| The Legend |
By Kathleen Givens
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March 1689, Torridon, Scotland
James MacCurrie looked into his brother's eyes across their father's grave. Blue gaze met blue gaze, the brothers communicating, as always, without words, sharing their grief equally. It would be the last time the brothers would be equals. When they walked away from their father's cairn, nothing would ever be the same for either of them.
James took a deep breath and turned to look at his home. Solid and somber, Castle Currie stood alone on this promontory on the western coast of Scotland, above the waters of Lochs Torridon and Shieldaig, its stone turrets reaching high to the heavens. Above them storm clouds gathered and the wind freshened, but the crowd of people standing outside the fortress paid no notice.
Clan MacCurrie buried its chief this day.
Neil gave the signal to the pipers lining the top of the cliff, their plaids bright against the gray water below them, their movements slow and deliberate as they began the funeral dirge. The untamed music rose, shimmering in the air above the mourners for a moment before wrapping itself around the castle as if in a final embrace, then soaring over the other side of the headland, across the loch, and to the open sea beyond. James closed his eyes, fighting for control, ignoring the stares of the awestruck clanspeople who watched his family.
The Legend, the whisperers said now to one another, just as they had incessantly during the last few months, their talk growing more excited with each passing day. They were silent on the day Alistair, after weeks of semiconsciousness, opened his eyes, talked for a moment with his family, then took his beloved Anne's hand. And died. On his birthday. As his father had, and his grandfather before him, exactly as the Brahan Seer had foretold.
The entire clan had gathered to bury Alistair MacCurrie, coming from the fishing villages that dotted the shores of the sea lochs, from the crofthouses nestled at the base of the sandstone mountains, from Glen Torridon to the east, and from the blue islands that stretched out to sea.
James could feel their stares, could sense their wonder. He felt much the same. He'd been raised with the Legend, had passed the tree that marked his conception every day, had watched his father's birthday celebrations each year with combined excitement and fear. But he'd not believed it would really come to pass.
"There will come a day," the Seer had said, beginning his prophecy as he always did. He had included a wealth of detail in his prophecy. Now James wondered if any more of it would come true. Since his father died, he'd waged a war within himself, part of him believing, part scoffing. Only time would tell.
He felt his throat tighten as the priest placed a hand on the coffin and said a prayer for Alistair's soul. Their father had been an extraordinary man. How could he be gone? How could it be that they would never hear that roar of laughter again, never feel the slap on the shoulder he always gave them before an embrace? Never be teased by him, or encouraged to rise to a difficult task, then praised for their efforts. Never listen to his counsel, his warnings of who to trust and who to watch. James shook his head, denying the death.
His cousin Duncan MacKenzie moved to stand next to him, and James shot him a grateful look. Duncan nodded, his eyes solemn, then bent his russet head as the priest continued. James did not hear the prayers being said, nor the answering murmurs of the mourners. He stared at his hands clasped before him and tried to ignore the waves of grief pouring between him and Neil.
Both brothers turned when their mother slumped to the ground with a wail. Anne lay crumpled at the foot of the grave, her frail shoulders shaking with the force of her sobs. As her sons leaned to raise her, their grandmother stopped them. The prayers paused, and the crowd of mourners watched in silence.
"Leave her," Mairi said, looking from Neil to James. "Ye canna comfort her. Let her weep, lads. She mourns as she should."
"But, Grandmother," James said, his hand on his mother's arm.
Mairi restrained him with a look. "Ye'll leave her. Ye canna understand the grief she feels. Leave her be." Her eyes filled with tears, and her expression softened. "Please, lads, let us mourn as we will. I bury my son today, and your mother her husband. There is no comfort possible for us."
