The Wedding Wake
By I.A. Watson and Sarah Shepherdson
Jamie McDermott died on his wedding day.
Alerted by a jealous housemaid, the Clans McDonald and Damforth laid an ambush on the groom’s path to the kirk, swarming down from the hills and attacking the wedding party as the groom was escorted by his kinsmen to the alliance with the Clan MacKie. Jamie and his brothers were but lightly armed on such a festive day, and no-one could have anticipated so daring a raid so far into MacKie territory. Jamie and two of his kin were dead by the time the defenders could rally, and the raiders were riding away into the hills by the time any proper defence could be mustered.
Kirsty MacKie heard the news at the kirk door as she stood with her father waiting for the groom’s arrival. She fell down weeping at the news of Jamie’s death, and some thought she might die then and there with sorrow at her love’s brutal murder.
The wedding party became a war band. Holiday finery was replaced by steel plate and chainmail, and the Clans McDermott and MacKie rode out that night intent upon bloody vengeance on the men who had slaughtered James McDermott.
Kirsty and the women were left safe in the keep of MacKie Castle, defended by old and trusted retainers, and Kirsty retired to her marriage bed alone and desolate.
The voice was a whisper and the weeping girl barely heard it over her sobbing. She raised her head from her tear-soaked pillow to listen again.
It was a familiar voice, an impossible voice. He was dead, murdered, laid out on a bier in the darkened hall below.
Kirsty MacKie rose from her bridal bed and padded over to the full-length drapes which hid the window alcove. With trembling hand she drew aside the curtain to find who was speaking.
Jamie McDermott stood waiting for her behind the curtain, dressed in the same wedding finery he had been slaughtered in. There was no blood, no gashed head, no severed limbs.
Kirsty MacKie took a step backwards.
“Not afraid of me, Kirsty m’love?” Jamie asked.
“You… you’re dead.”
“Nothing on Earth could keep me from you tonight, Kirsty. We were pledged to be together, and here I am.”
Jamie McDermott reached out and seized her to him with strong, tender hands. They were cold but corporeal. “Don’t you want me, Kirsty? Aren’t you my bride? My love?” he challenged. And his hands were working at her bodice, and then at her bare breasts. She trembled at his caress but not with fear.
When had his fingernails become so sharp as the shred the fabric of her wedding gown, stripping her bare to stand before him? When had his lips become so cold, yet gained such power to overrule all judgement, all sense, in her aroused fervour?
Kirsty cried out once, as he broke her maidenhead, but otherwise the only sounds were the gasps of passion as the bride surrendered herself to her dead husband’s will, a night-long tangle of limbs and bodies that she never wanted to end.
They said Kirsty was pining. She spoke little, ate less. Each day she seemed to drift further and further into a dreamy half-slumber. The old women shook their heads and worried about her mind, for she seemed often distracted, easily exhausted. Only as darkness fell and she brushed her hair and retired to her room would she seem to come alive, and she tripped to her chamber with an eager gait like a maiden racing to meet her lover.
Kirsty lived for Jamie. Each night he came to her, taught her more of the ways of love. His taste was on her lips, his hands ruled her body, she surrendered to his every dark desire and was eager for more. It was her secret, her shame, her addiction.
Michael McReady was one of the wedding party who had survived the massacre. It was his ready wit and keen mind that exposed the serving wench who had betrayed Jamie McDermott to his death. Moira Keegan was a bitter girl who had little in life and had seized a chance to hurt her better simply because she could. The meagre reward in coin she had received from the clan McDonald was little compared to the satisfaction in seeing the perfect Miss MacKie brought low by tragedy and mourning.
When Michael McReady exposed Moira’s treachery the kitchen wench admitted it freely, almost boastfully. She had nothing to lose. Kirsty’s father had the wench flayed in the castle courtyard, and she was hung at sunset from the battlements.
Michael McReady spent some time with Kirsty, explaining what had happened, trying to help her come to terms with her loss, trying to draw her back to life. He thought her too beautiful to be sad forever, and already he had hopes that he might lead her through her grief and win her to himself.
The night Moira Keegan died, Kirsty padded with naked feet to draw aside the curtain only to find two figures awaiting her. The traitor servant-girl stood beside the man she had betrayed, the both of them pale and waiting for the grieving bride.
Kirsty screamed as Moira reached out for her, but Jamie commanded her be still. He held her tight while the kitchen wench bared and touched her body.
“Must I?” Kirsty shuddered at the serving girl’s caress.
“You gave yourself to me,” her lover told her, “And I bestow you as it pleases me.”
That night James McDermott bestowed his bride upon the dead Moira, and the three of them shared the marriage bed until the first crow of the cock.
Kirsty awoke late into the morning, scratched and bleeding from Moira’s malice, but she knew that she would be waiting for darkness to fall so her two dead lovers could take and abuse her again.
Michael McReady visited Kirsty every day, and pressed his suit as delicately and sensitively as he could. Sometimes he thought he was getting through to the girl, when her face took on a far-away look as if she was remembering something good. Other times she sat disconsolate and endured his chatter. She knew McReady to be a good-hearted man, and a good match. He mother and father had hopes that she might find in him a substitute for the childhood sweetheart she had lost. But she spoke no word, and Michael did not press his suit for fear of abusing one who had endured so much.
