Teaser [for Fire in the Deep] by Siliconshaman
Occurs several months after "Fire on the Mountain."
Mrs Agatha McTagget, Aggie to everyone that knew her, and Mrs McTagget to anyone official, peered out of the small window of the Culain post-office and general store. The post-office and store occupied half of the long low field-stone building that made up Culain’s railway station, which had been a cow barn for a few centuries before the railway had come to the village at the turn of the last century.
Outside the day was slowly dying, sunlight bleeding across the snow gilded the rooftops and the bare branches of the trees, filling every hollow and dip with purple shadows. Aggie shuddered, there’d been a nithering wind blowing down off the mountains all day. What she thought of as a lazy wind, not fast, but with a coldness that seemed to blow straight through you.
Glancing at the clock she debated closing up early, it was only half three, and she wasn’t supposed to shut until five, but it didn’t seem likely she’d see anyone today. There were only half a dozen houses in Culain village proper, and maybe half again as many crofts in the surrounding area. Since the internet, hardly anyone seemed to write actual letters nowadays and there was less call for a post-office than there was for a railway station. And most people if they wanted to buy something drove across the river Skain to Inverskain, with its high street and three shops, not to mention its station which had more than two trains stop there per day.
Aggie was just about to turn the sign on the door and had already shot the bolt, when through the small inset window she caught sight of a hunched figure making it’s way down through the calf-deep snow on the lane that ran directly away up towards the mountains. Picking up her glasses from where they lay at the end of their chain on her ample chest, she peered out through them.
Aggie could make out the distinctive hunched shape of Moyra, trudging through the snow. With a sigh of regret and longing thoughts of a hot cup of tea, she unbolted the door. Moyra hardly ever came down from her lonely croft, and almost always because she needed something from the store.
A few minutes later, Aggie heard her stamping her feet to knock off the snow and Moyra slid through the door. She had a odd way of walking, hunched over and with one shoulder slightly forward of the other. Most people thought it was on account of her twisted spine, making her hunchbacked. But Aggie had seen her stand-up straight, taller than she would’ve imagined, to reach for something on a top shelf.
There was no denying she had a hunch, Aggie had seen the bump under the cloak Moyra wore in every weather at any season, but the reason she favoured her right side the way she did probably had more to do with whatever had made the right side of her face a twisted, scarred ruin that she tried to hide under the tumbling curtain of her wild black hair.
No-one in Culain knew exactly when Moyra had arrived, although it had been some years ago. She just moved into the semi-ruined abandoned croft up by Culain Brun, the small lake up in a high valley among the mountains and set about rebuilding the old bothy or shepherd's hut with her bare hands. The first anyone knew of her was when she’d come down to the village for supplies one spring day, and she’d already turned the half-derelict rough stone hut into a snug and weather-proof one room cottage by then.
Some had said at the time she must’ve been in a fire, certainly the scars that covered half her face did look somewhat like that. Although Douglas Kinnock who volunteered with mountain rescue said they were more like the sort of thing left by frostbite.
However, that didn’t explain why they only affected half her face, turning it into a stiff mass of red and white scar-tissue, with a deep puckered socket where her eye should be. Neither did it explain the thin parallel scars that were not the result of burns or frostbite, but more like something made by a knife, or maybe even claws.
Aggie stood behind the counter, watching Moyra sidle around the store, looking at things. She’d eventually work up the courage to ask for what she wanted, but there was no point trying to ask the poor girl what it was until she was ready. Aggie had tried a time or two, but Moyra had turned that beautiful, half ruined face to her with a look of wary fear in her brilliant blue eye, and scurried away.
It was generally agreed, usually around a table at the local pub, that whatever had happened to Moyra, it had been no accident. There had even been an attempt or two at first, to find out who had abused the poor woman so dreadfully.
Moyra had all but disappeared for the best part of half a year after Duggie Campbell, the local policeman, had made his way up to her croft and tried asking her what had happened to her. No-one knew where she’d fled to, a cave up in the mountains it was thought, but she’d come down four months later half starved, and no more was said to her after that. Neeve, Duggie’s young wife, had threatened to pack her bags and go back to her mother in Inverness if he even so much as looked at Moyra again!
