Paul’s Music


Suzanne Brown

A fairytale yet to happen on the Isle of Skye.

“Probably spam,” Paul thought, reading his messages in his flat in Glasgow, and he almost deleted the email, but he remembered in time that spam wasn’t likely to have his name in the header. Confirmation for Paul Burns was showing, and he could see just the beginning of the message, Paul, We have found. . . He hovered over the return address and saw the message came from Preserving Sounds of Scotland. He could open it, at least. It should be safe as long as he didn’t click on anything.

Paul, We have found a box containing old music lyrics and notations in the ruins of a farmhouse near Portree. We know of your interest in the old music and we’d like to offer these manuscripts to you. We don’t want to trust them to the postal service, even with signed delivery. They’re too precious, and many are too fragile. We believe the box to date from the late seventeenth century, although some of the documents may be copies of much older works. We’re eager to hear you play them and trust you’ll bring the music to a wider audience. Therefore, we’ve arranged for your travel to Skye, where we can give you the box in person. Your tickets for the ferry are reserved. Your B&B reservation is confirmed paid. You can access either with the links below. Do, please, bring your fiddle. Many of the local residents haven’t heard these pieces played in their lifetimes and want to be first, before they’re introduced to the world. We’ll forward money to your account for any expenses. We’re anticipating hearing you play. It will be good to hear the old songs again. A camera wouldn’t go amiss, if you have one. The scenery on Skye is lovely in the autumn. I’ll meet you there. There was the address of a B&B with directions, and the email was signed, Blane, with the name of the organization, Preserving Sounds of Scotland, underneath.

This couldn’t be real. He closed the email without clicking the links, just to be safe. But curiosity caused him to look at his online money account. Yes, there it was, a transfer waiting to be claimed, for £500. He looked at the email again and felt his stomach clench when he saw that the dates corresponded with his planned vacation time from his work. This could happen. He could actually. . .

I shouldn’t do this, he thought. It’s a responsibility better undertaken by. . . But he couldn’t think of who would be the proper person to investigate a reported cache of ancient music, possibly tunes not heard in two or three hundred years among them. It isn’t me, he thought. But the urge was too strong to resist.

Paul woke a little earlier than usual the next day. He lay for a few minutes, not opening his eyes, trying to catch the last of the dream before it slipped away. He could still feel the breath on his cheek, or had it been a breeze? He’d been outdoors in the dream, so either was possible. There had been a touch on his hand, too. And a voice—singing? Speaking? And a whisper, too soft to identify the speaker, even man or woman. Ye’ll come back. Whatever else had been in the dream, whatever had come before, was too far away. He couldn’t pull it back. It had melted into the place where dreams go, where they can’t be recalled. Ye’ll come back. But back to where? Wherever it was, he wanted to be there, to feel the touch on his hand and the brush against his cheek, whether breath or breeze. He sighed and pulled himself out of bed.


Paul drove himself to Portree that autumn. It wasn’t necessary to ask for directions to the B&B; the directions were written clearly on the reservation confirmation, again signed only “Blane.” He parked his car and went to the door. Whatever Paul expected when he knocked, the woman who answered was not that. He had expected his hosts to be older, but the woman, while not truly ancient, looked to Paul to be a bit too old to be bringing guests into her home. She looked sturdy enough, he supposed, to manage for herself and her husband, but he wondered if they needed the income so badly, to take in strangers in a B&B at their age. She smiled when she saw him.

“I’m Paul.” He was holding his suitcase in one hand, his fiddle and the letter in another, so he only nodded a greeting.

“Och, and so ye are,” she responded. “And I’m Mòrag. This here,” she gestured to the man behind her, someone her own age and in a wheelchair, “is Rab.”

Paul hesitated a moment. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I must have come to the wrong house.” He looked down at the letter, frowning. “I think I’m looking for someone named Blane.”

“Och, aye.” The man wheeled back, giving Paul room to enter. “Blane’s the one who invited ye, all right. But this is where you’re meant to stay.”

