When dae ye think I shall look out across the loch here again?” Elaine McRob asked, taking up a stone and skimming it idly across the water. It rippled, the splash catching the early morning sun, and she took up another, wishing that she could remain at the water’s edge forever, gazing upon that familiar view. It was her favorite place to sit, especially as the dawn was breaking and the sun rising over Carrick Castle, the possibility and potential of a new day lying ahead. “Tis’ nae the end of the earth, mistress,” her maidservant replied, “ye will see this place again, I know ye will. We both will.” “Aye, Carys, but how soon? It feels like this moment has come upon us so quickly, even though we have known of it for months,” Elaine replied, sighing, as she rose from her place by the loch and gazed out across the mountains beyond. “Tis’ nothin’ wrong in being nervous for the future, mistress. I, too, am wary. We are going north into the unknown. There will be many new challenges ahead, but ye are strong, ye are ready, and yer father wouldnae have made this arrangement if he didnae think it were time,” Carys replied, reaching out her hand to Elaine, who smiled and nodded. “Aye, ye are right. But we know nothin’ of the MacCallums. The Laird is almost as old as my father. I have never met him. I know nothin’ of him.
And yet I am to marry him and bear his children. I am to be mistress of a clan I know nothin’ of and leave behind all that is familiar to me. I have stood by this loch every day of my life, and now I am to leave it behind,” Elaine said, a tear rising in her eye at the thought of what was now to be. “But ye are strong mistress, ye are yer father’s daughter. A great woman, I have seen it. And ye shall have me, poor as I am, I shall nae abandon ye,” Carys said, taking hold of Elaine’s hand. “And ye are my most faithful friend and servant, Carys. Come then, the time draws near,” Elaine said, casting a final glance out across the waters of the loch. It was foolish to think she would never stand there again upon that familiar shore. Wherever she went and whatever fate awaited her, the waters would still lap there, the seasons roll on, and Carrick Castle, the seat of her clan, would endure.
But it was with a heavy heart that she prepared to leave, the day of her journey north having finally arrived. Elaine McRob was betrothed to be married. Her father had arranged it, an alliance with a northern clan. She had never met their Laird; all she knew was his age and formidable reputation. He was a warrior like her father, and she knew that an alliance between their clans would bring peace and stability to the country around Argyll. But still, it was with a heavy heart that she prepared to leave all that was familiar behind and set out for the unknown. How grateful she was to have Carys at her side, grateful to know that she was not entirely alone. Together, they walked back towards the castle, which towered over the lochside. It had been home to her clan for a dozen generations. A place which had withstood war and invasion, times of pestilence and plague, peace, and prosperity.
The scene of a thousand stories, of which her own was but one. Tonight would be the first night she had spent away from this most familiar place, and she could not help but shed a tear at the prospect. “He may be the most handsome and dashin’ of men, mistress. Ye may see him and fall in love, but in an instant,” Carys said, as they walked arm in arm through the castle gates. “Or he may be buck-toothed and ugly, with battle scars all over his body and a beard to his waist,” Elaine said, laughing and shaking her head. “Well, there is nay doubtin’ that he shall marry a beauty, even if he is nae one,” Carys replied. “Yer words are too kind, Carys. But I thank ye for them,” Elaine said, as they entered the courtyard. She did not consider herself pretty, though there had been many men who had wished to wed her. Elaine took after her mother in her looks, her long dark hair and deep blue eyes the very image of the woman she had never known, but whose portrait hung in the great hall of her father’s castle and reminded her each day of what it was she had never known.
Her mother had died in childbirth, and it was Elaine’s greatest sorrow to have never known her. She had thought about her mother a great deal in the weeks which had passed since her father had announced the arrangement of her betrothal. She had offered no wish for such a match, but her father had considered it expedient. For Elaine to marry would mean a burden lifted from his shoulders. Unrest and upheaval across Scotland were calling much of the old order into question, and the old alliances were teetering into chaos. A strong marriage could mean peace among the Argyll clans, a peace that was sorely needed. Elaine knew it was her duty to help her father and her clan, but she had never imagined that she would have so little choice in whom she married. She had always dreamed of how it might be and of the sort of man she might marry. He was young, handsome, and brave, a man to match her in his bravery and prowess. Not some old Laird who would surely die many years before she did so.
“Ah, there ye are, daughter. Tis’ nearly time that ye depart for Kilchurn. The horses will be waitin’ for ye soon. Come now, walk with me a moment,” Elaine’s father, Bethlick McRob, said, emerging from the doors of the castle keep. He was a striking man, taller than any other man she knew and with a shock of red hair which lay pulled and matted around his shoulders. Despite his age, he was still strong; his sword always hung at his side and the marks of a dozen victories on his arms. It was to him that she believed her duty was owed, and she would miss him greatly when she was gone. “I am still nae certain about this, father. What is this Laird like? What is the north like?” she asked, as they walked together in the castle gardens. “The Laird of the MacCallums is a good man.
A noble man. I wouldnae have allowed my daughter to marry him if he were nae,” her father replied. “But what of their clan? What of the place?” she asked, and her father laughed. “What of all these questions, daughter? Tis’ the day of yer departure. There is little more to say. Ye know tis’ yer duty to go north. Hamish MacCallum is a good man, I say it again. Ye will be well taken care of, and, when ye are settled there, I shall come to visit ye. If ye like, I shall ride with ye this day and leave ye at the pass by Monevechadan. But ye shall have Carys with ye and an escort of men.
Besides, I didnae raise my daughter to be a coward. Are ye nae brave enough for this, daughter? Tis’ an adventure, tis’ yer duty,” he said, fixing her with a serious gaze. “Aye, father. I know it,” she replied, and he smiled at her. “Then that is all I can ask of ye, Elaine. The time is right now. Come, the horses are saddled. Tis’ time that ye departed,” her father said, leading her from the castle gardens and back towards the courtyard. There, the horses were ready, and Carys was tightening a saddlebag to Elaine’s horses, as several clansmen milled around. The journey north would take two days, and they had packed provisions and supplies, along with tributes for the MacCallum’s and all that Elaine would need for her new life in the north.
The servants had come out to wish her farewell, and many of the peasants from the village had also gathered in the courtyard to wish their favorite mistress goodbye. Elaine sighed, glancing around her for the final time and climbing up into the saddle. Carys climbed onto her horse too, and Elaine’s father mounted his stead as the party prepared to depart. “Be strong, mistress,” Carys whispered, and Elaine nodded. “I can be nothin’ else but so,” she replied, as a piper began to play. “A great day for our clan,” her father called out, riding forward towards the gates. A cheer went up from the gathered crowd, but Elaine could not help but feel sadness as she rode through the gates. She was leaving all that was familiar behind and setting out into the unknown. What lay before her was uncertainty, the familiarity of the past now gone, the future a mystery.