William scanned her face, pleased that he had shaken her so deeply. But if I canna have you, then aye, I would see you go to him to end this feud, for it kills MacAfees as well as Fergussons. Think about that, Sheena. She began to tremble. God, would her father really do that to her?
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Chapter 1 Early May , Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Five men waiting behind a steep crag far above the great Dee river. The river was a silver thread winding its way through the wide valley between the Cairngorm mountains and towering Lochnagar. A burn turbulent with melted winter snow passed below, joining the Dee. This thick stream traversed Glen More, where MacKinnion crofts dotted what little fertile land there was. All was quiet in the crofts.
All was quiet in the glen. The five men heard only the melodic sound of water far below and their own ragged breathing. They crouched behind the crag, cold and wet from their river crossing.
They were waiting for the moon to reach its zenith, when it would cast no shadow. His clansmen were as nervous as he was. Swords were drawn and torches lit. And in a moment, a bloodcurdling war cry split the still night. Seven crofts were in their pathway, but the assailants expected to attack only three, for MacKinnion crofters were skilled warriors as well as farmers, and the few attackers had only surprise on their side.
The family in the first croft were barely awake before their small but was put to the torch. Their home was quickly consumed. Their livestock was butchered, but the crofter and his family were saved the sword.
There was no blessing in that, for imprisoned in their inferno, their deaths were more agonizing. A newly married couple lived in the second hut, the wife fifteen years old. He forced her to hide beneath their box bed, and then he went out to meet the attack.
She never knew what happened to him. Smoke gathered in the thatched hut, suffocating her. It was too late to wish she had not defied her brother and married her beloved. It was too late for anything. The third croft faired a little better, though not by much. It was a larger farm. He called his three sons to arms and sent his grandson to warn their closest neighbors. Simon was then to go to their laird.
Ian could still wield a mean cudgel, and he held out for precious time. At that sound, the attackers fled. It was an angry young laird who viewed the devastating scene in those dark hours before dawn.
Only the low stone walls and a little of the roof remained of a home so lately filled with laughter and teasing. He stared at the body of the young crofter, lying just outside the blackened door, the head half severed. These clansmen of his, on the borders of his land, looked to Jamie for protection.
It was beside the point that his castle was far away, up in the hills, and he could not have reached these people in time. Well, they would! By God, they would! Black Gawain stumbled out of the blackened debris, choking from the smoke. He threw Jamie a look of relief, but Jamie was not convinced. Three men went inside. All too soon they returned, carrying the body of a young girl. Gawain took his sister and laid her gently on the ground, leaning over her.
Jamie tightened his grip on his reins. She shouldna have been here! Except make those who had caused this horror pay for it. Jamie rode on with the dozen men he had brought with him from Castle Kinnion. They saw what had happened to the first croft. The third croft in the line of damage was untouched, but two of its men were dead, old Ian and his youngest son. Many animals lay slaughtered, including two fine horses Jamie himself had given Ian.
He felt his anger becoming an open wound. This was no common raid, but unpardonable slaughter. Who could have done such terrible damage? There were survivors. He would have a description, some clue at least. If Jamie had guessed countless names, the name given him would have been his last guess. Hugh shook his head, but he did not waver. The plaid colors were clear.
I must have more than a war cry anyone could imitate and colors seen in the dark. Most of the men present were older. There had been no opportunity for them to fight alongside Jamie.
None could mistake the cold resolve in his hazel eyes. Dugald Fergusson wanted an end to the feud. My own aunt insists the feud never should have begun, so I agreed to peace when there was no retaliation after our last raid two years ago. So can one of you give me a reason for what happened here tonight? The plaid was several shades of green and gold, with gray stripes.
We ride now, to arrive at dawn. An enveloping mist still clung to the dewy ground, and he was sopping wet from crossing the second of the two Esk rivers. He was tired from lack of sleep and the rough ride south. They had had to ride more than a mile out of their way to find a shallow river crossing. All things considered, he was in a foul mood. Jamie and his brother and Black Gawain had separated in order to survey the area for signs of possible ambush.
It was something he always did when a raid was expected, and this one surely was. And it was something he did himself, not as a display of courage, although, being alone, he risked being captured, but because the welfare of his clansmen was his responsibility alone. He would ask no man to do what he would not do himself. The mist swirled and parted before him in a gentle breeze, revealing for a moment a wooded glen not far ahead.
Then the mist settled again, and the vision was gone. He had never been this far east on Fergusson land before. He had never raided Lowlanders in the spring before, either. Autumn was the time for raiding, when rivers were broad but shallow, and cattle were fat from summer grazing and prime for market.
He had always crossed the river in direct line with Tower Esk, the home of Dugald Fergusson. The swollen water had made that impossible this time.
He would not give them time to celebrate their victory. He wondered about the wisdom of his decision to ride south without further reflection. He had reacted to what facts he had. In truth, he could not have done differently.
Dead men demanded he ride to avenge them. A scrap of plaid demanded he ride south. He would have given anything for more evidence. The act bordered on insanity. Was he sure of what he was doing? Not knowing for sure ate away at him and turned him sour on the task ahead. Dugald Fergusson could not fail to know that Jamie had it within his power to wipe out his whole clan.
More than five hundred men could be raised if needed. Old Dugald must have known that. Dugald had not retaliated after that raid, even though it had cost him twenty head of cattle, seven horses, and nearly one hundred sheep. Dugald knew then he was no match for the MacKinnions, and Jamie knew it, as well. There was no challenge in carrying on the longstanding feud, so Jamie had let his Aunt Lydia think she had convinced him to end it.
It pleased her to think so, and he liked pleasing her. His one marriage had ended so tragically.
A Gentle Feuding
Have I ever given you reason to fear me? Have I ever threatened your life or caused you any harm? You talk of handfasting when you know how I feel. You bully me at every turn. She knew she needed only to stand there, and he would come to her and put his arms around her.
A Gentle Feuding 2 Johanna Lindsey Then he heard a sound, and in a flash he slid off his horse and ran for cover. But when he listened again, he recognized the sound as a giggle, a feminine giggle. Leaving his horse behind, he moved stealthily through the bracken and trees toward the sound. At that early hour, the sky was still gray-pink and mist still clung to the earth. A young girl was standing waist-deep in a small pool, the mist swirling about her head.
Chapter 1 Early May , Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Five men waiting behind a steep crag far above the great Dee river. The river was a silver thread winding its way through the wide valley between the Cairngorm mountains and towering Lochnagar. A burn turbulent with melted winter snow passed below, joining the Dee.