This is Book Three in my ongoing historical series. To be released August, 2014.
While the characters from both Books One and Two are mentioned, I’ve tried to keep them in the background. Those who have read Mists Through Time will recognize some of the scenes told from Conn’s point of view.
As with the other books in the series I’ve used what I refer to as a generic Scottish dialect. It is a combination of modern dialect from the region, and spelling used by other authors. Just as a fair warning, if you find non–English dialect difficult to read or distracting, this book might not be for you.
Now, let me introduce you to Conroy MacKay and Fenella Campbell’s story. I hope you enjoy it.
“This meeting is important fer us…”
His older brother, Tavish was in speech mode and Conn easily tuned him out. He’d heard it all before. Every meeting was essential to the clan. This month long adventure was no different.
Honestly, at the moment, Conn was more concerned with the available entertainment than duty. He loved his family and clan, but tonight he wanted to carouse a bit. Tomorrow was soon enough for serious matters.
Though the youngest of three brothers, he worked hard to guarantee that his clansmen were treated fairly, and that he minimized any possible embarrassment—especially by his own making. There were only two things that compared to his love and loyalty for family and clan: drinking and women, and not necessarily in that order.
Bored, he gazed down the hill. Their camp sat on a rise above the others. The MacKays stood in one of four lookout positions. That they were chosen as a sentry for this meeting was not much of a surprise, since the clan was a military force few challenged.
Men gathered in groups as he observed from his vantage point. The vast colors of each plaid a visual beacon he found hard to resist. He could name nearly all the clans present by the tartans they wore. It was common for each district to maintain one weaver. Therefore, it was easy to spot individual clans by the color and pattern.
Well over two dozen clan chieftains lingered in the glen. Some awaited the games that would start tomorrow, but most came for the alliances that would be built. Though peace reigned in much of Scotland, due to the efforts of King James the IV, the Highlands remained a place of lawlessness. Where oft–times a long standing feud took precedence over the law of the land.
Many of those present wished to form a pact with his brother, but Tavish was cautious of who he trusted. He wanted strong alliances that would withhold the test of time, not a warring clan who wished someone else to fight their battles. He held no desire for his men to die due to another man’s greed, or pride.
They were the only branch of the MacKay clan present at the summer meetings. Their distant kin, to the north, would rather quarrel with the Sutherlands and Gunns, than make the long trek. Thankfully, no member of the latter two clans showed either. His family had no desire to be pulled into a political feud that was not of their making.
Conn was surprised to see a handful of Sinclair men. Few of the true northern clans, ventured this far south. The presence of the Mackenzie and Ross clans were no surprise, since both chieftains loved an excuse to escape their nagging wives, or so the rumors told.
He easily spotted the communal tent. Used as a temporary alehouse, the large crimson tent stored an exuberant amount of whiskey barrels. No highland meeting was ever complete without the whiskey contest.
Several of the clans brought barrels for the annual competition. The men spent a sennight judging the best brew. The winner received the honor of half a dozen barrels of their whiskey being sent to the king. It was a time–honored tradition, but Conn just enjoyed drinking the potent brew.
He felt the weight of a hand on his shoulder.
“Try tae nae end up so drunk ye do something daft?” Ramsey advised.
Conn rolled his eyes before he looked up. He was surprised to find most of the clan members had departed while he remained lost in thought. Tavish stood on the edge of camp deep in a discussion with one of his many men–at–arms. As chieftain, life was not always easy for him and Conn knew it. Take the recent problem with Maude.
Maude, known by most as the clan whore, loved to cause conflict. Tavish rejected her in front of others and earned her wrath. Angry, Maude spread lies as retribution. She called into question his ability to produce heirs, which put his role as chieftain in jeopardy. The issue was addressed, and the truth came out, but for Conn, it brought Tavish’s precarious position into the light.
Not that Tavish could ever be ousted as laird. Those who followed him were too loyal. It was only that the council’s interference in such a thing would split the clan. All knew that a divided clan meant vulnerability. To open themselves up to an enemy attack was unacceptable.
