The Omnibus is now available on Amazon kindle and Kindle Unlimited. $4.99 : Link Here
I’m allowed to put up 10% of the book as a sample on my website through Amazon’s contracts, so I’m putting up 20 pages of each of the 4 books. This the 20 pages from Fyskar.
The winds blow across Old Man Storr. The mists settle about the lochs. Clouds trail across the high reaches. In the highlands, I am at home again. — in the year of our Lord, 1692
The dark bloom of ink at the end of his date sent the man in the deep red leather cloak scrambling for the blotting paper. His nib needed cutting. “Mr. Niloofar!” The captain’s cry jarred the man’s attention from his journal. Mr. Niloofar flinched, his gloved hand brushing the damp blue liquid across the velum. Beneath the plague mask, he glowered at the offending materials and reached for the bottle of setting powder. The hatch creaked, sending a shaft of light to scatter dust motes in the hold of the ship.
He shielded his face against the blinding crescent. The large man in a simple brown kilt and homespun shirt clumped down the narrow stairs while Mr. Niloofar shifted his calligraphy set around, still in a panic for the paper. The ink was seeping, wicking down the side.
“Ye awake, Mr. Niloofar?” The captain approached the cloaked figure. Furtively, the man in the hold shifted the plague mask low on his face and held out a stilling gloved hand to the captain. Unable to see the movement, the captain continued his approach in the cramped space. Close enough to Mr. Niloofar’s makeshift desk of crates, he stopped with a frown to look down at the mess his guest was making. “If ye come out now, the fog’s risin’. Ye’ll see Bàgh Faoileag comin’ up along the ridge line.”
The masked man waved the captain to his job. Dragging his effects together, the man in the red cloak put away his inks and pens into a leather satchel. The setting powder had ended up in the bottom of the bag. He pulled it out and dusted the papers. While he waited for the papers to dry, he shoved his satchel into an oiled duffel bag leaning against the box he had commandeered for his ruminations.
The man shifted a short rectangular box no larger than his torso out from under his makeshift cot of canvas and rigging. The pages set, he tied them into his leather folio and eased it into a slot in the box. He tugged the duffel to check the weight. Nothing had been moved in it, save for the satchel. The padlock on the chest next to it gleamed under lamp light.
Pulling at the hood of his floor length cape, he flicked a glance to the stairwell. Setting his jaw, fingers trembling, he tapped the top of the box, contemplating. He was not ready to see home. The slap of the ocean against the hull walls did nothing to ease the knot in his chest. He shook his fingers, banishing the tell. Trying to draw in a breath against his constricting throat, he reached into his cloak hood to adjusted the steinkirk threatening to throttle him. Metal at the tips of his fingers drove his fear to the back of his brain. Closing his eyes, he slipped along the rolling twist of gold hidden beneath the silk tie holding his collar together. A Brent Goose’s honk shot an arrow of nostalgia through his heart. Pushing past his cerebrations, he took to the end of the hold. The ladder steps were shallow and he jammed his knee on a tread as he emerged. Tripping forward into the dawn, he swallowed the view in front of him.
Salt hung thick in the cold, damp air. It accumulated on the green glass view ports of his mask. Waves slapped and harassed the tar smeared hull of the birlinn. The oars bruised and harried the water, seeking a purchase by which to move a scant length forward. The breeze cut through the leather cloak, probing and slashing. The drifting scent of fish and the bark of seals made his eyes water. It had been too long since he had seen these shores. Land came into view in the murky, fog laden sunrise that cast the hills in blood and fire. Buildings popped up through eddies of brume along the edge of the bay, marking the village centre of Bàgh Faoileag.
He ignored the captain and his son clattering about the deck. The man lost himself in the sights and sounds of home. Ten years he had not felt his feet on his own land. His heart twisted and heat spread under his eyes at the view. He found solace in the mask that hid the tears flowing down his cheeks from the captain and his men.
The plague doctor settled himself into the crook of the foredeck, watching over the bowsprit as mist rushed over the top of the walls in bursts and tendrils. The last half a mile to the dock was an excruciating practice in patience.
Faces he would never see again swam across his memory with every tree and shrub emerging in the gloom amongst the coastline’s ancient volcanic rocks. They bobbed in an out with the tide, up into the shallows to scuttle away amongst the algae and cockles. Memories, bemoaned by fate and fire, trickled down boulder faces and dashed away in spots of teasing laughter. He curled his fists around the wood at his finger tips, fighting to bury the longing he had to see skirts and kilts in a sky blue shade shimmying along the shore.
