That night Algernon was asked to stay and a guestroom was prepared for him, down the hall from Scarlet’s bedchamber. He lay awake, thinking about his day. He had met a wonderful young lady, with hair as black as night and lips as red as roses. Her eyes, well, there was but one way to describe them- they were piercing and dark, almost as if she could see right through him.
He fell asleep content and happy, only to become restless for the remainder of the night. Along with his visions of Lily came other, more vivid visions. These were of a girl of surpassing beauty, with hair as red as the firelight, and eyes as green as the purest of emeralds. For some reason, he felt he had known her from somewhere and at another time in his life. He tossed and turned all through the night, trying to get the image out of his mind. As he lay there, asleep in a bed that was not his own, he began to remember what had happened some two years ago. . .
As she slept in her bedchamber, Scarlet could only dream of the night she had spent in Algernon’s tent. She wished she had told her father to leave without her, so she could go across the mountains to Algernon’s homeland. But Algernon did not remember her, could not even fathom ever meeting her. With a heart almost broken, Scarlet wept, as she lay asleep in her bed. That night, as both slept restlessly, the emerald amulet began to glow around her neck. . .
The following morning began just as awkward as the night before. Scarlet awoke with the vision of Algernon still in her head. The amulet still hung from her neck, but this morning it felt heavier than normal. She walked out of her bedchamber and into the hallway where she came face to face with Algernon. He stood there, staring back at her as if he’d seen a ghost.
“Did ye sleep well, Algernon?” she said calmly.
“Aye, I have slept well. But let me ask you where I may find a rare beauty, with hair as red as any firelight and eyes as pure as emeralds.”
“Ye speak like a poet, sire, but you also speak of a beauty only found in minstrel’s songs,” she said, walking past him. Algernon, in turn, grabbed her arm and pulled her around. “Me laird, please,” she begged, trying to free herself from his grasp.
“I know that you are the beauty of that song, Scarlet,” he whispered into her ear, causing her to shudder.
“Algernon, I --,” she began but was silenced by his lips on hers. He pushed her body against the wall, causing her to wrap her arms around his shoulders and deepen the kiss. They were quickly interrupted by footsteps coming towards them.
“Algernon!” Lily called from down the hall. “There you are! I was wondering if ye were planning to sleep all day.”
“Good morrow, Lily,” he returned.
“Come, Papa is waiting for us to break his morning fast,” she said, linking her arm with his. Together they walked downstairs, leaving Scarlet to watch in awe.
Duncan was already seated in the dining hall, waiting for his family to arrive. As the servants busied themselves in the kitchen, he continued to admire the hall. Decorated in the finest Scottish decor, the great dining hall was aglow with sunlight from the wall-length bay windows.
Algernon entered the great hall and was completely taken aback. He had ne’er seen such exquisite style before, even in his own home of Locera. The fireplace was topped with a wooden mantle trimmed with brass ornaments. On the mantle were various trinkets and two solid brass candleholders. Above the mantelpiece hung a large painting of a beautiful young lass.
“Ye admire that painting, young Algernon?” questioned Duncan.
“Aye, that I do. Tell me, be it one of yer daughters?”
“Nay, ‘tis their mother,” he said, getting up from his chair and walking over to the painting. “When she was but a young lass, and I a young lad like yerself, I married her and brought her here, to the home of the McDougalls for generations.”
Duncan turned away from the picture, unable to look at the painting any longer and sat down at the table. The rest quickly followed his suit. The thought of the last time he had laid eyes upon his wife was in his head. He could no longer bear the untimely loss of his precious wife.
“Papa?” Scarlet consoled, placing a comforting hand upon her father’s arm.
“Nay, me child. I must speak of her.” He turned to Algernon and began his tale.
He told of how she was a loving mother and faithful wife and healer, all the same. He told of how she learned the gentle skills needed to become a nurse during the time of war, and how she passed those same learned skills on to her daughter, Scarlet. He told of how heartbroken she had been when her son, the baby, was old enough to go into battle along side his father.
At this point in the morning meal, he became very silent. Scarlet was almost in tears and he sensed it, but still Duncan proceeded with his story. He told of the one battle that was set in his mind above all others. He told of the day mother and daughter went, on foot, to the battlegrounds to tend to the men’s wounds.
On that solemn day, both Duncan and Scarlet were witness to the greatest loss of their lives. Duncan had turned around on his horse to see his wife and daughter running through the field. He recalled hearing her cry out that her son, their son, had been stabbed. He knew she was trying desperately to find her child so she could tend to his wounds.
As Duncan slid off of his horse, he heard another cry, this time from his daughter. He ran, half blindly, towards the direction of the scream and stopped dead in his tracks. Lying in a heap, were three bodies- one which belonged to his son, one that belonged to his wife, and the third wearing enemy attire. He had looked down at Scarlet, sitting on the ground, blood on her hands and tears staining her eyes.
