It was now the next day and Graham was standing at the perimeter wall of Stirling Castle, gazing out at what the tour guide had described as “one of the finest views in Scotland.” The Asian-American tourist beside him evidently disagreed. Sweeping his arm dismissively across the most important landscape in Scottish history, the blovious yank said, “If you ask me, it’s highly overrated. I’ve seen way better back in L.A.”
With a disgruntled snort, Graham returned his gaze to the vista. Just below were the rough slate rooftops and smooth green fields of Stirling. To the northeast lay the arched river-rock bridge over the Forth—the spot where William Wallace divided and conquered the invading English army in 1297. To the south, he could just make out the green fields of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce broke the chains of English bondage back in 1314, ending the long and bloody Wars for Independence. He’d always felt a special affinity with Robert the Bruce—even more so than William Wallace, though he couldn’t say why.
Just beyond was the flat bank of hills that fortified Fife like a bulwark; to the southeast, the boggy carse through which the Bannockburn cut; and to the northwest, the first purple hills of the Highlands.
Clouds streaked the blue-gray sky that stretched over their rugged golden butte. The day, to his delight, was dry, though a wee bit too breezy to qualify as perfect. Still, it was excellent weather for sightseeing—a blessing given that it would be his only chance to show her around.
After the tour, Cat had gone to browse for souvenirs while he ducked into the whisky shop--a cozy wee hole-in-the-wall whose tartan-festooned shelves offered an excellent selection of single malts. He’d sampled several before finally making his choice: Wallace Whisky Liqueur, a quirky blend of single malt, Scottish berries, and French herbs. He enjoyed a wee dram of the concoction now and again when he felt nostalgic, and it was hard to come by south of the border.
Exiting the shop, taste buds still humming, he came to the wall, where they’d agreed to rendezvous when they’d finished their shopping. He’d sported his kilt at her request and a cold wind now whipped around his bollocks. He moved his free hand around back to anchor the pleats. One good gust and those bloody yanks would get a view they’d not soon forget.
He saw Cat now coming toward him across the courtyard. She was a vision even in her dungarees and bulky sweater. The trousers, though, he had to admit, hugged her arse in a way that made it challenging to keep his mind on history. She carried a bag. What had she seen fit to purchase? Not, he hoped, another of those books with a half-naked Highlanders on the front.
“What have you got there?” he asked, gesturing toward the bag.
He fought the grin that threatened to unfurl. “Oh, aye? What kind of book?”
“A novelized biography. Of Robert the Bruce. By someone named Nigel Tranter.”
He let the grin bloom. As she came alongside him, he put his arm around her shoulder and turned toward the view. “Do you see over yon--the first hill with all the trees? That’s called Abbey Craig. And the tower rising out of the crest—that’s the Wallace Monument.”
“I had no idea all this meant so much to you,” she said, nestling against him.
“Aye, well. It does.”
As he bent to kiss her hair, drinking in her scent, a chill wind lifted the back of his kilt, unfolding the pleats like a fan. The hand gripping the bagged bottle shot around just in time to deprive any onlookers of an unadvertised attraction on the Stirling Castle tour: the sight of a Scotsman’s bare arse. Though, admittedly, it might answer an age-old question: about his native dress.
Cat, with a smile as bright as the sun, kissed his shoulder, then said,
“My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.”
Her unexpected recitation of Robert Burns both surprised and delighted him. Pulling her tighter against him, he nuzzled her hair, saying, “My heart’s wherever you are, lass. And always will be.”