The sun was bright and high in a summer sky of azure blue. It was the sort of day that, even in summer, was a real treat for the people of the Scottish Highlands. Honeybees buzzed lazily through the meadow grass, which swayed languidly in the occasional breathy breeze. The air was warm and soothing, the grass gilded with golden light.
From the dappled shade of a spreading rowan tree standing alone near the crest of a low hill, Lorraine and Niall looked down towards Manadh Loch. The sunlight sparkled and winked off the occasional ripple stirred up by a brown trout as it came up to gulp down a mayfly that had gotten too close to the surface of the water. The smell of wildflowers—lesser spearwort, water crowfoot, and purple milk-vetch—hung light and tantalizing in the air.
“I always envy ‘em,” Niall said, his eyes fixed down by the edge of the lake, where two small children played in the shallows. “Nae a care in all the world. Why is it that adults lose the ability tae find so much pleasure in rocks and stones and water?”
Lorraine did not answer, but smiled as she watched her husband gazing down with captivated adoration at their two daughters. The sound of the laughter and squeals of the two little girls splashing about floated up the hill like music born upon the gentle breeze.
“They have far less tae worry about than they might have done, thanks tae ye,” Niall said, turning around to look at her with those thoughtful brown eyes of his.
“Oh, come now, ye played yer part as well, if I remember correctly,” Lorraine replied.
“It does nae feel like almost five years ago, does it?” Niall said.
“Nay, it does nae, but a lot has happened since then.”
Niall looked back down towards their daughters. The two little girls had run, toddled out of the shallows and were now rolling about on the grassy bank, shrieking with laughter and delight.
“Aye,” Niall said, “a lot has changed, that is fer certain. And all fer the better.”
Lorraine absentmindedly reached up and ran a finger over the scar on her shoulder. She reached over her shoulder and felt the matching exit wound, where the blade had passed through her flesh.
Seems like a lifetime and more ago away now.
She looked over to her left. Away, across the undulating emerald hills of the Cameron clan land, she could see Cameron Castle sitting on its craggy bluff. Somehow, it did not look half so menacing as it had done almost five years before.
It looks like home now. Looks like the place that my children have grown up in. Where their faither helps their grandfaither rule both this land and a part of the borderlands.
Lorraine smiled at the very notion of the borderlands now. Where they had once been the forefront of the confrontation that had devoured and obsessed so many of the Lairds of the Maxwell and Cameron clans, now the towns and villages and crofts knew exactly who they paid their taxes to.
“Isn’t it lovely how life sometimes works out,” Lorraine said aloud.
“How so?” Niall asked, looking up from where he had been watching their girls sitting andmaking daisy-chains in the grass.
“Well, when we first met we worried about which side o’ the border we would meet on. Now, we get tae spend half the year in yer family home and half in mine.”
“Aye, we are fortunate, indeed,” said Niall, standing up and coming to sit next to her on the blanket they had brought to enjoy their picnic on. “I thought I had seen everythin’ when our faithers stood side by side at our weddin’, but the way that those two wee bairns have brought their grandfaithers together…”
“Aye, they have plenty of people from both clans who love and care fer ‘em now,” Lorraine said. She snapped her fingers and continued, “That reminds me. I must write tae Sheila and Donald and tell ‘em that we will be at Maxwell Castle in the autumn. I dae so love it there at that time o’ year.”
Lorraine remembered the whirl that she seemed to have been swept up in after Niall had proposed to her in the grounds of his castle and she had accepted. When they had returned to their fathers and told them of their plans, the Lairds had looked at one another and something had passed between them.
We had, unknowingly just then, done more tae set their minds at ease than any peace agreement set down with paper and ink could ever have done.
In the instant that she and Niall had proclaimed that they had wanted to be wed, the fates—and the fortunes—of the Maxwell and Cameron clans had been inexorably linked with one another. The border, now, could be drawn and neither Laird would feel that he was being undercut by the other, as they both now shared interests in each other’s lands through the bond of family.
After a few days of celebratory feasting, Lorraine, her father, and their remaining soldiers had marched back to their own castle. It was there that Lorraine had learned from Sheila that Donald had been brought back to the castle. He had been wounded with an arrow through his thigh, but looked as if he was going to make a full recovery.
Lorraine could still feel the memory of the relief that had flooded through when Sheila had told her that Donald had survived. The thought that her friend might have been bereft of the man she loved, over something that had involved Lorraine so much, had tortured Lorraine on the ride from Cameron Castle to Maxwell Castle.
Now, Sheila and Donald have their own bairns. How things move on…
The girls had moved further away from their parents. The area by the lake was green and open and neither Lorraine nor Niall worried about their daughters’ wellbeing if they were within sight of them. The two little girls were running happily along the shore of the loch, occasionally stopping to throw sticks and stones into the water, or wandering off to go and prod at abandoned rabbit holes.
Lorraine tilted back her head and let the warm sunlight caress her face. She closed her eyes and marveled at how happy she felt in this moment and in this place, with her little family all around her. She grinned at the thought that, when they got back, Niall’s father wanted to take the girls on a ride around the grounds on the back of his huge warhorse.
