Highlander: Crossroads of Time
Table of Contents
Prologue: The Bargain of Fergus McCurdy
Chapter One: Meetings...
Chapter Two: ... and Beginnings
Chapter Three: Lessons...
Chapter Four: ... and Questions
Chapter Five: Vengeance...
Chapter Six: ...and Mercy
Chapter Seven: Life...
Chapter Eight: ... and Death?
Chapter Nine: Death...
Chapter Ten: ... and Rebirth
Chapter Eleven: Promises...
Chapter Twelve: ... and Trust
Chapter Thirteen: One!
Prologue: The Bargain of Fergus McCurdy
The wind whistled about him in ever increasing gales. Lightening crackled in the night sky and the rain poured in blinding sheets. It was, thought Fergus McCurdy, as if nature herself mirrored his own anguish and anger.
They had brought Cameron home to him. His only son ... his only child ... the only one who had ever mattered ... Cameron was dead. Killed in Cinaed's war with the Picts. He had joined the army against Fergus' wishes.
"My place is at Cinaed's side."
"Your place is here." Fergus had told him. "You have duties and obligations."
"Aye ... and I will fulfill them. But I also have duties to this land and to Cinaed. I have given my word and I will keep it."
So he had followed the king and he had died. "Now," Fergus groaned, "now nothing matters." His line would die and the name of Fergus mac Curdy would be lost. His wife, Maire, was long dead, and he was too old to take another ... nor did he care to. He had set so many hopes on Cameron ... now they were all dashed.
Fergus screamed into the storm, roaring into the wind the old cries ... the ones his ancestors had once uttered to the old gods ... the gods of earth and air ... the ones that were before the Christian God had come to these shores.
Once before he and Maire had dared to call on the old gods. After she had lost the eighth of their children ... when even the good father had said to them that it was God's will ... Maire had whispered into the darkness for a child that would live ... and Fergus had whispered with her.
As her belly had swollen once more, they had, in the dark of night, offered the sacrifice of cake, sweetened with honey, clear water, clotted cream and fresh berries and prayed to the old gods. When her time had neared, a wandering mid-wife, unknown to the clan, had come. With practiced hands she had safely delivered Cameron into his father's eager arms.
But Cameron was dead! Fergus sliced the knife across his palm, letting the blood drip onto the bread he had set in the center of the circle of standing stones. He roared the old words once more. She would come! She had to come!
The storm lessened about him. The rain slowed to a mist and finally stopped. Above him the clouds parted and moonlight and star-shine began to work their age-old magic. They were the lights in the night sky ... and they offered peace to those lost in darkness.
She had come! As silently as the clouds had parted, she had come. Fergus saw the tall, stern faced Lady, her clothes as dark as night, her hair, shining like silver in the moonlight. "Desist, Fergus, your cries are enough to wake the dead."
She entered the stone circle and sat down next to him. "I am here."
"My son is dead!"
"Death is a part of life. All things die and are swept away in the fullness of their time."
"But he was my son. Now I have no child to follow after me. My name will be lost. There is no future." Fergus wept.
She sighed deeply. "What would you give Fergus, for another child?" She absently stirred the sodden bread with her foot.
"All that I own ... all my lands ... all my cattle ... everything ... for a child that will never die."
The Lady looked at him thoughtfully. She knitted her brows and then raised one of them as if in question. "Bargains with me are perilous ... are you certain this is a path you would trod?"
Fergus laid his right hand over his heart. "I do swear this."
"Then I might have such a child." She reached into the bag she had slung over her shoulder and pulled out a small wrapped bundle, which she lay at Fergus' feet. "I had other plans ... but perhaps this is for the best."
Fergus knelt and reached eagerly for the small bundle. He grinned broadly. "My thanks, my Lady ... I am yours for all time." Slowly he unwrapped the child and then his face dropped. "It's ... it's ... it's a girl."
"Well ... you did not specify a son."
"But ... but ... but ..." Fergus sputtered. "How shall my name live?"
"It will live ... I have sworn it." The Lady rose to her feet, towering above him. "I keep my word. Bargains with me are not easily broken. And remember, all that you own is forfeit this night to me ... save your name."
Fergus gazed upon the tiny child before him. Dark hair grew on her small head; and, in the moonlight, her green eyes sparkled. She laughed a baby's cooing laugh and kicked the air. One tiny hand reached to his and grasped a finger. Fergus softened, "How then shall I provide for her?" Fergus re-wrapped the tiny smiling child.
The Lady adjusted her bags and picked up the tall staff she had earlier set aside. "You may keep your lands and cattle until the child is grown. When you are dead, they will be mine."
"But she must have a dowry ... how then shall I provide for her." Fergus had picked the baby up and was holding her gently in his arms ... bouncing her slightly and playfully up and down.
The Lady turned once more to him. "I tell you this, Fergus McCurdy ... That child shall have none. The man worthy of her will take her as she is with only the clothes upon her back. Indeed, he will pay a king's ransom for the honor of her hand."
"Yes ..." Fergus understood. "She will be worth it." He looked once more into the face of the Lady. "I will love her and cherish her all the rest of my days."
The Lady nodded. "But she will not always remain with you. A day will come when she shall be sent for. You will know the time. Let her go, then, Fergus ... or she may die."
The Lady leaned over to gaze into the face of the changeling child. She spoke words that to Fergus had no meaning ... syllables of sound that meant nothing to him. The only one he was able to clearly hear was the first of them ... "Aella ..." Then she turned to go.
"Call me no more. Our business is concluded. I go now to rest in the earth ... my tasks are at long last complete. My long road is at last ended ... and I am free." She left him then. He and the child were alone in the great stone circle.
He told the others of his village that the girl was his granddaughter. That Cameron had married a woman of foreign lands. She had given him the girl to raise before she died. He had said nothing else. It was the truth ... if not the whole truth.
The little girl was an enchantment as she grew. She laughed and sang and danced about the village. She took wonder in the things of nature and eased the sorrow of those she touched. Whenever Fergus sat, she would climb into his lap and his heart was glad. If others whispered words that she was a faerie child, he merely smiled. Aella was his ... and his world was complete. She was his ... and she would not die.
When she was five, emissaries from Cinaed's court came to the village.
"The wars are ended. King Kenneth ... they gave his name the newer sounding pronunciation ... wishes all the clans to form strong alliances. You are required to send a child of your household to his court."
Fergus laughed. "I had but one child and he is dead!"
The emissary pointed at Aella playing in the dust nearby. "She will do."
Fergus roared at them, "Never!" He swept Aella into his arms and held her close. He dared to turn his back on the king's men.
Aella placed one tiny hand on the side of his face and cocked her head to one side; as though listening to a voice only she could hear. "Grandfather ... the Lady says it is time."
Fergus sobbed. "So soon ... so soon." He turned back to the men and held her out. "Take her, then" His heart was breaking, but if the child was to live, the Lady had said he must let her go. His voice betrayed none of this.
The king's man took her and then said, "You are also to arrange for a dowry ... so that when she is old enough ... the king can make a suitable marriage for her ... an alliance to strengthen the clans."
Fergus smiled mysteriously, "I have none to give. No lands ... nor cattle ... nothing save the clothes she wears. Tell Cinaed the man worthy of her will take her as she is. And ... he will offer a king's ransom for the honor."
And so it was, that Aella, the changeling child ... the final gift of the Faerie Queen ... came to the court of King Kenneth MacAlpin to meet her destiny. And Fergus McCurdy kept his bargain and no dowry did he ever send.