“Indeed.” Mòrag’s smile crinkled her face. “Ye’ll have the upstairs to yourself. What with Rab and the wheelchair, we stay down on the ground floor, but upstairs is all ready for you.” She gestured to the stairs. “Ye can manage to get your things up there alone, right? We’ve no got help here just the now, what with it being so late in the year. Not so many tourists, don’t you know?” He took a step towards the stairs, but then she said, “Supper is at six. Do ye need me tae bring it up to ye, or will ye be coming down?”

“This is a B&B, isn’t it?” Paul asked. “I wasn’t expecting anything until morning.”

“Och, that’s just the formality,” Rab scoffed. “We’re no having ye here, and ye a guest invited by Blane, and no be taking care of ye.” His smile was as genuine as his wife’s.

“I’ll show ye which room ye’re tae have,” Mòrag said, leading the way up the stairs. Paul followed, carrying his own suitcase.

The room was cheery, well lit by a wall of tall windows with a view of the hills, where there were no other homes in sight. Paul thanked Mòrag, promised to be downstairs in time for supper, and waited as she left, closing the door.

He put the suitcase on a bench and opened it. Should he live out of the suitcase for the days he would be here? Or should he put things away in the press? He opted for the press, but it made him a bit uncomfortable. “It’s almost presumptive,” he told himself, “moving in and taking over their space.” But he thought Mòrag might come and do it herself if he left it undone, so he unpacked and tried not to feel too intrusive.

Supper was hearty and warm, suited to the early autumn evening. Paul had meant to ask about the old papers, the reason for his trip to Skye, but he found it difficult to speak, watching Rab with his dinner. He hadn’t noticed when he first arrived, but Rab’s hands were so twisted with arthritis that he had trouble managing his fork. A knife was only necessary, Paul saw, to butter the bread, but Rab took his slice plain. By preference, Paul wondered, or by necessity? He focused on his own plate, to avoid staring.

Rab looked up from his plate briefly to address Paul. “I expect Blane said summat to ye about the old music?”

Paul looked up and smiled, relieved that Rab had brought up the subject himself. “Yes. I’m anxious to see the manuscripts.”

“Aye, well, it’s no so much written down, see. The words are put to paper, but ye’ll have tae hear the music played. I dinna think they knew sae much about marking music so’s it can be read, so far back in time. Tis all still in the box where it was found. It used tae be an old lap desk, see. Nobody writes letters much in that old way, so now there’s no much use for a lap desk, except tae hold old papers and keep them from being chewed to shreds by the mice.”

“Rab!” Mòrag’s voice was almost sharp. “We’re no having mice here!”

“Aye, that’s true. I meant in the old house, of course, where the box was found after so many years. But just in case we get a wee wandering mouse, by accident, the papers will nae be bothered.”

He put his hands to the wheels of his chair and rolled back away from the table. “If ye’ll come wi’ me to the parlor, I’ll give ye the box.” He talked as he wheeled, Paul following. “I’m no in the way of playing the fiddle mysel’ any more, but someone will be playing for ye soon enough, and ye can see how the old tunes go.” He chuckled. “And I never was one as could sing, so nothing’s lost there. Dinna expect me to sing the songs.” He stopped smiling, and Paul could feel a sigh that didn’t quite escape the old man. “Time was I could play a good fiddle tune, though.”

Paul had no response to that. What could he say? I’m sorry about your hands? That was too rude, Paul decided. Neither did he want to seem impatient or ungrateful by asking when someone else could play the songs. But Rab wasn’t waiting for an answer.

“And ye’ve brought a tune or two, to trade? They do like to get something in return, when they give you the songs.”

“I’ve only written a wee bit on my own,” Paul answered, “but I’m glad to share what I have. Or did you mean the old songs, too?”

“Whatever ye have. Tis best if they’ve not heard it before, but if ye play a familiar tune well, that will be considered a fair trade. And tomorrow, we’ll be going into Portree, to the pub. There’s they as is expecting to hear ye play and listen to them play in turn. And ye never know what’ll come of it.” He smiled warmly at Paul.

As Paul set foot on the stairs, thinking to go to his room and look over the contents of the box, Mòrag spoke from behind him.

