Eh, this is officially the longest piece of fiction I had written for FFnet, ever. I didn't want to make it this long but well, details demanded it. The battle is an important part of Edward's experience and it had to be told.
I want to thank Babette12 for editing this monster. I went to bed last night ad 3 AM to finish it and when I woke up today at 2 PM, it was done!
Babette, I (heart) you. And both her one-shots, 'Going to Sleep' and 'Taking Liberties' are amazing too, so I suggest you check them out!
This is also dedicated to Stavanger1 because she's an amazing friend and writer, and to Vixen1836 because I honestly would not have written it if she had not encouraged me. In any case, certainly not for the contest.
Oh by the way 'Gaidheal' means 'Highlander' in Gaelic.
Age of Edward Contest
Pen name: Namariel
Type of Edward: Braveheartward (Scotland, 1745)
In the silent, still night, the bagpipe's sorrowful cry rang clearly across the grounds. I didn't know this melody; I wondered if it was a calm tune to lift the spirits or a quiet goodbye to those that lay dying in in the field.
I thought of the Sassenachs' camp at Balblair.
I tried with all within me but I could not muster the energy to hate them. In truth I was indifferent. I did not care one way or the other, anymore. Like a rock stuck in the bottom of an angry river, madness raged around me and failed to move me.
It simply did not matter.
I wished it did.
Around me born warriors sharpened their broadswords and their daggers. Pistols were cleaned thoroughly and reloaded. These men were ferocious and wild, truly horrifying in the battlefield. They fought for what they believed in with all their hearts and souls.
What did my broadsword kill for?
Why was I there?
"Ruadh," Jasper appeared right by my side, tightening his thick winter cape around his shoulders and torso. "I was just with the McKenzies. Their youngest is missing."
I moved my eyes over the wide expanse of crimson stained grass in front of us. "Hayden."
I saw him nod out the corner of my eye.
Hayden—sixteen year old, blonde, blue-eyed Hayden McKenzie.
But still—I remained untouched.
I drew a deep breath in, enjoying the biting cold of the air on my lips and tongue. I held it for a moment, and then sighed heavily.
"Will this nightmare never end?"
"I am quite sure it will—tomorrow in fact." He looked away, his eyes scanning over the Highlanders burrowed into the tartans and capes around us. "How many do you think we have killed?"
"Not a third of what they have." I answered directly.
"Perhaps yes, but in comparison, they are unconcerned. Us, on the other hand…"
"Jasper, ye should go." I said calmly. "No one demands ye stay here. Ye aren't a Highlander—ye aren't even Scot."
"Och, aye. I can even grunt like one."
I smiled slightly.
"This is Hell, a carain. Flee and I will cover you."
"I like this version of hell better than the Bible's."
I sighed and glared half-heartedly at him, "You speak blasphemy, Jasper."
"Fluently," he agreed, nodding.
"I simply fail to understand why. You have no duty, nor do your beliefs keep you here."
"On the contrary, Edward. I have a duty to Scotland, she has given me shelter, protection, . s She has given me love, a family. I have worked her lands and bled on her fields. I do have a duty to this land, and it is my belief that when you are offered kindness you shall return it ten-fold. Scotland is my motherland now, and as such I shall defend her."
I nodded, understanding.
"I am not like you, Edward Ruadh," he said softly. "My duty and my beliefs coincide."
I looked at him, startled. "My beliefs are my duty."
He sighed, "No, they are not. Your duty is to be here and fight for your land, or so you think, but your belief is that this war will never be won, and that this is a pointless loss of precious lives. You heart is not in this fight. Where is your heart?"
"In Coille an t-Suidhe." I deadpanned.
"What's a man without a heart, or the other way around?" he shook his head, "You are like a boy whose elders force to go to Church despite the knowledge that he detests it. You are here in body but your spirit has left you. It is horrible, Edward. You are dead inside."
I did not answer. I was not going to anyway, but just then we were interrupted as Seaneen appeared by my shoulder, his long brown hair tangled and the braids at the sides of his face caked with mud.
We really were a rather sad group, to tell you the truth.
He offered up a pipe and I shook my head; Jasper gladly took it.
"You should not," I said quietly, "it is bad for your health."
"You want to know what's bad for me health?" Seaneen asked, arching his brows. "The English!"
"Yes well, they are generally bad for everyone anywhere. Ask the French." Jasper commented.
"Or the Spaniards," Seaneen replied.
"Where are they liked?" Jasper frowned.
"England," Seaneen and I answered together.
What had begun as a small argument between friends behind us was quickly escalating. I turned and scolded them quickly in Gaelic. Most of them were from Coille an t-Suidhe, and they murmured apologies and became immediately quiet.
"Highlanders," Jasper chuckled.
I glared and grunted and he laughed. He insisted the Scots had a wide range of throaty sounds he would never be able to imitate faithfully. Jasper was a great companion in battle; not only was he surprisingly skilled with his short sword, but also he kept my mood up when it came crashing down whenever I actually thought of this pointless battle.
"Come now, Ruadh. Let us lie down and get whatever rest we may."
I agreed and stretched out in the dirt, bending my knees and pulling the long winter cape close around me. I had left my sword on the ground earlier; the broadsword was as tall as my shoulder and while I loved it dearly, it was not quite comfortable to carry around, especially since it did not have a scabbard. The Sassenchs with their little kitchen knives cowered easily at the sight of it; I imagine with it in my hands, covered in blood and dirt, my hair wild and my eyes mad with the thirst of battle, I was quite the image.
Bella always laughed, calling me a little animal, because my hair was always tangled and there were twigs and leaves in it; I was almost always covered in dirt, and smelt like leather, sweat and horses.
I sometimes wondered how she could love me so much. I was unbelievably blessed.
When I lay at night like this, alone despite the fact that I was surrounded by hundreds of sleeping Jacobites with Jasper sleeping at my side like a loyal watchdog, I remembered her sharper than ever. In my mind's eye I could picture her laugh, her voice, her honeyed brown eyes, her dark silky hair, her soft white skin.
I sighed and closed my eyes. I envied Jasper; he had fought before, many times in many battles, and he knew how to make his body fall asleep and wake up immediately to his orders. Mine didn't respond to me so willingly; I barely slept, as it was, and tomorrow would be a bad day.
