Tuesday, March 6, 2018

On Her Own {P.1}


          Shortly after the Yule and New Year festivities, Maisie was gone again. However, this time it wasn't in secrecy during the early morning, nor late at night, but with a reluctant send-off from her parents, who knew well that even if they didn't, she would have gone nonetheless. Connor had already left once more despite his broken hand on the pretenses that he was going stir crazy and he wasn't going to be long, but it had already been a couple of days and Maisie didn't care that he wasn't there to say goodbye. After that one night, both Maisie and Connor seemed to just silently accept to avoid each other and not speak of what happened, and while Maisie healed, Connor managed to hurt himself even more. She had told their parents that she would be only a couple of weeks, but in truth, she had no idea when she would be back again, the only thing she knew was that she needed some time away from the family and to learn things her own way. Here she was now, being suffocated by her mother hugging her and sobbing on her shoulder, mumbling about being safe and coming home alive. While her father stood there stern as always trying not to show that he didn't want her to go, but with a twitch of the corners of his mouth, she knew he was having a hard time letting her go too.
         "Maidread...are you sure you want to do this?" Her father asked, as her mother let her go and sent Maisie gasping for a full breath. Her mother stepped aside and her father stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it like how he did after delivering her her punishment a couple of weeks ago. Neither of them had talked about it after it was done, and she couldn't help but remember the sound of his belt hitting her back. 
         "Yes, the life here you want me to have isn't the life I want. It's not who I am, and I intend to find exactly that. You let me leave to go to schooling, this is nothing different." She swallowed down the shake in her voice and gave her father her best stubborn face, that he had grown to know over the years he had raised her. And with another squeeze to her shoulder, he let his hand drop and stepped aside as well. Both of them watched her mount Ogma, who seemed oblivious to the emotional scene by sticking her nose into the snow and then snorting and sneezing the cold white fluffy snow everywhere. It brought a small smile on Maisie's face and she was glad she hadn't lost her in her encounter with the Camerons, nor to the wild animals that lurked in the forest. Running her hand across Ogma's side, Ogma lifted her head up from the snow and shook the last remains of the snow from her snout and set her head up proudly as if she hadn't just been playing in the snow. Her father walked up to Ogma's face and ran his hand down her neck.
          "You take good care of her, little honey lass, and she will take good care of you. Bring her home safe to us."

Ogma snorted in response, and that was all her father needed and stepped back once more and with one final nod towards her parents, she spurred Ogma into a trot away from the house, away from family, and towards her own life.

 ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***

 It was the morning of the fourth day, the temperature had dropped through the night and the small fire she had built quickly became not enough to keep her warm, and she woke shivering and her muscles sore. The bruising across her back had healed before she left, but sleeping out on the frozen ground and the dropping temperatures reminded her of her privileged life. Within the past year, she had been out in the open nature more than she had ever been in her life, and she had many sprouts of wanting to go back, but she would look at the road ahead of her and think about everything that she hadn't seen yet. So far, as she looked at it, she still hadn't burst through the familiarity bubble of the land before her, and until that happens, she needed to keep on going. Shaking the frost off her blanket, she walked over to where Ogma had begun to scuff at the ground to get at the grass underneath the sparkling white and threw the blanket over Ogma's back where she hoped it would stay warm underneath the saddle for when she needed it again. By the look at the dim light growing on the horizon, it was only a couple of hours before the sunrise would be complete and a new day would start. Sighing, she made her way to a large, wide-trunked tree where in hopes to keep her food safe, she hung the saddle and saddlebags up in the tree. She stared up at them now, regretting her decision as her back muscles protested. She had picked this particular tree for its large sturdy branches and easy access up them, but last night when she had pulled the saddlebags up by a rope, with much difficulty, she didn't think as far as how she would take them down the next morning. Walking closer to the tree, she began to circle it, until she found the specific branch that she had used previously, and reached up to grab it. It was just at head height, and she had to jump up to get a good grip on it. The rough bark made for wonderful handholds, and it wasn't long before she was perching on the branch like a bird. Ogma looked up from the grass towards Maisie and gave her an almost human look.
          'You're going to fall.' 
It said to her, and just as Maise lifted her hand from the branch to wave away the pseudo mockery her horse was giving her, her flat soled boots lost grip on the frosty branch, and she went tumbling off, landing hard on the frozen ground butt first. Pain shot through her tailbone up her spine and she had to throw a hand over her mouth to muffle her scream and a few swear words that would have gotten her a smack across the head if her mother ever heard her say. She heard a very laugh-like whine come from the peanut gallery that was her horse, and she glared in her direction. The two of them have spent so much time together that sometimes Maisie believed that Ogma was a human in her soul, one to keep her company, protect her, and on occasions like this, make fun of her stupidity. Suddenly, Maisie could feel a nudge at her shoulder and then a cold wet horse nose in her ear, and for the first time that morning, she had forgotten about her pain. reaching up, she stroked Ogma's nuzzle.
          "Yes, I'm alright, thank you for checking up on me," she let out a little giggle and using Ogma's reins, she pulled herself back up. "Let's get those stubborn things down and get going, shall we? We have a long road ahead of us still."

