One morning as winter’s warning was in the air, leaving well before dawn, Catriona and Elspeth both carried blankets attached to packs of clothes and provisions on their backs. They walked and walked and walked—up hill, down hill, over dale, even stepping through streams.
“We’re setting off on a new adventure,” Catriona told her sister. “You like new adventures, my dear sister, don’t you?” Elspeth shrugged. “Father will be fine,” Catriona insisted, addressing the unasked question in her sister’s eyes. “Yes, of course we’ll be missed, but we won’t be gone very long.”
Many a traveler had told the villagers of the cave high in the mountains, as it was a perfect stopping point for a night’s rest. Catriona had heard about it so many times that by the time she and Elspeth arrived there, the sight of it felt familiar.
But Byron had mentioned another cave a little farther away, one which the villagers would probably not venture to look for if any search parties were sent forth. Had he foreseen her requirement for a hiding place? Nothing about him and his knowledge and the events he could see would surprise her.
This cave, too, was well used by travelers, but not by those who ventured to her village; instead they followed the path to another village in the region. Tucked into a crevasse, which would help keep the winter winds to a minimum, it also afforded a nearby opportunity to see if anyone was coming for miles in three directions. The mountain behind them was extremely jagged, steep, and snow-covered, so no one would likely be coming from that direction.
Right near the cave’s opening sat a good-sized fire pit, and at the back of the stone dwelling was a hole dug for sleeping. Several large stones had been placed around the hole in an attempt to keep drafts off the temporary residents as they slept.
They were fortunate that both women, the tiny Elspeth especially, did not have large appetites, but with a third being to feed, Catriona wasn’t sure how much more hungry she’d be. The mountains provided much food in the form of numerous rabbits and red squirrels. Catriona had also been smoking extra meat and setting aside food since the days of the longest sunshine.
The women built fires only at night, so the smoke would not draw any attention to their location. During the day, when they were not hunting or gathering firewood or spending the couple minutes it took to straighten up their encampment, they put on every piece of clothing they had and clung to each other for more warmth.
On many a dreary, rainy afternoon, Catriona and Elspeth would stare out the opening, mesmerized by the drops falling. Catriona would watch the drops slither down the stones around the doorway. A single drop, joined by another, inching slowly down, taking their time….then joined by another and the whole mass of drops would quickly slide down the rock to the ground. Strange how fascinating things can become when not much else is going on.
But much was going on inside. Catriona would take Elspeth’s hand when the baby would kick and move. Much was going on inside Catriona’s mind, as well. The rains often kept a cloud cover so she couldn’t watch the heavens, but at night when she shut her eyes, she’d see stars shooting, galaxies swirling. At night and sometimes during the day, too, the wind would howl incessantly, sounding like cries and moans.
Sometimes when she couldn’t sleep, she’d brave the cold and sit in the cave’s entrance, watching the skies. There was a star cluster that would command her attention, but when she’d look at it, it would disappear. She’d look away and see it appear out of the corner of her eye. The experience was strangely compelling. She could tell that some of the whispers around her were messages from that star cluster, but she couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying.
Where do we come from, she’d wonder. Do we come from this ground beneath us? Do we come from the fearsome God of the church after all? Nay. Perhaps we come from the stars? There was someone—another sister, a daughter, a mother, unquestionably a female—who knew her and was watching her, waiting for her to return. It wasn’t her own mother, who watched her from her special place beyond the veils. This other had a different feel: vast, ancient, loving beyond measure, even beyond the measure of her own mother’s love.
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