Ian is haunted by the demons of the past in his head.
Kyla has grown up with Ian, but he only thinks of her as his best friend’s wee sister.
Can they release themselves from the past in order to have a future together?
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Excerpt of Ian, Book 3:
Ian stepped out of the Horn and Hoof, and stopped when he saw the raven sitting atop the roof, staring at him with its beady eyes. That feeling was back again. The feeling of dread and doom filled him, and he didn’t like it.
Someone grabbed his arm. He turned to see a woman peeking up at him from under the hood of her black cloak. She had light brown eyes and very pale skin. Her shift beneath the cloak was tattered, dirty and torn. Obviously a beggar, he realized. A chill swept through his body and a feeling encompassed him as if he should know her, but yet he didn’t.
She looked to be mayhap twenty years his senior. There were weathered creases on her face and also bruises on her hands and arms that made her seem much older. Tall in stature, the woman stood bent over as if she were hiding something or perhaps writhing in pain. She looked so gaunt and boney. And sickly. Ian swore she should be dead. Then she raised her chin and looked at him with both eyes. He gasped as he saw the scar in the form of an x on her cheek. He knew this mark well – it was the MacTavish mark of the dead.
“Have ye got a soul cake for me?” asked the woman. Ian reached out and pried her fingers from his leine.
“Nay, I dinna have any,” he spat, not knowing if the woman was a ghost or naught more than a beggar and looking for soul cakes that were handed out on this day. Soul cakes were small cakes made with sweet spices and ginger and filled with raisins and currants. Sometimes they were marked with a cross on top to show that they were given as alms. Other times, they had two large currants on top that looked like the eyes of a ghost. They were handed out to the children and beggars going door to door on this eve. For every one of them that was eaten, supposedly a soul was released from purgatory.
“Ye have no soul – or ye have no soul cake?” the woman asked him. Ian thought it an odd question. Even odder than that, he seemed drawn to her though he feared her at the same time. He didn’t need any more demons in his head right now, nor did he want someone with the x of the dead clinging to his leine.
“Go away,” he told the woman, almost feeling sorry for her. But Ian didn’t want to have anything to do with beggars or soul cakes on a night like this. “Go beggin’ somewhere else. I have nothin’ for ye.”
“Ye’d better look into yer heart soon, Ian. If no’, ye may be beggin’ for soul cakes before much longer yerself.”
“How do ye ken my name?” That she’d known his name surprised him. He also wondered what she’d meant by her odd words. He was considering asking her, but was distracted as the door to the tavern opened behind him and he heard lots of noise. He turned to see some of the women and children coming out in a group. Effie and Lovelle were amongst them, as well as Onyx’s children.
“Tell Aidan and Onyx that we’re takin’ the bairns door-to-door to sing for soul cakes before we come to the bonfire,” said Effie.
“Aye,” added Lovelle. “I only wish Wren and her children were here as well to join us. They love this time of year.”
“Anyone who loves All Hallow’s Eve has got to be mad,” growled Ian. “Dinna fash yerself. Our chieftain, Storm, and his family will be back from England soon. They are spendin’ some time with Wren’s family,” he informed her.
“Well, I do wish at least Clarista and her husband could have joined us,” said Effie, speaking about Storm’s parents. “However, I ken that someone has to stay back and watch the camp in the Highlands.”
“Auld Ian MacKeefe doesna like celebratin’ dead souls,” said Ian, talking about their other chieftain who shared the same name as him. Storm was the man’s son, and they both shared the duty of being chieftain. It worked out nicely since the clan was so split up most of the time.
The women and children left. Ian had no idea what happened to the odd beggar woman. Then he heard a noise from above him and looked up to see many crows settling in the branches of the trees. Amongst them was one large raven, staring down at him almost as if it could see into his very soul.
“Och, there ye are,” said Aidan, coming out of the tavern next. His squirrel balanced on his shoulder. Aidan wore the arisaid, or long shawl, of a woman and also a colorful ribbon tied in his hair. Onyx followed him, dressed the same way. A wildcat darted out of the shadows and Onyx picked up his pet in his arms.
“What the hell are ye wearin’?” growled Ian.
“We did it for the kids,” explained Onyx. “They enjoy seein’ us dress like fools on this day. The lassies dress like men and the men like lassies – although we always wear a skirt, so it’s no’ much different I guess.”
“Dinna ye want to act like a fool as well?” asked Aidan.
“Who said I havena already acted like a fool?” asked Ian under his breath, not able to stop thinking about what had happened between him and Kyla.
“So have ye been with Kyla today?” asked Aidan, causing Ian to stiffen his spine.
“Nay. Why would ye think that?” Ian didn’t like lying to his friend. But he needed to wait for the right moment to tell Aidan that he’d kissed his sister, or mayhap he never would. He just hoped Kyla hadn’t already run off at the mouth and told him everything. “Have ye been with her?” he asked in return.
“Nay. No one’s seen her since the market this mornin’,” said Onyx.
“Aye,” agreed Aidan. “I am startin’ to get a bit worried.”
“Well, I saw her around . . . this mornin’,” said Ian. “I’m sure she’s here somewhere.”
“Did I hear someone mention my name?”
He turned around to see Kyla standing there with Coira. They had bags of hazelnuts in their hands. Coira held a hollowed-out gourd with a carved face on it. Inside it, a candle burned brightly. The light spilled from the carved face to guide their way through the darkness. It was custom on this night to have a scary face carved into a gourd or squash and lit from within. Usually they were placed on doorsteps or carried by travelers, to ward away any evil spirits that might come from the other side on All Hallow’s Eve.
“Do ye care to tell me where ye were, wee sister?” asked Aidan, walking over and taking a nut from her and handing it to his squirrel on his shoulder.
“What do ye mean?” Her eyes darted over to Ian. That action told Ian that their secret was still safe.