The Flamebearer – Sequel or Separate Volume?
So far, I’m just going with my gut. (They call this “seat-of-the-pants” story-crafting)
One possible scenario is to allow each of the characters to go on with their lives, for better or worse, most of them surviving into what would have been a ripe old age in medieval times. I’ve toyed with the idea of a reunion between Ciaran and Robyn, where the erstwhile world-traveler, soldier-of-fortune, Crusader, thespian, traveling minstrel, horse breeder, border thief, and all around wayfaring adventurer Robyn stumbles across Ciaran’s Otherworldly abode, not realizing, of course, that he’s unwittingly wandered across a threshold.
The two former brothers-in-arms sit up all night drinking and talking and laughing over old times, filling each other in on what their lives have been like since their last tragic days together. They finally turn in somewhere close to dawn and when he wakes up, Robyn discovers to his joy and astonishment that youth has miraculously returned to him. No more grey streaks in his hair or his beard, his limp is gone, the sight has returned to his right eye and lo and behold, he ‘s feeling fit as a fiddle and ready to strike out on a new adventure with his old pal (who, of course, doesn’t look a day older than he did 30-40 years ago).
Evaine? She lived to be a plump little old lady with long, white streaks running through her black hair, but still possessed of the blushing cheeks and rosebud lips. Ciaran conveys the message that she quietly passed away in his arms some years back as they made their journey across the water to the Forest of the Ever After, where she was greeted by her Mother, her Father, and her long-lost brother Gwilym.
Gazing through the mists toward the distant shore, they see that her mother holds a small infant in her arms, and Ciaran at once recognizes it’s their first child, a stillborn son. Evaine carried the grief of that loss throughout her life, even though they were ultimately favored with many more children.
“At last, my love, you’ll get the chance to hold our son in your arms, a blessing that was denied to you all those years ago.” Arising from the mists, they hear the celestial, harmonious voices of an elysian choir calling her home. He reassures her that he will not be long behind, but he has some things to finish up here before joining her.
Eireen and The Bruce
After a protracted courtship with many ups and downs, misunderstandings, conflicts involving other men, time constraints, and simple difficulties with logistics, Eireen finally accepts the Bruce’s sincere proposal of marriage and agrees to travel with him to the northlands to begin building their future together and raising a family. The fact that she soon finds herself pregnant is a strong contributing factor in her decision.
Together they build a thriving homestead in the Highlands, basking in the crisp mountain air, the blooming heather, and the considerable responsibility of managing the flocks and herds along with guarding their borders against invasion by poachers, thieves, and rival clans. Their exceptionally fertile partnership yields many sons and daughters, and together they live out their lives in relative peace and contentment.
Contrary to their personal hopes and aspirations, rebellion erupts along the border and The Bruce is pressed into service helping to a counter a clash between warring Chieftains. While engaged in a long and bloody campaign, he sustains grievous wounds which ultimately claim his life. Languishing in his bed at home, he is surrounded by his loving wife and children.
In the heart-wrenching final scene, Eireen is alone with him in the wee hours of a late winter morning. She senses the end is near but strives to keep him alive just a little longer. She hovers nearby, bringing him hot drinks and his favorite foods which go cold on the bedside table. In a vain effort to convince herself that he will recover and that his health will return in the Spring, she toils day and night at her loom, weaving new blankets to warm him and while she can not be sure if he even hears her, she croons the children’s best-loved lullabies to him and recites inspiring passages from the Bible.
When she can allow herself a few hours of rest, she curls beside him on their wide wooden bed and lays her head on his massive chest so she can monitor his breathing through the night. During the course of his life, he suffered from a variety of lung ailments, and she instinctively knows to safeguard him from a sudden attack of consumption by purifying the air in the room with the appropriate diffusions of aromatic oils.
Despite the protests of her daughters, she insists they keep a kettle of porridge simmering on the stove at all times and maintain a vigil from the drawing-room window for the coming of the sparrows, which will herald the changing of the seasons. Early one frosty morning in late March, she catches her first glimpse of the tiny feathered harbingers as they flock to the rafters of the sheep enclosure to begin building their nests. (In the early days of their courtship, she had a dream about “the coming of the sparrows” which left her deeply disturbed. When describing the dream to the Bruce, and asking about its meaning, he gently reassured her that the return of the sparrows in the Spring symbolized a happy time when the snows were finally melting and it was safe once again to let the we’ans out to play.)
Feeling uplifted and filled with renewed hope, Eireen loads a basket with freshly split logs for the fire and hurries back to tell her husband the news. Rushing to his bedside, she kneels on the rag carpet next to his bed and comprehends in that single moment that the man she has shared her life with over these many decades is gone. Eireen lowers her head over his lifeless body and weeps awhile, then prays awhile.
