"Faery Child" - Highlander Fanfiction by Parda - March 1998.
RATING: A tearjerker. No sex, no fighting. Not mine, theirs. No money made.
By Parda, October 1997, Revised March 1998
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
than you can understand.
- W. B. Yeats
AUGUST 1995: SEACOUVER, DUNCAN'S LOFT
Duncan hadn't been back from Europe very long before Richie showed up. That didn't surprise Duncan very much, but what did surprise Duncan was the guest Richie brought with him. Mikey was another immortal, but in Duncan's day he would probably have earned the title "village idiot." In modern times, he might be labeled "developmentally disabled."
He reminded Duncan of a very large, clumsy puppy. Well-meaning and friendly, but a bit of a menace in a house. Duncan rescued his antique clock from Mikey, but not before the hands had been removed.
"He was in the middle of nowhere, Mac," Richie said earnestly. "I couldn't just leave him. When you find someone who's helpless, you gotta protect him, right?" Richie guided Mikey out the door to go for a walk.
Duncan stared at the broken clock in his hands. The strong protect the weak; the powerful help the defenseless. He believed that, he had taught Richie that, he had tried to live that way. Only sometimes, it was difficult to know just how to help.
He looked out the window. It was raining again, a light sprinkling. Duncan remembered another day of rain, in another time.
OCTOBER 1824: SOMEWHERE IN THE APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS
Rain fell. Not the brief torrential downpour of a summer thunderstorm, or the light misting of spring, but the slow steady relentless rain of autumn. Leaves which last week had brightened the trees with orange and gold and scarlet now lay sodden and faded on the forest floor. The wheel of the year was turning, and the dark half was near.
Duncan MacLeod stared at the back of his horse's head and tried to ignore the water which was dripping off the brim of his hat onto the tip of his nose at the rate of approximately one drop every four seconds. There was a small stream of cold water running down the middle of his back. His legs were sore and chafed in wet buckskin, and his backside hadn't been this sore since his father had caught him and his cousin Robert stealing sweetcakes his mother had set out on the window ledge to cool. Even immortals get saddle sore.
If I were challenged by another immortal now, Duncan thought wryly, I'd have to ask him to wait until I got off this horse and healed before we could fight.
He tried to remember the last time he'd been this cold *and* this wet. When he was with the Highland Regiment? No, it had been colder then and snowy, but not it had not rained for days at a time. In the Highlands? Certainly it rained a lot there, and it was cold, but at least he could go inside and warm himself near the fire and share a bowl of stew and oatcakes. At least he could until his father had banished him. He had been cold and wet enough after that.
Duncan shook himself mentally and physically and watched the trail more closely. The trail followed a small stream and grew steeper here, slippery with wet leaves and mud. His horse picked her way carefully down the hill. Normally she placed her feet gracefully, but she was tired too, and she slid part way down the slope.
"Easy, girl." Duncan patted her neck, and then gently pulled her to a halt. He dismounted and stretched, waiting for the familiar tingling of healing to course through his abused legs and posterior before leading her the rest of the way down.
The stream widened and slowed at the bottom of the hill, forming a small pool. Duncan filled his water skin, and waited for the horse to drink her fill. It was getting close to dark. If he built a shelter now he would at least be able to sleep without getting dripped on.
"Let's go a little farther." He led the horse and walked on, looking for a level spot not too close to the stream bank. Suddenly, he stopped, lifted his head and sniffed the air. Through the smell of wet leaves and mold came the faintest tang of wood smoke.
Duncan led the horse off the trail and tied her to a tree. She was content to stand there and eat from her nose bag. As always, he felt the familiar and reassuring pressure of his katana. He adjusted the knife tucked into his boot, and loaded his pistol and his rifle.
The rifle was a treasured present from a pair of immortals, British soldiers he'd met while fighting Napoleon. The immortals had been new ones, freshly killed, and Duncan had found them lying in each other's blood. Each had been killed defending the other. The green of their riflemen's jackets had been almost totally hidden by mud and powder stains, and blood, old and new, their own and others.
Duncan had dragged them off the battlefield and explained the rules of the game to them. To be sure, one of them was a Sassenach, but his friend was a tall red-headed Irishman, so Duncan figured the British one couldn't be all bad. True warriors both. He had admired the rifles they used, which shot much better than the standard issue musket, and the British lieutenant had given Duncan his own rifle. Duncan envied them their luck in dying unobserved on a battlefield and their companionship; most immortals started their new life alone, completely cut off from their former lives.
His weapons secure, Duncan crept forward through the trees and followed the faint scent of wood smoke. The trail became more clearly marked, well traveled by boots, not moccasins. Closer to the stream, he saw smaller footprints, a woman. Although he did not relax, he felt somewhat reassured. Where the valley widened out there was a cleared field, corn stalks standing brown and forlorn in the rain, a cow pasture, and the smell of at least one pig.
Up on the hill a little was a small log cabin and barn. When he heard the sound of children's voices, he was relieved. While a single man might not be very hospitable, a family would probably be more friendly. The prospect of a hot meal was very enticing.
He went back and fetched his horse, and came down the path openly. It was almost dark now, and the rain had not stopped. He called out when he got to the split rail fence. "Good day to you!"
