This was the day that Mary MacLeod, a proud woman and a Chieftain’s wife, became ill and once again miscarried of a child. Her fondest, most passionate desire was to give her beloved husband a son. She despaired that she may never produce a fine, strong lad to lead the Clan in his turn. In her eyes, this solstice portended a harsh winter indeed.
On this day also a babe had been found, alone and helpless, at the edge of Donan Wood. A young man had been searching for deadwood, hoping he wouldn’t have to venture further into the forest. He almost passed by the boychild altogether, for the infant made no cry of protest or fear; seeming to wait in quiet dignity, as if expecting to be found. There was a calm serenity about the babe that the clansman would never forget: a solstice child. He took the foundling to his Clan Chief, a wise man who would know what to do.
When Mary saw the bundle in the man’s arms, even from across the village, she could not mistake it for anything else. Her heart leapt with joy as the babe was brought into her care. The men went off together to discuss the miraculous event, and Mary smiled; she knew her husband well, and was certain of his decision. No MacLeod would ever cast aside a foundling child on the eve of winter. Besides, she thought to herself, rocking the child and cooing softly, here was as fine a lad as you’d ever see: a true Chieftain’s son.
At the same moment that Ian MacLeod leaned down to look into the face of his future son, a cry echoed across Loch Shiel like the shriek of the Bane Sidhe. The sound alone was enough to chill the soul, and it froze the young man in the act of departing. His voice quavered slightly; "The spirits are restless; a bad omen," he muttered. "Perhaps we took a Change Child. Tis nae a good time to anger the Folk." Ian scowled in response, he had no need for such superstition; the sound was an animal, or perhaps a strange trick of the wind. Mary looked up from the babe, concern in her eyes, "If the banshee wants another death today, all the more reason to protect this new life." The look in her eyes: equal parts love and pride, protection and stubbornness was unmistakable; and, Ian knew, undeniable. "This child is of the Clan MacLeod, and he is my son."
§ § §
The sound of an almost inhuman scream awoke the woman known simply as Cassandra. Despite the emptiness of the tiny cabin, it took her a few moments to realise the cry had been her own. Her bedding, even the heavy winter furs, was tangled and sweat-stained; her heart raced nearly as wildly as her scattered thoughts. Kantos, curse the man, still haunted her dreams. Roland Kantos: her most promising student, her biggest mistake and her greatest enemy—for now.
It wasn't the same nightmare as before. There had been something different this time, a sense of urgency. Seated cross-legged in the bedding, she focused her thoughts, gathering the fading images of the dream. A Highland child, born on the Winter Solstice, who has seen both Darkness and Light. Born on the Winter Solstice: this wasn't the first time she'd had a vision that came true. Somewhere out there was a newborn child who had a destiny.
It felt like years since she had left the small cabin, but in reality it was probably many decades. Not since the Kurgan incident. Connor had been a fine young man, with a lot of potential, but his dramatic return from the dead brought out fears and superstitions for nearly a generation. She no longer had the option of hiding in the woods. The prophecy needed to be set in motion now, though it may take centuries to fulfil. Wrapping herself in a hooded cloak, she set herself on a path even she wasn't certain where it would lead.
§ § §
When the cloaked figure stepped out of the depths of Donan Woods, no man dared to stop her. Proud warriors moved aside, boisterous children subsided into murmuring silence, and the mystery woman strode through it all like a Fey Queen. She knew exactly where she was going; though no one in all of Glennfinnan recognised her. Without a pause or a single misstep, she arrived at the door of the Chieftain's home. Years later, people would say that Mary MacLeod knew of the coming of the fey woman as much as the stranger had known of the coming of the child. There was no knock on the door, no welcoming halloo; the door simply opened, as if the two women shared an understanding.
The stranger pulled back her hood, revealing hair the colour of flames and eyes the green of spring leaves. "I'm here to see the foundling child."
Mary MacLeod's jaw was set and it was only the Clan's long tradition of hospitality that kept her voice civil. "There are no Foundlings here, My Lady. My husband and I celebrate the joy of our new son."
"I promise you, no harm will come to your child. I would give blessings to the Chieftain's son." Thus mollified, the hostess opened her door wide, welcoming the guest into her home. The infant was wrapped in the tartan of the MacLeods; the colours seemed to suit him well. The firelight brought out highlights in his dark hair and his eyes sparkled. "Such beautiful blue eyes!" the Fey woman remarked. She paused, frowning thoughtfully, as if listening to a private message. "They will not stay that colour though. He shall grow to be a dark and troubled man, and the light in his eyes will turn within." Her voice softened, words meant only for herself, "Such a small child, for a great task."
She turned to the mother, gave a small bow of respect. "He is a fine son and an honour to your Clan. Have you chosen a name for him yet?"
Mary thought of the woman's words: a dark man, a dark warrior. She did not hesitate, and her voice swelled with pride. "Duncan My Lady; Duncan MacLeod. Of the Clan MacLeod."
Cassandra smiled gently, brushing a delicate finger across
the infant's smooth cheek. The head turned, mouth seeking that which only
a mother could provide. She whispered softly, reverently, "Remember me.