I laid on my back on the blanket looking up at the stars. I didn’t think I had ever seen so many. It was truly beautiful. A light suddenly flashed across the sky.
“Oh, look a falling star. Quick make a wish.”
“Because if you make a wish when you see a falling star it will be granted.”
“Really? So how often have ye seen a falling star then?” Conall turned his head watching the excitement in Morgan’s face.
“Only once, when I was about five years old. Mama and I were returning home after we had been to see a friend in the next village. She told me to close my eyes and make a wish. I remembered it clearly as if it was yesterday.”
“What did ye wish for lass?”
“I can’t tell you. I can’t remember. It was so long ago.”
“Did ye make a wish now with this one?” Conall went from lying on his back to his side facing the fire. Propping himself on his elbow.
“Yes, of course I did?”
“But ye no closed yer eyes.”
“No, I didn’t, did I?”
“Does it still work if ye no close yer eyes.”
“What? I suppose so I don’t think it matters much.”
“What did ye wish fer?”
“I can’t tell you. It wouldn’t come true if I did”
I stared at him incredulously through the lowering flames of the campfire. “Because it is my wish. If I tell you then it won’t come true.”
“Aye right then.” he rolled onto his back with his hands behind his head staring at the sky. He lay there for some time before he spoke.
“We oft make a wish of sorts at Clootie wells. Ye dip the clootie in the sacred well, an tie it around a branch of a tree that grows nearby. We have one at Munlochy. The sacred spring is dedicated to Saint Curetán. Many take a sick one there to bathe in the spring in hopes of recovery.”
“What’s a clootie?”
“A piece o’ cloth.”
“And were they healed?”
“Some believe so.”
“Do you believe that people can be healed bathing in the springs?”
“It does nay matter if’n I believe as long as they do.”
There it was again that evasion of imparting a subjective piece of himself. I laid on my side watching the fire crackle and hiss. Shutting my eyes, I thought back over the past week trying to put everything into perspective. I opened my eyes to see Conall watching me from the other side. I turned over with my back to him. There was no way I would be able to sleep with him staring at me. I was so tired, it seemed as if I had not slept in days. As soon as I shut my eyes I faded into the depth of sleep.
Conall lay on his side watching the lass sleeping on the other side of the fire. The symmetry of her face was perfect, flawlessly framed by her straight raven hair. His heart beat faster as he thought how it would feel to run his fingers through it. He remembers the feel of her face against his skin when they transported, the softness of it.
He thought she was asleep. He watched her huff when she opened her eyes to see him gazing back at her and turn sides. He deliberated over what could have happened if Gil had gotten to her. Gil had been a friend for many years, and it reefed his heart having to take his life. But Morgan was his charge and he would let nothing cause her harm. Not while he was bestowed with the mission of being her protector.
In the morning Conall was in the process of cooking some rather tiny eggs.
“Morn lass. Are ye up fer some eggs?” He was markedly chipper considering it was the early hours of dawn.
“Yes, that would be good thanks. I just need to wash up.” I answered as I made my way down to the stream.
When I returned Conall handed me a bread roll of sorts filled with the eggs. The eggs were really, very small. I had no wish to know from what bird he had appropriated them. I washed the bread and eggs down with water leaving some of the crumbs on the ground as a small token of thanks hopefully to the bird that had lost her eggs. A silly gesture perhaps, but it made me feel better for doing so.
Back in the saddle the riding was fast and hard. Conall maintained his arm around me. I had grown used to his closeness. It felt protective, but then that was his job. Protect me with his body and soul. I needed only to keep that thought in my head, and that thought only. Though if we were going to continue riding with me pressed against his body, it was not going to be easy.
The countryside was beautiful with stretches of yellow, pinks and purples, heather and heath amongst the greens. Hills stretched as far as the eyes could see. There were mountains in the background they seemed a long way off. The scent kicked up from the grass and heather and the warm sun on my face made the day a pleasant one, regardless of the pain that crept across my bottom from the hard saddle.
There was only one stop during the day. It was quick, with just enough time for a short drink, dry bread and hard cheese. By late afternoon we came to a yard with a cottage on the left and a holding yard for horses on the right amid trees. I could hear water splashing somewhere up ahead. Conall pulled the horses up to the cabin and tied them to a small tree. He jumped down and then lifted me from the saddle. My bum was sore and my legs felt jellied. We had been in the saddle for most of the day. I felt every step, jostle and jump the horses had made. Conall held my arms worried at my slight waver.
“Are ye hale lass.” he asked with a concerned look on his face.
“Yes, I’m fine. Just a little tired” I was glad he was holding me the way my legs felt.
“Would ye like to have a wee sleep, ye look a might worn lass. I’ll just go catch us a wee bit of dinner while ye do. If’n ye like ye can wash up later, there’s a waterfall just yonder.”
“A waterfall, I love waterfalls. I would like to sleep though.” I said staring between the trees in the direction of said waterfall. I could hear it but not see it. The thought of a comfortable mattress had me turning my gaze towards the door. It suddenly dawned on me that the cottage was almost an exact replica of the one hidden inside the hay bales at Ula and Sloane’s.
“Aye, this be the same as the other one. I built this one too.” Pride streaked across his face. “Welcome lass to me hoose.” Waving his hand as a signal for me to enter. So, he had been here before. He lived here.
The inside of the cottage was almost a duplicate with window seat, lounge chair for two, this one however, was leather. A fireplace stood in the centre wall. Cushions in shades of blue and grey, more befitting a man’s taste. The same cupboard structure at the other end except no kettle or electricity. Conall went to the door of what had been the bedroom in the other house, and opened to a bedroom in this one. A similar four poster bed, but with dark blue velvet curtains instead of burgundy.
