Am I Married Or Not?
At daybreak we were ready to depart. Haig, his sons and men also readied to leave. They were heading home, we were going south. Haig raised my hand and kissed my knuckles farewell stating that I would always have a home at Sutherland keep. Murtagh bowed and also kissed my hand. Aiden stepped forward with arms outstretched and puckered lips. I took a step back. Conall promptly smacked him across the head, I held back a grin as my savior hoisted me into the saddle.
Haig offered to send two men with us but Conall would not have it. I would have felt better to have an extra couple of guards with us but I had to trust Conall’s judgement hoping that he was making the right decision.
The first day was a hard ride over hills and rugged mountains. The scenery was simply magnificent with just the barest patches of Scots pine trees and heather. In some areas, it was slow going on horseback climbing up and down steep and rocky clefts, loose stones a problem for the horses. We stopped around midday to water the horses and let them graze. A welcomed opportunity to see to personal needs and have something to eat and drink.
The afternoon saw a herd of deer in the distance, atop a low mountain. The majestic stance of the bucks as they kept watch was an incredible sight. The sky was clear with only the dotting of clouds. We finally stopped at sunset. Approaching the base of a craggy hill that had a rock overhang. During the late afternoon, the weather had taken a turn for the worst and had started to rain.
The overhang was large enough for sleeping and a small fire out of the rain. I shivered from the cold as I sat on the blanket, almost wishing for the mass of clothing I had shed back at Conall’s cottage. Deep in thought Conall caught my attention handing me a bannock and dry cheese.
“Ye seem to be lost in thought lass.”
“Was I? I was just thinking about my life before…well before I went to Ula and Sloane’s, my store and home.”
Conall sat on his blanket fairly close to mine, more because there wasn’t a great deal of room under the overhang. “Did ye love him?” Conall asked surprising me with his question
“Joe, did ye have feelings fer him?”
I almost felt like laughing. I would never have had feelings for Joe even if he was the last man on earth. Besides wasn’t he a Brollachan, and did he not beat the hell out of me? “No.” I answered sharply
“But ye marrit him?” Conall thought that while marriages in 1735 were often made to unite clans. He knew enough about Morgan’s time to know that marriage was mostly done for love.
“Yes, I suppose I did, well I think I did.” I answered. Remembering the marriage license being waved in front of my face. However, the phone conversation with Mr de Marko left me with more questions than answers.
Conall looked puzzled. “Do ye no ken if ye where or not?”
I thought Conall deserved an explanation so I told him the whole story. About meeting Joe and his mother at the antiques fair, and how I had gotten sick at the restaurant that night, waking seven days later to find I was married to Joe, with no memory of how, where and why. I thought that Sloane or Ula had possibly filled him in with the details as I had told them. It would seem like they did not. He sat watching me while I spoke, with disbelief.
“Lass are ye in tha habit o’ carrying yer certificate o’ birth in ye purse?”
“No, of course not. I…I don’t have a birth certificate.”
“What about travel documents, I believe ye need them ter travel outside ye country?”
“Well no, I have never left Castle Cary, except that once to go the antiques fair in London, and you don’t need one for that.”
Conall assumed that Morgan was married to Joe before he became a Brollachan. He now realized that he was already one when the supposed marriage took place. There couldn’t have been a marriage. The whole thing had been a ruse.
“Lass that is no a marriage.”
“Yeah, I know it wasn’t, we didn’t live like a married couple. Not that I ever wanted to.”
“That’s no what I mean. Ye are no marrit! In yer time ta get marrit ye have ta have a certificate of birth or a travel document, an ye have ta give twenty-eight days’ notice. Do ye understand me lass.” Conall exhorted.
“What? I have my suspicions that we maybe weren’t. Especially after the phone call from Mr de Marko. Not to mention that I would never have married Jo under normal circumstances. I didn’t like him from the moment I met him?”
“Lass when a Brollachan takes o’er a human body, they be dead from the moment o’ take over. The body begins ta wither an rot from tha inside. Did ye no just tell me that he had a foul scent when ye first met him?”
I rolled my eyes and winced my face remembering the smell of Joe. “The smell always reminded me of a dead rat I had once come across in the paddock when I was a child. I was surprised the other police officers would even work with him. It was really rank you know. I had to wash his clothes three times to get the stink out of them, and do so without throwing up.” It suddenly clicked. “Hang on, are you saying I married a dead man?”
“Aye ye did. Well no, ye could no be marrit to him, and he no could consummate the marriage either.” Conall said getting up and pacing the small area.
“He couldn’t?” A stupid thing to say but I was in shock at this revelation.
“No lass he couldn’t. He couldna consummate it because his cock wouldnae ha worked.”
My eyes flew open. I could feel my neck and face redden by the second. “Well that’s a blunt way of putting it.” That was more admission than I was expecting. “Can I have the whiskey please.” was about all that I could get out of my mouth. Conall handed me the flask and I took a big gulp.
“Are ye hale lass?” Conall asked watching me take another swig of scotch.
Oh god all I can think of was I lived with a dead man for thirteen months. How could I have not known. “I did his washing. I cooked his meals.”
I handed the flask back to him.
“I…I just need to sleep.” I murmured. The mere memory of Joe, the marriage and his smell was making me nauseous.
