Thank you to my nano buddy and ever patient beta Dellaterra. Thanks also to my prereader Hoochiemomma.
Readers, this is an AU story but contains no vampires.
This chapter was inspired by the traditional Orkney tale about a tragic bride called Helen Waters but all the words are my own work.
Disclaimer: S Meyers own the Twilight characters, I'm just borrowing them.
Orkney Islands, North Scotland, 1890
An island wedding was always a grand affair. The women gathered together to stitch dresses and decorate the beams of the barn with garlands of flowers while the men looked forward to sharing the home-brewed whisky from the dark-pitched casks. With a feast to prepare and fiddlers to organize, the bride's home was a center of happy activity and the clacking of women's tongues.
The wedding preparations for the union of Isobel Eunson and Charles Macleod were no exception. The wedding was set for early summer, once the harsh winter was over and the spring showers and chill winds were less likely to ruin the festivities. The island community was relieved to have something to look forward to after the desolate, biting winter, during which darkness covered the land more often than light. Only a few lives had been lost to illness and old age and the Orcadians were a people stoic in their acceptance of death. But they were equally glad to be heralding the light after the darkness, anticipating months of sun-long days and barely dark nights, the days filled with gentler breezes and the smell of summer flowers in the hedgerows. And a wedding was the best of all celebrations, a chance to dress in their finery and congratulate the young couple while exchanging gossip and drams with neighbors.
Isobel and Charles had been acquainted all their lives, paying little heed to each other in their childhood years. It was as young adults that they began to smile shyly at one another, to wonder what the other was thinking. Arranging a match on a small island was usually a straightforward affair but for Isobel and Charles there was the added advantage that they felt genuine attraction and mutual admiration for each other. This was a match that may actually include love and devotion. Charles was quick to learn that making Isobel laugh by telling her a joke or presenting her with flowers he had picked for her instilled in him a feeling unlike any he had previously encountered in his nineteen years. Seeing her smile at him was like finding a pearl in an oyster; it was a precious gift which made him feel like a rich man. For her part, Isobel found herself paying attention to her mother's efforts to teach her the art of running a small cottage, for she could suddenly envision herself as the young wife of Charles. When a nervous Charles took his Sperin' bottle and asked for Isobel's hand in marriage, her father gladly agreed to the match. Everything was as it should be.
Half the island, or more, was coming to the wedding. The tension in the week before was palpable, with Morag, the bride's mother, fretting about the huge array of food to be prepared and the number of benches needed to be borrowed for the feast of beef, mutton, rabbit, duck, and goose. There was soup to be made too, and oatcakes, barleymeal bannocks, pancakes and scones to be baked. It was customary for island weddings to last three or four days and Morag knew her neighbors would have something to say if her hospitality was found lacking. Iain, Isobel's father, tried to stay out of the way, contenting himself by tasting home-brewed ale each night, just to check that it was suitable for imbibing.
The bride and groom barely had a moment alone in that week. The wedding nerves were encroaching on them too, until they could hardly look at each other without blushing a deep shade of crimson. It was with some relief that Charles' father ordered him to take the small rowing boat and instructed him to row to the island across the sound and invite the few families who lived there to the wedding feast.
Charles took his gun and set off. Before he left he kissed Isobel chastely and promised to return with a clutch of birds, an early wedding gift. She watched him climb down to the beach and push the boat out into the water. He rowed strongly and steadily across the calm waters and soon he was only a tiny dot in the middle of the blue, blue sea.
When he arrived on the island of Hoy he was quickly and warmly greeted, his hosts most delighted to have a visitor and an invitation to attend a happy occasion. Whisky was poured and gossip was exchanged. Later Charles headed out with two companions and they hunted for the wild birds he had promised Isobel. But the birds were not to be found and the shooting was poor. Galvanized by the alcohol and the talk that was constantly thrust upon him about the end of his single days, Charles suggested a trip to a more distant island, Sule Skerry; such an unpopulated and deserted place would be bound to afford them better shooting. The others agreed readily, keen for adventure away from the watchful eyes of their elders.
The following morning, with the promise to return by the next day, the three young men set out in their rowing boat. Their mood was exuberant and their chatter was rowdy. Their boat was seen rowing out to Sule Skerry, the waters chopping slightly but the sun rising steadily in the sky with only fluffy white clouds to break up the endless blue of the early summer sky.
When the groom had not returned after three days, his parents began to worry, planning the scolding he would receive on his return. No one uttered any of this to Isobel, who was told to stand up straight on the wooden stool while the hem of her wedding gown was stitched. The bride's grandmother clicked her knitting needles, finishing a beautiful woolen shawl for the bride to wear when the evening dimmed Isobel's wedding day and turned it to night. She cast her eyes down and said not a word about the cold, unforgiving sea that had taken so many of the island's young men, including her own husband thirty years before.
By the fourth day a party of men left the mainland and sailed to Hoy to inquire if Charles had reached there safely. When they discovered that he had, and then had ventured on to Sule Skerry, they looked at each other with heavy faces and sorrowful eyes. But Orkney men were pragmatic and never felt inclined to express in words that which was obvious. Nevertheless it was with heartfelt sadness that they climbed in their boat again and crossed the waters to the remote, desolate island.
As their vessel rounded the outcrop of sharp, jagged rocks into a natural harbor, they saw Charles' boat almost straightaway, tied to a post and bobbing gently in the waves. Without speaking they rowed up alongside the empty dinghy and went shore, tying their boat securely. Then they began to climb the path leading away from the landing place.
It was only when they saw Charles' gun and the hat of one of the other young men lying haphazardly on the ground that they began to shout and call. But there was no answer. They searched the island and found nothing, no trace of the men or any of their other belongings. One rowed back to recruit more men to help with a search party but it was no use. The three men were nowhere to be found.
Isobel Eunson stood in her wedding dress with flowers in her hair, waiting for her groom to arrive home so the wedding could begin. She stood at the window and watched the sea rolling back and forth. She ignored the quiet, worried whisperings of her aunts and neighbors and paid no attention to the crying of her mother. She stood at the window and waited. Even when the men returned from the boat, walking from the beach to the house with slumped shoulders and dread in their footsteps, she stood and waited.
Sperin' bottle – the bottle of liquor the hopeful young man would take to the father of his sweetheart when he asked for her hand.
dram - a small drink of whisky
bannock – a flat homemade cake
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