Eoin peeled his eyes open and yawned. Hands splayed across his chest. The tingling of the void nagged at the back of his head. He blinked, bringing Seonaid’s face into focus. She had tucked up under his left arm, happily wrapping her thigh over one of his. He blinked again, trying to clear the cobwebs of his dreams away. Turning his head, Eoin found he was using Fearchar’s outstretched arm as a pillow. They both were still dead asleep. He lay for a time, allowing his mind to wander as he contemplated the ceiling rafters.
The day before came into clear focus, as did the night. Heat swamped his system. Seonaid shifted closer to him, and a hard need of Fearchar’s pressed against his leg. Eoin pulled his thoughts away and breathed, willing his mind to blank. He was a boat tethered to a pole in the middle of a never-ending black lake. His goal was to keep the water still. With each deep breath, their need abated. He licked his upper lip in thought. He did not want to wake them, but he was growing restless. Pushing himself back into his boat in his head, he paid attention to his breathing, emptying his mind of everything else.
He must have drifted off in his meditation. Once more, he awoke, this time to Seonaid watching him intently from her spot at the fireplace where she had fish cooking. Eoin’s stomach growled at the smell. She snorted and hid a smile.
The Fyskar extracted himself from Fearchar and went looking for his shirt. It had been hung on a peg on the wall with his large belt. Eoin exchanged them for his English clothing and his boots. The physician thought better of the single layer and doubled up on his undershirts and pants for the day ahead.
Fearchar roused himself from the covers, his braids clicking in their full fall. They swept forward as he sat up. He grabbed the leather strap that had fallen on the floor and tied his red strands out of the way. “Morning,” he yawned, rubbing at his eyes.
Morning. How are you? Eoin clasped the top button of his justacorps around his throat.
Fearchar stretched momentarily. Blinking, he looked around the room in confusion. Eoin watched the redhead’s thoughts wander until they found a path by which to travel unimpeded. Fearchar met his eyes with lucid clarity. Addicted, he admitted.
Eoin nodded at the statement. I should not have exposed you to it. He bowed.
“What do you get out of this type of relationship? You give, and you give, and you give. I never knew I could experience something like that, but it was all Seonaid. Not you. You were there, and yet, not. Am I missing something?” Fearchar fiddled with his necklaces.
Eoin smiled to himself at the question. Fearchar was the first person he ever encountered who asked. That floating feeling you get momentarily? It feels like the world is correct, and every fibre of your being has reached perfect fulfilment? It lasts longer for me when I’m tethered to a couple. Substantially. It is a mutual relationship between myself and my partners. They reach heights that they otherwise would not attain on their own. As I pass it between the two, I get to take part in it.
“I can only imagine, with how I’m feeling right now and my desire to have it again, what it must feel like for you.” Seonaid ducked, her cheeks reddening at her brashness. Fearchar raised an eyebrow at her statement and nodded. He turned to Eoin.
Eoin shrugged, unable to meet their eyes. How could he explain the depth of need he experienced from his talent? Or what it was like after ten years to sate himself on the feeling once again. A starving man in front of a feast of honeyed desserts and roasted meats. That feeling of pureness, numbness, bliss. He would never be able to forget the driving desire that pushed him for fulfilment. Ten years had been too long. The years in the palace had been one-sided with Mirza.
“Seems ye’ll be wantin’ ta go fur yer bairns’ birthright, aye?” Fearchar yawned once more, willing himself awake. Eoin nodded, pulling his leather cloak out from under Fearchar’s arms. He slung it across his shoulders and pinned it into place. “Oye! Ah’s usin’ ‘at,” grouched Fearchar.
Put your kilt on, pretty boy. Eoin flipped, sitting down to a plate of smoked fish and beef suet fried cabbage. Seonaid chortled before she could stifle the outburst.
Fearchar levelled a steely gaze at her, cocking an eyebrow. He had a concept of what Eoin said but decided to play it out. “D’ah even wanna ken wha’ ‘e called me?” He was having difficulty keeping a grin from crawling across his lips, happy at his wife’s humour.
“No, nothing, everything is all right!” she tried to protest, setting his plate on the table.
He reached out to her, catching her by the skirts. “Ye ne’er’ll make a believable liar.” He pulled her down to his lap, growling into her ear. ” ‘e called me a purty laddy, didnae ‘e?” He nipped at her collarbone. She burst into a fit of giggles and pressed for her release. He buried his head into her neck, his beard tickling her skin. She looked down into his laughing eyes and kissed him. They broke from their kiss to lean their foreheads against each other, breathing in for a second in their embrace. She pecked his nose lightly and escaped his grasp.
