Ian has won Angelique - but at what cost?
“Watch that net, Jason!” sputtered Dennis, pulling wet mesh from his face. “What were you ...”
“It’s Innis! And he’s brought the witch!”
“Calm yourself, man, or you’ll put us both in the water!” Yet Dennis hurried as Jason did to pile the net into the boat and thrust the oars into the locks. Neither was there the customary argument over who was to row; both bent to the task with all they had.
The skiff’s bow had scarce scraped on the sand when the two men jumped out and thrust it higher with a single heave. Neck and neck, they ran to join the growing throng surrounding Ian and the old woman.
“Look at him!” said an anonymous whisper. “Aye,” said another. “Positively bewitched, he is.” “It’s his eyes,” agreed a third. “I’ve never seen such a light in his eyes.” “Nay, it’s his whole face,” insisted the first. “Have you ever seen such a silly grin?” “Old Peter,” answered the third, “just before he went mad.” “Aye,” said the second, “and right after a walk in the woods, it was!”
Ian’s ears burned at the loudly whispered comments. Not so much for himself, although those were bad enough. But Maggie deserved none of it. Together, she holding his arm, they walked down the street to MacGwire’s house, Maggie’s walking stick beating a slow but steady rhythm on the wide dirt path. As if she read his mind, the old woman gripped his arm tighter. He looked over, and she smiled as one who has endured much already, so what is a little more?
MacGwire met them at the front door of the cottage. “What is the meaning of this, Innis?” he thundered. Blood-flecked spittle matted his beard, and the whiskey was strong on his breath. Gripping the door frame with one large hand to steady himself, he shook a thick finger in Ian’s face as he poured out a stream of stumbling, slurred words. “Gone all day and all night, with Angelique not fed, watered, or turned! Have you forsaken your duties? Can we hang you now?”
“Nay, MacGwire, I’ve not forsaken your daughter. Rather, I’ve spent all of a day and night searching for someone to care for her.” It was in Ian to be gracious, a new thing to be sure. But some of the old Innis was still there. “Besides, old man, you’re nearly as helpless as she is. If I am hung, who will take the charge of both her and you?”
Around Ian and Maggie, the crowd tittered. Few had ever spoken up to MacGwire like that. Nor would it take much to get Ian hung. Yet what he had said was true. MacGwire required near as much attention as his daughter. Hadn’t he fallen dead-drunk asleep the other day, sprawled across the front path, never stirring as Ian drug his massive, limp frame up the porch and into the house?
True the words might be, but MacGwire in a drunken rage was still a hurricane force. Unfortunately for the old man, today he was more drunk than raging. He tried to step off the porch to grab Ian, but his foot came down wrong and twisted under him, spilling him to the ground. MacGwire lay there, moaning and rocking, clutching at his right ankle.
“Did you see that?” “Aye, it was the witch, for sure!” “Never even touched him! Just threw him down!”
“Nonsense!” a voice cried. Duncan pushed his way through. “The man is sotted to his ears, and can’t stand straight on level ground.” He turned to Ian. “You did give us a start yesterday, Ian, when you didn’t come back. You should have said something to someone.”
Ian snorted. “Who talks to me, Duncan?” Then he sighed. “Thank you for your support. Would you be willing to help me get him into his bed?”
Maggie spoke up. “Here, let him use my stick.”
Duncan took it, looking at her as if for the first time. “Thank you, madam. I’m sorry, but I cannot place your name at the moment.”
“We’ll do proper introductions later, Duncan, if you please,” said Ian. “Can we get him into the house first?”
Together the two men helped MacGwire onto his one good foot. The big man gripped Maggie’s walking stick tight, foul threats against Ian rambling from his lips. Hefting the large man up the one step onto the porch was daunting, until Geoff came from behind and bodily lifted him from under the arms.
After dropping MacGwire into his chair in the sitting room and wresting Maggie’s walking stick out of his grip, Ian, Duncan, and Geoff walked back outside, leaving the drunken man to alternately rage and sob uncontrollably.
“I give him 15 minutes before he falls asleep. Then his snoring will be just as bad.” Ian shook his head slowly as he returned Maggie’s walking stick to her. “Thank you for your kindness, ma’am.”
To Duncan and Geoff, he said, “This is Maggie Douglas. Her son died a few days ago, and she has graciously agreed to help me care for Angelique.” Turning to Maggie: “This is Duncan and Geoff”, introducing each man in turn. “They are probably the closest to being friends that I have right now.”