***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***         ***          ***         ***
To be continued....

Friday, December 29, 2017

Something to Prove

{Connected to: http://winteringincaledonia.blogspot.ca/2017/12/chapter-nine-consequences-of-our-actions.html and co-written by  }

Everything about that word was painful. Painful as in the cuff to the ears from her father, painful as in the suffocating hugs from her mother, painful as in the look about Connor, painful as in failure, and painful as in when her father’s belt rained down across her back, with the black bruises hidden underneath her shirt. Upon arrival, nothing was spoken about her little trip, only the same thing yelled at her multiple times throughout her punishment.

- “You foolish girl!”
- “You could have been killed or worse!”
- “What were you thinking you daft girl?!”
- “No daughter of mine does such a thing!”
- “You caused your poor mother to become sick with worry!”

She had heard it all before, but this time it wasn’t towards one of her sisters, and the thrash, thrash of a belt hitting home was on her back not their’s. Despite the intense pain she went through each time the flexible material of the belt wrapped around her back and side with each hit, she did not cry out, her fingernails carving grooves into the wooden fence that made the horse paddock. All she could do was stare towards Connor’s cabin with a determined look, wondering what had happened to him, all the while forming her next plan. With each thrash, she became more determined to leave again; each thrash cementing her realization that they still see and treat her as a little girl; each thrash sending a painful reminder what it was like to fail.
After five or so she had stopped counting and the longer it went on, the quicker she became numb to it, her father’s voice going quiet as he was only being answered by the sound of his belt and not her. Several minutes had gone by, and she hadn’t noticed that it had stopped until she felt a gentle squeeze on her shoulder.
“Maisie…it’s done….” The hand lifted from her shoulder, and his footsteps receded away from her without another word. She didn’t know when he would ever forgive her again, and at this point, she didn’t care. As she stood there still unmoved from her position during her punishment, rage filled her; a rage that reflected the bright red welts that now crisscrossed across her back over top the bruises she obtained during her encounter with the Camerons. This rage drove her to move, her fingers lifting away from the wood bloody and she marched towards Connor’s cabin, what she wanted to say already forming in her head. 


Meanwhile, hidden with his cabin Connor sunk into the seat in front of the cabin's hearth, pressing the opening of the bottle to his lips and drinking down yet another mouthful of Caledonian mead. While he could hear the punishment go on, the only thoughts that went through his head that Maisie deserved the pain for what she did, then the rest of his mind was blank...
 A quick secession of knocks interrupted his drink, with each knock she left behind little dots of her blood from her fingertips splattering the dark wood stain. It had been more than an hour since they had arrived home, and he had been inside his cabin ever since, his wordless return with Maisie concerning the whole household. Their parents were too busy with Maisie to even try to talk to him, and behind this door, he remained undisturbed. 
Maisie remembered the way he looked on top of that bloodied man, the crazed look in his eyes, and her yelling his name being the only thing that broke him from the frantic spell. Whatever caused him to act like that, she was determined to find out as well as demand that he teach her how to fight properly.
Connor didn't answer. He continued to stare into the fire, drinking his mead and flexing and unflexing the hand he had used to beat the man with. Now that his adrenaline was gone he could feel the pain from it all. The silence from behind the door fueled the rage within her more. Knocking harder this time, she made sure that she could feel the door vibrate with each knock, almost making impossible not to hear.

“Connor, damn you! Open this door, I know you’re in there!”

The lock on the door clicked but the door didn't open. Connor returned to his spot in front of the fire and to his drinking. Even before he sat down, the door was swung open and Maisie marched into the cabin, slamming the door behind her. The bottle in his hand and his blank stare into the fire frustrated her even more, the pain of her back reflecting her emotions like a stormy black sea.  She stormed over to him, and grabbed the bottle from his grasp, lifted it to her lips and took a swig of the strong liquid then set it down on a table out of direct reach of Connor. The mead slipped down her throat and her cheeks began to warm up from the winter air but did nothing to subside her anger.

