Xena: Warrior Princess is copyrighted to MCA/Universal/Renaissance. Images and characters are used here without intent to profit from or infringe upon this copyrighted material. All US and international copyright laws apply to the original works written by the authors.
This story is the fourth in this series and follows the characters, Alex Wallace and Ellie O’Brian-Wallace. The previous three stories are
Living with her …again
Huge thanks to all who have contacted me about these stories I hope they know how much their kind words have encouraged me. You all know who you are... xxx
Special thanks to my dear friends, Jamie and Lee Henwood from Tennessee for their amazing support and information about Native American history.
Note!! The Traditional drum or the Bodhran used in Celtic music has been bowdlerised to Bouran to make it phonetically easier to say!! The ‘dhr ‘sound is a sort of thhhrrrr sound…!
To my wee girl Suzy…for chasing my demons away and filling up my hug battery!!
Uber: X and G meet again in the 21st Century
As a young gay woman in the 1970’s desperate for some positive stories about Lesbian relationships, I was saddened and frustrated by stories such as The Fox by D H Lawrence...…and lost the will to live after reading Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall!!…So imagine my delight when I found Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller. It is Ms Miller’s homage to two 19th Century American Women, who lived their lives outside the expected…sound familiar??
The backbone of ‘Reading her Scrolls…again’ is still the life of my characters, Alex and Ellie, but there is a big nod of homage to Isabel Miller in my thinking….of the story within the story...
Disclaimers. There is no violence in this story, and I am still too shy for rampant bodice ripping sex!!! Just love and romance between two women….
This story not for resale or profit.
Plea for mercy!! I suffered a series of mini strokes at 50 years old...yeh...yeh...I know now...too much work and not enough play!!...The result was I lost the ability to read, write, or remember much for a coupla years…..Long road back but with a lot of help and hard work…..here I am!! However, punctuation remains a mystery to me….so please be kind and roll with the irritations of commas and apostrophe thingies in the wrong place….there’s only so much the spellchecker can help me with!!..
In December 2005, the Law in UK was changed to make same sex marriages legal….YIPPEEE, me and my girl were married in April 2006 after 16 years together. Who would ever have thunk it possible!!
What do you Bards out there think?? Email me. All comments welcome and hugs will be returned.
Alex's Celtic Knot Clan Wallace Crest.
A Chippewah Dreamcatcher
Reading her Scrolls…again
“Alex, Honey!!….get real!!...If you think the family will let you get away without a humungous party for your 30th birthday…you... are deluded, girlfriend!”
The petite blond Texan, Ellie Wallace, gazed fondly at her lover, partner and friend as she sat pouting, on the window seat of the small Croft that was their home. It perched on the cliffs above the village of Applecross in the rugged Highlands of Western Scotland, and had been a place of love and joy for them since their marriage earlier in the year. Even the events of those dreadful days in the late spring, when Ellie’s demented father had attacked them, had not spoiled it for them. They had put those events behind them and spent the intervening months healing and reinforcing the fabric of their lives together…..again...
“Och!! Hell’s Bells, Ellie.” The tall auburn haired Scot exclaimed, in her deep sexy voice. “The gods alone will know what that lot will get up to….it’ll be a nightmare. Can’t you just tell them you’re whisking me off for a romantic tryst in the….. Outer Hebrides or Greenland or
Wal-Mart….or any bloody where??!”
“Hey, big lass….don’t you try that...I like my life the way it is…I love being part of this family of ours and I will not tell Uncle J, Jeannie or the Boys that I am depriving them of a chance to celebrate their pride and joy’s big day!!” Ellie tried to keep the giggle out of her voice and failed miserably as the forlorn face of her lover, hove into her view.
The tall auburn haired Scot was fiddling absentmindedly with the large gold signet ring on the pinkie finger of her left hand. Inscribed on the ring was the Crest of the Wallace Clan surrounded by the complex Celtic knot design that was her talisman, and next to it nestled the thin twisted gold band that had been Ellie’s gift to her just before their wedding. Ellie recognised the agitation in her girl; she gazed into the beautiful blue pools of the love of her lives and, shaking her head, moved across the room to her. Wrapping her in her arms, she snuggled into the familiar smell of her girl and stroked the back of her neck, in small circles.
“How bad can it be”, she whispered.
The muffled voice came back at her.
“You were not here for my 21st were you, my love?? You have no idea how bad it can get.”
“So tell me my brave Dr Wallace, .what has got you so freaked!!”
Alex pulled back from the embrace, looked into her girl’s beautiful green eyes and for a moment, gauged her intentions……
Seeing only real concern, Alex sighed and left the room. Ellie heard her go into her study across the hall and return, carrying a large envelope.
“This... is what they did to me…. my loving family…Look for yourself!”
Ellie’s face now betrayed her fears; she had known Alex, this time around, for almost a year and she had never heard the tall Scot mention any problem with her family. In fact, the Wallace clan of Applecross seemed like the ideal family, to Ellie; the type of family that she had never known in her own childhood, and she was troubled to think that they too, had dark secrets. She hesitated, then opened the envelope and pulled from it a 10 x8 photograph... She looked at Alex, and with a small smile she took the photograph to the window of the croft. She turned it into the light and with a swift intake of breath, attempted to stifle a huge wave of laughter and relief that washed over her. Composing herself, she turned back to see the anxious look on her lovers face.
“Now do you see what I mean? I can’t go through that again Ell…I can’t and you won’t make me...”
Noting the strained dignity with which Alex was attempting to deal with the situation, Ellie realised that this seemed to touch a very raw nerve in her stalwart, yet fragile girl and, taking a deep breath, she came back into the circle of Alex’s arms and held her gently. Her voice was strong yet quiet as she spoke…
“I promise that they will die by my hand before I let them do that to you again. I will stand between them and you… and …they…shall….not...pass!!”
By now she was incapable of containing her laughter any longer and began to shake with silent giggles. Alex recognised this and looked at her with a hurt expression on her angular face.
“So YOU think it funny too, do you?? You are my legal Civil Partner and I have a right to expect some support from you.”
But then her voice also cracked and together they roared with laughter until they were forced to retreat to one of the battered leather sofas, where they collapsed in a heap of arms and legs.
Tears streamed down their faces and it was several moments before either could draw a real breath.
They each blew their noses and wiped the tear from their faces, and then it was Alex who held the photograph up so that they could both see it.
It showed a younger version of Alex dressed in a kilt several sizes to large which came to her mid calf; over the kilt she wore a lurid Hawaiian beach shirt. On her head was a dreadful curly ginger wig and perched on top of it, was a vast Tartan Tam o’ Shanter bonnet that flopped over her face.
“And they made me stand on a table and recite Rabbie Burns while they all threw bits of Haggis at me. I was totally humiliated...”
“But you loved every minute of it, you Brat!! You were winding me up weren’t you??!
“Serves you right my Bard. You have been winding me up for weeks about my birthday present, so just suck it up, .Cowgirl!!”
Ellie punched her girl on the bicep but made little impact on the firm muscle that, she knew, lay beneath the plaid shirt, her lover wore.
“OW...OW...Spouse abuse!!....I’m gonna tell Jeannie on you!!”
“As if she would believe that I,… lil’ Miss Ellie, would do such a thing,” Ellie dramatically assumed the posture of the innocent southern belle, a hand held to her forehead and Alex roared with laughter again.
“OK.!! I give...no more!! My ribs are sore from laughing!!.” Alex eventually gasped and planted a resounding kiss on the tempting lips of her partner and playmate.
It was a warm August day and the two lovers had spent the morning walking the hills and mountains above Applecross. The sky was a clear blue with a few cirrus clouds drifting along, and they had gone north from the village, hugging the cliff edge towards Alt-na–Moine, a small burn or stream which fed Lochan Dubh, a lake lying hidden in the glaciated landscape of the surrounding hills. A short distance before they had reached the burn; Ellie had begun to hear the sounds of fast flowing water. Alex had led her girl to a waterfall that plunged from a sheer cliff, into a clear pool below it. The air had been filled with the roaring and crashing of the water and the air was moist with droplets of spray.
They had glanced at each other with a knowing look and, almost together, they yelled.
“Last one in is a pile of haggis droppings!!”
They had pulled off their shorts and T shirts and dived into the chill waters. Ellie had surfaced first and let out a yell.
”IT IS FREEZING....Alex ..!!”
As she had looked around, she could see no sign of her tanned and gorgeous girl and, treading water, she had twirled around 360 degrees. Suddenly she had felt a hand grab her ankle and she took a swift breath, knowing full well what was to happen. Right enough, she had been pulled under, wrapped in the slippery arms of her lover and kissed soundly, underwater!!
They had emerged breathless and invigorated from their dip and lay on the warm rocks to dry off. They were happy together, in all things, and each knew that they had done this many times before, in times and lives gone past.
“Shame it’s too cold for fish in there!” joked Ellie.
They had continued on their walk to the tiny hamlet of Lonbain, where a few cottages clung to the cliffs and looked across the waters of The Sound to the Isle of Raasay.
Alex had stopped and put her arm around Ellie’s waist as she explained.
“In the 1800’s this part of the Applecross Peninsula would often have been cut off…the road up the pass of Bealach na Bo would be blocked by snow in the winter. The only access to these small homes would have been by the sea route.” Alex had indicated, with an outstretched arm, an arc from Applecross to the south of them, around to the hamlet. “It was only been in the 1950’s when they improved the road to what you see now.
“Hey Hon!! It’s hardly a walk in the park now!!” Ellie had laughed, remembering her first trip up the near vertical pass.
Ellie never became tired of Alex’s history lessons; she sensed the deep pride her girl had in her heritage and the love for the rugged land around them.
They had walked down the small beach below Lonbain and Alex had led them to a small cave in the cliff, pulling a small LED torch from her pocket she had gently taken Ellie’s hand and gone inside. It had been dark but the light of Alex’s torch had been sufficient to illuminate the cave wall, and Ellie had gasped as she saw the cave paintings in the flickering light.
Alex had stood back to let her examine them herself. It always gave her such pleasure to see Ellie discover something new, and she had grinned to think how much they had in common.
“Who would have thought it,” she mused, “.a Texan journalist, writer and business woman and the Celtic archaeologist from across the ocean??
She had been shaken from her thoughts when Ellie had spoken.
“Hey wake up dreamer, I asked you a question! Where were you??”
“Just thinking how lucky I am, darlin’”
Ellie had squeezed her arm and smiled up at her tall companion.
“Hmmm….me too!” and she planted a kiss on Alex’s soft cheek...….”.but I still want to know who did these drawings.”
Alex spent few minutes explaining that these caves had been the first ones she had explored as a child. She had found bones of animals, and some human ones, which she had taken to school with her. Her Geology teacher, who was an amateur Archaeologist, had suggested they were Iron Age and might have been connected with the Iron Age Houses whose remains also, lay in this area.
So it was that Alex and Ellie Wallace spent their summer days. Alex had fulfilled her responsibilities as an associate professor of Archaeology for the University of Edinburgh; Ellie’s novel was at the publishers....(although Alex knew nothing of this) and Ellie’s business in America, run by her best friends Dany and Ann was doing well and was much in demand for the planning of big business conventions and Conferences. All was well in the world of the Wallace’s.
It was 28th August and the day dawned clear and sunny. Ellie woke Alex with a slow sensual back rub that had the tall Scot moaning softly, before she was fully awake.
“Happy Birthday to you,” she whispered huskily. “Happy birthday to you…Happy birthday …love of all of my lives…..Happy Birthday to you!!”
The sleepy blue eyes of her lover met Elli’s green pools, and she smiled fondly.
“Up ‘n’ at ’em Tiger!!….Budgies to bath and goldfish to walk!!”
“Hey! Where’s my present?” Alex reached over and pulled the little blonde back into the warmth of the bed.
She reached out to brush back a lock of blond hair and blew gently into her lovers exposed ear. She felt Ellie shiver and goosebumps began to appear on her neck as she reacted to her lovers touch…Alex ran her hands down Ellie’s side and watched with delight as a blush began to rise from Ellie’s breasts to her face.
Ellie squirmed deliciously and lost herself in the gentle movements of her girl’s hands.
It was an hour later when the two tousled and thoroughly satisfied lovers left their bed for showers and food…Dressed and fed; they were both sitting in the living room when there was a knock on the door.
Alex grimaced, “Don’t forget, you promised….no funny business?? OK??”
“Loud and clear Hon....I’m on it…promise!”
The door opened and Alex’s family piled in. The tall, dark woman was swept up into the arms of James Wallace, her beloved Uncle J, as if she were a feather, but then she was pulled away from him to Donald and Hamish, her ‘almost’ brothers… who very nearly squeezed the life from her until she extricated herself and moved to the waiting arms of Jeannie, the gentle woman who had been her mother since her own had died.
The room was filled with the hubbub of greetings and shouts of “Happy Birthday Alex!!”
Although this was the first birthday she had shared with her girl, Ellie had known it would be a raucous affair filled with the joy for life that this family, of which she was now an integral part, showed at every opportunity.
Each member had brought a gift and while Ellie made the huge pot of tea she knew would be needed, Alex began to open them.
From J and Jeannie she received a new Arran sweater that had beenknitted, she knew, by Jeannie’s own hand and a bottle of Lagavulin Single Malt Whisky from the Isle of Islay. She was delighted as it was a rare year and she knew it had taken some finding. She hugged the grey heads and thanked them with a kiss each.
Donald gave her a piece of driftwood he had found in the bay, he had cleaned it and waxed it to bring out the grain of the wood and emphasise its beauty. As she looked at it, she twisted it in her hands; she knew that hidden in this gift would be something special. She and Donald had spent hours as children finding such treasure and it filled her with emotion to know that, even now, he had remembered those times. Eventually, she turned it so the light caught it in a particular way and she saw the flowing line of an Atlantic Grey seal lying on a rock, hidden within the wood. She kissed him, murmured her thanks, and then rose to rest it in pride of place on the mantle.
As she turned back she saw that Hamish was proffering his gift and she took it with pleasant anticipation. Although her ‘almost’ brothers were very different men, they each loved Alex as a sister and she knew that a great deal of thought had gone into each gift.
She unwrapped the parcel and took a sharp breath. It was a limited edition of the Works of Scotland’s own Bard, Rabbie Burns. Alex felt her eyes fill with tears for she knew how rare these books were and guessed that Hamish had had scouts out looking for this book for most of the year. She kissed him and leant to rest her head between her two Boys for a moment, to convey to them just how much these gifts meant to her.
Then J demanded a toast, his favourite pastime at any celebration, so as Ellie brought in the steaming cups of tea, J stood by the mantle, took his place as head of the family and wished Alex a “Happy Birthday.!!”
Ellie went to the bookshelf in the corner of the room and retrieved a prettily wrapped parcel from behind some taller books. She came back to sit next to Alex and offered her gift.
Alex took it and gazed at her love with eyes full of emotion and began to open it. It was a book…and as Alex turned it over, she saw the name of the author….Ellie Wallace…she just leapt to her feet and lifted Ellie high above her head.
