Blood of the Clans Ch. 06byRoyceConnors©
Glenn MacDonald stood at the prow of the black birlinn, his hand holding the figurehead of a grey dragon as they crossed the choppy waters of the inner sea on the way to the Isle of Skye, the thoughts of his kin slaughtered and burnt, still weighing heavy on him. As they approached the south shore, he yelled to the men in the other birlinn to make for Castle Camus and set up defences. He sadly saw the small fishing boat of Jacob Dornie, his arm draped lifeless over the side, the sail still flapping in the wind. No signs of enemy forces were seen anywhere and things looked peaceful.
"John, gather up Jacob and take him back tae Tioram, as Lady Arabella has ordered. I'll sail straight tae Dunvegan." Glenn instructed him, as his boat turned back to round the western point and sail north along the coast of Skye.
He watched as they landed and the men went into action. Before he rounded the point and lost sight of them, he saw Jacob's boat tied to the birlinn and the sail lowered, while two men were wrapping Jacob's body in their sheepskin robes. He bowed his head slightly and prayed for the soul of the brave man, knowing how vital his efforts were. In his heart, he felt that no greater deed could be done, than to give his all and give his life, for the sake of others.
The boat made its way up the coast, then around the last point and sailed into Dunvegan Bay. The grey seals swam about the birlinn, as it neared the castle, welcoming them in. They had found safety in the waters of the loch and had become like members of the clan. They swam out with the men on their voyages, wishing them well in their travels.
Whenever they would return, they would greet them, like now, and break from the water, barking out to the men. Glenn could see the lookout signalling the others of their arrival and men coming to the shore to meet them. The cloudy sky cast wild, moving shadows over the towering walls of the castle, giving an effect of movement to the structure. The dense woods surrounding it teemed with abundant game and wildlife, as a flock of pheasant broke from the brush at the edge, as the men came to them.
Glenn saw Garreth and Grayson coming to the wall and hailed them. His urgency to inform them necessitated him jumping from the birlinn into the frigid water, before it was beached, Glenn raced up the sea-wall passage towards them, taking as many steps per stride as he could.
"Laird Garreth, Laird Grayson, Lady Arabella sends word tae make fer Tioram wi' all haste. Eilean Donan has been sacked by the MacRae's and Laird Hamish was killed. They slaughtered everyone in the castle as well. Lady Anne escaped and made her way tae Knock tae warn us. She's at Tioram the now. Gather as many men as ye can and sail back wi' us. Those are the orders given." Glenn relayed the commands to them and waited, breathing hard from the exertion.
"Glenn, ye ha'e cousins in that castle, Are they alright?" Grayson asked him, in hopes Glenn's people made it out.
Glenn's eyes fell and his head bowed and shook his answer. No words were needed to know he was in pain at his loss. Grayson and Garreth both laid a hand on his shoulder in comfort.
"Their deaths will be avenged, Glenn. Ye ha'e my word." Grayson assured him.
"Mine as well, Glenn. The MacRae's shall pay fer this treachery." Garreth added in all seriousness, the tone of his voice belying his hatred of the MacRae's. Garreth patted his shoulder once more and looked into Glenn's eyes as he raised them. "It shall be done, Glenn," then turned and gave the command for all to assemble on the birlinns within the hour.
Grayson led Glenn back into the castle, into the great hall and over to a large desk holding several containers of spirits. He chose the one with the golden fire to it and poured the MacLeod drink into two silver cups. The highlanders raised their glasses and Grayson proclaimed, "Fad Saol Agat." (Long life to you), to Glenn. Glenn felt his heart breaking more, knowing his loss was shared by more than himself and his kin. They drank in one draft and set the cups on the table, then clasping hands to shoulders and without anything more than the look in their eyes, bonded in oath to set this injustice right.
"Glenn, my heart is heavy fer yer loss, as though it was my own. Be strong and draw strength from their deaths. There will be time tae mourn, when we ha'e taken back the castle and done away wi' the MacRae's." Grayson told him, readying him to do battle.
Glenn looked into the eyes of his cousin and saw the belief it would come to pass as he had said. He nodded his head in agreement and Grayson laid an arm over his shoulder and led him back to the birlinns, now being filled with men and arms. Garreth was standing at the entrance to the sea-wall passage, counting his numbers and making sure all that could be used, was being taken.