Duncan looked up from the table to see Algernon completely in awe of his story. Scarlet could not take another minute listening to her father’s tale. She wanted so badly to forget that day, forget how her mother looked as she lay slain over her son. She wanted the pain to stop inside her heart, wanted to get away from the thoughts that haunted her mind. She jumped up from the table and ran, ne’er looking back. Algernon did not say a word but got up also and took off after her.
Scarlet ran until she thought her lungs would burst. She ran down to the creek, where the clansmen would often go to serenade their lovers. The creek ran fast and furious down a hill and became a lake at the bottom. There she perched herself upon a root of an old weeping willow tree. Just like the tree, she herself began to weep.
“Why do you weep, me lady?” Algernon asked.
Scarlet could not speak. All she could manage to do was look up at him through tearful eyes. He leaned over and brushed her cheek with his rough, callused hand. Scarlet turned her face away, not wanting him to touch her.
“Do you not wish to talk?” he inquired.
“I do not think ye would understand what I need to talk about,” she finally replied reluctantly.
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, got up, and walked down to the bank of the lake, where she finally repositioned herself. She did not need to look up to know that Algernon stood next to her. She could see his shadow on the grass.
“Tell me why you weep, me lady,” he pleaded.
“Me mother is dead and ye ask why I weep?!”
She began to cry again, this time full-fledged tears. Scarlet wanted her mother back but there was no way it could possibly be so. Algernon could think of nothing else to do but comfort her as he sat close to her on the edge of the pool of water. Scarlet rested her head on his chest and felt an unusual warmth go through her body. She looked down and noticed it was not the warmth of Algernon’s body, but the amulet wrapped around her neck. It appeared to be a brighter shade than normal. Algernon looked down and jumped back.
“What the--?” Algernon looked at it with wide eyes as it began to glow. Scarlet looked down and pulled the amulet over her head. She placed it into her palm, and watched it continue to glow.
“I cannot explain this if that is what ye wish of me.”
“Me only explanation for this is that yer a witch and ye have been studying the art of black magic!” At that very instant, the amulet turned dark again.
“I am no such thing!” she shouted. Getting up from where she sat, she flung the amulet into the lake.
“Whatever did ye do that for?” he asked, confusion on his face.
“To prove me point!” Scarlet sat down once again and crossed her arms.
“What point? ‘Twas yer mother’s amulet!”
“Ye remember?” she asked as she looked up at him. He sat down next to her on the grass.
“Of course I remember.”
He leaned over and lightly touched her lips. She deepened the kiss by wrapping her arms around his neck, not wanting him to let her go. He kissed her neck, her shoulders, her collarbone. She knew what she was doing was wrong. She had once made a promise before her father and God Himself that she would not do such things with a man until she was wed. Is this what she wanted- to throw away what she had promised many years ago?! Nay! She pushed his body away from hers with all the strength she had in her.
“We-- we really must be getting back. Lily will worry where you are and Papa will want to know if I am aright.” She looked down at the ground, ashamed to look at him. He pulled her chin up to look into her eyes.
“Must we go so soon. I was just getting to know ye better,” he mocked.
“I think ye’ve gotten to know me quite enough!”
“You feel nothing then?” he asked and leaned over to kiss her again.
“No!” she shouted, turning away. “I have made a promise I intend to keep!” She got up and started to walk away but he walked after her and grabbed her arm.
“A promise to whom?” he challenged. Scarlet could not tell him the truth of her promise for fear of being laughed at, or even worse, taken for a fool.
“To meself,” she lied. She looked up at him, hoping he would believe her lie.
“To yerself, me lady?! Correct me I am wrong but is that not a wee bit childish?” he laughed.
“’Tis not childish, me laird!” she tried to defend herself. “And,” she added, “we should be getting back. You are here to call on me sister, not me.”
“I have no desire for yer sister,” he said dryly.
“But what about yesterday, with her in the garden?” she tried to sound convincing.
“I do not know what you are talking about, me lady. I came to yer father’s house last evening because I needed a place to spend the night and rest me horse.”
“But ‘tis impossible! Ye came to court me sister!” she protested.
“Scarlet, please, I honestly do not recall any courting of yer sister! I was passing yer village and me horse needed a rest.”
Scarlet could not fathom why he no longer could remember anything that had previously happened the evening before. One minute Algernon was courting her sister, not remembering who she was, the next, he remember who she was but could not recall courting her sister.
“Ye look perplexed, me lady,” he said, lifting her chin to face him.
“I am,” she admitted soundly. She could not even meet his watchful gaze.
“Tell me yer troubles,” he said.
“Something strange is happening to us,” she began. He looked at her with a coy grin on his face, stretching from ear to ear.
“But of course, me lady. ‘Tis called being wanton!”
He grabbed her about the waist with one swoop of his arm and pulled her chin up to meet his waiting lips. His kiss was bold but she did not want it. Viciously, she pushed him away.