With a clack and thunk, the boat eased up to a slew of posts and water logged decking stretching ghostly fingers through the murk. Dock hands yelled back and forth with the men on board to tie the birlinn off. The masked man turned from his position at the bow and headed for the lowest point in the middle of the vessel and jumped to the slick boards. His cloak billowed up around him, allowing a burst of cold air to strip away his warmth from his sky blue Sassenach suit. The man sighted on the end of the dock, the road leading up to the realm of familiar. The dock hands jumped back from the commossion. One crossed himself, his face draining of colour when he saw what hid the cloaked man’s face. It never was a good sign when a beak doctor swept into a village.
“Mr. Niloofar, sir!” The captain bellowed from his ship. The man, impatient to be about his morning, turned to the portly seaman, sparks of sunlight glinting off his mask, casting green dots across the planks. “We’ll get yer luggage aff an’ waitin’. Go get yerself fed an’ come back wit’ a hand. Straight up frae here ‘n tak a right’ll put tae the howf.” The captain pointed the doctor in the direction of the main thoroughfare.
He waived his thanks and turned back to continue his ascent into Bàgh Faoileag. Squaring his shoulders, he grimaced, willing nerves to hold together. The weight of the leather cloak did little to still the thrumb of blood in his fingers threatening to break free. He considered he should have shortened the hem when he commissioned the garment. It would inevitably drag in the mud and snow.
A large gold and turquoise circular brooch pinned the mass of leather to his right shoulder. The hood drooped over his eyes, shading him from the blinding morning sun that popped between the horizon and the overhang of looming clouds threatening to burst.
The buffed camel leather of his gloves, matched to his mask, gleamed in the frost bitten air. The thin felt lining kept his skin warm against the isle’s insistent chill. Brass fittings around the green glass of his beak mask provided a macabre pair of eyes to his appearance. The stitching was meticulous, not worked at great speed, but with love and dedication for the craft. The mask possessed a pair of dark canvas faux nares in an illusion of an avian face. The silver cap at the end of the beak had been manipulated to create a division between the mandibles and a deadly looking tip. The impression overall was that of an exotic scavenging bird enclosed in a shawl of it’s own feastings.
Ice prickled air swept under his cloak as he traipsed up the rocky slope that would take him deeper into the village. The red leather billowed about him, startling roosting birds into flight. The breath of the sky swirled and groped, trying futilely to find a purchase into his vestments. Though his spadderdashes and boots hugged his calves and crawled their way up, trying to caress his knees, they could not quite reach, allowing a pair of pure white silk stockings to peak out between their edge and the hem of his breeches. A little old fashioned, tucking them under the hem, but it felt more comfortable to him that way. Less likely for the ribbons to come undone. Not that much could be seen of them save for the sky blue almost white waistcoat that skimmed the matching breeches’ hem edge.
His gloves, which held back the ballooned sleeves of his waistcoat, were fitted to the fingers. Decorative stitching ran from the tips to the centre top where it merged into a bird with it’s wings outstretched. The cuffs were a wide funnel, clasped tight with a button at the wrist. Edges of the leather were bound with carefully patterned embroidery. The left glove drooped with a large, red, knotted bobble and tassel at the cuff. The tightness and the swinging mass were reassuring in their familiarity as he approached what had once been home.
Mr. Niloofar knew where he was going, as long as the Taigh-seinnse Druma is Flasg had not burned since he had last seen it. Rock, Tudor-style buildings rose on both sides of the street. Raw sewage crept in a melting runnel down the middle of the path. He hugged close to the east side of the worn structures, enjoying what warmth he could glean from the foggy sunrise.
Not much had changed. He recognised the older villagers and could guess at the lineage of the younger beginning their morning chores. They skittered out of his way though when they noticed his looming presence. All they saw was a haunting figure signifying death that had been at best second hand news from years ago.
A fire roared in the tavern’s fireplace. Lanterns hung strewn about the rafters, illuminating the shadows the morning sun had not yet banished from the dim room. A clatter of dishes resonated from the kitchen hidden behind thick wood door. To match the cacophony, a hoarse cough rattled against the plaster walls in the main room.
“Widow Magaidh, ye’re lookin’ peely-wally. Ye should get thon hack looked efter!” The inn maid called from the kitchen door as she pressed the impendence with robust hips. She swung to the main hall, her hands full of plates and a massive jug a thin warm ale. Setting the plates behind the slab of tree trunk hewn to serve as the bar counter, the maid turned to regard her guests with a worried frown.