"Ladders. Ye two, go and fetch as many as ye can from the groonds and bring them as well." Garreth ordered two battle-ready men.
They returned an ascent of "Aye, my Laird," and dashed for the equipment. Grayson and Glenn walked back and parted as they approached Garreth, Glenn heading to the boats, his shoulders slumped, as agonized rage was finding a place in his heart.
"Tis a good day tae make the swords red wi' blood, Garreth." Grayson said as he approached him.
"Aye Grayson, my arm is needy of my Claymore tae swing. It's been a while since we've last had a taste of action." Garreth responded. "How is Glenn, Grayson?" his concern for him more in his ability to fight, as opposed to his grief.
"He'll swing his sword at anything coming at him, Garreth, don'ne fear his spirit tae avenge this."
Grayson smiled at him and went down the passage to the boats, now almost full with men and weapons. He could see the small cannons being loaded in preparation for any encounters on the way to Tioram. They would be his next purchase for his birlinns. One well placed shot could take a birlinn out of action from a greater distance than many arrows.
The two men came back with four ladders and raced down the passage, Garreth following behind. They boarded the birlinns and the men set to on the oars, rowing them out to the bay. Once they turned and faced out, they raised the sails, the wind catching them, and along with the oars, they sped up the bay. The grey seals swam along side as always as they left, the men looking at them and taking it as a good sign, wishing them well on their voyage and victory in their battles.
The voyage to Tioram felt longer than usual, as the men were anxious to get there and get into battle. They sailed into Loch Moidart in the late afternoon and soon were landing on the coral sand beach at the foot of the castle. The men disembarked and followed Garreth and Grayson into the castle grounds. Grayson entered and called out for his sister, who came down from her chambers upon hearing them. She led them to the hall and sat around the large table.
"Grayson, we're facing troubled times ahead, dear brother and Garreth, we beseech ye tae join in the fray. The MacRae's are a large clan now and we'll need every man we can muster tae re-take Donan from them and secure it before the rest arrive from Glencoe."
"Arabella, how is Lady Anne?" his heart knowing the answer before it was given.
"She's resting, but she's in misery o'er her losses." Arabella told him, her own face
showing the pain she must be in. "I've sent riders out tae gather as many men as we can and ha'e them meet here."
"I've brought five birlinns wi' ten men in each. More are coming once they are massed." Garreth informed her.
"Good news, Garreth, we'll need yer experience on the seas in this. Grayson how long till we can get tae Donan by march?" Arabella asked her brother.
"Two, maybe three days march will ha'e us at the gate. It'll take the MacRae's almost as long, if they've already started out, which I'm sure they already ha'e." Grayson said, sharing his thoughts.
"Then we must make haste and re-take the castle and secure it, before they arrive. Donan is'ne going tae be easy tae take, if they make it there first." Arabella expressed in dread.
"How many are in the castle the now?" Grayson asked.
"From what Lady Anne said, there is'ne that many, no more than twenty at best." Arabella replied. "Glenn has said six are dead by the hands of his men, so that lessens them."
"I'll set sail at first light wi' my men and secure the seas against MacRae coming in that way. If I think we can do it, I'll storm the castle and take them." Garreth opined his thoughts of his plan.
"Yes, take yer men there now, but don't lay siege till re-enforcements arrive. We can'ne afford any losses at this point. We need every man we can, tae do battle once the main force arrives. Lord knows we face a tribulation at dealing wi' this." Arabella pointed out to him.
As much as Garreth nodded in ascent to her, Arabella could see in his eyes that Garreth might disobey her wishes and storm it if he felt he could. In her heart, she was torn between her feelings for his safety and her hatred of the MacRae's and the vengeance she wished upon them.
"I noticed a small fishing boat on the beach, who's is that?" Grayson asked her.
"That's Jacob Dornie's boat. He was killed by the MacRae's, trying tae get Lady Anne tae Camus, tae warn us. He's being laid out now and readied fer a burial at sea tonight. He deserves the best we can offer him fer his service and his bravery. It was Anne's only request." Arabella told him, her face showing the pity she felt at his loss.
"Aye Arabella, he'll be given a true warrior's send off. I'll assemble the men when it's time. Ha'e Gregor play the pipes fer him, as he's brought down. I'll have his boat prepared the now." Grayson told her, a softness in his voice rarely heard.
