Highlander’s Cursed Moon – Adamina Young

Oh, me dearest nurseling,” Abigail’s old wet nurse said in a shaking voice, “to think I would live to see this dark day, with ye wearing black to mourn yer beloved parent before even putting on the floral garland of a bride.” Abigail Drummond was busy pinning a riband of Drummond tartan on the bodice of her funereal attire. She had to look down to do it because the looking glass in her dressing room had been covered over with a sheet of plain-woven linen. The tears running down her cheeks changed direction when she did this, and began to fall onto her gown instead. As the only Drummond child left to comfort her father, she knew she had to be strong, but the thought of her mother lying cold and still upstairs racked her body with spasms of grief. She swallowed down her misery, gave a doleful sniff, and mustering all her strength, went to hug her old nurse. “Dinnae cry, Nursie,” she whispered, patting the old servant on the back and rubbing her bony shoulders.“Mither wouldnae like it. Remember how she would notice anyone who seemed to nae smile? She wouldnae be satisfied until she had found a way to make them happy.” “And ye’re so like her in that regard,” the nurse, Mary, said, looking at a large trunk in the corner. “Oh, Abby, to think yer bridal gown lies folded and covered in lavender underneath that lid, and is likely to stay there for a long while still.” The young girl did not think remembering the beautifully embroidered dark green brocade gown she had planned to wear for her wedding would help matters much. Her mind felt numb with shock, and her heart seemed as though it were cracked into a dozen pieces. I’ve only seen nine and ten summers, but it feels as though these events should be happening to a woman at least twice as old as I am. When will these ceaseless calamities end? A way to rationalize last week’s events eluded Abigail.

She sat down next to the nurse and said in the most practical way she could, even though it made her tears flow even harder, “The gown would have stayed in the trunk anyway, Nursie, what with Ewan’s faither rushing to meet his maker seven day’s ago.” This cold fact made the nurse wail and cover her face with her pinafore. “We should never have allowed ye both to set the date for a Friday in May; ye ken what the wise folk say about it!” Abigail thought back to what her mother had said after Ewan’s father, Laird Brodie, had agreed to the wedding date. “He’s such a fine looking, upstanding young man, Abby. I truly believe the superstitions will have it wrong this time.” She had been sitting with her mother in the withdrawing room, hemming sheets for her trousseau, and said, “What superstitions, Mither?” Lady Drummond closed her eyes to recall the old verses better. “‘If ye marry in the month of May, ye will surely rue the day…’ Wait, there’s another one. Just allow me to remember… Aye, I have it now. ‘Monday marriages are for wealth, Tuesdays are for health, Wednesdays and Sundays are the best days of all, Thursdays are cursed, and marrying on a Friday means ye will suffer crosses and losses.’ There! Ye see, Friday is nae a good day for a wedding, dearest daughter!” Abigail cut the thread with her teeth, smiling.

“Ye didnae mention Saturdays, Mither. Are they good or bad?” Lady Drummond gave a mock frown and handed her daughter a small pair of scissors from the sewing box. “Dinnae use yer teeth, girl. It’ll wear them out if ye chew on things like a goat! Marrying on a Saturday means yer marriage will have no luck at all.” Abigail gave a trill of laughter, “What?! So there are only four days out o’ the week to get married? How convenient for the clergymen. They only have to work for half the week.” Lady Drummond smiled and picked up the pillowcase she was making for Abigail’s cedarwood bridal chest. She was embroidering the couple’s initials under the family crests of the Drummond and Brodie clans. “I agree, Abby, but no Highlander likes to tempt fate,” she said in her calm, dignified manner. Abigail shrugged.

“What are crosses and losses, anyway?” Not looking up, Lady Drummond said, “The crosses marking the tombstones of the dead in the graveyards, Abby. It will explain to ye what the ‘losses’ means. What could possibly be worse than the loss of one’s husband or a wife?” Now, Abigail knew what could be as bad as the loss of a spouse, and she was certain Ewan understood what it was like too. His father, Laird Brodie, head of the clan, had died suddenly in his sleep not one week ago. That had been enough to knock their wedding plans awry in itself, but now with her mother passing away in the same manner last night, it seemed as though every Highland curse was raining down on them, one after the other. She sobbed and rushed out of the room. She could not bear her father to hear how devastated she was; he had his own shock and sadness to deal with. It had been left to Laird Graham Drummond’s steward to order matters as he saw fit; however, he still needed the overwhelmed man to agree to his arrangements. It was an awkward meeting, and the steward, Mr. Craddock, felt shattered when he came out of Laird Drummond’s study.