Today had been a bad day as well. Particularly bad indeed.
Ever since the 30th of January, everything had gone downhill. The Duke of Cumberland arrived in Scotland to take command of the government forces after Cope and Hawley failed. He decided to wait out the winter, and moved his troops northwards to Aberdeen. Around then the Hessian troops, commanded by Prince Frederick of Hesse and amounting up to five thousand men, joined the army. The 8th of April, the weather having improved as much as Scot weather may ever improve—which as it is, isn't much at all—Cumberland decided to resume his campaign. The 11th they arrived at the small town of Cullen, where they were united with six battalions and two cavalry regiments, and advanced on towards River Spey. It was guarded by a Jacobite force of two-thousand, made up of the Jacobite cavalry, the Lowland regiments and over half of the army's French regulars.
The Jacobites turned and fled of course, what else could they do against such a force? They headed first towards Elgin and then to Nairn.
They then evacuated Nairn in the 14th, and Cumberland camped his army at Balblair just west of the town.
We were then all stationed in Inverness, but our command quickly evacuated the city, leaving behind most of our supplies. We assembled about 5 miles away, to the east near Drummossie, around 12 miles away from Nairn.
And so here we were, at the eve of the 15th of April, at an impasse.
We were going to be slaughtered—it was just a question of when. We were not only vastly outnumbered, we also lacked ammunition, food, and winter clothes, not to mention we were exhausted. This foolishness was suicide.
"Let it go," Jasper murmured nearby. "Sleep."
I emptied my mind of thoughts and, eventually, managed to fall into a fitful sleep.
I woke disoriented at dawn. Jasper dumped a rock of bread on my stomach and grunted a greeting.
"Well, you sure are beginning to sound Scot, Welsh."
"Eat your bread and be quiet. Something is wrong."
I jumped to my feet, shivering in the cold, and looked around in alarm. The men were oddly quiet. I could hear in the distance the sound of swords being sharpened, a common sound I had come to get used to, and the shuffling of boots in the dirt.
"What has happened? Have the Sassenachs moved?"
Around us the fog was thick; it was impossible to see much farther than a few feet ahead, and in the grey light of the breaking dawn, the landscape was eerily similar to what I pictured the place between Earth and Heaven was, that waiting space where you lay as the Angels decided if you would go Up or Below.
And it was really—Drummossie Moor was its name. A stretch of open moorland enclosed between the walled Culloden enclosures to the North and the walls of Culloden Park to the South.
"No, but the command is gathered in Prince Charles' tent, and I have a bad feeling."
I stared at him, feeling my blood run cold.
"I have to find Carlisle Cameron. Perhaps he knows what they are brewing."
I made to slip past him but he caught my arm, his grip like an iron band.
I distractedly yanked a piece of the hard bread into my mouth, eyeing the field. I felt troubled and restless. I could understand now the uncharacteristic hush that had spread over the Highlanders. I could feel the tragedy vibrating in the cold, humid air around me, like the remnants of thunder in a storm.
Jasper watched over me like a golden feathered, blue eyed hawk until I finished the bread and swallowed a few mouthfuls of whiskey to warm me and wake up. Once I was finally released from his penetrating gaze, I immediately started looking for Carlisle Cameron, intent on finding out what exactly we were going to do from now on.
It was no easy feat. I knew most of the men camped here and they all had something they absolutely had to tell me—whether it was that they had seen an English soldier nearby or that they had had the most awful dream that night. Business ranged from life-or-death to the most trivial matters, and as any Highlander is friendly by nature, they saw me and automatically wanted to speak with me.
Bella used to play around saying charisma was my curse. I always said hers was her beauty; I spent more time growling at pretenders than courting her during out teenage years. Granted I was a jealous boy—I was a jealous man too—but the amount of men trying to seduce her whenever we went into a town where it was not abundantly clear she was my woman was daunting. A more demure woman would have been flabbergasted—Bella, of course, arched a brow and made a sarcastic comment.
Bella will always be Bella.
I only managed to find Carlisle around mid-morning.
The man had aged years in a few days' time. Silver was threading with the gold in his temples, new lines marked the edges of his long mouth and wide forehead, and there was a new icy grey glint in his clear blue eyes.
"Cullen," he greeted when I finally stopped by his fire. He rose, wiped his hand on his kilt and came over to me, not even attempting to smile. I studied his face intently for a moment and as it dawned on me, I grasped his elbow.
"Ye're sick," I hissed.
He sighed, "Aye—keep quiet. You were looking for me?"
"I've heard you cough. Is it tuberculosis?"
"Damn, man. You ought to leave."
"We all should," he murmured.
I released his arm and ran my hands through my hair, angry and helpless. I stomped down on my irritation—he did not need it right now. He clearly had more problems than I did, and while I might resent him for dragging me and my men here in the beginning, I cared. He was a good, honest man and he meant well.
"What are they deliberating in the tent?"
He waved a hand, "Command affairs I am not allowed to be enlightened about."
I growled and brushed past him. Good man or not, he had a docile, gentle character that I did not favor. He was a leader, but more of the intellectual kind. He lacked the necessary firmness in his demands of answers.
I stormed my way over to the tent and caught sight of Aro McKenzie sitting by the fire nearby, looking absent-minded. I stood by him for a minute before crouching down and snapping him to attention by clearing my throat.
"What news, a caraid?"
Aro sighed, "None good, lad."
"Bad news is preferable to no news at all."
"Easily so—however, I have no time for debates right now."
Aro tilted his head, acquiescing.
"Lord George Murray insists that this moor is not a good battle ground. He, with other senior officers, believe that the rough moorland terrain is unsuitable for a defensive position as it is very advantageous to the Duke, because of the marshes and the uneven ground. They make the charge somewhat difficult and leave us open to the Duke's artillery—a force to be recognized, indeed."
So far, we had been winning battles on account of our wild charges. I had to admit that a mass of dirty, wild, insane-looking Highlanders wielding swords and yelling their throats sore running in your direction like a stampede of wild buffalos—and with just about the same discipline—was quite the image, but against a well organized army led by a strong, level-headed man like Cumberland, we were at a disadvantage. Even then, with an uneven terrain making it likely for the men to fall, although we were quite familiarized with the Scot grounds, the charge would be a bad idea.
