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Title: Witch of the Glens
Author: Watson, Sally
Language: English
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WITCH OF THE GLENS

by

SALLY WATSON

Drawings by Barbara Werner



The Viking Press
New York


[Illustration]


Copyright © 1962 by Sally Watson
All rights reserved
First published in 1962 by The Viking Press, Inc.
625 Madison Avenue, New York 22, N. Y.
Published simultaneously in Canada
by The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited

Library of Congress catalog card number: 62-17071

Printed in the U.S.A. by the Vail-Ballou Press, Inc.



To my favorite witch and _uruisg_ Jean and Don and their two small
kelpies Kathy and Mark



Contents


     1. The Gypsies                           15

     2. The Waif                              26

     3. Glenfern                              36

     4. The Daft Folk                         48

     5. Bewitchery                            60

     6. The Picture in the Loch               73

     7. The Return of Mina and Bogle          88

     8. A Task for Kelpie                    102

     9. Inverary Castle                      115

    10. A Bit of Hair                        124

    11. Argyll’s Dungeon                     135

    12. Meeting at Pitlochry                 146

    13. The Hexing of Alex                   159

    14. The Battle of Tippermuir             170

    15. Witch Hunt                           182

    16. Morag Mhor                           195

    17. The Road to Inverary                 206

    18. The Black Sail                       223

    19. Footprints in the Snow               229

    20. The Campbell Lass                    240

    21. Vengeance                            250

    22. The Last Word                        261



Gaelic Terms


    _Amadain_ (masculine, _amadan_). Fool.

    _Briosag._ Witch, sorceress.

    _Chlanna nan con, thigibh a sh’s gheibh sibh feoil._ “Sons of
    the dogs, come hither, and you shall have flesh” (Cameron war
    cry).

    _Dhia dhuit._ A greeting (“good day,” literally, “God today”).

    _Droch-inntinneach._ Evil-minded.

    _Dubh_ (also _dhu_). Black.

    _Each uisghe._ Water horse (mythical sea-monster, probably with
    some connection to the Loch Ness Monster, which has been seen
    frequently for at least 1500 years and to which Saint Columba
    of Iona gave a good scolding in 565, as recorded by the Abbot
    of Iona).

    _Filleadh mór._ The great-plaid, kilt and plaid in one piece.
    (The plaid, or plaidie, was worn around the shoulders and
    sometimes over the head.)

    _Ghillie._ An attendant or follower of a clan chief or
    chieftain.

    _Kelpie._ A water witch.

    _Mallaichte._ Wicked.

    _M’eudain._ An endearment.

    _Mise-an-dhuit._ An exclamation (literally, “Me today!”).

    _Mo chridhe._ An endearment (literally, “My heart”).

    _Mo thruigh._ An exclamation (literally, “My sorrow!”).

    _Mor_ (or _mhor_). Great, large.

    _Nathrach._ Serpent.

    _Seach._ Interjection: “Yes?” “Well—” “Truly!” “Really?”

    _Sgian dhu._ Black knife: a small dagger usually worn in the
    top of the right stocking by men, just below the knee on the
    outside, where it is most convenient to reach.

    _Slaoightire._ Scoundrel.

    _Uruisg_ (plural, _uruisgean_). A hobgoblin; sometimes thought
    to be half human, half hobgoblin. A most disagreeable fellow,
    in any case.



Pronouncing Gaelic


Gaelic pronunciation is in some ways totally different from English.
For instance, _s_ in front of _i_ or _e_ sounds like _sh_; _th_, _bh_,
_dh_, and _gh_ are sometimes (but not always) silent; _mh_ is usually
pronounced _v_; and _ch_ has a sound not found in English at all, and
made by trying to say _kh_ as far back in the throat as possible.

_Following are the pronunciations for some of the names and words found
in this book_:

    dubh—doo

    each uisghe—ekh oosh-ga (“oo” as in “look”)

    Eithne—Ay-na

    Ewen—Yew-en

    ghillie—gilly

    Hamish—Hay-mish

    Ian—Ee-an

    Lachlan—Lakh-lan

    Loch Leven—Lokh Leeven

    Mairi—Mah-ri

    mhor—vore

    mo chridhe—mo cree

    Seumas—Shay-mas (James)

    sgian dhu—skean doo

    uruisg—oorishk



Historical Note


To avoid confusion I have in this book described clan tartans more or
less as they exist today. This is not strictly accurate. To begin with,
in 1644 clans had not yet adopted specific tartans to be worn by all
their members, and probably none of the tartans were the same, in either
pattern or color, as they are today. In fact, it is very difficult to
know just what they did look like, for all kinds of vegetable dyes were
used, and the remnants of old tartans that we find today are so faded and
changed in color that they seem mostly gray or gray-brown, and it is hard
to tell what colors they once were.



Witch of the Glens



[Illustration: THE PART OF _SCOTLAND_ WHERE KELPIE’S ADVENTURE TOOK
PLACE]



1. The Gypsies


The people of Inverness were deeply annoyed. A number of them stood
in the square and scowled with great hostility at the three tattered
wanderers in their midst—but their anger held a wary quality.

“Tinklers! Gypsies!” they cried accusingly, and the soft, sibilant sound
of the Gaelic was less soft but more sibilant than usual. “_Briosag!_”
(“Witch!”) muttered some with conviction but caution. “Thieves!” they
added, getting to the real heart of the annoyance. And with this fresh
reminder of their grievances they began picking up stones as they
advanced toward the man, woman, and girl.

Anyone who expected to see clan loyalty in this gypsy family would have
been terribly disappointed. The massive bent shoulders and stringy legs
of the man somehow evaporated between two houses, and the final glance
from his pasty dark face was one of hooded derision.

Old Mina Faw didn’t seem at all put out by her man’s desertion. One
might have thought she had expected it. Her scrawny figure seemed to grow
taller as she turned a once-handsome hag face toward the crowd, and her
sunken pale eyes flashed. The crowd hesitated. Everyone knew Old Mina was
a witch, with the most devastating Evil Eye in all Scotland.

But surprisingly Mina chose to pacify them. After all, there weren’t many
towns in the Highlands in this year of 1644, and it was well not to be
alienating those few too deeply. “Och, now!” She wheedled the crowd in
her thin but powerful voice. “Ye wouldn’t be wishing to harm a poor old
woman, now, would ye?”

It wasn’t at all that they weren’t wishing to harm her. But no one wanted
to risk having his hands fall off or his cattle die. They regarded her
dubiously, making up their minds. “Witch!” repeated someone from the
safety of the back. “Thief!” cried several more with fresh indignation,
and they began to move forward again.

“Thief?” echoed Mina indignantly. “Not I! I would only be reading your
palms and telling good fortune for ye. If anyone has been lifting
your belongings, it must be my wicked wee Kelpie, whom I am beating
every night for her sins.” And she pointed accusingly at an undersized
goblin-lass who might have been perhaps fifteen or seventeen years old,
dressed in an outrageous assortment of faded scraps. Long black elf-locks
flapped about her thin face and down her back. Eyes that were not quite
canny peered out like those of an alarmed wee beast—or a witch.

The “wicked wee Kelpie” didn’t stay to dispute the issue. With one
bright, mutinous glance at Mina, she dived through the startled fringe of
the crowd like a young stoat and ran away into the narrow steep lanes of
the town.

The Inverness crowd promptly forgot Mina and took after the lass.
“Thief!” they yelled with new enthusiasm. And whatever was convenient to
pick up, they threw.

It was fortunate that Kelpie was experienced in this sort of thing, for
it was a nasty chase, and she knew all too well what might happen if they
caught her. With cunning amounting to sheer genius she ran and dodged,
doubled back and forth between houses, wriggled over and under and around
obstacles. Now and then her intense small face broke into a pointed
grin of appreciation at her own cleverness—for there was something
exhilarating in outwitting an entire town—but very real fear lurked
behind those uncanny blue eyes. To tell the truth, it was the tide of ill
will surging behind her which oppressed her even more than the stones.
But Kelpie did not realize this, for she was so used to ill will that she
could not remember anything else.

As for Mina’s deplorable behavior, Kelpie was annoyed but not in the
least astonished. Mina had merely followed the law of self-preservation,
the only law Kelpie knew. She herself would do the same thing, given the
chance. It was the only way to stay alive.

“_Briosag!_ Witch!”

Kelpie swerved round a corner and wished that she _were_ a witch. If so,
she wouldn’t be running now but putting a braw spell on them all, causing
their legs to buckle under them and stay that way for three days too, so
that the whole town would be crawling about on hands and knees, just—She
laughed at the picture and took another corner at full speed. Just wait
until she _was_ a witch! Och, no one would chase her then, or beat her,
either....

A red petticoat spread on a gorse bush vanished magically as she flew
past. Why not? If she got away, she was a petticoat richer. If not, what
would it be mattering, a petticoat more, since she already had two stolen
purses, a kerchief, and a fine _sgian dhu_ on her anyhow?

Up hill and down and around, and finally away out of the town, and
presently the stones ceased to bite at her ankles and back, and the yells
were lost behind. Her breath seared her lungs now, and she hurtled down
the hill toward the river which led from Loch Ness to Moray Firth. At
last she threw herself into a cold, wet, but safely thick bank of broom,
bracken, and juniper, where she lay panting and gasping painfully. Mina
and Bogle would be safely away by now and waiting for her down along
the path that was the only road along Loch Ness. Let them wait. She had
earned a rest. She was sore bruised and aching from the stones, and her
bare feet, tough as they were, hurt from the cobbled streets of the town.

Och, she thought pleasantly, if only they would some day be catching and
hanging Mina, and Bogle too—but only, of course, after Kelpie had learned
all the witchcraft that Mina knew, and perhaps more. Oh, to be a more
powerful witch than Mina, and to be putting all kinds of curses on her
until all scores were settled!

Curled up in her nest of bracken, head resting on the scarlet petticoat,
Kelpie drifted into her favorite daydream. _Dhé_, how Mina would plead
for mercy! Her arms and legs would shrivel up, just, and her few
remaining teeth fall out. Kelpie smiled, looking like a starry-eyed
lass dreaming of romance. Then her short upper lip curled and lifted,
revealing a row of small, sharp white teeth, so that she looked more like
a wolf cub dreaming of dinner.

The long northern twilight was beginning to creep into the Great Glen,
for sunlight vanished early in the valley between those high, steep,
massive hills, even in March. She must go on now, or she would be beaten
for delaying. And presently, still sore, she was loping silently down the
path by the loch, where new gorse and bracken grew between patches of old
snow. Two or three miles down she met Bogle and Mina sitting on their
bundles and waiting.

“You have taken your time about getting here,” said Bogle. “And how many
purses were you taking?”

Twilight had deepened into the toneless half-light of gloaming. Light
had slowly drained from the Glen, leaving a world of eerie gray on the
hill above Loch Ness. The loch itself was liquid iron, from which might
easily arise the three black humps and snaky neck of the _each uisghe_,
the water horse who lived there. A meager supper was over, and the only
color left in the world was the small salmon-pink pennant of cloud flying
over the black shoulder of Meall Fuarvounie and reflected in the shining
crystal ball in Mina’s hand.

She spread a shabby bit of stolen black velvet on the springy turf and
set the crystal sphere lovingly in the exact center. “And now you will be
reading the glass with me,” she said.

It was a nightly ritual. Ordinarily Kelpie found it interesting,
exciting, but tonight she was sore and aching and rebellion was in her.
It was foolish, of course, to express such feelings. It was to risk not
only a beating—which, being used to, she did not fear—but an evil spell,
which she did. But she expressed them now and then, all the same.

“May the _uruisg_ be away with you!” she said sweetly and ducked. Mina’s
fist merely caught the top of Kelpie’s tangled head, but her snarl was
more effective.

“Mind me so!” Her voice rasped. “And how do you think to be learning
witchcraft else?”

“I am reading the crystal with you every night,” muttered Kelpie. “But
you’ll never let me be trying alone, and you’ve taught me never so much
as a single wee spell.”

“And listen to her now!” The hateful voice was a croak of derision,
echoed by a snort from the bulky gray shadow that was Bogle. “She cannot
crawl yet and she is wanting to run!” And this time the blow fell on
Kelpie’s high, thin cheekbone before she could think to duck. “Look into
the crystal, _amadain_!”

Kelpie considered further defiance and then decided against it. She
didn’t really feel up to another beating tonight, and she did want to
learn witchcraft. So she permitted Mina’s long gnarled hand to clutch her
own so that Kelpie would be able to see what Mina did. For a seer could
share his sight with another by touching him, and Kelpie, said Mina, was
not yet ready to see alone. Night after night, for as long as she could
remember, Kelpie had looked into the ball with Mina, describing what she
saw, while the old woman questioned and corrected her.

“Now,” said Mina, and Kelpie stared into the luminous ball. First it
clouded, then the center began to glow dully, and then a vague picture
developed. Kelpie’s dark head bent forward on its long neck, and her eyes
grew wide and fixed....

Two young men were riding along a loch-side on fine horses, with a blond
giant behind them on a shaggy Highland pony. Bright tartan _filleadh
mór_—the bulky great-kilts—beat heavily against their thighs and swung
over their shoulders, and their heads were high with the proud confidence
of the well-born.

Kelpie recognized one of them. Young Glenfern, it was, whose father was
a minor chieftain of Clan Cameron, and who had once given her a farthing
and a sudden compassionate smile that lit his grave dark-eyed face like
sunshine. The smile had roused in Kelpie a strange sensation of joy and
resentment combined, and the feeling came back now as she stared. There
was gladness behind the composure of his face as he rode, and his dark
shoulder-length hair lifted in the breeze. And Kelpie, ignorant of the
eternal attraction of lad for lass, frowned at the pleasant pain of her
own feelings. She spared no more than a glance for the other young man in
MacDonald tartan, whose narrow face seemed composed of straight lines,
whose freckles matched the blaze of his red hair, whose expression seemed
to laugh at all the world.

“Who is that?” muttered Mina, peering. “What will they be to us? Do you
know them?”

“No,” lied Kelpie, whose policy was to deceive Mina and Bogle whenever
possible, just on principle.

“I would be seeing something of the King, or the war, or Mac Cailein
Mor,” said Mina fretfully.

Kelpie spared her a narrow, speculative glance. Why was Mina so
interested of late in politics? Of what benefit to her was the blaze
of civil war sweeping through the remote world of England and even
the less remote world of the Lowlands? As far as Kelpie could see, it
affected them not at all—except, of course, that Mac Cailein Mor, Marquis
of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell, was head of the Covenant army of
the Lowlands and therefore a merciless hunter of witches. But then Mac
Cailein Mor came into these Western Highlands only now and then, and
merely to wipe out here and there a few of the clans whom he had always
hated. A terrible fierce enemy he was, no doubt, and one deserving the
Evil Eye—but what was he to Mina, at all?

“Is it still the lads riding, then?” Mina persisted. “And who will they
be, whatever?”

Always and always Kelpie must describe every detail, just as if Mina
couldn’t see for herself. Kelpie was irritated. “How should I be
knowing?” she snapped, and a blow on the ear set her head ringing.

“Don’t know! _Amadain!_ What tartan will they be wearing?”

It was too much. Kelpie jerked away, too angry to care about the
consequences. “_Nathrach!_” She spat. “Look for yourself!”

The motionless gray bulk in the shadows now stirred and gave a low,
spiteful chuckle. “She cannot,” Bogle said, wheezing with satisfaction.
“It is sure I am now; her Sight will be going from her. It was for that,
these long years ago, that she must be stealing a wee bairn with the
ringed eyes of the Second Sight, and holding her hand so that she can see
through other eyes what she cannot see for herself—”

There was a scream of fury from old Mina, and a battered saucepan hurtled
through the dusk, hit Bogle’s ragged shoulder, and fell into the heather.
Bogle chuckled with malicious triumph. It wasn’t that he hated Mina
in particular. He was quite impartial, was Bogle; he simply hated all
mankind and greatly enjoyed seeing anyone unhappy. Now he ducked his
head slightly and shook with laughter as the saucepan was followed by an
assortment of sticks, stolen objects, and curses.

Kelpie sat perfectly still. A universe of startling possibilities was
opening to her mind—because, with Mina’s hand no longer touching hers,
the tiny picture in the crystal glowed more sharply, brightly clear than
she had ever seen it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wrapped in her tattered plaidie in a nest of last year’s dry bracken, she
lay awake after the long gloaming had deepened to black and stars peeped
out to grow dim again as the unearthly white radiance of the northern
lights—the Dancers—shimmered and pulsed over the western hills. The
wonder of the lights, as Kelpie watched, seemed to match the wonder in
her heart.

Had Bogle told the truth? Mina’s behavior made Kelpie think he had. And
it was certain that the crystal was even clearer for her without Mina’s
touch.

So then, was it also true that she had been stolen? From where? Kelpie
reached back into her memory but could find nothing but the vagrant life
of gypsies—tramping, begging, stealing, telling fortunes and selling
spells and charms in the Highlands, running from witch-hunters in the
Lowlands, sleeping under the sky.

Och, how could she ever be finding out? Only, perhaps, by becoming a
greater witch than Mina and putting the power upon her. And indeed, it
was a great advantage if Mina no longer had the Sight! _Dhé_, but she had
other powers, had Mina, terrible powers of cursing and spells! She was
clever, too, and for all her age she used a stick with great strength.
Kelpie must be canny, she must so. The cold streams of the northern
lights faded, and when they were gone, Kelpie was asleep.



2. The Waif


It was one of those days that couldn’t decide between winter and spring.
A cold, gusty wind whistled thinly through dark pine and barren birch and
chased fat clouds over the sky one by one, causing flurries of hard rain
to alternate with pale and hesitant sunshine.

They had traveled the thirty miles of Loch Ness, stopping at the village
near Urquhart Castle, and again at Kilcummin, where they had nearly been
caught picking the purse of one of the MacDonald chieftains. And now they
were moving south beside the silver ripples of Loch Lochy.

Kelpie was far ahead of Mina and Bogle, moving along high on the hillside
with a prancing motion caused partly by high spirits and partly by the
masses of tough-stemmed heather that covered the slope. She was still
sore from her latest beating, and also hungry. Her life consisted
largely of pain and hunger and cold, and was peopled by enemies to be
feared and hated or fools to be tricked, but Kelpie had discovered
all that long ago and was quite used to the fact and found life very
enjoyable anyway. Certainly it was never dull, and she had a zest for
adventure.

And in spite of everything, the world was beautiful. Kelpie could forgive
it a lot for that. In any case, her day was coming! She had deliberately
described the details in last night’s crystal quite wrongly, and Mina
hadn’t known.

Or had she?

This appalling thought caused Kelpie to miss her usually sure footing and
to step right in the middle of a gorse bush. Neither the travel-hardened
toughness of the bare brown foot nor the deceptive beauty of the silvery
leaves saved her from a good pricking, and Kelpie swore with an ardent
fluency that would have pleased Bogle greatly. Still hopping and cursing,
she saw the movement and color of the three horsemen down the loch much
later than she should have. They were coming along toward her in the path
below and doubtless had well-filled purses which might well be lightened.
She was halfway down the steep slope when suddenly the sun shone brightly
from behind the latest cloud, and Kelpie recognized the scene from the
crystal: young Glenfern and his red-haired companion and the giant blond
_ghillie_ riding behind.

But there was no time to wonder about it. Timing her movements
carefully, Kelpie threw herself headlong down the last steep bank and
sprawled full length in the path, almost under the horses’ feet.

“_Dhé!_” exclaimed Ian Cameron as he and Alex reined the horses so
sharply that they reared for a moment on their hind legs. All he could
see on the ground was a pitifully small and tattered figure, clearly in
great danger of being trampled to death.

Alex MacDonald, from his better position behind, saw something a little
more. As Ian’s horse stepped alarmingly close to Kelpie, one “thin and
helpless” arm moved, neatly and efficiently, the precise six inches
required for safety. Alex’s red eyebrows arched, and an appreciative grin
danced on his face. He relaxed and prepared to enjoy the comedy that was
sure to follow.

The crisis was over in a moment. “Is it all right you are?” demanded Ian
of the wee figure, and the wee figure nodded biting its lip in a fine
imitation of silent courage as it raised itself painfully to an elbow.
For Kelpie had discovered that this sort of act was much more touching
than loud wails and tears. She decided to have a hurt back, this being
hard to disprove, as well as more impressive than other hurts. So she
winced to indicate great pain and looked up with a brave and pathetic
smile.

The lads looked back at her. A scrawny waif it was, tattered and
unbelievably dirty. The tangled dark hair, apparently never touched by
water or comb, fell over the thin face in a way that reminded Ian of
shaggy Highland cattle—except that these eyes were unlike those of any
cattle that ever lived. They were long and black-fringed, set at a slant
in the narrow face, and strangely ringed. Around each black pupil was
a wide circle of smoky blue, then a narrow one of lightish gray, and a
third of deep and vivid blue. Astonishing eyes, almost alarming! Where
had he seen them before?

While Ian stared in wonder and pity, Alex made a few further observations
of his own. He noted the high cheekbones and the pointed chin and the
wicked slant of black brows and the short upper lip—giving rather the
effect, thought Alex, of a wicked elfin creature, or perhaps a witch.
Amused but wary, he sat back and let his foster brother make up his mind.
Ian wouldn’t have been noticing, of course, that the wee _briosag_ threw
herself into the path on purpose. Ian had the way of always believing the
best of everyone.

Ian was aware of the cynical smile behind him. A nasty suspicious mind
Alex had! It was a pity. What else could he be expecting of a poor wild
waif like this? What sort of life must she have had? Then Ian remembered
where he had seen her before: with that wicked old witch Mina. Och, the
poor creature!

“’Tis hurt you are,” he said worriedly, to Kelpie’s relief. She had
feared for a moment that she’d been too subtle altogether.

“Och, only a little,” she whispered, putting on a braw show of dreadful
pain heroically borne.

“Now, do not be overdoing it,” drawled Alex.

Kelpie shot him a look which, had she been a properly qualified witch,
would surely have caused him to break out with every loathsome disease
known to mankind. Unfortunately the only effect of her venomous glare was
that Alex’s smile broadened to an insulting chuckle. Och, what a beast
he was, then, with the bony, freckled, jeering face of him, and the two
jaunty tufts of red hair jutting upward just where horns ought to sprout!
She was about to tell him so, and in great detail, but just in time she
remembered her role and Ian, who was still showing his pity and dismay.

What a misfortune, he thought, that this should happen now, just when he
and Alex were nearly home again after those long months away in Oxford,
where he had been savagely homesick. They were about to get home early,
and with very important news, and now this had to happen, not five miles
from Glenfern.

“What shall we be doing with you at all?” he said. “We cannot just be
leaving her here!” he added fiercely, turning on Lachlan, the blond
_ghillie_, who, looking larger than usual on his short shaggy pony, had
muttered something from behind.

“Give her a copper,” Alex said, laughing, “and see how quickly she’ll
mend!”

Copper indeed! thought Kelpie. It was silver she was wanting. But she
didn’t hide the gleam in her eyes quickly enough.

“I’ll show you,” said Alex. Slowly, tantalizingly, he drew a coin from
his sporran and held it up. It gleamed silver, and Kelpie stared at it
greedily. “See?” Alex chuckled and spun it toward her.

Quick as the flash of bright metal in the air, her brown hand shot out
to catch it in flight—then dropped, and the coin fell noiselessly on the
path. Kelpie sat staring first at it and then at her own shoulder with
dismay that was, for a change, perfectly genuine.

“I—I _am_ hurt!” she said with astonishment and then hastily snatched up
the coin with her good left hand before they should change their minds.

“Not too hurt to be picking up the silver,” observed Alex, but the
gibe lacked his earlier light tone. Ian had already dismounted and
was touching rather gingerly the filthy rags covering the shoulder in
question. The lass frankly stank.

This time Kelpie’s face showed an honest flicker of pain. “I think it
will be sprained, or perhaps out of place,” Ian decided and looked at
Alex.

Alex looked back at him. “Well, so. And where does she live, then? Where
are her people? Perhaps Lachlan could be taking her home.”

Ian shrugged. “I think I’ve seen her with Old Mina and Black Bogle. Is
that so?” he asked Kelpie, who nodded.

Alex raised his eyebrows, not in the least surprised. It was logical that
she should belong to the nastiest witch in Scotland.

“Will they be coming along, then?” Ian inquired, and again Kelpie nodded,
so bewildered by her unexpected hurt and the pain that was now shooting
sharply through her shoulder that she couldn’t really think clearly at
all.

A glum silence settled on them, broken only by furtive and disapproving
mutters from Lachlan. His duty was to be protecting his young masters,
and now here they were consorting with witches, and he not able to
prevent them at all, at all. He crossed himself.

Ian sighed with relief when the bent figures of Mina and Bogle appeared
up the loch-side. They would take care of their lass, and he and Alex
could be away home.

But it wasn’t that easy. Mina, after taking in the situation at a
glance, burst into lamentations and curses that caused the ruddy Lachlan
to go pale. “And is it our poor lass you have harmed, wicked beasts
that you are?” she wailed, while Bogle stood like a massive old tree
in disconcerting silence. “Ocho, ocho, whatever shall we be doing now?
May the Evil Eye fall on all your cattle, and the pox upon yourselves,
_uruisgean_ that you are!”

Ian himself recoiled, not from the curses, but from the evil that was in
this horrible old woman. What a dreadful thing that a young lass should
belong to such as these! It was wicked! And yet, what could he do? What
could anyone do? Unhappily he stood and stroked his horse’s nose while
Alex handled the matter.

Alex did handle it beautifully, with just the right mixture of
indulgence, severity, and money. “’Twas no fault of ours that she fell,
but altogether her own,” he told them. “Still, we are kind-hearted and
willing to give you a bit of silver.” And when Mina would have demanded
more, he fixed her with a stern hazel stare that caused her own pale,
muddy eyes to waver and fall. It was all settled then, and Ian, feeling
depressed, turned to mount his horse.

And then Black Bogle, perhaps feeling that they had been worsted in the
bargaining, reached down and jerked Kelpie roughly to her feet by the
injured arm.

The bit of brutality wrenched a choked cry of anguish from the girl. Ian
whirled around, and Alex was off his horse in a flying leap and seized
Bogle’s arm in a grip that had no gentleness whatever.

“Let go of her, you vile bully!” Alex snarled, red with fury, while Ian
removed the sagging Kelpie from Bogle’s grasp. Lachlan, brandishing a
steel dirk a foot long, loomed ominously behind....

When Kelpie was again able to take an active interest in events, she
heard several voices: a cold, contemptuous one and a dangerously quiet
one, Bogle’s growl and Mina’s whine, with dour grumblings in the
background. More money changed hands, and then Mina bent over Kelpie, a
cunning, complacent look on her face.

“The fine gentlemen will be taking you home with them to fix your hurt,
and we will come to fetch you in the morning,” she said. “You will
be properly grateful—and behave as I’d be wishing you to,” she added
meaningly, and Kelpie nodded. She knew quite well what Mina meant—steal
whatever she could lay hands on.

Then Ian’s concerned face was close to hers as he removed the grimy
once-red sash from about her waist and gently bound the injured arm to
her side. “And who’s knowing what further damage the brute will have
done?” he muttered.

After that she found herself lifted to the fearful height of Alex’s
horse and felt his hard young arm firmly around her. And at a slow walk
they set along toward the fork in the path that led through the hills to
Glenfern.

By the time they reached the top of the pass, Kelpie was feeling much
better. She began to relish the adventure, and she stared with interest
at the scene before her as they paused. Ian’s face was alight with joy,
and Lachlan actually had tears in his eyes. A strange thing that was, she
thought wonderingly, ignorant as she was of the love of the Highlander
for his own hills. Kelpie knew no home but the ground she walked on.

The glen ran westward ahead of them, a long little valley cradled in
hills that were just turning jewel-green with new bracken and showing
dark with juniper and white here and there with birch trunks and unmelted
snow. On the northern slope stood a weathered gray house which seemed
large and grand indeed to Kelpie, and scattered along the glen were
little rye-thatched shieling huts of unmortared stone, nestled into the
hillside as if they had grown there. Farther down the glen was a wee
loch of silver and blue, ringed with white birches and dotted with green
islets.

“Loch nan Eilean—Lake of the Islands,” murmured Ian with his heart in his
voice, and they rode on down the hill and along to the stables.

Alex lifted Kelpie down from the horse, looked at her oddly, and then
with a grin forced open her left hand.

“You little devil!” He laughed. “You’ve picked my pocket!”



3. Glenfern


Kelpie perched gingerly on a fine brocaded chair near the door of the
drawing room and gazed curiously at the scene before her. For house and
glen had, on their arrival, erupted into a perfect frenzy of excitement,
questions, tears, laughter, shouting, teasing, and hugging.

_Dhé!_ And was this the way most families were behaving toward one
another? Kelpie found it baffling and achingly strange, and vaguely
annoying; and on the whole she was glad enough to have been forgotten for
the moment while she recovered her usual cool head.

Talk rose and surged in a mixture of Gaelic and English. Cameron of
Glenfern paced back and forth, the rusty-red and green of his kilt
swinging about strong knees. Lady Glenfern, smiling and anxious at once,
sat in a carved oak chair, her harebell-blue skirts billowing about her
feet. Two small kilted lads pranced with excitement, a bittie lass
clamored to be away up in Ian’s arms, and a bonnie lass in green, perhaps
near Kelpie’s age, clung affectionately to both Ian and Alex at once.

Through the open window Kelpie could see Lachlan standing in a ring of
laughing and chattering clansmen, and it began to dawn on her that this
was no ordinary homecoming. The lads had been away to school in a far-off
place in England and had returned quite unexpectedly with important news.

“We knew that King Charles had fled London and set up his court at
Oxford,” said Glenfern. “And you wrote that Montrose was there, awaiting
permission to come and raise an army in Scotland for the King. Now you
say he’s coming?”

“Aye so,” said Alex cynically, “but a bit late, now that Argyll has got
all the Lowlands and some of the Highlands well under the thumb of the
cursed Covenant! Were you knowing that the Covenant army has crossed the
border into England and will be fighting along with the Parliament army
against the King?”

“_Dhé!_” exclaimed Glenfern in dismay. “Is it too late, then? Why was the
King waiting so long?”

Alex shrugged. “Och, King Charles has a grand talent for not seeing what
he doesn’t like, and for doing the wrong thing altogether or the right
thing too late.”

Ian, whose loyalty was a simple and wholehearted thing, frowned at his
foster brother. “He’s our king and a Stewart,” he reminded him and then
turned to his father. “At any rate, we were thinking we’d best come home
while we still could—and perhaps join Montrose when he arrives.”

None of this meant a great deal to Kelpie, so she began looking around
with greedy wonder at the drawing room. Och, the glowing fine old silver
on the sideboard, the great portraits on the tapestry-hung walls, the
grand, massive carved furniture worn smooth as silk by time and polish,
and the damask draperies at real glass windows! It wasn’t fair that some
people should have so much! They should be sharing it, they should, and
it was up to Kelpie, she felt, to see to the sharing.

A small silver snuff box was lying on a table near her; an instant later,
it wasn’t. Kelpie’s long slanted eyes flickered with satisfaction, but
before she could so much as thrust her loot under her rags, a redheaded
figure bent over her and a sinewy long hand grasped her wrist gently but
with great strength.

“Really, Ian,” observed Alex lazily, “you must be paying more attention
to your guest.”

“Ssssss!” said Kelpie, again wishing she could cast the Evil Eye on him.
But instead the eyes of the entire family were now on her.

“My sorrow!” said Ian ruefully. “I was forgetting!”

“A shame to all of us, and she injured!” declared his mother, standing
up. “’Tis only for the night, you were saying, Ian? Well, so, we will
see to the shoulder—but not in the house, I think,” she added, looking at
Kelpie’s filthy clothes.

“No,” agreed her husband. “Come away out to the wee room in the stable,
which will do nicely, I think.”

And Kelpie, who had expected to be beaten and turned out for her theft,
stared. They were daft, all of them! But presently she forgot their
daftness because of the surprisingly painful business of having her
shoulder tended. She gritted her teeth and cursed vigorously, and after
it was over she was glad enough to lie down on the small cot in the
stable-room and be left alone to sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kelpie awoke with an oppressive sense of being trapped. Blindly hostile
walls and ceiling surrounded her, shutting out sky and wind. In sudden
panic she would have leaped up and fled to the safety of outside, but
the first movement brought the sharp, forgotten pain of her shoulder.
She gasped slightly, blinked, and noticed a pair of dark eyes regarding
her from a flower face. It was the wee bit of a lassie she had seen in
the big house, who stood watching Kelpie with grave sympathy. She was a
tiny thing, her body slight as it rose from the primrose bulk of her long
skirts, but Kelpie was disconcerted. The gaze seemed to understand too
much.

“Poor lady!” said the mite, shaking her honey-brown head sorrowfully. “Is
it a sore bad hurt, then?”

Kelpie said nothing.

Light danced into the dark eyes. “Wee Mairi will kiss it and make it
well.” Quite undeterred by thoughts of cleanliness, the child leaned
over the cot and dropped a soft kiss on the bandages covering Kelpie’s
shoulder, and then another on her cheek. “Now it will stop hurting, just,
and you can be happy,” she announced. Crooking a small finger in the old
gesture of calling down a blessing from heaven, she turned and trotted
out, leaving a shaken Kelpie behind her.

Nothing like this had ever happened to her before! Children had always
clung to their mothers, frightened of the witch’s lass. No one at all had
ever kissed her and Kelpie, to her dismay, found that her eyes had filled
with tears. Och, this would never do at all! She must be hard and strong,
or else how would she ever survive in the world she knew? She closed her
treacherous eyes and concentrated on subduing the weakness.

The weakness was just about subdued when she became aware of more company
in the room. This time it was a pair of seven or eight-year-old lads with
penetrating blue eyes set in identical tanned faces which were alight
with passionate curiosity.

Kelpie, still shaken and very much on the defensive from her encounter
with Wee Mairi, glared at them with frank hostility. They went on staring
at her with unwavering interest. _Dhé!_ They were nearly as disconcerting
as Wee Mairi—and there were two of them. Kelpie decided to take the
offensive.

“Ssssss!” she hissed, baring her teeth and beetling her thick eyebrows
menacingly. The bright eyes rounded slightly, but with increased
curiosity rather than alarm.

“Were you crying?” asked one boy candidly.

“Are you a witch?” demanded the other.

Kelpie considered. It wasn’t in the least safe to be thought a witch.
It could lead to all sorts of uncomfortable and fatal things. On the
other hand, she had never known real safety in any case, and it would be
pleasant to impress, or even frighten, these complacent lads.

“I am so,” she said with an intimidating scowl. “I can put curses on ye,
or the Evil Eye whatever.”

They were unintimidated. “Show us!” suggested one hopefully.

“Alex was saying you cannot,” challenged the other.

“Och, just you wait!” said Kelpie darkly. “I will be fixing that Alex as
ever was!”

“What will you do to him?” persisted the skeptic with morbid curiosity.

“What is your name?” asked his twin.

“Kelpie!” said she in triumph, and at last she had impressed them. For
every Highland child knew that a Kelpie was a kind of fairy person, a
water witch who wails at night by lochs and rivers for a victim, or cries
for admittance at shuttered windows.

“I don’t believe it,” said the skeptical twin, but he said it
halfheartedly.

“Ronald! Donald!” The green-frocked lass who was Kelpie’s age stood in
the doorway, with a big-boned young woman behind her carrying a tray.
“Och, naughty lads! Ye shouldn’t be bothering in here, and well ye know
it!”

“She’s a witch, and a kelpie too,” reported one of them, unabashed.

“At least she says so, but we haven’t seen her put a spell yet,” added
the other. “When will you be showing us one?”

The young woman nearly dropped her tray as she hastily tried to make the
sign of the cross. Her young mistress looked faintly alarmed but stood
her ground. “Be away, now,” she told the twins. “I’ll take that, Fiona.”
She took the tray from the quaking Fiona and set it on a stool beside
Kelpie’s cot.

“We thought you’d be waking up hungry,” she said and then looked at
Kelpie apologetically, as if ashamed of her own good fortune and pretty
clothes. “My name is Eithne,” she added, pronouncing it “Ay-na,” with
the Highland lilt in her voice. “And the twins must not be saying such
things—about your being a witch, I mean. Are you?” she asked, overcome by
curiosity.

Kelpie already had hand and mouth full of cold venison pie and new-baked
bannocks and had no intention of risking the rest of the food. She shook
her head firmly and put on her most innocent and helpless expression.

“Och, no!” she mumbled truthfully around her bannock. “Not I!”

At this moment a gaunt black cat sidled through the open door, spat at
Fiona, and with a joyful yowl leaped right on top of Kelpie. This was
unfortunate, since black cats were known to have a fondness for witches.

Fiona backed up to the door, crossing herself furiously, and Eithne
looked awed. “_Dhé!_” she whispered. “Dubh has never done that before for
anyone!”

Kelpie looked at Dubh with a mixture of pleasure and irritation. She
liked cats, but this one had timed his appearance poorly.

Dubh looked back at her, great topaz eyes glowing into hers steadily and
inscrutably, and his purring filled the room.

“He is wanting some food,” suggested Kelpie lamely. But Dubh didn’t
show the slightest interest in her meal. Instead, he arranged himself
comfortably on top of her legs.

