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A blackbird chased its mate across the sunlit sky. The pair fluttered together into a nearby tree, chirping merrily as lovers are wont to do.
Broc felt somehow empty at the sight of them. It was the second time during the span of the day that the feeling had come over him. He couldn't quite put his finger on what troubled him. He was restless.
It was a beautiful summer day with every tree a verdant green. The scent of something delightful but elusive hung in the air like an invisible mist, teasing his nostrils. Something like sweet pollen mayhap, though he couldn't name the flower of its birth.
He stopped to watch the birds upon a branch overhead. Furious little creatures, they struggled together as though battling. His brows drew together as he watched them pair off.
God's truth, it seemed everything and everybody was mating except him.
And he was the last of his clan.
It hadn't much bothered him before today. He hadn't allowed it. But after Gavin's sermon at Cohn's and Seana's wedding, he found himself remembering an old woman's blessing.
Find ye a good woman to cherish and give her strong bairns. Let your father's blood live long in your veins and those of your children! You are the last of the MacEanraig clan, lad.
The echo of her voice had faded through the years. But her words had come back to haunt him.
They left him strangely bereft.
If someone had asked him only a few months before if Cohn might ever wed, Broc would have laughed in their face and shaken his head with absolute conviction. But his best friend was now a married man, and Broc had never seen Cohn so joyful. He was pleased for the both of them. And yet... in the aftermath of their nuptials, he found himself obsessing over an old woman's last words to him and craving something he couldn't name.
He turned away from the birds and continued on his journey home. In times past, Merry, his dog, would have been at his heels, and he might have had to drag her barking away from the damned tree.
He missed the sweet mutt.
He sighed and pushed her memory away, only to be besieged by another more poignant.
Always it hovered on the edge of his consciousness the sound of his parents laughing together.
The two of them had been deeply devoted to each other, and his da had so obviously cherished his mother that as a child Broc had felt enriched by their love. But as happy as his childhood had been, despite the hardships, his memories were tainted with the hideousness of their death.
He could never think of them without remembering the other....
He had no idea that he had stopped again, nor that he sat upon the ground, but he was left reeling by the images that accosted him. Even after all these years his kinsmen's faces haunted him. He plucked a woodland flower from the soil and crushed it in his fist, his gut burning with remembered rage.
God help him, it was better never to open one's heart at all, better never to be left so defenseless. The little boy he had been was long dead now. The man he had become was far stronger alone. His devotion was reserved for God and his clan, the clan that had embracedhim as a child and made him one of its own. Aside from the clan, he didn't want to cleave to anyone.
A wife would be nought more than a burdenone he couldn't afford.
A dog's growl startled him from his reverie.
For an instant, he forgot Merry was dead and mistook the sound for that of his old companion. He turned, expecting to find her black eyes watching him, and instead saw a strange, overgrown hound instead. The animal's teeth were bared, but something about the eyes seemed docile and harmless, mayhap even afeared. Its coat was bedraggled, wet and dirty, mayhap from a trek through the bog. It was in desperate need of a bath, food and a warm place at someone's feet.
It was just so that he'd found Merry. He'd had to win her over, as well. The memory brought a wistful smile to his lips.
But then he thought about the way she'd died and how much it had hurt to lay her to rest, and that empty feeling returned.
It was too damned difficult to lose the things you loved, and it seemed to Broc that everything he loved most, he lost.
Some part of him wanted to rise up now and brush himself off, walk away from this beast, but he didn't. He sat there, making no move either to leave it or approach it.
The animal's bright eyes stared back at him.
Broc didn't avert his gaze. He tried to convey to the beast that no harm would come to it. He removed from the pouch at his waist a small sliver of smoked meat and offered it as a token of his friendship.
He spoke to it softly, and the animal laid its ears back, cocking its head curiously. Broc smiled and continued to gaze at it, willing it to come to him. Extending his hand, he began to coo to it, and soon it lowered its head and took a step forward.
It took yet another when Broc made no move to close the distance between them.
"That a girl," he crooned, though he had no idea of the sex of the beast. Gender didn't matter much with anything that traveled on four legs, he decided, as he waved the meat at the animal, cajoling it nearer.
It wasn't long before the dog was at his side, shaking its wet coat and spattering him in the face with stinky bog water. Broc chuckled and rubbed it vigorously, rewarding it for its bravery. He handed over the meat. The poor beast snatched it, devouring it in one gulp, then peered up at him as though expecting more.
Broc laughed, patting it. "There ye go," he said again, and stood, continuing to pet it. Its coat was soft, though it was damp and dirty. It was obviously hungry as well, but he had nothing else to feed it...