In Bed with a Highland Traitor (Preview)
Kimelford, November 1715, Former Clan MacVarish Lands
The smell of woodsmoke was in the air as Edmund MacVarish looked up into the blue sky. An eagle cried and soared across the expanse of blue, putting hope into Edmund’s breast as he felt the hilt of his sword at his side. Battle was coming; The weight of his sword gave him strength and courage, reminding him of his duty.
Around him, the men were quiet, every muscle tensed and ready as the Crann Tara burned in his father’s hand. There were hundreds of them, five hundred at least, pulled from his clan and a nearby smaller one. It gave him some courage that so many young Highlanders were about him, all skilled with a blade. And yet, they did not know what numbers the English ranks held.
His father held the cross aloft, the flames licking higher and higher into the air. The cross reminded them to call their allies to arms. It was small, yet its image was clear—the cross of St. Andrew reminding everyone to fight to their utmost.
MacVarish banners blew in the wind as they stood on the enemy’s borders. Clan Rose would be there, wouldn’t they? The clans neighbored each other’s lands, lands the English had attempted to take from them through violence and bloodshed. This invasion was not to be borne—this ruination of a way of life.
“Keep yer heart, lad,” his father whispered to him, still lifting the cross. The smoke billowed and grew. “They will ken the sign and come tae fight for what is right. It is our way. Nae Highlander, worth his salt, would leave another clan tae death and destruction. Nae clan wants the English here.”
Edmund nodded, his bright blue eyes moving to his older brother Robert, who did not keep his attention on their father, the laird. They were all clearly kin, with matching black beards and hair blowing in the breeze. But Robert was more rotund and had a keener sense of leadership. Edmund envied him that, even at that moment. He wanted to be a hero, but Robert would do that for him. For them all.
Robert gazed into the distance at the approaching English, their stark red coats looking strange against the green pines and the blue November sky. Their muskets glinted under the sunlight, but Edmund held his ground. He was the younger son, but he would not falter that day.
“They are nae coming, Father,” Robert said. “We must march and fight. Forget Clan Rose.”
Edmund looked at the men behind them, kilted in MacVarish colors, long hair waving in the breeze, broadswords in their hands. Some gripped muskets, but they were far outnumbered by the English, who only drew nearer.
“Wait a moment,” his father said, and they waited. Edmund pulled his sword from his scabbard, the feel of it cold in his hand. Despite the time of year, it was a warm day, but an eerie, icy breeze blew over the land.
This could be the end of all things. We will either be victorious, or we will die.
He straightened up, trying to suppress his fear, as the English lifted their muskets.
“Father,” Edmund began, but his father held a hand. The only sounds were the bird cries, the trees rustling, the stretch of leather, and boots crunching over grass.
But then a shot fired, piercing the air with its harsh eruption. It zipped through the Highland army, piercing someone. A groan of pain echoed.
“They have nae come,” his father said, pulling his sword out and throwing the Crann Tara. “We must fight on our own merits. Me sons, ye are with me. Clan MacVarish! We fight for justice!” He held his sword out, made a battle cry, and rushed forward, his men behind him.
All was chaos and wildness. Edmund rushed forward to the mass of English soldiers.
Shots fired back and forth, but he swung his sword until it met flesh. A frenzy of panic and shouts fell over as they fought. Sweat covered his skin as the fatigue settled into his bones. The fight seemed endless.
His men, friends, and comrades fought alongside him, butut many fell, having received a blow from an English redcoat. Blood rang in his ears, blocking out all the other sounds of the battlefield. Time slowed, and everything blurred. As if he fought in a dream, he tried to understand the horror before him.
There are too many. Too many, his mind repeated like a constant drum.
But he kept fighting, kept going. He would do anything for Clan MacVarish, for the sake of his father and brother. It was his land and home, and they would have a new king whether England wanted it.
The field was strewn with men, and Edmund stood tall, catching his breath, as he saw his father and brother fighting soldiers. English soldiers swarmed them, knowing that they were the laird and the laird’s heir. Edmund jumped into action, racing to help, but he was too late. An Englishman plunged a sword into his father’s stomach, and Laird MacVarish fell to his knees with a groan.