Even now, years later, Aggie’s blood seethed a little at what she must have had to endure. Aggie, like many of the villagers, felt more than a little protective of the odd, crippled young woman who having escaped from whatever hell she’d been in, clearly feared being found still.
Aggie gave herself a little shake, chiding herself for wool-gathering, and looked around. Moyra slipped closer to the counter, clutching a pack of candles, having noticed Aggie’s attention. The older woman smiled encouragingly at Moyra as she asked.
“Is that all you’re wanting now?”
Moyra nodded as her right hand encased in her customary glove to hide the scars, with its careful stuffing substituting for her missing ring and little fingers, slipped out from under the folds of her floor-length cloak and placed two coins on the counter.
Aggie smiled at her.
“Och dear, I’ve some wee cakes near their sell-by date. I can be letting you have them for free now, as you’d be saving me from throwing them out.”
Startled Moyra looked up from under the hood of her cloak at Aggie, and smiled at her in that twisted way that looked like sunlight after a week of rainy days.
“Thank you.” she whispered in her strange lilting accent, before ducking her head again.
“Ohh now. you’re welcome dearie. I’ll just go and fetch them from the back. I’ve got the kettle on too, if you want a cuppa to warm yourself up before going out again.”
“You are too kind... thank you, that would be most welcome. The cold makes my... bones, ache.”
“Ach, mine too!”
Aggie shook her head as she entered the snug little private room at the back of the store. It must have been cold out indeed. Moyra usually said no more than two words together before fleeing again. Although Aggie rather doubted it was her bones that ached in the weather, but that was the nearest to mentioning her injuries that Moyra had ever come, as far as Aggie knew of.
Moments later Aggie came back through carrying a bag of cakes and a tray with two mugs and a steaming pot of tea on it. Moyra had drawn up one of the stools that lived by the counter, for the older villagers to sit on.
As Moyra saw Aggie she hastily started moving aside the bundles of magazines that were lying on the counter awaiting collection the next morning. Aggie happened to be looking at Moyra when she suddenly froze, staring down at a magazine. Aggie could see her face drain of blood, the scars in her brow jumping out in stark relief as shock made her one good eye fly open.
Aggie hurried to put the tray down, wondering what had upset her so, as Moyra ripped a magazine free of it’s bundle snapping the rubber band, wailing in a cracked voice as pitiful as it was painful to hear.
“No!..Oh no! Nononono! How could she! Ars Skaltraq!! She was supposed to stay safe!”
Moyra tore the cover off of the magazine, clutching it to her breast, then turned and fled the shop. Heedless of the cold, of her forgotten purchases, and of the bewildered and dumbfounded Aggie staring open mouthed behind her. Out into the snow she ran, her tattered cloak flying behind her as long legs ate the distance to her croft.
Aggie wasn’t sure how long she stood staring in shock out through the open doorway, long enough for a small drift to form on the mat. Feathers.. she thought... there were feathers under her cloak. Like a crow’s wing only bigger.
It was later, as Aggie was clearing up, that it occurred to her to wonder which magazine had upset Moyra so. After looking at what remained of the copy Moyra had torn the cover off, Aggie hunted through the small stand until she found another copy of Rolling Stone.
Much later, sitting at a corner table in the pub with a dram of whisky in front of her, Aggie had unfolded the magazine for all to see.
The cover that produced many an indrawn breath and thoughtful looks among those around the table, proclaimed to be New York’s latest singing talent... it showed a young woman, dressed in a long-sleeved white and gold unitard and leggings under short skirt and vest top, her snowy white wings spread out behind her and her pale golden hair lit like a halo.
and her bothy / croft.
So... I'm going to be starting on book 3 of Theodora's story "Fire in the Deep" and this little snippet of story dropped into my head like a lead brick from orbit. I think there's couple more short bits there, before I start the thing proper sometime in the new year.
Crossposted from: http://siliconshaman.dreamwidth.org/1229730.html comments so far over there.