Chapter 1: In The Old Tradition
Scotland – 1975
There they sat in front of her. Such a beautiful sight they were, these children of her children. They were huddled together on the floor between her and the massive fireplace with its roaring winter blaze. It was Christmas Eve, 1975, and she was well into her eighth decade.
Each year she had told the story they longed to hear. Due to their varying ages, she had always adapted it, of course, in accordance with their ability to understand its meaning. Though their parents still wished to deny that their babies were now nearly adults—they were most of them in their teens. This year, she had decided after much soul-searching, she would tell it all. She would tell of even the harsher moments she had not shared previously. Yes, it was time it was all told before she was unable to do so. It was her responsibility to pass it on—even the ugliest parts of it.
She especially took note of young Fiona, or Fee as they called her. Fee reminded her of herself at that age—small but shapely, blonde, and those big gray eyes. She was a sweet girl who had always loved the castle, hearing the poems, and learning the traditions of Scotland. Fee and her parents lived in the United States but, from the time of her first visit to the castle at age four, Fee’s heart was in Scotland.
She remembered how Fee had begged and begged her parents, until she was allowed to spend each summer and—once she had gotten older—more than one Christmas vacation here at the castle, learning about Scotland and its traditions. She would be the one—yes, Fee would be the one to inherit this home that they all loved so much.
They settled down on the floor before her, wrapped in their thick, tartan plaid, woolen blankets, and fuzzy warm robes in holiday colors before the fire. Their hot chocolate was covered with the warm, melted sweetness of as many marshmallows as each could cram into a mug. Laughing to herself, she wondered why they bothered with the cocoa at all…but then, how would they melt all those marshmallows? Their eyes were sparkling with the reflection of the lights and ornaments on the twenty-foot tree that stood behind her like a sentry in its dressiest uniform.
The castle with her stone walls could be a cold, drafty old place, especially in the winter. Her many rooms were huge, with outer walls of stone and only its inner walls showing the modernization each generation of lairds and ladies had given her. Each had modernized in such a manner that the use of the old stone walls was not lost in the efforts. Ceilings here on the first level were so high she still marveled at them. Windows were tall and many, dispensing light evenly across the expanse despite the size and height of the rooms. The rooms on this west side of her walls got the advantage of the setting sun turning them such a lovely shade of peachy-grey. Her heart sighed at the very thought of the lovely evenings she and her beloved had shared here.
She had loved the castle from the first moment she saw it sitting at the base of a high green-forested hill, nestled in next to the blue-watered loch. The hill behind her held a stony cliff on its far side that, breaking loose of the forest, was a stony overlook to the loch. It was her favorite place in the whole world—and she had seen most of that world over her many years.
She looked around this, her favorite room—the Great Hall they called it. It had been thoroughly decorated for the holiday by these children and their parents the week before. There were branches of evergreen and holly. Of course there had to be mistletoe—used by each of the children to cause embarrassment to their parents at will.
There were red satin and velvet ribbons, paper chains, various lengths of ropes made from popcorn and berries. Candles as well as bright lights illuminated the huge room. Santa Clauses of varying sizes in tartan plaid as well as red velvet and fluffy white fur, miniature sleighs with their reindeer—more than one of the reindeer had red noses—set in corners, on the mantle, under the tree.
And then there were the snow globes collected from around the world. The glass balls—filled with their trapped snow falling time and time again over village scenes or racing sleighs pulled by high-stepping horses—brought delight and fascination to the tinier children that blessed the castle this season.
It was a sight to see! She grinned looking around again. Giggling to herself, she admitted that she was lucky there was no neon flashing—just the blaze of the fire and the flickering of the candlelight. Their decorating had certainly not left the room dull! Others might find it gaudy, even inappropriate for such a holy time of year—she simply adored it and the loving hearts that lay behind it.
One such heart had seen to it that there was a tiny tree in her bedroom, decorated with tiny cookies for ornaments. This, she knew, explained the hushed whispers and secretive looks between her granddaughter, Mac, and Mac’s little daughter, Brie. They had forbidden anyone to go into the kitchen for hours on end.
Poor Mrs. Poole, their cook, had raised a holy fit. Her husband, their quiet, distinguished butler for the last thirty years, had been seen escaping from their quarters, mumbling and looking very distracted, several times that day.
Well, she thought, Mrs. Poole would get over it…in a month or two. As for Mr. Poole, there wasn’t much she could do for him other than the little something extra in his stocking this year. Perhaps a long weekend off in the isles with his long-suffering wife would earn him some respite. Smiling at the memory of the tree, it was worth it!
The blazing fire in the fireplace—large enough to hold a hay wagon—certainly handled the old castle’s faults well. She giggled once more. She always thought of the castle as a ‘she’ despite the fact that this blew in the face of its history, even national tradition. The castle had been the family home for almost three-hundred years. Many of those years had been fraught with death from sickness, war, intrigue, even hatred and jealousy. The women of this castle had known great love, passion, and pain. There had also been betrayal, degradation, and, of course, murder. She caught herself shivering.
As she took one more sip of the hot tea beside her, her hands gripping the mug for warmth shook slightly—from her advanced age as much as from the memories—and she became aware that they were all looking up at her in eager anticipation. It was time to begin what had always been in their heritage—like the women of old she would share a story.
“Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away at all, there was a beautiful young Scottish lassie…”