“Nae!” Edmund cried aloud, the sound ripping from his throat. His father was the best warrior he knew. He had taught him everything since he took his first steps. Edmund was almost there. So close. Fury took over. He swung at his father’s killer and cut him down.
Others still fought against Robert, now coated in sweat and tiring.
“I am coming, brother!” Edmund called through gritted teeth, hitting his way through to his brother’s opponents. He cut down one, then another, but Fate turned cruel that day. Robert fell to his knees, an English blade impaling his chest.
Robert fell back, his lifeless eyes facing upward to the sky. Enraged, Edmund fought against the rest of them, only able to fell two. There was nothing but pain in his heart. The last English raised his sword and cut Robert’s head from his body.
Frozen in shock, his stomach writhed, and he collapsed. His brother’s murderer rushed toward him. But like a trapped, wild animal, Edmund drove a dagger into the English dog’s chest. The soldier crumpled. Red blood like his coat deepened with crimson blood.
“The battle is won! The laird is dead. No more need to waste time,” An English Captain shouted. “Put down your weapons. Take the rest as prisoners. We need something to show the general and tell the king.” Even though sweat and blood dripped into Edmund’s eyes, he saw the sneer on the man’s lips.
An acrid taste filled his mouth as the English gathered the remaining Scottish fighters. He had only a little time. Though Robert was dead, he needed to find his father. He crawled across the field, moving out of the way of English and Scottish bodies. If his father drew breath, he needed to be there. The laird should not die alone, not surrounded by English. Edmund was not yet ready to be without him. He was young, too green to lead their people.
He found his father still breathing, his hand clutching his stomach. With relief and tears, Edmund moved to him. “Father, ye are still here. Ye must forgive me. We failed. They are taking us away.”
“Nae, me lad. Ye have done well this day.”
Their men continued to rail against the English despite the commander’s words. They did not give up. Edmund’s eyes remained on his father. Nothing else mattered now that he would lose the ones he loved.
He reached for his father but was stopped.
“Nae,” the laird whispered, “I donnae have time, Edmund. Ye must live tae fight for us, tae fight back against the traitors who didnae come for us. Clan Rose must pay for what they have done. If they were here, we wouldnae have lost.” His father grimaced as he spoke. It was too much effort as he began to fade.
Hot tears brimmed in Edmund’s eyes; his father slipped away, his face paling from the blood loss. “I swear it, Father. I willnae rest until me vengeance is taken upon Clan Rose.”
“Good. Good. I leave Clan MacVarish tae ye…I ken yer brother is nae with us any longer…I shall go tae meet him in Heaven.”
“Nae, Father. Donnae leave me like this.”
“Go, lad. Be strong. And remember yer vow. Tell yer mother I think of her at the last-”
As his father took his last breath, hard hands gripped Edmund’s arms, lifting him to his feet and dragging him away. With grief and pain in his heart, Edmund threw his head back and screamed to the Heavens for what God had wrought that day.
July 1717, Fort William
“Dear God, I cannae believe it is real. I can see the sky, can feel the breeze.”
Edmund’s friend and former man-at-arms, Gleason, looked at the sky. They walked through Fort William’s gates, out to a group of horses, saddled and ready.
“We have seen the sky, Gleason. These two years. We have felt the breeze.”
He didn’t want to think about happiness, even though the English had pardoned the rest of the living Jacobite rebels, and they were sending them home.
Gleason shook his head. “We havenae seen the sky but through bars, and we havenae felt the breeze unless it was mixed with the stench of death, piss, and blood. Donnae say that ye arenae happy tae breathe this air.”
Edmund narrowed his eyes at his old friend. They had shared a prison cell within the fort’s walls for the past two years. Gleason had long red hair, a thick beard, pale and gaunt features from lack of food and confinement. Together, they had been beaten, starved, and forced to listen to their friends being tortured. They had been imprisoned with others guilty of the same crime. The other rebels were executed over the years, but for some reason, Edmund and a few of his clansmen were spared. He had his suspicions as to why; he often wondered if their captors intended to ransom them at some point, but to this day, he did not know the whole truth.