“You wee cheater….you never told me....darlin’... I am so proud of you!!”
Jeannie had picked up the book from the couch where Alex had dropped it and showed the rest of the family. They all began to congratulate Ellie as well, and the Croft rang with happy voices.
Alex’s party was planned up at the Applecross Hotel, owned by Uncle J. It was to be a barbeque and Ceilidh held that evening in the grounds of the hotel, overlooking the bay.
When the family had left, and Alex was sitting quietly mulling over what had just happened, Ellie came to sit next to her.
“Have you opened the book yet, Hon??”
“Hold on a sec, I am just getting used to being married to a published author!!”
“Hey, I’ve been married to one for 8 months!!”
Alex leant over and stroked her lovers beautiful face and, holding her gaze, said
“This is a book from inside you, Ellie; .it is a part of who you are. You can’t compare that to my research papers....no contest, my lovely girl…You are a wonder!!”
The slowly Alex opened the book to the Title page and read
“The Eagle and the Rose”. By Ellie Wallace.
She looked at Ellie who smiled and murmured.
When you read this I want you to remember Hon, this book has been coming from my soul for many years. From since long before we met ….again.
The auburn haired Scot turned the next page and read the dedication.
“To my partner, friend and lover, Dr Alex Wallace, for making my life all that it is, and all that it will be, now and forever.”
Her eyes overflowed and she felt Ellie come to hold her in her arms, and murmur…
”Whatever I did in a past life to deserve another life with you, I will never know, but I thank all the gods and goddesses for the chance.”
The party was in full swing and almost 100 people sat, stood or laid around in the gardens of the Applecross Hotel. Over by the cliff edge, Donald and Hamish were tending the barbeque. Jeannie had attempted to interfere, for fear of causing food poisoning, as the Boys handed out the crisp offerings but they would have none of it.
“Och Awa Jeannie. De ye no ken that this is man’s work!!!” they teased her and chuckled as she pretended to be annoyed but then she hugged them both and went to find the birthday girl.
Alex and Ellie were sitting on a tartan rug eating burgers and drinking the strong local beer when Jeannie approached.
“Enjoying your day, my big girl? She asked fondly.
“What more could a girl want ....family, friends, food and good beer…. as my beautiful spouse tells me....I am truly blessed!”
The three women smiled and looked around them.
Uncle J was holding court with half a dozen children from the village. They sat at his feet as the grizzled Scot told stories of battles fought by the Wallace’s throughout Scottish history. The fact that he embellished history with a deal of poetic license was well known in the village but all admired the big man for his passionate love of being a Scot, and his storytelling was much requested.
“….and William Wallace held aloft his mighty Claymore and swept it around him, taking off the heads of the English soldiers. His battle cry echoed around the hills and caused terror in the hearts of his enemies and they ran like cowards in the face of his courage…”
Alex smiled fondly as she remembered when she had sat on his knee as a child and revelled in his stories of Scottish warriors and their exploits. She remembered asking him one day, if there were ever any female warriors and had been delighted when he had launched into a new story about Mary Wallace....a fearless woman renowned for her fighting skills and her courage in battle. She had been 6ft tall, with flowing auburn hair, and carried her claymore strapped across her back. Alex had always loved these stories the best and had imagined herself as the fearless warrior. She had been overjoyed when, for her 10 birthday, Uncle J had given her a scaled down version of a mighty claymore. He had had it made especially for her and they had spent many happy hours together while J taught her to twirl and wield the great sword. A real Claymore, at four and a half feet long, would have tested even Alex’s great strength....but she still used the slightly smaller one for her morning sword drills and exercises…and she still imagined herself the mighty warrior, fighting for the greater good and Scottish freedom.
The light began to fade and large oil lamps were brought out from the hotel and placed around the party. The light they cast was gentle and flickered, to form shadows on the hills behind.
Ellie was not surprised to see a group of musicians begin to gather, and the serious business of music making and dancing began in earnest!! It was times like this when Ellie allowed herself to bathe in the wonderful atmosphere that surrounded this wonderful place, and these wonderful people. Their pleasure in the simplest of things warmed her and moved her, not for the first time, to give thanks to any goddesses listening, for returning her to her beloved partner for another life together.
Ellie had taken her promise to Alex seriously and had ensured that the family had no terrible traditions planned to inflict on her girl. J had had a gleam in his eye when first she mentioned it, but Jeannie had quieted him with a single look and assured Ellie that there would be no ritual humiliation of their revered academic, Dr Alex Wallace, on the occasion of her 30th Birthday!
This being assured, Ellie relaxed and watched as Alex was whirled around by one friend after another, men and women took their turn to celebrate with the tall dark and handsome Scot, until she begged for mercy and was returned to her lover’s arms for a much needed rest.
As the sun began to set, the sleepy children took their leave with cries of “Happy Birthday Alex”, and “Night night Alex!”, and the mood of the party began to change.
The musicians began to play the haunting melodies of Scottish folk songs and the soft Gaelic words, although incomprehensible to Ellie, still filled her with their power.
She could hear the sweet deep voice of her love joining in and was not surprised when the gathered crowd called for Alex to sing. She rose and offered her hand to Ellie, who took it and together they walked towards the waiting group.
Alex sat on a bench and drew Ellie to sit beside her…she asked....
“What is it to be then?” Suggestions were shouted from several different directions but eventually Alex decided and announced
…. this decision was met with roars of approval and the musicians raised their instruments.
Alex bent her head to kiss Ellie’s forehead and quickly explained that the tune was a song about the battle of the Scottish Jacobites against the terrible laws that had forbidden the clans their lands and their plaids, as punishment for their support of a Scottish King against the English one.
Alex readied her guitar and began gently to strum the first few chords of the melody, her voice was soft at first but as one musician after another joined in and the driving rhythm of the bourans underpinned the beat, many voices were raised and the song reached out to every Scot present to sing of their forefathers.
Cope sent a challenge frae Dunbar,
Sayin "Charlie meet me an' ye daur;
An' I'll learn ye the airt o' war,
If ye'll meet me in the morning."
O Hey! Johnnie Cope are ye waukin' yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were waukin' I wad wait,
Tae gang tae the coals in the morning. *
When Charlie looked the letter upon,
He drew his sword and scabbard from,
Come, follow me, my merry men,
And we'll meet Johnnie Cope in the morning.
Now Johnnie, be as good as your word,
Come, let us try baith fire and sword,
And dinna flee like a frichted bird,
That's chased frae its nest i' the morning.
O Hey! Johnnie Cope are ye waukin' yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were waukin' I wad wait,
Tae gang tae the coals in the morning. *
When Johnnie Cope he heard o' this,
He thocht it wouldna be amiss,
Tae hae a horse in readiness,
Tae flee awa in the morning.
Fye now, Johnnie, get up an' rin,
The Highland bagpipes mak' a din,
It's better tae sleep in a hale skin,
For it will be a bluidie morning.
O Hey! Johnnie Cope are ye waukin' yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were waukin' I wad wait,
Tae gang tae the coals in the morning. *
When Johnnie Cope tae Dunbar cam,
They speired at him, "Where's a' your men"
"The de'il confound me gin I ken,
For I left them a' in the morning."
Now Johnnie, troth ye werena blate,
Tae come wi' news o' your ain defeat,
And leave your men in sic a strait,
Sae early in the morning.
O Hey! Johnnie Cope are ye waukin' yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were waukin' I wad wait,
Tae gang tae the coals in the morning. *
In faith, quo Johnnie, I got sic flegs
Wi' their claymores an' philabegs,
Gin I face them again, de'il brak my legs,
So I wish you a' good morning.
O Hey! Johnnie Cope are ye waukin' yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were waukin' I wad wait,
Tae gang tae the coals in the morning. *
The last line of the last chorus was repeated over and over becoming softer and softer until only Alex’s voice could be heard, and the last word faded away as she strummed the final chord.
Ellie could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up….and the air was electric with the emotion stirred by the song….then she felt Alex lean down and kiss her fill on the mouth, to the roars of approval of their friends and family.
Laughter and happy voice continued to fill the garden and the musicians kept up a string of songs in the background.
It was only a matter of time, Alex knew, before Uncle J would rise to make his usual toasts…and right enough, in the lull between songs, he quieted the musicians and called for silence.
“If anyone’s glass is empty....shame on you…..get it filled!!”
Donald, Hamish and Jeannie moved around the groups refreshing glasses with wine, beer or whisky and, when every glass was charged, J cleared his throat and, looking straight at his ‘big lass’, he spoke with a gentleness that showed the depth of his feeling for her…
“Alex…..….you are our pride and our joy…we’ve watched ya grow into the magnificent specimen of Scots womanhood we see before us today….”
Roars of approval filled the air and Ellie was touched to see that her love was blushing madly!!
“Many things have changed since last year, Alex and we have all been fair delighted, that you have brought your beautiful Ellie into our lives…”
More roars and this time it was Ellie’s turn to blush, as all glasses were raised to her…
“So…on the occasion of your 30th birthday…”
He emphasised the thirtieth…. again more roars filled the air as Alex dipped her head and held it in her hands, dramatically….
“...it falls to me, as head of this family, to call all present to drink to the heath and happiness of my beautiful niece….TO ALEX!!!”
Alex’s name was repeated all around the garden and with her arm around her girl, the guest of honour acknowledged the good wishes of this wonderful community.
The following day dawned bright and clear and the two lovers were enjoying breakfast on the promontory outside the croft. They looked up as a familiar call echoed from the hill above and they saw the shambling figure of Uncle J come towards them.
He plonked his not inconsiderable bulk on the driftwood bench, between his two best girls and, putting his arms around them, gave them a squeeze.
“And how are the two most beautiful sights in Applecross doing this fine morning??”
“Fine, Uncle J and what brings you out so early?” asked Ellie.
Alex viewed her Uncle with suspicion and growled.
“Yes, you old scoundrel....you want something, don’t you?”
J assumed the hurt expression of one much maligned, and then winking broadly, roared with laughter.
I canna get one o’er you, sweet lass! Aye right enough, I’m here to ask wee Ellie’s advice.”
At this Ellie sat up and looked at him.
“You want advice from me, J?….what could I ...possibly ...help you with?”
Alex winced when she recognised the less frequent, but still present, evidence of her darling girl’s low self esteem. She was immediately grateful for J’s response as he took Ellie’s small hand in his and, looking her full in her green eyes he spoke.
“Ellie.... Ellie…you have the sweetest soul and the kindest heart I have ever known….there are many sad and sorry excuses for human beings who could learn much from you....and don’t let me hear you doubt the worth of my wee niece, in my hearing, again….Understood??”.
Alex patted his back in gratitude, dropped a kiss on her girl’s blond head and headed to the croft to make a brew. As she waited for the kettle to boil on the range, she glanced at the two on the bench. They were deep in conversation and Ellie; Alex could tell even from this distance, was very excited about something. She carried out the steaming mugs of tea and waited patiently for Ellie to speak, but her girl got up and walked over to the cliff edge, she stood with her arms crossed over her chest, gazing out across the Sound of Raasey.
Alex began to feel anxious and whispered to J.
“What have you said….if you’ve upset her, J..?
Before he could answer, Ellie turned, ran back, threw herself into Alex’s arms and buried her face in her lover’s auburn hair.
Alex held her tightly and felt her tremble.
“What is it, love….what’s wrong?” but then she realised that Ellie was shaking with suppressed giggles...
“Not a dang thing, my honey bunny…In fact I feel real, real good.” …her Texan drawl, much in evidence..!
“OK, OK,” Alex stuttered.” Time out, what the dickens is going on here....Have you two beamed in from an alternate Universe and replaced my love and my Uncle?”
Eventually, Alex managed to get out of the two conspirators that J had received an enquiry from some business men from Carlisle, who wanted to hold a conference at the Applecross Hotel, and J had come to ask Ellie to organise it.
Ellie fair buzzed with excitement and, for the next half hour, ideas flew around like a swarm of bees. Alex was delighted to see her girl so animated, and secretly thanked the fates for bringing this opportunity to her. Since she had left America to come to Scotland with Alex, Ellie had had her novel to keep her busy, plus her weekly video conference calls to her partners Dany and Ann in America kept her business mind in tune, but Alex had begun to worry that she would become bored without a new challenge into which to channel her energies…and here it was.
J left to return to the Hotel and Ellie immediately went to the phone to contact her stateside buddies. Alex heard the excitement in her voice and she felt it reflected from the other end of the phone: The women in America loved Ellie with all their hearts, had known her since High school and were always concerned for her. Alex knew that Ellie would be in full ‘organiser’ mode and resolved to keep out of the way and allow her space to work her magic. She washed the dishes, tidied the tiny kitchen and was drying her hands when Ellie came in, her face flushed with excitement.
“D and A are sending some stuff out for me by courier....no point in reinventing the wheel, hey Hon??....If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!!”
Alex laughed and drew Ellie into her arms and held her tightly.
“I am so pleased for you, darlin’….this is just what you needed….a new challenge.”
Ellie then looked pensively at her tall, dark lover.
“Babe, I’m gonna be real busy for the next few days....what will you do with yourself?”
“I think it’s time I caught up with my reading” Alex chuckled and indicated Ellie’s novel sitting on the kitchen worktop.
“You see, darlin’…it’s just what I need! …..Some peace and quiet without my sweet bard bothering me every five minutes!” Alex’s face, filled with love and pride, made the words a love song for Ellie and she reached up to claim her girl’s lips for a long, probing moment.
Alex pulled back just enough to see her lovers beautiful face, smiled fondly and, flicking Ellie on her behind, sent her off to the Hotel to discuss things with Uncle J and Jeannie. She watched as her girl almost skipped along the path that led from the Croft to the hotel and, taking the book, went out to sit on the driftwood bench, in the sun. She settled her long legs out on the bench and turned to the first page.
The Eagle and the Rose.
By Ellie Wallace
It was early morning in the fast growing new town of Swallow Falls Montana, and the residents were beginning their day. Newcomers were arriving every day, drawn to the town by tales of jobs and prosperity and no-one paid much heed to the stranger who rode in on a big Palomino horse. The tall figure dismounted, hitched the big golden animal to the rail outside the Livery stable and looked around. A small boy of about 10 years came out and eyed the stranger suspiciously. He could see that the newcomer had a revolver strapped at the hip, and a long Indian knife in a scabbard on his back. The boy came forward and looked up into the bluest eyes he had ever seen, they seemed to look right into him and he managed to mutter.
“Look after yer horse mister?....dollar a day including feed….and I’ll rub her down fer ya, only cost ya a quarter.”
The stranger eyed the boy warily but drew out 2 dollars and flipped them at him; he caught them, grinned and took the reins of the horse. The tall dark figure slipped off the two saddlebags and nodded to the boy who led the horse into the stable.
The imposing figure strode through the main street and drew some curious looks. At 6 feet tall with long black hair tied at the nape of the neck by a plaited leather thong and a long coat billowing, the stranger looked menacing and unapproachable.
