The Chieftain - By Margaret Mallory



Fornicator, philanderer, liar," Connor's mother called out as she circled the crackling fire dragging a stick behind her through the sand. "Mo mhallachd ort!" My curse on you!

Connor hugged his knees to his chest as he watched her long, unbound hair swirl about her in the night wind like black snakes.

"May your seed dry up, Donald Gallach, chieftain of the MacDonalds of Sleat," she said in a high, quavering voice as she circled the fire a second time, "so that no woman shall bear you another child."

Connor wished his friend Duncan or his cousins were here, instead of asleep in the castle hall with his father's warriors, as he should be. His father said a seven-year-old who slept on a pallet next to his mother's bed would never be a great warrior and had forbidden it. But his father was away, and Connor had been afraid something bad would happen to his mother if he did not stay close to her.

"May your sons already born by other women die young," his mother said as she raked her stick around the fire again.

She had been weeping and tearing at her hair for days. She was like that sometimes. Other times, she was like sunshine that was so bright it hurt your eyes.

But she had never done this before.

"Three times 'round, and the spell is bound." His mother straightened and raised her stick in the air. "And may ye know it was I, your wife, who cursed you!"

Connor heard running feet coming through the darkness just before a familiar voice called, "No, Catriona!"

Connor's heart lifted when Duncan's mother, Anna, appeared. Her soft voice and kind words could sometimes soothe his mother. But if Anna saw him, she would send him back to the castle. Before she noticed him, Connor crawled through the beach grass until he was safely out of the firelight.

"Please, ye mustn't do this," Anna said. "An evil spell that's unwarranted can come back on ye."

"Donald Gallach deserves every evil wish," his mother spat out. "With passion and sweet promises of eternal love, he persuaded me to leave a man who adored me. And now, I discover he's been keeping a woman up at Trotternish Castle - and she's borne him a son!"

"Men have done far worse." Anna put her arm around his mother's shoulders. "I beg ye, take back this curse before it's too late."

"It was too late the moment he took another woman to his bed," his mother said and pushed Anna away. "I swear I will make that man regret what he's done to me for the rest of his days."

"I'm certain you're the only one the chieftain loves," Anna said, brushing his mother's wild tangles back from her face. "Please, return to the castle and rest."

"If he believes I will accept this and remain here, a dutiful wife, he has forgotten who I am." His mother stared into the fire and smiled in a way that frightened Connor. "How he will rage when I leave him for another man."

"Ye can't mean to do that," Anna said. "What about your children?"

Connor held his breath, trying not to cry, as he waited for her answer.

"Ye know very well that Highland children - especially a chieftain's children - belong to their father," she said.

"But they need their mother," Anna said, gripping her arm again. "And young Connor adores ye."

"You're better at mothering them than I am, and I know you'd never let Donald Gallach touch you," his mother said. "Promise you'll take care of Connor and Moira after I leave."

"I will, but - "

"Don't go!" Connor ran to his mother and buried his face in her skirts. As always, she smelled of rose petals.

"My sweet, serious lad." His mother dropped to her knee and embraced him, then she leaned back and asked, "Ye want your mother to be happy, don't ye?"

Connor nodded. If she were happy, she would stay.

"You were begat of fiery passion, when I owned your father's heart," she said, holding his face between her hands. "Every time your father looks at you, he will remember how it was between us and regret what he's lost."

* * *

One night, Connor slept too soundly, and his mother disappeared.

When he awoke, a storm raged outside, and the castle was in an uproar. His father had returned after weeks away and was bellowing at everyone.

"Ye follow your mother about like a dog." His father lifted Connor off his feet, shook him, and shouted in