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Authors: Amanda Forester

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

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BOOK: True Highland Spirit
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“The farmland we are not allowed to use!” said Morrigan. She had always wondered why some of their best fields had been allowed to go fallow so long. It was all starting to make sense.

“Aye. A few years later, when the McNabs were punished by Bruce for choosing the wrong side of the conflict, the Templars advocated for leniency, ensuring we kept our land.”

“But not our sheep or chickens or pigs,” interrupted Morrigan, her bitterness seeping through.

“Aye. Though I doubt the Templars cared for us as much as they wished their treasure to remain safely hidden.”

“Wait—treasure? Did you say they hid treasure on our land?”

“Their land actually…”

Morrigan waved a hand impatiently. “Do ye mean to tell me there is a treasure on our land and ye ne’er looked for it?”

“O’ course I have, what do ye take me for?” Archie scowled. “There is naught on the land they bought but a cave. And aye, I have searched it. ’Tis just an empty cave. Whatever they hid there must have been moved long ago.”

“Which cave? Where is it?” Their problems were not so lofty a good amount of coin could not solve them.

“The one by Loch Pain.”

Morrigan knew of the cave with all its creepy passages. She avoided it, but she knew others, including her brother, had explored it. It contained no treasure. She should have known better than to hope, if only for a moment, for a lost treasure to fall into her hands. “Perhaps our clan would have better luck if we renamed our topography wi’ more happy names,” she grumbled.

Archie smiled faintly. “Perhaps. Since they saved our land, the Templars determined we owed them allegiance and demanded we serve their cause or suffer the consequences. We were not bothered for a while, but recently the messages have gotten more frequent and more demanding, until this.” Archie held up the missive Morrigan had given him.

“So this is from the Templars?” Morrigan glanced at the red, wax seal with two knights on a single horse.

“This is their seal. Father showed it to me afore he died. There is only one Templar left that I know. He was verra young when he first fought for Robert the Bruce, but he has grown into the devil. It is he who wants us to kill the bishop.”

“But who is it?”

“’Tis the Abbot Barrick.”

“The Abbot Barrick?” Morrigan repeated. “The
abbot
sent us that message?” Morrigan wished she had not stayed up all night, maybe then her brain could keep pace with the events before her. “But why would the abbot want us to kill the bishop?”

“I dinna ken.”

Morrigan stood and paced the room, trying to clear her head and think through what needed to be done. “What are we to do now? Go after the abbot?”

“Nay, Morrigan. Leave that bastard alone. I have told the bishop the whole, and he is taking me to testify against the abbot in Rome.” Archie gave a small smile, his eyes gleaming.

“Rome!” Morrigan stopped short and stared at her brother. “But that’s so far… Rome?” Morrigan shook her head. The thought of her Highland brother traveling to some far off land was inconceivable. Rome was a place that lived in myth, not in reality. “But how? When?”

“The bishop has applied for permission to travel through England as pilgrims. We leave on the morrow. I am sorry ye are in this Morrigan. I must go, but I will return as soon as I can.”

“But why are ye leaving?” Morrigan fought the urge to convince him not to go. Though she enjoyed mocking Archie and complaining about his poor leadership and ill-conceived schemes, the thought of trying to try to take his place was chilling.

“I can name Barrick as the one trying to have the bishop killed and this missive ye brought will help us.” Archie held up the letter with the red seal. “I burnt all the ones I received.”

“And what am I to do in the meantime? What is to keep the clan safe from Barrick while ye are gone?”

Archie rubbed the back of his neck and frowned, causing a deep worry line to form on his forehead. “With the bishop gone, ye canna be expected to try to have him killed. I hope to return soon, before the abbot can do any more mischief.”

“But he could—”

“I understand, but we must no’ work for the abbot. I will return with help as soon as I am able. It will work. It has to work.” Archie appeared to be trying to convince himself.

Morrigan nodded. She knew she could not work for the abbot again. “I hope this bishop can be trusted.”

