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Once Upon a Highland Christmas

By:Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Once Upon a Highland Christmas

Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Once Upon a Highland Christmas…

In the hills and glens of Scotland’s most rugged bounds, the clans brightened winter darkness with blazing log fires, well-flaming torches, and the golden glow of fine wax candles. Proud Highlanders would tell you that this was the most glorious corner of the world and that fierce, wild weather only made it better. To be sure, they knew how to live with the cold, and how to make merry.

Christmas was a joyous occasion.

The frosty nights provided a reason for kith and kin to gather in crowded great halls where festive lights and noisy revels welcomed one and all. Honeyed mead and hot spiced ale warmed gullets and spirits alike. And the feasting was a sight to behold, each holly-draped table decked with scrumptious fare, every delicacy imaginable.

Times were good and folk made merry.

Pipe and fiddle music filled halls lavishly decorated with evergreen. In some castles, lovely ladies strummed harps. Everywhere in these rugged bounds, men and women danced and sang beneath boughs of ivy and mistletoe. And always, bards stood before hearthsides, spinning wondrous tales. All ages enjoyed the gaiety.

Outside, the nights were cold and crisp, snow gently falling.

The beauty of such bright moonlit landscapes put tears in the eyes of the hardest men.

Women were too busy for such sentiment. But despite the bustle and toil, they smiled and laughed, their faces shining and their hearts full.

For the joy of the season was bountiful, and shared by everyone.

So it was sad when Yule fell out of favor with a clan famed for its celebrations.

MacNabs, they were.

And their home was Duncreag, a jewel among castles. Splendid and remote, the stronghold perched high atop jagged peaks and was ever crowned with a wreath of mist. Lofty and proud, Duncreag was well loved by Clan MacNab and always drew awe from visitors.

Folk came often in those days for the MacNabs were known for their storytelling and song. How gladly they shared a roaring fire and plentiful victuals and ale. Indeed, their larder and cellar were bottomless, aye bursting with enough feast goods to entertain an endless stream of guests.

The MacNabs’ openhanded generosity earned them many friends. And even their enemies grudgingly admitted no clan hosted a grander feast.

Yet those who soar are prone to crashing.

When the fall came, Clan MacNab suffered a mighty blow. Some say they spiraled clear down to hell’s deepest pit. Hardship and ill fortune hammered them with a vengeance. As if such troubles weren’t enough, a band of rogue warriors launched a vicious attack on Duncreag. Their leader, Ralla the Victorious, so named because he’d never lost a fight, wanted the stronghold as his own. And all because of the treasure he believed was hidden within Duncreag’s walls. The castle fell easily, but the hoard of gold was never found. Ralla’s fury was terrible and brought the loss of many MacNab loved ones. The clan’s sorrows mounted, their grief untold. Darkness descended and shadows lengthened until the clan’s gaiety was no more.

Instead of laughter, music, and song, a sad stillness cloaked the castle.

And so as days and months passed, and then a full year, it came as no surprise when it became known that Duncreag’s famed Yuletide revels weren’t to be held.

Most folk were sympathetic. But some voiced disapproval. Either way, those who said anything, did so in whispers.

That was because, regardless of opinion, everyone knew why Archibald, the aging MacNab chieftain, took such drastic measures.

And it was beneath Highland dignity to rub salt into his wounds.

No one knew how to heal them either, so folk stayed away.

Archie was left to stew in gloom as the winter nights drew in and cold, north winds rose to howl around Duncreag’s towers. The snow also deepened and the brittle air chilled everyone to the bone. Of Yule, there was no sign whatsoever, not even a sprig of holly.

Man and beast skulked about, silent as possible, for no one wished to break the brooding laird’s peace.

Nor did anyone want to risk his wrath.

Only two souls dared…

A battle-hardened warrior who believed in love for everyone except himself and the spirited lass determined to change his mind.

For the good of all, it came to pass that they set out to prove Duncreag and its cantankerous, unwilling laird deserved a festive season.

That’s when their trouble begins.

Grim, the fierce Highland warrior, might not believe in tender feelings, but he’s never tangled with a bold and beautiful lass like Breena, a onetime Irish slave girl. And Breena isn’t above using all her wiles to win the heart of the man who already holds hers.

Yet as they surrender to passion and even Grim begins to suspect he’s fallen in love, an unexpected threat rises from the past.