Secrets of a Highland warrior
Publication: June 2019 by Harlequin Historical
The key to his past…
…lies with the enemy sharing his bed!
Part of The Lochmore Legacy: a Scottish castle through the ages! Rory Lochmore had expected to wage battle, to claim land and finally secure his standing within his clan… Instead he won a wife. A McCrieffwife. Their convenient marriage could unite the two long-feuding clans forever. But can a political alliance give way to a passion strong enough to stand the secrets of the past?
‘I don’t like this.’ Rory surveyed the landscape surrounding him and his men. Tall branches bending slightly in the spring breeze, birds calling softly, the stream mere horse-lengths in front of them, rushing past carrying winter’s melting ice.
Around them was nothing else but rolling fields and a wide sparse treeline that had been manned and maintained to remain that way since before he was born. Enough trees for game, but not enough for enemies to hide behind.
Not that there should be enemies while they stood on Lochmore land, but across that stream...
‘Perhaps they are waiting over that ridge.’ Paiden sidled his horse alongside his and whispered low.
Rory didn’t turn his attention to the other men. They had maintained their position and were far enough behind to not hear the words that Paiden inevitably desired to share. Of the same age, if different temperament, Paiden had been at his side for as long as he had memory.
Paiden had been talking for that long as well and Rory was used to his friend’s humour even in the direst circumstances. Now, on this mildest of mornings, the circumstances weren’t dire, but they weren’t safe either. His men, well back from the stream few ventured near, didn’t need to hear words to comprehend their predictament.
‘How likely is it that a garrison of McCrieffs and their horses are crouching behind a hill no taller than a couple of rabbits could breach?’
‘Oh, as likely as toothless Joan is capable of eating overcooked venison.’
Not likely at all. There was no one to greet him and his men this fine spring day. Twenty of them in all here, one hundred more waiting at the castle should he make the agreed signal. Twenty was enough of a force for the expected confrontation, but not enough to provoke a first strike. If the McCrieffs wanted a fight, then there were enough to defend the Lochmore claim. If they wanted to negotiate, the numbers weren’t so intimidating that the possibility was there as well.
Months had gone into the planning of this day. A fortnight spent on discussing the number of men, the weaponry, the day and the hour. Rory was prepared for every likely scenario when it came to this day. The nothingness they faced wasn’t any scenario at all.
Which was why they stayed on the Lochmore side of the stream. Across the water was the beginning of McCrieff land. Or what was McCrieff land. It was now his by royal decree.
After his clan supported the crowning of John Balliol last November, the English King Edward had granted the Lochmores part of the McCrieff lands. The ones that bordered along the stream that for years had separated the two clans. The two enemies.
The stream had been a firm divide between the clans and a well-welcomed one. Owning the land, however, gave the Lochmores even more pleasure. To take by any means something precious from the McCrieffs was worth any price paid.
But months had passed since Edward’s decree. During that time the McCrieffs ignored Edward’s law and the Lochmore Chief’s messages.
So it came down to this day, to this hour to fight, to battle. Except all that was before him was the rising of the morning sun and the blades of plentiful grass the horses fed from.
Certainly, the beauty of the land was enough to please any Highlander, but the landscape wasn’t what he intended or expected to see right now.
The granting of this land wasn’t at the McCrieffs’ consent. In fact, this very land had been bitterly fought over for years. Everything between them had been fought over for years.
Also, being Highlanders, it wasn’t expected that the McCrieffs would agree to an English king’s decree. After all, what right did he have over a Highlander’s lands?
However, since it was convenient at this moment for Lochmore’s Chief, Rory’s father, to accept, he did. But with no word from the McCrieffs, it seemed they didn’t accept the terms.
Now, with no one here, it didn’t seem like anything at all.
‘It’s a trap,’ Paiden said.
‘Truly, that ridge wouldn’t be able to hide one horse and we’d hear them if they laid in wait. Where would they lay a trap?’
Rory looked behind at his men waiting for command. They were as restless as the mounts beneath them. They expected to let out a war cry today. Indeed, they’d feasted and bedded in celebration the night before in case today was their last.
If they returned now, it would be without gaining the honour of such celebration. If he returned to his father emptyhanded with no resolution or information, today might indeed be his last. His father wouldn’t allow such ambiguity. McCrieffs present or not, Rory’s only choice was to confront.
‘I’m crossing,’ Rory said.