The Legend of Lady MacLaoch


Welcome to The Legend of Lady MacLaoch page! Peruse the selection of blog topics below to learn a little more about the novel, its characters, whisk(e)y and the beautiful Isle of Skye. I'll be adding new material to this page regularly so be sure to check back often!


A legendary love, an unforgiving curse, and the discovery of a lifetime . . . 

Centuries ago a vengeful curse buried itself deep into the history of the MacLaoch clan and become a legendary tale told by all those not cursed by its words.

In present-day Scotland, the laird and chieftain of the MacLaoch clan is an ex-Royal Air Force fighter pilot who has been past the gates of hell and returned a changed man. Rowan MacLaoch does battle with wartime memories and a family curse that threaten to consume him—unaware that his life and that of the history of the clan will be changed forever by the arrival of an American woman.

Cole Baker, a feisty recent graduate of a master’s program, stumbles upon the ancient curse while researching her bloodlines. Moved by the history of the MacLaoch clan and the mystery of its chief, she digs into the legend that had been anything but quiet for centuries.

On their quest for answers, Cole and Rowan travel to places they have never before been and become witnesses to things they have never before fathomed. The legend—one started with blood—will end with more shed as its creator finally exacts her justice.


Available now in paperback and ebook, click here to purchase.

Sequel to The Legend of Lady MacLaoch is currently in production. 





Excerpt:


PROLOGUE


The Year of Our Lord 1211
Scotland

Pain gripped her abdomen in convulsive ripples, telling her she would not survive to see the morning. Her last breath would be soon—with it, she would accomplish her last wakeful deed in this world.
She looked up at the man who possessively held her newborn child, the man she called father and enemy. She spoke the words that reverberated through her soul, as if they were pulled from the very earth, full of power and purpose.
I curse ye, Father. I curse the ground beneath yer feet, the air ye breathe, the blood within yer veins, and the seed ye spill upon this earth. May ye die having felt my pain and if ye havenae, may no MacLaoch chieftain ever know love. Only when they have walked the lonely halls of despair will I bestow upon them a peace I once held long ago, and then only for a moment. I will feast upon yer pain and drink the anguish of this curse until the one who calls himself chief of the MacLaochs has shared in my anguish. Until then, I will haunt ye and yers every eve and every dawn and all time in between, forever.


CHAPTER 1


Three years ago
The Middle East


The desert heat rolled away from them in waves of sound as they tore through the atmosphere. The Royal Air Force fighter jet seemed molded around them, an extension of their own bodies—metallic, fierce—traveling just a few hundred feet above the knobby desert valley floor and just a few feet under detectable radar. Fingers of desert sandstone, etched away by wind and time, spread down from the high sides of the valley walls, bending and twisting, making the way challenging and dangerous.
“This is not a strictly sanctioned NATO op.” The thick Oxfordshire accent of his captain’s voice rang in his memory. Rowan and his flight navigator, Victor (also known as the Victorious or just simply Vick), had been handpicked for this not-strictly-sanctioned task. It was easy enough: fly over a small village in the eastern region of enemy territory; flip the switch; drop the goods; get the fuck out. Simple. Yet the sweat dripping down his brow—and the rolling chills, like a premonition fever—had him on high alert. Nothing was out of place, yet this time felt different.
Winding and twisting through the caverns, the jet rocketed them over the beige blur of desert floor.
The queasy feeling got worse, suffocating him in his mask.
“Status,” he said, trying to distract himself.
“Closing in on the party.” Vick’s response crackled through the earpiece in Rowan’s flight helmet.
“Roger that.”
The sandstone formations blurred as the seconds counted down.
Easy.
“We are a go in three—”
With a gloved finger Rowan flipped the switch cover on his instrument panel. Up ahead the valley widened into an expanse of dunes and flat valley floor.
The last two seconds rolled by like tumbleweed toward its final destination. “One” finally came, and Rowan felt his finger hit the switch. As he did, he caught sight of something on the desert floor. It was a puff of smoke—not below him nor behind him, but in front—the kind of puff of smoke that follows the expulsion of a rocket that is set to fly high and fast, the rocket on a surface-to-air missile.
Out in this lonely dump of land, in this piece-of-shit excuse for a country, Rowan thought as he watched, as if from outside of his body. He heard Vick’s voice confirm the missile in the air. Rowan’s mind told him to evade. He felt his hand shift on the joystick and felt the beast respond to his command. He heard the cursing in his headset, the confirmation that it would be close. Cut it close to the missile or close to the ground—either were deadly. His other hand grabbed the throttle and yanked, sending them up into orbit.
Only it was too late.
The missile exploded off the left side of the aircraft, tearing metal in a fiery torrent. The explosion rocked the cockpit; pieces of metal tore through the cabin, and heat slapped at Rowan and Vick as the blast slashed the wing to shreds. Rowan’s hand was already on the lever; he pulled, ejecting himself and his navigator out into the desert air.
Suspended for just a moment before gravity took its turn with him, Rowan experienced a single moment of complete silence. He watched the tortured wreckage of their flight craft spiral out below him, billowing smoke and fire. Above him, his chute snapped open; Rowan watched Vick drift soundlessly in the distance. The village below, once so small and inconsequential, became alive and swarmed like a disrupted ant nest.
Fuck, Rowan said silently, like a prayer, up into the billowing fabric of his chute.
The ground came much too quickly. He tumbled forward and unhooked himself from his chute. Squinting against the light reflecting off the smattering of sand on his helmet’s visor, Rowan searched the horizon for his navigator. He spotted Vick moving swiftly toward him, his chute billowing in the wind and yanking him along the desert floor. Rowan made his way toward Vick, the sickness in his stomach getting worse. This unsanctioned mission would not receive any help before the enemy got to them.
When Rowan caught up to him, Vick was half conscious, his flight suit shredded at the knees, the contact points where his body had been dragged across the sandpaper ground.
“Vick!” He shook his partner’s shoulder with one hand and released his parachute with the other. “Vick!” he shouted again. The chute detached with a snap of the lines, rolling and billowing away from them.
Diesel-motored trucks sounded in the distance. Rowan’s heartbeat ratcheted up as his body prepared for the fight that was to come. The wide valley floor spread out around them, lending no shelter except for a few large rocks. Putting an arm around Vick, Rowan lifted his struggling navigator and began making painful progress to the closest boulder.
Enemy fire erupted, spraying dust and rocks into the air around them.
He heard the enemies call to him in their native tongue, telling him to get to his knees with his hands on his head. Vick cried out as a bullet tore through his leg.
Reluctantly they fell to their knees. The enemy’s leader came to them, a pistol in one hand, an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder. Spittle had accumulated at the corners of his mouth from his shouting.
The leader was making demands, and Rowan knew that he had no leverage. His pistol was at his calf, his sgian-dubh in his boot, yet his Scottish blood pounded in his ears demanding that he defend himself and his navigator.
Rowan heard Vick groan and utter, “God save the Quee—”
It happened then.
Rowan’s world moved in slow motion. He had been watching the enemy leader as he made his demands. Then, registered too late as the man’s mind in a millisecond made the decision to shoot, his gun sending a single bullet into Vick’s forehead and through the back of him.
Now, said a voice to Rowan, and he leaped forward as the gun went off again, this time with its black eye upon him. In that moment, metal fire rained down from the heavens and the entire event burned into Rowan’s memory, vivid and uncompromising in its brutality.