An old woman in a homespun dress and apron sat near the single large window in the tavern, staring out at the road and the rising sun. She waived the inn woman off. “Waste yer time worryin’ on someone other than me, Hepsibah. Ma doctor’s comin’ tae look efter me soon!” Widow Magaidh chortled back.
“He better come wi’ a golden cure, fur how lang ye’ve gone on with thon rattle!” The inn keep cackled back, taking up a series of glasses to polish with her apron.
“Knowin’ him, he micht make thae happen,” Widow Magaidh whispered conspiratorially to the kilted man at her table.
He chewed on the inside of his cheek as he regarded her under thick brows, his storm grey eyes flashing. Bright red hair, pleated into many small coils and decorated with glass and bone beads, was tied away from his face to create a massive cascade of copper down his back. A short beard hugged his chin, though a moustache lacked at his upper lip. “Ah dinnea ken, Aunty. Dinnea a draught frae a tincture.” He muddled his bannock, leaving crumbs in a small pyramid on his thin clay plate.
Widow Magaidh waved away his nervousness as she would a fly in summer. “Yer heid’s full o’ mince, Fearchar. He asked fur someone tae do heavy work fur him. See’s no reason ye’d have trouble with thae,” she reassured.
Fearchar washed down what little breakfast he had consumed with a thin ale, now cooled from Hepsibah’s earlier minstrations. The fire at the hearth freshly smoked that morning, leaving the room damp and cloudy. He wrapped his great kilt tightly around himself, wishing he was back home in bed with his wife. “Ye ne’er mentioned na doctor a’fore now an’ ye tak his medicines. He guid, Aunty?”
Hepsibah, emerged from behind the counter with a serving tray. “Ye done murd’rin’ yer breakfast, Fearchar?” she asked as she took Widow Magaidh’s plate. He nodded his head morosely. The portly little woman took his dish, displeased with his handiwork. “Tell that lassie a’ yer’s nae waste her time away in thae wee hoose in them hills. She should cummeon an’ visit more of’en. Then maybe ye’d have manner tae eat yer breakfast like a proper man,” she chided him.
“Hepsibah!” he bemoaned the woman. She smiled at him, whacking him lightly on the shoulder. “It were stale anyway,” she let on as she left.
“Na, Ah thought it was jist out’ta the o’en!” he called back after her.
“Awa’ an bile yer heid!” she giggled, disappearing back into the kitchen.
“Now, Aunty Magaidh, who’s this dotair ye’ve got comin’ in?” He turned back to the aged woman across from him.
“Jist ’cause ‘e’s someone Ah know an’ ye don’nae, does’nae make him a chancer, Fear. He’s become a good doctor since last Ah saw him.” Her reassuring smile did little to allay his fears. She gained a far off look in her eye as her gaze settled on the window and the raised corners of her thin lips fell into a deep frown, wrinkle lines sinking in to reveal her fragile age. He waited, knowing when she went wandering through her memories it could be many minutes before she returned to the conversation. She did return after a time, lifting her face back into a hollow smile. ” ‘e needs some’n ta ‘elp ‘im while ‘e’s ‘ere. Jist for a bit,” she consoled. The rims of her eyes had reddened and moisture built along the edges.
He was none too pleased. Honestly, what was his grandmother’s friend expecting from him? He had become close to her in the last three years after having moved from the far end of Skye. His grandmother had passed away, and upon her deathbed, she had requested his help of her friend as a last favour. He still did not quite understand where Widow Magaidh was coming from when her mind wandered. What could she possible see in him that would lead her to volunteer him to a doctor? He could not even read. “Aunty, Ah am nae wet nurse – “
“Oh, haud yer wheesht. Ye’re perfect fur what ‘e asked fur.” She patted his arm.
He stole himself against her reassurances. “Less’n ‘e needs fresh bodies, Ah’m nae his man, Aunty Magaidh.” He fingered his empty cup, unable to meet her gaze.
She shrugged, again, waiving him away. “Ye fought val’antly on the mainland, Fearchar. Ah heard aboot yer adventures. Sure’s ye’ll be useful. An’ here’s this.” She reached into her pocket. Holding out her gnarled hand for Fearchar’s inspection, he inhaled sharply. Looking from her hand to her face, he studied her to see if she was serious. “Gold coin sayin’ ye’ll help him.” She smiled.
