The aristocratic voice of the red-coated English Captain droned as he read the order of eviction, words snapping one after another in his hurry to say them. His precise enunciation never faltered. Sinann Eire watched from cover of high branches in a nearby tree, as aghast as those whose belongings were being loaded into the wooden cart.
Ending in a perfunctory monotone, the Englishman then refolded the document and stuffed it into his coat pocket. He sat straight as a ramrod in his saddle and spurred his light sorrel gelding to the other side of the cart, riding as if he had been born in the saddle. More Redcoats, each with a musket slung over his back and a sword at his side, scurried to and fro, methodical as ants. It was a misty day, and though patches of blue sky were visible, there were showers along the southern ridge and low clouds hugged granite crags that jutted on either side of the tiny glen.
A black and white sheep dog barked and danced around the yard at a safe distance while young Alasdair, the father of the displaced family, railed under his breath in venomous Gaelic against the English monsters. His wife, Sarah, urged him to be still. She herded their three small children into a cluster behind her and took the youngest onto her hip, but though she tried to draw her husband away from the soldiers, he shook her off. Her voice went shrill with desperation. Sinann, too, could see blood in his eye and knew the wife had no hope of calming her husband. The faerie longed to fly down there, but if she let anyone see her it would only make matters worse, witch hunts being what they were. In her rage she jumped and shook the branch that held her weight. Nobody below noticed the tree rustling in a nonexistent breeze.
One dragoon in a hurry, carrying a long bundle, ducked out of the door of the low, thatched peat house. Alasdair gasped and swore, his already ruddy cheeks darkening to feverish red. He made a move to intervene, but Sarah held him back, her fingers digging deep into his arm. In the soldier’s hands, wrapped in a ragged old Great Kilt, was the ancient claymore sword handed down to the Scot through five generations of fathers and sons. Alasdair’s eyes followed the dirty and crumbling feileadh mór, from which protruded the two-handed grip decorated in Celtic knot design and straight double quillons, as the dragoon offered the gigantic sword to his superior. “Lookit what I found, buried in a corner.”
The Captain grunted. “In the cart.” He gazed about, satisfied with the find. “There’s one less sword to kill our men.” He said it as if he’d single-handedly saved untold English lives.
The dragoon set the weapon in with the other household goods: wooden bowls, linen clothes and sheets, iron pots and utensils, sacks of wheat and oats, wool, flax, plow, harness, scythe, stools, a wooden table, bedding, and the small family Bible in the English of King James I.
Sinann was the only one who saw the look of hopelessness cross the Scot’s face at sight of the Bible, and she understood he had decided to die rather than watch the English take everything. She emitted a long, loud cry of despair, which nobody heard for she’d hidden from mortals the sound of herself as well as sight. Tears sprung to her eyes, remembering her dear Donnchadh who had died horribly not so long ago at the hands of this very Sassunach. Too many Mathesons were dead already! She watched, sobbing, as the English took yet another.
Alasdair shook himself loose from his wife, lunged at the Captain, and caught the blood-red coat in his fists. The officer’s tricorn hat flew from his head and landed on the sod behind. He cried out and kicked at his assailant. The Scot, his nose bloodied, kept hold and tried to haul the Englishman from his horse. The animal whickered and backed away, but the Scot followed. The officer kicked again, swore, then called to his men to “Get the bloody bastard off!”
The nearest dragoon, lips pressed together, hauled back with the butt of his musket and knocked Alasdair sideways. Sarah screamed and set the baby down with his brothers. The children cried, more at their mother’s terror than any real understanding of what was happening. Undaunted, the Scot pursued the retreating horse and attempted another hold on the officer, who hauled back in the saddle as far as he could and kicked again so Alasdair stumbled. The Scot hit the dirt with a grunt. As he tried to rise and renew his assault, the dragoon turned his musket and fired.
The back of his head blown off by the force of the ball, bloody bits strewn over the dooryard, the Scott stood still for the briefest moment, his chin on his chest, then collapsed. He dropped to his knees, then all the way to the ground so his face thudded on the sod. A pool of dark blood quickly stained the ground and soaked into the turf. The man’s family shrieked.
The horse danced, skittish at the excitement and noise. The officer reined away with a hard yank at the bit and circled away from the corpse to bring the steed under control. A look of disgust crumpled the well-bred lines of his face, and he looked away as the woman ran to her dead husband. The children were all screaming now, like hysterical tin whistles, and taking little steps this way and that as if unsure whether to approach their dead father and grieving mother. Tears streamed down Sinann’s face.
“Sorry, sah.” The soldier who had fired stared at the body and spoke as if he’d had to shoot a mad dog.
The officer sniffed and brushed a piece of pink skull from his coat. “Oh, well. Nothing for it, I suppose. Can’t expect sense from them.” His clear, brown eyes narrowed at the cacophonous brood. He addressed his men, “Hurry this along. Before their relatives come swarming and we’ll have to shoot our way out of this wretched place.”
“Aye, sah.” The soldiers hurried at the loading, having their orders.