CHAPTER 2

Present day
South Carolina

It was Christmas, and I was surrounded at the wooden table that had been in the Baker family for generations by, well, generations of Bakers. My family. Dinner had been delayed again by a cousin coming late with the mashed potatoes, and the talk buzzed around who TJ had been playing tonsil hockey with this weekend.
That topic was started, of course, by TJ. Though older than me by several years, my brother rarely acted like it. Mother and Daddy were seated at our end of the table, the aunts and uncles and older cousins at the other—all of us anchored by the man at the table’s head, my father’s father, the Baker family patriarch, Grandpappy. My little cousins, too young to be at the main table, were in the other room of Grandpappy and Grandmama’s old farmhouse, watching a Disney movie with their dinner. Soon Mother, ticked off to no end by hearing about TJ’s escapades, tried to steer the conversation, calling across the table: “Janie is out with her new man. Did you see him, Linda?” Father and Grandpappy were deep in their own discussion: “The university contacted me this week on testing a new pesticide for that damn twig borer . . . ” If talk didn’t turn to peaches or pecans or the woes of Mother Nature’s wrath on the orchards, I wasn’t at a Baker family dinner.
That night, however, turned different. For once during the middle of dinner—Christmas dinner, no less—the entire table became quiet.
One of my cousins, who was arguably too young to be at the adult table, had somehow wiggled his way into a seat between Grandmama and Grandpappy. I hadn’t heard his question, but in the space between chews and intakes of breath it was quiet enough to hear Grandpappy switch subjects from orchard woes to give his answer.
“Well, we’re not Bakers.”
The only sound then was the soft scraping of Grandpappy’s fork as he scooped more potatoes and maneuvered for a stray piece of roast on his plate.
I sat with my entire family silently watching him, our mouths agape and eyes wide as if we all were silently shouting, What?
“Mmmph, by blood, that is,” he said as he swallowed. “The way I was told of it, we’re all, by blood, Minarys. M-I-N-A-R-Y,” he spelled, not taking his eyes off his gravy-filled plate. Grandpappy chewed slowly as we all chewed with him, mentally, on what he had just said. Even my mother, who normally wouldn’t let a moment like this go silent for so long, just sat with a wide-mouthed stare. Cousins, aunts, uncles, Grandmama, Daddy—all simply gaped.
He had just told a table full of Bakers—stalwart, hardheaded, proud, he-must-be-a-Baker Bakers—that we were some other name, the devoid-of-meaning, faceless name of Minary.
Grandpappy finally looked up. “What? I thought y’all knew that.”
The table exploded into questions. Grandpappy quieted everyone down and explained that his biological father, a Minary, was “a drunk who found himself on the bottom of a riverbed.” His suddenly widowed mother had married a very nice Englishman named Mr. Baker and, for that, we should be proud to be Bakers.
We didn’t get much more in the way of details since Grandpappy didn’t really much care about them, and he was sure he’d mentioned it a time or two over the years. He did say that all the information had come to him secondhand from his siblings, since he was just an infant when his mother had remarried.
This reality-shattering news was a lot for all of the generations of Bakers to digest. I watched Grandpappy through new eyes for the rest of my Christmas break from university at home. It was obvious that he came from a place that gave him his tall frame, light, wavy hair, freckled skin, and a knack for sweet-talking his way into just about anything. I think Grandmama always worried that he might go to the bank or the store one day and come home with more than just a deposit receipt or a carton of milk.
I was a version of Grandpappy—tall, green eyes instead of blue, and light-colored copper curls rioting around my head. We were the spitting image of some ancestor straight from . . . Well, straight from where, now?

