Winterdale, Scotland, 1685
“Lady Winterdale, how nice that you would be here to greet me,” said Fiona.
“I must admit that I’m here for me grandchildren, as much as I love ye too. I just cannae be away from them for so long, or they cannae be away from me.” Lady Winterdale left Fiona and peeked into the carriage, making cooing and clucking noises.
It warmed Fiona’s heart to see her act this way. Ever since she had married Calum, Lady Winterdale had treated her like a daughter. When the children were born, that love had been multiplied. She was glad that the children would have a grandparent to help raise and guide them.
It had not taken much persuasion from Calum to have her instated as the castle healer, and she had soon created a wonderful atmosphere in the infirmary, and recovery rates were much improved.
In fact, almost everything had improved in the castle, and beyond. The relationships with the other clans were stronger than ever before, and the thought of war between the English and the Scots dwindled until almost nothing. The entire feeling in the castle had changed.
Where her methods would once have been seen as witchcraft, they were now seen as modern medicine, and Fiona was able to help many people in the castle. That was what had taken her away for two weeks. It was the longest that she had been away from the castle.
“Och, come here,” said Lady Winterdale. She helped a young boy down from the carriage steps and took his hand as he walked the short distance to his Mother. He was only four-years-old, but he had a keen intelligence that shined through.
The second child was lifted from the carriage, a two-year-old girl. She could walk but preferred the embrace of her Grandmother to having to do any of her own work. She was going to grow up to be a cunning one.
Lady Winterdale hugged her tightly as the girl’s head drooped onto her shoulder, and she walked over to Fiona and the boy. She patted the young boy on the head and smiled at Fiona. She had done many things in her short five years at the castle, but nothing held her in as high esteem with her Mother-in-law as giving birth to two beautiful children.
“Will ye join me for some tea and cakes?” asked Lady Winterdale.
“I would love that,” replied Fiona.
“Cakes! Cakes!” the little boy danced around wildly.
“Only if there are any left when yer Maither and I are done with them, and I’m feelin’ mighty hungry,” said Lady Winterdale with a smile.
The boy stopped dancing for a moment and looked up at his Mother.
“I think that your Grandmother is jesting,” said Fiona. This seemed to calm the boy, and he took his Mother’s hand to be led inside.
They took tea and cakes in the conservatory, and a servant appeared almost as soon as they had sat down to lay them out. The boy took one for himself and one for his sister, and ran off to the corner of the room to eat.
“They grow up so fast,” commented Lady Winterdale.
“They certainly do,” agreed Fiona.
“So tell me of yer excursion. It went well, I presume?” Lady Winterdale leaned in so that she could hear every detail.
“Very well,” said Fiona.
Fiona was happy to help anyone wanted to be helped, and soon people were making their own home remedies. She had fewer people to attend to, and the clan had never been healthier.
Then, the word spread beyond the town, and the real work began.
“You know, I was a little worried that they were going to think that I was a witch when I arrived, and Laird Ochentosh is an intimidating man,” said Fiona.
“I ken him well,” said Lady Winterdale. “He was good friends with me husband, but he’s also moved with the times, and his clan has fared better because of it.”
Many from neighboring clans had come to visit and see the woman who could heal ailments that others could not. Some had called her a witch, but most had come around when they had seen her in action. She had taught other healers, sent by the other clans, and had sent them back with more knowledge.
“I believe that they are ready to treat anything,” said Fiona. “Now, tell me some news about the castle? What has happened in my absence? Tell me, have you been to visit him again?”
“I must admit that I have.” Lady Winterdale stopped talking and took a sip of tea. She prolonged the silence by also taking a bite from her cake, and wiping her mouth with her handkerchief. “I ken that ye dinnae like me visitin’ him.”
“I do not, but I respect your decision.”
“I feel an affinity with Gordon still. What he did was unforgivable, but he’s also someone who understands me and where I came from. There are not many left who kenned me husband.” A devilish smile crossed her face. “It also gives me the opportunity tae remind him about Aongus and Liza.”
When Fiona had given birth to a healthy young boy, she immediately knew the name she had to give him, and Calum agreed wholeheartedly. She had named their son Aongus and, when a daughter had come along, she had been named Liza. It gave Lady Winterdale some pleasure to visit Gordon in the dungeon and remind him of the young boy who would someday be Laird, and she used his name often.
“He doesnae talk much anymore, and I find meself daein’ most of the chatterin’, but I can tell that he’s in distress. I do believe that the best punishment we could have given him is exactly this. That is why I like to go down there, I can remind him that life goes on without him, and the relationship with the Ainglish has never been stronger. It’s a small victory tae show him that he lost his own personal battle,” said Lady Winterdale.
“He deserves all of that and worse,” said Fiona.
Lady Winterdale looked over to where little Aongus and little Liza were sat and lowered her voice. “There are some days that he asks for death. His punishment is so much worse than that. He wants the gallows, and he will never get them.”
“Does he know that they have been torn down?” asked Fiona.
“Aye, he does. He didnae like that when I told him. He’s the last of those who believed in the old ways, and they’ll die with him in the dungeon. Och, look at me, goin’ on with all this sadness when there is so much happiness in the world. I’m so glad that ye are daein’ well, and that ye are helpin’ the other clans.”