James and Neil exchanged a glance, then stepped back from the women. The wind tugged at James's clothing and tore his hair from its binding, but he ignored it, trying to control his emotions. He met Neil's gaze again and saw his disbelief and sorrow mirrored there in eyes the same shape, the same shade of blue, as his own.And he saw something more. James watched as his brother steeled himself and put on the mantle of responsibility. Neil was now chief of the Clan MacCurrie and Earl of Torridon. And James was his vassal.
Neil was older by four minutes, and that made all the difference between them. Now, for the first time in their lives, the brothers would not be equals. They'd been raised for this day, had known it was coming closer through the long months of their father's illness, but they'd never discussed it. What was there to say? James knew Neil would lead the clan well, knew he and Duncan would be there to assist him.
Neil's expression lightened, and James knew his message of support had been received and appreciated. They'd always been able to speak without words, even when they were not together. When James traveled, Neil knew when he would be coming home. When Neil, out on the islands, broke his wrist, James had known something was wrong. They'd never questioned this ability. Others found it disquieting, but the twins both treasured and relied upon it. Now they would need it more than ever, for Alistair had died during turbulent times.
War was in the air.
The brothers and Duncan threw the first handfuls of dirt into the grave, then stepped back as clansmen finished the job. When the grave was full, their grandmother helped Anne to her feet, and with her arm around her daughter-inlaw looked at the grave.
"He was my son," Mairi said in a voice that carried across the crowd. "And I was proud of him." Her chin trembled, and her tone quieted. "Fifty-four years ago I bore him. I should be long in the ground, and he here to mourn me."
She took a shuddering breath and looked from one grandson to the other. Her voice was much quieter now. "It's yer time now. Make the prophecy come true. Bring peace to my home."
James watched his grandmother place the first stone for her son's cairn with shaking fingers, then stepped forward with Neil and Duncan to finish the job. The sky opened, and the wind howled around them. Torridon bid farewell to its laird with a show of fury that would be remembered for decades.
Early that evening, after the rains had gone, the three cousins walked slowly along the battlements of Castle Currie. Below them, in Loch Torridon' s protected harbor, Duncan's ships lay anchored, bathed in the same dusky light that enveloped the MacCurrie fleet. Fishing boats were tied to the docks that lined the shore, more pulled up on the rocky beach, idled for this day of mourning.
James gazed across the sea loch, his emotions muted. He had been drained by the funeral and the meal, after which he'd stood next to Neil while the clanspeople came forward with their expressions of sorrow and support. He'd thanked them all, moved by their concern, but he'd felt as though he watched himself from the outside.
Easy enough to do, he thought, slanting a glance at Neil. His brother's face reflected James's mood, his dark brows drawn together as he stared down into the harbor. Duncan was quiet as well. The sky had not cleared; the clouds obscured the towering mountains that ringed Loch Torridon, and the wind still whipped around the castle, its rage unabated.
If he turned, he could look up at the tower where his father had died, where his grandfather and great-grandfather had died, where he and Neil had been conceived and born. He could feel the stones behind him, watching to see how he and Neil fulfilled the terms of the legend. Superstition, he told himself. Not a destiny, not a forecast. If only he believed that. He felt like an actor on a stage. He thought his lines were his own, but there were moments when he wondered if another hand were not directing all he did, all they did.
As long as he could remember, James had felt the power of the legend, had known that some day he and Neil would have to face its invisible force. The watchful eyes of the clan had followed the twins as they'd grown, tall and strong like their father, waiting to see what the brothers were made of. Alistair had been respected, but his sons would have to prove their own value.
James glanced at his companions. All three men were tall and lean, but there the similarities ended. Even-tempered Duncan had inherited his father's dark red hair and green eyes, while the twins had Alistair's black hair and blue eyes. And his temperament, James thought with a smile; their grandmother had bemoaned that often enough.
Their mothers were sisters, Anne and Isabel MacKenzie, and when the three had been of an age, all fourteen, Duncan's father had died and he had come to live at Torridon. Alistair had raised the boy as his own, teaching and guiding him as he did his sons. The twins could not imagine life without their voluble cousin. He had been an able ally and partner in crime in their youth, a stalwart companion as they'd grown older.
