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17. The Road to Inverary
 They had slept on the border of Campbell country, after feeding on Campbell cattle collected by some twenty or thirty Highlanders. Their tightly woven woolen plaids had helped to keep out the cold, and so had the fires scattered along the glen. But Kelpie was glad enough of the red wool hose that Alsoon had knitted for her, and of the warm bulk of Morag beside her.
Now they were heading up Strath Fuile, and the warm-hearted comradeship of the Highlanders became a savage expectation, for here at last was the great enemy ahead. Montrose might talk all he liked of getting to the border to aid the King in England—but a score or two must be settled first. Montrose had had to compromise; otherwise too many of his army would have just slipped away home, taking with them as many stolen cattle as possible.
Now an advance party had gone ahead of the main
 army to find cattle before the owners could be warned and drive them off to hide in the hills. And Morag Mhor, with a dark and unpleasant grin, had attached herself and Kelpie to them. The men, knowing of her murdered husband and child, let her join them, with a grim jest or two about the fate of any Campbells unlucky enough to run into her.
They rounded a curve in the river, and there before them was a long, low shieling hut with two children playing out in front and a handful of cattle scattered up the hill behind. Morag saw the hut first and was off toward it with a flash of red petticoat. Kelpie wished suddenly that she had stayed with the rest of the women, but she hurtled after Morag simply because it didn’t occur to her to do anything else. Now the men had seen it too, and a menacing yell rose from thirty throats as some of them raced around after the cattle, and the rest—mostly Irish MacDonalds—followed Morag and Kelpie toward the hut.
Even as she was running, the thing inside Kelpie felt sick at what was to come. Campbells they were, certainly, but what fault had the bairns committed? Montrose would be angry, surely, with his scruples about making war on the innocent. Now the children had seen them and were running toward the house, screaming with terror. An ashen-faced woman gathered them to her and then paused in the doorway, uncertain whether to run inside or away into the hills. Kelpie could almost taste the fear in her.
Then Kelpie’s foot hit something soft and yielding. She tripped and flew head first into a patch of wet snow. There was a wail of pain and—the cry of a small child.
Kelpie raised her head from the snow in time to see Morag stop, whirl, and race back toward Kelpie and the child. Was she going to begin her revenge by killing the bairn?
“Is it hurt that you are?” roared Morag, but she was not speaking to Kelpie. She picked up the crying child and stood, her gaunt face twisted with the conflict of feelings going on in her. Then she turned to Kelpie, with the Irish MacDonalds only a few yards from them. “Come on!” she ordered and raced with the child toward the hut and the cowering woman.
Bewildered, Kelpie scrambled up and followed, just barely ahead of the men. Morag thrust the baby into its mother’s arms, whirled, and drew her sgian dhu.
“You’ll not be touching them, whatever!” she bellowed at the astonished giant who led the pack. “Back, or I’ll skewer you, Rab MacDonald! Am I not a woman and mother myself? A plague on men and war! Back, I say!”
She was terrifying; her avenging fury turned to defense of her prey. It was altogether too much for the Highlanders. They stood and stared, a full dozen of them in a semicircle before her.
“Fine brave soldiers ye are!” jeered Morag. “Are ye no afraid to be attacking such dangerous foes? Here’s the wee
 bairn, now. Will one of you not challenge him to fair combat?”
They shuffled their feet, quite taken aback. The madness that Morag herself had kindled in them trickled out, to be replaced by the Highland sense of the ridiculous. One of them chuckled, and then several others began to roar with laughter. “And is this your own vengeance, Morag Mhor?” they hooted. “I will be remembering this the next time you are clouting me on the ear and send for a bairn to protect me,” added the giant called Rab.
Morag Mhor seemed not to care about the teasing. She stood guard over the grateful little family while the cattle were caught and while the rest of the army arrived on the scene. And, with the backing of Montrose, she defied those who wanted to burn the house.
“I can do no more for ye,” she told the Campbell woman when the army and its captured cattle had started on once again. “You have your bairns and your home—although your Campbell army left me neither, nor husband. I intended to do the same to you, but I could not, for I saw myself in you, and it came to me that a woman’s place is to give life, not to take it. It comes to me, too, that men are a senseless lot with all their useless killing, and perhaps we mothers should be raising our sons to different ideas.”
And then she turned abruptly and headed in long strides back to the Highland army, not waiting for the stammered words of thanks.
Kelpie trailed along at her heels, saying nothing but thinking a good deal.
And so it went, along to Tyndrum and up Glenorchy. Morag Mhor vehemently defended every woman and child they found, against the threats and wild arguments of the Highland soldiers. It didn’t take Kelpie long to discover that all this was a great act put on by the Highlanders for Morag’s benefit, and it was a surprise to her that a woman as shrewd as Morag didn’t know it too. But she never guessed.
