The house lay dark save for the banked fire. Eoin eased himself in through the door to be greeted by Seonaid and Fearchar cuddled on the floor in front of the hearth. They looked up at him and smiled as he entered. Eoin nodded a hello.
“A job well done, doc!” Fearchar untangled himself from his wife. Eoin ducked, the sudden outburst loud in the dark hours of early morning. Seonaid raised an eyebrow at her husband. Pulling herself off the ground, she shook out her skirts and resettled her apron. She retrieved a cup from the shelf and handed it to her husband. “I do believe a toast is in order.” He rooted around in the rafters and freed a jug tucked up under a tuft of thatch.
“The beer from Portree?” Seonaid took the proffered clay vessel and set it on the table.
“I think this calls fur somethin’ special.” Fearchar pulled down three mismatched tankards.
Eoin tried to wave them away. Fearchar placated,” I ken, doc, I ken. Ye dinnae have’a be such a worry. We’ll leave ye ta yer’s, but see here,” he handed over the filled cup, “it’s celebratory!”
The doctor stared at the tankard in his gloved hands, the swirling liquid in the firelight digging up dark memories that now lay too close to the surface. A scream split through the night. He glanced up, looking for the sound. Did you hear that?
Hear what? Seonaid set aside her cup to go to the door.
A scream? He realized, only after asking, that his memories were playing tricks. Too loud. Too cumbersome. The sooty pungent fire and the liquor and the night. He was worn thin and now his memories were more in his present than he was. Don’t worry. Just my imagination.
The husband and wife downed their cups. “Oh, that’s stiff!” Fearchar blew out, his chest hot from the dragan. Seonaid poured them another before motioning Fearchar to the bedroom. “Least I’ll have a warm bed t’night.” The man gleefully followed his beckoning wife.
Eoin’s shoulders eased with the click of the door behind them. He held the cup up to the firelight. A toast? More like a Wake I was never allowed to have. Unclasping his mask for the third time that evening, he raised the cup to his lips and savoured the robust, dark flavour. It was a touch more bitter than he would have liked, but it was a kind gesture from his hosts. The doctor wrinkled his nose at the brew in thought. He downed the rest of it in one swift gulp, rather than leave the bitterness to put him off the gesture.
A job well done? I was never given the option of washing, of winding, of wailing. There was no plate of salt and earth. No bell-man. No watch set. No dance. So too shall the Daleroch fall from the tongue of man. No one to watch them, to wail for them, to see them over to the other side. He snorted as he toasted the room with his empty cup.
Eoin replaced the mask and secured it before deciding to seek out his bed near the fire. He stood, and his legs wobbled beneath him. The room tilted. His limbs tingled with lethargic warmth.
I’m either getting too old for these late nights, or the beers are becoming stouter in their age. He barely made it to his covers before slipping from consciousness.
An hour later, Fearchar and Seonaid peered out of their room. The man in the mask had passed out on the bed in a heap. “Now what?” Fearchar whispered to Seonaid.
“Now, let’s find out who this man really is. We massacred the entire Daleroch clan in one night and made it look like they died a’ Plague. He did. With three bottles of wine. We can only hope that no one knows it was us.” Seonaid rubbed at her arms.
“Dinnae ye worry, hen. Na’ one left that place save us ‘fore e’eryone died a’ ‘plague’. Na’ one’ll know it was us.” He pulled her shawl around her.
She drew in a steadying breath. “At the very least, I need to stoke the fire. Sending him off to sleep like that when he’s the one that takes care of it through the night has made for a cold house.” She took a tentative step toward the man in the plague mask.
“Dinnae ye worry.” Fearchar tiptoed to the fireplace and stacked a couple sticks and turfs up, waiting to see if the doctor would shift with the noise. The man lay like the dead. ” ‘e took a full dose n’ a ‘alf a’ that sleepin’ stuff he gives out. He should be out till mornin’.”
Seonaid approached her husband’s employer, pausing at every noise and movement in the room. Eoin was quite long, his form taking over the entire frame, one of his booted feet hanging down to scuff the floor. He hadn’t even had the dignity to take his cape off. She lifted her skirts and straddled him.
“Comfortable?” Fearchar, joining her at the doc’s makeshift bed and eased his fingers along the edge of his wife’s skirts. She stuck the tip of her tongue out at him. He kissed her cheek and left to retrieve one of their candles, lighting the wick from a fireplace coal. He lit one of the lanterns hanging from the ceiling beams and brought the candlestick over to her.
Leaning into the physician, Seonaid brushed the red hood back from his face. His hair gleamed a soft dove white in the light. She reached behind his head and fumbled with the latch to his mask.
