Bride of Dunloch (Highland Loyalties)

BOOK: Bride of Dunloch (Highland Loyalties)
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Bride of Dunloch

Volume I of the
Highland Loyalties
Trilogy

Amazon KDP Edition

Copyright ©
2012 by Veronica Bale

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including, but not limited to, photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express, written permission from the author.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to organizations, events or persons whether living or dead is entirely coincidental.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The author sincerely thanks her treasured readers for purchasing only authorized electronic editions and for not participating in or encouraging the electronic piracy of copyrighted material.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

For my Christopher

May you, too, find the courage to reach for your star

 
 

Chapter 1

 

In the watery grey light of a late spring dawn, two forces met to oppose one another at the main gate of Dunloch Castle, an imposing structure nestled deep in the Scottish Highlands.

On the side that attacked that day were the MacGillivrays—a clan dispossessed of its ancestral lands and home because its members would not swear loyalty to the English King Edward the First. Dunloch was theirs, and they would take it back—by any means necessary—from the hold of the English baron who had usurped it with the king’s blessing.

What the MacGillivrays did not know was that a good portion of the English garrison stationed at the nearby Fort Invercleugh waited to meet them. Soldiers hid behind the castle’s seven-foot-thick curtain wall, aimed their arrows through the many arrow loops, and concealed themselves behind the merlons which protected the wall walk.

The clan had been betrayed by its own people—villagers inhabiting what had previously been MacGillivray land. When the clan had been stripped of its home, the villagers had had no choice but to pledge their loyalty to England else they be thrown from their dwellings. It was they who, in fear of retribution from their new English lord, had divulged a plan formed by the MacGillivray chief and his warriors to retake the castle.

Under cover of darkness, the English troops had been ushered into the fortress to oppose them. They now stood guard, outnumbering the MacGillivrays by almost three to one, and prepared to lay carnage to the unsuspecting Scottish rebels.

“Lord Reginald ain’t about to thank this lot for attacking the day before his wedding I reckon,” said one soldier to another as they surveyed the force advancing on their position.

“If it weren’t my ass on the line, I’d be rooting for them Scots,” agreed his comrade. “Lord knows they ain’t got a hope in hell his Lordship will show mercy when they lose.”

The English soldiers, together with Lord Reginald D’Aubrey’s own force of Dunloch men, watched the approaching army with a mix of apprehension and confidence. Their opponents were fierce to behold, but his Lordship had numbers on his side.

The fearsome warriors halted at the top of the ridge nearest the fortress, and their chief lifted his claymore high above his head in a majestic arc. With a mighty roar, he shouted the MacGillivray battle cry:


Garg’n Uair Duisgear
!”

At this command, the rage-fuelled men of clan Gillivray charged down the slope of the ridge towards the defensive gates of Dunloch castle.

The Scots had come prepared—a crude battering ram, wielded by five men on each side of its width, slammed into the heavy oak gate with crushing force. The thick, stone curtain wall trembled violently underneath the feet of the English soldiers.

Sheltered behind the crenellated battlement, Baron D’Aubrey, accompanied by the commanding officer of the English troops, peered down at the invading force below.

“My Lord, we must engage our archers,” protested the officer.

“No—hold,” commanded Lord Reginald. “They must be allowed to break through to the bailey.”

“But my Lord, we have the element of surprise—they do not suspect our presence. If we reveal our numbers we will surely frighten these Scottish bastards away with very little force.”

“I said
hold
,” Lord Reginald repeated, his usually regal voice distorted in a vicious snarl.

“My Lord, I must insist we attack
now
. There is no need for any one of my men to die in an unnecessary fight.”

The baron turned his chin to the commanding officer, and the look with which he regarded the man was one of pure disdain.

“And what do you think they are going to do when they run away—leave us all in peace?” he argued. “Think again! You spare your men’s lives now or you spare them later. Either way there will be bloodshed.” When the commanding officer showed signs of relenting, he added, “When they break through to the bailey, your archers may turn around and have at them from the wall walk if they can get a clear shot. But I want those filthy Scot savages cut down.
All
of them!”

Both Lord Reginald and the English officer turned their attention back to the main gate as one final heave of the ram splintered the last of the wooden door. A horde of MacGillivray clansmen dressed in their tartans of red, green and blue poured through the shattered gate into the bailey with their claymores and battle axes drawn ... and were met with an English force far greater in size than they.

The battle was as bloody as it was fierce. The MacGillivrays fought with great courage and determination—even as it became more and more obvious that they were losing.

Lord Reginald watched with macabre relish as the MacGillivray men fell one after another; the anguished screams of the dying were as music to his ears. With a self-satisfied smirk, he turned to the commanding officer.

“Finish them off,” he ordered. “I don’t want a single one of those barbarians left alive to return to his people. I want them all
wiped out
.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the officer said as the baron left the wall walk to return to the keep.

Below, the clashing of metal against metal—and the grisly cries of the wounded men—rang out, shattering the silence of the misty Highland morning.