“He sure looks like he can handle hisself”, thought the Town Sheriff, Jake Thompson, as he watched the stranger approach and lean against the rail outside his office.
”Howdy…welcome to Swallow Falls Stranger...unless yer lookin fer trouble…. in which case you can leave the way you came in….no offence...”
The Sheriff was struck dumb when a woman’s voice answered him, deep and growly but a woman no less.
“Not looking for trouble Sheriff….I’m your stand in Deputy. People call me Eagle.”
Thompson had received a wire from the County Sheriff office earlier that week, but no mention had been made of the temporary Deputy being a woman. He needed time to think so he leant his chair back and put a booted foot up in the rail.
“Is that so” …he hesitated…” Ma’am”
“You’ll get used to it.” The woman grunted, as she took off the black Stetson she wore and knocked the dust from it, on her leather clad thighs.
“Don’t rightly think I have much choice, but don’t mean I gotta like it… Eagle. ..What kind of name is that...?”
“My father was Chippewah; my mother was a white woman he found near dead in the mountains. My full name is Soaring Eagle…but Eagle will do.”
Eagle had learned the hard way, to get the facts out in the open from the get go and let people mull on them for a while. She had faced every kind of prejudice as a woman, and as an Indian…she just rolled with the punches now…nothing could hurt her anymore.
As the two lawmen weighed each other up there was a strangled cry from across the street, both turned to see a wagon drawn by two horses stampeding through the town, clinging to the reins was a small blond girl trying desperately to control the bucking animals. In a flash, Eagle vaulted the rail and ran towards the scene; she threw herself on the training reins of the nearest horse as it passed, and leapt onto its back, grabbing the lead rein of the second horse as she did. Pulling and sawing on the bits in their mouths, she slowed and then stopped the wagon and leapt down to gentle the terrified animals with sure hands and soft words. People had come out from shops and offices to see what was going on and began to applaud the stranger who had risked so much to save the tiny blonde woman.
The watching Sheriff took off his hat and scratched his head in wonder.
“Well, I’ll be damned! What have I got myself here?”
On the other side of the street, Eagle had handed the reins of the now settled horses to a bystander and moved to the wagon, the small blond woman was cradling her hands to her chest and moaning quietly. Eagle reached up and took one of her hands and saw the blood coming from the torn flesh.
“Let me help you ma’am” she spoke quietly and as the woman in the wagon looked up, Eagle was fixed by her clear green eyes, so filled with pain and fear.
“Thank you….yes....” she murmured.
With both hands bleeding, she couldn’t get down alone so Eagle reached up, gently lifted her and set her on the ground. Her knees buckled so Eagle gathered her up in her arms, and carried her to the Sheriffs office. Many eyes followed the two figures; one so tall and dark and the other so small and blonde until they vanished from sight, and then the crowds drifted away.
Sheriff Thompson opened the door to his office to allow Eagle and her burden to pass him, and enter. The tall dark stranger put the blonde woman down gently on a chair and poured her a glass of water from the jug on the desk. The woman’s hands were shaking so much that Eagle held the glass to her lips to allow her to drink.
“Easy now, ma’am….slowly. You’ve had a nasty shock.”
Jake spoke quietly. “Now Rose, what you doing driving that rig in all alone....those horses take some handling, and you being so little…n’all..”
Neither Eagle, nor Jake was prepared for the hiss that erupted from the small woman.
“Dang and blast it….Jake Thompson…when will you stop treating me like some pathetic, can’t do nothing without a man, female??? I can drive that rig as well as you; .it was the darn dogs up by the courthouse spooked ‘em….is all”
Jake raised his hands to placate her. “OK, Rose....sorry …didn’t intend no offence”
Whilst this was going on, Eagle had opened the saddle bags she had reclaimed from the stoop, and taken out a leather pouch. She opened it to reveal ointments and salves and what seemed to be lumps of moss. She gently opened up Rose’s tiny hands and whispered an apology as the woman winced…..she used some hot water from the kettle on the stove, which warmed the sheriff’s office, and cleaned the wounds.
“Not too bad Ma’am, soon have you more comfortable.”
“I’d be more comfortable if you stopped calling me Ma’am....makes me feel like a schoolmarm.”
Jake hooted with laughter “but you are a schoolmarm Rose….”
“Yep that’s as maybe….but I am not the old dried up sort that gets called Ma’am….so cut it out.”
Then she found herself captured by the most amazing blue eyes she had ever seen, as she took her first proper look at the tall dark stranger who had saved her. She felt her breath catch in her throat, and was aware that she was blushing under the scrutiny of the woman, kneeling at her feet.
Sorry, Ma’am....uh….. I mean Miss Rose… My name is Eagle.”
Rose could feel her mouth dry up, she struggled to get enough spit to loosen her tongue and she spoke in a whisper.
“Just Rose, Eagle…pleased to meet you and thank you for saving me…”
Eagle’s gaze had returned to her task of cleaning Roses hands and nodded to acknowledge the thanks. She covered the scrapes with ointment and used the bandages to wrap them in the moss from her medicine kit.
Rose looked at her quizzically as she did this and Eagle, noticing this commented.
“The moss has healing properties, Rose, it keeps the wound clean. It’s an old Chippewah trick my grandma taught me.”
Ah....that explains the jet black hair and high tanned cheek bones …Rose mused to herself…and what makes her so striking…
Rose found it difficult to take her eyes off the woman before her, yet dropped her eyes whenever Eagle looked up.
Stop this Rose Walton….you are behaving outrageously...
Jake Thompson had moved to the back of his office and watched the scene before him. He had known Rose all her life and had always felt protective of the gentle soul beneath the bluster.
Rose’s life had been privileged for the first 15 years of her life, but then the Civil war had taken her two brothers. Their deaths had broken her mother, who died soon after, and left her father a sad and needy man for whom Rose cared; as well as teaching in the little school attached to the Church. The past 10 years had taken its toll on the fresh faced innocent girl who had come back from her boarding school, so full of all she had learned. Suitors had come and gone from her life when they realised that her father was part of the package, and that they would have to share her, with the sick and demanding shell of the man he used to be. The local women considered that Rose Walton was too stuck up to be part of their little circles; the truth was, in fact, that they were jealous of her education and her gentle soul…
“Yep” Jake muttered to himself, .if ever someone needed a friend, it was Rose…”
Eagle had finished dressing Rose’s wounds.
“I’d be glad to drive you home, Rose, If that all right with Sheriff Thompson.”
“Sure,” Jake answered, “I’ll sort out some lodgin’ fer ya while yer gone.”
“I’ll be fine at the livery stable, I’m used to sleeping with Argent...…My horse,” she answered quickly, when she saw the quizzical looks both Rose and Jake, gave her.
A few moments later, Eagle and Rose were seated on the buckboard and the tall dark woman slapped the reins to get the horses moving, her own horse was tied to the back and whinnied as they left town. The ride to Rose’s home took about half an hour and they had exchanged only a few words, when Rose asked Eagle to stop the buckboard.
She did so and wrapped the reins around the brake, took off her hat and wiped a hand over her face. She turned her blue eyes towards her companion.
Rose looked at her closely and asked.
“Who are you?? Tall, dark and handsome stranger??”
Eagle‘s eyes were clouded as she answered…
No-one special, Rose...just a visiting Law Officer”
“Well I might have just have to disagree with you there, Eagle…not many would have risked their life for a stranger. Tell me your story, won’t you?”
They dismounted the rig and Eagle led Rose to the shade of a large tree just off the track.
She took off her long coat and laid it on the ground for Rose to sit on.
Eagle looked at her companion and wondered at what she was about to do… All her life since her father died and she had left her tribe, she had been alone, never trusting another for fear of betrayal…She felt that she could trust this tiny blonde woman…and she began to talk….
She told Rose of her life when her Mother and Father were alive, how they had lived with the ChippewahTribe from near the Canadian border. Eagle’s grandmother had been the keeper of the Sacred Birch Bark Scrolls of her nation…the Wiigwaasabek… and Eagle had, many times, sat at her knee and learned of the traditions of her culture…It had been when both her parents had died from the winter sickness that Eagle had decided to leave her tribe and strike out on her own. She had taken her pony and ridden off from her ancestral homelands at the age of 16 and she had been taken in by a travelling pastor, who had taught her to read and write. That had been 12 years previously and, quite by chance, five years ago, she had come into law enforcement when she had helped a lawman hold off some outlaws trying to rob a bank. She could handle herself in a fight, having been taught hand to hand combat by her father. He had seemed to know that as half white and half Indian, she would need to fight for her place in society and he had tried to give her all the skills she would need to survive. She could wrestle and use a knife as well as any man in her tribe, and she was skilled in the storytelling of tribal legends.
Rose listened to her story without comment, but felt the loneliness in the tall dark woman and her heart went out to her. She reached out and placed her hand over Eagle’s as it lay on her leather pants. She felt the tall woman stiffen and then accept the gesture.
“I was the Maker of Dreamcatchers for my tribe.” She spoke almost in a whisper as if remembering long forgotten times of happiness.
“Would you make me one?” Rose asked and she wished she had not, for it seemed to break the spell and Eagle became distant, pulled her to her feet and walked to the buckboard to check the horse’s tack.
Rose held back and went to mount the rig; she held up her long skirts and reached up to the step with her bandaged hands, only to be lifted effortlessly by Eagle, who had stepped up behind her. Rose kicked herself for whatever it was she had done that had caused the Deputy to clam up. They rode the rest of the way in silence and soon arrived at the gates of Rose’s homestead; It was a modest place but had a large house with a brick chimney from which smoke was spiralling lazily, into the afternoon sky.
An elderly man came out from the barn and took the reins of the horse.
”Where ya been, Miss Rose, yer Pa been carrying’ on sumpin’ awful all day.”
“I’m sorry Jethro….had a little trouble.”
The man shook his head and walked the horses and the buckboard toward the bar, muttering.
“T’aint right to put such a burden on ya, little lady….”
Rose was desperate to have Eagle talk to her again, but the barriers were up and the tall dark Indian refused her offer of lemonade and made to mount her horse. Then a strident voice came from the house.
“Rose, where the hell you been, Girl. You know I expect my meal by two….it’s past 4.”
Eagle hesitated and then, leaving her horse, she went to stand by the small blond woman. She took her elbow and walked her towards the house. Rose did not resist and felt strangely reassured to have her there.
They entered the house and Eagle saw that the house had an air of faded gentility. The furniture would once have been fine, the carpets and drapes were faded and patched remnants of past affluence, yet everywhere was spotless. Fresh flowers sat in a vase on the table, the only bright colour in the unlit room, and in a wheeled chair by the ashes of a fire sat a hunched figure, who just exuded resentment.
The figure turned as he heard the footfalls enter the room but when he saw the stranger, his whole demeanour changed…
“Why Rose, you didn’t say we had company. Come in and welcome.”
Eagle somehow, didn’t buy the change and simply nodded to the man who turned his chair and wheeled it towards the door.
“Rose, aren’t you gonna introduce us.
“Papa, this is Eagle….she is the new Deputy Sheriff in town.”
Josiah Walton stiffened as he looked at their visitor, but he quickly regained his composure and assumed the affable face of the host.
“Welcome Deputy, what brings you out here? My girl been causing trouble?”
It was then that he noticed Rose’s bandaged hands and when Eagle spoke, her voice was deep and tense.
“Your daughter was nearly killed today, Sir…..”
She felt anger towards this selfish man and his next words did nothing to dispel her instinctive dislike of him.
“I told you over and again, you can’t drive them horses Rose, you’re too weak.”
“Your daughter can handle the horses fine, Sir. No one could have foreseen the danger.”
Eagle felt an overwhelming urge to protect the small blond woman, and she felt a light pressure from the small hand still in the crook of her elbow.
Then she turned to Rose and caught her eye, she was delighted to see a long slow wink from the green eye and smiled despite herself.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, Sir…I must get back to Town...Miss Walton, it has been a pleasure to meet you.”
Rose replied equally as formally.
“Thank you for rescuing me....Deputy.”
Eagle nodded to her and, to the man in the wheeled chair, then, turning on her heel made her exit. She knew that she was being watched from the window as she vaulted into her saddle and, settling her hat firmly on her head, kicked her horse into a canter.
When Eagle returned to town, she was told by the Sheriff that no Deputy of his would be sleeping in the livery stable, so she found herself in the boarding house run by the plump and talkative Mrs Jorgenson, whose husband; Mr Jorgenson ran the local store.
Her room was small but clean and there was a bath house in the yard so she unpacked her few belongings and went to wash off the dirt of the trail, before supper. She found her mind wandering to the slight blond woman she had met today and hoped to see her again soon.
The evening meal passed by quickly as Mrs Jorgenson talked, almost without drawing breath, throughout. There were two other guests at the table, Miss Elizabeth Williams and her companion, Miss Edith Wilson. During the meal, both of these ladies flashed covert glances at the striking female with the jet black hair and startling blue eyes, but she just ate her meal and seemed to be in a world of her own.
When Mrs Jorgenson had cleared the plates and left the room to get the dessert, Miss Williams cleared her throat and enquired politely.
“Where are you from, Deputy Sheriff Eagle?”
Eagle seemed to wake from a dream and stuttered.
“Just Eagle will be fine, Ma’am, I’m from wherever my job takes me.”
“How long are you here for?” asked Miss Wilson.
“Just til the County Sheriffs office sends out a permanent replacement.”
“You won’t be staying with us?”
“No Ma’am, I kinda like to be on the move” she excused herself and rose to leave the table.
Eagle was an intensely private person and was not used to such questions, she collected her coat and hat from the hall and, strapping on her weapons, left the boarding house and went to the stable to check on Argent.
As she entered the golden mare whinnied a greeting and nickered softly as Eagles hands stroked her. The warm smell of the horses and fresh hay were sweet on the air and Eagle began to relax. She sat on the straw lining the stable and pulled a harmonica from her vest pocket, she began to play a haunting melody and Argent‘s ears pricked up at the familiar sound.
Later, the tall figure left the stable and walked along the dark and silent street to the Sheriffs office. Jake was on duty and sat at his desk with a cup of coffee. As she entered, he looked up and nodded, then gestured with his cup to the pot on the stove.
Eagle picked up a cup, filled it then took it to the chair by the window and sipped the bitter brew. Her face was expressionless as she spoke.
“Sheriff, If you and me are gonna get along….you gotta let me make the coffee..!”
Jake laughed and the two sat in a companionable silence for a while.
It was Jake who broke the silence when he asked.
“Rose get home OK?”
“Sure does break me up to see her trapped out there, looking after her Pa, when she should be stepping out with someone by now.
“Her Mama was a beauty you know….turned heads wherever he went, but she chose Josiah Walton… the most humourless son of a bitch I ever did know…he sucked the joy outta that woman and left her a shell. Now he’s doin’ the same to sweet Rose.”
Eagle spoke forcefully.
Why don’t she just leave then?”
