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Authors: Melanie Jackson

Tags: #fiction

Night Visitor

Night Visitor

Melanie Jackson

LOVE SPELL        
        NEW YORK CITY

Her True Love’s Call

The outline of his shape was hazy, as if a veil of fog had been flung over him, but there was no mistaking her guest’s identity.

“Are ye coming soon, lass?”
His lips didn’t move, but she heard the question in her mind.

Vapor rose between them like mist off a lake and a salt tang filled the air. Behind it, she could see the piper’s pupils expanding until the black all but overran the pale grey of the irises. There were reflections moving in those eyes, but they weren’t of the inn’s plain room.

He leaned forward, parting the hazy veil with his broad shoulders. Bits of vapor clung to his locks as he thrust his way through the mist that divided them.

He reached out an insubstantial finger to touch her cheek, and a shiver at the feathery touch of something half-recognized rippled through her skin. It was like velvet, only softer, and scorching to the touch; mist that was fire, fog that burned.

She could see more clearly now, the images moving in his eyes. There were trees and an altar with two figures embracing upon it; one small and golden, the other taller and dark.

“Are ye coming tae me, lass?”
The voice asked again, demanding an affirmative answer.

“Yes,” another voice answered. She dimly recognized it as her own.

To my parents, with love.

Author’s Note

The story of the piper of Duntrune is a true one and I have made an effort to convey the incident in a factual, if colorful, manner. As is common with incidents in the far past, especially less-noted ones, the documents chronicling this event are scarce. The accounts I have read insist that Dean Mapleton was a bishop in the Episcopal Church. This will seem odd to many people who have come to think of the Episcopalian religion as being an American one (an arm of the Anglican Church that has its roots in the American Revolution). But the reformed Episcopal Church was alive and kicking in Great Britain from 1844 onward, including in London where the heroine lived, and it appealed to people who did not entirely approve of rule by bishops. (It is an interesting side note that two-thirds of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were nominal members of the Anglican Church, and that they did not want to bring the episcopal—i.e. bishops’—rule to the States and that this is what laid the groundwork for the formation of the American Episcopal Church.)

It is a gross simplification of the events surrounding the Year of Miracles, but for the purposes of understanding the cast of
Night Visitor
there were four main power players at work in the area around Duntrune: the Anglicans (English episcopals), Covenanters (Scottish puritans), Catholics (loyalists to King Charles I including the piper of Duntrune, Colkitto, and the Irish mercenaries known as
Gallowglas),
and the Campbells (who were looking after themselves). Where possible, I have used characters’ own words to describe thoughts and events, but when I could find no records I supplied them with opinions on a best-guess basis. This story is also peopled with entirely fictional characters, and I have invented terrain, geography, architecture—and even decor as needed. For a purely factual account of the events that took place during Montrose’s campaign, I recommend the book
Colkitto
by Kevin Byrne.

As to the
still-folk
in
Night Visitor,
there were probably faeries hanging about the castle, but sadly I have found no documentary evidence to support this supposition. All references to things magical are created out of my imagination, though every good Celt knows that faeries are as real as brownies or kelpies and must be treated with the same respect—which I made every effort to do.

Happy Reading,

Melanie Jackson

Prologue

Duntrune Castle

Fall, 1888

Though he had no previous experience with exorcisms, Bishop Mapleton thought that dawn seemed a propitious hour to conduct one.

It wasn’t that he wished to perform this act. He was a kind man, a good master, a doting grandfather. And he was fully aware that the Episcopal Church frowned upon any unsanctioned practice of such unconventional ceremonies—but with the discovery of those handless bones under the dressing room floor of his castle and the renewal of the infernal playing, which is rumored to have been heard by the castle’s owners in centuries past from the battlements above the master’s
bedroom, he had to do something! The household staff was thoroughly sick of hearing those damned ghostly bagpipes playing
Piobaireachd-dhun-Naomhaig
to a bloody Colonsay Loyalist who had been dead for over two centuries. One hysterical housemaid had already resigned her position and now the cook was threatening to leave as well.

