Free Reads

ONE

“Is this the one?”

“Maybe,” I breathed.

Surrounded on three sides by steep, unforgiving land, the castle perched atop a cliff overlooking the sea. It was breathtaking, and I couldn’t wait to go sit at the outdoor café that faced the blue-green water. But the inside of the castle was what interested me now.

Running my thumb along the tiny key in my pocket, I silently prayed this castle was the one.

We purchased a ticket and joined a group of tourists as they entered the great hall. There was a rack near the door filled with brochures, and I grabbed one, slipping it in to my bag.

“How many does that make?”

Morgan’s question was low, only I heard it, but still I dipped my head to hide my flaming cheeks.

“Uh…today makes five?”

All collected 

in three days, but thankfully she didn’t mention that part.

Instead, she nodded toward the head of the line where a man began pointing out the glass cases filled with tapestries, needle work, old dishes, swords, plaids and other sundry antiques one might find in a Scottish, Medieval castle in the highlands.

The tour guide droned on in a thick Scottish accent I was sure he was not used to speaking in, and like school children my sister and I along with several other Yanks, followed behind, oohing and aahing at everything we saw. But when we reached the middle of the great hall my heart sank; the stairs were all wrong.

Ahead of me in line, two little boys began fighting over a balloon, and as you’d expect, the helium-filled latex could not withstand the argument. With a bang that startled everyone, the carefree toy burst, causing both boys to howl in protest.

Know how you feel, lads, I thought.

A nudge on my back made me glance over my shoulder. Somehow Morgan had ended up behind me, and now she was giving me that look, the look that said, “I know, I know, you’re ready to go because this castle isn’t like the one in your dreams.”

Guilt made me ashamed of the way I had been acting; dragging her around, feverishly searching for something that probably didn’t exist in real life. This trip to Scotland was a dream come true for us both, and I needed to get my act together.

Straightening my shoulders, I motioned toward the other folks in our tour group and smiled.

“Look,” I said, “he’s going to tell more about that tapestry hanging on the wall. It looks interesting. Go check it out.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Now, go. I’m going over here to have a closer look at the fireplace.”

It was a huge affair, and I had no trouble picturing a roaring fire in it, the laird and his family sitting in chairs or on stools before it, hoping to catch some of its warmth. Maybe, nearby, a bard would have been playing a harp and singing.

Without thinking, I reached out a hand and touched the stones. They were cool and smooth from the passing of years, and they were also silent. No humming to warn of impending doom, no distant shouts of battle suggesting a passageway through time. Even so, when a cool draft of air wafted around me, I shivered.

I had heard the tales, just like everyone else. Ghosts and time travelers, Scottish stones and fairies, and like most of the population in the twenty-first century, I didn’t believe any of it.

But if things like time travel and destiny were not possible, then why the dreams? Why was I searching for a place that, to this point, only existed in my head? Why was just being in the “old country” as my grandparents had called it, not enough?

Frustrated, I dropped my hand and stepped away.

“Bonnie,” my sister hissed, “quit that and come on!”

I managed to squeeze back into my spot in line but was given the evil eye by our tour guide. I shrugged and gave him a weak smile, but he huffed at me before turning away.

Well, excuse me; I was only interested in the fireplace. Not like I’m going to come back at night and haul it away.

That was the thing about scheduled guided tours; you had to be on your best behavior, like a kid in school. Sure, they showed you all the neat stuff, and they always told you about the local folklore, any battles the family may have fought in, how loyal or not the castle’s owners had been to one king or another, and it was interesting. But they really frowned when you asked what was beyond the solid oak doors with signs above them that read “Keep Out!” “Staff only!” “Fire Exit!”. The other thing that made tour guides lower their bushy brows at you, was when you slipped beneath one of those rope things they use to cordon off an area. I mean, those darkened hallways and black pits in the floor just begged to be explored. Besides, even though this castle wasn’t “the one” I might still learn something interesting.

This particular hole in the floor was square and big enough to lower a person down into. I lagged behind, pretending to study a silver platter on display. No one took notice, and I figured that was because the guide was telling a rousing tale about the time Sir Walter Scott had been a guest here.

When the last person in line made the turn into another part of the castle, I ducked beneath the cord and got down on my knees at the edge of the opening. Someone had nailed wooden boards around it, probably hoping to keep curious folk like me from falling headlong to their death. I laid a hand on one of these boards and leaned down to try and get a better look. It was so black, I couldn’t see anything, so I took out my flashlight from the depths of my bag and shined its beam down in to the hole.

Empty! Now, how do you like that? The least they could do is leave a skeleton or two chained up down there so I could be properly horrified.

I sighed and put my flashlight away, but I wasn’t fast enough at getting free of the area before ole bushy brows found me.