"It was a good funeral," Neil said softly. "Aye, the whole clan came," Duncan said. He paused, looking up from his ships to his cousins, each in turn. "The others will be arriving soon."
James nodded. Duncan was right. Representatives from the MacLeods and MacKenzies, the clans whose lands bordered the MacCurries, would come as the news of Alistair's death spread. They'd come to pay their respects. And to judge the mettle of the new MacCurrie chief for themselves. Neil would be no surprise to them, for the clans knew one another well, but the men would still come. They'd bring their condolences and more. They'd bring news of the outside world. Of war.
There had been rumors for months, of troops being raised on the continent, of rebellions planned at home. Neither Scotland nor England had been happy with James Stuart as its king, for he had been a poor leader and was resented in many quarters. Both countries were weary of the turmoil his reign had brought. But few had actually expected William of Orange, King James's son-in-law, to challenge him for the throne. And win, at least in England. Scotland's throne was even now being decided.
"They'll want to talk about the king," Duncan said. "Which one?" Neil asked ruefully.
William had landed with his army last November. At first it appeared that King James would fight, but within a month James Stuart had fled to France, and by February William and his Mary had been declared king and queen of England. Now the royal pair waited, with all of Britain, for the Scottish Convention, meeting in Edinburgh, to ratify their right to Scotland's throne.
The MacCurries had paid little attention to the uproar. While London and Edinburgh steamed with turmoil and intrigue, Torridon had looked inward, watching its laird decline. Now, whether they wished it or not, it was time to reenter the world.
Neither twin had any desire to be embroiled in a struggle for the throne, but they might have no choice. The Scottish Convention would decide any day which king to accept, and the Highland clans would then meet to decide to approve or oppose that decision. A gathering of the clans was planned at Dunfallandy Castle to do just that.
"The gathering is in a fortnight," James said. Neil nodded. "We need to be there." "Aye." Duncan crossed his arms over his chest. "So which of ye am I going with?"
Neil met his brother's gaze for a moment, then looked back at his cousin. "Jamie," he said.
"Aye, that's best," Duncan agreed. "Ye should be here to greet any latecomers who wanted to mourn his father." But there was another, more important, reason for Neil to stay behind. Transition of power in any clan was a dangerous time, hardly the right moment for the clan chief to leave. With war in the air, it would be even more foolish to leave MacCurrie territory unguarded.
"Too bad we canna sail there; we'll have to ride. Ye ken how I love horses." Duncan sighed loudly as he looked down at his ships. "When do we leave?"
"Ye'll need a week," Neil said, then met James's gaze. The legend, James thought, catching Neil's unspoken words. The twins will lead the clan to war, then to fifty years of peace. And at Dunfallandy, the clans would be discussing war.
"Ye ken I hate it when ye do that," Duncan said, his tone mild. "Use words."
James looked from his brother to his cousin. "We're thinking of the legend and all the talk that will come if there's war."
Duncan grunted. "There's already been a lot of talk. Everaone's watching ye here and they'll do the same at the gathering. Fergusson invited the clan chiefs, no' just representatives. He'll be expecting Neil, and the man's easily offended."
"Aye," Neil said. "That's why Neil will attend." Duncan looked from Neil to James. "Ah. Jamie will travel wi' me, but Neil will attend the gathering. Good. No one here will say different, and no one there can tell ye apart except me. It'll work."
James glanced up at the castle tower, feeling the weight of generations. He turned to look into his brother's eyes. The twins held each other's gaze for a moment longer.
Ellen Graham smiled at her older sister and put her hands on her hips. "Flora, for heaven's sake, stop dancing!"
Flora paused in her twirling to smile at herself in the mirror. Her brown curls settled around her pink cheeks, and her skirts slowly stopped their swaying. "I'm getting married today! How can I not dance, Ellen?"