“The bishop isna like Barrick. He is a good man.” Archie’s face relaxed in a way Morrigan had rarely seen. “He advocated for Andrew and not only saved him from the gallows, but encouraged Campbell to allow Andrew to marry Cait.”

“I got the missive from Andrew, though I had a hard time believing it.” Morrigan shrugged. “If the bishop can bend the Campbell to acknowledge a McNab as his brother-in-law then the bishop is truly a miracle worker.”

“He is.” Archie smiled faintly and his eyes went soft, an unusual look for him. “Even after he caught me trying to kill him, he dinna have me arrested and killed, so I am inclined to think positively toward him.”

“With all due respect, Brother, the bishop has many more years and a few more pounds on him than ye. How was he able to stop ye?” Archie was a fool, but twenty years as a raider and highwayman had given him certain nefarious talents. Overpowering a fat old bishop should have been among them.

Archie motioned to her and Morrigan sat down on the bench beside him. He leaned forward, his voice lowered to a hush. “’Twas the strangest thing, Sister, but I coud’na raise a hand to him. I think
God
is on his side.”

“I would hope so, him being a bishop and all.”

“Truly, I found him alone, I had my knife, and suddenly the door slammed open and I broke my nose and I coud’na harm him.”

A chill tickled the back of her neck. She had tried to kill the bishop too. It had been an easy shot, simple, no way to miss. Yet she had hesitated and was tackled to the ground. Had she also been thwarted by divine intervention? She had never been particularly religious, except to recognize she was on the list of the damned, but it was somehow important to her that God did stand beside the worthy. Not her, of course, but the chosen few.

“I hope this bishop o’ yers will extend his protection to ye when ye travel,” mumbled Morrigan.

McNab’s eyebrows shot up, and Morrigan scowled. She had been tricked into showing uncharacteristic sisterly concern.

“Thank ye.” Archie said softly. “Now tell me how is it wi’ the clan. How much was destroyed? Can we survive the winter?”

Morrigan opened her mouth to tell him the truth but closed it again. Archie needed to go with the bishop and testify against Abbot Barrick or none of them would ever have any peace. “I have heard there are French soldiers trying to convince the clans to join them in fighting against the English,” Morrigan said instead.

“Aye, and willing to pay for every clan that joins,” added Archie.

“Pay?” Archie had her attention. Odd that her French knight had not mentioned anything about payment. “They are paying the clans who join them?”

“Dinna even think it, Morrigan. I dinna want ye fighting against the English. They will just slaughter us, and I dinna want ye anywhere near a camp o’ soldiers.”

“Ye doubt my ability to defend myself?” Morrigan gave him a cold stare.

“Nay, I trust ye would slaughter any man who came within arm’s reach. And then ye’d face a hangman’s noose. Tell me we are no’ so desperate we need think o’ joining a war party.”

“It was a thought, that is all.” Morrigan stared at the blank wall.

“Morrigan, tell me true. Can we survive the winter? I want to testify in Rome but not so much as to leave the clan to starve. The clan comes first. Always has. Always will.”

Morrigan nodded. “I know it.” And saying it she realized she did know it. He was not much of a leader perhaps, but he had always tried to support the clan. And now he had a chance to finally stop Barrick. “We will be fine,” Morrigan lied. “Go to Rome. Stop Barrick. ’Tis the best ye can do now for the clan.” That part was true at least.

“Thank ye. I am confident ye will do right by the clan.”

Morrigan looked down at her hands. It was the best compliment her brother had ever paid her, and it touched her more than she wished to acknowledge. She took a deep breath and searched for something to say to break the awkward silence that stretched between them. Brothers and sisters were not meant to be kind. “Yer new wife is a nuisance.”

Archie frowned. “Ye best be treating her right. If I need to choose, yer arse will be banished.”

