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12. Meeting at Pitlochry
 “’Tis sorry I am to see you away, wee dark love, but you must be putting more distance between yourself and the Campbells. And you must be searching for your own true family. To think of it! And you say Mac Cailein Mor was telling you himself that ’twas from a chief he stole you?”
“And I but a bairn,” agreed Kelpie firmly. Having Callum and Alsoon believe her tale so readily almost made her believe it herself—and, after all, might not some of it be true? She tucked the little bundle of oatmeal and scones into her belt, and hugged the rough warmth of her new plaidie about her shoulders, pleased that it was the neutral black and white of the shepherd’s tartan and would not associate her with any particular clan.
Luck was with her again, she reflected, that she had found these kind and simple people, willing to give her the food from their mouths and the clothes from their
 backs—much simpler, if less exciting, than stealing. It made her feel odd to be given things this way. Perhaps if all folk were like these, or like Ian and his family, there would be no need to steal. Warm with a novel sense of gratitude, she was careful not to take anything from Callum and Alsoon that they had not given her.
They stood just outside the low doorway in the brightness of the summer evening. The rain had become mere clouds glowing to the northwest, where the sun would soon dip briefly below the hills. The old couple regarded her anxiously, not at all happy to see her set off in the white gloaming.
“Look you, now,” repeated Callum, “you must be going south and east for a bit, through Drummond and Stewart country, and then north through Murrays and Menzies, and when you reach Pitlochry, just be finding the home of my daughter Meg, at the tanning shop next the Tey River, and tell them I sent you, and they will care for you until you are away again.”
“Aye, then,” murmured Kelpie, anxious to be gone. She had heard these directions at least twice before, and in any case she knew the country far better than she dared to let Callum know.
“Haste ye back,” they said, and this Highland phrase was never used unless truly meant. No one had ever said it to Kelpie before. She caught her breath, turned her head away, and hurried off.
Traveling, she found, was easier without Mina and Bogle than with them, in one way. For folks had only to take one look at those two to know the worst. But Kelpie, as long as she kept her eyes lowered and her lip tucked demurely in, looked quite innocent, so that, even on the edge of the thrifty and Kirk-trained Lowlands, people were usually willing to give her food—and when they didn’t, Kelpie simply helped herself.
Now and then she picked up rumors about what was going on in the Highlands, particularly concerning Argyll, who was, it appeared, still away in the west, chasing an elusive Antrim.
As nearly as Kelpie could make out from bits here and there, Argyll had chased Antrim back to Ardnamurchen, where the latter had left his ships. But the ships had been spirited away by the English, just as Lorne had suggested, and since then the two forces had been playing catch-me-if-you-can all over the Highlands, with Antrim trying to rouse the clans against Argyll, the clans either afraid or quarreling among themselves, while Argyll tried to catch Antrim’s small army before it should become a larger army.
“Aye,” said an old man, chuckling, in a voice not meant to be overheard. “Argyll will never be fighting a battle against more than half his number if he can avoid it.”
“Dinna mock him!” whispered another. “Ye’ll no be wanting yon wild foreign Hielanders crossing the mountains
 wi’ their wicked screechin’ pipes and attacking us, will ye?”
“Dinna fret, they’ll no come. ’Tis too busy they are wi’ their own heathen fighting; Papists, the lot o’ them.”
“They might, if Montrose could stir them up tae fight for the King against the Covenant.”
“They would never do that. He’s a Graham from the East Coast, and those savages in the West would never stir a foot for any but their own chiefs. Anyway, they say Montrose is vanished altogether, and no doubt dead.”
They both bent lowering gray brows when they saw the shamelessly eavesdropping Kelpie. She scurried away hastily, lest they think her a spy.
She wandered on, begging, stealing, and listening, until she came at last to Pitlochry.
There seemed a braw lot of people in the narrow streets of the town, and, surprisingly, many of them seemed to be wearing Gordon or MacDonald tartans. Whatever were those clans doing here? And those two young men striding along the street toward her.... “Dhé!” said Kelpie, and they all stopped short.
They stared at one another with mixed feelings. “Why, whatever will ye be doing here, at all?” demanded Kelpie with astonishment.
Alex recovered his wits first. “Why,” he said with the old mocking grin, “we were missing you and your bonnie friends so badly that we had to come away to look for ye.”
“Sssss!” remarked Kelpie, concealing her pleasure at the old bantering and reminding herself that Alex was a treacherous enemy. Moreover, she was never again going to permit herself the dangerous luxury of caring for anyone at all. Having told herself this, she turned to look at Ian with delight. A braw lad! Did he carry a grudge against her? she wondered anxiously.
“And are you all right, Kelpie?” he asked kindly. “Mina and Bogle are treating you well?”
“Sssss,” she said again. “They are wicked uruisgean, and I have left them this long time ago. I did not want to be leaving Glenfern whatever,” she added hopefully.
Ian looked pleased, but Alex laughed. “Aye, it was a good enough life you were leading there, after all. But you seem to be doing well enough for yourself the now. Where were you stealing the gey sober gown and plaidie?”
“I was not stealing them whatever!” Kelpie was outraged more by his manner than by his words.
“But you would be saying the same thing even if you had,” encouraged Alex with a straight face.
Kelpie’s lips began to curve upward as she remembered the teasing at the loch-side at Glenfern. She tried to frown, for it was not right to be teasing with Alex when they were no longer friends. But she could not help it. “Of course,” she agreed cheekily and grinned.
“Och, the wicked wee lass!” Alex chuckled. “She’ll never change!”
“No, now, but she has changed!” Ian objected. “She could not laugh at herself when first she came to Glenfern.”
“Are you sure ’tis herself she’s laughing at?” gibed Alex. “Or is it ourselves, just, for being ready to forgive her so easily—and after she was breaking the ancient code of hospitality.”
“It was not my fault!” protested Kelpie. “Mina was threatening to put a curse on you all if I did not come with them.”
“Och, how tender you are of our welfare!” said Alex derisively. “And that, I suppose, is why you were so quick to tell her all about how Ian and I met the King and Montrose in Oxford?”
There was no use trying to explain, for he would never believe her—not that she cared a groat what Alex MacDonald thought, anyway. Perhaps she would be able to tell Ian about it some day, with Alex not around. An idea was growing in her mind. After glowering at Alex, she turned to Ian and looked up at him meltingly through long lashes. She had never before set out to beguile a lad, but Janet had put the thought in her head, and she might as well try now and see could she do it. Some deep instinct awoke, so that she seemed to know just how to go about it. “And what is it you are doing so far from Glenfern?” she asked softly.
Was it her fancy that Ian’s smile seemed a wee bit
 warmer than usual? “Why,” he said, “we are with Colkitto’s army, up at Blair Atholl, and—”
Kelpie forgot about beguiling him. “Colkitto!” she yelped. “You mean Antrim?”
“Aye, ’tis what we call him; Alistair MacDonald, Earl of Antrim, who has—”
“Fine I know that!” interrupted Ke............
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