Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Thanks to KT for Monarch of the Glen AU
Characters: JD, Buck, Chris, Vin
Summary: Going it alone isn't always as much fun as imagined
Walking into the castle's small banqueting room, which these days was mostly used for family meals, JD stretched and yawned. He snapped his jaw shut when he noticed he was facing a line of his new surrogate family helping themselves to breakfast from silver serving trays.
He grinned. "Uh, morning, guys."
"Afternoon," Buck teased. It was only 7:00am after all.
JD made a face. "Ha! Hilarious, Dude." Picking up a plate, he moved along the line and chose some eggs, sausages, bacon and toast, before taking the seat kitty-corner to the top chair. Despite JD being Laird, when they were all together he liked Chris to take the top table position and, encouraged by the others, Chris did so.
After a few mumbled greetings, and several minutes of enjoying their breakfast, Ezra spoke. "JD...By the end of this week we must have the annual 'Spring Blessing of the Loch', ceremony."
Around a mouthful of eggs, JD raised his eyebrows and replied. "A what, now?"
"Spring Blessing of the Loch," Chris repeated.
"What's its purpose?" JD asked, genuinely interested. He loved all this traditional stuff...so long as a speech wasn't warranted.
"The Laird stands at the loch's edge, scoops up water into the Cuach na Ross and recites a blessing to keep the estate lochs stocked and plentiful," Vin explained.
"What's a 'chwaych nay Ross'?" JD asked, munching on toast.
"The Ross chalice," Ezra replied. "It's as ancient as the ritual, and you used it when you were invested as Laird."
"Oh yeah...that real neat silver cup, that had that God-awful Meade stuff in it," JD recalled. The others couldn't help but grin at his description.
"Aye, that one," Josiah grinned. "It's traditional to have a piper play, too."
JD stopped mid-sip of his juice. "We have to hire someone?"
Chris touched his free hand. "You can, but I usually have the honor."
Grinning, JD nodded. "Cool. Would you do so this year?" He glanced around. "Did I do that right? Am I supposed to ask in some official...?"
"You did fine," Chris assured. "And aye, I'd be happy to pipe for you again."
"You ready for a big day, Kid?" Buck asked. He frowned at the return stare. "Problem?"
"Uh…you know at the meeting the other day you and Chris were saying we had several workers out with flu and we were stretched?"
Buck nodded. "Aye. What of it?"
"I…" JD cleared his throat. "I mean…you know I love hanging out with you, right?"
Again, Buck nodded.
"Well, I guess I've learned a few things now. I was thinking…to help out…and take up the responsibilities expected of me...maybe I could go it alone on a few jobs for a while."
Buck, Vin and Chris exchanged glances. Buck pursed his lips. While Glenneaval wasn't strictly dangerous, it had its issues. "Kid…I appreciate you'd like a little independence, but…"
"I should pull my weight more, Buck. It's only fair."
Wondering why JD thought he didn't already, Buck nodded. "Alright, I suppose. Chris?"
"Stick with Buck for today, and I'll assign you some jobs tomorrow, okay?"
JD beamed at Chris. "Sure, no problem."
While proud of the kid, Buck and Chris's looks back and forth spoke volumes. Was he completely ready to go solo in the big outdoors?
Half way through the next day, JD walked to his truck and checked off his list. "Hedging trimmed, dead badger cleared from road…eeww that was so gross…soil sample collected from the land above the loch's north bank." Already feeling tired, he pondered what was left to do. "Fix some fencing for one of the tenants, re-stock one of the smaller inland lochs, and investigate a report of sheep wandering onto a cattle-farmer's land…hmm, nothing much then," he muttered, a hint of sarcasm in his tone. 'Ah well, Dunne…you asked for it, so shift your butt.' Determinedly, JD set off to complete his tasks.
After enjoying a long, soothing, hot shower at the end of his busy day, JD sat on his bed and started pulling on fresh clothes to go down for dinner. The teen winced as he stretched. Boy, he ached. Yawning, he leaned his head and shoulder against one of the bed's posts and gazed out of the window and across the loch. JD sighed, contentedly. Such an awesome view.