“What’s your problem?! You said nothing to me on the way here, and then immediately blocked yourself away from everyone since we got home, the only company you desire is at the bottom of a bottle!”

Connor looked right past her to the bottle he had nursing since he had returned home, then turned his glare to her as she yelled at him. 
"What?" He shrugged. "You want me to comfort you? Tell Dad what he did was wrong? You snuck off the farm like a prisoner from a jail. You got what you deserved." He pushed her aside and grabbed the bottle and took his seat back in front of the fire. "Now go throw your tantrums to someone who is going to give a shite."

Maisie threw her hands up in the air. To her, Connor was acting like a moody teenager that was sent to his room on the account of making a sarcastic remark at the dinner table. 
“ I left because I was a prisoner! You don’t understand because you left me behind years ago! You have no idea the pressure both Mother and Father push on me to be the ‘perfect daughter’  since Sorcha and Alana didn’t turn out how they wanted them to be, and you ran off to be a Nomad instead of staying to take care of the farm with Father. I have to be the good girl and become a boring house-wife,” She breathed heavily, venting out everything that had been bottled up for years. “Plus, if you care so little about the well fare of your sister to basically tell her to f**** off then I will. Send Father and Mother my regards.” With a final huff, she stormed off out of the cabin with a set mind. She was leaving again and she didn’t care how cold it was outside, nor how much she hurt, nor how much their parents would kill her if and when they got their hands on her again.
Connor stormed out of the cabin moments later, grabbing Maisie by the wrist and spinning her around to look at him, he then grabbed her by the scuff of her shift, lifted her up, and slammed her hard into the door of the cabin. 

"If you knew anything about mother and father you wouldn't be saying such stupid things. Of course, they have an idea of what they want from their children. Every parent does, but they also want them to travel their own path and become their own person. In the end, one always returns to the farm." Connor squeezed her shirt tightly, pressing her harder against the door, his lips pulled back over his teeth on his rage, his knuckles had started to bleed again and he could feel the white-hot pain of his broken knuckles as they protested the strain he was putting them through. "Aye. I left. But mother and father knew I was leaving. I didna put on a dress and sneak out in the wee hours of the morning. I had been telling them for months I was leaving. Father would tell me no and mother would ignore the topic, but when the day came they did’na try and stop me because they love me and know that I need to follow my own path" Connor let Maisie drop to the ground and pushed her away from the door. Opening it, he paused in the doorway and turned to her "You wanna go play the rebel child, then you go right ahead and do it. But you go out there, with what you know, you will die… or worse…" He slammed the door behind him and locked it, returning to his bottle and the memories of the other night.

The rage and fire burned still within, but as she sat there in the cold, her shirt thin enough that her raw back stung at each breeze a thought crossed her mind. Kampi would know how to deal with Connor…Connor will listen to him before he listened to his younger sister…

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Runaway {P.3}

{Connected to: http://winteringincaledonia.blogspot.ca/2017/12/part-six-young-knight.html}

On the second night, Maisie fell to the exhaustion of not sleeping well through the first night and riding through the cold winter day. It had certainly grown cold enough for it to snow, but thankfully it had held off, making it easier for her to navigate through the forest. The small fire she had created with what dry sticks she could find, had been enough for her to cook up a broth of herbs and dehydrated beef chucks for her and Ogma to eat, however, Ogma seemed more interested in the grass and licking the frost off of it than anything else. After Ogma became bored of the grass, she laid down behind Maisie, curling up around her in an attempt to get as close to the fire as possible, and with the falling steady breathing of Ogma behind her back, the warmth of the fire, and a filled belly, it didn’t take long for her eyes to close.

