Breac peered up at the darkening sky and wiped the rain
out of his face. For the fifth time in only minutes. The
storm swirled throwing winds in his face and dowsing him
in waves of rain that soaked through the layers of woolen
plaid. His chances and plans of returning to his home in
less than three days faded even as the daylight did. Hell!
His luck in finding the healer near Dunadd had been unexpected,
for ‘twas rumored that she traveled through the Highlands
through the summer months, gathering plants and seedlings
for use in her concoctions. He reached down and touched
the pouch tied carefully to his belt. Concoctions such as
the one he now carried back to heal his sister from the
strange, lingering fever that struck her down.
Pushing on through the boggy ground, Breac tried to force
his way along the washed-out path, but his steps became
slower and slower. The unrelenting rain would, he feared,
be his undoing this day. Finally, accepting the futility
of making it any farther before night fell completely, he
began to search for a dry, or drier, place to seek refuge
from this storm. He spied a clearing ahead and made his
way there, hoping to be able to see more once he reached
it. Just as he approached it, Breac reached up to push a
low-hanging branch from his path and stopped, searching
for a good place to seek protection from the storm on this
A copse of trees with thick and heavily-leafed branches
offered him exactly what he needed. Without heavy brush
at their base, the canopy they formed above the ground would
keep him mostly dry. Creeping in between the trunks, he
kicked the pile of damp leaves from beneath him and slid
down, using one of the trees at his back as a guide. With
his tightly-woven wool cloak wrapped around him, he might
keep the worst of the storm away. Some time passed as he
dozed in and out of a light, fitful sleep, one filled with
dreams, nay nightmares, of his sister’s death.
Breac reached up and rubbed his face, frustration and sadness
filling him once more at the thought of his failure. Fenella
was his responsibility. He’d sworn to his mother that
he would care for her and protect her and instead, he’d
failed. Releasing a deep breath, he knew that he was her
only hope now and he would not fail her again. When the
rain began to ease a bit, he thought about getting a few
more miles behind him, but the winds did not relent and
without the light of the moon, it would be impossible to
see his path until morn.
Leaning his head back against the tree’s trunk behind
him, he closed his eyes and sought sleep once more. No more
than several minutes could have passed when the sounds of
someone approaching grew louder. . . and closer. Others
traveling in this same dismal weather? He knew not, but
decided to stay in his place and let them pass, if they
did, without bringing attention to himself.
Two men, riding horses, broke through the last of the bushes
surrounding this clearing and stopped. One of them, the
younger one by looks, lifted a large bundle from his lap
and dropped it on the ground. The sounds made when it hit
the ground told him that it was alive.
An animal of some kind? He slowly pulled himself up to
stand, but stayed within the protection of the trees as
he watched the younger man climb down from his horse and
push the bundle with his foot. It rolled several times as
he kicked it across the clearing to the brush at the edge.
A cry or grunt echoed with each kick. Breac waited.
“Are ye awake then?” the man asked as he reached
down and, using his dagger, slit open the cloak or sack
that enshrouded the person within. He gripped both sides
and tore it, pulling it free and dumping a bound, naked
woman on the wet ground.
A woman? Aye, clearly one, whose feminine curves were not
hidden by gown or cloak. Gagged with her hands tied behind
her back, she struggled weakly against those bonds.
“Go ahead, Keegan,” the older man called out
from his place on top of his horse. “Finish this.”
From the seriousness of the tone used when giving the order,
Breac expected the younger man to kill the woman, but the
younger one put his dagger back in his boot and held out
his hand. The older one tossed a large cudgel to him. Rolling
her on her back with his foot, he positioned himself over
the woman and lifted the club.
“This time you should heed his warning and not return
to the village,” he said swinging the heavy weapon
over his head. The woman began to struggle under his foot
and he leaned more heavily on her until she stopped. “This
time, you will not be able to come back.”
Breac was within an arm’s reach before he even decided
to intervene, grabbing the club from the young man and throwing
it into the trees. He took hold of this Keegan’s cloak
and tossed him aside, away from the woman, where he could
watch both of the men.
“You should not interfere in something not of your
concern, stranger,” the older man warned. “Her
lord has exiled her and she disobeys his orders. He has
the right to punish her and we carry out his orders.”
Breac could not think of whose lands were nearby or which
lord would order such a thing, but he shook his head.
“Who orders such a thing?” he asked. Glancing
over at her was a mistake as he realized in a second for
her eyes were wild with terror and her naked body shook
in fear and cold. “I see not the brand of a whore
on her breast. No fingers or hands are missing befitting
a thief. What crime has she committed against her lord to
earn this kind of punishment?”
He knew he had no standing, no legal right to stop their
actions and he had no doubt they did act on the orders of
their lord. But, something in her gaze drew him into this
and forced him to step where he most likely should not go.
The two drew swords then and faced him, one of foot, one
on horse, and he knew he was no match for them. But he stood
his ground, keeping them on one side and her on the other.
Needing to ease the situation or end up dead like this unknown
woman would be, Breac held his hands up to show he was not
going to fight them.
“It seems a waste of an able-bodied woman when I
need a slave to work my farm,” he said. Nodding at
her, he made his offer. “I will take her and make
certain she never returns here.” He tugged at his
belt and breeches with an obvious gesture, leered at her
nakedness and then smiled. “She will not have the
strength to go very far when I finish with her.”
men understood his meaning and so did the woman, for she
struggled once more against the ropes binding her legs and
hands, managing only to dig herself deeper into the layer
of mud at the edge of the clearing where she lay. He could
see the doubt in their expressions but he waited, not offering
any more words that could sway them or seem overly anxious.
He only hoped, for some reason not clear to even him, that
the look of disdain for their assignment and exhaustion
on the man’s face won out over any qualms of handing
her over to him. Finally, the older one nodded.
“Take her then and make certain she is never seen
any farther south than the standing stones again.”
Order at Amazon.com
— Return to Top