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4. The Daft Folk
 Kelpie slept heavily for the first part of the night and then awoke to stare restlessly into the stifling, closed-in darkness. How could a body tell the hour, shut in like this? She must be out into the free air and waiting when Mina and Bogle came for her.
She got up and groped her way out into the warm, horse-scented main part of the stable. Dubh, a blacker shape in the dark, came and wove himself around her ankles as she felt for the door with her good left hand; her right shoulder was still too sore to move.
And then she was outside in the cold sweet air of pre-dawn. The hills to the southeast stood black against a thin ghost of gray in the sky, and the glen was filled with a toneless purple except for the ropes of pearly mist strung down the clefts of the hills and over the loch. A tiny burn and waterfall danced in a white thread at the far end of the glen, and the wind smelled of the sea.
Kelpie drew in her breath deeply, and the beauty of it made a sore ache inside her and a daft desire to cry. It was something deep within her, just, that had these strange feelings now and then, and she must be careful never to let them out.
It was these daft folk at Glenfern who were making her feel peculiar. She must be away from them, away from the trapping walls and alien people, to the freedom of the hills and sky. She slipped like a wraith around to the back of the stable, where the ground sloped upward, wrapping her bare ankles in the wetness of rank grass and heather and stinging nettles, which she had long ago stopped noticing. And at the upper corner a long skinny arm reached out with the swiftness of a snake, seized Kelpie’s wrist (fortunately, the uninjured one), and shook her.
“We’ve been waiting for you this long while!” Mina began pulling her up the hill.
Kelpie came willingly enough. She was almost glad to see Mina’s evil old face. She knew where she was with Mina. She could hate and be hated single-mindedly, and always know how Mina would behave. The people at Glenfern were unpredictable and confusing.
Black Bogle was waiting in a clump of snowy-trunked birches halfway up the hill. He said nothing, just grinned without warmth or welcome.
“Well, and what have you got?” demanded Mina, turning upon Kelpie with greedy fingers held out.
“Nothing at all,” muttered Kelpie defensively. “The red-haired uruisg took back the silver and the snuff box and said if I was taking anything else he would be setting all the Camerons and MacDonalds against us.”
Mina cursed Alex and Kelpie both, but with her mind so clearly upon other matters that Kelpie didn’t feel the curses would be very effective. “Well, so!” concluded the old woman suddenly. “And just as well, perhaps. For we are wanting you to bide here for a time.”
Kelpie stared, her mouth drooping open. Dhé! Now Mina was being as unpredictable as anyone in the glen below! “And whatever for, if I cannot be stealing anything?” she demanded. “And why would they be letting me stay?”
Mina struck at her. Kelpie ducked automatically, and Bogle chuckled. He would also have chuckled had the blow landed.
“You’ll be persuading them, just,” commanded Mina. “Play upon their sympathy. Let them be making you a maidservant if they will—and mind that you be a good one. ’Tis a spy you’ll be, to watch and listen, for the lads are fresh from England and knowing about affairs. Be learning how they feel about the King and Mac Cailein Mor and the Lord Graham of Montrose. And keep them feeling kindly toward you, for we may use them one day.”
Kelpie hooded her eyes thoughtfully. She had already learned a good bit—but why tell Mina now? Better to
 wait and see where her own advantage lay and learn what Mina was up to.
“And where will ye be going?” she ventured to ask.
“Never you mind!” snapped Mina. “We will be returning for you when we are ready, and then it may be that you can learn some of the witchcraft you are wanting so badly.” Beneath their wrinkled lids her faded old eyes gleamed at Kelpie watchfully.
Kelpie kept her own eyes veiled. She knew how much Mina’s promise was worth, but here was hope that Mina might really be going to teach her at last, for her own profit. Kelpie must be very docile, then, and never let Mina suspect what was in her mind.
“Very well so,” she agreed indifferently, it being best to show neither reluctance nor enthusiasm.
“Once more with the crystal, then,” ordered Mina, producing it; and Kelpie obediently sat down in the dew-heavy clumps of long grass. Her face was lowered meekly, to conceal the knowledge that Mina depended on her to see the picture. The gray light was now growing rosy over the bare top of Meall Dubh. The rosiness was reflected in the shining ball and then moved and scattered.
