Highlanders of old lived in a clan society. Their loyalty or fealty resided in their clan. The chief as the head and leader, provided land, protection, and provisions when necessary for clan members. They, in turn, paid rent in kind to the chief for use of the land, and the qualified males served in his army.
The governing seat of the clan was located wherever the chief resided—usually in a protective castle or tower. The chief held court over his subjects, passed sentence for their crimes, and saw to their punishment. He and his family were celebrities of the day. People revered them, looked up to them, and discussed their comings and goings in great length. Bards wrote songs about the chief and his exploits, usually making them bigger than life. The bards also recorded and told tales about the clan, thus preserving the history for future generations.
Highlanders of old spoke a Celtic language called Gaelic. Many Scots of today speak Gaelic, thus preserving the ancient language. Gaelic words in the story are italicized and their meaning included in the Glossary of Gaelic and Other Terms.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9
A Love For All Seasons
The Isle of Mull
My father sat on his usual chair in front of the crackling fire, staring at the flame with dim eyes and a fur robe wrapped around his broad shoulders, the deerhound curled at his feet.
“Where are you goin’, lass?” he asked with his back turned toward the stone, spiral staircase where I stood. “Come, sit with me for awhile.”
I pushed the arisaid from my shoulders, letting it drop to the floor, then stepped over the wrap. Making my way to the stool where my mother’s embroidery frame stood, I took a seat and watched the flame.
Without turning his head, my father, Lachlan Og MacLean, eighth chief and fourth Laird of Durant Castle, asked, “Where are you goin’?”
“How did you ken ’twas I?” He never ceased to amaze me with his uncanny knowledge of events around him although his eyes, so dimmed by injury, saw very little.
“I heard the rustle of your skirts.” He extended his hand for me, so I rose and hugged his neck.
He smiled, embracing my arms. “And I ken your scent, lass. ‘Tis so like your mither’s. You use the same scented soap as she.”
“Aye, but from so far away and with the smell of burning wood and dog in your nostrils?”
“Your odor is a different pleasantry among the usual burning wood and dog. It stands out in my memory as does the pleasant odor of your mither.” He smiled broadly, showing still straight, white teeth beneath a greying beard. I could almost feel his penetrating gaze upon me as in the days before his sight was taken in battle. He asked, “Where are you goin’ this dreary night?”
“Here, Da. To sit beside you and talk of the cèilidh on the morrow.”
“Don’t try to deceive me, lass. I heard the sound of your arisaid dropping to the floor. You are planning a tryst, I feel certain.” His dimmed gaze pierced through to the depths of my soul. “I could see the turn of your head toward him each time he spoke at the evening meal.” A line formed between his brows and a shadow darkened his face. “You are to marry the Munro.”
“I dinna love William Munro.” My voice began to rise, and I struggled to control the cry climbing from the depths of my heart. “I wanna marry him, Da. You promised I could wed for love, not convenience.” The cry emerged from my lips. I buried my head on his shoulder and sobbed.
“Come here, lass.” Da rose, grabbed my hand and pulled me to face him, wrapping his powerful arms around my shoulders. He stroked my hair and planted a kiss atop my head. Disturbed, the great dog stood.
My heart ached to please Da, I loved him so. His tender embrace brought back memories of my childhood when he comforted me after a fall or some aggravation caused by my three older brothers. We stood for a long time.
He pushed me away, looking into my eyes and planting a kiss on my forehead. “I only want the best for you, sweetin’. You’re my heart, you ken. I dinna wish to leave this world without you being in the care of a good mon. The Munro is a good mon.” He hesitated then added, “With wealth and title.”
I looked into his faded blue eyes that once shone with the brilliance of the azure sky on a sunny day. He could only see the outline of my face whilst standing close, now. “If you truly desire the best for me, you’ll let me marry the love of my heart, not some bloat because of his title. Titles mean naught to me, Da.” Tears streamed from my eyes, wetting my cheeks. I pulled away from his grasp, wiping at the wetness with a smock sleeve.
“The Munro is a good mon and a fierce warrior. His father is Governor of Dingwall Castle and Baron of Foulis. William is the clan chief. You could do nae better for a husband. He’ll be here on the morrow. We’ll have a cèilidh to celebrate your marriage.”
“He’s old. I’m only eighteen summers. I shan’t attend.” Sometimes my stubbornness overtook good sense. I knew not to speak to my father in such a manner. He also possessed an immovable streak, and his word overruled my desires.
“He’s no’ old, Aine. A few years your senior, but no’ old by any means. When he’s my age, then he’ll be old.” I continued to sniff, wetting the front of his léine.
“All right, Aine. If ‘tis the way this game is to be played. You’ll be watched until after the ceremony and you depart with the Munro.” The words spewed from Da’s mouth. A sinister, dark shadow cloaked his face. Muscles twitched in his jaws and his hands clenched into tight fists. I stepped back.