Not like he had a gold coin to his name, but he would be a fool to turn her down now. Unless her doctor was also a general, he saw no good reason that he would partner up with the man. “Ye’re on.” He smirked, knowing what a surprise it would be to bring home a gold coin for his lovely little woman.
The inn door hinges creaked, drawing their attention to the shaft of light that brightened the dim room. Fearchar sucked in his breath. “Get tae…plague…”
The beaked mask twitched toward him. Pinned under the glassy gaze, he shifted such that his chair squeaked. He would sure have heavy work and there would be bodies to be had if a plague doctor had come to the village. He had not been made privy to any conversation about the catastrophe coming. There was no denying what stood in the door frame, though.
The red cloaked figure ducked at the head jamb to make his way in. His Sassenach waistcoat was a startling contrast to the blood coloured mantle, leather gloves and mask, and deep red boots. Fearchar blinked, dumbfounded, the skin on the back of his neck crawling.
“Eoin! Guid mornin’!” Widow Magaidh waved the man in. Fearchar followed the cloaked person’s movements warily. The masked figure flowed across the floor, confidence in his shoulders. Whoever he was, he did not stoop like the old church men and wise women of the villages who claimed to cure the people’s ailments. He was lean, and though his frame did not take up much space, his presence filled the room. Fearchar’s heart clambered to escape his throat.
The cloaked figure’s hands motioned across his mask.
“‘ ‘ullo to y’too.” Widow Magaidh motioned him to a chair. Mr. Niloofar slipped into the furnishing between Widow Magaidh and Fearchar. The foreign man smelled of exotic herbs, dry heat, and unusual leather. The cloak was worked to a soft hand. The man had to be boiling surmised Fearchar. The heady scent eased his nerves though.
“T’is Fearchar a’ the MhicFhionghain clan. ‘e’s the grandson of my sister’s friend Rut, Eoin,” Widow Magaidh made the formal introductions. “Fearchar, t’is my doctor, Eoin Impundulu Niloofar.” She turned from one to the other, her brows wrinkling in contemplation. Studying the beaked mask, she sighed in exasperation at what she saw. “I ken, Eoin. Fear’ll be able ta ‘elp ye with that little proposal of yer’s ye penned me about.” Gnarled fingers rubbed at the wooden table top in thought, tracing the outline of the mask against the rough grain.
Fearchar offered his hand to the doctor. Eoin gripped it firmly, shaking it in greeting. ” ‘aven’t word f’r the ‘auld lady nabbin’ ye’re paid ‘elp?”
Widow Magaidh laid a steadying hand on Fearchar’s grip. “Eoin’s been mute f’r years, Fearchar. Don’nae mean ‘e’s doaty.”
Fearchar looked at the beak mask in surprise and embarrassment. He saw a furtive motion beneath the table edge and looked down to see Eoin rudely motioning to him under his cloak so that Widow Magaidh would not see.
Fearchar dropped Eoin’s hand, hissing. “Y’er clan’s nae MacDonald, aye? I’d nae get ‘tween ye ‘n William f’r aw the mony!” His shoulders tensed, sensing Eoin rolling his eyes at him under the mask. Eoin reached under his cloak. Fearchar grabbed for the knife lying in his great kilt. The cloaked figure dropped a small, dove, velvet pouch on the table. It clanked enticingly. Widow Magaidh snorted at the two men. Fearchar raised an eyebrow and poked at the bag. The doctor motioned him to it.
Fearchar picked it up and peered inside. The room spun sideways as blood drain from his face. He looked back up at the red apparition in front of him. “Anythin’ ye want, Weard,” Fearchar conceded his service.
Eoin held out a scroll to the braided man. Fearchar took the proffered parchment and unrolled it carefully, curious as to what would cause a plague doctor to pay so much gold for a man missing the sounds of battle. “Purty script, Weard. Can’nae read worth a damn.” He handed the roll back. Eoin’s shoulders sagged. He turned to Widow Magaidh, his body language looking for reassurance. Fearchar turned to her as well. “Aunty, ye take his letters to Cill Chriosd to be read, don’nae ye? I take it a min’ster’s out’ta the question with this?” He peered at her knitted eyebrows.
“Ah can read a bit, Fear. Find it’s much less work ‘ave’n Matew read my letters most days with my eyesight gone. ‘e should’na ken wha’s in tha’ scroll though.”
Agreed. It should not be shown or talked of if at all possible. Eoin tugged at his gloves, settling the seams into his fingers.
