Highlander’s Cursed Heiress – Extended Epilogue
Emma ran her hands ran over the thick leather binding with reverence. The brittle pages beneath her fingertips brought her back in time. Seeing her great-grandmother’s handwriting connected her with a world of romance and adventure in a way that was personal—that made her feel as if it were her story within the pages. She read by the candlelight for at least the hundredth times, the words that inspired her with more dreams than a whole library of books and scrolls and letters.
Errol made me this diary to keep a record for our bairns, so they might know us and our story for all that we are. It’s beautiful. I cannot imagine how much time he spent working on it. That’s how he is, though. That’s how he’s always been. He’d do anything to make me smile, and I him.
We’ve carved quite the life out here on Skye. One I would have never imagined before him. It’s a simple life, but one I am grateful for every day. I’m watching him now from the porch. He’s teaching Lyla how to milk the goats. She’s crying, and it melts my heart to see how gentle he is with her. She’ll be five years in spring. How she’s grown this last year. I can hear her now fussing up a storm, and I hope she reads this one day and remembers how scared she was of hurting her goat friends by milking them.
It’s been three years since I’ve visited my childhood home. With my uncle passed now, there’s no reason to make the trip, not with four bairns in tow.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s Fiona’s home now. There’s nothing left for me there ‘cept bad memories. Maybe one of my bairns will change that—make it their own and bless its halls with the laughter and joy it deserves.
It brings me comfort knowing it’s still there—though I doubt we’ll visit again. I worry about the cold and Errol. Already his hands seem to tense up. I can tell the weather by his bones these days. It makes me grateful for each morning as I watch our youth fade.
The young woman slammed the book closed and blew out the candle. She could hear the screeching cry of the hinges as her door pushed open, and a draft from the rest of the house washed over the room. She could smell the wick of her freshly snuffed candle smoking.
“I ken yer still awake.”
Emma sighed and rolled over, “What do ye want?”
“Can I sleep with you? I’m scared.”
Emma looked at her little sister. Her hair was a mess from tossing and turning. Emma gave out a vanquished sigh and opened the sheets to invite her in. The small girl clambered eagerly into the warmth and embrace of her older sister, snuggling close. The wind howled, shaking the roof with its mighty gusts. Emma rolled over and re-lit her candle.
“Pa’s not home.” The little girl looked up with saucer eyes, “Ye can read as much as ye’d like.”
Emma smiled and wrapped her arm around her young sister, “Ye ken, someday, I’m goin’ tae go here,” she patted the leather journal with love and affection.
“What happened to them?”
“They grew old together.” Emma opened the book at random, not even reading the pages, just admiring the neat scrawl of penmanship and replaying its many stories in her mind, “They loved each other more than anyone else in the whole world, Charlotte. When she got sick, she couldn’t leave her bed for three weeks, an’ he brought her wildflowers every day to make her smile.”
Charlotte let out a heavy sigh, “How romantic.”
“Aye,” Emma felt her heart rate rise as she thought about some of the steamier bits unfit for her child sister. The kisses and sweet nothings whispered between true loves, “Someday, I want what they have. Can ye imagine? Wondering and adventuring over the countryside with yer perfect match.
Listen to this,” Emma flipped through the pages quickly until she found the spot, and then read out loud, “Never were there two people who love each other more than Errol and I. Each day I fear to wake and find it all a dream. When I muster the courage to open my eyes, I turn to him and seeing him lying there, I no longer fear death. My body aches from time and weather and circumstance, but my heart—oh, how he keeps my heart young. This, these moments, is heaven. I know God because I see him every day. My heart knows peace and serenity, renewed with each laugh, with each breath,” and then Emma silenced and read the last bit to herself with each loving touch. A prickling sensation ran over her arms and neck as such insinuations awakened her imagination to the love that only a husband and wife could know.
“Lovely,” Charlotte yawned. “Someday, I want tae be a lady.”
“It doesn’t work like that. Don’t be silly.” Emma closed the book.
“Grandmama was—why can’t I?” Charlotte scowled in defense.
“Ye better get to sleep now. Pa’ll ream us both if he finds out I let ye stay up all night.”
“Why can’t I be a lady?” The little girl demanded.
“’Cause Gale’s uncle couldn’t take away the estate—that was hers—but he were so mad at them out smartin’ him like that, he stripped the inheritance from her title.”
“What a mean man,” Charlotte fumed, “We should both be ladies.” Emma heard the little girl’s stomach growl and felt a deep pang in her heart.
“Emma, I’m hungry.”
