You Can Go Home Again
The Holyground Highlander Forum Midweek Challenge
Archivist’s Note: The stories and vignettes offered here from various Holyground Forumlanders have not been edited or changed other than having a spell-check performed and being reformatted for this website.
The Challenge by Leah CWPack
Auld Lang Syne by Wain
They All Come Home by wildcard
MWC: YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN
I firmly believe there's more than enough talent to go around with this group. This week, courtesy of an idea by hayden1, your challenge:
An Immortal character returns home (to his or her country of origin)and runs into a surprise.
Remember to put some work into setting and atmosphere.
As always, if you want your entry archived, remember to put "MWC" in the subject line of your entry posting.
MWC: Auld Lang Syne
Duncan MacLeod had been tired when he made the decision to return to his boyhood home of Glenfinnan, wearier in body and soul that he could remember having been in his long life. He had started by ticking off on his fingers how long he had been struggling to restore the House of Stuart to the throne of Scotland. Duncan stared at the last fingertip he counted off, surprised to find that from July of 1689, when he had fought and died, and then had risen to fight and die again in the Battle of Killiecrankie, to the present year of 1721, more than three exhausting and frustrating decades had passed.
Duncan had seen thirty years of attempts to restore the Stuarts to the throne, first James II and then his son, James III. The Jacobite rout of the English at Killiecrankie was not the auspicious start that it had seemed; the rebellion died soon after that first victory. Nearly twenty years later, in 1708, James II’s rumored return from exile never materialized. Throughout the first decade of the century, MacLeod’s untiring efforts on behalf of Queen Anne, James III’s older half-sister and the last Stuart monarch to sit on the throne, had met with only partial success in the cutthroat atmosphere of her divided court. Frustration built on frustration for Duncan and all supporters of the House of Stuart. The Jacobite uprising of 1715 brought only losses and indecisive battles, and even the brief return of James III did not rouse the people to his cause. The thirty years of frustration were rounded out in 1718 with an attempted coup born of an alliance with Spain that was over nearly before it began.
In the midst of these painful failures and setbacks stood the memory of Duncan’s brief marriage to Kate. He had cursed himself a thousand times over for the ruin he had made of it. He never forgave himself for failing to find her again after their wedding night, no matter how hard and long he had searched.
So he had found himself in the early spring of 1721 in England, ticking off the years of frustration on his fingertips, heartsick, empty, and not knowing where to go. He had considered for a brief time visiting all of the places where he had fought for the Stuarts, saluting his fallen comrades and drawing strength from their memory to carry on. But no, he thought, if he was to continue, he would have to remind himself of the land and people—the living, breathing people—he had fought so hard for. He would return home to Glenfinnan.
MacLeod was on the last leg of his journey on a day when the sea was choppy and the wind chased clouds across the sky. Mist and light rain alternated with brief, sunny times. Duncan stood on the deck of the small boat that was ferrying him to the town of Mallaig, his eyes greedily drinking in the scenery. Gulls shrieked and wheeled overhead. To the starboard was the coast of Scotland, jagged and twisting and rocky; in some places it seemed that the mountains tumbled into the waves, in others, gentler green slopes eased down to meet the sea. Whenever the sun peeked out, Duncan squinted to catch a glimpse of the mountains that lay inland, their peaks wreathed in mist.
His heart quickened when the boat entered the harbor at Mallaig. Boats bobbed in the quiet water, and tidy houses lined the dock of the prosperous fishing town. Before the crew had finished securing the boat, MacLeod snatched up his portmanteau and leaped to the dock. He turned in a wide arc to survey the town and the land that rose beyond it inland to the mountains. He then closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and smiled. He was home.
Duncan had hoped to hire a horse and ride along the coast past Morar and its white sands, turn inland along Loch Nan Uamh and Loch Eilt to Loch Shiel, but his plans changed abruptly when the line of leaden clouds that had followed the boat all day reached the shore with a heavy, sheeting rain that showed no signs of stopping.
It was best, MacLeod thought, to find a place to stay. The day was far gone and suddenly, he realized he was ravenously hungry. A townswoman directed him to Rose MacKenzie’s tavern, and he hurried there, pulling his dark cloak tight against the rain.
