Read High on a Mountain Online

Authors: Tommie Lyn

Tags: #adventure, #family saga, #historical fiction, #scotland, #highlander, #cherokee, #bonnie prince charlie, #tommie lyn

High on a Mountain (5 page)

BOOK: High on a Mountain
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“No…no—” Mùirne began.

“Yes, it’s true,” Latharn interrupted. “I
decided some time ago that I wanted her to be my wife. She’s mine.
So you can just leave.
Now.

“Your wife?” Ailean asked, a sudden nausea
seized his stomach. He turned his eyes toward Mùirne again. “You’re
married?”

“No, I…I’m not his wife. He’s not even spoken
to Ma… and…I would never agree to it,” Mùirne said, her words
coming in panting gasps. “I would never…say ‘yes’ to him.”

Ailean closed his eyes for a moment and took
a deep breath of relief.

Latharn turned his glare back to Mùirne. “But
you
will
agree. You’re mine. I have decided we will be
married. And you know your family will agree to it.”

Ailean stood, crossed his arms and faced the
belligerent man. Latharn took a couple of steps backward as he
looked up at Ailean.

“Then, you think she is yours just because
you decided that you want her?” Ailean asked.

“Yes. She is mine,” Latharn said. “I’ve been
courting her for several months.”

“Well,” Ailean said, “
I
say that she
is
mine
. But what’s important is what
she
wants, what
she
says, not what we decide.”

He turned to Mùirne, who was scrambling to
her feet.

“What do you say? Which one do you choose? Or
do you want either of us?”

“I…I want you, only you,” she said, unshed
tears glistening in her eyes as she gazed up at him.

“Mùirne, please!” Latharn said, desperation
sounding in his voice. “You can’t mean that.” He grabbed Mùirne’s
wrist and jerked her to his side, away from Ailean. “Come along.
I’ll help you herd the sheep to your house, and we can visit.”

Mùirne looked over her shoulder at Ailean,
her face scrunched in pain.

“You’re hurting her! Take your hands off
her!” Ailean shouted, and he seized Latharn’s arm. He pried
Latharn’s fingers loose from Mùirne’s wrist and pulled her away. He
pushed himself in front of her, shielding her with his body. He
turned his head to look down at her and asked, “Are you all
right?”

Ailean caught a glimpse of movement from the
corner of his eye and turned toward it just as Latharn’s fist
smashed into the side of his face. He staggered backward a step or
two before he regained his balance. Blood oozed from the cut on his
cheek where Latharn’s fist had broken the skin. Ailean gritted his
teeth, doubled his fist and took a swing at Latharn. But he missed
when Latharn ducked under the punch.

“Are you sure you want this whelp, Mùirne?
Look at him! He’s not even man enough to know how to fight,”
Latharn taunted.

Latharn swung his other fist, hard and fast,
and connected with Ailean’s chin, making him stumble backward
again. Latharn followed, punching him in the stomach with first one
fist, then the other. As Ailean doubled over, Latharn brought his
knee up, slammed it into Ailean’s forehead, and he dropped to the
ground.

“Stop it! Stop it!” Mùirne cried and fell to
her knees beside Ailean.

Latharn drew back his foot to kick Ailean’s
head, and Mùirne covered it with her arms to deflect the blow.

“NOOOOO!!” she shrieked.

Latharn almost kicked her arm before he
gained control of himself enough to pull back and stop his
thrust.

He glared at her. “You want him? He can’t
even fight. What protection would he be for you?”

“Leave! Leave here and don’t ever come back!
I never want to see you again!” she screamed at him.

____________

 

Latharn looked down at them before he turned
to leave, and an unfamiliar hollowness in his chest brought an ache
that traveled into his throat. He labored to get a deep breath as
he struggled to believe what Mùirne said. How could she turn him
away for the likes of MacLachlainn?

But as he regarded MacLachlainn’s bloody
face, his discomfort was replaced by the satisfaction of having
beaten the boy as he’d wanted to do since the first
camanachd
loss three years earlier. His anger at
MacLachlainn boiled up and over again, washed through him like a
raging flood, sustained him as he mounted his horse and rode away.
It wasn’t until he reached the trail that his anger subsided enough
for him to remember the expression on Mùirne’s face and recall
things she said. In an instant, the anger left him, replaced by a
cold pang of bereavement.