“Rose?...Leave?...Naah!!..She got too much heart to leave him alone....him being a cripple n’all.
….Hey, I’m surprised he lets her out to teach school....he’d like her at his beck n call, all day every day.”
“Does she ever socialise?” Eagle asked hesitantly.
“Well we got a barn dance here this Saturday…why don’t you ask her?”
“Me….why would she come with me?”
“Cos I reckon that even though you only been here a day….you’re the closest thing, that gentle soul has got to a friend in the whole wide world.”
When she had returned to the boarding house and changed for bed, Eagle was deep in thought. She had been alone most of her adult life...and yet suddenly someone had seemed to reach in and touch her heart. It disturbed her and she shook her head, plumped up her pillow and tried to sleep. She tossed and turned for about an hour, then gave up and lighting the lamp, went to her saddlebags and drew out a piece of deer antler. She took it to the table with her long knife and began to carve.
Next morning, Eagle had eaten a swift breakfast for fear of more interrogation, and walked to the office. The night Deputy, Harry, looked ready for bed and yawned as he greeted the tall dark newcomer.
“Howdy, Eagle….Jake told me you’d be relieving me….welcome to Swallow Falls.”
Eagle was taken by the genuine open faced young man and shook his hand.
“Nothin’ to report....all quiet....coupla boys got a bit tanked up over the saloon, but they were quick to settle. Stage is due in at noon with the mail.”
Eagle nodded and Harry returned his rifle to the rack, collected his hat and walked out with a farewell wave. Eagle checked out the papers on the desk, there was a new wanted poster of a bank robber known to be in the area, but he wasn’t familiar to her.
She poured a cup of coffee and went out to the stoop, sat on the chair and, pushing it back, supported it with a booted foot on the rail. Her experienced eye scanned the street, wagons bringing goods in and out of the town passed by, the drivers raised their hats to her and she responded with a lazy salute. Her rescue the previous day had been the talk of the town so everyone wanted to see the new mysterious female sheriff. Eagle reached into the pocket of her vest and drew out a watch; she flicked it open and checked the time. The sun was warm on her face so she left her coat and, checking her gun and her knife were at her belt, she left the office to do her rounds.
The town had many shops and a Courthouse, as well as the big Livery where her horse was stabled, and two Hotels. At the far end of town was a lumber yard where planks were sawn to build the houses springing up all around. Eagle noted that streets were beginning to appear running off from the main street at right angles. Some of these had small patches in front where hardy plants were planted and struggled to survive. She noticed that several children were walking towards the Church with small satchels on their backs and she remembered that Rose taught school; she found herself walking past the church very slowly and then walking back again, equally as slowly. What she did not suspect was that a blonde head was peeping from behind the shutter, watching her and smiling gently.
Rose watched as Eagle, with a last glance at the church, continued her patrol. She noted the long stride, and the strength of her shoulders beneath the old, but clean shirt Eagle wore.
The stage arrived; Eagle collected the mail and took it to the post office, she didn’t have to do this but it would, once again, take her past the Church. School was still in session so she returned to the stoop and carried on carving the antler she had brought with her. The design was a traditional one and she was creating a delicate spider web within the shape of the horn, she had watched her grandfather carve these over and again as a child and she connected with her memories of it’s spiritual origin.
Her rumbling stomach reminded her she had not eaten and she went to the hotel where she had been told by Jake that she would be fed. She entered and took a seat so she could see the street; Jenny the waitress brought her a plate of steaming stew which smelled good and a hunk of bread. Eagle began to eat with relish. She had a cup of coffee which Jenny refilled as soon as it was empty and each time she came to the table, she smiled shyly at the deputy.
Eventually Eagle smiled back and Jenny stopped, “Can I ask you a question Deputy?”
”Sure….not saying I’ll answer it though…” Eagle teased.
“Well, I wanna know how I can get to be a deputy like you....my brother says that you ain’t a real woman and that I could never be like you….”
The words tumbled out in a rush and Eagle recognised the usual pattern in them.
“Well, Jenny….I guess I’m just different…” and she left the table and was in the street before she allowed herself to draw a breath.
“Always the same” she thought….can’t be a real woman without wearing a skirt and simpering after men…..”
The she saw that the children were coming out of school so she crossed the street and waited by the door. When they had all left she felt, rather than saw, Rose and heard her whisper.
“Are you going to lurk out there all day Deputy, or are you going to come talk to me?”
Eagle felt herself blush and, removed her hat as she entered the small but neat schoolroom.
Rose was wearing a blue skirt, pulled into her waist and a cream coloured blouse tucked in.
Her hair shone and she wore it in a short bob cut which was unusual for the day, but suited her.
She was tidying the books onto a shelf and kept looking shyly at the tall dark figure.
The walls of the schoolroom were covered in pictures obviously drawn by the children, but on one wall there were framed paintings. Eagle wandered over to them and examined them. There were scenes of snow on the mountains, a river flowing through a valley and a sunset over the plains....they were beautifully done and Eagle could feel herself there, in the scenes. She turned to find Rose watching her.
“Well, what do you think?”
“They are beautiful...…Rose...someone really knows how to capture a moment, I can almost feel the chill of those mountains! Who painted them?”
Rose blushed and looked down and Eagle realised that they paintings were her work.
“Wow, Rose....you should sell these, they are really good.”
Rose was obviously pleased that the tall dark Deputy liked her work and she walked over to her.
She slid her small hand into the crook of Eagle’s elbow who she froze slightly at the touch, but then squeezed her elbow to let Rose know it was OK….it was actually, more than OK and Eagle had to fight to focus her attention back on the paintings.
“Which one do you like best?” Rose whispered, her breath soft on Eagle’s face.
Eagle thought for a few moments and indicated the mountain scene. ”It reminds me of my tribal lands…My father and I would hunt for days during the summer, and in winter we would spend weeks at the high forest hunting for food, to feed the tribe...”
Rose reached up and took the painting down from the wall. She handed it to Eagle whose eyes opened wide in amazement, and she stuttered...
“I can’t take this Rose….you must have put hours of work into it.”
Rose turned the Deputy so that their eyes met and she murmured.
“I want you to have it….and then wherever you are… you can see your tribal lands….and maybe think of me sometime?”
Eagle felt tears sting her eyes. She had never been given such a precious gift before and she fought back the tears as she held the painting to her heart, nodding her thanks.
Rose, sensing the emotion flooding through her friend, turned away to give her a few moments to recover. She knew instinctively that Eagle would not want to lose control in front of her…...well…..not yet anyway…
Eventually, Eagle asked how her hands were and they spent a few moments examining the wounds. The dark head and the golden one bent close together and, eventually, Eagle, declared herself pleased with the way that the wounds had responded. Rose asked how the Deputy was settling in and was pleased that she had not slept in the stables with her horse; she did not tell Eagle this but she had lain awake the night before, concerned that this magnificent woman might be cold…..
There was a lull in their conversation… Eagle twiddled her hat in her hand and gazed out of the window. She seemed to be gathering her courage and clearing her throat, managed to mutter,
“Can I buy you a cup of tea?”
Rose almost missed it but reacted warmly and as the dark head looked up, a beaming smile transformed her face and Rose again felt her heart beat a little faster.
They walked a proper distance apart to the Hotel, and Eagle held the door open for Rose, she removed her hat and guided her guest to the table by the window. Eagle placed her present on the windowsill so that she could see it; Jenny the waitress approached and greeted Rose with a smile.
“Sure glad you didn’t get hurt yesterday, Miss Walton “
“Thank you Jenny and will you please stop calling me Miss Walton, you left school over a year ago!”
“Yes ma’am.” stuttered the girl and Rose rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
For some reason this made Eagle laugh and the two settled comfortable in their seats. Jenny brought tea and two small cakes on pretty plates properly including napkins and forks. Eagle looked at the fork and wondered what it was for….so she waited until she saw Rose lay the napkin in her lap and take up the fork to eat the cake, and she followed suit. Rose noted this and a warm affection flowed through her for this complex stranger, so new to her life. She poured the tea into the cups and offered milk and sugar, which Eagle declined. Once again the tall dark one waited until she saw how Rose drank her tea and made sure she also picked up the cup by the tiny handle. This was not easy given her large, long fingered hands….but she made a good show of it. They talked, at ease with each other, about all kinds of things and Rose was delighted to find that Eagle enjoyed reading, and she offered to lend her some of her books when next they met.
When they had finished their tea and the table had been cleared, neither woman seemed to want to part, but eventually Eagle drew out her watch and remarked that she really should get back to her rounds.
Rose agreed and they walked out onto the street.
“Thank you for the tea, Eagle.”
Eagle nodded and, replacing her hat on her head touched the brim in salute to Rose and turned to walk away, then she stopped and came back…..took her hat off and twirled it in her hands nervously.
“Umm, I was wondering….Um that is ….if you haven’t any other plans….if ...you…umm...
Rose took hold of the hat in the Deputy’s hands and waited for the blue eyes to meet hers.
“What is it Eagle?....what do you want to ask me?....just spit it out….easiest way, I’ve found!”
Eagle took a deep breath and gulped, the words tumbled out.
“Wanna cum to the dance with me on Saturday?”
♫ ♪♫♪♫♫♪ ♫♪♫♫ ♪♫
Oh Flower of Scotland
♪♫♫♪ ♫♪♫♫ ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♫♫♪
..when will we see your like again
♫♪♫♫ ♪♫♪♫♫♪ ♫♪♫♫
….that fought and died for
♪♫♪♫♫♪ ♫♪♫♫ ♪♫♪♫♫♪
….your wee bit hill and glen...
Alex swore as she realised that her involvement in the story was being disrupted by the insistent ringing of her damn cell phone….
“Oh Sod it” she hissed and she dropped Ellie’s book on the grass as she scrabbled to extricate the offending technology from her waistcoat pocket
She flipped open the cover and keyed the speak button.
“Hey Alex….Chill Babe....it’s only me checking in….What’s the prob?”
Alex’s ire deflated immediately as she heard her lover’s voice; she relaxed and spoke.
“You do choose your moments, my lovely….Eagle‘s just about to ask Rose to the Dance..”
Ellie’s tinkling giggle emanated from the earpiece and Alex couldn’t help but be glad to hear the energy in the voice. Ellie needed Alex to come to the Hotel to discuss with her and Uncle J, the alterations needed to create the conference suite.
“Sorry, my big girl….work time now…get your lovely butt over here….double time!!”
Alex reluctantly closed ‘The Eagle and the Rose,’ returned it to the Croft, and set off across the promontory.
As she entered the hotel, she was astonished to see that the tables and chairs from the smaller of the two bars, had been piled into a corner of the larger one.
Yep... she thought….that’s my Ellie....never do tomorrow what you can do today!!
She followed the sound of voices and found her girl, and Uncle J, in the now empty bar. Ellie had a measuring tape and a notebook in her hands and J was following her around, with a dazed expression on his face.
Alex stood back, leant against the doorpost and crossed her arms over her chest.
Poor J, .he didn’t know what he had unleashed when he asked Ellie for help. There was only one way that the beautiful Texan worked…100% in all things! .It was one of the many facets of her character that made Alex‘s love and respect for Ellie grow by the day.
Ellie was gesticulating towards the far wall when she spotted Alex and, as it usually did, her heart did a double back flip and she stopped in mid sentence…J followed her gaze and he too drank in the sight of his niece.
Ellie spoke first.
“OK tall dark and handsome….front and centre!!”
Alex came to an impressive attention, and marched smartly over to where Ellie stood. She stamped her foot to the ground, threw up a crisp salute and barked.
“Sergeant Wallace, reporting for duty, as ordered....Ma’am.”
Ellie smiled, she pulled the dark head down for a quick hug and then began to outline the changes she thought were needed to make the bar into a place where small conferences could be held. At that moment the door opened and Jeannie, the housekeeper, came in with a tray of tea.
“Now wee Ellie, you’ve been at it for hours...you‘ll wear yourself out...…not to mention the old bugger over there”….she indicated Uncle J who had taken the opportunity to sit on the one remaining chair.
Suddenly Ellie hesitated.
She went to the elderly man and put her arms around him.
“J, I am so sorry....I get real excited about stuff and get carried away…..we’ll stop now for a rest.
J returned the hug and smiled up at the beautiful face before him.
“This is what we need Ellie….new life in this place….You’ll make us all bump, you will!!”
The four of them returned to the main bar and drank their tea. Ellie kept up a gentle conversation and made notes as she did.
Alex asked, “Is this conference a one off, J…. or do you plan to make it part of the business?”
“Lassie,” he answered….”I’m getting no younger….we need to move with the times….during summer, right enough, we do good trade with walkers and such...but the winters are sparse trade. This could be the answer....and with a ready made manager right here...I’d be a fool to turn down a profit!!”
Ellie’s eyes snapped to his face…”A manager??..Who??”
All eyes came to rest on her and she felt her colour rise.
“If you want the job of course, wee one?” J asked
Ellie looked to Alex for an answer but she had learned, that it might take Ellie some time to weigh the pros and cons of a decision….but she was best left to do so….herself.
“ But J….what if Alex went off to a dig….I would want to go with her….and I have to go to the States to check on my business there….and ..I’m planning another book…”
J took her hand and spoke quietly.
“Just think it over darlin’…maybe you could set it up, and if there’s enough profit in it, we could hire some extra staff for you to train, then if you were away, they could run things for you?”
This idea reassured Ellie and she nodded thoughtfully. They agreed to leave things for the day and for Ellie to come up with a simple business plan, to be discussed the next day.
Ellie and Alex walked back to the Croft, hand in hand and paused on the promontory. A gentle breeze was ruffling their hair and the sun was warm on their faces.
Alex drew her girl close to her side and dropped a kiss on her head. Ellie turned and asked.
“Well, big girl??”
“Well what, wee girl?”
“Don’t tease Alex….what do you think of my story so far…??”
Oh no....not til I’ve finished it.” Alex replied.” you’ll just have to wait!”
She ran off towards the croft with Ellie following, calling “No fair….No fair “
The next day, Ellie received the package by courier from America and went off to the hotel, after breakfast, to talk to J. Alex had decided that she must take a backseat if Ellie’s confidence was to be allowed to grow, so she took her tea and her book back to the driftwood bench on the promontory. She opened the book to where she had left it and settled to read…
Rose took hold of the hat in the deputy’s hands and waited for the blue eyes to meet hers.
“What is it Eagle?....what do you want to ask me....just spit it out….easiest way, I’ve found!”
Eagle took a deep breath and gulped, the words tumbled out.
“Wanna cum to the dance with me on Saturday?”
Rose’s face showed her delight and Eagle’s heart beat began to slow as she answered.
“I’d love to….that would be great!”
Saturday came and Eagle felt as nervous as a teenager. She had gone to Mr Jorgenson’s store and bought a new shirt. It had been every long time since she had bought any new clothes, they just didn’t figure in her thinking, but she wanted to make a good impression. She didn’t want the town thinking that she didn’t know how to behave.