It was only a few months later that Grandpappy went to the big orchard in the sky.
I flew home from college to attend the funeral at our small community church. The reception room was long, filled with tables of food and people old and young. Older generations reminisced to the younger ones, some who listened and some who didn’t.
I was eating a piece of pecan pie and emptying my mind of everything but the blissful nutty, sugary-salty, caramel-y pastry when my mother interrupted.
“Cole, why is it that you can’t dress like a lady? Are you trying to embarrass me?” My mother, too was holding a piece of pie in one hand and a fork in the other. I knew she would carry that piece around for a while, pretending to eat it, and then give it to my brother later, claiming it was her second piece.
I looked at her—perfectly pressed white slacks (risky business for her, since it was before Memorial Day) and a navy-blue, short-sleeved sweater with matching slip-ons, her short blond hair coiffed just so.
“What are you really learning up there in Portland?” she persisted. “I can tell you it’s not how to be a lady.”
I looked down at my outfit. My jeans were very nice, a spendy brand (though bought for a steal from the thrift store), and paired with a silk, expensive, slouchy tank in bronze that I’d borrowed from a friend, knowing full well that I’d need something to bring the jeans up to par. My hair was a manageable mass of coppery curls that had taken me hours to perfect and could all be undone if there was even the slightest change in humidity; I’d even done my makeup just right.
“Gee, thanks, Mother. Love you too.”
“Cole, I’m worried about you so far away. You know, I’ve been talking with your aunt Ruth, and she says . . . ”
Oh god, I thought, tuning her words out. Here it comes.
Portland, Oregon, was the “tree-hugger, Democrat capitol of the nation,” according to my mother. She worried about what that setting—known for earth, dog, and gay-and-lesbian friendliness—was doing to me.
“Wearing jeans, Cole? To Grandpappy’s funeral? You might as well just say that you are a—well, you know. I’m just worried about you up there. You have no drive for these things.”
I cocked an eyebrow at her. “Drive for what, Mother? You’re beating around the bush. Just be out with it.”
TJ sauntered up, a hilarity dancing in his eyes as he chewed boisterously—manners obviously forgotten or purposefully absent. “You know,” he said, around pie and whipped cream, “that she’s talking about your M-R-S degree.”
My mother looked knowingly across the crowded room, and I followed her gaze to Roger Bronson, all-star quarterback during our high school years and current-day oil-rig repairman.
“Mother, Roger is an ex-boyfriend from high school; one that was very sweet but incredibly unmotivated in life except for the pursuit of ass. Remember? That’s why I dumped him. He slept with Candice and Bernice while we were dating?”
“I think that’s a noble cause. Pursuit of ass,” TJ said, sealing my mother’s lips into a grim line of dissatisfaction with both of us.
TJ and I exchanged the look, a mental high five.
“Cole, he is the epitome of male, and you would have beautiful children,” she said, digging back at me.
“Yes, Mother, the epitome of male, and yet I still do not find him attractive enough to spread my legs and have him screw me out of a happy and successful future.”
TJ choked on his pie as my response had the desired effect on our mother. Her eyes narrowed to slits. Immediately I felt guilty. At nearly thirty I should not allow my mother to get a rise out of me. Though, in retrospect, I’d gotten very good at being an uncontrollable and willful child, and that gave my mother a perpetual rise.
“Fine,” she said, as my brother gave his empty plate to a little cousin and told him to throw it away. “If you want to live in Portland and become a lesbian, that’s fine, Cole, but don’t whine to me when you’re old and wish you’d had kids! Yes, which reminds me, TJ,” my mother said, volleying to him, “that if you have two cents, you’ll stay away from MaryJo while you are back at home. She’s a good girl. Whatever happened to Cindy?” At least she was an equal-opportunity meddler, not giving special treatment to her daughter over her son.
I tuned them both out. Looking down at my plate of half-eaten pie, I knew I didn’t have the stomach to finish it.
Grandpappy was gone. The thought fell like a lead weight in my stomach. And there I was arguing at his funeral. That was the way of it in our family, I supposed. I thought of my life if I were to do all of the things that my mother wanted me to do. I glanced over at Roger. He was nodding at something Dorothea was saying to him. My elderly aunt thought she had his full attention, yet his eyes scanned the room, looking for his next pursuit. I thought about what it would be like if he and I got married—all the mistresses he’d have; me pregnant and waddling around with a toddler.
No, I thought. I was being called elsewhere. I had no idea where that was or what I was supposed to do once I got there, but I would follow it until I felt right.
“Mother,” I said, interrupting her, “TJ’s way too old to be scolded.” She turned her gaze on me, and I turned the conversation. “Did you learn anything more about our true lineage before Grandpappy passed away?”
My brother gave me a thumbs-up behind her back and made his escape. “True lineage?” she repeated, her voice taking on an edge. “You know, Cole, if you spent half the energy you put into silly topics like that into finding a husband, you’d be happily married with kids by now, so don’t start. Not here.”
“I’m just asking—”
“Not now, Cole. For Christ’s sake! Your grandfather isn’t even cold in our memories and you want to drag this out now?”
“Mother, it’s not like I demanded to know if Grandpappy left me anything in his will. I just asked—”
The room suddenly had ears for our conversation.
“What’d you ask?” my father turned from some friends he’d been chatting with.
Hand on her hip, my mother gave me a look. It said, Now you’ve done it.
“I was asking Mother,” I said, giving her an equal look back, “if we had learned anything more about our family lineage.”
My father shrugged. “We’re Bakers.”
“No. The whole Minary thing from Christmas,” I said, exasperated. Was I the only one who still cared?
“Nicole Ransome Baker, that’s enough. I told you, not here,” my mother cut in.
“Why? I don’t see why I can’t ask about our history—my history—now.” I punctuated my point by stabbing my fork into what was left of my pie. “Grandpappy was the one who told us!”

