Journey of a Highland Heart (Preview)
Scottish Highlands, Spring, 1530
“Come, Luthais, my lad, there is nay time,” the man said, whispering to the baby boy, who he now lifted into his arms.
He could hear the sounds of the battle outside, shouts and cries, the splintering of the gates, and the thud of a battering ram. Through the turret room window, he could see flames leaping into the night sky, a red glow enveloping the castle. The attack had come entirely by surprise, just as the bells had tolled the midnight hour.
Alastaire Martin had rushed to the north tower to rescue the child sleeping peacefully in his cradle.
“The laird is dead,” a shout from the passageway came, and Alastaire gave a cry of anguish, cursing the enemy for their wickedness.
“Barbarians, cursed barbarians,” he exclaimed as the child in his arms began to cry.
“Ye must hurry, Alastaire, get Luthais to safety. Ye can escape through the side gate, tis’ the courtyard they have breached. But hurry, there is nay time to lose,” a woman’s voice from the passageway called out.
Alastaire had little time to think. He snatched up a few of the child’s clothes, searching for them by the flickering light of a candle that burned in a sconce on the wall. There was the shawl the baby’s mother had made when she was with child – full of hope and expectation for the future – and his bonnet, a gift from the Laird himself on the occasion of Luthais’ christening. The baby was wrapped in a blanket, crying and squirming at being disturbed from his sleep. Alastaire held him close, hushing him, as the woman, a maid named Esme Donnegan, entered the room.
“But where are we to go? The castle is our home. What are we to dae?” he exclaimed.
“Get as far away from here as possible. Tis’ for Luthais’ sake ye flee, and for the clan. Ye must go now, Alastaire. Find a quiet place where ye shall be hidden and speak of this to nay one until the time is right,” she said, her eyes filled with tears as she gazed down at the child in Alastaire’s arms.
“And what of ye? What will ye dae? Come with us?” Alastaire implored her, for she had been as good as a mother to Luthais since the tragic day his birth had claimed the life of his mother, Freya.
“I cannae – I have my father to think of. I cannae leave him at the mercy of these beasts. But quickly… please, hurry – for the sake of the child,” she implored him, taking him by the arm, as the shouts of battle raged from the courtyard below.
The castle was in uproar, servants, and clansmen dashing back and forth, and the sounds of the enemy, the Clan Campbell, bitter enemies of Clan Martin, coming from all around. They hurried down one of the back staircases, which wound its way into the cellars below the great hall, the way lit by flaming torches in brackets on the walls.
“Go and see to yer father. Perhaps the two of ye can escape. We can wait for ye in the forest or by the ford over the stream,” Alastaire said, clutching Luthais to him, his heart beating fast, desperation entering his voice at the thought of Esme’s cruel fate at the hands of their sworn enemy.
“Perhaps we shall meet again, Alastaire – but if nae, then… I am glad we have known one another, and ye, too, Luthais,” she said, placing her hand gently on the baby’s head.
Alastaire fought back his emotions, even as Esme urged him to leave. He reached out his hand to her, the two paused for a moment in the sorrow of their parting. Their entire world was now slipping away, the permanence of the past replaced by the uncertainty of the future.
“I will nae forget ye,” Alastaire said, and she smiled at him.
“And I shall be pleased nae to be forgotten. Now go, tis’ for all our sakes ye flee with the child,” she said, and Alastaire nodded, turning on his heels and hurrying along the passageway which led to a door opening onto the servant’s yard.
Luthais had stopped crying now, but Alastaire knew how easily he could give them both away. He paused, waiting in the shadows, listening to the sounds of the battle raging in the courtyard over the stable wall. Flames now engulfed much of the keep, and Alastaire could see the clansmen fighting in a last desperate bid to keep the enemy at bay on the battlements.
“One day, Luthais – one day ye shall return, and what was destroyed shall be rebuilt, what was once noble will be reclaimed, what is ours will be ours again,” he whispered, pulling his traveling cloak tightly around him, the baby clutched in his arms like a precious treasure.
He glanced to left and right before making a dash across the servant’s yard in the direction of the side gate. Through here, merchants would ride their horses and carts into the castle, cattle would be driven for slaughter, or the servants would ride out to fetch supplies from the village. It led to a narrow track through the forest above a ravine which swept down to the river impossible for an army to approach by, and it was through this gate which Alastaire planned to make his escape.
“But where to go? What to dae?” he asked himself, despairing at the prospect of the future.
He had with him only the clothes he wore, a little money, and food which Esme had hastily packed into a bundle for him before he left. But Alastaire had no choice but to flee. Luthais had to be kept safe at all costs – their future depended on him. He was the only hope of the now ruined clan. It was a heavy burden to bear – the responsibility of duty, the weight of so many hopes resting on the shoulders of a tiny baby wrapped in a blanket.
“Stop!” a voice called out, and Alastaire wheeled around to find a soldier pointing his sword at him.