“Aye?” Fearchar took a leap of faith in guessing what Eoin was saying. Eoin made the initial sign more emphatically, with an excited bob of his head this time. “I’m kennin’ that as aye then. Well, ‘ere’s say, long’es this don’nae ‘ave me nikkin’ ye the throne, Ah’ll sees what Ah can do f’r ye.” Fearchar took Eoin’s signing hand and shook it. Eoin glanced at the hand in surprise. It had been too many years since he had heard the twists of words and phrases of his homeland and, right honest, at that moment, it was giving him a headache, all the dropped syllables and elongated vowels. Nostalgic, but difficult.
Eoin poked the scroll in Fearchar’s hand, creating another simple sign with his free hand that Fearchar was able to guess at. Fearchar dropped Eoin’s hand. “Who’ll read it? No fear, Weard, Ah’ve a lovely lass who’ll ‘elp with that.” He smiled broadly, happy at the somewhat one sided conversation.
Widow Magaidh tapped on Fearchar’s arm and made a more universal sign – one for coinage. Eoin sighed. No one could quite understand him. He had learned over the years though, if he paid well enough, people were much more likely to make an effort at learning his wants. Girl? his hands moved once more. Fearchar nodded. A child mixed into this equation had not been accounted for. Mayhaps it would be best to source another individual.
This reminded him of something though. Eoin reached under his cloak once more for a medium size pouch and pulled out a small box, not much larger than to hold a simple piece of jewellery. He handed the ornately carved box to the old woman. Fearchar inhaled the smooth scent of spice that emanated from the wood, his eyes widening at the small show of wealth the Sassenach brought to the isle.
Widow Magaidh opened the little silver snap and lifted the lid to see many small papers folded into tight little satchels. A slight gleam of silver under the papers flashed for a second before she replaced the lid. She sighed in relief. “Thank ye, Eoin. Bless ye.” She hugged the figure tenderly, almost like she was afraid to break him. She let go of him and busied herself in getting ready to leave.
Fearchar eyed the man uncertainly as he pulled his bow, quiver, and hunting basket from under the table. “Yer cough, Aunty. It’s got better in a’ last year, aye?”
“Ye kin trust Eoin, Fear. He’s good people.”
“Time t’ find out exactly what ye ‘ired me f’r ‘en.” Fearchar clapped his hand on Eoin’s shoulder as he stood up. Eoin looked up at him, flinching at the sudden contact. He joined suit and followed the old woman and hunter out the door. Widow Magaidh tapped Fearchar on the shoulder outside the door. He sighed heavily and fished into his newly acquired purse to pull out a gold coin. “Ah should’a ken ‘fter the last five bets that ye don’nae lose easily when ye wager high, do ye, Aunty?” Fearchar groaned as he placed the gleaming metal in her withered hand.
“Ah am hopin’ ye don’nae, then Ah’ll die comf’rtable,” she cackled.
“Y’er aff yer heid! Ye’ll pro’ly outlive aw us.” He teased back. She waved to Fearchar and Eoin as the wind picked at her wool cloak and skirts. Heading toward the docks she ambled along a street that bordered the bay until she turned a corner in the rock outcropping, disappearing from their sight.
Fearchar stood in the street, absorbing a bit of the sun peering out between clouds. For the first time, Eoin got a good look at his hired hand. Dark taverns never were great places to gain a true impression of a person. He was several inches shorter than Eoin, but as broad in the shoulder, lending him a thicker rectangular build. The Skye man was predisposed to a muscled slimness from constant active work. An archer’s bracer protected his forearm against string slap. Soft pelts, tanned to one side and fur turned to the man’s skin sufficed for cold weather shoes. His auburn red and hunter green great kilt declared him to be part of one of the more powerful clans on the Isle. Fearchar’s brilliant freckles showed up more obviously on his pale peach skin in the dappled sunlight. Dancing eyes were a marvellous shade of the stormy north sea. The metallic herringbone hair Eoin had noted in the tavern was a stark ginger out in the open.
It was a crisp morning, now that the fog had lifted. Fearchar wrapped his great kilt about his shoulders and turned to the man in the massive leather cloak. “Commeon, we’ll grab ‘rselves a bit to eat ta take back. My lass’ll be hungry. Di’ye ‘ave any luggage?”
Yes. Eoin circled the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and flicked his other three digits up and down.
“Right, nothin’ big? Or d’Ah need ta ‘ire a coach? Mark usually runs the horses here, but I could see if Ben’ld hitch up f’r a ‘alf.” Fearchar eyed the man wearily.