Exhausted by my family, I spent the rest of the evening walking the dusky rows of the orchards, all the while thinking that my flight back to Portland couldn’t come soon enough.

CHAPTER 3

The week after my graduation I made the decision to research my family history in full. When you spend two years researching and studying, the need to do it doesn’t just stop the day you graduate. Plus, the truth was, even through the final revision of my master’s thesis and its defense, I couldn’t stop thinking about Grandpappy’s revelation.
A search on the good ol’ World Wide Web for the Minary name’s home base returned a few possibilities, but the most reliable data seemed to point to a place called Glentree, which was on an island called Skye, off the western coast of Scotland. Convinced there was no better way to do research than in person, I bought a plane ticket to Scotland and made one last try for information from my parents.
My father would no doubt still be in the fields, leaving my mother to answer the phone. My timing was excellent—it was Wednesday, and Wednesday was bridge day. By this hour, my mother, an avid player with the local ladies of society, would be sauced up to her eyeballs.
“Minary. That’s right,” she said after the initial lecture on going alone to a foreign country. “You don’t like being a Baker? You know, Cole, when I married your daddy, I was proud to take his name. We are a respectable family, and if you spent more than a moment thinking about it, you’d see the same. Chasing some foreign name isn’t what I think your grandpappy would want you spending all your time doing, either. You should be proud of your Baker heritage.” She was relaxing into what I had long ago understood as her soapbox performance, one of her heart-to-heart moments wrapped in a guilt trip, the multiple cocktails no doubt helping.
“Mother, I am proud to be a Baker, but it’s not our heritage. Our heritage is this Minary name,” I said and waited. All I heard was paper rustling. “You understand that, right? That by blood I am no longer a Baker but a Minary?”
“You know, Ruby says that I ought to tell you this,” she said, ignoring me. I thought I heard the distinct sounds of ice tinkling against the sides of a crystal tumbler. “Ah yes, Minary. This is a copy of your cousin’s report that he gave to us. I was going to send it to you but just couldn’t do it. You always take things too far. Anyway, Minary is from the British Isles, probably Scottish . . . Your cousin found a name, lessee”—she slurred her attempt at “let’s see”—“his name is—”
“A name!” I shouted in a fit of frustration and excitement. “You have a name?”
“Yes, yes, dear. I’ve had it for months. And don’t get so excited,” she said, taking another swallow of her drink, the tinkle echoing through the phone. “It’s unladylike.”
“Mother,” I said, before she could get any further with her favorite line of reprimand. “The name?”
“Oh yes. It says here that the name your cousin found actually came off of the back of a photograph. Did you know that that was what started this all? He thought he found a picture of his daddy as a boy in a box full of old photos, so he showed Grandpappy. Turns out, that was what he was asking him down there at the end of the table—who this man was, and how they’d gotten the picture to look so old! Well, it turns out that they aren’t teachin’ cursive in schools anymore ’cause his name was right there on the back! Ha! Can you believe it?” Her drink gave strength to her Carolina accent.
I took a deep breath. “That’s nice, Mother. So what was that name on the back of the photograph?”
She took a sip of her drink, smacked her lips, and said, “Iain Eliphlet Minary.”