“A battle!” whispered Kelpie, her eyes large and fixed on the scene. But it wasn’t like the other battles she had seen in the crystal—no cavalry charge of armored men on green slopes, but a charge of Highlanders on the steeper, wilder hills of Scotland. She could clearly make
 out the bright tartans, and the double-handed claymores flashing, and she could almost hear the wailing skirl of the pipes. There was a red-bearded giant in the thick of it, and a slight brown-haired man on a horse, wearing a blue bonnet, and it was he who seemed to be the power behind the charge—though Kelpie couldn’t say how she knew. And now the others were fleeing in the fury of the attack, and it seemed to Kelpie that she saw the blue and green Campbell tartan among the defeated.
Her voice muted and hurried, Kelpie described the scene to Mina, leaving out the name of the tartan and any other details that she guessed Mina might not be able to make out for herself.
And now there was a different scene, and there was the brown-haired man, dressed quite unfittingly as a groom, clasping the hand of the red-bearded one, who was looking altogether astonished and overjoyed, and behind them, on the hillside, was a cheering crowd of Highlanders.
“Well?” demanded Mina.
Kelpie shook her head. “A hillside and a crowd of people,” she murmured, “but ’tis all cloudy.” And then she held her breath.
But Mina didn’t seem to know that Kelpie was deceiving her. “I wanted news of Argyll,” she grumbled and put the crystal away. Then, after a parting cuff, she strode up the hill with Bogle—and not so much as a parting glance
 from either of them. Och, they had some pressing purpose, the two of them, and whatever could it be?
The eastern sky was apricot now. The sun would be up in a few minutes, and already golden light was pouring across the very tops of the hills on the far side of the glen, but a fitful wind was coming from the west, promising to bring rain clouds over those same bright hills....
What if, after all, Glenfern refused to let her stay? Feeling excited and forlorn at once, Kelpie turned her back on the sunrise and walked slowly down the hill.
She approached the house on lagging feet, suddenly nervous. Ian’s father was outside the door, talking to Lachlan and an old man. Lachlan already disliked her, and Glenfern looked as if he could be stern indeed. Kelpie drooped her mouth into an expression of wistful apology, arranged the sling on her arm so that it showed up well, and hovered tentatively a few feet away.
Glenfern’s face was kindly enough when he looked up and saw her. “Good morning,” he greeted her. “And how are you feeling?”
“Good morning,” replied Kelpie, “and well enough,”—making it sound like a brave lie. “But—” She stopped, looking frightened. “Mina and Bogle came,” she began, and paused.
“Oh. And you’ll be wanting a bit of breakfast before
 you’re away off with them?” suggested Glenfern with a smile.
“They’re away off without me,” blurted Kelpie, looking helpless. “They’re not wanting me any more.”
“Dhé!” said Glenfern. He didn’t seem overjoyed.
“I have nowhere to go,” added Kelpie pathetically, in case he hadn’t got the point.
“Aye,” said Glenfern, who had got it very quickly. “Well, come away in, and we’ll see my wife.”
“Mise-an-dhui!” said Lady Glenfern when they told her. She looked even less delighted than her husband.
Eithne looked up from sorting and polishing silver. “Och, what a wicked thing!” she exclaimed, her creamy oval face troubled and sympathetic. “And have you no other relations?”
Kelpie shook her head. Wee Mairi, gathering that something was wrong, ran over and slipped her warm little hand into Kelpie’s, and the twins looked up in surprise, for they had thought everyone had more relations than could be counted.
“Perhaps she had better be staying with us,” they suggested through mouthfuls of buttered scone—an extra breakfast, no doubt. “She could put the Evil Eye on all our enemies, whatever,” added Ronald hopefully.
“You’re not really a witch, are you?” asked Lady Glenfern seriously. A white witch, of course, was a great benefit
 to have around, since all her powers were used for good; and the Kirk of the Lowlands had not yet reached far enough into the Highlands to make even white powers dangerous. Still, the lass of Old Mina was more likely to be a black witch, than a white one.
“No!” Said Kelpie vehemently, and with perfect truth. (How she wished she were!) “And I would never be wanting to harm anyone,” she added, less truthfully.
Alex, sitting cross-legged on the far window seat, sent her a bright hazel glance of derision, which Kelpie ignored.
Glenfern raised an eyebrow at his wife, sighed, and smiled kindly. “Would you be wanting to stay with us, lassie?” he asked.
“I would so,” replied Kelpie forthrightly. This was easier than she had hoped—if only Alex didn’t spoil it. “I could be working,” she offered meekly. “’Tis little enough I am knowing about the insides of houses, but I learn quickly.”
Alex muffled a snort of laughter. They all glanced at him, but he merely gave Kelpie a look that was both warning and mirthful.