MacKenzie’s tavern was a small, whitewashed building with tiny windows and a dark roof, located on a street that ran perpendicular to the dock. Duncan stepped inside the dark common room and removed his tricorn hat, shaking the rain from it and stamping his wet boots. The presence of another Immortal beat inside his head. He shifted the hat to his left hand; his right slid under his cloak to rest upon the hilt of his sword. As dark as the rainy day had been, the tavern was so much darker that Duncan’s eyes had not had time to adjust. Unable to see anything clearly except the flames from two candles and the glow of the fire, he dropped into a relaxed but ready battle stance and wrapped his hand about the sword’s grip.
"Duncan?" a woman’s voice rose in the dimness. "Duncan MacLeod?" Another moment more, and his eyes adjusted. He took his hand from his sword. A broad smile played on his face as he stepped across the room and extended his arms in greeting.
"Ceirdwyn, what are you doing here?" he asked as he pulled her into a quick embrace and kissed her cheek with a resounding smack.
"I own this tavern. And call me Rose, if you will, when others are around. That’s how they know me here."
Duncan looked around the dark room. Several wooden tables and chairs were scattered around. In one corner, two old men sat playing draughts. At a table near the center of the room, three younger, well-dressed men with powdered wigs and expensive coats talked over tankards of ale and plates of food. Ceirdwyn reached up to Duncan’s throat, undid his cloak, and helped him off with it. Duncan’s stomach rumbled. Ceirdwyn laughed.
"Sit. I’ll get you something to eat, and then you can tell me why you’ve come to Mallaig." She indicated a table and chair, then shook out his sodden cloak with a heavy snapping noise and draped it over a chair by the fire to dry.
The smell of smoke and wet wool was a poignant reminder of home. Ceirdwyn reappeared with a candlestick and a glass of whisky. The peaty, fiery liquid warmed him to his toes. He watched approvingly as his hostess moved to the corner table and reminded the townsmen that it was nearly dark, and their wives wanted them home. Her voice was warm and pleasant, but the hands on her hips and serious eyes brooked no argument. When Ceirdwyn re-emerged from the kitchen with two tankards gripped in one hand and a plate of food in the other, they hurriedly finished their game and bade her a good night.
Ceirdwyn set the tankards in the center of the table, followed by a plate with two large wedges of chicken and leek pie and a fork balanced on the rim. She sat opposite Duncan and took a sip of ale. Duncan tore into the warm pie gratefully and swallowed a generous portion of ale.
"Ceirdwyn," he told her with a sigh, "this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten."
Her pale blue eyes sparkled in the candlelight. She reached across the table, grabbed a lock of hair behind his ear, and gave it two gentle tugs. "Rose, remember? At least in public."
He smiled and sighed again. "Rose, this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten."
"Hunger is the best sauce any dish can have, MacLeod," she responded. "So tell me, what brings you to Mallaig?"
He tucked a bit of pie into his cheek and spoke around it. "It’s a long story . . . Rose." Duncan swallowed and pushed a bit of chicken around with his fork before continuing with a slow and measured voice, "I’ve been fighting so hard since Killiecrankie to restore the rightful ruling family to our people. And for more than thirty years now. ‘Twas time to come back to remind myself of what I was fighting for."
Ceirdwyn glanced furtively at the three well-dressed men at the center table, and gave her head a slight shake. Duncan considered them for a moment. Even in the Highlands, treason against King George was treason, and it was not wise to speak of it in front of strangers. MacLeod changed the subject quickly.
"I never thought of you as running a tavern, but it suits you. Do you not get lonely, though, here all by yourself?" Duncan said.
Ceirdwyn smiled and leaned toward him. "The tavern’s not always as full as it is tonight—if you can call three rooms a full tavern. But I’m not all by myself. I’ve had a student these past six months, and there’s an old man and his grandson who help with the stable, and plenty of good neighbors. It’s not lonely."
"I’d like to meet your student," Duncan said.
"Her name’s Constance. She’s gone down to Arisaig with food for a woman who’s lying in," Ceirdwyn explained. "She’ll be back tonight or, more probably, tomorrow morning. You’ll meet her then."
The three bewigged men at the center table had finished their late supper. Ceirdwyn rose and cleared their table. They went off to their rooms, having secured a promise from her that she would wake them at dawn.