Fearchar, noticing a glimmer of gold, raised one of the man’s hands up for inspection. There was a shine gleaming at the edge of his tall gloves. He pulled the soft leather, revealing a forged bracer the length of the doctor’s forearm. Embedded into it was a large aqua green gem and etchings of a marvellous pattern Fearchar had never encountered. The man’s forefinger and middle finger were stained blue to the upper knuckles, and his palm was streaked orange and yellow. Fearchar reached around his wife and peeled the other glove off to find a matching bracer as fine as the first.
Fearchar’s head went up at a whispered word from his wife. “Alfr,” she breathed at her first look at the man behind the mask. Pale skin showed no sign of age through wrinkles or liver spots. His white hair was a few shades lighter than his skin tone. His eyelashes, the same colour, were feathery in their fineness.
“What is she?” Fearchar asked, confused at the doctor’s appearance. He flinched when the cuffed wrist stiffened in his hand. Brilliant green eyes snapped open.
Eoin sucked in his breath, adrenaline and fear hammering through his system. Rolling and bucking, he fought to dislodge Seonaid and his handyman. Seonaid held on, refusing to budge. Eoin jerked away from Fearchar’s grip and shoved both of his hands onto bare skin closest to the heart – Seonaid’s chest and Fearchar’s neck.
Fearchar and Seonaid found themselves adrift in sudden darkness; wailings of terror and death deafened them. An eagle flew straight at them before spiralling off into the darkness. Smoke and the stench of burning corpses seared their sinuses. Their hearts raced painfully. Sweat broke out across their skin. Flashes of torture scored their minds. Deep voices shouted at the screams of terror. Witch, whore, warlock, devil, harlot were all insults thrown out at them as sharp stones.
“Stop! Please!” A soft tenor voice called out in the foreboding darkness. “Please, don’t!” It continued wailing. A gust of wind circled their legs. “Please, I beg you.” Tears ran down their faces in torrents. “Please, don’t kill me, please,” the voice begged.
They dropped to a solid black surface.
“I won’t kill you! Where are you?” Fearchar groped for his wife in the pitch-black void.
The floor fell out from under them. They tumbled back into their bodies. Hearts racing and skipping painfully in their chest, cold chills burned across their shoulders and lungs.
The house came into focus. Seonaid shivered and sat back from Eoin’s face to cross her arms over her chest protectively. Fearchar pondered the trembling hand in front of him. Glittering green eyes glowed against pale skin. Tears tracked down into the doctor’s hairline. Eoin searched for his gloves. They were out of reach, having fallen under the table. He wiggled again, hoping Seonaid would move. Fearchar snapped up the gloves. Eoin’s mouth opened, a frustrated click and hiss escaping his teeth.
” ‘old up there, doc. Wha’ was that?” Fearchar stepped back a pace. Eoin’s cheeks turned a brilliant scarlet as more tears ran from his face. He covered his eyes with his arms, his hands clenched and trembling. Seonaid reached for his hands, more concerned than scared of the man. He recoiled from her touch, trying to hide his hands under his sides. The pinned man turned his face from them. He couldn’t tell what their motivation was in breaching his barriers.
Seonaid studied the distraught man. He had lean features that could only be considered heart-achingly beautiful. His nose was long and straight, perched above quivering lips. His high cheekbones looked foreign compared to the men she had seen on the isle. Fearchar pulled up a chair to the side of the bed and motioned for Seonaid to sit in the other one. She eased off of Eoin and settled, keeping her movements slow to not startle the man. Eoin curled into a ball away from them, pressing himself as close as possible to the rock wall. He cradled his mask in his hands. Studying the stained blue of his fingers, he waited out the shaking in his shoulders.
“Eoin?” Fearchar tried to get his attention.
The doctor hunched around himself. He was cornered. It was the dead of winter. This was their house. He fought through the constriction in his chest as his brain dashed to find a way out.
“Your hair is quite long,” Seonaid sought a neutral topic, noting the braided knot at the back of his head.
He flinched at the words. They had not been what he was expecting. He had anticipated Fearchar’s knife put to his side. Eoin reached back for his hood to cover his hair. Seonaid intercepted him, grabbing his hand. “Don’t kill me, please,” the tenor voice again rattled around in her head. She let go of his hand, and the voice stopped.
“Eoin?” Seonaid pressed him. He refused to turn to her. “Fearchar?” She looked up to her husband, not sure what to make of the situation. “Is it an alfr, Fear?”
Fearchar stared at the doc. “I-I dinnae ken, Seonaid. Burd’s quite fair.” The silence dragged across the ground. “Eoin, d’ ye wan’ yer gloves back.” Fearchar offered one in the quiet. A spot of peat hissed in the fireplace, blue flame casting jumping shadows.