Chris idly tapped his fingers on the table as the six men and Nettie waited on JD for dinner. He checked his watch…7:25pm. "You told him seven?" He asked Buck.
The brunet nodded, then stood. "I'll just go see what's keeping him. Why don't you all make a start?"
Nettie approved, not wanting the food to spoil. The group agreed, and while Buck headed out, the others dug in.
Not receiving a reply when he called out, Buck opened JD's door. He smiled on seeing the lad sitting on the bed and leaning against a bedpost while seemingly looking out over the loch. Buck was a little surprised JD never moved when he entered. That surprise turned into amusement when Buck came around to face his cousin and saw that he was sound asleep.
"Aah, Kid." With the gentlest of touches, he eased the semi-clothed youth back into a more comfortable, prone position, receiving no more than muttering for his trouble.
Chuckling to himself, Buck draped a blanket over the teen, bid him a whispered goodnight, and returned to the dining room.
Next morning, JD sheepishly joined the others for breakfast. He had only woken up because he heard Ezra on the landing that morning, though was unaware the Englishman intentionally made a noise in the hope of waking the young Laird. Six grins greeted him, but no one commented until they were all sitting down.
"Heavy day, yesterday?" Chris asked.
"You must be starved," Vin pointed out.
JD huffed out a soft laugh. "Uh…yeah, on both counts. Sorry."
"No need to apologize," Nathan insisted. "If a weary body calls for sleep, it shouldn't be ignored."
"Couldn't have ignored it if I'd wanted to," JD replied, smiling at the chuckles his comment produced.
Chris changed the subject. "Any luck with McGregor's sheep invasion?"
JD nodded. "Yeah, there's a break in the McClintock's fence and their sheep are breaking through. It's first on my list today."
"Make it the only thing," Chris ordered. "We had a good day yesterday and there's not too much needs our attention today."
JD frowned. "Chris, I know I got real tired, but I can cope…" He swallowed at the look he received from the blond.
"No one's suggesting otherwise, lad. Okay?"
A little embarrassed, and grateful for the wink from Buck, JD agreed. "Sure, thanks."
"Need a hand anyway?" Vin asked.
Smiling, JD shook his head. "Nah, it should be pretty straightforward, but thanks for the offer."
On investigation, the broken fencing wire had rusted where it looped through the post and twisted around itself to secure it. JD used wire cutters to dispose of the brittle, oxidized wire, then threaded the undamaged cable back through the loop, and used pliers to twist it securely into place. JD stepped back and smiled at his handiwork. "Not bad, if I say so myself."
"Old man McGregor been tattling on us?"
Jolting from the unexpected voice, JD turned to face a pretty girl, he guessed around early twenties. She was dressed in jeans, wellies, and a navy Barbour coat. "Tattling?"
Moving closer, JD shrugged. "As our tenant, he's entitled to ask us to investigate any breaches in the fence…as are you." He extended his hand. "Name's JD."
The girl looked him up and down. "I know who you are."
JD smiled. "Well…I don't know who you are. Care to share?"
"McClintock…Madeline McClintock. I prefer to go by Maddie." The girl checked out the repair. "No bad…for a beginner." She made a face. "Although, McGregor's cattle hardly ever come up here."
Continuing to pack up his tools, JD nodded. "Maybe, but he still pays us to farm this land. Least we can do is ensure he has secure grazing pasture."
"A few sheep are hardly gonn'ae cause his cattle to starve, are they?"
"Not my call," JD replied. "My job's to keep my tenants happy and the estate functioning. What's yours?" He noticed the girl finally smile.
"Still up for debate," she responded. "Da wants me to help him run the farm."
Leaning against his truck, JD swigged water from a bottle. "And you?"
She shrugged. "Go back to Edinburgh, maybe…"
"But?" He smiled. "I sense a 'but'."
"But…well, there's only me and Da." Her gaze drifted, as if seeing somewhere else. "My brother died last year…drowned while on holiday in Tenerife. I had to leave university to come home and help Da through Pete's body being shipped home, the funeral...you know." She shuddered. "Then Ma died soon after."