She didn’t know how long she had been sleeping, and as she tried to move the stiffness out of her muscles, she quickly found out that she couldn’t move. Slowly coming to a more conscious state, unfamiliar voices surrounded her and the rough material of rope at her wrists.
“Aye, but we’ll be takin’ the lad to the Laird. He’ll know what to do with this spy or whatever he is.” The voice was the closest to her, and very loud. It had a certain gruffness to it, and it sent her heart jumping into her throat. The rest of the voices all began to speak at once in a mixture of English dripping in an accent similar to hers and Gaelic to fast for her to translate. Too afraid to open her eyes, she laid there still trying to keep her breathing steady and not to scream out.  “Èist do bheul! Tis decided we’re takin’ the lad and his horse! Roy, wake him and he’ll go on the saddle with ye.” The gruff voice spoke again, clearly the leader of the particular group, and his heavy footsteps reseeded away from her as another pair approached her. Suddenly, her breath was driven from her lungs as the second pair of boots were driven into her ribs with a jolt, and her eyes opened wide as she coughed. With a chuckle, a bearded face with brown eyes hovered over her as he grabbed her bound hands behind her and lifted her to her feet. 
          “Come on now lad, you’re comin’ with us whether you like it or not. The Laird will want to see ya.” The man who she figured was Roy, exclaimed waiting for her to finish coughing. He wore his tartan around his hips and draped around his shoulders to ward off the cold winter air, and he was at least a foot taller than her. An axe hung at each hip, and a sgian-dubh tucked in his long wool socks which reminded of her own that still hung at her hip. “Ah, I’ll be takin’ that for now. The last thing we need is for ya to be runnin’ away.” He chuckled again as her eyes fell to her sgian-dubh, and swiftly took it out of her belt with his free hand and slipped it into his other sock. His grip on her wrists grew tighter, and he watched her assessing if she would start to struggle, but she stayed still, her coughing done, the pain in her side her only reminder that he had kicked her. “Smart lad. With me now,” and with a tug, he began to lead her to where the rest of the party were. They already mounted their horses and waiting for them.
Glaring at all the faces looking down at her, she took in her surroundings, and it didn’t take long for her to realize that she was largely outnumbered and outmatched, and her only real escape was tied to a tether from the leader’s horse, Ogma. Each one of them wore the nine-yard kilt, but in a different preference to each one, and something about the tartan seemed familiar to her.
She was caught staring confused at their tartan, and their leader let out a deep laugh.
“What, lad? Never seen a kilt before? Man, you really are a wee barin,” All six of them fell into a chorus laughter. But there it was again, they had called her ‘lad’, and it only took her a couple more moments to realize she had still her hat on  that covered her long red hair from her captors. They believed she was a boy, and she wasn’t about to correct them on it. She didn’t know much about surviving, but she did know that most of the time in a situation like this, it was best to be a boy. Females were not treated kindly.
Maisie dropped her eyes and tried to shrink deeper into her disguise, but there was only so much she could do when the man that had her by the wrists grabbed her by under the arms and lifted her to the saddle like she was a mere doll. His hands had brushed up against the side of her breasts and she couldn’t help but to flitch away and let out a shriek. Curling her arms around her torso, and her whole face quickly turning red, she avoided the stares of alarm from the men. She knew her facade was up, and she didn’t want to meet their eyes.
“Ah…what do we have here lads, eh? A lass in boy’s clothing? How about that boys! What do you think? Think the Laird would like a good laugh?” The head of the group spoke up, breaking the stunned silence, with all the confidence that she was currently lacking.  
          “She definitely shrieks like one…” a different voice spoke up. One that she didn’t really notice  before now. He rubbed his ears and while winching as the others chuckled and nodded their heads. He was probably the youngest one out of them all, his curly hair a light ginger like hers and tired back with some leather. Through her quick glance at him, she could see a scar that marked one side of his face that went to the other, directly across his right eye to the left side of his jaw line. Upon him turning in his saddle, her eyes feel onto his, or at least his one. The eye that lay within the scar was white and clouded, hints of red tangling themselves inwards like lighting strikes within the clouds. What ever that had caused that scar made him blind in one eye. “It’s not like I kan see much of her or him, for that matter. I hope she doesn’t look too much like a boy, or the laird’s daughter won’t be able to keep her hands off of him. We all know what happened last time,” he joked, but something in his voice hinted at pity. He pitied her that she was there, with no hope of escaping, and he looked at her with what was left of his sight with a flash of concern. With her disguise shattered, she couldn’t help blushing under his gaze. He was different from the rest of them, and she didn’t know why.
Roy mounted the saddle behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist to keep her from either siding off or escaping, and with a nod from the head of the group, the seven of them started to move down the trail, leaving the only sign of their presence as the fire pit that Maisie had made during the night. As silence fell on them, Maisie looked up at the trail and forest around them confused. Nothing looked familiar, and the further they went, the more lost she felt.

Hours passed, and Maisie had came to the conclusion long ago that she had made a wrong turn onto a path that lead her straight to these men. However, no matter how much she stared at the sea of tartan in front of her, she couldn’t figure out which clan they were from and her surroundings were not helping. Around after mid-day, the silence was broken by the harmonizing of six tenor voices all singing a song that didn’t take her long to recognize. 