Strategically speaking, the Jacobite initiative was poor. I knew Murray had insisted on a 'little war' type campaign, but Prince Charles had refused. The idea would have been a wise decision—take by surprise, act fast and brutal, withdraw immediately after causing as much damage as possible in such a short amount of time.
Prince Charles was a proud man. And when you find yourself in the position he did, you cannot really afford pride. If he wanted to win, then he should have been willing to win by any means. As it was, we were just sitting ducks waiting to run head-on into the wolf's awaiting jaws.
And Cumberland was no forgiving wolf.
While the Duke's artillery had been performing less than admirably so far, I could not count on that to continue so. He was a perfectionist and he had been training his men; surely their skills had improved.
I nodded and stood, walking away.
I often wondered if to Charles Stuart, this war was a game. It was not him shedding blood on the fields, getting cut by swords and shot by muskets and pistols. He merely sat in his tent and gave orders and made decisions—most of them bad ones.
I made my way back to my men, stopping along the way to speak with some of the other clans. The McLachlans were arguing heatedly; I steered away from them because more than once in my younger years I had been dragged into one of their fights and they kicked like mules and bit like crocodiles.
When I finally made it back to my men it was around noon.
As they cooked what little we had to eat, I murmured to Jasper everything Aro had told me.
"Interesting—but if the ground is unsuitable, why have we not moved out?"
"Move where? There are English behind and ahead."
He thought for a moment, and finally nodded.
Jasper and I shared the opinion that disbanding and implementing the 'small war' campaign was the only way this Rising would ever end up in something worthwhile. I wished time and time again Prince Charles would finally change his mind and realize that was the best course of action, but as it often went, prayers of excellence in the command of Highlander war campaigns was futile.
I wished I had been born to meet William Wallace. He might not have been the most disciplined of leaders, but he was a charismatic figure that inspired men to follow him and do whatever they needed to complete his dream—a dream they shared, a dream that ran through their veins like blood, a dream they breathed in with the air into their lungs and spread with the beat of their hearts.
My heart pumped blood—dull and slow.
It all felt wrong. It all felt pointless.
The world was a dull, bleak grey. Eternal twilight—caught in the middle between day and night. I was stuck.
We ate and sat around the fire to share warmth and stories—for what is a gathering of Highlanders, but a sharing of strong whiskey and old anecdotes? Then there should be bagpipes and violins and dancing and eating—but short of all that, because the command had ordered quietness in the camp, we had only our characters and our Scot blood.
Well, and Jasper's Welsh blood. But really, he did play the Scot part rather well—he could, indeed, grunt.
A couple of hours later, as Jasper and I—once again—argued that smoking was bad and he should not do it, because I would tell Alice he did and she would punish him, a boy came running over and stopped, panting, in front of me.
"Lad?" I arched a brow.
"Carlisle Cameron says," he breathed, "be ready to move out at twilight. We will make a night attack on Nairn."
"In the night, they will not see us coming!" the lad said triumphantly.
"Neither will we!" I snapped at him. He looked taken aback, a thought he had not considered.
"Run along," Jasper said, dismissing the boy. He ran away, as though I had scared him.
I turned to the blond, getting to my feet. My blood boiled in my veins—anger consumed me. It burned in my throat and pulsed in my chest as though it were a living, breathing entity, separate from me. I felt it alien and at the same time welcomed it—it was a change from the unrelenting, dead-like indifference I had been feeling.
Ever since I left Bella that morning as she slept, I had felt everything superficially—no depth, as though my skin was hard rock, unbreakable, impenetrable.
Oh, but this—this I felt.
"This is madness!" I thundered.
"Lower your voice," he murmured, gripping my elbow and leading me away from the men and into the nearby woods. "Your dissent from higher orders will not help anyone. I prefer we keep it between us."
"No! Absolutely not! I refuse to lead my men to a pointless battle! I will not lead them to their deaths!"
Jasper's shoulders slumped slightly.
"NO! Don't you dare ask me to do this, Jasper! Don't you dare ask me to sacrifice their lives for a pointless whim!"
"The whim has always been the same—"
"This is murder!"
I crashed my closed fist against a tree's bark, skinning my knuckles. The pain was sharp and it awakened my muted senses. I welcomed it, like the burn of anger in my throat and the weight of hate in the pit of my stomach.
"They will kill us all, and for what? For nothing!"
I made to hit the tree again and suddenly Jasper's arms wrapped around my chest and pulled me back forcefully. He turned and threw me to the grass, where I landed in a heap of uncontrolled fury. I recovered immediately and threw myself at him, but Jasper was lithe and fast, and he dodged me, catching my arm and shoving me away.
He yelled at me in English, but my mind was clouded—I didn't understand it anymore. Jasper's Gaelic was strangely poor—a sign of high Welsh lineage, because the higher classes of Wales looked down upon Gaelic—and he struggled to reach me, but in the end failed.
I did understand his loud curse, right before he sank his knee in my stomach.
The air left my lungs in a painful rush, a rivulet of white steam in the frigid air.
I fell to my knees, coughing and gagging.
Jasper let himself fall at my side, panting.
"You are a brute," he scolded.
I gasped, "You fight dirty."
"You Highlanders make everything about honor," he rolled his eyes.
I sat back, kneeling in the cold grass.
"What am I going to do?"
Jasper sighed, rubbing his hair furiously.
"Deserters will be shot," he quoted.
I turned my hand to look at my bloody knuckles, my anger dulled to a muted ache, the foam that had boiled under my skin quieted.
"I brought them here," I murmured.
The helplessness gripped me again and I sank back into the cold bottom of hopeless despair. I longed to reach for my indifference again, but it had faded away like smoke in the wind, leaving behind nothing but the vague memory of insensibility. I sought to find that painless void, but it eluded me. The ice was cracked—my skin wasn't cold stone anymore. I was flesh and bones again, blood pumping and spreading pain—both physical and emotional.
I almost sobbed.
She's gone—she's alone—and all for what? What brought me here, to this point?
The word was suddenly meaningless.