She had taken a long hot bath and brushed her hair until it shone. She had polished her boots until she could see her face in them and cleaned her leather pants. The new shirt was black cotton and she finished her outfit with a black leather vest and a simple scarf around her neck. She pulled her hair into the nape of her neck and fastened it with a leather clip, pushed her hat onto her head and looked in the mirror.
“Best I can do, I guess..”she thought
Meanwhile at The Walton homestead, Rose had bathed and washed her hair, she sat in her bedroom and thought of Eagle. She knew that she was about to scandalise the town and frankly, she didn’t give a rat’s ass. Rose has learned over the years that if you didn’t grab what you wanted... no-one would do it for you…and she wanted to get to know the tall, dark woman with the sadness in her soul that Rose could see, as clear as the nose on her face.
“A soul looking for a home”, she mused as she put a little perfume on her wrists…
She finished dressing and had come downstairs to the parlour where her father, as usual, sat slumped in his chair. She twirled in front of him to show off her dress. She had had to make a few repairs but she was pleased with the result, she reached to the vase to pick a flower and she pinned it on her left breast.
“Damn fool idea….why you want to go to a dance?” he grumbled, “What young whippersnapper you got sniffin’ at you now?”
Rose paled as she heard the cruel words but she was determined that nothing would upset her this night, so she ignored the jibe and answered her farther in a level tone.
“Actually Papa, I am the guest of the Deputy Sheriff.”
“Hmpph” he snorted. “That boy ...Harry….he ain’t hardly out of school...”
“No, I meant Deputy Eagle.”
She braced herself for his response and she felt his rage grow; he wheeled his chair around and spat at her.
“You are not going to any dance with that…”
“That what…?? Pa,” she demanded angrily…”What??”
That half breed, half man….that’s what.”
“And just who is gonna stop me…Pa...You?” she took her wrap from the table, moved swiftly to the door and walked out to where Jethro had saddled her horse. Eagle had wanted to collect her in a rig from the livery stable but she had not wanted to risk a scene between Eagle and her father, so she had decided to ride in herself. She hoisted her dress and mounted her black mare, Ebony, she settled the folds of her skirt and, satisfied she was decent, kicked her mount into a slow trot. She was not aware that a figure was standing by the window of the parlour, watching her go.
The ride to town was pleasant in the late afternoon and as she entered the outskirts, she was pleased to see that Eagle was waiting for her outside the hotel. She slowed Ebony and as she came to a halt, Eagles strong arms reached up to help her down. She brushed the dust from her skirt and looked up at the angular face from which the bluest of blue eyes shone.
“Good evening Eagle….you look wonderful...
The deputy squirmed a little but smiled and responded.
“You look beautiful Rose....I’m so pleased you came.
“I said I would… and I keep my word….Lets go have some fun!”
The two women made a striking pair as they walked in side by side. The room was filling up with townsfolk and the buzz of conversation paused, momentarily, as they were spotted by the group of women in the corner. The air hung heavy with tension but Rose took Eagle’s arm and, letting her gaze rest on the group in the corner, swung her onto the dance floor as the music of the ‘Hoe down’ began, leaving the women watching, open mouthed.
The attention on the pair lessened as the hall filled up, and they joined the other townspeople in dancing Strip the Willow and Square Dance, until they collapsed into empty chairs, breathless and red faced. .Eagle went to the table by the door, collected two cups of punch and brought them back to Rose. They chatted happily, their heads close together to hear each other over the music, and the night flew by. When the band began to play ‘Goodnight Ladies’, people began to drift away and couples walked arm in arm out of the hall into the dark of the night. Some lights from the houses on the street cast a faint glow onto the sidewalk as Eagle and Rose left also. As they came out onto the street, it was Rose who reached to take Eagle’s arm and pull her close, and so they walked slowly back to the Sheriffs office.
Just then Jethro arrived on an old chestnut gelding from the Walton Homestead, and pulled up where the two women stood. He carried an oil lantern on a crook, steadied under his knee.
“Come to fetch ya home, Miss Rose….yer Pa wasn’t wantin’ ya alone on the trail at night.”
Eagle spoke sharply and the old man stepped back.
“I’ll be seeing Miss Rose home Jethro….you can head back.”
“Beggin’ yer pardon Deputy, but Mr Walton is my boss and what he says goes”
Eagle was about to pounce on the wizened old man again but Rose intervened.
“It’s OK Eagle…I’ll go with Jethro…we’ll be fine.” and she rubbed her hand gently into the small of Eagles back, as if to sooth her.
Eagle felt her touch and leaned into it.
“If you’re sure, Rose?
Rose nodded and Eagle took her hand, helped her up onto her horse and settled her clothes around her legs. The tall law officer let her hand remain on the blonde woman’s leg for a second longer than it needed to be, and she was pleased when Roses’ hand covered hers and squeezed.
Their eyes met and, with a nod and a small smile, Rose pulled her reins across her horse neck and she and Jethro walked their horses into the night. The last thing Eagle saw was Rose’s hand raised in a wave and she returned the gesture; she stood on the stoop long after the two figures had disappeared.
Eagle spent the next few days out of town at Jakes request, trying to pick up the trail of the bank robber known to be in the area. Her Grandfather had trained her to track and she walked her horse for hours as she scanned the ground for clues. She knew when a wolf had passed, she could smell the musk…she knew when a gopher had been digging, she could smell the fresh earth…and she knew when a predator had made a kill…for the blood was metallic in the air….her sense of smell was strong and her hearing acute….she became one with the land and felt the breeze bring her information…..this was when Eagle felt truly at home. On the third night by the campfire, she thought she heard something and immediately became alert….but it was an owl landing in a tree nearby and hooting quietly, and she relaxed. Her spirit guide was an Owl that would appear to her in her dreamscape and it was a powerful omen for her, that she was being kept company that night.
She tended the fire and prepared her bedroll....she leaned her head against her saddle and her thoughts drifted to Rose….she had not had time to tell her that she would be out of town but had asked Jake to let her know. Eagle wanted the little blonde to know she had been thinking of her.
She began to drift off to sleep, her knife close to her and Argent nickering softly at the margins of the fire.
The soft light of the fire illuminated the clearing and there, emerging from the shadows was a small blonde figure and, on her arm sat an Owl. The Owl blinked slowly and as the figure stopped, the bird spoke…”Two lovers, far apart in time and space, their hearts aching for each other and the pain of their parting too great to bear….each lay down and let their spirit float away....but the animals of the forest….so sad that such a great love was lost, decided to reunite them and so two moles found the hearts of the lovers and dug tunnels towards each other until the two lost hearts lay as one.” The Owl gently nipped at the fingers of the blonde figure and then flew soundlessly away…The figure moved into the firelight and the green eyes gazed at the dark head of the sleeping form and stretched out a hand…
Eagle awoke with a start and looked around but there was no figure in the firelight….she wiped her hand over her face, dripping with sweat and tried to slow her breathing.
“What did this mean??....it was a message from her spirit guide, she knew that….but what did it mean??
She lay back down, confused and a little troubled, as she tried to return to sleep. The next morning the vision was as vivid as the night before. Eagle went to her saddlebag and took out a wooden box, she carried it back to the fire which she rekindled to offset the cold of the mountain morning. She opened the box and withdrew a leather pouch, a small stone dish and a smooth pebble. From the pouch she chose a small crumbly red stone and put it into the stone dish, she used the pebble to crush the stone and added some charred wood from the ashes around the fire. She mixed these two together and then took a mouthful of water, swilled it around and spat it into the bowl, then used the pebble to make a thick dark liquid. She put this by the fire and reached into the wooden box again, to withdraw a fragile cylinder of birch bark which she unrolled to revealed writings in the symbols of her tribe; she gently spread the scroll on the smooth leather of her saddle. Lastly from the box she took out an eagle tail feather, sharpened to make a quill which she dipped into the dark liquid in the dish and began to add her vision to the scroll. She incised the symbols that represented the words of the Owl and the actions of the fair figure onto the soft interior of the bark, and stained them with the black liquid. When she was sure she had remembered all of the details, she washed the quill and, when the ink was dry, rolled up the scroll and returned it to the safely of the wooden box.
Back in Swallow Falls, Jake Thompson was concerned. Rose had not appeared to open the school for two days. The kids were delighted at the unexpected holiday but there was no word from the teacher. Jake knew that it was not in Rose to let people down, so on the second morning, he decided to take a ride out to the Walton Homestead to check on her.
He came to the gate of the Walton place and dismounted to open it, when he saw Jethro hurrying over. The elderly man looked troubled and began to gabble.
“Sheriff…. I’m mighty glad to see you….t’aint right....I’m tellin’ ya….just t’aint right…..lockin’ her up n’all….she bein’ so gentle...like cagin’ a pretty little bird…”
Jake took the man by the shoulders and shook him gently.
“Jethro...what you goin’ on about….who is caged….where??”
The old man seemed to wake from a dream and looking at the sheriff, he slowly sank to the ground.
“It was awful….me and Miss Rose got back from the dance and I was takin’ the horses to the barn....and I heard him….he was drunk as a skunk and twice as mean.”
Who?..Walton?...Is that who yer talkin’ about?”
“Sure Sheriff....he was hollerin’ and things was crashin’ ...I heard Miss Rose cry out and then I came runnin’…but he told me to go away and stay away, if’n I knew what was good fer me….I ain’t seen hide nor hair of her since. Sheriff, you gotta go see if’n she’s OK…I cain’t help her, I’m just an old feller….even in his chair he’s stronger than he looks....Please go check on her.”
Jake felt his anger grow.
“If that twisted son of a bitch had laid one finger on her....I’ll drag his sorry ass into town….chair or no chair...” he mounted his horse and when Jethro had opened the gate, he urged his horse into a canter and went towards the house.
He tied his horse to the rail and walked up to the front door; he banged on it hard and long. After a few moments it opened, and he saw Rose, her head turned away from the light.
“Rose...you OK?? We bin worried with you not comin’ to school?”
Before she could answer he heard Joshua Walton’s voice,
....good of you to call….Rose you go to your room now while me and Jake has
Rose immediately turned and, without looking back, went up the stairs.
Jake was puzzled as this did not seem like her, normally, the feisty blonde woman had a retort for all occasions… he went into the room where he knew Joshua usually spent his day. The old man sat in his usual place and fixed his eye on the lawman.
“What can I do fer ya, Jake??”
“Worried why Rose ain’t come to teach….is all.”
“Sorry Jake I meant to send Jethro in to tell ya…..Rose can’t teach school no more....it’s too much for her….I need her here to care for me. You’ll have to find a new Teacher.”
Jake eyed the man carefully; he seemed to be relaxed and friendly.
“I’d kinda like to hear that from Rose, Joshua.”
“Jake….I’m master in my own house and what I say…..is what Rose would say. I’ll thank ya kindly to mind me.” His voice was low but there was a mean undercurrent in it.
Jake sensed that he was doing no good; he decided to leave things as they were and wait a few days before trying to see Rose again.
“Oh and by the way, Rose writ a letter to your Deputy…..would you be so kind as to deliver it for her?” and he indicated a white envelope on the side table.
The sheriff picked it up, shoved it into a pocket of his vest, nodded to Walton and left. As he rode off the property, he stopped by Jethro.
“I saw her Jethro....but sumpin’ ain’t right…guess we just better wait a few days….see if Rose comes to Town. I got no evidence he dun sumpin to her...cain’t just go in all guns blazin’.”
The old man nodded and closed the gate behind the sheriff.
The shrill cry of a gull disturbed Alex and she looked up to see the sun was showing that it was already mid day, and time she stirred herself. She was captivated by Ellie’s book and began to see the signs that writing this book had been a kind of catharsis for her girl, her way of telling the story of her abusive father, as if the violence had happened to someone else.
The tall dark Scot returned to the croft and busied herself in the kitchen preparing the main meal they usually shared, about 4pm. Alex liked to cook and found it relaxing but her thoughts kept returning to Eagle and Rose and she itched to get back to the story. She went to the phone and dialled the hotel. The young receptionist Tilly, answered and told her that Ellie and J were in the office, she put her through and J answered.
“Hi Uncle J….any chance I could have a word with....hmmm …let me try to remember her name…hmmm.”
She heard J‘s rumbling giggle and next she heard Ellie’s voice. ”Hi Hon...What up??”
“Nothing really....just wanted to know when you want to eat.”
“Oh OK... about 4 would be good for me….J and I are about finished….be home in about an hour??”
Alex accepted this and blew her girl a kiss down the phone. She finished preparing the venison casserole; courtesy of Hamish…. who had been part of the group culling the deer on the highlands around Applecross, and put it into the oven of the range. She added a couple of large baking potatoes and, satisfied she had done all she could, returned to the leather couch and tucking her long legs under her, picked up the book again.
The next hour or so passed quickly as Alex soaked up the story of Eagles hunt for the outlaw, she could feel the bitter cold of the mountains of the Rocky Front as Eagle travelled along the Teton River. The raw power of the elements in the story reminded her so much of that same power in her own Scottish mountains. Ellie’s descriptions of the techniques that Eagle used to track, suggested that she had done extensive research into the traditions and skills of the Native American Indians..
Alex was just getting to the part where, she felt sure, Eagle was about to capture the outlaw in an Indian rope trap, when the door of the croft opened and Donald, the tall paramedic, still in his green jumpsuit uniform, came in.
“Hi big girl how’re ya doin’?”
“Fine, Don…. but you do choose you’re damned moments don’t you, Eagle is just about to get the bad guy.“ her voice betrayed a slight irritation but then she saw Donald’s confused expression and, running her hands through her auburn hair, smiled..
“Och sorry big lad….got a bit too involved in Ellie’s book for my own good!”
She went to make a brew and, as she did, told Don the story of Eagle and Rose. Donald was more of a a doer, and not a great reader, so she knew she wouldn’t be spoiling it for him.
They sat drinking tea and chatting about work and the plans for the Conference Centre at the Hotel. Donald was an Emergency Response Paramedic with the Ambulance service and he often sought Alex out after a hard shift, for some down time. The two had always been close, even as children and enjoyed each others company. Donald and Hamish’s Mum had moved to Glasgow when her husband, their Dad, had died some 5 years earlier…but if truth were told, Uncle J had always been more of a father to the ‘Boys’ as everyone called them...than the distant figure of Angus McGregor had ever been.
Donald had attended a bad RTA on the A896 near Sheldaig earlier that day. The road twisted and turned around the coast near Loch Damh and some daft tourist had been going too fast for the bend and crashed in to the rocks by the road. He needed to offload some of the anger the sensitive man felt, at the tragic loss, of the life of the young driver.
The atmosphere was a little subdued so Alex hugged Donald and brushed back the lock of his dark hair that always fell over his right eye. Then they both perked up as they heard Ellie’s voice announcing her arrival. She was flushed and animated and soon had them both smiling with her stories of how poor Uncle J was so at sea, with modern business plans.
