Trapped Under His Highland Spell – Ava McArthur

And when the egg cracked open, a huge beast rose from it and stormed across the land. It took hundreds of brave men tae chase it and bring it down, and then it became the mountain ye can see in the distance. “If ye climb it and make yer way inside, ye will find the crimson heart, dull and dark now, but at one time, it glowed as brightly as the sun! And now, I want ye tae cast yer minds tae the sea as I tell ye about a beautiful woman and the saddest song any man haes ever heard. She was a mermaid, and unlike most of her people, she was fascinated with our world. She used tae swim tae shore and swim by boats, even though her father always warned her against us. One day she met a man while he was out fishing. She enchanted him with her song, and he used tae gae out day after day just tae see her. “If ye look out in the distance, ye will see a wee island. It was on this island where the mermaid and the man spent their days, and the more time they spent taegether, the more they fell in love. But they were from two worlds and couldnae fit intae either. But it didnae matter. The mermaid’s father found out, and he didnae like the idea of her spending time with a man from the surface. He was the king of storms, and that night there was a storm like no other. “The man rowed out tae the island when dark clouds swirled above him. The sea suddenly became his enemy, chopping and rolling, with huge waves crashing down upon him.

It was a miracle that he made it tae that island at all, but when he did, he was taking his last breath. The mermaid was there tae drag him up tae shore, but despite trying everything she could, she couldnae bring him back tae life. “The thunder crashed and lightning lit up the sky as her father came tae her and told her that they could never mix. The mermaid wept and vowed that she would never forgive her father. She never went back home. She buried the man she loved and stayed on that island tae watch over him, and some men say that when ye sail by ye can hear her sad song, and sometimes ye can even hear crying as well,” Grizel said. Grizel was an elder of the Calbraith clan, although she was not a woman who garnered respect like other Highland elders because of her devotion to the old ways. Grizel’s shoulders were hunched forward, and she almost always used a gnarled cane to support her weight. Her eyes were cloudy, her lips pale and thin, and her hair was as wispy as an abandoned cobweb. She sat near a window with Niall and Isobel, and their younger brother Jamie.

Grizel was happy that some people bothered to listen to her. It had been a long time since anyone had paid her any attention. “Tell us a story about war!” Niall yelled out. The precocious boy always wanted to hear tales of warriors and great heroes. Isobel shot him a look, as she thought the story about the mermaid was good enough. “Ye always want tae hear about war.” The young girl pouted and crossed her arms firmly across her chest. “It’s the only thing that matters,” Niall shot back, nostrils flaring. Grizel nodded solemnly. The boy was just like his father.

Whether that was a good or a bad thing was yet to be determined. The siblings were beginning to bicker, so Grizel held up a hand in the hope of silencing them. “I will tell ye a story,” she said in her reedy, whispering voice. “Hae I ever told ye about Jeralt?” The children were silenced and looked up at her with wide eyes, shaking their heads. Grizel might have been old and forgotten by the rest of her clan, but she still knew how to command a captive audience. “Well, Jeralt was the finest man tae ever hae lived. He was strong and powerful, and it was said that no man could ever beat him in combat, or any animal either. He left home at a young age knowing that it was his destiny tae roam the land and prove that he was the strongest there was. He took his sword and fought anyone who was willing. He heard about monsters that were rampaging in the wilderness, and he killed them tae.

“His life was bathed in blood. He was a man of war, and he believed that if he just killed the right amount of people, everything would make sense tae him, but the years passed, and sae did the lives he took. He grew from a boy tae a man, and even though he was celebrated wherever he went, there was still something missing, although he wasnae sure what it was. Then he heard about the Beast of Drameg Way.” Grizel lowered her tone and leaned in, creating a sense of anticipation. Even Isobel, despite her initial objections, was curious about the rest of the tale. “It was said tae be a terrible thing, menacing merchants and travelers who passed through the valley. People described it as having a thousand teeth, each one of them as sharp as daggers, and claws that could cut through anything. Well, Jeralt was excited at the news, as ye can imagine! Finally, he thought this would be the battle that would define his life, a battle that would ring out through the ages and define his destiny. He prepared, ignoring the warning whispers of the people who were scared of the beast.

He rode his great steed to Drameg Way, only tae find that he wasnae alone.” “Was it the beast?” Niall cried out. “Oh nay, it was someone who would turn out tae be far more important tae him than any beast ever could. He rode up tae a woman who was sitting on a rock, gazing intae the distance. At first, she was sae still that he didnae know whether she was real or nae. Her hair was as dark as a raven’s wings, and there was something about her that took his breath away. “‘Who are ye?’ he asked. “‘Shamir,’ she replied. “‘Well, I would suggest ye leave. I’m here tae hunt the beast that lives in these parts.

It’s sure tae be a bloody battle, and I wouldnae want tae see a maiden as fair as ye get hurt.’ “Shamir laughed and rose, and brandished her sword. The sight of it impressed Jeralt. ‘Ye will hae tae be patient. I am here for the same reason, and I got here first. I hae first claim tae the beast.’ “Well, Jeralt laughed and laughed when he heard this! Never before had he come across something sae preposterous. He shook his head and assured Shamir that he would be able tae take care of the beast without any help at all, and he listed a number of his achievements and accomplishments. Most people bowed down in awe when they heard of his deeds, but nae Shamir—” “Get back tae the beast! I dinnae care about this Shamir,” Niall called out, scowling. “Patience, lad.