Her eldest daughter enters the room. The girl pauses and seeing the grief on her mother’s face, drops to her knees beside Eireen and enfolds her in a compassionate embrace. Now it is the daughter who comforts the mother, cooing words of condolence. “When?” she asks solemnly.
“Just the nou,” Eireen answers softly. And letting out a quiet wail, she cries, “Oh, Maggie, he’s gone!”
“Soft, Mither,” Maggie soothes.”See how peaceful he looks. At last, he’s gane to be with the Angels, like we prayed for sae lang. Just remember he loved ye’ better than all the warld, s’truith, tha’ he did.”
Composing herself, Eireen rises to her feet and wipes her tear-damp hands on her apron. “Call in the boys,” she tells Maggie. “Tell them to fetch their father’s Claymore. I’ll lay out his best tartan. We’ve no easy task ahead of us getting the hard ground ready to receive him.”
Transporting his massive body out to the grave site presents them with an equally arduous chore. It takes all three boys plus Eireen and Maggie to hoist his dead-weight from the bed to the floor and then onto the carrycot and out the door before hitching the pallet to the muscular plow-horse’s bridle, which will drag him up the hill to his final resting place.
Eireen sends her eldest son to fetch the priest who will administer last rites. The family stands watch over the Bruce’s body throughout the chill night. As dawn approaches, the Highlander is slowly lowered into the ground and just the sun climbs over the horizon, the youngest boy, Robert, begins the time-honored tradition of piping over the burial mound, the eery sound of his bagpipes echoing over the moor.
During the first year of her widowhood, Eireen receives an unexpected visitor. If it isn’t Robyn ap Gryffin, her old paramour, still handsome as ever, though sporting a bit more gray in his beard than she remembers. He bears a permanent squint in his right eye – the result of a near-deadly clash with a band of rebels from the north. She notices he seems to favor his right side and walks with a slight limp. But it’s The Gryffin, right enough, come to look in on his old friends and perhaps take advantage of their Highland hospitality while he’s at it. As always, he arrives bearing gifts in the form of his favorite “man’s milk” – preferably fermented, aged, and undiluted.
“Ye haven’t changed a whit, ye auld scoundrel!” Eireen declares as she holds open the door and welcomes him into her home and into her arms with an enveloping hug.
Naturally, Robyn wants to know all about The Bruce. He is deeply saddened to learn of the Highlander’s recent passing. Eireen talks at length about her dearly departed husband, reminiscing about their wedding day all those years ago.
“I know, Eireen. I was there. Don’t you remember? I was the one weeping my eyes out at the back of the Hall. ”
“Puck Robyn, ye did no such thing. Ye was the one at the rear guzzling a wee-half o’ ram’s tam, if I know ye.”
They both had a good laugh over that and tipped their glasses to the Bruce.
As the evening passes and the drinks get stronger and more creative, Robyn can’t help suggesting they indulge in a favorite old pastime, one they enjoyed on a regular and frequent basis when they were young, before he made the unfortunate miscalculation of introducing her to The Bruce. (Miscalculation to his mind, at least.) But Eireen reminds him that she is still dressed in black and that she has been a widow for under than a year.
Robyn persists calling up fond memories of the mischief they shared until Eireen’s sons let him know in no uncertain terms he’d best watch himself or they would see him tossed out on his “wee, hairy arse”, as per their mother’s command.
Robyn finally acquiesces but proceeds to lay out in excruciating detail the agony he suffered while convalescing in her parlor after nearly losing his life in a back alley brawl not long after the untimely death of his dearest and closest friend. He describes how he lay there helplessly while being forced to endure listening to the grunts, sighs, and groans coming from behind the screens. When he recognized the sounds as issuing forth from The Highlander himself, he had to admit to being slightly amused.
“I’ll be damned,” he remembers thinking. “So it’s true. The old reiver is swiving the village ‘hure’!” He wondered what it took to seduce the likes of such a stubborn, doubting, righteous and ambivalent pessimist like the Bruce. If anyone could do it, he was certain Eireen could.
Eireen was as surprised as anyone when the Bruce came to her out of the blue one day with a sincere proposal of marriage and an offer to save her from a life of sin. “A keep tellin’ ye, Eireen. A’m a rich man. A can tak’ guid care of ye. A’ve lands, flocks, herds. All what’s missin’ is a hoose and a wyf.”
His persistence finally wins her over and she pledges to enter into a committed life-long partnership with him.
“Did he bend the knee, Lady Eireen?” Robyn inquired with an impish grin.
“Aye, that he did,” she replied affectionately. “Sweetest thing ye ever saw, that great lump of a man brought low over a common harlot! Of course, I accepted straight away.” This is bending the truth somewhat, but it makes for a good story.
“There you are, then,” Robyn concludes, finally reaching a bittersweet acceptance. It will not be the last time he will attempt to brandish his powers of persuasion in an attempt to convince her to bed him once again for old time’s sake. But such pleasures will have to wait for a future visit. She is still in mourning, after all.