There was a moment of silence, then a tall man walked out from behind the woodpile. His dark hair was streaked with gray, and he casually balanced an axe in his hands. "There's some might call it a good day," he replied noncommittally in a voice with a decided Irish lilt. "And there's some might not."
Duncan saw a small movement at the cabin window, and realized that there was a gun trained on him. Cautious people then, as well they should be, living so far out.
"It's true the day's near over," said Duncan, deliberately thickening his Scottish accent. "And there's some might not call the rain good, but a true son of Erin would not object to a bit of rain." A son of Erin might not, he thought, but a son of the Highlands can.
"While I might be a true son of Erin," replied the dark-haired man, "you are not."
"I am Duncan MacLeod, of the clan MacLeod," he proclaimed, answering the challenge.
"A Scot, then."
"Aye, a Scot."
"At least you're not a Sassenach." He spat on the ground, then came closer, the axe still loose and ready in his hands. "I am John Sullivan, late of County Clare. We've no clans left in Ireland. Have you clans still in Scotland?" His gray eyes narrowed and his tone was skeptical. The British had made sure that the Irish had heard of what happened in Scotland after the Battle of Culloden.
Duncan flushed. Eighty years later, it still hurt. "No," he admitted. "But my grandfather named my father thus, and my father named me, and so I name myself."
John Sullivan nodded then apparently came to a decision. "Even for a true son of Erin, it's a bit damp out. Would you care to come in and share a bite to eat with us?"
Duncan dismounted and offered his hand. "I'd be glad of it, especially on a fine day like today."
"Indeed," laughed John as they shook hands. He led the way to the barn, and Duncan rubbed down his horse and saw her settled. He changed into his other set of clothes, which were merely damp instead of soaked. He washed his face and hands and smoothed back his hair, then made his way to the house.
It was quite dark by now, and John met him at the porch with a lantern in his hand. "Come in, come in. Supper's nearly ready." Duncan started to follow him into the warm lamplit room, then froze on the doorstep, his hand automatically reaching to touch his katana. That familiar tightening, that sensation of another presence, another immortal.
The wife? Had John married again, after the mother of the children had died? But no, she was coming forward now, wiping her hands on her apron and smoothing back her brown hair. It was not her.
"My wife, Mary," John said, and Duncan murmured something. A young child was crying in the bed in the corner, and Mary excused herself hurriedly. Duncan nodded and then quickly scanned the room. Boys, a lot of them, all dark-haired like their parents. Duncan tried to pay attention.
"This is our eldest, Johnnie, he's sixteen. And this is Michael, and then Seamus and Pat the twins, and Kevin, and Liam." John finished the introductions, and Duncan shook hands with each of them, from the solemn sixteen-year-old down to the giggling four-year-old. John smiled, thinking he was just being kind to the boys and making them feel grown-up, but Duncan had a more serious motive. Touch sometimes helped him locate an immortal in a crowded room, but none of the boys was immortal.
"Is it just your family here then?" asked Duncan.
"There's another family about two miles down the creek, and another three miles beyond that," John answered.
"No hired man to help out?"
"Don't need a hired man with my own lads about, right, boys?" John asked, and the six boys nodded eagerly.
Mary came back with a little girl in her arms. "Take her, will you, John? I'll just get supper on the table."
John held the child somewhat gingerly, his arms awkward. Under a cap of red-gold curls, her dark blue eyes stared at Duncan while she chewed on her fist contentedly. Her other hand held tight to a rag doll. Duncan forgot about dinner. He had found the other immortal.
Mary carried over a large platter of fried potatoes and said, "The food's ready." The family gathered around the table. The adults and Johnnie had stumps to sit on. The little girl sat on her mother's lap while the younger boys stood, Liam's nose barely clearing the table. Duncan bowed his head during the blessing, wishing he could relax and enjoy the family atmosphere.
The food was plentiful, though plain. Duncan had no complaints, and neither did the boys. They ate silently and quickly. Liam's lack of height was no obstacle. "Have you been here long?" asked Duncan when the first helpings had been polished off, and the plates were being filled again for another go-round.
"We've been here about two years, and we've made a good start of it," John answered, exchanging smiles with his wife.
"Indeed you have. It's a fine homestead. And, truly, Mrs. Sullivan, it's a pleasure to be eating home-cooked food again. I've not had such a tasty meal in many months."
Mary smiled at the compliment, and lowered her gaze to her plate in embarrassment. Her faded blue gown matched the blue of her eyes. Her face was kind, though lined with hard work and many hours spent outdoors in wind and weather and sun. The girl on her lap chewed contentedly on a slice of potato.
"Have you been traveling long, then?" asked John.
Duncan told them some tales of his (more recent) travels, and the Sullivan family listened spellbound. Kevin even forgot to eat for a few minutes while Duncan was telling a particularly exciting story about being chased by wolves.
"My goodness!" said Mary. "I'd been listening so I'd almost forgot there were pies cooking." She handed the girl to John and got up to take the pies from the hearth.
"I'd best be quiet then," Duncan said. "I'd never forgive myself if I were the cause of burned pies."
"Another story, please?" begged Kevin.
