Welcome to the ninth and final installment of our Eight Lady Serial, based on Jilly’s short story The Laird’s Legacy.
It’s been fun getting to know Jordy, Jenny, and the twins, but it’s time to wrap things up and send them off to live their Happily Ever After without constant interference by Random Words and Writing Prompts.
So here is the end of our continuing saga using the Friday Writing Prompt of: a character who needs to make a big change, and the words foggy, wasp, bachelor, gargoyle, hound, flavoring, feudal, aftermath, lantern, cough, anxious, endorsement, glossy, knowing, saint, endless
The foggy day had cleared by mid-morning, although the sun had yet to break through the overhanging clouds. The endless rain had stopped some time during the night, leaving the pavement and trees glossy and dark with moisture. It wasn’t a perfect day to take the girls for an outing, but Jenny had been anxious about Elspeth’s cough, and she thought, if she wrapped the twins up well, the fresh air might do them good.
Jordy, his bachelor days seemingly behind him, had called off work on the opera festival venue for the day because of the rain. The aftermath of the wind and rain had left the stone slick and the wood too damp to proceed with safety or finesse.
“Where shall we take the wee ones, then?” he asked, turning off the kitchen lantern. The sky had lightened to a pale grey; dim light filtered softly through the windows.
“I thought we could walk to the churchyard,” Jenny said. “I’d like to look for Alanis McLeish’s grave. And maybe visit the Blessing Stone, thank it for the girls.”
“Wear your wellies,” Jordy said. “It’ll be wet in the lane.”
The walk to the churchyard was a short one, and as they entered by the cemetery gate, Jenny shivered at the gargoyles that decorated the old church.
“It looks so feudal,” she said.
“The church is seventeenth century,” Jordy said, casting a knowing look over the structure. “They’re supposed to scare away evil spirits, so maybe you could think of them as reassuring.”
“Reassuring. I’m not sure that’s much of an endorsement.”
“They’re practical, too: they convey water from the roof and away from the side of a building to protect the masonry.”
“Maybe I’ll just focus on the saints.”
Jordy grinned, tucking Jenny’s free hand into his.
“You said you wanted to search for Alanis McLeish. Let’s see if we find her.”
They strolled through the small graveyard, looking at the gravestones. Many were obscured by lichen. Under a huge oak, they found her: a small plain stone next to an even smaller one.
“Alanis McLeish,” Jenny read. “Here she is!”
“The words are almost disappeared,” Jordy said, squatting down and brushing away the moss. “Look. It says ‘1565 to 1590. She paid for her crimes.’ I wonder what crimes she committed?”
Jenny shivered again. “She was so young.”
“Twenty-five. And she had the twins. Here’s their stone next to hers.”
“ ‘Caitlin and Aisling McLeish,’” Jenny read. “ ‘Together in death.’ That’s sort of creepy.”
Jordy stood as Isla started to fuss.
“You wanted to check out the MacHugh Blessing Stone? I’m ready for that.”
They strolled over to the stone and perched on its hard surface just as Maeve, the village seer and beekeeper, her professional headgear in place and her lumbering hound Bilbo galloping ahead, came into view. She swatted a wasp away and perched on the edge of the stone.
“Children,” she said, smiling at them. “A glorious day today.”
Jenny realized the sun had come out, turning the drops on the wet grass into brilliant, sparkling diamonds.
“It is,” she said in surprise.
“You’ve been looking at Alanis McLeish,” Maeve said.
“We have,” Jordy said. “She’s been gone a long time.”
“She’s waited a long time for you,” Maeve said.
“Excuse me?” Jenny said. “What are you talking about? I don’t think so.”
“You saw her ghost,” Maeve said.
Jordy and Jenny exchanged glances.
“How did you know that?” he asked.
“You must have,” Maeve said. “You’ve got her babies.”
“They’re our babies!” Jenny said. “And they aren’t ghosts!”
“Of course not,” Maeve said, stoking Elspeth’s soft cheek. “They’re as real as you or me.”
“Do you know who their parents are?” Jordy asked. “We should find them. Make sure they’re abandoned. Or—whatever.”
“They’re your babies,” Maeve said. “Alanis gave birth to them. Now they’re yours.”
Jenny frowned. Had Maeve flipped her lid? She wasn’t making any sense.
“You better explain,” Jordy said. “We don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s an old story in the village,” Maeve said. “Everyone knows it; I suppose they thought you knew it, too. That’s why everyone knows you’re the parents. Didn’t you wonder why no one asks you any questions about them?”
Jenny had wondered about that.
“For more than one hundred years, back in the 1500s and 1600s, there were perhaps 6,000 witch trials in Scotland,” Maeve said. “Probably many factors contributed to the hysteria, but two themes were heresy and healers who do wrong.”
“Those themes were common for witchhunters everywhere,” Jenny said.
“Yes,” Maeve said. “Local lore has it that Alanis McLeish was accused of both. First, she got pregnant by the local minister, who was married. She might have been unwilling, we don’t know for sure. But she named the father of her babies, that’s what started it all.”
“She would have been an outcast,” Jenny said. “Just for being unmarried and pregnant.”
“Yes, Maeve said. “The minister denied it, but there must have been a scandal. They knew each other, of course, but she was a healer by family tradition and helped made her income by picking and selling mushrooms. The minister was fond of mushrooms. So she was at the rectory fairly often.”
“I think I see what happened,” Jordy said.
“Evidently she’d been able to keep her condition a secret for some time, but then the twins were born. They were sickly and ultimately died from some kind of disease. The minister said it was god’s will.”
“Nice minister,” Jenny said.
“One day, the minister died after Sunday dinner,” Maeve said. “It was determined that poisonous mushrooms were the cause. Alanis was blamed.”
“So what happened?” Jenny asked, although she knew what had happened.
“The witchcraft trial decided that Alanis was in a pact with the devil. That she’d lured the minister into evil ways. That the sickly babies were the result of her sins. That she’d murdered the reverend.”
“Had she?” Jordy asked.
“We’ll never know for sure,” Maeve said. “But she was a healer. It would have gone against her teachings. In any event, she was killed for it.”
“What a terrible story,” Jenny said. “But it doesn’t explain—”
“At her moment of death, Alanis swore that her babies weren’t dead, that they’d have a second chance at a better life, a safer life. That they would return one day, healthy and happy, to this churchyard, where she could watch over them until their rightful parents came, who would love them as she had and care for them as she had not been able to.”
“What?” Jenny said, unable to take it in.
“And the babies appeared to you,” Maeve said. “And whatever you said to Alanis convinced her that you loved them. So now you’re their parents.”
“That’s quite a story,” Jordy said. “But—really? It’s folklore, Maeve.”
“It’s in the church records,” Maeve said, nodding toward the church. “Written down. For all to see. Look for yourself.”
Jordy turned to Jenny and took her hands in his.
“We can check the records later,” he said. “But I believe Maeve. I think we’re parents. Elspeth and Isla’s parents.”
“Yes,” she said. “I think we are.”
“We’d best get home,” he said. “We have plans to make. And it’s time for tea.”
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What a great way to wrap things up!
I hope you enjoyed reading this story as it has unfolded and have been inspired to do some writing of your own.
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PS, here are the links in case you missed any of the previous story installments.
1 The Laird’s Legacy (by Jilly)
2 Finding Home (by Elizabeth)
3 And Now, Twins (by Kay)
4 Challenge Accepted (by Jilly)
5 The Unexpected (by Elizabeth)
6 Who Is Alanis McLeish? (by Kay)
7 Grave Concerns (by Jilly)
8 What A Dream (by Elizabeth)