A Highlander Born from Chaos (Preview)
The rain persisted for three whole days. It was as though her grandfather’s death had left a cloud hanging over the borders. A mist hung in the air too, and there was a dank and dreary atmosphere about the place, such that it sent Evie into a deep depression. Her uncle had returned to the monastery at Lanercost, and her brothers returned to their work with her father, leaving Evie and her mother alone during the day.
She had not settled into life at Kirklinton and longed instead for the simpler life she had led at the castle across the heathers. There, she had been free to please herself and to go where she wished, when she wished to do so. Now, it seemed as though her life were regimented and ordered and there had already been any number of visitors to Kirklinton wishing to pay their respects to her father. It seemed she was no longer the free-spirited lass she once had been allowed to be. Now, her mother spoke of responsibility, and she had realized that life would now be very different. Not only for her but for them all.
“I am tired of the rain and bein’ confined to this place,” she said to her mother, as the two sat spinning wool on the third afternoon after her grandfather’s funeral.
“When I was a child, I was often confined here, yer grandfather always worried for my safety. Be grateful that ye had such freedoms as a child,” her mother replied, dexterously rolling the wool into balls, as Evie held it up for her.
“Aye, I know, but livin’ here feels so closed in. ‘Tis like we are always under scrutiny, always bein’ watched,” Evie replied.
“Aye, there is that. Yer father is nae enjoyin’ it either. He has never had any wish to be Laird. I remember him sayin’ as much when first we were married. He had nay desire for such a title, ye have to remember that he was a humble blacksmith until …” her mother said, and her words trailed off.
Evie knew the story well enough, but it still fascinated her. She had loved her grandfather dearly, but she still found it hard to think that he had kept that secret hidden for all those years. Never once revealing to anyone the true identity of his son nor wishing anything to do with him, it seemed so at odds with the man she knew, and in truth, she preferred not to think about it.
“This castle too, ‘tis nothin’ like home,” Evie said, and her mother sighed and nodded.
“Aye, Evie. It will become like home, and we shall still visit the old castle. It holds many memories for me too daenae forget,” her mother replied.
“What dae ye remember of it?” Evie asked, the wool running through her fingers, as her mother smiled.
“From my childhood? Oh, I remember a little. It was a lovely place back then, and I shall always be grateful to yer father for restorin’ it. When I was a child, my father, my blood father, would hold great feasts there, and I remember my mother singin’ to me as she bathed me. But I remember too the night we were forced to flee and lookin’ over my nurse maid’s shoulder at the castle burnin’ behind us. A dark day,” she said, shaking her head.
“And then ye came here?” Evie asked though she knew the answer well enough.
“Aye, that’s right. I came here, and I was happy here, as will ye be, though perhaps nae for long,” her mother replied.
“What dae ye mean? Are ye sendin’ me away?” Evie said, surprised by her mother’s words.
“Nay, of course, nae, Evie. Daenae be silly, but ye are twenty years old, soon ye shall have a husband and who knows where ye shall live then,” her mother replied.
Evie had not thought about it like that. The idea of a marriage or a husband had seemed remote and distant from her. Her two elder brothers were not yet married, though Rory was forever chasing women from the village, and it had not occurred to her that she would marry before them.
Evie was an attractive girl, possessed of long flowing red hair and deep green eyes. Her skin was soft and her complexion pretty, yet unassuming. She knew that men often looked at her with interest. But she had never felt ready to pursue such things, content instead to wait until her father and mother should decide the time was right.
“But I have nay thoughts of a husband yet, mother,” she replied, smiling and shaking her head.
“Aye, but in time ye might dae,” her mother replied, “and when ye dae ye shall live elsewhere, away from this castle, a different life to this.”