"That's enough, boys," said John. "Maybe Mr. MacLeod will tell another story later. Right now there's chores to be done." Mary started washing the dishes, while Johnnie took the lantern and all the boys went out to the barn to feed the animals. "Stay here and be comfortable, Mr. MacLeod," said John. "The lads will see to your horse."
Mary placed the pies on the table then took the baby back in her arms. She sat down on her stool and cuddled the little girl close.
Duncan glanced away as she put the baby to the breast, then asked, "She's a bonnie lass, isn't she? How old is she?"
"She'll be two come Christmastide," answered John.
"Two, is it? She's a little wee thing."
"She's just a bit slow getting her growth, is all," Mary said quickly. John looked uncomfortable.
"Ah, well, I don't know much about babies," Duncan said.
"Then you've none of your own?" asked Mary.
"No. None." It was awkward to ask about the child, but he needed to know. "Such hair isn't common. Did your mother have hair of that color?"
"No. No, she was dark like me." Mary glanced at John, then continued. "Actually, she's not our daughter. It was almost two years back, just a few days before Christmas. We'd only been here a few months, and two men stopped by. They'd found her in the woods, poor thing, just a blanket wrapped around her, and no sign of who left her or how she got there. She was almost frozen, and they certainly couldn't keep her.
"To be sure, we'd six of our own, but I had always wanted a little girl. Liam was not quite weaned, so I still had my milk. She warmed up quick, and how she grew! There was no stopping her then..." Her smile disappeared and her voice trailed off. She turned to John briskly. "Would you cut the pies then? The boys will be here in a few moments, and Mr. MacLeod ought to have a piece before they devour the whole of them."
John cut generous slices of the warm apple pie, and Duncan abandoned himself for a few minutes to the simple pleasure of food. He and the little girl finished eating at about the same time, for she looked up at her mother and said, "A' done!" and then climbed down to toddle about the room.
"So is a girl easier to care for than the boys?" asked Duncan, as she became absorbed in untying her father's bootlace.
"Boo'," she said proudly. "Da boo'."
"Ah, well, all children are busy enough. Deirdre there is a fine one. We named her after John's mother, God rest her soul," Mary explained as she crossed herself.
Deirdre, which means sorrow, Duncan thought.
"Deirdre was a sweet baby, didn't cry much, and is more biddable than the boys were at this age. She only gave us that one scare this last summer." She stopped, and when she did not continue Duncan looked questioningly at John.
He coughed before saying, "Walked behind the mule she did, and it kicked her right in the head. She went down and lay so still, we thought she were dead."
No doubt you did, thought Duncan.
"We even made a coffin for her, and the boys were out digging the grave, when Mary said she could hear the colleen crying. I thought she were daft at first, out of her mind with grief and imagining it, but she insisted, and when we opened the coffin, there was little Deirdre, kicking her feet and crying."
"I prayed to the Holy Mother," Mary said, "and you know, there was not a mark on her, not a sign of that great bruise. It was a miracle, wasn't it, John?"
"Aye," he agreed. "That's what we said then." His gaze fell on the little girl who sat at his feet, and he became silent.
The troop of boys entered then, and the silence disappeared. Duncan found himself eating another piece of pie, enjoying a glass of whiskey, and telling more stories of his travels. Finally the the night grew late, and the boys were sent off to bed in the attic. Mary and John settled down with Deirdre in the bed in the corner of the room, and Duncan went to sleep in the barn in the soft sweet-smelling hay.
- 1995 -
Richie, Duncan and Mikey had a pleasant enough afternoon at the park, although picking up a truckload of spilled water bottles and rescuing Mikey from an irate train operator soon convinced Richie that Mikey needed a safe place to stay.
"I'll go talk to a couple of social workers," Richie said.
"Good idea," agreed Duncan.
Richie walked over to Mikey, who was absorbed in a map of train routes. "Hey, Mikey, I'm going to go out for a while. I got some things to do, but you can help Mac look after the place."
"I'm a good helper."
"I know you are," Richie said. "I'll see you later."
Mikey sat quietly for a time, enjoying the map, but when immortal Tyler King came looking for his head, he panicked and ran. Duncan drove through the streets looking for Mikey and finally found him just as two police officers pushed a handcuffed Mikey into their squad car. Duncan watched helplessly as Mikey's eyes stared at him from the police car window. There had been other eyes staring at him once.
- 1824 -
Duncan woke to the smell of wood smoke and coffee, and to four pairs of eyes in varying shades of gray and blue trained on him. His hand was already on the hilt of his katana, but he forced himself to relax and not leap to his feet. The younger two were Kevin and Liam of course, and the twins' names were (Duncan thought about it for a moment) ... Seamus and Pat. "There are only four of you. Where are Johnnie and Michael?" he asked.
Pat answered. "Feeding the pig. Mam wanted to know if you would like some hot water to wash in."
"Can you tell us a story?" asked Kevin.
"When do you want to feed the horse?" asked Seamus.
"Have you ever killed a moose?" Liam wanted to know.
Duncan grinned. "Yes, later, now, and no." The boys were silent for a few seconds trying to decipher his answer, then Pat grinned back and trotted off to the house to fetch the hot water for Duncan. Kevin and Seamus went to fetch water for the water trough, and Liam struggled over with a bucket of mash half as tall as he was.
