Finding the Way by Stormie McLeod

Scotland 1795

“Bridie! Bridie come here pet. I’ve something for you to do.” Bridie sighed. Her gran was up to something. She was one of the most superstitious women in Stromness. No make that the whole of the Orkneys.

“That great Norseman, with the red beard, you know, the one doing the provisioning of the great ships.”
Finding the Way
Finding the Way by Stormie McLeod
Yes, she knew him, he of the long legs, shock of thick hair bleached like rope ends and that flaming red beard. He'd been in Stromness for a few years, getting a name for himself for provisioning the ships for the Hudson Bay Company and the whalers. She wasn't alone in looking twice at a good healthy marriage prospect. He attracted a lot of divinations by anxious mothers and grandmothers but no marriage yet. “Lass, pay attention, yon man has something I want and you must get it for me.” “And what would that be, Gran.” “He carries a magic stone. He gazes through it to the sky and I know it has special powers, I want to see what it is.” “Just how am I going to do that?” “You're a good looking lass, you could show him a bit of interest, he isn't walking out with anyone so... go on with you, please, for your old gran.” “Maybe, but no pushing me.” He was called Oddgar, she knew his name and she knew also that he watched her with those blue, blue eyes fringed with thick blonde eyelashes you only saw when the sun struck them at just the right angle. They had met from time to time, it was a small town after all. She didn't know about this stone her grandmother spoke of. Still, her grandmother was a lively busy person and regularly walked up Brinkie's Brae, she probably had seen Oddgar with the stone up there. Trouble was if she showed too much interest in him, she would find herself half way to the kirk without any choices left. She and her friends Fiona and Greta often talked of the faraway places that the sailors went to from Stromness. How if they were men they would be in Canada or more mysterious countries. Well, that was for dreamers. What she needed to think about was how to get what her gran wanted without compromising herself. For some reason, she wanted to know she had a chance at an alternative to marriage and life set out as it had been for generations here. The cielidh on Saturday night, that would be where she could try to find out about the stone. *** Fiona was at the door, banging it rythmically. “Get yourself out here Bridie MacIntyre, we're going to be late.” Bridie twitched and pulled at her jacket getting it just so, very pleased that it fitted her so well. She liked the soft red wool dress and the way the plaid jacket which was snug over her upper body, flared over her hips. Bridie and Fiona collected Greta who lived a few doors down and together they clattered down the street to the hall. It was a grand night, the gentle light of the gloaming settling the soft summer evening on them as they greeted other friends. The crowd grew as they emerged from the lanes into the main street. They swarmed into the hall where the band was already tuning up. The girls balanced against the wall, chatting, while changing into their dancing slippers. Greta gave Bridie a nudge as she straightened up. She turned and Oddgar was infront of her, his hand held out. She placed her hand in his and he led her out to the circle of dancers. They stood, her back to his front, hands raised and clasped. She could feel his warm strong body against her back, her head just below his jaw. She wanted to push back and rest along him and feel her head in the cradle between his chest and shoulder, with his arms wrapped around her. “You look very fetching in that red dress, Bridie.” She snapped out of her dream with a blush. “Thank you.” Just as well he could not see her face. The music started before she could think of something else to say. She always enjoyed dancing, but with Oddgar, each turn and twirl, the movement to and fro, was heightened by his presence. His strong hands, slightly calloused rasped along hers as their positions changed with each figure. His sure purposeful leading her in the dance, made him an ideal partner. This was not what she should be doing, finding him so attractive. She wanted time and a chance to have a different future. But for now, she relented and allowed herself to enjoy being with him. As he led her back to her friends he asked her to go to supper with him. She was pleased despite her misgivings, she hadn't asked him about his stone while they were dancing. The time till supper was filled with an energetic crowd entering each dance or reel with enthusiasm. Bridie watched the rise and fall of their movements. Each new set had its own special pattern and the sound of feet landing together on the wooden floor that could be heard under the music. It was like watching the sea in different weathers. Every now and then she would catch a glance from Oddgar. His height made him easy to see above the crowd and the circle