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19. Footprints in the Snow
 Kelpie spent the night at the shieling hut of Lorne Cameron, which was nestled at the foot of Ben Nevis. Lorne had urged Kelpie to stay, for she and her four bairns were alone since her husband had gone off with Montrose and his army. Now her ruddy young face paled at Kelpie’s news.
“Campbells! Dhé! and they will be murdering us all, then!”
“Perhaps not,” said Kelpie hopefully. “If Mac Cailein Mor is after Montrose, perhaps he’ll not be lingering in Lochaber.”
But she slept with one ear well out of the folds of her plaidie, cocked for any sounds of danger. The hut was only a mile or so from Inverlochy Castle, and if Lorne had
 reason to fear Mac Cailein Mor, Kelpie had that much more.
She had planned to be off the first thing in the morning, out of danger. But somehow she found herself waiting, even after she had eaten the hot oatmeal Lorne cooked, and tucked some food into her pouch. There was Lorne here, and the wee ones, and none of Kelpie’s concern at all. But Lorne was frightened and uncertain what to do, and they so helpless and looking up to Kelpie—and after all, perhaps it would be wise just to take a wee peek at what Argyll was doing, and see the size of his army.
“You might just be getting food and blankets together in case you need to hide,” she suggested. “And I’ll go have a look around.”
“Och,’tis both good and brave you are!” said Lorne gratefully. Kelpie left the house hurriedly, feeling oddly embarrassed.
She moved cautiously around the flank of the ben, skulking behind masses of juniper and pine clumps, until she could see the castle. Mise-an-dhui! It was an army indeed and indeed! Highland Campbells and Lowlanders too, and well more than twice what Montrose could have, even with his new recruits. But Argyll seemed to be making no move to follow him up the Great Glen, even with this advantage.
Kelpie’s heart sank as she watched groups of men forming before the castle. It was what she had expected in the
 heart of her. Mac Cailein Mor had no heart for battle but would be about his usual practice of wiping out women and children. Even now one of the groups of soldiers was setting off toward the little cluster of homes on the edge of Loch Linnhe, and another was turning west along Loch Eil.
She watched no longer but headed back around the northern side of Ben Nevis. In a way this might be fortunate for her, giving her time to be up the Great Glen ahead of them. But suppose they penetrated as far as Glenfern? Perhaps she ought to be heading eastward, and out of the way altogether. In any case she would be passing Lorne’s home on the way, and it costing only a few minutes to warn the lass. Nor was this just profitless foolishness, she told herself, for who knew when she might be needing a friend under obligation to herself?
An hour later she was laboring up the side of the mountain with a bundle of food in one arm and the next-smallest bairn in the other; Lorne, with the baby, and the older children panting behind. “Mind ye stay clear of soft snow,” she warned over her shoulder. “It could be putting them on your trail.”
Another hour saw them settled in a well-hidden shepherd’s shelter, cold and uncomfortable and not daring to have a fire, but at least safer than at their home.
“Will you not be staying too?” begged Lorne, her dark eyes anxious for the safety of this generous new friend.
 But Kelpie shook her head. She wanted to be farther than this from Argyll. And besides, a new thought was beginning to hound the fringes of her mind. Montrose, all unknowing, was now between two armies, for was not Seaforth at Inverness with five thousand men? And if he should be caught in a trap and wiped out, it would put Argyll altogether in control of the Highlands as well as Lowlands—and what would happen to Kelpie then? For her own safety, it seemed, she must try to warn Montrose.
It was a sore uncomfortable thought, filled with hardship and danger. She tried to put it out of her mind as she picked her way down the gaunt wintry slope, but it wouldn’t leave. And with it were thoughts of Morag Mhor and Rab and Archie and Montrose himself lying slain in the snow, and all the comradeship and merry teasing silenced forever. A pity that would be. With a sigh she headed up the glen, a sharp eye out for any movement that might spell danger.
Och, then, but it was cold! Her feet were icy in their hide shoes, even with the woolen hose, and it was threatening to snow again. However could she catch up with the army at all? Perhaps it had already met Seaforth. But she kept on going.
She saw nothing but hares and deer and a lone eagle, until she reached the River Spean. Then a short, wiry figure came from the brush just ahead, and Kelpie sank swiftly to the ground for a tense moment before she saw
 he was not a Campbell. He was alone and in a faded Cameron kilt. Kelpie followed him to a dilapidated hut on the bank of the river and watched him enter. A drift of smoke began to rise. Might not he help himself and his clan by taking the message for her? And then she would be free to seek safety. She walked up to the door boldly.
“Come away in,” came the expected lilt of Gaelic when she knocked, and the man’s face turned to her in surprise as she entered. “Dhia dhuit,” he greeted her politely. “And what is a wee lass doing alone in the cold? Will you no have a sup of hot food?”
“I will, then,” agreed Kelpie promptly. “And give an important word to you, and also a task if you will do it.”
The man listened while she talked and ate, his face growing graver and grimmer. “Aye so,” he agreed. “’Tis the hand of destiny that I live alone here and knew nothing of the clan rising, or I would be with them, and a bad time of it you would be having alone and in this weather. Eat your fill, then, whilst I fill my pouch, and I’ll be away before you’re done. You can be biding here whilst I am gone.”
“That I will not!” retorted Kelpie firmly. “For every house in Lochaber is a danger. I’ll be away east out of trouble.”
He frowned and shook his head. “There is no shelter to the east of here, lass, and it too cold to be sleeping out. And I have just come from hunting a wolf that has been
 skulking upriver. You would be safer here, I am thinking, for my house is alone and well hidden. But if you’re feared to rest here, there is a bittie cave nearby, and you are welcome to my blankets and food. Follow the Spean along up for a mile or so, and where the Cour is entering it turn south for a bit and mark sharp the west bank. The cave is in a high bluff and well hid with juniper. But I’m thinking you’ll be safe enough the night here, whatever, and it nearly dark already. There’ll be no Campbells along this day, and ’tis no good for you to be freezing.”
“Aye, then,” agreed Kelpie, seeing the sense to this, and the man was off. Odd, she didn’t know the name of him, nor he hers, and yet he was away on a dangerous errand on her word. A purpose in common—or common danger—she decided, was like a spell, binding even strangers one to another.
The morning was heavy with clouds, the new snow a dead white beneath the gray of the sky. Kelpie put out the fire for fear of any betraying smoke and set out to locate the cave, wishing she dared stay in the warmth of the shieling. But as she trudged along the Cour River, watching the west bank, she stopped. Clear in the snow were footpr............
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