Pointing into the house, he continued, “And that one is Angus MacGwire, father of the lovely Angelique.” Ian hung his head. “He would be a different man right now if not for me.
“Nay, Ian” chided Maggie. “You did not put the bottle to his lips, nor did you cause his consumption. Each man is who he is inside his own heart. Duncan and Geoff stood beside you, in spite of your history. They have made different choices than Mister MacGwire. Ay, and I’ll wager different choices than even a week ago. You have two fine friends here indeed. And now — may I see the girl?”
Duncan and Geoff stayed in the front room as Ian escorted Maggie into Angelia’s room. At midday there was enough light to see her lovely face and catch the movement of her chest as she slowly breathed. “I need to give her a drink,” said Ian, as he filled a small cup. Maggie watched as he fumbled through inserting the reed and trickling the water down her throat. “I’ll do the same with a cup of broth as soon as I make some.”
He grabbed the bedsheet with both hands and awkwardly pulled up, trying to get Angelique to roll onto her side but not off the bed. Panting with exertion, he told Maggie, “And that’s done every few hours.”
“When is the doctor due back?” asked Maggie.
“I think in six days.” Ian looked at Angelique and began to tear up. “I hope he says she will make it.”
Maggie took Ian’s trembling hand in her two worn ones and looked at him. “It’s okay to feel what you feel. But don’t carry this burden on your back — it’s not big enough. She needs a miracle, and that’s not in your power. Now,” she said, “you go make the broth while I chat with Duncan and Geoff. Come join us when you are done.”
Ian helped Maggie into a chair in the sitting room, though she protested she could do it on her own, and then turned into the kitchen. Finishing the broth and letting it cool to a tepid temperature, he returned to Angelique’s room to feed her. Softly, gently, as though he were holding a sacred relic, he lifted her shoulders until her head hung off the bed. Sliding a reed down her throat, he slowly poured in the broth, hoping to see her choke or fight the reed and liquid — anything to give a sign that the feisty girl was still in there! Alas, nothing. Sighing, he returned her to the bed, as he had every time before.
He trudged down the steps to the front room, where Maggie had Duncan and Geoff laughing. MacGwire snored away in his chair, oblivious to the mirth that had not been heard in his house in a week. Nor did the light mood do much to stir Ian, not with the heaviness of Angelique’s future still on him.
“Now that you’re here, Ian,” said Maggie, “we need to make a few plans.”
“Plans?” Ian pulled up a stool. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
Geoff chuckled into his drink. “Aye, Mr. Innis. Perhaps that’s why you never know what to do next, eh?” He shook his head slowly. “That’s what I’m always trying to get into my sons — the future is coming whether you like it or not. If you can see it and prepare, you are better off than a man who has no idea what to do when the storm hits.”
“If I am to stay here, Ian, then where do I stay? And how do I get my things from my house to here? And how do we keep all of us fed and watered? Small plans like that.” Maggie almost couldn’t sip her drink for smiling so big at Ian’s blank look.
“Oh, I see. Yes, plans,” Ian stammered out. “I guess I’m not very good at those, am I?” He looked up at the other three. Graciously, they did not nod in agreement.
He looked up into the corner and spoke to the spider hanging there. “I’ve been staying here in this house, so Maggie can have mine. If Duncan would loan his horse and we hitch a sled to it, I can go back to the woods house and fetch what the lady needs for this night. More trips can be made over several days as needed to bring everything.” He looked at Maggie. “Can you write me a list of your immediate needs so I know what to get?”
Duncan nodded. “I can loan the horse, yes. And Jason has his sled for hauling barrels to the loading dock. I’ll need to go with you. The horse can get stubborn when she’s not well-reigned.”
Geoff pointed a puzzled expression at Ian, as though seeing him for the first time. “Innis, can you read and write?”
“Yes,” Ian said slowly. “Can’t you?”
Geoff shook his head slowly, his long hair and beard dancing in the sunlight with the movement. “We had a teacher once when I was young. I was taught a bit as a child, but fishing doesn’t need that, so I’ve lost it over the years.” He sighed. “That’s one thing that scares me about my children — have I doomed them to a life of nothing more than fish and storms because they can’t do anything else?”
“I can teach them,” Ian replied. “Though it would have to be in between whatever hours I find to work. As Maggie said, we need food and drink, and my money has all but run out.”
“You teach our children to have a better future than this, Ian, and you will never run out of coins.”
“Nor need to find them in the night,” added Duncan. “Come on, lad. Let’s go get the horse hitched.”