The lights shined dimly on the village as they celebrated the marriage between two of their young townspeople. Ewan and Muirne were the talk of the village. They glowed with the happiness of a young married couple truly in love. As music started to play Ewan held Muirne close, he whispered quiet promises in her ear stroking her cheek. She would blush and smile gazing into his eyes….
They had waited so long for this Muirne thought; they had known each other since she was thirteen. The friendship that had started just purely as affection had blossomed before them as he grew to be a strong capable farmer and her, a kind gentle soul. He watched her as she cared for her ailing father, he saw as she took care of her siblings with the grace and dignity of a noble woman. They were poor but no one would have known the way she provided for them. Yes he loved her…. And she in turn loved him. She had given him her blessings and best wishes as he went off to battle for Scotland's freedom. He had promised her that when he returned things would be better. He would ask her father for her hand.
When he returned years later beaten and scarred she had not looked upon him with disgust. She tended to his wounds carefully and patiently. Telling him how proud she was had made him bitter and disgusted with himself. Despite her assurance that she did indeed love him, he refused to believe it. He painfully recalled how he had tried to end their relationship. His ego bruised with defeat and a jagged scar on his left cheek only served as a reminded of his utter failure. She looked him directly in the eyes and he swore at that moment looked into his soul. "No" she had simply uttered. He had been shocked; his strong resolve had all but crumbled when she reached for his hand. "Do you truly not wish to be my husband?" she had asked looking down at their intertwined hands. She looked up as he sighed sensing him finally crumbling. "Of course I wish it my love." He said a sadness overtaking his voice; she raised her hand to stroke his cheek. Tracing lightly over the thin scar, she leaned in close and kissed it gently "Then ask my father dear, he will say yes, you will have his blessing. We have waited long enough don't you think?" He nodded kissing her hand and pulling away only to escort her home.
The old man was happy to see the interest in his daughter. When Ewan went to ask for her hand the old man only laughed. "I'm surprised it took you this long my lad." He had said shaking Ewan's hand.
By then Ewan was a man of almost twenty five years, and Muirne a woman of nineteen. He worked on his farm for a time trying to earn some money for a plot of his own. But times in Scotland were difficult with the wars between the Scots and the British growing more and more frequent he was losing his chance to gain any land at all. Muirne insisted that she did not mind that he had not a shilling. "It matters not love" she had said. He had once again grown stubborn and angry. "I shall fight it, I will own my own land, I will provide for you when we are married" He promised her. She sighed only shaking her head. His strong arms caught her in an embrace and he whispered in her ear "Just a little while longer my darling"
And yet again when he failed her she had not left. She had insisted upon staying with him, yes, He thought, they waited a long time for this night. They had no money or land as he had planned, and their wedding was simple but he would never forget what she looked like that day, how beautiful she glowed and how her gentle kind smile radiated to every person there. Yes, he loved her more than anyone could possible imagine, and she him. He watched in awe as she shed emotional tears over their wedding vows. Promising to protect and cherish her with his life was the promise he has made before god and witnesses…. And he would protect her. No one would take her from him.
He remembered all this as they danced together…
Muirne held tightly to him allowing herself to drift with the music, letting him guide her. The night was cold and her thin wedding dress was not enough to keep her warm. An icy breeze made her shudder; Ewan rubbed her back and shoulders warming her. They stopped dancing to sit by the light of the fire arms around each other. She had only felt happier on one occasion, when he said that he did indeed intend to ask for her hand. She could imagine no one she felt more content with, no one she felt safer with. She could not wait to begin her life with him, she had long imagined what it would be like to wake up next to him, pass the cold mornings wrapped in his strong arms. Watch him gaze lovingly at their children.
Dark clouds gathered in the horizon, everyone wrapped in their joy ignored this ominous sign until …. What sounded like claps of thunder but instead were arriving hoof beats on the soggy earth sent the wedding party scrambling.
Men went to protect their wives, women scrambled for their children as the British soldiers strode through the small village. Ewan stood up hastily trying to block Muirne from the view of the soldiers. He did not know why they were here, but it was never a pleasing sign. His eyes widened as he saw the lord of the land stride up on a white horse looking around curiously. Certainly no good would come of this, whatever it was for. Behind him he felt Muirne reach for his hand and grasp it tightly.
"Good evening" the lord said, his breath fogging as the air grew degrees cooler around him. No one responded or even looked up at this man, But Ewan did, and he felt the slow rise of hatred in his heart. He knew the only thing keeping him grounded was the tight grasp of Muirne's hand.