After a few moments, Donald stood to leave and although Alex offered to share their supper with him, but he declined as it was his turn to cook for Brother Hamish. The two Boys still lived in their family’s small cottage just down the street from the Hotel.
Alex was eager to hear the news from the hotel and as the two lovers ate their meal, Ellie brought Alex up to speed. The room would be redecorated in soothing pastel colours and new furniture was to be bought.
“Uncle J was adamant that there was nothing wrong with the old stuff, Hon….he is a sweetie….but he has no idea what people expect these days. I know they are coming to a little Scottish village for some fresh air as well….but they will expect internet access and satellite video links. The 21st Century is coming to the Applecross Hotel whether J likes it or not!!”
They both laughed at the thought of J trying to work a computer, when he still got Hamish to set the video recorder!
As they washed the dishes, Ellie saw the open book on the kitchen worktop and asked shyly.
“Well?” she nodded at the book. “What do you think?”
Alex smiled and wiping her hands pulled the small blond into her arms.
“I never thought I would say this, my lovely….but I’m really glad you are involved at the hotel and leaving me to my own devices....”
She caught a glimpse of the hurt expression on Ellie’s face and hugged her tightly, ”Cos I can’t put the book down for longer than the time it takes to cook a meal, chat to Don or hug you!!”
Ellie’s face broke out into a broad beaming smile and she hugged her girl hard with delight.
“Well, I’m pleased you are well occupied…..cos I need to take the truck tomorrow.”
Ellie had agreed to take Jeannie to Inverness to choose furniture and fittings. Alex offered to drive them but Ellie was determined to have a day out with Jeannie.
“I really need her to be involved with this project Hon…she’s gonna be doing the catering…besides which, don’t you think it’s about time we got those two married?”
Alex nearly choked and spluttered. ”Who?”
“Don’t play coy with me, ya big goof….you know as well as I do, they’ve been living together for years and they think nobody knows!!”
Alex wiped the tears from her eyes and nodded.
“Ay, well we know they practically live together….but remember Babe, they are a different generation...…be careful you don’t scare poor Jeannie with your wild American ideas…!
Ellie ruffled Alex’s hair and whispered….”I can do the sensitive chats…trust me!”
Ellie and Jeannie were all ready to go on their trip and Jeanie felt like a schoolgirl playing hookey. She had been the strength behind the Hotel for 40 years and felt guilty for leaving it to others, but had been heartened when Ellie had told her that the staff were so well trained, that Jeanie could go on holiday and all would be well
“Holiday? Why would I want a holiday?” she had asked, but Ellie managed to avoid her gaze and hide her secret smile.
Alex leant into the car to kiss her girl goodbye and blew a kiss to Jeannie. She stood and watched as the big truck pulled away up the track to join the road down the pass. Ellie was a very good driver and she had no qualms about her driving to Inverness, although she did remind her girl more than once, about driving on the right side of the road! She smiled when Ellie had corrected her..
“The correct side ..Honey...we Americans are the one’s that drive on the right side!!”
Alex knew she must get to some of the chores before opening Ellie’s book or nothing would get done. She busied herself with some washing and a quick flick with a duster around the sitting room and then, her conscience salved, she took a mug of tea and the book, to the bench in the sun…
Eagle was bone weary. Six days of tracking the outlaw had taken its toll but she had him in manacles, tied to his horse. As she pulled up to the Sheriff’s office, Jake rose from the chair to greet her. He eyed the outlaw and nodded approvingly.
“Good job, Eagle….I’ll take it from here…You look like you could use a bath, some food and a long sleep.” Jake moved to the outlaw’s horse and helped Eagle dismount him and escort him into the cell.
Eagle threw her dusty hat onto he floor next to the desk and poured herself a cup of coffee. Even Jake’s poor effort was welcome as she had not lit a fire for the previous two days, she knew she was closing in on her quarry…she could smell him on the wind…a stale smell of sweat and dirt, and she didn’t want her fire to spook him.
Jake came back from the cells and sat at the desk.
“I’ll wire the County and they can come get him. You go get some rest.”
Eagle loosened her hair from its leather thong and shook it out, it felt matted and uncomfortable.
She did not notice Jake’s reaction to her.
“My god!! She’s some beautiful woman under that leather.” But he recovered quickly and turned to look at her as she spoke.
“Did ya tell Rose I was out of town?”
Jake hesitated, the letter for Eagle was in his desk drawer but he knew she was exhausted, and maybe not fit to deal with all of the worry about Rose, going around the Town. He had tried twice more to see Rose over the previous week, but always he was headed off by Josiah Walton.
“Well, did ya, Jake?” Eagle leaned towards him as if the emphasise the words but saw immediately, that the sheriff was avoiding her eye.
Jake….is she OK? What the hell is wrong?” Her voice began to get louder until Jake held up his hand and, sighing softly, opened the drawer and handed Eagle the white envelope.
“Rose ain’t teaching school no more....her Pa needs her at home....she sent this note fer ya.”
Eagle looked at the envelope as if it was going to catch fire and looked back at Jake with a frown
“What does it say?”
“It’s addressed to you, goldarn it, Eagle….Open it!”
The tall dark deputy tore open the envelope and drew out a single sheet of paper….a scent from the paper rose and filled her sensed with memories of the night of the dance. She tilted the page to the oil lamp and read it.
My Dear Deputy Eagle. I wanted to thank you so much for a wonderful evening at the dance.
I am grateful you took the time to invite me; however I will be unable to accept any further kind invitations from you. My duty is to take care of my Father and I am no longer able to leave him alone even to continue as Swallow Falls School teacher. I wish you luck in your future.
I remain, Madam, your obedient servant
Eagle just sat dumbfounded and shook her head. Jake leaned over and took the page from her hand.
“Mind if I read this?” Eagle shook her head, leant back in the chair and ran her hands through her hair.
Jake read the words twice….and he knew that these words were not from Rose. The fear that had been lurking in his mind since his first visit to the Walton Place resurfaced. He gazed over at his Deputy and her distress was tangible. She was tired, and it showed on her face, but overlaying it now, was a despair that made her seem even more pale and drawn, in the light of the oil lamp.
“Well, that’s that, I guess.” she whispered.
“Can I ask you a question?” Jake enquired.
The dark head just nodded wearily.
“It’s kinda personal.”
The irritation born of exhaustion and sorrow caused her voice to be sharp.
“Just ask for God’s sake Jake….if I don’t wanna answer it ....I won’t.”
“You ain’t ever gonna marry a man, are ya?”
Eagle gaze snapped to her boss’s face, she saw no malice….in fact she might even have seen a flicker of affection in his eyes, and she answered firmly.
“So you gonna be alone all yer life?”
Eagle nodded slowly. “Seems that way.”
Jake stood and walked to the window of his office. He seemed to be watching the street but his mind was working fast. He appeared to make a decision and he returned to the desk. He leaned his hip against the corner of it and slowly sank down, to settle on his hunkers in front of the sad dark haired woman. She avoided his gaze, but he tapped her hand and she met his gaze.
“About you not marryin’ some feller??…Well for my money, neither is Rose Walton.”
Eagle’s tired brain tried to process this information and when his meaning dawned, her eyes widened. “Does SHE know that?”
The Sheriff smiled, “Eagle, I was watchin’ her when you saved her from the wagon….she knows alright.”
It was Eagle’s turn to walk to the window….she scrubbed her face with her hands and,
turning to face Jake, she indicated the paper on his desk.
“So what’s that all about?”
“I ain’t rightly sure....but we aint gonna do nuthin’ about nuthin’ tonight….you get some rest and we’ll talk again in the morning.
Eagle seemed to be defeated by tiredness; she picked up her hat and walked to the door,
she nodded her thanks and then walked out onto the stoop. She went to Argent, took her reins and led her to the livery stable. The boy who normally tended the golden mare was long asleep and in a way Eagle was glad. She took off the saddle and blanket and flung it over the stall, and then she collected an armful of sweet hay and put it in the manger. Argent nickered softly and began to pull strands off and chew them contentedly.
Eagle rubbed her down with some straw and then began to clean her with a curry comb and brush. She worked in long slow sweeps across her back and the golden hide began to shine.
For so long Argent had been her only companion, and many a time the gentle mare had kept her warm on long cold nights, carried her into, and out of danger fearlessly, and this time of caring for her friend was always a soothing one for Eagle, but tonight she felt no release from the rolling boil of her gut, as she thought of the letter from Rose.
She finished cleaning Argent and, after a final check of her feet to ensure she had no stones or damage, she put her arms around the horse’s neck and just held her for a few moments. The golden head nodded softly and rested on the dark one.
The tall dark Indian took her saddlebags and, closing the stable door, she made her way to the guest house. She managed to sneak in without Mrs Jorgensen or the ladies seeing her and lit the lamp in her room. She went to the table where the carved antler still sat where she had left it. It had been many long moons since she had carved a design such as this and when she had begun it, it was to have been a precious gift...now it seemed lifeless and dull.
She got her wash kit and went out to the washroom where she drew a bath and washed the trail from her body and her hair.
She returned to her room and changing into a simple cotton shift, she pulled the bedcovers over her and tried to sleep.
The fire was blazing and the warriors of the Chippewah danced around it in an age old ritual.
A small puppy was brought to the centre of the circle and decorated with coloured ribbons and bead necklaces. Tobacco leaves were cast onto the fire and the fragrant smoke wafted around the seated women and children. Nanabozho, the Hare spirit, came out of the shadows and was followed by Baykok, the skeleton spirit. These were Famine and Plenty…. they danced and leapt around the gathered tribe and passed their hands over the puppy. Warriors picked up the puppy and, led by the spirits, they took the animal to the river flowing next to the camp. On the banks, they invoked the names of their spirit guides and cast the puppy into the eddying waters, and then appeared to listen and watch, in a mournful attitude, its struggles as it was borne by the current down into a deep hole in the river bed.
Eagle woke with a jerk and turned up the lamp. Another vision…she knew that her spirit guide was trying to get a message to her, but it’s meaning eluded her and lurked in her mind like a whispered thought…She wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and, picking up her knife, went back to carving the antler.
Every day since the dance, Rose had washed and dressed ready to go to Swallow Falls, to teach at the school. Every day her father had stopped her and added another bruise to her face.
The doors and windows were all locked and despite his chair, he seemed to be able to move quickly enough to head her off, whatever she tried. Since she had gone to the dance with Eagle, her father had changed; he frightened her. It hadn’t ever been like that before; his face was dark and although he had not raised his voice since that night when he had been blind drunk and mean with it, his voice held a menace that made her shiver. She felt her strength and spirit ebb as every day passed.
It was worse at night; the house was silent but heavy with menace. She thought she had heard footsteps on the stairs once or twice…..but only her father, who slept downstairs, was in the house.
She had seen Jethro, stooped and work worn, going about his work over several days, but he never came near enough to call out to or give a message. She was trapped and scared. She wondered what her father had said to Jake Thompson ….and wondered why her friend had not come to find her….and what of the tall dark Deputy?….had their time at the dance been just a game? She sat on a chair by the window and sad tears slowly overflowed from her green eyes and made tracks down her face.
Eagle woke to find she had fallen asleep over the table and she eased her stiff back. Her vision of the previous night bothered her but she quickly splashed some water on her face from the jug on the nightstand, and dressed. She buckled on her weapons and went downstairs.
The Misses Williams and Wilson were just leaving the dining room and stopped her. She did not wish to be rude and passed the time of day with them. They asked where she had been for so long and were very impressed that she had apprehended her outlaw. They invited her to join them for a game of cards that evening and Eagle could only bluster some excuse about being on duty this evening, so she jammed her hat on her head and, giving the ladies a brief salute, she left and walked up the street.
She reached the Office just as the Sheriff arrived. They greeted each other and Jake was dismayed to see that she looked as exhausted as she had done the previous evening.
“I see you didn’t get much sleep either….huh?”
They sat and drank coffee together as the Sheriff opened the mail that had arrived on yesterday’s stage coach. He glanced at the first few and then stopped; he read the letter in his hand carefully and tipping his hat to the back of his head, swore loudly.
Eagle looked at him enquiringly.
“The new permanent Deputy arrives next week, goddammit... I was just kinda gettin’ used to you.”
Eagle smiled. “That’s what I do, Jake….I fill in the gaps. Does it say where I’m gonna be sent next?”
”Nope, says you’ll get a letter in the next few days.”
”Well I guess that solves the problem…. don’t it?”
Jake looked over and saw the sadness in the blue eyes across the table from him.
“If that’s what you want….yep, I guess it does.”
Eagle began to talk herself into believing that this was best for all concerned. She would ride out of Swallow Falls and everything would be fine again. Jake just sat and listened. Eventually the tall deputy paused and he spoke.
“Never figured you for a quitter.”
He was fixed by the ice blue eyes and didn’t let his gaze flinch from the emotion in them.
“You gonna leave her here, when you go?”
“What can I offer her? I’m a travelling law officer....no home...no roots...”
Eagle was standing by the window when Jake came up behind her and grabbing her shoulder spun her around, Eagle was taken off guard and raised her hands to protect herself but then she saw only concern in the smaller mans face. His hands remained on her shoulders and he shook her gently…
“Friendship, companionship, laughter, a safe place to be??....That’s all anyone would want....and I know that’s what Rose wants.”
“She’d never leave her Pa.” The statement was simple but rang true with the Sheriff and his heart dropped to think that the beautiful soul that was Rose would be sucked dry, just as her Mama had been.
“Josiah Walton is a rich man…I know you wouldn’t know it from the house and the clothes she has….he’s a miserable miser….and won’t spend a penny to make her life easier….he can afford to hire more help….as it is he darn near works Jethro to death..”
This news seemed to cheer up the tall dark deputy and she sat up a little straighter in her chair, but then she slumped again.
“Aaawww….I aint no good at this stuff, Jake….do I go see her?….write her a letter?..”
Jake then told Eagle about his visits to the Walton Homestead and how he’d been headed off by Josiah. He also shared his concerns about how Rose had seemed when she opened the door. Finally, he suggested that nothing would keep Rose from her teaching, unless she was being held against her will. At this Eagles blue eyes flashed and she rose, as if to leave.
Jake stopped her with a hand on her arm, “Steady now….if we‘re gonna sort out this mess…we gotta be smart. A frontal attack ain’t gonna get us anywhere….so lets us put our heads together...huh?”
Eagle reluctantly nodded, emptied Jakes bitter coffee out the back door and began to make a fresh pot. The two friends then sat for some time mulling over their next move.
After their usual rounds and after handing over to Harry, the night Deputy, Eagle and Jake went to the Livery stable and saddled their horses. They rode out of town and took the trail to the Walton place. It was dark when they arrived but the light from the full moon allowed them to see. The house was in darkness except for a dim glimmer from an upstairs window.
“That has to be Rose.” whispered Jake. “Josiah sleeps downstairs.”