Mapleton had tried prayer, Christian burial of the bones, and even reasoned conversation with the entity that plagued his household. All to no avail. Every sunrise…every sunset…the piper’s warning to his master floated out from the castle walls, the indictment of its faulty metre there for everyone to hear.

Well, he had had enough! The reproach was completely misdirected. None of the dead piper’s ills was of his doing, Mapleton assured himself, casting an uneasy glance at the ancient banner of the Campbells that hung in his hall. The ugly boar’s head, bathed in moonlight, seemed to glare at him with enraged little eyes.

“Utter nonsense,” he muttered, walking hurriedly away from the tusked swine.

And if this playing kept up he would be made a laughingstock. He was a bishop! He didn’t have to tolerate some damned Papist ghost rousting him out of bed every bloody morning.

Still, this was a sensitive matter, likely to provoke gossip with the locals who were sympathetic
to the ghost. So, without explaining why, he had ordered a watch to be kept and that the chapel bells were to toll a death knell upon the first showing of dawn in the eastern sky. Fearful of oversleeping Mapleton had chosen to remain awake the entire night through, with only a decanter of brandy and a Bible for companions.

Now he waited nervously in the cold and dark. As soon as the solemn peal began, he lit the candles on his impromptu altar and opened his prayer book. It was too dim to read, but that was no hindrance; he had the passages memorized.

Feeling somewhat awkward, and hoping that he would not be discovered by his staff or congregation in what felt somehow like a vulgar act, Mapleton began reciting quietly and hurriedly:

Most Glorious Prince of the Heavenly Armies, defend us against the spirits of wickedness in high places. The Lord has trusted the souls of the redeemed to be led into Heaven. We offer our prayers to the Most High, that without delay they may draw down His mercy upon us, and take hold of this pipe-playing serpent and cast him and his bagpipes into the bottomless pit.

Mapleton looked about uneasily, but could see no one nearby to witness his actions. He blew a warming breath over his naked fingers and went on:

His enemies are scattered. As smoke is driven away, so are they driven; as wax melts before the fire, so the wicked perish in the presence of the Lord. We drive you from us, unclean, cacophonous spirits. Begone! I command thee!

His last syllable had not yet died away when the sun burst full over the horizon and the sound of mournful bagpipes could be heard droning to life up in the empty, gray battlements. Apparently, his application of the old ceremony to remove the ghost from the castle hadn’t worked.

Mottled with rage and frustration, the bishop barely restrained himself from hurling his prayer book at the invisible spirit.

“Bloody, damned Papist! Don’t you know you’ve lost the war? King Charles is dead! The MacColla’s dead—and so are you!” Mapleton’s voice trembled with outrage as he snatched up the brandy decanter, unsure for a moment whether to drink the contents or to throw them.

Reason prevailed. Brandy was expensive and the decanter was a particularly fine one, purchased in London by Mapleton’s father when he was presented with honors at Oxford in 1857.

“Stubborn, bloody ghost,” he muttered. “But there must be something that will silence you.”

As Mapleton stalked toward his library, drawing deeply from the imported spirits, he began to
wonder if some other unseen agent of greater and darker power was at work in his home. After all,
something
had prompted him to wantonly spend his hard-earned money to remove a perfectly sound floor in his dressing room and turn this most grievous ghost loose upon the castle.

Maybe it was time for him to consult with old Andro, the grave-digger. The man was a fool, but he knew more about highland lore than anyone in Kilmartin; drastic situations called for drastic measures, the bishop assured himself. Something had to be done!

Chapter One

Kilmartin, Scotland

Late Summer, 1888

Taffy Lytton knelt on a throw pillow, sweltering in the old, closed carriage that had been converted to a small but portable photographer’s studio. She didn’t notice the heat, being completely preoccupied with developing her plates. The gelatin emulsion of the dry plate formula was a great deal easier to control than other methods she had learned, but still required a high degree of care and attention. Her father, Davis Lytton, was already skeptical of the benefit of her presence at his archaeological site; she didn’t want to make any mistakes that would have him sending her photographs off to Eastman Kodak for developing.