Pride drove Charles Stuart. Pride drove Cumberland.
But it was lost to me—it became the abstract concept of an unknown feeling. Where was the pride of foolishly laying down your life for something you did not feel in your heart?
"Life brought us here," Jasper sighed. "For her own motives. Now we can only play with the cards it has dealt us."
"It is my fault."
"No. Nothing is your fault. You were trapped in the circumstances. You did what you could with what you had—and as far as it goes, you can feel proud of that, or satisfied. You did right by everyone, Edward."
"I made widows—I made orphans."
"You saved lives too."
"Only to throw them away in the end."
Jasper sighed, "Despair is a bad place to be and I do not envy you. But know that your sorrow is your cell, and you have put yourself there of your own volition. Not a man resents your decisions. Not one man doubts your logic or your command. Your men love you, Edward, as a hound-dog loves its master."
I sighed and rubbed my hands over my face. I realized I had smeared blood across my cheek and huffed in annoyance. The pain was but a vague throbbing in my hand and I easily ignored it. Other pains overrode it.
"Come now, I better bandage that before we leave."
The men looked at me oddly, concerned, as I made my way back to them. To reassure them I smiled and joked about the tree beating me up unfairly and Jasper not moving a finger to help me. Jokes about the unsuitability of the Welsh in general as bar-fight companions ensued. Jasper grunted repeatedly, earning Scot praises.
I struggled to find the calm, secure place in which I felt myself suitable to lead my men. Carefully, I took the splinters of myself and stuck them back together, reforming the puzzle I had lost that morning when I left and shattered like fragile glass.
By the end of the afternoon, at twilight, I had pieced myself together and I felt like myself. Edward Cullen was back—different, but still him.
Today, the Duke of Cumberland turned twenty-five years old. The Sassenachs were celebrating, and Murray had proposed to repeat the victory of Prestonpans by carrying out a night attack on the government encampment. We were to set off at dusk and march to Nairn. Murray would have the right wing of the first line of attack to Cumberland's rear, while Perth with the left wing would attack the front. Prince Charles would bring up the second line supporting Perth.
The day became night. Stars came out, and the moon shone bright.
"You people can't keep a schedule," Jasper observed.
"We will never make it in time," I mumbled angrily. "We will be blind attacking the blind. What is more, we will be blind armed with swords attacking blind armed with cannons."
"On the good side, the English are arrogant, stupid blind."
"All but Cumberland—and who is directing the army? Oh yes. Cumberland."
"Maybe he is drunk."
"Maybe I was born in Ireland," I snapped, irritated.
Jasper wisely kept quiet.
We finally set off in the closed night. I kept calculating in my head but yet I came up with no way to cross twelve miles in the night with time enough to catch the Sassenachs unguarded and in the cover of darkness.
It just would not happen.
Which made this all the more hopeless—but I kept my irritation carefully concealed. We might be marching to our deaths, but no need to scream it to my men.
My regiment was accompanying Murray.
It was a mess. The dark made it impossible for anyone to follow any tracks, and confusion and disorder were constant companions.
I kept my men tightly close, all together, murmuring encouragements and rounding them up if they separated too much. Jasper and I had good eye sight and balance and we ran back and forth, keeping everyone together. I did not want to lose anyone.
The progress was unbelievably slow.
I counted the minutes, the miles, made parallelisms and still came out short.
I shook my head, "We will not make it," I hissed at Jasper.
"It is a little late to turn back now, Ruadh."
We reached Culraick one hour before dawn. The town was still two miles off the spot where we were supposed to cross River Nairn and encircle the town.
"I hate being right," I sighed.
"I hate the fact you feel the need to remind me all the time," jasper replied.
Murray and his officers argued heatedly. We sat on the ground and contemplated the meaning of Life. Jasper insisted it was love. Seaneen insisted it was whiskey. I was in a pleasant middle ground.
I randomly remembered images of Bella throughout our life together.
Finally, Murray decided there was no time to mount a surprise attack. I could only agree.
"That was rather anticlimactic," Jasper observed.
"Wonderful. Now we get to walk twelve miles pointlessly twice," Seaneen complained.
"Walking is healthy," I shrugged.
I was personally happy we had dodged the fight.
Sullivan was sent to find Prince Charles and tell him of the change of plans. Instead of making us retrace our steps, Murray decided to lead us down the road to Inverness back towards the camp. At least it would not be as monotonous as re-walking the already walked, and with light coming, and a better lined road, the walk should be easier.
At this point the whole thing was laughable. It was a stupid idea, and it had a sad, stupid ending. The men were tired and started to disperse in search of food along the way. I kept my men together still, weary of having them separate and lose one another. I did send some to gather food for us—at this point each regiment was on their own, quite frankly—but I sent them in pairs or groups of three, so no one would wander about on his own.
By the time we made it back to Blàr Chùil Lodair, I almost wished I was English. Almost.
It was morning and we were exhausted. I was shaking on my feet and I have extraordinary endurance.
"Let the world fall apart around me, I will just sleep right through it," I mumbled, letting myself fall to the grass.
"I agree," Jasper murmured, curling on his side at my right and promptly falling asleep.
I doubt I slept but a minute. When I woke up abruptly, I felt like I had just closed my eyes. Every muscle in my body was sore—even muscles I was not aware I had to begin with.
Someone was screaming and running around. I could not quite understand what he was yelling about—my mind was clouded with sleep and fatigue. Jasper stumbled to his feet at my side, blinking and cursing. I shook my head and caught the boy's arm, almost flinging him to a stop in front of me.
"What is it?"
"The English are coming!" he said, panicked. "We saw them! They are four miles away from us!"
He wiggled his arm and in my shock, I released him so he could keep shouting and alerting everyone else. My blood ran cold.
I turned to Jasper. His eyes were wide and his face livid.
"Go," I rasped, and swallowed. "Go! Run, wake everyone up! GO!"
He set off running like a soul chased by the devil, yelling 'Cumberland is coming, the English are coming' and making as much noise as he possibly could. I started shaking my men, waking them up and pulling them to their feet forcefully. They were not going to catch us asleep.
Murray finally woke up and started shouting we needed to form—so we did.
