You will have to forgive me for the tone of this piece. I was listening to Enya.
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The slaughter and scattering of the Highland clans during the Jacobite revolution and the Battle of Culloden can still be felt as the Scots blood from the U.S.A and Canada search for their homeland and wonder if they will ever touch their ancestral soil again. The handshake during Bonny Princes Charles Edward of Scotland’s stay in France was a hand passed over a goblet of wine or ale, or on the street the hands passed over one another, to show their loyalty to their prince over the waters.
The sliding echo of a lizard bounced off the damp cavern walls until it was swallowed by the cool darkness. Even the lone woman sitting on the ledge shivered at the sound, for it reminded her of her own solitary confines, a prison made of her own doing.
Two months before, in the warm light of day as she strolled the Highland hills in innocence, she met a man so bonny and true to her eyes. He was a tall dashing man with curly ruffled dark hair and a sweet smile he wore upon his lips to woo her. A Gordon he was by deed and heart he told her. And she introduced herself as a McGregor by blood and mind.
They started to meet every morning in the same spot, at first just for mere moments of sweet glances and quiet talk, then later stolen kisses and pledges to the heart. The hills witnessed their hand fast. It was a living dream to the young McGregor lass who believed in true love and tokens of heaven upon the earth.
So in love was she that she never felt the rumbles of the earth or the stirrings at the hearth of her brethren until it was too late. A revolution was forming upon her lands; Scots against the English, Presbyterians against the Wigs and amongst them all was her lover the Gordon. Her father whispered about spies amongst the land infiltrating homes and family circles, but she cared not for any thoughts of vice or horror, her heart was still in the land of the Highland hills with her secret betrothed caressing over the bluegrass in tempo with harmony and laughter.
An eagle pierced the sky as she waited for her lover who had yet to appear making her anxious with worry. A slow steady drumbeat met her ears and curled around her as it made its way up the hill toward her lone plaid figure that looked so foreign yet familiar against the blue of the sky. The pounding of the drum formed a slow duet with a bagpipe that forlornly touched the air in wailing screams. The call to arms and the marching to war had begun. Fear gripped her heart as she spied her clan’s tartan moving forward in a steady rhythm, grim faces, and bodies walking stiff and determined with each stride.
A lone figure broke from the ranks and made its way toward her. It was her father. “Lass, ye needs to get on home, and lock yeself aways for a bit. It is war we be facing with the Sassenach dogs. Go home now.”
“But father, I do not understand. We were just trading with them a few months back, why would we now be fighting them?”
“For the love of God, lass, were ye not around in head and ears when the wee barrens were slaughtered at Tally rood, did ye not see me come home bloodied from skirmishes with the English, did ye not know our Bonny Prince Charles is home from France where his kingdom now waits for him to take up the crown.”
Confusion overwhelmed her as she stared back into the face of the unknown man that was her father; ridged stern lines enveloped and hardened his features so much that she could not see the softness that was always there for her. “Where are you, papa,” she wanted to ask, but didn’t have the courage. She scanned the rows of bodies and stopped suddenly when her eyes fell upon a group of huddled men bound by rope. Her breath caught in her throat when she spied her lover, her betrothed, and husband by hand fast. Her once beautiful man now looked out through bitter eyes in her direction; his tartan was ripped and sullied, dried blood encrusted the side of his face. A Gordon standing still full of pride but beaten bodily from her own blood. “What is this, papa, why these men be bound so?”
“Lass, they are Wig spies that came upon our lands to do murder and cunning vile, to spy upon our Bonny Stuart and report back to England. They will be hung when we meet the English dogs at Culloden Hill on the noon day two days hence. Enough said, lass, off ye go home now.”
Her father was going to hang her lover! She cared not for the war, not for the honor, not for the glory, but for one man she would die for. Panic seized her heart; somehow she must stay close. “Father surely you could use such a lass as I during your travels to help with injuries and sickness. I am taught in the arts of healing, please accept my talents into the world of my brethrens.”
The father looked down at his daughter in contemplation. “Yes, ye may come, but ye have to promise when we reach Holyrood ye must stay there and not venture afar. War is not for the women, but ye will be needed afterwards.”
“Are you afraid, father?” she asked, worrying for a brief moment about her own kin.
“We are all afraid, lassy, it is what gives us courage to face the demons. Now get in with your younger brethren and keep up. It is a long march we have.”
The young woman felt ashamed at her betrayal to her own father for what would be done in a deceptive deed by her own hand, but blind passion kept her focused on only one thing, freeing her lover at all costs.
As they moved forward, the McGregor lass fell in step with the marching men. She sidled closer and closer to her man and whispered her fears and consequences of his imminent future if he didn’t escape. He told her of a group of his men that would be in Holyrood amongst the crowds of beggars. She must go them and tell all.
Fear and giddiness at being so close to her lover, yet never allowed to touch his salty skin, kept her anxious and active. She was a woman possessed in soul, a bright light burned from within and glazed over her eyes not allowing any of her own determination to escape lest it become foiled and tainted with shame.
As they entered the famous Holyrood with its cobblestone streets, high vaulted churches, and gargoyles watching every breath taken amongst the city dwellers, the people cheered them on, another clan to help keep their prince safe and at home. Handshakes to show their loyalties still played secretly but now openly amongst the people and the newcomers. A pass of the hands, one over the other, was the loyal venue of the day. But as the men openly allowed their alliances to be known, the McGregor lass slipped away to find the beggars hidden in the shadows of stench and rot. A whispered word, a sideways glance, and many words spoken in quietness would seal the fate of all known to her.
She went to her lover and spoke the words of his kind for his ears only. The Culloden battle was well known to happen, but the Highlanders would be weakened by disarray and the lesser of men. “Never fear,” she whispered to her man, “for your comrades will help you escape before the battle begins.”
The Gordon lover thanked her and told her to be gone for her beauty stirred in him deep feelings he could not afford to spare while he waited for his own time to begin.
Men moved in hurried steps: weapons were sharpened; the blacksmith’s anvil rang loud as it fashioned swords; hungry bellies growled in protest for there was not enough to feed the large army that was growing as the sun climbed higher in the sky; mothers hid there children indoors, but the boys snuck out determined to feel a part of their man’s world which they would soon inherit; the metallic smell of blood waited at the edges of town for the battle to take place; all forest creatures fled days before a warning from the sweat of man that they did not belong there; urine and feces saturated the gullies and overflowed onto the old Roman stone roads; and a lone piper played his mournful cry upon the hill overlooking Holyrood Palace.
As the McGregor men gathered their gear for battle and payer, a small army of Wigs snuck in and attacked freeing their Tory cousins who escaped with them back over to the other side and into victory. Hundreds of lives and lost scattered clans would be claimed that day forever gone from the Highlands, some to the ground others to an unknown world called Canada and the Americas.
The lass so passionate and brave in her own eyes heard the news of her brethren’s slaughter; her father and cousins soaked the Highland earth with their blood and screams of pain. Her land and hearth were gone now as English regiments swept through the land and destroyed all evidence of the once mighty clans that may have sought to rest in its familiar bosom. Bonny Prince Charles fled the battle to once again call France his home, to once again plot and strategize in gaining Scotland’s freedom. And the poor lass hid in a cave waiting in the Highland hills for her lover in vain.