CHAPTER 4

Scotland is like my university town of Portland—it rains. A lot. And based on the breakfast that sat before me on my first day in the little town of Glentree, Scotland, food and drink were the staples for keeping the dreariness at bay. I stared at the food—a bowl of porridge (offered with or without whisky, but definitely without the e in whisky), eggs, sausage, toast, bacon, grilled tomato, and potatoes—and it stared back at me in challenge.
Carol, my host and owner of the stone, three-story Victorian-era townhome where I was staying, moved about the breakfast room tidying up after the other guests, who had already left. The room was small and quaint, with old wooden tables polished to a shine and vases of flowers filling the space with their own brand of cheery sunshine.
Carol had wild auburn hair and a warm, motherly attitude that I knew could change at a moment’s notice, should something or someone get out of line. She was married to Will, whom I hadn’t met yet because he did the cooking. They had bought the townhome to turn into a bed-and-breakfast as a fun retirement project. I had gotten all that by the time I took my first sip of tea.
“Carol,” I asked as I mopped up the remnants of my egg yolk and sausage with a piece of toast, “is there a historical society in Glentree?”
Carol paused a moment. “Historical society? Like the history of Glentree?”
“Well, not exactly. I’m doing genealogy research.” Thinking about it, I amended, “Yes, I suppose the history of Glentree would be a good place to start.”
“Your family started on Skye? Well isnae that lovely. Let me see. I’m not really sure but ye should probably want tae visit the library first. ’Tis a good place tae do research, aye. Oh! And truly each castle on the island has deep history as well and might be a great source of knowledge.”
“Excellent.” Castles, I thought dreamily, and pictured myself sitting at an ancient desk, thumbing through volumes of antiquated texts, surrounded by the intoxicating musk of old books. “Thank you, Carol. Do you have the names of the castles I shouldn’t miss?”
“Aye, well, I would ask the research librarian at the library, Deloris. The ones I can think of are Castle Laoch, Dunvegan, Eilean Donan, and Clan Donald has Castle Armdale and a very prolific history as well.” Carol tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Come now, what is your ancestor’s name? Maybe with a stroke o’ luck, I’ll have heard o’ him, aye?” she said and winked at me.
I smiled back at her. “That would be some luck. His name is Iain Eliphlet Minary,” I said, careful to roll the r, as they did here.
Carol’s hand dropped. “Who?”
“Oh, uh. Iain Eliphlet Minary,” I said again, wary of her reaction and thinking that I’d just sworn in Gaelic.
She relaxed a little. “Oh, I though ye said Minory, spelt with an o.” She shook her head and gazed out the window, her face taking on an unusual look of profound regret and stern curiosity. “No, I havenae heard o’ them.”
“Oh,” I said. I’d been hoping for something more. Minory was almost identical to Minary and a possible lead in my research.
She smiled down at me, her usual demeanor returned. “Take a look at the library. That and the castles will have historical documents ye can look through. More tea?” she asked.
I nodded. “I’ll do that. Thanks for your help, Carol.” It still felt like there was something she was avoiding, though. “Is everything OK?”
“Oh, ’tis nothing dear.” She smiled nervously. “Only, the library is located just outside o’ town on Viewfield Road. I’d hate for ye tae get lost, bein’ that ye are my guest and all.” She stopped, then added hastily, “But if I were ye, I would not say I was daein’ research on Minory to anyone who’s a MacLaoch. And whatever ye do, don’t go to Castle Laoch and mention it either. Castle Laoch is owned by the MacLaochs, ye see?”
Whoa, I thought. “OK, Carol, I won’t, but how will I know if they’re a Mac—”
“Now there’s a good girl!” She interrupted me by giving my hand a pat. “Ye enjoy the rest o’ your breakfast and give me a shout if ye need anything more.” With that, she bustled from the room, leaving me to stare at the empty space where she had been standing.