“'Sé do bheatha, a bhean ba léanmhar,
Do b' é ár gcreach thú bheith i ngéibheann,
Do dhúiche bhreá i seilbh méirleach,
Is tú díolta leis na Gallaibh.

Óró, sé do bheatha 'bhaile,
Óró, sé do bheatha 'bhaile,
Óró, sé do bheatha 'bhaile
Anois ar theacht an tsamhraidh.

Tá Gráinne Mhaol ag teacht thar sáile,
Óglaigh armtha léi mar gharda,
Gaeil iad féin is ní Frainc ná Spáinnigh,
Is cuirfidh siad ruaig ar Ghallaibh…”

{“Welcome oh woman who was so afflicted,
It was our ruin that you were in bondage,
Our fine land in the possession of thieves...
And you sold to the foreigners!

Oh-ro You're welcome home,
Oh-ro You're welcome home,
Oh-ro You're welcome home...
Now that summer's coming!

Gráinne O'Malley is coming over the sea,
Armed warriors along with her as her guard,
They're Irish themselves, not French nor Spanish,
And they will rout the foreigners!…”}

Their voices echoed through the forest, the birds making their own melody along with it, and for a minute, Maisie forgot they were strangers. Their connection with the land and their passion for their history reflected her own, connecting them in a way she never thought would happen. And as their song came to an end, she found herself singing along with them.

They made camp sometime after, Maisie being restricted to the short length of excess rope from her wrists while the other end wrapped around a tree tightly. And from her seat at the base of the tree in the snow, she watched them prepare for the night ahead. A clearing was made out of the snow that created a walled circle of which they made their camp. Maisie’s tree just sat on the border of this circle, close enough to be kept an eye on but not close enough to be in the way. The fire was put up next, and their bed rolls laid out around it creating a horseshoe at where Maisie was at the opening. The efficiency of which the camp was made impressed her, and in no time, they had ate their fill of rations and began to settle down for the night. The half-blind man on first watch.   
The crackling of the fire and the loud snoring of the men kept Maisie from falling asleep along with her fear of what they would do to her. If she hadn’t gave away her sgian-dubh by looking at it earlier, this would have been the perfect opportunity to try to escape, but with nothing but ice covered rocks and protruding roots around her, she had nothing to try to cut the rope with. Another reason was that the half-blind man sat there staring at her from across the fire. She squirmed under his eye, and she attempted to become interested in little field mouse making its way across the snow, but her eyes kept drifting back to his. He made a quick glance to his sleeping comrades and upon deciding they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon, he stood up and made his way over to her.
          “What’s your name, lass?” He scrapped at the snow beside her with his foot and when there was a big enough spot of clear ground he sat down. 
Her body tensed and her words were caught in her throat unable to get past her fear of him. His question going unanswered, he asked again. “I said, what’s your name lass? I’m not going to hurt ya for giving me your name.” He added the last part as a reassurance. 
With no where to escape to, Maisie had no choice but to answer him, his breath literally warming the air around them. 
“Maidread MacPherson, of the MacPherson clan,” she swallowed back a quiver in her voice.
“Hrmm…” The tone of his voice wasn’t good. It was a ‘hrmm’ of bad news and she didn’t like it. “MacPherson you say? Well, it’s a good thing Cruim didn’t find out this when he first saw ya or else ya wouldn’t be here,” he gestured toward the sleeping figure of the man she named as the leader. With confirmation that her guess was right, her fear of him grew and she became thankful he was currently sleeping. “’Cause ya see…we’re of the Cameron clan, and our laird doesn’t take too kindly to MacPhersons. You’re trip there more than likely ending in your death regardless of your gender..." He trailed off watching her whole body curl inwards as all hope escaped from her mind. 

She started to shake both due to the cold and the recent events overwhelming her. The man beside her kept quiet for a few moments, and when he drew his eyes away from her he spoke again. “I’m Cian, that’s Duff, and Neil, then Gus,” he pointed each one of them as he spoke their names, and within the light of the fire, Maisie could see more scars that marked up his hand and disappearing under his wool jacket. She wondered why he was telling her all of this, her only knowledge of situations like this through stories told to her by her father or Connor. Cian was acting unlike the stories, and he spoke to like she was an invited guest not a captive.
“Why..why are you treating me nice?” 
“Oh, and the lass speaks! Such a voice that contrasts against her looks. A boy on the outside, and a scared girl on the inside. Why is this?” He chuckled softly. “Ran from home I presume?”
Her head snapped to face him, her eyes wide suddenly as he figured out why she was there without a single word from her.
“I’ll take that as I’m right? Aye? Well, by the looks of ya, ya don’t know what ya’re doing out here,” he sighed. “You wouldn’t of lasted long…”
He went quiet then he began doing the unexpected. With a dagger suddenly in his hands, he began cutting at the rope at her wrists, and with only a few flicks, her she was free. Bringing her arms forward, her shoulders were stiff and she rubbed at the rope burn around her wrists while staring after him. He stood up and walked to Roy who mumbled in his sleep something about cows, and with careful precision, Cian produced Maisie’s sgian-dubh from Roy’s sock. Tossing it in front of her with a clatter, he pointed back to the path they had just came from. “If you follow that, you’ll be back onto your own land in no time. I suggest that you go through the night and do not stop. Cruim won’t be happy that you’d be gone in the morning and he might go after ya.”