Upon their father’s demise, Tavish took control of their clan without a second thought. None questioned his right, or his ability to lead. He was a formidable opponent that few wished to anger. Yet, he was a good and fair man, never letting the power he held go to his head, or corrupt his ability to administer an impartial ruling. Once found guilty, his punishment was swift, but just.
Ignoring the admiration he felt for his brother, Conn couldn’t resist poking fun at Ramsey’s worrisome nature. “I thought Tavish was the auld woman, but ‘tis really ye is it nae?” he asked.
Ramsey was the second oldest of the three brothers. At twenty–eight, he acted closer to forty. He was the mediator for the clan, the negotiator. His glib tongue and ability to ease one’s fears made him the perfect candidate. The respect he gained over the years made him well sought after in the Highlands. Whenever a deal needed to be struck between two stubborn clans he was coerced to intervene. Even the King, himself, trusted and admired Ramsey’s judgment.
Both of his older brothers were something to truly be proud of, if only Conn could find his own place. Forever relegated to the position of the womanizing, carefree brother did not sit well with him. It wasn’t recognition he craved, just a place where he felt needed.
Conn was tired of the repetitiveness of his life. He was weary of the drunken revelry he once enjoyed with the other men. The never ending parade of bed partners, and debauchery no longer excited him either. He was bored, and longed for stability of another sort. He watched Kade, Tavish’s best friend, with his wife. The love they shared, that’s what he wanted.
Their relationship used to be something Conn scoffed at, even scorned at times. Of late, that mockery shifted to become something more. Something he longed for desperately. A woman that loved him, that held a look reserved just for him.
“He worries aboot ye. We both do,” Ramsey offered.
Conn knew what he said was true, but it still rankled his pride. He hadn’t been a child for years, but at times both his brothers treated him as such. He wasn’t a drunkard. He enjoyed a good celebration just like any other highlander, but he didn’t drink every night.
He loved women. Young and old, he flattered them all, and bedded a carefully chosen few. His reputation was overblown nonsense that he rarely disputed. He was cocky enough to believe that he could bed as many women as they accused him of, he just chose not to. Quantity didn’t beat out quality. Cleanliness remained a large factor in his choices, and since most didn’t feel bathing was a top priority, his bed partners remained few.
“The tales spun aboot me arnae true—”
“D’ye think we doona ken that? Ye are our brother, the youngest an’ most beloved. We doona wish tae change yer nature, Conny. Tavish only asks fer caution in yer more, exuberant pursuits,” Ramsey explained.
“An’ what pursuits would that be?” Conn asked unsure of the direction in which the conversation had turned.
“Ye like a challenge. When ye get around large groups, an’ drinking is involved, ye tend to be impetuous. A dare is offered, an’ ye jump heid first intae the fray.”
Conn couldn’t deny Ramsey’s words. He did enjoy the enticement of a good challenge. He craved the excitement. The thrill of a quickened heartbeat, combined with his rapid breathing. It mimicked the rush one felt in the midst of a skirmish, only without the danger of death.
“I promise tae be selective,” Conn swore.
“That is a start. Now let us go have a taste of this year’s brew options,” Ramsey offered with a slap to Conn’s back.
Conn’s smile broadened when Tavish and his guard joined them.
“Ye didnae think I would let ye taste the new brew wi’ out me now did ye?” Tavish asked with a wink.
This was what he truly lived for. The clan, and the sense of family that could never be replaced. He hoped to one day see it grow and prosper with the happiness of these men. Maybe he was a bit of a sap, but to him that was what made a clan wealthy. Love, friendship and trust.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
The roar of laughter caused heads to turn, both inside and out of the makeshift structure.
“Our Conn here can sweet talk any woman. He has a gift I say,” Gregor swore.
Tavish and the others had left for meetings with key members of several highland clans, while Conn and a few of the guards stayed. It being the first day of the annual meet, most relaxed and enjoyed the brew while telling stories.