No, not that much. Eoin waved him down. The market? Eoin pointed up the street to where the market had last been hosted.
“Seein’s ye seem ta ken where ye’re aff ta’.” Fearchar motioned Eoin to proceed him. The looming soot of open roasting pits lingered beneath low, wet clouds. Clattering livestock and the bargaining lilt of old ladies made it difficult to miss the market in the tiny village. Eoin swept up the street at a quick clip, forcing Fearchar to keep up with him. It had been so long since seeing home.
Trepidation vibrated beneath his breastbone. What if the market had shrunk? What if the vendors there were no longer familiar faces? It had been ten years. Old faces were liable to have vanished by now. These questions twisted around in his head relentlessly. He stilled the tremble in his hand as he came up around the corner. The bristling acrid taste of smoked fish and mutton hung heavy in the crisp swirling divide between autumn and winter. Memories flooded his senses and it was all he could do to still the constriction of his heart. Fearchar puffed at his side and peered up at him. “Ya ‘lright, Weard?”
Eoin nodded. It’s the first time I’ve seen the market in a long time, he signed without thinking.
“Ye’ should dance up’a Dunvegan come Hogmanay,” Fearchar offered.
Eoin blinked at the man, not entirely sure what he was going on about. Then it clicked. My words look like I’m dancing? he asked.
“Commeon, Weard. Le’s get us some sausage. Then Ah’ll introduce ye ta the lass.” Fearchar strolled into the market. The stalls were as much of a mess as Eoin had remembered. It was not as bright and full as the markets he was used to now, but it reflected his heritage in somber reminder. Clouds rolled up in uneasy dark blobs and angry skirts of riled lightning smattered along the curve of the ocean horizon. Fearchar pulled at the neck of his coarse homespun shirt against a blast of wind and headed for a stall and an old woman Eoin recognised.
Beatrice. She had always had the best smoked fish in the village. Now though, she had introduced something else – pork sausage. Pig had not been overwhelmingly popular on the Isle when he had left it. It was too hard to keep, but with her stocks, raising the finicky creatures must have become easier.
Eoin let Fearchar take over for ordering. Sometimes it was to much of a fight for the plague doctor to be understood. He instead stood to the side, finding the deeper shadows, stilling himself to watch the bustle and throb of the market twist around him. A foot behind, a foot to the side. Ten years of ingrained habits dictated his actions as he waited on his hired hand.
“Fear! ‘ow’s the wife?” The woman smiled, showing a range of missing teeth. Her face had sunken in significantly since Eoin had last seen her. Sallow skin and liver marked hands drew his diagnostic eye. She still had her ragged brown dress. It had been mended many times since he had last seen her. It hung from her in folds. The seams had been left let out rather than taken in. Glancing, he noted the haze setting in around the edges of her pupils. It hurt, seeing someone wasting away, and knowing she was at a point he could do nothing for her. He knew in that one glance that she would not see the spring following Hogmanay. She would be lucky to make the festival.
“Lass’s doin’ a’right. Keeps busy ‘s always.” Fearchar reassured, his perfectly strait teeth gleaming in juxtaposition to Beatrice. Eoin nodded in reassurance to himself, now realizing his hired hand had not meant a child but a woman. Time from his own language had taken a toll on his understanding. Fearchar handed the market woman a small basket not more then a handswidth long and three fingers deep he produced from the depths of his great kilt. She flipped it open to reveal a handsomely folded, oiled series of muslin cloths. She laid these out and smoothed the cloth out as she and Fearchar continued with their small talk.
“Bet’n she is. Well, if ye’re in front a me stall, it must be yer day ta bring home supper. Ye’ll be wantin’ yer isbeanan, Ah’d ken?” She packaged up a set of four large links before her fading eyes noticed Eoin. “Oh my!” she squeaked, her hand flying to her mouth. Eoin feared for half a second that she might suffer a heart attack right at the stall.
“Beatrice, t’is is Eoin. ‘e’s ‘ere as Widow Magaidh’s dotair. There’s been nah notice a’ plague posted. Eoin, Beatrice. ‘e’ll be takin’ res’dence with the misses ‘n Ah f’r the time. She’s some a’ the best èisg n’ isbeanan ’round,” he reassured his employer and the old woman. She slipped an extra sausage link into one of the oiled sheets.