Blinking at him, Maisie grabbed her sgian-dubh, stood up and walked carefully to the entrance of the path, stepping between the maze of sleeping bodies waiting for one of them to wake. When none of them even stirred she finally let go the breath she had been holding.           “Why are you doing this?”

“Why? Because I had a daughter of mine own, and you remind me of her.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Runaway {P.2}

         {Following: http://winteringincaledonia.blogspot.ca/2017/12/part-five-drowned-lands.html}

          Hunched over the back of Ogma, her honey-yellow mare, named for her love of sugar and creamy honey coat, Maisie rode away with her back to the farm. She tried to not look back, but she couldn’t help but to steal a glance over her shoulder towards the oranges, reds, and pinks of the sun rising above the roof of the house and the fields. The sun casted it’s glow onto the frost-tipped grass and suddenly the scene before her was sparkling in the early morning, innocent and quiet; untouched by the corruption of adulthood. There was were she grew up, and there was where she would of became a housewife at her mother’s wishes; married young to a land owner twice her age, (it was a miracle that she wasn’t already at the age of 20), and on her way to being a mother herself. However, the more her mother coddled her and taught her how to run the house as a lady, the more her heart yearned for adventure. 

Maisie’s heart pounded in her chest the further Ogma took her, the house growing smaller with distance and she wondered if either her mother or father had discovered the note left in her bedroom. The adrenaline from earlier when her father had come extremely close to discovering her escape when he entered the stables on his way back to the house. There was no reason for him to be in there, the stalls not needing to be mucked, nor the horses’ troughs filled of hay, nor their buckets filled with water from the well, yet there he was, walking down through the walkway. With no other choice, Maisie dove into the loose stack of hay in the far corner of Ogma’s stall; the very one that Ogma was taking a particular interest in at the moment, and gave it a very confused snort when Maisie interrupted her meal. Taking the snort as to his entrance, her father approached Ogma’s stall, leaning over the mid-torso height gate of the stall. He either didn’t care enough or didn’t notice that Ogma was fully tacked complete with bursting saddle bags, but he stayed quiet about it. It seemed that he was too busy talking to either himself or the horses, to either one that listened.
‘That boy of mine…he has grown so much…’ Pride mixed with a heavy longing for the past dripped off his words like fog rolling over the hillside. The only boy out of four girls, Connor held a special place at their father’s side that could never be replaced, and Maisie, through watching him over the past year or so, could tell that Connor’s absence slowly ate at him. The worst part of being a parent is letting go of your children to allow them to grow up on their own…

Only when Maisie knew he was gone, had she clawed her way out of the hay, picking off large strands of it out of her hair and sending a mouse that had been climbing up her leg the entire time, scattering off into the corners of the stables. Getting a glance at her reflection in the pale water of Ogma’s water bucket, it seemed her dive into the hay had been just what she needed to finish her disguise. Smelling of stables, dirt smeared on her face and her clothes scuffed, and her long hair tucked away, she looked more like a boy than anything else. Halting her fingers from picking off the rest of the hay and dirt, she decided to leave it.

        She rode now, the farm now out of view and with the next decision before her. If she continued onto the road she was on, it would lead her to the mountain pass called Drumochter that, within a day or so, would take her directly to the Capital, or she could take the winding paths through the forest of Alder. The forest was less traveled and safer for a solo rider to take, especially if that rider isn’t skilled at fighting like her, but it took twice as long. Connor had only left at least two hours before her, her near discovery putting her behind from when she wanted to be on the road, but she still wanted to keep her distance from him. She knew he would of taken his dogs with him,  as they haven’t left his side since they had gotten back, and she had to take that into account. With them wandering free as a protective bubble around Connor, their training allowing them to alert him to any danger ahead of time was going to be the bane of Maisie’s whole trip. Pulling up the reins, Maisie took the risk of pausing on the open road with the cross-roads in front of her. This was her last chance to turn back and go home, and to forget about the her dangerous dreams that followed Connor’s life, but with every passing second that she sat there, the more she needed to do this. Letting out a deep sigh, she spurred Ogma into a trot onto the narrow entrance into the forest and off the main road. Taking the risk that Connor had taken the main road to the Capital with the importance of his arrival.

