A Potent Magic
Chapter 1: A Potent Magic
This story was conceived, oh, years ago when I first read "Outlander." I never wrote it down, I think, or if I did, I didn't save it. Some of the elements are different, I am sure.
I wanted a story that wasn't Jamie-centric. My original story didn't have him in it at all, but I want to have Diana Gabaldon's characters make their appearance in the story, showing up as essential elements. Hope you enjoy, this is a bit different, but it really is for "Outlander", trust me.
Thanks to Jamie Frazer that we are alive at all—and I found Malcolm McDonald.
And the little one I'm carrying, he'll, and I'm convinced "he" is a boy, will look like Mac. He'll have his father's brown hair and brown eyes of, his height and his build. This child that will not carry the spectre of a tragedy. This little one will be born into happiness, no tragedy, no sorrow, will shadow his birth. And I have the promise of His Majesty's government that the land where we dwell will be ours in perpetuity, even if we have to pledge allegiance to the king. It's a small price to pay.
Ah, who am I? A good question. I am Irina Bogdashevskaya Campbell MacDonald, wife to Malcolm MacDonald, the man who helped me stand up to Colin Campbell and saved my life. Before that I was Colin Campbell's captive, who murdered my husband for his title—and me. And before that I was the wife of George Arthur Allen Davison Campbell. My Georgie, my sweet loving boy, my love, my heart, lost all too soon, murdered by the cousin he loved and trusted.
And before that? Well, now it starts to sound like an "Outlander" plagiarism, but it's not, it's real. Russians believe in all sorts of crazy stuff, and they are the only ones who know that it's true. I didn't believe that you could bend time, find yourself in one place then suddenly another. My father would say that it was the fairies, and who knows? Maybe he'd be right, but something that I don't understand happened to me, and it's still happening, but now it's my life.
I was an Egyptologist who taught at the University of Chicago. Of course I considered my area the most interesting and fertile in the ancient history field, but I try to be open minded. I've helped excavate in South America, and in Europe. Ancient Britain was not civilized like Rome or Egypt, but there's a lot to see and explore.
I'd come on a trip to Scotland to visit some friends of my recently-deceased mother, to fulfill a promise I'd made to her. I'm this crazy mixture of Russian and Belgian, tall like my mother, blond with weird grey-green eyes like my father. Wolf's eyes he called them. I'm broad hipped like a good babushka, but it's in proportion to everything else. I also have a broad Slavic face and high cheekbones. I guess you could say I'm good looking but I don't pay attention to it.
Okay, that's not true, I'm beautiful and I know it, but it doesn't do me any credit. To be beautiful is a curse; to not be beautiful is a curse. I'd rather look the way I do than not, but I'd like to be free of the baggage it carries. Sure, we may reap some benefits that our less fortunate sisters do not, but we pay for it. I haven't much good to say about my alcoholic, abusive father, but he helped me put things in perspective. My sisters and I are all equally lovely, but we are kind, humble, and unselfish. Beauty is no more than an accident of genetics, but the world can be unkind.
Since I was going to visit Scotland, I decided to drive around England first, and visit as many Neolithic monuments like Stonehenge that I could. Included in this were trips to old castles and Roman baths, camps, and of course, Hadrian's Wall. When I'd finished gorging myself on ancient history, I headed up to Scotland, to Inverness, which really is a lovely town—my cousins recommended that I stop there on the way.
I rented a room in a bed and breakfast run by an old Scottish woman who spoke with a burr so thick that often I could not understand her. The beds were excellent, though, and the food very good though not what an American like me is used to. The old hag, as I unkindly refer to her, would pack me a huge lunch every day, and send me out with a thermos of tea as I went sightseeing. Despite the fact that she looked like an old crone, she was very sweet, fretted about how thin I was—which I'm not, and kept mentioning various sons and nephews and neighborhood boys that she wanted to introduce me to.
She did manage one, Malcolm MacDonald, tall, brown haired, brown eyes, and very good looking I must confess. He was also very sweet, referred to my hostess as Mrs. Struan, and fascinated me with his knowledge of the history of the area. I'd sworn off men after my breakup with Robbie, I was in no mood to plunge into another disastrous relationship. Mac, as he called himself, seemed to sense this, but I also got the feeling he wasn't going to be deterred. I rather liked the feeling I was being pursued by a tall, handsome stranger.
