Highlander’s Blossom of Hope – Adamina Young

Barclay had been unable to sleep on the night when the raiders came. He’d gone to bed early with an upset stomach but couldn’t relax into sleep, so he was awake when he heard stealthy footsteps coming up the front stairs. It was late at night; they did not keep footmen, and so Barclay could not imagine who was walking around the manor in the pitch dark. He sat up, listening intently before shuffling off his bed. He crept to the door and opened it, his heart freezing as he saw the hulking figures creeping down the corridor. Monsters. That was the thought that flitted through his mind as he saw the figures moving stealthily towards his parents’ room. They were all tall hairy beasts, hulking with hunched backs. It was only much later that he would realize it was their fur coats that made them look that way. He wanted to follow them, but he was too frozen with fear. They disappeared into the dark and he slipped down the stairs, intent on hurrying to the soldiers’ barracks and warning them of the invasion. He’d barely reached the ground floor when he heard screams. His feet felt stuck to the floor as he was torn between rushing towards the sound and running away. He grabbed a mace from the suit of armor that decorated the alcove next to the stairs, took a deep breath, and began to climb the stairs again, jaw clenched with determination. The screaming grew louder the closer he came to his parents’ door.

He lifted the too-heavy mace and charged. As he reached for the door handle, it flew open, and a towering creature loomed over him, a struggling bundle in its arms. Barclay swung the mace as decisively as possible, but the creature simply caught it in its huge hands and yanked it out of Barclay’s grip. It seemed to growl, and another creature came forward and knocked Barclay on the head. It was the last thing he remembered for a while. When Barclay came to, he was lying in his bed, a massive bump on his forehead. The housekeeper held a warm cloth to his forehead, the room filled with mint and juniperflavored steam. Barclay coughed, tugging at the housekeeper’s apron. “Wha’ happened? Where’s Ma?” She shook her head sadly. “Yer mam’s been tak’n by raiders.

But dinnae fash, yer da’ll get her back, I reckon.” Barclay shot upright, staring at her with wide eyes. “Wha’? Why did they take her?” The housekeeper shrugged. “I dinnae ken. But lay back. Ye got quite the knock on th’ head yersel’. Ye need to rest.” Barclay tried to shake his head but stopped at once because of the pain. Slowly, he lay back down, his heart pounding with anxiety for his mother. He wanted to run out and go rescue her himself but did not know where to start.

Once he was allowed out of bed, he went in search of his da but found that he’d ridden off after the raiders. Unable to rest until his parents’ return, he hung around the courtyard, watching the gate for any activity. Finally, after three days, he saw riders in the mist, looking otherworldly and riding ever so slowly, approaching the manor house. “Is it them? he called excitedly to the housekeeper. She came out of the kitchen to peer at the approaching riders. “Aye, likely it’s them. Come inside. Ye’ll see them soon enough.” “No! I want to wait here!” “But…what if it isnae them? I cannae allow ye to be in harm’s way. Yer da will ne’er forgive me.

Come awa’ from there now, Barclay. Ye can see just as well from the turrets.” Barclay sighed in annoyance but did as he was bid. He was directly above them when his father rode into the compounds, his tunic stained with red. Across the saddle in front of him lay Barclay’s mother, her body so still he had to wonder if she was dead. “Ma!” he couldn’t help but call. His father looked up, grey eyes bleak, and then he looked away. Barclay raced down the stairs and was just in time to see his mother eased onto a stretcher and carried to her chambers. “Wha’s wrong wi’ her?” He pulled the housekeeper’s apron, but she ignored him, too intent on her patient. He hovered by the doorway as people rushed about, his father leaning against the bed, still in his blood-spattered clothes and watching his wife.

Barclay crept closer, trying to see what was going on, but every time he was almost close enough, the housekeeper would usher him away. “This is no place for a bairn, Barclay. Go and wait in yer chambers, and I shall come there t’ye.” Barclay stepped back a bit but refused to leave the room. He wanted to call out to his mother but did not want to remind anyone that he was still in the room. His mother lasted a day and a night before she gave up the ghost. She did not regain consciousness at all. His father just seemed to fade slowly afterward, his body gradually stiffening until he could not move or speak. The monk that was summoned told them it was as a result of a wound he had received and that there was no cure for it. Eventually, Hamish MacFarland could not eat or drink, wasting away before their eyes, begging for an end to his suffering.

Barclay simultaneously did not want him to go and wanted to release him. Then one day, his valet woke him with the news. “He is gone, Master Barclay. Yer father is deid.” He’d felt numb. Unable to feel either relief, remorse, or real grief. It had all happened too fast. One minute he was the son of a loving family, the next, he was alone. Uncle Murdo had shown up the next day, his eyes soft with compassion. “Ye’ll come wi’ me, wee lad.