Still, they endured tortures of their own, and Edmund bore numerous scars, but the cries of pain and suffering of others hurt more. Others who had fought for the same cause and failed as he had done. Each day only brought the painful memory that his brother and father were dead. And now he was to return home if there was still a home to return to as Laird MacVarish.
“The air is cleaner. I will give ye that.” He jumped astride the horse given to him, and his body remembered the motion. However, he was not as strong as he had been once.
“As soon as we are returned home,” Gleason said, “I will drink as much ale as I can fit intae me belly.”
“Aye, there will be a feast if there is a home, tae return tae.”
His small group only numbered five. From five hundred to five, all slain. Only five of the MacVarish men survived that fateful battle when the English had squashed the rebellion.
No soldiers came up to them. Only the guards to the fort watched them from afar, lingering suspicions. The general of the fort had let them go, telling them that they’d been lucky.
With the soldiers’ eyes on him, Edmund spat on the ground.
“Come, then, lads, let us leave this cursed place. In all me life, I never wish tae see another Englishman again.” He felt light with the lack of weapon at his side as they turned to leave, but that was also down to the English.
Disarming the Highlanders to keep them docile had been the intent and was now written into law, but Edmund swore to himself that he would hold a weapon in his hands again.
He would hold and wield it against his enemies for one final time to get his revenge.
His horse’s hooves rumbled underneath him as they headed south to Kimelford. He would once again see the sea, and as soon as he was home again with his mother and countrymen, he would make his plans for vengeance.
They rode for hours. He wouldn’t have noticed his need for food or drink until one of his men waved to him, pointing to a river ahead. He nodded and slowed the gait of his horse, feeling the ache in his arms at last from holding tight to the reins. When he jumped down, he led his horse to the water, and he sat down next to it, dipping his hands into the cool water.
He washed his face and then drank, letting the water quench his thirst.
“Ye are quiet, my Laird,” one of his men, Angus, said.
Edmund swung around, anger in his eyes. “Donnae call me that,” he snapped, wiping his wet hands on his dirtied kilt. “At least nae yet. There may be nae land tae go tae.
Nae castle tae return tae and nae place tae lay down our heads.” His voice was softer this time. Angus nodded and turned away.
Edmund chastised himself for his curtness. It was just happening all too fast, and he felt powerless against the wave of one change to the next. Prison had broken him, and he would return home a changed man. Gone was the innocence he had before battle when he’d still felt young and green, even at twenty-five. At twenty-seven, he was ancient.
Each scar on his skin told a story, reminding him why happiness wasn’t possible. There was only vengeance on his mind. That was his plan. If he could take his revenge upon Clan Rose, he could finally die a happy man. Or at least a satisfied and vindicated one.
Gleason approached him, holding out a hunk of bread. “Those English bastards gave us bread for the journey.” He gave him a great smile.
Edmund ripped off a piece. “Ye mean ye stole it?”
“Of course. They have freed us, but they would have wanted us tae starve along the way. I’m surprised they even let us keep the clothes on our backs.”
“For what good they’re doing.” Edmund looked down at his tattered appearance. The clothes he wore were the very ones he’d on that day in battle, and they were barely holding on. “We will bathe at Castle MacVarish.” He had hope for the first time in a long while.
“Aye, bath and ale and food. For as far as the eye can see. That is me greatest wish,” Gleason said, chewing on his piece of bread.
Mumbled ayes moved around the other men as they sat and ate what little they had between them. Edmund looked at the gaunt faces around him, the hollow expressions, the thick beards, and the long hair. Even if he didn’t want the title of laird to his name, it was his now. He would have to lead, even if the only things left to him were these men.
“We can get there by dark if we ride hard. There is nae point tae resting overnight unless the horses need it. But it is only twenty or thirty more miles from here. We can make it.”
The men nodded but said nothing. He would have their allegiance; he was sure of that.
But he was unsure if he had the strength to lead, knowing what had come before him.
