A gaggle of Maclee warriors lurched haphazardly behind Nial, their mostly sober laird. The annual fair on the Isle of Skye hadn't spawned excitement enough for this group so they headed for a secluded area where they could brew their own - thanks to the antics of "Heather the Hag."
The girl followed their ambling path, ducking and hiding hither and yon. Currently, she crouched rather poorly behind a pair of barrels a few feet away. The cap of her granny bonnet poked over the flat top like a wild turkey's tail feathers. Every so often, she popped up to peek at Nial, each time wearing the same expression as a priest at the pearly gates.
"Shit," said the object of all the attention, "can't she just go away and join some friends or something? Maybe she could find a lad to show her what to do with all that emotion."
"Join some friends? What friends?" chortled Braden.
"She has friends," said the laird, almost in defense of the lass. "I've seen them."
"Likely of the sort who want to fare well in comparison. The ugliest duckling would seem a swan standing next to her," Braden replied.
"She's a duck all right," Calum agreed. "The oddest duck of them all." He took a long swig of his brew before he said, "Heather is a duck destined to quack alone."
Nial snapped, "What the hell does that mean?"
Fletcher swayed. "Would you quack with her? If you share her longing, audience or no, I bet she'll quack with you right now."
"She's not," the Maclee gritted between clenched teeth, "exactly my type."
"Your type?" Fletcher asked. "Ahh, she's not the cream of the crop, the fairest of the fair. Nothing less will do for you, right?"
"Now, Fletch," Calum said, grinning, "we all know the curse."
"Remind us, oh great one," the other man encouraged wickedly.
"Recite the curse, recite the curse!" Chanted Braden and a barely conscious Grant in unison.
"Stop it," hissed Maclee, although he knew it was futile to try to halt the script. It varied very little and always got a rise out of him. This time, however, Heather MacIver lurked nearby, surely quivering where she crouched. Her presence and the potent alcohol consumed in vast quantities by his clansmen shed new light on the old drama, making him distinctly uneasy.
Casting a pointed smile at his laird, Calum darted two long strides and leapt atop one of the barrels, facing forward. Outwardly, he appeared oblivious to the lass just approaching marriageable age who shut her lashes to shield her odd eyes, shrank inside her sack du jour, shook from head to toe, and prayed for escape.
The ringmaster cleared his throat, took a heady swallow of his whiskey and spoke in the tone of a chieftain about to lead his clan into battle. "My friends, Nial, Laird of the Clan Maclee, labors under a curse pronounced long ago by the King of the Faeries."
"Recite the curse, recite the curse!" chanted the others as Nial shrugged and crossed his arms. He'd have walked away and left the drunks to their play, if not for that dratted unsettled feeling that grew worse instead of better. If he left, he would abandon the lass. Some would say the little spy deserved what she got. He'd like to say that too, but for a reason he couldn't explain, he would not leave her to the taunts and games of his drunken friends.
"Recite the curse, you say?" Calum drew out the moment when the eyes of all rightfully fell upon him.
After long moments when Laird Maclee's discomfort grew obvious even to his sotted companions, Calum spoke. "Lads, Ian Maclee - Nial's Great Grandfather many times removed, fell in love with the daughter of the Faerie King who disapproved of the liaison but gave in to his daughter's tearful pleas. He allowed the couple a handfast marriage. After the year and a day passed, the lass had to return to the land of faerie. We know what those two were up to, because a bairn appeared nine months later."
"We all know the tale," Nial grumbled. "Why repeat it again?"
Calum ignored the protest. "On the appointed day, awash in tears at leaving her mate and newborn babe, the princess forlornly left with the escort, a band of faerie knights. Her loving
spouse raised nary a protest, much less a sword. Some months later, a loud party at the keep lured away the pair of nurses. Their abandoned charge, the forsaken bairn, wailed loudly. Wee Ian's cries alerted the faerie princess who secretly returned to comfort her child. The princess swaddled Ian in a cloth and crooned a lullaby. The tune called the swaddling cloth a faerie flag and said 'twas a charm to protect the clan when its laird can't do his job."
"Damn you, shut up!" Maclee insisted.
"How did Ian repay such bounty? He married a lass for the coin she brought which royally pissed off the Faerie King, who appeared at the reception to pronounce a curse: From this day forward, every laird of the Clan Maclee shall be more handsome and more irresistible to the lasses than the one before him. Ladies shall chase him and try to trap him, but he must not fall prey to their wiles, for he shall fall in love only once. His faerie fated love shall set the claws of passion to his manhood, the need to possess to his soul, and the magic of love to his heart. If he marries another he will live a wretched existence beset by unsatisfied desire for the love he cannot have and cannot forget for all of his mortal days."