Evie had no desire for such a thing, she might not relish life at Kirklinton, but she certainly had no desire to leave her mother, father, and brothers behind. They were all she knew, and there was no desire in her heart for something different. She knew that marriage must one day come, but for now, she was content to help her mother with the spinning and to be a friend to her brothers. She had only one other friend, and that was Caitlin Macready, a girl of her own age who lived a few miles across the heathers with her mother in a croft on the moorlands.
They had been friends since they were children, and Evie had always confided in her and known her to be a loyal and close friend. She had not seen her since the day of her grandfather’s death, and the thought of her now put into Evie’s mind the desire to see her. Outside, the rain had grown lighter, a drizzle upon the moorlands rather than the deluge of the past few days, and far across the borderlands, the merest hint of sunlight was breaking through the clouds. Evie set aside the wool and crossed to the window, looking out across the heathers to where her father and brothers were working down on the track, which led to the village. They were building a dry-stone wall, in which to enclose the sheep which her father intended to keep for their wool and meat.
“I think I shall walk over to Caitlin’s croft and see her,” Evie said, turning to Isla, who smiled and nodded.
“Aye, it would dae ye good to see a friend, be back by nightfall though, Evie,” her mother said, and Evie nodded.
Her mother always said that, as though the arrival of the night brought with it untold danger and threat. In truth, Evie’s life had been peaceful, troubled only occasionally by an English raid or the rumors of robbers on the road east. She had never experienced that which her mother and father had lived through when the threat of an English attack was ever-present.
She took up a shawl and wrapped it around her and bidding her mother farewell, she clattered down the steps of the keep and out into the stable yard. Her horse was tethered up over by the stables, but she wished to walk, enjoying the fresh air and the coolness of the day. The rain had turned to mist by now, and she set off across the moorlands, passing her father and brothers as she went.
“And where are ye off to, Evie?” her father called out, as paused to watch them at work.
“To Caitlin’s, Father,” she replied, as Owen and Rory laid down their tools.
“Well, be back by nightfall, ye hear me,” he said, and she smiled, as both her brothers laughed.
“She is always back by nightfall, father,” Owen said, “if she were nae, then ye would have the whole clan out lookin’ for her.”
“I am only doin’ what any father would dae. When ye are a father, Owen then ye shall be just the same,” their father replied, and he returned to his work.
Rory walked across the heathers towards Evie and smiled.
“Will ye give my love to Caitlin?” he asked, blushing a little as he spoke.
“I always dae, Rory, but I am afraid the answer will always be the same,” she replied.
Her brother had always held a flame for Caitlin, ever since they were children. But she had always resisted, ever making this excuse and that for why she and Rory could not be together. Still, he was persistent, and every time that it was known that Evie was visiting her friend, he would send her with his love and a sprig of heather, which now he plucked from the ground below.
“And give her this if ye will,” he said, and she smiled and nodded.
“She will have a whole moor before long,” she replied, taking the sprig and tucking it into her tunic.
“I can only try,” he replied, for Evie knew that it pained him to suffer such rejection.
He had often confided in her, longing for just one chance to prove himself to Caitlin. But she was a beautiful girl and could have her pick of men on the borderlands. But like Evie, she had no interest in marriage just yet, at least that is how it seemed to Evie, the two girls knowing one another better than anyone else.
“I will tell her,” Evie replied, and with a nod to her brother and a wave to her father and Owen, she set off across the heathers.
It would take around an hour to reach Caitlin’s croft, which lay upon a hill about a mile from the castle in which Evie and her brothers had grown up. She would have to pass it to get there, and, as she came in sight of the familiar towers and the imposing keep, she sighed to herself and paused.
As for her mother, the castle held many happy memories. It was here that she had first come to realize the power of the family into which she had been born and the grave responsibility, which would one day rest upon her father. They had shared happy times and sad in this place, not least the news of her grandfather’s death, which had so altered life for them all. Above her, she could see the old croft where her great grandparents had once lived, up on the moors and where her parents first lived when they were married. The landscape held such memories for them all, and for a moment, she stood taking it all in, lost in thought.