CHAPTER 5

The brisk walk to the library was just that, brisk. It was a standard Scottish day, according to Carol—overcast with the threat of rain and a high of 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit). I felt the two cups of tea I’d had with my breakfast, their caffeine as well as their warmth. My heart seemed to be fluttering in my chest by the time I walked down the stairs to the basement of the library, where the historical document room was located.
A long, oak reception counter stood in front of the rows and rows of files and books that took up the entirety of the library basement. A man was talking to an older woman in a cardigan and glasses behind the counter. I gazed about as I waited my turn. To my right was a study table and beyond that, against the wall, an antiquated computer and microfiche machine. The air was cool and filled with the distinctive smell of old paper I had imagined. I knew that within the shelves behind the woman at the counter there would be something, at least one thing, even a tiny clue, that would tell me about my ancestry. My excitement peaked, making my insides jittery—or was it still just the full effect of Carol’s tea? When I looked back at the counter, it was my turn.
The woman turned out to be the Deloris, and we connected right away. I learned she had been with the library since she was old enough to pick up a book, her mother having been the librarian before. Eventually we came around to the subject of why I was there.
She didn’t even blink an eye. “Ye know, that name sounds just like Minory. Are ye quite certain that it isnae Minory?”
“Not 100 percent, no. Do you know anything about the Minory lineage?”
“Oh aye, big legend around that one. Best ye go have a look-see for yourself tomorrow at Clan MacLaoch’s castle and visitor center when it’s open. The MacLaochs have a long history that includes the Minorys. Castle Laoch has been in that family for over eight hundred years. Matter of fact, the clan is still together. On its thirty-fourth chieftain now,” Deloris said, clearly impressed. “Castle Laoch is not but a couple kilometers. Ye could walk there if the weather is fair. This time in May ’tis hit and miss, aye? Oh!” she said, as if just remembering, and nodded toward the door. “The man who was just in ’ere is the MacLaoch clan chieftain, and he could tell ye a thing or two about the Minorys, I’ll tell ye that.”
“A chieftain?” I said, thinking of old photos of American Indian chiefs, bare-chested, with feathered headdresses.
“We only have documentation that starts in the 1850s,” Deloris said, ignoring my comment, “and the castles will have more information than we do. Castle Laoch would be the place to ask.”
I paused for a moment, thinking. I wasn’t sure that I should explicitly go against Carol’s warning. “Do you know any reason why I might not want to mention my Minory research to a MacLaoch?”
“Och!” she said dismissively. “Some like to get upset by it, but ’tis nothing but an old fairy tale or curse, depending on what side yer standin’. I personally dinnae put much stock in fairy tales. I know just the two who could give ye firsthand knowledge of it though. Old birds, they are. Down at the harbor they run MacDonagh and MacDonagh Tours—it’s a boat tour that will take ye out the harbor and past the point, through the small fishing isles, over to Castle Laoch and back. From what I’ve heard, they’ll tell ye more than ye need to know about the fairy tale, but I’ll let ye figure that out for yourself.” She gave me a knowing nod.
After giving Deloris information on where she could reach me if she came across anything useful in the stacks, I headed down to the docks.


