Lochiel had meant to say no.
The Prince's arrival like this was not reasonable—to come alone, without French aid, and still expect the clans to rise at his bidding. That had been Lochiel's opinion after reflecting on the matter; but still, on first hearing of the Prince's arrival, he had set aside everything, left the beech saplings he was about to plant down towards Loch Arkaig, and gone to speak to him at Borrodale. He owed him that much, at the very least.
When Lochiel stayed overnight on the journey at his brother John's house of Fassefern, John had taken a rather cynical view of the matter, and warned him against getting mixed up in it, and against the Prince's pretty words. But then, he was primarily a businessman, and had a businessman's instincts: was there profit in the venture, and what was the risk?
Lochiel was perforce also a businessman—any clan chief had to be—but that was not all he was. He was a little stung by his brother's attitude, and with the additional consciousness that he owed his brother money (though if those merchants in Whitehaven would only pay him for the timber, he might easily pay that back!), he spoke to him perhaps a little too forcefully about what his pledged honour was worth. John said a trifle sourly that perhaps if he urged him to come out, Lochiel would abstain from it.
But it was too weighty a matter to be decided by brotherly rivalry, and as he approached Borrodale, he grew serious. Archie had already gone to the Prince a doubter, and come back convinced. As to his fourth brother—well, Alexander was a Jesuit, there was no doubt where he would come down.
Ten minutes into the interview with the young and commanding Prince, Lochiel felt that he was not entirely equipped to meet a Stuart in the flesh: a Stuart who was not safely far away in Rome, but here in the Highlands, and who demanded, not his abstract allegiance, but his commitment to armed rebellion, and wanted it now.
He was too old and had too much responsibility on his shoulders to lose his head with the romance of it, like young Ranald MacDonald had done—the first to draw his sword. He argued, tried to make the Prince see that their chances of success would be greater if they waited for French support. The Prince countered that such support would come if his followers in Scotland showed what they were worth—and the garrisons in Scotland were laughably small, and would be easily beaten.
And so on. At the last, the Prince looked him in the eye and asked how he would feel, if he stayed safely at home when his father and his grandfather had come out? And Lochiel felt the knife slide in, and could not tell him nay. His grandfather Ewen indeed...he could well imagine what he would have said. Still, he did not agree unconditionally, and when he left he had at least ensured some security, should their venture fail.
But he was committed now. Not for today the quotidian worries over low cattle prices or unpaid rents; no, this was the time to send out the croisean-tara to gather the clan, and not look back.
Back at Achnacarry, there was much to be done before the departure to Glenfinnan, not least to wrangle those of the clan gentry who were as yet reluctant. In the midst of a hurried conference with Archie, who was a great help to him, he saw a horse and rider coming down Gleann Cia-Aig from Ardroy to the north.
'Donald!' he cried, as he approached, at a rather dramatic gallop. 'You sent for me?'
Lochiel could not help smiling: here was one who would require no wrangling. Ewen Cameron's hair glowed a deep auburn in the late summer sun, and he sat the saddle as if he only needed a word to charge the walls of Fort William.
'Yes, my dear Ewen, I did.'
Lochiel looked at the eager, shining face of the young kinsman he was about to use, and use to the full—much as he himself was being used, though as yet without his own knowledge of the precarity of the situation. He told Ewen what he wanted to hear.
'Clan Cameron will rise,' he said.
Ewen shouted for joy, and all across the busy grounds of the castle people lifted their heads to hear him. But Lochiel could not help wondering whether this young man who was so dear to him would be alive, a year from now.