Sinann’s fists clenched and unclenched. Oh, how she wished to curse them all! How she would love to wave her hand and bring them all bad luck and death as she had done many times in the far distant past! She waved her hand, but only succeeded in popping two buttons on the Captain’s coat. They went ignored. If only her powers weren’t failing. She leaned her face against the trunk of the tree in which she sat, and fought the tears. If only her people weren’t so powerless! If only Donnchadh…she sobbed, her heart broken. If only.
She sighed and watched the loading of the cart, then the lighting of the house which was accomplished by a torch thrown onto the thatching. Quickly, the dried straw caught and flames licked from thatching to peat walls. Fire grew and consumed, and grew stronger. The house went up in flames to bring light to the darkening Highlands like a second sun. The remnants of the family watched their home burn, until the roof tree collapsed in a rain of sparks and the fire slowly died into blackness and glowing red embers.
Having seen their task accomplished, the soldiers mounted their horses and the order was given to ride out with the herd of cattle. The cart with two goats tied to it brought up the rear, pulled by a single mare and driven by a soldier who perched on the front rail. The claymore, bundled in faded, rust-colored tartan, stuck out of the rear of the possessions like a captured flag.
Sinann’s heart galvanized and she hiccuped through her tears. Her voice became low and dangerous, roughened as it was by her crying and anger. “I think not, laddies.” She leapt from the tree and spread her white wings to swoop down on the cart. She hovered for a moment over the hilt of the claymore, gathering her strength, then grabbed it by the quillons and pulled.
It didn’t budge. She muttered some very bad language, even for faeries, flew to catch up with the moving cart, and grabbed it again. This time it loosened from the other goods. One more yank, and the sword flew free. Taken by surprise, Sinann almost dropped it. But she was determined to not let the English have this weapon, so she held on and kept it airborne. The dragoons rode onward, unaware of the theft to their rear. She swooped and wobbled, then steadied herself over the road. Each hand held a quillon, and she carried it back to the destroyed house.
Sarah and the children had fled to safety, most likely the Tigh in Glen Ciorram below, and it would be a bit of a walk over steep terrain to the castle on the loch. The corpse lay where it had died, to be buried by the clan when the men could be summoned.
Sinann rose into the air. The large claymore pulled at her arms and tried to slip from her fingers. At 4’6, she was also rather thin and not strong. But something had to be done. The killing had to end. Tears returned, and she blinked them back. Something had to be done about these English, and if she was powerless to stop them and her people were powerless, she still had to do whatever she could. She let go of the sword, then hovered and watched it fall to earth to stick in the sod below.
She settled to sit cross-legged on the ground, gasping to catch her breath. The sword stood over her, a silhouette against the now-purple sky where one or two stars had made an appearance. After a short rest, she stood, nearly as tall as the sword, and squeezed her eyes shut to cast the spell in the old tongue:
“Ancient sword of my people, the life within you brings life to those who belong to this land. Bring me a hero, a Cuchulain, to save from tyranny the sons and daughters of this land. Let a Matheson lay hands on you and become that hero. By the powers of earth, moon and sun, by the powers of air, fire and water, the will of the great art be done.”
Sinann then stood back as the sword glowed for a moment. It shimmered in the gathering gloom, with a promise of power the faerie hadn’t felt in ever so long. Her heart swelled with hope.
She turned as the pounding gait of a galloping horse came from up the road, and Sinann’s moment was shattered. The English officer rode up, blond queue flying, and reined his horse to a skidding stop as he searched the ground. Sinann stood still as she willed him to go away, but his knees urged the horse farther on, until he found what he was looking for: his hat.
Quickly he leapt to the ground, snatched up the hat, and slapped it against his breeches to remove some dirt. Then he set it on his head and remounted.
Sinann breathed with relief. He would leave.
But, just as he was about to spur his horse after his troops, he spotted the sword stuck in the dooryard sod. He uttered a disgusted noise, then guided his horse to the sword and nearly overran Sinann as he did so. With one hand he reached down and pulled the claymore from the ground, held it with the long blade away from himself and the horse, and galloped away to his men.
The faerie sagged to the ground, her wings drooping, and laid her face in her hands.
Moments passed. Mere moments, she was sure, though it could have been longer. It could even have been much longer. The sun was almost gone, though it was not quite dark. But a glow came to the air above the spot in the dirt where the sword had been. Warmth gathered. Sinann looked up, hardly able to believe her eyes. The light grew bright, until it began to take shape. It was a man. A tall man, wearing kilt and sark. Then, as the glow died, the form became solid. Braw and bonnie, he was, real and breathing.
Sinann’s heart soared, and she fluttered into the air, eye level to him.
He looked around, his eyes wide. Sinann examined him closely, for he couldn’t see her unless she willed it. He swallowed hard and blinked, then shook back from his eyes a shaggy lock of dark hair long enough to tie in a queue but too short to bother. His eyes were blue, though his skin was the darkest she’d ever seen with the exception of the southern races from over the sea. No, he wasn’t a Moor, nor even a Roman. He was a Scot, all right; she could see it in the line of his brow and the light of his blue eyes.
The man squeezed those eyes shut, and when he opened them didn’t seem any more pleased with the view than before. He turned, looked, and turned again. Then he spoke, and Sinann’s heart clutched with alarm that his words were English.
“Holy moley,” he muttered to himself. “What just happened?”
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