It was an American voice from Carolina, ‘It’s the strangest thing honey,’ Kim said to her fiancé. ‘That celtic cross, in the display cabinet, it’s just like the one Grandpa Cameron talked about, made of pewter just like he said. There’s an old family story about a cross lost at Culloden...’ As they went onto the battlefield her voice was lost on the wind.
Invererar Falls August 1745
‘You’ll come back to me, promise?’ Morag’s voice was soft and low.
She stood on her toes as he held her. He breathed in the heather scent of her hair as she tenderly placed the pewter cross round his neck.
‘ ‘twas given to me by my granny and her granny before her. ‘ ‘tis ancient and I’ve prayed at the Holy Well and had it blessed.’
He kissed her, loving her simple faith and trust in God. They clung together. Then he strode away carrying the memory of her hazel eyes and tousled brown hair like a miniature in his heart.
‘May the saints protect you from the redcoat devils and bring you home safe Euan Cameron,’ Morag whispered and crossed herself.
Glenfinnan! This was Euan’s first glimpse of Prince Charlie in a fine blue coat and white silk stockings. The Royal Standard unfurled and the pipes played. He’d roared a heady welcome alongside the Macdonalds and MacGregors, confident they’d take the British crown and restore the rightful king to the throne. Then there’d been their victories at Edinburgh and Prestonpans and the march south. Now they were in Derby with London lying before them like a grateful whore. Just 120 miles, four days march!
Young Jamie Moffat, thin and exhausted had brought the mail. Euan hungrily ripped open Morag’s precious letter.
1st October 1745
I love you so. There’s no joy without you. I long for your sweet face, your lips, you. Time stands still when I’m not in your arms. Come back to me soon.
Your father is well and sends his love. One of your cows has calved.
God keep you safe.
It had taken months to arrive. He’d hurriedly replied:
Derby 4th December 1745
My dearest love,
Remember always that we are meant to be together; I long to hold you. My life is worth nought without you. Sometimes in my dreams I hear your sweet voice calling to me across the miles. I am heart sore when I wake.
Know this: that nothing, not redcoats, rivers or mountains will stop me coming home to you. I promise I will be home soon. I kiss your dear cross each night before I sleep and dream of you. Trust in our love and faith in God and this will come to pass.
We should be in London in a few days. God willing Charlie will soon be king and we’ll come safe home.
Tell father I am well and to move the cows to the low pasture lest he forget.
My love is yours always,
Why hadn’t they marched on? There’d been no battle just an order to retreat. Hope flowed away like whisky from a broken jar. They’d trudged back north in winter’s icy grip, he’d never felt so cold.
They arrived at Culloden in April 1746. The sky was leaden. The moor, wild and bleak with black shroud hills in the distance and the Moray Firth a silver winding sheet.
Hour after hour they’d waited to do battle. Bone weary and ravenous as wolves, they’d had nothing but water and a scraping of meal for days. Cumberland, the Hanoverian commander, didn’t come.
They were then ordered to make a night raid on Cumberland’s army. The laird had thrust oatmeal biscuits into their hands. Exhausted, they couldn’t keep up.
‘Bloody fools!’ Euan cursed his leaders. Their objective was miles away and dawn a few hours off. They were forced to return.
Light headed and weak, they stood in battle order again. The mist swirled and a biting wind drove sleet and freezing rain into their faces. It seemed the blackening sky was grieving for what was to come.
Cumberland arrived earlier than expected. Jacobite panic filled the air! Men were missing, foraging for food. Amidst the swirl of pipes and drums, shouted orders could be heard from both sides. The rebel cannon fired first, followed by the repetitive roar of the Hanoverian field guns and the screams of the dying. Fear stalked the battlefield.
Amidst billowing plumes of grey smoke, the acrid stink of gunpowder and sulphur invaded nostrils. The Jacobites grew restless. When would the order to charge come? Euan kissed his cross and whispered a silent prayer.