At about eleven in the morning, the armies were within sight of one another. Two miles of rough moorland stretched between us, and the English advanced steadily forwards. The weather got progressively worse as the minutes went by, and while rain and sleet had never bothered me before, my body was beginning to betray me. Also, the wind blew in our faces, working against us.
Mother Scotland had a funny way to show her support.
My sword was unusually heavy in my hands. My cape tangled, wet and heavy, in my legs. My hair got in my eyes.
But adrenaline burned through my veins. Anger bubbled right under the surface of the calm visage I had constructed for my men. My heart beat so loud and strong I thought it would beat right out of my chest. I had to force myself to breathe steadily and deeply so as to not get light-headed for lack of air.
Lochiel's Regiment was under Murray's direct command and on the far right of the line. I organized my men efficiently and kept them under tight control, keeping an eye out of outbreaks of panic or the very opposite, too much enthusiasm.
The high of battle is one not unlike that of sex.
Shocks of electric impulses run through your limbs like tiny tongues of fire licking quickly up your muscles. Your senses widened and your range of alertness opened to a nearly unbearable awareness in which you felt everything sharper than ever before. The breathing of the men around me was the background music to the prelude of hell.
Murray gave an order and suddenly our column shifted, changing positions. I sent Jasper to find out why were where moving differently than the rest, sliding down further into the moor and forming in three columns. My guess was Murray was attempting to shift the axis of our line, heading in a more Northern direction—but as I looked around, I realized the MacDonalds in the far right of the line, closest to us, were not moving at all.
Jasper reappeared at my side, "Murray realized the Leanach enclosure ahead of us would be an obstacle in the event of a charge and decided to move us down."
"Did he tell anyone? Why are the rest keeping still?"
He shook his head. He didn't know.
But now the line was skewed—the left wing McDonalds were still rooted against the damned Culloden wall, but the rest had moved along with us and created an uneven diagonal in the front line. If Murray intended to use the moor's natural slope to our advantage, he was not doing it correctly. There were not enough of us to cover the larger stretch of terrain and I started seeing gaps in the front line. I could not believe it—the army was just falling apart right in front of my eyes.
Prince Charles had ended up in the middle, and my guess was he was going to be the first to go down.
The second line at the back started moving to fill in the gaps and I realized Sullivan likely had absolutely no idea why Murray had moved ahead.
"Do we not have blasted couriers to pass along messages and orders!?" I snapped, incapable of holding back.
"Communication does seem to be an issue," Jasper mumbled.
"It seems to be nonexistent!" I raged.
I released a long stream of curses and sunk my sword into the ground ahead of me, too angry to contain the feeling below my skin. Everything was such an amateur thing! Mistakes a child would know to avoid in a battle in his backyard! What was Murray thinking!?
"Cumberland is moving his lines to rearrange," Jasper observed.
Two battalions had moved to our right, most likely anticipating some sort of retreat plan utilizing the Leanach enclosure behind us. We could take cover there from the artillery, but the low, old walls would offer little aid. Using it was pointless in any case—Cumberland's artillery was too powerful and even an idiot could hit a heap of rocks and Highlanders at this distance.
And just then, the artillery began to work. I kept my mean steady and standing. The charge would begin soon, and we would be in full-out battle in less than five minutes.
Any minute now.
No orders were issued.
"What the hell are they waiting for? An invitation!?" Seannen asked.
I wondered, too.
Over half an hour passed and inexplicably, we were kept formed and arranged under the open fire, doing nothing.
"Are they hoping they will run out of ammunition?" Jasper asked, flabbergasted.
I did not answer.
Then the far left wing began to move—the Chattan Clan. The charge was beginning, so I called at my men to prepare, grasping my sword and keeping an eye out on the Chattans to see their advance.
"What are they doing?" Jasper whined.
The Chattans had veered right, in what I could only interpret as an attempt to avoid some kind of rough ground that would place them at a disadvantage, and had entered directly into the advance line of the other regiments, making an obstacle of themselves. The line began to advance as well as it possibly could—not well at all—and the charge began in an unorganized, disordered way.
Murray ordered his men forward so I charged, and just as we began to advance down the slope of the moor, the two battalions to our right came at our flank, which was only reasonable considering our positions but something Murray had failed to consider.
I was beginning to doubt his abilities to be truthful.
Everything became a blur around me. I focused all of my senses on my sword and in keeping myself alive. Every man is on his own in a charge, and I was not going to die here today.
In an odd balance between sharp and dulled senses, I moved like a viper but yet was strangely unaware of my surroundings. My limbs moved on their own accord. My sword fought for herself, leading my body behind her and seeking to destroy as much as possible in the least amount of time humanly achievable.
Warm blood splattered across my chest and face. I felt the reverberations of vibrations in my arms and torso as my sword hit flesh and cut through bone. The rain, wind and sleet in my face were no longer cold. The mud suctioned at my feet but I was stronger than it, stomping around and keeping a wide circle of open space around me by sheer intimidation. I occasionally saw a glimpse of Jasper's blond hair out the corner of my eye, keeping close and watching over me, moving like a snake with his twin blades.
I cut down a Dragoon and suddenly came face to face with a musket. I dropped to my knees and the bullet singed the top of my head, splitting my scalp. Blood flowed freely down my face, getting in my eyes. I got to my feet again and swung blindly around, and when I opened my eyes the Dragoon lay decapitated at my feet.
His pistols were still in his belt. I reached down and plucked them out, shooting at the first two English I saw. I then tossed them away, useless because I did not have the time to reload them, and picked up my broadsword again.
I have no inkling as to how long I was there at the heart of the battle, but eventually Jasper appeared at my side again and seized my arm.
"The army is in rout," he shouted over the thundering noise. "The battle is lost! Withdraw your men and run!"
I nodded, all too happy to acquiesce to his advice. I turned on my heels and started shouting to retreat, shoving any Coille an t-Suidhe men who were not listening to my orders. Finally I got them all running up the slope towards the wall.
I ran as fast as I could, outpacing my men, and took the head of the retreat, keeping it as orderly as I possibly could and making sure we were not rushing into an ambush. Jasper took the rear, taking care no one was left behind or got disbanded. I would count the losses once we were safe, but for now we had to run.
