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Authors: Amanda Forester

Tags: #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Fiction

True Highland Spirit (10 page)

BOOK: True Highland Spirit
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“I am glad to have found favor in your eyes. If I have pleased you, I would ask to take your leave for a while, that I may visit the abbey of the Abbot Barrick.”

“You wish to visit an abbey?” asked the duke.

“Some prayer it would do me good, Your Grace.”

“I admire your discipline, sir knight, but we are here in Glasgow with their impressive cathedral. Surely there can be nothing in a remote abbey you cannot find here at the cathedral. You may have leave to do your prayers here, for I need you to help make decisions as to which clans to trust to join our cause.”

“My full report has been given to you, Your Grace.”

“And I appreciate it, but nothing can replace you by my side as I speak with different clans. I need not remind you that if I trust a clan loyal to the English crown with our battle plans, all will be lost.”

Dragonet paused to consider. He did not wish to leave the duke, for he felt some loyalty to him. More importantly, however, Dragonet was on a mission for his father. He needed to find the silver chest and the treasure it contained. It was time to sever his ties to the duke.

The door opened, and in stepped a serving maid with a respectful bow to the duke. “Another man to see ye, Yer Grace.”

“Before you see this next man—”

“In a moment, Dragonet.” The duke raised his hand to silence him. “Which clan comes?” he asked the serving maid.

“Clan McNab,” said the maid with another curtsey.

The duke glanced at Dragonet who remained silent. “Show him in.”

Dragonet froze as Morrigan entered the room. She was cleaner than the last time they met, but she was still wearing the loose men’s clothing that disguised her shape, and a long cap that hid her hair. She wore a long, black cape pinned to her shoulder and the unmistakable shape of a sword was at her side.

She glanced at him when she entered the room, their eyes meeting for the briefest of moments before she turned her full attention to the duke. It was the eyes that gave her away. How could those seductive, dark eyes belong to anyone other than a beautiful woman? Surely the duke must see through her disguise. Dragonet glanced at the duke, but he remained seated and calm. He only saw what he expected to see.

“Yer Grace,” said Morrigan with a bow.

“McNab,” acknowledged the duke, switching from his native French to the English he spoke but hated. “Why did you wish to see me?”

“I hear ye are paying clans to join yer fight against the English,” said Morrigan.

“You are correct in your understanding,” said the duke with his smooth French accent. “Do you wish to join the noble cause of defending the Scots against the English, your oppressor?”

“How much will ye pay?”

The duke turned his head to look at Dragonet. They’d reached the point at which Dragonet would either give a nod or shake his head, making the final judgment as to whether or not that clan should be trusted. Morrigan also turned toward Dragonet. Her eyes were wide and pleading.

Dragonet was torn. He did not wish Morrigan to be caught up in the war that was coming. He wanted her far away from harm. And yet, he had overheard enough of her conversation with her brother to know her clan was in a desperate situation. What would happen to them if she was denied the coin to support them? And what would Morrigan do next to raise those funds?

Dragonet nodded his head.

“Good. Your payment will depend on how many warriors you can bring.” The duke reviewed the many key elements to the contract, waxing elegant on his own remarkable contribution.

Morrigan again met Dragonet’s eye and gave him a small nod, thanking him. Dragonet’s heart soared even as his stomach churned. He hoped he had made the right decision.

Morrigan and the duke negotiated price until both were satisfied. Their business concluded, Morrigan gave a bow and exited the room without a backward glance.

“What did you wish to speak to me about?” asked the duke.

Dragonet paused. He needed to search the abbey. “I would be most pleased to stay with you and fight the English,” Dragonet said, surprising himself.

“We are pleased to have you,” replied the duke. “Perhaps we can visit this abbey of yours later.”

“Yes, later,” murmured Dragonet. He needed to find the relic in the abbey… but for the moment his attention was seized by a different kind of Highland treasure.

***

 

Morrigan marched her men toward the makeshift war camp, her mind focused on the wrong thing. She should have been considering the accommodations for the men, wondering if the meager tents and provisions they brought would be enough. She ought to have been considering battle strategies, and how to best train her men to fight effectively or, more importantly, stay alive. She should have been concerned about when the well-known secret of her gender would be revealed.

All these things were more important and more pressing than the one question that haunted her thoughts and dreams. Was
he
here?

He
of course was the minstrel… knight… Frenchman, who went by the name Jacques or Dragonet or heaven only knew what else. Who that man truly was, she had no way of knowing. Yet he had taken up residence in her thoughts and refused to leave, despite Morrigan’s best attempts to free herself from his ghost.

Morrigan’s soldiers, who consisted mostly of temporarily reformed highwaymen and farmers with bad attitudes, reached a slight rise above the makeshift camp for the Scots’ army. The Scots were amassing their forces for an assault on the English town of Nisbet. It was to be their first attack.

Tents littered the field before them, in a rather deranged arrangement with different banners representing different clans intermixed and confused. The grounds they had picked were hardly ideal, being low and boggy. Even on the rise above the camp, the smell of rotten food, unwashed clansmen, and human waste wafted up as an invisible warning to return from whence they came. Even her horse stopped short, unwilling to step into the camp.

“Well that’s a sorry sight, I say,” said Harry, one of the McNab raiders.

“Aye, it is at that,” said Willy, a tough old Highlander of undetermined age.

“Hope ye like mud, lads, for we’ll be living in it,” said Morrigan with something she hoped was cheerful resolution. “What banners can ye make out?”

It was far from a passing question. She wanted to ascertain what type of reception she might get, for the McNab clan was not a favorite among the patriot crowd. There may be some clans who would praise the McNab history of loyalty to the successive kings of England, but she was not going to find them among an army roused against the English.

