The raiders line the white sands, a pulsing throng of pure rage promising violence and death. She stands at the helm of her army. They wait for her command. Wait for her signal. It starts to rain. The sheets of water blur their view of the Norsemen. But she knows they have the upper hand. All they need to do is wait. Wait for the perfect moment.

And so, sitting astride her grey steed, a weathered hand around the worn hilt of her sword, Merida reflects. Reflects on the life she's led. Reflects on the life she might have had, had she accepted the fate originally dealt her.

The warrior Queen o' Dunbroch inherited more than just her parent's equally grim tempers. She has her mother's skills in diplomacy, but her youth is long spent. These days she takes after her father in looks, all craggy and muscle and lang flowin' grizzly locks, but she was never one for fussin' about with fine dresses like the court ladies done up to the nines.

She retained her close connections with the three clans, having spent years fighting side by side with her once suitors. Merida and Lord Dougal MacIntosh still bicker endlessly, and let's just say she's glad the cunning Wee Colin Dingwall is on their side. But it is Lord Connall MacGuffin who is her most trusted advisor and friend.

He can always be found at her side, leading the Highland charge into battle against invaders. In fact, as the years plod along it's rare to see the Bear Queen without her fair and level-headed ally. In battle and politics, as well as misadventure, Merida has come to trust MacGuffin will always have her back, and to play mediator when she needs it (like when she butts heads with Macintosh, which is always). It's a handy partnership for Connall too, as his Queen is one of the few people outside the MacGuffin clan who can understand him.

Merida never married. Her brother Harris, the "eldest" of the triplets, was killed in a battle with invaders from the south. She raised his eldest daughter, Brigid, as her heir. Sometimes Merida wonders if she regrets not having married and had a family of her own, but she has everything she needs; her brothers, Harris's children, Colin and Dougal's friendship, MacGuffin's companionship.

The lashing rain stops. She gives signal.

But Merida is older now, and riding into battle against the men from the North, she feels it. Her bones are stiff and aching, and her reactions aren't as quick in a fight. They're all older, she realises, bringing her broadsword down on the back of an invader about to cut down MacGuffin. All slower. Angus is long gone, Brigid is fully grown - change is in the air. But the battle is victorious and she raises a drink with the clansmen and women who fought so valiantly.

She retires early to her tent, leaving behind the celebrations around a roaring bonfire, where MacIntosh sings of the four clans' triumph and Lord Dingwall's heroic tactics in battle that ultimately saved the day. Her hand is pressed to her side, and she smiles sadly to herself as she lays down on a bed of furs. A voice from the far corner of the tent should make her jump, but Merida is long used to MacGuffin's presence nearby. Has almost come to expect it.

Despite his size, or maybe because of it, Connall has always been the type to try to fade into the background. Rarely dances a reel with another lady at a ceilidh, certainly not for lack of the women at court trying. He hates attention, always has, as far back as she can remember. That large, shy lad, trembling awkwardly at his father's side, snapping a log in two in a carefully rehearsed routine designed by his father to impress her.

She smiles at the memory.

Merida has always been aware of him; always, even when they are apart.

With some effort, she makes room for him, patting the bed beside her. MacGuffin hesitates, then joins her. They talk long into the night, laughing over shared adventures through long years, of curses and courtships, ancient kingdoms and the legends they'll leave behind. They talk of Harris with longing, remember Queen Elinor's strength and King Fergus's tall tales. They laugh at MacIntosh's antics in courting- he married five times, but marriage suited him as much as an undershirt. MacGuffin confides in her his belief their friend much preferred his rivalship and bickering with Wee Dingwall to anything else.

Merida agrees, but her voice is growing tired now. She's feeling tired. Her hand is still pressed against the wound at her side. She can't feel the pain now. Her body's growing cold. She leans her forehead against MacGuffin's chest, breathing him in - the old familiar scent of rain on the hills - and finally asks the question she's never dared to ask, because it's always plagued her why he, her awkward, sweet, loyal MacGuffin, never married. Connall only smiles and replies he never needed to. His life has been a good one and it was his honour to serve a leader as fair and just as her parents were. But as she lies there next to him, looking into the kind familiar face framed by his beard, she knows there could have been more - a different fate for them, had they been brave enough to follow it.

Merida knows her pride played a role, the idea of falling for her former suitor went against everything she believed in, everything she wanted to prove to herself and her people. Regret edges in. But then Connall brings her hand to his chest and tells her he was happy with the little of her got. Had they really missed out on much, he asks? And as she thinks of all their adventures together she realises no, they haven't. Merida knows now why neither of them entered the messy courtships MacIntosh or her brothers did; never married; never strayed from one another longer than was necessary. They were married in every way that counted. She tells him as much and her heart thrills, because the smile on his face becomes brighter than any bonfire and dazzles her like the sun.

It's colder now and the laughter and revelries outside seem far off, but her chest feels full as she looks into MacGuffin's kind eyes. With one weathered hand, she strokes his face and they share a sweet kiss. It's their first and last.

It's Lord MacIntosh who finds the Bear Queen still and cold and alone in her deathbed.

It's Lord Dingwall who finds MacGuffin dead on the battlefield.

Despite their grief, the two Lords find strange comfort in the smiles frozen on their friends' still faces.

Taibhs - (pronounced 'tie') Refers to various spirits, both living and dead

Tannasg - (pronounced 'tannask') The apparition of someone dead