“Animals are always liking me,” Kelpie went on with better success.
Eithne’s face brightened and cleared. Of course! And if animals liked a
person, it was a sure sign that the person was to be trusted. Eithne,
like her brother, wanted to think the best of everyone, especially
of those whom life seemed to have treated unfairly. Besides, Kelpie
interested her.

Presently she was seated on the edge of the cot, listening to the lurid
tale of Kelpie’s life and even being shown some of the scars and bruises
on the thin shoulders and back. Eithne was hot and shaking with shocked
indignation. It was perfectly dreadful, appalling!

And Kelpie, rising to great tragic heights, played up to the most
sympathetic audience she had ever had. The long ringed eyes fixed on
Eithne’s brown ones were soft and luminous and oh, so innocent.

But the “innocent” eyes reminded Alex of Dubh’s, as he entered the room
and got a good view of both pairs. He hadn’t been easy in his mind about
Eithne’s being in here so long. Ringed eyes like that weren’t canny. The
lass might well be a witch, at that, though likely too young to be very
dangerous. All the same, his foster sister must be protected.

“Come away from her and out of here!” he ordered Eithne brusquely.

He should have known better. She whirled on him, round chin jutting
out indignantly. “And will you be judging her unfairly, like all the
villagers and all?” Eithne demanded. “Don’t deny it, Alex MacDonald!
You’re thinking hard, suspicious things about her this very minute!”

Alex’s sunburned face looked disconcerted at this sudden attack, but
only for an instant. “Oh, aye,” he agreed cheerfully. “I am that. And why
wouldn’t I be, with the many reasons she’s given me already? Has she put
a spell on you, _m’eudail_? Best be away to the house and see if Catriona
can break it.”

Eithne stamped her foot, but it wasn’t easy to find a retort. “You—you
talk like a Covenanter!” she finally flung at him scathingly and flounced
out in a swirl of petticoats, Fiona behind her.

Alex scratched his red head, more confounded by her passion than by her
rather shaky logic. He grinned wryly at Kelpie, who looked back at him in
triumph.

“Poor innocent waif!” he jeered, putting one foot up on the edge of the
cot, where Dubh spat at it. He rested an elbow on his kilted knee and
stared at Kelpie with interest. She stared back through slitted eyes.

“Before you’re up and away again,” he said, casually, “I’ve a wee word
to be saying to you, and it is this. Unlike Ian and Eithne, I’ve a nasty
suspicious mind, I have.” He wagged his head sadly. “And I’ve a picture
in my head of you away off tomorrow bearing every movable thing in the
glen hid in your rags, and we sitting here without so much as a stick of
furniture left to us.”

“Indeed, and I would never be doing such a thing!” cried Kelpie
indignantly. “How could I be carrying it all?”

Alex laughed outright. Kelpie scowled. She had been cursed and beaten
often enough, but she had never before been laughed at, and she didn’t
like it.

Alex stopped laughing and grinned at her. “Well, so, and I’ve a
soft heart in me, so I’ll be doing nothing about such matters as
pocket-picking or a certain snuff box, nor will anyone else, I think.
But”—and he leaned forward a little—“should anything else just happen
to be missing when you leave, then you’ll be finding the hand of every
Cameron and MacDonald, all through the Great Glen and Lochaber from Loch
Leven to Loch Ness, turned against you.”

Kelpie showed sharp white teeth in a defiant laugh. “Are you thinking
I’ve never heard threats before?”

“Aye, I’m sure you have, and most unpleasant ones,” retorted Alex. “But
have you ever had one like this carried out, and two entire clans arrayed
against you, and every _ghillie_ on the watch?”

Kelpie narrowed her eyes. He had her, just! And to have the Great Glen
and Lochaber closed against them would be a sore handicap indeed.

“Sssss!” said Kelpie with deep sincerity.

Alex grinned again. “I’m not done,” he said briskly. “It seems that my
foster sister has given you her friendship. You’re not deserving it, of
course, but for Eithne that’s good enough reason for giving it. Now, I am
fond of Eithne, and if you should be taking advantage of her or hurting
her in any way, I shall see to it that you are punished—even if I must
denounce you as a witch. Do you understand?”

It was a fearful threat, and Kelpie, used to bluster and invective, was
unnerved by his very calm.

“_Nathrach!_” She spat “Remember, witches can curse! Shall I be putting
the Evil Eye on you?” And she widened her slanted eyes until the dark and
light rings were smoldering circles.

Alex laughed again, infuriatingly. “And if you haven’t already put the
Evil Eye on me at least three times today, it must be that you have not
got it at all. For you’ve wanted to, haven’t you? No, I’ll wager you
cannot do it.”

“Mina can,” muttered Kelpie sulkily.

“Now that I’ll believe,” he agreed readily. “But even the Evil Eye
wouldn’t save the two of you from being burned as witches, would it?”

Och, and he was so sure of himself! Kelpie saw suddenly that great
cunning and apparent submission were her best weapons. “And if I am
keeping the bargain?” she hinted, looking at his pocket.

“We’ve no bargain.” Alex corrected her mildly. “I’m no such fool. It’s
just that I’ve been telling you in a friendly way what will happen if
you should be stealing anything or hurting Eithne, that’s all.” And he
sauntered out, his kilt swinging jauntily about his brown knees.



4. The Daft Folk


Kelpie slept heavily for the first part of the night and then awoke to
stare restlessly into the stifling, closed-in darkness. How could a body
tell the hour, shut in like this? She must be out into the free air and
waiting when Mina and Bogle came for her.

She got up and groped her way out into the warm, horse-scented main part
of the stable. Dubh, a blacker shape in the dark, came and wove himself
around her ankles as she felt for the door with her good left hand; her
right shoulder was still too sore to move.

And then she was outside in the cold sweet air of pre-dawn. The hills to
the southeast stood black against a thin ghost of gray in the sky, and
the glen was filled with a toneless purple except for the ropes of pearly
mist strung down the clefts of the hills and over the loch. A tiny burn
and waterfall danced in a white thread at the far end of the glen, and
the wind smelled of the sea.

Kelpie drew in her breath deeply, and the beauty of it made a sore ache
inside her and a daft desire to cry. It was something deep within her,
just, that had these strange feelings now and then, and she must be
careful never to let them out.

It was these daft folk at Glenfern who were making her feel peculiar. She
must be away from them, away from the trapping walls and alien people,
to the freedom of the hills and sky. She slipped like a wraith around to
the back of the stable, where the ground sloped upward, wrapping her bare
ankles in the wetness of rank grass and heather and stinging nettles,
which she had long ago stopped noticing. And at the upper corner a long
skinny arm reached out with the swiftness of a snake, seized Kelpie’s
wrist (fortunately, the uninjured one), and shook her.

“We’ve been waiting for you this long while!” Mina began pulling her up
the hill.

Kelpie came willingly enough. She was almost glad to see Mina’s evil
old face. She knew where she was with Mina. She could hate and be hated
single-mindedly, and always know how Mina would behave. The people at
Glenfern were unpredictable and confusing.

Black Bogle was waiting in a clump of snowy-trunked birches halfway up
the hill. He said nothing, just grinned without warmth or welcome.

“Well, and what have you got?” demanded Mina, turning upon Kelpie with
greedy fingers held out.

“Nothing at all,” muttered Kelpie defensively. “The red-haired _uruisg_
took back the silver and the snuff box and said if I was taking anything
else he would be setting all the Camerons and MacDonalds against us.”

Mina cursed Alex and Kelpie both, but with her mind so clearly upon other
matters that Kelpie didn’t feel the curses would be very effective.
“Well, so!” concluded the old woman suddenly. “And just as well, perhaps.
For we are wanting you to bide here for a time.”

Kelpie stared, her mouth drooping open. _Dhé!_ Now Mina was being as
unpredictable as anyone in the glen below! “And whatever for, if I cannot
be stealing anything?” she demanded. “And why would they be letting me
stay?”

Mina struck at her. Kelpie ducked automatically, and Bogle chuckled. He
would also have chuckled had the blow landed.

“You’ll be persuading them, just,” commanded Mina. “Play upon their
sympathy. Let them be making you a maidservant if they will—and mind
that you be a good one. ’Tis a spy you’ll be, to watch and listen, for
the lads are fresh from England and knowing about affairs. Be learning
how they feel about the King and Mac Cailein Mor and the Lord Graham of
Montrose. And keep them feeling kindly toward you, for we may use them
one day.”

Kelpie hooded her eyes thoughtfully. She had already learned a good
bit—but why tell Mina now? Better to wait and see where her own
advantage lay and learn what Mina was up to.

“And where will ye be going?” she ventured to ask.

“Never you mind!” snapped Mina. “We will be returning for you when we are
ready, and then it may be that you can learn some of the witchcraft you
are wanting so badly.” Beneath their wrinkled lids her faded old eyes
gleamed at Kelpie watchfully.

Kelpie kept her own eyes veiled. She knew how much Mina’s promise was
worth, but here was hope that Mina might really be going to teach her at
last, for her own profit. Kelpie must be very docile, then, and never let
Mina suspect what was in her mind.

“Very well so,” she agreed indifferently, it being best to show neither
reluctance nor enthusiasm.

“Once more with the crystal, then,” ordered Mina, producing it; and
Kelpie obediently sat down in the dew-heavy clumps of long grass. Her
face was lowered meekly, to conceal the knowledge that Mina depended on
her to see the picture. The gray light was now growing rosy over the bare
top of Meall Dubh. The rosiness was reflected in the shining ball and
then moved and scattered.

“A battle!” whispered Kelpie, her eyes large and fixed on the scene. But
it wasn’t like the other battles she had seen in the crystal—no cavalry
charge of armored men on green slopes, but a charge of Highlanders on the
steeper, wilder hills of Scotland. She could clearly make out the bright
tartans, and the double-handed claymores flashing, and she could almost
hear the wailing skirl of the pipes. There was a red-bearded giant in the
thick of it, and a slight brown-haired man on a horse, wearing a blue
bonnet, and it was he who seemed to be the power behind the charge—though
Kelpie couldn’t say how she knew. And now the others were fleeing in the
fury of the attack, and it seemed to Kelpie that she saw the blue and
green Campbell tartan among the defeated.

Her voice muted and hurried, Kelpie described the scene to Mina, leaving
out the name of the tartan and any other details that she guessed Mina
might not be able to make out for herself.

And now there was a different scene, and there was the brown-haired
man, dressed quite unfittingly as a groom, clasping the hand of the
red-bearded one, who was looking altogether astonished and overjoyed, and
behind them, on the hillside, was a cheering crowd of Highlanders.

“Well?” demanded Mina.

Kelpie shook her head. “A hillside and a crowd of people,” she murmured,
“but ’tis all cloudy.” And then she held her breath.

But Mina didn’t seem to know that Kelpie was deceiving her. “I wanted
news of Argyll,” she grumbled and put the crystal away. Then, after a
parting cuff, she strode up the hill with Bogle—and not so much as a
parting glance from either of them. Och, they had some pressing purpose,
the two of them, and whatever could it be?

The eastern sky was apricot now. The sun would be up in a few minutes,
and already golden light was pouring across the very tops of the hills
on the far side of the glen, but a fitful wind was coming from the west,
promising to bring rain clouds over those same bright hills....

What if, after all, Glenfern refused to let her stay? Feeling excited and
forlorn at once, Kelpie turned her back on the sunrise and walked slowly
down the hill.

       *       *       *       *       *

She approached the house on lagging feet, suddenly nervous. Ian’s father
was outside the door, talking to Lachlan and an old man. Lachlan already
disliked her, and Glenfern looked as if he could be stern indeed. Kelpie
drooped her mouth into an expression of wistful apology, arranged the
sling on her arm so that it showed up well, and hovered tentatively a few
feet away.

Glenfern’s face was kindly enough when he looked up and saw her. “Good
morning,” he greeted her. “And how are you feeling?”

“Good morning,” replied Kelpie, “and well enough,”—making it sound like a
brave lie. “But—” She stopped, looking frightened. “Mina and Bogle came,”
she began, and paused.

“Oh. And you’ll be wanting a bit of breakfast before you’re away off
with them?” suggested Glenfern with a smile.

“They’re away off without me,” blurted Kelpie, looking helpless. “They’re
not wanting me any more.”

“_Dhé!_” said Glenfern. He didn’t seem overjoyed.

“I have nowhere to go,” added Kelpie pathetically, in case he hadn’t got
the point.

“Aye,” said Glenfern, who had got it very quickly. “Well, come away in,
and we’ll see my wife.”

“_Mise-an-dhui!_” said Lady Glenfern when they told her. She looked even
less delighted than her husband.

Eithne looked up from sorting and polishing silver. “Och, what a wicked
thing!” she exclaimed, her creamy oval face troubled and sympathetic.
“And have you no other relations?”

Kelpie shook her head. Wee Mairi, gathering that something was wrong, ran
over and slipped her warm little hand into Kelpie’s, and the twins looked
up in surprise, for they had thought everyone had more relations than
could be counted.

“Perhaps she had better be staying with us,” they suggested through
mouthfuls of buttered scone—an extra breakfast, no doubt. “She could put
the Evil Eye on all our enemies, whatever,” added Ronald hopefully.

“You’re not really a witch, are you?” asked Lady Glenfern seriously. A
white witch, of course, was a great benefit to have around, since all
her powers were used for good; and the Kirk of the Lowlands had not
yet reached far enough into the Highlands to make even white powers
dangerous. Still, the lass of Old Mina was more likely to be a black
witch, than a white one.

“No!” Said Kelpie vehemently, and with perfect truth. (How she wished she
were!) “And I would never be wanting to harm anyone,” she added, less
truthfully.

Alex, sitting cross-legged on the far window seat, sent her a bright
hazel glance of derision, which Kelpie ignored.

Glenfern raised an eyebrow at his wife, sighed, and smiled kindly. “Would
you be wanting to stay with us, lassie?” he asked.

“I would so,” replied Kelpie forthrightly. This was easier than she had
hoped—if only Alex didn’t spoil it. “I could be working,” she offered
meekly. “’Tis little enough I am knowing about the insides of houses, but
I learn quickly.”

Alex muffled a snort of laughter. They all glanced at him, but he merely
gave Kelpie a look that was both warning and mirthful.

Kelpie, who would have made a good general, seized the offensive boldly.
“He is thinking I want to steal things,” she announced, nodding her
tangled black head in Alex’s direction.

“And do you not?” asked Glenfern bluntly.

“Of course,” admitted Kelpie candidly. Didn’t everyone? “But I would
not be doing it,” she went on, her blue-ringed eyes fixed on Glenfern’s,
“because you would be sending me away if I did.”

It was the best thing she could have said. Glenfern lifted his dark
head with a shout of delighted laughter. Everyone seemed pleased and
amused, and Kelpie made a mental note that truth was sometimes even more
effective than a lie. She looked demure and managed at the same time to
shoot a triumphant glance at Alex. But, disappointingly, he only grinned.

“Very well so,” decided Lady Glenfern, smiling at her. “It is not many
people can claim to having a friendly Kelpie staying with them. And I
think you have it in you to be a good lass, and trustworthy.”

Kelpie looked at her, deeply shocked. How could a great lady like this be
so foolishly trusting? And all of them seemed the same—excepting Alex,
of course, who was sensibly suspicious. Kelpie definitely approved of
this, although she hated his uncanny astuteness and his mockery. As for
the rest of them, indeed and indeed, it was a wonder they had managed to
survive so long. Fooling them was almost too easy, like catching a baby
hare with a broken leg.

She felt the same way all over again on that very afternoon, after a most
difficult morning.

The difficulties had begun almost immediately after Kelpie’s too easy
acceptance into the life of Glenfern. It seemed that Lady Glenfern had
peculiar ideas on the subject of cleanliness and propriety. To begin
with, there was the bath, the first Kelpie had ever had, supervised by
the mistress herself, and executed by Fiona and her formidable mother
Catriona. Catriona grumbled constantly, and Fiona crossed herself every
time Kelpie looked at her—which she did frequently and maliciously.

Then there was the matter of her name. “Have you not a proper Christian
name?” asked Lady Glenfern while Kelpie’s matted hair was being violently
combed and plaited into two long, thick tails. Kelpie, unable to shake
her head, and with eyes smarting from the pulling, made a sound that
meant no.

“My sorrow!” remarked her new mistress. “A strange thing to be naming a
lass for a water witch! Would you not rather be called something else?
Rena, perhaps, or Morag?”

But Kelpie caught a glimpse of herself just then in the small mirror that
stood on a table, and a fleeting shaft of panic shot through her. It
wasn’t herself at all! Her face was a stranger, with the dirt off and the
hair pulled back wetly to show all of her eyes and forehead and even her
fawn-shaped ears. _Dhé!_ If they changed her name as well, perhaps she
would cease altogether to be herself and become someone else entirely!

“No!” she said vehemently. And the subject was dropped.

But when they gave her a fine-woven blue woolen dress of Eithne’s for her
very own, and even something to wear under it, she began to take a more
favorable view of the situation. And when, in the afternoon, she met Ian
coming in the front door, he hardly seemed to know her at first. His eyes
opened wide as he shook the heavy rain from his plaidie, and then he gave
her one of his rare and sudden smiles that was like sunlight out of the
drenching sky. Kelpie grinned back, preening herself frankly in her new
finery.

“Och, aren’t you grand, just!” Ian said admiringly.

“Oh, aye,” agreed Kelpie, seeing no reason to deny it. “But I should have
a pocket and a wee bit of silver to put in it,” she added hopefully.

Ian laughed at her cheekiness. “Perhaps some day,” he said. “But I know
that you will not be stealing them, for you have said you won’t, and I
trust you.”

There it was again! Kelpie shook her head in wonder. That wasn’t at all
the reason she wouldn’t be stealing, and how could he be so daft as to
think it? His warm brown eyes and the lovely chiseled, sensitive curve of
his mouth quite melted Kelpie, and before she could stop herself she was
warning him.

“Och,” she blurted. “You mustn’t be trusting people so easily! It is not
safe whatever!”

“Mustn’t I trust you, then?” asked Ian gently. “Are you not wanting to be
trusted, Kelpie?”

“Indeed so,” explained Kelpie kindly. “Everyone is wanting to be trusted,
because then it is much easier to fool the ones who trust them. And you
may be trusting me because you have a stick over me, but it is foolish to
do so otherwise.”

They looked at each other pityingly.

“Perhaps people are not so good as I would like to think,” said Ian
slowly. “But I think they are not so bad as you have found them, either,
Kelpie. And I would liefer trust mistakenly than to mistrust unfairly. Do
you understand that?”

“No,” said Kelpie.



5. Bewitchery


It was a strange new life she was in, indeed! Walls and roof were like a
trap at first, although it was a grand thing to be warm and dry with all
the storm demons howling over the earth. It was strange to have certain
tasks at certain times, too, and not easy for a gypsy lass to whom time
was nothing. It was strange to eat hot meals three times a day, and at a
table, with the heat coming from the huge kitchen fireplace. But it was
not so strange to have the servants lowering at her suspiciously. For the
clanspeople of the glen, unlike their chief and his family, never trusted
this water witch for a moment. An evil sprite she was, and no mistake
about it. They watched every move she made.

Still, suspicion was less after her first Sunday there, after she had
gathered with the others to hear Glenfern read the service. It was well
known that no witch would dare enter a church or hear the Holy Word,
lest the roof fall in or some other dire thing happen. Kelpie herself was
uneasy about this at first. True, she was not a witch, but she wanted to
be, and she had read the crystal with Mina, and she wasn’t altogether
certain what might happen. Still, it wasn’t a proper church, with a
priest, but only Glenfern reading the Anglican service—and in any case,
she dared not refuse. So she went, heart beating faster than usual, and
was greatly relieved when nothing dreadful happened.

True to her promise, Kelpie was diligent and learned quickly. Her reward
was free time to wander in the encircling hills or to be with the other
young people—and this was strangest of all, for they played and chattered
and joked in a way quite novel to Kelpie, with laughter among them, and
an ease and affection that held no wariness. Under the bewitchment of
it, Kelpie found herself dropping her own guard more and more often.
She liked being with them! There was more joy in it than in shouting
and dancing alone on a hilltop; a different excitement from that she
felt when cutting purses. As the days passed, she often had to remind
herself of the advice she had given Ian. To be too relaxed could be
dangerous—especially with that sharp-minded Alex about.

Still, she couldn’t help enjoying those hours, and presently something
clicked in her mind, and she understood the baffling thing they called
teasing.

Kelpie, Eithne, Ian, and Alex were sitting nearly waist-deep in the
tangle of heather and bog-myrtle that rimmed Loch nan Eilean on a sunny
afternoon.

“Are you _sure_ you’re not wanting a proper name besides ‘Kelpie’?”
Eithne asked, her soft voice worried and laughing at once. “It seems so
insulting, just, that your parents....”

Parents? Suddenly Kelpie remembered what Bogle had said. Suppose she had
truly been stolen? Suppose she were really the daughter of a chief? Och,
the glory of it! Wealth and importance, lovely gowns and jewels, silver
buckles on real leather shoes, and a silver belt around her waist, and
oh, the safety of never having to run from angry crowds....

“_Dhé!_” she announced eagerly. “Mina and Bogle will not be my parents,
at all.” She paused dramatically and prepared to launch the rest of her
news. How startled and respectful they would be! Why hadn’t she thought
of it sooner?

“Och, now!” Alex turned twin sparks of laughter upon her. “And haven’t
I been waiting, just, for you to be telling us? Kelpie has suddenly
remembered,” he explained to the others solemnly, “that she was stolen by
the gypsies when a wee bairn and is truly the daughter of a great chief,
or perhaps of royal blood.”

“How did you know?” began Kelpie and then stopped. The others were
chuckling as at a great joke. Alex had put the blight of ridicule on
her story—though it was at least half true. And now no one would ever be
believing it at all!

“Beast!” she spat. “It is _true_!”

“As ever was!” agreed Alex jauntily and ducked her angry fist. Then he
caught her wrist, put it firmly in her lap, and sat grinning at her.
“You’re a wonderful wee liar, aren’t you just?” he observed admiringly.

“Ou, aye,” admitted Kelpie a trifle smugly before she realized that he
had tricked her again. “But this time,” she pointed out with indignation,
“I am not lying.”

“And would you not be saying the same thing if you were lying?” he
persisted.

This time Kelpie saw the trap, but she was already in it. “Of course,”
she admitted with forthright logic. “For what would be the good of lying
if you did not say it was the truth? But”—she bristled, slanted brows
scrambling themselves darkly above her short nose—“_this_ time it _is_
true!”

Alex laughed.

Kelpie tried for at least the twentieth time to put the Evil Eye on
him. The result was a poisonous look, if not a blighting one. “Wicked,
evil-minded beast!” she told him earnestly.

Ian looked at Alex judiciously. “Och, no; not wicked,” he said. “He’s a
bit evil-minded, ’tis true, and surely daft.”

Kelpie blinked.

“Aye, daft enough,” agreed Eithne happily. “Were you knowing, Kelpie,
that he’s altogether foolish about an English lass, his cousin Cecily in
Oxford? And yet all he can be saying of her is that she is like her own
wee kitten, and that he will marry with her some day.”

Alex grinned brazenly. “Well, and with who else?” he demanded. “You would
not be having me, _m’eudail_.”

“_Dhé_, no!” agreed Eithne promptly. “I’d as lief marry the twins!”

“Mayhap Kelpie would have him,” suggested Ian lazily, and then he and
Eithne shouted with laughter at the looks of sheer horror on both faces.

“Mercy!” begged Alex, getting to his knees and clasping his hands
pleadingly. “Anything but that! Curse me all you wish, water witch, but
_please_ do not marry me!”

Kelpie looked at him. It was then that something clicked. “Very well so,”
she agreed with enthusiasm. “And what sort of curse would you be wanting?”

       *       *       *       *       *

She went back to the house a little later, looking thoughtful and with a
pleasant feeling in the heart of her—not merely because, for once, she
had got the better of Alex, but also because of the thing that happened
between people when they teased. It was a warm and happy thing that
turned insults to joking and the hatred of Alex to something kinder. For
surely a body did not tease where he hated! And surely he had been half
teasing her from the first.

Kelpie’s blue eyes glinted happily as she hurried into the big
stone-floored kitchen, so that Marsali the cook almost smiled at her and
Fiona for once forgot to cross herself.

“And about time it is, too!” Marsali grunted, remembering her doubts
about Kelpie. “The mistress has been looking for you while you were
playing like a fine lady. Here, now, be helping to pluck this fowl, and
let Master Donald go tell her that you’re here.”

Kelpie glanced at the half of the twins who was arming himself for an
afternoon of fishing, with a huge packet of scones and butter. “That’s
Ronald,” she said absently as she picked up the small brown pheasant.

Three pairs of eyes focused on her in sudden sharp attention, for it took
far more than a brief glance to tell one twin from the other. In fact,
only their mother and Wee Mairi could invariably do it.

“I’m Donald,” asserted the twin, his eyes sparkling at her.

“You’re Ronald.” Kelpie contradicted him serenely, hardly glancing up
from her plucking job.

Marsali at once took sides. “Och, now, will you be calling the wee master
a liar?” she demanded indignantly, her fists planted against her hips.

“Ou, aye,” said Kelpie. “He will be teasing you,” she added, pleased to
recognize it.

Fiona looked shocked. Marsali peered suspiciously from Kelpie to the
twin, who giggled. “Och, well, then,” said Marsali, her ruddy face now
ruddier with indignation, though she was not quite sure at whom to
direct it. “Fine it is that Master Ronald has the wee mole on the back
of his neck.” And she strode over to the grinning lad and lifted up the
shoulder-length dark hair to look at the neck beneath. Kelpie went on
plucking, perfectly sure of herself and feeling rather smug.

“Master Ronald it _is_!” Marsali clucked, and Fiona crossed herself and
edged away from Kelpie. “How could you be knowing, save with the Black
Power?”

“Aye,” demanded Ronald. “How were you knowing, Kelpie? Was it witchcraft?”

Kelpie grinned and shrugged. She couldn’t really tell how she knew.
It wasn’t the look of them, but rather the feel. Donald had a more
aggressive and challenging tone, and Ronald more a feel of hungry
curiosity. But how could a body explain this kind of knowing? No, they
would just have to think it witchcraft.

“_Mise-an-dhui!_” muttered Marsali, regarding her warily. Fiona had
backed against the far wall. Donald appeared in search of his twin,
and the two went into a conference. Presently they came out of it and
presented a solid front to Kelpie, sturdy legs planted wide.

“That is no proof you are a witch,” announced Donald. “Mother and Wee
Mairi can tell us apart, and they are no witches, only Mother is knowing
us too well and Mairi has Second Sight.”

Kelpie yielded to temptation, made a horrible grimace, and began weaving
mysterious signs in the air with her fingers. Fiona screeched, and
Marsali turned pale. The twins stood their ground, grinning, belligerent,
deeply interested—and just faintly worried.

“Now whatever is all this?” It was Lady Glenfern herself, her full mauve
skirts nearly filling the wide doorway, with Eithne, round-eyed, just
behind.

“Witchcraft!” squeaked Fiona.

Kelpie flushed guiltily and found a sudden lump in her throat. Och, here
was a mess! Why had she done such a foolish thing? All in fun it was,
and yet who would believe her for a minute? Now she would be punished
and sent away—and, for once, for a thing of which she was innocent! The
novelty of the situation was so shattering that for once she lost her
glib tongue. She simply stared at her mistress, her eyes growing wide
with frustration and despair.

The twins and Marsali broke into simultaneous explanations—all slightly
different—with Fiona putting in exclamation points here and there, so
that it was some time before Lady Glenfern could get an idea of what had
happened. When she did, she turned questioningly to Kelpie, who was still
trying to think up some lie that sounded more plausible than the truth.
But Eithne spoke first.

“Och, then, Mother!” she said, laughter and distress in her voice. “She
was teasing; I am sure of it. Look you how the twins are always at her
to cast a spell, and Fiona just begging to be teased by the very look of
her. I am sure that was the way of it! Was it not, Kelpie?”

Kelpie nodded a bit sullenly. This was humiliating. She wished she really
had power to do a wee magic spell and dared show them, just to see their
surprise.

“Well—” Lady Glenfern hesitated, inclined to believe it, but not quite
sure. After all....

At that moment Wee Mairi popped into the kitchen, looking, in her full
skirts, like a fairy child caught in an overblown rose. And, like a fairy
child, she knew instantly that something was wrong, and what to do about
it. She pattered across the floor and slipped her small, soft hand into
Kelpie’s.

“This is _my_ Kelpie,” she announced, smiling angelically at her mother.
“’Tis myself loves her, and you must not be cross at her.”

“There, Mother!” crowed Eithne. “Wee Mairi loves her, and Mairi has the
Second Sight; you said yourself that she is never making a mistake about
a person!”

Lady Glenfern relaxed. “Aye so,” she agreed and smiled at Kelpie. “I can
well see how you were tempted to tease,” she admitted and then became
grave. “But you must be careful, lass. To joke about such matters could
cause you sore trouble.”

Kelpie hardly heard the warning. Her hand was gripping the small one
still protectively clinging to it, and she found herself again seized by
an alarming surge of feeling for its owner. Och, the fair, sweet heart of
her....

Wee Mairi chose this instant to lean confidingly against Kelpie and peer
up with a beguiling smile. “_My_ Kelpie,” she repeated.

And Kelpie was swallowed in a tide of the first real love she had ever
known. She found it extremely upsetting. All her training and experience
warned her that it was dangerous to be trapped into this sort of feeling.
It left one vulnerable, could lead one into foolishness. And here she
was, bewitched, unable to help it! She scowled helplessly.

Lady Glenfern, seeing her distress, mercifully took her from the kitchen
for the rest of the day and set her to work at a simple bit of weaving.
For an hour or so Kelpie sat alone, brooding. Eithne came in for a while
to work at her own more complicated length of Cameron tartan, but Kelpie
was so unsociable that she left again.

And then the twins arrived, dark heads cocked to one side, eyes dancing
at her impishly. “We have found you,” they announced in triumph.

“Fine I know it,” growled Kelpie, refusing to look at them.

Undaunted, they seated themselves on two wee creepie-stools and regarded
her with affable curiosity. “There is a thing that we have in our minds,”
they told her.

“I am doubting that!” snapped Kelpie.

The twins digested this insult and then chuckled. “I am liking you fine,”
said Donald, “even though you are not a witch.”

Kelpie, touched again on that newly sensitive spot, shot the shuttle
through the warp with unnecessary violence and said nothing.

“Why were you saying you are a witch when you are not?” asked Ronald
with interest. “Why,” he continued, getting warmed up, “do Fiona and the
others think you are? Would you like to be? Are you truly Old Mina’s
girl? Is she your Grannie Witchie? If you were a witch, Kelpie, what
would you do first of all?”

“Put a spell of silence on the tongue of you,” retorted Kelpie and found
that her ill humor was beginning to evaporate. It was impossible not to
smile back at their cheeky grins, not to chuckle when they said that
Mother would probably approve such a spell. The atmosphere became quite
congenial.

“I thought you were going fishing,” observed Kelpie.

The twins looked depressed. “We were,” they agreed. “But Father is come
back from seeing Lochiel and told us to bide here for our lessons that we
missed this morning. I think ’twill take him a wee while to find us in
here, whatever,” added Ronald cheerfully, and Kelpie grinned again.

“We are learning about the war between King Charles and Parliament and
the Covenant,” volunteered Donald sadly, “and we could do fine _not_
knowing about it. Grownups are gey confusing, so they are, and sometimes
I think gey foolish besides, and we are not understanding it all very
well.”

“Are you loving King Charles?” demanded Ronald.

“Ou, aye,” murmured Kelpie vaguely and hastened to turn the question.
“Are you?” she countered.

“As ever was!” they chorused instantly. “Is he not our King, and a
Stewart, besides?”

Well, Kelpie had already known that Glenfern was pro-Royalist. “And so
the King is always right?” she pursued, trying to think what else to ask.

“Och, no!” said the twins in surprise. “No one is always right,” they
informed her gravely. “Except,” they added, “for Father.”

Kelpie put her shuttle through the wrong way and had to take it out
again, her lip twitching ever so slightly. The twins, having settled that
subject of conversation, looked at her hopefully. “Can you,” they asked,
“tell us a story?”

Now if there was one thing Kelpie could do better than any other,
it was to tell stories—pathetic tales to earn sympathy or a copper,
outrageous lies to escape impending trouble, embroidered yarns of her own
adventures, old gypsy stories, eerie folk tales of the wee people and
other uncanny beings, or fanciful bits and snatches that she wove for
herself among the hills or beside the campfire. Her eyes sparkled. “Fine
I can that!” she asserted and dropped her voice to an eerie pitch.

“Have you ever,” she whispered, “heard of the _uruisg_ of Glenlyon?”

They shook their heads and drew their stools nearer.

“Well, then.” Kelpie paused, shuttle in hand. “It was a farmer’s wife
who was making porridge for breakfast on a wet morning, when who should
come walking in but an _uruisg_. Och, a slippery, damp, uncouth monster
he was, half man and half goat; and wasn’t he just sitting himself down
at the fire to dry, and not so much as a wee greeting to her? Well, the
farmer’s wife was fair angered at his impertinence, and she having to
step over and around him every minute, so presently she just lifted a
ladle of the boiling porridge from the pot over the fire, and poured it
over him, just. Well, at that he leaped up, howling, and ran out the door
and never dared set foot in that house again....”

When Glenfern finally tracked down his elusive twins some time later,
Kelpie had got very little weaving done, but she had made a place for
herself forever in the hearts of Ronald and Donald.



6. The Picture in the Loch


“’Tis a terrible complicated matter, the war,” objected Eithne doubtfully
as she began basting a sleeve into what was to be a fine linen shirt for
Ian’s birthday. “I fear I’d only be confusing you.”

Kelpie surveyed the four or five yards of red and green tartan wool which
constituted a kilt for a small lad, and wondered how even Donald could
have managed to tear such stout weave. “I could not be more confused than
I am,” she pointed out, “for I am knowing nothing at all. Tell me at
least a little.”

Eithne sighed and obeyed. “Well,” she began hesitantly, “you know that
King Charles is King of England and Scotland both?” Kelpie nodded. “But
in both countries are representative bodies of men called Parliaments,
and they help to rule. They are supposed to agree with the things the
King does, and it is the English parliament who must vote to give him
things like extra money when he needs it—which he usually does.”

She paused to squint critically at her basting, and Kelpie waited.
Somehow she had developed a great eagerness to learn about the matters
which had thrown England and Scotland into civil war. “Aye, go on,” she
murmured.

“Well, so. Neither King Charles nor his father before him has got along
well with Parliament. King and Parliament each said the other will be
trying to take more rights and power than they should have, and they
became angry. Parliament would refuse to vote money for the King, so the
King would dissolve Parliament, which meant that they could not meet any
more to vote on anything at all until King Charles called them back, and
so everyone was unhappy.”

She bit off her thread and held the shirt closer to the dim light
which filtered through the thick diamond-shaped mullion panes of the
casement window. “And then”—she sighed—“religion came into it. Father,”
she remarked severely, “says that religion should never be mixed with
politics, but they do not listen to wise people like Father, and so there
is trouble.”

“What has religion to do with it?” asked Kelpie curiously. She had never
known anything of religion for herself, only that the stern Kirk of the
Lowlands had severe views on all other faiths, on fun and laughter, and
most particularly on witches. But the Anglican services here at Glenfern
seemed peaceful and vaguely pleasant, even though she did not understand
them.

“Och!” protested Eithne, but Kelpie’s face was implacable, so she went
on. “Well, the Catholics and Protestants do not like each other, and
especially the Protestants of the new Reformed Church, like the Puritans
in England and the Calvinist Covenanters in Scotland—and we Anglicans
caught in the middle. King Charles is Anglican, but the Parliament is
mostly Puritan, I think. At any rate, they were very angry when the King
married Queen Henrietta, who is a Roman Catholic and said she would turn
the country all Catholic and burn Protestants at the stake. And the
Catholics said the Protestants were trying to rule the country and force
their religion on everyone, and so it was a fine braw quarrel for years,
with religion and politics all mixed together.”

Kelpie carefully selected a strand of wool to match the soft, dull red of
the Cameron tartan. This was the most difficult bit of mending she had
yet been trusted with. “Mmm,” she murmured after a minute, turning her
mind back to the conversation. “And then?”

It was Eithne’s turn to pause, while the rain beat against the casement
windows. Wee Mairi turned from her doll to lift a merry smile in the
direction of “her Kelpie,” who felt a new pang of affection. Och, the
bonnie wee thing!

Eithne scowled at the shirt and then glanced up at Kelpie with a rueful
shrug. “Ou, I cannot mind me of all the details.” She sighed again. “But
the quarrel turned into fighting.”

“But what of Scotland?” demanded Kelpie. “What had it to do with us at
all?”

“Why,” interrupted the dry voice of Alex, “King Charles himself must be
bringing that on!” They looked up to see him standing in the doorway, a
shirt in his hand and a wry grin on his angular face. “Scotland might
have been loyal to him, even though all the Lowlands are Calvinist, and
even more rigid than the Puritans, but he had the bright idea of forcing
the Anglican prayer book on Scotland. And the next thing he knew, there
was a Solemn League and Covenant formed against him, and Scotland divided
as England was, with Lowlands against the King, and most of the Highlands
loyal to him.”

Eithne looked both relieved and worried, while Kelpie studied Alex’s
expression in the dim light, not quite certain if he were teasing or not.
She decided not—for once. There was a faint note of bitterness in his
voice. “I thought you were a King’s man!” she challenged him.