Straightening up, JD's expression softened. "I'm real sorry to hear that."
Maddie snapped back from wherever her mind had drifted. Her wistful expression changed to one more dispassionate. "Donn'ae be. I suppose, with Peter gone, I always knew once Mum or Da died, I'd end up staying here to help out." She pointed to beyond the repaired fence. "Did you check none of my sheep were still in there?"
"Kinda. I mean, I looked around. I didn't walk down over the hill or anything."
She turned to leave. "You'd better hope there aren't any, or you'll be back here fixing that fence again tomorrow."
Gawping, JD watched her go. He shook his head. "Jeeze, Scottish women can be so ornery."
One day on, and past midway through their working day, Chris drove into the castle's rear courtyard to use the site office. He frowned on seeing Cameron McGregor, and Buck, waiting for him. Getting out of his Range Rover, Chris nodded and approached.
Buck went to speak but was cut off.
"Have you no control over that wee laddie you have here?"
With a quick glance at Buck, Chris replied. "Do I need any?"
"Aye, I'd say you do. He sees a pretty face and I'm back to chasing sheep off my land."
Buck cut in. "Cameron says the fence between his and the McClintock farm hasn't been repaired."
"Where's JD?" Chris asked.
"With Nettie and Vin in the kitchen."
Chris dialed. "JD…would you come out to the office please?" A minute later, Chris wasn't surprised to see Vin following the young Laird out.
"Chris?" JD nodded to Cameron. "Mr. McGregor."
"Cameron says his fence is still down, but I have it logged that you fixed it yesterday," Chris stated.
JD nodded. "Sure, it was my first, and last job yesterday. Is there a new breach?"
"No lad, just a botch job. Maddie McClintock distracted you, did she?"
"Now just a wee minute," Buck warned. "There'll be none of that."
"Sir, I can assure you, when I left, that fence was secure," JD insisted.
Cameron pointed toward the hills. "Go see for yourself. It's down, and there are sheep on my land…again."
"You know, there's nothing stopping you from fixing it yourself," Vin pointed out.
Cameron shrugged. "Maybe so, but it's McClintock's responsibility to fix it or to arrange to have it fixed, but he has no interest in the job. I pay you my dues, and for that, I expect service."
JD halted any more counter-responses. "Yessir, you're right. I'll get right back up there and fix it now." He noticed Vin's concerned stare. JD addressed him. "I screwed up, I should go check it out."
"I'll go with you," Buck said, attempting to follow.
JD shook his head. "Nah, it's cool. I got this." He smiled. "But thanks."
"It'll be getting dark in two hours," Vin reminded.
Already leaving, JD called back. "Sure thing."
Chris glared at Cameron. "What's really the issue here?"
McGregor went to deny an issue, and then changed his mind. "I know Ewart has had a hard time since Meg and Peter died, but his lack of interest in his farm is affecting mine."
Chris glanced at Buck and Vin. "Alright…thanks. We'll look into it." Watching the man's truck pull out of the grounds, Chris looked to his ghillie and deputy manager. "Either of you know of a problem?"
Buck shook his head, 'no'.
Vin shrugged. "Haven't seen Ewart about much lately. Heard talk he was in 'The Laird' drinking heavily a wee while back, but nothing more."
Buck nodded, he'd also seen Ewart in the local pub The Laird's Seat', once or twice. "Who's Maddie…and Peter and Meg?"
"Maddie and Peter were twins. Peter died," Chris explained. "Meg died of a broken heart after Peter's death. Maddie was in university in Edinburgh, but dropped out to help on the farm, and to be with her father."
"Tragic," Buck said honestly.
"Aye," Chris agreed.
"You know, it wouldn't take me long to go up and help JD out."
Aware the boy had wanted to do this himself, Chris pondered for a moment. He nodded to Vin. "Yeah, go ahead…" Chris smirked. "…Or he'll be late for dinner."
JD stared at the dangling fence wires. "These have been cut."