Finally somewhere someone spoke up. "Good evening my lord." Someone barely whispered. "Is there something that you require my lord" said another of the guests. A slight smile crossed the old man's face. "I have come to exercise my right on this joyous night… the right of primae noctis.
Silence….. For a split second the world seemed to shatter around them, before any of the guards could react Ewan had a pitchfork in his hand. "Over my dead body" he nearly growled he stood between his new wife and the guards ready to tear the throat of anyone who even dare approach them. The guards drew their swords and advanced as if they had anticipated this. He brought the pitchfork up readying for attack. "No" came the voice behind him and he closed his eyes "no" he thought. Begging it not to be true, he would not let her sacrifice her honor for him. "Ewan" she called gently her hand reaching over his shoulder to his hand holding the weapon. He dropped it. The guards began to advance and her turned to face her. "No, you can't do this. I won't let him have you. I'll-" she put a hand to his mouth "you'll not do a thing, it is his right." She said out loud the entire village was silent in horror. "Do not fight; I will not have you hurt. Not when I can fix it." She said her voice strong and steady. Only her eyes gave her away. She was frightened, in that moment she looked younger and more innocent then he had ever thought, and his hatred grew. He would not allow that man to touch her, to stare at her like a hungry wolf looks at an innocent lamb. She took a deep breath and leaned closer "Only you, my love" she whispered somewhere the lord cleared his throat impatiently. "I grow tired of delays girl" he called she ran her finger lightly along his scar memorizing his face it seemed.
She turned towards the lord and approached his horse "I am yours my lord" she said curtsying slightly. She was lifted onto another horse and quickly turned away from her friends and family. Ewan fell to the ground as the horses rode off, his stomach churned and his hatred blinded him. I will kill them, he thought darkly. The crowd slowly broke up. Some crying and distant wailing was heard from the houses. He hated that what have they to cry about, they are not the captives he thought. Her father came to him, sadness and hurt reaching his eyes. "There's nothing to be done my son" he said Ewan said nothing. "She would not want you to sit out here all night." Her father said pulling him to his feet and walking him to their small house. Ewan sat down inside and breathed in the familiar scent of her. His heart began to ache when he looked over at her empty cot by the fire. He longed to hold her in his arms to comfort her, ease her fright.
"Do you know…?" he whispered one night they were together, sitting by the very same fire. "How much I love you?" he finished. He said it purely to make her smile. He loved to watch the blush creep up her cheeks until her ears turned red. "How much?" she asked "I love you…." he paused lifting her chin to look in his eyes "more than god's green earth… more than my own life love" She had smiled tracing the scar on his cheek as she often did "my love…" she whispered trailing off. She needn't say more. She always did find the perfect thing to say.
He was broken from his trance as her father held out a bowel of stew for him. He took it and held it limply. He had no desire to eat. He had no desire to do anything but wait until she came home to him.
Muirne shivered as she stood before him, she had told herself this was the right thing to do, for her home, for her husband's life…. for hers. She was determined to keep a calm mask of peaceful indifference on her face. But oh! how she longed for her husband. He was supposed to bed her on their wedding night. He would know how to calm her nerves… It was normal he would assure her to be apprehensive. She had waited so long, and it had come to this, her first night alone would be with a man she neither knew nor wanted. She would pretend this a game, she said to herself…. She would close her eyes and pretend she was with her husband.
"Come girl" the lord beckoned and she hesitantly went to his bed...
Ewan did not sleep. He did not attempt too. He shuddered to think of Muirne and if she had slept at all. He went outside as the dawn broke and waited at the edge of the village for his wife. Hours passed, but he did not move or falter. He would be the first one she saw as she came home . . . finally . . .