The very steed that bore Niall and meself back tae the Castle after the battle that took place at this loch.
It seemed so strange to think that so much horror and death had taken place in such a tranquil spot. She opened her eyes and gazed down at Manadh Loch. There was nothing about it to suggest that it had been the ground of a vicious fight between two clans that were now more tightly bound by love than they ever had been by hate.
Lorraine’s eyes alighted on the simple standing stone that stood in memorial for all those men who had lost their lives fighting here. Her gaze moved across to the two burial mounds—covered in long grass and a profusion of gorgeous burnet rose flowers—under which the men from each clan slumbered in their eternal rest.
As she gazed thoughtfully at the grassy mounds, her daughters chased each other up one, squawking and giggling happily as they zig-zagged up it.
“If that is nae a picture of how the word works, then I dinnae what is,” Niall rumbled from next to her. He was lying, propped on his elbows, watching the girls at their play.
“How dae ye mean?” Lorraine asked.
“Well, look at ‘em. Those two bonnie wee lasses down there are the future of these clans, and the future of these Highlands. They’re runnin’ about and playin’ on hills made up of men of the past, climbin’ over their mistakes and grievances so that they can stand taller and higher than those that came afore ‘em.”
Lorraine slapped her husband playfully on the arm. “It is tae nice a day fer ye tae be gettin’ so thoughtful and profound, mo chridhe,” she said, teasingly.
Niall laughed and leaned over and kissed her on the mouth. “Ye ken I say things like that so ye dinnae forget than I am more than just a handsome face.”
Lorraine stretched out and ran her hands through his sandy blond hair. He had let it grow out since they had first met and it reached now to his shoulders.
“Me love,” she said, “I was well aware o’ that from the first moment we met. From the moment I laid eyes on ye in that hall of the Laird of Grant’s, I kenned that ye were far more than just a handsome face.”
Her jade eyes, which were almost the same color as the Highland grass that they now lay upon, sparkled as she ran them over the rugged features of her husband of almost five years.
“What dae ye think ye are lookin’ at, Mrs. McGregor?” Niall said, his lips twitching apart to reveal his fine, white smile.
“Just ye, husband,” Lorraine replied. “Just ye.”
They embraced and kissed, right there under the high sapphire sky, lying on the incomparably lush grass of the Scottish Highlands. Lorraine rolled forward and Niall took her in her arms, laying back on the woolen blanket.
Lorraine reveled in the familiar, comforting smell of her husband—horse, leather polish, pine needles and something else that had no name but was most definitely Niall.
She opened her mouth, lay back into the crook of his arm and felt his tongue as it probed gently at hers. She moaned as his strong, sure hands ran over her body; across her stomach and down her thighs, pulling at her long skirts so that he could get under them.
At the same time, Lorraine had entwined the fingers of one hand through his long hair whilst the other hand roamed across the firm musculature of his chest and stomach. Through the thin shirt that he wore on this summer’s day, she could feel the faint line of the scar that had formed after his arrow wound had healed.
Life leaves its scars, but we press on and hope that every day will be better than the last. Scars and memories, they stay with us until our dying days.
She thought about the thin livid scar on her shoulder that adorned her otherwise unblemished skin.
They remind us of the people that we were, and shape the people that we will become.
Lorraine wrapped her leg around her husband’s waist, pulling him tight against her. Even through the layers of cloth that separated their bodies, she could feel the heat of his desire.
She ground herself against him, eliciting a moan from the depths of his throat. His hand found the ties to her bodice, started scrambling at the laces.
Lorraine’s own hand ran down the back of Niall’s neck, across his broad back, before resting on one firm buttock. She pulled him closer to her still.
Their breathing was becoming harsher, faster. Almost, Lorraine was panting. Her hand slid around his waist, seemingly of its own volition, started undoing the ties on the front of his trews.
“Mither! Faither!” a little, shrill voice came floating up the hill towards their spot under the rowan tree.
Lorraine and Niall jerked apart, like two startled youngsters caught kissing in the hay loft by their parents.
Lorraine quickly pulled her skirts down, whilst Niall arranged himself in an attitude of such obvious casualness that it would not have fooled a five-year-old.
Fortunately, Alana was only three.
“Mither, Faither,” she said, in the tiny voice that had melted Lorraine’s heart ever since she had heard the girl utter her first words, “Come and see what me and Heather have found!”
Heather toddled up behind her sister at that point, looking a bit out of breath, but very pleased with herself. She was covered in mud and grass.
“Aye, all right then, me bonnie wee things, lead the way,” Lorraine said, getting to her feet. She cast a knowing look at Niall, who was sitting in a vaguely crouched sort of way. She laughed at him and raised an eyebrow.
“Yer faither will be along in a minute.”
Lorraine followed her two daughters down the hill.
From behind her, Niall’s voice came to her ears.
“Meet me by the loch tonight at midnight!” he said, just as he had that day in the market after the Royal Reeling.
Lorraine could hear the smile in his voice, and she laughed for sheer joy.
“I’ll be there!” she replied over her shoulder. “I will always be there!”
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