“Oh! a bed.” I said walking into the room and literally throwing myself backwards onto the mattress. Not as soft as the other but certainly better than a horse beneath me. I must have fallen asleep. When I awoke I was still in the same position as when I had first flopped on the bed.
The sun cast streaks of light through the window. Sitting up I had aches in my back and legs. I was just not used to riding a horse. I think it will take some time yet before my poor bum could handle the hardness of a saddle. I felt sweaty in all the clothes and wanted nothing more than to release myself of them. The smell of roasting meat had my stomach growling. I was hungry.
Outside Conall was crouched over a simple sort of a spit with what looked like two rabbits cooking away. He looked up at me and smiled. “Awake then are ye. Are ye hungry?” he said skewering one of the rabbits with his dirk.
“I’m famished, are they rabbits? I’d never eaten rabbit. A sudden vision of bugs bunny tied to a spit while daffy duck turned him filled my head.
“Aye that they be.” he answered putting the rabbits onto two plates, handing me one. The two seats around the spit and fire were cut logs on their sides. I sat down on one with my plate looking at the wretched looking rabbit.
“I’m sorry bugs, forgive me but I’m so hungry.” I said more to myself than the company sitting on the other log.
“So, do ye usually name ye food before ye eat it?” he asked biting into his dinner with one eyebrow raised.
“No. Bugs is a cartoon…oh never mind.” I closed my eyes and ate the rabbit.
“Aye I see.”
We sat in relative silence, grateful I hadn’t had to watch him catch, kill and skin the poor beast. It did taste delicious though. Looking around I noticed the horses had been moved into a compound off to the right and their saddles taken off. When I finished the meal Conall took my plate.
“Would ye like to bathe now lass. I’ll take ye to the waterfall so ye can wash up.” Conall threw the remains of the rabbits into the fire.
“Is there no bathroom in the house?” I had expected it would have had some sort of bathroom. My hopes were soon dashed.
“Nay, bathroom here is a storage room. Although I can drag a bath of sorts from oot back and put it afore the fire, if ye so wish.” added Conall.
“Er….no thanks I’ll take my chances with the waterfall.” Feeling a little flushed at the thought of having a bath besides a fire in the open. No, a bath in the open was not a comfortable thought.
“Right then I’ll take ye doon. Just give me a minute to get ye a drying cloth.” with that Conall went into the house and returned with two lengths of fabric, evidently meant to be substitutes for towels.
“Come then lass.” he said as he briskly walked towards the tree line and the sound of falling water. Walking through the wooded area the sound of water became louder, but it still took a good fifteen minutes to come upon a beautiful waterfall flowing down a mountain into the base.
We made our way to the edge of the water and my foot caught on the hem of one of the skirts ending with me face down in the dirt and grass.
“Are ye hale lass.” laughed Conall
“I’m fine and will you please stop saying that. It was enough with Sloane saying it all the time.” I snapped giving him an irritable look. He reached a hand down and pulled me to my feet. I brushed the front of my skirt down trying to settle myself. Conall dropped the fabric over a hanging brow and started to unpin his plaid.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to swim an wash.” he said dropping his plaid to the ground and unbuckling the belt that was holding up his kilt. I promptly turned my back until I heard him dive into the water.
“Would ye no like to come in fer a swim lass, waters cold but reviving.” he shouted.
“No thanks. I am just fine as I am.” I shouted back waving a hand in the air refusing to look at him. In fact, there would have been nothing more I would have liked, than to dive into the water and swim. I was a good swimmer and I was sweaty. Joining Conall in the water with him naked was not a good idea. The bed business had been quite enough. Apart from the fact that I had no swimming costume with me, not that there was such a thing I believed in this time period.
The thought of taking off all the pieces of clothing and then having to get them back on again was too toilsome to think about. I knelt down and cupped my hands in the water to bring a splash of cold liquid to my face. Splashing a little more on the back of my neck. Through hooded eyes I could see Conall swimming about, spurting water into the air with his mouth. He took artful side glances at me every now and again. He seemed to be quite happy swimming about. Braggart.
I sat back and pulled my shoes off. Now I know why Ula had put them on. It was no mean feat to get them off due to the amount of clothing, belts and buckles, not to mention the draft stopper mounted around my waist. I was embalmed in clothing. With effort, I got the shoes and my stockings off, getting them back on was going to be an undertaking.
Putting my feet into the water I laid back onto the grass. The water felt good, the shoes had been a little tight, and did nothing to dampen the feel of small stones and twigs digging into the souls of my feet. Looking up at the sky I wondered about the seer woman. How was she going to restore my abilities? What would my abilities be? I had so many questions.
I heard Conall get out of the water so I shut my eyes waiting for him to dress. Before long I sensed a shadow looming over my eyelids.
“Are ye ready to go back to the cabin lass?” he asked as drops from his wet hair splashed onto my face. He had put his kilt back on but the rest of his clothing he carried.
“Yes ok.” Sitting up and grabbing for my shoes. I had quite enjoyed lying on the grass with my feet in the water. Several times I attempted to get stockings and shoes on but with wet feet and a barrage of clothes about my body the task proved indeed challenging.
Conall sighed in frustration. He grabbed my shoes then hauled me over his shoulders like a sack of potatoes amid my shrieks of protest. He sprinted along the path towards the cabin with me jostling over his bare shoulder.