It was a pleasant morning. Duncan told the boys a story as they curried and fed the horse, and he washed and shaved with the luxury of warm water and soap. Breakfast was a delicious meal of fried potatoes, beaten biscuits with honey, thick slices of ham, and coffee sweetened with molasses.
The rain had abated during the night, but John invited Duncan to stay another day and night. "You've been on the trail a long time now. Your horse could use the rest. Besides, you'll not wanting to be traveling tonight, of all nights." At Duncan's confused look, he added, "You've lost track of the days, no doubt, being on the road so long. 'Tis All Hallow's Eve, man."
Duncan was glad of the offer, for both he and the horse were tired, and he would indeed prefer to be inside this night. Even though he had survived many battles and faced many dangers, the stories he had heard as a lad stayed with him. Tonight was the night when the souls of the dead roamed the earth, looking for their final resting place. It was not a night to be traveling.
And of course there was the girl.
Duncan and John worked together splitting wood, and Duncan helped John pull out a huge stump that needed the strength of two men and a mule to move, plus the help of several boys. He saw Deirdre only briefly, as she trotted behind her mother to help feed the chickens.
Lunch was served outside, for the sun had come out, and the autumn sunshine made a pleasant change from the rain. "What should we do about the lanterns, Mam?" asked Seamus, a worried look on his face. "The pig ate up all the turnips, and we have to make the lanterns to help the dead find their way."
Mary thought about it for a moment then said, "Perhaps you could use the pumpkins? We've enough of them, surely."
"That's a grand idea, Mam!" exclaimed Seamus. "They'll be easier to carve, they're so much bigger."
The boys went off to carve the pumpkins, and Duncan let his horse out to graze then retired to the barn for a nap and some quiet. He liked the boys well enough, but after months of traveling with only his horse for company, their constant questions and chatter were tiring.
His nap was brief however, for his solitude was interrupted by all six boys solemnly trooping into the barn and arranging themselves in various positions on the hay stacks. For a wonder, they did not seem inclined to talk, so finally Duncan said, "Do you often come to the barn on a fine afternoon?"
Seamus sighed gustily and blew chaff over Kevin's hair. They all looked to Johnnie to answer, who stared at his foot digging into the hay for a while before he finally said, "Our Da and Mam told us to be out and away from the house."
Well, reflected Duncan, a husband and wife with seven children in a one room cabin could surely do with a bit of privacy now and again.
"They're fighting about Deirdre," added Seamus.
"Hush your gob!" commanded Johnnie. "Mr. MacLeod doesn't need to be hearing of that."
"Well, they are," Seamus insisted.
This was a different matter. Duncan rose. "You boys stay away from the house, like you were told. I'm going for a walk." He strolled over towards the house and leaned casually against a tree. The clouds were thickening again; the air was chill without the sunshine. He could make out voices, though the words were indistinct. John sounded angry and upset, Mary defiant. Duncan moved to a closer tree.
"Did you not see what happened, woman?" John's voice came through the open window. "She fell and cut herself, and when you went to wipe the blood away, there was no cut!" His voice rose in agitation.
"Hush now, John! Not so loud. You'll wake the baby."
"That's no baby," John's voice came slow. "Not a human one, anyway."
MacLeod blinked, remembering another time, another place, another called "Demon!"
"What are you saying?" Mary demanded. "That's Deirdre! The child I've nursed at my breast and held to my heart. You've known her since she was two days old. You've sang her to sleep; you've held her hands when she started to walk about. How can you say that about our daughter?"
"That's no daughter of mine."
["You're no' my son!] Another voice, another father.
"That's no daughter of yours either." His voice became pleading, earnest. "She's not been the same since this summer, Mary. You must admit that."
"She's just been slow getting her growth. The accident..."
"She's not 'been slow', Mary. She's not grown at all."
"I prayed to the Holy Mother to bring our daughter back."
"Aye, you did then. Did you have time to pray to the Holy Mother just now, when she fell? Was it the Holy Mother healed that cut?"
"Sweet Jesus...," Mary moaned.
"What if it wasn't the Holy Mother that answered your prayer, but someone, some thing, else? What if that isn't Deirdre back at all, but something else, in her body? What then, Mary?"
"This, this ... creature, is not our daughter."
"What are you doing?" she cried. "Put her down!"
"Deirdre died this summer, Mary. We should have buried her then. I'm going to bury her now."
"No! You cannot!"
The anguish in the cry tore at Duncan's heart, but he did not move.
"I'm sorry, Mary." John came out of the cabin, carrying a sleeping Deirdre wrapped in a blanket. Mary ran after him, pulling at the child and weeping. John pushed her away, his face set and expressionless. The yard was slippery from the earlier rain, and she fell to the ground.
Deirdre woke and started to cry, but John mounted the mule and rode away without a backward glance for his wife, lying weeping in the mud, or the six boys who watched wide-eyed from the barn doorway.
Duncan swore viciously under his breath and ran after him. "John! John! Stop!"
John ignored him and kicked the mule to get him to trot. But luckily, as with most mules, he wasn't always swift to obey commands, and Duncan managed to catch up to John and grab the reins. "John, stop. Don't do this."