and sway of the group had them facing each other across the room. She felt he was paying her more attention than she expected, but when she thought about it she knew that he had been talking to her increasingly often lately and a couple of times had waited for her outside the shop and carried her parcels home for her. She did like him a mite more than any of the other young men she and her friends knew. He had a purposeful air about him as if life was going to take him where he expected to go. He led the men he worked with had fun with them but was never in the thick of the drunken revelry that occured most Saturday nights. The music ended in a flourish and he was infront of her before she could look around for him. He showed her to a small table, asked her what she would like and before long was seated with her with their food and drinks. Fiona, as she usually did, was up singing one of the latest ballads she had learnt. She had a beautiful voice and took every opportunity to sing in public. Bridie was always surprised she had the breath left to sing, as Fiona never sat out a dance. A low hum of conversation and clinking of cups and glasses continued under the singing but she never minded and there was the applause which meant someone had listened. They talked quietly of their families, Oddgar was from a large family on the coast of Norway, the third son. Bridie the eldest of five, her parents crofters on the other side of the island. “Oddgar, can I ask you a favour.” Bridie finally began to talk to him about his stone. “My Gran has seen you with a stone, she says you use it to look through. She thinks it has magical powers and she would very much like to see it.” He gave a short laugh. “That grandmother of yours, I wondered why she was following me around Brinkie’s Brae. It’s a sunstone. I'll call and take you both up there and show you how the ancient people used it.” He turned as a young man who could only be a relative of his walked up to them, placing his hands on the back of the chair. Bridie looked up. “Meet my cousin Bjorn, he's newly arrived here in Stromness.” She welcomed him with a smile. He was a smaller, thicker set version of his cousin. He had a pleased, excited air about him. “I'll go for more drinks.” Oddgar left them together. “Has my cousin told you what we are going to do?” Bjorn asked and continued without waiting for a reply. “We are going to Canada together.” Bridie felt her face crumpling, she felt close to tears, her smile isolated, drifting uncertaintly. She felt an acute sense of dismay, and her dismay surprised her. She took a deep breath and attempted interest. “No, I had no idea, how exciting for you.” That was all he needed, he bounded into all the details of their plans. She tried to pay attention, but her mind was not able to grasp what he was saying. She watched as Oddgar returned with their drinks. As he did so, he gave her a questioning look. She turned to Bjorn who thankfully had begun to talk of Stromness. At last the supper break came to an end. She was grateful that Oddgar had not asked what they had been talking about. The dancing continued but she took some time before she started to enjoy it again. By the end of the evening she had convinced herself she had taken it all too seriously. She and Oddgar were friends no more than that. They walked arm in arm back to her home. He'd appeared beside her as she and her friends were leaving the hall. “I'll walk you lassies home.” He'd said, but it was Bridie's arm he pulled through his own and stepped up the street. Bjorn fell in with the other two girls, charming them with outlandish tales of mythological creatures. They in turn were egging him on by exaggerated gasps and denials of belief. After they had clustered around to say goodbye to Greta, Bjorn and Fiona led the way and had soon disappeared into the lane to her home, leaving Bridie alone with Oddgar at her door. He took her hands in his and looked down at her. “Don't forget that I'm coming to take you and your grandmother to show you my sunstone.” “No, she'll be very pleased.” He bent and kissed her. He pulled her against him, putting his arms around her so that her arms were moved up around his neck. He kissed her slowly with increasing fervour, it didn’t stay the chaste kiss she had been expecting. It burst her complacency, she wanted him. She became as involved in the kiss as he was. They broke apart and leaned against the wall catching their breath. This was a disaster in the making. She looked up at him and she was puzzled by the contented, pleased look on his face. She pulled at his hand. “I must go in.” He gave her another hard, swift kiss and let her go in the door. Her grandmother was still up, she had been to the ceilidh, leaving after supper. “It, was a grand night, wasn't it?” “It was that, Gran, and what's more is that Oddgar wants to show us his stone. It’s called a sunstone. He'll take us soon and show us how it works. And what's more he says it isn't magical.” Bridie