After they rested, they rode on, only stopping once more before their tired horses rode into MacVarish land. His heart leaped with joy and relief when he saw the MacVarish castle was still standing.
He slowed as he approached, watching the torchlights flicker on the castle walls.
There were men about, but not as many as in his father’s day. Thinking of his mother, he hoped and prayed that she still lived and that grief had not taken her. As they got closer, he saw that people had gathered outside the castle gates.
Edmund’s heart was in his throat as he turned to Gleason, his friend’s pale face illuminated in the torchlight. “Here we are, old friend. It is a new beginning,” he said, feeling tears prickle at his eyes.
He stopped the horse and jumped down. Spying his mother, Freya, just ahead, he rushed forward as fast as his tired legs could carry him. His mother cried out as she ran to him, and they embraced tightly, his mother’s tears of joy wetting his shoulder as she gripped him tightly and wouldn’t let him go.
“I thought ye would never come home, Edmund,” she said. “God has brought ye tae me.”
Finally, when she pulled away, she held his face in her hands. She cried harder. “Ye are much changed,” she said, “but ye are whole.” Her hands traveled down his arms as if feeling him to make sure.
“Aye, Mother, I am whole in body.”
Nae in spirit.
“Edmund,” a deep voice said, coming from his mother’s side. He turned to see Murdoch, an old, wizened warrior, looking at him with a happy expression. “Welcome home, lad.”
He opened his arms. They embraced, and when they stepped back, Murdoch said, “Thank God yer back, Laird MacVarish. We have been waiting a long time for ye. Come, eat, and rest. All of ye. Ye are at last at home.”
The following day, Doreen Rose was packing furiously. Her heart pattered away in her chest as she tried to take stock of everything. Finally, she was leaving, and she didn’t want to forget anything. Pushing her red hair out of her face, she pulled a few books off the bookshelf and put them in the trunk. She wiped a tear away, angry with herself that she was crying.
Was she not happy to leave? Of course, she was, but at the same time, she wasn’t sure what reception she’d receive at home. Nor did she know if she’d have a place there any longer. Guilt and sorrow filled her breast, and she sat down, feeling like the tears would choke her.
A few deep breaths later, she closed her eyes, remembering the past. Her husband, Lord Henry Johnson, had been a terrible man, full of hatred and violence towards others. At least he had not hurt her, but he’d been despicable to anyone who got in his way. He was a drunkard, gleeful about the suffering and pain of others, and she’d been overjoyed when his death came to pass. It had almost seemed too good to be true because she feared that her life’s plan was set forever, living in England with this beast of a man.
But ye did it tae save yer clan.
Doreen sniffed and stood again, busying herself with more packing. Sometimes, she felt guilty for bemoaning her fate. She had saved her clan from ruin and execution, and she was given wealth and comfort as she’d never experienced before. But there was one thing she didn’t have: her family, and she hadn’t seen them since her marriage two years earlier. She had no idea what might have befallen them, and now that she was free to leave, she had to see them again to ensure that they were safe.
So many of her own kin had died at his hand, so she’d married him. To keep it from continuing. But while her clan was safe, they were seen as traitors to the Highlanders. While she could understand that name of traitor that had been put upon their good name, she wondered what other option she would have had. Would death for her clan and all her people have been preferable?
Doreen was so lost in her thoughts as she packed up the things that she didn’t hear the soft knock at the door. When she turned around, she jumped when she saw a man in the doorway.
“Och, it is ye, Oliver.”
“Forgive me, Doreen,” he said with a handsome smile, shutting the door behind him as he came into the room. “I did not mean to startle you.” He looked around the room. “I only meant to come and see if you needed anything. I cannot believe that you are leaving.”
She put her hands on her hips, trying to stop the trembling in her hands.
“I ken. It is a strange thing, after all this time.” She smiled. It was easy to smile around Oliver, Lord Henry’s younger brother. He was good-looking, with pulled-back long blond hair and kind blue eyes. He had always been gentle with Doreen, listening to her woes and speaking from the heart. He was the opposite of his elder brother, and they had become friends.
“Are you sure about this, Doreen? You do not have to leave. This is your home. You are Lady Johnson. As the widow, you can stay here, and I will take care of you.”
