That excellent tale inspired me to try a Highland-based short story offering a nod to Jeanne’s recent trip to Nova Scotia and using this Friday’s prompts: a character who found something unexpected, incorporating the words basket, symbol, siren, bottle, freewill, baby, future, confusion, absurdly, little, grabbing, aroma, banana, vision, identical and robbery.
The Laird’s Legacy
“As you can see, we’re jam-packed…” Moira Douglas gestured to the dining room behind her. The But & Ben was rarely full in high summer, let alone in early October, but tonight every family in the village was there, trying to look casual and hoping Moira’s home cooking and smooth talking would persuade the visiting Canadian where Charlie the Solicitor Advocate’s carefully worded suggestions had failed.
Jordy MacHugh smiled politely. He had to duck his head to get through the doorway but now he stood tall, blocking the entrance. It was an assertive sort of politeness, worthy of his long-dead ancestors, masters of cattle raiding and border robbery. “The Pointing Dog had a kitchen fire. They had to close for the evening, so they sent me over here. They promised you’d feed me.”
Of course they did. There was a lot of him to feed, and while he’d reportedly made fast work of a full Highland breakfast complete with porridge and black pudding, that was eight hours ago. Since then Charlie had walked the incomer all the way round the boundaries of the McHugh property with little more to fuel them than a packet of oatcakes and a flask of coffee.
Right on cue, Jordy’s stomach rumbled. “I’m starving hungry, and it’s a twenty-mile drive to the next village. Can you please squeeze me in somehow?”
“Well…” Moira drew out the word like a siren call. “There’s a table in the kitchen. You could sit there and chat to me while I cook. The food’s the same.”
His face lit up like the aurora borealis on a clear winter’s night. “That’d be great. Thank you.”
Moira seized the advantage. “In fact, I’ve been hoping for a chance to talk to you. Listen to what I have to say and keep an open mind, and your dinner will be on the house.”
He frowned in confusion, then shrugged as his stomach offered a second, identical rumble. “OK. Sure.”
Jordy followed her through to the back of house and she settled him in the niche where she ate her own meals and tested her recipes. His smile stretched to a full-blown grin as she set a place for him and added a basket of fresh-baked bread. She could almost see his mouth watering as she folded back the cloth and hit him with the warm, yeasty aroma. Next came a pot of mackerel pate. He loaded the first slice, inhaled it, and was already grabbing for a second as she returned with a jug of spring water and a bottle of her best sparkling cider.
She followed the pate with a double helping of tender chicken and mushroom pie, steamed potatoes whipped with butter and cream, and baby vegetables from her cottage garden. When his plate was so clean she could see the hand-painted pattern, she cleared the table and slid in to sit opposite him.
“You’re leaving in the morning, correct?”
He nodded, surprised but courteous. “I have to go home. I’ve used all my vacation.”
“Would you stay if you could?”
He sighed gustily. “I’ve been through this already with Charlie. I’ve never been to Scotland before, but this place feels like home. I have no dependants and no commitments. I could easily live here.”
“So why don’t you?” She dropped in the next question and then let it sit as she passed him a huge serving of caramelized banana cheesecake, made with fresh crowdie cheese.
He dug in with enthusiasm. “The terms of my inheritance are public knowledge. A swathe of spectacular land I can’t sell or build on without the village’s agreement, and a super-derelict house it would take a fortune to put in order.” He took another mouthful, swallowed, and waved his spoon. “You know, if I had all the time and money in the world I’d make an outdoor opera house here and start a summer festival. Imagine listening to a world-class orchestra and pure, clear voices in that natural bowl by the loch. It would be incredible. Unforgettable. An experience of a lifetime.”
“So why don’t you go for it?” Moira asked again.
He rolled his eyes. “Because money. I’m a music teacher, not a millionaire.”
She watched him clear his plate. When he’d licked the last of the caramel off the spoon she made her bid for glory. “So if the village agreed… If we helped you refurbish the Great House and built an opera house on the shoreline and founded the MacHugh Opera Festival, would you stay?”
“If wishes were horses…” Jordy stopped. Put his spoon down and just stared at her. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“It could be good for all of us. An opera festival would bring people, but not so many that we’ll be overrun.” Moira closed her eyes, conjuring up a vision of what could—would—be. “Charlie will do the papers. We have an architect in the village, and plenty of wood, and a stone quarry, and boatbuilders and stonemasons. People can stay at the Pointing Dog. I’ll feed them. Angus’s Taxis can transfer them from the train station. It will work.”
Jordy scrubbed both hands through his red-gold curly hair. Propped his hands on his chin. All of a sudden he looked absurdly young. “Why would you do that? You’d better explain.”
“You’re the MacHugh laird. Last of your line.”
“Didn’t Charlie show you the standing stone on your estate today? The one with the carved symbol that looked like a ram’s head?”
He nodded again.
“That’s the MacHugh Blessing stone. Or the Curse. Maybe both.” Moira took a breath and recited. “As long as the MacHugh heir lives on the land bounded by that stone, the village will thrive. If he leaves, we’ll fight to survive.”
Jordy snorted. “Superstitious nonsense.”
“Maybe.” It was Moira’s turn to shrug. “A hundred and fifty years ago, The MacHugh crossed the ocean. We’ve been in decline ever since. This is our last opportunity to do something about it, and we’ve decided to act.”
Jordy shook his head. “I don’t believe in a curse. Or a blessing.”
“You don’t have to.” Moira did. Her family did. The whole village did. “You just have to accept your good fortune.”
He frowned. “You’re saying the future of this village rests on whether I stay here or go home?”
“Yes. No. Yes.” She rested her arms on the table and leaned forward, willing him to agree. “We’ll help you. We’ll make your dream come true. But you have stay of your own freewill, or it won’t work.”
“I get an opera house? By the sea?” The last MacHugh waved an imaginary pen in the air. “Where do I sign?”
Moira jumped to her feet and snagged a bottle of her best loganberry reserve liqueur. “Come next door to meet everyone, and we’ll work out the details.”
I hope you enjoyed that! Now I’m hungry for a traditional English Sunday roast 😉
Happy weekend, everybody!