The gates of the castle were open, for her father still kept servants there, and several of the clansmen still resided behind its walls. She could see soldiers on the battlements, and she waved to them, hurrying across the heathers towards the gate.
“Hail there, Evie,” the captain of the guards said, “we have missed yer bonnie face these past weeks.”
“And I have missed this place too,” she called back, standing to look up at the high walls above.
“How is life at Kirklinton? Are ye settlin’ in?” he called back, for all the soldiers had a soft heart for Evie.
“Tolerable,” she called back, “I am on my way to see the Macready’s. I have been confined to the castle these past days, and I couldnae bear it any longer.”
“Be careful on the heathers lass, keep yer wits about ye,” the old soldier called back, and he waved to her as she walked on.
Evie had no fear; she had known this landscape and its paths her whole life. Besides, she was the daughter of a Laird, and, like her mother, she was possessed of boldness and fearlessness such that no man would cross her.
The moorland path rose steeply upwards from the castle, which lay on the low heathers close to a gushing stream. The rains had caused it to swell, and she had to walk some way upstream before she could find a place to cross safely. The trees overhung the water’s edge at that point, and she looked up and down the torrent for bare rocks over which she could make her path.
I shall have to go higher, she thought to herself and continued to climb up through the trees, towards where she thought would be a safe crossing point. The path along the stream had almost disappeared, and she was now high above the castle, with still no place to cross. Growing frustrated, she decided to remove her shoes and hitch up her tunic to wade across. The water was not too deep there, and she would soon be on the other side. Caitlin’s mother always had a fire burning, and she could sit in front of that to dry herself off.
Evie paused, glancing up and down the stream for a final time, but there was no easy place to cross, and instead, she removed her shoes and stepped into the water. It was icy cold, and a shiver went through her body as she waded knee-deep into the gushing torrent. The current was stronger than she had imagined it to be, and she stretched out her hands to steady herself. It was not far to the other side, and she took another step further into the water.
I hope the fire is well stoked up, she thought to herself, wading on through the water. She pictured Caitlin’s snug croft and looked forward to the prospect of griddle scones, cooked in the embers of the fire, and a warm cup of something to raise her spirits.
But just as she was close to the other side, where trees hung down low over the bank, a surge of water caused her to unbalance. With a cry, Evie slipped into the cold water and was caught up in the torrent. It sent her down the stream with such force that she went under several times, flailing in the murky depths, as she gasped and struggled to catch her breath.
She screamed, trying desperately to swim against the current, but to no avail. The water was gushing around her, carrying her downstream, and despite striking out with all her might, she found herself unable to swim or catch her footing. The water was far more treacherous than she had imagined, freezing cold too, and she was helpless against the force pulling her along. With a final effort, she cried out again as a fresh surge of water overwhelmed her, and she went hurtling down the stream. There were falls further down, and if she could not get to the bank, then she would be swept over and dashed upon the rocks. Desperately she tried to swim, but the water was unforgiving, sweeping her along in its torrent. She could hardly breathe, gasping for breath, as the water hurled her up and out of the current, before pulling her back down. The rain lashed at her face, and the water swirled about her as she felt herself drifting out of consciousness.
“Help me,” she cried out as her head went beneath the water again.
It seemed there was no hope, and with a final gasp, she tried to swim again, her hand reaching out when all of sudden another hand took hold of hers. With great strength, she was pulled through the waters, her head emerging from the depths, as she gasped for breath.
‘I have ye, daenae worry,” came a voice, “ye will be all right, here we go,” and with another heave, she was dragged up onto the side of the bank.
Evie was coughing and spluttering, her whole body shaking with the chill of the water, and for a moment, she had no idea what had just occurred. It had all happened so fast, and she was almost delirious as she began to babble senselessly.
“I … oh … please …” she cried, but the stranger pulled her further up the bank until she lay panting and breathless on the heathers above the water.