To date, he had nothing to complain of in her photographic skills, she thought proudly. Her images of the great linear cemetery at Dunnard Fort were excellent. The five-thousand-year-old tombs had never looked better. These new plates of the Kilmartin cemetery were also coming out well, though they were of too modern a date to be of real interest to her parent, whose passion was reserved for the Picts and the ancient Celtic tribes of Scotland, Briton, Ireland, and Wales.

His obsession with the old cultures was so great that he had insisted upon naming her Tafaline, a Welsh corruption of a Hebrew name. Corruption was right! She insisted on being called
Taffy.

“And may the devil swallow it sideways,” she muttered, then glanced about guiltily in case anyone was lingering outside the carriage’s door and heard her unlady-like cursing.

Taffy passed a sooty hand over her brow and burped delicately. The
spotted lumpy dick
she had been offered for breakfast by the well-meaning Mistress MacIntyre was not sitting well in her stomach. It was simply too hot for eating thick porridge. She would have to speak to the landlady about preparing some lighter fare in the morning until the hotspell broke.

In the back of Taffy’s mind, there lodged a hope that her father would not drop by that afternoon to check on her progress with these less
important photographs. He had been gone from the inn when she awoke, off to somewhere—or someone—important.

Since there was no one to frown at her, she was dressed in one of her plain broadcloth sport dresses—
sans
corset and bustle—and she hadn’t bothered with braiding her unruly hair and tucking her somewhat pointy ears out of sight, but had rather twisted the mass up on the top of her head and pinioned it with combs. Such methods of toiletry never served for long, and a quick pat of the head confirmed Taffy’s suspicion that her hair had long since escaped its carelessly installed moorings.

Her fingers and nails were also stained with lamp black, she noticed unhappily, while putting the last plate aside.

Slovenly,
her father would call her. He had said the same thing when he had put an end to her attempts to paint.

Taffy sighed in exasperation. She would have to scrub herself before dinner. It was not just her proficiency at film that her father questioned, but the moral effect of living in the “wilds.” He did not consider her long stay in America to have improved her any, and Kilmartin—in spite of its ancient barrows filled with fascinating artifacts and bones—was the last word in backward societies as far as he was concerned.

Admittedly, she had returned from the United
States with some unusual mementos: a Winchester repeating rifle—
a powerful 45-70 steel frame with brass sighting and smokeless, wetproof shells
—a velocipede—
two-wheeler
—and a camera.

Had they been gifts for him, her father wouldn’t have been so distressed. But they weren’t gifts.

And worse by far than merely owning these things, she had returned home with an unlady-like acquaintance with how to use all of them.

Of course, Taffy’s most grievous sin, in her parent’s eyes, was returning home without a husband. Jonathon Goodner had been her father’s choice for her, and in an effort to restore the lost familial harmony that had come with her sudden inherited financial independence, Taffy had allowed herself to be persuaded to stay the winter and part of the spring in New York with Jonathon’s mother and sister, where she and Jonathon might meet in the society-approved version of
in statu pupillari
—though how that academic joining was to have aided in a romance, Taffy could not imagine.

New York in the spring had been wonderful and exciting; Jonathon had not. He was a nice enough man, but they had soon reached the conclusion that they would not “suit” one another. Jonathon could never support the idea of a wife who was a better shot and archaeological photographer than he was. And the final crown of
thorns for the Goodners had been the day she graduated from the ladylike tricycle to a man’s hard-wheeled bicycle—and had daily insisted upon riding it to his
dig.
Obviously, such a wayward wife would not be an asset to a young archaeologist just making his mark in the world.

