Chapter 2 : Away, Away
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Lyrics, in italics, are from the traditional Scottish air "Flowers of the Forest" which mourns the fallen. The song inspired this piece, so I'd suggest you YouTube it to get the exact feeling and mood I wrote with. It was also heavily influenced by the "Braveheart" soundtrack.
Reviews are appreciated.
Warning: Substance Use
Lovely image by ariana_tithe @ TDA Thank you Lore!
I grew up here in this small village on the north western coast of Scotland, not far from the cleverly hidden Hogwarts School and Hogsmeade. It’s a very traditional and old fashioned place, remote and removed from most of modern society. I’ve heard the pipers play, I’ve watched them preside over joyous celebration and sad memorial. My brother played the pipes, and our father before him. Many here did, wearing the tartan of their clan and sending their melody on the breezes whipping by.
The heather is bowing in the gale that sweeps off of the sea, whistling through the craggy hills and through the village to this cliff looking over the churning waves. An unfamiliar feeling heaves through my chest, squeezing and constricting, until I’m barely able to breathe. My lungs gasp, but I fight it down until once more I am able to take a steady breath and stand strong. Beside me, my sister clings to the hand of a small boy, who in turn wriggles and writhes away, not understanding the desperate grip his mother holds him in. Nor the reason for it.
The man standing before this assembly is rough hewn, as if from the rock we stand upon, and his huge hands hold a worn book in his hands. He does not read from it just now though, his gaze locks somewhere near mine, evading him, as his powerful and deceptively soft burr utters the rites I am learning to hate. On my other side, I feel a small, warm body press against me.
“What is he saying?” She breathes, rescuing me from my own tumultuous thoughts.
“It’s a Gaelic prayer, love. He’s sending a warrior’s soul to heaven.” She nods as I go on, translating exactly what the brawny man is saying. Glancing down I see the tears upon her lashes. Her great big blue eyes shining in the setting sun, falling down before us. To my other side stands my sister, and her eyes are dry, but not empty. I can see the pride that stands her there, and the strength that comes from these hills in her dark green eyes. Then my eyes turn back to the freshly turned earth before me.
Billy has finished the prayer and silence reigns for a moment. This is the part I’ve been dreading the most. It is no impersonal thing, this gathering. These people know me, they know the boy I was and the man I have become. They knew also the man lying there within the earth. Watched him grow just as I did, before I did. They were there for his birth, for his wedding and the arrival of his first born. And here they waited as we brought him home, a bloody, broken body. He earned the honor of their respect, and they honor him with their true grief.
“Jamie was a good man. A great man.” Billy started. “He loved his family and this land, and he respected it. He was brave, and loyal, and went out without fear to defeat evil. He returned to us a hero, a warrior cut down in noble battle but not defeated. He will be remembered as a loving friend and father, a beloved husband, son, and brother.
I knew him well, and these few words do him no justice. We grew together in this village, learned to fight and drink together. He went off to school where I could not but never forgot our friendship. I stood by him the day he wed Emma, and was one of the first to hold his son. Jamie was a true friend, and a good father. He loved Emma from the time we was just wee laddies ourselves. He told me he would marry her one day, and he did. It took her a bit longer to agree, but he loved her truly. I never saw him so happy as the day she became his bride. I never saw him so proud as the day wee Mackenzie was born. I loved Jamie Wood, aye, as a friend and a brother. May God receive him as a hero ought to be.”
He looked to me next, and I knew it was my turn to speak. I had thought about what I wanted to say all morning. About how brave my brother was, about his undying loyalty and the great feats he accomplished in battle. I had created a speech full of eloquent words that poets would appreciate and would awe those there. But as I opened my mouth to speak, to deliver my grand oration, I couldn’t do it. They would never do him justice.
“I had something prepared to say. I knew what I was going to stand in front of you today and say. They were good words. But they were not Jamie. Jamie was a grand brother. He was the only brother I’ve ever known, and nothing will ever replace him in my heart. He taught me to fight, taught me about the lasses and about honor. I nearly worshipped him as a lad, for he was big and strong. He had that air about him that the lasses loved and the men respected.”