"Mac" was turning into a frequent guest for dinner, I did not yet know if I minded. Mrs. Struan would delicately suggest that we might want to adjourn to the parlor and have a drink or two to help us digest our food. I would ask him about any menhir or dolmen around that were within walking distance. I told him about my interest in ancient history. I'd already visited Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall before I'd come here. I'd planned to visit the Orkneys before I headed back to England. I must admit, I'd been prepared to be bored and uninterested in Scotland, but it was proving fascinating and I wished I'd allowed myself more time for my trip.
It turned out there was an interesting dolmen, and even a menhir within walking distance. Being a gentleman, Malcolm offered to take me, but I wanted to experience this on my own. My theory is that unless you need to have questions answered at that moment, it's best to see something you really want to see alone. I want to be alone, to take it in, to explore it on my terms, without someone hovering over me, thinking that they know what I want. And not everyone shares my interest in ancient monuments.
So I very politely turned him down and got very detailed directions instead. I'd have Mrs. Struan pack a lunch for me, and bring the cameras I carry when I take pictures. People generally stare when they see me take snapshots with one camera, then go in for detailed photos with another. If they think I'm crazy, it works to my advantage—they leave me alone. That's another reason why I don't want Malcolm with me, he'd get bored waiting for me to finish, and maybe try to hurry me to convince me to return to Mrs. Struan's.
I made polite goodnights to Malcolm and Mrs. S. I hadn't had much time to explore the area around Stonehenge, but tomorrow I would get to see some of what I'd missed. I looked at the map Malcolm had drawn for me. Trust a fellow archaeologist to include everything available to see in the area. Kent Weeks would be impressed, and he only mapped the Valley of the Kings.
It looks like the dolmen once was the entrance to a tomb mound. The menhir is some distance off. Malcolm's drawn a sketch of the menhir, and it resembles one of the stones of Stenness, as opposed to the rectangular shape of the outer stone circle at Stone Henge. I examine the map more closely and discover another tomb, with the lintels missing, but some of the structure is intact. I hope I'm going to find more, maybe a cyst grave, maybe even remains of a circle, or perhaps post holes of a "wood henge."
I didn't sleep as much as I should have, considering how much walking I would do, Mac had told me that the menhir and dolmen had only been briefly explored and recorded. Amateur archaeologists discover things all the time. I was trained, and had the basic equipment for measuring, if someone had been there with me, I could have set up a plumb line and taken measurements. It didn't matter what I did or didn't find, I would probably be alone, have the whole site to myself. I was as excited as I used to be when I went to bed on Christmas Eve—and slept about as well.
Towards the morning I started having strange dreams. The air had become filled with a mist, as if in a fairy tale. I heard the sound of hoof beats, and saw the shadowy figures of men on horseback. I heard voices speaking English, but I couldn't understand the words. All I knew was that I did not want them to discover me, because if they did, my golden day would be spoiled, and I'd never have the chance to explore the site again.
And then, one of them got off his horse and started walking towards me. I wanted to run, but it was as if the earth had swallowed my feet, and I couldn't move, I was trapped, and all I could was to wait helplessly as he began to approach me.
I woke up to the dim light of the early dawn. I pulled on my wool robe and checked my backpack one more time to see if there was something I missed. Satisfied that I could survive for a week if I could only add food to the contents, I took a quick shower, then went to the dining room to eat breakfast.
The Blessed Mrs. Struan had fixed me a large plate of eggs, with kippers, which I can't stand. I settled for the eggs and bannocks, washed down with her strong tea. My hostess had even come up with some orange juice, which, by its taste must have come from a can, but I was grateful for it all the same. I had a long day ahead of me, and except for the kippers, I was going to put whatever nutrition in my body that I could get hands on.
She presented me with a fat lunch bag, and a thermos full of tea, reminding me that I should be back for supper, as Mr. Malcolm would surely be present, and wouldn't I like a ride to the path that led to the standing stones.