Sometimes, as Jamie and Moira used her through the night, Kirsty dared to imagine that it was Michael who was thrusting into her.
Somehow they knew. Jamie McDermott seemed to know all that Kirsty was thinking. That was how he knew what aroused her, what humiliated her, what hurt and what pleasured her. Now he knew of the tiny seed of affection that she nurtured for Michael McReady, and he knew that Michael McReady must die.
Kirsty twisted beneath her lover as her body betrayed her again into servitude. “Soon,” Jamie McDermott promised, “Soon you will have a new bedmate to enjoy.”
“I… I don’t understand, Jamie. This is so wrong. Wrong. Evil. Why can’t I resist you?”
“Why would you want to?” Jamie replied. “Why treasure the pristine pure light of day when you can revel in the sinful secrets of the night?”
“What do you mean? Who do you mean?”
“You wanted Michael, didn’t you? Wanted to give yourself to him? Wanted him to plunge into you and take you as I take you now?”
Despite all she had done, Kirsty MacKie blushed at her guilty desire.
Then a thought frightened her. “If he comes to me like you… wouldn’t he have to be dead?”
Her lover laughed and pinned her harder to the bed. “Would you mind?” he insinuated.
McReady’s lodging was in one of the draughty towers of the Castle MacKie. He knew he should have left for his home weeks ago, but he stayed on, abusing his welcome, desperate for some word from Kirsty.
The wind was howling like a banshee around his tower, rattling the shutter, and making it hard to sleep. He rose and groped his way in the darkness to wedge a cloth into the windowframe to quiet the noise.
He heard the door open, although he would have sworn he had drawn the bolt, and discerned the sound of a person stealthily crawling onto his bed. The mattress creaked with the weight of a human body.
“Who’s there?” he asked.
“A friend,” came back the whisper, and it was in Kirsty’s voice.
“Who else. Come warm me, Michael.”
The woman beneath the fleeces was naked, and cold to the touch, but her kisses were hot. Her hands quickly raised Michael McReady’s ardour, and he allowed himself license to rove his hands over the smooth perfection he could touch but not see in the darkness of his tower room.
“Take me, Michael,” the girl begged him. “Do what you have dreamed of for so long. Do anything.”
Michael felt his visitor lean back before him, willing and
waiting for his love.
But something was wrong. He pressed back his favoured passion for a moment and re-examined the sensations of his recent caress.
“Michael… take me,” the girl pleaded.
He returned his touch to her foot, her left foot. It felt mis-shaped and hard, more like a cloven hoof than a human appendage.
“Take me now,” his bedfellow demanded, wrapping her legs around him to guide him to her, wrapping her arms around him to press her breasts to his chest.
Michael caught the gleaming dagger as she plunged it towards his back. She wrestled him with demonic strength, flailing with nails like talons, spitting and screaming like a wildcat. The struggle went on in the darkness for a long time, until at last McReady managed a deft twist of her wrist to plunge the weapon into her own chest.
He felt the spray of cold blood and the death-rattle of a dying woman. He groped in the darkness for tinder and lit the oil dish beside his bed.
Moira Keegan’s rotting corpse was sprawled across his pallet. The flayed servant girl was maggoty with decay.
“The time has come,” James McDermott told his bride. “The time for you to choose. I have to go. Back to where I came from. I can take you with me if you beg it. We can be together forever.”
“I don’t know,” Kirsty MacKie shuddered. “I’m frightened.”
The dead man’s touch made her nipples harden, sent electric shiver down to her groin. “You can be mine. Enjoy the revels of the dead, the lusts of the damned. So many pleasures yet await you. You have so much innocence yet to strip away. And we shall have eternity to play with you.”
It was so tempting. Her body responded as it always did to his advances. His left index finger traced a razor-sharp line across her breast, drawing blood from the gash.
“You have to choose. Then you can join us. You can be one of us.”
He licked the blood from her wound and drew a similar gash across his own chest. “You are already my slave. Be my slave forever,” he urged.
She allowed herself to be pulled down to taste the crimson ichor from his wound. A last vestige of restraint made her pause.
Michael McReady kicked open the bedchamber door and burst inside with a cutlass in his hand. “Let her go, damned and blackened fiend!” he shouted.
Jamie McDermott held the naked girl to him, and guided her head to his chest. But Kirsty turned away in shame at being found thus by one whose affection mattered to her. She saw herself as Michael must see her, stained, sweat-soaked, debased, and debauched. She struggled to get away.
“Kirsty…” Jamie McDowell said, as Michael McReady severed his head with a single stoke of the cutlass.
This time there was not even a rotted corpse remaining. Only a weeping woman, her body latticed with old scars and purpled bruises, on a soiled bed that had once been white and clean.
Michael McReady wedded Kirsty MacKie in the spring of the following year. He was a kind man and a considerate lover. Kirsty had made her choice.
If she ever rose from her marriage bed and padded with naked feet to draw back the curtain to the window alcove to see if anyone was there she never admitted it to her husband or to any living soul.
Original concepts, characters, and situations copyright © 2011 reserved by Ian Watson. The right of Ian Watson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.