Poor Jonathon! The velocipede had, in fact, become her preferred mode of transportation. As she’d explained to him, it didn’t rear-up unexpectedly, or bite or kick as horses did. It didn’t smell and make inconvenient messes in the middle of the street. And it didn’t require a servant to feed or groom it. She could load her camera and tripod into the paniers and come to the site whenever it suited her. Its practicality seemed evident to her, but left poor Jonathon and his mother stunned and feebly remonstrating.

Then, one path leading to another, following the purchase of the bicycle had come the inevitable need to alter her wardrobe. Bustles, trains, and billowing skirts were a hazard to the chain mechanism that drove the gears of the velocipede. So, she had cheerfully forsaken more feminine fashions and redone her wardrobe over in the daring sport dresses shown in Harper’s Bazaar—and one set of utterly disgraceful bloomers that she had yet to wear. Still reeling from the blow of seeing her on a two-wheeled bicycle, for Jonathon, the shock of the sport dress had been the fatal blow to his marital aspirations.

He hadn’t seen the worst of her new wardrobe either, Taffy thought now with a small, impish smile. He had only glimpsed the one fancy dress done in a fine navy satinet with sweet, old-fashioned Carrickmacross lace butterflies appliqued on the collar, but that had been dreadful enough.

She wore that dress now only on more formal occasions, which were thankfully few in Kilmartin. The rest of her gowns were either done in kersey or broadcloth; which she wore depended on the weather.

There was also a single, speech-stopping outfit made of walnut and fawn cotton jean, which was strictly for cross-country tramping, tucked safely in Taffy’s trunk away from censurious parental eyes. The seamstress, Mrs. Astley, had nearly burst into tears when Taffy had ordered a dress made from the crude fabric, but the cloth was comfortable and practically indestructible. This was something to consider when one was spending a great deal of time in the thistles and gorse, which were apt to seize an incautious hiker and shred frailer fabrics to piles of loose thread.

Of course, things would be very different when she and her father left Scotland in late September to return to their home outside of London.

Taffy grimaced at the impending gloom. She would be faced with the corsets and bustles she had cast off, and to be fashionable in London,
she would have to double the yardage in her slimmed-down skirts. The style would be suffocating after a summer of freedom!

But to London, she had to go. It was time for her to marry—and Taffy had to admit that it was not entirely her father’s notion. Since her mother’s death, she had been—
not lonely
—but searching for someone with which to share her thoughts and dreams. There was also a growing conviction that somewhere there was a man whom she could truly love and esteem. A man who, in return, would love and admire who she was—not her face, not her fortune, not
entree
to her famous father, but Taffy Lytton, a bicycle-riding photographer who liked shooting guns and hiking through lonely country.

She hadn’t found what she needed in America—though she had dearly loved the raw bustle and energy of the people who made their home there and planned to return one day, perhaps to live.

She would have preferred to find a country gentleman to keep her company, but sadly, she was not being presented with any sort of an alternative here in Scotland. So far, her selection of men included an aging sexton, who wandered about muttering in Gaelic, and some local workers who, though very handsome, were longer on brawn than intellect. Too, they were distressingly
short on conversation appropriate for a “sassanach lady.”

Of course, what conversation she could lure them into was fascinating. Her mother had been born a MacLeod of Skye, but her northern accent had faded greatly after years in London, and it had never been as musical as this local dialect.

Her father would have fits if he knew that she had been socializing unchaperoned, but the temptation to learn a bit of the Scot and Gaelic dialects had proven irresistible. She could now wish people a
“madainn mhath”
when she rode through the village in the morning, and she had collected a colorful store of Celtic curses, which she
didn’t
share with anyone.

Taffy looked up sharply as the sound of pounding brogues approached her workplace.

“Mistress Lytton!” A heavy fist landed upon the panel door. “It’s Jamesy, mistress. Your father said tae come away sharp. And tae bring your picture box! They’ve found the piper’s body up at Duntrune!”

Taffy hastily put her plates aside in a leather satchel and opened the carriage door.

“A body?” she asked with some surprise.

