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Moonseed

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год

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‘I know my job.’ Her eyes narrowed as she studied him. ‘You’re an American. And you just arrived.’

He faced her. ‘Is it that obvious?’

She looked him up and down. ‘Look at the way you’re dressed. It’s only February, for God’s sake.’

‘You don’t like Americans?’

‘I don’t dislike them. I don’t know you well enough to dislike you. Yet.’

He glanced around. ‘You like rocks. I know about rocks.’

Those eyes narrowed again. ‘You’re a geologist.’

Strike two, he thought. ‘Is that bad too?’

‘If you’re with one of the oil companies, yes.’

He shrugged. ‘Edinburgh may not like me, but maybe I’ll like Edinburgh.’

‘Why?’

‘Volcanoes and a river sound. It reminds me of Seattle.’

She snorted. ‘Seattle in three hundred million years, maybe, when the volcanoes have died.’

He was impressed; that was about right.

She said, ‘What have you seen?’

‘Just the walk from the hotel. The Balmoral.’

She went back to her rocks. ‘This is the New Town. You need to go see the Old Town before you decide you like us.’

‘How new is the New Town?’

‘1760.’

‘Older than my whole damn country. I should have known.’

‘Most things in life are older than your country.’ She studied him. ‘Look, are you going to buy anything, or –’

He shook his head. How do I get myself into these situations? He turned to go. The girl didn’t acknowledge him.

He stopped at the door and turned back. ‘Look –’

‘What?’

He went back to the mineral racks and picked up the necklace of bottle-green beads. ‘Do you know what this is?’

‘Peridot,’ she said.

‘Well, yes. The gem form of olivine. And that’s what the lithosphere and asthenosphere are made of. That is, the solid layers that hold in the liquid interior of the Earth. So olivine is important stuff.’

She took it dubiously. ‘You want it wrapped?’

‘No,’ he said. He dug his hands into his pockets, seeking money. ‘Take it. As a gift.’

She pushed it back over the counter. ‘Stuff it up your jacksie.’

‘I mean it. No strings. I want to apologize. I’ve done nothing but make enemies since I landed …’ He had no British money; he pulled out what he had, a crumpled roll of dollars. ‘Will you accept this?’

‘Christ. Dollars. You Americans.’

Strike three, he thought. ‘Here. Fifty bucks. I’m sure that’s more than it’s worth. Please. On me.’

‘Stuff it,’ she said again, but he thought he could see a smile in her face.

He left the fifty, and got out while he could.

When the door had closed and the shop was empty again, Jane Dundas picked up the fifty dollars, and the necklace, and ran the bottle-green beads through her hands.

5

Mike Dundas lived with his father, in the western shadow of Arthur’s Seat, to the east of the city centre.

It was a fine spring morning, the sky clear and deep blue, and the air off the Firth was fresh and cool, even this far inland. So, before getting the Rover out of the garage to drive into work, Mike put on his walking shoes and set off to the Seat.

He walked east around Queen’s Drive, the road which skirted Holyrood, the park that contained the Seat. He reached the entrance opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Edinburgh seat of the royals. Holyroodhouse was a twee picture-palace, shut away behind railings; Mike had grown up in Edinburgh but had never been tempted to go visit it.

He set off up the Volunteer’s Walk to the summit of the Seat itself.

Everyone but the tourists knew the Seat had nothing to do with the English King Arthur, but was named from Gaelic: Ard Tor – the Height of Thor.

The climb, he knew from a lifetime’s experience, looked a lot stiffer than it was. The grassy ground was dark, still in the shadow of the turning Earth, even though the sky was already bright; and the dew made it a little slippery underfoot. The path was heavily eroded – too many visitors – but the climb was one Mike had been completing since he was a kid, and it didn’t take long to reach the broad, flat summit.

He stood on the red-brown, lumpy rock here. The rock was agglomerate, the exposed neck of the old volcano. There were two summit monuments up here, sparse concrete blocks.

He was alone. The Seat attracted few tourists, compared to the Castle Rock anyhow; mostly you saw locals, dog-walkers.

He turned slowly around. From here you got a panoramic view of the city and its environs, nestling around the volcano plugs; Arthur’s Seat was the highest hill in Edinburgh.

He could see the Pentland Hills to the south, the central lowland plain stretching off to the west, and the river to the north, the city splashed along its southern coast. He could make out the docks and the twin stacks of the Port Seton power station; the water beyond looked so flat and still it might have been moulded from steel. And there was the rocky northern coast of the Forth; on a good day you could see the peaks of the Highland massif, all of seventy or eighty miles away.

Venus was setting, but it was still bright enough to cast a reflection from the small waves on the Forth.

The air, blowing off the Forth, was fresh and laced with salt; he breathed it deeply, swinging his arms, invigorated, exhilarated.

All this out of his back door, and a Moon rock waiting for him back at the lab. Already he had more than a good feeling about how his relationship with this Henry Meacher was going to pan out. God, he thought, I love this job.

But first, he had to see his sister. He patted his pocket, to make sure the little vial of dust he had secreted there was safe.

Then he made his way down Arthur’s Seat, by a different track.

He descended towards a sandstone ruin called St Anthony’s Chapel.

This was a grey heap of rubble not far below the summit of the Seat, in the lee of an exposed crag; time had left one wall intact, with a door and window gaping into nothing. The chapel was thought to date from the fifteenth century, but nobody actually knew; Edinburgh’s history had been chaotic.

As he headed towards the Chapel, through a steep-walled old glacial cwm called the Dry Dam, Mike could hear a single voice – a man’s – floating into the morning air.

‘… I want to tell you the story of the original Bran. With twenty-seven companions, he was lured away to a place called the Land of Women, an island supported by four pillars of gold. There was a great tree full of sweet singing birds that was permanently in blossom, and the air was full of music …’

Mike, descending into the Dry Dam, saw that the speaker was a kid – seventeen or eighteen, hair shaven, so skinny the bones showed in his face and skull. He was dressed in what looked like purple pyjamas. He was sitting beneath the steep rear wall of the cwm, as if cupped by the geology; there were maybe thirty people sitting in the grass in a circle facing him. They were all clean-shaven, with close-cropped hair; they were slim, even gaunt-looking. Mike, in fact, had trouble telling the men from the women, even what age they were. They were all wearing the purple jim-jams, as far as Mike could tell, and they must be cold – he could see where the morning dew had seeped into the thin fabric of their uniforms – but they didn’t seem to be reacting to it. They looked relaxed, obviously fascinated by what the speaker was saying.

Beyond the pyjama party there was a thin, scattered circle of onlookers, dog-walkers and ramblers, a few tourists. Amongst them he could see Jane, in a woollen hat and sheepskin jacket.

The speaker’s voice echoed around the natural amphitheatre.

‘… Bran landed. There was a bed – and a wife – for each man, and the food and drink were constantly replaced. Bran’s men stayed in this wonderful place for what they thought was a year – but when they returned home, they found a hundred years had passed. Nobody believed he was Bran, who they only knew as a distant legend. Bran was forced to sail away, into oblivion … Come.’
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