“Eoin?” Beatrice rolled the name around in her head. “Been time since hearing the name Eoin. D’ye ‘ave anythin’ ye want, dear?” she asked, trying to recuperate from the shock of seeing a plague doctor in town. Eoin pointed out the finnan haddie and put up his fingers, asking for two. “Good choice, make for good cullen skink.” She wrapped up his package of smoked fish and handed it to him. Eoin dropped a half penny into her hand. ” ‘ow’d ye…?” she went to say. ” ‘ere’s mony f’r mine, Beatrice.” Fearchar handed her a penny.
” ‘aven’t met ye ‘fore, ‘ave I?” She appraised Eoin skeptically. She pocketed Fearchar’s penney absentley while she noted Eoin’s mask, brooch, and unusual red leather cloak.
A long time ago, Eion signed.
” ‘e’s mute Beatrice. Ah am ‘elping out ’round ‘ere while ‘e ‘elps Magaidh. She thinks ‘ighly a’ ‘is med’cines,” he hinted, sliding his small basket into the pouching of his great kilt at his stomach.
“May ‘ave ta send me lad o’er ta’ ye, if she thinks like that.” Beatrice contemplated the edge of the market street. Eoin bowed humbly at the comment. Ingratiating himself into the village would help him greatly.
A shadow passed along the side of his eye shields. He carefully turned his head to follow it, not wanting to draw more attention then he already did with his outlandish clothing. He flinched at the sight that greeted him. Deep blue and green splashed across his vision. Silvery white lines zipped through the tartan and all he could smell was fire and blood.
Fearchar finished collecting a second set of packages from Beatrice before noticing Eoin’s fixation. “Laird Grannd Daleroch ‘n one a’ his son’s – Conner Daleroch, Younger,” Fearchar supplied, watching the two men make their way through the market.
Junior? Eoin kept his hands low and blocked from the possible view of the Laird and his son.
“They’ve an estate up out’ta the village. We’ll pass it on the way ta’ my place. Some in the village says they nicked it from someone, but no one’ll blether ’bout it. Grannd ‘as a massive fishing fleet ‘n more land than most e’eryone else combined, e’en me clan on the ot’er side a’ t’e Isle. ‘e’s the largest sheep flocks on this end a’ the Isle. Me da beat his herd numbers any day though. ‘Daleroch’s got power and no one tells him no. Right crabbit scunner.” Fearchar spat. “Le’s go. Ah’d no’ wan’ta deal with him or his pig a’ a son. Snotty spoiled tattyboggle. ‘e married this summer, ‘n she died not bu’ a fortnight ago.” Fearchar scuffled through the market.
Died? Eoin asked.
“Died.” Fearchar made the same motion as Eoin, though unrefined.
Yes. Eoin told him he had the word right.
“She bled ta’ death a month ‘fter finding out she was carrin’. Midwife we got weren’t called in time.” Fearchar bitterly motioned Eoin away from Beatrice’s stand.
Did you know her? Eoin asked, keeping his eye on the men sauntering through the market. The older had a tendency of touching everything that caught his eye. Eoin could have sworn that the younger pocketed something while the Laird distracted the stalls-man.
Fearchar stopped to stare back at Eoin, sighing. “Say’s again,” Fearchar demanded, waving his hand in a half-hearted mimic of Eoin’s complexity.
The doctor returned his focus to his hired hand and had to take a moment to remember the conversation they were holding. Did you know her? Eoin exaggerated the signs, allowing Fearchar to see each one individually.
“Ye.” He picked up, pointed back at Eoin. Eoin nodded, then made the sentence again. “Lady.” Fearchar tried. Eoin bobbed his head in a give or take way. The word woman could be used interchangeably for older she and her also.
“Mind.” Fearchar pointed to his head in the same gesture Eoin had made. His employer tried the sentence again. The word ‘know’ was hard to have people guess at. Intangible concepts were more difficult to elaborate upon without enough basic structure in the rest of the language. Pronouns were simple to comprehend. “Did Ah mind her…nah?” Fearchar noted Eoin’s shaking head. “Did Ah…” Eoin made the sign again as Fearchar spoke through him. “Did Ah ken her?” Fearchar guessed. Eoin nodded his head vigorously. He loved it when people made an effort. “Yeah, I ken her. We grew up t’gether in a village on the other side a’ the hills. She’d an older brother that watched out f’r me when we’d go get ourselves into trouble. Pity he died a’ winter cough a few years ago. Don’t think he’d a’ let her come o’er ‘ere ta tie with that bassa otherwise,” Fearchar sneered, disgusted.