“I am so,” he returned promptly and unpropped himself from the doorway.
“Look you, Eithne,” he went on, crossing the room to her. “I have ripped
my shirt sorely and am needing a bonnie sweet lass to mend it for me.”

Eithne tilted her chestnut curls at him and wrinkled up her nose in an
impish grin. “If I do,” she said, bargaining, “will you be explaining the
rest of the war to Kelpie?”

“_Dhé!_” said Alex and raised both eyebrows at Kelpie.

“She is truly wanting to know,” said Eithne sternly, “so do not be
teasing her, Alex. And I am gey muddled about it, and you knowing so much
more, with having been at Oxford and even seeing the King and his family
yourself. Will you?”

“’Tis a hard bargain,” complained Alex, “and I am thinking I pity the
man who will one day marry you, Eithne _m’eudail_.” He perched on the
corner of the massive table, his kilt falling in heavy folds about his
lean knees. “Well, then, and what bit of my great knowledge should I be
sharing with you first?”

Kelpie gave him a wicked pointed smile. “Tell me,” she said softly, “in
one word, just, _what are they fighting for?_”

“My sorrow!” exclaimed Alex, straightening up as if he had sat on a
thistle. “Is that all?”

“Don’t you know?” asked Kelpie tauntingly. “I will tell you, then.
They’re fighting for power. Is it not so?”

Alex resumed his perch and surveyed her ruefully. “Och, and are you
not the young cynic!” he observed. “And you have shocked my foster
sister, too.” For Eithne was looking both dismayed and indignant. Both
girls had forgotten their sewing for the moment and sat staring at Alex
challengingly, waiting for his opinion.

He laughed. “I fear me I shall anger you both,” he remarked, “and go
through the rest of my life with an evil spell on my head and a tom
sleeve in my shirt.”

“Well?” demanded Kelpie.

Alex gave her a crooked grin. “Sorry I am to agree with you even in
part,” he confessed, “but no doubt some men are fighting for power.
No, no, Eithne,” he added as she opened her mouth. “Do not deny it too
quickly. What about Argyll?”

Eithne subsided.

“On the other hand, Alex _avic_, there is Montrose.” It was Ian. He
pulled up a hassock and ranged himself quietly but firmly on Eithne’s
side.

“Montrose?” asked Kelpie.

“Aye,” said Ian, turning his warm smile upon her. “James Graham of
Montrose, and he one of the finest, truest men under the sun. He it is
who is named to fight for the King’s cause in Scotland, even to form and
organize the army. And he is fighting for no selfish reason whatever, but
only for what he believes to be right. Alex cannot deny it, for we both
met and talked to him last winter in Oxford.”

“Indeed and I’ll not deny it,” agreed Alex amiably, “though Kelpie might.
My point was just that all men are not like Montrose, and my proof of
it is still Argyll. Och, and have you done, my sonsie Eithne?” he added
as she held up the mended shirt. “Come away, then, Ian, and let’s be
outside. I believe the sun is going to come out.”

And they were gone before Kelpie could ask about Argyll. Perhaps it was
as well, she decided, going back to her mending. For she really thought
she had heard quite as much as she could absorb all in one lump.

Eithne flickered a mischievous sideways glance at her. “And wasn’t I
warning you ’twas complicated?” she murmured.

       *       *       *       *       *

As if by tacit agreement, no one brought up matters like war and politics
for some time. After all, it was easy enough, in that peaceful, secluded
glen, to put such things far out of mind. Kelpie’s free hours were full
enough, as spring days became longer, with other things. Wee Mairi
tagged along with her, a self-appointed guardian, and the glenspeople
had learned to hide their hostility when Mairi was there. The twins were
insatiably hungry for more stories—and so, for that matter, were the
older young people. Books were rare and precious, and mostly devoted to
serious and difficult subjects. And, as Ian generously remarked on a
sunny afternoon by the loch, Kelpie was a master at telling tales.

Alex grinned impishly. “She is that!” he agreed with a wicked twinkle in
his eye and a double meaning to his voice which Kelpie chose to ignore.

“Next time I will tell you about the _sithiche_ (fairies) of Loch
Maree—_if_ you are all very kind to me,” she said blandly and glanced
impudently at Alex.

She sat on alone by the loch for a little while after the others had
left, thinking about things. How Alex had changed since she first met
him! He was much nicer than she had thought. And she had begun to like
his teasing and mockery, for it was all good-humored.... Or was it
perhaps herself had changed? And if so—She rolled over to lie full-length
on her face in the fragrant long grasses and pondered. Then, lazily, she
stretched until her head was over the edge of the loch.

What was her real self like? Had that changed? Could it?

The bank at this point rose abruptly about two feet above the glassy
surface of the water, with tough curling roots of heather overhanging
the edge. Kelpie reached down skillfully, scooped up a handful of the
cold water, and drank it from her palm before it could run through
her fingers. The surface rippled slightly and returned to its mirror
stillness, with sky, hills, and trees reflected so clearly that it would
be hard to tell the reflection from the real. Or was one, perhaps, as
real as the other?

She stared down at her own face, still looking indecently bare with all
the thick dark hair pulled back into plaits. Was that any less real—or
more—than the scenes she saw in Mina’s crystal?

And then it was no longer her own face she was seeing, but a town
street and an ugly-tempered crowd surging down it. Not merely annoyed,
that crowd, but murderous. Kelpie shivered a little, for she knew too
well how bestial a mob could be. And this one had a victim, for there
was savage satisfaction in the grim Lowland faces above their sober
Covenanter garments, pressing closer and closer.... And there was Ian!
Whatever could he be doing in the Lowlands? Pushing through the crowd, he
was; and Alex came after, shouting at him, his angular face all twisted
with fury. And now they were closer, and Alex was catching up to Ian....
Alex was lifting his sword, and through the crowd Kelpie could see him
bring it down savagely.... _Dhé!_ Ian had fallen, his dark head vanished
in the throng! And Alex’s sword with blood on it!

Kelpie jerked with horror, and a bit of dry heather plopped into the
water—and the picture was gone. Nor did it return, though she waited,
staring at the still water and brooding bitterly.

_Dhé!_ That serpent Alex! She had never liked him from the beginning!
And now he was going to turn on his foster brother, strike him down from
behind, perhaps kill him—for the Sight never lied.

She tried to tell herself that it didn’t matter to her, but it was too
late. Ian had crept into her heart, and Wee Mairi, and the rest of them.
Even Alex, deceitful scoundrel that he was, had somehow tricked her into
liking him—for a while, anyway. But now she knew better. Och, she must
try to warn Ian! Even if he could not prevent it, perhaps he could be on
his guard, could put off the evil day of it, could duck in time to save
his life.

Dismayed, angry, resolute, Kelpie got to her feet, smoothed down the full
folds of her blue dress, and started back up the loch.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now what, wondered Alex, had got under the skin of their wolf cub lately?
For there was a new venom toward himself—and after he had been thinking
her nearly tamed, too. Aye, a wolf cub: belligerent, cunning, snarling,
biting, thieving, destructive—and yet innocent, as a wolf cub is innocent
because it knows nothing else.

But she had been changing. She had been learning trust and affection,
even to play and tease. And now, suddenly, there was a new and deadly
hatred smoldering at him from those ringed eyes. It was puzzling, it
was, and rather less amusing than her old spitting indignation had
been; and even though it could hardly be a tragedy to him, still it was
disconcerting. Alex kept a wary eye on her, lest she should decide to
take her _sgian dhu_ to his back.

As for Kelpie, she found the business of warning Ian a bit harder than
it had seemed. For one thing, it was none so easy to find him alone, for
he and Alex were usually together and about their own affairs, while
Kelpie had her tasks in the house. In the evenings the family sat
together in the withdrawing room, which was not Kelpie’s place. The big
warm kitchen, or her wee cot in Marsali’s room, was where she belonged,
or—more often—away by herself outside, in the pale half-light of the long
northern gloaming. For summer was drawing near, and darkness now merely
brushed down late upon the world and, like a gull’s wing, quickly lifted.

So she glared at Alex and did her tasks and kept her eyes and ears open
and bided her time. And at last Alex went off for a few days to visit his
brother in Ardochy. And the next evening Kelpie, on one of her rambles,
saw Ian on the hill above her, quietly looking down over the glen.

Kelpie drew near, and then paused. Och, a braw lad he was! But how might
she be approaching him best? It might be he wanted to be alone. Before
she could decide, Ian saw her, smiled, beckoned, his face oddly blurred
in the half-light that turned all things gray. She sat beside him and for
a minute followed his gaze over the long shadowed cup of the glen, lit by
the silver gleam of Loch nan Eilean.

Finally Ian stirred and spoke. “I wish I might never need to leave it
again,” he said wistfully.

Did he love it so? Kelpie dimly sensed that he did; but she did not
understand, for she herself had no roots to her heart, but only a
wanderlust to her feet. “And must you, then?” she asked. Why could Ian
not be doing as he pleased, since he was the heir to Glenfern?

“Aye so,” he said, a bit more briskly. “For I must finish my schooling
if I am to be a fit chieftain and leader to my people. However”—he
brightened considerably—“I think we’ll not be able to return to Oxford
for some time, with the war moving northward and becoming more serious,
and Argyll endangering all the Highlands.”

Now was the moment for her to warn him about Alex. But it was also a
chance to ask about Argyll and put off the more difficult thing. “Tell me
about Argyll!” she urged.

Ian turned to look at her with friendly interest. “You’ve a good head on
you, haven’t you, Kelpie? Mother says you’re quick to learn and that you
speak English as well as Gaelic. Are you truly interested in national
affairs, then?” Kelpie nodded.

“Well, then,” began Ian, “you know who Argyll is, do you not? Mac Cailein
Mor, Chief of Clan Campbell in the Highlands, and also head of the
Covenant Army of the Lowlands. So he has that power added to the power
of his own clan, and he uses it ill, Kelpie. He is a vicious man, cruel,
ambitious, and vindictive.”

Kelpie could not resist a gibe. “And is he not also a Campbell, and his
clan at feud with yours?” she remarked.

Ian flushed. Even in the dusk she could see it. “’Tis not that!” he
protested. “I am not one to hate a man for his name, Kelpie! And in any
case, my own uncle married a Campbell lass; and the son of Lochiel, our
own clan chief, married Argyll’s sister, and we are anxious to be at
peace. But Argyll, devil that he is, wishes to dictate his own terms
entirely. Do you know what he has done, Kelpie? He has taken his nephew
Ewen—Lochiel’s own grandson, who will be chief of the Camerons some
day—and is keeping him at his own castle of Inverary. He says he wishes
to see to his education—and I can guess what kind of education ’twill
be—but do you see that Ewen is hostage for Lochiel’s actions? And if
Lochiel dares to take the side of the King against Argyll—”

“Mmmm,” said Kelpie, seeing.

“Nor is it just our clan,” Ian went on, deep anger in his voice. “He
was commissioned to secure the Highlands for the Covenant, which is bad
enough, for we have not tried to inflict our politics or religion on
them. But Argyll has used his commission and the Lowland army to settle
his private grudges. He burned the great house of Airly, with no enemy
there but a helpless woman. And he burned and ravaged the lands of
MacDonald of Keppoch, and is even now laying waste the lands of Gordon of
Huntly. They say he would make himself King Campbell, and a black day for
Scotland if he should.”

Kelpie remembered the face she had seen once in the crystal, which Mina
had called Mac Cailein Mor, Marquis of Argyll. A cold, cruel face it
had been, with twisted sneering mouth, a heavy and pendulous nose, and a
squint in the crafty eyes of him, so that one couldn’t be just sure what
he was looking at.

“Aye,” she agreed suddenly. “He is a red-haired _uruisg_. I have been
seeing him helping with his own hands to fire the homes and burn people
too.” She didn’t add that the people burned were accused of witchcraft,
as this might not be a tactful thing to mention.

“You’ve seen that?” exclaimed Ian.

“In the crystal, only,” confessed Kelpie. “I was also seeing him mounting
the scaffold to be hanged,” she remembered with relish. “But,” she added
regretfully, “he was looking much older then.”

“_Dhé!_” exclaimed Ian, deeply impressed. “I did not know you were having
the Second Sight, Kelpie.”

“Aye,” said Kelpie. And here was her opening. “Ian!” she blurted, quite
forgetting to give him a respectful title. “You must not be trusting Alex
MacDonald.”

“Not trust Alex?” Ian turned a dumfounded face to hers. And then he
laughed. “Och, Kelpie, there is no one in the world I trust better! We
are sworn brothers, and if my life were to rest in the two hands of him,
there is no place I would sooner have it.”

“And you would lose it, then,” said Kelpie flatly. “For I had a Seeing,
and his sword fell upon you from behind, and you fell. And there was
anger on his face and blood upon his sword.”

Ian’s face was a pale blob in the dusk, and she could not see it turn
white—and yet she knew, somehow, that it did. For the Second Sight never
lied.

And in spite of that, Ian shook his head. “I cannot believe it, Kelpie,”
he said quietly. “It is a mistake, for the sun would fall from the sky
before Alex could be untrue.”

Kelpie thrust an angry face, long eyes glittering, close to his. “You
think I am lying, but I am not. I would have been warning you, even
though it is of no profit to me, whatever. But it is a spell he has cast
upon you! And,” she added bitterly, “you will be discovering it too
late.”



7. The Return of Mina and Bogle


Summer was upon the Highlands. The serene curves of the hills glowed with
a hundred shades of green and tawny and rose, all with a faintly unreal,
spirit-of-opal quality, so that the distances looked no more solid than a
rainbow.

Kelpie breathed the salt wind as she climbed higher above the glen, and
stared hungrily at the distant hills. For she was beginning to feel
restless. A wee glen was not space enough, and there were too many
people, too much routine, and she must away to the hills to be alone.
Here were only the mild shaggy cattle peering mournfully from behind long
fringes of hair, and the hares and red deer, the hill larks and whaups
and gulls, and an eagle—high and alone in the free air.

Her acute senses had been lulled by the months of security at Glenfern,
and she was startled to see the bent, wiry figure of Mina rise
unexpectedly from behind a clump of juniper.

They looked at each other, and Kelpie’s expression could not possibly
have been mistaken for delight. Mina took one good look at it, swung back
her strong, scrawny arm, and aimed it at Kelpie.

It seemed that Kelpie’s reactions as well as her senses had become rusty.
She didn’t duck in time. And, since Mina had fully expected her to, the
resounding smack startled and pained them both.

Mina shook her stinging hand and glared at Kelpie as if the girl had done
it on purpose. Kelpie, her head ringing, glared back. And Black Bogle,
who had appeared as silently as his eerie namesake, shook with malicious
laughter.

“_Amadain!_” grumbled Mina sourly. “Forgotten everything you ever knew!
Fine-lady clothes and clean face, and hands that will have lost all their
cunning—such as it was. Blind and deaf and slow as a sleeping snail.
_Amadain!_”

“Sssss!” remarked Kelpie, looking and sounding like a wrathful snake. She
had forgotten how ugly and mean and dirty Mina was. Och, how she hated
her!

Mina looked pleased. She enjoyed Kelpie’s impotent hatred. And Kelpie,
knowing this, controlled her feelings and hooded her eyes and made her
sharp-jawed small mouth curl upward. She had been a fool to show her
feelings at all at all!

“Come away, then,” ordered Mina, suddenly becoming brisk. “You have kept
us waiting long enough! Why weren’t you coming as soon as you got my
message?”

“What message?” asked Kelpie blankly. Mina’s eyes blazed with fury and
humiliation. Bogle laughed aloud, and Kelpie knew that Mina had tried to
send her a message by magic—and it hadn’t worked. Och, but she must say
something quickly, or no telling what Mina might do!

“It would be yon red-haired serpent down there,” she said improvising
hastily. “He was no doubt setting up a spell to prevent your message from
reaching me. Teach me to say spells, Mina,” she wheedled, “so that I may
set one on him.”

It worked. Mina’s pride was saved, and her wrath turned from Kelpie to
Alex. “I will be cursing him myself,” she growled. “He is the same one
who would not pay me enough when you were hurt, and who would not let you
steal? Very well so! He will pay, and the others as well. We will go now
and demand your wages before you leave.”

Leave? Kelpie’s heart sank. Back to the old life of fear, hatred,
beatings? Away from Wee Mairi and Ian and the companionship and teasing?
She backed up a step and braced herself.

“What for should I want to leave?” She stuck out her jaw rebelliously,
and Mina slapped it.

“Because I am saying so!” she snarled. “And because I will put an evil
curse on you if you do not obey.”

Kelpie prudently pulled in her smarting jaw and considered this. On one
hand, Mina was not as powerful as Kelpie had thought, for she almost
certainly could not read the crystal alone, and her magic message had
failed to get through. But that was not to say she could not curse.
Kelpie still had great faith in the power of Mina’s evil spells. And
Mina’s curse would be even more disagreeable than her company. Kelpie
brooded darkly over the unpleasant alternatives before her, almost
inclined to risk the curse.

“Why would you not want to come?” demanded Mina, and her cursing changed
to wheedling. “And here I have been to the trouble of arranging for you
to learn witchcraft at last, ungrateful wretch that you are, then! What,
would you stay to be a slave to arrogant fools such as these? Stupid
sheep, spending their lives shut in a wee glen?”

“They do not, then,” muttered Kelpie mutinously. “Ian and Alex have been
to school in England in a place called Oxford, and have seen the King and
Montrose and know more than we about affairs. And they do not beat me,
nor make me steal for them and then set the crowd on me. And I do not
believe you plan to teach me witchcraft, whatever, for you are always
promising it and never do it.”

Mina’s face darkened, and she raised a scrawny, strong arm again, but
Bogle loomed over her and drew her aside to speak for a moment in a
voice like distant thunder. Kelpie watched apprehensively. When Bogle
intervened, it was never for motives of kindness and charity.

“Hah!” Mina cackled presently and turned back to Kelpie. “And what of the
wee bittie lass we were seeing you playing with so tenderly this morning?
Shall I put a curse on her, too? Aye, on all the glen I shall put the
Evil Eye, so that they will all wither up and die horrible deaths!”

Kelpie’s defiance collapsed like a deflated bagpipe. Not Wee Mairi!
She could not bear to risk harm for her bonnie bairn. But she must not
let Mina know how vulnerable she was on this point, or she would be in
slavery and Wee Mairi in danger forever more! Carefully keeping her face
impassive, she shrugged indifferently. “Och, well, just do not be putting
it on me,” she murmured, and noted that both Mina and Bogle looked
disappointed. “And will you truly be teaching me witchcraft if I come?”
she demanded, as if this were her only interest.

“Have I not said so?” Mina growled. “Was it trying to drive a hard
bargain you were, then? I should beat you for it! Come away down, now,
for we have wasted too much time already.” And she led the way down the
hill.

It was the twins who first spotted the assorted trio approaching, and
they began to shout excitedly.

“Kelpie, is yon your Grannie Witchie? Father, Ian, come and see!” they
yelled in full voice. And then, short kilts swinging, they raced up the
slope to stare at Mina and Bogle with frank, fearless curiosity.

“Are you truly a witch?” demanded Ronald, and, in spite of her gloom,
Kelpie stifled a grin at the look on Mina’s face.

The old woman drew herself up and glared at them. “Best not be asking
that!” she warned in an ominous croak that should have completely cowed
them, but didn’t.

“Why not?” asked Ronald with great interest. “What will happen if we do?
Do you not think, Donald, that she looks like a witch?”

“Ou, aye,” declared Donald judiciously. “But we have not seen her casting
any spells yet. Can you cast spells, Grannie Witchie?”

Kelpie’s amusement changed to apprehension as the infuriated Mina
spluttered speechlessly. It was probably only her speechlessness and the
timely arrival of Glenfern that saved the twins from an awful fate. Mina
gave them one last baleful glare—Kelpie fervently hoped it wasn’t the
Evil Eye—and turned to the tall chieftain. Kelpie glanced at him, and
at Ian, Eithne, and Alex, who arrived just then from down by the loch,
and then stared sullenly at the ground. She dared not look straight at
them, for if they were to read her eyes and guess how she felt, then
they would refuse to let her go, and so Mina’s curse would be upon them.
And now Kelpie found that her old misgivings were justified. She had
recklessly given her affection and left herself vulnerable, so now she
must suffer the consequences. Angrily she promised herself never to be so
weak again.

“Well, then,” said Glenfern pleasantly at last. “And are you leaving us,
Kelpie?” She jerked her head, not looking at him. “I am sorry to hear
it,” he said gently, “for I think you were happy here, and we have come
to like you well.”

“Oh, Kelpie!” Eithne protested, shrinking a little from Mina and Bogle.
“Can you not stay?”

“Och, you cannot go!” clamored the twins in outrage. “Who will be telling
us stories now?”

Kelpie scowled, chewed her lip, and wished herself a thousand miles away.
And worse was to come, for a brief glance upward showed her that all of
them, from Mina to the twins, were on the verge of guessing her true
feelings. She tossed her head and gave a hard little laugh. “Och, I’m
away,” she said airily, “for I’ve bided too long in one place.”

Glenfern was looking at her keenly. “You are welcome to stay, you know,”
he told her.

“Aye, to slave for you without pay!” whined Mina in her most put-upon
voice. If she had been slow to the attack, she made up for it now. “We
have come to have her wages.”

From under her lashes Kelpie saw the hurt on Eithne’s face, and something
like pity on Ian’s. Only Alex wore a look of acid amusement that set
Kelpie’s teeth on edge. And Glenfern was giving Mina the same stern look
he used when the twins had been naughty.

“I think you must be joking,” he said quietly. “We have treated this lass
far better than ever you have done. We have fed her properly, clothed her
in decent, clean garments, taught her, given her affection and a roof
over her head and a bed under her. What have you ever given her save harm
and neglect?”

“She is ours!” Mina squealed angrily, but she must have seen that she
would get nowhere, for she suddenly changed tactics. “Would you be
wanting Mac Cailein Mor to hear things about you?” she hinted softly.
“Things about how you are favoring King Charles, and what you think of
the Covenant, and your own son associating with the King and bringing
back messages from him, and from Montrose as well, perhaps?”

There was only one way Mina could have learned these things. Everyone
looked at Kelpie, who stuck out her chin and grinned brazenly. Ou, the
wicked, careless tongue of her, to be telling Mina that! Ian and Eithne
were looking as if she had slapped them. There was a smile on Alex’s lean
face and scorn in his eyes.

“And so you have not really changed at all,” he observed softly, and
was surprised at the bitterness of his own disappointment. After all,
what else had he expected? But his tongue went on scathingly. “Selfish,
faithless, unscrupulous you are and always will be. You could never think
of inconveniencing yourself for the good of another, could you, Kelpie?”

“Of course not,” said Kelpie defiantly, but the sweet face of Wee Mairi
was warm and mocking in her heart.

“Let be, Alex.” Ian sighed. “She cannot help it. There was not enough
time to change old habits.”

“Nor ever will be,” retorted Alex.

Kelpie hissed at him venomously. “Faithless yourself!” she spat. “Do not
be forgetting what I told you, Ian!” And she turned away to Glenfern, who
was laughing at Mina.

“By all means go to Argyll,” he said cheerfully. “Tell him whatever you
like. He knows well enough where our sympathies lie. But leave the lass
behind you when you go, for I should not like her to be burned as a witch
along with the two of you. And now, farewell. I am sorry,” he added,
turning to Kelpie, “that you could not stay with us, poor lass. Remember
that we wish you well.”

That was really almost too much. Kelpie turned abruptly and started up
the pass with Mina and Bogle, who knew when they were defeated. At least
it was over, and she must just put it away out of her memory.

But it was not quite over. Halfway up the hill a small voice wailed
after her. She turned to see Wee Mairi tugging at Eithne’s hand, one
small arm stretched out and upward. “My Kelpie!” she shrilled. “Do not go
away, my Kelpie!”

Mina’s pale eyes were upon Kelpie, narrowed, watchful, suspicious. Kelpie
set her jaw, hardened her face, and deliberately turned her back on the
broken-hearted little figure below.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next few miles were blurred. Kelpie tramped mechanically behind Mina
and Bogle, unseeing, trying to wipe three months out of her life and
become the person she had been before. Och, she had been right to begin
with! A feckless, foolish thing it was to care for anyone, and only hurt
could come from it. From now on she would be hard as the granite sides of
Ben Nevis, which now loomed ahead, snow still patching its sheer northern
side. She would be what Alex thought her—and a pox on him, too. Nor would
she even care that he would strike down that braw lad Ian, for Ian had
had his warning, and it was his own fault if he was too stupid to heed it.

Scowling, she kicked at an inoffensive clump of bluebells and
deliberately stepped on a wild yellow iris. She would become a witch,
then; not a “coven witch,” either. She had seen them—silly people, who
made a great ceremony of selling their souls to the Devil and met in
groups of thirteen, called covens, and held Black Mass, and did a great
deal of wild dancing. Mina said these were little more than playing at
witchcraft and learned only a few simple spells. No, now, Kelpie would
be a witch of the old sort, who needed no bargains with Satan, but who
tapped a Power that was old before the beginnings of Christianity.
A Power it was that could be used for either black or white magic,
but Kelpie had seen little of the white, and black seemed much more
congenial, especially in her present mood.

She drifted into her old dream of what she would do one day to Mina and
Bogle. Aye, and perhaps she would just add Alex as well. They were over
the pass and heading south along the side of Loch Lochy before she came
back to herself and began to wonder about the present.

“Where is it we are going now?” she demanded, moving up to walk beside
Mina, half off the narrow path. “When will you be teaching me witchcraft?
What are you planning?”

Mina cast a thoughtful eye at Kelpie’s blue dress, now kilted up through
her belt for easier walking. “I think that would be fitting me,” she
remarked casually. “We will be telling you what you will need to know
when it is the right time for knowing it,” she added so mildly that
Kelpie looked at her with dark suspicion.

Falling behind once more, she began again to brood over her life. It
consisted of being pushed from one situation into another. It was
other folk who acted, and herself who reacted, who was acted upon.
Was she, then, such a spineless creature? Was her whole life to be
molded by others? Rebellion once more rose in her, but then subsided
as she remembered the two-pronged stick that Mina held over her—nay,
three-pronged, really. She could curse Kelpie, and she could curse Wee
Mairi and Ian and the other folk of Glenfern, and only Mina could teach
Kelpie witchcraft. And witchcraft, now, had become the only goal in her
life, the only hope of escaping the hateful mastery of Mina and Bogle.
Kelpie set her teeth, and the look on her face was neither pleasant nor
attractive.

Down to the tip of Loch Lochy and on down the river they plodded, past
the home of Glenfern’s chief, Lochiel; and at last they made camp for the
night in the old unfinished castle of Inverlochy. Roofless it was, and
built four-square, with a round tower at each corner, and Kelpie narrowed
her eyes thoughtfully as they went in. Mina and Bogle never looked for
walls about them, except sometimes in the cold of winter. What was afoot?

For the moment there was no time to wonder. Mina nodded brusquely at the
river, which flowed just outside the arched stone entrance. “Gather us
firewood,” she ordered, “and then guddle us some fish—if you have not
forgotten how.” Her pale eyes rested again on Kelpie’s dress, and Bogle
chuckled.

An hour or so later, annoyed but not in the least astonished, Kelpie
wiped her greasy fingers on the dirty rags which now covered her, and
glowered across the fire at Mina. The hag and the blue dress were more or
less the same size, but of far different shapes. The dress sagged across
the front of Mina’s hunched shoulders and strained ominously across the
back, and was at once too long and too narrow in the waist, and the cuffs
reached in vain for those long bony wrists. Kelpie had a mental picture
of bright hazel eyes dancing in wicked amusement in an angular red-topped
face. For once she could have appreciated Alex’s sense of humor, and her
own white teeth showed momentarily in a matching grin.

Mina glared at her suspiciously, and Kelpie hastily stopped grinning.
_Dhé!_ Mina was almost as bad as Alex himself at seeing what she
shouldn’t! And she mustn’t anger Mina too much—not yet! So she lowered
her slanted eyes more or less submissively and waited.

“Hah!” said Mina suddenly. “You think I am not knowing what you are
thinking?”

Kelpie devoutly hoped not. She had no desire to be turned into a toad or
something equally unpleasant. Best to walk warily—neither too innocent
nor too defiant. “I am wondering what you are about,” she retorted
sullenly. “I have learned the things you were wanting me to, but you have
not told me why, nor have you taught me any spells.”

“Hah!” said Mina again. “First we will read the crystal.”

And presently, under the ghost-light of the summer night, Kelpie sat
again with her hand in Mina’s horny claw and gazed into the blank crystal
ball. It remained still and empty. “I see myself,” invented Kelpie
impudently. “It is in a place that I have never been, and I am wearing a
blue dress—”

Mina turned on her in sudden suspicion, and Kelpie prepared to duck. But
they were distracted by a small flicker of light that came from an upper
window of one of the castle towers. For an instant, fear gripped Kelpie.
Was it an uncanny creature of some sort? Then she noticed that Bogle was
nowhere in sight, and she chewed her lip thoughtfully.

Sure enough, presently his shadowy figure emerged from the tower door. He
came back to the fire and sat down without a word. But Kelpie thought she
had seen him put something in his new leather sporran (recently stolen,
without doubt), and there passed between him and Mina a long look and the
tiniest of nods.

Kelpie pretended to notice nothing, but her mind was busy. It couldn’t
have been magic he was up to, for Bogle did no magic except for ordinary
curses. It must have been a message, then—a message left for him here,
and they had known where to look for it. And that was why they camped in
the castle instead of out in the open.

Och, there was something in the air, indeed and indeed! Kelpie went to
sleep wondering what it might be—and how she might be turning it to her
own advantage.



8. A Task for Kelpie


From Inverlochy Castle they headed southeast, around the tip of Loch
Leven and into the lands of the Stewarts of Glencoe. Now they definitely
turned southward. Kelpie frowned.

“Will we be going into Campbell country, then?” she asked, faintly
alarmed. For the last time they had ventured into Argyll’s lands there
had been an all too exciting witch hunt from which they had barely
escaped, so it must be an important matter indeed that would bring Mina
and Bogle back again into danger.

Mina just grunted disagreeably, but by the next day Kelpie’s question was
answered, for they reached Loch Etive, which was well into Campbell land.
Mina glanced around nervously, and Kelpie again wondered where they were
going, and why. Bogle stood for a moment, staring down the loch, then
turned and purposefully led the way to the precise spot where the River
Etive entered the northernmost tip. Clearly he knew exactly where he was
going. And then Kelpie saw what must be the reason for this journey. A
man sat waiting for them in a copse of alder near the river, looking
oddly out of place in the sober gray breeches of a Lowlander.

“Aweel,” he said and looked at them. Kelpie’s sharp eyes took in every
detail of the stocky long-armed figure, with sandy hair cropped to
its ears, and sandy eyebrows looking too thin for the broad face. She
did not like what she saw, and even less what she felt. For there was
no expression at all on the Lowlander’s face. His eyes were like cold
pebbles, and there was a malignance about him that made her shrink inside.

Suddenly Kelpie knew that he must be a warlock. Mina and Bogle would not
be merely working with him; they were under his orders. Probably it was
he who was behind Mina’s interest in politics, Kelpie’s long stay at
Glenfern, this hurried trip. Och, it was a powerful and evil man, this,
and she would do well to fear him.

The small opaque eyes studied her for a moment and then turned to Mina,
who looked small and shrunken before them. “Is yon the lass?” Their owner
demanded in the burred English of Glasgow.

Mina nodded, and the eyes turned back to Kelpie. “Come here!” he
commanded.

Kelpie had a passionate desire to assert her own will and refuse. But it
would be daft to try to challenge his power now—and especially with Mina
and Bogle watching her. Reluctantly, her own eyes smoldering with anger
and foreboding, she went and stood before him, and he seemed to read her
thoughts.

“So, ye’d like tae be a witch,” he said, his voice half a sneer, half a
caress. “Tae hae sich power, ye maun learn tae obey. Obey! Ye didna ken
that, eh? Weel—ailbins ye can prove yersel’ the noo, and earn the powers
ye’re wanting.” He turned to Mina again. “Hae ye told her?”

Mina shook her head humbly. “Never a word.”

“Good. She’ll hear it the noo,” returned the Lowlander. He turned back
to Kelpie, whose small face regarded him with wary intensity. His face
became genial and fatherly. “Ye’re a lucky lass,” he began, “tae hae us
a’ so concerned wi’ yer ain guid.”

Kelpie laughed aloud, and there was genuine amusement as well as derision
in her laughter. Did they think her a bairn, and daft as well?

At once the Lowlander became brisk and businesslike. Very well, then, he
conceded, perhaps it was not merely her own good they were after. But she
would profit greatly. Who, he demanded, was her worst enemy?

Kelpie prudently did not name Mina and Bogle. Instead, she remembered
Mina’s deep interest of late and made a shrewd guess at the answer he
expected. “Mac Cailein Mor?”

“Aye, Argyll,” he said approvingly and went on to point out why. The
Kirk of the Covenant was reaching farther and farther into the Highlands
now, with its persecution of honest witches, and even of stupid old folk
who were not witches at all, for that matter. And who was head of the
Covenant? Who was spearhead of the persecutions, the pricking and torture
and burnings? Argyll. If he was not stopped, there would be no safe place
in all Scotland for such as they.

Kelpie nodded and found part of her mind thinking that on this one point
only—Argyll and the Covenant—did her world and that of Glenfern agree.

Very well, then, the Lowlander continued. They must take steps to destroy
Argyll. And what better thing than a hex? A wee image of him, in clay or
wax, they would make. And then they would stick pins in it, roast it,
freeze it, pour poison over it, and, by the black powers of witchcraft,
all these things would happen to Mac Cailein Mor himself, until at last
he would die in great pain.

Again Kelpie nodded warily. And how did she enter into all this, at all?

She found out soon enough. In order to make a really effective hex
on Argyll, something from himself was needed to mold into the wax
figure—hair or fingernail clippings, preferably. And who was to obtain
them? Why, Kelpie, of course.

Now it was clear why she had been left at Glenfern to learn the ways of
gentry and how to be a servant. She would hire herself as housemaid at
Inverary Castle and, as soon as she managed to get the hair or fingernail
clippings, just come away back here with them. And as a reward she would
be taught all she wished to know about spells, potions, curses—even the
Evil Eye itself.

As easy as that!

They were making her their tool again, of course, to do what they dared
not do themselves. If she were caught, her life would not be worth a
farthing. Still—Kelpie thought quickly behind narrowed eyes and an
impassive face. It was a chance to get away from Mina and Bogle and
perhaps take a hand in managing her own life. Once away in Inverary, she
could decide whether or not to carry out the errand. Perhaps she would
prefer Mac Cailein Mor to Mina and just stay for a while. Or perhaps....
Well, she would see.

She listened with great docility as they explained how she could get in
touch with them once she had completed her task. She even nodded when
the Lowlander suggested blandly that it might just be safest to send the
hair—or half of it—on to them by the messenger they would tell her of,
and then she herself could be bringing the rest later. Kelpie kept a
sneer from crossing her face. If they thought her so witless as that, let
them, then! But if and when she came to them, it would be with the hair
hidden in a safe place, and they having to fulfill their part of the
bargain before they saw it.

The Lowlander was very pleased with her, and Kelpie went to bed very
pleased with herself. But she awoke near dawn with the sense of something
bothering her.

The sky was a vast aching void, neither black nor light. The world was
a great shadow. Kelpie crept silently away from the camp and over the
crest of the nearest rise, still wrapped in the old woolen plaidie which
served as cloak and blanket. She seated herself against the thickness of
a rhododendron, so that she was lost in the black shadows of its great
leaves and blossoms. Then she stared down along the long, steely sheet of
Loch Etive and began to think.

Obey, the Lowlander had said—and clearly Mina and Bogle were obeying him.
But Kelpie had thought that to be a witch was to be free, to have power
to command others, never to _be_ commanded again by anyone.

Was it not so, after all? Did the Lowlander, in turn, obey someone—or
Something? For an instant Kelpie sensed something infinitely dangerous
and horrible. Was Satan merely another name for those ancient Dark
Powers? And was the price for invoking them to be a slave to them? She
shuddered, and cold droplets of sweat broke out on her short upper lip.

Then she pulled herself together. She must not give in to foolish
worries. The Lowlander was a fearsome man, but witchcraft was the only
way to be free of Mina, and when she had learned it she need fear neither
of them any longer.

All the same, the first seed of doubt had taken root, and it no longer
seemed quite so easy to become the most powerful witch in Scotland. It
was a rather subdued Kelpie who meekly cooked the fish and oatcakes for
breakfast, bade the Lowlander farewell, and followed Bogle and Mina on to
Loch Awe.

At a ruined old shieling hut by the loch they stopped and waited for a
day, until there came a round-faced young woman with a wealth of brown
hair and a slate-colored dress kilted up over a striped petticoat. She
seemed an unlikely person to be working with witches and warlocks, for
her bright-cheeked smile was quite artless.

“_Dhia dhuit!_” She beamed. “Is this the lass who will be fetching the
hair to hex Mac Cailein Mor, may the demons fly away with him? I am Janet
Campbell, who will take you to Inverary. I will call you Sheena at once,”
she added chattily, “so you can get used to it, for Mrs. MacKellar would
never be hiring a lass named for a kelpie.” She chuckled cheerfully.