We took to the forest to the right. I wanted to lead everyone back down towards the Inverness road; once we were there, hiding would be easy. But first we needed to be safe from the following forces in charge of pursuit.
I let the men get ahead of me and caught Jasper as he fled past me.
"Are they following us?"
"No," he panted.
I nodded and released him, but waited for a few minutes to make sure we were not being pursued. Finally satisfied we were safe, I caught up with my men and led them into the heart of the forest, where we could rest and hide out the day until darkness came. Once night fell like a blanket over Scotland, we would be able to worm our way inconspicuously into safer places.
Of the fifty-four men I had brought from Coille an t-Suidhe, twenty-three remained with me. I was unsure as to what had happened to the rest—perhaps they had fallen in Culloden, perhaps they had taken to running with another regiment and were now safe elsewhere. I had seen six fall in battle and was certain they were dead before they touched the ground.
Fifteen of the twenty-three alive were injured. Jasper had lost an eye—that explained the blood. He was dealing with it surprisingly well, and never complained. I took care of our wounded before checking myself. Besides the cut in my scalp, I had several more gashes along my skin that would leave nice scars, but nothing too deep or worrisome. I had been ridiculously lucky.
The next few days were on edge. We kept low in the day, moving carefully, but the greatest advances were made in the night under the moon's light.
We finally made it to Inverness, but the Dragoons were all over the city and we had to hide. Contrary to Murray's hope, the city's inhabitants were none too keen on the Jacobites and we had trouble finding people that would help us. Cumberland made it widely known that all and any person hiding or aiding a Jacobite would be treated as one and thus hanged or imprisoned.
The Sassenachs were in a rampage. Jasper knew friends in Inverness and we hid with them, keeping well underground.
Following the battle the Lowland units headed south, towards Corrybrough and made their way to Ruthven Barracks. The Highland units headed north, towards Inverness and on to Fort Augustus. The roughly 1,500 men that assembled at Ruthven Barracks received orders from Prince Charles saying that everything was lost and that we should all now fend for ourselves.
By 18 April the Jacobite army was disbanded. Officers and men of the units in the French service made for Inverness, where they surrendered as prisoners of war on 19 April. The rest of the army broke up, with men heading for home or attempting to escape abroad.
I needed to get back to Coille an t-Suidhe, but not with the English on my back. I needed to make sure I could pass off as a regular farmer that had had nothing to do with Culloden battle. In order to appear like that I needed all my wounds to heal completely. My height, build and hair and eye color were not outstanding features per se, but all together I was a man that called attention to himself, and I could not afford that.
Writing letters was out of the question. They were all invariably intercepted and read.
So I was basically stuck in Inverness, with no means to get word to Bella that I was alive. I feared for her—she was a firm, strong-wiled woman that would put up a fight to the Sassenachs, and rapes had not been unheard of before Culloden and afterwards, they were becoming a common occurrence.
She was entering the second month of her pregnancy and she was a delicate girl. They would not realize she was with child and if even they did—what were the chances that would stop them?
I paced like an angry lion in a cage. Jasper had developed a fever because of his eye and in his deliriums, he called for Alice several times at night, startling me awake. I did what I could for him, trying to keep him comfortable. His temperature fluctuated wildly, oscillating between so cold I wrapped blankets around him to hot enough he had trouble breathing.
The medic was weary of his chances of surviving and insisted it was delayed shock from his wound. But I doubted it; he had run by my side all the way to Inverness, and never showed any sign of fatigue. I knew him well—I would have noticed.
Days turned into weeks.
Jasper's fever broke and he began his slow trek towards recovery. I felt like a caged bird in the house, suffocated by the enclosed spaces and locked doors and windows.
I missed Bella so much I couldn't function properly. I told myself every day I failed to return to her was another day she thought I was dead, and I hated myself for causing her pain.
Towards the middle of June, Jasper was fully recovered and I was losing my mind.
"I guess you are not designed to be indoors," he said, his voice raspy and rough.
"I need to go to Coille an t-Suidhe and find Bella. I have to talk to her, Jasper—I have to be with her. I am losing my mind here. If I wait any longer I—"
"I understand," he sighed, rubbing his forehead. "Let us head home, then."
We set off that same night, dressed in breeches and shirts and having left our tartans behind, because now they were forbidden. I had left my broadsword in the clearing in the forest the day of the battle, knowing if we were found, being armed would only work against us.
Inverness was about two days walk from Coille an t-Suidhe. We took it slowly, calmly, trying to keep from calling attention and just not bother the English. We got stopped by a patrol once, but managed to get out of it without being killed or dragged off to prison on account of Jasper's Welsh accent and both of our charismatic personalities.
We made it home three days after leaving Inverness.
Coille an t-Suidhe.
The farm I had been born in, the place I had grown up in, where I had married Bella and lived with her, where our child had been conceived. My inheritance—my past, my ancestral land.
Burnt to ashes and salted.
"Why?" Jasper asked shakily.
"She thinks I am dead," I murmured, crouching down to take a handful of ruined dirt and bring it to my face to smell it. "And she would not allow this land to be taken and used by my murderers."
"She did this to keep it from the English?" he repeated, shaken to the core. "But—such a loss, such a horrible loss—"
"Yes," My voice broke and I had to clear my throat.
But I knew why she had done it. She had said she would do it before, when the Jacobite rising began, and I had thought she exaggerated. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had known she was capable of it, but I had suppressed that thought. I should have known, though.
I was torn. In a sense I resented it. This was my land, my history, my ancestors' legacy. I was hurt that it was lost. But on the other hand—I was proud of her. She was this fierce, strong, independent woman who would bend to no one's will and would always do what she thought was right. And I loved her for it.
And this was my fault. I should have returned earlier. I should have never left.
At the end of the day, the loss of Coille an t-Suidhe was just another loss adding up to Scotland's slow but sure death. It was painful and it was horrible, but it meant the English would not have it, and that meant something.
The past is the past.
I rose and shook my hands free of dirt, sighing.
"Where is she now, then?" Jasper asked, pulling his cape closed around him.
"Sailing to France," I answered. "If not there already. Her aunt owns a tavern on the Riviera, and she offered to give us a room whenever we so desired. When the Rising began, we agreed if we ever got separated we would meet there."
