Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Hum (06/06/13)
TITLE: The Highland Way
By Matt Guddat
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Campbell froze in the darkness before sinking back into the forest. The smell of pine needles was thick in the night air. The moon cast its all seeing gaze neatly through the canopy of trees. There was nowhere to hide.
Moments ago he was lying behind a bank overlooking the valley. From his position he had a good view of the valley floor, but more importantly he eyed a sleeping bear cup isolated from it mother. He would rise only enough to pull his arm back and release his bow.
Just before his arrow released, the bear instinctively leapt forward and escaped down the steep valley slopes. Why? He had been as silent as falling snow. Something must have scared him.
Campbell heard a tune rise from the track bellow. The bank he hid behind covered his view. He knew the melody well. The sound was a faint hum.
It couldn't be. He choked at its sound.
The next thing he knew he was running through the highland forest to his clansmen. Drawn swords greeted him. When the men recognized him they quickly sheathed their weapons and bowed low.
“I heard it,” he said with fiery eyes. The clansmen hardly believed him but had no choice but to accept his word. Campbell was a fierce warrior and to be respected. He was not a man to embellish truths. “Send a dozen men. Move them into the forest,” he ordered, “get alongside the southern road and wait. It could be a trap so tread cautiously.”
Campbell held a fierce presence and few men opposed his commands, even if they did question his reasoning. From a young age he was held in respect for his skills. He could release an arrow and swing a sword faster than the average man, and with unusual precision. It was a gift from their war god, many supposed.
His father was chief of their clan and a feared warlord throughout the Scottish highlands. Men had heard rumors of mighty feats and wild bravery but that all turned into myth soon after his death when Campbell was a young.
He had been fighting a clan from the lowlands when he was captured and later executed. No one was brave enough to stage a rescue mission and Campbell was too young to lead such a feat.
The soldiers returned with a maid servant on their shoulders. It had been an easy mission after all. They walked into a meeting hut for some privacy and set her down.
“Tell me,” Campbell said, his tone steady but threatening, “how do you know that melody? It is a dangerous journey for a woman to travel unaccompanied though these valleys. Especially with that accent.”
The maid, now on her knees, looked confident despite her circumstances. She wore a thin frame and looked not much older than he was, but with softer eyes. She spoke with equal authority, “I am Ailsa of Yorkshire and I learned this melody from a mighty warrior who was once held captive by my clan. He told me that if I hum it on the road north I would surely find you.”
Silence filled the room. She was from the clan that had captured his father. His eyes showed concentration but his head was spinning.
“Why did he want you to find me?” His voice trembled at the reference to his father. For such a strong man he wore a soft heart.
“He wished me to share with you the news that I shared with him. He made me promise an oath.”
She had made an oath to his father? Was this true?
As the night crept on so did their conversation. Ailsa, as he came to know her, was no threat to them, yet he was perplexed at her bravery. She was risking her life by leaving her clan, and twofold by approaching his. What for?
She spoke of his father like a close friend and then shared the news of a God whom he had never heard of before. Tears spilled from her eyes as she spoke with bold passion. His tense muscles loosened as a sense of gratitude rose. He respected her courage and talk of his father warmed him.
“You must stay with us and talk more of my father’s new God,” he said, “and once again hum the tune my father taught me as a child.”
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