His face was anguished. "I have to. I can't have this ... thing .. in my house. Near my children." In his arms, Deirdre twisted to look up at Duncan, her hair covering one eye.
"I'll take her," Duncan offered instantly.
"I'll take her," Duncan repeated firmly. "Just let me get my horse, say goodbye to your boys," and talk to Mary, he thought grimly, "and I'll take her away." He set his hand on John's shoulder. "So you don't have to."
John nodded slowly, but his hand was trembling on the reins. "I can't go back to the house, not with Mary there. She doesn't.. And the boys are in the barn. They shouldn't... I mean... "
"Go on a ways," Duncan said. "Wait for me by the creek."
John swallowed hard and set the mule to walking again. He didn't look back.
Duncan went over to the boys. "Johnnie, fetch my horse from the pasture and saddle her, would you? Put the saddlebags on. And hurry." Johnnie nodded and took off at a run.
Kevin tugged at his pant leg and looked up at him with wide eyes. "Are you leaving, Mr. MacLeod?"
"Yes, Kevin, I have to go. Your Da thinks there's something wrong with Deirdre, and I'm..." He didn't like to lie, but he'd gotten a lot of practice over the centuries. "I'm going to take your sister to a doctor."
"She doesn't look sick," Liam objected. "When I was sick, my nose was red and puffy, and slime came out of it."
Duncan smiled in spite of himself. "You can be sick different ways." He needed to them to stay out of the house. "Michael, will you help Liam and Kevin fill my water skins? Seamus and Pat, bring my saddlebags here. When you're done with that, you can finish the carving of the pumpkins. I'll see to your Mam." The boys went back into the barn.
Duncan walked over to Mary, who was still lying on the ground. He got her to her feet and helped her into the house. "Here now," he said, guiding her to the bed. "Sit down." He poured her a small cup of whiskey. "Drink this." He held it to her lips until she swallowed it all. She lay down, curled on her side with her back to Duncan. He drew the curtain around the bed.
"He took my baby, Mr. MacLeod." She was clutching Deirdre's little rag doll close to her. "He took my little girl."
"I know, Mrs. Sullivan." Duncan sat down on the very edge of the bed, facing her.
"He said she wasn't human. He said there was a devil in her body. She was no devil, she was a sweet little angel, a little faery." The tears began again. "A faery child. My Nana told me stories of changelings, faery children, left by the little people in the cradles of human babies." Her voice was soft and wandering, then she sat up, her eyes fastened on him desperately. "Could it be, Mr. MacLeod? Was she a faery child? Did they leave her behind on the mountain when they went to ride on the Winter Solstice?"
Duncan seized the opportunity. "Mary, you know there was always something different about Deirdre. She was always special."
"Yes, yes she was."
"The faery people love their children too. If one of them is lost, they will search for the child." He looked straight at her. "I have been traveling for a long time."
"You?" she gasped.
Normally, Duncan knew, she might not have so quickly accepted tales of faery children and midnight rides in the mountains, but the whiskey and her fears had changed that. She desperately wanted to believe. "Did you see that Deirdre cut herself and was unharmed?" he asked. Mary nodded, and Duncan took out his knife. He lay the sharp edge against his thumb, and drew it across the skin. Blood welled up, then stopped.
Mary went pale, then reached out to wipe the blood away. The skin was smooth, unharmed. She dropped his hand and lifted her gaze to his. "How?" she whispered.
"It is the way of the faery folk. We cannot be hurt, and we do not die." He took her cold hand back in his. "Mary, you needn't tell your husband about me, 'tis not often we reveal ourselves, and most do not understand the way you do."
"He didn't understand about Deirdre, did he? Aye, I'll not tell him."
"You have taken care of Deirdre, and we will always be grateful for that, but it is time for her to return to her people. She must go home."
"Home," she breathed. "Will you take her home? Will you keep her safe?"
Duncan swallowed. "I will keep her."
"It's just that, Deirdre hates to be alone in the dark. Will you be with her? There in the faery caves?"
"She will always be with me," Duncan promised.
"Can you take her this?" Mary held out the little rag doll. "It's her favorite. She always likes to hold it when she sleeps."
Duncan took the doll and tucked it into his shirt. "I'll bring it to her."
"Yes, go. But would you tell her, tell her, that her mother loves her? Before she forgets, in the faery lands? I didn't get the chance to say..." Her voice broke. "I do not mind where she came from, she'll always be my little girl."
["It matters not who bore ye. You are my son!"] Another Mary, another mother.
Duncan's eyes burned with unshed tears, and he blinked them back. "Aye, I'll tell her," he said gruffly. "But, she'll always know that, deep down." He stood and turned to go.
Mary called out to him shyly, "Mr. MacLeod..."
He stopped and looked back at her, wishing to be away from this place, away from this, and knowing that he could not leave yet.
"Do you think, perhaps, ... Will I have another daughter?" she asked.
"You know I cannot answer that. Besides, 'tis not a faery folk you should be asking that of."
She nodded. "Aye, you've the truth of it. I'll pray to the Holy Mother. I know they say that the faery folk have no souls, but I'll pray for you, and for Deirdre, too."
"Thank you, Mrs. Sullivan."
