“Aye. Didn’t Fin tell you Eilean Dubhan is his island?” the general wondered.
I whipped my head to Fin, who smiled back. “He said he owned some property on it,” I growled.
The general let out a guffaw. “Well, he spoke the truth, but only half of it. He’s the laird of Eilean Dubhan.”
“I think that’s enough, General. The young lady isn’t interested in such things,” Fin spoke up.
“Piffle, I say! Don’t brush off your heritage as though it was something to be ashamed of. Own it, man!” the general scolded him.
“And own it I do, my dear general, but weren’t you planning a hunt?” Fin reminded him.
The general checked his watch. “Yes, and it is getting late. I’ll go around to Breathnach and see if his wife can spare him for a few hours.” He turned to me, smiled and shook my hand. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Elizabeth.”
“And a pleasure to meet you, General,” I returned. The general marched out of the cottage, and I turned to Fin. He was seated on the arm of the couch and had pulled a pipe from some unknown hiding spot. “Laird of the Dark Island?” I repeated.
“A mere formality on the General’s part,” he replied.
“You told me you owned a little bit of land on the island,” I pointed out.
“No, I told you I owned land on the island. It just happens to be all the land,” he countered.
I folded my arms and scowled at him. “And what else haven’t you told me?”
“About what?” he wondered.
“About anything. About everything,” I returned.
He smiled and plucked his pipe from his mouth. “You must give me something more than that,” he pleaded.
“Well, if you’re laird of the island then why don’t you live here?” I asked him.
“For the rent. I rent the Great House for a few years and find I can afford to live here for ten on what I’m paid,” he explained.
“So you rent it out for a few years and then stay here for a few years? That sounds a little unsettling,” I commented.
“Perhaps, though I don’t mind my job in London. What of yourself? Do you enjoy your work?” he wondered.
I shrugged. “It’s a job,” I replied. Which was like saying a swimming pool was wet without mentioning that you could drown in it.
“I suppose it is, but do you like it?” he persisted.
“What other choice do I have?” I countered.
“Surely you have choices. A pretty young woman such are yourself must want to settle down some time,” he mused.
I snorted. Me settling down was as likely as twinkies sprouting wings and flying, though that would be one bird I’d be willing to hunt. “I don’t think I’m the right material for a man. I’m just a little, well-” I glanced down at myself. My brown hair was clean but fine, and my belly was a little too chubby. “A little busy with my job,” I half-lied. Jackson kept me working to my bones, but I had weekends off when I wasn’t jet-setting around the world and being forced into vacations. “But we’re not supposed to be talking about me, we’re supposed to be talking about your island,” I reminded him.
“A woman eager to not speak of herself is a rare one, but I can see I’m prying into a business that isn’t my own. What do you say to a tour of the island?” he offered.
I smiled and swept my arms toward the door. “After you, my laird,” I teased.
He chuckled. “If you please, my lady,” he commented. He didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t give him one before he gathered up some clothes from his bag. “If you don’t mind, I must dress for the hike,” he pointed out. He climbed into the loft and descended in much the same outfit as yesterday, but a might wrinkled. There were so many waves I thought a storm was happening beneath his shirt. “You must excuse my appearance. I generally keep to myself when I am here,” he told me.
“If the birds don’t mind then I won’t,” I promised him.
Fin grinned and bowed his head. “Much obliged, now let’s be off.” He led me out the door and I shut the door behind myself.
I noticed there wasn’t any lock. “Is our stuff safe?” I asked him.
“As safe as can be,” he replied. He stepped up to a wild rosebush that sat in front of the cottage. It climbed an old wooden trellis against the wall clear to the thatched roof. In the light of the sun they showed off their pale pink and white blooms, and had the smell of lemon juice mixed with honey.
“What kind of rosebushes are those?” I wondered.
“The dog rose. It grows wild throughout the Hebrides, but none so sweet as these roses my mother planted,” he told me. His brushed his fingers gently against one of the flowers. “She planted them before I was born, and swore they would bring me a gift when I grew older.”
“And have they?” I wondered.
He smiled. It was one of those smiles that told me he knew more than what he was letting on. “Not yet, but I’m a patient man.”
“But I’m not a patient woman. What else do you have for me to see?” I asked him.
“The island is at your pleasure, miss, but if I might make a suggestion-”
“Can I trust this suggestion?” I teased.
He chuckled. “You may. I suggest we see the others on the island. Mrs. Breathnach would be disappointed if we didn’t pay her a visit.”
“The General mentioned a Mr. Breathnach. Are they married?” I inquired.
“Aye, for these many years. They are the caretakers I mentioned, the ones who manage the Great House and this one, the Lesser House,” he replied.
I put on my best imperial face and waved my hand at Fin. “All right, show me to them, my laird,” I commanded.
He smiled and bowed at the waist. “It would be my pleasure, my lady,” he returned.
Fin led the way northward from the cottage along a grass-strewn path much like the one from the beach direction. We traveled for a few dozen yards before the landscape was slowly transformed into piles of moss-covered rocks and patches of spruce trees here and there. The path sloped upward and I found myself catching hold of large stones to pull myself up. Fin acted like a mountain goat springing over stones and practically galloping over the patches of dirt. By the time the path leveled out I was huffing and puffing like the last dinosaur, and he was as straight and erect as a Greek god, or a Gaelic one, in this case. It wasn’t that I was out of shape-all right, so it was. I was seriously out of shape. Climbing stairs in an office building wasn’t nearly as trying as walking the unsteady ground of a gently-sloped hill path.
Ahead of us was a field of heather and rocks. Grass grew between the rocks and swayed in the wind. I couldn’t see any sign of a house, Great or not, but I did see some strange rock formations. They were square with an opening as though for a doorway.
I nodded at the rocks. “What are. . .those?” I choked out.
“All that remains of the island’s people. They built homes of stone and grass. Mrs. Breathnach is one of their descendants,” he told me.
“And are we. . .close to their home?” I choked out.
“Nearly there, but we can pause for a rest here,” he offered.
I took the offer and ran with it. Well, I would have ran with it if I’d had the energy. Such as it was, I plopped down on the nearest boulder and faced the way we’d come. My eyes fell on a wondrous view of the cottage with its crown of thorns on the walls and the beach beyond it. The skies were a bright blew and a gentle wind flew past my face with the scent of the sea in its bosom. The grass bent and waved in the breeze, and far off a wild bird called to its mate. A sense of peace filled me from my toes to the top of my wind-blown head. I took a deep breath and relaxed as I’d never done in my whole life.
“Peaceful, isn’t it?” Fin spoke up. I’d forgotten he was there.
“Yes. How can you ever leave this place?” I wondered.
“I admit it isn’t easy, but peace without companionship does become rather dull,” he commented.
I snorted. “Show a girl this place and she’s bound to say yes to any proposal,” I returned.
He abruptly turned away. “If you’re ready we can go on,” he invited.
Fin guided us onward across the field of wild grains and flowers. The hill dipped into a pretty little glen that occupied a couple of square acres. The hills gently sloped downward to a small cottage that sat in the center of the valley. A small garden was laid out beside the house and there were several fruit trees beside that. Chickens pecked at the front yard and a goose waddled among them. A stream of smoke escaped the chimney and invited us for a visit.