Authors: Donna Fletcher
e is dying. Aliss hurriedly dressed, slipping into her dark green skirt and pale yellow blouse, while concern over the cleric’s claim of his imminent death weighed on her mind. The cleric had been fine just this morning when she spoke with him. How could he be dying?
As a healer, she did not take any illness lightly, and being woken in the dark of night by a distraught clan member made one assume the worst.
Aliss quickly scooped her long red hair on top of her head, fastened it with a couple of bone combs, slipped into her doeskin boots, grabbed her healing basket sitting beside the door, and hurried out of her cottage.
A chill filled the late night air, reminding her that although spring had arrived a few weeks ago winter was reluctant to depart. She should have grabbed her shawl but it did not matter. The cleric’s cottage was but a short distance.
A dark cloud blocked the light of the near full moon, causing Aliss to be more cautious of her steps. The night seemed more quiet than usual, not a soul stirred, the only sound a mere whispered breeze.
She arrived at the cleric’s cottage and was disturbed to find the ill man alone. It was unusual that someone would not have remained at his side while she was summoned. The clan Hellewyk always looked after each other and although the young cleric had only been with them a month, he was considered family and treated as such.
Aliss hurried to his bedside, dropping her basket beside her.
“Aliss, is that you?”
“Aye, Cleric John.” She reached out to touch the man’s forehead, worried that fever might be the culprit.
He grabbed her wrist. “You brought your healing basket with you.”
“Worry not, I have what I need to tend you.”
She hoped to ease his concern. “My cottage is not far if I should need more.”
“Nay, I do not want you to leave me. Does your basket not hold enough healing herbs?”
“It is filled with more than just herbs. I am certain that no matter what ails you, I have something to soothe it and make you well.”
“You are a very good healer.”
“So I have been told. Now let me tend you, for I do not think you are dying.”
“I am sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Aliss said. Thinking he meant that he had disturbed her sleep, she sought to soothe him. “Illness and births do not wait for the light of day. I am often summoned in the middle of the night.”
“Something I counted on.” He leaped off the bed, grabbed her other wrist, forcing both behind her back, and had her trussed like a captive animal before she could blink.
Her scream barely reached her throat when a cloth was shoved into her mouth. A strip of cloth was wound around her mouth and head and tied at the back.
The room suddenly turned upside down when he hefted her over his shoulder, grabbed her healing basket and scurried to the door. He paused cautiously and once satisfied they were alone, he left the cottage without bothering to close the door behind him.
Panic rushed up and sent a wave of nausea coursing through her. Who was this man since he obviously was not a cleric? Why was he abducting her? Where was he taking her?
Fear struck her heart. The culprit who had abducted her and her twin sister Fiona when they were newborns had been caught and punished. They had been reunited with their parents and their brother Raynor.
Could this abduction somehow be connected?
She was jostled as her abductor lost his balance but he quickly regained his footing.
His trail would be easy for Fiona to follow. She was an excellent hunter and horseman and skilled in weaponry. Protective of Aliss, she would let nothing stop her from hunting the kidnapper down, not her pregnancy or her husband Tarr, chieftain of the clan Hellewyk.
Fiona would come after her, she had no doubt. But it disturbed her that her abductor was leaving a trail someone could easily track, because it meant he was either a fool or he had a plan that made it unimportant if he was followed.
She jerked her head up.
Had she heard voices? Were they behind her?
Distant footsteps kept pace with the cleric. She strained to see in the dark. Had someone discovered her absence already? Was her rescue close at hand? She continued to stare into the darkness, but not a single shadow intruded on the night.
She prayed for courage and prayed her sister followed. She heard the footsteps again, but again they faded.
Were Tarr’s men surrounding them this very moment? Would she soon be returned home to family and friends?
Please let this nightmare end soon.
A sudden thought struck and she did not know whether to be fearful or relieved. This abduction could have to do with recent events that had not only upset her but her parents’ clan Blackshaw as well as clan Hellewyk.
It had all started with a prediction made by the prophetess Giann before the twins were born. It was also the reason for their kidnapping those many years ago. Destruction to the clan was predicted if one twin did not wed. However, recently it was learned that destruction would befall the clan if
twins did not wed. When the Blackshaw and Hellewyk clans learned of this, clan members began demanding that Aliss wed soon since the prediction did not specify which clan would be affected.
Tarr was then forced to deliver the unpleasant news to Aliss, though he emphasized that she could choose her own husband, just as long as she did so quickly.
She did not wish to wed. Healing was her life and she had no time to pamper or care for a husband.
