tagNovels and NovellasBlood of the Clans Ch. 31

Blood of the Clans Ch. 31

byRoyceConnors©

Argus was getting anxious to get back into the story telling, seeing so much attention being given over to the Hand-fasting. He nudged Stuart to get his attention from Tavish.

"Stuart, can we get back tae the telling, noo. We'll be here all night talking of this ceremony and I ha'e something tae add, before we go any further and get things fouled up. Ye did'ne say anything about Fletcher turning intae the Glaistig."

"Aye, yer right, Argus, I did'ne. I should ha'e added that in before I stopped. I was just a wee bit excited tae show them the ribbon." Stuart apologized, smiling in the happiness of the moment.

"Ye've almost past by what MacRae had done too. If ye don't talk of it the noo, it'll no make sense tae why Braedon came tae Tioram later. Remember?" Argus reminded him, letting him know that things had to be told in order.

Stuart thought of what MacRae had done and didn't relish the idea of having to bring it up. He could see Argus was gnashing at the bit to bring it to its gory best and was fraught over inflicting the guests to another of Argus' resplendent tellings. In as much as he knew it had to be told, he knew enough to forewarn any who might get offended by the brutality of the punishments.

Stuart whispered his reservations of what had to be told to Argus, who nodded in approval that he'd try to curtail the gore to a minimum. Argus looked at the guests and then back to Stuart and smiled. Stuart wasn't sure what the smile was for, but he hoped he would heed him.

Stuart arose and tapped his glass, bringing focus to him once again. Many were still anxious to help be a part of the ceremony tomorrow, offering anything they could think of to ensure a memorable time. He apologized for breaking up the enthusiasm and hesitantly introduced them back to Argus.

"Now, Argus has reminded me that we've strayed a bit of course and almost missed a few events. Of course ye's know that it had tae be of a nasty nature fer Argus tae want ye's tae know, so if any of ye's feel disinclined tae hear of some vileness like ye've ne'er heard, please enjoy a moment away from the hall, while Argus says his peace. I promise once it's o'er, we'll ha'e some grand things tae tell. Argus, gi'e those people a moment tae leave and the rest are yer's tae ...entertain." Stuart said to him and sat down, knowing Argus wouldn't disappoint the brave souls who stayed with some history, best left undisturbed in his opinion.

Argus drank some water and made a face at it, wishing it was more of Stuart's liquid gold instead, but thought of his stomach and knew better of it. He saw that only a few women had left and most had stayed. He smiled at the thought, that a good bit of blood and guts and boogeyman talk was still interesting to them.

"Okay, well let's clear up a bit about Fletcher first and then I'll tell ye's what murderous heathen's the MacRae's were and James especially. Then ye's will understand why Braedon pops back in later, when Tavish tells ye's the soppy parts." Argus stopped and turned to Tavish, "Are ye telling about that, or is Stuart?"

"What? When Arabella and Braedon get back t'gether? I can tell that part. I think Stuart's going tae tell about the ceremony though and all of what happened here at Dunvegan." Tavish told him.

"Aye, I'll tell of the Hand-fasting and all that happened after." Stuart told him, confirming who was telling what.

"Alright then, let's spend a moment tae know Fletcher a wee bit better and then I'll tell ye's about MacRae. Now, Fletcher was very old. He was around the castle and surounding area fer ages. His parents had died because of a battle, back in fifteen thirty-nine. The Earl of Huntly, before Douglas, wanted lands brought under control and of course your lot were among the worst offenders." Argus told them, looking at Stuart and Tavish, bringing a few snickers.

"Before anything could be done by anyone, Fletcher's parents were burned tae death in their cottage. Fletcher was away, fighting alongside Grayson and Arabella's father, John, and was put intae prison wi' him. When they finally got out two years later, after King James the fifth died, they came back and John of course took back Tioram and was ready tae wed his first wife Amy. Fletcher came back tae nothing, really. His parents were buried, but no one could really remember where. The land was there, but he had no crops and no place tae live." Argus could see the effect he was having on the people, playing on the sadness

"John had a shelter built fer him and he lived in that fer a long time. At some point, no one's sure when, he developed a way wi' animals. Did'ne matter what kind it was, they just knew enough tae trust him. Some thought he was off his head, and blamed it on his losses, but others knew him and knew he was still keen and alert. No matter where he went though, he was ne'er alone. He always had some wee creature tae keep him company. Anyway, it's enough tae say he was well loved by animals and no really bothered in any way by people." Argus saw the sympathetic looks and knew it was time to pluck some heart strings.