Ellen laughed. "How can you not? Even the sun has come to help you celebrate. This is the first day without clouds in ages."
"That's because it's my wedding day," Flora said, looking at Ellen over her shoulder. "At last. Do you think Tom will like my dress?"
"Tom will love your dress. He would marry you if you wore a grain sack." "He would, wouldn't he? He probably wouldn't even notice."
"Tom just wants to marry you. He's loved you since we were children." "And I've loved him. I just didn't realize it. Father was right."
Ellen sighed. For years their father had told Flora that she'd never find anyone to love her more than Tom Stuart. But Flora, her head quite turned by the attention that the three Graham sisters had received upon their introduction to Edinburgh and Dundee society, had been too busy enjoying herself to remember the boy who had adored her all her life.
Tom, blessed with a patience Ellen never understood, had waited for Flora to grow weary of the parties and agree to be his wife. She finally did, last November, only to have Tom, an officer in their cousin John's troop, march south with King James's army, expecting to fend off William of Orange's invasion. Flora, oblivious to world events, had been shocked, then had been the only one in the Graham household delighted when King James had fled to France and his army dispersed.
Now, six months later, Tom and Flora were marrying despite the uncertain times ahead. No one mentioned it, certainly not to Flora, but most of the family worried what would become of an officer in the army of a dethroned king. Only Flora-and their cousin John-seemed optimistic about the future.
"My wedding will be so different from Margaret's," Flora said. "I still cannot believe she went for a visit, fell in love with a total stranger, and married him! Margaret, the most serious person in the world!"
"The most particular person in the world," Ellen said. "She said her heart stopped when she saw Hugh for the first time."
"That's not love," Flora said smugly. "Love is what I feel for Tom."
Ellen smiled to herself. How different her sisters' marriages were from what Ellen would have thought. Last year sensible, practical Margaret had lost her heart to Hugh Mac- Donnell and now lived in Glengarry, in the wild western Highlands, about to give birth to their first child. And today flighty Flora was marrying Tom, planning to live near Netherby instead of in town, as she'd always said she would.
Ellen caught sight of herself in the mirror. Flora was the pretty one, Margaret the sensible one. And Ellen? She looked at her dark brown hair and arched eyebrows. I'm all angles, she thought. Her cheekbones were too prominent, her mouth too wide. She was not beautiful, she was not pretty, nor particularly sensible; she was simply the youngest.
"You'll be next," Flora said. Ellen laughed. "I'm the only one left." "Who will you marry?" Flora mused. "What about Evan?"
"Oh, please! Who can take Evan seriously? He's just waiting for his grandfather to die and leave him money. Not my idea of a husband."
"When he does inherit, he'll be wealthy." "But he'll still be Evan." "That's true. What about David Grant?" "Oh, not you too! Aunt Bea thinks David is perfect for me."
"He is very handsome." "So is our stepfather. A man's exterior does not necessarily reflect his interior." Flora's eyes widened. "Listen to you!"
"Well? We all thought Pitney was very handsome at first. We thought he was charming when he was wooing Mother. And we thought he'd at least be nice to us."
"Instead of horrid. He is a beastly man. I hate it when he tries to be courteous. It's easier when he's his usual gruff self. Is he ever happy?"
"He's very pleased that you're marrying Tom." Flora's brow creased. "Yes, he has been. I wonder why?" "Oh, please, Flora! It's simple," Ellen said. "One more daughter out the door. He's giddy with delight. Now all he has to do is marry me off, and he'll be content. Haven't you noticed that he keeps shoving men at me? He can't wait for me to marry one of them and get out of the house. And they're all old enough to be our father or grandfather. There's no one here our age."
"There's David." "Besides David. Who is marrying Catherine, according to her." "She says he's all but asked her."
"It'll be perfect for both of them," Ellen said. "She adores him. He adores her money. She'll keep him in the comforts he loves so much. No, I'll stay right here and drive Pitney mad with frustration."
