened. The noise of a waterfall could be heard ahead and he aimed for it. Izzy lagged behind to take in the beauty of the heather, which carpeted the ground with a blaze of purple and pink. The old Scots pines on the other side of the river looked magnificent, framed by the mountains beyond.

She caught up with Finn, who was sitting on a rock watching the waterfall. It cascaded into a hidden pool, where the water twirled and bubbled as if in a giant cauldron. Scots pine trees stood guard on the edge of it, one growing precariously from the overhanging rocks, its trunk curving upwards so its higher branches reached the sunlight. A gnarled rowan with vivid berries grew from the rocks on the other side, while on the opposite bank birch trees clung onto the steep side of the river, bent over like weeping willows.

Finn wanted to sit awhile and so Izzy took it as an opportunity to make a brew for them both. He was beginning to understand that using her small camping stove was an important ritual for his aunt: the hissing sound, the waiting, the trail of steam, the anticipation; it made a warm feeling, turned a wild place into home.

They sipped tea together and shared well-earned snacks. Finn waited, expecting his aunt to tell a story. Finally, she did.

“See that giant boulder over there, Finn, it was dropped by the giants who sculpted this land many years ago.”

“Like with Samson’s stone we saw?”

Izzy nodded.

Finn raised a cynical eyebrow and half a smile.

“Huge giants, Finn, a race called the Fomorians. The legend says they emerged from the sea long ago – grotesque troll-like creatures, incredibly powerful and cruel. Two of them made Rannoch Moor their home and they terrorised the people for miles around, destroying homes and taking livestock.

“Nobody knew what to do, even the bravest and best warriors were defeated by them, ripped apart without mercy. Then a young lad about your age had his home destroyed by one of the giants, and in his grief he decided to rid the land of them.”

“But how could he do that if even the best warriors couldn’t?”

Izzy gave him a wry smile, which he knew meant that was a good question and that she was just about to answer it.

“The lad was wise. He had noticed how the two giants argued with each other about who was the stronger.”

“So he got them to fight each other?”

“Kind of, he persuaded them to have a competition to see who could throw a stone furthest. They began hurling bigger and bigger stones, then they tore chunks of rock off the mountain sides. Soon the land was littered with boulders, and after three days the two giants were utterly exhausted.

“Then the young lad told one of the giants he had won, for he knew this would cause a fight. And so it did.

“The giants fought each other with fury, using up what energy they had left. Finally, one gave the other a fatal blow, but it was the last thing he did, as he collapsed with total exhaustion.

“They had killed each other?”

“Yes,” smiled Izzy, filling her cup with more tea and raising it. “That’s why the land around here is littered with all these huge stones.”

“I know giants are mythological, aunty.”

Izzy sipped some tea.

“Depends what kind of giants you mean.”

Finn looked at the boulder.

“The next tale is the gift of the sun,” continued Izzy.

“After the death of the giants the land was bathed in sunshine, bringing new life.

It became a green world, grass and plants grew, then trees arrived. The ancestors of this tree were first to arrive,” she pointed to the nearby silver birch.

“Others followed: the rowan, the aspen, alder and even oak. But it was these trees which made the forest canopy: Scots pines, also called Caledonian pines, an old name given to them by the Romans. Aren’t they a beautiful tree?”

Finn peered at the Scots pines around them.

“Creatures filled the forest with their songs, their roars, their grunting and howling; the birds, bears, wolves, elk, deer and boar. Seven thousand years ago, where we sit we would have been amidst the Caledonian forest in its prime. Those trees over there are the descendants of that forest. If you sit with them and feel their presence, they will tell you their stories.”

Finn chuckled at his aunt, then explained why. “You are like Yoda!” He defensively held up his hands to explain: “Not the way you look, I mean the way you speak about things.”

Finn was a Star Wars fan. He had all three films on video at home and knew much of the dialogue by heart. He spoke to Izzy, mimicking Yoda’s voice: “Search the force, life creates it, makes it grow, its energy surrounds us and binds us, luminous beings are we.” Finn gently pinched Izzy on the shoulder, saying: “Not this crude matter. You must feel the force around you, the tree, the rock, everywhere.”

Izzy laughed out loud, feeling rather flattered to be compared to one of Finn’s screen heroes. She thanked him for the compliment.

Finn looked over at the old Scots pines on the other side of the river. He knew his aunt wanted to reach them and they were tantalisingly close, yet the river was too dangerous to cross.

“Let’s find a way to get there,” he ventured.

They packed up and followed the river, eventually finding a place to cross. They sat amidst the flowering heather under the canopy of old trees, near a clearing so a light breeze kept the midges at bay. As promised, Izzy spun legends of Merlin, but also other tales connected to the ancient forest: of Lailoken, the Picts and St Columba, and the sad tale of the last wolf. Finn added tales of his own, about Jedi Knights and what he could remember of the story of Tam Linn. The forest was both their theatre and audience. But there was a sense of melancholy in this wood, for something was missing: it was bereft of young trees. The old pines were missing their children.

The walk back was much quicker and they arrived back at the car tired, but with a sense of achievement. It felt as if they had been in a different world.

“Can we camp tonight aunty?” asked Finn. “And have a campfire like the first night?”

“Let’s see how the weather holds and how we feel later,” she replied, keeping options open.

Food was now a priority and Izzy was keen to get away from the busyness of Tyndrum. Soon they were on their way, heading for Loch Tulla, where she planned to make their tea. She knew Ewen would already be at the Bridge of Orchy. What she didn’t know was his mum was with him, Finn’s grandmother, whom Finn had loved so much.

She was waiting with her son in his car, literally trembling with emotion, desperate to see her beloved grandson, whom she hadn’t seen for more than four and a half years.

Here are the links to chapters one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 and 13.