Castle Wrath

By: Karin Kallmaker

Chapter 1

I am an heiress… A dark woman

follows me… Steak and Stilton pie

Arrival in Inverness…

The important thing is that you believe what I'm telling you because, frankly, it's unbelievable from the get go. It’s not like it’s a complicated story, or anything, and I still don’t know how it ends, but it’s completely and totally true.

I took this writing class and they said the important thing was to write what you know and leave out the boring bits. That's two important things, I realize that now. But here's what I know and I'm leaving out the boring part about how it all came to pass: I inherited a castle in Scotland!

You don't want to know about my grandfather's great aunt's adopted nephew-by-marriage who died without issue and the long series of accidents that lead to me being the heir — trust me, it's a forty-part episode of Masterpiece Theatre. But here I am on a train in the Scottish countryside, trying to imagine the twists of history that caused all those deaths that let this incredible thing happen to me. It's a bit freaky thinking about karma and fate and payback so I'm not thinking about it.

What I'm thinking about right now is that I can't understand a thing anyone says and I'm hungry. Plus, there's this tall, dark woman who keeps staring at me. I think I saw her at the train station in Glasgow. I had to run for the train and she seemed to be following me because she was running too. She's attractive but hardly my type — too old. Too serious, I'll bet. I trod on her foot when the train started to go and she said "Buggery bollocks" and I said I was sorry so I don't know why she's staring at me.

I wonder if she's the other heir.

Sorry, I hadn't gotten to that part. I didn't mean to leave it out as it's not at all boring. See, there are two heirs. We have to live in the castle for thirty nights and then one of us will inherit and the other gets a bundle of cash and a ticket home.

The other heir, P. Tennielle of Manchester, England U.K., is some kind of artist. The "P" stands for Portia, how British is that? The photos of her were badly lit but the staring woman could be the same woman. What a way to start off, me tromping on her foot. But she doesn't know it's me. Right now, to her, I'm just a clumsy American, not B. Brannigan of the Lodi Brannigans, currently attending university in Berkeley, California, U.S.A.

The "B" stands for Brittany, by the way. Maybe when we meet officially at the solicitor's office in Inverness she won't remember me. That is, if Dark Lady turns out to be Portia Tennielle.

My best friend, Susie Bling (I know, that's hysterical, isn't it?) is nearly an attorney and she said the will is completely screwed up and would never fly in the U.S. except it was written over 300 years ago — before the U.S. of A. even existed! — after some sixth earl of someplace was "attaindered." I tried to look that up online but after about two minutes I needed a latte, know what I mean?

I'm hoping Stilton is a cheese and that food bought on the train isn't going to put me in the toilet for the next 24 hours. But lots of people in business suits are digging in so I'm taking my chances. Shillings and pence aren't troubling me. Even if I don't get the castle, I get five thousand pounds which will pay for this really spiffing trip to England. Scotland. Scotland’s in England, or is it the other way around? I can never remember. It seems kind of complicated because after Florence Eldridge chopped off Katherine Hepburn’s head and Bette Davis doesn’t marry Errol Flynn, one man became king of both. I planned to study up and get it right as I whiled away the days in not-quite-my castle.

Anyway, I can do pretty much as I like on this trip, including not counting my cell minutes, and still have a bundle for some necessities when I got home again. Like rent and food.

* * *

Steak and Stilton pie is tasty, and that's a relief. Dark Lady got off the train at the last stop before Inverness and that was a relief too. I guess when I edit this I'll just take her out. It’s incredible what I see out the window — cows and country houses, stuff like that. If it weren’t for the train I was on I’d expect to see Conestoga wagons.

I don’t suppose they ever used Conestoga wagons here.

The previous stops taught me that when it is time to get off the train you’d better be near the doors and ready to jump, luggage and all. They barely come to a full and complete stop. As I attempted to alight with some kind of dignity I tripped on the smaller of my two suitcases. A nice older gentlemen caught me. Scottish men went up in my estimation after two wearing T-shirts with “Caley Thistle” volunteered to manage my bags all the way to the taxi stand, giving me a chance to get my skirt back into place. I didn’t understand a word they said except the invitation for “a pint” which I had to turn down.