MacLeod was nearly done eating as well, and Ceirdwyn began to bank down the common room’s fire. She pulled a cloth from her apron and wiped the center table and pushed in its chairs, humming a tune that Duncan remembered from his boyhood. She took MacLeod’s empty plate and her tankard to the kitchen and then returned to wipe their table. He watched her strong, capable hands on the cloth, which she had made herself from pieces of old, thin bed linens stacked up, then stitched around the edge and through the center. One corner of Duncan’s mouth drifted into a vague smile; the women of his clan had done the same with old bed linens when he was a child. A last taste of ale made the picture complete: he was where he belonged.
Ceirdwyn took his empty tankard to the kitchen, and MacLeod followed her there. She scraped the remnant’s of supper from plates into a bucket on the floor, then poured water from a ewer into a basin and began to wash the dishes.
She looked at the common room to be sure that her guests had not returned. "Then you fought in ’15?" she asked Duncan.
"Aye," he answered heavily. "Not at Preston, though. What folly to march that far into England with unprepared forces! I was at Sheriffmuir. And then with King James at Perth."
"Is it true he ordered everything burned on the retreat from Perth to Montrose?" Ceirdwyn asked, her lips compressed into a thin line, her knuckles white on the tankard handle she was holding.
"‘Tis true that whole towns and fields were burned, but not on the King’s order. ‘Twas the Earl of Mar who ordered it. The King left money behind to compensate those whose property was destroyed," MacLeod informed her.
"But it wasn’t enough, was it," Ceirdwyn stated rather than asked. With a snap, the cloth came out from where it had been tucked in her apron, and she proceeded to dry the dishes.
MacLeod hadn’t seemed to hear her. He mused, "You would think that English and Scots alike would be ready to be rid of that German king-for-hire and his mistresses. I’ve heard it said that they tried to talk King James into abandoning Catholicism so he’d seem more appealing to the people, but he said he’d rather be a Catholic without a throne than a Protestant king."
"’Twould seem he’s gotten his wish," Ceirdwyn said. Plates and tankards dried and placed on a shelf, she banked down the kitchen fire. Duncan followed her to the hearth.
"What do you mean?" he challenged.
"Duncan," she sighed, "Do you not think, perhaps, that the time has passed for the House of Stuart?"
He crouched down next to her and met her eyes with a fierce stare. "The Ceirdwyn I knew at Killiecrankie would never think so."
§ § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § § §
The best chance that James II had to regain the throne taken from him and given to his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her Dutch husband, William, was in July of 1689. Highland clans, under the leadership of John Graham of Claverhouse, gathered to meet the forces of William and Mary’s General Mackay to strike a blow for the Jacobite cause.
Claverhouse, whom his men called their Bonnie Dundee, their Iain Dubh nan Catha—Dark John of the Battles—had planned for his troops to meet Mackay’s forces in the upper part of the Pass of Killiecrankie, a deep gorge carved by the River Garry and crowded with birch, pine, and oak trees. Ranged on the upper parts of the steep gorge walls, his smaller number of troops would have an easy victory over the forces pinned below. Yet it was his bad fortune that Mackay’s forces traversed the upper part of the pass too soon, and Bonnie Dundee had to position his men—McLean, Glengarry, and Clanranald regiments, men from the Isle of Skye, Camerons, and a small cavalry comprised of Lowland gentlemen—along the broader, less easily defended slope of the lower pass.
Bonnie Dundee’s strategy for his outnumbered army was to lead his men in a suicide charge against the enemy and let a second round of his followers attack Mackay’s forces as they reloaded. His officers had tried to dissuade him from joining the battle, but the sight of Bonnie Dundee, Iain Dubh nan Catha, on his horse in the front and center line, inspired his men to feats of great courage, Duncan MacLeod among them, and among them also, a woman, Ceirdwyn.
MacLeod sensed another Immortal, scanned the assembled troops for a sign of recognition, and found it in a boy whose claymore was as big as he was. Their eyes met, and Duncan was surprised to see that it wasn’t a boy at all, but a woman. They nodded a truce to each other, and at Dundee’s order, swept down the hillside to be cut down by musket fire and then rise to join the second wave of Dundee’s troops against the enemy.
