Mark sighed regretfully as he climbed onto his bike. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, warm and clear, the sort of day on which he would once have gladly gone for a ride for the sheer joy of riding.
"But not today, old friend," he said sadly, patting the fuel tank before kick-starting the engine. "Moving up here to Scotland may be a great career move, but there's no room for you in Silicon Glen." He glanced over his shoulder, but the winding road was empty of traffic, and only a pair of sheep looked back at him. With another sigh, he set off down the road to Inverness, keeping his speed down to prolong this last ride.
As he rode, his mind flashed back over all the time he had spent on her. He had found her, rusted and dented, in an old scrap yard while he was still in high school, and had spent weeks cleaning her up and repairing her. Throughout college he had continued to work on her, painting her and tuning the engine until she practically purred. Now, though, he had a new job, a new house, and no room for a motorbike.
He was so lost in his daydream that he almost didn't see the old man, waving at him from the side of the road. He braked and slowed to a halt beside him, curious as to how the man had gotten here, miles from the nearest house. The man looked weathered, and wore a shabby brown coat, and he rested his weight on a short, gnarled walking stick, but his eyes fairly sparkled in the morning sun. "That be a fine steed ye have, young man," he said, his voice as weathered as his looks.
Mark looked blank, "Steed?"
"I donít understand--" Mark began.
The old man gestured with his staff at the bike, and his eyes seemed to stare right through Mark for a moment. "Yer steed, yer bike, yer 'souped up turbo-charged Harley Davison motor-bike'"
Mark nodded regretfully. "Yes, she is," he said sadly, "but I need to sell her. I've no room for her any more."
"Aye, I ken how that can be. More than likely she'll go to some callow fool who'll crash her into the first tree he finds."
Mark winced, but said nothing.
"Well, young man, it so happens that I be needing a steed. I can promise that she'll be well cared for. How much be ye asking for her?" Mark frowned; this was not what he had been expecting. "I thought I'd ask at one of the garages in Inverness, see what they'd give me for her."
"Them crooks. They'd rob ye blind, young man." He looked straight into Mark's eyes, and seemed to draw himself up straighter, "I promise ye, ye'll not take their offer, but I'll give ye twice the best ye find there."
Mark shrugged. "I'd rather try the professionals first," he replied, firing up the engine once more.
The old man stepped out of the way. "Aye, lad, ye do that. I'll see ye when ye return, and we can talk some more then."
Mark glanced in his mirror as he accelerated down the road, but the old man was no-where in sight. Crazy old coot, he thought. There must be someone in Inverness who'll pay for a first-class bike.
"Well, Blue Lady, looks like you and I are staying together a little longer," he murmured, working his way carefully through the one-way system and heading back home. "Maybe I can make a trip down to Carlyle or Newcastle and get a better deal for you there."
The Lady purred as he rode home, enjoying the evening breeze against his jacket. To his surprise, when he reached the corner in the road, the old man was waiting for him. He slowed down, and stopped beside him.
"So, ye didn't manage to sell yer Lady in town," the man stated, rather than asked. "Are ye now prepared to accept me offer? I'll pay ye twice what they were offering, and can promise I'll treat her just as ye have."
Mark was tempted. "Twice what they offered? Shall we say, umm..." He named a price that was about three times the best offer he had been made, and the man smiled.
"So ye think I dinna ken what ye were offered in the city, do ye? Well, maybe ye're right, and that is a fair price for such a fine steed as ye're selling. Well, then, I'll give ye one of them check thingamies for half the amount now, and when ye're satisfied that I'm not cheating ye, ye can meet me here and I'll give ye the rest."
Mark shut his mouth with a snap, before his surprise was too obvious. "How do you know I won't just ride off with the money?" he asked.
"Ye are too honest for that," the man replied, with such certainty that Mark believed him."
"Here ye go," he handed over a check.
Mark read the cheque through, but it seemed all in order, made out to 'cash' from 'T. Poet'. He stuffed it in his wallet, then looked up at the old man. "Well, Mr, ah, Poet, I'll go and put that in my account Monday morning, and if it doesn't bounce, I'll be back in, say, a week, and we can finish the deal then."
The man nodded and moved aside. "I'll see ye here in a week, then, lad."
Mark shook his head as he rode off. "Weird," he muttered to himself.
The next Saturday, he polished the Lady until she gleamed brightly in the sun, then set off once more down the road to Inverness. As he rather expected, the old man was standing by the side of the road, looking as though he hadn't moved. "So, ye now believe I'm not trying to cheat ye, lad?"
"Well, I kent ye'd be back, and I have the money for ye. Here ye go." Mark accepted the check, written in an ornate, flowing style, and dismounted.
"Thank you, sir."
The old man took the bike from his hands, stroking her gently. "Aye, ye be a fitting steed for one of me warriors, Blue Lady," he murmured softly, then looked up at Mark. "I promise ye she'll be well looked after."
Curiosity overtook him. "How are you going to get her home, sir?"
The old man smiled, as if at a joke. He put his staff in one of the panniers and, showing more agility than he had before, climbed on board. The Lady purred into life. "I'll ride her, lad. I've lived in these parts for more seasons than ye have lived. If ye wait here for a few minutes, ye can get a ride in one of them chariot things." Mark blinked. He knew there was not a village or even a farm for miles in any direction. "Who are you?" he asked.
The old man revved the Lady's engine, then drove her straight through the side of the hill, the grass parting before him and closing after him in full view of a dumb-founded Mark. "Men call me Thomas," his voice echoed as if from a vast cavern. "Thomas the Rhymer."
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