I'm going to cheat again by giving you another excerpt. This one is from the novel that I'm working away on. I have yet to make up my mind on a title for this book, but I can tell you that it's the first of my Once and Future Series. The only other thing I'll say about this is that I only speak a little Scots Gaelic and writing this really stretched by skills and vocabulary. If you happen to be a Gaelic speaker (Scots not Irish) then please feel free to correct the Gaelic parts.
early March 1976
Kettle Hollow, North Carolina
It had been a long winter and full of darkness. Màili filled her lungs with what felt like her first deep breath in months. It burned her nostrils and was sharp with the tang of damp rotting leaves. Brittle twigs snapped and crunched beneath her feet as she stepped surely through the forest keeping her eyes on the ground until she found what she was looking for.
"A' Mhòrag, a mise. Tha cròch a'bhos." She shouted for her daughter keeping her eyes on the little patch of small yellow crocus that peeked through the carpet of winter compost their sharp leaves sticking straight up like spikes. The little girl came crashing up behind her with the careless enthusiasm of the very young, and Màili put out a hand to stop her before she trampled the blooms.
"Tha iad sgèimheach." the girl breathed kneeling in the damp leaves to look at them, and Màili thought she was right. They were beautiful. They stood small but proud giving the first color of the year to the great gray forest. Màili decided these blooms with their smooth rounded petals as bright as the sun itself were a balm for the rough places on her heart.
Her throat tightened and her eyes stung as she watched the wonder on her daughter's face. At six, Mórag was still young enough that the whole world was new and she bent her small head closer for a better look. In the practical way of all mothers, Màili thought the child's head must be cold, but her riot of thick golden curls defied all attempts to be contained by a hat. Màili laid a hand ever so lightly on the girl's head feeling the down-soft hair slip through her fingers. She could sense the shape of the skull beneath her hand, a shape she knew well. She had been cupping her hand around it since before Mórag was born. Then it had been a round lump in her belly pressing out against her hand, and later the soft sweet fuzz covered head of her baby girl as she fed, and now that she was a girl it was a rare treat only allowed when the child was tired or distracted. It was a mother's caress. Flesh of my flesh.
"A' bheil tuilleadh idir?" Are there more? the girl asked. Màili took the child's hand and began to look about for more clusters of flowers. Just over a slight rise she found them. A large round patch of crocus at the base of a great oak spread out before them in a mad profusion of yellow, white, blue and violet. Màili was so enchanted by the sight, she couldn't help but grin. She felt little Mórag bouncing beside her in excitement.
"Am faigh mi trus flúraichean a'Mhami?" May I pick the flowers, Mommy? the child asked hopping from one foot to the other.
"Tha." Yes. Màili certainly intended to pick some, and felt a little ashamed when the girl stopped bouncing, raised her hands palm up, elbows at her side and asked for pardon for picking the pretty flowers. Màili was never one to stand on religion, even at Mórag's age she had questioned everything she was taught. But Mórag didn't need teaching. She seemed to know instinctively everything that Màili had always questioned. For Mórag, every tree, hill, wind and stream had a name, some that Màili didn't even remember. She felt a shudder run through her as she wondered how the girl knew so many things that she herself had forgotten.
"Tha mi a'càraich an crun agad!" I'm going to make you a crown! Mórag exclaimed wading into the patch of flowers and beginning to select the prettiest of them.
When they had picked enough, they settled on a fallen tree. Mórag had gathered her supplies and set about twisting some vines into a circlet. As Màili tucked flowers into her daughter's hair, the little girl began to sing. Her high clear voice picked out a jaunty puirt a beul about a boy and his boat. The rhythm was contagious and before she was aware of it Màili was singing along foot tapping. Her richer woman's voice blended with the girl's in a fast-paced round. Màili couldn't remember when she'd been happier.
By the time they were finished, Mórag had a crocus stuck in every curl as if each gold spiral were a bud vase. She had indeed made a crown of twisted vines with crocus stems anchored between them. They were accented with birch twigs and some brown leaves she had found that were still intact.
Mo`rag climbed up to stand on the log and placed the crown on top of Màili's head before dropping into a curtsy. "Tha mi gad shamhlachadh ri bànrigh sitheag." You look like a fairy queen.
