Calums exile, p.1
Calum's Exile, p.1Leigh Barker
Copyright 2014 Leigh Barker
Calum stood at the top of the steps in front of Moy Hall and looked out across the loch one last time. He was going to miss Scotland, but the Scotland he’d known was now in its death throes at the hands of Cumberland’s army.
Lady Anne stood beside him and saw the sadness and pain reflected in his pale blue eyes. She stayed silent, letting him come to the end of his journey and return to the present.
He turned to her and smiled, but the smile was tired and simply underlined his sorrow.
“Will you write to me?” she said quietly.
He closed his eyes for a moment, then looked out across the loch again so he wouldn’t betray his feelings for this woman, the wife of his clan chief, his friend. “If I can find somebody to write the words for me.”
She sniffed. “You write as well as anyone I know, Calum Maclean.”
He looked at her, knowing it would be for the last time. She’d hardly changed at all during the doomed rebellion, just a little tired and lost. He brushed her wild hair from her eyes. “Yes,” he said.
“Yes, I’ll write to you.”
“Don’t bother if it’s going to cause you that much trouble!”
She turned away and he took her arm, turned her back and kissed her. She leaned against him, and for a moment they were lost between a future that could never be and a past that was gone forever.
She pulled away and walked quickly to the big doors. “Take the horses,” she said, without turning around. He would see her tears.
Calum could see the horses being led out of the yard by Donald Fraser. Calum remembered the last time he’d seen the man, on the night they’d sent Lord Loudoun’s regiment scurrying back to Inverness. He glanced back as Anne closed the door and wondered if the blacksmith had seen them together. If he had, he showed no sign of it as he led the horses to the steps.
“I’ve shod them for you,” Donald said. “They’re fine animals and will get you where you need to go.”
Calum went down the steps and patted one of the horses on the neck. “I’m obliged, Donald, but I canna take them. We’re not coming back.”
“Aye, I know.” Donald pointed up at the closed door. “Lady Anne said you’d say that. But you’re to sell them and pay for your passage,” he continued quickly before Calum could protest. “Take them, Calum, or I’ll have to answer to m’lady.”
Calum chuckled. “I’ll not wish that on you.” He took the reins. “The English are running amuck.” He looked up the steps. “You watch out for her.”
“With m’ life.”
Calum put his hand out, and the blacksmith shook it firmly, turned and walked back to the barn.
Alone now, with the cool wind coming in off the loch and the first wildflowers showing in the fields, he felt more homesick than he’d ever felt, even during the time at war in Flanders. But then he’d known he would return to the Highlands. There’d be no coming home this time.
The doors opened and John strode down the steps, holding a chicken leg in one hand and a whole chicken in the other. He started to offer Calum the chicken, switched hands and held out the chicken leg.
Calum stepped up into the saddle without taking the food. “You can eat your breakfast on the road.”
John’s face dropped and he waved the leg at the horse. “We’re in no hurry to be away, man,” he said. “Let’s take our time and walk. It’s a bonnie day.”
The squally rain chose that moment to slant out of the sky on a cold wind.
Calum patted the horse and it walked slowly out onto the track leading away from Moy.
John watched him go for a moment, turned back to his horse, and groaned quietly. He bit a chunk out of the chicken leg and tossed it into the bushes, then climbed slowly up onto the beast.
By the time he’d caught up with Calum, he’d finished the best bits of the chicken and threw it over the hedge to the hungry crows. He was about to wipe his greasy hands on his plaid, but changed his mind and wiped them on the horse’s neck instead. A small victory, but it made him feel better, and everybody knows grease is good for a horse’s coat.
They rode in silence away from the big house and onto the main road. Calum stopped and looked back along the lane for a moment, then turned and headed south, towards Glasgow and the port.
“You hear that?” John said urgently, and turned in his saddle.
“I do,” Calum said, without turning. “Riders. Likely English. And in a hurry.”
John rode up beside him and continued to throw quick glances behind. “D’ya not think we should get off the road for a wee while.” He looked back again. “Until they’ve passed at least.”