He had just leaped down from the battlements, and to his horror, Alastaire saw an enemy swarm had broken through the courtyard and was scaling the roofs of the stables. They would surround him in a few moments. The soldier advanced towards him, but he stopped short at the sight of the baby in Alastaire’s arms, his eyes growing wide with astonishment. Alastaire used his surprise to an advantage, and he darted back into the shadows, drawing a dagger from his belt as the enemy clansmen charged forward with a roar.
“Stop there, stop,” he cried, but Alastaire now wheeled around and struck the soldier in the neck with his dagger.
He gave an ear-splitting scream and fell to the ground. Alastaire was now at the gate, and he pulled back the bolts, the hinges creaking as he struggled to open the great oak doors. The enemy was swarming into the servant’s yard, but with a final effort, he slipped through the gate and ran as fast as he could into the trees beyond the castle walls. He did not stop until sheer exhaustion caused his feet to give way beneath him, and he sank to his knees, gasping for breath.
“Ye are all right, Luthais, my lad,” he whispered, kissing the baby’s forehead.
The forest was dark, the moonlight hardly penetrating through the canopy above.
Alastaire listened for any sign of pursuit, peering through the trees and back towards the red glow of the burning castle. He could hear far off shouts, screams, and agonies, his heartbroken by the thought of what he had left behind. But no one had pursued him, and he rose to his feet, cradling Luthais beneath his cloak, a grim realization now coming over him.
“We are all that is left, my lad – ye are a destiny,” he whispered, knowing the future was nothing as it had intended and hurrying off into the forest with hope in short supply.
Twenty-Eight Years Later, Scottish Highlands, Summer, 1558
“As I cam’ in by Dunidier, Andoun by Netherha, There was fifty thousand Hielanmen A-marching to Harlaw. As I cam’ on, an farther on, an down and by Balquhain, Oh there I met Sir James the Rose, Wi’ him Sir John the Gryme…” Luthais Martin sang, swinging up his axe and bringing it down on a piece of wood with a deft split.
“And if ye knew the other verses, perhaps we might enjoy it, Luthais. But ye sing the same words about Harlaw every day. What other ballads will ye sing for us?” his friend Marie Donelly asked, smiling at him as Luthais laughed.
It was a hot day, and he had removed his shirt, standing only in his breeches by the stream, which rushed past the stables and croft where he and his father had lived ever since Luthais was a child. He had been chopping wood all morning, kept company by Marie and her sister, Lucile, whose parents were the village bakers and who lived in a cottage across the way. Luthais mopped his brow and came to sit down next to them, smiling at them as he pulled on his shirt.
“Tis’ hot work,” he said, leaning down to cup water from the stream which he splashed on his face.
Despite the day’s heat, the water was icy cold and flowed down from the mountains that towered above the glen. Even in the height of summer, they remained capped with snow, and Luthais often gazed up at them, wondering what adventures were to be had amongst their lofty peaks.
“And ye have a good pile there – it will keep the fires goin’ for the bakin’ these few weeks to come,” Marie said, pointing to the large pile of wood which Luthais had cut.
He looked at her and grinned, even as both sisters blushed under his gaze.
“We should go and help our mother, come along, Lucile,” Marie said, rising to her feet and smiling at Luthais, who nodded.
“Is yer mother makin’ any more of those griddle scones? My father enjoyed them very much – as did I,” Luthais said, and Marie shrugged her shoulders.
“I daenae know, but I will see – I am sure a batch of our mother’s griddle scones might be worth the shoddin’ of a shoe for Bellamy. The poor horse was limpin’ yesterday when I rode out. Would ye take a look at him?” she asked, and Luthais smiled and nodded.
“I daenae need a bribe to dae so. Bring him over to the stables later on. I had better see to my other jobs now. My father will be wonderin’ why it has taken me so long to cut the wood,” he said, reaching down into the stream.
He cupped his hands into the water and made a sudden movement, splashing Marie and Lucile so that they squealed.
“Wicked lad!” Marie exclaimed though she could not prevent herself from laughing.
They parted company, and Luthais searched for his father, finding him in the blacksmith’s workshop at the anvil.
“Dae ye need more wood for the fire, father?” he said, and his father looked up and shook his head.
“Nay thank ye, lad, tis’ hot enough,” he replied, smiling at Luthais, who nodded, peering with fascination at the glowing flames of the fire, where molten iron became anything his father desired it to be.
“Or somethin’ fetchin’ from outside? I can run for whatever ye need,” Luthais said, but his father shook his head again and beckoned him towards him.
“Nay, lad, tis’ hot enough. Come and sit a moment; we might talk awhile,” he said, laying down a glowing poker and a pair of tongs.
He had just plunged a freshly worked horseshoe into the water trough, where it hissed and steamed ferociously, and Luthais watched as he drew it out and laid it out to cool. Luthais’ father was old, with a long white beard and weather-beaten face. He had always seemed old to Luthais, who had never known his mother, the two of them living and working together in the stables in the small village of Achmelich, which lay in the shadows of the eastern Grampian Mountains. It was the only life Luthais had ever known, simple but happy, even as he knew his father had lived a very different life before the one he had as a farrier, far away on the Isle of Mull. But despite his age, his eyes twinkled and sparkled with life, drawing the two of them close.