Màili lifted a hand and touched the crown self-consciously. With a self-deprecating chuckle she said, "An bana-bhuidseach, móran nas coltaiche." A witch, more likely.
Uncomfortable, she grasped the crown carefully to remove it, but the girl stopped her with a firm hand on her arm. Her green eyes were bright, determined. "Chan eil. Fuirich." No. Stay.
'It's not mine,' she thought, 'And I hope it's not yours either.' She shrugged to hide the shiver that coursed down her spine, but left the crown in place and quickly changed the subject.
"Tha sinn a'thoir flúraichean gu seanmhair." Let's give some flowers to Granny.
They went about picking an armful of crocus for Màili's mother who had stayed at home claiming sore knees from the damp. Màili had never seen her mother anything but spry and thought the excuse was more out of a desire to avoid another argument with her. A winter stuck together in their small farmhouse was enough to make even the most sympathetic adults cantankerous, but Màili and her mother were rarely on the same page. Their main source of discord was the thing most precious to both of them, Mórag.
Maighread's hands were elbow deep in a sink full of dishes when she caught sight of them coming out of the forest. They were dancing, and the beauty of it made her throat close tight and tears prick her eyes. She'd had little more than cross words and rolled eyes from her daughter for months. Màili was forever wanting more than their life on the mountain could offer and Maighread knew that were it not for Mórag, her daughter would have left years ago.
But there they were, mother and child dancing across the yard leaving a trail of flowers in their wake. The little one's curls were mixed with blooms and bounced like springs as she tripped along the dirt path her feet beating out a bright tattoo. But nothing could compare to the sight of her daughter with her arms full of flowers and a fairy crown on her dark head. Her feet seemed to glide inches above the ground, only coming down to touch on the appropriate beats.
Maighread had never seen a better dancer than Màili. Since she was Mórag's age, Màili had danced through everything in life. Every trial of growing up, every lost pet, every argument with a friend, every teenage rebellion had been smoothed over by dancing. But somewhere along the road, that part of Màili had been knocked down one too many times, and the dancing had stopped. It hurt Maighread's heart to think that she had been the agent of her daughter's disappointment.
She didn't realize she was crying until she heard their feet on the back steps. She went to wipe her cheeks only to find her hands dripping with dishwater. She grabbed a towel and managed to give her cheeks a quick swipe before the door burst open and Màili and Mórag half walked half danced into the kitchen. They were still giggling when Màili deposited the flowers on the old worn kitchen table. She looked up at her mother and started to speak, but stopped noting her mother's red cheeks and too bright eyes. Maighread too pulled up short her eyes going to the crown of crocus, birch and oak resting on her daughter's head. Màili's lips firmed into a grim line and she turned stepping into the pantry to get a vase for the flowers.
"Lorg sinn na ceudan móre de flúraichean an sin." We found hundreds of flowers over there. Wee Mórag piped in pointing to the forest in the direction they had come from.
"Chì mi. Tha iad àlainn." I see that. They're lovely.
"They were under that great oak over the rise from the still." said Màili as she filled the vase. Her English jarred Maighread's ears. Her heart had broken a thousand times over when she had had to leave her home in Scotland. Keeping her native language in her home had helped to ease some of that pain, but Màili never spoke Gàidhlig anymore. She had said that it was to make sure the child learned both languages. Maighread didn't protest because she hadn't wanted Mórag to start school without having the English. But now her English was good and school gave her plenty of practice. Still Màili only spoke English, and each word was like a jab in her mother's ear. Maighread wondered if she would ever again hear the language of her heart from her daughter's lips.
"A'bheil sibh leis an acras? 'S furasta dhomh deisealach an biadh-nóin." Are you hungry? I can easily fix lunch. Maighread fussed to hide her hurt.
"Tha an t'acras gam tholladh!" I'm starving! the child answered.
"That sounds good, Mama." Her girls spoke at the same time. Màili giving her an unexpected smile that was genuine.
Maighread beamed back at them. Her girls. For all that they battled over wee Mórag and her education, it was all done out of love. She and Màili would do well to remember that.
"'S math sin. Ach an toiseach, mo nighean, thusa gabh abar." Good. But first, my girl, you take a bath. She said looking pointedly at the smudges on Mórag's face.