Eoin turned to his hired hand. He stared at Fearchar, determining the man’s motives. Searching eagerly for the leather, he spotted them in Fearchar’s lap. He reached out a quivering hand before pulling them back into himself, hiding them with his body.
“Why’d ye wanna kill the Daleroch, Eoin?” Fearchar set one glove on Eoin’s arm, a peace offering of sorts. Eoin snatched it up and pulled it on his left hand, the jesses bobble swinging before he curled his gloved hand over his naked hand protectively. He looked back at Fearchar, wanting the other one.
“Eoin, why the Daleroch?” Seonaid pressed. Eoin stared at his leather-clad hand before rubbing his face and hair with his bare hand. His fingers caught in the ribbons in his braid. Seonaid eased over to the bed and lifted Eoin’s head up. He flinched, trying to get away from her. “Easy,” she soothed, “let’s take your hair down, a’right?” She glided her hands through his braid, pulling out the pins and ribbon.
His bare hand floated in mid-air to stall her. He relaxed for half a heartbeat under her ministrations. Eoin lurched up. His brilliant white hair slipped through Seonaid’s fingers to splay across the wool blanket. Why? He demanded.
“Ye’ve lived in our hoose fur three-four months now. We poisoned an entire clan. We wanted tae ken who had it in fur ’em. Nae’tae say the Daleroch were an admirable bunch or thae ye dinnae pay us well.” Fearchar handed the other glove to the unmasked plague doctor .
Eoin stared at it, uncertain. Chewing on his lip, he refused to meet their questioning gaze. He sought a solution in the space, searching for a way out of this. Nothing was coming to mind or to hand. The man blew out a frustrated sigh.
He yanked his glove off, drew in a steadying breath, and met their eyes. Setting his shoulders, he held his hands out to them. They shifted back, wary of the strange voices. He lifted his hands again, encouraging the couple. Fearchar reached out and grasped one hand. Seonaid tentatively followed suit.
This time, the darkness was not hell ridden. It was a soft encompassing warmth. A dim shape formed in the void. A gleaming torc about his throat and a gold band around his head, the man stood in the dusk. A breeze tugged at his hip-length hair. Bands of ocher red tattoos circled his biceps. Lines peaked out at his waist, indicating more tattoos. The wind quickened, encircling the man in a modest light. It petered out to leave him wrapped in white robes and a white great kilt. Soft white leather wrapped his feet. Red tassels cinched the material, creating a pair of simple boots. A bodhran and cipin appeared in his hand. Leather pouches, bone, metal accoutrements hung from his belt. White gloves, one with a bright red bobble on the end, held back his robe sleeves. A golden eagle settled onto his hand. He brushed a finger along her wishbone. She blinked at them before launching herself skyward. Pulling his gloves off, he stepped forward, greeting them formally. “I am Flath Eoin Impundulu Niloofar of the Fyskar clan.”
Seonaid and Fearchar glanced at each other. “Flath? Flath as in Prince?” Seonaid was the first to test the word.
“Not much of a prince anymore, am I?” The pale man watched the eagle float, disappearing into the darkening sky.
“You are beautiful.” Seonaid blushed.
“I’m glad you think so,” he chuckled softly. Dismissing the bodhran and brushing the pouches off of his outfit, he paused to revel in the texture of the cloth for a second.
“Man. Ye are a man! Wait, ‘ow the hell ‘ve ye lived behind that mask fur three months and na’ ‘ave a beard!” Fearchar demanded. Silence and condescending green eyes bore into him. A dawning realization occurred outside of that revelation. “Ye can talk?” Fearchar blinked.
Eoin smothered a laugh behind his hand. “I was not always mute, Fearchar. Male is a questionable term. True, at the basest level of my outward appearance, that might be what you see. Within my community, I was my own person, neither male nor female, but a representative of the whole and I was accepted as such when I came forward. For the sake of simplicity, you may still call me male.” Eoin waved, and a set of low wooden stools carved with intricate knot work appeared before them. Seonaid and Fearchar cautiously sat down. Eoin eased into his seat across from them. The one point of light in the darkness was the soft glow from Eoin’s torc and crown.
“But ye’re talking now?” The hired hand pulled his great kilt to cover his shoulders, shivering in the strange darkness.
Eoin leaned forward and fingered his torc, close enough for Fearchar to see an incised scar hidden under the necklace. A black shield-cut feathered arrow sprouted from the scar, and blood crept down the pale column of Eoin’s throat. Fearchar reached out to the arrow. The blade and shaft disintegrated, the feather drifting down into Eoin’s lap. It evaporated into a smattering of gold dust.