I lay down on the blanket and pulled the plaid over me covering my head and face. I probably should have spoken to him, but all I wanted to do was remove the whole ‘I was married to a dead man’ out of my head. He had never touched me but for some indisputable reason I felt dirty. How could I have been so stupid and oblivious of the legal requirements of marriage. I had always considered myself to be a relatively intelligent person, now all I felt was utter foolishness and shame.
I tried to sleep. Sleep was not forthcoming. When Ula and Sloane had said Joe was a Brollachan I took the information with little credence, but only now the implications of it hit me. I was crying and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t stop, it was like the swell of a tide that couldn’t be held back.
I wasn’t aware that Conall moved his blanket behind mine until he pulled me into him. I didn’t flinch I was too caught up in the storm that surged inside my head, and the thousand and one thoughts that flashed around my mind. He cooed to me in Gaelic. I sobbed uncontrollably. He continued to hold me in a tight embrace until my sobbing finally subsided and I slipped into a sobbing sleep.
Conall lay behind Morgan holding her while she wept relentlessly. He was confused about the Brollachan named Joe. He knew that when a Brollachan took over a body, the body started to wither and die from the inside. He had never known one to have lasted so long. This was the quandary. How did the Brollachan manage to survive for such a long period of time. Most used up a body within six days. This was one question he would need answered by the Cailleach.
He felt a measure of guilt. Maybe he was too hard on Morgan, too course in his words. Perhaps this journey was too difficult. The fact that she had killed half a dozen of them no doubt still played hard on her mind. He knew that it was no easy thing to kill someone, but they were not someone, they were Brollachans. This with the new knowledge that she had lived with a Brollachan for more than a year was too much for her.
He argued with himself if he should have taken up his father’s offer of an extra couple of men? He didn’t think so. It was better that there were just the two of them. They would be able to journey quietly and faster without undue attention.
He didn’t really know how to console the lass in his arms. All he could think to do was talk to her as he did with Torq his horse. He was angered that Joe had tricked Morgan into believing they were married, even more so that they had consummated the marriage. He knew they couldn’t have done so and why. Not to mention the beating he had given her. It made his blood boil, he should have finished him off at Sloane’s regardless of the damned law.
He sighed relief when Morgan’s weeping and her breathing slowed. He should have been keeping watch but at this moment he didn’t care, he couldn’t let go of the lass. Still holding her, he nodded off himself.
When I awoke I could feel the swelling of my eyes from the amount of crying I did last night. Conall was cooing with the horses, the ground wet from last night’s rain. The air smelling crisp and clean with the fusion of earth, wood and life. From the entrance of the overhanging crag there was a small stream about a hundred paces. Hills behind covered in deep green and heather. Conall handed me a flask of water, a bannock and an apple.
“Are ye hale milady?” he asked handing me the apple.
“I am fine.” wondering why he was being so formal. Did I say something last night in my want to hide and sleep that had caused him to be formal? I had no idea.
“Once ye break ye fast an seen to ye personals we will be off then.” he went back to checking the straps and buckles on the horses, again cooing to them as he had done before and with me last night. Holding me while I sobbed like a puerile child. I had not handled the information well. I was ardent not to think about it again. When I had finished the bannock and apple washed down with water I rolled the blanket up giving it to Conall to tie to the saddle of the horse.
I went to the small stream to wash my face and hopefully reduce the swelling of my eyes. While I washed, across on the other side of the bank a small tan rabbit sat watching me. It seemed not to be afraid, it’s little whiskers fluttering in the breeze. I was glad it was on the other side, thinking if Conall had seen it he may be inclined to catch it for our next meal. When I returned, Conall lifted me up by the waist to sit astride the lead horse.
The day was slow going on rocky paths. He carefully led the horses through areas of gravel that shifted beneath hooves. It certainly was beautiful country even the areas of barren starkness. Passing over streams and a summit we came to an area crowned with large rocks extending skyward like fangs.
We continued on occasionally passing croft houses and exuberant waving of arms of those that watched as we sped past. Coming upon fields and hills of heath a stunning divergence from villages and cities of the twenty first century. I found no matter whether it was grassy doons or rough-hewn mountains, the scenery was beautiful and awe inspiring.
It had been a trying day and not just the fear of the horses losing their footing on unsolid ground. For every jostle Morgan’s body pressed back into his. Many a time he had to push his mind to other things trying to stop his rising erection. He was sure she could feel them pressed against her back but she made no hint of such.
Sometime in the afternoon riding over the rise of a hill a stone structure came into view standing near a river at the bottom. For as wide as the eye could see the hills and low mountains were covered in heather. It was breathtaking. Conall careful navigated the horses down the slope to the valley. At its base stood a building clearly more of a ruin than a residence.
“Where are we?” I asked
“This be An Srath Mòr and that is Broch Dun Dornaigil.” Conall pointed to the structure.
“It’s a ruin. Surely no one lives in there?”
“Aye that be true, but for the Cailleach.” he said as we reached the bottom. He dismounted and lifting me down said. “Some believe Picts built it, others well, they believe it be others long afore the Picts came.”
As we walked around to the front I was amazed to see how small the doorway was. The front wall however, rose about twenty feet. Above the doorway was a massive triangular lintel. A very strange looking building, or I should say ruin. “The door, look how small it is, only a child could squeeze through there or a small person. Maybe the original builders and inhabitants were midgets.” I looked down taking a closer look. “How do we get in? crawl on our bellies?”