They reached the tree line soon after, broke away from the shelter onto the bare mountainside. The path was a cobbled staircase, each step a big boulder. They hit a steady, hard pace and crossed the shallow stream that fanned across the saddle of the hill.
‘Not far now,’ he said, laying a hand on the small of her back, where sweat had soaked her shirt. The warmth of his touch spread and radiated.
‘I think I may hate you,’ she said, leaning over to clear her throat and spit on the ground.
‘Tell me at the top.’
From there it was a steep climb to the summit. Shale slipped underfoot. The air was sharp, thin gas, breathtakingly cold. They turned onto the peak and looked up to see the world in front of them. Above them, the sky was huge and blank, endless dizzying cerulean. And the hills stretched out, ripples and furrows; ancient old cracks following the fault line that stretched all the way to the North Sea a hundred miles away, as the crow flies.
‘Wow,’ she said, ‘beautiful. Almost worth getting out of bed for.’
They waited for their heartbeats to slow, felt the sweat dry on their backs as they circled the hilltop, looking for landmarks. Bumping against her elbow, he took her in his arms and they cooried up against the wind, bending into the hollows of one another’s bodies. Below them, the surface of the loch glowed sapphire blue. Shadows flickered over the water and across the moor, turning the landscape into a stark kaleidoscope.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘down, by the fir trees.’
Far below them, two deer paced the line of a fence, looking for a way over. As the walkers watched, they leapt, cleared the wire in two perfect arcs, and fled across the open grass, white tails flashing.