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Book One

Stelladaur: Finding Tir Na Nog

Stelladaur: Finding Tir Na Nog

Chapter 1
Eilam

Reilly reached the entrance gate to the marina and swung it open with one hand, not bothering to acknowledge the man who glared at him through the giant window of the yacht club. He knew it was Travis Jackson, the club owner, and passing Mr. Jackson each morning without making eye contact was Reilly's greatest challenge before reaching the water. Most mornings the man stood at the window or on the massive deck, puffing his pipe and looking out over the water as if he owned the harbor itself. There was something creepy about Travis that crawled on Reilly's skin like disgusting black algae. He didn't know how the muck got there but the grime felt thick whenever Travis was near. Reilly shuddered but kept his focus and succeeded in diverting his gaze away from the man's icy stares. He let the gate shut with a loud clang.

Starting down the dock ramp, Reilly absentmindedly counted each crossbar securing the wooden planks. There were nine but he stepped over the last one, which was covered with moss. He looked across the water, shaking off the lingering feeling of griminess, and thought about a comment his dad often made.

"We live in a postcard, son!"

Reilly paused to take in the pristine view. He nodded and then tugged the side straps of his backpack as he headed for his kayak.

Directly across from a neatly tethered row of one-person sailboats used for summer classes, Reilly bent down to untie his two-person kayak. He removed the waterproof covering draped over the front seat, threw in his backpack, pulled off the back covering and tucked both covers inside the hull. He lifted the paddle and slid smoothly into the vessel. For almost a year, this had been Reilly's usual mode of transportation to and from town and school, as well as the place for his best adventures.

The kayak was bright orange, with a wide forest-green stripe over the bow and a wide stark-white stripe over the stern, somewhat resembling an Irish national flag. It was a putrid pale yellow when Reilly's dad won the bid for it at the Rotary Auction, but they spent the summer sanding it down and then repainting. Since he was a small child Reilly had enjoyed sailing with his dad—being on the water was in his blood—but his kayak gave him his own sense of belonging to the sea.

Though completely familiar with his morning routine, Reilly was in awe as he climbed into the kayak and gently sliced through the rippling water, a domino effect created by the departing ferryboat in the distance. This fifteen-minute ride wasn't just a commute for Reilly. It was a silent meditation.

However, Reilly's morning ritual was never long enough. It ended on the north side of the harbor when he reached Eilam's Kayak Hut.

"Good morning, Reilly," Eilam smiled as he took the paddle.

"Good morning," he said, grabbing his backpack.

"Ahh ... and such a nice morning. Love this misty rain," Eilam said.

Reilly smiled and tilted his head to the sky. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, then exhaled slowly. "Yes." Opening his eyes, he said, "Are you coming to the bakery this morning?"

"Absolutely! My stomach's been howling. The only thing that will quiet it down is one of your mom's currant scones hot from the oven."

Eilam put his arm around Reilly's shoulder as they headed up the boat ramp, and Reilly reached his arm around the old man's waist. They were more than good friends. Eilam was like the grandfather Reilly never knew, considered part of the family before Reilly was born. Although most islanders knew who Eilam was—and thought him to be a kind man—they also thought he was strange. Even a bit crazy. They were polite to his face, but Reilly was not oblivious to the hum of gossip about his old friend.

Reilly knew Eilam was the oldest local resident, although the man never would say how old. And a curious phenomenon was that no one seemed to remember Eilam looking any younger than he did now. So people could only speculate. The general consensus was that some traumatic experience had caused emotional scarring and left his mind filled with a mumble-jumble of thoughts and ideas. His stories of years past were intriguing, but most occurred so far back that they could not be accurately documented. This only added to peoples' skepticism and reservations about the old man.

Though Reilly did not have all the answers about Eilam's mysterious upbringing and life, he never doubted his friend.

Once, when Reilly asked him how old he really was, Eilam simply said, "Age is a myth."

Eilam often said strange things. But if Eilam had said he was 300 years old, Reilly would have believed him. Reilly didn't know for sure, but he felt almost certain that Eilam was from another time and place.

They walked through Waterfront Park and down Winslow Way, the main street through town. Neither spoke on the short journey to the bakery, but they smiled continuously as they breathed in the misty rain.

It was 7:40 a.m. when they arrived at the bakery. Reilly opened the screen door for Eilam, and then let it shut with a single clap. Reilly inched his way through the crowded room to the kitchen, where he found his mom brushing a thin layer of glaze on a tray of giant cranberry-orange sweet rolls. She glanced up and smiled. Reilly's dad set down the spatula he was using to scoop lemon poppy seed scones from another tray and moved towards Reilly.