"So, France it is."
"But before, let us head home. Alice will have my skin unless I get my arse there as soon as humanly possible and I have already wasted enough time. Come with me. Stay with us for a night before you head out. Who knows when you will return?"
I nodded, agreeing.
"There is somewhere I have to go before. Would you mind waiting?"
Jasper agreed to wait by the gate, and I made my way up and past the ruins of the house and down the undulations of the hills to where the ground dropped into the meadow, flanked on one side by the rock wall and bound on the other by the twinkling creek.
The grass had died out in the blazing heat of the fires that consumed the crops. The rock was marred by black streaks of soot. But the creek still twinkled, happy and healthy, fast and clear.
Not everything had to change.
I closed my eyes and remembered the first time we had stumbled into this small meadow together, the day her father and mother had come to visit my parents, their old friends. We had stayed here for hours, speaking about everything and nothing, the time slipping away from us unnoticed. Night had fallen and by the time they left the following morning, I knew she was the woman of my life.
I left the meadow and met Jasper at the gate. We walked back to the McLachlans' place, and I politely stayed back while Alice and Jasper found each other again. Their hugs, kisses and soft murmurs of reassurance and love pained me—Bella's absence was a physical ache in my chest.
"Oh, Edward!" Alice said once she was sure Jasper was alive and in one piece despite the eye. "Thank you, thank you for bringing him back to me!"
"Nonsense!" and she flung herself at me so that I had no option but to catch her and hug her, her frame impressively small against my chest.
"You will stay with us tonight!" she decided, nodding firmly.
I left early the next morning. Jasper insisted to accompany me half the way, but in between Alice and me he was quickly dissuaded. The McLachlans were kind enough to provide me with a horse so I would not have to walk all the way to Edinburgh.
I arrived at the city two weeks later. The trip had not been uneventful, and I had been forced to hide out from English patrols more often than I was comfortable with, but I made it in one piece. I sold the horse and secured myself a ticket to Paris in the ship departing the next week. I hated having to wait, but it would have to do.
Bella had visited our friend in Edinburgh before taking the ship herself. He said she looked well—except she dressed as a boy, and had cut off all her hair to conceal her gender.
I mourned her hair to a ridiculous level really.
Mo duinne, my beautiful brunette.
But in the end, she was still my Bella. Nothing would matter once she was in my arms again. I longed for the sound of her voice, the steady rising and falling of her chest beneath my ear, the way she would comb my hair back and make braids even though she knew I hated it, just to annoy me. I missed everything about her.
I missed the gentle curve of her growing belly. I wondered how much it had grown since I last saw her. I wondered if she felt it kick from time to time.
I kept hidden in my friend's house until the ship was ready to depart. When the wind finally swelled our sails and pushed us away towards France, I was incapable of looking back at what I was leaving behind. At least the wind seemed to blow in the right direction this time.
We arrived at Paris that afternoon and I skimmed through the city as though it were an insignificant blur. I knew where to take a coach for the Riviera and immediately headed there, not willing to waste any more time. I could almost feel her pull here, calling me to her.
It would take another week to get there. I felt trapped in my own body, caged and limited by circumstances.
I hated it.
But I could feel her—closer. Every day, closer.
I began to feel impatient. Anxious.
What if something had gone wrong?
What if there had been a complication with the pregnancy? What if she had met some kind of trouble in the road, or on the streets of Paris—they were unsafe and dangerous, and—
By the time I made it to the tavern I was beside myself with anxiety. So many possible scenarios had played across my mind that I could only fear the worst.
The girl at the desk was not Bella's aunt Renee. She also barely spoke English and my French was deficient at best. And with my nerves, I could hardly think, let alone translate.
I finally got my point across, though.
"Bella Cullen?" she asked. She blinked. "Gone! Left. Yesterday."
My blood ran cold.
"What do you mean, gone? Gone? Where?"
She shrugged, shaking her head.
She did not know.
But—no. How? Why? Where would she go?
I got out of the tavern in a daze and stood in front of it, trying to understand.
No… gone where? Italy? I knew she still had family there from her mother's side, but… why go to Italy? We had agreed on this tavern for years… this was where we would meet. This place right here. Where else would she go so that I could find her?
Did she—did she really think I was dead? Was she so sure she had lost me that all our years' worth of traditions and oaths meant nothing anymore…?
A carriage stopped in front of the tavern, unloading more people searching for shelter in the falling darkness.
Panic began creeping into me and tightening like iron bands around my heart. What could have happened?
I absently looked at the carriage, my mind scrambling to understand. A gentleman had descended and was now helping a woman down, grasping her hand and arm carefully. Her hair was dark and very, very short—
"Really, there is no need," she said gently, smiling wearily.
I stared at her.
She was so beautiful.
Her eyes landed on me and lingered, widening.
Relief flooded me like cold water falling on a burning man. My knees gave way and I crashed to the grass, breathing hard. I had come so close, so close to losing her—
She fell to her knees in front of me and her arms were suddenly around me. I breathed in the scent of her skin and she filled my senses, overwhelming me. She murmured my name over and over, running her hands through my hair. I raised my head from her shoulder and looked into her eyes, fighting to breathe through wracking sobs—mine and hers. I crushed her to my chest, kissing her lips and her cheeks, her nose, her eyelids, forehead, anything I could reach.
"Tha mi duilich," I sobbed, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry! I love you—so much." My voice broke again and she brought her hands to the sides of my face and soothed me, wiping away my tears. "I was such a fool, such a bloody fool for leaving."
"It doesn't matter anymore. You are here now. You came back. It doesn't matter. I love you. You are safe here with me."
I hid my face in the crook of her neck and shoulder, shaking and letting the words just leave my chest. I told her about leaving that morning and how it had hurt, how I had just stared at her for hours while she slept and how dead inside I had felt when I finally managed to drag myself out of the house. I told her about the days in Inverness and finally leaving the city and the almost night raid and the battle and how everything had gone wrong, everything.
When I was finally finished, and I had nothing else to say, I just slumped in her embrace, shivering and crying silently. She ran her hands gently down my back and through my hair, soothing and calm, anchoring me to my sanity and to the world. She was my lifeline, she meant everything to me.
