Screams in the distance. Barely there and seeming like a dream, but she awoke to them as she always did to nearly every sound in the night. She lay in her bed, cold stealing over her despite her thick blankets and the sturdiness of her father’s house. The fire in the hearth was reduced to embers, but still glowed high enough to throw light and heat.
Another scream, and she sat up. “Father?” The men slept on, unhearing. “Father, wake up.”
The snoring across the room faltered, then stopped. There was silence, then Father said, “What is it?”
“Something is wrong. I heard screaming. Outside.”
There was a pop in the distance, and Father sat up. She could barely make out his shape.
“Musket fire,” he said. Her heart stuck in her throat. Muskets? Father looked to the sitting room. The billeted soldiers were gone. Then he leapt from his bed and reached into the upper bunk to jostle its occupant. “Come, boy,” he said to his son. “Now.” To her he said, “Stay here; you’ll be safe.” Her brother dropped from the upper bunk, muttering queries in a voice thick with sleep as he drew on his brogues. Fumbling in the dark, he managed to pull his kilt around him and belt it in place. Father told him only, “Don your coat, take your dirk, and come with me.” The two men hurried to take up their weapons, and left the house.
In the darkness, the random sounds outside terrified her. She huddled in her bunk. Some men shouted, then there was silence. Another musket shot, then two more in quick succession off in the distance. A woman began screaming, long, shrill wails of grief. She went on screaming. Fear rose. Then, of a sudden, the screaming stopped. Cut short.
The door to the house opened and closed with a slam. “Father?”
There was no reply, so she knew it must not be Father, but rather a soldier. She slipped from the bed to confront him. He was a very young private, not much more than a boy, who was billeted in this house. She took a stern voice.
“What is happening?”
The lad stood by his bedroll near the fire, his sword in hand and glinting in the pulsing light of embers. He said naught, but only stared at her. He was a Campbell, and she was certain he thought himself too good to speak to her. But she was terrified, and angry at being so fearful of a Campbell, and persisted.
“What are they doing out there? Why was that woman screaming?” There were more shots, and she wished for silence. Peaceful, blessed silence.
But the young soldier wouldn’t speak. He only stared at her beneath his lowered brow, his head tilted vaguely as if he were thinking hard. There was a dull look in his eye. A look of confusion and animal stupidity. He didn’t seem to see her, but gazed through her.
The door slammed open, and another Redcoat, the other private for this house, ducked through. The newcomer spotted her standing in her nightgown, and said to the younger, “Kill her.”
The lad snapped to focus, and replied to his fellow soldier in a rattled, shaking voice, “But she’s a woman.”
“She’s a MacDonald, and scum. A born thief who would breed more thieves. Kill her, lest you find yourself on trial for treason.” The young private started to say something, but the older soldier cut him off. “God save the man who is found by the sunrise without a blooded sword. Kill her, or face trial.” The older one’s sword blade was dark, and it was plain he’d already proven himself loyal to the English crown.
Too late, she thought to run. The elder private blocked the only exit. She snatched up the skirt of her nightgown and turned to flee to the bedroom, hoping to climb over the wattle wall to the byre. The lad gave chase. She screamed, and began to cry. Death loomed. Trapped in her bedroom, she dodged back and forth in the narrow space between the bunks. “Please don’t hurt me,” she begged. But the soldier said nothing and only came at her with his sword. He could have had her then, but was still deciding. She continued to beg for her life, but each time she tried to dash past him to the byre or the sitting room he blocked her path. And the elder stood behind with his own sword ready to do the job if the lad would not.
She dodged again, and this time leapt onto her bed. Her feet tangled in her blankets and she stumbled. Crawled across her bed in a panic, weeping hopelessly.
The sword found her in the darkness. A cold, metallic pain made her gasp. Though it didn’t hurt as much as she’d feared, the certainty of death now made her cry out with the grief of it. She sobbed as the blade was withdrawn and plunged again, this time into her back. She collapsed onto her bed, unable to move any more. Her final screams were of terror, of meeting her end alone, attended only by her murderers, who were Campbells and therefore not truly men.
A third time the sword pierced her, and this time found her heart. Then she knew no more.