|"The Ring of Brodgar" (Image from a Google search)|
Suggested by: Kileah McIlvain
A name: Iona
A place: Scotland
A time: Anytime before 1745 (Jacobite uprising)
An object: The Ring of Brodgar
She watched the grey fog creep over the green hills. It weighed heavily on the landscape like the dread on her heart. Already, she could hear the clash of broadsword on shield.
They were coming. She always knew she would see this day.
She lifted her green eyes to the grey skies once more, and sighed. Green and grey, like the tartan over her shoulder. She raised a slender, fair hand and adjusted the brooch at her shoulder so the catch would not dig into her collarbone so.
"Milady!" A young chambermaid cried from the doorway.
The woman turned from the window as a broad-shouldered man covered in battle-filth shoved his way past the trembling maid.
"Iona," the man grunted. "Coom, ye must leave!"
"I canna!" Lady Iona fired back, tossing her long brown braid over her shoulder. "Fagin, I told ye a thousand times, I'll no stir from this spot!"
Fagin scrubbed his nose with a dirty leather gauntlet in frustration. "Confound ye! He's well nigh here, and ye ken the one he's after?"
Iona thrust her chin out, drawing herself to her full height. Even then, her brother Fagin still towered head and shoulders over her.
"He can try what he likes," the fiery Scotswoman seethed. "Him an' all his Jacobite clan! He'll no get it, an' there's an end to't!"
Fagin chewed his lip, keenly aware as he was of the increasing shouts. Things weren't safe with the Jacobite rebels crowing for Bonnie Prince Charlie and eager to tussle with any person that did not immediately join in. That in itself was not the threat; Castle Brodgar was well-fortified and not worth the effort it would take to breach it merely for the handful of women that were left. Fagin dropped his eyes to the fist now clenched at his sister's side. She saw his gaze, and watched him till their eyes met. She nodded, as they understood each other in the wordless speech between siblings.
Fagin loosened the sword in his scabbard. "He'll have to get through me, then," he said grimly, departing the room.
Lady Iona remained rooted to the spot until she heard the heavy door at the foot of her chamber stairs slam behind him. Her knees buckled, and her chambermaid raced forward to catch her as she fell.
All daring seemed to seep out of the dauntless woman, and she trembled all over as the fighting grew closer than ever.
"I can hear the men shouting," she moaned. "They are coming, and they will not stop."
The maid led her to the bed and bid her recline. Lady Iona wrapped her arms around herself and curled into a small ball, willing with every fiber of her being that the army would just pass by.
"He must not come!" She gasped hoarsely, gripping the maid's hand with sudden strength. Her eyes widened with horror. "He must not come!"
The clamor, the shouting, the clash—Iona cringed and buried her face in her arms. It will pass, they will pass...
The voice, thick as haggis and deep as a black bog, seeped through her fingers and into her ears. Rough hands gripped her wrists and yanked her to her feet. She saw a dark, hulking figure, then she saw the ice-blue eyes, desperate and wild. He said not a word.
"You have come for me, Callum McGowan?"
He pulled, but she resisted.
"Ye canna take me!" She shrieked. "I wilna coom!"
He dropped one hand to reach for his dirk, and Iona seized the opportunity to wrap one arm around the nearest bedpost.
"Go ahead, then! Cut me! Ye can hack me ta pieces if ye want ta carry me away! Ma brother will run ye doon, ye murderin' dog!"
Callum did not hesitate. He kept a hold on Iona's wrist and wrapped the other arm around her waist, hefting the keening woman over his shoulder.
Iona fought madly. She kicked, she beat him with her free arm, and most of all, she screamed.
Till they reached the foot of the stairs.
Fagin lay in a crumpled heap where he had stood, the crown of his head bent and bloodied.
"Fagin!" Iona screeched. "No!" She stared at the grisly sight, unable to tear her eyes away. "What did you do to him? What did ye do? Fagin! You dog! You demon! Why did ye kill him? Why did ye take the life o' my brother?" She fought, but it was too late.
Callum tossed her over the saddle of his war horse. Her whole body had gone numb. She did not feel the jostle of the galloping horse taking her away from her home and her family. The sounds echoed in her ears as if coming from a great distance.
Finally, the horse slowed, but Callum showed no sign of getting off or stopping.
Iona tasted blood. On one of the tosses from the horse she had smacked her face on the stiff saddle and split her lip.
The second time Callum McGowan had spoken to her, and Iona obeyed blindly. He kept her on the horse while she slowly maneuvered her body into a sitting position. Once she was settled, she saw that he offered her a handkerchief. She accepted it and looked around as she dabbed the blood from her mouth.
They were alone, and she knew the road they followed. She finally looked up at him in alarm.
"The moors?" She gasped.
"They say a monster lives there," Iona babbled as fear seized her brain.
"They say a lot of things," Callum agreed. "They say the Bride of Brodgar may walk freely on the moors."
Iona shuddered, more at the way he stared at her than out of fear for her situation. "Am I your protection then?" She demanded. "Do you intend to cross the moors, and you are too much afraid of the legend to risk crossing alone, without the Bride of Brodgar to ensure your safety?"
Callum's face tightened. "Let us say for now that our fates are entwined, Lady Iona," he mused darkly. Putting an arm around her, he coaxed the horse onward into the murk.
Iona sought comfort in the secret she had protected for so long. Yes, over the last century it had faded to legend, but Clan Brodgar had taken great pain to make it so. The monster was whispered about by some in horror, and scoffed or boasted by others in disbelief, but Clan Brodgar—and particularly its Brides—knew the truth. She knew the reason she had no cause to fear the moors, and the reason the women in her family were called Brides: because each girl, on her sixteenth birthday, underwent the ceremony by which she "wed" the Brodgar family and became privy to its secrets—sealed with a ring. The ring she knew Callum would probably kill to get, for its powerful mastery over the monster of the moors. The ring she now wore—
Iona blinked. On the back of the cantering horse, she raised her hands and inspected her fingers one by one. The ring, the precious Ring of Brodgar—was gone. Had it slipped off when she fought Callum in her chambers, or had it been some time during their flight from the castle?
"What is it?" Callum grunted.
Iona did not answer. The thudding hooves gave way to muted splashes. They had entered the moors. Callum reined his horse. The fog hung thick, and all of Nature braced herself.
A roar sounded in the distance, followed by the noise of enormous wings.
Iona felt her heart go dead inside her. She had lost the Ring that was their only protection.
And the monster was coming for them.