A Healer for the Highlander (Prequel Bonus Chapter)


Clan Maxwell, Scotland

“Faster!” Sophia cried, flicking the reins of her horse again. Beneath her, Moon snorted. Sofia knew that sound well. Moon was only too happy to comply. She picked up speed and together they galloped through the woodland of thick Douglas firs on the edge of Clan Maxwell lands.

Sophie could feel the wind in her red hair, making it dance behind her, wildly. They moved with such speed that her eyes teared up, though she hardly minded. She loved this exhilaration, this feeling of utter and complete freedom.

She laughed as the horse turned her nose. Of her own accord, Moon wanted to leave the trees and reach the valley they had ridden through so often between the mountains. Sophia let her choose the route.

They burst out from the cover of the trees and into the valley. Sophia’s eyes darted to the horizon. Snow-topped mountains banked left and right, some dappled with woodland, others covered in heather and old cairns that had been built there by the villages.

Sophia and Moon made their way swiftly down the valley, the mare’s hooves pounding into the earth repeatedly.

Sophia cast a glance back. There was a leather satchel hooked around the back of the saddle, full to bursting with herbs and flowers she had collected from the riverbanks and mountains. Even from here, she could smell the scents of bog myrtle and yarrow. In her hair, pressed behind her ears were the small and fragrant yellow flowers of meadowsweet.

Moon snorted and Sophia looked forward once more. They were coming up toward a low-lying dry-stone wall. Sophia pulled on the reins and together they leapt into the air, jumping and clearing the wall with ease. They landed down smoothly on the other side, Moon whinnying happily as Sophia laughed.

“We’ll be late, Moon. Time to go home.” She flicked the reins as they reached the bottom of the valley and turned toward a well-worn path through the heather and gorse. They left the cover of the mountains, heading toward a small village perched right on the side of a hill, half covered and hidden from passersby thanks to the heavy stones and boulders that appeared to be erupting out of the mountain over their heads.

Sophia slowed her pace as they reached the edge of the village. In the distance, the sun was dropping. Orange light streaked across purpling clouds and the tops of the village’s crofts. Amongst the small houses, she saw her father’s house, small and squat, with herbs hanging outside from beneath the windows and the eaves.

Sophia smiled at the sight of her home and trotted into the village with Moon.

“Evening, Sophia,” a friendly voice called to her.

Sophia halted momentarily, turning to look at the familiar face of Mrs. Little, who was ambling up a path toward her own home. The family friend was always happy, a permanent smile on her lips.

“Ah, I see ye and Moon have been riding all day again. What will yer father say when ye come back in traipsing all yer mud with ye?”

“He’s used tae me by now,” Sophia said with a shrug. Mrs. Little laughed, affectionately.

“Aye, arenae we all. Ye get home now, lass. Ye’re late tonight and he’ll be worried about ye.”

“Goodnight, Mrs. Little,” Sophia called to her. Mrs. Little waved and walked on towards her home n.

Sophie continued on to her own home, pulling Moon around the back of the croft to her stable. It was more a nook at the back of the croft than a stable at all, but it did well enough for them, and it was Moon’s home. Moon snorted happily again, burying her nose in Sophia’s shoulder affectionately. Sophia patted her nose happily then filled up the water trough from the well and left some straw in an alcove within the wall. When all was sorted, she unsaddled Moon and collected her satchel full of herbs, hurrying around to the front door.

“Father?” she called, opening the door wide.

The lemon light from a few candles filled her gaze for a second, masked in a billow of steam.

“What happened here?” she asked with a laugh, stepping inside and closing the door behind her.

Her father stood by the small fireplace where they did all their cooking. He was laughing himself and wafting away the steam from their stew pot. He stood hurriedly, folding his arms as he did so.

“My attempts at cooking sometimes go awry, lass,” he said with affection, then attempted a serious expression. “Ye are late.”

“I’m sorry, I couldnae help it. Look what I found.” She hurried toward him and opened up the satchel for him to see. “Bog myrtle. I havenae seen it fer months. Mother always said that a lack of bog myrtle was a bad sign.”

“Aye, she was fond of her superstitions, yer mother.” Clearly, her father couldn’t stay angry at her for long. He chuckled once again and tapped her on the shoulder. “Ye are just like her, ye ken.”

Sophia beamed. There was nothing she liked more than being compared to her mother. She knew they looked alike, for she could remember her. They were both tall, willowy, with long dark red hair, but it was the passion for healing and herbs which her mother had taught her that made Sophia feel more connected to her than anything else.

“Ye got anything in that satchel which will help cheer up this lamb stew?”

Sophia dug her hand around in the bag then pulled out some thyme.

“Wash it first,” she reminded him.

“Aye, I ken, I ken,” he chuckled, turning to do just that.

Sophia hurried around the room happily, tying bundles of bog myrtle and meadowsweet together then hanging them from the ceiling over the fire so they could dry out. She hummed a pleasant tune as she worked and talked about her day.