Ceirdwyn ran shrieking into battle like a hellion. She wielded the heavy claymore with a combination of strength and balance, hacking into her first opponent without mercy, the shock of metal on bone ringing up through her weapon and into the base of her skull. She struck fiercely and carefully, cold calculation never giving way to blood lust. A swing here, a parry there, hamstring that man, run this one through. Blood dripped from the end of her sword; when she swung it, red drops flew through the air. When her claymore became too deeply imbedded in one man’s flesh and spine for her to remove it, she dropped it in favor of a dead enemy’s rapier.
When the battle was over, only two of Mackay’s regiments were left; they retreated, leaving the Scots torn between rejoicing over their victory and mourning over the body of Bonnie Dundee, killed in the first round of fire. With Dundee’s death, the fight went out of the rebellion. James II never returned to Great Britain, and the restoration of the Stuart line was left in the hands of his son, James III.
Duncan and Ceirdwyn, comrades in arms at Killiecrankie, became fast friends and sometime lovers in its aftermath. MacLeod thought he knew her well, but as he crouched next to her before the fireplace of her tavern in Mallaig, he began to have his doubts.
"The Ceirdwyn I knew at Killiecrankie would never think that the Stuarts’ time had passed," he repeated into the silence. "She would have died to see them back on the throne!"
The Immortal woman snatched up a candle, took MacLeod by the hand, and drew him to her bedroom, closing the door firmly. In the privacy of her room, she slammed the candle onto a table, nearly extinguishing its flame, and answered him vehemently, "I would still die for them; but I won’t kill for them. You fought at Sheriffmuir in ’15 and then went to Perth to meet King James. The men captured at Sheriffmuir were hanged or transported to the colonies. You didn’t see them or the families they left behind. I did, and there’s nothing harder in the world to look on, Duncan MacLeod! Orphaned children, old people, and widowed women are the ones who are hurt by the wars, Duncan. Even our Bonnie Dundee was known by another name south of here—Bloody Clavers." She watched MacLeod’s jaw harden, then continued more gently, "When Dundee died, the Stuarts lost their last chance. If James were meant to be king of this land instead of George, it would have happened by now. Sometimes, Duncan," she cupped his cheek in her hand and looked into his eyes, "the hardest thing to do is to know when it’s time to leave off fighting for something that cannot be."
"But sometimes you just have to wait long enough," he said quietly. "James has a son now, born last year in exile. Who knows what that son might do for Scotland?"
Ceirdwyn went to her bed, sheets in a rumpled pile at the foot of the mattress, and gave a crooked half-smile. "It looks like the innkeeper was so busy with a full house today that she didn’t make her own bed." She tossed the sheets onto a trunk and grabbed the mattress cover, giving it a few firm shakes to break up the lumps of wool inside.
"You saw King James at Perth," she started softly, "so tell me—can he lead our people in battle as Bonnie Dundee did?" She pulled the heavy mattress toward her and folded it over on itself. Pausing, she looked at Duncan, who nodded sadly. She listened as the gusts of wind lashed the roof with rain and waited for Duncan’s reply.
"No," he said. "He was pale with fever, chilled and shaking at Perth. Even if he hadn’t been, he could never have roused the men like Dundee." Duncan took off his coat and vest and draped them over a chair, then sat heavily. "I think he might make a good monk, but perhaps not a good king."
Ceirdwyn finished turning the mattress over and pulled the linen sheet onto it, tucking it neatly top and bottom, then walked around the bed to tuck in the sides. Another sheet and a blanket followed.
"He cannot lead the men, and he has no general to rival Dundee." Ceirdwyn agreed, then added, "and after Sheriffmuir and Perth, his commander, the Earl of Mar, turned his coat and betrayed his fellow officers, did he not?"
Duncan assented with a slow and sad nod. He stared at his folded hands. Ceirdwyn walked behind him, rested her hands on his shoulders, and gave a little squeeze of encouragement. She opened her trunk and pulled out another blanket; the pungent aroma of herbs drifted to MacLeod.
"It’s going to get cold tonight. I think we’ll need this," Ceirdwyn told him. She unlaced her bodice and her skirt, closed the trunk lid with a soft thud, and placed her clothing on top. Dressed in her shift, she reached a hand out to Duncan. "Come to bed, MacLeod," she invited.
He removed his shirt, boots, and breeches and crawled into the bed. Ceirdwyn blew out the candle and joined him, resting her head against his shoulder and her hand on his chest. She raised her head, sought his neck in the dark, and kissed it.