“Dinna be thinking ye’ll be disturbing us with your playing. Twill be good to have the fiddle music in the house again, and it will cheer Rab to hear it. Play as much as ye’d like.”

“I don’t want to keep you awake,” Paul said. “It can wait until morning.”

“Och, ye don’t understand us old ones. There’s no so much sleeping at night sometimes. Ye’ll no be disturbing us. And if we are asleep, it will just be part of our dreams. We don’t sleep so well, but we don’t wake so easily, either.” She glanced back at the parlor, where Rab was still in his chair, then said, quietly, “Rab’s mind wanders some, and he gets fanciful. Don’t think that everything he tells you is real. He does have his ideas, but it’s just the way an old man’s mind does, making him think he’s done things and talked to folks what aren’t even there. There’s no one named Blane around here. Rab wrote that message himself, I’m sure. The music is real enough, only there’s no Blane, only Rab. You’ve been so kind to let him have his little fancies, but they’re only that.”

The dream came again that night, and again in the morning all Paul could remember was a brief touch and a whispered Ye’ll come back.


Paul waited to go downstairs until he could hear some activity in the kitchen. He didn’t want to put his hosts out, being up too early for them, but once downstairs he could see that breakfast was on the table. Rab wheeled his chair into the dining room, stopping next to Paul and dropping what looked like a rough canvas parcel at Paul’s feet, canvas so old Paul couldn’t tell what the original color might have been. It took him a moment to realize it was an ancient rucksack.

“Ye’d best be using this,” Rab said. “It’ll hold all you’ll be needing, food and the box and such. And your fiddle,” he added, nodding to the instrument case, “if you angle it just right. Ye’ll be needing that, I expect. Likely there’s they that will want to hear you.”

“Och, Rab,” Mòrag scolded. “Now don’t be going on about folk he’ll be meeting on the paths. Tis likely he won’t be meeting anyone, and he’ll be coming back disappointed, sure, if you fill his head with your tales.” She turned to Paul. “I’ll fix ye anything ye’d like for a picnic, do ye want to go up the paths. Only, ye’re no likely to be meeting with many folk. Most all the tourists that want to do the hills and such go tae Uig. It’s a right job they have, taking a picture when there’s a whole bus load of them tramping all over. Still, it’s the place tourists know of. Tis only the few of us who go up the path here.”

Rab nudged the rucksack with his toe and went on as though Mòrag hadn’t spoken. “Only be sure you’re nae leaving anything behind. That’s one thing they’re particular about, is a mess left behind. Keep the place clean, and ye’ll no be run off.” He leaned in and said in a low voice, “And they’ll no take kindly tae fanciful names. They’re just folk.”

“Rab!” Mòrag warned.

Paul could see he was expected to walk the hill paths this morning, and probably into the afternoon. He hadn’t had a chance to see all the old papers yet, and he wondered if it would be rude to refuse, so he could study the music, but then Rab, pushing himself to the table, said, as he looked over his plate, “And take the box with ye. No telling who will be along to help ye with the music.”


Paul was well into the hills, the old rucksack on his left shoulder, being careful to stay near the path. “Follow the path to the pool,” Rab had told him as he had set out, “the one with the wee waterfall coming down from the burn. There’s a rock where ye can sit and play, and ye’ll get a nice echo, perhaps.”

He found the pool, less than twenty minutes from the house, by following the sound of water splashing. Just as Rab had said, there was a rock outcropping making a natural bench, and another forming a protective wall around the little pool, itself snuggled between close hills. He sat down, rucksack beside him, and took out his fiddle. I’ll just test the sounds, he thought, and played a tune he was familiar with, Braes O’ Killiecrankie. It had a good lilt to it and would sound well even without accompaniment.

Rab had been right. There looked to Paul to be too much green growth for there to be an echo, but he was sure there was a fullness to the sound, which had to be his own music coming back on itself. It was a pleasant sound and he quite enjoyed it, so much that he went on playing.

The music sheets would still be there, when he returned for the evening meal and could go to his room to study.