"I don't understand Pitney. Why is he so eager to be alone with Mother? Do they seem happy to you?"
Ellen shook her head. "Not lately. Mother was happy at first, but not in the last year, at least. And where does he go? He's always disappearing." She sighed.
"It's hard to believe they've been married three years." "They only knew each other six months." Ellen looked into Flora's eyes in the mirror. "Mother was very foolish. She never should have married him." "No. Why do you suppose she did?"
"She was lonely. Pitney was handsome and charming. It had been years since Father had died. She was tired of being alone."
"I suppose she didn't want to be like Aunt Bea." "Bea was different. She never married." "But she would have, Ellen. If her beau hadn't died, she would have married him and had children. Do you think I should change my hair?"
Ellen smiled. "No. It's perfect. And this day will be perfect." Both girls turned as the door opened and their mother, Rose, and great-aunt Bea came in with Britta, the young girl just recently promoted to Ellen's maid. Britta's eyes were anxious, and Ellen smiled at her. She was fond of the girl, who was very sweet and tried so hard to please. Rose kissed each of her daughters and then laughed as Flora erupted into talk about her dress and hair. Ellen led Bea to a seat by the window.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Bea said. "Flora, you look beautiful." "Thank you, Aunt Bea," Flora said. "Doesn't she?" Rose said. "All my girls are beautiful." "Oh, they are, madam!" Britta said, then blushed and looked horrified.
Rose laughed. "I quite agree, Britta." "I do too," Bea said, then sat back against the cushions, speaking in a low tone to Ellen."I'm much better than your mother allows."
"You were very ill," Ellen said. "I was. I'll admit it scared even me." Bea suddenly grinned. "I even wrote my will; I'm leaving everything to Pitney." Ellen laughed. "I doubt that."
"So do I. Can't stand the man." She patted Ellen's hand. "It won't be long until you've married as well. You should marry David. I've told you that." "And I've told you that I will never marry him. He does not care for me, nor I for him." "He thinks he cares for you, child. He's thought so for years."
Ellen shook her head. "If David cared for me, he wouldn't be courting Catherine as well. He's only courting me to make Catherine jealous." Bea sighed. "I'd like to see you settled. I'd like it to be someone who will be able to care for you for your whole life."
Ellen smiled. "Wouldn't that be lovely?" Bea nodded, then moved the curtain aside to see who the footmen were greeting in the yard below. "John is here," she said, then repeated it to Rose. "With ten men. At least he has the sense to know he's a target."
Rose looked from Bea to Ellen. "Go and welcome him, child. You know you want to. We'll be down in a moment."
Ellen smiled as she ran down to the foyer. She was always pleased to see John. He might be John Graham of Claverhouse to the world, the newly appointed Viscount of Dundee, at the center of a political drama that had Scotland fascinated, but to her he was simply her favorite cousin. John had been kind to her as she'd grown up, discussing politics even though Ellen was much younger, never belittling her interest nor refusing her questions.
He'd spent years in King James's army, had been rewarded with promotions and additional duties, some of which had been both unpopular and dangerous. Last November, when William threatened to invade, King James had ordered his army south. John had left at once with his regiment, taking Tom Stuart, one of John's most trusted officers, which meant Flora and Tom's wedding was postponed.
When King James disbanded his army a few weeks ago, John had sent his men home. And Flora had insisted that her wedding be planned at once, despite the talk of war. Few who knew John Graham well expected him to let King James forfeit his throne without so much as a murmur. Speculation as to what he would do had been running rampant since the Convention began, even more so when John suddenly left the meeting. Word soon spread that he had ridden to meet some of the Highland clans who backed King James.
There were even rumblings that once William became king, John's activities would be considered traitorous. At the least, the gossips said, his days in power were numbered. At the worst... But Ellen refused to consider that. John and his beloved wife Jean were about to become parents. Surely no harm could befall them now?
