Highland Echoes:Fated Hearts 02(6)

By: Ceci Giltenan

Grace smiled. “Aye, lad, that’s all.”

He cocked his head. “It’s hard to believe someone’s whole life can fit into such a small bundle.”

Grace laughed. “That’s not my whole life, lad. That’s just things. This is my whole life.” With that she scooped Kristen up and tickled her until her daughter giggled and squirmed.

Eyeing her with doubt, he simply nodded. “If ye say so. Still, I thought ye’d have more. I’ll carry this down and I’ll take Kristen with me if ye want me to. Mam said ye might want to visit the grave one last time.”

Grace sobered. “Aye, I would like to say goodbye, but I’ll take Kristen with me.”

He nodded, picked up the bundle, and left the cottage. Grace watched him for a moment before saying to Kristen, “Do ye want to climb the hill?”

Kristen’s eyes lit up. “Aye, Mama.”

“Then we will.” She twirled around with her once, making Kristen squeal with glee before putting her down. “I just need to put out the fire first.” Grace went to the hearth and smothered the fire with cold ashes. She took Kristen’s hand and walked out without looking back. She didn’t want the last memory of her home to be cold and empty. They walked to the little church at the edge of the village where Grace stopped and looked over the low wall into the church yard where her mother was buried. She made the sign of the cross and said a silent prayer for the souls of those she’d lost.

Kristen looked up at her. “I want to cwime the hiww mama. Ye said we could.”

“Aye, sweetling, we are going too.” She didn’t enter the graveyard or stay any longer, her loved ones weren’t here. Instead she walked past the church to the path leading to the top of the promontory, which looked out over the village and harbor. She picked Kristen up, putting her on her shoulders to carry her up the hill.

When they reached the top, she set Kristen on her feet in the tall grass, warning her as she always did, “Don’t go near the edge.”

“I won’t, Mama. I dust wanna pick fwowers.” She immediately busied herself picking the meadow flowers that were just beginning to open to the rare spring sunshine.

Grace looked around, trying to absorb it all one last time. This was one of her favorite places. She came here as a child with her parents, her da carrying her up on his strong, broad shoulders just as she had Kristen. She also walked here with Callum when they were courting.

Here, alone, there were no memories of sickness or loss; she had only spent happy hours in this spot so it is where she would say goodbye. She basked in the glow of those sweet memories until Kristen stood at her feet, her arms outstretched with a fist full of flowers, and demanded, “Up.”

Grace swung her into the air, making her squeal and giggle before hugging her close. “Are ye ready to go on an adventure, sweetling?”

“Can I see over fust?”

“Aye, one last time.” Grace walked with her as close to the edge of the cliff as she felt comfortable and looked down at the sleepy little village by the edge of the sea that had been their only home.

“Goodbye,” whispered Grace, “we’ll miss ye.”

“Goodbye, we’ww miss ye,” echoed Kristen somberly.

Chapter 2

Late May, 1340 Sutherland Castle

When Grace and Kristen arrived, Lachie’s friends, Dugald, a merchant, and his wife, Mary, had been extremely kind. Grace and Kristen had stayed with them in Durness for nearly a month until Dugald was ready to make his twice yearly trip to Inverness. He had two wagon loads of goods to sell there but they were delivering Grace and Kristen to Castle Sutherland on the way.

They were near enough now to see the castle in the distance. Grace began to worry. She hadn’t known anything about her parents’ families until just before her mother died. After her father and Callum had died, Grace’s life became a blur of work punctuated by too little sleep but the day she learned she might have a grandmother was etched in her memory.

She had been working her loom as quickly as she could, making the most of the waning light while Kristen napped, snuggled next to Catriona.

Her mother had called to her, “Grace, my sweet, come sit with me. I wish to speak with ye for a moment.”

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