I smiled, shook my head and thanked her. I went back to my room and placed my bundle into my overstuffed backpack. Fortunately, as I consumed food and tea the weight would lesson somewhat. I put on my fleece lined denim jacket and wrapped my new red scarf around my neck—the morning was cold but the day might warm up a little, later. I hoisted my pack onto my shoulders and went quietly out the door to prevent someone from offering me a ride. I felt like walking in solitary bliss this morning.
My bliss did not last long. An elderly couple pulled up next to me as I walked along the road, and rolling down their window, inquired as to whether or not I needed a ride. It was only a couple of miles to the turnoff, but I gave in graciously and answered questions as patiently as I could.
I was from Chicago. I was an archaeologist by profession. No, I wasn't married, nor was I engaged. (I don't know why this people always ask this question) Yes, I liked being an archeologist. I worked mainly in Egypt, but was on vacation and exploring Neolithic stone monuments while I was here. I was staying at "The Thistle", yes Mrs. Struan set an excellent table. Oh, my name? I'm half Russian and half Belgian, but I was raised in Seattle. They let me off at the turn off, wishing me a lovely time. I wished the same to them and watched them drive away.
The path bore few marks from the most recent excavation. It must have been wide enough for a narrow vehicle once, and I tried to remember how long it was, but I didn't really care. I was getting that crazy high that I always got on the way to an excavation. The hair was prickling on the back of my neck and I could feel the electricity on the surface of my skin.
Something was going to happen.
The path was taking me slowly uphill. Nothing I saw around me hinted at my being a couple of miles away from an important archaeological site. The path looked as if it had not been disturbed for years, no trace remained that a four wheeled vehicle had once been here. The path was no bigger than a footpath, the evergreen trees were tall and had not been cut in centuries, it seemed. The air was fragrant and clean, and had an almost unearthly stillness. Not even the sound of birds pervaded the stillness, and I felt like the first line of "Evangeline" by Longfellow:
"This is the forest primeval"
At last I passed through a small stand of trees and set foot into the clearing, and what I saw took my breath away. The first thing that caught my eye was the menhir, it was taller than I had imagined it, standing at least 16 feet high. It looked like it had been sheared off at an angle at the top, while it was cut straight at the sides, and did not owe its shape to nature's whim or the weather.
I looked more closely at its surface, trying to see if it was smoothed on one side, while left rough on the other like the Sarcen stones at Stone Henge. I was too superstitious, no, too respectful to touch it, but to my delight I found that one side had carvings of spirals on it, not the first time I'd seen this on stones and monuments in both Britain and France.
I pulled out my Nikon and began to take pictures. When I had some shots that I was happy with, I started wandering, trying to determine what might have been here originally. A Menhir is a standing stone, or group of stones, like Stonehenge, while a dolmen is a doorway, usually consisting of two vertical stones with a stone across them. These were the doorways of tombs, and a few mounds and barrows have remained, though most of them are gone, leaving only the lintels, or the dolmen. It's exciting if any of the tomb is left, and here I got lucky because there was a noticeable dip in the ground and I could make out a shape.
I took pictures, kept the best and deleted the others, and then I began to walk around. It was an odd place for the dolmen and menhir, usually (though not always) these things were located on a relatively flat plain, probably so they'd be visible for miles. But the size of the dolmen was impressive, and I'm sure that whoever had been buried there had been important. The tomb itself had obviously been looted, but I wonder if anyone ever came up here and had a look around. Malcolm had been knowledgeable, but decidedly uncurious. He'd made no effort to warn me away, not even any warning looks, so I wondered if he just considered it unimportant.
On a whim, I decided to have a closer look, I don't know what I was hoping to find, maybe some more holes where more stones had stood, or maybe something else. There was an energy here that was spurring me on, and the day was young, and I had plenty of time to look around. But for what?