“Ye were shot.” Fearchar rubbed his own throat at a sympathetic burst of pain.
“Amazing how quickly something you take for granted every day can be stolen from you.” Eoin leaned further forward to the centre of their triangle and snapped. A low fire bloomed in the middle of their circle of stools, a thick bed of coals illuminating the immediate space around them in reds and yellows. The wood smoke was tangy and deep compared to the peat fires found on Skye. Fearchar and Seonaid followed the sparks up to witness stars emerge into a long milky band above them. The constellations were pitched at an odd angle from the ones they were familiar with. The black outline of trees encircled them. A warm breeze smelling of damp foreign soil caused large leaves and long grasses to rattle and hiss in the dark. A creature in the forest let out a hooting bark. Seonaid and Fearchar huddled closer to the fire. Eoin, unphased, dropped his shoulders and closed his eyes to bask in the sounds.
“What are you? This isn’t – ” Seonaid waved at the void, not sure of the word she was looking for.
“This is not the fair folk’s land if that is what you are hoping for, my lady. I am no alfr, nor fae or godling. I have let you into myself. My mind.” Eoin tapped his skull once.
“Surely you jest!” Seonaid brought a hand to her lips to hide her surprise.
“Humour is not a strength of mine.” Eoin shifted in his seat to draw a bag from his belt. He pulled a handful of powder from it and tossed it to the fire, causing sparks to blossom in sharp shades of orange and pink, lighting the space more fully for a moment. The ring of trees was further than Fearchar and Seonaid had expected and immensely tall. The shape and scale of the forest were different from the woods of the Isle. The creatures settled in the background.
” ‘ow-?” Fearchar peered around the dark glade. A shiver ran down his back. He shoved his hands back into his kilt.
“A blessing. I will never say otherwise.” Eoin’s eyes glowed, but it may have been a trick of the firelight. He replaced his bag of powder as the hot scent of spices permeated the glade. “Certain members of the Fyskar clan could do this – share themselves with others. It was a gift passed down among my people. Anyone could identify those of us with the talent. It was not difficult.” He brushed through the ends of his hair out of habit.
“They all look sort of like ye?” Fearchar pointed a shaky finger in the doctor’s direction. Eoin shrugged and nodded. “Is’at why ye wore the mask, ’cause of yer…yer skin, the shape of yer face, yer ‘air? Ye’re as white as the snow at the door.” Fearchar tucked his hands under his arms, the wind picking up his braided hair to send the bone beads clinking.
“It used to be a mark of pride among the Fyskar to be born with the white hair. Not everyone is born with the talent. They tend to be darker in skin and hair and, no, we don’t grow beards like you highlanders.” Eoin ran a hand along his smooth jaw. He thought for a time before regaining his composure.
“I married. I was training to become an apothecary.” His cheeks turned blotchy, and his eyes prickled. This was like reliving those nights afresh. How was he not finished with his tears? He brushed at his cheeks in frustration. Fearchar and Seonaid found tears dripping down their cheeks. What he felt, they felt.
Seonaid reached for Eoin’s hand. He took her fingers gently in his own and admired the daintiness of her small bones. “Cormac, Grannd’s brother, once owned the fishing fleet you are familiar with as belonging to the Daleroch clan. Many of the Fyskar worked with or for the Daleroch. It was a decent relationship. He provided the clan with a source of income for those necessities of the modern world that the young could not or would not procure for themselves.
“Widow Magaidh’s sister, Old Woman Niamh, was best friends with Rut, your grandmother, Fearchar.” Eoin nodded to him. “Naimh had the talent, like me. Her grandson Cathal worked for Cormac on one of his ships. Did good work, had a steady hand for nets.
“However, even though he had the money for it, Cormac skimped on paying for maintenance on his ships. We all knew it. I had been asked to moderate more than a few arguments between the men of the Fyskar and Daleroch because of this negligence. Always there were minor improvements in the immediate time following these conversations. They were never enough, though.
“Naimh had predicted a rough day of it near the middle of spring and had begged Cathal to not go out, had begged Cormac to turn back. She had seen the signs that told of one last freeze, and it would come for them early in the day. The man wouldn’t have it. Insisted they had to make one more catch before the harbour froze over. A raging, monstrous storm of sleet and snow hit off the coast while they were still out on the water. The sails caked in ice in seconds, so fast that they were solid when the men went to reef it. The mast could not bear the weight and came down on Cathal, breaking his back. When she got Cathal back, Naimh was absolutely devastated. I provided his Wake two days later, when he succumbed to the pain, to help his spirit Walk.
