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Taking the Low Road


He lies beside me, my love, in this field of ripening wheat. Eyes closed. Silent. Waiting.

I sing our song, soft and low; by yon bonnie banks, and by yon bonnie braes. The sounds around me fade, and I hear only the slap of ripples on the shore, the cries of gulls. The sun shines bright, sparkles on breeze-roughened water. Only salt and seaweed scent the air.

The song was wrong, we said. Loch Linnhe was our special place, where me and my true love were ever wont to gae. We sat, we lay, in our place by the shore. Ever hidden from sight.

Skywards, blue. White wings, circling, diving. Free as air, riding the wind.

Together on Sgorr Dhonuill, above Ballachulish, cradled by heather, sun warm on skin. Where in purple hue, the hieland hills we view, and the moon coming out in the gloaming. Our world, the mountains stretching away all around. The closest we could get to soaring on the breeze.

I lie close, touching. Our knapsacks as pillows, the plaid of my kilt over us both while he waits for me.

Rest, now; vigilance later, when the fighting stops.

They come in the gloaming, so soon, the vultures with hands. Carrion crows with fingers, knives, and pliers. Before silence has fallen. Before the sun is gone. Pockets already bulging, they pick their way through the moaning piles, searching their prey. Poking, prying, pulling mouths open, inspecting. Taking. Knifing any who speak, who move.

Not me, not mine. Not while I breathe.

The first falls with a musket ball in his chest.

The second ignores the bubbling cries, steps over and comes on. He thinks himself safe. He is wrong. So is the next.

Many muskets no longer have owners. Loaded and primed, they lie beside me, ready. After three die, the rest circle warily, keeping their distance. Our possessions aren’t worth dying for.

Soaring on the wind, we’ll fly together, the bonnie loch sparkling below us, the sun warm on our backs. Above us the sky, up and up, to the heavens.

Our friends are black shapes, piled in lines in the moonlight. Already on the low road home.

It is still light in the north. Will they remember us? Think of us when the wee birdies sing and the wildflowers spring? When in sunshine the waters are sleeping?

My arms and my breath are as cold as the earth. His heart’s blood runs red in the mud.

Soon, we will take the low road home together.