"God bless you, Mr. MacLeod."
He had no answer to that. He had done what he could to ease her sorrow, but he knew there could be no faery caves for Deirdre, or for himself. As Duncan left the cabin Mary was on her knees beside the bed. Her head was bowed over her rosary, seeking comfort and solace in familiar prayers to another mother who knew what it was to lose a child.
In the barn, Johnnie and the horse had yet to arrive. The other boys had finished the pumpkins and started on the evening chores. "Good lads," Duncan said approvingly as Seamus lugged a bucket of water to the stall and Michael carried an armful of hay. Kevin jumped down from balancing on the manger and ran to him. "Mr. MacLeod! Do you see? Look at the face on this pumpkin! Michael carved it so the light can come out."
Duncan admired the pumpkins, and as they carried them to the house porch, Johnnie came down the hill, running alongside a trotting horse. "I had to catch her, Mr. MacLeod," he said in explanation, as Duncan joined him in the barn.
"I understand, Johnnie," Duncan said. Johnnie started rubbing her back to dry it while Duncan quickly checked her hooves for any stones. "Why did Da take Deirdre, Mr. MacLeod?" the boy asked.
"He thinks something is wrong with her," Duncan said. He stood up and found Johnnie looking straight at him,
"Is there?" His face was set and expressionless, just like his father's.
Duncan didn't want to share the brutal truth with the boy: there was no cure for immortality, and Deirdre was never coming home. "I'm taking her to a doctor," Duncan said, repeating his earlier lie.
"But why didn't he wait for you here? Then we could have said goodbye to her."
"He doesn't want the sickness spreading," Duncan explained, and Johnnie nodded, accepting that easily enough. But he wiped his eyes when he turned away to get the saddle blanket and kept his face turned away. Duncan got the saddle, and then they tied down the waterskins and saddlebags. Johnnie led the mare outside.
Mary was standing in the doorway of the house, arms crossed and head high. She nodded to Duncan, a silent and distant farewell, but her sons came running over to him.
"We put a cup of milk next to the pumpkins!" Kevin told him. "And cornbread."
"I carried the bread," Liam added proudly, "It's food for the journey."
"There's a candle inside the pumpkin." Seamus pointed at the glow on the porch. "See?"
"So the lost souls will find their way," said Patrick with satisfaction.
"Mam was the one to light the candle." Michael's voice was quiet, and he looked to Johnnie and then Duncan, clearly searching for a reassuring word or smile. When he didn't find it, he quickly looked away.
"Boys," Duncan began.
"We'll manage, Mr. MacLeod," Johnnie cut in. "Thank you. You go find our Da and help our sister."
Duncan nodded, his own eyes stinging, and turned to mount his horse, but Liam was tugging at his pant leg again. "Will you tell me a story before you go?"
"I'm sorry, Liam, but I don't have time. You'll have to remember the stories I told you."
"Oh, I will, Mr. MacLeod!"
Duncan gave him a hug, and then gave one to Kevin too. He stood, and casually tousled the twins' hair, then clapped Michael on the back. Duncan shook Johnnie's hand, man to man. "Your parents are indeed blessed, to have such fine lads." He swung into the saddle and picked up the reins.
"Take care of our sister, Mr. MacLeod!" Michael called as Duncan rode off and the rain began again. "Take care of Deirdre!"
Duncan cursed again under his breath, but waved to the boys standing in the yard and their mother watching from the doorway. He had tried to repair the damage to the family, to ease the pain of loss and provide some way of understanding, but he knew the hardest part was still ahead of him.
On the cabin porch, the yellow light of the pumpkins offered guidance for lost souls.
- 1995 -
After Richie and Duncan got to the police station and finished the paperwork, they went to Mikey's cell. He was sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth and reciting odd facts about obsolete railroads. He didn't respond to Duncan at all.
"Talk to him, Richie." Duncan moved back and watched in concern as Richie tried to reach Mikey. Mikey just sat and rocked.
- 1824 -
When Duncan got to the creek, the rain was heavier and darkness was falling, and John was no where to be seen. "Damn it, man," Duncan muttered then tried to make sense of the tangle of tracks in the fading light. Duncan headed upstream, back the way he had come yesterday, away from the other farmsteads that John had mentioned, but that trail faded, so he wheeled his horse around and went the other way, checking likely side trails.
Finally, with a bit of moonlight, Duncan came upon John sitting alongside a tiny rivulet that fed into the creek. John did not acknowledge him, but sat with his arms wrapped around himself and rocked back and forth. The mule was tied to an oak tree, but there was no sign of Deirdre.
Duncan dismounted and said quietly, "Mr. Sullivan." There was no response, and Duncan tied his horse near the mule then went to the other man. "I was thinking you'd be waiting for me."
"It wouldn't been right," John muttered. "A man should take care of his own. And I tried." He shook his head and bit down on the knuckle of his own hand. "But I couldn't." John stared into the darkness, his eyes distant and haunted. "I could not kill it, Mr. MacLeod."
At first, Duncan thought that John meant he had not been able to bring himself to try, but then he saw the darkness of blood on John's clothes, and that hope died.