Next he played Battle of Harlaw, and now the echo took on the sound of the bodhran. He didn’t falter, but he felt the sound throb through his body. This was too good to stop. He followed with more of the old tunes, listening as the echo changed to suit the music.

Paul reluctantly put his fiddle away at midday and took out the lunch that Mòrag had packed. He expected to see only bread and cheese, but she had made a sandwich of ham and what he recognized as fresh farm cheese, on a soft, fine-grained bread made in someone’s kitchen. He tried to imagine Mòrag making bread and found the picture coming easily to his mind.

He had just a couple of bites left of his sandwich when a black and white border collie bound into the little space between himself and the pond. A voice called to it, so Paul wasn’t surprised when a man of middle years appeared, carrying a trash bag nearly half full, and with another collie at his side.

“Here, now,” the man said to the dog, and to Paul he said, “I hope he hasn’t helped himself to your lunch.”

“As a matter of fact, I was just wondering what to do with these last two bites of sandwich.” Paul broke the bit of sandwich into two pieces. The older dog stayed seated by the man, but the young one bounced in anticipation. Another sharp word, and the dog sat, but he trembled with the effort. Paul handed a piece to each dog and then turned to look at the man.

“My name’s Paul,” he said, and waited. Was this Blane, then, come to help with the music as Rab had hinted? Mòrag had said there was no one named Blane, but Rab had sounded so sure.

“I’m Don. I live down the path a bit but I’m out with the dogs” (he pronounced it “dugs” in the island way), “looking after the place.” He looked around. “Just seeing if there’s any trash left to clean up, after the season.”

“I’ve been warned already,” Paul said. “Rab said folk here wouldn’t take kindly to trash left behind, so I’m prepared to take anything out with me that I brought in.”

“You’re not the kind to leave a mess,” Don agreed. “Mainly it’s those in caravans who leave trash wherever they camp. Americans can be the best, some of them, but others are the worst. Almost as bad are the English here on holiday.” He watched as Paul gathered the wrappings of his lunch and stuffed them back into the rucksack. “Ah,” Don said. “So you’re staying with Rab and Mòrag? That’s Rab’s rucksack, isn’t it? You must be the one who’s come here to play the fiddle.”

“I’ve come to learn,” Paul said, “and maybe to play some of the songs. I’ve heard there’s someone who can show me the way some of the old music goes.”

Don nodded, his mouth pinched. “I’d best be leaving you to it, then.” He nodded a farewell and called the dogs. The older one stood and walked sedately at his side. The younger dog looked at Paul a minute, Probably making sure there’s no more ham before he leaves, Paul thought, but then the dog scampered after the others, and Paul was alone again.


Paul sat back down on the rock and put the fiddle into his lap. He waited until Don and his dogs were out of view, then waited more until they were possibly out of hearing range. The dogs will likely hear me, he thought, but maybe not the man. He picked up the fiddle again, settling it in place and drawing the bow over the strings, beginning to play Jenny’s Bawbee.

There it was again. This time he was sure it wasn’t an echo. It was strings, answering him, playing the same notes, and it was very faint, very far away, but he thought—maybe—it was a clarsach. He played on.

Now it was a hum, like a voice or maybe a whole chorus, singing without words, answering his notes. He kept playing. The sound grew nearer, sharpening into a single voice but still without words. He closed his eyes, concentrating.

Whoever was singing was beside him now, bending down. The sound didn’t stop but he could feel the breath on his cheek. He didn’t dare open his eyes. He felt the end of the song coming and wondered if he should bridge back into it again, keeping it going, but there was a pressure on his hand, no stronger than a breeze, but definitely wanting him to stop. He stopped and let his eyes open.

There was the most beautiful person he had ever seen, with skin nearly translucent and red hair floating freely, wearing a great kilt in hunter green. Something deep in Paul’s heart began to ache.

“Blane,” Paul breathed.

“Welcome, Paul.”

Paul couldn’t move, but Blane reached out and, very gently, took the fiddle and bow. “Ye’re here to learn,” he said, “and I’m here to teach. Rab will be wanting you to take him to the pub tonight. He’ll find it joyful to be the one to introduce you, and to be among the first to hear. There’s time to give you one song to take along.” He drew the bow over the strings, pulling out a sweet chord, then stopped.