"Hi, son, how was the water this morning?" he asked.

"Perfect."

"Great! What'll it be today?" His dad went back to scooping the scones onto a serving platter, and then left to the dining area, while Reilly wandered around the room sniffing.

Pecan pull-a-parts and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins were his favorites, but today Reilly was looking for something different. He found a clean plate, put a large currant scone on it for Eilam and continued to meander around the worktables. He seriously considered the blueberry bagels. The sugar-sprinkled cherry turnovers made his mouth water. But he finally chose a big slice of hot pumpernickel bread and smothered it with honey butter from a large crock on the side table. He grabbed a lemon yogurt from the fridge and left the kitchen.

As he stepped through the doorway into the crowded room, Reilly accidentally bumped into a man waiting at the end of a long line. Annoyed, the man turned around.

"Get out of my way, kid!" It was Travis Jackson.

Their eyes met. Reilly froze.

"Well, don't just stand there," Travis commanded. "You're in my way!"

"Uh ... I, uh ... Sorry, sir."

Reilly ducked to the right, but he felt the man's searing gaze on his back.

Annoyed with himself for stammering, he quickly found Eilam seated at their usual corner booth, inhaling steam from a cup of raspberry tea.

"Ugh! I wish he'd stayed at the club," Reilly said as he set the food on the table. "He makes me nervous." He decided to wait before getting his hot chocolate and sat down.

Typical for a Friday morning, the bakery was packed, and Reilly noticed his dad multi-tasking to help the employees assist customers. He could see Travis getting impatient with the wait.

Trying to ignore Travis, Reilly nibbled his bread and turned to look out the window. The misty rain turned to a drizzle as it landed gently on the benches and soaked into the surrounding flowerbeds. He inhaled the soothing smell of coffee mixed with salty air. But his attempted reverie ended abruptly.

"... and you'd better do something about that crazy man!" Travis's voice bellowed above the customers' chatter.

Reilly turned and saw Travis standing at the counter across from his dad—pointing directly at Eilam. Then the obnoxious man pushed his way through the crowded room and stormed out of the bakery.

The boisterous buzz in the bakery subsided; numerous people began to whisper and glance warily at Eilam.

"What a jerk," Reilly muttered. His usual smile had disappeared when he bumped into Travis. He didn't usually let the customers' whispers bother him, but Travis had created a scene that brought unwanted attention to their corner booth.

"Remember, Reilly, gossip is just people's insecurity and fear of what they don't really understand," Eilam said. "It is unconsciously propagated to feed their egos."

"Doesn't it ever bother you?" Reilly asked as he pulled the top off his yogurt.

"I've lived much too long to put any stock in the external judgments of others, or to take anything personally."

Reilly looked intently at Eilam as he tried to understand what the old man had said. He glanced at his friend's thick, silvery hair, which he kept in a loose braid over his left shoulder. He liked Eilam's scruffy-looking beard. It tapered slightly as it fell to his breastbone, the soft gray color of a Northwest seagull. The man's eyes were emerald and perfectly round. His hunched back, gangly legs, crooked hands, slender nose and wide ruby lips never made Reilly feel uncomfortable. This was the only Eilam Reilly had known.

Reilly left the table to get something to drink. He wanted to ask his dad about Travis but knew he was too busy.

He filled an oversized mug with milk, placed it in the microwave for one minute and then pumped a squirt of thick chocolate from the syrup dispenser into his beverage. Using a single-serve hand whip, he whisked the liquid together until it was frothy on top. Finally, he grabbed a banana from a basket near the espresso bar and pushed gently through the crowd once more. When he had made his way back to the booth, he and Eilam sipped their hot beverages and silently observed their surroundings.

To Reilly, the scene was so familiar he could see it without really looking. Most people who came to Blackberry Bakers at this time of the morning were regular customers, many on their way to catch the 8:45 ferry to Seattle with a coffee in one hand and a freshly baked bread or pastry in the other. They were enjoying a latte, reading The Bainbridge Review, talking on their cell phones, or just staring out the picture windows.

Reilly watched customers come into the bakery shaking the rain off their clothes and cupping their hands in anticipation of a hot mug to occupy the space. No one bothered to shut the main door, and the screen door released the constant sound of clapping.

In addition to the whispering voices of gossips and the groans of commuters who were miffed about having to rush to catch the boat, the usual chatter picked up. Through it all, the employees remained pleasant and cheerful, doing their best to accommodate each customer. This was a strict staff requirement outlined by Reilly's parents, Kevin and Monique McNamara.