“Looks like we got the earls o’ Douglas and March. I think there’s Ramsey too,” answered Willy. He had the best eyes of the lot.

“Anything that looks French?” asked Morrigan, trying to sound nonchalant. She reached in her sleeve and unbuckled and rebuckled the strap that held Jacques’ knife to her wrist. She had worn it since he had given it to her. Because it was useful. No other reason.

Morrigan’s stomach fluttered. What if he was there? What would he say to her? Would he talk to her at all or pretend not to know her? Would he reveal who she was? How did he feel about her? Did he think of her too?

Morrigan spat on the ground. She needed to get control of herself and stop acting like a biddable bar maid. She was there to do a job. She had taken an initial payment in gold moutons from the Duke of Argitaine. It had been enough to secure some additional grain and some livestock. The coin was supposed to outfit her men with weapons and gear. Morrigan had decided that providing food for themselves and their families was more important. At least they could face the winter without fear of starvation. If they survived the war.

“Nay, I dinna see them Frenchies.”

Morrigan nodded. It was for the best. He could only bring trouble. Yes, she was certainly glad that French bastard was nowhere in sight. Absolutely for the best. Could not be happier. Truly, very happy.

“Ye coming?” asked Harry.

Morrigan realized Harry and Willy had started riding off toward camp ahead of her. Morrigan clicked and nudged the horse down the grassy hill and into the stench of camp.

Ahead of her, Willy suddenly stopped with a curse.

“What is it?” asked Morrigan, riding forward.

“Look there to the right. Graham,” said Willy, and spat a large amount of brown liquid on the ground.

“Hell,” muttered Morrigan. Of all the clans that disliked them, Graham was foremost on the list, probably having something to do with Archie abducting Graham’s daughter a few years back. Not one of Archie’s better plans to be sure. The daughter had been returned, or rather escaped and returned herself, but the incident had done nothing to improve relations with their neighbor.

Morrigan briefly considered simply turning around and going back home. It was hardly the honorable response, but camping in a muddy pit surrounded by people who despised her more than the English was not an attractive prospect. They had enough to get them through the winter. If the duke wanted his money back, he could come to the Highlands and repossess the chickens.

“Look, there’s the Campbell banner, too,” said Harry.

Campbell? If Campbell’s men were there that would mean Andrew was too.

“Ride into camp,” commanded Morrigan.

***

 

Dragonet heard the battle before he could see it. The shouts of men and clash of metal blended into an ominous roar, echoing through the rocks and trees of the rough terrain. Dragonet signaled his knights to follow him and nudged his horse into a gallop, a building sense of concern forming an unsettled pit in his stomach. Was she there?

Dragonet was conflicted about what to do regarding a certain sword-wielding Highland lass. A single word from him and she would be expelled from the force. But then what would she do? Her clan’s situation was desperate; having spent a few days there he could easily attest to their poverty. If he prevented her from joining the force, would she go back to serving the abbot?

It was not his problem; heaven knew he had enough of his own, yet he could not get her out of his head. As he raced toward the battle at Nisbet, he wondered if she was there. Would she have the sense to stay clear of the fight? He already knew the answer to that question, and urged his mount faster.

Following the growing noise of war, Dragonet rounded a corner and found a few English foot soldiers in full retreat. He followed them, encouraging them to run faster or disappear into the brush. Foot soldiers were not who Dragonet had come to harass. Drawing his sword, he charged down the road until he found his target. The Governor of Nisbet was surrounded by his knights, who were putting up a fierce battle to protect their master. Douglas was pressing hard to capture his prize, sword in one hand, a shield in the other.

On the far side of the road, one foot soldier fought furiously to prevent the governor from escaping. He held a sword in one hand and a mace in the other. He took on two, three at a time. Skilled and quick, he prevented their escape. He was aided by some additional soldiers who blocked the sides of the road, but it was clear their role was primarily defensive, forming a barrier of shields, funneling the governor’s personal guard toward their champion.

Dragonet commanded some of his men to help Douglas and took the rest to help the soldier prevent the governor’s escape. If they could hold them a little longer, the governor could be captured. Due to the rough terrain on either side of the road, Dragonet and his knights were forced to dismount to push through and aid the rear flank. The champion could not hold out much longer.

Dragonet attacked the governor’s rear guard just as a charging English guard with a spear caught the foot soldier on the shoulder, pushing him back into the forest. The governor’s guard surged through the opening, but Dragonet and his men prevented the governor from escaping. The governor was theirs.

One of the guards howled in frustration and raced toward the Scot champion who was pinned to a tree by the spear. Dragonet bolted to assist the brave soldier and took down the Englishman with a single blow.

Dragonet stepped forward to help the Scot, who was desperately pulling at the spear that pinned him to the tree. Dropping his sword next to the weapon of the young soldier, Dragonet’s heart stopped. He knew those weapons. With a rush of slick panic he pulled out the spear.

Morrigan
.

Nine
 

It was true what they said. Your life does pass before you before you die. Morrigan watched the review of her life with decided displeasure. Most women her age were wives and mothers. Somehow her life had taken a most wretched wrong turn.

Morrigan grabbed at the spear, slick with her own blood, trying to pull it from her shoulder. It was no good, she was pinned to the tree. She watched an English soldier run at her, his actions strangely slowed, his sword leveled at her throat. This was it. This was how she was going to die.

The Scot army attacked Nisbet at dawn, then retreated, luring the governor to make chase. They ambushed him on the road, which Morrigan did considerably well, until, of course, she was pinned to a tree.

BOOK: True Highland Spirit
8.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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