“Banished from the poorest clan in the Highlands? Oh, how will I e’er survive the loss?” Morrigan mocked. She was feeling much better. Normal. Normal was good.

“Truly Morrigan. I want ye to make her welcome.”

“I avoid her when possible. She’s always up to something. First it was cleaning the tower, and then it was planting a kitchen garden. She made poor Kip clean out the cesspools, I tell ye it was something foul.”

“The clansmen treat her well?” Archie could not hide the twinge of anxiety in his tone.

Alys had done more to make the tower habitable than the rest of the McNabs had in the past twelve years since their parents died. The clansmen adored Alys and fell over themselves to carry out her requests. Morrigan shrugged and glanced away. “She is tolerated.”

“I think I love her.”

Morrigan’s head snapped back to Archie.

“Tell her that if I dinna return.”

“Tell her yerself. I’m no messenger.”

Archie gave a faint smile. “Aye, I hope to.”

Another silence fell. The task before them was monstrous. Archie was headed for Rome. She needed to find a way to keep the clan alive until he returned.

“I best go before they realize it was I poaching on the bishop’s land.” Morrigan stood and took two steps toward the door. “Dinna die Archie. ’Tis yer responsibility to be laird, and I expect ye to come back.”

“Morrie.” Archie spoke the name he used when she was a child. He had taken over raising her and Andrew twelve years ago after their parents died of the fever. How she had looked up to him during that horrible time of loss. She had been only ten and had adored her older brother. The bitterness had grown over time.

Morrigan turned and found a different Archie McNab before her. He stood taller; his eyes were warmer, less haunted and desperate. He was changed, she could feel it.

“I apologize for not giving ye the life ye should have had,” said Archie. “Ye should be a wife and mother now, not acting as laird in my absence, and certainly no’ going wi’ me on raids. I failed ye and I am sorry.”

Morrigan opened her mouth to respond but said nothing. Archie never apologized. Never.

“’Twas my choice,” Morrigan said, her voice oddly hoarse. “I dinna blame ye.” But she had blamed him. She did not realize until that moment how much she needed to hear him say he was sorry.

“I want to make things right, ye ken?”

“Aye, Brother. And ye will.” A lump formed in her throat. She feared this would be the last time she ever saw her elder brother.

“Thank ye, Morrigan.”

Footsteps sounded outside in the hall.

“What is the punishment for poaching?” Morrigan asked.

“Why did ye bring the carcass here?”

“Ye would have me let that meat go to waste?”

The footsteps grew louder.

“Come quick.” Archie removed the screen to the window that opened to the forest behind the castle.

Morrigan grasped Archie’s offered hand and climbed through the window.

Archie held her hand with a firm grip. “I trust ye to do what is right.”

Morrigan’s eyes met his for a brief second and she nodded. He released her and she slipped through the garden without a sound.

Well concealed in the large, green summer leaves of a bush, Dragonet watched Morrigan creep through the garden and easily scale the castle wall. Dragonet smiled.

Merci, ma chérie
, Dragonet silently mouthed the words. He now knew the possible location of the lost treasure and the name of the last Templar.

Eight
 

“You have served me well, Sir Dragonet.”

Dragonet inclined his head, accepting the praise of the Duke of Argitaine. The duke sat at a table in a private sitting room of the inn, reviewing the map Dragonet had made, which indicated those clans who were likely join the French in fighting against the English and those clans who were more likely to side with the English. The news had spread that the duke was paying clans to join his cause, and clan representatives started to arrive to negotiate price.

“I understand your reticence in using these methods, but you must admit they produced results.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” replied Dragonet, standing at the duke’s side. In truth he had not been enamored with the prospects of pretending to be a minstrel, but listening to the castle gossip and noting the reactions to patriotic Scottish songs were telling methods of finding a clan’s true loyalty. It also provided him an excellent way to try to find the last Templars, not that the Duke of Argitaine had any idea of Dragonet’s other mission.

BOOK: True Highland Spirit
13.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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