Possessive Highlander – Flora Ferrari

The Scottish Highlands are bonnie this time o’ year, they reflect the seasons that come and go and also reflect a man’s soul. When the sun shines down amongst the purple heather-clad moorland, and the shadows fall deep within the craggy hills, then it can warm the heart o’ a man more than anything else in the world. Aye, it is a canny place to live, and one that I am fiercely proud to call ma’ home. Yet in the depths o’ winter, when the snow coats the mountain tops and a chill hangs upon the air and the days are grey and dark, then ’tis enough to freeze the very soul o’ a man. But today the skies are as bright as the mountain streams that run o’er this glen, and I feel the warmth o’ the sun on my face. There is beauty on a day such as today, a wild beauty ye can only find in this wild and barren country o’ Bonnie Scotland, but this is not ma’ home. In the near distance, I can see the forested ridge o’ Ord Hill, and beyond it, a little way is ma’ homeland, Muir Ord and the surrounding land. I have not set foot in that place for a’ most 20 years, and the place is just a memory to me now… a fabled land I only ken in ma’ dreams. That place is not just ma’ home, it is ma’ birthright, for I am Alexander McKenzie, Laird of the McKenzie clan, now living in exile and living as best I can with ma’ family in the hills. For many years, we have lived on the furthest point o’ the Highlands, far away from our enemies, but the winters have become too harsh for ma’ dear mother, and this summer we travelled further south, within sight of our own lands, but deep enough in the hills not to be discovered. We are simple farming people now, the fire in our bellies long extinguished. Yet, there is an emptiness in ma’ heart, a dark sorrow that will not shake. But it is not for ma’ homeland that I pine, this feeling is deeper than the land. I have a longing for something I know not what, and sometimes I wake in a fierce sweat…ma’ heart beating wildly and it is then, just before the dawn, in the darkest hour that I almost see what it is that I yearn for…before it is gone again in the morning light. On a morning such as this when I am out riding alone, at one with nature that I dwell upon such things… but such thoughts can turn a man to melancholy and bring him down.

I had a dream last night, aye a strange dream. I was looking down on a scene such as this. A great river ran through the land, sparkling and twinkling in the rays o’ the sun. As I watched a great silver fish rose out o’ the water and landed at ma’ feet, gasping and twitching for life. The silver scales began to turn black and fall off the poor thing, and I could not bear to see such a beautiful creature perish. Picking it up in ma’ arms, for it was the size o’ a young lad, I hurried down to the edge o’ the river and released it within the flowing waters. As soon as it hit the water, off it swam, diving below the blue-green surface and I felt a sense o’ happiness. In another instance, it surfaced again, further down the stream. I squinted against the sunlight, and for a moment I could hardly believe ma’ eyes, as I ken that I see the form o’ a bonnie lass waving to me, her hair tumbling around her shoulders like spun gold. As I raised ma’ hand to wave, she dove back in again, her silvery fishtail disappearing beneath the waters with a flick.

In the air around me, I could hear the soft voice o’ a maiden singing and ma’ heart felt so full o’ joy that I felt that it would burst. It was a strange dream indeed, and now as I look around, I feel that same sense o’ peace with the world. Something about the morning urges me on, my own sense o’ being and a need to connect with nature having its hold upon me. Two hours riding and I am dangerously near to ma’ own lands again, it is a risky country for a McKenzie to ride through, and self-preservation makes me stop a wee while by the shores of a vast loch. I swear I recognise the place, but it has been over 20 years. There is a rustling in the trees on the opposite bank, and I ride close to the water’s edge, one eye on the oak and pine trees climbing steeply up the valley ahead. A flash of red and suddenly a mighty stag is coming down to the water to drink. He is the most handsome beast I have seen in a long while, and I whisper to my horse, Jess, to hold still as we stay back in the trees a little way, so we dinna disturb him. The magnificent head lifts and surveys the land warily before drinking. For a moment, he seems to look straight at me, and we stand for a moment, regarding each other.

Instinctively, I reach for ma’ bow. I could easily take him now, as he stoops to drink… a swift arrow into the neck would fell the creature. Yet I still my hand. There is something at that moment, something that passes between man and beast, a shared understanding, and then he is gone. Something has disturbed him, and I curse myself for being weak, he would have made a fine trophy. As I watch him disappear into the trees on the opposite bank of the loch, another movement catches ma’ eye. A sudden thought strikes through ma’ heart, perhaps it is McCleod scouts that have disturbed him, and I edge back further into the trees. There is a movement in the water, a splash and I wonder if maybe it is a flying fish or one o’ the leaping salmon that travels down the river that feeds the loch. I hold ma’ breath as I focus on the water. It is not a fish, it is a wee lass swimming in the loch.

Her long hair is flowing out in the water behind her, the colour o’ spun gold as it catches the morning sun. I am spellbound as I watch her swim to the shore. As she steps from the water, I catch ma’ self at the sight. As graceful as a water nymph, she steps out of the water, as naked as the day she was born. An elegant and slender body, the wet curls of her hair, wrapping around her soft curves. I canna tear ma’ eyes away from the sight, as the young creature turns around. Her features are bonnie, the bonniest I have ever seen, and I canna stop myself from staring. I can see the curve of her bosom, the slim waist, the soft golden fuzz of her womanhood. She must be no older than eighteen years, a figure slight, yet with all the guiles of a woman. A strange and base feeling surges through ma’ loins, and I know I must have this girl.

