We indeed get some very queer customers in the Pub, particularly as the weather gets grimmer, but he was one of the oddest I’d ever seen for more years tending bar than I care to think of. Not that at first I could quite say what was odd about him, just that something wasn’t quite right.
Then I noticed that no one but me was seeing him, despite the fact that he had a choice table, and no one was even going near that table. Even those who had The Sight seemed not to be noticing him, which was very, very odd. So why was I seeing him?
I tried to put the question to him gently, next time he caught my eye for another Rowanheart. “First time I’ve seen you here, I believe. And . . . ”
He interrupted me. “But not the first time I’ve been here.” He chuckled. “Just the first time I’ve had the wherewithal to pay.” He slid a seven-sided coin across the table, a mate to three others already in my till.
Ah, that was the explanation! I’d wondered where the Rowanheart had been going, and suspected a very new Annie from the other side of the Border. No need to bother Iain now.
He took a long pull on the Rowanheart. I turned back toward my bar, feeling myself dismissed. When I turned to look again, he was gone.
Three nights later he was back. The same bushy red beard, the same sheepskin lined coat, the same tweed cap pulled low over his eyes. This time he stopped at the bar for his first Rowanheart. It was odd how the three fiddlers drinking Picaroons Red between sets all moved to their left when he arrived, even though they didn’t greet him or acknowledge his presence. Ever hear of a personal bubble? His was about two handbreadths deep all around him. When one of the fiddlers spilled his Red, the runnels stopped just short of the stranger’s drink.
He knew I was puzzled, he knew I was watching him. As I mopped up the bar and got the fiddler another Picaroons, he slipped away to his old table. The couple who had looked to be headed in that direction veered slightly and sat on one of the blonde oak benches against the wall on the far side of the east fireplace.
He came in a few times after that, not on any regular schedule. Grinned, drank several Rowanhearts, always paid with those seven-sided gold coins. A pleasant enough customer, though no one else but me ever seemed to know it.
The last time I saw him was Old Christmas night. The festivities had been mostly the previous evening, and many were still recovering. The Neverending Session was playing something melancholy, though how they made a Shanklin Road cover sound melancholy I don’t know. Apart from the musicians, and the couple who had made the blonde oak bench their favourite sparking spot ever since they discovered to it, there was no one else in the bar except us. He signaled me for another Rowanheart.
“I’m heading out at first light,” he said. “Time to go back North again. See if the other lads have made it.” He took a pull on the Rowanheart.
“Will you be back?” I ventured to ask.
“Eventually. I usually end up here every couple of centuries.” That big grin split the bushy beard. It was warm enough despite the lack of a crowd that he had undone his coat. I could see a purple shirt. It looked like heavy silk. “Yes, it will be good to see the lads again. Maybe time for another roadtrip, even. Those are the good times, you know. Just you and the road and the stars. I remember the first trip we took together. Hiding from the sun’s heat all day. Picking a star to follow at night. Good times.”
He drained the Rowanheart and stood up. “Maybe I shouldn’t wait for dawn. No stars left then.” He fastened his coat up tight around his neck and gave a drag on his cap. Out of his pockets he fished a little leather pouch and a pair of fairisle mittens.
“Here’s part payment on some of those Rowanhearts I took on credit.” He handed me another couple of those seven-sided coins. “Oh, and as for why you can see me and others can’t, it’s because you believe and they don’t.” Another big grin. “Or maybe that’s malarkey, and it’s because I need something from you and not from them. When the lads come looking for me, and one day they’ll come, tell them Cass has gone after the brightest star.”
Then he left.