This place was at least four thousand years old, maybe more, and the geology could have been changed considerably in that time. Cleopatra's palace complex and the lighthouse at Alexandria had been struck down by earthquakes. Maybe this hill was once flatter than it is now and an earthquake had changed the landscape so drastically that the hill had been raised up. I'd forgotten a lot of my geology, so I couldn't remember if such a thing could be possible. I know they did have earthquakes in the British Isles, but they were not as frequent as they would have been, say, in Seattle. I'd have to find a library, or preferably, a seismologist to find out if it was possible.
While I was busy meditating on the possibility of earthquakes in the British Isles, my foot suddenly sank in some soft leaves and I tripped. I ran through most of my profanity vocabulary from "a" to "s", then pulled my foot out of the depression it had become trapped in.
Something was curious about this. I carefully began to pull leaves and debris from the hole. Soon hole was deeper than the length of my arm and I still had not reached the bottom. I cleared as much as I could, and noticed that the size was regular and smooth, as if it had once held something—but I did not know what.
"Discovery Fever", as I call it, was taking hold of me. I began to look around for possible postholes, and discovered another two. My excitement grew, there was evidence here of a wooden circle, just like at Stone Henge, that had rotted centuries ago, but no doubt pre-dated the standing stones. I carefully cleared the holes and took pictures. I could not wait to get back to my computer and start recording my findings for the day. If I looked more closely I might find the site of more post holes, or possibly where stones had stood—or even a buried stone.
I looked up at the sun, then down at my watch. Noon! I had lost all track of time. I could spend hours here, and still have more to find, but right now I was feeling suddenly hungry. I went to the menhir and sat at its foot, well away from its shadow. I took my camera and took pictures of each of the little carved spirals, wishing, as so many others, that whoever erected these circles had had some kind of written language. We know so little and so much of what we know is educated guess work.
I devoured my lunch, as opposed to eating it. Rationally I knew that I should be tired, but there was an energy level here, almost a hum, like machinery running, that fed into me and I could not remain still. I searched for more post holes, and found two possibilities, and looked carefully at the grass to see if there were a difference anywhere in color that might indicate where a stone might have stood.
I turned back to the dolmen, and looking around could see where a body might have been placed. The pit where the barrow may have been had smooth sides, and much care had been put into its preparation.
I don't know how much time had passed, but when I looked again at my watch it said three o'clock. How did so much time pass by? I could easily have prolonged my trip here by a week and contemplated the possibility. I'd taken this quarter off to do some traveling, and if I brought back enough notes and images, I might be able to persuade someone to give me a month to dig here. It probably wouldn't be that hard to convince local officials. I had no intention of destroying the site, but clearing the postholes, looking for evidence of more stones, and excavating the tomb under the dolmen would only benefit the village, not harm it.
In the meantime, I had better get ready to leave. Darkness was not falling so terribly early, not yet, but this was an area I didn't know, and it would be best to hike back in full daylight. Once I got to the main road I would surely find myself sufficiently tired enough to graciously accept an offer of a ride back to the bed and breakfast.
I walked over to the menhir to check my pack and make sure I'd left nothing behind—something I'm notorious for. I looked at it again, the smoothed surface decorated with the spirals, and reached out my hand to touch one, but pulled my finger back at the last minute.
suddenly I was feeling very sleepy. "Okay, just a short one," I promised myself and stretched out before the stone, my backpack providing a lumpy pillow for my head. I had no intentions of sleep, only to rest a minute before I began the long hike back to the road. The very long hike back to the road I mused.
I swear, I really didn't think I'd fall asleep, I don't nap, as a rule, but I woke up suddenly realizing that I had been asleep. I looked at my watch, it read three o'clock. Now that couldn't be, there was a new battery in it and it had read three o'clock the last time I looked at it. I looked around, nothing really looked different. The clearing and its dolmen and menhir had a creepy feeling to it, but that's true of a lot of ancient sites—you can feel that you are the intruder; that something was there before you that belongs to it, not you. Maybe the battery was faulty.
Suddenly a mist started to descend while the sky grew curiously darker. Like in my dream, the mist slowly grew thicker as the air darkened. From a distance, I heard the sound of muffled hoof beats and the jingling of bridles. Horses whickered and men were talking, speaking a language I knew but could not understand the worlds.
I ducked behind the stone, and prayed they would not see me.