“I ken.” She pushed the brown curls from the child’s face and planted a kiss on the pale forehead, “Me too.”
“What if Pa doesn’t come back this time?” She asked.
Emma could hear the sincere worry in her sister’s voice. She bit her tongue for a moment. Her knee-jerk response was to tell her how great that would be as she recalled the last time they saw their father. Emma held these thoughts in, knowing Charlotte was still filled with the desire and naivety to crave their father’s presence and hope for better times—like the ones they used to have before their mother died.
“He’ll be back soon,” she said, hoping to ease the young girl’s mind. “He always comes back.”
“I ken,” Charlotte sat up and looked her sister hard in the eyes, “But what if he doesn’t? What then, Emma?”
Emma looked at the book in her hand. “I suppose we’ll go on an adventure then,” she said.
“To the fairy pools?”
“Ye think we’ll find husbands there?”
Emma let out a sigh and leaned back against the headboard, “Wouldn’t that be nice.”
It was easy for Emma to escape into the fantasies the journal provided. She and Charlotte seemed to only know pain and hardship over their last years. She imagined what it might be like to flee with Charlotte—away from it all and into a land imagined full of magic and romance in the North.
Emma opened the book and read randomly from its pages.
“Lyla is sixteen this year.”
“Grandma?” Charlotte asked.
“Mhm, now shush if ye want me to keep reading.”
“Lyla is sixteen this year. She looks just like I did except with her father’s dimples and eyes. She’s sweet on a boy from the village. Errol can’t stand him.
It makes me laugh to think about it. The only reason Errol doesn’t like him is that he dotes on Lyla so. He follows her around almost everywhere. Right now, Errol’s out there testing the poor boy. I’ve been watching him work that bairn into the ground, trying to drive the young lad away. I already know Errol’s going to cave. That young man is meeting Errol’s every demand, burdening it, and struggling his hardest to gain Errol’s approval. I give it two months before he changes his mind and realizes Lyla is lucky to find someone so devoted. She’s giddy and bright. I see her watching them, eager and nervous Errol will say no. It’s taken all my power to keep her in my sight. I’m not a fool. I know what will happen if those two are alone together. It makes me blush to think of when Errol and I were young. It seems like it was just yesterday. My, how the time flies. I feel old watching Lyla. Errol decided he’s done fishing and fine by me. Last year I could hardly breathe when he was out. He’s not as young as he thinks he is. Our boys are old enough to do the work themselves. Although he hasn’t said anything, I know he’s taking the transition hard. I see the way he stares out at the ocean….”
Emma could hear Charlotte snoring on her chest fast asleep. She held the book open, but her eyes turned up to the ceiling beams. She thought about what Charlotte said. A part of her wished their Pa wouldn’t return this time. It was frightening to think of what could happen if it were just the two of them, but at least Emma would have one less mouth to feed. Unlike Charlotte, she’d given up hope on their father ever returning to the man he used to be. It angered her to know Charlotte went to sleep hungry each night while he managed to scavenge up enough money to get drunk at the taverns.
If ever she had the chance, Emma decided then they would set off for the Highlands. They did not belong where they were, Scots stranded amongst the English. Emma let out a heavy sigh and traipsed her fingers over her forehead as she thought. She was grateful her mother taught her how to read despite her father’s wishes. Reading about Errol always sparked Emma’s thirst for someone that supportive in her life. He encouraged Gale’s intelligence and thirst for adventure instead of seeing it as something intimidating and to be snuffed out.
Someday she would meet someone who admired her mind instead of punished it. Someday she would be able to run amongst the glens and mountains, free from the burdens of modern civilization. It was difficult to believe she even made it to the turn of the century. Part of her believed she would have died before seeing the year 1600. Now, all she hoped for was not seeing 1601 from under the same roof.
Emma played with the chestnut curls tangling over Charlotte’s head. It frightened her to think of traveling with Charlotte—if anything happened to her, she would die. But she knew this place was nowhere for Charlotte to grow up. The air was polluted with peat smoke. Charlotte drew in a breath, and Emma could hear it rattle in her chest. She knew the little girl’s breathing would only get worse within the city. She needed fresh air.
Scotland. Emma closed her eyes. What a dream. And that night, Emma and Charlotte both dreamed of Romance and gypsies and wild mountains filled with tall Highland warriors. They dreamed of love and the smell of the ocean—of keeping all that they worked for. They dreamed of feeling safe and loved and laughing in the land of their maternal ancestors. Not the cold drafts, nor aching bellies, or screaming wind could rock them from the pleasant hopes of a future in the Highlands.
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