It was in the passageway outside where he bumped into Abigail, as her tears blinded her and she could no longer see where she was going. “I beg yer pardon, Mister Craddock,” Abigail said. “I was running, and…and…” The elderly man steadied the young girl. “Dinnae fash yer wee head over such a trifling bump, Abby.” When he saw her tear-filled eyes, he asked, “Is there aught I can do to help ye?” Feeling as though the walls of the passageway were crowding in on her, Abigail said, “I dinnae ken what to do without me mither, Mister Craddock. She meant everything to me, and this household wilnae be the same now she’s gone.” Mr. Craddock tutted. “Aye, Abby, ‘tis a very strange, inexplicable business. There was no fever, no mark upon the body.

It was as if heaven opened its gates and snatched her up! Be comforted, child; she didnae suffer. It was as though her soul just decided to go and join Laird Brodie’s.” “He…he was a well-loved laird,” Abigail said with a sniff. “There were over one thousand clansmen and mourners holding a torch at his wake. Did ye see the light they made was so bright it seemed like daytime?” The steward nodded. “It was a grand display for a great man. And yer Ewan is set to be as distinguished and noble a laird as his faither was before him. Ye will see him in a few days at yer mither’s procession. Ye can find comfort and strength in each other’s company.” And on those words, the steward bustled away, aware all the Drummond clan had to be summoned for a wake, not a wedding celebration.

It was going to be difficult writing letters to inform the more important members of the clan they had to put off their finery and don black, but at least they could use the same travel arrangements they had made for the now-canceled wedding. Abigail chose to stay in her bedchamber after her encounter with Mr. Craddock. Her sadness was so acute, she would wake in the middle of the night with a shriek, causing Mary to run in with a hastily lighted candle to see what on earth was the matter. But no posset or warm broth could dispel the feeling of doom that haunted Drummond Castle. Both laird and daughter became more oppressed as the day for the funeral drew near. It was as if Lady Drummond’s spirit was restless and pacing the hallways, even though her clan had been keeping watch over her body to make sure evil sprites could not enter the window and snatch away her eternal soul. Mary approached Mr. Craddock to ask his opinion. “Should I send for her betrothed to come and console her, sir? They have been sweethearts since he was nothing but a young lad and she was a wee girl.

It was as if the fates destined for them to be together; they have only ever had eyes for each other. If anyone can ease her sorrow, ‘twould be Ewan Brodie.” Mr. Craddock shooed Mary away with his ink-stained quill. “Hoots, woman! Away with ye! Dinnae ye ken the young man is just as upset by the death of his faither as she is by her loss? And now he has to bear the burden of becoming laird in such a sudden fashion, with only his mither by his side to guide him.” So, the day of Lady Drummond’s wake and funeral dawned with no one there to offer her daughter solace. Laird Drummond had stayed locked in the castle library since the morning he had awoken to find the lifeless body of his wife lying next to him. The nurse and the rest of the household had been too busy readying the rooms to receive guests to think about how distressed Abby was all alone in her chamber. She longed to talk with Ewan; he would help her make sense of it all. Whenever she was with him, Abby found her troubles seemed to melt away.

Her first memories of him were of a handsome, hazel-eyed boy, long brown hair falling to his shoulders, kneeling on the grass to stick his hand down a rabbit hole and pull her terrier dog out by the hind legs. She had adored him since that day. Feeling as though the weight of the world was on her shoulders, Abigail allowed Mary to help her dress and walked down to where people had gathered in the courtyard leading down to the chapel and graveyard. She was heavily veiled, not wanting people to see her misery. “The bride wears black,” one of the villagers muttered as Abigail walked past, “and ye ken what they say about that: marry in black and ye’ll wish yerself back!” Abigail knew she must look just like a bride dressed in the dark hues of mourning. Two mysterious deaths, in two great clans, were only one week apart from each other. Such a strange occurrence had the villagers whispering behind their hands. Rumors of banshee wails and sightings of will o’ the wisps had spread from tavern to inn. The Highlands rustled with whispers of ill omens. Laird Drummond came down the stairs.