Calum looked back now. “Why? We were here first.”
John smiled. He couldn’t help it. “I’ll be sure to tell them, if they’re English, that is.”
“How d’ya know that?”
Calum pointed back over his shoulder, and John saw the English dragoons galloping down the road. Fourteen riders, magnificent in their scarlet tunics and black-plumed helmets that glinted in the watery sunlight.
They slowed as they came alongside, and the lieutenant in command eyed them suspiciously. “What regiment were you with?”
“We were and are with the Black Watch, sir,” Calum lied without a pause.
The lieutenant’s frown deepened. “Then why are you not in uniform?”
“Scouts, sir,” Calum said. “We’re away home to Glasgow now the stinking rebels have paid the price for their treason.”
John glanced at his friend but could see no sign that the words caused him any discomfort. He thought about it and decided he was mostly right, except for the stinking part, and that was literally true if nothing else.
“We should hang them,” a pale, sick-looking sergeant hissed breathlessly. “Just in case they’re rebels and lyin’ to us.”
The lieutenant leaned on his pommel and squinted at the man. “You will remember, Sergeant, that I give the orders here.” He leaned away from the man. “And should it ever happen that it falls to you to take up that role, then I wouldn’t wager a penny on the men seeing out the day.”
The sergeant glared at him for a moment, then caught himself and looked away. There might yet be a hanging, and not the highlanders.
“If, as you say,” the lieutenant continued, “you are scouts for the Black Watch, you will know the name of the commanding officer, no doubt.” He leaned back in his saddle and waited.
“Our commanding officer was Robert Munro. A fine man and a fine officer,” Calum said and shook his head at the memory of his fine commanding officer. “The rebels killed him in the ambush at Falkirk.” He glanced at the lieutenant and could see he was softening. “At Drummossie Moor we were commanded by Dugald Campbell.” He looked away as if remembering good times. “Another fine officer. For a Campbell.”
The lieutenant had no idea what he meant and let it go. “My sickly sergeant has a point. You could be trying to deceive me. Perhaps we should just hang you and be done with it.” He looked back at the column of dragoons and smiled. Then sat up in his saddle. “Corporal, bring up the prisoner.” He turned back to Calum. “There is a better way to prove your words.” He waited for the corporal to come forward, leading a horse carrying a highlander, his hands tied behind his back and his face puffy from the beatings he’d got from his captors.
“This fellow,” the lieutenant said, waving a white-gloved hand at the prisoner, “is a rebel.” He looked like he was smelling rotting fish. “And no mistaking this one. I had intended t
The sergeant unhooked a long rope from his saddle and held it out towards the lieutenant.
“Not me, you dolt. Him.” He pointed at Calum. “He will hang the fellow.”
John let his hand drop onto the hilt of his broadsword and waited for Calum to tear into them. It would be bloody and short-lived, but he was ready to stand beside his friend, albeit sitting on that damned horse.
Calum reached over and took the rope from the sergeant and looked around, then rode a few yards down the road, shook out the rope, and threw it over an overhanging bough of an old oak tree. “This will do.” He waved the corporal forward. “Bring the rebel over here.”
The corporal waited for the lieutenant to shoo him on and led the captive to where Calum was tying an elaborate hangman’s noose. He looked up and met the rebel’s hard glare. He was an old man, well into his fifties, overweight and balding, but with intelligent dark eyes and a firm set to his chin, despite his imminent death.
“This is no more than you deserve, Cameron,” Calum said, leaned over and pushed the man off his horse, as slowly as he dared. The rebel rolled well for an old man and sprawled beneath the oak, angry but uninjured.
Calum jumped down, drew his dirk and leaned over him. “Listen, Cameron,” he whispered, then raised his dirk as if threatening the man. “If you do exactly what I tell you, you’ll m’be walk away from this.”
He dragged the man to his feet and made a show of draping the big noose over his head; then he stepped behind him when the rope appeared to snag. “You’ll be doing the hauling,” he called to John. “Come closer.”