Sipping his hot chocolate, Reilly relaxed as he thought about the fact that he'd basically grown up in the bakery. His smile returned as he reviewed his story. His mom had grown up in a small town in France, helping out in a third-generation family bakery. Restless to see the world, she left home at seventeen, and later moved to Seattle to work for a large accounting firm. One of the firm's main clients was the inventor, Travis Jackson, owner of Imperial Plastics.

Reilly squirmed, just as he did the first time he realized that his mom had known Travis before she met his dad, Kevin. He tore a chunk of crust off his bread and shoved it in his mouth. Chewing hard, he zoned out and continued daydreaming.

Kevin McNamara had come from a rich heritage of maritime folks—lovers of the sea—and like Reilly, he loved the water more than just about anything. Reilly knew the name McNamara meant "hound of the sea," which he thought was ironic, since neither he nor his dad had ever owned a dog. His dad grew up in a family-owned and operated lighthouse in Puget Sound, Washington. But the changing Coast Guard regulations left a bleak future for the family business. Always fascinated by how and why things moved—especially the sea—he decided to study physics at the University of Washington. Reilly's parents met at a benefit dinner hosted by Imperial Plastics, then dated for nearly two years while Kevin worked on his Master's thesis—Understanding the Displacement and Conductivity of Salt Water Relative to Various Foreign Substances. They were married the week after he earned his degree.

Early one Tuesday morning in late August, on their two-month anniversary, Monique woke with a sudden urge to go sailing. The sun rose over the Seattle skyline, sending illuminating rays across Bainbridge Island, beckoning them. Impulsively, Kevin and Monique sailed west for just over an hour, eased into Eagle Harbor, and lowered their sails in the marina just past the ferry terminal. Later, Reilly's dad told people he and his wife didn't know why they were there, but both felt it was a magical place.

Reilly blew into his mug and shifted on the bench.

He thought about his parents walking along the waterfront and picking a few blackberries when an old man came up from behind and said hello. Kevin returned the greeting and asked the man if he knew of a place for a good cup of coffee and a bite to eat.

"That is precisely the thing this island needs," the man said. "I've been around these parts for a long while and I've seen a lot of shops come and go. It would be nice to have a spot to sit and rest, sip a cup of tea, and chat with folks." He paused and pointed with his gnarly finger. "But if you head up the hill that way, turn right on Winslow Way and walk a block, you will find a little diner on the right side of the street." Kevin held out his hand to thank the man and asked his name. "Eilam. Just Eilam." Reilly's dad thought the man looked familiar.

Now, watching Eilam drink his tea, Reilly wondered why he'd always thought the same thing.

Turning right on their walk up the hill towards town, Reilly's parents noticed a placard hanging on the wall of an old brick building in the center of town: "Commercial Space for Sale." It was as if the sun's rays had moved from the harbor to shine right on those words. To the newlyweds it was a sign! So the McNamaras left the city life, a stifling accounting career and the potential for fame and fortune in the field of physics, and opened Blackberry Bakers. Over a quarter of a century later, the bakery had become one of the island's most famous icons, providing Reilly's parents with the small-town lifestyle they truly wanted. Neither of them ever regretted their decision to marry or to venture out as bakers. Petit fours and cappuccinos sprinkled with Irish chocolate were quite a combination.

Shifting slightly so he could see the clock above the door, Reilly realized with a start that his thoughts had carried him away—as usual—and that school started in 15 minutes. He stuffed the last half of banana in his mouth and took a gulp of now warm hot chocolate before he scooted along the bench.

"See ya this afternoon," Reilly said, smiling at Eilam.

He poked his head into the kitchen.

"Bye Dad! Bye Mom!"

"Have a great day, Reilly," his dad shouted.

Reilly hoisted his backpack over his shoulders and headed out the back door. He perched on the seat of his ten-speed, which he kept locked behind the bakery, and started out in the mist.

For reasons Reilly didn't understand, he knew he often saw things differently than others did. Sometimes he could see with his ears ... speak with his eyes ... or hear with his heart. Or just know things. A quintessential dreamer, he welcomed each day as an invitation for his dreams to come true. Oddly, they often did. He didn't know why this was so, or why he felt compelled to look for the good and expect the best, or what made his thoughts connect his reality to what others considered unreal, impossible or ridiculous.

Adults said he had a keen imagination. His peers thought he was just plain different. Regardless, this was how Reilly had lived his life. Up to this point.


© S.L. Whyte