She found him in a knot of his men, his back straight, his dark green clothes emphasizing his lean body. She had always thought him very dashing, with his thick dark curls and even features. John did not look like a soldier-he was slightly built and not particularly tall-but he had proven himself fearless, a bold commander, a born leader of men. And a loyal servant to King James, a dangerous habit these days.
He looked up as she called to him, a smile lighting his face. She threw her arms around him, and he laughed, kissing her cheek as he embraced her. "I am always assured of a warm welcome from you, cousin!" he said.
"I am always pleased to see you. We didn't know if you would come." "Miss Flora and Tom's wedding? Never. How is the bride?"
"Beautiful. She's very happy. And how is Jean?" "Very well, considering she's near her term. Weary of the process."
"I'm sure she is." Ellen leaned closer and lowered her voice. "What's the news, John? Where have you been?" He gave her a wicked grin. "At home with my wife, where else? I am about to be a father."
"Not for weeks yet. And I know you've not been home; Jean wrote that she could not come because of the baby and that you were elsewhere. What will happen now?" John's expression sobered. "The Convention will decide for William, Ellen. They will offer him the throne." "And then what?" "We will wait and see what the reaction is from Scotland. If no one objects, William will be king." "He is already king in England."
John's eyes narrowed. "There is only one legal king of England, and he is James Stuart. William is a usurper." "That is a dangerous position to take." "It is. And more so if I'm successful in my efforts." "You're going to raise troops for King James!" "We'll see what support I find." "John! Welcome!"
Ellen and John turned to find Pitney Malden pausing in the doorway. He moved forward, his hand extended. His wavy dark hair caught the light, and his wide mouth smiled, but his eyes held a cold gleam. "Welcome back to our part of the world. How is the Convention in Edinburgh? Who will be king?"
"The Convention will decide for William," John said quietly. "Have you seen King James? What does he say about this?"
John shook his head. "I've not seen him since shortly after William landed. He was like a man in a trance. He could not believe his own daughter and son-in-law would try to take his throne. When Princess Anne joined them, the king burst a blood vessel in his head. He's not been the same since."
"It's such a sad story," Ellen said. "Enough, Ellen." Pitney frowned at her. "You should not be discussing this."
"It's fascinating." Ellen tried to keep her tone light. "What happens in Edinburgh will change our future." "You forget that you are a woman, Ellen," Pitney said scornfully. "You should not be discussing politics. You don't know what you're talking about."
The silence was palpable. John's men moved away, many exchanging glances. Ellen pressed her lips together, trying not to say the heated words that had sprung into her mind.
"Ellen knows as much about politics as anyone I know, Pitney," John said evenly. "Few, woman or man, can discuss them as intelligently."
"You are a military man, Dundee," Pitney said. "I expect you to discuss these things. But Ellen should not. It's unseemly. And just one of the reasons she's still unmarried. She is unwomanly."
Ellen felt her mouth drop open and her face flush. She would have said something, but her mother, who Ellen had not realized had joined them, spoke first. "That's enough, Pitney," Rose said, her tone glacial.
"Ellen is anything but unwomanly. My daughter is perfect." She led Ellen away.
"I don't know what to say, child," Rose said when they were alone on the stairs. "Sometimes Pitney is wonderful; sometimes he is quite dreadful, as he was just now. I am sorry he treated you so."
Ellen forced a smile. "I'm fine, Mother." "I cannot leave you alone. I won't go to visit Margaret tomorrow."
"Mother! Margaret needs you, and you wanted so much to be with her when she has this child. Go. It's all planned. Both Margaret and Flora will feel slighted if you stay with me. I'll be perfectly fine. Pitney can say what he likes; I choose not to let it affect me."
Rose nodded, but Ellen knew that her mother didn't believe her brave words.
Excerpted from The Legend , by Kathleen Givens . Copyright (c) 2002 by Kathleen Givens . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top