Kelpie gave her an appraising look from under her thick black lashes, but
Janet didn’t seem in the least put out. “I could not be doing the task
myself,” she explained, “for I have my work, and no reason to be going
into the castle. And,” she added forthrightly, “I am not brave or clever
enough. But I will be your messenger, Sheena, when you need me.”

Kelpie, more and more resentful of being used by others, nodded sullenly.
But Janet’s next words cheered her considerably.

“She cannot be asking for work in such rags,” pointed out that young
woman matter-of-factly. “They would know her for a gypsy at once, and Mac
Cailein Mor has a fearful hatred of such. Best be giving her your blue
dress to wear, Mina.”

Bogle chuckled, and Kelpie hid her satisfaction behind a blank face.
Mina snarled and gave in. The string of epithets she flung at Kelpie
along with the dress hardly amounted to an objection at all, and Kelpie’s
earlier misgivings rose again briefly. If even the formidable Mina was so
meekly obeying, then what power this Lowlander must have!

She was still brooding on this as she and Janet set out on the last bit
of the journey, her cheek still stinging from Mina’s farewell cuff. On
down Loch Awe, and to the wild steepness of Glen Aray, and along that
gash in the hills toward Loch Fyne, Janet led the way sturdily enough,
although Kelpie’s wiry legs could have gone much faster. Part of the
time Janet left the thin path altogether and threaded her way along the
slopes, among great clumps of brilliant pink rhododendron, groves of oak
and hazel and rowan, patches of lavender-blooming heath and the mystic
white bog-cotton.

“Best not to risk meeting anyone,” she remarked with a trace of
nervousness. “I dare not be seen with you, in case....”

She left the sentence unfinished and went on in a new and brisk voice.
“Now I will be giving you your story to tell the housekeeper when you ask
for work. You are Sheena Campbell, daughter to Sorcha and Seumas, who
lived in the old shieling hut where we met on Loch Awe. When they died,
you went in service with MacIntyre of Craignish, but now, with their
daughter wedded and away, there is no need for you. So you have come to
Inverary, to your own clan chief, to see is there a place for you.”

For the next two hours she fed Kelpie the details of her fictional life
and made her repeat them over and over, until Kelpie almost felt that she
was two people at once.

“Och, you’re glib, just!” said Janet at last, her round face admiring.
“I’m almost believing you myself. ’Tis a clever mind you have, and a
canny tongue.” She stopped and turned around to survey Kelpie’s face
searchingly. “Aye,” she went on, “and your face, though it is not bonnie,
just, is a face to beguile the lads. Have you a braw laddie who loves
you, Sheena?”

Four months ago Kelpie would have jeered at her in wonder and scorn.
What had the lass of Mina and Bogle to do with love, or lads either—save
to sell love-charms to the foolish? But though there had been no talk or
thought of romance at Glenfern (except on one teasing afternoon), some
sleeping thing in Kelpie had, perhaps, begun to stir. The face of Ian
leaped into her mind, with the fine dark eyes of him, and the sensitive
mouth curving downward and then up; and then she felt the strange,
warm-faced sensation of her first blush—and she felt again the pain of
her departure from Glenfern.

“No!” She spat so violently that Janet raised her eyebrows and gave
Kelpie another sharp glance before she turned to walk on.

“A pity, that,” she observed mildly. “And a great waste,” she added
presently, with a catch to her voice. “Had I your face and tongue, I
would not be in the service of witchcraft, perhaps.”

Kelpie kilted up her blue dress a bit higher and came even with Janet so
that she could see her face. “Why are you?” she demanded curiously. “I
think you could never be a witch.”

“Och, no!” agreed Janet instantly. “At first I was only wanting a wee bit
of a love potion to win the heart of the lad I loved. But before it could
start to work at all, Mac Cailein Mor took him into the army and off to
raid the MacDonalds. Och, my braw Angus.” She whimpered.

“He was killed?” Kelpie asked, and tried to push down the sympathy in her
voice. She had promised herself not to care for anyone again, but only
for herself.

“It was Mac Cailein Mor had him shot,” said Janet tonelessly. “He tried
to save an old woman from the house they were burning. And for that I
will help the Devil himself to destroy Mac Cailein Mor, my chief though
he be. I am afraid of yon Lowlander, for he is evil, but I hate Mac
Cailein Mor more than I fear the Lowlander.

“You must be very canny, Sheena! If you are caught—” She shuddered. “Have
you a _sgian dhu_?”

Kelpie nodded and drew the small sheathed knife from inside her dress.
Janet looked at it somberly. “If you’re caught, you’d do well to use it
on yourself. ’Twould save you torment and burning, more than likely, and
keep you from betraying the rest of us. You’ll say no word, ever, about
me, Sheena? Pretend you have never seen or heard of me! Promise, Sheena!”

Kelpie looked at her, and Janet’s eyes were humble and pleading. “I know
I am a coward,” Janet whispered, “but I cannot help it. I could not bear
the pain, and I would not dare to kill myself—but you would, for you are
brave.”

Kelpie looked at her _sgian dhu_ reflectively. It was the finest one
she had ever had, the one stolen last spring in Inverness. The wee flat
scabbard was darkly carved, and the four-inch blade, when she drew
it out, winked sharply in the sun. Would she use it on herself? she
wondered. Did she dare?

The beauty of the Highlands shimmered around her in pure, clear colors
never quite the same from one instant to the next. The sky was infinite
and tender; the sun beat warmly on her head; the air was delight to
breathe. The world was good—except for the people in it, defiling it with
hate and greed. It would be a pity to die, a waste of living. She found
it very difficult to imagine.

She looked again at the gleaming edge of the _sgian dhu_, frowning a
little. Dare? Yes, she thought she would dare, if it was to escape
torture and burning. That would not take much courage. On the contrary,
it would be the easy way—and she found that she did not like the taste
of the idea. A feeling within her protested that suicide was shabby,
debasing, a cheating of oneself. But Kelpie, who had never been taught
such things as morals and integrity, could find no words and no reasons
for this feeling. She shrugged and put the _sgian dhu_ back. Time enough
to think about it if the occasion came up.

Janet had been watching her with round eyes, guessing a little of her
thought. She shivered slightly. “You are very brave,” and said again. “I
think you will be getting away with the hair. And I am sure that whatever
is happening at all, you will not speak any names.”

Kelpie fell back a step or two. She looked thoughtfully on a golden
patch of gorse blanketing the hillside ahead, and her smile was very
pointed. No, she would not betray Janet—not, she reminded herself,
because she was softhearted, but only because it would not help herself.
But—if she was so unlucky as to be caught, which she did not at all
intend to be—she would be very happy indeed to tell Mac Cailein Mor all
about Mina, Bogle, and the Lowlander.



9. Inverary Castle


Loch Fyne stretched long and narrow between its hills—as what Highland
loch did not? Glen Aray opened out into a meadow there, where the river
entered the loch, and from the top of her hill Kelpie had a fine and
leisurely view. There was the town of Inverary on the far side, nestled
right on the loch. And on this side, almost below her, rose the massive
stone bulk and towers of Inverary Castle, home of Mac Cailein Mor.

Kelpie wriggled a little deeper into her nest of tall harebells and broom
and stared down at it with interest. She had time to wait and think.
Janet had braided the black hair neatly for her, used the hem of her
own dress to wash Kelpie’s grimy pointed face, and then hurried on to
the head of the loch. From there she would return to the village as if
from her own home. And Kelpie was to bide here, out of sight, until the
next day, and then come down from the glen. Kelpie had agreed willingly
enough, not for Janet’s sake, but for one more night under the free sky.

She glowered at the brooding gray castle, for it was just occurring to
her that it would be much more like a prison than Glenfern. And would
they allow her to be out and away in the hills when her tasks were
done, as she had done at Glenfern? She doubted it. Och, it was a great
sacrifice she was making for those who had sent her, and she must see
that her reward was as great. And then.... She drifted into her favorite
daydream.

In the long white twilight she backed down the hill until she found a
tarn sheltered by birch, and settled herself for the night. The Dancers
were absent tonight, and the sky a pale shadowed silver in which only the
largest stars flickered feebly, for it was midsummer. Then the moon came
over the crest of the hill, and there were no more stars, and the tarn
became a pool of cold light. Deliberately Kelpie leaned over the bank and
stared into the tarn.

The reflected brilliance of moonlight glowed, closed in upon itself,
became a silver point, and then in its place there was a strange land—a
place with giant forests, dark and wild, and a crude house made of logs
in a rough clearing. She tossed her head with annoyance. What was this to
her? What of her future, her career as a witch? What of destruction of
those she hated? What of her enemies?

The tarn obeyed, as if with a malicious will of its own, and she saw
Argyll’s face, the eyes coldly burning, the mouth twisted in anger,
staring straight at her, and in her mind’s ear Kelpie heard the word
“witch.”

She threw herself backward and sat with beating heart for several moments
after the water stood clear and blank. Was she fey, then? Was it her own
doom she was seeing? Och, no, perhaps not. For she had not seen herself,
and surely Mac Cailein Mor had looked so to many a person accused of
witchcraft. She had asked to see her enemy, and the picture was telling
her, just, that here was a dangerous enemy—a warning to be canny, that
was all. She curled up comfortably in a patch of rank grass free of
nettles, and slept.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the thin light of morning she smoothed back her hair and washed her
face in the cold, peaty water of the tarn. Then, wary but confident, she
made her way back to the glen and along the river to the castle.

As she approached the massive stone gateway, Kelpie put on the proper
face and attitude for this occasion as easily as Eithne might have put on
a different frock. The task was not so easy, really, for there was little
that could be done about the long slanted eyes and brows or the pointed
jaw. But the severely braided hair helped, and by tucking in her lower
lip and drooping the corners she added a helpless and wistful note. She
pulled her chin down and back and pressed her elbows to her sides for a
look of brave apprehension, and then she changed her free, fawnlike walk
for a most sober one.

Through the gate she stepped into a subdued world of drab colors. Her
blue dress looked insolently bright beside the grays and blacks of the
other women in the courtyard. Only the tartan—that proud symbol of the
Highlander—had failed to be extinguished by the decree of the Covenant
and Kirk. And even the tartans, being colored with vegetable dye, were of
muted shades.

A man leading a horse stopped and regarded her with little approval.
“What is it that you are wanting?” he asked.

“Could I be seeing Mrs. MacKellar, the housekeeper?” asked Kelpie, her
eyes lowered modestly.

He looked at her for a moment and then called over his shoulder,
“Siubhan, the lass is wanting Mrs. MacKellar. Take her away up to the
door.” And he went on about his business.

A sad-faced woman put down her basket of laundry, regarded Kelpie without
curiosity, and jerked her head. Kelpie followed with great meekness and
waited obediently at the castle door until Siubhan had gone inside and
reappeared with a tall, gaunt woman in black.

Once again there was the disapproving look. “And who may you be?”

“I be Sheena Campbell.” Kelpie launched into her story, not too glibly,
with downcast eyes and humble voice. “And it’s hoping I am to serve Mac
Cailein Mor,” she finished earnestly.

“Mmmm,” commented Mrs. MacKellar. “We’ve lasses aplenty in Inverary
Village.”

“Och,” protested Kelpie, “but ’tis experience I’ve had! And,” she added
pitifully, “they will be having homes, and I with nowhere to turn.”

Mrs. MacKellar softened, but only slightly. “To tell the truth,” she said
bluntly, “there is something—I’m not altogether liking the look of you!
How am I knowing you are what you say?”

“But and whyever else would I be coming to Mac Cailein Mor?” demanded
Kelpie artlessly.

“Mmmm, that will be the question,” retorted Mrs. MacKellar. “No, now, I’m
thinking—”

What she thought was never said, for from the corner of her eye Kelpie
saw a tall figure just passing the foot of the stairs—not Argyll, but his
tallness, his long face, red hair, and manner of dress suggested that he
must be Argyll’s son. Kelpie took a chance.

She turned away blindly from the imminent refusal, carefully stumbled a
bit, and tumbled herself neatly down the steps to land in a pathetic heap
in front of the startled young man.

“My sorrow!” he ejaculated.

Kelpie swiftly decided against being injured, as this might prove
inconvenient. So she gave a small scared glance upward at the faint frown
above her and shrank back against the wall. “Och, your pardon!” she
whispered. “Please do not be beating me!”

The young man—she was quite sure now that he must be Lord Lorne, son of
Argyll—gave a short laugh. “Whatever you may have heard, I am no beater
of bairns.”

Kelpie drooped her lip at him. “Sir, I would not mind a beating, if only
I could be staying here to work for Mac Cailein Mor.”

“What is this? Who is she?” Lord Lorne switched to English, and Mrs.
MacKellar replied in the same tongue.

“She iss saying her name iss Sheena Campbell from Loch Awe, and that
she iss an orphan who hass peen working in the home of MacIntyre of
Craignish who iss not needing her any more.” Mrs. MacKellar’s English,
sibilant with the soft Gaelic sounds, was really not nearly as good as
Kelpie’s—but Kelpie was careful to keep her face blank, as if she did not
understand. “But sir,” went on the housekeeper, “I am not liking the look
of her whateffer. Her eyes—”

Lord Lorne bent and looked at them. Kelpie tried to make them wide and
pleading.

“Oddly ringed, aren’t they?” he observed. “Well, she can’t help that. You
could use her, I think. Why not try her out?” And he went on to wherever
he had been going.

“_Seadh._” Mrs. MacKellar shrugged and washed her hands of the decision.
“You can be staying a bit, then, until I see can you do the work. We will
see does Peigi have an old dress you can be wearing, of a proper color.
You’re of the Kirk, are you no?” she demanded suddenly, turning to cast a
suspicious eye on the blue of Kelpie’s dress.

Kelpie wasn’t quite sure what that meant, and, even with Janet’s
tutoring, she dared not bluff too far. She took an instant to think as
she rose slowly to her feet. “I am wanting to be a better Christian,” she
said, temporizing, with an earnest face. “And that is one reason I was
coming here, for the house of Mac Cailein Mor is surely the most godly of
all.”

“Well—” Mrs. MacKellar looked somewhat appeased. “Come away in, then.”
And Kelpie came.

       *       *       *       *       *

Life in Inverary Castle was quite different from life at Glenfern, even
though Kelpie’s duties were similar. There was a coldness here—and not
only physical, although the castle was chill enough, with draughts
constantly blowing down the halls and pushing out against the wall
tapestries. But the chill of spirit was even more depressing. Laughter
was near sacrilege, and a smile darkly suspect. Dancing simply didn’t
exist, and singing was confined to dour hymns regarding hellfire and
damnation. If Kelpie had ever chafed at the restrictions of Glenfern, she
now realized what a free and happy life that had been. Och, that people
could live like this! Worse, that they seemed to approve it! One could
hardly say they _liked_ anything.

And here Kelpie heard the other viewpoint regarding Mac Cailein Mor.
Everyone seemed to fear him, even his rather mousy wife and sullen son.
But they also saw him (except possibly Lord Lorne) as the Right Hand of
God, fighting the battles of righteousness against such enemies of Heaven
as witches, King Charles, Papists, Anglicans, everyone else who was not
of the Covenant, and, most particularly, Lord Graham of Montrose, who was
supposedly leading the King’s army in Scotland. But no one seemed to know
where Montrose was now, at all. He had started north to raise an army for
the king and then vanished altogether, and it was to be fondly hoped that
the Devil had snatched him away to Hell where he belonged.

Kelpie listened and said nothing. She didn’t like what she heard and
began to hate Argyll on her own account. Indeed and it was true that he
would take all freedom from all people if he could. Kelpie cared little
enough about anyone else, she told herself, but her own freedom mattered
more than anything at all, and she began to feel a personal enthusiasm
for her task here. A hex was what he deserved, and she hoped that the
Lowlander would make it a fine horrible one indeed.

It was lucky, she discovered, that himself was home at all now, for he
spent much of his time these days heading his Covenant army, raiding the
Highlands, and occasionally daring a small skirmish with other enemies.
(Kelpie received the impression that he was not, perhaps, the boldest and
most audacious leader when it came to fighting.) But now he was home, as
no doubt the Lowlander had known.

Still, three bleak weeks had passed, and she still had never had a chance
to lay her hands on any bit of his person or even come near his private
rooms. Mrs. MacKellar kept a watchful eye out, and Kelpie’s duties were
confined to all wings of the castle but that of Mac Cailein Mor. And so
she watched and waited through June, tense, wary, inwardly chafing.



10. A Bit of Hair


It was an impossible errand they had sent her on! Kelpie realized it
slowly, angrily. A bit of Argyll’s hair, indeed and indeed! Nobody at
all would be so feckless as to leave a bit of his hair lying about,
convenient to the hand of any witch who happened to be passing. And
how much less Mac Cailein Mor, who was thrice as crafty, ten times as
suspicious, and a thousand times more hated than most folk? Och, no; for
him such carelessness would be altogether impossible. It was certain
that he would stand over his barber while every last hair or fingernail
clipping was safely burned. The best she could hope for was a bit of his
personal belongings, which would be much less effective; and whatever
Mina and the Lowlander would say she did not know. No doubt they would
make an excuse to refuse to teach her spells, after all.

And so she seethed under the joyless Covenant mask which was becoming
harder and harder to wear. How she longed for the freedom of the open!
Her legs ached with the longing to run and leap and dance upon the hills,
and her face ached with the need to laugh. And yet she stayed on, hoping
for some miracle, reflecting sourly that Mrs. MacKellar and Argyll were
very little improvement over Mina and Bogle.

It was in mid-July that it happened, during morning prayer.

Kelpie knelt with the rest of the household on the cold stone floor in
grim endurance, for this long, twice-daily torment was nearly unbearable
for an active young gypsy.

Her place was in the very back, among the meanest of the servants. Ahead,
the bowed backs graduated in rank, with Mrs. MacKellar far up front, just
behind meek Lady Argyll, Lord Lorne, and Ewen Cameron, whose red kilt
blazed sharply alien amid all the blue and green of the Campbell tartan.
And before them all stood Mac Cailein Mor’s long, stooped figure, telling
of the anger, jealousy, cruelty of a God who could surely have nothing to
do with the opal world outside. With cold satisfaction and in grim detail
he described God’s will (which seemed indistinguishable from Argyll’s
will); and his pale eyes were most disconcerting, for if one seemed fixed
upon Siubhan or Peigi, the other seemed to stare straight at Kelpie, and
who was to know what himself was really looking at, whatever?

“Behold, the day of Jehovah cometh, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger;
to make the land a desolation, and to destroy the sinners thereof out of
it,” said Argyll. “He shall destroy the minions of Satan, those evildoers
who are not of the Kirk, who blasphemously question the Covenant. For
all those who are not with the Covenant are against the Lord and vile in
His sight. They shall burn forever in Hell, and above all shall burn all
witches and that servant of the Devil, Montrose. They shall be tormented—”

Kelpie felt the presence of the messenger in the open door behind her,
but dared not turn to look. She saw Argyll’s eye flicker briefly in that
direction and noticed the slight pause before he went coldly on with his
orders to and from God. And something inside Kelpie stirred, and she knew
that something was about to happen which would be important to her.

Dropping her dark head over clasped hands in an attitude of great
reverence, she tried to think what it could be. There was nothing she had
done. Unless—Had Ewen Cameron said something about yesterday?

For yesterday Kelpie had found her first opportunity to get away over to
the wing which held the chambers of Mac Cailein Mor and his family. She
had actually reached his door, and as she hesitated there, heart beating
quickly, another door nearby had opened, and through it came a lad of
about fifteen.

Kelpie had not needed to look at the oddness of a Cameron tartan in the
Campbell stronghold to know that this was Ewen, the grandson of Lochiel.
Ian had told her about him, and she had seen him now and again about the
castle. And Peigi had told her proudly how fine it was that Mac Cailein
Mor was taking on himself the education of his nephew, for fear it should
be neglected or his own family should teach him to believe the wrong
things.

Kelpie had hidden a cynical smile at the time, but now, when the grave,
clear-eyed lad stood regarding her in the hall, she wondered briefly how
much this “education” would really mean. For he had about him the air of
one with a mind of his own.

“You’ll be Sheena, will you not?” he asked as Kelpie belatedly made a
stiff bob. She nodded. “Best not to linger here,” he went on. “If my
uncle should see you—”

“Aye,” Kelpie had murmured, and slipped away back to her own territory
with the odd feeling that he had seen through her mask—not, perhaps, that
he knew exactly what was under it, but that he knew she was alien to this
world of Inverary.

Could he have said anything, just? Kelpie wondered as she shifted her
knees ever so slightly on the painfully hard stone. The thing inside said
no. He was another of those strange people, like Ian and Eithne, who
seemed not to hate anyone or even wish them ill.

But still, something was about to happen, and she must find out as soon
as ever she could. When prayers were over, and the household rose and
respectfully made way for himself to go out first, it was easy enough
for her to slip nearest the door, for she had had a wealth of experience
at picking pockets and melting through crowds. And so she saw the
travel-weary messenger waiting outside, and heard the news when Argyll
did.

“Antrim of Colonsay and his clan of Irish MacDonalds have landed at
Ardnaburchen and taken the castle of Mingary, and will even now be taking
the keep of Lochaline, your Lordship!”

The Marquis of Argyll said something under his breath, and the freckles
suddenly stood out under the red hair that Kelpie coveted. “May the Devil
take his impudence!” he said aloud, and there was no doubt that he meant
it literally.

Kelpie tried to remember something she had heard at Glenfern.
Antrim—Colkitto, they called him—was chief of a branch of MacDonalds
that the Campbells had driven westward, over the islands, and at last to
Ireland. And now, it seemed, he had decided to bring his clan back to
Scotland to fight the Campbells and perhaps take back some land.

“Have messengers ready to ride,” Argyll said viciously to his son. “I’ll
have the army up and wipe him out once and for all!” By this time the
rest of the household had filtered out into the hall, and it didn’t seem
to matter if they all heard or no. But then, there’d be no keeping this
kind of news secret, whatever.

Kelpie clenched her fists. We? Then would Mac Cailein Mor be away with
the army himself?

“Isn’t there an English Parliament garrison at Carlisle?” ventured Lord
Lorne in English. “Why not send to them to take warships up the coast? If
they captured Antrim’s ships, there’d be no retreat for him.”

Argyll nodded brusquely and strode off toward his chambers to write the
necessary letters—taking his hair with him, of course. “Get my things
ready to ride,” he ordered one of his retainers, thus destroying Kelpie’s
last hope.

“_Dhé!_” she muttered, without changing the blank and sober expression
considered suitable for God-fearing people. Whatever could she be doing
now, at all, with him away?

Impulsively, she slipped out of the hall before Mrs. MacKellar or Peigi
should see her, and made her way to the tower next to Argyll’s wing.
There she hid her thin self partway up the steep, twisting stairs, where
with one eye she could see his door, and waited. Not that he would be
likely to be trimming his hair or fingernails now, but perhaps in the
flurry of his leaving she could just slip in and lay hold of some wee
personal item to be used instead, and it the best she could do.

It was a full half-hour before Argyll’s door opened. Kelpie glimpsed the
full tartan folds of his belted plaid and then pressed herself out of
sight as the halting steps assured her that it was indeed Mac Cailein Mor.

She waited until they had passed down the hall and out of hearing, and
then slipped out of the tower and across to the massive oaken door.
She paused an instant, hand lifted to open the door, but it was almost
certain there could be no one else in there, for the entire household
had been at morning prayer, and no one else had gone in. The door opened
heavily, with never a creak, and closed firmly behind her.

Here must be his Lordship’s private withdrawing room. Kelpie had never
seen such a room, and she glanced around with interest. The clan crest,
a boar’s head, was carved over the large stone fireplace and on the back
of the high oaken settle that stood at one wall. A bulky armchair with a
triangular seat going to a point in back stood by a long table on which
quills, ink, sand, and paper still stood. But there was nothing personal.
His bedroom must be on through that other door.

She darted across the room silently, opened the door, and saw an enormous
four-post bedstead of inlaid walnut—a fine piece indeed, she thought
cynically, for an unworldly Covenanter! No less than three great-chests
doubtless held his clothing and perhaps Lady Argyll’s—but clothing would
be too bulky for Kelpie’s needs. A plaid-brooch might just do nicely,
though, and they should be in a cupboard, perhaps, or a wee box somewhere.

Kelpie began investigating. And then she nearly yelped with triumph. A
brush! A brush in which were tangled several long strands of red hair!
Och, and he _had_ been careless, then, perhaps with being upset from the
news of Antrim. Och, the fine luck of it! Chuckling, she pulled them
loose, looked around for something to wrap them in—and saw the bedroom
door swing inexorably open.

There he stood, Mac Cailein Mor, one eye regarding her balefully, the
other apparently fixed on the wall behind; and the thin lips were
pitiless. For once Kelpie’s quick mind and glib tongue failed her
altogether, and she just stood there while he crossed the room in three
strides and seized her wrist.

“A thief, is it?” he rasped.

Kelpie found her wits. “Och, no, your worship!” she cried. “I know it’s
no right I have to be coming here, but it’s the fine and godly man you
are, and leaving now, and I just wanting to see—”

He pried her hand roughly open, and the damning evidence of the hairs lay
exposed on her palm.

“A witch!” he said with savage glee. “A witch in my own household. Ah,
the Devil is trying hard to destroy me, for I do the work of the Lord.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for Thy name’s sake. Spawn of Satan,
do you know what we do with witches?”

“Witches?” faltered Kelpie with desperate innocence, though she knew by
now that pretense was hopeless. Far less evidence than this would have
been fatal, and even with a much less suspicious man than Mac Cailein
Mor. Sudden hot anger almost drove out her terror for an instant—not
so much at Argyll as at Mina and Bogle and the Lowlander, who had so
callously sent her on this errand. They had surely known how slim her
chances were, and that she would almost certainly be caught and burned.
And they would never have taught her the Evil Eye, even had she been
successful. She had been their tool and cat’s-paw, and she cursed herself
for being such a fool. Och, she would see to it before she died that
Argyll knew their names and the meeting place.

She didn’t once think of the _sgian dhu_ that rested within the bodice of
her sober gray dress.

Mac Cailein Mor was dragging her out of the room, baying for his
servants, the dangerous hairs safely in his own hand. Kelpie submitted
passively because it would do no good at all to struggle. Her mind darted
here and there, like a moth in a glass ball, finding no way out at all.

And now all the household was running, and two husky men took her from
Argyll and hustled her brutally through the castle and out to the
courtyard, while Argyll sputtered his tale to his son between bellows for
Mrs. MacKellar.

“Was it you hired her?” he demanded ominously of the cringing
housekeeper. “Could you not see the eyes of her, the teeth, the brows? Or
was it yourself plotting against me too? Are the minions of Satan filling
my own home?” He was working himself into a fine frenzy, and even through
her terror Kelpie found time to wonder briefly at the idiotic honesty of
Lorne, who spoke up then.

“’Twas my fault, Father. Mrs. MacKellar didn’t like the look of the
lass when she came to ask for employment, and I was fool enough to feel
sorry for her, and I said to take her in.” He met his sire’s black glare
straight. “’Twas stupid,” he said firmly, “but no plot against you by any
here.”

“The Devil addled your wits, then,” retorted Argyll, not to be deprived
of his martyrdom. “Could you not see the ringed eyes of her? No, do not
look into them! She’ll cast a spell!” He glared at Lorne, and then,
dourly, at Ewen Cameron, who stood near with an expressionless face.

Kelpie was again fervently wishing that she _could_ cast a spell! Och,
the plague she would be putting on the lot of them, and himself in
particular! Since she couldn’t, she tucked in her lower lip, lowered the
offensive eyes, hung meekly in the painful grip on her arms, and made one
last hopeless try for her life.

“What was it I was doing wrong?” she whimpered. “It was nothing valuable
I was taking, but only a wee bit token to protect me from the Devil
whilst yourself was away.”

It was no use at all. Everyone knew what hairs were used for, even
children.

“Shall we burn her now, Mac Cailein Mor?” asked one of the men. Kelpie’s
heart thudded sickly. But Argyll brooded.

“No time now,” he said reluctantly. “I’ll be wanting to test her for
witch marks and get a full confession and the names of her accomplices.
And there’s Antrim to deal with first.” He looked frustrated at having to
delay, and Kelpie realized that here was a man who enjoyed cruelty for
its own sake. She shuddered.

“Put her in the dungeon,” ordered Argyll, “the wee cell at the bottom,
and with no blanket. And let no one open the door or speak to her until
I return. Put bread and water through the grate, but nothing else. Is
everything ready, Buchanan? My horse, then.”

He turned away, and Kelpie drew a small shaky breath. A wee respite,
then, and perhaps a chance to escape altogether from the torture and
burning, if they didn’t search her and take away the _sgian dhu_—and if
she made up her mind to use it.



11. Argyll’s Dungeon


The cell was tiny, damp, cold, and inconceivably black. Within ten
minutes after the solid door thudded behind her, Kelpie was cowering on
the floor. Even an ordinary roof was oppressive to her, and this—Ou,
the dark and the smallness were almost tangible things that seemed to
press down and in on her, smothering and squashing! It was even hard to
breathe, just with the thinking of it.

By the time half an hour had passed, it was all she could do not to
shriek wildly and beat her head against the stone. She gritted her
teeth, sensing that self-control was her only hold on sanity. How could
mere darkness hurt the eyes so? Kelpie began fingering her _sgian dhu_
longingly. It was escape, escape from this torment and that to follow.
She had no great fear of death, in spite of all she had heard of Hell,
for at worst it was almost certain to be interesting.

And yet, the thing inside would not let her use the wee sharp dagger that
nestled so temptingly in her hand. It gave no reason, except that this
was a mean and shabby way to die.

For nearly the first time in her memory, Kelpie cried. On and on she
sobbed, for as space was closing in on her, time was stretched into a
long and empty void, and she was alone in chaos and terror.

Once she thought that perhaps if she did kill herself now, her Hell
would be an eternity of this, and she shuddered at the thought. Argyll’s
God might just do such a thing, and Satan’s fire was surely to be
preferred—but which of them would be having the decision, at all? Her
thoughts blurred off into confusion.

Some time later a grate in the door opened, a hand pushed a bit of bread
through the pale oblong, and it clanged shut again. Kelpie roused herself
to explore the spot with her long, sensitive fingers but found it small
and solidly bolted. She took a few halfhearted bites of bread and lapsed
again into a shivering huddle.

After more time she drifted up from a semi-sleep to hear another sound at
the door. Was it the next day, then, and time for more bread?

_Dhé!_ The door was opening, when Mac Cailein Mor had ordered against
it! Was he back, then? She shrank against the wall as an oblong of gray
spread like a shaft of light into the thick black of the cell.

“Sheena?”

It was Ewen Cameron! She knew the voice of him!

“Sheena, are you awake?”

With a small gasp, Kelpie was at the door. “Och, it’s near dead I am!
Will you no let me free? You wouldn’t see me burned, an innocent wee
lass, and put to torment before it? I’ll—”

“Hist!” There was a hint of strain in his voice, with a thread of humor
around it. “And what were you thinking I came for? ’Tis quite likely you
_are_ a witch,” he added ruefully, “but for all that, I cannot abide
cruelty. Come away, then, and like a mouse.”

Gasping with relief, Kelpie was out of the door before he had finished
speaking. He groped to find her face in the dark that was to her almost
light. “Wait, now. I must be bolting the door again. I cannot see.”

Kelpie moved beside him and helped. “Follow me,” he said when it was
done. “I can put you outside the walls, and then ’tis up to you.”

It was all she asked. Scarcely able to believe her good fortune, she
followed him through a dark, narrow labyrinth of stone corridors, most
of them damp with being underground. Twice he unlocked doors for them to
pass through, and finally they crept on hands and knees through a tunnel
quite as black as her cell had been. It twisted on and on, and finally
upward.

“’Tis an escape route in case of siege by an enemy,” Ewen explained
over his shoulder. “None but the family is supposed to know of it, and
even they have nearly forgotten it, because for the last hundred years
Clan Campbell has been too strong to be attacked in its own stronghold.
Instead, it is they who attack other clans.”

The narrow tunnel picked up the faint note of anger in his voice,
magnified and echoed it. Kelpie, engrossed though she was in her own
important affairs, suddenly wondered how it felt to be fostered by a
wicked uncle who was, in addition, enemy to one’s own clan, and to know
you were being used as a hostage to control the actions of your own
grandfather, your own people. It was the first time Kelpie had seriously
tried to put herself into the mind of another person, and it felt most
peculiar and disturbing.

“What if real war is coming to the Highlands?” she demanded. “Will
Lochiel dare call out the Camerons to fight against your uncle and the
Covenant, or—”

There was a brief silence in which their small scufflings seemed to shout
aloud. Then: “Grandfather will dare to do what is right,” said Ewen
tersely.

Another silence, and then his low voice reached back to her again,
strongly earnest. “There are things more important than safety, Sheena. I
wonder if you know about them. Was it for a principle you were wanting to
put a hex on my uncle, or for something else?”

Kelpie didn’t answer this, for the simple reason that she was not at all
sure what a principle was. Unless—Could it have anything to do with not
using the _sgian dhu_ on herself when it seemed much easier to do so? Or
had she not used it because the thing inside her had known that she was
going to be rescued? Och, it was much too confusing to bother with now,
for she could at last see a pale blob of night sky ahead.

They emerged in a shallow cave on the hill above Inverary, not far from
where Kelpie had first looked down upon the castle.

“Now,” said Ewen, “be away out of Campbell territory as quickly as
ever you can! Away around the tip of Loch Fyne, and then east is best,
but be canny. You’ll not be safe with the MacFarlanes, either, but the
Stewarts of Balquidder are hostile to the Campbell, and the MacGregors
and MacNabs, and they are past Loch Lomond. Best to skulk low during the
day, for you’ll not get so far this night—though I’m hoping you’ll not be
found missing until Uncle Archibald is returned and the cell door opened.”

Kelpie nodded. The weight of horror was lifting (though she would never
quite forget it), and she began to feel quite cocky again. Fine she was
now, for who knew more about skulking and wariness in the hills? And yet
through her cockiness crept an odd curiosity.

“Will _he_ be finding out ’twas you who freed me?”

“I think not,” said Ewen, and there was laughter in the lilt of his
voice. “No one is thinking I know about the secret tunnel, and they will
probably believe you escaped by witchcraft. Be careful, Sheena, the next
time you’re wanting to hex someone,” he added and vanished back into the
tunnel.

Kelpie stared down the blackness after him and shook her head
wonderingly. He was another daft one, to take a risk for someone else,
and with no profit to himself whatever! But she was grateful, for all
that. She owed much to his daftness.

She left the cave, lifted her face to the infinite space of the open
sky, and breathed deeply of the free air. The moonlit side of the hill
was ghostlike, a pale glow without depth. The dark side was a soft, deep
purple-black. Patches of glimmering mist rose from the loch, and there
was a line of it behind the western hills. Kelpie laughed aloud and
headed northeast.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thick gray mist poured over the hills from the west, covering the world
with a layer of wetness. A curlew gave its eerie call, the whaups
shrilled, and presently it began to rain. Kelpie shivered a little,
even though the gray wool dress was the warmest she had ever owned.
She had got soft, then, living in houses. She must steal a plaidie
somewhere—preferably one of plain color, or a black and white shepherd’s
tartan. Wearing the tartan of a clan could get her into trouble.

By the time it was really light, she had passed the tip of Loch Fyne.
She rested for a while, but it was cold sitting still, she was getting
more and more hungry, and as there was little enough chance of being
seen through the thickness of the mist she went on again. Once out of
Campbell country she might risk stealing as well as begging, but she must
be careful about telling fortunes or selling charms, for she would be
getting near the Lowlands, where the arm of the Kirk was long and strong
and people were narrow-minded about such activities. And Kelpie very much
wanted to avoid any more trouble of that sort.

She waded through the dripping tangle of heather and bracken and wondered
what to do next. She was free of Mina and Bogle—unless they found her
again. Did she dare return to Glenfern, having left the way she had? No,
for they no longer trusted her, and Alex was now her enemy. Moreover, if
Mina ever found out, she would put a curse on Wee Mairi. It seemed she
must give up her hopes of learning witchcraft from Mina, and any other
witches who still lived in Covenant territory would be very canny and
quiet indeed. She might try the Highlands, but there was a problem too,
for in order to get there without recrossing Campbell territory, she must
go far east and then north and through another danger zone, where there
had been fighting and trouble since spring. And even in the Highlands
there was danger of meeting Mina and Bogle, and further danger that Alex
might have set all the Camerons and MacDonalds against her, as he had
threatened.

_Dhé!_ Indeed and it was a braw mess she had got herself into! She cursed
the Lowlander, Mina, Bogle, Mac Cailein Mor, the Kirk, and Alex, with
fine impartial vigor and in two languages. Then, for good measure, she
added Antrim (for forcing her hand too soon), the King (for his general
fecklessness), all religious bodies, God, the Devil, and people in
general.

When she had finished she felt no better, either mentally or physically.
She had now traveled some twenty miles over thickly brushed and wooded
hills, on an empty stomach, after a shattering experience, and even
Kelpie’s wiry toughness had its limits. Had she reached friendly
territory yet? How was she to know without seeing a clan tartan that
would tell her? Well, surely she was for the moment way ahead of any
possible alarm out for her. She must have food, and there was a shieling
hut below.