“It sounds like you have a long morning to go digging in the snow.” She produced a pair of cloth-wrapped packages. Eoin pointed at them with a question. “Lunch for when you two get hungry.” She smiled proudly.
Thank you! Eoin thrilled with the idea of not working on an empty stomach. He and Fearchar downed their breakfast and a cup of his magic brown brew. Eoin pulled on his mask once again. Fully awake, if not buzzing from the bitter liquid, they made their way from the snowed-in house.
Forgot how cold this place was, Eoin grumbled as he led Fearchar through a path the hired hand was unaware existed. It brought them along the coastline at low tide. Eoin pressed through the sloshing sand, his boots holding up against the ice and muck. Fearchar followed him, bundled in many layers. The Skye man was more used to the snow than the physician who had spent a decade in the heart of Africa and Persia.
Eoin’s path led to the Daleroch docks in short order. From there, they climbed through the back trail up to the house.
“Where’s this birthright?” Fearchar peeked through one of the darkened windows.
Not in there. Eoin tapped him on the shoulder and pointed Fearchar around the house. The Fyskar had no desire to lay eyes on the bloated bodies that littered the floor of the house. He dropped by Vanora’s home to feed and put out fresh water for her. She was still skittish of the redheaded handyman’s presence in her mews.
Fearchar followed the man’s sweeping cape to the burned-out roundhouse once they finished with seeing to the eagle. As they got closer, he pointed at a second building behind it with curiosity set across his features. It had been erected in such a way between two smaller hills on the property that unless one approached it dead on, it would not be noticed. He peered out at the snow-covered road. No one had used it since the snowstorm. The white stuff had piled up in drifts to the tops of dry-stack fence. He had not witnessed that unrelenting deep coverage in years.
Eoin stepped into the roundhouse. The rafters had fallen in from the fire, and the thatch had burned away, crumbling into dark ash piles, only disturbed by years of snow and weeds. He glanced about it morosely before winding his way around to a path at the back. A short-walled section led into the second building. The rafters here, too, collapsed in desecrated sections. The dry-stacked rocks, once plastered in white on the inside of the space to cut the wind, now stood in charred black.
An antechamber led into a central room with a stone-floored hearth. Off to the left and right sides were walled-off rock partitions that would have stored heat from the fire.
Fearchar glanced into the spaces. One held a massive bed frame suited for three that had been hacked to pieces and charred. Cubbies and nooks in the wall had held pots, jars, baskets, and boxes of medicinals. The other side was similar in nature, with a decimated pair of bed frames and strewn materials. Though fire had been set to the lacquered furnishings, much remained under the preservative. At the end of the building sat a conical room with a clay oven and pits.
“Your house?” Fearchar’s skin crawled at the anger exhibited against the residence’s contents. He wandered to the bed frame on the left of the house. An upended wooden box under the frame caught his eye. A series of words, waves, and birds had been engraved into it lovingly. It was about three hand-spans wide, two deep, and another three high. He dislodged it from its confinement. A series of thumps echoed against the lid.
Eoin emerged from his clearing of the centre room to see what Fearchar had discovered. His hired hand turned to him to show him the box. Eoin went to touch it. His hand stilled before contact. The plague mask hid his emotions.
The cloaked figure motioned Fearchar to it, his gloved fingers quivering. The Skye man lifted the small silver latch holding the lid closed. Inside, he found wooden tops, balls, knucklebones, a set of worn, painted tipcats, a carved cow and sheep, all nestled in a threadbare embroidered blanket. Under the children’s toys were five glass vials waxed at the top, four of brown hair, one of which contained a set of four baby teeth. The other held a lock of blonde hair tied with a small red leather strap.
“Ah’m – Ah’m…Ah donnae even ken. Ah’m sorry, Eoin.” Fearchar blanched, staring up at the plague mask apologetically.
I’m amazed there’s anything here still after all these years. You have no idea how much this means to me that you found that, Fear. Set it over there for now. I-I can’t deal with it right now. Here, help me. Eoin pointed to one particular beam that had fallen over an area of rock in the central room. It had at one point been the hearth for the room. They shifted the burned-out beam to look at the carefully drawn-out rock circle.
“Wha’ am Ah look’n at here, chief?” Fearchar whispered, not wanting his voice to carry through the hills in the calm of the morning.
Under. Eoin took the shovel and leveraged the interlocking rocks until they peeled back from the earth. Fearchar went to work clearing the stones. The circle of the hearth had to be taken up. It sat at least six feet wide.