"Ceirdwyn," he started. She felt his Adam’s apple convulse. "I can’t. I . . . " His words trailed off.
"MacLeod," she asked, "is there someone in your life now?" She felt his affirmative nod against her head.
"Why didn’t you tell me?" she asked, exasperated. "I’d put you in another room, but they’re all full except for Constance’s, and she still might come back tonight." She removed her hand from where it had rested on Duncan’s chest and eased away from him. "Is she one of us?" Ceirdwyn asked.
Duncan’s voice was thick. "Aye."
"Where is she?" Ceirdwyn queried.
"I don’t know," Duncan replied. "It never should have happened the way it did. I shouldn’t have . . . " His voice caught in his throat. He took a deep, shuddering breath and schooled himself into calm. His mind cast about for other things to talk about. "Tell me about your student, Constance," he finally said. "How did you come to meet her in such a small place as Mallaig?"
"I . . . inherited her, in a way," Ceirdwyn explained. "I killed her teacher."
She heard his head turn toward her, even though they could barely see each other in the dark room. "Ceirdwyn, I thought you didn’t kill anymore."
"I won’t kill mortals in a war of succession," she stated flatly. "This was different. Duncan, I don’t know if anyone deserves killing, but if ever anyone did, ‘twas him."
If the truth were told, Ceirdwyn hadn’t known at first that the people she saw on that fall afternoon were Immortal. She spied them as she rode over a rise on the way to Fort William. They had descended from their carriage; its wheels were mired nearly to the axle in the muddy road. Ceirdwyn rode closer to ask if another traveler had sent to town for help when she noticed what a strange picture was before her eyes. The man, red-haired, muscular, and dressed in very expensive clothing, had a fistful of the woman’s dark hair. The woman—a very young woman—was on her knees in the mud, her fine dress ruined.
As Ceirdwyn rode closer, she felt the deep vibration in her bones that told her the two she watched were Immortal. The man jerked up and around, ripping hairs from the young woman’s head as he spun. He hurried to the carriage and withdrew a rapier. Ceirdwyn looked for the dark-haired woman’s sword but could see none.
"’Tis customary to fight before striking the coup de grâce, is it not?" she inquired mildly of the red-haired man.
"John Wyndham," he said tersely by way of introduction. "This is none of your affair," he snarled.
Ceirdwyn dropped from her horse, kilted her skirts, and withdrew her own sword from her saddle. She looked at the other Immortal woman. Her palms and fingers were covered in mud; more mud splattered her dress. Rather than take Ceirdwyn’s arrival as an opportunity to move away from Wyndham, she remained in a collapsed heap in the mire. Her face did not hold fear or hate or even resignation; it was completely devoid of feeling, the jaw slack, the eyes terrifyingly empty.
Over a millennium and a half of life had taught Ceirdwyn that a man, Immortal or no, was apt to underestimate a woman’s skills with a sword. She swung at him with not all of her strength and not all of her reach, and with each stroke, tried to draw him away from the woman slumped on the ground. Wyndham seemed to realize what she was trying to do, and he stayed close to the young woman. A blow to Wyndham’s shoulder, a parry against his sloppy thrust, and then Ceirdwyn tired of toying with him, and she flashed at him with lightning speed, slicing him in the Achilles’ tendon.
The red-haired man fell to the ground nearly eye to eye with the young woman, and Ceirdwyn dealt a crushing pommel strike to the wrist of his sword hand. His hand jerked involuntarily open, dropping his rapier to the mud. Within the span of a breath, she pulled back her blade and struck his head from his shoulders. His heart, registering too late that life was over, spurted geysers of blood from the severed neck, spraying the face and dress of the young woman who, finally roused from her trance, looked in horror upon her blood- and mud-covered self. When the savage lightning of the Quickening overwhelmed Ceirdwyn, the young woman scrambled to her feet and ran for the cover of the trees that lined the road.
Even the horror of battle with its musket fire and thick, gunpowder-laden air paled in comparison to a Quickening. More painful than being torn asunder by grapeshot, hotter than searing bullets plunging into flesh, a Quickening ripped through an Immortal’s body with a violence that astonished every time, even an Immortal of Ceirdwyn’s age. When Wyndham’s essence finished pouring into her, Ceirdwyn fell to the muddy ground, her lungs pulling hard for air, her legs shaking, and a bitter taste on her tongue.