“Aye! ‘Tis the ghost piper. The joiner’s son found him when they took up the dressing room floor.”

“Oh, it’s a skeleton then?”

“What? Oh! Aye, ‘tis just bones.” Jamesy
grinned. “But he is missing his hands, so it’s the MacIntyre for certain. Your father was with the bishop when the great stone come up and he sent me tae fetch you and your picture box straight away. I have the pony trap waiting on the road.”

“I’ll come at once.”

Taffy, her mussed hair and rumpled dress forgotten, reached eagerly for her camera and tripod, and the box containing unexposed plates.

A dead body would not have been a pleasant thing to photograph, but a skeleton! That was another matter altogether. She had seen any number of human bones during her years at home and, much to her father’s disapproval, was not distressed by them.

She was also rather pleased to now discover that her father didn’t consider her such a blot on western civilization that he couldn’t present her to the bishop. She hadn’t precisely been pining for an introduction to the Mapletons, as her interest in religious things was tepid at best, but they were much respected in the neighborhood and a chance to expand her limited society was not to be lightly scorned.

Jamesy helped her politely into the trap, seeming not one whit disturbed by her stained fingers. The afternoon had warmed up, but she was pleased to discover that there was a gentle breeze beginning to stir off of the loch, which helped cool her flushed cheeks.

Taffy looked about eagerly as they headed for the large bay. There were some pretty fields on the way to the castle, small and studded with the odd white sheep, which would make for an easy hike if she could gain permission to walk there.

A stray strand of hair blew across her eyes, reminding her of her slipping coiffure. She quickly set about tidying her locks over her deplorable ears so her father would not be ashamed to introduce her to the bishop.

The land was not a heavily wooded country anymore and the outlines of Duntrune Castle soon came into view. It was a tall but narrow building of some three stories of piled ashlars, and quite ancient in style, though not a haunted-looking place like Dunnottar or Dunderave. There, the sad ghosts of long-past atrocities clung to the very stones that made up the castles’ walls. Duntrune was not as sad or frightening. Instead, it had about it an air of tired patience.

After his initial burst of conversation, Jamesy had lapsed into his habitual amiable reserve, staring into the distance as Taffy fussed with her hair. Realizing suddenly that she was completely alone with one of the more colorful locals, and unable to resist the chance to advance her linguistic and folkloric education, Taffy lured him into further conversation by bringing up the subject of the newly discovered skeleton.

“You said that these remains belong to a ghost
piper? I didn’t know that they had any ghosts at the castle.”

“Oh, aye! A piper he was, a MacIntyre of a MacLeod mother, they say, and a Papist. He was left at the keep with a small band of soldiers by the MacColla, them not knowing that the Campbells were near tae hand. Slaughtered to a man they were, poor lost souls.”

“MacColla? That would be the one they call Colkitto?” Taffy asked with genuine interest. This MacDonnell was either a folk hero or the devil incarnate—depending upon who you spoke to. The Irishman had fought under Montrose along with Patrick
Ruadh
MacGregor in the rising of the 1640s called
The Year of Miracles.
Montrose and his generals had come out in support of King Charles I rather than Parliament, and, had they had a few more months before Charles’s surrender to Parliament, many felt that he would have carried Scotland for the Stuart king and changed British history forever. Sadly, he had died in an ambush less than a year after his return to Ireland.

The Campbells she’d met called Colkitto a ravaging butcher. There were others, however, mainly MacDonalds and MacGregors, who felt that if anyone deserved to be ravaged and butchered it was the merciless Campbells. They celebrated the Irishman’s brave memory.

The warrior had lived nearly two hundred and
fifty years ago, but Taffy had long ago discovered that the bloody history of the highlands was not relegated to seldom-read books, but lived clearly in the descendants’ memories, and in fable and song.

“But this piper was a MacIntyre, you said, not a MacDonnell?” she questioned, seeking clarification. The pedigrees of the clans and their constantly changing loyalties were often confusing.