Patience,” Grizel said. Isobel had a haughty look on her face and was amused at the way Niall was scolded. Grizel sighed before she continued. “Anyway, Shamir looked Jeralt straight in the eye. “‘This beast haes been tormenting the region for tae long and I hae come here tae stop it. Nobody can dae decent trade until it haes been slain. I dinnae need ye.’ “Jeralt wasnae gaeing tae hae his moment of destiny taken away from him by some lass. His face twisted in fury as he drew his sword. ‘I am here tae slay the beast.

It is my destiny, and ye should respect that.’ “‘I dinnae care about destiny. While ye are worrying about what should happen, I’ll be off killing the beast,’ Shamir said, but Jeralt wasn’t gaeing tae let her leave. He drew his sword and was adamant that he was going to be the one to go after the beast, but his stubbornness was equal tae Shamir’s. They circled each other and started tae duel. “They fought sae fiercely that their swords sounded like thunder when they met. Jeralt had never met anyone who could meet his prowess, and as hard as he fought, Shamir fought just as hard. Well, of course, their fighting drew attention, and the beast came down, roaring.” “I wager that Jeralt was the one tae land the killing blow! I bet he showed Shamir who was the better fighter,” Niall said, but the smile on his face vanished once Grizel told him the truth. “Actually, they killed the beast taegether.

They were both strong, and neither of them was stupid. They knew that they were stronger taegether, sae when the beast reared its ugly head, they thrust their swords in at the same time and killed the beast, and after that…well…they stayed in Drameg Way for a wee while.” Grizel stifled a laugh. “Did they fight more?” Niall asked, finding it impossible to hide the disappointment from his face. “Oh aye, although nae in the way ye might think. They emerged from Drameg Way and told everyone that the beast had been slain and that it was safe for travel. But something had happened during that battle, something that changed Jeralt. He realized that killing wasnae gaeing tae bring him peace or a sense of fulfillment. He had been traveling all across the Highlands looking for…for something, but he haed never haed any idea of what that was until he met Shamir. There was something about that woman that stoked a fire in his soul, sae he asked her tae stay.

She had seen something in him as well, sae she did stay. Because of their heroics, they were given some land as a reward, and they ended up settling there. Since Jeralt had abandoned his family name a long time ago, he took Shamir’s, and they became the first settlers of the Calbraith clan.” Grizel wore a satisfied smile on her face as the children realized that the story was actually about them, about their lineage. “And if ye look over there, ye will see the swords they had.” Grizel pointed with a trembling finger to the wall, upon which two swords hung. Niall rose and walked over to the display, admiring the old blades. One of them was long and thick, while the other was smaller and more elegant, but both were powerful, and the sight of them conjured feelings of awe. “Tell us another story!” Niall whipped his head around moved through the other relics that had been gathered over the years. Each one of them had a story, and Grizel was proud of her collection, although most people mocked her and thought these things were nothing more than trinkets that should have been tossed away a long time ago.

If they had their way, Grizel would be tossed away along with them. “I’m sure I can think of a few more,” Grizel said. Her mind was alive with stories of heroes and beasts, of myths and legends. Stories were what connected them with the past and what built the bridge to the future, and to her, they were the most important things in her mind. They were her most precious possessions, and nothing could ever take them away from her. But just as she was settling down to tell another tale, the door to the room opened, and Laird Hamish Calbraith stood there, looking every inch like a hero of old. Whenever Grizel looked at father and son, she was certain that in Hamish she saw Niall’s future, and this worried her. “Come on ye three, ye hae spent enough time here. Grizel, I hope ye hae nae been filling their heads with yer silly stories,” Hamish said harshly. His features were as jagged as a mountainside, and every movement was imbued with his strength.

He snapped his fingers, beckoning his children to his side. No doubt he had some kind of training or something for them to prepare for. “They’re nae silly!” Isobel protested. “Grizel tells us all kinds of stories about magic and monsters.” Grizel smiled at the kindness of the girl, but Hamish sighed and shook his head. “I knew it was a mistake tae let ye spend tae much time here. I dinnae mind ye amusing yerselves with a wee story now and then, but there’s no truth tae them. There’s no such thing as magic, and as for monsters, well, there are none like the ones Grizel describes. Ye should know better than tae believe everything ye hear,” he said. Grizel noticed the scornful look he gave to the artifacts she had collected over the years.

“Yeah, they’re just stories,” Niall said, rising to stand like his father. Grizel felt her heart break. She had never had children of her own and hoped that she might have had a positive influence on the laird’s children, but it seemed as though some people were destined to walk a path they could not escape from. Isobel protested again, while Jamie declared that he wanted to grow up big and strong, just like the heroes in the stories. But it was Niall who Grizel was most worried about. He was the one who was going to be laird. He was the one who was going to define the next generation, and if he didn’t believe her, then the stories of magic were always going to be dismissed. “I wouldnae be sae dismissive, Niall. I hae seen unexplainable things, and if ye open yer eyes, ye will see them tae. I hae nae even told ye about the creature that lives in the loch—” she began, hoping to tempt Niall back with the promise of another story about another strange creature, but Hamish put an end to any hope of that.

The laird walked into the room and placed his hands on Niall’s shoulders. “That will hae tae wait for another day. Niall haes more important matters tae attend tae rather than being distracted by these stories,” he spoke dismissively, as though nothing in Grizel’s life mattered at all. The children left, and she was left alone with her artifacts. In her heart, she knew that all the stories were real and that magic was real, but if the same wonder did not take hold in Niall’s heart, then the future was doomed. She hoped that Niall would heed her warnings and not become exactly like his father.

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