"I thought I would be kind." He gave a small whimper of laughter. "I wanted it to be quick, and I could not bear to have its eyes upon me. Its eyes were so much like our Deirdre's. I was holding it on my lap, and I brought the knife up to stab it in the heart. There was so much blood," he whispered.
"I set it down and went to get the shovel to bury it, but when I turned around, it was alive! Looking at me again, with her eyes!" He shuddered. "At least, now I knew it wasn't human."
"I found a rock then, and bashed its head. It cried out 'Da, Da!' before I could silence it." He looked at Duncan, standing there in the moonlight.
"It used Deirdre's voice!" His cry was full of rage and pain. "It stole my child, it stole my daughter, and used her to steal my love." His face twisted in the grimace of a man determined not to cry. Duncan heard the anguish of love stolen, love betrayed, and finally understood some of his own father's pain.
He went to squat beside John. "Where is it now, John?"
"I came down here to wash my hands." He looked at them, clean and wet, then leaned over the rivulet and plunged them into the water again. "I have to wash off the blood."
"John, where is the body now?" Duncan persisted.
John shook his head.
Finally, he pointed behind them, up the hill. "I couldn't kill it with a rock either. It woke up when I was burying it. I hit it with the shovel, again and again, then just kept shoveling dirt on it, until I couldn't hear it crying anymore." He wrapped his arms around himself and started rocking back and forth again.
Duncan felt sick. He knew that Deirdre was buried alive up there on the hill, alone in the dark and the cold, but he had to help John and send him home before he went to her.
"John, listen to me." There was no response. Duncan grabbed him by the shoulders and stopped him from swaying. His eyes were empty. "Listen! You were right. That was not a normal child. It was never meant to be a part of your family. You were right."
John stopped swaying. "I was right? But..."
Duncan continued, "You did what you had to do to protect your wife and sons. It was not an easy thing, but you were right."
His eyes cleared somewhat, then fear struck at him. "But, it's alive still, up there! It'll come after me, it's a devil!" Another fear struck him. "And tonight, there's lost souls about..."
"No." Duncan's reply was quick and forceful. "I have heard of this before, I know what to do to stop it. And tonight is the night to send it to where it belongs."
"You've heard of others like this?" John was incredulous.
"Yes, in Scotland. All the stories our grandmothers tell, do you not think that some of them are true?"
"But this is..."
"I know, 'tis unbelievable. But trust me, I will take care of this. You need have no worry. You did right."
John nodded, dazed. Like his wife, he desperately wanted to believe.
"Come now," Duncan said briskly. "You're soaked through." He helped John take off his wet and blood-stained shirt, then gave him the extra one from his saddlebags.
Another thought struck John. "What will I tell Mary? And the boys?"
"I told the boys that Deirdre was sick and I would take her to a doctor. After a while, you can tell them that she has died. Your wife believes that Deirdre is in the land of the faeries."
"A changeling child, returned to its home. 'Tis easier for her that way. You need just nod if she mentions it." Duncan helped John mount the mule. "Go home to your wife now. She needs you." And you need her, he thought, watching as the mule carried John back home. Duncan turned and climbed the hill.
He did not have far to go. A fresh pile of earth and mud lay heaped as high as his waist several hundred yards uphill from the stream. Duncan saw that he was not the only one to have felt sick; the shovel lay near a drying pool of vomit.
Duncan dug quickly at first, then more slowly as he neared the bottom of the pile. The moonlight had faded as the clouds moved in again, but the first gray streaks of light in the eastern sky helped him see as he dropped the shovel and started digging with his hands.
There, finally, under the mud, was smooth human skin. He pulled her out, and wiped the mud from her nose and mouth. She took a deep shuddering breath and revived, and then started to cry loudly. Wet leaves clung to her hair.
"Hush now," Duncan crooned. Although Duncan was warm from his exertions, the air was chill and damp, and Deirdre was soon shivering violently. He stripped the wet and muddy shift off her and wrapped her inside his shirt, held close to his own bare skin. When he handed her the little rag doll he had tucked into his saddlebag, her hysterical crying subsided into whimpers and hiccups.
Duncan sang snatches of a half-forgotten Gaelic lullaby, and rocked her in his arms. He wiped more of the mud from her face, and brushed the hair from her eyes.
"I'm sorry, little one. There's no place for you."
At his voice, she opened her eyes and looked at him. Her eyes were dark in the dim light, her expression solemn. He was glad when she closed her eyes.
He had sometimes called immortality a gift, but there are some gifts that should not be opened, especially not too soon. Immortality had given him lifetimes, but no matter how many lifetimes Deirdre lived, she would never grow beyond the age she was now. She would never talk, never be able to take care of herself. She would always be dependent on some family to take care of her. For a few months they might, until they realized something was wrong, and then fear of the unknown would drive them to be rid of her, in whatever way they could.
"There's no time for you," Duncan whispered, and Deirdre's body went limp as she fell asleep in his arms, her arm curled about the rag doll. He held her close, savoring this one brief moment. He had promised her family he would take care of her, and Duncan MacLeod was a man of his word.
- 1995 -
Tyler King found them at a railroad switching station on their way to St. Simon's. Then the police found Richie and Mikey while Duncan and Tyler were settling their differences in an abandoned warehouse.