“She’s right. You’re so dirty there are things growing in your hair.” Màili joked, pulling an errant flower from the little one's curls. “Come on, into the bath with you.”
She swung the child into her arms and proceeded to tickle her senseless while carrying her upstairs only releasing her at the top and chasing her into the bathroom.
“Alright. Get those clothes off.” Màili ordered while running the bath.
Mórag threw her arms around her mother’s thighs and squeezed. “I wish every day could be this good.”
She stroked the girl’s hair. “We all do, baby.”
“Will you and Granny stop fighting, now?” Mórag asked hopefully, releasing her mother and starting to peel off her clothes.
“We’ll see. I hope so.” Molly tried to sound reassuring. She helped Mórag into the great clawfooted tub and handed her the soap before turning to get towel from the rack by the door.
As she turned she caught her reflection in the mirror. She had forgotten about the crown and now was struck by how out of place it seemed on her head. It's lively flowers a stark contrast to her pale angular features. She had bloomed like them once; beautiful and vibrant with the enthusiasm of youth. Now she felt worn down to a husk. Her skin was winter pale. Her cheekbones jutted out almost white between tired eyes and sunken cheeks and her dark hair hung lifeless. All under the circlet brimming with life. It seemed a cruel joke.
“Mommy? When I go away from here, will you come with me?” Mórag's question broke her revery and she turned back to the tub.
“Are you going somewhere?” Màili was puzzled as she pulled another flower from the girl's hair and dropped it into the water. The subtle fragrance of the crocus drifted up from the warm bath.
“I had a dream about going far away. “I was going to meet the king."
"The king of what?" Please let it be a fancy, she thought as she looked at her little girl. Mórag bit her lip, uncertain.
Peals of laughter rained down the stairs like rays of sunlight cascading through the tree tops. Maighread hummed to herself as she put together a lunch of biscuits and stew that she'd set simmering on the old wood burning stove earlier that morning. She knew she probably should have put in an electric cooker years ago, but just couldn't let go of some old habits. She still cooked the way she had learned as a child, by keeping a pot of something simmering all the time adding to it whatever ingredients came to hand. Even after all her years in America, she still half expected her cousins to drop in wanting to be fed just as they had when she was a girl.
She had just finished warming the biscuits when she realized that the laughter from upstairs had stopped. She cocked her head and held her breath to hear what she could. No longer the careless cackle of the girls she had sent upstairs, now there was a soft splashing and a muttering sound.
“How long?” she asked herself as she bounded up the stairs. How long had her thoughts been clouding her hearing? How long had it been since the laughter had stopped?
“They can’t have you.” Her daughter was mumbling over and over as Margaret burst through the door. “They can’t have you, not you.”
Molly’s arms were stiff as planks. Her hands gripped the child’s shoulders like talons holding her under the water. Flowers had fallen from the crown she still wore and floated on the surface above the terror stricken face of the little girl.
“They can’t have you. I won’t let them.” Màili cooed reassurance to her daughter. “I won’t let them.”
Maighread tried to pull her away by her shoulders, but her mad will was stronger than the old woman’s hands. Màili didn’t even see her, she was so focused on the child.
“They’re not going to get their hooks in you.”
Maighread had to think fast. Her heart felt ready to burst and blood sang in her ears. She backed up searching for a weapon, something to hit Màili with. She knew it would have to knock her out. She wouldn’t get a second chance. The toilet lid! Maighread grabbed with both hands and swung the lid low and to the side. Then with all her strength she heaved up and the porcelain block flew hard through the air. She felt a sickening jolt as it hit the back of her daughter’s head. Màili fell face first into the water the crown slipping off her head to land in the bath.
Margaret grabbed Molly’s shoulders and pulled hard. Her daughter flew back sending a spray of water and flowers onto the walls and ceiling. Then the old woman was reaching into the water, lifting her granddaughter’s limp body. The child’s lips were beginning to turn blue. Margaret laid her on the floor next to the sprawled form of her mother.
She couldn’t be dead. She pumped the girl’s chest, lifted her up and pounded her back. She couldn’t be. The little body jerked. Then there was a cough and a splattering of water as it spilled from her lungs. A gasp rocked Mórag and the child breathed again. She threw her arms around her grandmother. Maighread rocked back and forth as the child stared bewildered at her mother limp and wet on the floor.