“In the box,” he said, nodding to the lap desk, “ye’ll find the song titled Flowers on the Braes. I havena heard it mysel’ for. . .” he caught himself, “for many a year,” he finished. Paul wondered what Blane had intended to say, how many years might it have been for him.

“I’d think,” Paul said, “that some of these old tunes are still carried on in the old families around here.”

“Aye, that may be, but there’s ones, too, that were silenced after the Duke,” (he said the word with such disdain that Paul was sure it had to be the Duke of Cumberland) “forbade so much of the songs, and the instruments to play them.”

“Then how—” Paul began, but stopped. He’d been about to ask how it was that Blane knew them, if they’d been locked away, but he didn’t ask. No, he told himself, it’s not that I’m afraid of the answer. He tried very hard to believe that.

Perhaps Blane hadn’t noticed because he was plucking strings, sounding out the instrument. “This is where ye start,” he said, and Paul spent the next two hours learning the new piece of music.

Finally, Blane put the fiddle back into its case and the box back into the rucksack. “Twill be dusk soon,” he said. “Rab will be wanting you to take him into Portree, to play at the pub.” He smiled. “Ye’ll no be asked to sing for your supper, but maybe ye’ll be asked to play for it.”

Paul picked up the rucksack and settled the fiddle back into it. “And will you be coming with us?” He tried to ask it casually.

“Nae.” Blane sat on the stone and nodded to the road. “I’m no one for going to the town nor for a pint at the pub. But Rab hasna been for a long while and he’ll be grateful for the chance to be there again, among other men, listening to the old music over a pint.” He nodded again. “I’ll be here awhile yet, to see ye on your way. Ye’ll come back, ye know.”


Paul had just set Rab’s wheelchair up next to the car door and turned to lift the older man when the pub door opened and a border collie bounced out, followed by Don.

“Good to see you, man,” he said to Rab. “We’ve saved a place for the two of you.” He asked Paul to hold the chair steady, then easily pulled Rab to his feet and helped him pivot. When Rab was settled, Don opened the pub door, calling to the dog to stay out of the way as Paul pushed the chair into the room.

It was a brightly lit pub, and Don moved a chair away to let Rab have room at the table. Other men were on either side, men who cheered to see him, and Paul was waved to a seat across the table.

“We’ve a full compliment tonight,” one man observed to Paul, “come to hear what you’ve made of the old tunes. Have your pint now, for you’re to play next, after auld Martin.” Paul turned, and sure enough, there was a man, not one Paul would have called particularly “auld” but well past his youth, coming to stand in front of the bar.

Auld Martin played maybe a half dozen of the Charlie songs, certainly old enough, and many of the patrons had had enough pints between them to sing along, with enthusiasm if not entirely on tune.

“Och, I’ll be needing a pint now, to be sure,” Martin told the crowd, and he returned to his table amid cheers.

“Now you,” Rab said to Paul. “You needn’t play so many as auld Martin, but give us one of the new ones.”

Paul stood where Martin had been. The room was suddenly quiet, watching. “I’ll do what I can,” he said, “but I’ve only had the one day to learn this one. I think I’ve got it right, not having so much to go on in the way of notation, but I’ll do what I can.” He found he didn’t want to mention Blane. It didn’t seem right, here, in this place, surrounded by people he didn’t know. “This one is Flowers on the Braes and I only know the music. I haven’t had time to learn the words, too.” He closed his eyes and remembered the sounds Blane had drawn from the fiddle, and Blane’s hand on his as he took his first tries.

There was no sound when he finished, for a long moment, and then the room erupted in cheers and applause.

It was late when Paul and Rab returned, but Mòrag was sitting up, waiting to help Rab into his bed. Paul, flushed and warm from the evening, fell asleep in his own bed. He dreamed of music by a pool, music enriched by unseen instruments and voices. He dreamed of Blane, and he remembered his dream the next morning. Ye’ll come back.