John was completely baffled by his friend’s apparent eagerness to hang the man he’d recognised immediately, but rode closer anyway.
Calum winked at him. “Bit more this way so you can tie the rope off on your saddle.”
John rode in front of them, his horse screening them from the English dragoons, and watched Calum quickly push his dirk through the top of the man’s tunic and hook the noose around it.
“When he pulls you up,” he said in the man’s ear, “kick a bit, then keep still… dead still.” He tossed the end of the rope to John. “Hang the rebel!” he said loudly, and stepped onto the road. “If the lieutenant wishes it?”
The lieutenant waved them on. “I like a good hanging. Only had a few today. Get on with it.”
John looped the rope under his saddle pommel and walked the horse onto the road, very slowly so the dirk didn’t become dislodged and hang the man anyway. He stopped and looked back to see the rebel’s feet kick a couple of times before he went limp.
“Good show!” the lieutenant said and rode on down the road without a backward glance.
The sickly sergeant looked up at the Cameron and then at Calum, and for a moment he thought the trick had been discovered, but the sergeant just spat at his feet and spurred his horse on after his officer.
Calum watched them go and waved John to back up. “You can open your eyes now,” he said to the hanged man.
The Cameron opened his eyes as his feet touched the grass. “That was a bonnie trick.” He reached behind his neck, pulled out the dirk and handed it back to Calum. “Where’d you learn that?”
Calum sheathed his knife. “I didna. It just came to me.”
“Well, I owe you my life. D’ya have a name?”
“Aye, I do. I’m Calum Maclean, and this wee man…” He pointed at Big John. “This is John Mackintosh.”
“I’m Donald Cameron.”
“Aye,” Calum said, “we know the Gentle Lochiel when we see him.”
Donald brushed himself off. “You’re nay seeing him on his finest day.”
“This is nobody’s finest day,” John said.
“Aye, that’s true enough. Many a good man died on Drummossie Moor for…” He closed his eyes.
“For a fop’s political ambitions,” Calum finished for him.
Donald looked along the deserted road. “There’ll be many a killing before the English leave Scotland.”
“Aye,” Calum said. “If they ever leave.”
“They’re here to stay, true enough.” Donald straightened up as he made his decision. “And that’s why I’m away to France.” He smiled. “Let’s see them come looking for me there.”
“It’s a long way to France,” Calum said. “You be careful on the road.”
“I will that.” He looked around slowly. “I’ll miss this country. The glens and the lochs.”
“And the whisky,” John added.
“Aye, and that.” He put out his hand. “And fine Scotsmen.”
Calum shook the offered hand. “And Scotland will miss her clan chiefs. God knows there’ll be few real Scotsmen left after the English are done with us.”
“Scotland will live again,” John said firmly. “And when it does, she will need men like you.”
“And you,” Donald said, and walked away up the long road. “Will you return?” he asked over his shoulder.
“From where?” Calum said.
“From America.” Donald waved, stepped off the road and through a gate and was gone, without waiting for an answer.
“He’ll not make it all the way to France,” John said, watching the place where the Gentle Lochiel had disappeared. “Not an old man like that with the English everywhere.”
Calum mounted his horse without replying. There was nothing to say. The old man would be dead in hours, if not days, but so would many other men, and women. And bairns. Ordinary people paying the ultimate price for a spat between aristocrats who thought themselves above concern for the lives of the lower classes. It had always been that way, and he saw no reason for it to change. Wars were about religion or politics, and both were about power. Poor people have no power, so do the dying.
He rode down the road towards Glasgow, happy to have saved the old man, but sad for the misery that was rolling across his country.
John looked up at the hangman’s rope with its oversized, malfunctioning hangman’s knot and smiled. Then he looked back across the fields, as if he could see his children in their new home, without him. But at least they would live. Lady Anne would see to that.
He followed his friend and quietly wished they would meet more English. A smaller troop. So he could kill them for what they were doing.
He would get his wish.
Calum's Exile by Leigh Barker / Actions & Adventure have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on30 votes