“No, sire, ‘tis not what I meant! I meant that somehow one of us is under some sort of spell or enchantment.” He looked at her with wide eyes but said nothing. He let her continue with her idea before he dared to interrupt. “If ye do not mind me saying so, me laird, but ye seem to remember certain things and not others. Could it be a short memory lapse or something far more powerful than that?” she questioned, quite content with her philosophy.
“Truly, me lady, you have an intriguing intellect. ‘Tis why I have found meself quite fond of you. Yer words have put a spell on me.”
“’Tis all that intrigues you about me?” she challenged.
“Not remotely,” he countered, sizing her up with his eyes.
“’Twould figure ye would be as pigheaded as any of the Scottish rogues!” she chided.
“’Twould figure ye would be as comely as some of the finest lasses in all of Scotland,” he retorted back.
“I said once, sire, yer words may seem sweet but to me they be devil’s words!” she spat.
“Devil’s words to some are poet’s words to others,” he countered.
“Whyever do you insist on spiting me with yer words?!”
“Because you insist on challenging every word I say!”
She glared at him with angry Scottish eyes but refused to counter his verbal attack. With a humph she turned around and stood on a root overlooking the lake. Balancing herself, she looked over at Algernon just in time to see him dive into the fresh pool of water.
“Whatever are you doing?” she asked, astounded, when he finally came up for a breath for air.
“Winning back yer heart, me lady,” he said with a smile.
He swam to the shore and stood up on the bank. Scarlet took careful notice to the fact that his clothes lay on the bank and all that was left on his body were a pair leggings. How he had managed to undress that quickly amazed her. In his palm was her emerald amulet.
“Whatever are ye doing with that?!”
Scarlet jumped off the root and ran to the bank. She tripped on a hidden root and fell into Algernon, catching him off guard and causing him to fall back into the lake, taking her with him. Scarlet came up for air, gasping for breath, and flung her long fiery strands out of her face.
Algernon reacted to her stern look with a bellowed laugh. She could not bear to look at him knowing how flushed her cheeks had become. She finally gazed up into his eyes and was paralyzed once again. His eyes were fixated on the thin line that clutched her breasts. Her eyes drifted down as she realized what he was so mesmerized by, and modestly crossed her arms over her chest.
“Ye need not cover yerself, me lady. Whatever it is you are trying to hide, I have most likely already seen.”
With a heavy sigh, Scarlet let her arms down but not until she was submerged in water up to her neck. Algernon gave a slight chuckle to her actions but said nothing. He did, however, swim over to her and hand her the necklace he still held in his hand. She grabbed it without question but he quickly closed his hand over hers. She looked up into his eyes and was caught in a sea of emotions. She could not pull herself from his gaze, and when Algernon closed his eyes and lowered his lips to hers, she did not protest.
“Scarlet!” a voice called from the distance, interrupting their intimate moment.
“Me sister calls me. If she sees me here, she will surely suspect!”
“Suspect what, me lady?”
“That there be something between us!”
“But there is,” he teased. “And ye proved it just now with the seal of a kiss!” he smirked. Scarlet looked down at her hand and the amulet in her palm.
“I really must go before Lily finds me here.”
Without another word, Scarlet ran out of the water and jumped onto the bank. Through her shivers, she painstakingly wrung out her dress. Algernon could not help but notice the dress clinging to every curve of her body. He followed her out of the water and grabbed his shirt to dry himself off.
He saw her shivering and trying to get dry, and quickly grabbed his outer tunic, placing it over her shoulders. Without questioning, Scarlet allowed Algernon to massage her arms with the tunic to keep her warm. She even remained still when his hands lingered on her arms.
“Scarlet-- oh, I did not realize I was interrupting anything,” Lily smiled mischievously.
“Ye were not interrupting anything, Lily!”
Scarlet moved away from Algernon as she spoke. Algernon was quite amused at how vulnerable Scarlet had become in her sister’s presence, and decided to use it to his advantage. He remembered something that Scarlet had said about him courting her sister.
“Lily, me darling, how are you?” he asked, kissing her on the cheek. She immediately looked up at him and smiled.
“I am fine, me laird. Come, let us leave me sister to tend to her wet things.” She looped her arm within his and lead him away. Algernon turned around to take one more long glance at Scarlet, still shivering from the coldness of her clothes. Her eyes, he knew, reflected hatred and defilement. Algernon walked away with Lily on his arm. He did not want to be there with her. For him, he was more satisfied in the company of the other sister, whether down by the lake or anywhere else.
“Algernon, what praytell were ye doing by the lake with me sister?”
“Naught ye would care to know, me lady. Whyever do ye think I would want anything to do with her?” he lied.
“Good, because Papa would like to speak with you, something about being a suitor.”
Algernon practically choked on her words. He was just a passerby on his way home, not a suitor for one of this man’s daughters, especially Lily. He was at least five years her elder at the age of a score and ten, and was more eager to go into battle than wed a Scottish lass.