CHAPTER 6

The Glentree harbor at midday was sparsely populated with boats, most of the fishing vessels at sea. The rocky shore held a lone flat-bottomed boat at its edge and two old, craggy men standing on either side of it hollering at each other.
“No, I didnae! Ye did, and if ye cannae remember where, I’ll no’ be the one tae tell ye. Ye blithering bawbag!”
“Nae tell me? Me? I was the one who asked ye tae put the fishin’ knife awa’ in the first place, and now ye won’t tell me where ye put it? Ye are the bawbag, ye bawbag!”
“Bluddy bastard.”
“Arsehole.”
“Fu—”
“Lady!” one shushed the other as I approached.
“How can we help ye?” The other addressed me with a full smile of semistraight and semiwhite teeth and gave me an elegant bow.
“I’m looking for MacDonagh and MacDonagh Tours. Something tells me I’ve found it?” I smiled back.
Both men wore green fishing slickers with rubber boots and rain caps in the same drab color. The old men themselves were identical, too—both white haired and blue eyed—with the exception that one had a crooked nose that must not have been properly set after being broken, while the other’s was straight.
“Ye sure have! This is my brother, Angus, and I am Bernie,” said the one with the straight nose.
“Pleased tae meet ye,” Angus said, giving me a nod.
“Ye can remember our names,” Bernie said, “by remembering that I’m the handsome one and that Angus is like his name, full o’ bull.” He slapped his leg and guffawed loudly.
It took only a few moments to get out of the harbor and onto the placid waters, most of the delay due to the brothers arguing about which of them should help me into the boat and which was to push us out into the water.
We bobbed along, taking in the majestic, gray basalt cliffs rising like iron gates to our right, the rich green of pasture grass softening their edges. Opposite the cliffs, the ocean beckoned, small, grassy mounds indicating a smattering of isles between us and the open Atlantic.
Angus and Bernie seemed made for the water. They may have looked as if they were closing in on one hundred years of age with their dark, weather-beaten skin and the deep crinkles around their eyes—probably as much from smiling as from squinting against the sun and rain—but they were as nimble and agile as teenagers when it came to the boat. They moved instinctively as the boat skimmed lightly over the coastal waters’ low ripple.
“Before we get started on our tour, we’d like tae know about our guest. Where ye’re from and what ye’re most interested in?” Bernie asked, affecting the composure and manner of a professor beginning his first day of class.
Angus was seated behind me, manning the outboard motor. “Aye,” he agreed. “Bernie here used tae lecture at the local college, so if I know what ye’re interested in, I can tell Bernie when tae shut that trap o’ his if he’s prattling on about some nonsense!’” Angus wheezed a reedy laugh and gave my ribs a conspiratorial jab with his elbow.
“What are ye telling her back there?”
“Just telling her nae tae be shy, brother!” He gave me a wink.
Bernie harrumphed. “All right.” Then, smiling at me: “Now go ahead, dear, what brings ye out tae Glentree?”
“I’m doing family research,” I said.
“Ah, aye. Come to discover which clan ye belong tae, aye?”
“Well not rea—”
Bernie interrupted and leaned around me to Angus. “Donald or Fraser, this one?” he asked his brother, nodding toward me.
“Fraser? Ye daft? Look at her. Nae, she’s Irish, no’ Scots.”
“Irish? Nae. She’s Scots—a Stewart, maybe?”
“Stewart.” Angus eyed me as though I were a boat he was appraising. “Aye, maybe,” he finally said, with a shrug.
“Aye.” Bernie nodded. “Lass, we’re ready. What’s the name that ye think is yer family name? We think it’s Stewart—that is, if ye are Scots.”
I laughed. “Maybe I’m all of the above. The surname I think I know for certain is Minary.”
“Ho!” both men exclaimed, and the boat nearly upended.
Angus straightened us out as I clung to the side, having slid to the floor with the upset.
Bernie exclaimed, “Angus! Get hold of yourself!” Then he looked at me. “Say that name again, lass?”
“Min-a-rrry,” I said, enunciating the a and rolling the r.
“Ah,” they both said.
“Thought ye said Minory,” Angus said.
Still on the floor of the boat and still startled, I gingerly got up and resumed my place on the wood plank that was my seat. “It could be Minory. Unfortunately, my grandfather—the one who informed my family that we were Minarys by bloodline—died, and no one in the family knows for sure . . . ” I trailed off. On one hand, I hoped I was a Minory, since there seemed to be plenty of information about that family. On the other hand, who were these people that their name would evoke such a response, that they would have created a legend so strong that people in the present day still got upset at the mere mention of the name?
“I spoke to Deloris at the library, and she said that you both might know more?”
“Ah! Deloris!” Bernie said. “Yes, well, Minory. I’ll tell ye that that name has a history, ’ere it does.”
“Aye, right it does,” Angus added from behind me.
“I dinnae know about Minary, but I’ll tell ye about the Minorys.”
Angus decreased the engine power, slowing us down. It felt like the signal to the real beginning of our tour. We motored between the shore and the green humps of the islands. The towering cliffs still to our right were broken up by wide-open coves; I could see freshwater from mountain streams emptying into the ocean.
“The Minorys, a long, long time ago, owned quite a bit o’ land in this area—outer isles and a significant part o’ the Isle of Skye, too.”
“Back in the days of the Vikings, ye see,” Angus piped up.
“And they were a fearsome sort. Depending on who ye talk tae, they were raping and pillaging, but I’ll tell ye, I’m no’ a historian. What Angus and I know has been passed down tae us through our father and his father and so on, Angus will agree, aye, Angus?”
“Aye,” he said, sounding slightly noncommittal.
“What we were told was that one of the most fearsome of the Minorys owned land on one o’ the outer isles, and he wanted tae take a wife o’ one o’ the Scots clans in the early times tae bring peace between them. Well, the Scots were none too happy about tha’, as they had wanted the Minory lands and were no’ so keen on keeping peace with him, so they said nae. Turns out the Minory was just making a formality of it because he swooped in and took himself a bride anyway. Well he’d no’ had her long and no’ married her before the clan moved across the water and killed him and brought back their clanswoman—as it turns out, against her will.”
We drifted along, motor still low, the breeze off the ocean giving me the chills. I felt a strange sensation under the goose bumps. It was the same hum from my tea buzz earlier, only it now seemed to start from lower in my belly and tingle out along my skin. I took a deep breath as the boat rocked.
“It was said,” continued Bernie, in a low voice, “the Scots woman, Lady MacLaoch—”
Just then the motor quit all together and plunged us fully into the quiet of the water lapping at the bow.
Bernie leaned to the side and nodded at Angus, who shrugged and pulled the starter cord. The motor chugged and died, again and again.
“A’richt, Angus. We dinnae want tae be stranded out here. Ye keep daein’ that, and ye will flood it.”