It’s a bit embarrassing, standing in front of this crowd with my throat hoarse from tears I won’t shed and trembling with the effort it takes to speak. I’ve paused a moment to gather me wits, but it’s hard to go on while I stare at the earth he lays beneath. So instead I look out to the sea, to the crashing waves and the azure horizon.
“Jamie loved this place. He loved the heather on the hills, and the people that live here. I remember when I was just ten, and he was home from school. He came here, to this very spot, and stood looking out over the water. He’d just arrived, greeted our father, and came out here. I followed him because I always did. I wanted to always be with him, be like him. He wasn’t a quiet man, Jamie, when he laughed he roared, when he sang he bellowed, when he spoke he boomed. But I remember his silence that day. I came up to him, ready to pester him as younger brothers do, but he put a hand on my shoulder and said ‘Listen Ollie. Listen to the sea.’ So I did.
“Today I understand what he meant. I can hear the waves mourning him, and the wind howling its tears. I remember hearing him up here, playing his pipes, just him and the sea. And I know. He loved this sea. Loved the power he could never grasp. Just as I loved him. I remember fighting with him. On that night. How he growled and leapt into battle, a fine warrior just as our ancestors. As fierce as those waves and as strong. That was our Jamie. He did everything with that intensity. If anyone could match the sea blow for blow, it was our Jamie.
“I could go on about his loyalty and his bravery. But that wasn’t who he was, it was just a part of him. Jamie loved, and he loved deeply. He married a good woman and loved her and loved the son she gave him. He loved his friends, he loved his kin and neighbors. He loved the music of the pipes, and the crash of the waves. But I’ll remember him most because he loved me. Better than I had a right to be loved. He was a good man, a good brother, husband and father.” I looked out unto the sea, unto the waves that were strong and just like Jamie. I don’t know if I spoke to her or Jamie. “May God bless ye.”
It didn’t feel like enough. How could I ever tell them what Jamie meant? How could I describe the way he hugged me as a lad, or how he patiently taught me how to sit a broomstick? I can never communicate the feelings my memories brought me. Jamie comforting me when I had nightmares as a child, his laughter as I listened to his stories. The way he let me follow him about. Going with me to buy my first wand, and seeing me off to school. Our mother was gone and our father was old when I was a child, so Jamie was oft times both to me. Listening to my troubles, answering every one of my letters and sending a few more beside. Teaching me to throw a quaffle, or a fist. He was there when I drank my first whiskey, when I wooed the first lass at the pub. He was there when Elsie broke my heart in sixth year, and when I learned I’d be playing professional quidditch. He’d been the first I’d told when Alicia, the girl I’d liked since I was fourteen and she thirteen, finally agreed to go out with me last year. How could I live my life without him? Never hear his laughter, or feel him throw an arm about my shoulders and shore me up when things were bad. I’ll never hear him croon to little Mackenzie, or any other babes. I’ll never hear him play his pipes again.
Cor, how I loved to hear those pipes. I’ve never learned, never had the patience, but I loved to hear him play. Sitting outside the front door, serenading the village. Or on the bluff we now stood on, singing to the sea. How she sang for him now. Calling him into the depths. I could almost hear the sound now, haunting my thoughts. Tears prick my eyes as I turn to my left. Ian stands there, his plaid on, his pipes in his arms. The sound swells and swirls around me, capturing all my senses and taking away my breath. It’s a melody I know well.
Beside me Emma hums softly, quiet words slipping out every other breath. But it’s the last line that grips my heart and lets the salty moisture drip at last down my cheeks. “The flowers of the forest are a’wede away.”
Withered away. A song for the fallen. As the melody weeps around us, I cannot help but weep too. ‘There’s no shame in tears, Ollie’ Jamie told me, on the day we buried our father. ‘They say the words we never can.’ So I wept, not just for my brother whom I love still, but for Emma and wee Mackenzie. But mostly for myself and the pain I can no’ banish.
The flowers of the forest, that fought aye the foremost
The pride o’ our land lies cauld in the clay