She sat down in the drenched heather and absently regarded a small twig
of ling, already in bloom a month ahead of the ordinary heather. The tiny
lantern-shaped blossoms were larger and pinker than heather too, not
quite as charming, perhaps, but still tiny perfect things. Plants were
nicer than people, if less exciting. She stared at it while she thought
up two stories; one to use on a Campbell or a MacFarlane, the other for
Stewart or MacNab. Then she stood up, brushed the wet from her skirts,
and started slowly down the hill.

An old woman stepped out of the low hut to empty a pail of water, and
there was no mistaking the light and dark reds crossed with green on her
plaidie. It was MacNab. Her husband, no doubt, would be out in the hills
with the sheep or cattle. Fine, that. Women living alone in the hills
were rather more likely to be sympathetic and motherly toward a forlorn
wee lass than men. (On the other hand, women of the Kirk towns were like
to be dourly suspicious and hating.)

The old woman started to go back inside and then caught a glimpse of
Kelpie, who stumbled a bit because she was hungry and tired—and because
it was her general policy.

“Whoever is it, then?” The Highland lilt of the Gaelic was less marked
here, near the Lowlands, and the voice cracked slightly with age—and yet
there was in it a note like a bell.

“Och, forgive me, just.” Kelpie’s voice was faint, and she swayed
slightly. “I am weary and hungry, and could you be sparing just a crust?”

“_Seadh_, the little love!” Mrs. MacNab was all sympathy. “Come away in,
then, and I’ve a fine pot of oatmeal on the fire. Whatever will you be
doing all alone and in the hills?” She looked at Kelpie with wise old
eyes as they entered the dark shieling, and frowned in puzzlement. “From
your dress you would be a lass from a Covenant home, but your face is
giving it the lie.”

Kelpie instantly revised her story in the brief time it took to step
through the low doorway under its bristling roof of rye thatch. She stood
meekly on the earthen floor under the smoke-blackened rafters and noted
at a glance that these folk were better off than some, for there was a
real bedstead in the corner instead of a pile of heather and bracken, and
four three-legged creepie-stools.

“Eat now,” invited her hostess, handing her a big bowl of oatmeal from
the iron pot over the fire. “And there are bannocks here, and milk. And
then perhaps you will tell me about yourself, little one, for I confess
I’ve a fine curiosity, and strangers are none so common here.”

Kelpie made use of the respite to ask some questions and get her
bearings, in between ravenous mouthfuls of food. “Be ye Covenant here?”
she ventured around half a bannock.

“Och, and can you no see my tartan?” demanded Mrs. MacNab. “We MacNabs
are loyal to our own Stewart King, foolish darling. Why, then, are you of
the Kirk?”

Kelpie shook her head vigorously. “Not I! ’Tis a prisoner of the
Campbells I’ve been. They wanted me to be of the Covenant and refused to
tell me who my parents are, at all. And so I have run away—”

“_Dhé!_” interrupted Mrs. MacNab with wide eyes. This was the most
exciting thing that had happened in the braes of Balquidder this many a
year. She was ready to believe anything of the hated Campbells. “Oh, my
dear! Is it that they were stealing you, then? Tell me all about it,
heart’s love, every bit!”

And so, replete and comfortable, warm and very nearly dry, Kelpie spun
a wonderful long tale of truth and fiction mixed. The lonely old woman
eagerly drank it in, with exclamations of indignation and sympathy. When
Callum MacNab, looking like a twisted and weatherworn pine, came in at
dusk, he had to hear it all over again, and by this time Kelpie had
thought up a few more interesting details. She fairly basked in their
attention and tenderness, while the old couple glowed with kindness and
the rare treat of company and news. And so, with one thing and another,
Kelpie spent the night and the next day with them.



12. Meeting at Pitlochry


“’Tis sorry I am to see you away, wee dark love, but you must be
putting more distance between yourself and the Campbells. And you must
be searching for your own true family. To think of it! And you say Mac
Cailein Mor was telling you himself that ’twas from a chief he stole you?”

“And I but a bairn,” agreed Kelpie firmly. Having Callum and Alsoon
believe her tale so readily almost made her believe it herself—and,
after all, might not some of it be true? She tucked the little bundle
of oatmeal and scones into her belt, and hugged the rough warmth of her
new plaidie about her shoulders, pleased that it was the neutral black
and white of the shepherd’s tartan and would not associate her with any
particular clan.

Luck was with her again, she reflected, that she had found these kind and
simple people, willing to give her the food from their mouths and the
clothes from their backs—much simpler, if less exciting, than stealing.
It made her feel odd to be _given_ things this way. Perhaps if all folk
were like these, or like Ian and his family, there would be no need to
steal. Warm with a novel sense of gratitude, she was careful not to take
anything from Callum and Alsoon that they had not given her.

They stood just outside the low doorway in the brightness of the summer
evening. The rain had become mere clouds glowing to the northwest, where
the sun would soon dip briefly below the hills. The old couple regarded
her anxiously, not at all happy to see her set off in the white gloaming.

“Look you, now,” repeated Callum, “you must be going south and east for a
bit, through Drummond and Stewart country, and then north through Murrays
and Menzies, and when you reach Pitlochry, just be finding the home of
my daughter Meg, at the tanning shop next the Tey River, and tell them I
sent you, and they will care for you until you are away again.”

“Aye, then,” murmured Kelpie, anxious to be gone. She had heard these
directions at least twice before, and in any case she knew the country
far better than she dared to let Callum know.

“Haste ye back,” they said, and this Highland phrase was never used
unless truly meant. No one had ever said it to Kelpie before. She caught
her breath, turned her head away, and hurried off.

Traveling, she found, was easier without Mina and Bogle than with them,
in one way. For folks had only to take one look at those two to know
the worst. But Kelpie, as long as she kept her eyes lowered and her lip
tucked demurely in, looked quite innocent, so that, even on the edge of
the thrifty and Kirk-trained Lowlands, people were usually willing to
give her food—and when they didn’t, Kelpie simply helped herself.

Now and then she picked up rumors about what was going on in the
Highlands, particularly concerning Argyll, who was, it appeared, still
away in the west, chasing an elusive Antrim.

As nearly as Kelpie could make out from bits here and there, Argyll
had chased Antrim back to Ardnamurchen, where the latter had left his
ships. But the ships had been spirited away by the English, just as
Lorne had suggested, and since then the two forces had been playing
catch-me-if-you-can all over the Highlands, with Antrim trying to rouse
the clans against Argyll, the clans either afraid or quarreling among
themselves, while Argyll tried to catch Antrim’s small army before it
should become a larger army.

“Aye,” said an old man, chuckling, in a voice not meant to be overheard.
“Argyll will never be fighting a battle against more than half his number
if he can avoid it.”

“Dinna mock him!” whispered another. “Ye’ll no be wanting yon wild
foreign Hielanders crossing the mountains wi’ their wicked screechin’
pipes and attacking us, will ye?”

“Dinna fret, they’ll no come. ’Tis too busy they are wi’ their own
heathen fighting; Papists, the lot o’ them.”

“They might, if Montrose could stir them up tae fight for the King
against the Covenant.”

“They would never do that. He’s a Graham from the East Coast, and those
savages in the West would never stir a foot for any but their own chiefs.
Anyway, they say Montrose is vanished altogether, and no doubt dead.”

They both bent lowering gray brows when they saw the shamelessly
eavesdropping Kelpie. She scurried away hastily, lest they think her a
spy.

She wandered on, begging, stealing, and listening, until she came at last
to Pitlochry.

There seemed a braw lot of people in the narrow streets of the town,
and, surprisingly, many of them seemed to be wearing Gordon or MacDonald
tartans. Whatever were those clans doing here? And those two young men
striding along the street toward her.... “_Dhé!_” said Kelpie, and they
all stopped short.

They stared at one another with mixed feelings. “Why, whatever will ye be
doing here, at all?” demanded Kelpie with astonishment.

Alex recovered his wits first. “Why,” he said with the old mocking grin,
“we were missing you and your bonnie friends so badly that we had to come
away to look for ye.”

“Sssss!” remarked Kelpie, concealing her pleasure at the old bantering
and reminding herself that Alex was a treacherous enemy. Moreover, she
was never again going to permit herself the dangerous luxury of caring
for anyone at all. Having told herself this, she turned to look at Ian
with delight. A braw lad! Did he carry a grudge against her? she wondered
anxiously.

“And are you all right, Kelpie?” he asked kindly. “Mina and Bogle are
treating you well?”

“Sssss,” she said again. “They are wicked _uruisgean_, and I have left
them this long time ago. I did not want to be leaving Glenfern whatever,”
she added hopefully.

Ian looked pleased, but Alex laughed. “Aye, it was a good enough life you
were leading there, after all. But you seem to be doing well enough for
yourself the now. Where were you stealing the gey sober gown and plaidie?”

“I was not stealing them whatever!” Kelpie was outraged more by his
manner than by his words.

“But you would be saying the same thing even if you had,” encouraged Alex
with a straight face.

Kelpie’s lips began to curve upward as she remembered the teasing at the
loch-side at Glenfern. She tried to frown, for it was not right to be
teasing with Alex when they were no longer friends. But she could not
help it. “Of course,” she agreed cheekily and grinned.

“Och, the wicked wee lass!” Alex chuckled. “She’ll never change!”

“No, now, but she has changed!” Ian objected. “She could not laugh at
herself when first she came to Glenfern.”

“Are you sure ’tis herself she’s laughing at?” gibed Alex. “Or is it
ourselves, just, for being ready to forgive her so easily—and after she
was breaking the ancient code of hospitality.”

“It was not my fault!” protested Kelpie. “Mina was threatening to put a
curse on you all if I did not come with them.”

“Och, how tender you are of our welfare!” said Alex derisively. “And
that, I suppose, is why you were so quick to tell her all about how Ian
and I met the King and Montrose in Oxford?”

There was no use trying to explain, for he would never believe her—not
that she cared a groat what Alex MacDonald thought, anyway. Perhaps she
would be able to tell Ian about it some day, with Alex not around. An
idea was growing in her mind. After glowering at Alex, she turned to Ian
and looked up at him meltingly through long lashes. She had never before
set out to beguile a lad, but Janet had put the thought in her head, and
she might as well try now and see could she do it. Some deep instinct
awoke, so that she seemed to know just how to go about it. “And what is
it you are doing so far from Glenfern?” she asked softly.

Was it her fancy that Ian’s smile seemed a wee bit warmer than usual?
“Why,” he said, “we are with Colkitto’s army, up at Blair Atholl, and—”

Kelpie forgot about beguiling him. “Colkitto!” she yelped. “You mean
Antrim?”

“Aye, ’tis what we call him; Alistair MacDonald, Earl of Antrim, who has—”

“Fine I know that!” interrupted Kelpie. “But where will Mac Cailein Mor
be, then? On your tail?” There was alarm in her voice, and both lads
regarded her curiously.

“Na, na,” Ian said soothingly. “He’s away back to his own country,
raising a larger army, no doubt, since some five hundred Gordons have
joined us. Are you afraid of him, Kelpie? And what are you doing here,
and where are you living?”

Kelpie looked wistful. “I am all alone, and nowhere to five.” She sighed
and then smiled up at him brightly. “It is in my mind to come along with
you,” she announced.

Alex laughed. Unprincipled little thing though she was, he did enjoy her
shameless, incorrigible audacity! The workings of her mind fascinated
him, and even though he could see through her so easily, he could never
remain angry for long.

Ian looked thoughtful. “Well, and why not? We’ve nearly as many women and
bairns as we have men, for Colkitto brought the whole of his clan over
with him to take back their land from the Campbells. And Lachlan brought
his wife Maeve along to be cooking and nursing and caring for us, for
she does not trust Lachlan to do it properly. You’d be far safer than
wandering alone. What about it, Alex?”

Alex shrugged and lifted a red eyebrow. “Ou, I’ve no doubt at all that
she can look after herself,” he observed dryly. “But I’ve no objection;
only, Ian _avic_, let us not be trusting her as far as tomorrow, for
there is no loyalty in her.”

The lazy mockery of his voice had a whiplash in it, and Kelpie flinched,
unexpectedly hurt by it. She lashed back, remembering the scene in Loch
nan Eilean.

“You!” she fumed. “You, to be talking of loyalty, who would strike down a
friend from behind!”

Alex gaped. It was the first time she had ever caught him out of
countenance, and it gave her great satisfaction. Ian looked distressed.
“Och, now!” he protested hastily. “Let you both be saving your fighting
for the Covenant armies. Come away back to the camp, now, and we’ll talk
as we go.”

They started back, out of Pitlochry and over the narrow road lined with
tall blooming thistles. The heather, just preparing to bloom, glowed
rustily under the patchy sunlight. Alex strode along frowning, still
smarting and dumfounded over the outrageous flank attack. What could she
have meant by it, the wee witch? She had seemed genuinely indignant,
too. For once she was not acting; Alex had been matching wits with her
long enough to be sure of that. Then what under the great heavens could
he have done to draw such a denunciation, such withering scorn from an
unprincipled gypsy lass who would doubtless betray her own grandmother
for a bit of copper? It made no sense whatever. And although Alex
reminded himself that the opinion of a wee witch could scarcely matter,
he found that it rankled. “_Dhiaoul!_” he muttered under his breath and
knit his brows in annoyance, leaving most of the conversation to Ian.

“And why is it you’re so concerned over Mac Cailein Mor, Kelpie?” Ian
asked. “Have you been studying more politics since you left Glenfern?”

Kelpie hedged. “Is it likely I’d be wanting to run into the head of the
Covenant army, and him death on gypsies and all who do not belong to the
Kirk? No, now”—she shifted the subject—“tell me what has been happening,
and why Colkitto has his army at Blair Atholl.”

“Well, so.” Ian thought for a minute, his sensitive profile clear and
grave against the mauve and russet and olive of the August hills. Kelpie
tilted her own face to look at him as she kept easy pace while Alex
walked, brooding silently, behind.

“Did you know,” began Ian, “that Colkitto brought over his whole clan to
fight for the King against Argyll and the Covenant, and perhaps take back
some of the MacDonald land from the Campbells?”

“Fine, that!” murmured Kelpie, remembering that day at Inverary. “And
Argyll away after him all over the Highlands.”

Ian nodded. “And the English burned Antrim’s ships, so that he must stay
here, will he, nil he. So he has been trying to get the other Highland
clans to join him. He’s not had much luck, for some of the clans fear
the Campbells too much, and some others have decided that they hate the
MacDonalds even more than the Covenant—for the moment, at any rate.
Lochiel doesn’t dare call out our clan yet, with Ewen still in Argyll’s
hands, and—more important—with Argyll’s army so near to Lochaber. Can you
imagine what would be happening to our women and children at Lochaber if
Lochiel took the men away to fight the Covenant?”

Kelpie could imagine, easily. Her blood ran cold at the thought of Wee
Mairi in danger, and she nodded soberly.

“Some of us Camerons have come along anyway, and so have some five
hundred Gordons who are wanting revenge against Argyll,” continued Ian.
“But most on this side of the mountains think we Western Highlanders are
a band of wild savages, like the Red Indians of America. And even Stewart
of Atholl—although he hates Argyll and the Covenant—will have nothing to
do with the Irish MacDonalds. So—” He grinned at Kelpie mischievously.
“We have just borrowed Atholl’s castle from him, and now we sit and
wait.” He sobered again. “I do not know what we will do next. There is a
rumor that Graham of Montrose is still alive, and perhaps he is our hope.
But to tell the truth, things do not look very good, and the Covenant
armies will not sit still forever.”

Kelpie’s lip lifted in sudden anger. “Och, ye will be losing this war,
just!” she predicted despairingly. “For yourselves, and for the folk like
me who want only to be left alone. You cannot get together even to save
your own lives, but must always be quarreling clan against clan, and so
ye will lose!”

Ian looked depressed, but Alex came out of his black reverie with a
laugh. “Listen to her, just!” he taunted. “The lone lass who lives for
herself and no other will be giving us a lesson on cooperation! But even
though you don’t practice what you preach,” he added somberly, “you’re
right.”

A puffy cloud blew over the sun, darkening the bright hills, and the
thistles waved in a sudden sharp breeze.

       *       *       *       *       *

The small army was spread over the hill and moor near Blair Atholl,
looking somewhat dispirited. Some men were hopefully cleaning their gear,
polishing the huge two-handed claymores and battle axes which struck such
terror into Lowland hearts. Others just sat, or wandered, or gambled,
or talked. Women were busy gossiping, sewing, cooking, arguing; but
one tall, gaunt woman brooded alone. Children ran about playing tag or
hanging about the men. A ragged, motley crowd it was, but fierce-looking
enough, no doubt, to folk on this side of the mountains. Kelpie frowned
suddenly. The whole scene looked familiar.

“We’ve set up our wee camp spot over yon, just near those rowan trees,”
said Ian, pointing to a spot partway up the hill. But before they were
halfway there a flurry of excitement near the edge of the moor turned
into an uproar. Men began shouting, running. A single shot was fired, and
then several more.

“It couldn’t be an attack!” Ian frowned, staring across the moor, “but
what is it?”

“’Tis he!” shouted Alex. “’Tis Graham of Montrose! Look you there!”

“The King’s Lieutenant!” “He’s come!” “My Lord of Montrose!” The words
were being shouted back and forth, and the sound swelled into a thunder
of cheers. Kelpie found herself running with the lads toward the center
of the excitement.

As nearly as she could see through the crowd, the Lord of Montrose seemed
to be a slight young man in groom’s clothing, with brown hair and a bunch
of oats stuck in his bonnet. _Dhé!_ She had seen him before! And now from
the wooded hill a red-bearded giant in the MacDonald tartan—Antrim—rushed
down to clasp the hand of the slight young man, and Kelpie remembered.
She had seen it in the crystal, that first morning at Glenfern.

And so now they had come together, Antrim and Montrose, totally different
and yet fighting for the King’s cause. What would be the outcome?



13. The Hexing of Alex


The immediate effect of Montrose’s arrival was that of a most powerful
magic charm. It could not have been more telling had he come with a full
army at his back instead of just one man, his cousin Patrick. The King’s
standard was raised then and there on the hillside and saluted with a
flourish of trumpets, and cheers, and triumphantly skirling bagpipes.
And some of the clans who had been hovering about waiting to attack
the Irish Highlander Antrim now came to join the King’s Lieutenant,
Montrose—including Stewart of Atholl.

Kelpie decided to stay for a while. Things looked interesting. She was
safer here than wandering alone. Besides, she liked Ian’s company, even
if it meant putting up with Alex. She even thought that she just might
persuade Ian to guard himself against his precious foster brother,
though she had not much hope of this, Ian being so stubbornly trustful.
Besides, since she had “seen” the thing in the loch, it would surely
happen, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

For a while, staying with the army meant simply staying right there where
it was. Nothing much seemed to be happening. Clans—or, more often, bits
of them—drifted in. Kelpie roamed where she liked, usually with the lads
and their watchful _ghillie_, Lachlan, exchanging insults with Alex and
hostile silence with Lachlan and his wife Maeve, who had no use for her
whatever and made no secret of it.

She also spent some of her time gazing speculatively at the tall, gaunt
woman whom she had noticed the first day she arrived. The woman would
stare for hours into space, a black, brooding look on her face, her hands
twisting together as if she were wringing someone’s neck—or perhaps
casting a new kind of spell. A bulky Gordon plaidie covered her broad
shoulders, and, though she was not old, there was the beginning of gray
at her dark temples, and there were strong, grim lines along her mouth.
Her eyes were deep-set and a little alarming, and Kelpie wondered whether
she might be a witch. She looked it. Perhaps she had been tortured by
witch-hunters and had somehow escaped? Kelpie considered approaching
her about learning the Evil Eye, but the woman’s fierceness made her
hesitate. She might get a curse put on herself for her boldness, and she
could do fine without _that_.

The coppery hills began to turn purple with the blooming of the heather.
It rained. No more was heard of Argyll, but there were rumors that the
enemy commander, Lord Elcho, was in Perth with an army of seven thousand
and looking with considerable interest toward Blair Atholl. “And we with
only two thousand men,” commented Alex cheerfully.

“Ou, aye,” agreed Ian with a grin. “But just think of our fine store of
weapons!” Lachlan looked sour, and Kelpie raised a derisive eyebrow.

“Artillery?” mused Alex. “None.”

“Cavalry—three old horses, one of them lame,” chanted Ian.

“Guns—some old-fashioned matchlocks, and all the ammunition we could be
needing to shoot a third of them for one round each.”

“And then,” finished Ian in triumph, “just in case we’re needing them,
there’s a few swords, claymores, and battleaxes—not to mention the _sgian
dhu_” he added, reaching down to tap the wee dirk where it nestled in his
stocking, just on the outside of his right knee.

“And”—Alex chuckled with ironic optimism—“Montrose has been saying that
the enemy has plenty of weapons, and those of us without can just help
ourselves once the fighting has started.”

Kelpie looked at them. There was, she felt, a definite limit to the
things a body should be joking about. She said so. And Lachlan, who felt
personally responsible for the safety of Ian and Alex, for once agreed
with her.

And now came Maeve, whose loyalty was all toward Mac ’ic Ian, heir to
Glenfern (for Master Alex, although a foster son, was not actually a
Cameron at all). Her orange hair gleamed even in the cloud-filtered sun,
and she addressed herself to Ian.

“Food will be ready,” she said and crossed herself as she looked at
Kelpie. As they all started toward the rowan tree they called home, she
added, half under her breath, “Herself eats enough, whatever, but will
never be doing any cooking.”

“You were not liking my cooking,” observed Kelpie complacently. It was
no accident that the one meal she had produced, at Alex’ insistence, had
been perfectly awful.

“_Dhé_, no!” Ian agreed, laughing. “You said she was trying to poison us,
Maeve. You’d not be wanting to try that again, would you?”

“’Tis gey queer,” retorted Maeve, “for a gypsy not to be able to cook
over an open fire.”

Ian looked at Kelpie, his keen mind as usual fighting with his desire
to believe the best of people. Alex began to laugh. “Och!” he exclaimed
ruefully. “And I the one who was never going to be fooled by her again!”

Kelpie saw an opening. “Gypsy taste will be different from yours,” she
announced blandly. “When I was first stolen, it was a dreadful time I had
getting used to gypsy food! It was nearly starving I was, for a while.”
Her blue ringed eyes widened with the picture of a poor wee bairn pining
away with hunger.

Lachlan snorted.

“Ou, the pity of it!” said Alex mournfully, his angular face looking
almost tender. “And you used to royal food, and all. I’ve wondered, just,
whether ’tis yourself was the princess stolen from our King and Queen all
those long years ago when they visited the Highlands.”

For a minute Kelpie was fooled. Her eyes were a smoky blue blaze as
visions of royal grandeur hurtled through her mind. Of course! Why not?

“For shame, Alex,” said Ian reproachfully. “She’s nearly believing it.”

Kelpie jerked out of her dream and hissed venomously at Alex, who
chuckled impenitently and wondered how she would try to get even this
time.

The next day Kelpie went down to the burn, where she had noticed that
the soil had a sticky, claylike quality. There she sat for some time,
screened by broom and high bracken, and slowly shaped a small clay
figure—not that it looked much like Alex, she being no artist. In fact,
she admitted, a body could barely tell that it was supposed to be human
at all. But perhaps the intent was the main thing. If only she could get
hold of a bit of his hair or a fingernail—but Kelpie had had enough of
hair-stealing for a while, particularly red hair. Anyway, Alex was much
too canny. She had never yet managed to steal anything from him without
being caught. No, she would just have to be trying her hex without it.

There were brambles conveniently near. Kelpie picked a long thorn,
regarded her clay figure thoughtfully, and then plunged the thorn deep
into the area where the stomach might be expected to be.

Then she wrapped up the hex figure, went back to the rowan tree, and
began to watch Alex hopefully.

Two days passed, but if he had any pains in his stomach, he concealed
them very well. Kelpie added a second thorn to the figure, this time in
the head, and again waited. By rights, his brains ought to start melting
away, but she must not be doing it right, for Alex’s brains remained as
uncomfortably keen as ever. He didn’t even get a headache.

Kelpie began looking wistfully at the tall, gaunt woman again. If she
_was_ a witch, she could undoubtedly help. And yet—Kelpie noticed that
the men of the army did not treat her at all as a witch. Far from
shunning her, they went out of their way to be kind, to bring her choice
bits of food, to talk to her. Once again Kelpie decided not to risk
trouble. She would manage her own hex, impotent as it seemed to be.

In disgust, she took it out again, plunged thorns all over it, rubbed it
with nettles, burned it, and then watched again. After five days Alex
did twist his wrist slightly, but somehow Kelpie failed to feel much
satisfaction. She was quite sure that she had never put a thorn in the
left wrist. So she gave up trying to hex him. Either she didn’t have the
power at all, or else—which seemed quite possible—Alex had a greater
power.

Lord Graham of Montrose had a great power too. Kelpie found herself more
and more interested in him. The look of him was not that of a strong
leader at all. Slight, he was, with gentle dark gray eyes and a quiet and
courteous air that hardly seemed to belong in an army at all, much less
at the head of one. Now, Antrim looked like a leader indeed, massive red
giant that he was, with a great roar of a voice. Yet there was no doubt
that Montrose was the heart and soul of the army. Everyone, even Antrim,
listened to him with respect amounting almost to worship, and everyone
said that he had a genius for warfare.

Was it magic? Quite likely, Kelpie thought. She took to watching and
listening whenever he was among the men. But she never saw him make any
magic signs, and his words were about such things as honor and loyalty
and why he was fighting for the King. Ian had said Montrose wanted no
power for himself, but only for right to be done, but Ian was gullible.
Skeptical, Kelpie kept her ears open.

“Loyalty is the great thing,” Montrose remarked one day, sitting at ease
in a misty drizzle, kilted Highlanders all around him. They listened with
eagerness and respect, but Kelpie, at the edge of the group, narrowed her
eyes mistrustfully.

“Loyalty to your clan and your King, to an ideal, to a friend, to a thing
you believe,” he went on. “This is integrity; and it is loyalty also to
yourself.” Kelpie frowned. It was only loyalty to oneself that paid.
She had found that out. Montrose was like Ian, then, too generous and
trusting. They would both suffer for it, no doubt, unless they learned to
care only for their own welfare.

“You see,” said Montrose, “King Charles is a Stewart, and so we have a
double loyalty to him—as our King, and as a Stewart and a Highlander. The
English Parliament and the Scottish Covenant wish to rule the King and
all of us as well. I think I need not tell you that.”

There was a growl from the group. “Aye, Mac Cailein Mor would be King
Campbell with the help of the Covenanters!” “A plague on the lot of them!”

“And so,” urged Montrose, “we must put aside lesser loyalties and
quarrels amongst our own clans, and stand together.”

“Aye!” shouted the men, but Kelpie privately thought that Montrose’s
magic would fail at this point. Who ever knew a Highlander to give up his
clan feuds for anything at all—except a greater clan feud?

She did learn one thing about Montrose. He used different words with
different kinds of people—just as she herself did, in a way. She was
eavesdropping one evening as he sat by his campfire with Antrim and
Patrick Graham of Inchbrakie, and his words to them were less simple and
certain than those to the untaught clansmen.

“No,” he said, “I do not fight for what people call the Divine Right of
Kings. I don’t believe there is such a thing, Alistair. A king must be
subject to the laws of God, nature, and the country that he rules. But as
long as he stays within those laws, then he should _be_ the ruler.”

“And if he doesn’t?” It was Patrick Graham, called “Black Pate.”

The youthful face looked troubled in the firelight. “It’s true King
Charles hasn’t always obeyed the rules,” murmured Montrose. “That is why
I supported the Covenant at first. But then I saw the greater danger we
courted. If a group of subjects takes over the king’s power, they may
become a far worse tyrant than ever a king could be, and that is what
happened. You see yourselves how the Covenant oppresses the people; and
I think those who are fighting for the Parliament in this war may find
that they’ve used their own blood and their own fortunes to buy vultures
and tigers to rule over them. To tell you the truth, my friends, I don’t
know the right way to handle a king who abuses his power, but I do know
that this is the wrong way. Perhaps there should be some limit set to the
amount of power that one man or group can have.”

Kelpie chewed her lip thoughtfully. Och, now, and there was a good idea.
She could think of several such whose power should be limited to nothing
at all. She would begin with Argyll and the Covenant, and go on to the
Lowlander and Mina and Bogle. But how would one set about arranging this?

In her preoccupation, Kelpie forgot that she was hiding and carelessly
shifted her position so that a twig cracked. A small twig it was, and
most folk would never have noticed, but these men were well schooled in
danger. Three heads turned as one, and an instant later Antrim’s huge
hand was plucking her from her hiding place as he would a puppy.

“_Dhé!_” He chortled, holding her up in the orange light of the fire and
looking her over with interest. “Here’s a fine dangerous enemy in our
midst.”

“Och, indeed and I am not!” protested Kelpie as well as she could. She
tucked in her lip and looked pathetically at Montrose. “Do not be letting
him hurt me, your Lordship!” she begged in English. “’Tis only a poor,
wee, harmless—”

“Let her down, Alistair,” suggested Montrose gently, “and perhaps she can
tell us what she was doing there.”

“Spying for Argyll, perhaps?” suggested Patrick narrowly, looking at her
gray dress.

Kelpie’s indignation was genuine. “That _nathrach_!” She
sputtered earnestly and went on to curse him vigorously. “He is a
_droch-inntinneach uruisg_ and a red-haired devil with a black heart in
him!”

Montrose, who knew little Gaelic, looked interested. “What was that?” he
inquired, and Antrim chuckled.

“She called him a serpent and an evil-minded monster,” he translated.
“And I’m thinking she meant it, too! Well, then, why _were_ you skulking
there, lass?”

Once again Kelpie found semi-truth to be the most effective answer.
“Och,” she whispered, ducking her head shyly. “I was wanting to see
himself, and to be hearing him talk, for the singing tongue in his
mouth.” From beneath lowered lids she observed that their faces were
amused and tolerant.

“Well, and so you’ve heard him,” said Antrim, not unkindly. “Away with
you, then, and don’t be doing it again. Next time you might just be
getting a claymore instead of a question.”

Kelpie left meekly enough, relieved to get off so easily. But none of
her questions was really answered. She had wanted to learn the source of
Montrose’s power, and whether or no it was from magic, and if and how she
could learn it. For although it was just possible that Montrose could
destroy his archenemy, Argyll, which would be a fine thing indeed, Kelpie
felt that Mina and Bogle and the Lowlander were another matter, and up
to her. For sooner or later she was almost sure to run into them again,
and when that day came she was going to need a great deal of magic power
indeed!



14. The Battle of Tippermuir


At last word went round that the army was to move, but not, as Kelpie
had expected, away from the danger of Perth and Lord Elcho’s great army.
Quite the contrary. They were, it seemed, going to take Perth.

Recklessness and practical caution fought within Kelpie. A fine, daft,
gallant, and suicidal idea it seemed to her. If she had any sense in the
head of her, she would take her leave now and head for safety. But she
decided, instead, to go along but to stay with the women and children
well behind the lines, once the fighting started, and then take to the
hills when the battle was lost.

The small, poorly equipped army gathered itself together and started
south to the sound of pipes playing valiantly. They had got no farther
than the hill of Buchanty when they ran into one of the enemy forces
which had been surrounding them all the time. A full five hundred bowmen
it must be, and Kelpie looked around hastily for something to hide under.

But she had reckoned without Montrose. He and Antrim rode to meet the two
leaders of the bowmen, and they talked. And, sometime during the talking,
Montrose cast his spell, for presently the two forces spread out over the
purple masses of blooming heather and ate together, the leaders still
talking over wine and food.

And then one of the enemy leaders sprang to his feet, and Kelpie could
hear his words clearly. “You’re wrong!” he shouted. “’Tis not two
thousand men ye have, but two thousand and five hundred! For we’ll never
be fighting against Montrose!”

Kelpie shook her head wonderingly. Why on earth did Montrose fight at
all, if he could do this? Or did Argyll and others have some kind of
counter-magic? Kelpie began to feel newly discouraged about her own
prospects for magical powers, with so much competition about.

The newly expanded army moved on again, undisturbed by the news that, in
addition to his seven thousand infantry, Lord Elcho also had some eight
hundred cavalry and nine pieces of heavy artillery. The Highlanders, like
Kelpie, put their faith in the magic of Montrose. With him to lead them,
no force on earth could beat them.

They spent the night on the moor of Fowlis, and early in the morning were
away down the Small Glen, and on to Tippermuir. There stood the walled
town of Perth, some three miles away. And between stood the Covenant
army, spread wide, waiting to catch Montrose’s impudent small army
between its fierce jaws.

Kelpie looked at it with awe, and some of her assurance left her. Surely,
now, Montrose was stretching his powers too far! Lord Elcho would be
wiping them out as easily as Antrim might knock down herself. There they
stood, six deep, every man protected by corselet and an iron headpiece,
and the most of them armed with muskets, against one-third the number
of Highlanders, who wore only ragged kilts and rawhide brogans and
had claymores and bows and arrows, or no weapons at all. It was a sad
contrast.

The citizens of Perth seemed to regard the coming battle as a fine new
kind of Sabbath sport, for they had turned out in great numbers to
watch the fun. Kelpie shoved through the palpitating crowd of women and
children, now well behind the army, until she reached a spot on high
ground which gave her both a good view and a quick escape route for when
she needed it. And she expected to need it. She hoped that Ian might
escape the slaughter somehow, but she was going to be quite sure that
_she_ did.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ian, who had an even better view in his spot in the front row of the
battle line, was not feeling very optimistic himself. He looked with
resignation over the flaunting blue banners of the Covenant ranks bearing
the motto: _For Christ’s Crown and Covenant_—and then back to the one
brave royal banner—three golden leopards on a red background—floating
above the Highland rabble. The breeze rippled its folds and shivered
across the purpled moors. It seemed too fine a day for men to die.

Alex turned from chaffing his cousins among the small band of Keppoch
MacDonalds and looked at Ian. There was a touch of pallor beneath the
sunburn of his angular face, but his eyes were bright.

“And are you frightened, Ian?” he asked with a crooked grin.

“As ever was!” retorted Ian forthrightly, and Alex chuckled.

“And I too,” he agreed. “My cousin Archie has just been saying it’s only
a fool does not fear danger—in which case, I’m a wise man indeed!”

Ian looked around him. Most of the ordinary clansmen seemed not
much worried. There was an almost supernatural faith in Montrose,
that he would bring victory at any odds. And Antrim—the magnificent
Colkitto—strode down the line with confidence in every inch of him. His
legs were pillars beneath the MacDonald kilt he wore, and they were
matched by the size of his shoulders.

“I think _he_ isn’t afraid,” observed Ian.

Alex nodded agreement. “Montrose is worried, though,” he murmured. “You
can see it behind his eyes. What is happening now?” For one of Montrose’s
officers was going toward Lord Elcho, waving a white flag of truce.

“Here’s Ranald,” said Archie. “He’ll know. Ranald learns everything.” If
Archie was frightened, one would never know it. His black eyes sparkled
wickedly from under his thick black hair, and he turned eagerly to make
room for another Keppoch cousin. “What is it Ranald, _avic_?”

“An envoy of courtesy,” reported Ranald, shaking his fair head
wonderingly. “Montrose has sent to ask is it against their principles
to fight on the Sabbath, and would they rather wait for tomorrow. Only
Montrose would think to make such a gesture!”

Archie, who seemed to have a low opinion of Covenant principles, shook
his head disapprovingly. Alex opened his mouth for a jesting remark,
and forgot to close it again. For, incredibly, outrageously, the envoy
was being taken prisoner! He was seized, bound, hustled off through the
Covenant ranks.

Incredulous anger rippled through the Highland army. Ian stood aghast.
“He couldn’t!” he whispered. “He _couldn’t_ violate a flag of truce!” And
for once even the more cynical Alex shared Ian’s feelings.

Oddly, Kelpie’s face came to Alex at that moment. Her narrow, slant-eyed,
impudent face would be wondering what was so awful about violating a
white flag. Was it any worse than killing a man in battle? And the envoy
wasn’t even dead—yet, anyway. To his disgust, Alex found himself, in
his own mind, trying to explain it to her. “_Dhiaoul!_” he muttered and
turned his attention to the matters at hand.

It was quite possible that Lord Elcho had done himself an ill service,
for a flame of Celtic rage had engulfed the Highland army. Alex found
that he had shifted forward an inch or two without knowing it, and the
rest of the army with him. Those without weapons had picked up stones.
For a moment it seemed that they would all break into a wild charge, but
Montrose achieved the minor miracle of holding them back. “Wait!” said
his outflung arm. “Wait!” boomed Antrim. “Be patient a wee while, men of
my heart, and we soon will be giving them cold steel for it.”

And they waited, only inching forward a toe at a time, as the Covenant
army moved closer, until not a hundred paces separated them. A long wait
it seemed, long enough for all the army to hear Lord Elcho’s answer to
the message of the unfortunate envoy. “The Lord’s Day,” he had said,
“is fit for the Lord’s work of exterminating the barbarous Irish and
Highlanders.”

“When we charge,” muttered Archie, who had been in battles before, “keep
just one thing in mind. Choose your enemy and kill him, and then a second
man if you can.”

“Very well so,” agreed Alex mildly. “And what will I do with my third
man?” He was pleased that his voice had just the nonchalance he wanted
for it.

Ian’s was equally cool. “Just be leaving him to me,” he said. “I’ll have
had my three by then.”