Kelpie, who would have made a good general, seized the offensive boldly. “He is thinking I want to steal things,” she announced, nodding her tangled black head in Alex’s direction.
“And do you not?” asked Glenfern bluntly.
“Of course,” admitted Kelpie candidly. Didn’t everyone?
 “But I would not be doing it,” she went on, her blue-ringed eyes fixed on Glenfern’s, “because you would be sending me away if I did.”
It was the best thing she could have said. Glenfern lifted his dark head with a shout of delighted laughter. Everyone seemed pleased and amused, and Kelpie made a mental note that truth was sometimes even more effective than a lie. She looked demure and managed at the same time to shoot a triumphant glance at Alex. But, disappointingly, he only grinned.
“Very well so,” decided Lady Glenfern, smiling at her. “It is not many people can claim to having a friendly Kelpie staying with them. And I think you have it in you to be a good lass, and trustworthy.”
Kelpie looked at her, deeply shocked. How could a great lady like this be so foolishly trusting? And all of them seemed the same—excepting Alex, of course, who was sensibly suspicious. Kelpie definitely approved of this, although she hated his uncanny astuteness and his mockery. As for the rest of them, indeed and indeed, it was a wonder they had managed to survive so long. Fooling them was almost too easy, like catching a baby hare with a broken leg.
She felt the same way all over again on that very afternoon, after a most difficult morning.
The difficulties had begun almost immediately after Kelpie’s too easy acceptance into the life of Glenfern. It
 seemed that Lady Glenfern had peculiar ideas on the subject of cleanliness and propriety. To begin with, there was the bath, the first Kelpie had ever had, supervised by the mistress herself, and executed by Fiona and her formidable mother Catriona. Catriona grumbled constantly, and Fiona crossed herself every time Kelpie looked at her—which she did frequently and maliciously.
Then there was the matter of her name. “Have you not a proper Christian name?” asked Lady Glenfern while Kelpie’s matted hair was being violently combed and plaited into two long, thick tails. Kelpie, unable to shake her head, and with eyes smarting from the pulling, made a sound that meant no.
“My sorrow!” remarked her new mistress. “A strange thing to be naming a lass for a water witch! Would you not rather be called something else? Rena, perhaps, or Morag?”
But Kelpie caught a glimpse of herself just then in the small mirror that stood on a table, and a fleeting shaft of panic shot through her. It wasn’t herself at all! Her face was a stranger, with the dirt off and the hair pulled back wetly to show all of her eyes and forehead and even her fawn-shaped ears. Dhé! If they changed her name as well, perhaps she would cease altogether to be herself and become someone else entirely!
“No!” she said vehemently. And the subject was dropped.
But when they gave her a fine-woven blue woolen dress of Eithne’s for her very own, and even something to wear under it, she began to take a more favorable view of the situation. And when, in the afternoon, she met Ian coming in the front door, he hardly seemed to know her at first. His eyes opened wide as he shook the heavy rain from his plaidie, and then he gave her one of his rare and sudden smiles that was like sunlight out of the drenching sky. Kelpie grinned back, preening herself frankly in her new finery.
“Och, aren’t you grand, just!” Ian said admiringly.
“Oh, aye,” agreed Kelpie, seeing no reason to deny it. “But I should have a pocket and a wee bit of silver to put in it,” she added hopefully.
Ian laughed at her cheekiness. “Perhaps some day,” he said. “But I know that you will not be stealing them, for you have said you won’t, and I trust you.”
There it was again! Kelpie shook her head in wonder. That wasn’t at all the reason she wouldn’t be stealing, and how could he be so daft as to think it? His warm brown eyes and the lovely chiseled, sensitive curve of his mouth quite melted Kelpie, and before she could stop herself she was warning him.
“Och,” she blurted. “You mustn’t be trusting people so easily! It is not safe whatever!”
“Mustn’t I trust you, then?” asked Ian gently. “Are you not wanting to be trusted, Kelpie?”
“Indeed so,” explained Kelpie kindly. “Everyone is wanting to be trusted, because then it is much easier to fool the ones who trust them. And you may be trusting me because you have a stick over me, but it is foolish to do so otherwise.”
They looked at each other pityingly.
“Perhaps people are not so good as I would like to think,” said Ian slowly. “But I think they are not so bad as you have found them, either, Kelpie. And I would liefer trust mistakenly than to mistrust unfairly. Do you understand that?”
“No,” said Kelpie.

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