“All right, ye are safe now. But I daenae advise ye to cross the waters like that again. The stream is treacherous after the rains, and ye clearly have nay skill at swimming,” he said, laughing a little.
Evie coughed and spluttered, her mouth and nose filled with water as she struggled to draw breath.
“I cannae …” she began.
“All right, easy now, ye have had a shock,” the stranger replied, and Evie rubbed her eyes, shivering with cold as she lay bedraggled upon the bank.
As she recovered a little more, she looked her rescuer in the face. He was a man whom she had never seen before, not a member of her father’s clan or an ally, nor a peasant from Lochrutton, the village which lay below her father’s castle. He was tall and well built, dressed in a red tunic, which was itself now soaked through. His face, which was clean-shaven and handsome, bore a smile. But she flinched back in terror as he reached out his hand, for he was a stranger, and she knew not of his intentions.
“I … I …” she gasped, coughing and spluttering with the water that filled her mouth and nose.
“I am nae goin’ to hurt ye. My name is Hamish, Hamish … MacBryde,” he said, a name which caused a wave of horror to run through her.
The name of MacBryde had long been feared by her family. The MacBrydes had long ago sided with the English against their own countrymen across the border. Her father called them traitors and would shake his head in anger at the name. They were allies of the Musgraves, and she knew that it was a Musgrave who had imprisoned her mother and held her grandmother as a slave for years before her father had rescued them both. She had never encountered a MacBryde before, and she was terrified as to what he might do. She had heard so many stories of their atrocities over the years, and she knew that they could not be trusted.
“What … what are ye doin’ here?” she asked, finally recovering enough to speak, her hands now blue with cold and her body beginning to numb.
She felt vulnerable and at his mercies, knowing that the chill running through her would prevent her from running away.
“I often come here, I like to sit up here and look across the borders and the moorlands. Ye are the first person I have ever encountered,” he said, taking off his cloak, “now, ye are shiverin’, place this around ye, it will help to warm ye up. If I had not seen ye thrashing about in the water, then ye would surely have drowned. What is yer name?”
“Ev … Evie, Evie … Elliott,” she mumbled as he placed the cloak around her shoulders, and she wrapped it close to her.
“An Elliott,” he said, as though recalling some past memory, “yer father is …”
“The Laird,” she replied, hoping perhaps that the name might scare him off and watching him cautiously.
She was frightened, for, despite his kindness, she knew not to trust a MacBryde, and she was suspicious as to why a man such as this should be here in the heart of her father’s territory, alone and watching. Was he a spy? What were his intentions? She was beginning to recover herself a little, and she edged away from him, watching him all the time. But he simply smiled and nodded.
“The daughter of the Laird, goodness me. I am honored. And what are ye doin’ crossin’ over the stream here and wanderin’ through the heathers all alone?” he asked, looking her up and down with curiosity.
“My father’s land, and I shall walk where I choose. And … and why are ye here?” she replied, trying to sound braver than she felt.
She wished that one of her brothers was there, or her father or one of the soldiers. They would soon chase this curious MacBryde away and see her safely home. But out here she was alone, and she knew she must make her escape as soon as possible. But the chill was setting in, and Evie continued to sit shivering as Hamish watched her.
“I walk this way at times. ‘Tis an escape from the castle, though I know it to be a dangerous one. If yer father knew …” he began.
“My father will know. Ye are a MacBryde and are nae to be trusted,” she replied, but he simply laughed once more and shook his head.
“A fine way to repay a man who has just saved yer life. I would hate to know how ye treat yer enemies,” he replied, laughing and moving closer towards her.
Evie felt disarmed by his comment. But she looked at him defiantly, trying to stand up and failing, the chill running through her bones.
“I … I will be all right, thank ye,” she replied.
She wanted him to leave her alone, though she knew she owed this man her life. But to trust a MacBryde? Evie knew what her father would say if he knew she was talking to a man of the clan who he and her family had sworn as enemies. No MacBryde was to be trusted, not even one who had rescued her from the torrent of the stream.