Fiona took a sip of her tea and smiled. “And, you are helping ours, my Lady. I hear that this year’s fair is going to be the biggest and best yet.”
“Aye, and the both of ye had better get out there, or ye are goin’ tae miss it.”
“Faither!” little Aongus jumped up, the crumbs tumbling down his front and ran to Calum, who stood in the doorway of the room. Little Liza followed soon after, tripping halfway across the room and getting back up again. Calum scooped them both up in his arms and gave them a big hug.
“Oh, how I missed the two of ye.” Calum hugged them tighter before plunking them back down.
“And, I missed you, my love,” said Fiona. She stood up and brushed down the front of her dress. There were no crumbs there, but she wanted to smooth out the little creases.
Calum strode over and kissed his wife, wrapping an arm around to her back and bending her over. When he brought her back up, they both smiled.
“Dinnae leave me for that long again, please,” said Calum.
“He has been an absolute mess since ye’ve been gone.” Lady Winterdale lifted her tea into the air as if toasting her son.
“It’s true,” agreed Calum. “I’m nae meself without ye. When ye leave, ye take a piece of me heart with ye. Promise me that ye willnae go again.”
“I will promise no such thing. Some people need my help, and I will give it to them. I will, however, always promise to return to you, my love.”
“That is good enough for me.” Calum took her by the hand and spun her around in a circle.
“If you wanted to dance, you should have said. I hear that this year’s fair is the best yet. Why are we wasting our time in here when we could be out there with everyone else, enjoying the festivities?” Fiona looked around the room at everyone.
The children were soon scooped up, and the entire family made their way to the courtyard. Lady Winterdale had organized the fair every year since Fiona had come to the castle. Every year, the clan was sure that it could not get any better than it was, and, every year, Lady Winterdale proved them wrong.
This year’s fair had become so large that it spilled out of the courtyard and into the village. Musicians had come from far and wide, and there was no longer only one stage for them. In fact, there were three separate stages and, if you did not like the music on one, you could find new music after walking for a few minutes.
There were plays too, and other performers and the main stage still sat in the middle of the courtyard. The gallows had been done away with, and the elevated platform had been converted into a permanent performance area. Instead of people gathering to see death, they gathered to see comedy or drama, or gain knowledge, or debate, or just be with friends.
“Ag!” shouted Fiona when they got to the courtyard. Agatha lifted her arm and waved wildly, but she did not have time to stop, for Brude was throwing her around the dancing area with confidence and vigor.
“He’s coming along well,” said Fiona.
“Aye, for a man who didnae like tae dance, he sure does dance a lot. I even hear that he’s been takin’ lessons.” Calum watched his friend dance through the crowd and smiled.
“Lady Winterdale, you have outdone yourself once again,” said Fiona.
“Thank ye, me dear.”
Fiona looked around. There was so much to see and do, that she did not think she could do it all. Still, there were four days to take it all in.
Along with traveling musicians and performers, others had come from across the land. Some to peddle wares, others to sell food, and more to partake in the merriment of the occasion.
There was so much new food to try that Fiona was unsure where to start. She had only just had tea and cake, so the food could wait too. What could not wait, was her man. She needed to be closer to him, and the music was intoxicating.
“Look at him go,” said Fiona. She cast a quick glance at Calum beside her. “Brude is fantastic. I have to admit that he is a fantastic dancer. And Ag too. They make quite a pair when they move together.”
“Och, I ken what ye are daein’ and I’m goin’ tae give in tae ye anyway.” Calum extended his hand to Fiona. “Will ye give me this dance and many more?”
Fiona willingly took his hand, and they were soon on the dance floor. Two other couples held Fiona’s gaze. By Lady Winterdale, Aongus had taken his sister’s hand and was helping her to move to the rhythm of the music. And, close to where she and Calum danced, were Ag and Brude.
“Let’s catch them,” said Fiona.
Brude had seen his friend coming, and danced faster, spinning his and Agatha’s way through the crowd. They moved deftly together, but so did Calum and Fiona. She laughed as he guided her through the crowd, faster and faster, catching up to the two of them.
As the music ended, they caught Brude and Agatha, and crashed into them, falling over in a heap of laughter. When they got back up, Calum and Brude patted each other hard on the back, and Fiona and Agatha hugged.
“I’ve missed you,” said Agatha.
“And, I missed you,” said Fiona.
“Did ye miss me?” Brude gave his best smile and politely bowed in front of Fiona.
“Eh, sorry, who are you again? Have we met before?” Fiona’s words sent all four of them into fits of laughter, and Brude tried to look hurt at the sentiment, but could not.
The music started back up again. Calum scooped up Liza, and Fiona took Aongus. They spun the children around and hopped from foot to foot, causing much delight and giggling.
Fiona stopped for a moment to look around. She had two beautiful children, one wrapped in her arms, a loving and handsome husband, a Mother-in-law who was more of a mother, and a clan of people who had come to respect her.
The castle was a place where she not only felt welcome, but it was also a place that she felt needed. The banners around her fluttered in the wind, the Celtic symbol a constant reminder of what had brought her there and the sacrifices that people had made. Her thoughts brought both tears to her eyes and a smile to her face.
I have finally found my home.
Fiona glanced around one more time before dancing again. She had never been happier, and she knew that her happiness would only grow as she danced her way through life.
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