We could spy a visitor long ere he—and it was always a he—arrived in our tiny village. The pathway down the mountain was in plain sight of ’most everyone’s walkway in front of the tiny dwellings that all met up with the two dirt paths that comprised our town…that is, unless it was raining and the clouds covered our mountain, in which case few would be standing in their walkway anyway, and even fewer would be coming down the mountain pathway.
But such was not the case on the day Byron came to town. We saw him walking down the mountainside a good twenty minutes before he arrived. Oh, he was handsome—we could tell that even from so far away. He had brown curly hair that hung to just below his shoulders. He was a strapping, young fellow, barely into his twenties. As soon as we saw him, we knew who he would be with on Beltane, if he stayed so long—which he would if he had any sense to him.
A group of us met him as he walked into the village. Catriona was still in the hills, but we knew it wouldn’t be long before they met.
By the time a visitor arrived in our environs, his food rations were bare. It’s quite interesting that there was such a huge expanse of land between us and the next village. We humans could spread ourselves out and each have a home with a large parcel of land to call our own. But nay, we prefer to clump together, from the small clumps of tiny villages like ours to the large clumps of the big cities we’d hear about from the many travelers who passed through. We don’t know how so many found us, but every month would bring one or two travelers. Some came from as far away as London and some had traveled even farther than that. It was beyond what any of us could imagine, and not that many of us left to go see for ourselves. We were quite content with our tiny village in the valley, nestled between three mountains. Seeing the mighty waters from atop the mountains was good enough for us. We didn’t have to go to them.
“Welcome,” William, one of our elders, boomed out to our visitor amidst the cries of greeting.
“Hello, hello. Thank you. I’m Byron,” the stranger announced to the questions swirling around him.
“Where do you come from?”
“Glastonbury! How long have you been traveling?”
“Almost a year,” he answered.
Aileen grabbed him by the arm and steered him to her cottage. “Well, come to our home. You look famished. We’ll make sure you’re filled up to overflowing for the next leg of your journey.”
Aye, that’s our Aileen. Every town has one. She was a beauty and on her own accord would have stood out far and above the other lasses—in any other village. Not ours, however; just her luck.
There were always ninety-two of us, it seemed. When one was born, another one died. When one set off on a journey, a stranger arrived and stayed. We had twenty-three thatch cottages that housed at least two, sometimes up to six, although that high count was never for long. As you already know, of course, Catriona and Elspeth shared their father’s home. Shane lived with his parents and younger brother. Aileen lived with her parents and brother and sister. Our little crowds kept things warmer in the cold times—aye, perhaps too warm as tempers would flare when we’ve spent a little too much time with each other.
It was one of those beautiful spring days that would make even the most cynical person on earth have hope for the future. We were in very strange times. Perhaps many times are strange. It’s strange to hang someone on a cross, it’s strange to behead someone, it’s strange to light a fire under someone’s feet. To take a life is the strangest thing of all and yet humans do it so readily, easily, and often.
Strange how we had just emerged from the “dark ages.” But in so many ways our age was still just as dark.
But on that day, all those things seemed very far away. With nary a cloud in the sky, the sun warmed the soil, and the heather and grasses swayed gently in the breeze.
Byron politely extricated himself from Aileen’s clutches, with the help of several men from neighboring cottages who called from the dirt path in front of her cottage.
“Come, tell us of your travels.”
“What news can you share with us?”
“We have more food for you if you’re still hungry.”
They walked him to the square—it wasn’t anything formal, really, just some slabs of rock in the center of all of the cottages. It was more of a circle.
“You are most kind,” Byron said.
“To rescue you from Aileen’s clutches? Yes, we’re very kind to do that,” William chuckled, but quietly since Aileen was not too far away, following the group, obviously despondent that her food offering and allure hadn’t kept him longer.
Byron’s smile relayed that that’s exactly what he’d meant. The murmuring in the square drew the rest of the villagers from their homes, and all of the residents, from our eldest elder to the youngest babe, was in a tight circle around him. Travelers were our only source of news.
“Tell us what you know.”
“Have you heard that Queen Elizabeth—” But he’d glanced up at the hillside where Catriona and Elspeth were walking down the pathway. The royals of far-off London were instantly forgotten as our local royal was spotted. Catriona’s wall of hair shimmered in the sunshine. She was talking intently to Elspeth and had not yet noticed the entire village watching, waiting. In fact, it was Elspeth who noticed, and she nudged her sister.
It wasn’t unusual for all of us to be gathered together. Actually, we needed nary an excuse to be as one group, especially on a beautiful day. But Catriona’s eyes immediately rested upon the stranger in the center of our circle, both human and symbolic.
She actually stopped. Not much swayed this lass, not much at all. But this time she stopped.
No one moved. Nay, there was one who left: Aileen. But for the rest of us—ach, you think we were going to miss this? We didn’t have books and movies. We didn’t have many real-life romantic stories. We had wind and weather and crops and births and deaths and, aye, even weddings with dancing and singing and blushing brides and all. But we rarely had the opportunity to witness the very moments that fairy tales are written about. No, not often.
What could have been going through her mind? What was she thinking? Aye, here was a young buck far more handsome than any our village had to offer, but it was more than that. When I passed from this world to the other worlds, I knew. She’d been with him before. She’d be with him again. And at that moment, her entire being—body, mind, spirit, heart, crown, radiance—remembered him.
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