Eagle nodded and taking off her long coat, tied it to Argent’s saddle. She left the mare free and whispered to her to stay. Then with a brief nod to Jake, she slipped away into the gloom. She moved softly and seemed almost, to leave no footprints…she stopped and closed her eyes...she let the sounds of the night flow around her…she heard a horse’s hoof click against a stable floor...and felt the flutter of a silent Owl, flit past her..
Clouds scudded across the moon and she waited to see, clearly, which window the light was coming from and made her way to that side of the house. She made sure not to cast a shadow over the downstairs windows and found a down pipe that brought rain water down from the roof.
She picked up a handful of dirt and threw it at the window from which the light gleamed, there was gentle shhhhh as it barely skimmed the glass and she held her breath. There was no response so she picked up another handful and threw it with a little more force. This time she was rewarded with a movement of the curtains and she saw Rose’s pale face looking down. She couldn’t be sure … she seemed to see dark smudges over her cheeks but when she saw Rose‘s face break into a smile....she forgot this and smiled back. Rose put her fingers to her lips as if to warn Eagle to be quiet and seemed to look anxiously towards the door of the room.
Eagle began to climb up the down pipe slowly and surely, her strong hands pulled her up quickly to the level of the upstairs window. She indicated to Rose to open the window but the little blonde turned her head away and indicated a key movement with her hands.
Eagle was angry now….”the bastard had locked her in.”
She indicated to Rose to move away from the window, but Rose shook her head frantically and again looked to the door. Suddenly it flew open and a shadowy figure stood there, he seemed to stagger as if drunk and carried a handgun. Rose fled to the side of the bed away from him and Eagle was so taken aback she almost lost her grip on the pipe. She saw the man move towards the window, raising his gun; she pulled herself up by the lintel above the window and propelled herself, feet first, through the glass which shattered and spread the shards all over the floor. She landed awkwardly and needed a second to get her bearings; but before she could do this she sensed a movement behind her and rolled to her left. The butt of the gun slid, harmlessly, off her shoulder and she turned to face the furious spectre of Josiah Walton
Eagle slid across the bed to Rose and pushed her down onto the floor, covering her with her own body.
“Hold it Walton.” Eagle shouted. “There’s no need for this.
Walton’s face was twisted into a snarl and he raised the gun as if to shoot Eagle but from the door came a shot; Josiah grabbed his shoulder and sank to the floor. Jake Thompson and Jethro stood in the doorway, and the smoking gun in Jake’s hand filled the room with the acrid smell of cordite. He crossed the room, took the gun from Walton’s hand and helped the man to the chair. He took off the scarf from round his neck and, none too gently, attempted to staunch the flow of blood from the wound in Walton’s arm.
Jake spoke to Jethro and told him to go get Doc Jones from town; the old man looked at Rose, who mouthed,”I’m OK…..Go.”
It was just a few seconds since Eagle had come through the window and only now did she get the chance to look at Rose. She eased her up from the floor and tilted her face up so that she could see. She was appalled to see that the beautiful blond girls face was covered in bruises, some fresh, some yellowing and some almost healed. She saw the shame in the green eyes so she pulled her to her chest and held her close. Rose resisted for just a second and then crumpled against the leather of the Deputy’s vest and put her arms around the tall woman’s waist. Jake indicated that Eagle should get Rose out of the room as Walton began to moan. Eagle leant down and picking Rose up, carried her out of the room, down the stairs and into the dining room. She put her down gently on a chair; the room was chill so she moved to rekindle the fire in the grate. In a few seconds its warmth and light began to brighten the room.
Eagle returned to Rose and knelt before her; she took her hands and rubbed them gently to warm her.
“How’re you doin’ Rose?” she asked gently.
Her reply was just the tears rolling down the pale face.
Eagle felt so angry that she wanted to go finish the job that Jake had started, but her first concern had to be Rose. She took out a handkerchief from her pocket and gave it to Rose who blew her nose and mopped up the tears.
“I prayed you’d come get me.” She whispered. “Every night “
Suddenly it was clear to Eagle, that her visions had been her spirit guide trying to warn her that Rose was in danger…the owl nipping at her fingers….Rose reaching out to her...and the puppy in the river….all signs that someone needed help. How could she have been so blind and stupid? She kicked herself mentally and hated the pain meted out to the gentle soul of Rose Walton....probably cos of her friendship with someone like her.
Rose reached out and put her arms around Eagle’s neck and the two women clung together.
Later, when Doc Jones arrived, Jake left him to fix up Walton’s wound, which was not serious, and came to find the two women.
He tipped Rose’s face to see the damage done to her, and shook his head.
“I’m so sorry Rose I shoulda come get ya.”
”You couldn’t know Jake…damnit… I didn’t know he was faking being crippled, just to keep me here. I’d heard footsteps outside my room but I figured I was hearing things.” her voice was small and weary.
Her hand was still held tightly in Eagles larger one, and Jake told his Deputy to take Rose to town and get her a room at the guesthouse. Rose nodded and they went out to the front of the house. Eagle put her fingers to her mouth and a soft whistle echoed across the darkness. Argent appeared from the gloom; Eagle untied her coat from the saddle and put it on to Rose, who was beginning to shiver. Eagle lifted Rose up into the golden mare and swung up behind her. The tall dark deputy wrapped her arms around the slight figure and kicked Argent into a gentle walk. Rose leant back against the warmth of the tall woman’s chest and began to relax for the first time in days. She felt safe on this big horse, with this woman’s arms around her.
As they reached town, Rose had fallen into a sleep of total exhaustion. Eagle pulled up outside the guesthouse and Mr Jorgenson came out. He had heard what had happened from Jethro. His wife had a hot drink waiting, with a fresh warm bed for the battered Rose. Eagle, holding the sleeping girl in her arms, slid off the horse and carried her in. Mrs Jorgenson tutted as she saw Rose’s face but for once, she said nothing. She led Eagle up the stairs by the light of an oil lamp, to the room next to her own. The room was warm and a small fire burned in the hearth.
Mrs Jorgenson had laid out a fresh cotton nightgown and indicated that Eagle should leave the room while she undressed the sleeping girl. When she had Rose safely in bed, she opened the door and waved Eagle back in.
“You will stay with her and watch her?”
Eagle nodded; the kind woman patted her on her arm and went to get a hot drink in case Rose was to waken.
The next morning, Rose woke up and for a few seconds did not know where she was; then she remembered and looked around. Her gaze fell on the dark haired form lying awkwardly next to her on the bed, and on her pillow was a carved antler, she held it in her hands and traced the delicate strands of the spiders web that grew from the bone as if discovered, hidden beneath the surface. She knew that this was a Dreamcatcher, and had been placed next to her to protect her while she slept…She reached out to touch the dark hair and, as she did, the blue eyes opened, Eagle jumped up and leapt from the bed.
“Sorry Rose I just lay down for a minute and I musta fallen asleep...sorry...”
Rose just smiled and reached out her hand, Eagle took it and she pulled her back to the bed. Eagle was awkward and shy but Rose kept pulling until their faces were almost touching and then Rose took her tanned, angular face in her hands and kissed her gently on the lips.
“Thank you, Eagle.”….and she held the Dreamcatcher up so that the morning light shone through it.
Blushing, Eagle took a ragged breath and tried to get her heart beat to slow down. Rose leant over again and this time the kiss was long, slow and tender. Eagle felt as if she was floating above the bed and didn’t want the feeling ever to end.
Over the next few days, Rose seemed to regain her ‘Roseness’ and she would walk over to the Sheriffs office to meet Eagle for lunch, or a cup of tea. The Sheriff had warned her Pa to stay out of town and made sure that all the townsfolk knew what he had done; how he had deceived them all, hurt Rose and tried to kill Eagle.
There could be charges brought against him but the Sheriff felt that his shame was punishment enough and Rose agreed. Jethro had packed up Roses’ clothes and brought them to town. The old man had wept as he delivered her cases; Rose hugged him and told him she would be fine now and that he wasn’t to worry.
Jake had made it clear to the miserable son of a bitch, Josiah, that Rose would not be returning and that if Walton did not release some of his vast stores of gold from the bank to give to Rose; Sheriff Thompson would bring down the wrath of Federal law on him.
So, Rose now had her own money and it was safely in the bank under her name. The bruises were nigh on gone and her face had lost some of that pinched look. Eagle and Rose spent their evenings together in Rose’s room talking and playing cards and when the time came to part, they held each other and kissed gently. This left both of them fired up but neither seemed to know what the next step would be.
Fate took a hand when the letter from the County Sheriffs office arrived for Eagle. She and Rose, along with the other guests were having breakfast when Mrs Jorgenson brought in the mail.
Eagle put down her fork and tore open the letter; she read it quickly and then flushed and put it away in her pocket.
Rose looked as if to ask, but stopped when she saw Eagle’s face. She was perturbed when Eagle rose from the table, excused herself and, looking sideways at Rose, left the table and went back upstairs. In a few minutes, Rose also excused herself and went to Eagle’s room. The tall deputy was standing next to the window and turned as Rose entered.
She tried to smile but failed dismally and Rose came to her.
“What’s wrong?? Tell me, Eagle….you’re scaring me...”
Eagle offered the letter to the small blond woman who read it and sighed. The letter congratulated Eagle on her capture of the bank robber and offered her a post as Federal Marshall, working out of the Office in Boulder Colorado.
Rose looked up at the tanned face and saw confusion in the blue eyes.
“This is wonderful news Eagle, I am so proud of you….when will you leave?”
The tall Indian shrugged.
“It’s so far away…”
“From what, Eagle? .Rose held her breath and waited for the answer.
The simple single word answer was enough and Rose went to stand by her tall companion.
“No distance at all…..if you take me with you.”
Five days later, Eagle and Rose were standing next to a covered wagon loaded with supplies for the long trip south. Argent was tied to the back and the townsfolk had all turned out to wish them well. Some of the furniture that had been Rose’s mothers before her marriage had been set up in the wagon and a simple sleeping space created, in case the nights were too cold to sleep under the stars.
Jake took Rose gently into his arms and wished her luck, then he turned and, to Eagle’s initial consternation, hugged her too …but then she hugged him back and thanked him for all that he had done. Mrs Jorgenson arrived and gave them a basket with a meal for their first night on the trail; and her eyes over flowed with tears as she bade them goodbye.
Eagle handed Rose up into the wagon and joined her, then picking up the reins, she flicked the horses into a slow walk. The people lining the street all waved until the wagon was out of sight.
The two travellers made good time and set up camp just before dusk. Eagle tended the horses and Rose prepared the food from Mrs Jorgenson. Eagle, by this time, had collected wood and made a fire. They sat on blankets in the warmth of the fire and ate the tasty morsels, relishing their flavours.
When they had eaten enough, Rose began to clear the dishes and yawned.
“Guess its time to get you into bed.” Eagle suggested.
Rose looked shyly at her companion and whispered. ”Why just me.”
Rose stood and led the tall dark figure to the back of the wagon and, climbing in….. pulled Eagle in behind her and dropped the curtain over the end of the wagon.
Alex closed the book and smiled. I want to know what happens next…always a good sign when she had finished a book. She tried to separate herself from the fact that her love had written this and decided that it stood tall and proud on its own and that she could, honestly, tell Ellie that.
She stood and stretched her back. The sun was still warm on her face and she checked her watch.
Ellie and Jeannie won’t be back yet. I’ll go check on Uncle J
So she took the book back into the croft, checked her cell phone was in her pocket and strolled up the track the hotel.
Some guests were seated in the gardens enjoying afternoon tea and they smiled as she passed. She waved to Maggie, one of the waitresses and pushed open the door into the reception area. Tilly was behind the desk and when she saw Alex she pointed to the Office. Alex opened the door and saw her Uncle sitting engrossed in a book. She crept up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped and hid the book guiltily.
“Alex, by all that holy, you’ll give me a heart attack….don’t creep up on me like that!!”
Alex snuck her hand under his arm and extracted the book…J made a grab for it but Alex was too quick and she held it above her head.
“What’s this, J? Illicit reading material?? You are supposed to be working on your business plan...I shall have to be telling Ellie all about this…you are in sooo much trouble Big Man..!!”..
Then she looked at the book. The Eagle and the Rose.
J looked shifty and muttered.
“You were gonna take forever to read it ….so I bought a few copies for the Hotel”…..and he indicated a box by the door filled with copies of Ellie’s book
Alex’s laughter spilled out and she hugged the soft, daft man with all her strength.
They went back into the bar and Maggie brought them tea. J had completed most of the Business Plan expected by Ellie and Alex just tidied up a few details.
They were still discussing these details when the tall figure of Jeannie, accompanied by the little blonde came in; they joined the two at the table and Maggie brought fresh tea.
The furniture had been purchased and would be delivered at the end of the week, all of the other necessaries to convert the Applecross Hotel into a mini Conference Centre would arrive also, at the end of the week.
Jeannie kept casting shy glances at J as he sat opposite her; Alex picked this up and knew that somewhere Ellie had been sewing seeds.
Eventually, the two lovers made their farewells and walked hand in hand back to their Croft. Ellie talked about her trip with Jeannie and how she had finally got the big Scotswoman to admit that she had been in love with J for decades. She had never done anything about it because she didn’t want to spoil their friendship but she and Ellie had begun to cook up a plan.
”Uh..oh...trouble was brewing.” she thought fondly
The planning for the conference had been completed and Ellie and Alex had spent every waking moment at the Hotel organising seating plans and stationary. J had been impressed with the skill that Ellie showed and he was confident that this new venture would be a success.
Two days before the delegates were due to arrive; Ellie had made a time to see Jeannie about the catering. Alex had some calls to make to her publisher and so remained at the croft.
As the small blonde pushed open the doors to the hotel, she saw Jeannie disappear into the kitchen and she seemed upset. Normally Jeannie was a stoical Scot whose dry sense of humour kept any sign of her emotions hidden, but as Ellie entered the kitchen she saw the big Scotswoman dabbing her eyes with her apron. Her face was pale and drawn and she seemed to be breathing a little rapidly.
“What’s wrong Jeannie?” she asked and put a comforting arm around her shoulders...
“Och, Lass. I’m a foolish old woman who should know better.”
Ellie sensed that there was a story behind this announcement and sat Jeannie down at the table then she began to make the traditional salve for all ills, the cup of tea.
Jeannie began to tell how she had made a special meal for J the night before…just as Ellie had suggested on the trip to Inverness… and made a big fuss of him. She had put candles and fresh flowers on the table and made his favourite dessert, Cloutie dumpling. She shrugged and Ellie prompted.
Jeannie slumped in her chair,
“He turned the lights on… he said he couldn’t see to eat… blew out the candles …...the fumes were making his eyes run and complained that the dumpling didn’t have enough sugar in it. I know you meant well, lass, but romance and J just don’t go together. When he’d eaten, he sat in front of the telly, fell asleep and snored like an old pig.”
“Oh Jeannie, I’m so sorry. Do you want me to talk to him?”
Jeanie immediately declined Ellie’s kind offer and sipped the tea.
“No…I’m too old for all this daft stuff….I like my life fine, and let’s leave it the way it is.