“She went to Cormac after Cathal Walked on through to the Forest. She demanded the Dalerochs take responsibility for Cormac’s negligence. He tried to push her away and…” Eoin looked down at his hands.
“She made him feel how distraught she was?” Seonaid guessed.
Eoin’s lips thinned. “No, not how upset she was. She did something she had no control over. She let him feel Cathal’s pain.” His eyes glowed feral green. It was no trick of the fire.
Seonaid shifted. Her hands bunched into the pleats of her dress as a chill raised goose flesh along her arms.
“We cry when ye cry…” Fearchar tried to guess.
“But…?” Seonaid struggled to follow along.
“Cormac’s heart gave out from the pain. He died where he stood, holding Niamh. Grannd called her a witch, though he knew what the Fyskar were capable of. He knew we could communicate like this. We are a peaceful clan because of it. When you can tell intimately what you can do to a person, in-fighting isn’t necessary.
“Shortly after burying his brother at the kirk, Grannd rallied his clan and declared war on the Fyskar. He called us Biera, witches, warlocks. He decided to not wait to send notice to Edinburgh or seek council for prosecution against us. He took it upon himself to be judge and jury and to instigate his clan to be executioners. We are fishermen and artists, not warriors and barbarians. We are the last of our kind in the world as far as I have determined.” Eoin poked at his fire to send up smoke that danced menacingly in the space.
Fearchar rose to pace within the light of the fire, unable to watch the dancing heat. “Why dinnae I ken a’ this?” The handyman tried to wrap his head around the concept. “Ye aren’t last a’ the Fyskar, aye?”
“The village has forgotten us, or suppressed our memory. They weren’t aware of the Dalerochs’ scheming. The people knew that one day the Fyskar were there; the next, we had disappeared. They do not wish to bring the evilness upon themselves. They silenced our name, our clan. You wouldn’t have heard of us, Fearchar. Magaidh was left, alive and forgotten.” He rose to wander to the edge of his glade. Fearchar and Seonaid waited at the fire. Eoin stood out in the darkness and absorbed the sounds.
He wiped a hand across his face and the back of his neck as he tried to control his memories. So many pressed to be loosed, and he was not comfortable yet to reveal all. He pulled in as much courage as he could muster and returned to his hired hand and Seonaid. “My sons, Callum and Albin, are still alive,” he supplied quietly as he sat back down next to the fire.
“Sons,” Fearchar breathed. Around him flashed images of babies and young children, three brown-haired children and a pair of white-haired twins before Eoin was able to repress the leak of his memories.
“Bairns,” Seonaid wanted to cry.
“I was out at Widow Magaidh’s house. She lived away from the Fyskar village. The village was built near what you are familiar with as the Daleroch estate. They since levelled it or took over some of the crofts. My grandmother’s family tried to loosely associate with the Fyskar, having married in and out of the clan numerous times through the ages. They would dissolve their incorporated ties on whims and realign with the next clan chief that sparked their fancy.
“She and her sister had been raised away from the Fyskar. When Naimh’s husband died, Cathal brought her into the village proper to look after her. She was a great assistant as a midwife. Grandmother had always been a touch jealous of Naimh having the talent. Magaidh could not be convinced to move into the village, even when I was born with the talent and Cathal was not.
“I believe, for her living away from the village in her hermit-like ways, she was missed. Or ignored. Very few knew she was my grandmother or that Naimh was my great-aunt or Cathal, my cousin. I’m not sure why she was spared.
“I had taken Callum and Albin up to her for the day to give Osla some time off from them. They were still young. She had dried up too early and needed help. I was out looking for limpets and cockles along the seaside after I had finished Walking Cathal into the Forest. It was my way of clearing my head after saying goodbye to one of the clans. I – ” his voice broke.
He buried his head in his hands. Eoin had been doing good there, telling his story. He had even gotten past her name for a moment without choking up. The man had tripped over another point of pain that had taken its time before exploding in his chest. He could not fathom how saying a name could still cause that reaction in him after so many years.
Fearchar and Seonaid glanced around wildly at the wave of fire and blood that washed out the glade. Eoin rose from his seat in a trance, his eyes glazing over. Seeking traction, he slipped, pushing himself forward into a run. The glade shifted from midnight to dusk. The tall trees shrank back to rocky hillsides and cliffs that circled a chill bay at sunset. They stood on the rocky beach, staring out at a murky red horizon. The sea tugged at the shore, demanding its due.
Now ten years younger, the man stood calf-deep in the water, his great kilt a soft sky blue, lavender, and white. Fearchar had never seen such a tartan of the like on the Isle. The physician’s shirt was peeled off and tossed up in the heather. Massive red geometric lines of tattoos spanned his back. He had caught his hair in an intricate braid.