They broke for Fearchar to eat his lunch. “Ye gonna eat?” He waved his loaf of bread at Eoin.
Eoin shook his head. I’ll eat back in the house. He returned to digging.
Fearchar settled a hand on Eoin’s shoulder, stalling the man’s desperate movement. “Nae. Doc. Nae’n’s here. Take yer mask aw ‘n eat. Seo sent it ta make sure we can come back.” Fearchar pressed. Eoin glanced at his hired hand and sighed. He pulled his mask off. Fearchar passed him the pack of food.
“What’s with the house at the front. It was really short? First try at building?” Fearchar asked around mouthfuls of bread.
Eoin took a bite out of a chunk of smoked fish and set it aside. He flicked his gloved fingers of crumbs and thought. Might be difficult to explain. He motioned.
“Tell me back at the house?” Fearchar guessed. Eoin nodded. He would either need Seonaid’s translation or his gloves off. In the chill of winter, he appreciated his gloves on.
The sun was lowering in the deep grey sky when a clack resonated through the shovel blade. “Found it?” Fearchar peeked into the hole. It had to be at least three feet down at this point from the surface of the hard, frozen earth and stone floor. Eoin nodded, scraping away the remainder of the dirt. The hole was too small for both of them to fit in it. Eoin had to dig out the dirt from around an emerging trunk wrapped in oiled cloth. Fearchar eventually convinced the physician to tag out and let him have a go at the packed earth. They were anxious to have the box out and them on their way before the sun reached the horizon.
Another half an hour of struggle, and they had the box out. They tossed the earth and hearthstones back into the hole and piled snow and rafter beams on top of it. Flakes fell lightly, dusting their shoulders in melting white.
Fearchar swept at the powder and rubbed it between his fingers. He frowned at the texture before turning his attention to the sky. Taking in a deep breath, he wrinkled his nose. “Jist in time ta walk back in a cathadh.”
Between the two of them, they got the chest and the toy box down the path to the docks. They slogged through the deep snowpack to the beach. The tides had swept away their footprints from the morning already.
Fearchar and Eoin made it back to the little house in time for the skies to darken such that they would have been well put out without a torch. Seonaid welcomed them in, eyeing the muddy chest. “Got one a’ them waxed sheets, love?” Fearchar called to her as he and Eoin waddled past the fireplace. She scrambled to find the material and quickly laid it out in the second room. Eoin and Fearchar collapsed to the floor next to the chest, exhausted from their day of work.
I want a bath, Eoin sighed.
“Bath?” Fearchar grunted. He was too exhausted to contemplate dragging his carcass off the floor.
And clean clothes. Eoin brushed at mud caked to his light blue breeches.
“Sounds to be laundry day a’morrow.” Fearchar leaned against the chest and closed his eyes. He flexed his aching fingers, the joints of his wrists cracking in the silence.
Seonaid popped her head in to look at the fallen men. “Dinner?” she offered. Fearchar and Eoin nodded eagerly but made no move to get up.
“Wha’the ‘ell d’ya ‘ave in this chest anyway? Rocks?” Fearchar grumbled, heaving himself off of the floor when Seonaid had not come back.
Pigments, tattooing needles, casting stones, Eoin rattled off before Fearchar interrupted him, “needles, got it. Ye’ve got a massive sewin’ kit. Aye right,” his hired hand muttered as he stumbled from the room, fatigue stooping his shoulders. Eoin dropped his head and let out a frustrated hiss before getting up.
Bath? Mind if I’m clean before I eat? Eoin slumped against the doorframe.
“Have at it. The tub’s in the corner.” She waved him to his work.
He dragged out the tub, bucket, and kettle all over again. Fearchar and Seonaid downed their dinner and discussed the day while Eoin shed his persona, stepped into the tub of tepid water and scrubbed the mud from his fingernails. Mind if I wash my clothes? He asked Seonaid as he dried off. He pulled on his drawstring pants and took the tub out to dump it.
“If you want. You know where the hooks are for drying.” She picked up Fearchar’s and her plate. “But first.” She tapped on his shoulder, pulling him from another tiresome task. “You should eat.” He nodded his head and sat down at the table. Downing the fish stew, he stifled a yawn once more. He was determined to not let the dirt set in if he could help it.
It was late into the evening when he got through all the clothes and multiple tubs of water and rinsing. His hands were wrinkled, and his bracers chafed. He hung up the hooks and banked the fire for the evening before clambering into the bed with Fearchar and Seonaid, who were already fast asleep. He had what he had come back for. Breathing a relieved sigh, he sank into a blissfully dreamless sleep.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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