“I know you for the braw liar you are,” remarked Kelpie saucily to Rab one morning over their beef-and-oatmeal breakfast. “You will be teasing her every time, and you as softhearted as herself.”
“As ever was,” agreed Rab, rolling a dark eye at her. “But do not be telling Morag, whatever, for it is not just teasing. With the grief of her, she is needing something to fight, but she is happier to be fighting us to save bairns than the other way around.”
Although the campaign through Campbell territory was less bloodthirsty than Kelpie had expected, still it was not pretty. Men of fighting age found little mercy, few cattle escaped the voracious appetite of the army, and more than a few barns and thatch roofs went up in smoke behind it.
Blazing fires and roasted meat were good at night, after long and cold marches. Since there were so few women to do the cooking, the men helped too, with good will and
 bantering. Kelpie poked at a haunch of beef one chill but clear evening, thinking to herself that they were going a long way round to Argyll at Inverary, in a huge triangle to north and west. Surely by now Argyll would have received word of this invasion! Kelpie wondered what he would be doing about it. The obvious thing would be to come away after them, and she looked apprehensively toward the purple-black hills that surrounded the orange firelight.
“Is there food for a starving—Why, ’tis the water witch!” Kelpie turned to face Archie MacDonald, whose black eyes were sparkling with curiosity. They stared at each other.
“And where did you vanish to that day?” he demanded. “A braw lot of trouble and grief you caused! If you’ve the power to vanish into thin air, you might have been doing it before Ian Cameron was cut down trying to save you.”
Kelpie winced. “Was he killed entirely?” she asked, her heart pounding for fear of the answer.
“Na, na, not entirely. But a nasty wound it was. Still, he survived it, although he had to go back to Glenfern, and no more fighting for the time.” Kelpie saw again in her mind the savage downward sweep of Alex’s broadsword and had to push aside the tumult of feelings that it brought. But—Ian was not dead! Alex had not killed him!
“And Alex MacDonald?” she demanded balefully.
“He’s—away,” said Archie, and it was clear that he was
 going to say no more. But then, he was Alex’s cousin and not likely to want to speak of it. At least Kelpie knew now that Alex had not been hanged, and she thought again that she might be the one to avenge Ian some day. For she doubted that, even now, Ian himself would raise a hand against Alex. She looked right through Archie, and her slanted blue eyes held no very pleasant expression.
The meat was done now and being divided. Archie pulled his sgian dhu from his stocking, vanished briefly into the crowd of hungry men, and emerged with a smoking hunk for Kelpie in one hand and one for himself in the other. She bit into the meat hungrily and then looked up to find the deep black eyes still fixed on her, and a question in them.
“That day,” he began, with an uncertain note in his voice, “were you sending a call in the mind to Alex before you gave the Cameron rant with your voice?”
Kelpie looked as blank as she felt. “I don’t understand you whatever!” she said warily.
“Why,” he began, and frowned a little, “there we were in the tavern, with Alex and Ian in a fury at each other, and none of us even hearing the sounds outside. It was a braw quarrel, with Ian gone white with the anger in him, and Alex the color of a rowan berry. And then Alex was stopping in mid-word, with an intent, listening look on the face of him, and looking round. And it was because of his
 silence that an instant later we were hearing the Cameron rant, and Ian shouting ‘’Tis Kelpie in trouble!’”
Kelpie shook her head blankly. “And what then?” was all she said.
Archie shrugged. “Why, then, Ian forgot the quarrel and was away out the door, and Alex after him with drawn sword, and the rest of us collected our wits and followed, not knowing if Alex’s black fury was still for Ian, or for the witch-hunters. His face was a fearful thing to see, and I’m hoping I never meet the like in battle, for ’twould be the end of me. But you know the rest better than I. How was it, Kelpie, that Alex heard you even through the quarrel, and before the rest of us?”
“I don’t know,” said Kelpie absently, her mind on another question altogether. For the thing she had suspected was clear. It was herself had helped bring about the scene in the loch, and hatred of her had caused Alex to strike down his foster brother. It was the only possible explanation, and there was a sore hurt in the thought of it. How could Alex have hated her that much, who had never seemed to hate her at all, but only scorn her? Her short upper lip curled. Och, he would pay for it, just! Even though Kelpie could no longer hope for witchcraft to help her, he would pay for it.
Archie looked at her uneasily. There was a look about her not quite canny, and it was occurring to him that folk
 called after water witches, who could communicate without the voice, might not be a braw choice for companionship, so he brought her another hunk of meat—to avoid offending her—and melted hastily into the crowd of soldiers.
The army passed the very spot near Loch Awe where Kelpie had first seen Janet Campbell that June day six months ago. And the............
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