Eoin stared in confusion at the smoke coming up from a rise on the hill across the bay. He dropped his pouch of mussels in the waves and clambered out of the water. Ignoring his wrap shoes, he pulled on his shirt and ran. He sprinted up through the hills and across the cut-throughs until he came to what Seonaid and Fearchar recognised as the Daleroch estate. It was trampled and upended in the memory with corpses and pools of blood littering the yard. The short round house and a building behind it were belching fire and black acidic smoke. Screams slashed the air to bitter ribbons.
Men and women gathered along the beach edge at the bottom of the hill behind the house. Guards kept the gathering from escaping with knocked arrows, sighted aquebus, drawn long swords, axes, and pitchforks. Children cowered behind women’s skirts as men shouted at the guards, trying to plead for their freedom.
Eoin came around the house, his chest heaving, his feet bloody and torn from the ragged road. The stench of burning flesh engulfed him in suffocating plumes. There were three stakes, and more were being erected. Terror coursed through his body. Fearchar’s heart constricted painfully at Eoin’s fear.
“Flath!” A shout rang out from the throng. Heat constricted Fearchar and Seonaid’s throats. The world tumbled around them and slowly blacked out.
Waking from the inky blackness, exhaustion and pain drained his energy. He reached out to the beach that came into focus. The stakes smouldered, remains crumbling away. Blue and grey bodies washed up at the shore. Others bloated in the bay.
“Those that burned…they have lost their souls to the flames. Daleroch burned the girls, Osla. They will never be able to join the circle in the Forest…” Eoin’s ragged thought flashed through Fearchar and Seonaid like the edge of a knife.
He struggled to look around, discovering the arrow in his throat. The wounded man passed out once more.
Eoin came to late at night. Daleroch’s men were digging a pit on the beach’s edge. Grannd stood out at the perimeter between the sand and the stringy grass, directing the women to find as much dry shrub and driftwood as possible. Eoin found his feet, trying his best with the rushing blood in his ears to be quiet. With effort, he stumbled away before anyone noticed him missing.
Drifting along the dark path, a new fear blossomed in his heart. He pulled his blood-stained great kilt about his shoulders to stop his shaking. Wobbling down the path, he recited mantras in his head. Wardings, wailings, curses.
It took him hours of wandering and stopping for dizzy spells before he arrived at Widow Magaidh’s house. He stumbled into the warm room as the dawn broke along the shoreline.
“Eoin!” Widow Magaidh screamed in surprise. He blacked out inside the door frame.
Eoin returned Fearchar and Seonaid to his little fire. “She was left alone. She didn’t know anything had happened. I can thank the spirits that she did not have to witness the burnings or be part of it.” He leaned back to search the sparkling sky in the void. “The twins were safe.” Relief washed out his voice, leaving it crisp and brittle. He gripped down on his shoulder to hold back a shiver that ran the length of his body.
Fearchar and Seonaid sat in horrified shock.
Eoin released them back to their house: the unmasked doctor on the bed, Seonaid sitting next to him and Fearchar occupying the dining chair. The fire had dimmed. Howling wind and a scratching sound at the door signalled freezing sleet. Eoin buried his head in his hands as tears flowed freely.
” ‘ll get turfs fur the fire. Seonaid, can ye.” Fearchar nodded to the fair-haired man. The sky rumbled, causing the house to vibrate.
“I’ll see if I can find something warm to drink.” She went about making a heated ale.
“Thank ye, Luv.” He threw on a lined waxed canvas cloak and trampled out into the biting cold.
Seonaid returned to Eoin with the warm tankard. She used the bracers as a safe spot to draw the man’s attention. He looked up at her, his eyes unfixed and lost. “Drink this. It doesn’t have your sleeping powder in it. It may not help make everything better, but it might take the chill out.” She eased the wooden cup into his numb fingers. He stared at the swirling honey-coloured liquid. Its fragrance made his stomach growl. “Hungry?” she soothed. His hand went to his stomach as he glanced away from her, embarrassed. He nodded. “I’ll get you some bannock, a’right?” She busied herself in the cupboards next to his bed. The woman returned to him with a stale loaf.
He wolfed it down gratefully. Sharing his mind was exhausting and energy-consuming. The Fyskar was ravenous. The ale had been watered down. Eoin was thankful for that.
Fearchar returned with a sling of peat that would last them into the dawn. He stocked the fireplace high, raising the temperature in the room noticeably. Seonaid came up to hug him gently. “He’s spent,” she whispered quietly. Fearchar glanced back at the man. His head rested against the wall, his eyes glassy as he looked off into space.
Fearchar set aside the remainder of his wood. ” ‘elp me.” He nodded his head to the door that led to their bedroom.