Gregor was a younger clan member, new to the ranks, and a bit boastful. Conn knew where this was going. It was usually another who got him into the messes his brothers complained about. He never blamed his companions though. He could say no, it was his free will to do so. He just seemed incapable of rejecting any challenge put before him.
“What nonsense is this?”
A large, bear of a man stepped from the shadows. The look of skepticism he wore, warned Conn of what was to come. These men had no patience for braggarts, and though it was unintentional, Gregor had portrayed Conn as such.
“Prove it!” another shouted from the crowd.
Conn rolled his eyes. Although, the target was unknown, he had no doubt the task would be audacious. He only hoped an irate husband wasn’t involved.
“Give a name,” Gregor insisted.
Conn cringed at the boastful tone as he eyed the man’s companions. A sense of foreboding encompassed him, for a grin wreathed the men’s shaggy faces. What had Gregor gotten him in to?
“See the wee redhead over yonder?” the man asked, his eyes gleaming.
Conn contemplated the woman, refusing to comment. She seemed harmless enough. His description of tiny was no exaggeration. She looked no bigger than a child, but with a woman’s curves in abundance. Red locks of hair floated down her back in waves, sashaying as she walked.
Clearly she was a maiden, with the way she so boldly wore her hair free flowing with ribbons intertwined. He could not see her face, but surely with a body like that she had a face to match. Conn was unsure he cared about her beauty as she turned to the side and he got his first glimpse of her profile.
Though her height was small to match her trim waist, her hips flared invitingly. Her silhouette revealed a well rounded rump, a flat stomach and full breasts that nearly overflowed from her corset. She had a stubborn chin that poked out in defiance of the world, full lush lips and a pert nose. Stray strands of hair fell across her rounded cheek. She brushed the flaming tresses back, emphasizing her smooth, creamy skin and diminutive ear that sat just below her hairline.
“Nae, ye cannae mean that Bruce. ‘Tis uncommonly cruel, even fer ye,” a man choked.
Ah, so the belligerent man now had a name. Though it held no relevance for the situation, Conn liked to assign a name to a face.
“Twas nae me who bragged,” Bruce growled
“Tae be fair, twas nae the lad either, but his companion.” An older man turned to Conn, concern on his face. “Ye may wish tae reconsider lad,” he warned.
Their words puzzled Conn. Why fear such a small lass? He watched the group as they argued. The old man stood away from the others, his demeanor anxious. What was it about this girl that made these brave warriors afraid? He glanced at the girl once more.
He found himself drawn to her figure. His gaze returned to her again, and again as the others continued their disagreement. Even without seeing her face fully, he knew she was stunning. Something deep inside told him, to decline would be foolish. She was his destiny.
“Doona be daft,” the old man snapped.
Conn was astonished at the intensity of the old man’s words, but refused to be swayed. “Nae, ‘tis ma right tae accept or deny a challenge. I—”
“Ye doona ken who she is lad. Decline—”
“He accepted, ‘tis tae late, auld mon. Now stop interferin’ an’ be gone wi’ ye,” Bruce snarled.
The girl turned, and a gasp ran through the crowd of men at his side. His breath caught at her beauty. Her gaze locked with his for just a second, but it was long enough to make out the color of her eyes, or should he say colors? One held the glitter of emeralds, while its companion’s hue resembled the sparkle of a sapphire. He had not been wrong. She was stunning…
He noticed movement to his left, and snorted as a man made the sign of the cross. Fools…
“The Campbell Witch…” Gregor choked.
“Nonsense,” Conn told the crowd before leaving them behind.
Conn didn’t believe in the mystical nonsense of evil witches. Anyone could be good or evil. The ability to heal, or see glimpses of a future event, didn’t make you the devil’s mistress. As he approached the cloth she inspected slipped from her hands. Using his quick reflexes, he grabbed the material before it hit the ground.