When the baby started to cry, no one heard him over the skirling bagpipes below. As the party went on, the chief sat at his head table, his head heavy with drink. But when he looked out over the room and saw his son's nurse dancing up a storm, his wits returned to him. He sprang from his chair and ran upstairs to the tower.
With each step of the stone stairs, his yellow-and-black kilt whirling behind him, the chief began to hear the words of a strange, haunting song:
SLEEP, MY LITTLE CHILD, HERO GENTLE BRED,
DREAM, MY LITTLE CHILD, HERO BATTLE BRED.
When the chief reached the room, he slowly creaked open the door. The song was louder now, sung by a voice like spun silver:
SKIN LIKE FALLING SNOW, GREEN THY MAILCOAT,
LIVE THY STEEDS, DAUNTLESS THY FOLLOWING.
He knew that voice.
The chief, his heart beating like a great drum, stepped in. He saw his baby son in his cradle, lit by the dancing fire. Sitting in a rocking chair was the chief's fairy wife, more beautiful than ever. She was singing her son to sleep. The chief saw her for a moment—an instant—before she vanished into thin air. His mouth was parted; he had just started to say her name.
Dumbfounded, the chief stepped closer to find his child fast asleep. The boy was wrapped in a bright silken blanket left behind by his mother. The chief knew then that she would never return.
Years later, when the child had grown into a man and the chief's beard was streaked through with silver, the son told his father that he had a dream about the white shawl he had been given as a child. He said it was more than a scrap of cloth; it was a mighty fairy gift. It wasn't a blanket, the son said, but a flag. The son said that if the clansmen ever found themselves in peril, they need only wave the flag three times and the fairies would come to their rescue. But, said the boy—for that is how his father always thought of him—the flag could only be used three times until it would disappear from the world forever, taking the bearer with it. The chief's eyes narrowed thinking of this possibility. All these years this little blanket could have been the means to reunite with his beloved, whom he still greatly missed. He could wave it three times right now and be with her again.
But the chief, in his age and wisdom, had become a man who did things rather than only pretended them. He thought of his once-skinny self making his way across that bridge. He made his way up the old stone stairs of the tower, perhaps a bit slower, but as thundering as ever. His son followed him. In the old nursery he cast aside boxes until he located the fairy blanket. He looked at it very closely. He shut his eyes for a moment. He felt the embroidered stars between his thumbs. He could, he thought, hear the whispers of that old song again. How did it go?
He opened his eyes. He pushed the back of his hand over his face before anyone could see. He then ordered the flag to be locked away in an iron box until such time as the clan might need it. They called it the Bratach Sith, or the Fairy Flag. He lived the rest of his days alone.
Hundreds of years later, the ruthless MacDonalds, the mortal enemies of the MacLeods, raided Dunvegan Castle and set the church on fire. The surprised MacLeods were all but routed. The last of their forces, bloodied by sword and cudgel, met on the beach with the last of the clan's treasure and remembered the old story that had been handed down from fathers to sons. They found and unfurled the flag and waved it over the cold sand. When they were done, their forces seemed to have increased magically, perhaps by tenfold. They marched on the MacDonalds, who were filled with fear and fled. The flag was put away again.
Many years passed, and a plague swept over the Isle of Skye, felling the Highland cattle and the sheep that provided soft wool. Famine came swiftly and without mercy. The starving MacLeods waved the flag in the wind once again. The fairy host appeared, glinting and without number, and rode out onto the meadows, touching each dying animal with their magic swords. The cattle stirred and the sheep bleated as the animals stood up again: The clan was saved.
There was only one more wave left of the Fairy Flag, said Flora eerily, from the rocking chair in front of the fire.
Where was it now? asked Olive quietly, though she already knew.
It was lost for a long time, Flora continued. Then, two hundred years ago, a witch named the Brahan Seer spoke a terrible prophecy. This witch was just a boy on the Isle of Lewis when he found a strange blue-and-black stone with a hole in it. When he picked it up and peered through, he was blinded in one eye, but was given the power of second sight. His prophecy was very specific—as witch's prophecies sometimes are—and said that a day would come when three things would happen to the MacLeods: the clan heir would die; the MacLeod Maidens, that set of landmark rocks on the coast, would become the property of a rival family; and a single red fox would have her litter in the castle tower. On that day the MacLeods would fall from Dunvegan. The flag would not save them.