“Aye, well if ye know so much, why dinnae ye come back ’ere and fix it yerself?”
Bernie glared at his brother before continuing with me. “Now, where was I? Ah yes, Lady MacLaoch. Now, lass, there is something ye need tae know about Lady MacLaoch.” The tone of Bernie’s voice had become stern, as if he were speaking of a woman he knew personally. “She was a fearsome lady, and she and the Minory were wild with love. She had planned her elopement with him, and she stole down tae the docks that day tae meet him and went willingly ontae his ship tae marry him. She loved him but knew that her father had intended her tae marry elsewhere. She had been promised tae another. Do ye see now? She had no other choice, and she could no’ live by that decision, so she fled with the man she loved.”
“Nowadays,” Bernie continued, “ye can marry who ye like! But in those days, nae. Women like ye were property tae be sold and bartered with as such. Lady MacLaoch had been arranged tae marry a clansman in trade for more lands—more lands meant more power, aye?
“Aye. Well, that day came when she went tae the harbor and pretended tae trade for goods for the castle and instead stowed away with the Minory. And she might have gone far, but her handmaid spied her and rushed back tae the castle tae tattle on her. Lady MacLaoch might have made it tae Minory lands where she couldn’t be touched, but the ship didnae make it. The MacLaochs slaughtered them all here in these waters.” Bernie finished somberly, the story seeming to catch up to him, even though he must have recited it a million times.
Bernie turned his head back to me, his watery blue eyes looking at me as though to look within me. “It was at that isle to yer left, lass, that the Minory was laid over a boulder, arms tied tae the rock, and Lady MacLaoch made tae watch as they took his life. ’Tis said that he was so powerful that the ropes cut into the rock as he strained against them, full of rage at her having tae be made tae watch, and that those cuts are still there taeday.”
I could see what Bernie meant me to understand. If the Minory was indeed my ancestor, I had a right to know what was done to him by the MacLaochs and what the MacLaochs had done to their own. I felt downright queasy.
“Aye. Brutal. But time passed, and Lady MacLaoch lived tae marry the man to whom she was betrothed and bore him a child. It was in childbirth that she could see her life ending. Ye see, she never forgot what her father had done, and with her dying breath she cursed him.
“She said, ‘I curse ye, Father, the ground under yer feet, the air ye breathe, the blood within yer veins, and the children ye put upon this earth. Ye will die having felt my pain, and only when a MacLaoch chieftain has felt my pain and shared in my anguish will they know peace. Until then, I will haunt ye and yers every eve and every dawn and all time in between, forever.’”
Bernie fell silent, and we all sat quietly—not looking at each other, but at the low mound of the island where Bernie said the Minory had been tied and Lady MacLaoch made to watch. There seemed to be a presence in the boat, around us, and the humming within me seemed to settle, as if there were something to the story meant just for me.
“But ye said yer family name was Minary, right?”
“Right,” I answered Angus, feeling his voice pull me from a mental fog.
Bernie cleared his throat. Angus tugged on the starter cord, and the engine sputtered back to life.
“Well now. As we’re having a bit o’ trouble with the motor, we’d best turn back. Hate to be stuck out ’ere, aye?” Angus said, relatively jovial, but I got the feeling that he was worried.
“That was just a bit o’ the tour,” he continued. “The only part ye didnae see was Castle Laoch. Right shame that is, but ye can have a close-up look at it from land. I’ll tell ye, though, that ye should be careful of the MacLaochs and asking questions. That lot is still a fearsome sort.”
“Aye, that they are,” Angus agreed.
“And it depends on who ye talk tae about the Lady MacLaoch curse. Some will wave ye off and tell ye tae never mind with such fairy tales. Believe me, it is a true curse. The MacLaochs have had nothing but bad luck as chieftains. They are either cheating or lying, and there isnae a one of them loving like they should, aye, Angus?”
“Aye, none of them ha’ gone tae their deadbed with a wife at his side—”
“Och! Wha’ about Old Dooney? He went tae his death with a wife at his side.”
“Aye, that he did, his wife was holding the knife and his mistress the poison!”
Bernie and Angus guffawed loudly at this, only to subside in eye wiping and snorting.
“But ye see what we’re getting at, lass? There’s a darkness on the chieftain’s seat that befalls its owner.”
“Including the one they have now. Thirty-fourth, is it?” Angus asked Bernie.
“Aye,” Bernie responded, “that one has had the worst of it yet. Father abandoned him and his mother—mind ye, his mum was a MacLaoch, and she drank herself so deep she couldnae take care of the wee boy. His uncle, the thirty-third chieftain, scooped him up off his drunken mother and took care of him as his own.” He nodded at me to emphasize his point. “Now before ye go on and think highly of the thirty-third chieftain, understand that he couldnae keep a woman around long enough to make her his wife and have a son and an heir of his own. Seeing his opportunity with his drunken sister’s son, he took it upon himself and claimed his sister unfit and took the boy for his own self.”
“Aye,” Angus agreed again. “Had her committed, too. She died right after the cell door shut behind her, is what we heard.”
Bernie nodded solemnly. “God rest her soul,” he said, and crossed himself. “Three years ago, the thirty-third chieftain died from a cancer in his bones, and his nephew took up the thirty-fourth title. Doing no’ a bad job and no’ a good job, if ye ask me.”
“But we didn’t ask ye, did we Bernie? Stick tae the facts, would ye?” Angus hollered forward, and then said in a low voice to me, “He’s just broken up over the legend, takes it seriously, ye see. He takes it as a personal offense that the clan MacLaoch did such wrong by the lady. He has an overprotective sense for women.” He winked.
“Oh, stow it, will ye?” Bernie hollered back. “I was saying, the thirty-fourth chieftain is a dark man, plagued, I think, with the worst of the curse.”
“Aye,” Angus agreed solemnly.
“We’ve heard many a thing about him, though we can say that with our own four eyes we have seen what a troubled man he is. He spent time in the Royal Air Force. The clan pulled him from duty when his uncle died. Rumor has it that he served on one of those special schemes while in the military, and it messed with him, they say.” Bernie tapped the side of his head.
“Aye,” Angus agreed. “When ye see him, he’s nice enough, but ye can see the distance in his eyes, like he’s carrying a burden he cannae unload. Does quite a lot for the community, giving money tae the pipe band and sharing the history the clan has. Castle Laoch is considered home for all MacLaochs, and tours are free for clansmen who wants tae have a look inside,” he said and paused before continuing. “Though I’ll tell ye, I’d not want tae be on the other side of a battle from him. He’s got the look of a man who’s seen hell and come back to tell about it.”