Colder and colder until it was deathly cold as we found the road once more. There were no words, no stories, no sage advice, no penetrating questions, from my Grandfather's lips, bundled beneath the wraps of his deep red McGregor tartan woollen scarf. His steel blue eyes peeked out through an icy mist of tears. He would now and then look over to me in an almost plea for understanding, but, for the most part, his eyes kept peering forward, squinting through the wind, in an act of mandatory courage.
Our adventure across the frozen river had now become a trial of will, a test of manhood. For my Grandfather, a test to see if his manhood were still with him; for me, to see if my manhood had yet arrived.
We seemed to have wandered into a lonely realm of nothingness, a world in which hard fought steps led us nowhere except more of where we were before. It all began to feel like being lost in endlessness.
We walked on, silently. Then we walked on, silently. And then we walked on some more.
Then it changed. Time itself returned. It took place at the turning of the bend, at the crest of a slowly rising hill. Before us, below us, where the road broadened into a clearing where once a trading post had been - a rendevouz for trappers and backwoods characters who had ceased to be two centuries ago - three blazing campfires appeared. One near, one beyond, one down by the stream, not far, but not so close to seem to be in close kinship with the others.
As we approached the first campfire, two figures stood backlit by the fire. One tall, one short. One figure strangely shaped. Something in his arms. I thought, "Where I have I seen this fellow before?"
We came close enough to hear the roar of the fire rising; we then could hear the crackling. From out of the campfire came a booming voice, "Come closer, voyagers."
For reasons I do not know, but for the first time on this journey, I felt it my responsibility to answer the call. "Yes, kind sirs,we will." My Grandfather gave me a look of bemused surprise.
"Then come, warm yourselves in our hearty fire," the huge voice answered.
With two more steps, I could see the reality of his confusing silhouette. Before us stood a burly, giant of a man clothed with kilts and leather leggings, clutching bagpipes in his arms. Beside him stood a boy, no taller than chest high of the piper, red-haired, dressed in a midnight-blue uniform, with golden braid upon one shoulder and brass buttons down his chest. He was young, as young as me, but his eyes looked tired and old. He did not speak. But the bagpiper did.
"Sergeant Major Ian Macleod, sirs. Of the Argyll and Sutherland. And this here is young Rob Roy, our drummer."
I looked around for the drum and there it was, nearly hidden beneath a pair of Hudson Bay blankets, and an oversized duffle of black canvas.
My Grandfather extended his hand to the piper who grabbed it in a wholehearted grip. I waved to the boy, who did not wave back. "MacKenzie is our name," my Grandfather spoke plainly as if he were reporting in to his field commander. I nodded as I thought, "That's right, MacKenzie is our name!"
We set our lanterns on a fallen log and took some time to creep close to the fire, trying to melt away the frozen cold our journey had collected.
The introductory conversation then took place with the Sergeant Major leading the way, his words filled the burr and the resonance of a lifetime of Scotch whiskey. A question offered, an answer given, back and forth, two old soldiers knowing well the stories that must be told. Old war stories, places been and people known, but mostly wars endured, and here and there, a mention of the way things had been and were no more.
The drummer boy and I tried to speak but, in the end, we only kept glancing at each other and then away.