I’ve lost her. I can’t endure it.
His
chest ached, and again, he couldn’t draw a breath.
No! This
can’t be!

Latharn swallowed, fought to keep his
composure, fought to hold down his rising distress. A thought
came.

I can fix it. She can’t want someone like
MacLachlainn. He has no money. She’d be condemning herself to a
life of drudgery and poverty. She’ll come to her senses. I’ll see
to it.
The tension constricting his chest lessened, and he took
a ragged breath.

Besides, her family accepts me as a suitor.
They’d never allow MacLachlainn to court her. That must be why he’s
sneaking around, seeing her here, just the two of them…alone. I
wonder if her family knows about him. Surely they don’t know what
he’s been doing…

The realization that a few words to her
family about the situation could bar MacLachlainn from ever seeing
Mùirne again brought welcome relief from his agony. He would send
his cousin, Suibhne, to talk to Mùirne’s family about MacLachlainn.
And that would be the end of that.

But another a thought occurred to him: if he
sent Suibhne to tell Mùirne’s family about MacLachlainn, might that
make Mùirne even more angry with him? Maybe he should wait, should
only reveal it to her family if she didn’t agree to marry him.

And he decided it would be best if he didn’t
see Mùirne for a while. He would give her time to get over her
anger, then he would see her, maybe take her a gift. Things would
be better between them. Now that she’d seen what a strong, powerful
man he was, she would respond to his overtures. She wouldn’t be
withdrawn and silent when he came near.

Especially if he threatened to tell her
family MacLachlainn had been seeing her behind their backs. He
closed his eyes, took a deep breath. Yes, he would win Mùirne over,
one way or another.

A welcome sense of calm settled over him like
a warm blanket on a cold night as he convinced himself that the
confrontation with Mùirne was a mere disagreement which could be
rectified. His charm had gotten him out of trouble before. It would
again.

He laughed at the way he had administered the
much-needed drubbing and debased MacLachlainn before her eyes. Once
she calmed down, came to her senses, she surely wouldn’t want
MacLachlainn now. What woman would want a gangling, awkward
weakling? Especially when she could have a man of his stature, his
wealth. And, it must be admitted, a man as handsome as he.

Yes. The proper thing to do now was to wait a
little while.

 

 

FIVE

 

Ailean lay wheezing, his head throbbing, his
stomach in spasms. But far worse than the physical pain was knowing
he’d been beaten by Latharn. He’d never fought anyone using his
fists and didn’t know how to fight in such a situation. All his
training for combat had been with a sword. As humiliated as he felt
at losing the fight, Ailean was mortified that Mùirne witnessed
it.

He pulled himself up and sat with his head
hanging as the ringing in his ears subsided, his elbows propped on
his drawn up knees, hands dangling between them. His belly hurt,
and he couldn’t get a deep breath. Nausea pushed the contents of
his stomach into his throat, and he feared he’d disgrace himself
further if he was unable to control it.

Mùirne knelt by his side and brushed the dirt
and grass from his tunic. “Are you all right?” she asked, tears
running down her cheeks. She leaned over to look at his face. “No,
you’re not all right, you’re bleeding!”

He turned away, too ashamed to face her. “I’m
all right.”

She threw her arms around his neck and wept.
His embarrassment faded, replaced by the pleasure he felt from her
embrace. He slipped his arms around her waist and held her
close.

Her sobs waned, and she relaxed against him.
They didn’t move for a long time, neither willing to release the
other.

“You said you wanted me, not him. Did you
mean it?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I do want you. And I always
will.”

He raised his head, and she pulled back from
the embrace to look into his eyes. The radiance of the autumn sun
turned her hair into a flaming halo of curls that framed her
delicate face. Her blue eyes still gleamed with tears. She was so
beautiful that he ached at the sight of her.

“I want you, too,” he said with a catch in
his voice. “I’ll want you forever, Mùirne. Forever.”

She put her hands on both sides of his face
and turned it so she could see his injuries.

“Oh, look what he did to you! I hate him. How
could he do this?”

With gentle fingers, she pulled off his
bonnet and brushed his hair away from the knot rising on his
forehead and away from the cut on his cheek that still trickled
blood.

