– part of a conversation between Kate Munro and her son, Robbie.
He was looking down, picking at burrs stuck to his hose. ‘For you this compensates, doesn’t it?’ And then, abruptly, ‘Not for me…’
She saw for the first time how like his father at a similar age he had become: the same set of head, unruly hair corkscrewing in all directions, pewter eyes. Arrested by the resemblance, and caught off guard by his perception, she avoided an answer, swinging into the saddle and clicking for her horse to ‘move on’. At the foot of the slope they passed the byres, a substantial match for the goodly flock of sheep, heavy with lamb, dotted across the rough ground. Scattered among them Galloway cattle, barrel-shaped, indicating they too were near to dropping their young. Here and there patches of gorse, the spiked stems winter-dulled, and in the hollows, where sunlight failed to penetrate, pockets of frost still silvered the coarse grass.
Robbie came up beside her, matched his pace to hers.
She forced a smile and, as if it was but a commonplace question, as if the answer might not have the sharpness of an arrow-thrust, asked, ‘What is it you want, Robbie?’ In the early days, when their coming to Braidstane, aside from the oddity of a midnight ride, had seemed to the bairns like the visit long-promised, he had plagued her with questions. How long would they bide? When would their father return? Could he keep the horse? Yet as the weeks stretched into months and they moved from the castle to the bastle house and began to make of it a home, the constant enquiries had been replaced by a seeming acceptance of Munro’s absence that relieved and saddened her in equal measure. Now, the set of his shoulders, the whiteness of his knuckles on the reins, gave birth to a sliver of fear that the acceptance she had schooled herself to believe in had been but a skim of ice on a loch. The answer she now sought perhaps the first crack that, spreading, would expose dangerous waters beneath.