“There are so many herbs flourishing at the moment. Aye, it must be a good sign. I thought they wouldnae come back at all after the wet winter we’ve had.”

“Hmm.” Her father sounded uncertain in reply. She put it down to his concentrating on the stew and went to help him, setting up the small table tucked into the corner of the room where they always ate their meals.

A few minutes later, they were sat together, with two fresh steaming bowls of lamb and thyme stew, and a newly baked loaf of bread between them. The one candle that kept them company flickered between them, the yellow light falling on her father’s face and revealing that some of the wrinkles there had grown deeper than she had realized. They were practically becoming furrows in his face.

“What is it?” she asked after some minutes of silence. “What is it that worries ye, Father?”

He sighed heavily and put down his spoon, running a hand over his face.

“As ye say, we have had wet weather. Maybe the herbs are growing now, but the crops…” He shook his head. “They’ve had it wet for too long. I fear they havenae grown properly. I worry food will be scarce, Sophia. If it continues in this way, what will happen come winter?”

“Father, dinnae worry.” She leaned across the table and placed a hand over his. Even his hand felt wrinkled now, cracked with age and heavy wear. “We are part of a clan, are we nae? A problem fer one man is taken care of by the rest. The laird will send help if the crops dinnae survive.”

“Pff, ye have more hope in the laird than I dae,” he scoffed.

“What dae ye mean?” Sophia asked, pausing with her stew.

“Dae ye ken anything about Laird Logan Maxwell?” Her father reached for the bread and tore it into pieces, somewhat aggressively, jabbing the chunks into his stew. Clearly, the subject of Laird Logan was a troublesome one.


“Well, the farm hands talk much of him. They say he is a changed man ever since he lost his wife five years ago. Aye, a different man altogether.” He stared into his stew, silence falling between them.

Sophia bit her lip, afraid to say anything. This was a subject they didn’t often talk of, for it was the same experience that her father had had in life. His heart belonged to her mother, and after she died, her father was a changed man. It had taken some time for her father to learn how to live with his grief as well.

Sophia could still remember being just ten years old and coming home to find him hiding his tears from her. She used to make him tonics and bring them to him, telling him that her mother had told her they could cheer one’s spirits. He would embrace Sophia then, and they would sit together by the fire, talking of her mother and how much they both missed her.

“I feel sorry for him, I dae,” her father said suddenly, breaking through the silence. “Yet if the rumors are true, he doesnae just carry sadness with him. He’s a cold and brute of a man.”

Iciness seemed to fall on the room despite the heat of their fire. Sophia had lost interest in her stew and left the spoon on the table, not bothering to reach for it.

“Perhaps the rumors are wrong?” Sophia suggested, trying to lift her father’s spirits. “Surely nay laird would ignore the plight of his people. Aye, if they are in trouble, he will come tae their aid. He will come tae our aid, Father.”

“I wish I could believe ye, Sophia.” Her looked somewhat mournful but forced a smile. “Such a thought, aye, it brings comfort. I’d hate tae think of ye nae being well fed this winter.”

“Dinnae worry about me. Ye ken me. I’ll always find us something tae eat off the moors. Maybe we’ll live off mushrooms and herbs instead.” Her suggestion made him chuckle and the air lightened at once.

They finished their dinner in a happier state than when they had started. As the sun dipped further in the sky and her father went to clear up the stew pot, Sophia returned to Moon, to clear out the old straw. As she stepped into the nook behind the croft, she saw smoke rising across the houses.

Sophia stumbled out of the stable in her haste to get a better look. Was it a fire? No! Surely not.

Her gaze took in the thatched roofs of all the crofts and the stables, all packed with straw. This whole village could go alight, like some large candle, burning brightly. Smoke singed the air, and Sophia was about to scream for help. Her lips parted, the words at the back of her throat ready to escape her when –

Mr. Little walked in front of his croft carrying wild grasses. He dropped the wild grasses down onto a fire outside of his croft. That was the smoke filling the air. No croft was alight after all.

Sophia reached back to the stable door and clutched it hard, calming the erratic heartbeat of her heart that had started to hammer heavily in her chest for a few seconds.

“All is well,” she murmured aloud, then laughed at herself. She had truly thought for a second that they were all in danger.

She waved at Mr. Little who caught her eye, then returned to Moon in the stable. She tended to the horse, making sure she was calm and comfortable, then sat with her for a short while as the darkness continued to close in.

Her mind turned back to the conversation she’d shared with her father over dinner.

“Love can change men’s hearts, cannae it?” she asked Moon, stroking the mare as if somehow, the horse could respond. She thought of her father’s grief, and then Laird Logan’s too. Both men were tormented by a love that they had once had and was now out of reach. “I wonder what it would be like, tae be loved so passionately.” She smiled rather sadly, wondering if it was just not her lot in life to know that love. “Maybe someday.”


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