It took Ceirdwyn several minutes of walking through the woods, but she found the other woman, whose attempts to use her muddy hands to wipe the blood from her bodice and neck had only made her dirtier and more frightened. She was rocking back and forth, repeating in a whisper, "There’s so much blood, there’s so much blood . . . "
She gasped when she saw Ceirdwyn. "Please don’t kill me," she begged. "John told me I must never watch him fight another Immortal because the victor would kill me, but please!"
"I won’t hurt you," Ceirdwyn soothed. "Come with me; we’ll leave this place."
The dark-haired woman swallowed hard and asked, "Are you my mistress now?"
Ceirdwyn put her arm around the slender woman’s shoulders. "Of course not. I’ll teach you what you need to know. We’ll be like family, not mistress and servant. What’s your name?" she asked.
"I don’t want you to call me what John did. He changed my name too much."
"What did they call you when you were a child?" Ceirdwyn asked her.
"I don’t want to be her again. She had a cursed life and a cursed death," the young woman said, her eyes empty again. "What do you think my name should be?"
Ceirdwyn sighed. "My first teacher was good man and a soldier by the name of Constantine. Shall we call you Constance?" Constance nodded her assent.
Constance was a better name than most she’d had. When John Wyndham had first found her, he said her name with delight. Out of money, alone, not knowing the truth of her Immortality, she had wandered Europe for perhaps a year until she ran out of money and food and sat, crying, by the side of a road outside of Marseille, not knowing what to do next.
There it was that John found her, lifted her onto his great bay stallion, and rode with her north to Lyon. He coddled her, winning her over with his courtly manners and gifts of beautiful dresses. He flattered her constantly and exclaimed over her beauty, showing her off proudly to his bourgeois friends in Lyon.
He told her about Immortality, too. She could never have children, but she would always remain young and beautiful. She would live forever, or at least as long as she stayed under his protection. She could only die if she were to lose her head. Female Immortals were not permitted to carry swords. Watching two Immortals fight was punished by beheading, the true death.
He surprised her a few months later with news that they would travel to Paris. On the road there, he mentioned that her name was perhaps too ordinary for Paris. Kathleen, Agnes, Jeanne, all of those names were passé in the capital, so he rechristened her Violette before they arrived.
John squired Violette around the salons of Paris and bought her new dresses and jewelry. But really, he confided, she danced like a peasant, and hired a dancing master. Her breasts were lovely, of course, and he spent his days dreaming of caressing them when they made love, but they were a bit small. Perhaps she could tighten her corset to give the appearance that her breasts were bigger? And could she eat a bit more? Women were so much lovelier when they were soft and round.
Some six months after their arrival in Paris, he arranged for her to sit next to an important English visitor, a lord in British Parliament, at dinner. John bought her a ravishing new dress. He didn’t expect her to understand, since she was only a woman, but asked if she wouldn’t mind flirting just a bit with milord. He hinted that there were important political issues at stake that she shouldn’t worry her lovely head about. The next week, he asked her if she wouldn’t mind if milord gave her a little kiss. The following week, John begged her for his sake to press her thigh against the lord’s leg under the table. Within a month, he suggested that Violette might as well get into the man’s bed, since so much was at stake and it wasn’t as though she was a virgin anymore, now was she, so why make such a fuss?
In a year or two, she lost track of the names John had given her and the beds he had cajoled and threatened her into. From Paris, he moved them to England, and there were more dresses and name changes and men than she wanted to remember until finally, on that road outside Fort William, she cared not at all whether he took her head.
Ceirdwyn heaved a heavy sigh and let Duncan wrap his arm around her shoulder for comfort. The sound of wind and rain had stopped; the night was quiet.
"John Wyndham prostituted her for political favors in Parliament, and I don’t think she’s told me the half of it. I do know," Ceirdwyn said angrily, "that by the end, his little dramas included having her caught in the act of adultery with whoever he was blackmailing at the time. They were near Fort William because he was on a grand tour of Scotland, looking for some land to make into a duchy for himself. If not for that, I never would have found Constance.
Duncan ground his teeth. "I would have taken his head myself, had I been there," he told her.