“No, Oliver. I thank ye, but that cannae be. I need tae go home and see me, family.
Yer brother has kept me from them long enough and has starved me of news of them. I have tae see how they fare. What was all this if nae for them?”
Oliver sat down on one of the wooden chairs in Doreen’s bedroom. He folded his hands on his lap, wearing a serious expression.
“But as you have told me before, your family will be considered traitors for marrying into an English family. What kind of homecoming can you expect?”
Doreen bit the inside of her cheek, not wanting to cry. While Oliver had been kind to her, Doreen still didn’t want to show weakness in front of men. Weakness fed them, especially men as vile as her husband had been.
“I ken it, Oliver,” she said sharply. She knew Oliver meant well, but she was tired of being restrained and confined. “It is nae from me own clan that I will feel the hatred. They are grateful that our lives and well-being were saved. That me people were allowed tae remain upon their land. But it is from other clans. We will nae longer have welcome amongst other people, and other villages. Especially nae Clan MacVarish.”
“Will you at least write to me? To tell me that you have arrived and that you are safe?”
Doreen smiled. Even if her family had not been around, Oliver had cared for her well enough.
“Aye, so I will. Donnae worry. I will write tae ye as often as I can.”
“How long will ye go?”
“I donnae ken. But donnae wait for me tae return, lad. I need tae find me own path and future now. I need tae heal from the past. Me family and I all do.”
He nodded. Looking saddened, he stood, digging at something in his coat. He pulled out a letter and handed it to her. It was thick. Doreen’s breath caught as she stared down at it. Slowly, her fingers took it up, pressing on what was inside.
Oliver shrugged.“I hope this will help you in your new future. You will be greatly missed, Doreen. By everyone. The servants and the other household members were happy to have you so near.”
“And I’m sure that they will soon have a new lady of the house tae assist them. Ye may marry and have a happy, new life.”
“Yes,” he said with a smile. “What woman does not want a rogue like myself?”
“Exactly.” She put the pile of money down on the bed and embraced him. She leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. “Ye are a good man, Oliver. I thank ye for everything that ye have done. And I thank ye for this.”
“You are most welcome. Now,” he said, looking around, “are you ready? The carriage is waiting for you. Say the word, and I will send the men to your room to help you carry things down.”
“Aye, ye may go and send for them. I will remain here just to think for a little. In case I have missed something.”
“Of course.” He kissed her hand and left. In the silence, Doreen turned around, searching the chamber that had been her haven during her marriage.
“It is time,” she said to the room, and with another look back, she left, ready to face the path ahead.
A nearby forest of trees hid a shadow that day, and Doreen was entirely unaware of its presence as she left her dead husband’s home for good. While her thoughts were toward the future and for her family home that she hadn’t seen in years, there were others whose eyes and thoughts were firmly focused on her as she rode away.
A hooded man in black held the reins of his dark horse tight as he watched Doreen Rose departing in a carriage from Lord Johnson’s large home. He was tall and looming, and even though it was the afternoon, darkness hung around him, heavy and thick. A large bevy of soldiers on horseback trailed behind Doreen’s carriage. He counted their number casually, making plans. The hooded man pulled back under the nearby trees, his two riders behind him doing the same to keep it secret and safe. His beady eyes kept a close watch, and he made a low sound in his throat. They all looked on as the carriage left the road attached to the house, turning north towards Scotland, and he grunted again.
Cold, hard eyes watched the path of the black carriage, anger settling in his breast.
His shoulders and wrists flexed as he held the reins even tighter. The black horse stomped its foot, eager to move on. As the carriage drove further away, he barely turned his head and said, “It is time,” a low, deep voice filled with menace. He turned to the riders behind him and nodded, “Let them know.”
The two riders turned and rode off without a word, their black cloaks and black horses melding into one as they disappeared through the trees.
Edmund felt his mother’s hand wrap around his arm as they stared at the graves of his father, brother, and the men who had fallen that day on the outskirts of his land. “I have come every day since, foolishly hoping tae find yer father alive and well, waiting for me with a smile.” She sniffed, and Edmund’s eyes filled with tears as he looked at the graves built for his father and brother.