Ailean pulled her hands away from his bruised
and hurting face. He turned away from her, embarrassed again and
not wanting her pity.

“I told you, I’m all right. Leave me be!”

Mùirne sat on the ground beside him, twisting
and folding the edge of her
airisaid
with her fingers,
focusing on the grass at her feet.

“Please don’t be angry with me,” she said
with a quaver in her voice.

“I’m not angry with you. I’m angry at myself
and Latharn.”

“You have a deadly enemy now. Because of
me.”

“No, not because of you. He’s been my enemy
for a long time. When I was fourteen, I started playing in the
camanachd
game each year between my clan and his. His clan
hasn’t won a game since that time, and he blames me for it. He
hates me.”

Mùirne raised her head, turned her face
toward him and her eyes met his.

“You won’t leave me because of him? Because
of what he did?”

“Never. I could never leave you.”

Ailean touched her cheek, stroked it
gently.

“But…even if…even if I tell you
something…something that…” She turned her face away and looked off
in the distance across Loch Lomond to the mountains beyond, trying
to summon the courage to tell him about herself.

He took her face in his hands and kissed her
lips.

“I love you, Mùirne. I will always love you,
as long as there is breath in my body. No matter what. Nothing can
change that.”

He kissed her again.

“Why didn’t you tell me about Latharn before
now?” he asked.

“I was afraid if you knew about me, you
wouldn’t come back, and I…I couldn’t bear the thought of never
seeing you again.”

“Why did you think I wouldn’t come back?
You’re all I can think of when I’m awake, and you’re in my dreams
when I sleep. All I want is to be with you.”

“It’s just that…” Mùirne started to tremble
and couldn’t continue.

“What is it?”

“Th-th-there…there’s something else I haven’t
told you…” Her breath came in gulps again. “My name…it isn’t
MacPhàrlain…I lied. MacPhàrlain is my mother’s clan. My name
is…it’s MacGriogair. You know what that means…”

He did, indeed, know what that meant.

Her father’s clan name, MacGriogair, had been
abolished, proscribed over a hundred years earlier. Those
MacGriogairs who defiantly used their rightful name were
persecuted, robbed of their lands and possessions and sometimes
killed by Cambeul clansmen, with the blessings of the king.

“Latharn doesn’t know I’m a MacGriogair. I
don’t know what he’d do if he knew. The Cambeuls…they killed my…my
father. And Granda.”

Mùirne began to cry again. And as she gave
voice to things she’d never spoken of since she was five-years-old,
she shivered as though she was caught in the blast of a freezing
wind.

“They killed Grandma…and my uncle…”

Ailean put his arms around her and held her
close while she cried. When her sobs subsided, he put his hand
under her chin and tilted her face so he could look into her
eyes.

“Life is full of dangers, my love,” he said.
“I’ll deal with that Cambeul man if he so much as looks at you.
What happened today will never happen again. I’ll make sure of
it.”

His fingers drifted across her cheek, over
the delicate curve of her ear, pushed the red curls up and away
from her face. He couldn’t bear the thought of Latharn’s hands
caressing her, touching her hair, her face. Couldn’t endure the
idea of Mùirne belonging to anyone but himself.

Ailean had not, until this moment, considered
marriage. He was drawn to Mùirne because she was so beautiful and
because of the feelings of desire her beauty aroused in him. And
the deep fear and helplessness he saw in her awakened his
protective instincts, made him want to shield her from harm.

Now that he knew Latharn wanted her, too, a
determination formed in his mind, took shape and grew firm. He
would ensure Mùirne belonged to him, and him alone. Latharn would
never possess her, never touch her again.

His chin jutted out and a steely glint shone
from his eyes as he made a decision.

“You said you want me. Do you want me enough
to marry me?” he asked.

“Oh yes.”

“Then, will you marry me?”

“Yes,” she said.

He kissed her again, nuzzled her neck and
whispered, “When can we marry? How soon?”

“We have to…there are things we have to do.
First we have to talk to my mother. And we need to have a place to
live,” Mùirne said.

“I’ll talk to your mother tomorrow, and I’ll
build us a house to live in. Whatever it takes, let’s do it
quickly. I want you for my own. Now.” And he wanted to lay claim
before Latharn could.

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