He glanced back across the moors toward the McClintock place. "Damnit, Maddie. Why?" He couldn't explain why the surly girl he met the day before came into his mind, but JD had a creepy feeling he was right about her. Shaking it off, he was about to get his tools from the back of the truck when a sound caught his attention. Listening, JD realized it was a faint bleating from somewhere over the other side of the fence.
Stepping over the snipped wires, he walked toward the sound. Down over the hill, the ground leveled off. There, he saw a lamb, all muddy and clearly stuck in boggy soil. Its distressed bleating increased when JD scrambled down the slope and got closer. Cussing to himself on realizing how difficult the squelchy mud was to walk through, he eventually reached the little wooly creature. Plucking its partially sunken body from the mulch, JD held her close.
"Hey there, little one. You'll be fine now." No sooner had he spoken, when the teen realized he was almost up to his knees in mud, and no matter how hard he tugged, he couldn't break free. JD laughed, nervously.
"Okay, this is just plain nuts. Come on, JD…mind over matter, it's just water and earth, right?"
He was right, but the combination of weight, stickiness and gravity ensured he couldn't move. At least the shivering lamb was calm, and hopefully oblivious to their predicament.
After what seemed like an eternity, he was still stuck fast and sinking deeper. While JD continued his fruitless and exhaustive efforts, and tried to figure out a solution to his dilemma, a conversation he once had with Buck, played in his head.
>> As the cousins pulled up atop a vast lush moor, Buck urged JD to step out of the Land Rover and to follow him.
"Why'd we stop, Buck?"
Halting, Buck directed and gestured, grinning at the way his cousin soaked up every bit of information relayed. The Scotsman pointed.
"Ground looks inviting, doesn't it?
JD nodded. "What of it?"
Buck toed the earth with his boot and the ground squelched. He pointed. "These moors can be a truly dangerous place. One step further that way, and you could be sucked into a bog so fast, if you donn'ae drown, you'll freeze."
"Shoot. I had no idea."
Buck winked. "That's why I'm here." <<
JD truly wished Buck was here now. He was still stuck fast up to his thighs and his legs from the knees down were numb from the cold. Add to that it was getting dark, and his phone was in his truck, and he felt pretty trapped right about now. Buck sure was right about these moors being treacherous. Holding on tightly to the lamb, the youth continued to pull and tug, but to no avail. He soon realized, not only was he making things worse, he was getting tired from trying.
Closing his eyes he tried again to remember what Buck had said about what to do if he ever got himself stuck. He looked down at the lamb. It would help if he wasn't holding it, but he dare not put it down, the poor thing looked as though it had been suffering its fate for some time, and it was still very young.
JD was just debating whether he could toss the lamb onto firmer ground without hurting it when the sound of an engine caused him to look up. His heart soared at the appearance of a familiar Land Rover pick-up pulling in beside his truck. 'Vin'.
Tanner rarely got flustered, but lately, the possibility of any one of his closest friends in trouble evoked every emotion within him. JD especially, as the boy had a definite gift for finding problems. Seeing JD's Toyota parked up but abandoned, he was instantly out of his halted truck and calling. "JD! J-D!"
"VIN! Down here!"
Crossing the cut fence, Vin approached the brow of the slope and groaned when he looked down. 'Shit!'
"Hold on, I'll be right there." Hurrying back to his Land Rover, he grabbed a coil of rope. Unsure of how JD would be when he was out of the mud, Vin placed a call before scrambling down to the bottom of the hill. He smiled encouragingly while he unraveled the rope.
"Sticking around here for any particular reason, Kid?" As he spoke, he toed the ground with his boot to test its solidity.
Having to look back at Vin over his shoulder, JD huffed. "Funny, Tanner." He swallowed, nervously. "Vin, I can hardly feel my legs."
"That'll be the cold and pressure of the mud. When this reaches you, pull it over your head and loop it under your arms." Making a lasso from the rope, Vin did a perfect cowboy twist in the air and tossed it. The lamb bleated and struggled when the heavy twine landed with a splat next to them.
