Monday, May 7, 2007

Excerpt from Culloden novel

During the brainstorming session, I pulled this story out of hibernation. I started it in 1999! It's a quarter of the way into the story, but there was a lot still to work out.

I put it aside when my husband and I moved from Toronto to Yarmouth, a small fishing town in Nova Scotia. We moved in with my gram because she needed someone living in the same house. My mom couldn't stay in the house for more than an hour at a time because of her environmental illness.

I had quite a bit of culture shock to get past, as I discovered that a Big City urban gal like me doesn't write well in the quiet of a small town. Once we moved to Halifax, my writing got back into gear. But my Culloden story stayed parked until this past Sunday.

Now I can't stop thinking about it. So here's an excerpt.

This story takes place in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Culloden, where the English wiped out the highlanders and embarked on a campaign to crush the Scottish culture. (As we can see from our 21st century vantage point, they weren't terribly successful. Amen to that!)

Excerpt -

Scottish highlands near Drumossie Moor, April 1746

Emma walked to the cave entrance. She couldn't bear the sounds of the servants’ crying any longer.

Dawn beckoned with cool grey fingers. The sound of birdsong dashed any hopes of sleep.

The danger of patrols shimmered in the air like lightening storms. One group on horseback already charged up the hill past them. The entrance to their cave was only a narrow crevasse to squeeze through and not obvious to an Englishman. The mounted soldiers ran down every living creature they’d come across.

Thomas urged them to stay put, for a few days at least. He rotated a watch between himself, Davey and Murray. What if Emma were to wake, only to find a soldier with his knife poised to slit her throat? No wonder Maisie and Poppy huddled together in tears.

Emma's tired, burning gaze swept the forest but nothing moved. Perhaps she could join Murray for awhile. He might welcome the company. Squeezing through the opening and wondering how Thomas had managed it, Emma stayed close to the cave entrance and checked again for signs of danger.

Birdsong made all of yesterday’s upset seem so unreal. Would she be out here shivering in the cold April frost if it had not happened? Emma curled her hands up into her sleeves, the thin wool of her day frock so terribly ineffective. If only Thomas had allowed a fire to be built.

Emma moved quickly past the clearing in front of the cave entrance. She saw Murray’s body spring to life, facing her though staying to the trees.

“It’s me. Emma,” she whispered, the morning so still she felt as if she were shouting.

Murray’s body relaxed. “You’re not relieving me on the watch, surely?” Murray teased her as he always did. How she longed for everything to be normal again.

“I can’t sleep,” she said.

“Come stand with me, then.”

She joined him next to the pine. Murray put his arm around her shoulders. He was her younger brother but taller than she was by a head.

“When do you think we can go back?” she asked, knowing she sounded like a child.

“I doubt there’s much to return to.”

“Thank God Thomas got word to us in time,” she said.

“Yes. Thank God.” There was something to Murray’s tone. Emma turned to see the bitter look on his face.

“It was our victory." Murray shook his head as though still unwilling to believe the loss. "Everyone said we would take the day."

“The fighting couldn’t have been far, then?”

“Drummossie Moor.”

“Drummossie Moor! That’s only - ”

“Emma, what do you think I’m telling you? The fighting should have been across the river on higher ground, but the English... Thomas was in town to keep an eye on things and when it went wrong he was nearly killed trying to get back to us.”

There was silence between them, a tense silence. Emma was suddenly very tired of fathers and brothers deciding what was best for her to know.

“Have you seen anyone?” she asked, knowing Murray would never speak first. “Since you’ve come out here?”

“Not a soul.”

She sighed. “I don’t want to go back in there just now.”

“Stay with me, then,” Murray said.

How she longed for everything to be the way it was. Even before this latest battle. When her father, the chieftain of the MacBeans was at home and the clan solid among the hills. She stole a glance back at Murray, who smiled through a yawn.

This did feel better. Though her head reeled with weariness, she liked the living scent of the trees. The musty air of the cave was like a crypt.

Her answering yawn set the wood awash in bleariness. The carpet of pine needles suddenly slid underfoot and she went down heavily, surprised to slide down a slight incline.

There was a groan as she landed squarely on a grimy heap of plaid. A plaid that covered the body of a man.

She squealed, scrambling to regain her feet.

An eye stared back in alarm, revealing a battered face. The man lunged forward like a snake, grabbing her wrists and rolling her onto her stomach.

She grunted as one strong hand forced her face into the ground and the other crushed her wrist against the root of the tree. A sharp knee jammed into her back, forcing the air from her lungs.

He cried out in pain and abruptly released her. Falling heavily beside Emma, he writhed awkwardly as Murray gave one final kick for good measure.

“Emma! Are you hurt?” Murray asked.

She pushed herself to a sitting position. “No, Murray,” she said, rising. “Just took my breath from me.”

She wouldn’t admit to the way her heart continued to pound, nor the way her hands shook as she brushed pine needles out of her hair. She stole a glance over at the stranger lying next to her.

Murray bent to see to him, then knelt, listening at the man’s chest. Her brother’s gaze sought hers. “He’s alive. Thank God.” Murray sat back on his heels.

“What do you mean?” Emma asked, her reasoning slow from fatigue and fright.

“He wears the colors of the Scots Royal. That’s your Douglas’s regiment. From the looks of him, the Royals fared badly.”

Emma knelt at the stranger’s side. To look at him now, it was a wonder he’d had the strength to pounce on her like a great mountain cat. But she could still feel the force of him pinning her to the ground.

He lay curled on his side, his dark hair falling over his face, eyes closed. Mud and bruises hid much of the rest of him. His arms and legs wore nasty looking slashes. Blood soaked his plaid and jacket at the shoulder and under his left arm.

Murray’s words sank slowly into her consciousness. Her Douglas. An officer of the Scots Royal. Her Douglas had fought alongside this man. Had led him onto the battlefield.

Where was Douglas now? Was he laying somewhere with no one to help him?

Tears rose to her eyes. Emma reached forward and pushed the hair from the stranger’s brow with tender fingers. The man’s right eye fluttered open. The left one was swollen horribly.

Emma stared back. Such a dark eye it was, brimming with spirit though his body was all but useless to him now. Emma had never seen anyone burn with such ferocity. She began trembling.

It wasn’t the shock of it - not the soldiers, not her family’s flight, not her sleepless hours in the cave, nor the fright from this wounded clansman’s desperate retaliation - none of it had started this quivering.

She trembled because of the way he looked at her.


annette said...

I love it! I'm glad the brainstorming session was able to help you with this story. :-)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

DEFINITELY worth continuing! I have lots of questions -- and lots of places I'd love to see buffed up and fleshed out.

Mary B said...

I'm thrilled you are back to your story! More more more!
Mary B

julia said...

Mary B, is that you??? If I say Kimba, will you nod and smile?

Thanks all for having a look at my Culloden novel. I want to work on it quite passionately all of a sudden. But my vampire one takes precedence. Must stick to plan.

Christine said...

I love this Julia! You really need to continue with this because I want to read more.

*cracks the whip*