Ogma was used to uneven ground.  Maisie taking her through the trails of the forest and fields  many times before when she wanted to escape her mother, so the path into the forest of Alder wasn’t overly difficult for her. However, it was the white frost on the ground that proved to be Ogma’s trouble. The moss covered rocks and solid ground was slippery under her hooves and Maisie could feel Ogma’s hooves slide on occasion. 
“Ruigidh each mall muileann, Ogma.”- “Slow and steady does it, Ogma.” She slowed Ogma down to a careful pace, and keeping an eye out for any particular icy spots,  Maisie lead her down the path. With her eyes cast downwards, her eyes picked up the faintest signs of another traveler that previously gone down this path. A frost outlined hoof print, a broken twig, and a pair of imprinted dog prints in the luscious moss. The thought of the pair running across highwaymen or bandits or wolves, made her lungs freeze in her chest. Her only weapon being her sgian-dubh, and very little training with it, she wasn’t prepared to defend herself, let alone her horse. Her heart knocked on the inside of her ribs like the tax-collectors knocking on their door every month, and her hand went to the smooth black hilt of her sgian-dubh. 

Despite her alertness, Maisie began to enjoy the leisurely ride through the forest, taking in the sights of the rich green and browns, sparking in the cool morning dew and frost, and as they weaved their way through the path, after a hour or two, she could hear the trickling of a stream ahead.
Judging by the light that made it’s way through the trees, Maisie guessed that it was mid-day which meant she had been riding enough to justify a break. Leading Ogma off the trail and to a stop, she swung her leg and hopped off the saddle, rubbing the inside of her thighs to put some blood and feeling back into them. Ogma almost immediately happily began to munch on the tall, undisturbed grass, her huffs of hot breath melting the frost. Reaching into the closest saddlebag, Maisie produced one of three water-skins she had filled with icicles to melt overnight, and took a huge gulp. The shock of the cold water caused her to cough, but despite the cold weather around her, it was very refreshing. Peacefully, the pair stood in each other’s company, when suddenly Ogma’s ears perked up from their relaxed state. Off to the other side of the path into the brushes, a twig snapped, and a black nose attached to a long grey mussel appeared. Maisie’s hand shot to her sgian-dubh, and the other on Ogma’s reins. She had barely a plan formed in her head, and her hands shook, but she didn’t take her eyes off the new arrival. As the body emerged through the bushes, the small black eyes went from curiosity, to confusion, to recognition all in a minute and the animal happily approached Maisie with it’s tail wagging. 
Letting out a sigh of relief that inevitably ended the panic attack she was about to have, Maisie realized it was one of Connor’s greyhounds. Maisie looked around and waited for Connor to follow or the rest of the dogs, but all she could hear was the distant chase of a small animal around her echoed with the barks of the rest of his six dogs.
“Annabelle…bha eagal orm leth gu bàs.” -“ Annabelle…you scared me half to death.”
At the sound of her name, the young greyhound trotted across the path to Maisie, who at this point relaxed and knelt on the wet grass when Annabelle got to her. Ruffling the dog on the top of her head, Maisie couldn’t help but smile at the youngest of the six dogs that attached themselves to Connor’s hip throughout the years. Annabelle was recognizable by her slim size and lighter colorings on her fur, and curious personality. Where the rest would of greeted her with a bark and a growl before recognizing Maisie through scent, Annabelle approached wearily but with curiosity.  

Hugging Annabelle to her chest, Maisie took comfort in the little slice of home despite only being a half a days ride away. The bubble that surrounded the farm was her security and this was the first time she had left it voluntarily. Her trip to Arrakis was by complete accident and chance, but a part of her believes that is was apart of her fate. Without the trip, she wouldn’t of had the courage to sneak out of the house nor the bravery in herself to attempt to mask herself as a boy.
“I’m sorry mother, but I had to do this.” Sighing, she buried her face in Annabelle’s fur, then after a few moments, she let go and stood back up. “Thalla air ais!” Maisie commanded while pointing to the direction the dog had come from, Annabelle now looking up at her with her big brown eyes, but the saddest look a creature could have, Annabelle obeyed and went back into the forest in a sprint. Watching her go, Maisie led Ogma back onto the trail and mounted back onto the saddle. 