Within seconds I am stiff for her, my manhood straining hard against ma’ tartan as I continue to stare, ma’ mouth open in wonderment. I could take her now, so strong is ma’ desire, as if all of the years in exile have turned me into a wild man. I imagine those long and slender legs opening for me, falling into their softness. Ma’ blood rises as I watch her walk to a basket and take out her clothes and start to dress. But then a gentleness takes over me, a feeling so profound that I could almost weep. I feel the life begin to stir within me as if I have been asleep all o’ these years. Nature is all around me, and I feel the need to scatter ma’ seed across this land, leave behind the flesh o’ ma’ flesh, and I instinctively ken that I need this young lass to have ma’ bairns. I wonder who she might be. Perhaps one o’ the forest folk, or from one o’ the small crofts that cling to the hillsides around these parts. Although her cloak is o’ a simple style, it looks well made and o’ good quality, not like the rough-hewn clothing o’ the people who work the small farms.

Maybe she is one o’ the faery folk the old people talk of, braw bonnie creatures that can lure a man to his death. Perhaps a stranded mermaid, washed in from the sea to tempt me with her siren song? I would not mind being tempted by this bonnie lass, I would follow her to the ends o’ time make no mistake. The mare shifts uneasily beneath me and snorts impatiently to begin moving again. I rub her warm neck to soothe her, but she shakes her noble head and whinnies. The girl pauses, I see her stop and look around her. We are discovered. Ma’ heart races wildly and I dinna ken what to do. As she starts to move away, I instinctively dig ma’ heels gently into Jess’s soft flanks and emerge from the cover o’ the tree’s. I can see the girl hesitate as we trot out into full view. I canna let the lass go without knowing her name.

I need to speak with haste. “Hey there.” I holler across the water, and the girl looks on, startled as if she has seen a ghost. I try to smile, but she stands and starts to back off into the trees. “I mean ye no harm…” I gesture as friendly as I know how, but it is too late, the lass suddenly comes to her senses and without a further thought turns and rushes back into the forest. “Hey…” I dismount from ma’ horse and rush to the water’s edge, but it is too late, and I see the blue of her cloak disappear into the green of the great pine trees beyond. “Damn it,” I shout across the water, but the only sound is the loch, gently lapping at the shore. I pace along the edge, the water is deep, too deep to cross with ma’ horse and the currents too powerful to try and swim. I scan the loch, it is broad and deep, and I can see no end. Even if I rode quickly around to the other side, the lass would be well on her way.

These paths are still strange to me after all o’ these years. I can feel ma’ hand’s clench in frustration as I pace back and forth, willing the lass to return. Surely she is ma’ soul-mate, and canna be so easily lost? It has taken a lifetime to find her, surely there must be a way to see her again? After several minutes of staring out across the water, willing her to return, I turn to Jess, waiting patiently. “There, there girl, I’m coming.” The lass is lost to me, and there is nothing I can do about it. With a heavy heart, I remount ma’ black mare and head back for the hills and home, part of ma’ mind wondering if the lass was real, or indeed one o’ the faery folk wanting to pull me into the river and to a watery grave. ***** My mother, Elizabeth, is adding more turf to the fire as I enter the croft. Despite the warmth o’ the day outside, the clay and wood built building feels damp and airless inside. Although a strong woman in her youth, my mother is in her seventies and has aged o’er these last few years. She feels the cold, and her limbs are weary.

As I hold her, she feels tiny in ma’ arms, and her grey head nestles comfortably against ma’ chest. “Ye are back so soon, son, I expected ye to be gone all day. What brings ye home so early?” Despite her age, her bright blue eyes twinkle, the lines o’ age wrinkling the weathered skin. Thoughts of the lassie flit through ma’ mind, but I shake ma’ head and laugh. “I remembered there was work to be done on the land mother. The fences to the north o’ the croft needs mending, and willna fix themselves. I must set to work afore we lose our sheep to the wilderness.” “Ye would be better to fill yer head wi’ thoughts o’ fighting brother instead of farming.” James ma’ younger brother stands scowling in the doorway, blotting out the light. He is a soldier, fighting for any cause that might put the Stuart Prince back on the throne.

After fighting in Culloden, he followed his master to France but returned suddenly with tales o’ battle and the scars to prove it. We have different natures, James and I, and sometimes it is difficult to ken that we are brothers. I feel ma’ mother pull away. She can feel the tension between her two sons and I see her quick, intelligent eyes dart from me to James and back again. I wish not to argue but feel ma’ body tense. We have been here before. “The days of fighting are over James. If ye want a fight, ye had better return to the Stuart. There will be no fighting here.” James almost spits in my face, and I can hear the sneer in his voice.

“Are ye not a man Alex? Our father would surely be turning in his grave if he could see ye now. How can ye let yer birthright go uncontested like this? Is there no fight in ye man. Surely yer bile rises at the thought of the McCleods living in our castle, farming lands that are rightly ours?” His face is battle-weary, but I can see the bloodlust in his eyes. “I have no fight wi’ Ian McCleod.” It is not entirely truth, and I can feel the blood start to course through my veins at the very name. But for the sake o’ peace, and for the sake o’ ma’ mother, I push the feelings down to a place where they have lain dormant for over 20 years. “Och man, I can barely call ye brother.” Slamming the door behind him, I watch as he walks away. I canna blame him, all he knows is fighting and war, and it is his birthright as well as ma’ own that has been lost. I feel ma’ mother watching me intently, those blue eyes steady upon me.

What is she really thinking?

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