I’ll take care o’ ye.” He simply nodded, relieved that he would not have to be responsible yet. Not for a few more years. Uncle Murdo would make sure the servants were paid, and the rents were collected on his behalf. He could hide in his shell for a bit longer. “Pack wha’ he needs, and I’ll take him home,” Murdo said to the valet, who hastened to do as he was told. Barclay wondered about his relatives as Murdo was more of a neighbor than blood kin. Even though he had been a bastard child, Hamish MacFarland did have several stepbrothers as well as a father still living. “Where’s my grandfather?” he asked Murdo as they rattled along in his carriage towards Braenaird Castle. The laird looked away with a sigh.

“He willnae come for ye. His wife said, and I quote, ‘I willnae ha’ tha’ son o’ the de’il in my hoose’.” Murdo shrugged. “I dinnae ken if she was referring tae the chieftain or another de’il.” Barclay smiled faintly. It didn’t surprise him that he was not welcome in his paternal home. After all, in all eleven years of his life, he’d never even seen his grandfather let alone visited him. “What will happen to me? What will happen to Inchcree?” Murdo snaked a hand around his shoulder and squeezed, his face somber and serious. “We will look after ye. Dinnae fash.

” Barclay sighed, leaned back against the seat, and closed his eyes. A bundle of cloth and hair threw itself into his arms as he stepped inside the hall of Braenaird Castle. In order to maintain his balance, he was forced to snake his hands around her waist and hold on. At least that’s what he told himself. In truth, he was hungry for human warmth and kindness and was grateful for whoever was trying to squeeze the life out of him. She stepped back, and he saw that it was Aileen, her eyes brimming with tears. “We wanted to come visit ye, but Ma didnae ken if’n it was safe or no’.” He nodded his understanding, his throat too choked up to say much. The next thing he knew, he was surrounded by the Douglass sisters. Fiona, the oldest and his nearest age mate, Jamesina who followed her, and the last-born twins, who resembled nothing so much as identical tabby cats with their huge brown eyes and chestnut hair.

They all made a fuss over him, entreating him to eat and distracting him with songs and stories. He let himself sink into the comfort of their presence and forgot his troubles for a while. “He cannae stay here, Murdo. Ye ken his kin will try tae kill him,” Elspeth Douglass whispered to her husband as they watched the little boy, hunched over in his seat even as their daughters fussed over him. “I ken it weel, my love. I already wrote to his mother’s people once we kenned for sure that Hamish would die. They are already en route.” Elspeth sighed, shaking her head. “’Tis a sad business all round.” “Aye, ’tis.

All we can do is keep him alive.” Barclay did not do anything to indicate that he had heard their conversation, but his heart pounded with hurt and fear at the words. My grandfather would kill me? Were it not for the warmth and hospitality of the Douglass family, he would have felt truly alone. But why would my grandfather want me dead? The words reverberated in his mind even as he let Aileen coax him into eating some dinner and then sat in the corner while the sisters played an elaborate game of their own devising after the meal. Soon he was taken to his chambers where he found Angus waiting for him. He didn’t really have a need for a valet, but Angus was more than that to him. He was the very embodiment of Barclay’s childhood. They huddled together on the bed, Barclay unable to close his eyes for fear of what would happen. He startled at every sound and soon gave up on trying to sleep. Shuffling slowly out of bed, he swung a cloak around his shoulders and slipped out of his room.

He walked to the battlements, looking down at the courtyard from there, so far below him. He thought about putting his foot on the balustrade. How easy it would be to slip and fall…and then all his troubles would be over. A footfall behind him made him jump, and he whirled around to see Aileen standing a few feet away, clad in just her nightgown. “Wha’ are ye doing here?” he asked, almost accusingly. “Wha’ are ye?” she asked in reply. He turned away from her, not wanting her to see his despair. She came to stand by his side. “It’s so dark and bleak now. All one can see are mounding shapes that look threatening and loom like shadows.

” He frowned, wondering what she was talking about. “But then the morning comes, and the mounding shapes are beautiful green hills, and the looming shadows are tall, straight trees, sheltering us and bringing us rain.” She turned to him, her brown eyes gleaming in the dark of the moon. “It’s all perspective, ye see.” He blinked, surprised that a seven-year-old could speak this way. “Ye’re wise beyond yer years,” he murmured. She smiled. “Seven isnae tha’ young.” “’Tis younger than me and I couldnae think like tha’.” She shrugged.

“Maybe not the noo. Yer world is dark and filled wi’ shadows. Just wait for th’ morning. It’ll be better in the morning. Alrigh’?” He exhaled softly. “Aye.” She reached out and squeezed his hand. “Come now, it’s bedtime. Will ye no’ try to get some sleep?” He turned without a word and allowed her to lead him to his chambers. She left him at the door with a soft good night, and he was surprised when he woke up in the morning, having slept the rest of the night away.

“It’ll be better in the morning,” he murmured to himself as he got up and went to watch the sunrise. “Beg pardon m’lud?” Angus said as he folded clothes and put them away. “Nothing, Angus. Nothing at all.”

.

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