"Tomorrow, we'll go o'er the plans for the attack and look fer the best way tae take the castle. Tonight, let us talk of nothing sombre or sorrowful and after, we'll send Jacob off. I ha'e the servants preparing a feast of food fer everyone. I'd like to gi'e a wee bit of comfort tae Lady Anne, can ye help me do that?" Arabella asked them.
"Aye Arabella, we'll do our best tae do that. I'll make sure the men are'ne in the mood fer blood, till the morrow." Grayson assured her.
The three left the hall and joined the men in the courtyard, assembling them for instructions on what they needed to do now to prepare. Battle gear was assembled and brought to the courtyard for confirmation of what they had. For the rest of the day, men came and went, gathering what they could. By nightfall, the courtyard was packed with everything they could use to battle with. The ringing of steel, as it was sharpened with whet stones, rang about the castle walls, a razor's edge honed to each weapon. Arrows were hastily made and bows re-strung, to ready their gear to do it's best in the battle to
come. By the time they were ready, most men would have no less than five blades on him to use.
Arabella called the leaders to come to the hall to feast, while the others had food brought to them in abundance, along with jugs of mead and ale. The servants set a large table for the men in the courtyard and let them to it. In the hall, wooden plates and metal cups were set, each man using his dirk to cut the meat and the fork to eat with. Arabella waited till all were present and seated before starting her speech.
"MacDonald's, MacLeod's and MacDonnell's, we sit here t'gether as brethren, kin of our fore-fathers. It has come upon us tae stand t'gether and show that we shall no be taken lightly. Our strength in union will prove who we are. I ask ye now tae raise yer cups and celebrate our clans. Lang may we reign in our castles." Arabella said loud and with strength in her voice, confirming her place as a Chieftess.
Just as she finished, Lady Anne appeared in the doorway, still ashen and weak, a wan smile on her face. Arabella's gaze to her had everyone turn towards her. Every man rose quickly and bowed to her. Lady Anne's eyes immediately welled with tears at the sight and went weak in her stance. Grayson, who was closest to her, rushed to her and steadied her. He led her slowly to his chair and sat her down. The men remained standing in respect, until she weakly waved her hand for them to sit again.
"My friends, I know in my heart that ye are. I can'ne begin tae express my gratitude and undying loyalty tae ye all. This heinous act has put us in a position of great peril and I can'ne begin tae thank ye all fer yer support in securing Donan again. It seems times of peace have come tae an end and we are once again faced wi' clans warring wi' each other. It is my sincerest hope our clans can re-take Donan wi' as little loss of lives as possible and I remain in hope it shall come tae pass soon. I raise my.." Anne stopped her speech, as she noticed she had nothing to raise to them.
A servant quickly poured a drink in a cup and hurried to her. "Thank ye." Lady Anne said to her and continued. "I raise my cup tae each and every one of ye and pray fer yer safe return."
Everyone raised their cups to her and drank. Upon finishing, Grayson turned and crossed his heart with his right hand, closed in a fist, bowing his head, signalling his allegiance and respect for her. In an immediate show, every man did the same. Lady Anne began to weep in tears of joyous thanks at their display of respect to her. Arabella started to come to her, but Anne waved her off.
"I'll be fine Arabella, I'm just deeply moved by the show of respect tae my late husband and my clan." Lady Anne said, as she wiped her tears away lightly with her handkerchief.
A servant re-filled everyone's cup and as soon as she finished, Garreth took his and raised it again.
"Tae Lady MacDonnell and Castle Donan, lang may they rule together."
In unison, all the men and Lady Arabella replied with a single, "Aye" and drank.
Another place was set for Grayson, who sat to Anne's right now and the food was served to the table. Every person but Anne ate heartily and drank, though no one questioned her or asked her to eat, as they feasted on the oxen provided, along with potatoes, carrots and leeks. Once finished, the table was cleared of food and the servants took away the wooden platters, leaving the table barren, save their cups and jugs of ale and mead. Anne noticed the jugs being re-filled several times throughout the meal, and were now being drained once again, in her mind, each cup being drank in honour of someone now gone.
When Arabella felt the time for feasting was over, she rose, all the men rising with her.
"It is time tae bid a farewell tae a brave soul and honour his passing well. Tae Jacob Dornie, may his soul be in heaven now watching us." she saluted and raised her cup
to him. All followed suit after replying, "Tae Jacob." Every cup drained in his honour.