Ellie’s heart went out to the elderly lady and felt sorry that she had maybe stirred up a hornet’s nest. Alex was right....I shouldn’t stick my nose in…
She decided to change the subject and they got to talking about the catering for the conference. They had already decided on menus and so forth but as the conversation continued, they stopped, looked at each other and spoke at the same time.
In all of the rush, they had forgotten .to pick up the new linen napkins from Jock Tallisker’s Hotel in Sheldaig just up the coast. The Applecross Hotel and the Tigh na Eilean Hotel had had an arrangement for many years; both being so small they had formed a kind of co-operative to buy things in bulk. Fine linen napkins being one of these bulk items and, right now, the very best that the Scottish linen trade could offer were languishing 20 miles away.
Ellie offered to go fetch them; the weather was fair and it would be nice to get some fresh air so she suggested that Jeannie might like to come for a break. While Jeannie composed herself, Ellie went to find Alex who was giving the ancient boiler a last check over. The last thing they needed was for it to pack up when they had the hotel full of guests.
Ellie smiled fondly at her big girl, once again covered in grease smudges, and tried vainly to wipe them off with a tissue….soon her efforts were thwarted by Alex grabbing her for a cuddle so she decided, that discretion being the better part of valour, to give in and risk the grease finding its way onto her.
She explained the problem about the napkins...and about Uncle J’s denseness….and Alex agreed that Jeannie could do with a break. Ellie smiled at her mucky girl, and went to go up the cellar steps….
Alex cleared her throat as she did so.
“Forgotten anything, wee lass?”
Ellie tutted and returned to plant a resounding kiss on Alex’s proffered lips...
“Hmmm...that was nice,” Alex whispered…”but I meant….don’t you need the keys to the truck?!”
Ellie swatted the tall, dark Scot on her butt and dug her hands into each of the pockets in her jeans pockets until Alex squirmed, and eventually, pulled the keys from her waistcoat pocket...with a cheeky grin..
“One day…my love”…. Ellie threatened…”.just you wait…”
Alex stood to attention and saluted crisply. ”Waiting as ordered ma’am...”
Ellie smiled at her goofy partner and pretended to flounce up the stairs….as she reached the top, she turned to find Alex still at attention.
“As you were, Soldier!!” she bellowed and blew her girl a kiss which was caught, and returned.
Jeannie was waiting for Ellie out by the big truck and they drove off to find the coast road that led from Applecross north to Kalnakill, then around the point to Kenmore and on to Shieldaig.
It was a fine, clear day and Ellie looked forward to the wonderful views over the Inner Raasay Sound over to Skye.
About an hour later, Alex had finished servicing the boiler and went to the kitchen to clean her hands, she found Uncle J sitting, with a brew in his hand. He offered to pour a mug for Alex and she accepted.
She wiped her hands and came to sit next to the grizzled Scot.
“All sorted in the cellar….J….your guests should have all the hot water they need.”
“Aye lass, this old place seem to have a new lease of life since our wee girl got involved”…and he nodded contentedly.
Alex ventured....”Couldn’t do it without Jeannie though, could we J?”
“Och no!....she’s the life blood of this place...always has been…for 40 years…” Uncle J’s voice was soft and wistful.
“Hmm”, thought Alex….”my girl might be onto something here...”
When they had finished their tea, they went back out to reception and, as they did, the short wave radio behind the counter, crackled into life. The radio reception in the mountains around Applecross was notoriously bad and the hotel had long been used as a relay station for the emergency services. It was not unusual to receive requests to relay messages so Alex strode over and clicked the receiver to the on position....she heard the familiar voice of Dougie, the Operations Officer at Fort William.
Foxtrot Whisky 1 to Alpha Hotel….come in …..Over
Alpha Hotel receiving Dougie…..over.
J had left her to her task and gone into the bar, and Alex was pleased he had done so when she received Dougie’s message.
She listened carefully to what he had to say and signed off.
She thought quickly and keyed the radio again.
Alpha Romeo 2….this is Alpha Hotel come in please..
The radio crackled and Hamish answered.
Here Alex….what do you need?”
Is Ellie OK?
There was a slight delay and she heard her girl’s voice, strained but strong.
“I’m OK Hon...I’m going in the air ambulance with Donald...I’ll see you on Skye?”
Aye darling….take care….I love you….be safe...”
“Ellie answered, her voice breaking “Love you too....Hon.”
Hamish came back on the radio.
“Alex...I’ll’ drive the truck to Skye and meet you at the McKinnon...Over.”
“Understood H’ Over and out”
Alex gathered herself and went to find J; he was standing in the window looking out across the bay. She turned him to look at her and held his hands.
“J….Listen to me carefully….Jeannie is sick, very sick….she was taken ill on the way to Shieldaig.” she felt his hands begin to shake and spoke again, more firmly.
We have to get to the McKinnon; they are taking her there by Air Ambulance. We’ll take your car. Hamish will meet us there; Donald and Ellie are with her.”
He seemed to be functioning in some kind of a dream and she led him out to the car. She made sure she had her wallet and her cell phone, and then gunned the engine of J’s battered old Volvo,
She wished with all her heart that she had the truck right now and prayed that the old car wouldn’t let them down... She didn’t know how much time they had.
Their journey down the precipitous pass of Bealach-na-bo to Loch Carron was made as quickly as Alex dared, within safety margins….the slightly better road to Stromferry meant that they made good time and when Alex joined the A87, she hit the accelerator and reached the Skye road bridge in just a few minutes. J had not said a word since leaving the hotel but his hands betrayed his despair as he twisted and turned his Clan ring over and over ….
As Alex reached the toll booth, the barrier was up and the attendant, whom Alex recognised as Tam, a childhood friend of hers and the Boys….waved her through, She raised her hand in thanks and again gunned the battered old car for the last 9 miles to the McKinnon hospital.
When they reached the tiny 25 bed hospital, Alex saw that her truck was already there. She managed to get J out of the car just as Donald rushed out to meet them. He hugged Alex and looked anxiously at J.
“It’s a massive MI, …Heart attack..Alex….if it hadn’t been for Ellie’s reaction…” he left the rest unsaid, and led them to the room where Jeannie lay. For the second time in just a few months, the family gathered around a loved member with drips, tubes and monitors surrounding them.
Ellie was sitting next to the bed and rose as Alex and J entered. Her heart fell as she saw the grey face of the big Scot and she went to him and put her hand to his face. For the first time, J reacted and tears streamed down his face as he looked at the still form on the bed. Ellie took his hand and led him to the chair next to the bed. He went to reach for Jeannie’s hand, but hesitated and looked up at Donald, who nodded and J picked up the limp hand and held it to his bearded face.
Ellie came to Alex who wrapped her up in her arms and ushered her outside.
The hugged each other hard and Ellie explained how they had been returning from picking up the new napkins and that Jeannie had seemed quiet. She had put this down to her thwarted attempt to romance J, but shortly after they had hit the road back to Applecross, Jeannie had groaned, grabbed her left arm and passed out.
Ellie had taken her pulse and, seeing how weak and thready it was, she had called 999. Fortunately Hamish was nearby on his Police Motorcycle and Donald was the paramedic on call. He was on his Ambulance Paramedic rapid response motorbike, and they had both arrived very quickly. The Air Ambulance had come shortly after the Boys and the Doctor had given Jeannie the blood thinning drugs so vital after a heart attack.
The decision to bring Jeannie to the McKinnon on Skye had been made by the Air Doctor. Speed was the most important thing and even a small hospital on one of the Scottish Islands was equipped to deal with all emergencies of this type. The hours seemed to drag as they waited for some change in her condition, J would not leave her bedside and he muttered constantly, apparently to himself. Apart from the rhythmic beeps of the monitor, the whoosh of the oxygen and J’s murmurings, the room was quiet and the family took turns to stand vigil.
After 12 hours, Donald and Hamish had to leave, their jobs on the mainland called them away but they were in constant touch by cell phone. Ellie was aware that the Conference guests were due to arrive at the Applecross Hotel the next day but she was confident that Tilly had everything under control. Her place was with Alex, to give back the love and support that her new family had offered her, without question or doubt.
The Doctors had elected to keep Jeannie sedated at a level just sufficient to keep her asleep, to give her body a chance to rest. Gradually, they reduced the sedation until Jeannie began to wake up. J sat holding her hand and Alex stood with Ellie at the foot of the bed.
J was leaning over her hand, still clasped in his, his lips still moving in a silent mantra.
Her eyes opened and she fought to focus on the room, Alex moved to the other side of the bed from J and looked into her eyes, anxious to see that she knew who she was. She breathed a sigh of relief when Jeannie smiled at her briefly, before turning her head to J. He had not looked up and gradually, she lifted her hand from his…and placed it on his head. The big man’s shoulders sagged and silent sobs wracked his body. Ellie went to him and put her arm around him, at the same time smiling at Jeannie.
The Doctor, standing at the door, nodded as if satisfied with the readings from the monitors. He came to Alex’s side of the bed and she moved away to allow him access to the drip.
“Now then Jeannie, what have you been doing with yourself….Not like you to create such a drama”
Jeannie’s voice weak but her words were clear enough
“Archie Robertson….I’ll thank you to show some respect….I used to wipe your nose often enough when you were a wee scraggy arsed bairn... “
The ‘scraggy arsed bairn’, smiled fondly at the elderly woman and nodded.
“Right enough Jeannie….that you did.”
Uncle J had managed to regain some control, with Ellie’s help, and he spoke.
“Jeannie, you gave us such a scare….don’t you ever do that again...”
Two nurses came in to attend to Jeannie as Alex and Ellie walked out with Archie. He assured them that all of her blood tests suggested that the swift action of both Ellie, and the Air Doctor, had reduced the impact of the damage to Jeannie’s heart. He felt she would recover well, but he did point out that she would have to change her lifestyle. Archie knew that Jeanie had always worked long hours at the hotel and told them that this would have to be reduced.
Both the Wallace’s knew that this would be, by far, the hardest job of all.
They returned to the room and were pleased to see that Jeannie was sitting up a little, sipping some water. She smiled at them both…her voice wavering..
“Why are you two still here? You’ve a conference to get ready for. I’ll have no slacking!!”
The two women looked at each other and then at J who managed a weak smile and nodded.
“OK, but we’ll be back later to check on you.” Alex reluctantly agreed.
Later that night at the croft, Alex had cooked a light meal, they had not eaten all day and they sat close together on the leather couch. The light from the oil lamps cast flickering shadows around the room. Ellie’s head came to rest on Alex’s shoulder and she dropped a light kiss on the blonde hair.
“Penny for ‘em darlin’?”
Ellie drew a deep breath and sighed.
“Life is so fragile…isn’t it?....We came very close to losing her today....we all know that…”
“Yes I know, Babe…Things will have to change and I’m worried that Uncle J won’t manage without her, to help run the hotel.”
“Then we’re gonna have to make sure he gets more staff, that way Jeannie can be a sort of consultant.”
“Good idea, wee girl….but just how are we going to stop Jeannie from picking up where she left off?? That’s going to be the battle.”
The car park of the hotel was filling up with cars; BMW’s, drop head sports cars , and humungous 4x4’s....all with plates indicating they were brand new….or with special plates spelling out strange and contrived words…..each spilling their be-suited occupants, carrying designer luggage into the warm morning sun.
Ellie was ‘meeting and greeting’ and had donned her best power dressing suit for the task.
Alex had been nagged into the most formal kit she possessed but had refused, point blank, to wear her highland regalia.
“I am not going to act the stereotype for these people….I’ll do my bit but I will not ‘Och Aye’ for anyone!”
Her pouty lipped expression had reduced Ellie to tears of laughter and their day had begun, as it so often did, with them being playmates and best friends….
The news from Skye was encouraging and J seemed to have regained some of his good humour as Ellie told him of Alex’s ‘Och Aye’ protestations.
The hotel was buzzing and the atmosphere, Ellie knew, was a good sign that all was going well.
In fact the organisation was so well done that it seemed to run itself and, apart from replenishing bottles of water for the delegates, the two lovers had little to do. They sat at the window overlooking the bay and enjoyed a cup of tea….Ellie was actually getting used to tea now instead of coffee….she was becoming more of a Scot with every passing day!
“Hey, blue eyes….with all the dramas….I forgot to ask….Did you finish The Eagle and the Rose?”
“Yep, sure did ma’am” Alex attempted the Texan drawl.
Ellie swatted her and became serious.
“I need to know if you liked it.”
Alex touched her hand and smiled.
“No .I didn’t like it ….I loved it….the character were great and the story was a brave one given it’s time frame…Where did you get the idea?”
Ellie told her how, as a child, she had read many stories about women who had made it on their own without real families….at this, Alex’s heart was sore for her girl; as so much of her childhood had been spent without love and support. Ellie had discovered the story of Misses Willson and Brundidge, two women who had lived and farmed together in Green County, New York State in the early 19th century. Mary Wilson had been a painter and Miss Brundidge had ploughed and farmed their land. Ellie told Alex how she had often wondered how it would be if she could have found a friend to escape with. Also, although a first generation Irish/American, Ellie had spent long hours in the exciting world of Native Americans....another ploy to escape her miserable childhood. She had decided to make one of her characters a Native American, and a law officer, as her way of embedding in the story, that what women achieved in those times was as a result of strong character and courage and how they had been trailblazers for modern women. She had often imagined how it would have been to be one of these Pioneer women and identified strongly with Mary Wilson………the story of the two women from New York State had resonated with Ellie….and then she stopped and looked at Alex, her face wide eyed with a sudden realisation...
“You don’t think…Alex..it couldn’t be us...could it?
Alex was thoughtful.
“The more I think about it, my love, the more I believe all things are possible!!”
They had both sat quietly, their fingers entwined….for some time, mulling over this thought..
It was near midnight when they returned to the Croft. The delegates had let their hair down, big time, the whisky had flowed and the musicians had played. It was clear that the future of the Applecross Conference centre was a done deal. These business people would spread the word and such recommendations were worth their weight in gold.
The two lovers were sitting on one of the leather couches with a cup of tea each. Ellie’s head rested on Alex’s shoulder and she dropped a kiss on her forehead. The news from Skye, that evening, had been good. Donald had been to see the two at the McKinnon and he reported that Jeannie could be discharged, as soon as next week.
Ellie turned and shifted her position so that she was sitting astride Alex’s lap. The green eyes met the blue and memories passed between them, of past lives and past deaths and they kissed gently. Ellie’s hand caressed her lover’s cheek...
I can’t imagine a life without J, Jeannie and the Boys....or you” and her voice caught in her throat for a second...…”.I know we have to face it sometime....but not just yet….Huh?”
Alex smiled and nodded her agreement.
“Let’s try to make this life… a long and uneventful one, shall we?” Ellie ventured.
“Hmm, let’s just say that we could have some ‘events’…as long as they don’t involve cliff edge fights….showers of arrows, long sea trips in little boats and bloody great Japanese swords….What do you think?”
They laughed and sat close together….
Return to the Academy