A chill wind whipped around the walls of the inner keep, biting to the bone and making the guard on duty dream of a warming fire and a willing woman. He didn’t see the shadow that flowed across the upper bailey, merging with the deeper pockets of darkness.
|“Shadows” by Sharyn Yee
The guard inside the huge doors of the keep didn’t have the distraction of the wind and cold. He snapped to attention as the young woman passed, shivering as her icy blue eyes passed over, then through him.
Once inside the great room beyond the heavy doors, the noise of a busy household preparing for a late meal swelled and pulsed. The rhythm of connected lives flowed around the slim form with barely a ripple,
“Oy my girl, you lost?” The friendly voice matched the baked-apple face and round, stubby body it came from.
The girl shook her head, and gave the woman a small smile before looking out over the bustle of the great room again.
“Well, I’m Mrs. Joyce, and I been over the household here at McLennan Keep for near twenty years now – ever since Lady McLennan was lost to us. I know every soul here, but yours.”
When clear blue eyes flicked to hers, Mrs. Joyce felt the power in that gaze and nodded. “Every soul. Every soul ‘cept yours, ‘cause you don’t have one.” She patted the arm that had gone stiff and icy cold. “Be still, my gir…my dear. I know what you be, and why you be here tonight. The McLennan is above the stairs, and I think he’ll be glad of the company.”
Tipping her head in the direction of the stone stairs, the housekeeper forced her eyes up to meet the woman’s. “I’ll show you the way, though I’ve no doubt you could find it with no help from me.”
Those clear eyes warmed and a slight smile tilted the corners of full lips. Mrs. Joyce watched the fire of her hair glint as the woman nodded and followed her across the room, silent and graceful. None stopped her, spoke to her, or showed by act or expression that they were aware of a stranger gliding through their midst. The black of her dress and the lace cuffs and collar seemed to absorb the light without reflecting any back, pulling what shadows were in the room to her like a cloak.
At the top of the stairs, Mrs. Joyce pushed open a door and stepped into a chamber hung with heavy tapestries and dominated by an elaborately carved bed. The frail man who occupied it slept, dwarfed by the size and weight of a bed that appeared to have outgrown him.
“Laird McLennan?” Mrs. Joyce called him name gently, a hand on his thin shoulder. A frown creased his well-wrinkled forehead, and he turned his head away without opening his eyes.
“Laird McLennan, you have a visitor.” She leaned down closer, her voice soft with pity, “I know you’ve pain, Laird, but you’ll want to wake for this visitor. She’s come special to see you.”
His face turned back to hers, brown eyes gone to muddy gray with age and pain meeting hers. For the first time since he’d been struck with this final sickness, she saw hope reflected there. She stepped back and let his gaze travel to the silent woman at the foot of the bed.
Mrs. Joyce started at the name of the McLennan’s wife, gone twenty years now, and wondered if the cursed illness had at last stolen the proud man’s mind as well as his body.
Before she could speak, the woman looked back over her shoulder and touched a finger to her lips with another small smile.
“Aye, Fergus my love. I’ve come to sing for you.” She sat on the edge of the bed and took his thin fingers in hers.
As the woman’s voice rose in song, Mrs. Joyce watched the lines that pain had etched fade from the Laird’s face and his eyes clear. There were no words that she could hear, but peace and comfort rode in every note, and she realized that the normal babble of voices from the great room below had gone silent.
The last note trembled through the air, and the old man’s eyes closed on one last breath.
The housekeeper was standing in the doorway of the empty chamber when the laird’s son and his wife reached the top of the stairs. A look at the tears on her face told them all they needed to know.
“We…we thought we heard singing,” the young man’s voice was a question.
“Aye, Laird McLennan,” Mrs. Joyce nodded, letting the title drape over the old laird’s son like an unfamiliar cloak.
“The McLennan banshee never forgets, never fails.”
This post is my response to a project in which myself and several others wrote a story based on the picture you see above, created by the inestimable Sharyn Yee. I’ve included the links to the other stories this picture prompted below – visit, comment, ENJOY!
“Redheads” By AmyBeth Inverness
“The Meeting” by James Yee
“Do Not Fear the Shadows” by Gwendolyn Wilkins