Northern Lights – Episode 11

Lilias roused from deep, exhausted sleep with a startled scream. Dazed, she hardly knew where she was or what had happened.

The haze before her eyes cleared to reveal her eldest granddaughter. She started up in terror.

“Maggie! Is it a French bombardment?”

“No, only the door slamming in an icy wind as I came in from work, frozen to the marrow.”

They faced one another across the room.

Lilias became aware all was not well.

“The beef simmers slow and tender, Maggie. Well done,” she remarked tentatively.

“A fitting farewell feast, Grandmother. You’ll be leaving us tomorrow.”

“By popular vote?”

“Oh, aye. You may be sure o’ that,” Maggie said tersely.

Lilias was silent for a moment.

“Well, ’tis as expected, lass. You’ve mastered the fire and my work is done. That was the pact we made and I accept the ruling.

“Thank ye kindly, but I’ll not attend a farewell feast. I need to rest to catch an early morning tide that’ll carry the Boatie swiftly to Auchmithie.”

“I’m sorry you’ll not sample the beef,” her granddaughter muttered.

“So am I, hinnie,” Lilias said gently.

Maggie scuttled off into the scullery to empty the sacking apron of its contents and left Lilias staring into the glowing coals. Her granddaughter had learned the knack of fire-lighting and Lilias was no longer needed.

She had hoped for a happier outcome, but she accepted that her grandchildren preferred to exist without a granny’s interference.

At least Alec was saved from impressment, Lilias thought more cheerfully. For that she was grateful, confident she could leave her grandson in the good blacksmith’s capable care.

She had nearly fainted with relief when the smith arrived back at the smiddy with Alec walking free by his side. Maybe she did actually sway and turn pale as milk, she thought, for the man had insisted they adjourn to his living quarters in the smiddy-seat to drink a celebratory toast to the rescue – in fine, captured French brandy.

Normally Lilias never touched intoxicating drink, the ruin of many a fine fisherman, but on this occasion she could hardly refuse, as the cunning blacksmith probably knew.

She smiled now in the fire’s warm glow, remembering the merry gleam in his eyes as she coughed and spluttered her way to the bottom of a well-filled tassie he poured for her.

The man’s lifestyle puzzled her. Ezra, the wheelwright, and his wife, Constance, lodged in the adjoining cottage, tending to the smith’s cooking and cleaning in lieu of rent.

But Lilias observed that, though the blacksmith’s living quarters were neat and tidy, they lacked a woman’s gentler touch.

Was the smith a sad widower or perhaps by choice a lonely bachelor, she wondered idly as the brandy’s mellowing influence flowed through her veins.

She declined her grandson’s offer to see her safely home.

“No, no, laddie. Don’t tempt fate. Stay safe in your master’s care till the impressment ship sails wi’ the outgoing tide.”

Standing up groggily, Lilias discovered the assistance of a strong arm was indeed advisable, but she managed to navigate the smiddy yard on a reasonably straight course, hazily aware of the smith hiding a grin while watching every dizzy step.

She tottered off down the street and reached the Cargill house, sobered by a breath of chilly fresh air.

She then collapsed, exhausted, into the fireside chair and had been in a sound sleep till Maggie slammed the outer door.

A door closing, she thought sadly, a fitting end to a memorable day and the start of the last night she would spend in her late daughter’s house.

Sighing, Lilias rose wearily and made her way along the corridor to the room that had never rightly been hers.

The table was set, beef stew and dumplings ready and waiting, when Maggie’s brother and sisters came clattering in from work. The girls could hardly contain their excitement.

“Maggie, ye’ll never guess what happened. Our Alec escaped from the press gang!” Cathy Mary cried the moment she set foot in the door.

“They wanted him for a gunpowder-monkey. To get blown up!” wee Amy added dramatically.

“Oh, no!” Maggie dropped the ladle she was holding. It fell to the floor with a clatter. “Alec, how did ye get away?”

“The blacksmith saved me. He convinced the scoundrels that an apprentice helping to build a lighthouse on the Bell Rock profited the nation more than them seizing an unwilling under-age recruit.”

He unwound his scarf, hanging his cap and jacket jauntily on the hooks while Maggie watched. She knew the family had had a lucky escape. Three lasses left without some male support could not expect to prosper for long.

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!