“And where is it that ye are goin’ to now, lass?” Hamish asked, “ye cannae walk soaked to the skin in the rain. Let me help ye.”
“Nay, I daenae need yer help. I have friends nearby, ye should go. If my father catches ye here then …” Evie said, but Hamish just smiled.
“Yer father has never caught me before. I have watched him and the other clansmen on the hunt, I fancy I have even seen ye at times, lass. When I pulled ye from the water, I recognized yer face. Ye have brothers too, daenae ye?” he said.
“Aye, and if they knew a MacBryde was here, then they would …” Evie began, struggling to her feet.
She was shaking with cold, and she knew she could not remain outside much longer, lest the chill would go to her bones. Hamish stood up too, looking around him at that lonely spot, as the rain continued to fall.
“Come now, lass. Can we nae be friends ye and I? These old quarrels are between our parents. Why must we be caught up in them?” he asked, holding out his hands.
“My quarrel is with anyone who would betray their fellow countrymen,” Evie said.
The MacBrydes had long had a pact with the English, selling their loyalty across the border. No MacBryde could be trusted. They were friends of the enemy, and it was rumored that an attack by their combined forces was imminent. Evie knew too the stories of the past and of how her poor grandmother was subjected to years of harsh treatment at the hands of the Musgraves. She had no intention of offering the hand of friendship, however kind this man might have been to her, and she watched him warily as he stood between her and the moorland path above.
“I daenae have time for such quarrels, I am nay enemy of yours,” Hamish replied.
“Then ye shall seek peace with my father? Are ye to be Laird upon the death of yer father?” Evie asked, and Hamish nodded.
“I am. And when I am, I shall forget the past and pursue peace,” he replied, an air of confidence about him.
Evie was not convinced. She had heard such tales before when the Elliotts and the MacBrydes had been at peace. It was promises such as this that had led to betrayal, and she could hear her mother’s words ringing in her ears.
“Never a trust a MacBryde, for they shall stab ye in the back,” she used to say.
“Well, Laird to be, I thank ye for helpin’ me, and now I must be on my way,” Evie said, pulling his cloak tightly around her.
“And I presume ye shall take my cloak with ye too?” he asked, smiling at her and laughing.
“I … nay, of course not. Here,” she said, handing him back the cloak, as an icy wind whipped along the course of the stream.
“Ye need it more than I, lass. Go on, be away with ye. It seems I cannae persuade ye to sit awhile with me and talk. Besides, ye are cold and need the warmth of a hearth to warm ye. I should be on my way too, I wouldnae wish to run into yer brothers or yer father as I make my way home,” Hamish replied.
“Ye risk a lot by comin’ here,” Evie said.
“What is life if nae without a little risk?” he replied, and she nodded, stepping past him and glancing back.
“I … thank ye …” she said and hurried off up the path leading to the heathers above.
“Will I see ye again?” he called back, but Evie made no reply.
On the brow above, she turned and saw him still watching her. How lucky it had been to encounter him, but Evie had no desire to forge a friendship with the enemy. Hamish MacBryde had been kind, but she knew not to trust him. She was her father’s daughter, the daughter of Lairds and warriors. This man was the enemy, and even to speak with him felt like a betrayal. But despite that fact, she could not help but feel grateful. After all, he had saved her life, when she too was an enemy to him. Were his words really sincere?
Evie watched him for a moment, before turning back to look across the heathers. The clouds were clearing now, the merest hint of blue sky against the dark clouds. A rainbow hung in the distance, and the sun had caught the purple of the heathers over on the hills beyond. When she glanced back, he was gone, disappearing as readily as he had appeared. A stranger on the heathers, an enemy at large. She pulled his cloak around her more tightly, glancing back again as she hurried over the heathers. It had certainly been an eventful day, and Evie would be glad of a fire and a friendly face.
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