Cannon balls cut writhing bloody paths of gore through fathers, sons and brothers. Those left standing beat on their targes with their broadswords. Blood lust surfaced and overpowered terror. A low animal growl spread through the ranks then an impatient rippling movement started in the centre and moved to the right.
Then came the order. Euan’s throat joined over 5000 others as they’d run yelling, ‘Claymore!’ and screamed like unleashed madmen at the redcoats. Round shot and mortar bombs flew bloodily through men. More cries and shrieks!
Euan slowed. He struggled across the sucking marsh. The redcoats fired grape shot. Scrap iron, nails and musket balls scythed howling men down like wheat. There were more bloody spaces. Mortar rounds fragmented heads.
At three yards from the enemy they stopped. Muskets were fired then hurled away. Claymores raised, they charged full pelt at the red lines. Stabbing, thrusting, slashing, cutting ... anything to get through the bristling ranks of red in front. Euan clambered over the dead of both armies. Hacked his way through the first sea of redcoats; parried bayonet thrusts to gut and throat and felt the whisper of his cross falling to the ground. A vicious blow from an enemy musket felled him. He lay senseless as the battle raged!
Hours later someone moaned. The voice seemed far away, but it was Euan’s. His skull ached; he was freezing; his senses reeling. There were screams and random shots in the distance. The shadow of a horse and rider fell across him.
‘Euan? By God it is you!’ The redcoat captain dismounted. ‘During the fighting I wasn’t sure. Orders are no quarter. They’re killing the Jacobite wounded. What the devil are you doing here?’ Euan scrambled for his claymore, but the captain’s boot was on it. ‘It’s Rob, do you understand? Rob.’
‘Traitor! Good Jacobites died... because... of... you.’ Euan felt his stomach lift queasily up to his throat. He vomited.
‘They were rebels, Euan, fighting against their rightful king.’ Rob ignored Euan’s feeble efforts to fend him off. ‘Let me bind that head wound.’ Ripping a dead soldier’s shirt, he tied it tightly over Euan’s forehead and left eye, staunching the flow of blood. ‘You’ve got to get away.’ He desperately looked around. They were in a dip of boggy ground. The mare for the moment was shielding them from prying eyes.
Blood was running from Euan’s ears as he tried to focus. Then he passed out.
Later, it was if the hands of death were on him. He came to, corpse cold, teeth chattering. His green plaid had been roughly stripped off him and other clothes pulled on.
‘Listen because we haven’t got much time. You’re Private John Maxwell. The poor sod took a claymore in the face and you’re wearing his uniform. Tell them you’re with Wolfe and I’m your captain. Let’s get you up. Can you walk, if you lean on me?’
‘I’ll never... lean... on... you.’
Rob ignored him. ‘I’m putting you on the cart with our wounded. It’s going to Inverness. They’ll look after you there. It’s the best I can do. I never expected to find you here. Your damn Jacobite cause was lost from the start.’
‘But... not... my... soul!’ Euan’s hand went to the empty space round his neck. There was a sudden urgency to his voice, ‘Cross? Where... cross?’ Rob half pulled, half carried him towards the creaking cart.
‘Halt private, I’ve a wounded soldier for Inverness!’ commanded Rob. Then he lowered his voice for Euan. ‘All the crossing points over the Ness will be guarded. Escape when you can. Get home, warn them. No one’s safe. Till we meet again little brother; in better times.’
‘Go to hell!’
‘Head wound, doesn’t know what he’s saying,’ said Rob loudly, ‘look after him. That’s an order.’ He gently lifted Euan beside the groaning Hanoverian wounded.
The cross lay on the muddy battlefield where it had fallen, churned deeper into the mud by the wheels of the cart.
‘So Euan survived?
Did he ever see Morag again?’
‘They were brutal times. Lowland Scots, working for Cumberland, burnt them out. But Euan found and married Morag. Some years later they emigrated to America.’
‘And his brother?’
‘Killed with Wolfe at Quebec apparently.’
Lorna Murray also writes as Lorna Windham. Her website is lornawindham.co.uk.