Another inch forward, and the Covenanters closer yet, and still no signal
to charge. And now came the Covenant battle cry for the day. “Jesus and
no quarter!” they yelled, and Ian shuddered at the blasphemy.

And then suddenly came a shrill wild skirl from the gaunt woman at the
back of the battle. A voice lifted and pealed savagely. “Wolves of the
North! Let the fangs bite!”

And the signal was given, and as they rushed forward Ian’s voice answered
with his own clan battle cry. “Sons of the dogs, come hither, come
hither, and ye shall have flesh!”

“God and St. Andrew!” answered the Keppoch MacDonalds, and the air was
thick with the wailing menace of pipes and clan cries, until the pipers
abandoned their pipes for the claymores, and the slogans became scattered
and mixed with mere yells.

Neither Alex nor Ian remembered the rest clearly—only a wall of armed
men ahead, and then the smashing, tearing impact of battle. There was
Archie’s fighting laughter, and the blazing red beard of Antrim ...
someone yelling “A Gordon, a Gordon!” the whole of the fight. And then
there was no wall of armored men, but only fleeing backs, and the charge
went on and on—until they were at the gates of Perth.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Kelpie reached Perth, some time later (and a messy three miles it
was too, littered with Covenant casualties), she fully expected to find
it being thoroughly sacked and looted, and to be in time to pick up a
few wee things herself. It was just for this that she had managed to get
slightly ahead of the rest of the women and children.

But there was unexpected quiet and order. Kelpie paused inside the gate,
frowning. A few citizens peered fearfully from windows, waiting for the
worst, but the worst did not seem to be happening. Instead, Highlanders
stood about, glaring at the frightened heads and at a shouting preacher
on the near corner, and looking disgruntled.

“He shall rain snares upon the sinners,” screamed the preacher, “and fire
and brimstone and storms of wind shall be the portion of their cup!”

Kelpie joined a group of ragged Highlanders who were standing there
listening. “_Now_ will he remember their iniquity and visit their sins!”
the preacher was suggesting hopefully. “I will consume them by the sword,
and by the famine, and by the pestilence! I will pour their wickedness
upon them!”

“Is it ourselves he means?” asked Kelpie of the nearest Highlander.

He nodded, looking disgusted. “And we not even allowed to feed his words
back to him,” he growled. “And,” he added regretfully, “I am thinking
that the fine coat of him would be fitting me, whatever.”

“But why? Why not be silencing him and taking it?” demanded Kelpie.
He shrugged, looking aggressive. Montrose, it seemed, had ordered no
sacking, no looting, no harm to the citizens.

Several Highlanders turned from the preacher, who was now informing
them that they were to be cast forth from the land, and chimed in. An
unheard-of thing, that! And they half-starved and in rags, and counting
on food, clothing, and a fine wee bit of loot from these overfed,
psalm-singing heathen hypocrites! And what was Montrose about, then, to
be depriving them of their just reward? And yet, not a man suggested
disobeying.

The preacher, a gaunt, long-faced man in a fine black coat, was working
himself up into a fine passion of Covenanter Christianity. “They shall
die grievous deaths,” he announced. “They shall not be lamented, neither
shall they be buried; they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth.”

“Is it his own friends he’s speaking of?” came Alex’s mocking voice.
“’Tis a fine burial service you’re preaching, my friend, but shouldn’t
you be helping to dig the graves first?”

The preacher stopped, glared, and began to launch forth with more Bible
verses. But the Highlanders had got the idea.

“Now then,” one of them called, chortling. “’Twould be no harm to the
bonnie man if we just see to it that he helps bury his friends, now,
would it? Come away out, now, and be useful!” And in a moment the
preacher was being propelled firmly out of the gate, protesting loudly
that yon muckle redshanks were gang to murther him. Alex and Ian, Archie
and Ranald were left, grinning after them.

Kelpie spared them no more than a glance and then returned to her
grievance. No looting! And she had been wanting a nice silver belt and
perhaps a silken purse.

Disgustingly, Ian and Alex agreed with Montrose. “’Tis a barbaric
practice, sacking cities,” said Ian with quiet intensity. “Why should
soldiers war on civilians, especially women and bairns? If there were
more leaders with the principles of Montrose, war would be less evil than
it is.”

“There’s no use one army stopping, and the others going on doing it,”
argued Kelpie.

“Someone must be stopping first,” Alex pointed out. Odd how he kept
trying to explain principles to this little witch, who could no more
understand them than could his cousin Cecily’s wee and wicked yellow
kitten. “If Montrose shows mercy, perhaps the Covenanters will do the
same.”

Kelpie sneered audibly, and Archie made a rude noise. Alex shrugged.
“To be more practical,” he pointed out, “perhaps Montrose is hoping that
these towns near his own home may be turned to our side if we treat them
well.”

“I think he would do so anyway,” insisted Ian, “’Tis a point of
integrity, Kelpie.”

Kelpie looked blank, and Alex laughed. “Do not be trying to explain
integrity to _her_, Ian!” he pleaded. “Begin first on a creature with
more capacity—like Cecily’s kitten, for example—and then Dubh, perhaps,
and after that you might be working up to a kelpie.”

At the mention of Cecily, Ian saw in his mind a heart-shaped, mischievous
face in a halo of tawny hair. And then he put it away from him, for Alex
had said fifty times that he was going to marry his cousin one day; and
if his foster brother wanted Cecily, then she was not for Ian to think
of. So he thought instead of Kelpie, who was tossing her black head
scornfully.

“Well, whatever integrity is,” she announced, “this is daft. For,” she
predicted with gloomy relish, “all the towns around will be thinking
they may do as they please, with no fear of punishment. Just wait you
now, they’ll be shouting more loudly and burning more witches than ever
before.”

Surprisingly, Alex nodded. It was Ian who was about to argue. But at this
moment Lachlan and Maeve arrived, shouting that at last they had found
Mac ’ic Ian, and would he be coming away this minute to have his sore
wound tended.

Ian laughed, faintly embarrassed, and began to protest. And Kelpie,
with a pang of concern, noticed for the first time that his plaidie was
wrapped oddly about his left arm and that a stain of red was creeping
along the sleeve beneath it.

“_Dhé!_” she cried. “It may be only a wee bit cut as you say, Ian, but
yon orange-top”—she glared at Maeve—“has not the sense to be tending it
for you, and it will surely mortify if you let her. I,” she announced
firmly, “will bind it myself, with bread mold and cobwebs on the cut, and
a wee charm or two over it, and ’twill heal overnight, for I know about
such matters.”

Maeve promptly screamed that the wicked little witch would poison Mac ’ic
Ian only over her dead body. Kelpie retorted that it was a fine idea,
that last. Ranald said that he had known mold and cobwebs to work very
well. Archie’s black eyes sparkled with amusement, and it fell upon Alex
to arbitrate.

Firmly, with the masterful air that Kelpie usually resented hotly, he
declared in favor of her bread mold but against her charms. He pacified
Maeve by allowing her to supervise and to put the sign of the cross upon
Ian’s arm. And because both Maeve and Kelpie were genuinely concerned
over Ian’s welfare a truce of sorts was declared—for the moment.



15. Witch Hunt


An uneasy peace brooded over the whole of Perth the next day. Not only
the citizens but also their Gaelic conquerors tended to feel slightly
abused, and they spent the morning glooming at one another. By noon the
high Celtic spirits had risen again in the conquerors, and a spirit of
mischief took over. They released prisoners from stocks and jails (most
of them guilty of such crimes as failing to attend kirk), and some of
the Irish MacDonalds began preaching back at the dour, hell-spouting
Calvinist preachers.

But this palled too, and presently a group of young and adventurous
Highlanders decided just to go out and have a wee look round the
neighboring countryside. Archie and Ranald came hunting Alex and Ian,
who were delighted. Lachlan firmly attached himself to the party, with
strict orders from Maeve not to be letting Mac ’ic Ian do anything to
start his cut bleeding afresh.

At this point Kelpie announced that she would just go too. Ranald looked
at her dubiously, but Archie laughed. “And why ever not?” he demanded.
“The women do full share of work, what with cooking and nursing, and
should have a bit of fun when they can. Will you come too, Maeve?”

Maeve hesitated, glared at Kelpie, and declined. And the party, some
dozen or fifteen altogether, set off.

“Is Kelpie your true name?” demanded Archie as they started west across
the sweep of moor. He grinned at her engagingly. “It wouldn’t be every
day a body could have a kelpie as mascot. Tell me,” he asked, “have I
seen you turn a soft eye upon Ian? Could you not be giving him a wee love
potion?”

Kelpie smiled enigmatically and declined to answer. But she turned the
idea over in her mind.

It was a lovely day, this second of September. The birches were beginning
to yellow and the bracken to turn rusty underneath. Rowan trees flaunted
clumps of brilliant red-orange berries in the sun; and only now and
again did a cloud shadow glide silently over the rosy-heathered swelling
ground, patching it with somber purple. Kelpie tied her plaidie around
her waist, for she would not be needing it until the chill of evening.

They walked on, with the long, tireless Highland stride, chattering and
laughing with the upsurge of spirits that was a normal reaction from the
fear and triumph of yesterday.

“And did you get your dozen men, Alex?” inquired the fair-haired Ranald.
“I saw you once cutting down an armored musketeer twice your size, and
glad I was to be fighting with and not against you.”

Alex’s red brows slanted upward. “_Dhé!_” he said. “I was so frighted I
just held out my sword, and it seems the enemy was obliging enough to run
into it. ’Twas Ian was the braw fighter, and none better in Scotland. It
was he saved me more than once.”

“Only so that you could be saving me, Alex _avic_,” retorted Ian, “and
Lachlan saving the both of us,” he added. “Besides, it was I was so
scared I could only think to run away.”

“And since you were headed for Perth, already, the only thing to do was
just cut your way through the face of the enemy,” finished Archie with
bland seriousness.

Ian nodded gravely. “That was the way of it. I was too frightened to
think of turning around.”

And so they went on, with the same old bantering Kelpie had heard so
often at Glenfern, and each of them claiming to have been more frightened
than any of the rest. Kelpie listened with an odd feeling of contentment.
This brotherhood, this easy straight-faced teasing which was an unspoken
love between friends, was a warm and joyous thing to hear—for all that
it was dangerous to have it. There was wistfulness in her heart as she
walked silently among the cheerful group, and a shadow on her face.

Presently they came to a river and a small gray town on the near side. “I
doubt they’ll love us there,” predicted a tall lad in Duncan kilt, “but
perhaps their good Lowland sense of business will make them willing to
sell us a pint or two of ale—or even good _uisghebaugh_, if there is such
a thing outside of the Highlands.”

It was a popular suggestion, and the long Highland strides became even
longer, so that Kelpie—though she denied it—had to stretch her own to
keep up. As they drew near the cluster of stone houses with the somber
square kirk in the center, she frowned a little. A dour, gloomy place it
was! Not that it looked different, really, from other towns, but there
was a bad feel to it. None of the others seemed to notice, but Kelpie’s
bones were wary.

There seemed to be very few people about. Perhaps most of them had seen
the Highlanders coming and gone inside. The few folk they did meet cast
looks of hate at the kilted barbarians—which the barbarians, secure in
the safety of numbers and reputation, found rather amusing.

An innkeeper sourly sold them ale, with black looks thrown in for good
measure. “Och, wouldn’t he like to poison it, just!” said Alex in Gaelic
as Kelpie refused the ale Ian offered her. It might not actually be
poisoned, but it could have an evil spell on it, all the same. She said
so.

“If your spells haven’t worked, I doubt anyone’s could!” Alex taunted
her. “For you’ve tried hard enough, haven’t you?”

Kelpie glowered from under her thick lashes. Had he seen her, then, all
that while at Blair Atholl? Or was it just his evil way of always knowing
what she was thinking? She had begun to feel a trifle more friendly since
learning that he had saved Ian yesterday instead of cutting him down. But
once again Alex was taking the offensive.

Alex had known what she was about at Blair Atholl, and it had amused him,
in a way—once he was sure her spells were impotent. But just now, for
some reason, all her hatred for him was rankling, and he was in the mood
to goad her a bit for her irritating ways—although he was not at all sure
why she got under his skin so easily. So he deliberately treated her to
his most satirical grin. “And didn’t your hex work at all, poor lass?” he
inquired sympathetically.

Kelpie started to hiss at him, but Ian was looking at her oddly. He would
not take it kindly that she had tried to hex his foster brother, even
though it was himself she was trying to protect. And she wanted to keep
Ian’s good will.

Her lip drooped. “Always and always you will be thinking evil of me,
Alex MacDonald!” she lamented. “You will be trying to make everyone hate
me, and never giving me the chance at all to be better, no matter how I
might try.”

The other lads were listening to all this with great interest, and they
now regarded Alex with severity, and Kelpie with sympathy. But it was
Ian’s sympathy she wanted—and got.

“’Tis true enough, Alex,” he said accusingly. “You’ve ever thought the
worst of the poor lass, and her only sin is in being what she was taught
to be. How could she ever change with you condemning her in advance?”

A rare blaze of rage swept over Alex. “_Dhiaoul!_ ’Tis a fool you are,
Ian!” And suddenly he was quarreling—it was incredible—with his foster
brother, dearer than kin, and over a young rogue of a gypsy lass not
worth a hair on Ian’s head! And yet the quarrel went on and on.

Kelpie had never seen them angry at each other before, and she was
frightened. It was the town had done it! The town was filled with hate
and malice and had put a spell on them all! And she, who should be
pleased at seeing Ian turn from Alex, found that she couldn’t enjoy it.
She couldn’t even bear to listen. She slipped out of the tavern with
their angry words drifting after her.

The streets were no longer empty. A crowd was streaming out of the
four-square meeting house and along toward the town square, and it was
the sort of crowd she knew all too well. Their faces held a savage and
bloodthirsty fanaticism, and this was not a mob looking for a victim, but
one which had found one. It was someone, no doubt, who had committed the
sin of breaking the Sabbath, or dancing, or perhaps chancing to glance at
a neighbor’s cow before it fell ill. Och, it was a witch trial they had
been having! No knowing was it a real witch or not, nor would it matter;
for to be accused was to be condemned.

“Burn them!” the crowd growled as it surged past the tavern. Kelpie
should have ducked back inside, but her curiosity was too great. And
despite her vow to be hard-hearted there was a flicker in her of pity.
The victims were coming now, being roughly hustled along toward the
square. The crowd swept Kelpie along, not noticing one more gray gown
among so many others.

Kelpie squeezed through a gap between a stout man and a bony woman, and
as it closed behind her she found herself almost pushed against the
victims, her eyes staring straight into theirs—and their eyes were as
filled with hatred as those of the crowd.

Mina and Bogle!

Panic gripped her heart. Frantically she tried to back up, to melt back
into the crowd. But there was no gap now, only a wall of townsmen at her
back. And it was too late. Mina’s shrill screech cut the other sounds.

“There she is! The kelpie who led us into witchcraft! In the gray dress!
There! Look at the ringed eyes of her!”

“She’ll be putting the Evil Eye on ye all” croaked Bogle venomously.

Sick fear and revulsion were in Kelpie as her quick eyes swept
around—vainly—for an avenue of escape. They were not accusing her to save
themselves, which would have been logical, but in sheer malice. That she
might have done the same didn’t occur to her, for there was no time for
thinking. The crowd was responding with a new roar, seeking more blood,
turning to find its new victim.

Kelpie looked instinctively for a scapegoat, another gray dress to point
out—but again, too late. Hands grabbed her. She wrenched free with a
twist, only to be grasped by more hands, caught beyond hope of escape.

“Alex!” screamed Kelpie. “Ian! Help!” And she lifted her voice in the
Cameron war rant, hoping that the familiar words might reach Ian.
“_Chlanna non can, thigibh a so_—” A blow on the head cut it short, and
she thought with bitterness that it could not matter. How could they
hear her so far away, and over the crowd, and when they were themselves
quarreling in the tavern, and herself being carried farther away every
minute?

“Ye’ll not be taking a witch’s word!” she cried out. “I am of the Kirk,
and have been servant to Argyll himself!”

One or two of the nearest people hesitated doubtfully, for Argyll was a
name to conjure with. But Mina dashed Kelpie’s faint chance. “Aye!” she
shrieked. “To be getting a bit of his hair for a hex! Look at her eyes,
just!”

She was doomed, then. “Sons of the dogs!” she yelled once more, with
despair in voice and heart. And then she was being shoved along with Mina
and Bogle.

“_Chlanna non can, thigibh a so’s gheibh sibh feoil!_” It was Ian’s
voice. A wedge began to cut itself into the crowd from behind, a bright
blade gleaming, and Ian’s wild face at the back of the sword.

And then another voice, that of Alex. “_Ian!_” it roared, and another
wedge appeared behind the first. And now figures in MacDonald and Duncan
bonnets cut a swathe, more swords gleamed, voices roared happily with the
joy of battle.

But Alex was coming after Ian, and a black rage on his face, and his
voice bellowing Ian’s name. He was angry still, then, and the more so
because Ian was trying to save her! Kelpie’s feet were set against the
cobblestones of the street, her body twisted to see behind. And now the
hold on her was loosening as the witch-burners began to take alarm. But
oh, would Ian be in time? Would Alex stop him?

Ian had nearly reached her. The crowd, mostly unarmed, swirled and shoved
in disorganized fury. They turned from their victims now, and two or
three dirks were flashed. The MacDonalds were gleefully wreaking havoc
somewhere behind, but Alex had caught up with Ian now, and his face was
fearful to look on. Ian’s back was to Alex, his attention on dealing with
those dirks still separating him from Kelpie. Kelpie could not see his
hands, for the shoulders and heads in the way, but his face was grim,
intent. “Hold on, Kelpie!” he shouted.

“_Ian!_” roared Alex again, and his sword rose—rose and then fell with a
furious slash. And Ian was down, and his dark head had vanished in the
crowd.

It was just as she had seen it in the loch! For an instant Kelpie felt
nothing at all but a terrible cold emptiness, and then grief was in her
very bones, and a small cry of anguish on her lips. She made a move
toward the swarming, fighting spot where Ian had vanished. There was one
brief glimpse of Alex, raging like one gone mad, and then the MacDonalds
were there, making a havoc that sent townspeople screaming for safety.
And somewhere, being trampled beneath, was the body of Ian, and perhaps
she could reach him and help....

And then she hesitated. Alex would be wanting to kill her too! And now
was her chance to be away and safe from him. And after all, what good
could she be to Ian? For either he was dead and past help, or, if not,
there were the MacDonalds to care for him, and Maeve back at Perth.

Kelpie hesitated a moment longer, then she reverted to old habits and
saved herself. She slipped like a hunted wildcat through the crowd, which
now had other things on its mind than stopping her. She was out of it,
around a corner, through the narrow streets in a swift streak of gray.
The clamor grew muffled and scattered. She tore across the stone bridge
and the moor and along a glen and over a hill. She ran until she could
no longer breathe, and then crawled into a thick patch of broom and lay
gasping and sobbing.

She must not think! She could not bear to think. Alex had really done it,
then! The thing inside her had never really believed he would, and that
was the thing now keening in black anguish that he could have done it.

And Ian! Was he dead, then? Dead trying to save herself, who had then
fled without a backward look?

But it was only sense to have saved herself! It was what Ian had been
trying to do, to save _her_, and wouldn’t he have wished it? Why should
it be the weight of a stone on her? Ian would have wished it, she told
herself. And then she rolled over on her face and was violently sick.

       *       *       *       *       *

How long had she been walking? And to where? It was just away from the
town she had been going, and she was now far away, for she had spent more
than one night in the heather. And yet she could not get away from the
beating blackness in her mind.

Kelpie sank down in the drenched heather and discovered with vague
surprise that rain was pouring steadily from a dreary sky. She looked
wearily around and saw nothing but hills and heath closed in mist. She
was wet as a water horse, and when had she last eaten?

What was she to do now? And where was she going? She didn’t care much.
It would be nice just to lie down and not be waking at all at all. But
some inner vitality would never let her do that. She sighed. She must be
finding food, then, and learning where she was. For all she knew, she
might be back in Campbell country—and that thought roused her just a
little.

She dragged herself to her feet and tramped on again. The glen ended in a
long loch, so large that both ends were out of sight around the curves of
the hills. Kelpie sat down again and thought, slowly, because she could
not seem to think very well. There were not so many lochs of this size.
She did not think she could have got so far as Loch Rannoch, and this
seemed too long for Loch Earn and not wide enough for Loch Lomond. It
must be that it was Loch Tay, and if this were so, then she might well be
in Campbell country.

If only the sun would come out! If only there were some place that she
could go and rest and hide away from the world and her thoughts....

And then she remembered the braes of Balquidder and two kind and lonely
old folk who had said, “Haste ye back.”

At this point Kelpie’s instinct and gypsy training took over. Without
stopping to wonder was she right or no, she turned to the left and
trudged along the southern bank of the loch. She found berries and roots
to eat. She lay down in the wet heather and slept, her plaidie around
her, when she could go no farther. And then she awoke and went on. To the
end of the loch she went, and down a glen, and around a mountain.

And late on a drizzly afternoon old Alsoon MacNab heard a faint scratch
at her door and opened it to find her own plaidie back—wrapped round a
morsel of wretched humanity that for once was not shamming in the least.



16. Morag Mhor


It was pleasant to be cared for, pleasant and strange. Kelpie lay for
several days on the pile of springy heather which served for her bed.
At first she just slept and awoke to eat and sleep again. But then she
began lying awake, her eyes on the smoky fire, or on the mortarless stone
walls that leaned a little inward against the black rafters and thatched
roof. Alsoon was always busy, cooking or sweeping the earthen floor with
a besom broom or weaving or knitting, one eye always on her patient.

And why should they take her in and care for her so, when they had
nothing to gain by it? Glenfern had done the same thing—no, best not
to think of Glenfern, for that was too painful. She must learn to wall
off those memories from her feelings, so that they would become like a
witch-spot on the body, a spot that could feel no pain even though a pin
was stuck in to the head. Kelpie had no witch-spots, though Mina did. But
then, Kelpie was not a witch, and what was more, she never would be,
however hard she might try!

The knowledge crept upon her stealthily, while she was still too weak and
drained to resist it. She had no power at all. None of her spells had
ever worked. And Mina had lied about teaching her the Evil Eye. It came
to her with bitter clarity that the Evil Eye was a thing one must be born
with; it could never be learned. All Kelpie had was the Second Sight, and
many Highlanders had that.

She received the knowledge with a strange kind of indifference. Later,
when she wasn’t so tired, she would no doubt feel a savage sense of loss.
But she could not think about it now—not yet.

Alsoon was bringing her some broth now and crooning to her wee dark love
to drink it and sleep. Callum must have tramped far over the hills to
find a deer to make it, and they knew very well that she could never
pay for it at all, and they would be hurt even if she offered payment.
Highland hospitality was a warm, strong thing with rules to it. It made a
grace between host and guest and a bond not to harm each other. This was
why Alex had been so angry at the way she left Glenfern, and Eithne so
hurt, and—and Ian—

She wrenched her mind from the thought of Ian, drank her broth, and
drifted back to sleep.

When she was on her feet again, Kelpie was strangely content just to
stay where she was. It seemed to her that her life had been violently
wrenched apart, and she hardly knew how to begin putting it back together
again. She needed time to think. Kelpie had always found the world full
and interesting, however cruel. She played a game. She avoided the
cruelty when she could, and bore it if she must, and fought back when
she had the chance. She adapted herself to each new situation that came
along, and had quite enjoyed—on the whole—the glimpses of various new
worlds that the last few months had offered.

But now she seemed to be cast out of every world she knew, for she could
never go back to Glenfern, or to Mina and Bogle (even if she would), or
to Campbell country. Worse, she did not even know what she wanted, now
that the power of witchcraft was denied her. The old gypsy life no longer
seemed attractive. New ideas had been planted in her mind, and she had
found herself groping restlessly for something she could not name.

To keep her mind and hands busy, she began to help Alsoon and Callum with
the various chores, and took an unexpected pleasure in them. For once,
walls seemed not a trap but a warm, safe shelter from the early frost and
biting wind outside, and from the world in general.

And so the autumn passed, and it was the dark of the year, with only a
few brief hours of daylight and long gray dusks. In that remote glen they
heard little of the outside world. It wasn’t until she had been there for
two months that a neighbor from over the hill came that way in search
of stray cattle and stopped in to pass on the news that his brother had
heard from someone’s cousin who had been away in to a town.

Montrose had taken his army north to Aberdeen, and this time he had let
his men sack the city. “It was because they had shot a wee drummer boy,”
explained the neighbor. “The lad was just along with the envoy, asking
them would they like to send their women and bairns to safety. And Graham
was so angry at it that he took the town and turned his army loose on it,
but they say he was sorry after.”

And then, it seemed, the old game of tag had started again, with Argyll
panting after Montrose all the way from Bog o’ Gight to Badenoch, Tumnel
to Strathbogie, devastating lands as he went, and slaughtering people if
he even suspected them of royalist sympathies.

When Kelpie awoke the next morning, she saw the white light of the first
snow coming through the cracks in the shutters, and her first, unbidden
thought was: did Ian lie somewhere beneath that blanket? Had Alex been
punished for killing him? Where was Montrose now, and what was happening
in Scotland? It was the beginning of a new restlessness and a growing
desire to learn whether Ian was dead, and perhaps even to take vengeance
herself on Alex, if no one else had done it already. Even without magic
powers, she reflected with narrowed eyes, she could still use her wee
_sgian dhu_!

The dark, smoky shieling became too cramped for such thoughts, and, in
spite of the cold, Kelpie took to making long walks over the braes and
around the foot of Ben More. Alsoon looked at her wisely. If she guessed
that confusing thoughts were disturbing the young waif, she said nothing
but merely finished whatever task Kelpie might have left undone when the
restlessness was upon her.

“Och, and you’ll be away again one day,” predicted old Callum mildly one
crisp afternoon when Kelpie paused at the sheep pen where he was working.
“’Tis the wanderlust you have in your feet—but are you not also wanting
somewhere to call home?”

Kelpie had never thought of the matter. She did so now. What _was_ a
home? For Ian it had been Glenfern, where his heart stayed wherever the
rest of him might be. But for Kelpie, Glenfern was not just a place;
it was a feeling and it was people. It was Wee Mairi’s bonnie face and
confiding smile; and the twins crowding close, bright-eyed, to demand
more stories; and Eithne’s quick sympathy; and laughter beside the loch.
It was teasing and love and trust among them all, and her own heart given
recklessly against her better judgement.

No, home was not a place but a feeling—a deceitful feeling, she
remembered bitterly. She had endangered Wee Mairi by her very affection,
and Ian had trusted too much.... And Kelpie thought again that if
Glenfern had not settled the score with Alex, she herself might do it
one day. She thought of Mina and Bogle too, and hoped fiercely that they
had not escaped.

There was more heavy snow the next week, and now this was nearly the
longest time she had ever spent in one place—except for Glenfern,
and Glenfern had been much more lively. She longed more and more for
excitement, for adventure, aye, even for danger, for these were the spice
of life. And so she stiffened with anticipation on the morning that wee
Angus MacNab came racing over the hill toward the shieling hut. Important
news was in his every movement.

“Och, Callum, and have you seen it?” he demanded in a shrill shout.
“Montrose himself it is, and his army, just yon over the braes on the
edge of Campbell land. It is said they will be going to harry Mac Cailein
Mor in his own castle!”

Kelpie had been standing over near the sheep pen, very still, watching
the small lad come. A too large kilt flapped about his knobbly knees,
and himself and his long shadow and his twisting track were all dark
against the white of the snow. To her left was the black of the shieling
hut, smoke rising vaguely against the pearl-blue of the sky, and Callum
standing by the door. Everything seemed to stop in time for just an
instant, while something inside Kelpie awoke, stretched, looked around,
and made a decision.

She didn’t ask herself any questions then, but turned in her tracks and
walked back to the hut, where Callum and Alsoon were greeting the lad and
asking for more details.

“And where are they?” she demanded.

Angus waved a skinny arm toward the north. “Yon, near Loch Tay. The clan
is called out and will be joining there. I wish I could be going!”

Sudden reasonless elation filled Kelpie. She wrapped her plaidie more
firmly about her shoulders and looked at Callum and Alsoon. “I’m away,”
she announced.

“Och, no, heart’s darling!” protested Alsoon. “Not into Campbell lands,
and in midwinter! Bide with us a wee while longer, until spring.”

“I’m away,” repeated Kelpie, a little sharply, as she realized that once
again she was in danger of giving her heart. “And what harm from cold or
Campbells when the army and all the women and bairns are along? I cannot
bide longer, for my feet have the urge in them.” And she tossed her dark
head like a young Highland pony, so that the thick braids—well tended
by Alsoon—leaped over her shoulders and beat against her waist, as if
impatient.

Alsoon sighed. “Well, then, and you must go if you must. But come away in
first, my light, and I’ll be giving you food to take along. Dried venison
there is, and fresh bannocks, and oatcakes. And here are the new skin
brogans that Callum has finished for you.”

“Haste ye back, white love,” she added at last as Kelpie took the food
and put on the shoes and stood looking at her.

“Aye,” said Kelpie, and her heart was torn. The MacNabs gave and asked
no return but to be able to give more. “You’ve been kind, and I not
deserving it,” she murmured, and then clenched her fists and walked
quickly out of the low doorway, lest she be caught up in folly again.

Halfway up the hill she paused, stared back at the long, low shieling
hut, and then waved at the two old people standing there. Tears stung her
eyelids for a moment, and impulsively she crooked her forefinger, calling
down a blessing upon them.

Five minutes later she had shaken off her sadness. She lifted her head
and breathed the air of new adventure. The hills had been calling this
long while, calling through the spell of black depression that was on
her. But the spell was broken now, and she was answering the call.

At the top of the hill she was seized by fresh exuberance. Curving her
arms upward like a stag’s antlers, she broke into the light, wild leaps
of a dance that the Highland men did around the campfire or at friendly
gatherings, and then laughed aloud at her own impertinence—she, a lass,
to be doing a man’s dance, and doing it well too. The dance took on a
distinctly mocking and impudent quality.

From the top of the next hill she looked down on Montrose’s army, which
had made camp by the loch. From the mouth of the glen, the MacNabs were
arriving, great-kilts swinging about their bare, strong knees, and the
top halves of the kilts wrapped round massive shoulders. Kelpie surveyed
the scene for a moment before going down, counting tartans. MacDonalds
were still most plentiful, with Gordons, MacPhersons, Stewarts—but she
saw no Cameron tartans.

She also saw no children, and only a small scattering of women. Where
were they all, then? Frowning a little, she went down, over the snowy
hillside, to the camp.

“Whist, lass, and what is it you’re wanting?” It was a bearded Irish
MacDonald. “The time for sweethearts’ farewells is past, and we off to
raid and harry the Campbells in their lair.” The beard split in a grin of
vengeful glee.

“It is I that am coming with you,” announced Kelpie cheekily. “Where are
all the women and bairns?”

He stared. “Back at Blair Castle, the most of them, safe in Stewart
country. It is only a few of the strongest, and they with no children,
that we have brought. ’Tis no adventure for you, lassie. Be away back
home.”

“I am strong, and with no bairns,” argued Kelpie. “And I’m frightened to
travel alone.” She looked helpless and pleading. “I have no home, and I’d
like well to raid the Campbells. Can I not be coming?”

He grinned sympathetically. “Och, well—we’ve a bloody enough work to
do, and might even use an extra nurse once or twice. Go find Morag Mhor,
then, who is head of the women.”

Kelpie recognized Morag Mhor as soon as she saw her—the tall, gaunt woman
she had noticed at Blair Atholl, who well deserved the title of “great”
Morag. Ragged woolen skirts were kilted up over a bright red petticoat,
showing ankles as sturdy as a man’s. The worn Gordon plaidie had fallen
back from her head, and her face was more alive than it had been at Blair
Atholl, but as fierce as ever. When Kelpie found her, she was berating a
red-faced MacGregor at least two inches shorter than she, who clearly had
no fight left in him.

“And don’t be crossing my path again until I feel forgiving, or I’ll box
the other ear!” she finished briskly and then turned to look at Kelpie.
“Gypsy!” she said, crossing brawny arms on her breast.

“Indeed and no!” protested Kelpie with great promptness. “Only a poor
lost lass, and away from home—”

Morag Mhor laughed loudly. “Gypsy!” she repeated, pointing a long
forefinger.

Kelpie regarded her warily and trimmed her tale. “The gypsies were
stealing me when I was a bairn,” she conceded, not expecting to be
believed.

“Aye, then,” agreed Morag Mhor surprisingly. “Because of the ringed eyes
of you, I think. You’ll have the Second Sight. Are you a witch?”

“Are you?” countered Kelpie, remembering with a pang that she herself was
not and never could be.

Morag shrugged wide shoulders. “I have a healing power. But I’m not
belonging to any coven of daft folk who hold Black Mass and dance their
silly feet off at midnights. My power is in what I’m doing, not what
I’m saying.” Her lined face drew down fiercely. “I’ll be helping to put
the curse of deeds on the Campbells this week. They passed my happy wee
home in Gordon country and left behind a blackened stone—and I arriving
back from over the hill to find the thatch still smoldering, and my man
dead, and my son beside him, and the lad not yet ten! I have thirsted for
Campbell blood ever since, and I shall drink deep.”

She stopped, staring into the white distance with eyes that were of
burning stone. Kelpie reflected that she would not like to have this
woman for an enemy. Best to go canny.

“I was prisoner of Mac Cailein Mor,” she volunteered. “He would have
burned me, but I escaped.”

“Och, then, and you’re another who hates him!” Morag’s eyes returned
from unpleasant places. “Stay along with me, then, gypsy lass. We’ll see
revenge together, and no man nor devil will harm you whilst I am near.”
And Kelpie believed her.



17. The Road to Inverary


They had slept on the border of Campbell country, after feeding on
Campbell cattle collected by some twenty or thirty Highlanders. Their
tightly woven woolen plaids had helped to keep out the cold, and so had
the fires scattered along the glen. But Kelpie was glad enough of the red
wool hose that Alsoon had knitted for her, and of the warm bulk of Morag
beside her.

Now they were heading up Strath Fuile, and the warm-hearted comradeship
of the Highlanders became a savage expectation, for here at last was the
great enemy ahead. Montrose might talk all he liked of getting to the
border to aid the King in England—but a score or two must be settled
first. Montrose had had to compromise; otherwise too many of his army
would have just slipped away home, taking with them as many stolen cattle
as possible.

Now an advance party had gone ahead of the main army to find cattle
before the owners could be warned and drive them off to hide in the
hills. And Morag Mhor, with a dark and unpleasant grin, had attached
herself and Kelpie to them. The men, knowing of her murdered husband and
child, let her join them, with a grim jest or two about the fate of any
Campbells unlucky enough to run into her.

They rounded a curve in the river, and there before them was a long,
low shieling hut with two children playing out in front and a handful
of cattle scattered up the hill behind. Morag saw the hut first and was
off toward it with a flash of red petticoat. Kelpie wished suddenly
that she had stayed with the rest of the women, but she hurtled after
Morag simply because it didn’t occur to her to do anything else. Now the
men had seen it too, and a menacing yell rose from thirty throats as
some of them raced around after the cattle, and the rest—mostly Irish
MacDonalds—followed Morag and Kelpie toward the hut.

Even as she was running, the thing inside Kelpie felt sick at what was
to come. Campbells they were, certainly, but what fault had the bairns
committed? Montrose would be angry, surely, with his scruples about
making war on the innocent. Now the children had seen them and were
running toward the house, screaming with terror. An ashen-faced woman
gathered them to her and then paused in the doorway, uncertain whether to
run inside or away into the hills. Kelpie could almost taste the fear in
her.

Then Kelpie’s foot hit something soft and yielding. She tripped and flew
head first into a patch of wet snow. There was a wail of pain and—the cry
of a small child.

Kelpie raised her head from the snow in time to see Morag stop, whirl,
and race back toward Kelpie and the child. Was she going to begin her
revenge by killing the bairn?

“Is it hurt that you are?” roared Morag, but she was not speaking to
Kelpie. She picked up the crying child and stood, her gaunt face twisted
with the conflict of feelings going on in her. Then she turned to Kelpie,
with the Irish MacDonalds only a few yards from them. “Come on!” she
ordered and raced with the child toward the hut and the cowering woman.

Bewildered, Kelpie scrambled up and followed, just barely ahead of the
men. Morag thrust the baby into its mother’s arms, whirled, and drew her
_sgian dhu_.

“You’ll not be touching them, whatever!” she bellowed at the astonished
giant who led the pack. “Back, or I’ll skewer you, Rab MacDonald! Am I
not a woman and mother myself? A plague on men and war! Back, I say!”

She was terrifying; her avenging fury turned to defense of her prey. It
was altogether too much for the Highlanders. They stood and stared, a
full dozen of them in a semicircle before her.

“Fine brave soldiers ye are!” jeered Morag. “Are ye no afraid to be
attacking such dangerous foes? Here’s the wee bairn, now. Will one of
you not challenge him to fair combat?”

They shuffled their feet, quite taken aback. The madness that Morag
herself had kindled in them trickled out, to be replaced by the Highland
sense of the ridiculous. One of them chuckled, and then several others
began to roar with laughter. “And is this your own vengeance, Morag
Mhor?” they hooted. “I will be remembering this the next time you are
clouting me on the ear and send for a bairn to protect me,” added the
giant called Rab.