A horse passed through the thick fog, on it a soldier and behind him Muirne. As she saw him a look of shame overcame her face. Ewan's breath caught in his throat, Shame was not an emotion he had ever seen her carry. He wished to god he could tear open the old lord's throat. The horse stopped wary… the guard all but pushed Muirne off the horse. A familiar feeling of bitter hatred filled him; the man could not have the decency to properly allow his wife to reach the ground. "Look here" He called walking towards the guard who's hand was now securely on his weapon "get out of here, your lords privileges are now over, leave us to peace!" Ewan nearly shouted. The guard almost unaffected turned quietly to go. When he was out of sight Ewan faced Muirne. They both stood silent unaware of what next move should be made. She would hardly look at him, and he instantly felt as if he had been hit in the stomach. The shame she felt was killing him, never once had he ever wanted her to feel shame. He loathed it. He walked towards her, as he tried to put his arms around her she stopped him. "Love?" He asked she said nothing not looking at him "look at me love." He whispered she slumped further. "You should not call me that. I am no love of yours." She said it so quietly he almost did not hear, "you'll not want me now. I am a ruined women. You should cast me off, never speak of me again" she said her voice laced with shame and tears. He would stand no more of this, He gathered her in his arms and held her even as she fought "Let me go Ewan!" she cried not bothering to really fight him off. Her tears flowed freely now, it broke his heart to see her this way. "Calm yourself love…no one is casting you off. You are not a ruined women. I love you still! No matter what happens I will always love you!"
"Oh god!" She cried sobs wracking her body as he held her tightly against him "forgive me for my sins and unfaithfulness, I am not worthy of your love" she said he shook his head. "You are speaking lies my darling. Speak no more of this. Calm yourself. Allow yourself to breathe." He hushed and tried to calm her. "Oh god" She cried again as he led her to their new home. Setting her down on what was to be their bed. He allowed her to cry for a good while. "Forgive me" she said over and over. Her broken spirit was more then he could bear. "There is nothing to forgive love… rest now… rest yourself. All is well my brave girl… all is well." She fell exhausted onto their bed and he covered her with the blanket lighting a fire and watched her as she slept.
He had almost broken her He thought his anger and horror growing. His Muirne, his innocent darling wife ashamed to have him touch her. When she had forgiven him every stupid childish action he had done. They had waited so long to be together. Now it seemed, they would have to wait a while longer.
The room grew warm and as the sun sank below the horizon Muirne opened her eyes. Ewan went to her side carefully, holding a bowel of broth. Muirne looked at him, an unreadable expression on her face. "Are you hungry?" he asked eager to break their silence. She reached out to touch him, gently running a finger along the scar on his cheek their secret sign. She was wordlessly asking for his forgiveness. He set the bowel down and stood up, lying down next to her gently and gathering her in his arms. He faced her and looked her in the eyes. "Only you my love" he repeated back to her the words she had said the night before. Tears flooded her eyes and one perfect smile crossed her face. He felt her body relax around him, she finally felt relieved of her guilt.
"I love you" she said barely louder than a whisper and he pressed his lips to hers, they had only kissed twice. Both quickly and chastely but this kiss was different. In this kiss they poured their hopes, dreams, fears and defeat into each other. She tried to help him feel her brokenness and he wanted her to feel his forgiveness and finally the only emotion connecting them both was longing.
Longing for their world to be different, longing for mistakes and horrible moments to be forgotten, and longing to be in the other's arms connected as they had waited so long for.
They both sensed it. The moment they both needed. She moved her hands to his waist un-tucking his shirt. They both stood up slowly he slowly unclasped her wedding dress. Letting it fall over her bare shoulders and onto the ground. The warm room made her skin flush and he thought as he looked at her, that he had never seen a more beautiful sight. She pulled his shirt over his head, letting it fall beside her. He watched as her eyes followed the length of his chest noting another scar she had once tended too when he came home. She touched them with delicate traces and smiled. "I thought when I looked upon you" she started focusing still on his chest, not looking him in the eyes "That I had never seen a man before I tended to you, and I did not wish to see another after you" She had not said anything like that before to him. It would not have been proper. He smiled kissing the top of her head. "When I woke to find you tending me, I could think of no person I wanted more…"
A soft rain started falling outside, A crack of lighting followed soon after. She looked out the window of their cottage… theirs… she liked to think of it as theirs, together.
"Come to bed my love" he coaxed. She looked at him and walked closer, allowing him to lift her onto the bed.
He was gentle…so gentle as he touched her. This she thought, is what it should be. This is how it should feel. She pushed all thoughts out of her mind and tried to focus only on him.
The pain was not great. It was easily worth the connection they had finally reached with one another. He pressed his forehead to hers and kissed her long and deeply. She tried to bring him closer, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him close.
They listened to the rain as it pounded outside, the flashes of lightning illuminating their small world. They held tightly to one another and weathered the storm together.
As morning broke over the village she awoke in his arms, it was just how she had imagined, "Sleep" he whispered quietly tightening his embrace around her. She reached up and traced his scar with her hand stopping to trace over his lips. He smiled, took her hand and kissed it.
She knew at that moment that god willing everything would be right with them. They would live long happy lives together.