I do not know how long we knelt there in the grass as I cried my heart out and she listened and held me, but eventually she shifted under me, kissing my temple.
"We should go inside," she said softly.
I became aware that night had fallen and closed tightly around us. The light of the candlesticks inside the tavern illuminated the grass with a golden, dim glow. I stood and pulled Bella up to her feet. She led me up to her room and lit the candles.
"Stay still," she murmured, unclasping my cape. "I want to look at you. Were you wounded?"
"Just small cuts," I said, swaying on my feet. I had not realized how utterly exhausted I was. Spent. Drained.
She tugged open the neck of my shirt and helped me take it off, and I leaned forward to press my forehead to hers. She kissed my lips softly and straightened me, brushing her fingertips feather-like over the new cuts. Her touches were like heaven after all the time we had spent apart, and I was aroused, but my body was giving up.
"Oh, a chara, you are so tired," she said, stroking my cheek. "You need to sleep."
"I am sorry," I murmured as she pushed me back and I fell on the bed, leaning forward.
"Stop apologizing, a chara. I love you. We are together. That is all that matters."
I rubbed my hands over my face, trying to keep awake. She slipped off my boots and undressed quickly, tugging at my wrist so I would get into the bed.
"I want to see you," I whined, stretching on my side as she covered us with the blankets.
"Tomorrow, my love. We have time. We have forever."
I pulled her to me, tangling our legs and wrapping my arms around her. We were as close as we could be in this position and for the first time I felt against my stomach the roundness of her belly—it was bigger than the last time I touched her, and I wanted to look at her, touch her… but my hands were clumsy as I stroked her cheek with the back of my fingers, and she blew out the candle and kissed my lips and I was asleep.
"Ádhraím thú." I heard her murmur before I sank into oblivion.
I am unsure as to how long I slept, but I awoke to a sound I could not quite recognize in my hazy sleepy state.
It took me a moment to realize it was the sound of retching.
"Bella?" I asked, suddenly alarmed, leaping from the bed. She was bent over a basin on the table, gasping. I touched her back and her arm, unable to do much but worry out of my mind.
"Morning sickness," she sighed. "It's normal."
I realized it was well into the morning. The room was flooded in bright sunlight that streamed in through the open curtains and spilled across the hardwood of the floorboards. I had not looked around last night and now I did; the room was medium sized, organized and clean.
She finally rinsed her mouth and ran her hands over her hair.
"It's so short," I murmured, smoothing my hand over it.
"It will grow," she shrugged.
"Come here," I asked, and walked back to the bed and sat down, pulling her between my spread knees.
I reached up to the string holding her shift and undid it gently, parting the delicate fabric to let it slip off her shoulders and down her arms until it was free of her arms. I let it pool at her feet and sat back to truly look at her.
Her belly was indeed rounded now, though not too much—only a little. She was three months pregnant now. Her breasts had gotten a tiny bit bigger, and I took them in my hands, weighing them. They were slightly heavier and rounder. Her nipples hardened against my palms and I smiled up at her, kissing above her heart, on the gentle swelling of her left breast. I ghosted my hands down to the curve of her stomach, and kissed between her breasts before pressing my ear against it.
"Has she kicked?" I asked, feeling overwhelmed.
"No, not yet," she said softly, running her fingers through my hair. Her fingers hesitated and she pulled at it, and then laughed. "A twig! Some things really never change. And it might be a boy, too."
"No," I said with certainty. "It will be a girl."
She smiled down at me, tugging at a strand of my bronze hair playfully.
My hand traveled up from her stomach between her breasts to her throat. I cupped it, slipping it to the back of her neck and brought her down to kiss her. I kissed her softly, gently and slowly—but it escalated against my will. Soon I was desperate, breathing her in and pulling her to me, hugging her as close as I dared. I did not want to hurt her—I did not want to be rough with her.
The untied breeches did little to conceal my state, though, and I had not touched her in over two months.
"Wait, my love," I stopped, blinking and trying to think. "Can you—"
"Don't be ridiculous. Of course I can." She mumbled impatiently against my lips, wrapping her arms around my shoulders. I trailed my hand over her stomach down to the apex of her legs and cupped her carefully, uncertain. But she was ready. And I was more than ready.
"Be careful," I whispered, "Don't hurt yourself."
She kissed me again and I squirmed, working the breeches down my legs quickly. We were both breathing heavily. I could feel the thunder of her heart under the delicate skin of her chest, her breath ghosting over my lips and cheeks. With no little effort, I was finally nude. She straddled me carefully and I held her close, wary of her state and incapable of ever letting her go again.
When she finally moved down over me, we both shivered and moaned. She was tight, and she was heaven.
"Ádhraím thú," I murmured, and she started rocking, setting a steady rhythm of undulating hips and gentle movements, driving me insane. She licked my jaw and caught my earlobe between her lips and made me moan. I touched her breasts, getting used to the small differences in her body, watching her move in the cascade of golden light of the sunbeams, loving the shards of fiery red in the short strands of her beautiful brown hair and the splinters of molten gold in the depth of her velvety chocolate eyes.
As I came closer to my climax I wrapped my arms around her, keeping her as close as possible. Her hands tangled in my hair and I could feel her muscles contract around me, and I grunted. I knew her so well, I could tell what she needed just as well I knew what I needed. I wanted to prolong this forever—stay like this, connected, to the end of our lives.
And as I thought that I realized we were.
We loved each other. We were each other's lives. There was a life between us now—a life that would grow and be a piece of both of us, our promise to the world, our legacy. Our child.
We were together. We were connected. We were one.
I grunted against her neck, panting and murmuring "I love you' and 'Mo ghrá' and 'mo duinne', and just breathing her in and moving with her and inside her and against her—
Her climax was surprising and violent in its intensity. She buried her fingers in my hair and her face in the crook of my neck, moaning long and loud and dragging me over the wave with her so that we crashed together, shuddering like one and finally collapsing in a heap on the bed, on our sides.
I gathered her to me and got us back inside the covers, sighing and spooning against her back, splaying my fingers over her stomach.
"Mo ghrá, mo beatha," I murmured against her ear, kissing the skin below it.
My love, my life.
We had forever ahead of us.