“Perhaps, Madam,” he said, dropping quite a bit of his Scottish accent in favor of a cultured, English one, “you would be more comfortable outside, where you will not be in danger of causing serious injury to your person.”

My mouth fell open. Was he throwing me out?

Turns out my hesitation was a mistake. He took it for resistance, and I was escorted out very properly by security, who upon hearing that I planned to have tea at the outdoor café, left me to my own devices.

Trying to regain my dignity, I placed an order for tea and scones in Gaelic. It backfired, though, because the teenager behind the counter said, “Sorry, Miss, I dinna have the Gaelic. My granny did, but I never had an ear for it. What would ye be wantin’ today?”

I chose a table off to the side and sat down, turning my back on the castle. From here I had an uninterrupted view of the sea to my right and an open lawn just ahead. Except for the conversations, slide of flip-flops and the scraping of chair legs behind me, I was alone.

The raspberry jam and clotted cream were good, but the scones were dry and hard on the bottom. Disappointed, I scooped the toppings off, ate them and longed to be in Grandma’s kitchen, where no one thought I was crazy and where the scones were always perfect. Slumping in my chair, I picked up the paper cup, took a mouthful of hot tea and allowed it to work its magic.

I grew up on tea and scones, learning to prepare them as well as enjoy them. Scots Gaelic had been the language of our grandparents, and even though we had never been forced to learn the language, we had. Orphaned when we were small, Morgan and I had been taken in by our father’s parents, who had come to America after World War II.

Pulling my keys out of my pocket, I laid them on the table and separated them until I found the one Grandma had given me just before she died two years ago. It was tiny and silver, and reminded me of the diary I had kept under my pillow when I was a little girl.

“When ye go to Scotland to look for the castle in your dream, take this with ye,” Grandma had whispered.

“But what does it go to?” I had asked.

“Ye will ken it, when ye see it.”

“Does it have something to do with the dream?”

“Promise me, Bronwen Catherine.”

I had promised, and after Grandma’s passing, Morgan and I began saving our money for a trip to Scotland. Now here we were, Morgan still grieving the loss of her husband, and I had the key and my imaginary castle and no earthly idea what to do next. The strangest part was even in her pain, Morgan was the one connecting, the one who was keeping it together. I, on the other hand, felt as if the threads that held my life together were unraveling.

“What was that all about?”

At the sound of my sister’s sharp tone, I jumped and sat up straight. Dropping my keys into my bag, I tried to look as if I weren’t having a pity party for myself.

“I’m sorry, Gan, I just…”

“You just what, Bonnie?”

“Still dealing with jet lag, I guess. Go get yourself a cup of tea. It’s really good, but don’t order any scones. I think there’s going to be a performance of some type.”

I nodded toward the grassy lawn where a group of men were gathering, all of them dressed in full highland regalia.

Morgan gave me a long look, then went to stand in line.

While she was gone, I watched the men. They appeared to be comrades, their expressions care-free, their smiles genuine. Using one of the tables to set their gear on, one man pulled out a folder with papers sticking out of it and  unsheathed a long sword, while another man pulled out a small set of bagpipes. Interested, I leaned forward in my seat. A reenactment, I was sure.

“Have ye seen him?” I heard one of them ask.

“No,” another answered.

They scanned the crowd, squinting and shading their eyes, until I too turned to see if I could spot…whoever they were looking for. The odd thing was, when I did see him, I knew he was the one the men were searching for. Of course, if I had glanced down at his attire, it would have been obvious he was one of them, but it wasn’t his clothing that grabbed my attention, it was his eyes. Gray and…filled with…something I couldn’t read. He was wading through the busy crowd, creating a path as he passed.

Rather like Moses parting the Red Sea, I thought.

When he saw me, he stopped, did a double take, gave me a most curious stare, raised a black brow then looked me straight in the eye. Altering his course, he came toward me and made as if to speak, but just then, someone shouted, and it caught his attention. He took a step, waved a hand at me as if to say, “stay there” then joined his friends. Only when he walked away did I notice he was carrying a broadsword.

“Wow, would you look at that!”

I glanced over at where Morgan was pulling out a chair and realized she was staring at my guy, too.

“Nice choice, Bonnie,and that Claymore looks authentic. After the demonstration, you should go introduce yourself.”

Okay, so it wasn’t a broadsword but a Claymore. I never said Scottish history was my strong point. Gannie, on the other hand was an authority on all things Scottish; A master’s degree’s worth of knowledge lay hidden behind her sad eyes.

“Yeah, right.”

“I’m serious!” she said, flashing me a conspiratorial grin. “I’ll keep watch so you don’t do something you’d regret.”

“Gan, I don’t just walk up to strange men and introduce myself.”