“I am glad they are buried close by,” he said stiffly, “nae taken by the Englishmen.” He shuddered, remembering how the one English soldier had cut off his brother’s head, a smug look of satisfaction on his face as he did it.
“They left everything that day,” she said. “Murdoch and the young guards at the castle took the bodies and gave them a proper burial. We have prayed for their souls each day for the good work they have done. It is good tae see that many survived. More than I expected or heard.”
Edmund gritted his teeth. He wasn’t sure what good work they’d done, for it had failed because of Clan Rose. “Clan Rose will pay for this, Mother. They are why Father and Robert are buried in the ground and nae here with us.”
“But ye are here, me son,” she said, leaning her head against him. “God has shown some mercy tae us at long last.”
Edmund had given up thoughts of God long ago, but he said nothing. His mother’s heart had been broken too many times already. He would not be the one to break it again with his words of blasphemy.
“Murdoch has done well in yer place, but I ken that it has worn on him. He doesnae feel worthy.”
“Neither do I. The position was never meant tae pass tae me. Robert was always the better one. Better suited for battle, for lairdship.” Tears were falling silently down his cheeks. He made no sound, just fixed his eyes forward, unable to look at his mother.
“Donnae say such things, Edmund. Ye are loved, and ye have everything ye need tae be the laird yer father was, and yer brother would have been. They are looking tae ye now, tae take their place and lead with all the strength and courage already within ye.” She patted his hand. “I ken it.”
Edmund couldn’t agree with his mother, but her words were well-meant. She pulled away from him. “I will leave ye with them, me son,” she said softly, her eyes flicking over the graves. “It is important tae grieve properly. Or else it will lay heavily in yer breast forever. I donnae want that for ye.” With one last lingering touch of her hand on his, she was gone, and he could hear her footsteps on the dirt path leading back to the castle. They faded into the distance, and he sank to his knees, giving vent to his grief in full, the sobs coming hard and fast.
Tears fell onto the ground that held his family. He placed his hands on the ground, wishing that he could bring them back to life by mere touch. It would make his guilt go away at long last, the guilt of not being able to help them that had rotted away in his breast ever since that fateful day.
“I am sorry,” he said as he let his tears run, and his mind turned to revenge. He could not bring his father and brother back, but he could do this for them. “I swear it again, Father, Robert, I willnae rest until vengeance is taken upon Clan Rose for their cowardice and refusal tae help. It is me life’s goal. Yer deaths will be avenged, and ye may rest in peace.”
His oath floated away on the breeze, and after a bit, he left for the castle, no turning back. Inside the castle, he checked on his men, and then he walked to his father’s study. It was the one place in the castle solely the laird’s. When he entered, he held his breath as he had done when he was a young boy, coming to ask his father about something foolish.
When he shut the door behind him, he felt the weight of his new responsibility on his shoulders. The room was exactly the way that he remembered. The desk was in the center of the room, with a window behind it, facing out towards the loch and the sea beyond.
Shelves of books and other things flanked the desk, and there was a large hearth on the right side of the room. A table with whiskey and glasses stood nearby, along with chairs made of leather and fur rugs on the floor.
His fists clenched and unclenched as he began to walk around, looking at the shelves, the papers on the desk, the decanters of whiskey. He closed his eyes and breathed in.
It even smelled the same as it always had. Even though he was frightened, with fear and unease in his heart, the smell gave him courage. It made him think of his father’s words, “Being afraid means nothing, lad. It is what ye do when ye feel the fear that matters.”
He filled a glass of whiskey and then slowly sat down in the chair behind the desk, imagining his father sitting there years before. He had to push beyond the fear, as he had been taught to do in battle, and he had to be the laird that his father would have wanted. After drinking the whiskey in one gulp, he slid his hands over the desk’s wood, his mind still catching up with him and his new place in the world.