“What do you need?” Seonaid scrambled to follow him.
“The moon took a lover this evening. I saw the ring around it on our walk to Iain’s. We’re movin’ the rope beds in ‘ere t’night. It’s goin’ ta get baltic cauld ta ‘ave it so far ‘way from the fire.” He hung his cloak back on the peg and rolled up his sleeves.
“Ah.” She followed him. They took the frames and ropes from storage and set them aside in the main room. Seonaid undressed the box bed while her husband accounted for the rope bundles and retrieved a pair of woven straw mats.
Fearchar approached Eoin. The man had fallen asleep leaning against the wall. “Cummoan, doc.” Fearchar gently woke him with a shake on the shoulder. Eoin blinked awake, confused why he wasn’t looking through his mask. His hands clamped around Fearchar’s wrists like vices. He inhaled sharply, his heart beating fast. “Simmer, Eoin, calm yerself,” Fearchar shushed him, trying to shake the desire to run out of the house screaming.
Eoin blinked, focusing on Fearchar’s face. He released the red head. Fear?
“We’re aw knackered. Ye need well kip.” Fearchar led him over to a stool near the fire. “Down ya go. Stay there a mome’.” Fearchar turned to Seonaid. “Haw, le’s get the beds put t’gether.” He had her help him move the three frames and lash together the rope supports. They unrolled the straw mats on top before taking the linens Seonaid had brought in and laid them out once the frames were in place close enough to the fire to keep them warm. They piled their woollen blankets on thickly, and Fearchar spread out his great kilt on top of it all, leaving himself bare to his long shirt.
“‘aven’t said mum since ye started sleepin’ ‘ere, bu’ fur the grace a’ the li’l hen, ye’re nae sleepin’ in yer buits ‘n cloak.” Fearchar turned back to their housemate.
Eoin looked up at him blankly. He was having difficulty keeping up with the man’s heavy brogue. Seonaid approached the doctor. Eoin swung his focus to her, pleading in his eyes. He was exhausted, and half his brain seeped down his spine in an effort to be away and to bed. Sharing took a lot out of a person. On top of that, he had been sleeping horribly by wearing his costume to bed for months on end.
“Spats n’ boots first.” Seonaid pointed to the wool covers and fine leather. He looked down at them, perplexed. It took him a minute to understand what she wanted. His fingers fumbled with the buckles that held the wool tight. She helped him ease the fine red leather boots off. How long had it been since he had slept free of them? He couldn’t quite recall. Not since Pozsony.
“Ah am gonna take yer cloak off ‘n spread it on the bed. It’ll keep us aw sweltern’. D’ ye ken?” Fearchar reached for the large gold and turquoise brooch that held the garment on. Eoin reached for the brooch sluggishly. Fearchar’s fingers brushed his as he fought with the pin. A resounding pressure threatened to crush the red head’s skull. “Ye’re heid ‘urts,” Fearchar muttered to the exhausted doctor. “Seonaid, Luv, can ye find his box a’ headache medicine ‘n some water?”
“It’s over here.” She went and found the small packets of powder. Carefully, she mixed it into a cup of water and brought it back to the bed. She pressed it to Eoin’s lips.
He pushed the cup away. Alcohol and willow don’t pair well.
“Medicine donna mix with the ale?” Fearchar asked.
No, bad on the heart and stomach, the doc elaborated.
“A’right, we’ll leave it on the table here, and you can take it in the morning if your head still hurts. How’s that sound?” Seonaid asked him. Eoin nodded. His insides were cold and hollow, and his temples throbbed, sending shooting pain behind his eyes.
Seonaid loosened her ties, pulled off her jacket, and unlaced her sleeves. Fearchar walked over to her and helped with her stays, petticoat, and underpetticoat, leaving her in her linen shift. He kissed her neck and rested his head against hers.
“Let’s get him ta’ bed and go ta sleep,” she whispered to her husband before walking to the shuttered window and pulling the wool curtain, placing rocks into the corner of the sill to hold the fabric tight to insulate.
” ‘greed, Ah am goin’ ta’ kip fur the next two days,” he promised her.
“I’ll join you.” She stifled a yawn.
They both approached Eoin once more and helped him up. He grabbed their hands without thinking. They found themselves suspended once more in his void.
Magaidh had wrapped his neck. He and his bairns hid in her croft as he waited for the wound to heal. He learned to poultice and plaster himself. She taught him how to cook and clean in a method conducive to him being hired into a big house. His knowledge of mending seine and haaf net, of lambing and herding, of finding springs and chiselling granite troughs would all be thrown away to steal him from fate. She had hoped to hide him away into a noble family with a steady income.