Morag Mhor seemed not to care about the teasing. She stood guard over the
grateful little family while the cattle were caught and while the rest
of the army arrived on the scene. And, with the backing of Montrose, she
defied those who wanted to burn the house.

“I can do no more for ye,” she told the Campbell woman when the army and
its captured cattle had started on once again. “You have your bairns and
your home—although your Campbell army left me neither, nor husband. I
intended to do the same to you, but I could not, for I saw myself in you,
and it came to me that a woman’s place is to give life, not to take it.
It comes to me, too, that men are a senseless lot with all their useless
killing, and perhaps we mothers should be raising our sons to different
ideas.”

And then she turned abruptly and headed in long strides back to the
Highland army, not waiting for the stammered words of thanks.

Kelpie trailed along at her heels, saying nothing but thinking a good
deal.

And so it went, along to Tyndrum and up Glenorchy. Morag Mhor vehemently
defended every woman and child they found, against the threats and
wild arguments of the Highland soldiers. It didn’t take Kelpie long to
discover that all this was a great act put on by the Highlanders for
Morag’s benefit, and it was a surprise to her that a woman as shrewd as
Morag didn’t know it too. But she never guessed.

“I know you for the braw liar you are,” remarked Kelpie saucily to Rab
one morning over their beef-and-oatmeal breakfast. “You will be teasing
her every time, and you as softhearted as herself.”

“As ever was,” agreed Rab, rolling a dark eye at her. “But do not be
telling Morag, whatever, for it is not just teasing. With the grief of
her, she is needing something to fight, but she is happier to be fighting
us to save bairns than the other way around.”

Although the campaign through Campbell territory was less bloodthirsty
than Kelpie had expected, still it was not pretty. Men of fighting age
found little mercy, few cattle escaped the voracious appetite of the
army, and more than a few barns and thatch roofs went up in smoke behind
it.

Blazing fires and roasted meat were good at night, after long and cold
marches. Since there were so few women to do the cooking, the men helped
too, with good will and bantering. Kelpie poked at a haunch of beef
one chill but clear evening, thinking to herself that they were going a
long way round to Argyll at Inverary, in a huge triangle to north and
west. Surely by now Argyll would have received word of this invasion!
Kelpie wondered what he would be doing about it. The obvious thing would
be to come away after them, and she looked apprehensively toward the
purple-black hills that surrounded the orange firelight.

“Is there food for a starving—Why, ’tis the water witch!” Kelpie turned
to face Archie MacDonald, whose black eyes were sparkling with curiosity.
They stared at each other.

“And where did you vanish to that day?” he demanded. “A braw lot of
trouble and grief you caused! If you’ve the power to vanish into thin
air, you might have been doing it before Ian Cameron was cut down trying
to save you.”

Kelpie winced. “Was he killed entirely?” she asked, her heart pounding
for fear of the answer.

“Na, na, not entirely. But a nasty wound it was. Still, he survived it,
although he had to go back to Glenfern, and no more fighting for the
time.” Kelpie saw again in her mind the savage downward sweep of Alex’s
broadsword and had to push aside the tumult of feelings that it brought.
But—Ian was not dead! Alex had not killed him!

“And Alex MacDonald?” she demanded balefully.

“He’s—away,” said Archie, and it was clear that he was going to say no
more. But then, he was Alex’s cousin and not likely to want to speak
of it. At least Kelpie knew now that Alex had not been hanged, and she
thought again that she might be the one to avenge Ian some day. For she
doubted that, even now, Ian himself would raise a hand against Alex.
She looked right through Archie, and her slanted blue eyes held no very
pleasant expression.

The meat was done now and being divided. Archie pulled his _sgian dhu_
from his stocking, vanished briefly into the crowd of hungry men, and
emerged with a smoking hunk for Kelpie in one hand and one for himself in
the other. She bit into the meat hungrily and then looked up to find the
deep black eyes still fixed on her, and a question in them.

“That day,” he began, with an uncertain note in his voice, “were you
sending a call in the mind to Alex before you gave the Cameron rant with
your voice?”

Kelpie looked as blank as she felt. “I don’t understand you whatever!”
she said warily.

“Why,” he began, and frowned a little, “there we were in the tavern,
with Alex and Ian in a fury at each other, and none of us even hearing
the sounds outside. It was a braw quarrel, with Ian gone white with the
anger in him, and Alex the color of a rowan berry. And then Alex was
stopping in mid-word, with an intent, listening look on the face of him,
and looking round. And it was because of his silence that an instant
later we were hearing the Cameron rant, and Ian shouting ‘’Tis Kelpie in
trouble!’”

Kelpie shook her head blankly. “And what then?” was all she said.

Archie shrugged. “Why, then, Ian forgot the quarrel and was away out the
door, and Alex after him with drawn sword, and the rest of us collected
our wits and followed, not knowing if Alex’s black fury was still for
Ian, or for the witch-hunters. His face was a fearful thing to see, and
I’m hoping I never meet the like in battle, for ’twould be the end of me.
But you know the rest better than I. How was it, Kelpie, that Alex heard
you even through the quarrel, and before the rest of us?”

“I don’t know,” said Kelpie absently, her mind on another question
altogether. For the thing she had suspected was clear. It was herself
had helped bring about the scene in the loch, and hatred of her had
caused Alex to strike down his foster brother. It was the only possible
explanation, and there was a sore hurt in the thought of it. How could
Alex have hated her that much, who had never seemed to hate her at all,
but only scorn her? Her short upper lip curled. Och, he would pay for it,
just! Even though Kelpie could no longer hope for witchcraft to help her,
he would pay for it.

Archie looked at her uneasily. There was a look about her not quite
canny, and it was occurring to him that folk called after water witches,
who could communicate without the voice, might not be a braw choice for
companionship, so he brought her another hunk of meat—to avoid offending
her—and melted hastily into the crowd of soldiers.

       *       *       *       *       *

The army passed the very spot near Loch Awe where Kelpie had first seen
Janet Campbell that June day six months ago. And then they were heading
at last toward Inverary, through the steep wilds of Glen Aray where she
and Janet had gone. And what had been happening to Janet all this time?
she wondered. Not that she really cared, she tried to tell herself,
except that Janet was a harmless soul and not deserving to be harmed by
either Mac Cailein Mor or his enemies.

There was no detour to the top of the hill this time. Straight down
the glen the army came, pipes shrieking in ominous triumph. It was a
braw sound indeed, a wild song that set the blood running with joyful
madness—or the blood of Montrose’s army, at any rate. Kelpie wondered
briefly how it sounded to the ears in Inverary. Along the river they
marched, half running now, and erupted into the valley, the town of
Inverary seeming to cower ahead on its point of land, and the castle—so
familiar to Kelpie—to the left.

Morag Mhor was with the men heading for the village, loudly daring them
to lay a finger on woman or child, her voice rising as they insisted,
grinning, that this time every wee babe would be slaughtered, just. For
once, this game had no interest for Kelpie, and she headed straight for
the castle. If Mac Cailein Mor was captured, she wanted to be there to
gloat.

Everywhere there was clear evidence of surprise and panic. The town and
castle, unaware of the approaching invasion, had been celebrating the
Christmas season—in their sober Puritan way, of course, with longer and
more frequent sermons. Kelpie’s lip curled with scorn for a chief so
feckless as not to know what was happening in his own country—or else so
sure of his invulnerability that he took no precautions. Och, she could
hardly wait to see him taken prisoner! Her small white teeth fairly
glittered in her smile.

She had just reached the castle wall when a shout of dismay and fury
broke out. Kelpie rushed to a high knoll where she could see. Men were
pointing to the small bay. A fishing boat was hastily heading out into
the loch.

“’Tis himself is running away!” And Kelpie hardly needed a second glance
to confirm it. Her keen eyes picked out two red heads, the short bulk of
Lady Argyll, the patch of Cameron tartan that was Ewen.

“Ssss!” said Kelpie in savage regret.

The pipes lifted a wild wail of derision. “Oh, the great Argyll!” someone
yelled. “Brave General Campbell! What, will you be away off, Mac Cailein
Mor, and us just come to visit?”

Montrose wasted no time fuming over what couldn’t be helped, although
he must have been bitterly disappointed. The capture of Argyll this day
might have changed history—although he had not the Second Sight to tell
him how much. Even Kelpie did not know, for the crystal had not yet
showed her the scene to come later, when Montrose himself calmly mounted
the scaffold.

His face was calm now as he gave orders to set about taking the castle
abandoned by its owner. It wasn’t as difficult as it might have been. One
couldn’t expect inspired defense from the men who had been left behind
while their leader fled. And once Montrose’s men were in full possession,
Kelpie entered the castle through those massive gates she had passed
through before—but this time with an arrogant sway to her slim body.

She wasted no time with the fine white bread and wine that had been
discovered, nor even with the miserable figure of Mrs. MacKellar huddled
on a chair in the hall. She knew where she was going, and she wanted to
be the first one there.

Argyll’s apartments were deserted. She walked boldly through the massive
oaken doors, on into the inner chamber. There was a fine large cairngorm
brooch on the table, mounted in silver, bigger than her fist. Fine, that!
She looked around. What else?

A thought struck her. The next chamber must be that of Lady Argyll. In
she went, and in a moment was kneeling beside a chest of fine gowns. A
pity there were none of bright colors. Kelpie had always wanted a gown of
flame-red velvet, but of course such a thing would never be found in a
Covenant household. Still, there was one of moss-green, and the softest,
finest wool she had ever seen, and not so _very_ much too big, provided
she belted it tightly about the waist. And she laughed with joy. Here was
the fine silver belt she had always wanted.

Next she pulled out a lovely cloak the color of juniper—and she must have
it, although it was lined with Campbell tartan—and a silken purse, a
linen kerchief, and several baubles. She tried on a pair of square-toed
leather shoes with silver buckles, but they hurt her feet sorely, so she
kicked them off and went back into Argyll’s room for a silver snuff box
she had seen there.

And as she stood, green gown bunched about her waist under untidy thick
braids (uncombed since leaving Alsoon), the cairngorm in one hand and the
snuff box in the other, the outer door opened.

For an instant memory played tricks on her and she thought that it was
Mac Cailein Mor finding her there with the hairs in her hand, and blind
panic was on her. Then it cleared as a voice spoke.

“_Dhé!_” boomed Antrim. “And whom have we here?”

“’Tis the eavesdropping lass from last summer,” answered Montrose,
standing still, taking in every detail.

Kelpie looked back at him fearlessly. He was amused, she could tell. And
besides, did not his scruples prevent him from harming women or children,
even enemy ones, and she no enemy?

“I see you’ve wasted no time,” he observed mildly. “How is it you’re here
ahead even of your army commander?”

“I was knowing the way and wanting to be first,” explained Kelpie
artlessly. She waved her loot at him with great pride in her cleverness.

He looked at it, and at her. The corners of his mouth moved slightly.
“That would be Argyll’s cairngorm, I suppose?”

She nodded, regarding it happily. Then something occurred to her, and she
glanced up at him dubiously from under her thick lashes. Perhaps it might
be wise to sacrifice material gain—if necessary—for policy.

“Were you wanting it yourself?” she asked reluctantly. “I will give it to
you, if you like. There’s another nearly as good in yon box,” she added,
“and this a wee bit heavy for a lass to be wearing.”

Montrose laughed. “No, I don’t want Argyll’s brooch,” he assured her, to
her relief. Then he looked at her seriously. “I don’t suppose it’s ever
occurred to you,” he suggested, “that stealing could be a bad thing?”

“Och, aye!” exclaimed Kelpie earnestly, “You must be very canny at it,
my Lord, and lucky, too. For ’tis a bad thing indeed and indeed to be
caught! But Mac Cailein Mor’s away in his wee boat, and no danger now.”

This time it was Antrim who boomed with laughter, and Kelpie looked at
him resentfully. Clearly he had had no experience at getting caught, or
he would never be laughing at such a serious matter.

“I didn’t mean quite that, although I’m sure it must be true,” explained
Montrose gently, and the corners of his mouth were jiggling again. “I
mean, did you never think that it might be wrong to steal, whether you
were caught at it or no?”

“Och, no!” said Kelpie, wide-eyed. “But then, perhaps ’tis different for
you,” she added kindly. “Being a chief and lord and all, you will be able
to get things without stealing them, and I doubt you’re ever hungry,
whatever.”

Montrose sighed. “Aye,” he agreed, seeming sad for some reason. “’Tis
different for me. You’d best run along now, though.” And he turned to
look after her as she left the room.

Kelpie went back to the other wing, picked up an item or two from
Mrs. MacKellar’s room, and then stood still for a minute, frowning at
nothing at all. Why did people persist in making her think about new
and uncomfortable ideas? A few months ago she would have been genuinely
puzzled by the notion that it might be wrong to steal, even though a body
was not caught at it. But now, even though she had pretended not to know
what Montrose meant, the idea wasn’t really as startling as it would once
have been. It was the sort of thing the folks at Glenfern might have
said, or Ewen Cameron, or even Alsoon and Callum. It undoubtedly had
to do with the integrity thing Alex and Ian talked of, and all of them
wanting her to apply it to herself. Why should she? Mina and Bogle had
taught her that anything was right if one got away with it—but then, Mina
and Bogle were evil, and perhaps everything they said was wrong.

Kelpie sighed. On the other hand, Alex talked about those ideas, and he
was evil too. So what was a lass to think, at all?

She wandered down into the main hall, which was still a chaos of
triumphant men. But she was so engrossed in her problem of right and
wrong that she quite forgot to taunt the dejected and weeping Mrs.
MacKellar. In any case, it no longer seemed necessary. After all, the
housekeeper had been loyal to her chief, and it the only safe thing
to do—but would it not be safer now for her to side with the royalist
victors?

Kelpie frowned at the red-eyed and unlovely figure of Mrs. MacKellar,
for in it there was something undefeated and almost gallant. No, Mrs.
MacKellar would never change sides, but would stay loyal to Mac Cailein
Mor, even though he was not worthy of it. Why? Did she fear that he would
come back? Or was this something like not stealing, that a body did even
against his own interest? Was that what integrity was? But what good was
it? As far as Kelpie could see, it was more likely to be a nuisance than
an asset.

She wandered over to one of the deep-set windows and stared out,
unseeing, her whole attention focused on her thoughts. The folk at
Glenfern, like Mrs. MacKellar, would remain loyal for always to a person
or ideal. This was part of the thing about them which she had sensed from
the first—the daftness, the difference. True they would be, whether or
not it was profitable or safe, aye, though it cost them their lives—all
but Alex. And it was this, perhaps, that had shocked her so. For Alex,
surely, would never change sides but would be true to an ideal—and how
was it, then, that he could betray a friend?

She leaned her forehead against one of the thick diamond-shaped panes,
dimming it even more with her breath, and remembered that Montrose had
talked of such things back at Blair Atholl. But neither he nor anyone
else had ever explained to Kelpie why this way of acting was desirable.
Was it possible that there was some strange kind of happiness in it? Did
they have things inside which would make them uncomfortable if they acted
otherwise?

Kelpie stopped trying to understand, for she found that there was an
argument going on within her. The thing inside her was saying that this
was a fine and proud way to be, but her common sense told her that it was
not at all practical, and had she not vowed to think of herself first,
last, and always? And surely if it was a choice between her own safety
and any other thing (and she forced the thought of Wee Mairi from her
mind), surely it would be only sensible to look out for herself, as ever
was!



18. The Black Sail


Kelpie awoke from a dream in which she was trudging along beside a loch
against blinding rain. She blinked a little as she remembered that she
was back at Inverlochy Castle—the same place she and Mina and Bogle had
spent the first night after leaving Glenfern. She shivered a little,
partly at the memory of Mina and Bogle, and partly from cold. Hugging the
stolen cloak and her old plaidie about her, she hurried down the tower
stairs and out to the central court, where Morag Mhor and the other women
were preparing breakfast.

“Slugabed!” Morag greeted her, and Kelpie grinned cheekily, knowing all
about Morag’s pretended fierceness by now. There were more men than ever
to feed, since the Glencoe MacDonalds and the Stewarts of Appin had
joined, and Kelpie was glad that they were in friendly Cameron country,
where it was safe to build fires and they could have hot porridge.
She had got heartily tired of a diet of oatmeal mixed with cold water.
She looked thoughtfully up at Ben Nevis, which looked larger and more
lowering under its quilt of snow than in the green and tawny blanket of
summer, and realized suddenly that she had had enough of army life.

Rab paused by the fire to sniff the oatmeal hungrily and announce that
he thought he would just go out and lift some cattle for breakfast. He
chucked Morag Mhor under the chin as he said it, and received a sound
clout on the ear as a reward. “Ouch!” he exclaimed, making a great show
of nursing his ear. “You will ever be bullying me, Morag _avic_, and I a
poor helpless man at your mercy.”

Kelpie giggled, and Morag shook her fist at the other ear. “This is the
day we go to ask Lochiel and the Camerons to join us, and you would be
lifting their cattle! _Amadan!_”

Rab began explaining that they didn’t really need the Camerons at all,
but Kelpie stopped listening, for she was thinking that this would be a
good time indeed to leave the army. She had had enough of battles. Just
a few miles up the Great Glen was the pass that led to Glenfern. Would
she be welcome there? Surely Ian would remember that she had warned him
against Alex, and so would forgive her for running away and leaving him
struck down and half dead. Would he and his father join Montrose? she
wondered. Or would Lochiel dare to raise his clan?

She turned to Morag Mhor, who had sent Rab, protesting, out to the river
for more water, and was now vigorously stirring the porridge. “Lochiel
would be daft to call out his clan,” she suggested. “With his grandson in
Campbell hands, he could not dare.”

Morag thought about it for a while, her lean face still and
expressionless. “There was a wise woman in our village long ago,” she
said at last, “who used to say to me, ‘Always dare to do what is right,’
and I am thinking Lochiel will say the same. Would you understand that,
Kelpie?”

“No!” said Kelpie forcefully and scowled. Ewen Cameron himself had used
those same words. So here again were those ideas that she did not want
to think about. She set her small face into a hard mask and dropped the
subject. “I am thinking I have had my fill of armies and battles,” she
announced. “I will stay behind when you go up the Great Glen, and perhaps
go to stay with friends here in Lochaber.”

“Well, then, and a blessing on you,” said Morag. “May you find a home
for your bones and your spirit—though I think you will never stay in one
place for long. I’m thinking I’ll go back to Gordon country myself soon.
No doubt there are orphans left by the Campbells who would be needing a
mother.”

Kelpie followed the army as far as Lochiel’s home at Torcastle, curious
to see whether or not Lochiel would raise his clan. He did. The
traditional cross was made of two sturdy sticks bound firmly together.
And according to the ancient ceremony the ends were set aflame,
extinguished in goat’s blood, then lighted once more: one of Lochiel’s
men held the cross proudly high and set off at a trot that carried him
deeper into Cameron territory. The torch would be passed from runner to
runner until the whole area had received the message of war.

The army stayed at Torcastle for two days while Camerons came flocking to
the call of their chief. If any had misgivings about Argyll’s possible
revenge on them, they did not show it; nor did Lochiel, that stern old
man who held his head so high. Kelpie did not wait to see the Glenfern
Camerons arrive, for she had sudden misgivings about seeing Ian again.
Instead, she went back to the tower room at Inverlochy Castle in a very
thoughtful frame of mind.

For several days she stayed at the castle, enjoying her solitude, and
getting her food from homes nearby with surprising ease. For the very
people who had once regarded her with deep suspicion were now delighted
to give food and hospitality to the wistful lass who had been a prisoner
of Argyll, who had been helped by Ewen Cameron himself, and who had even
got away with Lady Argyll’s fine cloak. Food, scanty though it might be
with the men away in the army, was shared, and there was not a home where
she was not urged to bide awhile.

But she shook her black head. Och, no, she said. She was away up the
Glen. But she would take her leave marveling at such openheartedness to a
stranger—even one who had not yet stolen anything. After thinking about
it, Kelpie decided not to take anything at all. Somehow the good will
seemed more valuable than anything she might steal.

Then the mild weather turned into sudden bitter cold. The night wind
hurled blasts of snow against the tower walls, crept up the winding
stairs, and whined outside like the banshee. It was so cold that Kelpie
thought she might put away misgivings and go to Glenfern after all.
Surely Lady Glenfern would not refuse her shelter in this cold!

She was heading back to Inverlochy in the early dusk when she decided
this. Her stomach was comfortably full of hot broth and scones from
a generous young Cameron wife, she was a trifle sleepy, and it would
be good indeed to sleep tomorrow night or the next in the comfort of
Glenfern, under the same roof with Wee Mairi.

It was fortunate that Kelpie’s senses remained alert even when her mind
was on other things. Even so, she had nearly walked up to the castle
gate before she realized that something was wrong, and she never knew
exactly what it was that warned her. But suddenly she stopped, alive to
the sharp feel of danger, her small figure dark and taut against the
faintly luminous patches of snow. An instant later she simply was not
there, and the Campbell soldier who came running out of the gate, under
the impression that he had seen something, shook his head and cursed the
weather.

Kelpie lay in the snow where she had thrown herself behind a small
hillock, not daring to raise her head but listening as if her life
depended on it—which it did. Soon there was no doubt. Inverlochy Castle
was being occupied—by Mac Cailein Mor and his army!

With sick dismay she pieced things together. Someone called for Campbell
of Auchinbreck. Then there was a harsh and authoritative Lowland voice.
And by crouching behind a thick clump of juniper and twisting her
head cautiously, Kelpie could just make out a galley with black sails
silhouetted against the gray waters of the Loch.

Oh, there was no doubt whatever! The Campbell had gathered his courage
and his army and had come after Montrose.



19. Footprints in the Snow


Kelpie spent the night at the shieling hut of Lorne Cameron, which was
nestled at the foot of Ben Nevis. Lorne had urged Kelpie to stay, for
she and her four bairns were alone since her husband had gone off with
Montrose and his army. Now her ruddy young face paled at Kelpie’s news.

“Campbells! _Dhé!_ and they will be murdering us all, then!”

“Perhaps not,” said Kelpie hopefully. “If Mac Cailein Mor is after
Montrose, perhaps he’ll not be lingering in Lochaber.”

But she slept with one ear well out of the folds of her plaidie, cocked
for any sounds of danger. The hut was only a mile or so from Inverlochy
Castle, and if Lorne had reason to fear Mac Cailein Mor, Kelpie had that
much more.

She had planned to be off the first thing in the morning, out of danger.
But somehow she found herself waiting, even after she had eaten the hot
oatmeal Lorne cooked, and tucked some food into her pouch. There was
Lorne here, and the wee ones, and none of Kelpie’s concern at all. But
Lorne was frightened and uncertain what to do, and they so helpless and
looking up to Kelpie—and after all, perhaps it would be wise just to take
a wee peek at what Argyll was doing, and see the size of his army.

“You might just be getting food and blankets together in case you need to
hide,” she suggested. “And I’ll go have a look around.”

“Och,’tis both good and brave you are!” said Lorne gratefully. Kelpie
left the house hurriedly, feeling oddly embarrassed.

She moved cautiously around the flank of the ben, skulking behind
masses of juniper and pine clumps, until she could see the castle.
_Mise-an-dhui!_ It was an army indeed and indeed! Highland Campbells and
Lowlanders too, and well more than twice what Montrose could have, even
with his new recruits. But Argyll seemed to be making no move to follow
him up the Great Glen, even with this advantage.

Kelpie’s heart sank as she watched groups of men forming before the
castle. It was what she had expected in the heart of her. Mac Cailein
Mor had no heart for battle but would be about his usual practice of
wiping out women and children. Even now one of the groups of soldiers
was setting off toward the little cluster of homes on the edge of Loch
Linnhe, and another was turning west along Loch Eil.

She watched no longer but headed back around the northern side of Ben
Nevis. In a way this might be fortunate for her, giving her time to be
up the Great Glen ahead of them. But suppose they penetrated as far as
Glenfern? Perhaps she ought to be heading eastward, and out of the way
altogether. In any case she would be passing Lorne’s home on the way,
and it costing only a few minutes to warn the lass. Nor was this just
profitless foolishness, she told herself, for who knew when she might be
needing a friend under obligation to herself?

An hour later she was laboring up the side of the mountain with a bundle
of food in one arm and the next-smallest bairn in the other; Lorne, with
the baby, and the older children panting behind. “Mind ye stay clear of
soft snow,” she warned over her shoulder. “It could be putting them on
your trail.”

Another hour saw them settled in a well-hidden shepherd’s shelter, cold
and uncomfortable and not daring to have a fire, but at least safer than
at their home.

“Will you not be staying too?” begged Lorne, her dark eyes anxious for
the safety of this generous new friend. But Kelpie shook her head. She
wanted to be farther than this from Argyll. And besides, a new thought
was beginning to hound the fringes of her mind. Montrose, all unknowing,
was now between two armies, for was not Seaforth at Inverness with
five thousand men? And if he should be caught in a trap and wiped out,
it would put Argyll altogether in control of the Highlands as well as
Lowlands—and what would happen to Kelpie then? For her own safety, it
seemed, she must try to warn Montrose.

It was a sore uncomfortable thought, filled with hardship and danger.
She tried to put it out of her mind as she picked her way down the gaunt
wintry slope, but it wouldn’t leave. And with it were thoughts of Morag
Mhor and Rab and Archie and Montrose himself lying slain in the snow, and
all the comradeship and merry teasing silenced forever. A pity that would
be. With a sigh she headed up the glen, a sharp eye out for any movement
that might spell danger.

Och, then, but it was cold! Her feet were icy in their hide shoes, even
with the woolen hose, and it was threatening to snow again. However could
she catch up with the army at all? Perhaps it had already met Seaforth.
But she kept on going.

She saw nothing but hares and deer and a lone eagle, until she reached
the River Spean. Then a short, wiry figure came from the brush just
ahead, and Kelpie sank swiftly to the ground for a tense moment before
she saw he was not a Campbell. He was alone and in a faded Cameron kilt.
Kelpie followed him to a dilapidated hut on the bank of the river and
watched him enter. A drift of smoke began to rise. Might not he help
himself and his clan by taking the message for her? And then she would be
free to seek safety. She walked up to the door boldly.

“Come away in,” came the expected lilt of Gaelic when she knocked, and
the man’s face turned to her in surprise as she entered. “_Dhia dhuit_,”
he greeted her politely. “And what is a wee lass doing alone in the cold?
Will you no have a sup of hot food?”

“I will, then,” agreed Kelpie promptly. “And give an important word to
you, and also a task if you will do it.”

The man listened while she talked and ate, his face growing graver and
grimmer. “Aye so,” he agreed. “’Tis the hand of destiny that I live alone
here and knew nothing of the clan rising, or I would be with them, and a
bad time of it you would be having alone and in this weather. Eat your
fill, then, whilst I fill my pouch, and I’ll be away before you’re done.
You can be biding here whilst I am gone.”

“That I will not!” retorted Kelpie firmly. “For every house in Lochaber
is a danger. I’ll be away east out of trouble.”

He frowned and shook his head. “There is no shelter to the east of here,
lass, and it too cold to be sleeping out. And I have just come from
hunting a wolf that has been skulking upriver. You would be safer here,
I am thinking, for my house is alone and well hidden. But if you’re
feared to rest here, there is a bittie cave nearby, and you are welcome
to my blankets and food. Follow the Spean along up for a mile or so, and
where the Cour is entering it turn south for a bit and mark sharp the
west bank. The cave is in a high bluff and well hid with juniper. But I’m
thinking you’ll be safe enough the night here, whatever, and it nearly
dark already. There’ll be no Campbells along this day, and ’tis no good
for you to be freezing.”

“Aye, then,” agreed Kelpie, seeing the sense to this, and the man was
off. Odd, she didn’t know the name of him, nor he hers, and yet he was
away on a dangerous errand on her word. A purpose in common—or common
danger—she decided, was like a spell, binding even strangers one to
another.

The morning was heavy with clouds, the new snow a dead white beneath the
gray of the sky. Kelpie put out the fire for fear of any betraying smoke
and set out to locate the cave, wishing she dared stay in the warmth of
the shieling. But as she trudged along the Cour River, watching the west
bank, she stopped. Clear in the snow were footprints coming down the
Cour—and stopping just ahead in a tumbled heap of snow. Kelpie stared,
eyes narrowed. Footsteps didn’t just stop, unless someone had wings.

No, there were no wings. There the prints went, back the way they came.
In a moment Kelpie had read the story. A man it was, by the size of the
prints, and coming north along the Cour in a great hurry, so that he did
not notice the treacherous slab of granite by the river, with ice under
the snow. And there he had slipped and fallen; the mark was plain. Then,
it would seem, he had made back the way he had come, limping sorely.

Kelpie straightened and looked up the glen cautiously. Where was
he, then? And who was he? Warily she began to follow the retreating
footprints.

They angled up the hill to the right presently, through a thick patch of
pine and juniper. Kelpie hesitated, peering through it, her right hand
reaching for the _sgian dhu_ in the front of her dress, feet ready to
run. Nothing stirred. And then a tiny trickle of smoke floated up just a
few feet away from behind the brush. _Dhé!_ It must be that he had found
the cave and taken shelter there. Probably he was not a Campbell, then,
but more likely hiding from them—though he would not stay hidden long,
with the smoke giving him away. Kelpie grinned sourly and shrugged. This
was no place for her, then. She turned and prepared to slip quietly away,
back to the shieling.

“And have I taken the home of the water witch?”

It was a low voice with a mocking note that Kelpie could never mistake.
She whirled. Alex! She could see him now through the brush, nearly
invisible against the low winter sun. He sat at the mouth of a small,
shallow cave, regarding her quizzically—but with a drawn look about the
mouth of him. One foot, badly swollen, was propped up before him.

Och, then, wasn’t it her curse on him that had come at last to bear
fruit? Moving thru the juniper, but keeping a safe distance away, Kelpie
told him so with considerable relish.

Alex grinned wryly. “It may be so,” he conceded. “Sure it is you’ve
cursed me enough. But have I not told you that such things are likely to
fly back in the face of the one who curses? And if this is your curse at
work, then ’tis not just me you’ve harmed, but Montrose and his army, and
yourself as well. For Argyll is about, and I was on my way up the Great
Glen to warn Montrose when I fell; and what will you do if Argyll wins
and puts his witch-hunters over the whole of the Highlands?”

His tone was still mocking, but Kelpie could hear bitterness and despair
in his voice. It made her feel most peculiar, for Alex was usually so
infuriatingly self-assured—and much easier to hate that way. His distress
was not quite as satisfying as it should have been. For a moment she
toyed with the idea of leaving him to his worry, but she could not resist
bragging. She gave him a pointed grin.

“You will always be thinking yourself the only clever body in the world,”
she observed smugly. “I myself have already sent a messenger to Montrose.”

Alex stared, frankly unbelieving. “You?”

“And why not, whatever? Wasn’t I crossing Campbell land myself with the
army, and you away safe out of it? Haven’t I the wits to see I’m not
wanting Mac Cailein Mor king in the Highlands? It is I should be doubting
you, for if Ian and his father are with Montrose now, I’m thinking you’d
not be going near whatever.”

Alex narrowed his hazel eyes at her, and Kelpie prudently moved a step
farther away. “And why not?” he inquired lazily.

Kelpie laughed nastily. “I’ve eyes in my head!” she retorted. “Did you
think I was not seeing? Aye, and I saw it before, as well, with the
Second Sight, last spring.”

Alex’s eyes widened for an instant, then narrowed. He seemed about to say
something, but changed his mind. Instead, the planes in his face became
more angular than ever, and he gave Kelpie a long, hard, brooding stare
that made her thankful for the hurt foot which kept him from moving. For
surely he was thinking that he would like to silence her. He shrugged
finally. “I wonder,” he said, “whether ’tis the truth you’re telling me
about that messenger. If so, I could find it in my heart....”

He didn’t finish the thought, nor did Kelpie answer. Instead, she stared
back at him, at the freckles and straight lines of his face, at the way
the cheekbones stood out above the narrow strength of jaw, and at the
tangled red hair which had not been trimmed or combed recently. He was
thinner than he had been and pale under his freckles, and she could see
a tiny pulse in his temple that was his life itself—so easy to stop,
so small a thread of life. And was there not something she should be
doing the now, to avenge Ian? But she could not think what. Alex was not
asleep, nor by any means helpless, even with a sore foot; and she had
no intention at all of risking her own life for Ian or anyone else. She
pulled her thick brows together and regarded him darkly.

Alex laughed suddenly. “You cannot be planning to rob me, so it must be
some other devilment you have in mind. Are you not satisfied yet, water
witch? Is it another wee spell, or have you learned the Evil Eye by now?”

“Sssss!” said Kelpie earnestly.

“Well, and why will you not be going to Mac Cailein Mor to say that I am
here?” he asked. “He would make short enough shrift of me, and would you
not be liking that?”

“Aye so,” agreed Kelpie with enthusiasm. “But,” she pointed out
regretfully, “he would be making even shorter shrift of me, and I’d not
be liking that so well.” And then she bit her tongue in annoyance as Alex
laughed again. It was a spell he had put on her, to be always telling him
the truth she had never intended to say!

She scowled and lifted her lip in the old wolfish snarl, and then found
herself grinning ruefully, though she had never intended that, either. It
was not funny; it was _not_! She stamped her foot.

“Ou, aye!” said Alex. “Your sense of humor has slipped out again, and why
will you be squashing it under? Laugh at yourself, Kelpie. ’Tis the cure
for all ills, and it is in my mind that perhaps most evil is caused by
folk who take themselves too seriously.”

“You’re daft,” said Kelpie and turned away uncertainly. She should be
off about her business and leave Alex to his fate. But it seemed that
the thing inside that had been pushing her for days against her will was
pushing still. It was as if she were living a pattern, and it was yet
unfinished, and the thing would not permit her to go off and leave it
until it was complete. She paused, her back turned to Alex, who sat still
and silent in the mouth of his refuge.

“What will you be doing now?” she asked against her will.

“Bide here,” he returned philosophically, “since I can do nothing else,
and see what will happen.”

“They will be seeing your smoke,” she pointed out, still reluctantly.

“I will let my fire die during the day, and try to keep warm by moving
about,” he returned, and the quizzical note was back in his voice. “And
why do you warn me of that, water witch? Wouldn’t it please you just to
see me captured?”

“It would that!” Kelpie’s eyes flashed. “I will be laughing that day, and
not at myself either!” And this time she did leave, heading angrily back
toward the Spean River.



20. The Campbell Lass


Kelpie went back to the hut, since there was no other shelter and it was
better to risk Campbells than to freeze to death. But she found a hiding
place on the river bank, just in case, and for three days she alternately
huddled over the tiny coals which were all she dared have during the
daytime and watched the path for signs of the invaders.

There was plenty of time to think. She wondered whether the message had
got through to Montrose, and what he could do even if it had. For he was
trapped in the Great Glen between two armies, and no way out except over
mountains impassable with snow. She wondered about Alex and that long,
inscrutable look he had given her, and it came to her that she had been a
fool to tell him that she knew what he had done. For if he could strike
down his foster brother, it would be nothing for him to silence her. She
began to feel very trapped herself. Was no place in the world safe for
her?

Lost in brooding, she failed to keep her sharp watch, and on the third
afternoon she heard, too late, the crunch of heavy steps in the crusted
snow. Before she could do more than turn, a heavy-set Campbell flung the
door open, two or three others looming behind him.

“Here’ll be another cursed Cameron or two,” he shouted, and his
broadsword bore grim stains from the last house he had visited. “And
where is your husband hiding, lass?”

Kelpie’s wits, well trained in crisis, worked quickly. “Husband indeed!”
she retorted, staring boldly into the ruddy face. “Where are your eyes,
man, that you cannot recognize a Campbell when you see one?” She snatched
up Lady Argyll’s cloak and waved it at him, thankful for that particular
theft. “Och, but I am glad that you have come,” she went on with a
trusting upward smile through her lashes. “It was my wicked Cameron uncle
who came by my home on Loch Awe with that devil Montrose and all the
army, and stole me away to keep house for him, since his wife died, and
he saying I must be his daughter now and some day marry a Cameron; and
have I not been biding my time and waiting for warm weather to run away
back home?”

The Campbells blinked and believed her. She was utterly convincing, and
in any case, what Cameron would have claimed to be a Campbell, even at
the edge of death? And had she not the once fine Campbell cloak, clearly
given her by a lady of that clan? The sword went back into its sheath.

“Och, well,” said its owner with a sigh. “Naught to do here but burn the
place. But at least you can be coming back the now.”

This was the last thing Kelpie wanted! “To another army?” she jeered,
hiding her panic. “No, now, I’ve enough of armies and battles. Leave me
be, just, and when ’tis warmer I’ll be finding my own way. Will you not
be fighting Montrose soon?” she demanded. “Or is it only women and bairns
you are after?”

They shuffled their feet. “We’ll be taking care of Montrose,” promised
the stout one. “But we cannot leave you here, lass. You must just come
along back to Inverlochy, and perhaps himself will be seeing you’re sent
back home.”

Kelpie’s heart threatened to choke her. He’d be sending her back, fine
enough! “_Dhé!_” she sputtered, knowing her life might depend on her next
words. “Will ye be bothering the likes of him with a nobody, and him with
a war on his hands? He’d no be thanking ye for it! Besides,” she confided
beseechingly, “it is myself am afraid of Mac Cailein Mor, and he so great
and all. No, now, just leave me here, and then it’s away back I’ll be by
myself.”

