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16. Morag Mhor
 It was pleasant to be cared for, pleasant and strange. Kelpie lay for several days on the pile of springy heather which served for her bed. At first she just slept and awoke to eat and sleep again. But then she began lying awake, her eyes on the smoky fire, or on the mortarless stone walls that leaned a little inward against the black rafters and thatched roof. Alsoon was always busy, cooking or sweeping the earthen floor with a besom broom or weaving or knitting, one eye always on her patient.
And why should they take her in and care for her so, when they had nothing to gain by it? Glenfern had done the same thing—no, best not to think of Glenfern, for that was too painful. She must learn to wall off those memories from her feelings, so that they would become like a witch-spot on the body, a spot that could feel no pain even though a pin was stuck in to the head. Kelpie had no witch-spots, though Mina did. But then, Kelpie was not a
 witch, and what was more, she never would be, however hard she might try!
The knowledge crept upon her stealthily, while she was still too weak and drained to resist it. She had no power at all. None of her spells had ever worked. And Mina had lied about teaching her the Evil Eye. It came to her with bitter clarity that the Evil Eye was a thing one must be born with; it could never be learned. All Kelpie had was the Second Sight, and many Highlanders had that.
She received the knowledge with a strange kind of indifference. Later, when she wasn’t so tired, she would no doubt feel a savage sense of loss. But she could not think about it now—not yet.
Alsoon was bringing her some broth now and crooning to her wee dark love to drink it and sleep. Callum must have tramped far over the hills to find a deer to make it, and they knew very well that she could never pay for it at all, and they would be hurt even if she offered payment. Highland hospitality was a warm, strong thing with rules to it. It made a grace between host and guest and a bond not to harm each other. This was why Alex had been so angry at the way she left Glenfern, and Eithne so hurt, and—and Ian—
She wrenched her mind from the thought of Ian, drank her broth, and drifted back to sleep.
When she was on her feet again, Kelpie was strangely content just to stay where she was. It seemed to her that
 her life had been violently wrenched apart, and she hardly knew how to begin putting it back together again. She needed time to think. Kelpie had always found the world full and interesting, however cruel. She played a game. She avoided the cruelty when she could, and bore it if she must, and fought back when she had the chance. She adapted herself to each new situation that came along, and had quite enjoyed—on the whole—the glimpses of various new worlds that the last few months had offered.
But now she seemed to be cast out of every world she knew, for she could never go back to Glenfern, or to Mina and Bogle (even if she would), or to Campbell country. Worse, she did not even know what she wanted, now that the power of witchcraft was denied her. The old gypsy life no longer seemed attractive. New ideas had been planted in her mind, and she had found herself groping restlessly for something she could not name.
To keep her mind and hands busy, she began to help Alsoon and Callum with the various chores, and took an unexpected pleasure in them. For once, walls seemed not a trap but a warm, safe shelter from the early frost and biting wind outside, and from the world in general.
And so the autumn passed, and it was the dark of the year, with only a few brief hours of daylight and long gray dusks. In that remote glen they heard little of the outside world. It wasn’t until she had been there for two months that a neighbor from over the hill came that way in search
 of stray cattle and stopped in to pass on the news that his brother had heard from someone’s cousin who had been away in to a town.
Montrose had taken his army north to Aberdeen, and this time he had let his men sack the city. “It was because they had shot a wee drummer boy,” explained the neighbor. “The lad was just along with the envoy, asking them would they like to send their women and bairns to safety. And Graham was so angry at it that he took the town and turned his army loose on it, but they say he was sorry after.”
And then, it seemed, the old game of tag had started again, with Argyll panting after Montrose all the way from Bog o’ Gight to Badenoch, Tumnel to Strathbogie, devastating lands as he went, and slaughtering people if he even suspected them of royalist sympathies.
When Kelpie awoke the next morning, she saw the white light of the first snow coming through the cracks in the shutters, and her first, unbidden thought was: did Ian lie somewhere beneath that blanket? Had Alex been punished for killing him? Where was Montrose now, and what was happening in Scotland? It was the beginning of a new restlessness and a growing desire to learn whether Ian was dead, and perhaps even to take vengeance herself on Alex, if no one else had done it already. Even without magic powers, she reflected with narrowed eyes, she could still use her wee sgian dhu!
The dark, smoky shieling became too cramped for such thoughts, and, in spite of the cold, Kelpie took to making long walks over the braes and around the foot of Ben More. Alsoon looked at her wisely. If she guessed that confusing thoughts were disturbing the young waif, she said nothing but merely finished whatever task Kelpie might have left undone when the restlessness was upon her.
“Och, and you’ll be away again one day,” predicted old Callum mildly one crisp afternoon when Kelpie paused at the sheep pen where he was working. “’Tis the wanderlust you have in your feet—but are you not also wanting somewhere to call home?”
Kelpie had never thought of the matter. She did so now. What was a home? For Ian it had been Glenfern, where his heart stayed wherever the rest of him might be. But for Kelpie, Glenfern was not just a place; it was a feeling and it was people. It was Wee Mairi’s bonnie face and confiding smile; and the twins crowding close, bright-eyed, to demand more stories; and Eithne’s quick sympathy; and laughter beside the loch. It was teasing and love and trust among them all, and her own heart given recklessly against her better judgement.
No, home was not a place but a feeling—a deceitful feeling, she remembered bitterly. She had endangered Wee Mairi by her very affection, and Ian had trusted too much.... And Kelpie thought again that if Glenfern
 had not settled the score with Alex, she herself might do it one day. She thought of Mina and Bogle too, and hoped fiercely that they had not escaped.
There was more heavy snow the next week, and now this was nearly the longest time she had ever spent in one place—except for Glenfern, and Glenfern had been much more lively. She longed more and more for excitement, for adventure, aye, even for danger, for these were the spice of life. And so she stiffened with anticipation on the morning that wee Angus MacNab came racing over the hill toward the shieling hut. Important news was in his every movement.
“Och, Callum, and have you seen it?” he demanded in a shrill shout. “Montrose himself it is, and his army, just yon over the braes on the edge of Campbell land. It is said they will be going to harry Mac Cailein Mor in his own castle!”
Kelpie had been standing over near the sheep pen, very still, watching the small lad come. A too large kilt flapped about his knobbly ............
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