"Easy, easy there," JD cooed. Grabbing the lasso, he looped it over his head and, ensuring the lamb wasn't caught in it, threaded his arms through and pulled the knot tight around his chest. "What now?" He called.
With the lamb in JD's arms Vin knew the kid was pretty helpless unless he let go, and knowing JD would never let go, the ghillie had only one course of action. "Lay back on the mud."
"Say what?!" JD squeaked. That idea didn't appeal to him at all. Realizing Vin was serious, first he sat, and then, still clinging to the lamb, laid back against the cold ooze. "Oh jeeze, that's just gross."
"Relax, and hold tight. I'm gonn'ae take the strain. Whatever you do, don't fight me." Securing the other end of the rope around his own waist, Vin took the full force of the burden, dug his boot heels into the firmer ground beneath him, and started pulling JD backwards.
At first, nothing happened; then JD felt the tiniest of movements. In a few seconds, and accompanied by a slurping, squelching sound, his legs slowly emerged. Vin dug in and heaved backwards with all his might. Seeing JD slowly slide toward him had Vin doubling his efforts. He jolted when hands grabbed the rope and took some of the strain. He nodded to Chris and Buck.
Seconds later, and looking like a bog monster, JD was free. Buck and Chris moved in to help him stand, while Vin took the lamb and checked it for injuries.
Shivering, and caked in mud, JD grinned, shyly. "I hear mud's good for the complexion."
"Well then, you should be as smooth as a baby's bottom," Buck commented, shucking own green Barbour jacket and wrapping JD up in it.
"Lamb's okay, but a little malnourished. I'll take it home and bottle feed it. Not sure we can reunite it with its mama, but we'll worry about that tomorrow." Vin turned to go.
The ghillie grinned. "You're welcome."
"How did you know?" JD asked.
Tanner shrugged. "I didn't."
The very thought that Vin could quite easily have not turned up made JD shudder. "Buck."
"Yeah," the brunet said softly, his throat tight from seeing JD shivering, and covered in mud…but otherwise unharmed.
"Would it be okay to come back out and work with you and the guys from tomorrow? I guess I'm still not real familiar with this place." He blushed. "This 'going it alone' gig ain't all that."
Buck grinned. "Well, if I read what you just said correctly…good point, and, of course you can."
JD grinned. He looked down at his feet and chewed on his bottom lip as he glanced around at his saviors. "Shoot, my wellies are still in the bog."
Chris laughed outright and with a promise to buy JD new ones, he gestured with his head and encouraged them to move back to the trucks.
With JD's legs cold and numb, it was a slow trudge up the hill, but eventually they made it. Just after Vin wrapped the shivering lamb into a blanket and settled her on the passenger seat of his pick-up, he said goodbye. Chris, who was examining the fence, spoke.
"This fence isn't broken, it's been cut." He instantly recognized JD might know something by his features. The kid would never make a good poker player. Chris figured the lad would share eventually. "We'll fix it tomorrow. For now, I can think of someone who needs a good hot soak in the tub."
JD grinned. "I'm guessing me, as I'm not sure we can put a lamb in a bathtub." Appreciating the grins he received, a stiff JD gratefully accepted Buck's help into Chris's Range Rover, and soon one man was heading to his cottage, and with Buck driving JD's truck, the other three to the castle.
THREE DAYS LATER
Sitting on one of the wooden stair steps, JD peered through the ornate, dark-wood balusters and watched the frenetic activity in the Great Hall. The Spring Blessing of the Loch was a small affair, but it was followed by a traditional evening banquet and ball for villagers and tenants; although, these days it was more akin to an informal party than its more ceremonial counterpart. JD was oblivious to the presence behind him until Buck sat down on the stair below him.
"Everything okay, Kid?" The genial Scotsman was shocked at the contemplative glance back from the boy. "What is it?"
"I'm crap at this, Buck."
"What? Sitting on the stairs and moping. You seem pretty good at it to me."
JD made a face. "This…Laird stuff." He turned to his cousin. "I try so hard, y'know? But everything I do…I either piss someone off, or screw it up."