Upon hearing the toast, the servants then carried Jacob's body, wrapped in linen and a broad swath of MacDonnell tartan laid over him, into the courtyard. Garreth, Grayson, Glenn and his younger brother Iain, picked up the poles of the stretcher he was laid on onto their shoulders. As they did, Gregor started to play the MacDonald pipe song, Spaidsearachd Mhic Mhic, as the procession started. The men marched slowly to the shore, where Jacob's boat had been prepared with oil-soaked kindling stacked high around the pyre he would rest upon.
The men laid him carefully atop the pyre and Anne took a moment to bid him a silent farewell, before taking one of the torches from Arabella. Arabella turned to the throng behind her and looked among the faces looking at her. She knew in her heart that some of them might be sent off this way soon, the battle claiming more lives, than the one now being honoured. She gathered her thoughts on what to say and spoke from her heart.
"I want ye's tae look at this man who lies behind me. Know his honour well and pay a mind tae it. He has shown the courage of his convictions and gave his all fer the sake of every life, but his own. No greater deed can be shown, than the bravery of a man who'll lay down his own life, fer that of another. This man, Jacob Dornie, has done just that. What worth his life held before today, means nothing now, in light of what he has shown us. Lady Anne stands wi' us now and Donan is'ne lost, because of what he has done fer our clans. Let us pay homage and honour tae him, as he deserves. Great Father in heaven, hear our prayers and take Jacob tae yer side. No man more than him, has shown he deserves tae be granted that place wi' ye. We send him tae ye now, tae be at peace and ha'e eternal rest fer his soul." then turned around again and motioned for Anne to join her in lighting the pyre.
They lit the sticks surrounding him,then tossed their torches on as well. Arabella saw the distraught look grow on Anne's face, as she recalled the days events and the brave deeds done, as well as the cost for them. Arabella pulled her to her and comforted her, with Anne accepting the offering of comfort and shedding her grief into the light blue of Arabella's dress.
The oiled wood caught quick and spread rapidly about the body, as the men pushed Jacob and his beloved Fiona out into Loch Moidart. The pitch black was illuminated by the flames, as they consumed the craft, lighting the faces of those on shore. Once again the air was filled with the haunting sound of a lone piper, as Gregor played a dirge in farewell to a fallen comrade. As the boat drifted further away into the loch, the flames engulfing the boat completely, everyone stood silent in tribute to him, taking a passing glance towards Anne being held up by Arabella.
As the boat finally burned to the ribbing and started to sink, all the men drew their swords and raised them high, holding them for a full minute, before returning them to their sheaths. As one, they turned to go back to the castle, Arabella taking Anne's arm to help her back up the slope. Only one stood at the shore and watched, as the final remnants of Jacob Dornie's life sank below the dark surface of Moidart. Glenn MacDonnell knew in his heart, that the ceremony he just witnessed, would be the closest to one he could have for his own kith and kin, whose charred bones now lay along the muddy bottom of the loch. The silent tears fell from his eyes, as he relived times past and moments shared with those he had loved and lived life with so dearly.
Debra had tears streaming from her eyes, as she heard the tale and turned her face into Tom's chest to cry. Tom comforted her and looked at his uncles in a sympathetic way, thinking they could have toned down the heart-wrenching angst.
"Sorry Debra, but that was how it was back then. I'll stop fer the now, until yer calmed down ag'in." Stuart told her, looking at Tom and giving a look of sympathy to him.
The other guests took the break to talk among themselves and relieve themselves of liquid and stiffness from sitting. Stuart turned to Argus, now that he had a chance and asked him how he was.
"Argus, tis indeed a pleasure and an honour ye came. How ha'e ye been? It's been ages since we last saw one another."
"Aye Stuart, it has been a while, hasn't it? Me, I'm good, nothing much tae bother me about. But I do ha'e something tae share wi' ye, once ye've finished the story. I must say, yer a grand teller, so ye are." Argus told him.
"What have ye got fer me then?" Stuart asked, wanting to know what it was.
"No, I'll save it fer later. I don't want tae spoil the evening fer ye or yer guests." Argus countered.
"It's no bad news ye've brung me, is it?" Stuart asked in concern.
"No, but I'm sure ye'll find it interesting all the same." Argus assured him. "It can wait till it's o'er before I tell ye. It's interesting though, that yer talking about they times. I'll gi' ye a wee hint. It has tae do wi back then."