“Well, why not? He almost stopped to talk to you. After all, how do you think Brian and I met?”

“That was different,” I said, heart aching at the sorrow in her expression.

“No it wasn’t. He was working behind the counter in the student center, and I walked right up to him and introduced myself. Then, I asked him what his name was. We talked about how gross the cafeteria’s burgers were and the nice weather, and then he asked me out.”

The thing is, things like that just seemed to happen to Morgan. They do not happen to me. I’m not as pretty as my sister, I’m not as up-to-date on social graces as she is and if I didn’t know better, I’d think that when God handed out luck with guys, He somehow forgot I was in line.

Well,” I stalled, “you and Brian were meant to be.”

I didn’t miss the way she swallowed hard; grief was something that never seemed to go away. After a minute, though, she nodded.

“Yes, Brian and I were meant to be, and I believe God has somebody out there for you.”

I managed to keep from snorting, but barely.

“Gan, let’s just sit back, finish our tea and enjoy the performance. Then, we’ll go back to the B and B and go to bed. I’m worn out, I feel too grungy to talk to any men, and besides, I’m not in the market for someone new. Remember what happened the last time?”

“Yeah,” she said, a pinched look around her mouth, “I remember Drake, more’s the pity. But Bonnie, that was last year, and not all men are like that…that idiot. You need to start looking at men like any one of them could be God’s match for you.”

“Now you sound like an advertisement for one of those Christian dating sites online. Give it up, Gan. I’m on vacation. Remember?”

Her sigh was so loud, I could hear it over the sound of the piper getting his pipes ready, but she said no more about my nonexistent love life and what I should do about it. With a sigh of my own, I sat back and made an effort to pay attention to all the performers, but it was hard. My eyes kept straying to my gray-eyed stranger.

The performance was impromptu, if the expression on the locals’ faces was any indication, but it was superb. One man read aloud from a paper in Gaelic and then translated in to English. It was a poem written by some long dead Scottish author. Then, the man put aside his papers, grabbed a sword and he and my guy went at each other, as if they truly intended on killing one another. But as vicious as it looked, I knew it was staged. Still, my mouth watered in spite of my vow to give up on men. After the sword play, a third man began to play a small set of bagpipes, and something inside me came to life. I can’t explain it, really, but when I closed my eyes, I could almost see a regiment of highland clansmen, running toward the battle, Claymores at the ready.

Then, into my revery, someone began to sing. Opening my eyes, I stared at my guy in awe.

“O the summer time is coming and the trees are sweetly bloomin’ and the wild mountain thyme grows around the bloomin’ heather. Will ye go lassie go? And we’ll all go together to pull wild mountain thyme all around the bloomin’ heather. Will ye go lassie go?”

It was a song Grandma had often sung to Morgan and me at bedtime, and I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, my whole being focused on the man and his voice.

“I’ll build my love a bower by yon cool crystal fountain and round it I will pile all the flowers o’ the mountain. Will ye go lassie go?”

Before the last notes of the song could fade, I was on my feet, my breath caught somewhere in my throat.

There was the sound of applause in the distance, and then our eyes met across the way. A question lingered in his gaze, a question I wanted to answer. I don’t know what he saw in my own expression, but the corner of his mouth tipped up, and he actually bowed. He straightened and then winked. I opened my mouth, but speech was impossible. Then, the crowd surged forward hiding him from view, and I could have cried at the feeling of bereavement I felt.

“Bonnie? Bronwen? Hello, earth to Bronwen!”

I blinked, and time began again. I turned, and the expression on my sister’s face made me feel about two inches tall.

“Hello!” she said. “Not in the market for someone new? Bonnie, that man was flirting with you!”

Flirting? What planet was she on.

“He wasn’t flirting, Gan. He was just singing.”

“To you. Bonnie, everyone could see it. He was looking right at you and singing, and you stood up with this look on your face like…well, like you were ready to go, lassie go!”

There was a sudden stinging in the corners of my eyes, and I turned away so she couldn’t see.

“Gan, let’s go.”

“You’re not going to wait for him?”

Wait for him? So I could make a fool out of myself all over again? Not hardly.

“No.”

“Bronwen!”

But I ignored her and took off toward where we had parked the car.

Hurry! Find her!

But she was nowhere in sight. By the time he found somewhere private to exchange his kilt for jeans and put his sword back in his car, the table where she and another woman had been sitting was empty. He ran back to the car park, searching each face for those familiar blue green eyes, but she was gone, and he didn’t even know what kind of vehicle he was looking for.

Of course, it would help if he knew for certain who he was looking for. He had his suspicions, but…

With a prayer in his heart he slid in to his own car and drove away.

Lord, that I might find her!

 

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