*****************************

It was the next morning, a grey, cloudy, mist-filled morning that surrounded the castle like a shroud. Few were up and tending to the fires and livestock, the merriment of song and dance, along with far too much whisky, keeping many in bed. It was the low moans of the cats and dogs, as well as the chuffing of horses, that warranted the most attention. Donald entered the stable and was immediately warned away by several dogs. He tried to see why they guarded the closest stall and before the dogs chased him right out, he caught sight of a pair of feet.

He entered the keep and talked with the kitchen staff about his narrow escape and also the body in the stall. Donald was just looking for someone to call for Arabella, when she appeared on the stairway. He went to her quickly, his worry clear on his face.

Lady Arabella, there's something no right in the stables. The animals are acting strange and there's a body in the first stall that they won't let me come near. I don't know what tae do?"

Arabella left the hall and went outside to the stables. As soon as she entered, several dogs rose up and barked at her. She stood and showed no fear to them, waiting until they calmed, but watched her carefully, as she started to approach. She slowly made her way to the front of the stall and looked in, seeing Fletcher lying there, Once she was close enough, she called his name and no response came. Her fears were realized when she reached out to shake him and he didn't stir. His face was in a state of complete calm, as though he went to sleep in a happy mood.

It took her by surprise and she soon realized he had passed away and the animals were protecting him. None of the cats and dogs left his side, as she squatted down and softly touched the wrinkled, leathery skin of his face with her hand. A cat circled her legs, rubbing up against her and several dogs sniffed at her, making sure her intentions were friendly towards Fletcher.

Slowly she rose and went back into the keep and found a groggy Grayson, coming into the hall and looking for some food. She caught up to him, speaking to him in hushed tones..

"Grayson, Fletcher has passed. He's out in the stables and the animals are protecting him."

Grayson tried at first to understand what she was saying, but when she turned towards the window, he remembered him from earlier.

"What do ye mean he's passed, Bella?" the whisky clouding his thoughts.

"He's gone. Dead. He's lying on the ground and I fear the animals will try tae attack anyone who tries tae move him."

Grayson went to the window and looked at the stables. Sure enough, the cats and dogs were guarding the entrance to the stables. Grayson turned back around, shaking his head in astonishment. Heather saw his face as she came in and took a note of concern.

"What is it, Grayson? Why the sad face?"

"The old man outside has passed away. The one ye's were looking at earlier, wi' the animals." the vision sobering him from the celebratory mood just hours ago.

"Och no, the poor soul." she said and went to the window to look.

Soon, more people were looking out and wondering at first what was going on. As they turned away from the window, every face was saddened by the sight. Grayson went out and stood looking at the scene, trying to decide what to do. He slowly walked towards Fletcher and the dogs growled lowly, as he approached. They watched him carefully, sensing his intentions, as Grayson bent and gently gathered Fletcher in his arms, cradling him. The animals stayed close to his feet, making it hard for him to walk, without stepping on one of them.

He came into the keep and carefully laid the body on the table beside the door. A couple of cats jumped up and circled around, before lying over his chest. Grayson looked at Arabella, his eyes hoping she would make preparations for him. She knew what her brother was asking and gathered a few women to her, sending them get water and cloths, fresh clothes and wrapping cloth. The teary-eyed women left and sought out what was needed, as the men and women stood back from the table, not wanting to upset the animals.

The women came back and went to the table to take care of Fletcher, but the growls from the dogs, kept them from getting close to him. Grayson was at a loss for what to do, understanding the need to have Fletcher prepared for burial and the love the animals held for him, to protect his body. He slowly went to Fletcher again and the dogs at first made a line of defence, but allowed him to approach, sniffing at him with every step he took. Grayson picked up the body and looked to Arabella.

"I'll carry him tae the kitchen, Keep the animals out here as best ye can and close the door behind me."