"She barely spoke for the first week she was here," Ceirdwyn said. "Then one day she asked me to take her to the church, and she gave all of her jewelry to the poor box, except for one piece she had before she knew Wyndham. We came back here to the tavern, and she burned every one of her fine dresses. She wore one of mine until we made her some new ones.
"John Wyndham filled her head with lies about Immortality and about herself. It was months until she was ready to pick up a sword. The few times she’s let herself get angry enough, she puts a goodly amount of strength into her sword arm for such a slight woman."
They talked a few minutes more, their speech growing drowsily slow, the spaces between their comments becoming greater and greater, until they finally fell asleep.
The early morning chorus of birds awakened Ceirdwyn well before dawn. She slipped from bed and dressed quietly so as not to awaken MacLeod. She stirred up and stoked the fires, set out tankards of ale, and warmed the last night’s oatcakes on a griddle. She awakened her three guests, fed them breakfast, and sent them on their way. She put the remains of their breakfast into the bucket in the kitchen and then carried it outside to slop the chickens. She hunted around for eggs, cradling them gently in her gathered-up apron. The sun was up. The morning was chilly but clear; last night’s storm has passed.
Back in the kitchen, she felt the sensation that told her another Immortal was approaching. She heard horse’s hooves against the ground. Within a minute, the latch on the kitchen door clicked.
Constance opened the door and entered the kitchen, an empty basket hooked over one arm, her cheeks flushed with the morning cold.
"Good morning, Ceirdwyn. Mary says to thank you for the food," Constance relayed. "And her baby boy is chubby and fair, but as bald as an old grandfather." She stopped and looked around the kitchen in confusion. "Something’s . . . different, isn’t it?" she asked. "Is there another Immortal here?"
Ceirdwyn nodded toward her bedroom door, "Aye, a friend of mine." Constance crossed the room, and the two women began to transfer eggs from Ceirdwyn’s apron to the empty basket.
"What kind of friend?" Constance asked with raised eyebrows and a shy smile.
"We fought together in ’89 at Killiecrankie. He came to Mallaig last night," she explained.
Constance’s eyes twinkled as she said, "And when do I get to meet him?"
"He wants to meet you, too. But it’s still early. Let’s let him sleep as long as he will," Ceirdwyn suggested as she placed the basket of eggs on the trestle table that stood against the wall between the fireplace and the door.
Constance nodded. She dropped the hood onto her shoulders, revealing her dark hair and delicate features. Shivering, she kept on her cloak went to stand in front of the fire, holding her hands to its heat.
The slight squeak of the bedroom door told Ceirdwyn and Constance that their visitor was awake. Duncan emerged from the bedroom running a hand through his long, dark hair to straighten it. He dropped his hand to his side and stood open-mouthed.
"Kate?" he asked incredulously.
Ceirdwyn looked in confusion from one Immortal friend to another. She watched her student’s face harden, the soft pink flush of her morning’s ride replaced by two angry red spots on her cheeks.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded of Duncan.
He hesitated for a moment, then pleaded, "Kate, I need to tell you . . . "
"How could you have done this to me?" she interrupted, her voice rising. "How could you turn me into a monster like you, doomed to live by feeding on the souls of other monsters?" She was surprised to see that he took a step backward. She stepped toward him, pressing her advantage, but never let Ceirdwyn out of her line of vision.
"Kate, ‘tis not like that," Duncan said consolingly.
"No? I watched her take a Quickening," Kate jerked her head toward Ceirdwyn, "and it showed me what we really are—hideous, cursed beasts!"
Duncan stepped backward once again.
Kate pointed savagely at Ceirdwyn and hurled at Duncan, "Did you kill her, too?"
Ceirdwyn’s mouth dropped open in surprise. She leaned on the trestle table for support, and the basket fell to the ground, spilling broken eggs on the floor. Kate reached inside her cloak for her sword. She pointed threateningly at Duncan and advanced one more step.
Duncan stood still, pressed against the kitchen wall, his arms loose at his sides. He could never bring himself to take Kate’s head, but he had every intention of disarming her if possible. She was off balance, leaning too far forward, he noted, and her wrist was bent, with her sword wavering in the air despite the firm grip her hand had on it. Another part of him thought of that same hand caressing the length of his back on their wedding night.