The stout one was not unsympathetic. “Well, women have daft fears,” he
observed. “But ’tis true enough that himself is an awesome man. We cannot
leave you here, but perhaps we can be tucking you into a wee bit place
near Inverlochy where you’ll not be noticed until we move on. There is
a burned shieling just near the loch, with one end left untouched. Come
along now.”

To argue further would be hopeless and perhaps fatal. This was a stubborn
man, already close enough to suspicion. Numb with apprehension, Kelpie
wrapped the cloak firmly around herself and let them lead her outside
while they fired the thatch.

And then, just as they were climbing up the bank, a tall man pointed to
a faint wisp of smoke to the southeast. “Another shieling,” he announced
happily.

It was no shieling at all, of course. It was Alex’s fire, and now
Kelpie’s curse would be well and truly fulfilled. Why hadn’t she thought
of telling them herself? And why was it that she felt more dismay than
elation? Frowning, she probed at the feeling, trying to figure it out.
Och, of course; It was not for Alex’s sake she did not want him caught,
but for her own. For he would be sure to tell them that she was no
Campbell at all but a gypsy lass, and then they would take her straight
to Argyll. She bit her lip as she silently followed the Campbells up the
Cour in the direction of the telltale smoke, hoping passionately that
Alex would either get away or be killed before he could betray her.

He nearly did get away. The cave, when they finally found it, was empty,
the fire quenched with snow. The tangled footprints in the snow seemed
to lead nowhere, and they might have given up but for the stubbornness of
Hamish, the stout man. But at last someone saw Alex hiding high up amid
the dark needles of a pine tree.

“A MacDonald!” Hamish peered upward. “Come away down, now, or we’ll shoot
you there.”

“And what difference?” asked Alex mockingly from his high perch. “I’d as
lief be shot here as on the ground.”

Kelpie set her teeth. She hoped they’d shoot him now, before he could see
her and speak against her. She _did_! But again Hamish had other ideas.
What was a MacDonald doing here at all, he wanted to know, and one,
moreover, who was clearly well educated and therefore at least the son of
a chieftain? It was a thing out of the ordinary and had better have the
attention of his own chieftain, Campbell of Auchinbreck.

“We’re no for shooting you now,” he announced, “but will be taking you
prisoner.”

Alex seemed to think it over for a moment. Then he laughed. “’Twill be a
braw task for you, then,” he observed, “for I’ve a sore hurt ankle and
can no longer set it to the ground—or else you’d not have found me here,
whatever. Are you wanting to carry me all that way? For if not, you may
as well shoot me here.”

This last clearly appealed to most of the Campbells, but Hamish stuck out
his jaw. “Aye, then. Finlay and Angus will carry you,” he announced, to
the displeasure of two of his men.

Alex shrugged and came down, leaning for an instant against the trunk of
the tree as he reached the ground. His face was cool, although his ankle
must be hurting him badly. But his lips tightened slightly when he saw
Kelpie, and he stood for an instant, fixing her with another of those
long, penetrating looks. There was more than mockery in it now. Kelpie
flinched from it, and it came to her that Alex thought she had brought
the Campbells to find him.

Of course he did! How could he suppose anything else? And he knew quite
well that he held the power of vengeance in his own tongue. For although
he could not know what was between Kelpie and Mac Cailein Mor, the mere
word “witch” would be quite enough to destroy her.

She waited for it, head high, with the look of a trapped fox in her eyes,
hoping they might kill her swiftly, for Argyll would do worse. But Alex
did not say it. Looking into her eyes, he gave one short contemptuous
laugh and turned away. And while he arranged himself in the hand-chair
made by the reluctant Finlay and Angus, Kelpie stood quite still, hot and
shaken by feelings she hadn’t known she possessed.

She tried to collect her thoughts during the long, slow trip back to
Inverlochy Castle. Why had Alex not denounced her? He must be waiting,
knowing she would be tormented by uncertainty. He would do it, doubtless,
when they reached the castle. Och, then, she must forget the searing pain
of his laughter, and try to get away!

Dusk was lowering as they neared Inverlochy, and she sidled up to walk
alongside Hamish. “I am frightened,” she whispered pathetically. “There
are too many men, and I used to the lonely hills and cattle. Can I not
just be slipping away down the loch and home? I know the way well enough.”

He looked at her kindly. “No, ’tis much too cold for you to be traveling
alone,” he said with firmness.

Kelpie’s lip trembled—and for this she required no great dramatic
ability, either. He looked alarmed. “Do not be crying, now,” he said
hastily. “I tell you, I know a place where you can bide, and no need
to be going among the army at all. Just wait now until I’m turning the
prisoner over to Auchinbreck. Fergus, run ahead a bit and see can you
find out where he is the now.”

He clasped Kelpie’s cold hand firmly in his, no doubt thinking he was
comforting her; and Kelpie had to trudge along beside him, her heart
thudding with fear. It thudded harder when Fergus returned to report that
Auchinbreck was away down at the loch with Mac Cailein Mor, seeing about
the two cannon.

“Fine, then,” said Hamish. “For the wee bit placie for you to hide is
down there too, and we need not be going near the castle at all but just
deliver the prisoner and ask can you stay there at the same time.” And
he beamed heartily upon the quaking Kelpie, who saw no escape now from a
witch’s death by fire.

Setting her teeth hard upon her lower lip, she tried to remember that she
had faced death before. But this time she seemed to have no courage in
reserve. The long strain had drained it from her. She could only remember
Mac Cailein Mor’s cruel face and unbearable dungeon, and think that this
could not really be happening, and wish that she could drop dead on the
spot and be done with it.

They were just past the castle now, and Hamish turned to watch a
scattered group of soldiers come running from the slopes of Ben Nevis,
cutting behind his group, in a great hurry to reach the castle. There was
an air of alarm in their gray shapes in the dusk, and Hamish stared after
them curiously.

“A fine hurry they are in,” he said. “I wonder what news it is they are
bringing from the ben, and what they could be finding at all on that wild
place.”

“Perhaps the water-bull of Lundavra has been straying north a bit,”
suggested Alex, breaking his long silence. His voice dropped to an eerie
whisper, and only Kelpie could hear the hint of laughter in it. “You’ll
have heard of it, no doubt, with its broad ears and black hoofs and wild
demon eye?”

The soldiers shivered, and one made a gesture, quickly halted, of
crossing himself. For though the Campbells were now all good members of
the Kirk, old habits remained from many generations past and were likely
to pop up in a crisis.

They went on, with occasional furtive glances over their shoulders at
the brooding shape of that giant mountain Ben Nevis—the highest, it was
said, in all of the British Isles, and therefore an apt place for uncanny
and ungodly things. Kelpie too would have been glad to scurry from its
menace, had there not been a greater one facing her. As it was, she would
gladly have fled to Ben Nevis for protection, even if there were a dozen
water-bulls there.

They had circled below the castle now, to the river, and were perhaps a
mile from Loch Linnhe. If only Hamish would relax his hard, reassuring
grip on her hand, she might be able to dive into the surrounding dusk and
lose herself. But when she gently tested his grip, he merely tightened it.

Perhaps if she should suggest to him that she could walk better with
both hands free? Or was it already too late? There was a group of dark
shapes in the gloom just ahead now. If that was Argyll, this was her last
chance! “Please,” she began in her softest voice, and got no further.

From behind came the pound of running footsteps, and an excited voice
raised. “Mac Cailein Mor! Mac Cailein Mor!”

A soldier rushed past them to the figures a few yards ahead, and the cold
voice of Argyll answered. “Here. What is it, then?”

“Montrose!” The soldier gasped. “Some of our scouts have just come back.
They say Montrose is on Ben Nevis!”



21. Vengeance


In the shocked silence which followed, Hamish forgot his comforting grip
on the poor wee frightened lass for an instant, and in that instant the
poor wee frightened lass vanished.

She crouched on the far side of a rhododendron bush, tensed and ready for
further flight. For the moment, it was best not to move again, for there
was silence beside the river, and she dared make no noise that might call
attention to herself. Och, the good luck of it! And a fine chance there
was that, with this news, no one would think of her again at all.

“Impossible!” said Argyll. His voice was thin.

“It is true, Mac Cailein Mor!” insisted the messenger. “On the north
slope of Ben Nevis it was, his army ran into our outpost, and some of our
scouts escaped and came to warn us.”

“Impossible,” repeated Argyll more thinly yet. “He couldn’t. He went up
the Great Glen, and he hasn’t come back down it. And there’s no other way
he could have come in this cold and snow—not with an army and horses and
cannon. It’s not humanly possible.”

There was a good deal of sense in this. Even Kelpie, still as a bogle
behind her bush, frowned in puzzlement. How _could_ Montrose have come
so quickly, and _not_ through the Great Glen? Over the bitter impassable
mountains, then? Och, Glen Roy, it must be! Argyll didn’t know this
country as she did, and as the Camerons and MacDonalds would. Through
Glen Roy, then—and it was next to impossible even then, but if anyone at
all could do it, then it would be Montrose and his Highlanders, and she
the cause of it all, with her message! She hugged herself silently.

“It couldna be the army,” said an Edinburgh voice soothingly. “Gin ’tis
Montrose at all, which I doot, ’tis a mere handfu’ o’ wild Hieland
thieves he could ha’ brought, and we’ll wipe ’em oot the morn.”

“Still and all,” came another voice, “it might be best for you to be
going on board your galley, your Lordship. You’ve an injured shoulder,
remember, and you’re too valuable to risk your life in a mere skirmish.”

“You may be right.” There was unmistakable relief in Argyll’s voice,
and Kelpie lifted her short lip in contempt. “I can put you in charge,
Auchinbreck, and send commands from my galley. Who is that over there?”

His voice rose sharply, and Kelpie’s hair stood on end until she heard
Hamish’s apologetic answer. “Hamish Campbell, just, with a MacDonald
I found skulking up near the Spean River, and I thinking you might be
wanting to see him.”

“A MacDonald?” Auchinbreck’s voice was incisive. “Aye, he’s likely a
scout for Montrose and may be able to tell us something. Will you speak
to him, your Lordship?”

“Later,” said Argyll. “Take him down to the shelter by the loch and stay
there yourselves on guard. See that no one goes near the galley, and I’ll
question the prisoner before I go board.”

There was a crunch of snow as Argyll and his party started back toward
the castle, and then a pause. “Why isn’t he tied?” came Argyll’s voice
accusingly.

“Och, your Lordship, he has a hurt foot, and it would be too hard to
carry him this whole way if—”

“He could have been shamming, you fool!” Argyll was furious. “Tie him
now.”

He went on, leaving the other group of dark shapes where they stood.
“Well, so, and himself was saying ‘now,’” muttered Hamish, “so now it is,
my lad. We’ll have your two hands behind you. _Were_ you shamming?”

“Not a whit,” said Alex coolly. “I’d have left you before this, if I
were.”

“Well, I almost have it in my heart to pity you, just for your courage,
though you’re a cursed MacDonald. Angus, where’s the wee lass?”

“She was off and away at the word Montrose,” reported Angus, “and no
wonder. She’s frighted even of our army and will be in terror of his.
She’ll no be staying for a battle.”

“Och, she’ll freeze, just, poor _amadain_!” said Hamish worriedly. “And
she could have been staying at the shelter with us, and quite safe. Well,
so. Come away now.”

They moved off toward the loch, leaving Kelpie to figure out her new
situation.

It was a great improvement, surely, but hardly rosy. If only the weather
were warm, there would be no problem at all. She could set off for
safety, leaving Alex just where she wanted him, and Montrose over behind
the mountain to settle with Argyll after Argyll had settled with Alex.
But it was cold! And there would be no shelter near, what with all the
homes burned. And she didn’t want to freeze.

An hour earlier she would gladly have taken the chance, gladly frozen,
even, in preference to meeting Argyll. But now that she was out of
danger from him for the moment, she wanted to live, and how could she be
arranging it? If it were not for Alex, she might slip down to the shelter
after all, and just hide when Argyll came. But Alex would not miss
another chance to betray her. He had delayed too long once before, and he
must be cursing himself for it.

But she had to do something! Shivering, she got to her feet and silently
followed an orange glimmer down near the loch. Och, a fire! Kelpie
hurried her steps until she could see the ruins of a shieling hut, one
side open to the night, but with a warm fire just at the edge, where the
fireplace had once stood. Alex, well bound now, was lying against one
wall, and the other men were grouped around. As she watched, they began
taking food from their pouches.

In an agony of indecision, Kelpie crouched in the bushes, just too far
away to feel the warmth of the fire, but she didn’t dare to go closer.
She could almost wish Alex free, so that—

Her eyes widened. Alex had turned over to face the wall and was
unmistakably settling down to sleep! How could he? Reluctantly Kelpie
admired him for it. He was a bad one, but for all that he had a cool
courage that was fine.

She waited a few minutes more; then she _had_ to get warm! And Alex
seemed to be truly asleep. Standing up, she raised her voice scarcely
above a whisper. “Hamish!”

He was up, his ruddy face turning to search the bushes. “The wee lass!
Are you frozen, just? Come away to the fire. It was gey foolish of you to
run off.”

She came, rubbing her numbed hands in the heavenly warmth, even though it
made them hurt sorely. “I was affrighted,” she explained, “of Montrose,
and of all the men, and of Mac Cailen Mor, and even of him.” She nodded
toward Alex. “Please, if anyone comes, could I not be hiding away at the
back behind the walls until they go?”

“Ou, aye,” said Hamish tolerantly, “if you’re so frighted as all that.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was nearly morning, and Kelpie had napped a little herself and was
warm and fed (with a wary eye on the sleeping Alex), before voices and
steps announced a party coming from the castle. In a flash she was around
behind the ruined shieling, just at the corner where she could hear
everything and even see a bit. She would be safe enough from now on,
for although it was still dark enough to escape, the faintest of gray
appeared over the stern dome of Ben Nevis, and the peaks farther south
were beginning to show starkly black against the lighter clouds. The
night was over, and she could afford to stay and watch what happened to
Alex.

“Put my things aboard,” ordered Argyll’s cold voice. “I’ll be along as
soon as I see to this prisoner. Where is he?”

“Here, asleep,” replied Hamish humbly. “Wake you up, MacDonald! Mac
Cailein Mor wants to talk to you.”

Apparently Alex awoke as Kelpie always did, all at once, for there was
no trace of sleepiness in his voice. “Well, then, and let us talk,” he
returned casually.

Kelpie knew that his coolness would enrage Argyll, who repeatedly fled
danger and was about to do it again. This would go hard with Alex. She
_must_ see! There was a hole in the wall, just at the corner, where a
stone had fallen out, and surely no one would be noticing a wee eye in
the dark!

She applied the eye to the hole. Sure enough, Argyll’s pale face was
twisted with anger, the habitual sneer deeper than usual. And Alex had
that faintly amused smile on his face, despite bound hands and swollen
foot, and despite his fear.

“Your name?” asked Argyll harshly.

“Alexander MacDonald of Ardochy on Loch Garry,” replied Alex proudly.

“So. Son of a chieftain, then. And what were you doing skulking in
Lochaber?”

“Nursing a sprained ankle,” replied Alex, still with a faint smile, “and
hoping to be overlooked by your men.”

“You knew we were here, then?” Argyll pounced upon the idea like a man
looking for an excuse to unleash a storm of venom. And there was no doubt
he had his victim. Kelpie’s revenge would be better than she had ever
dreamed! She pressed closer to her peephole to see if Alex’s face would
betray fear. But he just lifted a sandy eyebrow.

“Could anyone _not_ be knowing you were here, with the smoke of burning
homes rising like the plague?” he retorted reasonably.

“You are one of Montrose’s men!” Argyll said accusingly, and Kelpie found
herself thinking of the things Alex might answer to that. He would never
claim to be a Covenanter, proud fool that he was, but he could say he was
not with Montrose, that he never had been, that he had had a quarrel with
the Camerons—any number of things. But he said none of them. Did he not
know that his silence would seem an admission of guilt? Kelpie fumed at
his stupidity before she remembered that—this time—she was on Argyll’s
side.

“You are a spy left behind!” Argyll went on threateningly. “It was you
warned him we were here!”

“I wish I _had_ been the one,” confessed Alex wryly. “I would not be here
if I had. But since I _am_ here, and not with Montrose, that is clearly
nonsense.”

“Don’t quibble with me!” Argyll was in a cold rage, the cruel, bullying
streak in him showing clear. “You were responsible. You hurt your foot
and sent someone else with the message.”

In the gleam of the fire, Alex’s jaw moved up and outward a fraction. “I
would have done so,” he retorted proudly, “but that I could find no one
to send.”

“You’ll not save your life that way.” There was wintry satisfaction in
Argyll’s face. “Unless you can produce the guilty party and prove your
innocence ...” The sentence went grimly unfinished.

Even Hamish looked shocked at this unfairness, and for an instant Kelpie
missed the full irony of the situation. Then it dawned on her. Alex was
to die for the thing she herself had done—and he well aware of it and
helpless, since he had no notion where she was! It was almost too good to
be possible!

She bit her lip and pressed closer to the chink, and a squeak of what
must be delight—although it felt almost like a sob—escaped her.

Alex turned—oh, so casually!—and his eyes, dark in the shadow of the
shelter, looked straight into hers.

Kelpie stopped breathing. Too appalled even to move, she stood frozen,
waiting for the simple, deadly words that must come next. In her mind she
heard them clearly. “Very well so, and you will find the guilty party is
the witch lass hiding this very moment outside the wall....” She should
be away, running like a hare! But she could not, for her shock had glued
her feet to the ground, and already Alex had begun to speak.

“And how,” he asked deliberately, “could I be doing that?”

Kelpie missed the next part of the conversation, for she was altogether
stunned. He had seen and recognized her; never a doubt of it. In that
instant she had handed him the victory, his own life and hers as well,
and he had dropped them indifferently at his feet! Why? Was he fey, then,
to be deliberately throwing away his life? Not even the scruples of Ian
could account for it, for Alex owed her nothing and less than nothing,
especially since he believed she had betrayed him to the Campbells.

In her bewilderment she didn’t even feel relief at her own narrow escape.
And when she was again able to concentrate on the scene inside, she found
that Alex had taken the edge off her victory simply by giving it to her.
Where had the triumph and savor gone? Frowning, she reminded herself that
Alex was being justly punished for what he did to Ian, and she was _not_
sorry! No, nor would she ever dream of wanting to save him whatever, for
he deserved to die, and had she not been planning revenge? She would not
_want_ to help him even if she could—and couldn’t if she wanted to, for
was it not her rule of life to look out for herself and no one else?
And if Mac Cailein Mor should so much as glimpse the witch lass caught
trying to hex him, and herself wearing his own wife’s gown and cloak this
moment.... She laughed at herself for even thinking that such a daft idea
could ever enter her head. It was gloating she was. She _was_!

Intent on her gloating, she risked another peep through the chink and
saw that Argyll was biting his lip with anger. Alex had no doubt just
said something derisive, for he was smiling recklessly. But for all his
composure, Kelpie knew that he was afraid in the face of death. Had not
she herself, more than once, acted calm when she did not feel that way?
Och, she knew how his heart must be pounding, as her own was just from
imagining it.

Or perhaps it was pounding with happiness and excitement and triumph. Her
fists were clenched painfully and her lips drawn back from her teeth.
This was the moment, and she would watch while—while—

“Take him out yonder and shoot him,” said Argyll.

Then Kelpie heard a reckless laugh coming from her own lips, and she
found herself around the wall and in the firelight and confronting Argyll
with her head held high.

“No, now,” she said, “for ’twas I sent the messenger.”

One part of her stood aghast and terrified at the insane thing she had
done, but the other part—the thing inside, which had been pushing her for
so long—was glad and triumphant.



22. The Last Word


For a moment even the daybreak seemed to pause over the Highlands. The
thin sky of morning lighted a wan world of muted gray and white and
purple with an eerie, ghostlike tone. There was no sound outside the
ruined shelter with its circle of sickly firelight, and for just an
instant there was no sound even there.

Alex’s face seemed carved in an odd expression of exultation and anguish
combined, and his eyes fixed upon her as if they would never leave. But
Kelpie did not see this, for her own eyes were fixed defiantly upon
Argyll, waiting.

She had not long to wait. “The witch!” he whispered, and his eyes blazed
in pale fury. “And in her Ladyship’s stolen clothes!” he added with new
outrage.

Alex laughed, and his laughter was delighted, exasperated—and somehow
sad. He moved to stand beside Kelpie. “Och,” he said, “and isn’t
it just the way you will be overdoing things? I would have had you
remain unprincipled and live. I would have called you liar and saved
you yet. But you must appear in Lady Argyll’s stolen clothes and seal
your doom—and knowing it!” His eyes were stricken, exultant, tender;
but Kelpie only looked at him dazedly. All of it was beyond her
understanding, except that she had doomed herself irrevocably by her own
madness, and the thing inside said it must be so.

Argyll was breathing hard, taut with hatred; his menace was overwhelming.
“Shoot the man now,” he said between his teeth, “but bind the witch
and take her aboard the galley. I will try her and burn her when this
business with Montrose is over.”

And then all Lochaber seemed to explode at once. Shots echoed from Ben
Nevis just as Alex went quite berserk. His face was as she had seen it
in the witch-hunting town, jutted with sharp angles of rage. He hurled
himself against Argyll, the full force of his hard shoulder driving into
the Campbell’s midsection; and down they went. The others rushed forward
with yells, and from the castle came more yells and a new volley of shots.

Hamish was pulling his chief from under Alex and shouting, “The battle
has started!” Someone kicked Alex brutally in the head, and Kelpie flung
herself at the culprit, using both teeth and nails, and was herself
flung to the ground, while still another voice shouted, “Get you to the
galley, Mac Cailein Mor!”

Kelpie, dazed from her fall, saw Argyll, staggering and winded, clutching
his shoulder and croaking contradictions. “Shoot them! Take the witch on
board! I’ll burn them both! Shoot them at once!” Alex struggled up and
tried to shield Kelpie with his own body as someone raised a gun. She
heard a wild shriek of pipes from the direction of Ben Nevis, more shots
and more yells. And then came a blaze of pain, and nothing at all.

       *       *       *       *       *

She lay for a while without opening her eyes, trying to decide whether
she was really alive. It seemed quite unlikely. But on the other hand,
except for a sore pain in her head and a hot, smoldering one in her body,
this did not seem like Hell. For one thing, she seemed to be in a soft
bed with sheets, and surely Hell would never provide such things. She
decided to open her eyes and find out.

Opening her eyes did not help much, but only added to her confusion. For
was not this one of the bedrooms at Glenfern, which she had helped often
enough to clean? And whatever could she be doing here at all? Clearly she
could not be here—but how was it that a stout and smiling Marsali seemed
to be feeding her beef broth? Och, it was too much effort to worry about
it! She swallowed the broth, closed her eyes, and slept again. The next
time she awoke, it was to morning light, and she felt much stronger.

There was a small movement to the left of the bed, and Kelpie slowly
focused her eyes toward it. A flower face lighted and moved closer. “Och,
my Kelpie!” whispered Wee Mairi, radiant. “You’ve come away back to me!”

Hot tears stung Kelpie’s eyes. She closed them and moved her left hand
gropingly and felt a small warm one creep into it. Och, the wee love! The
tears slid down her cheeks.

There was more movement presently, and then Ronald’s voice asking with
deep interest, “Is she awake yet?”

“Of course she is, or how else could she be weeping?” demanded his twin
scornfully. “Kelpie, is it hurting you are? Can you open your eyes,
Kelpie? Fiona, will you run to tell Mother she is awake?”

Kelpie opened her eyes mistily and saw the rosy, concerned faces over
her. Fiona, crossing herself as usual, appeared beyond them and then
disappeared again. Donald vanished too, while Kelpie—still gripping Wee
Mairi’s hand—closed her eyes again and tried to sort out the confusion of
her thoughts. Presently there was a slight denting of the bed near her
elbow.

“I’ve brought Dubh,” announced Donald cheerfully. “We decided before that
you were not a witch, but now Alex says you are, but a nice one; and I
was thinking, if Dubh is still liking you, perhaps Alex is right.”

Kelpie wrinkled her forehead as Dubh spat nastily at Donald. Alex? Alex
at Glenfern? Dubh regarded her with slitted yellow eyes and then draped
himself in a scraggy, purring fur piece across her shoulder. “Alex?” said
Kelpie aloud, puzzled.

“Ou, aye, and he sore hurt, too.” Ronald nodded. “But he is better now.
Kelpie, when you are well, will you tell us about your adventures? Why
were you leaving Glenfern at all, Kelpie? Do you _like_ your Grannie
Witchie, or was it that you were afraid of her, as Father said? Is she
truly a witch, Kelpie? Where is she the now? Are you going to stay with
us? Wee Mairi says you love her. Do you, Kelpie?”

The small hand in Kelpie’s stirred. “Aye so!” piped Wee Mairi
indignantly. “My Kelpie _does_ love me!”

“Aye,” confessed Kelpie, her defenses quite down. “But,” she went on
incredulously, “is Alex truly here? At Glenfern?”

“Of course,” said Donald. “He has been telling us of his adventures too,
and how Montrose was sending him on a special important mission to talk
to clan chiefs and see if Lochiel would join the army, and all; and that
was why he was alone and caught by the Campbells. But we do not know why
you were there at all.” He paused, head tilted hopefully to one side.

But Kelpie, more and more bewildered, was in no state to tell stories.
“Alex?” she repeated stupidly.

“Himself.” It was his voice, with something new in the laughter of it.
Suddenly the room was full of people. Eithne and Lady Glenfern smiled at
her from the foot of the bed, and Alex himself was coming slowly across
the floor. There was a bandage round his head, and he leaned heavily on
Glenfern and Ian.

Och, it made no sense at all! Kelpie closed her eyes again and moved her
head fretfully.

“Alex has told us what you did,” said Glenfern. “It is at such times that
a person’s true character comes forth.” He smiled down at her warmly.
“Let you know now, Kelpie, that you will always have a home at Glenfern,
and our love; and for saving Alex we owe you a debt that we can never
pay.”

Kelpie’s puzzlement deepened. _Dhé!_ It must be that Ian had never known
that it was Alex who struck him down! In the confusion, perhaps herself
was the only one who had really seen it. It must be so, for no other
explanation made sense. Perhaps Archie hadn’t known either, and she had
merely read meanings into his words that evening in the camp. Her blue
eyes flew open and met Alex’s quizzical ones. What an actor he was, then,
behaving as if nothing had happened! But _she_ could tell them what had
happened, and Alex knew it, and yet here he stood quite at ease.

They stared at each other for a long, searching moment, and a look of
baffled frustration came to both faces. And then Kelpie closed her eyes
once again, too weak to cope with such a puzzle or even to decide
whether or no she should tell Ian what his foster brother had done.

“_Dhé_, and she’ll be confused enough, poor water witch!” The old teasing
note in Alex’s voice overlaid a new tenderness. “Just be settling me in a
chair by the bed, and then away out, the rest of you, whilst I tell her
the end of our adventure.”

Presently the room was silent again, except for Dubh’s purring. Conscious
of a presence beside the bed, Kelpie opened a cautious eye again after a
minute and found the hazel eyes fixed on her broodingly.

“Och so,” he murmured, shaking his head sadly. “I had thought my cousin
Cecily unpredictable and you an open book, with your devious wiles, and
so candidly unprincipled. And then—you put a spell on me, with the ringed
witch-eyes in your head. You baffled me, you haunted me, you eluded me,
leaving me forever two jumps behind and never knowing what to think at
all. Aye me, I suppose I shall never understand you at all, and that is
my fate and destiny.”

Kelpie slowly progressed from bewilderment to indignation. Only the last
words had any meaning whatever, and that was little enough.

“_I!_” she fumed, causing Dubh to dig in a protesting claw. “It is you
who make no sense at all, and I never knowing what to think!”

Alex grinned ruefully. “At least we are even, then. Are you wanting to
know what has happened since Argyll’s men put bullets in the both of us?”

Kelpie nodded.

“Well, then, were you hearing the start of the battle, just as our own
wee war was getting exciting?” asked Alex. She nodded again, content to
lie still and listen. “Well,” he went on, “it was the battle that saved
us, for Argyll rushed off to the safety of his galley, and his men left
us for dead—and very nearly right they were. And so we lay unknowing
while Montrose won a great victory over an army twice his size. It was
another Tippermuir, and this time the fighting force of the Campbells
is crippled for years to come. Some say as many as fifteen hundred were
slain, and the rest taken prisoner or chased back to their own country,
and our men on their heels all the way to Lundavra. I think it will be
another generation, Kelpie, before Clan Campbell can come raiding other
clans again—and a good blow for the King’s cause as well,” he added,
almost as an afterthought. Loyal to the king though he was, Alex was a
Highlander, and Highland affairs were his closest concern.

Kelpie found herself wondering suddenly about Morag Mhor and Rab, Archie,
and the others. “And had we many killed?”

Alex shook his head. “It was a rout,” he said. “They tell me there
are some two hundred or more wounded, but scarce over a dozen killed
outright. It seems fair unbelievable.”

Kelpie assimilated this and then returned to another matter of interest.
“What of Mac Cailein Mor?” she demanded vindictively. “And what was
happening to us, after all?”

“Och, the great General Campbell was away down the loch in his galley
before the fight was yet over, hero that he is!” Scorn was bright in
Alex’s voice. “But as for us, we lay until some of our men found us and
recognized my tartan, so they took us up to the castle with the other
wounded. There were plenty of the army who knew me—and you, too, it
seems, for there was a hulking great man named Rab and a huge fierce
woman called Morag Mhor nearly come to blows over which could be doing
most for you.” His eyes crinkled at her with approval and amusement. “So
it was soon enough that my brother and Ian both found us. And when we
were fit to be carried, they brought us here.”

“Here!” echoed Kelpie, renewed bafflement upon her. Forgetting her
wounds, she tried to sit up and then changed her mind. Wincing, she lay
back again, and her ringed eyes stared beneath lowered brows at Alex.
Dubh, his nap disturbed, glared with equal fierceness, and Alex found the
combination disconcerting.

“You would be coming _here_?” Kelpie spat. “You, with all your prating of
loyalty and the laws of hospitality and this principles thing? And you
have not even good sense, for here am I, and whatever makes you think I
will not be telling? And yet you have not even tried to threaten me.”

Complete bewilderment was on Alex’s face. “Either your wits or mine are
wandering entirely,” he said. “What are you talking about? Tell what?”

“That you tried to kill Ian!” answered Kelpie.

“_What?_” He was utterly dumfounded, and Kelpie’s conviction wavered, but
only briefly. She knew what she had seen!

“Do not be denying it, for I saw it myself, and twice over—once with the
Second Sight, which never lies, and again when it happened.”

Alex’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully, as if he had begun to see a clue to
some deep puzzle. “You were saying something of the sort back at yon
cave,” he said. “It made no sense, but I had already given up expecting
to understand you, and there were other urgent matters on my mind.
Tell me now: What was it that you saw twice over? Tell me exactly, for
although the Second Sight never lies, sometimes the reading of it can be
wrong. What was it you were seeing, water witch?”

Kelpie frowned. “It was the crowd of witch-hunters, although the first
time I did not know who or where, or that it was me they were going to
burn. But I saw Ian coming through them, and you after him with a black
anger on your face. And when you reached him, you raised your sword and
brought it down on him, and he dropped like a stone and out of sight.”
She glared at him defiantly.

A whole series of expressions chased one another across Alex’s face, but
they were not quite the ones Kelpie had expected. Wonder and relief and
joy surely had no place there!

“My sorrow,” he whispered, closing his eyes for an instant. “And is
it for that you’ve hated me so darkly this long while? No wonder!” He
looked at her suddenly with new delight. “And for Ian too, though you
tried so hard to admit no loyalty or friendship, and I believed you!
Think carefully,” he commanded as Kelpie was about to burst out at him in
frustration and fury. “Were you actually _seeing_ my sword _strike_ Ian?”

“Aye so—” began Kelpie hotly, and then paused. “Well, and there was a
head in the way for a wee moment,” she conceded, conjuring up the vivid
picture and looking at it carefully. “Your sword is striking him just
behind the head—the other head, I mean—but now Ian is falling straight
away, and so—”

“Look again!” interrupted Alex. “Look closely, Kelpie, and do not judge
too quickly. For my sword was falling on the man who was in the act of
dirking Ian, and they went down at the same moment. Little _amadain_,
how could you be thinking I would turn on my foster brother, dearer than
kin, for whom I would give my heart’s blood?”

Kelpie scowled in sudden, unreasoning resentment, but he leaned forward
to place his hand on her arm where it lay outside the covers. “Look in
your heart for the truth,” he commanded urgently. “Ask it of your reason
as well. You _must_ know that I did not do it.”

It was true. She did know it. She felt slightly dizzy, as if the sun had
spun round suddenly and begun rising in the west. And was it a mistake
that she had hated Alex this long time? Och, no! Had he not always
infuriated her with his mockery and scorn and his uncanny knowledge of
what she would think and do next? But whatever had possessed the both of
them that dawn in the shelter, each offering his own life to save the
other? She could hardly believe that it had really happened.

The eyes she raised to Alex were night-blue with wonder. “You knew I
was hiding behind the wall! Why didn’t you save yourself by telling Mac
Cailein Mor it was I sent the message? And especially when you thought
that I had betrayed you to the Campbells? _Why?_”

There was sudden gladness on Alex’s lean face. “Kelpie!” he fairly
shouted. “You didn’t betray me, then?”

She shook her head irritably and immediately wished she hadn’t. “I _told_
you I did not dare! And now you know why, with Mac Cailein Mor already
wanting me for a witch, and I with his wife’s clothing on my back. ’Twas
the smoke from your fire betrayed you, fool that you were!” She glared
at him. “But you were _believing_ it was I, and you needing only a word
to save yourself and settle all accounts. Why did you not tell?” she
demanded angrily.

Alex grinned flippantly at her, but the angles of his face seemed
softened, and his voice as well. He seemed to be laughing at her and at
himself too. “Perhaps, _mo chridhe_, it was for the same reason that you
spoke out when you needed only to stay still. Can you answer me your own
question, Kelpie? Why did you come forth?”

“I was daft, just!” she retorted promptly. “And,” she added, remembering,
“there was a thing in me pushing where I was not wanting to go.” She
frowned.

“There has been a thing in me too, this long while,” said Alex softly,
and for an instant he saw her as she had appeared from the shadows to
face Argyll—intense then too, but heartbreakingly brave, nearly tearing
him apart with joy for her gallantry and with despair for its result. And
he had not known, then, the full horror of what she was facing, that she
was giving herself up to be burned as a witch.

She was regarding him with annoyance. “I think it was a spell, whatever,”
she announced accusingly.

Alex looked at her oddly. “Aye so, a spell,” he muttered with a wry twist
to his mouth. “And I with a fondness for merry, fair-haired lassies, like
my sweet Cecily in Oxford. And now she will have to marry Ian, just,
though perhaps neither of them will mind much. I have _never_ cared for
witches!” he told her plaintively. “And especially not black-haired ones,
with dark, pointy faces, all uncanny eyes. It’s never a moment’s peace I
shall have again; but ’tis a terrible, strong spell you have put on me,
and I cannot break it. Och, there’s no way at all out of it, but I shall
have to marry you, just!”

“Marry me!” Kelpie’s shock reached to the very soles of her feet.

“Ou, aye,” answered the outrageous lad, wagging his head sadly. “And a
dreadful life it will be, never a doubt of it, wed to a wild wee water
witch. But marry you I must, for I cannot help myself.”

“_I_ can, then!” Kelpie sizzled with outrage. “Did you never think of
consulting _me_? Were you thinking I would—_Dhé!_ I’d sooner be wedding
the sea horse in Loch Ness, or Argyll himself! And the very conceit of
you to be thinking it! ’Tis a spell indeed I’ll be putting on you! Wait
until I learn the Evil Eye, and then see will you not be begging my
mercy, and with the horrid spots all over you, and—”

Alex silenced her by the simple expedient of putting his lips firmly over
hers. When at last he lifted them, it was to laugh into her startled and
indignant eyes with the old mockery.

“I’m thinking,” he said, just as if she had never uttered a word of
her last speech, “that I shall have to be taking you out of Scotland
altogether, or sooner or later it would be to the stake with the both of
us. And in any case, what else could I be doing with the gypsy wanderlust
in your feet?”

“The gypsies _stole_ me, I tell you!” retorted Kelpie automatically.

He raised a quizzical eyebrow. “And did they so, truly? Well, and what
does it matter? You could never be finding your parents now, nor fit into
their life if you did. And in any case, you’re going to marry me, and
we’ll away to the New World. A grand wilderness it is, they say, with all
the space needed for wandering in and out of trouble.”

He bent toward her again, and reached for her hand, as Kelpie opened a
mutinous mouth. Dubh, who had patiently endured the last disturbance of
his nap, opened one yellow eye, saw Alex’s hand approaching, and slashed
it. Then he rearranged himself across Kelpie’s neck and went back to
sleep.

Kelpie laughed at Alex, who was also laughing and sucking at his torn
finger. “You see?” he said. “The Red Indians and wild animals will never
have a chance against you with your dark power over man and beast, witch
that you are. I wonder, would next week be too soon for the wedding?”

“Sssss!” said Kelpie contentedly.



[Illustration: PHOTO BY LARRY WAY

_Sally Watson in costume for the Highland Games competition_]





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