Two women rushed to clear the preparation table in the kitchen, while the newly arrived, Garreth, Sorley, Randal and Robert made a circle around Grayson, keeping the animals back. Slowly they walked to the kitchen, until Grayson was making his way through the doorway. The men stopped, holding the animals back from getting in with Fletcher and the door closed behind him. The men tried herding the animals back outside, but Randal tried too aggressively and one of the dogs latched on to his leg. Grayson laid the body down and slipped back out the door, only to see Randal shaking his leg to get the dog off him.

Randal drew his sword in defence, but Grayson quickly stopped him. Grayson spoke softly to it, commanding it to let go. The dog's eyes focused on Grayson's and saw the calm state in them. Randal was relieved to feel the pressure of sharp teeth ease and the dog letting go. Soon the animals were all out side and the door closed behind them. Howls and whines from the dogs started, as well as sorrowful moans and wailing from the cats. The look on everyone's face told the story, that it affected everyone the same.

The moment sobered the men from their intoxicated revelry, as the women went about washing and re-dressing Fletcher's body. A sombre pall was cast over the excitement of earlier, as memories of Fletcher were shared by those that knew of him. Not much was said, as he had lived a lonely existence and the animals had become his only true friends. Arabella gave orders for two men to start digging a grave for him, at the burial site at Cul Dorlinn. She went to Grayson and asked him to preside over his burial and say a few words about him. Grayson looked at the strain on his sister's face and could see she was struggling with her own conflicted emotions. He hugged her to him and found she accepted it with a great sense of need. He wished he knew what was ailing her heart and troubling her so deeply, but knew he held no answers for her.

A litter was brought out and Fletcher's prepared body was laid upon it. Grayson looked to Robert and Gordon to take an end each, while he led the small procession of clan and guests out of the castle and across the causeway to the site. Gregor played a sorrowful dirge that brought emotions to the point of sadness, that tears were present on the faces of everyone there. The animals were all gathered around the stretcher, as they made it to the site and laid his body on the ground.

Grayson stood with Heather at his side, as he did his best to find things to say about Fletcher. It saddened his heart to think this man had lived amongst them for so long in his life and so little could be said. He prayed for his soul and a wish for him to be at God's side, before he motioned for the men to lower the body into the grave. It was as though the animals knew what was occurring and wailed and moaned their own sorrow, as the first shovels of dirt were tossed on the body.

The small procession slowly made its way back to the castle, the pipes being silenced and now only the sounds of shovels in the dirt, breaking the sound of the animal's sorrowful wailing. The grave was surrounded by cats and dogs, once the men walked away, a sadness filling them to hear their sounds of loss.

Only the animals were aware, that the spirit of the man had joined them once more and they were in its presence. A troop of four-legged and winged companions joined in a different harmony, as they sang in happiness, sensing Fletcher's energy among them. Soon the dismal grey turned a shade brighter, as the sun warmed the air and broke through the clouds. A tiny beam of sunlight found its way onto the marker-less grave and cast a brightness over it, the silent majesty of the moment shared with those who truly loved the frail, old man and they rejoiced in their praise of it.

*****************************

"Okay, now ye's ha'e a better understanding of Fletcher. Now, as history has it, Fletcher is the one who became the Glaistig. There's many stories written about it, how it calmed animals and helped horses tae be steady in battle. One of the first times I heard about the Glaistig, is in the battle tae come. So now ye's know who and what the Glaistig is, when it's talked about later on and who it is that's doing it."

Argus took a long drink of water, as he looked at the faces of the guests. He knew what he was going to get into now, was as low as human depravity went, but the truth and the whole truth, should be told, if it was to be told at all.

"Alright, as Stuart said earlier, this is going tae be more than a wee bit gruesome. I know it can upset some of ye's, e'en though ye think ye can handle it. If it's tae be told, it's tae be told as it happened. Do ye's know about the massacre at the Falls of Lora?" a show of shrugs and shakes of the heads told Argus no, "It's no something that's told very often. All I'll tell ye the now is, it no something that should e'er of happened."