took the cup of tea her grandmother handed her and blew over the top of it. “Get away with you, of course its magical if it does something. Ooh, I'm that pleased to being able to see that. He's a good man, you know. You should think on that.” Bridie was doing her best not to be thinking at all about him, to not betray her flustered feelings before her grandmother. But once she was in bed her mind kept turning over the news that Bjorn had given her and the kiss from Oddgar. She could not reconcile the two. Why would he be taking an interest in her when he was leaving? The gloom in her room was becoming brighter, the few hours of semi darkness already over and eventually she went to sleep without an answer. She woke into full sunlight feeling disgruntled and poorly rested. *** She was walking up the street towards her home two days later when hearing steps behind she turned to see Oddgar coming towards her. She was still feeling out of sorts, particularly towards him. She could see he had no idea of her feelings as he caught her hand and swung it between them.”Are you and your grandmother able to come out with me this evening?” She reluctantly suppressed her immediate thoughts of somehow punishing him for not telling her of his plans for his future. “Yes, she has been really looking forward to it and she will not have anything else that will interfere with that.” “Good, I'll call after supper. I must away now.” He hugged her, placed a kiss on her forehead and was almost out of sight as Bridie realised what had happened. She was back in the hot confusion of her thoughts. She sat on a nearby stone step, her head in her fists. Several minutes passed but even with the cold seeping into her, it did not clear her head and she was no nearer to understanding him. Bridie told her grandmother they were going out with Oddgar that evening and she was delighted with the news, hurrying through supper and fussing over what Bridie was wearing. “Stop it Gran, I don't need to charm him. He’s not interested.” “How do you know that, Hen?” Her grandmother always started with endearments when she was worried about her. Had she let slip how she felt in her tone? “His cousin Bjorn told me on Saturday at supper that he and Oddgar are going to Canada.” “Canada, why would he be doing that, he has a good position here.” “I don't know Gran, he hasn't spoken to me about it.” Her grandmother continued to grumble but Bridie shrugged and refused to say anymore on the subject. They were standing outside in the low sun, which slanted through the clouds, watching Oddgar walk towards them. Bridie felt sad and her heart ached. She had powerful feelings towards this man and he was about to disappear from her life. He appeared in and out of shadows cast by the houses which mirrored her thoughts, clear one minute, dark the next. She pulled herself together for the sake of her grandmother and smiled as he came up to them. They fell into step after greeting each other and continued until they were well away from the town Oddgar, pulled a leather pouch from the breast pocket of his jacket, carefully undid the tie and slid an oblong crystal into his palm. “This is what the old sailors used to navigate.” He explained. “Hold this up and look through it towards the south, then pull it away from your sight and see what you can see.” Bridie edged her grandmother forward to take the stone first. She did as he had instructed. “Oh, my. Is it a yellow streak that I should see?” She asked Oddgar, pointing to the low clouds that now obscured the sun. “Yes, exactly that.” She continued to put the stone up into her line of vision and down again. “That's powerful magic that stone has.” She said as she handed the stone to Bridie who copied her grandmother's actions. She was astonished to see the same yellow streak. “We don't need these stones now as we have compasses and chronometers but in the past these stones were accurate enough showing the place of the sun for navigation.” He said. Her grandmother was bubbling with excitement and asked him questions about his family and its association with the stone. He answered them all, and Bridie was as interested as her grandmother until she heard her say, “So, what’s this I hear? You are leaving for Canada with your cousin and just when will that be?” Bridie's attention became acute. She held her breath not wanting to hear him agree, hoping that his cousin had not been right. “Yes, that's right, but there is something I want to do first.” He reached out and put his arm around Bridie and said to her grandmother. “I want to court Bridie, and if she's of the same mind I want her to come with us.” Bridie felt a rush of joy, she wanted to jump up and down. She was going to be with Oddgar and go to Canada, maybe other foreign places. Her grandmother smiled saying as she put her arms around them both pulling them all together in a big hug, “I know now for sure, that stone has magical powers.”

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