It looked as if he had aged ten years in less than a week. Thick tufts of his dark blond hair had greyed, made all the more obvious because he had not brushed his hair, as it stood all on end. His blue eyes screwed up tightly when they encountered sunlight after long days of darkness. His whiskers were untrimmed, and there was a strong smell of whiskey hanging on his clothing. Many of the townsfolk and close clan members gathered around him, offering their condolences and advice, but he shrugged all but one of them away. A scrawny figure, their face and body completely covered in a thick woolen cloak, hung on to Laird Drummond’s arm like a limpet, and whispered into his ear as they walked toward the chapel. At the kirk doors, the figure let go of the laird’s arm and flitted away across the gravestones. The sermon in the family chapel was brief. There were many mourners—and possibly a good many curious passersby too—standing outside the doors, around the churchyard, and spilling over onto the road connecting the castle to the chapel. They must be fed and provided with drinks.

The staff, as upset as they were by their lady’s passing, were all itching to walk back up to the castle kitchens and start readying the meal. Abigail gave the signal to Mary. The older woman went over to the cook and housekeeper and told them they could leave, and take the staff with them. Only men were allowed to attend the burial at the graveside anyway. Abigail watched over her shoulder as the servants filed out one by one. Soon, she was the only woman left in the chapel. She went to thank the chaplain for his lovely words and then saw Ewan about to file out through the side door. “Ewan!” It was the closest she had come to smiling since her mother had died. “I dinnae see ye there amongst all the others. This is all so strange.

It seems like only a few days ago we were watching yer faither being lowered into the ground, and now this…” The glow of love and kindness she always associated with Ewan was gone. It seemed to Abigail as if someone had hollowed out his essence and replaced it with leaden solemnity. Since the first time Abigail had laid eyes on Ewan when she was a wee lass, he had always been considerate and kind to her. When these appealing qualities were added to shoulder-length dark brown hair that fell down his back, hazel-green eyes, and rugged handsomeness, it was no wonder he had appeared more like a knight in shining armor to a young Abigail. She had been smitten with him from the very beginning of their acquaintance, and her admiration and love had only intensified over the years. Whenever she looked at Ewan, she knew he was everything she wanted in a man: tall and strong, with lean muscles well developed from years of combat training and sports; caring for outsiders as well as his clan, and so handsome he made her stomach contract each time she looked at him. She could not see the man she loved in this blank-faced stranger. “I am sorry for yer loss, Abby, just as ye were sorry for mine. There’s no more to be said.” Ewan showed the same signs of shock and grief as her father.

His eyes were bloodshot and haggard, and his skin was pale, as though it had not seen the sun for a long time. Please, Ewan, hold me, comfort me, kiss me. I’m still yer bride, and ye remain the love of me life. Please, please, Ewan, try to understand I need ye now like never before. Even though the words were not said out loud, Ewan and Abby had never required words to communicate. They had been able to read one another’s thoughts since childhood. Laird Drummond pushed his daughter aside. “Ye must leave now, Abby,” he said gruffly. “Only the men are permitted at the graveside.” He waited for her to leave, which she did with a bemused, sorrowful look on her face.

Laird Drummond turned back to Ewan, who appeared as apathetic to the laird as he had to his daughter. No one was able to see Ewan was barely holding himself together. The death of his father, the postponement of his wedding to the girl he had dreamed about for most of his life, and now this! Ewan’s blood grew cold when the thought crossed his mind, Abigail might be next! What deadly contagion was causing the death of all his nearest and dearest? Laird Drummond prepared himself to say what was on his mind, and he wanted all of Ewan Brodie’s concentration for it. “Listen here. Are ye payin’ attention?” Ewan nodded dully. “Good! I’ll nae have ye as a son-in-law no more, Ewan. Ye hear me? The hermit, the one who lives in the cave on our mountain, he came down to tell me himself. Ye’re cursed, and I wilnae have yer bad luck follow ye all the way to me daughter’s front door! The wedding’s off!”

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