He had to think of a way to get his revenge. It was his first order of business as the new Laird MacVarish. Leaning back in his chair, he remembered what Murdoch had told him the day before at a well-deserved dinner for him and his newly arrived men. Edmund had mentioned Clan Rose, and Murdoch said they were keen to add to their number of warriors.
It sounded odd to him at the time because no one knew why they were sending out for more. Clan Rose was one of the more well-known clans for their skills in battle. And that was why his father had called upon them to join in the fight against the encroaching English. But the clan had not reduced in number because they hadn’t come to his family’s aid when called for. So why seek new warriors?
“Perhaps I will be a soldier, coming tae their aid, since they are in such need of them.” He spoke aloud to himself, steepling his fingers together, then chewed on the inside of his cheek as he thought. It had been years since he’d been imprisoned, so he was not likely to be recognized by anyone in the clan. Besides, even though his mother had begged him yesterday after dinner, he refused to shave and cut his hair.
That morning, he had only allowed the servant to trim his beard back a bit, and he would tie the long, black hair back when needed. But he preferred his appearance this way, rough and scarred, carrying the memories, reminding him of what his future needed to be. A soft knock at the door roused him from his plans.
“Aye?” he said, leaning forward to push a few papers aside. He folded his hands on the desk.
Slowly, his mother peeked her head around the door, and she smiled when she saw him behind the desk. However, it was a slightly sad smile, as if something didn’t meet with her approval.
“Is it too strange for me tae be in the room, Mother? I could ask for another study tae be prepared if ye would prefer.”
“Nae, nae at all,” she said, sitting across from him, her eyes still assessing him. “I think ye look very fine there. It suits ye.”
Even as she spoke, tears filled her eyes, and his heart ached at the sight. She lifted a hand when he tried to speak again.
“Edmund, I need tae ken something. I ken that ye didnae tell me, and I shouldnae ask further about it, perhaps, but I need tae ken. Murdoch gave me the impression that ye might seek revenge upon Clan Rose for what they did.”
Edmund lifted a brow. While he hadn’t said that outright to the old man, he supposed it had been evident in the angry way he spoke about Clan Rose.
“Aye, that is me plan.” He nearly asked if she had a problem with it, but he refrained, not wishing to be rude to the last remaining member of his family. He would treasure still having his mother for as long as he lived.
“Thank you for being honest. I appreciate that.” Quickly, she wiped a fallen tear with the back of her hand and turned her intelligent green eyes on him. Even after all she’d been through, his mother still looked impossibly young and bright. There was an aura of general sadness about her, but it didn’t take away from her beauty. “Must you?” she asked in a much quieter voice. He could see the muscles tighten in her neck as if it took all her energy to ask him.
“I can see nae other possible way for me tae move on from what happened, Mother. I must avenge their deaths. It is the way of a warrior. Ye werenae there. Ye didnae see….” He stopped himself before he hurt his mother any longer with a description of the battlefield and the violent loss of her husband and son.
“I understand. It makes sense for you tae want tae do something. I cannae imagine what ye have suffered, me dear boy.” She wiped another tear and stood. “But I hope that ye willnae do anything too dangerous and that ye will be soon home.”
“I plan tae send meself as a warrior tae Clan Rose. Murdoch told me they are in need, and I will go. It is suspicious, as if they are planning some sort of attack. It will be the best way tae infiltrate them. Perhaps even stop whatever they are planning.”
She nodded again, looking more solemn. He hated to hurt her, but there was no other way around it. He needed to take his vengeance and help his father and brother rest in peace at long last.
To help assuage the guilt he felt at making her worry about him, he said, “Mother, I havenae been able tae give ye this message for two years. But I was with Father when he died.” He could feel his throat thickening at the memory, but he had to get the words out. His mother deserved to know. “He wanted me tae tell ye that he thought of ye at the last breath.”
He watched as a pained, yet happy expression crossed his mother’s face.
“Thank ye, Edmund. I will treasure that forever. I will see ye at dinner.”
Edmund looked at the door for a little while after she left, then took a pencil and scribbled on one of the papers on his desk. He would leave as soon as possible for Clan Rose, and then maybe, just maybe, he could find that sweet release from the guilt that hung on him. He might yet find freedom.
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