Could this abduction be a man intent on wedding her? The clan Hellewyk was known for its strength and wealth. Any number of men would find it advantageous to wed her.
The man come to a halt and stilled.
Had he heard the footfalls too? Did they concern him?
She hoped they did, for then it would mean rescue was imminent.
He moved again, but more cautiously.
Aliss tried to calm herself. She had to remain alert and ready for anything, whether it was a rescue or a chance to escape. Fearful or not, she had to do what she could to free herself, or to survive.
They came upon a small clearing and he stopped. Suddenly footsteps rushed at them and four men quickly surrounded them. She recognized not a one of them.
“No one has followed,” one said.
Fear gripped her as her abductor eased her off his shoulder and onto her feet.
“Her absence remains unknown,” said another.
Her stomach clenched. No one would know of her disappearance until morning. She was on her own.
“We must get moving. The others wait for us,” one said.
There were more of them? Why were so many men needed to capture one lone woman?
They said no more. Her abductor gave her a slight shove, a silent order for her to walk, and she did.
The clouds refused to release the moon, making it difficult to see the path they traveled. Aliss focused her attention on the trail, which gave her little time to study the men surrounding her.
But a quick assessment revealed they wore no plaids, and though the men had spoken her language, their tongues had not flowed easily. They were also very tall except for the cleric; his head only reached their shoulders.
She shivered as she realized she walked with foreigners.
Aliss stumbled several times along the way and was righted by the strong hand of one of the four men. Their concern had her wondering if they meant her no harm, until the imposter cleric spoke up.
“Keep her safe. He will have our heads if she is harmed before he has hold of her.”
Who wanted hold of her and for what reason?
“Hurry, we must break shore by sunrise.”
His words rang repeatedly in her ears as they hurried her along. They were taking her to a boat. They intended to sail off with her. Panic gripped her heart and penetrated her soul. She wanted to scream. How would Fiona follow? She was not a skilled sailor and the Hellewyk clan fished from the shores of the lochs and rivers, using a small rowboat or two now and again. They possessed no sailing ships large enough to carry a troop of warriors.
The more she fretted over her situation the more she realized she had to attempt an escape. If they sailed off with her, she would probably never set foot on Scottish soil again.
She had to be courageous and take a chance. No matter how fearful she was, she had to make certain they did not get her on the boat.
It was a couple of hours’ walk to the coastline, but with a hurried pace they were sure to arrive sooner. If she were going to attempt an escape, it would need to be soon or else she would not have the cover of the woods for protection.
Once they hit open land, there would be no place for her to hide. It was now or never. She had to take the chance and run. She could not wait.
Aliss obeyed the scream in her head and twisted to her left, startling the men around her and giving her enough time to scoot past them into the dark woods. It was unfamiliar territory to her and she counted on it being the same for the men.
She gained a distance on them and paused behind a thick tree, listening for footsteps. She heard them and they were headed straight for her. If she ran, they would certainly catch her. If she remained where she was, melted against the tree, the moon still obscured by a cloud, then they just might not notice her and pass her by.
She could then wait until she heard their footfalls no more and backtrack and begin her journey home with caution.
A sudden strong breeze swept through the woods, sending the tree’s huge drooping branches sweeping down to hug her like a protective mother.
The men shot past her and she watched their shadowy shapes fade in the distance. She waited several more minutes before she scurried around the tree and hurried off in the direction from which she had come.
Aliss had traveled only a few feet when the potent cry of a wolf halted her abruptly. She shivered, for it sounded close by. Caution had her taking careful steps, hoping not to alert the animal to her presence, yet knowing tardy steps could mean capture.
She now had two predators to worry about and no way of protecting herself with her hands tied behind her back. She twisted her wrists, loosening the ties as she walked.
A few feet more and hearing no other sounds, she stopped and with haste used the side of a tree to work the cloth off her mouth. When free, she spat out the gag and took several deep breaths.
She hurried off again, praying she was headed in the right direction. When sunrise was near, she would seek shelter and remain hidden. Her absence in the village would be discovered when she did not arrive to share the morning meal with her sister. She always let Fiona know if she were unable to attend, so that she would not worry. Her sister would realize right away that something was wrong and go in search of her. Fiona and Tarr would then be on her trail in no time. She had to remain free for a few more hours and then she would be rescued; she was certain of it.
A sudden noise pierced through her thoughts.
She failed to identify it and that sent fear racing through her. She hastened her pace just as she recognized approaching footfalls.
Someone followed her.
Was it man or beast?