He learned to tailor, to card wool, and to drop spin fibers. Eoin took one of his grandmother’s old dresses and resized it. Eventually, the wound healed. He had not left her house in a couple months. The babes were beginning to roll over.
She helped him dye his hair with chestnuts she paid too much money for from the mainland. He was humiliated at having to hide his status. She obtained passage for him and the babes off the Isle to the Scottish mainland. She outfitted him, passing him off as a ward fit as a servant or assistant. To travel with two babies and not be recognised as any of the surviving Fyskar clan, he’d need the disguise.
Eoin released their hands. I’m sorry, he told them emphatically. He had not intended to drag them into that. It had been so long since he had not worn his gloves that it was hard for him to direct his thoughts.
“Eoin,” Seonaid sought his gaze. He looked down into her soft brown eyes. “I’m gonna take yer over clothes, a’right?” she asked. He grasped at his collar for a second, terrified. “Ye don’t have’a if ye dinnae wanna. I want fur ye ta be comfortable ta sleep,” she placated.
He hesitated before slipping the cravat off his collar. Eoin pulled the shirt collar button from its hole. He swallowed, uneasy.
Fearchar busied himself with the bed warmer, filling it with heated river stones. He gave it a shake to settle the rocks. Eoin flinched, focusing on Fearchar. Seonaid reached for the next button. He snapped his attention back to her. Eoin grasped for the button she was working on. He stilled, not wanting to touch her. His fingers quivered, lost. Fearchar shoved the warmer under the covers. “A’right, doc. Le’s get ye in bed.” Fearchar took over for Seonaid.
“Thanks, Luv.” She kissed him on the cheek, crawled into the side of the bed closest to the fire, and closed her eyes.
“Let’s have ye asleep, doc.” Deftly, Fearchar released Eoin from his waistcoat. Ignoring the sluggish mans hesitation, the handyman helped peel off a soft lavender silk vest. He took the coat and vest and hung them up on a peg.
Eoin opened up another two buttons at the top of his shirt, allowing his torc to peak out between the cloth. Fearchar observed the bell-shaped terminals of the necklace, noting the intricate fish and wave carvings in the design. The band looked to be of solid gold the thickness of his pinky finger. It had to be heavy.
“Better?” Fearchar asked gently. Eoin nodded. “Not sure ‘ow ye’ve been sleepin’ with aw them trappin’s,” Fearchar muttered at the man. “Breeches?” He pointed to the knee-length pants. “Ye’ve got them stockin’s tied up un’er them. They ain’t good ta’ wear aw the time, doc. Some’in’ ’bout blood flow. Come on, ‘ow many times ‘ve ye told aw’ some’ne comin’ in here fur doin’ ‘at? Ye’re the doc, doc. Ye ken better.”
Eoin glanced between Fearchar and Seonaid, his face flaming red. Fearchar blinked at him, indifferent to his embarrassment. The red head held out his hand. Eoin sucked in his breath and shucked himself out of his breeches, leaving himself in his fine linen longshirt, stockings, and ties. He handed them over to Fearchar. “Good, Weard. Get yer ties aw’ n’ get yer arse in bed. Ye’re sleepin’,” demanded Fearchar as he went and hung the breeches on another peg.
Eoin sat on the end of the bed, listening to Fearchar grumble about his militia days and commanding a bunch of man-children who could not even see fit to dress themselves properly. Fumbling with the ribbons holding up his knit silk stockings, he peeled the garments off and folded them carefully. With luck, he’d see to their washing in the morning. He set them on the stool next to the table. Washing his linens had been hurried through and inconsistent for the last few months as he hid behind his mask. Slipping into a clean shirt and a minor sponging in rose water had seen him through, but he dreamed of a proper rinse.
“Ye’re full a’ surprises this evenin’, Weard. Them surely cannae be good fur yer circulation.” Fearchar stared at the massive, engraved gold bangles binding Eoin’s ankles, both at least three finger-widths wide. They were heavily engraved with patterning similar to the bracers.
Fearchar clambered around Eoin to reach the middle of the bed, pulling Seonaid against him. Eoin glanced at them, uncertain. “Cummeon. It’a be warmer with the co’ers,” Fearchar grumbled at him, his eyes already closed.
Eoin blew out the lantern and followed suit, pulling the covers up over his shoulders. It had been so long since he had laid down like this. His feet throbbed from the foreign feel of not being in boots and stockings.
The bangles shifted and clinked together as he twitched to find a comfortable position. The wool blankets scratched his bare skin. Soon though, he drifted off into a deep sleep.
*Now Available as an Art E-Book on Kindle*
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
If you would like to tip the author, check out the following buttons: