Owned by the Highlanders – Lily Harlem

Moira Campbell stood in the doorway of the large kitchen and watched her maid scrubbing a heavy copper pot. Her heart sank at the sight of the older woman’s hunched shoulders. Her tattered dress and her silver hair hanging limply made her look much older than her years. I have to do something. “Emily,” Moira said, stepping forward, her footsteps quiet on the flagstone floor. “Leave that be.” “I’ll soon have it spick and span, m’lady.” Emily didn’t look up. “Emily, please stop.” Moira rested her hand on Emily’s shoulder. “I can do that.” “Nay, nay, it’s me job, m’lady, I don’t mind.” She didn’t pause in her vigorous scouring. Moira sighed. “It’s time for you to go and be with your family.

With Nell gone your wee grandchildren need you.” Emily paused briefly at the sound of her recently deceased daughter’s name. “The bairns are fine while I’m here all week. The eldest, Nancy, takes care of the younger ones when I’m caring for you, m’lady.” “But that’s just it, I don’t need caring for, not really. I’m perfectly capable.” “You’re the Lady of Leannan Creag, you shouldn’t be cooking and cleaning and you shouldn’t be alone here.” “I have good arms and legs and the ken-how. T’is time you went home, Emily, and stayed there.” Emily turned with her eyes narrowed and her brow creased.

“Please, m’lady, I need this job, to put food on the table.” Moira didn’t want to make Emily’s plight harder. “I’ll still pay you.” “God’s bones, but you can’t pay me for being at home, that’s just not right. And besides this big old house needs more than one person to keep it in order.” For a moment Moira hesitated, then, “There’s a pile of mending and curtains to be sewn in the fourth bedroom, take that, it’s a least a month’s work and I’ll pay you to do that. Perhaps you could work in the evenings, when the bairns are down for the night. At least that way you’ll be free in the day to help Nancy.” “Nancy is a good lass and she’s managing just about and—” “Och, Nancy is only twelve and needs to be a child herself before she likely becomes a mother.” Moira dug into her pocket and withdrew several coins.

“Here, this is a full month’s pay. When that time is up, bring the mending and the curtains back and I’ll have more for you to do.” Even if I have to tear a few dresses, I’ll find work for her. Moira watched as Emily’s expression changed from one of argument to concern then to relief. “Are you sure, m’lady?” “Aye, I’m sure, and not scrubbing these old floors and labouring over the stove will do your poor back a world of good.” “Aye, I dare say it will.” Emily took the money and shoved it into her apron pocket. “I’ll finish up here, though, before I go. And if you need me to come back at any time, just send word.” “I will.

Thank you.” Moira squeezed Emily’s shoulder. Then to her surprise found herself drawn into a hug as the older woman embraced her. “You’re a good soul who’s been dealt a tough hand,” Emily said. “But you always put on a brave face, despite your losses. You’re a fine example to us all, m’lady.” “Thank you, Emily. And thank you for your loyal service over the last two years, you’ve been such a big help.” “And I’ll still be here in a lightning flash if you need anything.” Emily pulled back.

“Thank you.” Moira stepped away. “Don’t forget the mending. There’s some clean sacks too, if you need them for carrying. And there’s stew left over from yesterday, take it, it will put meat on the bairns’ bones.” “I may well do that.” Emily returned her attention to the pot. “Thank you, m’lady. Thank you for everything.” Moira brushed her hands over her waist; the wool of her dress was fibrous and warm, beneath it her torso was lean.

She, too, needed to put on some weight. Since her husband Angus had passed, God rest his soul, her appetite had been jaded. She figured dismissing her housekeeper—and Emily was a wonderful cook—wouldn’t help that problem in her life. But it was one of many problems a lone Scottish woman faced in the Highlands. And gaining some curves wasn’t at the top of her list of priorities. Wandering through the large hallway, complete with fireplace and ornate antler candleholder made by her brother, Bryce, she headed outside. The sun was shining today. Spring was well underway. Perhaps spring would bring Bryce home. Maybe the milder weather, the thought of the vegetable patch, and the grand Scottish land he loved so much would lure him from wherever his travels had taken him.

Spring would never return her husband—the Red Coats had seen that he’d met his maker much earlier than he should have. Damn those Red Coats. She frowned and pulled the heavy oak front door open. Her husband had been older than her, and a good kind man. He’d also believed, like she did, in the Jacobite cause. But it was his loyalty to the rightful king, which meant he’d paid the ultimate price. She stared across the sunlit cobbles. To the right an archway in the high stonewall faced east. Her gaze was always drawn to it, hoping to see Bryce finally returning. Of course there was nobody there.

Further along, on the sunny southern wall, new life was bursting from the ground. The vegetables were sprouting. She’d be tending them herself now Emily wouldn’t be around. But that was okay, it filled the time and nurturing the small shoots to big, fruitful plants was rewarding. She reached for a small sack of grain and hoisted up the layers of her dress as she navigated the four stone steps down to the courtyard. “Hey, girls, calm down, I’m coming to see to you now.” The chickens fussed around her, clucking and strutting as she made her way to their coop. “Here you go,” she said, filling up their feed bowl. “Eat up and lay me some eggs.” They dipped their heads and pecked, bustling and seeming to squabble for the best pieces of grain.

She smiled, enjoying the sun on the back of her neck and the scent of blossom in the air. After setting down the sack, she reached for a broom and began to sweep the yard. There was a time she wouldn’t have dared touch the broom handle. Angus would have berated her, spanked her even. Sweeping wasn’t a task the lady of the house should even think about, let alone undertake. But now… now life had changed. She was alone. Would she ever find love again? She hoped so. Her bed was cold at night and her body craved another to hold. She didn’t think Angus would object to her finding another husband.

He’d once said he was sure he’d die before her, owing to their age difference, and he understood a second husband might be in her future. Is that future now? “Goodbye, m’lady.” Moira looked up at the sound of Emily’s voice. She carried a sack stuffed full and a wrapped box. “Enjoy your walk back to the village.” Moira found a smile, even though she knew she’d miss Emily. “And don’t be a stranger.” “I won’t. I’ll be back with this mending soon. And thank you again.

” “No thanks needed.” “You and me both know it is.” Emily inclined her head, then, with her spine still hunched she made her way to the archway. Moira straightened with her hands on the end of the broom and arched her back. After Emily had gone from view she closed her eyes and tipped her face to the sky, hoping the heat of the sun would give her the strength to look after the huge house on her own. It wasn’t just the house, it was the land and animals that would feed and clothe her through the summer and into the winter. There was always so much to do. With a sigh she continued to sweep the yard. Soon the straw and dust, which had littered the cobbles, had been swept away. She then spent some time weeding around the young vegetables, before going back into the house.

Her stomach rumbled and she cut herself a piece of the pie Emily had made the day before. It tasted good, and washed down with last year’s pressed apple juice, she had the energy to tend to the goats, milking them and cleaning out their stable. They had a small fenced paddock, just beyond the archway, created by Angus several years ago to give them access to better grass in the spring, and she shooed them in there. Pausing, she cast her eyes over the horizon. The green Scottish hills rolled and dipped like giant waves gathering their energy before a storm. In the distance a lake reflected their peaks and the fluffed white clouds in the blue sky. She floated her hand over the citrus yellow flowers of a gorse bush, then turned back to her house. Her heart felt as empty as the big, high-ceilinged rooms. Knowing they were lifeless, not even a dog—he’d gone with Bryce all that time ago—sank her mood lower. Perhaps she should get another dog.

Angus would want her to do that—a big, loud beast to bark at approaching friends or strangers alike. She was vulnerable here in the big house, had been since the men in her life had left. And now without even Emily, it wasn’t sensible to be so defenceless. A couple of minutes later Moira found herself standing in front of Angus’s weapon cabinet. He had quite a collection. Some of the swords had been passed down from his father and grandfather. A few he’d acquired on his travels and meetings with other supporters of the cause. A Lochaber axe belonged to Bryce. She reached for the lone firearm in the collection of ironware. It was a musket, Angus had once told her, and very deadly.

She tested its weight in her hands and frowned at the complex trigger mechanism. Deciding it wasn’t for her, she placed it back on the shelf, the lethal end pointing upward. Next to it sat a dirk in its leather sheath. She gripped the ornate bog oak handle and withdrew the blade. It was much lighter than the musket, and smaller too, about fourteen inches in length. Moira hadn’t thought she’d ever have to arm herself in her own home, but these were the times she was living in. She attached the re-sheathed dagger to the leather tie at her waist, beneath her bodice. It would be prudent to have a weapon about her person. Anyone could ride onto her land and into her home. Attack her, rob her, rape her… or worse.

Morrow, she’d walk the three miles to her neighbour’s farm and see if old McFitz could spare her a dog, too. Perhaps then she’d sleep better at night in her big, cold bed.

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