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Calltainneach

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Captain Windham, who was very much bored by the afternoon of his second day at Glenfinnan, made his way to the horse-lines under the shelter of some light woodland, to find the animal that had carried him from Ardroy. In the absence of anything else to do, for of course he was unable to closely observe the machinations of the Pretender’s “army” and could not therefore be in receipt of any useful information, he might as well make further friends with this animal.

He picked his way between the patches of muddy, churned-up ground, and the fresh piles of manure liberally scattered around, and found Moss, the mare, tethered at the top of a little rise under a small hazel tree, its green leaves just tinged with gold at summer’s end. Beyond more trees was the blue expanse of the loch – the sun, for a marvel, being out at this moment. It was a quiet, peaceful corner of the buzzing camp, and the mare greeted him with a quiet whicker. They had become used to one another in the last day or two. He had always liked his horses; they were much less inclined to cause hurt than human beings, in his experience – and now he checked her over for sores and scratch-marks, talking softly to her the while, running his hand down the bay flank and noting that mane and tail could do with a good brushing.

A soft nose nudged insistently at his hip, and he looked round to discover that Mr Cameron’s horse, tethered next to his own mount, required attention of him. “Oh, very well, I’ll see to you too,” he told the grey. “Be patient, now.” He stroked the dappled neck, and turned back to Moss.

He found her brush in one of the saddlebags, hung up on a broken branch of the hazel, and began on the end of her tail, working out the tangles of strong hair, picking out scraps of vegetation and other material, and gradually moving up until he had a smooth waterfall of dark hair, just as it should be. Then he went round to her head and began on her mane. “What have Cameron’s men been doing?” he enquired of her as he picked a largish twig from her crest. “Not looking after you, for certain.” In response, she nipped at his pocket. “No, I have nothing for you. There’s little enough for us to eat; you’ll have to be content with grass.”

She blew at him in annoyance, and he took off his coat, to save it from further depredations, and his wig, and hung them on the tree. Then he rolled up his sleeves and continued brushing her coat. After a while, she began to lean on him, which caused him to laugh. “So, we’re friends, you and I?” She slobbered a little down his neck, and he admonished her in a companionable manner, wiped his neck clean, and worked on.

The grey, Finn, was next; Keith went through the same routine, inspecting him for damage before starting on the brushing. His waistcoat now joined his coat and wig on the tree; he had been at work for half an hour, and was feeling the warmth of the late afternoon. The constant underlying annoyance which had been with him these last few days had entirely dissipated. He supposed that he was becoming used to this odd captivity. He had been treated well, he could not deny it, and at the moment he was inclined to let the dice fall where they may. Certainly at the moment he could do nothing to influence the outcome of the rebellion, and was feeling remarkably at peace with this notion.

Even the noise of the camp, of the clansmen going to and fro a hundred yards or so away, seemed to diminish as he worked down Finn’s legs, brushing out the feathering and lifting his hooves to inspect them. Then he rose again and slung an arm across Finn’s back and patted him, looking into the dark eye, and murmured, “You’ve got a long road ahead of you, my friend, and so has your master, and I wish you both well, though I hardly know why. Oh yes, and you too, Moss,” and he held out his hand to her to lip at. He leaned his head against hers, and so did not see Mr Cameron’s approach.

Ewen, making his way through the little trees and grassy glades of the horse-lines, was met with an astonishing sight: his captive, clad in white, sans wig and slightly sweaty, with a horse on either side of him, all apparently the best of friends: and Captain Windham was smiling, which caused him to smile in involuntary response.

“Captain Windham!” he called, and the Englishman looked round, and the smile was instantly replaced by his usual guarded expression. Ewen found that he was sorry for that; was his company so much less enjoyable than that of dumb animals? But he could hardly blame Windham for that. He went up to the little group, patted Finn’s neck, and regarded Windham across the pale back. He glanced down, and in one of his hands he could see a brush. He looked back up and caught Windham’s eyes.

… His eyes. They were remarkable. Green shading to light brown, streaked grey here and there, and with a shimmer of gold. It was odd that he’d never noticed that before, thought Ewen, but standing here looking at him across Finn’s back, under the little trees just turning yellow in the autumn sunlight, with the grass beneath them and the loch beyond, they seemed to have touches of all the colours of the hills and glens of his homeland. For a moment he lost himself in their gaze.

Then he stepped back, flushing a little, for the moment had become too oddly intimate for comfort, and indeed Windham’s expression had gone from guarded to a little self-conscious; he was glancing up at the uniform hanging on the tree. Had Ewen been staring – or was Windham embarrassed at being seen by his captor in such an informal state? Hurriedly Ewen said, “We should put you in charge of the horses, Captain Windham. You have done a fine job on Finn and Moss.”

“They’re good beasts,” said Windham. “They deserve a little attention, and you and your men have not the time.”

“No, indeed,” sighed Ewen. “Well, I thank you for it, and I don’t doubt that they do too. Will you come to supper, now?”

“There is supper, is there? With a will.” Windham put away the brush, and wiped stray horse-hairs from his shirt, which was sticking to him in places. Then he went to take down his waistcoat from the tree, and stopped, grunting a little, with his hand going to his side, then reached for it again, more circumspectly.

Ewen knew instantly what had caused this; his old wound from Fontenoy just a few months ago, exacerbated by the work he had done on Ewen’s horses. “Here, let me,” he said, and reached down the waistcoat himself without waiting for an answer, and held it for Windham to get into, suddenly aware as he did so of the warmth coming off his body; and the wig too, and then did the same with his coat; the heavy, gold-braided, uniform coat. He held it up while Windham slipped one arm carefully into it, then shrugged the other arm in, feeling the movement of his shoulders under his hands; which he withdrew rather quickly.

Windham turned back to Ewen, the smile very slightly in evidence again. “Thank-you.” And despite that red coat, the withdrawal, at these close quarters Ewen was once more very much aware of those extraordinary, many-hued eyes.

He cleared his throat, and patted each horse; Windham did likewise; and then he led him away from the woodland and the glinting loch, back towards the camp, and the army, and the morrow’s march.