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Fergus McAdams died on 10 September 1547, during the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, when a very straight arrow pierced his heart.
When he awoke, the arrow had disappeared, but his leg felt very heavy. And with reason! A chain was attached to it with one end fastened round his ankle and the other fixed in the ground.
To his even greater surprise, Fergus realised that he was not the only one in this situation. All around him, in that entirely white place, were nothing but other men and women similarly shackled, some in clothes such as Fergus had never seen before. Right beside him, one of these women was even as naked as the day she was born and as beautiful as a Highland angel. She did not seem at all embarrassed by her state, and the chain keeping her prisoner was longer. 
“Why are you as naked as Venus emerging from her bath?” Fergus asked her.
“Because I was in fact in my bath when my husband drowned me.”
“The wretch!”
“She still deceived him whenever his back was turned,” remarked a little, round man whose chain was even longer, “but you need to start cleaning the links of your chain or you’ll very soon find yourself stuck to the ground like him over there!” 
The round man had pointed out another prisoner below them. A man with a sad expression like a rainy day on his bearded face. That was how Fergus realised he could indeed float above the ground.
“There’s no point,” said the bearded man. “There’s no point.”
“Don’t listen to him,” said the naked woman. “He just repeats the same words over and over. Listen to Sancho instead, and start cleaning your chain. It’s still quite short. You’ll get more links and if you are energetic and strong enough you might be able to reach the key to get free.”
“I am!” cried Fergus. “I am a fierce Scottish warrior and we are all strong. Where is this key? And where are we, anyway? I remember the battle and that arrow in my heart.”
“I remember it too,” said the naked woman. “That arrow was beautiful. And it went in at just the right spot. At least you didn’t suffer. I did! It’s terrible to feel your lungs filling with water and not being able to do anything. Even if it is water scented with bath salts.”
“Are you trying to tell me that I am dead and that this is Hell?”
“An arrow right through the heart is generally fatal,” said Sancho, half serious and half joking. “As for knowing whether we are in Hell or not, who knows? I never believed that priests’ twaddle, that’s why they tortured me until my heart stopped beating. But you, I can see that you come from sixteenth-century Scotland, so... But you do too much talking, and not enough polishing.”
Sancho and his roundness returned to the links of his chain.
“Tell me why I, Fergus McAdams, should clean anything other than my sword? I am a warrior, not a maid-servant.”
“As you wish, but if you shine your whole chain before the trumpet sounds, it will get longer by one link every time. With a bit of luck, one of us will have the good fortune to reach the key up there.”
Fergus looked up and did indeed see a key lying on a cushion that was also floating in the air.
“There’s no point,” repeated the bearded man.
“I nearly reached the key once,” said the naked woman. “I almost did it. But every time the chain gets longer, you realise that you need more time to clean all the links. When it’s too long you can’t clean all of it, so it shrinks again. And as it shrinks, you can start to clean the whole of it again. Then it gets longer and...”
“I think I understand.”
“You will understand better when you have almost succeeded as many times as I have!” sighed Sancho. “Failure after failure.”
Then, without really knowing why, Fergus began to rub the links of his short chain with a cloth that was tied to it. Just a simple cloth, a square of sad, white fabric.
When he had finished, he waited. He could not have said for how long. Finally a trumpet rang out, whose sound was quite unlike the stirring music of the bagpipes of his country. A country for which he had given his life, and which he wanted to see again at any price. That was why he used the cloth.
When the trumpet had fallen silent, a link was added to his chain as if by magic, while all around him other chains grew longer or shorter. The same game was played over and over. And Fergus did indeed understand better. His chain grew longer, then shrank, before lengthening again. Sometimes he was dismayed, and sometimes weary. Sometimes images of his native Scotland gave him courage. But the key, although so close, remained out of reach.
“Why did you deceive your husband with another man?” he asked the naked woman.
Curiously, despite her beauty and perfect figure, Fergus felt no attraction towards her. And he had been a ladies’ man all his life... Besides, in this place he felt neither hungry, nor thirsty, nor sleepy.
“I did not deceive him for another man, but for a woman,” she replied.
“What a strange notion.”
“Yes, what a strange notion,” added Sancho. “I have never been married, but I did have a lover. She was called... I can’t remember, but she had a pretty name.”
That day, like every other, the trumpet sounded. And no-one reached the key.
“We will be prisoners forever,” sighed the naked woman whose name was Ooniherabetsy.
“This is indeed a nasty trap,” thought Fergus. “I have only two arms and I would need a lot more to be able to polish all these links that appear like so many poisonous promises. More arms. You’d need to be a spider. That’s it! A spider!”
“I know,” he cried out. “I know what to do. Three of us will have to help the fourth one clean his links. With eight arms we will definitely manage to reach the key. You and Sancho have nearly done it already by yourselves. With eight arms working on one chain, one of us will climb up to the key to free the others. Look! Our locks are all identical.”
“But that means three of us will lose links, because the time spent on one chain is lost for another,” pointed out Sancho.
“That’s true. But what does it matter because in the end we will all be freed from these shackles?”
Sancho and Ooniherabetsy agreed with Fergus. But the bearded man did not.
“There’s no point,” he said as usual.
So be it! Six arms would easily be enough.
“You will be the one who fetches the key because it was you who had the idea,” said Sancho.
“I agree,” said Ooniherabetsy. “So it’s your chain we will make longer!” 
It took them no longer than a century to add enough links for Fergus to finally take hold of the key. He just floated up to it. He put it straightaway into the lock on his ankle.
“I’m coming to free you!” he shouted to the other two.
He did not have time because he disappeared. The whole length of the chain fell back to the ground, and the key returned to its place on its little cushion. Out of reach.
As for Fergus, he found himself back home. Exactly where he was before the arrow struck him. That arrow he could see heading towards him, straight to the place where his heart would stop beating.
When he opened his eyes he knew where he was. A chain was once more fastened round his ankle. Sancho and Ooniherabetsy were no longer there, but an old man with a scar asked if he would help him, he and his two friends, to clean the chain of one of them so that he could reach the key and free them.
“There’s no point,” sighed Fergus. “There’s no point.”

Translated by Wendy Cross

115

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