Paul sat on the rock and took out his fiddle. He hoped Blane wouldn’t wait half the day again before coming. His feelings were warm and strong, suited to something spirited. He chose

Major Donald’s Mairch Tae Harlaw, and again he could feel the bodhran throbbing, but there was no sign of anyone. He tried two more tunes and was rewarded with echoes, but not with the mysterious Blane.

“He was expecting me to return,” Paul said aloud. “He said I’d come back.” He stood for a moment, then turned into the sun and sky visible behind him, away from the pool, and chose a song that said what he was thinking, Will Ye No Come Back Again. Whether it was the theme of the song or the way he was turned with his back to the pool, the voices sang again without words, and then there was Blane, behind him, breath on Paul’s cheek and a hand on Paul’s own. Paul thought his own heart would sing.

Blane himself opened the box of music and chose a page. “We’ll play this, for the morning,” he said, “and then something different this afternoon. We need to get through the pieces in the time ye have here.” He took out a newer page. “And I see ye have a page to write the notes.”

“I downloaded that this morning,” Paul said, and then he wondered, would Blane know about computers and the internet, being isolated here in the hills? Rab and Mòrag had what he’d needed, but then they would, wouldn’t they, for the use of guests at the B&B. But Blane only put the paper back and picked up the fiddle, ready to go on.


“I’ve brought a bit to go with our lunch,” Blane said, as Paul was unpacking sandwiches from the rucksack. He picked up a woven basket from behind the rock, in a place where Paul hadn’t seen it though they’d been at the same spot all morning. Paul unwrapped the sandwiches, and Blane set out scones and honey and wine, with two stone goblets.

“Rab won’t be wanting to go to the pub tonight,” Blane said as they ate ham and cheese. “There’s a football game and there won’t be any music tonight. Rab never was one for the footy.”

“You’ve known Rab a long time, then?” Paul asked. He had a feeling about that, not wanting to share Blane. I have no right to want that, he told himself. But the feeling filled him.

“Oh, aye, since he and Mòrag were newly wedded. They were very much in love then, and he loves her still. She’s all the world to him, and he’s her own.” Blane folded the sandwich wrappings neatly and put them into his own basket. “And now a sweet to end the meal,” he said, pouring honey on scones. He gave one to Paul and took another for himself. “Sweet to end the meal,” he repeated when they’d each eaten their scones.

Paul turned his face up to meet Blane’s own. His mouth tasted of wine and honey.


Paul didn’t know how, but he learned two new pieces of music that afternoon. He thought he wouldn’t be able to concentrate, but Blane was quiet and gentle, picking up the fiddle and one of the old documents. “There’s still time for us,” he said, “and the music won’t wait.”

It was late when Paul left. Blane again sat on the stone, “to see ye off,” as Paul nearly ran back down the path. He was anxious to be in his room, in his bed, with his memory of Blane and wine and honey. But Mòrag had supper ready, and then Rab wanted to hear the music.

“Tis a great place to figure out the old tunes,” Rab said to Mòrag. “I learned a lot about the fiddle music there, by the pool, being alone and all. Tis the silence as does it, and the echo from the hills.”

So, Paul reasoned, Rab doesn’t want to talk about Blane to Mòrag. That helped, to know he didn’t have to share what happened at the pool, and so he only agreed with Rab, that yes, the quiet at the pool lets you hear the echoes, to know how the music itself wants to be played.


The third day finished all the papers in the box. “Now ye know them all,” Blane said, “ye can have your own night at the pub tonight. No need to say how ye learned them, just that it’s the old way with a fiddle. They that know already, well, they know. The rest, they’ll never know.” And he sent Paul on his way.

The pub was filled. Don was there with his dogs, and Mòrag had come, too, to sit with the other women. She was quick to let them know that it was Rab had found the music, years ago, and saved it. And the man playing, well, he was her guest in her own house. She beamed with reflected honor as Paul’s fiddle played.


“Does it never rain here?” Paul asked Blane the fourth day. “I thought the weather would be wet and chilly this time of year, on Skye.”

“Do ye want it to rain?” Blane seemed amused.

“No, of course not. The fiddle can’t get wet, and we couldn’t play it. I’d have to come without it, and then what’s the purpose? We’d just be soaked here, with nowhere to shelter.”