When Duncan emerged victorious, he found his car, a police car with a smashed windshield, one unconscious police officer, and one police officer with a broken neck. Richie and Mikey were nowhere in sight, but he found them soon enough farther down the railroad track.
"Richie!" Duncan called.
"Mac! Oh, boy, am I glad to see you. Come on, let's get Mikey up to St. Simon's before there's any more trouble. Come on!"
"You forgot your coat," Duncan said grimly. He drew Richie away from Mikey, and said quietly, "Mikey can't go to St. Simon's."
"It wasn't his fault, Mac. He was scared. You'd understand if you'd been there."
"I was." Duncan explained what he had found. "You can't hide him, and he can't spend the rest of his life in a cell. He's immortal. What are we supposed to do?"
"Damn, damn, damn, damn." Richie was close to tears as the realization hit him. "There is no place for him."
Duncan nodded. "I'll do it." He walked over to Mikey, who started backing away from him.
"No, Mac! Wait, Mac," Richie ran up to them. "Wait, I'll do it." He faced Duncan and said quietly, "It's my responsibility." Richie took Mikey's arm. "Come on, Mikey, let's go in the tunnel."
Duncan watched as they walked away together. He could only guess at what was happening in the tunnel, but when the train roared by and the lightning started he did not need to wonder anymore.
As the lightning continued and Richie endured the assault of another person's life and memories violently fusing with his own, Duncan remembered another innocent.
- 1824 -
Slowly and gently Duncan lay Deirdre down on a blanket on the forest floor. She murmured in her sleep and clutched the rag doll more tightly to her. With one finger he brushed a red-gold curl away from her face. He straightened, and his face was as set and determined as John Sullivan's had been.
The downward stroke of his sword was blazingly fast, but she woke at the whispered sound, and he was not fast enough to avoid the last glimpse of dark blue eyes that opened and looked up at him trustingly.
In the fleeting moment of quiet before the quickening began, he dropped to his knees beside the body. "Mary, forgive me," he begged, and was not sure if he spoke to her mother or to his, or to the Holy Mother herself.
Then the lightning struck. Duncan had taken the quickenings of many immortals, some old, some young, but always their memories had been filtered through language, stored in some orderly fashion. Deirdre's quickening was raw, pure and primal emotion, a dizzying succession of feelings, sensations, and perceptions, out of focus and curiously distorted.
– A young boy's face (Liam's?), laughing and playing peek–a–boo.
– A mother's arms around you, holding you close and warm and safe, the taste of warm milk in your mouth.
– Hunger so intense your body knots with the need of it.
– Fear and delight as large hands lift you high in the air.
– The curious new feeling of mud between your toes.
– Terror and rage in a small dark box, kicking and kicking and screaming until at last the light returns and mother is there.
– Sharp blinding pain in your head, then darkness.
– The soft fur of a cat under your hand.
– Da's arms around you and a pain in your chest.
– No air, no air, can't breathe, can't cry, can't kick, can't move, I want my mother! I want my mother! I WANT MY MOTHER!
– Rage and terror and fear and cold and dark and alone in the dark, alone in the dark and the cold.
As the lightning slowed and died away, he took some comfort in the last sensation from Deirdre's memories: strong arms holding her close and a voice singing snatches of a Gaelic lullaby.
He had promised her mother that Deirdre would not be alone, and she was not. She was with him now, a part of him forever. He would take care of her always.
At the cabin, John Sullivan looked out the window, his face gray with exhaustion and streaked with tears, and an empty bottle of whiskey by his side. 'Curious,' he thought. 'There's not usually lightning this time of year.' On the porch, the candles in the pumpkins sputtered, and went out.
As the sun rose on that autumn morning, a patch of brightness in a cloudy sky, Duncan used the fire started from the quickening to build a funeral pyre. He placed her in the flames, her blood-soaked rag doll by her side. She would not be cold or in the dark. Duncan watched as the fire burned, then watched as the flames sputtered and died when the rain came again and mingled with the tears on his face.
- 1995 -
When Richie emerged from the tunnel, subtly changed as always from a quickening, Duncan saw in his eyes a depth of pain that matched his own. He knew that even though Richie would always look like a fresh-faced youth of eighteen, his eyes would be ancient.
Duncan swallowed, and as he often did, tried to justify and explain what had happened, both for his sake and for Richie's. "Darius once said to me, 'An act of mercy is not always an act of kindness.'"
Richie looked away, uncomfortable. "Yeah, well, I'm not feeling very kind or merciful right now."
"I know." At Duncan's tone, Richie looked at him sharply, and Duncan nodded. "They're safe with us now, and nobody can hurt them anymore. Sometimes that's the only kind of protection we can give."
Side by side, the two immortals walked down the railroad track.
For she comes, the human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
From a world more full of weeping
than she can understand.
The characters of Duncan MacLeod, Richie Ryan, and Mikey are not my creations. They are the property of Rysher, Gaumont, and Davis/Panzer. They are used without permission, but no copyright infringement is intended and this story was not written for profit. The Sullivans, however, belong to me.
Many thanks to my sister who helped me with this story and has graciously forwarded Highlander information to me over the last few years.
Feedback is very much appreciated and may be sent to (parda at phinyx dot net) .