It took all Eoin’s will to keep his skin from crawling. He forced himself to stop looking back at the men and keep up pace with Fearchar. They stopped once more on the outskirts of the market for one last thing Eoin wanted. Bannock was something he had not had since leaving the isle. He wanted his first meal there to be every good memory he had of the place. “Le’s go ‘trieve those bags,” Fearchar muttered, ill at ease in the market with the Dalerochs roaming. Eoin nodded, wanting to be done with the place full of memories.
They headed down to the dock. The morning was burning off into the early afternoon by the time they arrived at the boat. The captain waved. “Mr. Noolifar, good timing!” he called. He jumped to the dock and walked up to Eoin. Eoin ducked at the mispronunciation.
“Ah see ye brought help! Guid help at thae! How’re ye doin’, Fearchar?” he greeted.
“Weel, Romney. How’s fishing?” he shook the man’s hand.
“Would be better if Daleroch wasn’t over fishing our bay,” the man groused. He walked off to the end of the hill of cargo.
“Don’t remind me. Jist saw ‘im down in the market with ‘is lad. Gonna take the long way round,” Fearchar commiserated.
“Haw, Fear!” the captain’s son waved him down. He pulled a sack out of the cold box in the decking and approached Fearchar, his face going crimson. “Well, here’s a sack of cockles for the missus for last time,” he stuttered.
“Guid man. She’ll be richt giddy,” Fearchar smiled, taking the sack.
“Ah huf leave in two weeks, Ah’d – Ah’d like to come visit thae Sunday,” he tried to get his words out. Eoin had not noticed the young man to be this shy when on the boat. Did Fearchar have a reputation in town?
“Ah’ll have tae ask her aboot it, but she can get ye a message, or Ah can if she’s the time,” Fearchar reassured the man. The captain’s son nodded with a small smile before vanishing into the nether of the boat.
They seemed like a nice couple if everyone knew them. This may complicate matters if they are so well known around town, Eoin realised. The captain came back up to them with a large box slung across his shoulder and a waxed canvas duffel. He set them down in front of Eoin. The doctor pulled a coin out of his pocket.
“When ye need me, send a pigeon.” The captain handed him a scrap of paper. Eoin nodded his head, pocketing the scrap. He shook the man’s hand. The captain turned and continued his work of unloading more cargo from his seemingly bottomless ship.
Fearchar looked over the box and the duffel. The box was unusual. It was tall, the length of a man’s torso and shoulders. It was bequeathed with hardware and straps. Eoin picked it up and pulled the straps to adjust them. He shifted the box to his back. That was new by Fearchar’s figuring. “Braw box, Waerd,” Fearchar commented. Eoin nodded to the man before picking up his duffel.
“Ah, come now. Ye’re payin’ me tae be some hired hand. Might as well do a wee bit a’ liftin’,” Fearchar motioned to the bag. Eoin, willing to have the help, handed it over to the man. The redhead’s eyes bulged at the weight. “Guid lor’, wha’ ye keep in here, a cookin’ pot?” Fearchar slung the bag behind his back. Eoin cocked his head in a reply that went beyond Fearchar.
“Shall we?” Fearchar offered, pointing up the street that bordered the bay and lead up to a delta. They followed the path past a dry waterfall. It would start to flood in the next month, Eoin checked his geographic knowledge. He’d need to remember that if he wanted to make it back to the village safely. They ascended into the hills beyond the village. The terrain was rocky sparse, not cultivated for carriages.
They wandered the road for the better part of an hour and a half, passing small hovels here and there. They approached a massive two story rock house perched atop a hill, similar in style to the wattle and daub Tudor houses in London. Near the road leading to it was a burned out round house, fallen in from decay. “Daleroch’s place. Looks out on a private bay thae he uses tae dock,” Fearchar supplied Eoin the information in a curt manner that designated the topic as a sour point. Eoin nodded, showing that he was listening. He studied the building, noting the overgrowth of weeds up near the house, and the spare chicken coop off the back, collapsing in the shadow of a separated wing. The man might have money and power, but he did nothing to keep his possessions tended.
The sun was halfway to setting and the chill of late autumn settled along the ridge line of the hills before Fearchar pointed out his own little domicile. A cottage garden in the throws of accepting the impending winter occupied the frontage. It was a nondescript rock cottage like many of the others Eoin had passed along the way. The familiarity of it’s placement caused his stomach to churn. A rough chimney designated it as a new residence. It had been built up on a burned out foundation. Smoke from the new chimney climbed into the dim sky, leaving the walk up the drive smelling like memories that Eoin had wished to leave buried.