“We’d make a shelter,” Blane said, “in the old way, from my plaid. We’d be safe enough there from the wet, against the stones and covered with the wool. We’d no be able to play the fiddle, though, so maybe ye’ll not think it worthwhile?” He ended with a questioning sound.

“I’d think it worthwhile.” Paul was whispering.

“Well, then, perhaps it will rain tomorrow after all.” Blane was smiling.

Paul wished he’d brought a kilt of his own, even the small modern kilt, but he hadn’t thought of it. Another great kilt to take off and add to the shelter. Or a small kilt, the modern one that, while not functional as a plaid, was still easy to remove.

Blane took his hand and held it for a moment, and then reached for the fiddle. “We’ll hear what you’ve learned,” he said, “and I’ll learn the new one, The Streets Where I’ve Lived. And maybe I’ll learn as quickly as you. We need to get it all done today, if it’s to rain tomorrow.”


Paul had a kilt, after all. He’d asked Mòrag if there was a place in the town where he could get a length of wool and a belt, and she’d answered that there was no need, that she had such a piece. “It belonged to my da, and it’s something I’ve kept, meaning to do something with it but no idea what.” And she brought a plaid in a dark blue tartan to his room. “There’s the belt, too,”

she said. “There’s a sark but no sporran. He didna save that. And ye’d no be wanting to go out in brogans. Ye’re everyday boots for the hikes will be best. Ye see tis a hunting plaid, meant for the weather.”

She questioned him about going out when it threatened rain. “Are ye sure? Twill be wet and cold if the rain brings wind.” But he was sure.

“It will give character to the music,” he said. “The best artists suffer for their work.”

But it wasn’t suffering, between Paul and Blane, dry and sheltered against the rocks, Blane’s plaid under them and Paul’s plaid over, to keep out the rain.

“Ye’ll be leaving, then,” Blane said, after the last kiss, after the rain ended and they were wrestling with their plaids. They laughed a bit at their own awkwardness, the ridiculousness of having to lie down on the folds in order to dress. They took turns pulling each other to their feet and brushing mostly imaginary grass from each other’s plaids. And then Blane stopped laughing. “Ye’ll go back tae Glasgow tomorrow. Be sure to share the music,” he added. “Ye’ve paid a great price for it, and I’ve paid the same, to let it go.” He whispered, “I’ve paid the same, to let ye go, Paul.”

He stood at the rock, watching Paul going down the path in the dim light after the rain. Paul didn’t turn back.


Paul didn’t sleep at all. He turned himself out of bed in the predawn light and slipped away quietly, taking only the fiddle and leaving Mòrag and Rab to their sleep. He went to the rock, sat with his back to the pool, and played Greysteil. His anguish at leaving poured into the notes.

The last notes faded until even Paul couldn’t claim to hear an echo from the hills. He laid the fiddle back into its case and stood up from the rock. Without turning around, he said, as quietly as a breath, “Good-bye.”

Ye’ll come back. It was whispered more than spoken, but Paul could hear it, nevertheless. Ye’ll come back to me, and I’ll be waiting.

“What if I can’t come again for a year?”

I’ll wait a year.

“Ten years?” Paul suggested. “Twenty? A hundred?” He kept his back to the fairy pool, afraid of seeing. Afraid of not seeing.

I’ll wait a hundred years. Where would I go? I’m Folk. Come to the pool, to the stone, and I’ll be waiting.

“I won’t wait a hundred years. If I haven’t come in a hundred years, you’ll know that I’m dead.”

Ye’ll come back, and it won’t be a hundred years.

“What if I’m dead?”

If ye’re dead, I’ll mourn. But still ye’ll come.


Paul was quiet on the drive back to Glasgow. He stopped only when he must, to eat, although it was habit and not hunger. Tomorrow he’d be back at work, but today, he wanted to hold onto the feeling and the sound and the taste of Blane.

It wasn’t until he was in his bed, alone in the dark, that he clutched his pillow, trying not to weep. And then he dreamed, and he remembered his dream.

Ye’ll come back.

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