******************************

The lifeless, grey sky offered nothing more than the bleak light being cast. To James MacRae, it was the perfect day. In his mind and his mind only, lay the results of what today would bring. The two birlinns, loaded with men and arms, eased out into calm waters, the windless air offering no assistance to them. The oars plied through the water, the bow splitting it into curling froths, as they left Ballachulish and made their way out of Loch Leven towards Loch Linnhe. The dark waters held little contrast to the slate sky, as the two birlinns made their way through the narrows. MacRae turned to look at the remains of the birlinn, now since stripped of anything of use. The wood had been scavenged and barely the skeletal bones were left. Soon those too would light the fires that warmed and fed the living.

The MacLean's were sailing from Loch a Choire as planned, coming straight across Loch Linnhe and headed down the channel between Lismore and the mainland. Close behind, MacRae's birlinns passed Shuna Island, quietly being noted by the lookout on top of Castle Stalker. He watched them join up and sail another seven miles, before they turned to port and disappeared around the point at Tralee Bay. He made a mental note to inform his Lairdship of the movement, when he was relieved.

Marching up from the shores of Oban, through the mountain pass, Malcolm MacDougall and MacKenzie of the Douglas', along with his lieutenants, Roland and Tormod, led the combined forces of over a thirty men on horses and a hundred on foot towards the rising sun. Every face was set with a purpose, a purpose of enacting revenge. Whatever they did that morning, it was in the name of vengeance for what was done to their clan members by the Fraser's and whatever James MacRae deemed as just punishment. The low clouds clung to the tops of the ridges, acting like a canopy above them. Drizzle fell in tiny droplets that clung to the men, coating skin and cloth in glittering sheets of them. The five mile march was made in silence, but the dampness added misery to their thoughts, filling them with more reason to despise the Fraser's.

The birlinns slid up onto the coast, grinding their keels into the gravelled shore. Men jumped down and the three birlinns were pulled further up, the ebbing tide eventually stranding it. MacRae amassed his men and stood with Iain MacLean in front of them. He scouted the terrain for signs of spotters and gave MacLean his instructions to proceed.

"Take yer men and go o'er the hills that way." James told him, pointing with his sword. "Come around and MacDougall and MacKenzie should be there wi' their men. The horses will go up tae the shore and we'll drive them all tae the flats in between us. I want every man, woman and child rounded up, no a soul left out. Once we ha'e them all t'gether, we'll find out what happened tae Douglas' lads that night. This time, they'll tell us the truth."

Iain MacLean headed off to fan out his men along the ridge, creating one line of the net. MacRae took his men and fanned them out, so they covered the coast and the ridge of high hills in front of them. MacRae had his men lay in wait, until all the men were in place, before they closed in. He stood on the ridge and looked south to the pass, where the Douglas' and MacDougall's would come through. In his mind, he hoped that both would have their men prepared and ready to do what must be done. He also hoped that nothing led them to battle one another and kill each other en route. He was starting to feel that maybe Fate was setting the table against him. All his leaders dead and an army of men with little or no direction, wasn't adding up to the plan he saw in his mind.

Malcolm and MacKenzie halted their men, as they came to the end of the pass and the flat, green lands began. The crackle of branches had them taking guard, until they saw it was MacLean clansmen coming through to them.

"Ye've made it, good. I'm tae gi'e ye's yer orders on how we're tae proceed. All yer men on horses are tae ride up tae the coast and fan back. All the men on foot are tae bring up the centre. MacRae is coming in from o'er there." the MacLean clansman told them, pointing out the areas where they were to go and how they would move in.

The foot soldiers followed the MacLean's and made a solid line of men all the way back to MacRae. Word was passed down the line that all the men had arrived and awaiting the signal to march. The men on horses made their way up along the edge of the mountains, spacing themselves out. MacKenzie sat with Roland and Tormod, looking across the broad, flat land at the settlement, filled with the Fraser clan going about their daily lives. He looked across to the ridge on the far side, looking for MacRae. He spotted him high on the ridge, looking from him, all along the line of men, until they were covered by trees.

He raised his sword in the air and circled it above his head. Slowly, one line of men started moving towards the other, closing the space between them. The Fraser's were alerted immediately and took up arms. They concentrated themselves around the perimeter of their encampment, arrows and spears at the ready. Young children were herded into huts, while the older ones stayed, ready to help re-arm the men with arrows and spears, or swords and knives.

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