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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
The Tartan Rose

Heather Campbell lived in a stone castle in a fern-covered glen in northern Scotland. She had been born in the castle and had lived there for all six years of her life. Her father, Callum, wore a kilt of Campbell tartan every day. He was proud of his clan. Heather’s mum, Catriona, wore brooches made of cairngorms on the tartan sash that hung across her body. Heather had an older brother, Colin. He played the bagpipes and was a good hunter.

Heather’s favorite thing at the castle was her rosebush. A long time ago, a special rose began to grow near the castle. It grew nowhere else in Scotland. In fact, nobody but the Campbell family knew of its existence. Heather, being the only daughter, was assigned the job to tend to the roses. She considered it a privilege. The roses that grew on the bush were as tartan as Callum’s kilt. Nobody knew how it came to be. She was happy that it was hers to care for and she did so lovingly.

One day a scruffy looking man came to the castle to visit Callum. He rode in on a mighty black horse, allowing it to trample the yellow gorse and fluffy purple thistle that grew along the path leading to the castle. Heather heard the man and her father yelling at each other. She was fearful until she saw the man ride away. She ran into the house to see what was the matter. Her father told her that the man, Angus Ross, wanted them to move out of the castle. He said it rightly belonged to his people, as they’d won it in battle a few decades earlier. He also said that if they didn’t leave on their own accord, he’d had no choice but to chase them out. Heather ran into her father’s arms. They couldn’t leave! She was born here. It was her home. Her tartan rose grew there and she had to take care of it.

Angus Ross came back a few days later with more men. They got off their horses and let them wander carelessly around the castle grounds. Heather watched as one of the horses ate the white roses that grew on a bush near her bedroom window. Another horse ripped off all the thistle blooms. One horse trampled their rhododendrons, breaking many of the branches off.

The men didn’t stay long. They came out with Callum, Catriona, and Colin, tossed the three of them to the ground and told them to leave. Heather ran to help her mother off the ground. Angus Ross said it was his castle now! Feeling helpless, Callum gathered his family around him and they walked through the woods to a small abandoned croft. Heather began to cry. She missed her castle. She didn’t want to live in the dirty croft. But most of all, she wanted her tartan rose, especially before the horses ate it. All night long she cried, finally falling asleep in the wee hours of the morning. When she woke up, sitting on the table in the drafty old croft, was her rosebush. During the night, her father had snuck back to the castle and dug it up, put it in a pot, and carried it to the croft for his daughter.

Right away, Catriona began to clean the croft. It smelled damp and musty. Heather said she smelled the faint odor of animals. Callum and Colin fixed up the broken windows and doors with some tools that they found lying in a corner of one of the rooms. Heather realized that she’d not be going back to the castle for a while. At least they had each other and she had her tartan rose. She knew that they would be all right.

Every day Angus Ross and his men rode past the croft on their horses, going to and from the castle. They made a special effort to trample the growing plants that Catriona had just planted. Heather would watch them through the dull, cracked windows. She was always glad when they passed by.

One day Heather and her family went to the loch over the hill for a picnic. They had a grand time. Colin played the bagpipes while Callum and Catriona danced. Heather clapped her hands and stomped her feet, even though she didn’t make much noise tapping on the grass. They ate sausage rolls, bannocks, chunks of cheese and shortbread. Catriona brought some fresh blackberries that she’d picked in the woods. Heather ate so many that her hands turned purple from all the juice. Right in the middle of a dance, Callum noticed smoke coming from over the hill in the direction of the croft. The family gathered up all their picnic supplies and ran through the heather-covered hill to the croft.

Flames shot out from the windows. Glass splintered and cracked. Heather was afraid. She put her hands over her ears so she wouldn’t have to listen to the popping and crackling of the wood. Callum ran into the croft, telling the rest of his family to wait outside. He came out a few minutes later, coughing and covered with black soot. In his hand he held his wife’s favorite cairngorm brooch, Colin’s bagpipes, and Heather’s potted tartan rose. It was black from the smoke, but no worse for the wear. The family stood back and watched as their new home burned to the ground. With nowhere else to go, they turned their backs on their castle and walked down a dirt path towards the loch. For a few weeks they had to live in the woods, sleep on the bracken and eat berries and whatever wild game Colin and Callum could catch for them. Colin had a bow and arrows and knew how to use them. One night they feasted on a wild duck. Another time they had venison.

As soon as he had gathered enough wood, Callum built them a new home. He’d been able to salvage his tools from the croft. The house stood near the water’s edge. Hawthorns grew wildly, their pink flowers filling the air with fragrance, as did the purple heather, blue bells and ferns. The loch was teaming with fish, jumping about, splashing happily. Colin caught many of them. They feasted on salmon and trout. When the home was completed, Callum knew it wasn’t as nice as their castle, but he worked hard to make it a home, as did Colin, Catriona and Heather. Slowly they acquired a few sheep, a cow, and some chickens from a nearby village in exchange for blackberries, fish and game that Colin had hunted. Catriona and Heather planted a garden and grew herbs, vegetables, such as cucumbers and tomatoes, and red, ripe, raspberries.

The house was often filled with the aroma of freshly baked, piping hot breads and cakes. Most nights there would be a plate of steaming bannocks, some delicious raspberry jam and butter to go with it. On the table sat Heather’s tartan roses. Heather told her father one night at supper that she didn’t want to plant the rose until they were back at their castle. Callum told her that may never happen, but Heather insisted it would.

The winter months came on with a fury. Snow flurried all around and the wind blew with a bitter chill. One night, after Callum buttoned up his coat and wrapped a scarf around his neck, he went out to chop firewood in the pine forests near the cottage. He heard men’s voices and followed the noise until he found who it was. He hid behind a tree and listened. He recognized one of the voices. It was Angus Ross. He and his men were talking of stealing cattle from auld Malcolm MacGregor. Callum crept back and ran directly to MacGregor’s house, told him, and then went to the sheriff. He and some other men in the MacGregor clan guarded the house, waiting for Angus Ross and his men to appear. It wasn’t long until they did. The moon was high in the midnight sky. When the first cow was stolen, the MacGregors came out of hiding and surrounded the thieves. The sheriff arrested them. Cattle stealing was a crime punishable by hanging. Callum and his family were free to go back to their castle. Angus Ross would never bother them again.

He ran back to his home. Catriona had just put out a rack of lamb with fresh mint sauce. What a feast they had that night. Heather finished eating and poured some water on her tartan rose. Callum took note of how big the plant was. There were three tartan roses growing on it now. He called his wee lass over and hugged her tightly. Callum didn’t tell his family the good news. He wanted to surprise them. After they’d gone to sleep he took Heather’s rose and carried it back to their castle. He planted it and went home.

In the morning, after a breakfast of porridge, Callum told the family to come with him. Heather hadn’t noticed her rose bush was missing. They walked to the castle. Catriona, Heather and Colin were afraid, but Callum assured them that they were safe. He explained the whole story to them and told them that they’d be moving back to the castle as soon as possible. Heather ran around the back of the castle and saw her rose planted there. It was back where it belonged. The tartan Campbell roses and their family were home at last.

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