If his dogs were near by, so was he, and Maisie didn’t want to run into him this close to their home, so she spurred Ogma into a trot once again. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Runaway

{To read all about Connor and their family visit: https://winteringincaledonia.blogspot.ca}

           Laying as still as she could, she awaited underneath her blankets on her bed desperately trying to not hold her breath in anticipation. Her goal was to be assumed to be still sleeping through the dawn as her mother would come and check on her as scheduled, the exclamations of both of her sisters yelling ‘Mother!’ in the mornings as they were now old enough to be in serious relationships, yet their mother would still would check on them. It was a habit that she would never break out of with the children that lived at home. Connor was the lucky one and didn’t have to deal with their mother’s habits anymore.
As the footsteps reseeded down the hallway after the door to her bedroom had been closed, Maisie waited for a little bit longer, waiting for the next signal.
She could hear her mother talking in a hushed voice with her father, their words hard to make out, but Maisie could understand the jest of it. Their mother was worried about Connor leaving again, and their father, bless his soul, was trying to reassure her that he will be fine. The pair contracted each other so much but somehow made it work.
The familiar creak of the old wooden front door closing was the signal she had been waiting for.
Jumping into action, the suppressed anticipation now pumping through her veins as she flipped open the blankets to reveal that she laid awaiting in improvised disguise, an old pair of Connor’s pants altered to fit her, a square-like tunic that hid her curves that she had made in secrecy during the night, an old pair of their father’s boots that came to her knees, and a winter button jacket she had bartered for at the small market for a couple of pairs of woven wool socks. A packed small saddlebag was hidden as well, and her sgian-dubh that was given to her upon her return from Arrakis on her belt. 
Standing up from the bed, she quickly swung the small saddlebag over her shoulder and reached underneath her pillow to produce a woolen hat commonly worn by stable boys. With her hair braided high on her head, she tugged the hat over her head, and her hair was suddenly hidden. Making her way to her bedroom door, she stopped in front of the mirror and assessed her disguise. She lacked the muscle mass of a common stable boy or any boy that worked on a farm for that matter, but with a few dirt streaks across the face and scratches upon her cheeks, she could easily pass for a teenage boy with her height. Nodding in satisfaction at her reflection, she exited her room, only leaving a scribbled note on her bedside table to her whereabouts. 

With the age of the house, the floorboards groaned and creaked underfoot, but with her parents temporarily out of the house, and her sisters still sleeping, Maisie didn’t need to take care, and she sprinted down the stairs into the main front room, and making a sliding turn away from the front door, she made her way towards the back of the house. The kitchens lay that way, and the cooks and their helpers would be already in there preparing for the household’s morning meal, and upon Maisie’s appearance, they all stopped what they were doing. Ignoring them, Maisie went through the kitchen with a destination in mind. The cellars. 
Accumulated over the past couple of days, Maisie had been saving little bits of food from each meal, wrapping them up in waxed parchment and hiding them in an empty jar that hasn’t been touched in years in the cold atmosphere of the cellars. At this time of the year, they were cold enough to freeze certain foods, sometimes even colder than the outside temperature. Rushing in there now, she quickly stepped over other jars and boxes until she spotted her jar on the back corner peeking out from behind a box of milk jugs. Popping off the lid of the jar, she grabbed a bundle and left as quickly as she came. If her timing was right, her parents would be just at Connor’s cabin now, sending him off, and when their mother was involved, she would send him away reminding him of the dangers and a hug that squeezed away his breath. Having slipped past the cooks once again, she finally got herself out of the house without any issues.

Running low in the field between the house and the stables, she kept an eye on the figures of her parents, she watched them give their farewells to Connor, little to their knowledge that one of their other children was leaving too. It pained Maisie that should couldn’t give them a proper goodbye, but she knew that they wouldn’t of let her go if they knew that she planned on following Connor to the capital. She had made a promise too, and the MacPhersons didn’t break their promises. Undetected she made it into the stables safe, the warm and quietness inside the walls forcing her to take a deep breath and slow down. The horses looked up at her entrance, her own mare letting out a whine as she approached her.
“Ciùin Ogma, bidh sinn a 'dol a dh'aithghearr. Chan fheum a bhith draghail.”- “Quiet Ogma, we will be going soon. Do not have to worry.”

On Her Own {P.1}

                     Shortly after the Yule and New Year festivities, Maisie was gone again. However, this time it wasn't in secr...