 

Jane Sewell stared out the window of the fine coach as it rolled through the unfamiliar and foreboding landscape. The thick mist, which they’d never seemed to be able to escape since crossing into Scotland, clung to the tops of the emerald mountains; the leaden sky threatened rain.

Rain or no rain, she wished she could run across those emerald hills—just for a short while. Her legs ached from sitting so long, and she craved the breathlessness of exercise.

But today she was dressed in her finest—far too fine to go tearing over the rough and wild terrain through which they travelled. A gown of silk the colour and sheen of pearls fitted her bodice snugly and hung loose from her waist, the fabric puddling at her feet. The sleeves, finely embroidered from the elbow, were so long and full that they fell almost as far as her skirts and had to be knotted at the ends to preserve them for the ceremony. In addition to her gown, her glossy, chestnut coloured hair was also at its finest—it was elaborately plaited, and tumbled over her left shoulder to the peak of her waist.

Whatever her appearance may have been on the outside, inwardly she felt sick, for today was her wedding day. Today she would complete the last part of her journey from her home in Sussex, England. In too short a time she would arrive at Dunloch castle where her future husband waited to marry her.

Lord Reginald D’Aubrey—an English baron granted Scottish lands by King Edward for his loyalty to the Crown. An influential man, with great power and wealth.

He was also more than three times Jane’s senior.

That fact was one part of the reason why her stomach churned relentlessly—fear of her wedding to this man who was as old as her father ... fear of the coupling which she’d have to endure afterward.

The other part was fear of the people of this dreadful land.

Scots. Barbarians. Brutes. All of the ladies in Sussex said so. Scotland was a warrior land, infested with men the size and density of boulders. Their arms and legs were the thickness of tree trunks, it was said, and but for the snout, a Scot’s skull could easily be mistaken for that of a bull. And sometimes even the snout did not indicate one way or the other, for they were an ugly race ... or so she’d been told.

Her sister Amelia had informed her that the reason they wore kilts was so their rape of innocent English girls—an act widely practiced and condoned due to their hatred of all things English—could be conducted without hindrance to their thick and monstrous nether parts.

Jane didn’t know whether to believe all that she heard or not ... but it frightened her nonetheless.

Tears spilled from her wide, blue eyes and over her pale cheeks as the coach rolled onward. She was homesick already though she had only been gone for a fortnight and a half. She missed her mother. She missed her bedchamber and all the things she’d kept within as she’d grown from a child to a woman ... though she’d never felt the change and was rather sceptical that it had taken place at all.

She especially missed Hugg, her family’s Mastiff. Her Mastiff, really—if the fact that he loved her best counted for anything. She missed his great, wet muzzle nudging at her elbow in search of affection, missed his funny little paws with the middle toes clipped off to prevent him from outrunning the king’s deer. But her father would not let her take Hugg away with her; the beast was needed to protect the family’s estate.

She sniffled at the thought of having to leave Hugg behind; at the thought of having to leave at all. Why had Lord Reginald negotiated so persistently for her hand? Amelia was the beautiful one. It was the eldest Sewell sister who had all the men competing for her attention; it was for Amelia’s hand that Lord Sewell had already received several offers of marriage—though he had deemed them all unworthy.

Amelia; not Jane.

Yet Lord Reginald had made it very clear, when she was just a girl of fourteen, that he wanted her and not her more beautiful sister. With no other offers at hand, her father had been glad to accept and had relented only to his wife’s insistence that Lord Reginald must wait until Jane had reached her eighteenth birthday.

Though that stay of sentencing held little comfort now, on the very morning of her wedding day. More tears spilled from her eyelids, which were already hopelessly bloodshot and swollen from hours, days, weeks of crying.

“Please, my Lady, don’t cry,” implored Ruth, Jane’s beloved, middle-aged maid. She reached across the coach and patted her mistress’ clenched hand reassuringly. “What will his Lordship think when he beholds you—your eyes are the colour of a smacked backside.”

Jane smiled begrudgingly. “I am sorry,” she offered. “I know I must not cry. I have known of my betrothal to Lord Reginald for years; it is not as if I’ve been handed my fate without warning. And I do forget that you, too, have left your home, your family, and everyone you know to journey with me. I must not be selfish.”

“Yes, that is true,” Ruth agreed. “Though I am twice your age and am not about to meet my husband at the altar. But that is not what I meant. I meant only that it will do you no good to cry; tears will not change anything.”

“I know that in my head ... but I cannot seem to convince my heart of it.”

Ruth looked at Jane, her flat, brown eyes pooling with sympathy. “My Lady, I have raised you since you were a babe. I have watched you grow and blossom into the strong, independent woman I see before me now. You are a woman of discerning judgement and tremendous compassion. You are courageous and generous and patient. All of these, and many more qualities besides, will see you through this time of upheaval, I am sure. This is not a death sentence, it is but a test of your character—and because it is I that have raised you, I am confident you shall see it through with naught but the fortitude of which I know you to be capable.”

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