"Don’t do this," Ceirdwyn said to her student in a calming voice. "You don’t want to do this."
Kate turned to Ceirdwyn but left her sword extended toward Duncan. "You lied to me!" she accused. "You said I’d always be safe here and that we’d be like a family! How could you betray me, too?"
Breathing hard, she turned back to Duncan. Her knuckles whitened as she gripped the sword.
Ceirdwyn spoke again placatingly, "Please don’t take his head. You don’t want to."
"Ceirdwyn’s right, Duncan. I don’t want your head," Kate said, her mouth twisted in hate. "Because I refuse to have you inside me forever. But know this, Duncan MacLeod: if I could find another Immortal to do it for me, you’d be dead where you stand. Keep looking behind you. Some day I’ll find someone to kill you for me. And don’t ever come near me again." With this she strode out the kitchen door.
Duncan moved to the door, but Ceirdwyn intercepted him.
"Let her go, Duncan. Don’t follow her," Ceirdwyn advised. They heard the rapid beat of hooves on the ground.
Duncan’s voice broke; he sagged against the wall. "I have to explain to her. She has to understand."
Ceirdwyn repeated what she had told him the night before. "Sometimes the hardest thing is knowing when to stop fighting for something that cannot be."
MacLeod straightened up and set his jaw. "But then again, if you wait long enough, who knows what the future might bring?" He walked to the kitchen door, opened it, and looked in the direction of the harbor.
Ceirdwyn wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders and went to stand behind Duncan. She looked at his broad back with a sad and rueful smile. His stubborn hopes helped to make him who he was. She couldn’t expect him to change; in fact, she didn’t want him to. Still, he was paying a high price for his hopes this time. Ceirdwyn put her arms around his waist and gave him a quick hug.
"Close the door and come inside, MacLeod. I’ll make you some breakfast," she said. After one more longing look toward the harbor, he sighed and did as she asked.
They All Come Home
Posted By: wildcard
Date: Wednesday, 6 June 2001, at 7:02 p.m.
"So... this is it?"
Though the ancient estate was worn and ravaged by time, it seemed strong. The walls were thick and well built. The main structure stood tall and imposing. Nick thought it looked more like a stronghold than an abbey, it'd probably been both. He was amazed at its condition. It had certainly been well maintained over the past millennium. He wasn't sure if that was due to it's religious orientation, or to the woman who had maintained it.
Nick turned his attention to his companion, seeing her smile brightly. She looks like a child, he thought, finally come home after a frightful day. She felt safe here, and comfortable. Now, he felt it too.
"Yes, this is home. At least, it's the only place that's ever felt that way. "
"And this is where it all began?"
"Well, no. 'It' began in a plague house in a nearby village. I was stealing food, nothing more then a common thief."
"You're still a thief."
"True, but now I'm an extraordinary thief. And, I owe it all to Rebecca, though she never really approved of the thief part."
"But she understood."
The couple turned toward the new voice. An elderly gentleman stood behind them smiling. He greeted the woman with a warm embrace.
"Amanda! Who's your friend?"
"This is Nick. He's... new."
"Ah, I see."
John gave Nick a knowing glance and shook his hand. Then, he led them up the path towards the abbey, chatting with Amanda about the past, both ancient and recent. Amanda had said he was mortal, but Nick found it hard to believe. He was very fit and seemed to have volumes of historical knowledge. It was as if John had become a reflection of the abbey in which he lived. Perhaps, it was the woman who had cared for them both.
"So, this is who you meant. When the other one arrived, I grew concerned. Considering what you had told me of your relationship?"
"The other one? Who else is here?"
"He said you told him to come here, that he'd be safe. To be honest, I was tempted to turn him away. I've grown accustomed to my privacy since Rebecca's death. I am content to live out my remaining days alone. Nevertheless, he knew you, and Rebecca was always trying to help lost souls. He's been here for a week now, and I'm actually beginning to grow fond of the boy."
"Boy? What boy?"
Then the sensation swept over Nick and Amanda. Simultaneously, a look of shock crossed Amanda's face. She knew before she saw him. He was sitting on a wall above the path, smiling innocently. To Nick and John, he seemed like a normal boy not yet in his teens. Amanda saw something else entirely, something that had been horribly mutated from what she once knew. She shot a dark glance at the boy, uttering his name in a cold monotone.