Buck relaxed and smiled. "You think you're alone in that?"
"I know so. You work here like you were born to it…" JD blushed. "Sorry. You know what I mean."
"Chris takes everything in his stride. Nothing fazes him…or Vin. Shoot, if it wasn't for Vin, I'd still be up there on the moors, and up to my neck in that bog by now."
"Doesn'ae bode well for the lamb in that scenario." Buck's grin widened at JD's snort. He nodded.
"You did great. Like I once said to you, there's a lot of land around here that requires caution, yet regardless of the possible hazards, you acted on instinct to save a wee creature. That goes a long way in my book, and many others', too." He watched JD turn back to the activity. "Is it this ceremony that's bothering you?"
"Not really," JD mumbled, his gaze fixed on the semi-decorated room. "I mean, I really like the traditions an' all…I guess I'm still struggling with the concept of me being worthy to perform them." He was aware Buck stood and felt a hand squeeze his shoulder.
"I can assure you there are no worries elsewhere on that matter. See you later."
For only the second time since arriving in Scotland, and as he stood on a small, wooden jetty at the loch's edge, JD was dressed in full Ross formal attire. As his second, Buck was next to him, and Ezra, Josiah, Nathan, and Nettie, along with many of the estate's staff, were just to Buck's right. Chris, wearing full Black Watch dress and carrying bagpipes stood poised, while Vin, as Glenneaval's ghillie, and being responsible for the welfare of all game and fish on the estate, held the Cuach na Ross in his outstretched hands.
With a grin, JD, with Buck holding his free arm for balance, took the chalice from Vin, held one of the vessel's double handles and dipped it into the water. Standing straight, and holding it in both hands, he raised it high and chanted the blessing.
"May the open hand be filled the fullest,
May the loving heart nai'r no strife,
May the sun bring warmth to the water,
May the Spring bring the land new life.
And may we be as one clan.
From lass to woman, lad to man."
Trying not to think what may be lurking in the relatively clear water, JD raised the chalice to his lips and sipped the water within. He then held it over the loch, waited for Vin to hold the Cuach's opposite handle, and the pair slowly poured the remaining water back to its source. While the steady stream of water sparkled and danced in the sunlight, the onlookers cheered and clapped; and when the last drop entered the loch, Chris played the pipes, and continued to pipe for a good twenty minutes after the majority of people had gone inside.
Standing with Buck, Vin, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra, JD listened, mesmerized by the haunting tune and Chris's expertise, still in awe of the whole event. When the last notes carried on the warm breeze, Chris turned to his friends and grinned.
"Time to lubricate my own pipes I think."
Laughing, the group went inside to enjoy and share a sumptuous buffet and a few whiskeys and ales with their staff, tenants, and a large turnout from the village and surrounding farms. Leaning back against the buffet table and chuckling as he watched Buck and Inez attempt some traditional Scottish dancing, JD turned to Vin.
"How's the lamb coming along?"
"Hermione's doing well," the ghillie replied.
JD's grin widened. "Hermione? You…you named her?" Not in the least bit intimidated, but still arching back when Tanner got right into his face, JD bit his lip to stall a giggle.
"That remains between us. Remember, laddie, I know where you sleep."
"Oh sure, absolutely. Your secret's safe with me, Vin."
There was a pause, and then the pair laughed. With an invitation to JD from Vin to come visit the lamb they had rescued, the two young men kicked back and savored the atmosphere and fun of another successful event, while appreciating it was one more step forward in the continuing unity of the locality and its residents, and the Glenneaval estate.
It was a harmony between environment and people, that seven friends…brothers in all but blood...were passionate about; and which they demonstrated daily in everything they did. However, they were yet to discover that their reputation and efforts were more appreciated by their peers and tenants than they could have ever thought possible.
The seven men of Glenneaval were marking their place in history as if it had been ordained as their destiny. Angus would have been delighted.
Nevertheless, there was still so much more to achieve, and Glenneaval's guardians were more than up for the job.
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