“Is somethin’ troublin’ ye, father?” Luthais asked, tearing a piece of bread from a loaf on the table and chewing it ponderously.
His father sat down and sighed, holding out his hands in front of him and shaking his head.
“I have more winters behind me than before me, lad,” he said, and Luthais smiled.
“Why speak of winter in the summer, father?” he asked. Alastaire pointed to the horse in the stable across the workshop.
Here, they kept the horses whose shoes they were making or whose injuries they were tending. The old nag gazing from the stable door looked in a sorry way, and Luthais glanced curiously at his father, who sighed before he spoke.
“That horse would have another five years in her if old McGrath treated her with a little decency. He has driven her lame, and he does nae feed her,” Luthais said, rising to his feet and going over to pat the horse on her nose.
She whinnied and feebly stomped her hoof.
“She should be turned loose, allowed to live out her days in the wild. She is of nay use to him now – but he shall have her re-shod and ridin’ out within a day – whatever ye or I say,” Luthais’ father said, sighing and shaking his head.
“But we have seen many a lame horse, many an animal ill-treated by its master. Tis’ a terrible and wicked shame, but we can dae nothin’ save our best. We shall feed her, make her comfortable, and show her the kindness her master lacks,” Luthais said, as now the horse nuzzled her nose into his face.
“Aye… but… tis’ nae that. Tis’ the thought of what is to come. There is nothin’ else, nothin’ more than this,” his father replied, and Luthais turned to him in surprise, for it was rare to hear his father speak in such way.
“What ails ye, father? What has brought this ill-humor on ye? Are ye comparin’ yerself to the horse?” he asked, concerned as to why his father would speak like this.
“I am growin’ old, Luthais, and like this poor old nag. I just want to rest. But there is somethin’ I need to dae – a place I need to return to. I want to go back to Mull and to see my old home one last time,” he said.
Luthais nodded. His father meant the Isle of Mull. It was where he had been raised and where Luthais had been born, even as he knew precious little else of his origins. His father rarely spoke of those days, only occasionally on long winter nights when they would sit huddled around the fire in the forge and share stories both mythical and true. Luthais knew his father had been a soldier, a clansman, but that war and tragic circumstance had forced him to flee. Other than that, Luthais knew little of his family, who he was, or who he was meant to be. He was just the son of a blacksmith, that was all, and yet there was a past he knew nothing of, one he would dearly have liked to know more about. Now he looked at his father and smiled, knowing that once his father had an idea in his head, he would not easily be dissuaded from it.
“Tis’ a long journey, father – many miles from here. It would take weeks to get there. We would need to remain there sometime,” Luthais said, and his father nodded.
“I know that, and I cannae expect ye to come with me. But to see the Isle of Mull one final time, to relive those memories I left behind,” he said, his tone sounding wistful.
“I wouldnae let ye go alone, father,” Luthais said, and his father smiled.
“Ye are a good lad, Luthais – but I cannae ask that of ye. Yer place is here with the stables and the horses. Ye have such a gift for healin’ – folk come to ye from miles around with their animals. Ye are to inherit the place when I am gone,” he said, but Luthais interrupted him.
His father talked as though he was dying or expected to do so very soon. Luthais had given no thought to inheriting the stables, nor did he want to do so, given that to inherit would mean bearing the sorrow of his father’s death.
“All this talk of leavin’ and inheritin’ and death… I daenae like it, father,” he said, but the older man only shook his head and smiled.
“Things don’t always stay the same, Luthais. Tis’ the way of the world. I must dae this whilst I still have the strength in me to dae it. The journey will be long and arduous, and I daenae know what I will find when I arrive there,” he said, placing his hand on Luthais’ shoulder as he left the anvil and came over to pat the horse.
“Ye have never really spoken of it, father. I know I was born there, but Mull is… a foreign country to me. Tis’ a mystery, one I would like to see for myself,” he replied.
His father sighed, taking his hand from Luthais’ shoulder, his expression seeming torn between truth and pain. What was it that had happened all those years ago to drive his father away from the land he loved, Luthais wondered?
“And ye shall – we shall make the journey together. These good folk can shoe their own horses for a few weeks. I know ye have many questions about the past, Luthais, and I want to answer them. I want ye to know the truth, but nae just yet. Let us go to Mull, and ye shall see it for yerself,” he said.
After he had gone to bed that night, lying awake and listening to the sounds of the stream gushing past the croft, Luthais allowed his mind to wander, imagining what might have been if he and his father had remained on the Isle of Mull.
“I could be anyone,” he mused, smiling to himself at the thought of what Marie would say when he announced they were leaving.
He would miss her, of that he was sure, but the promise of adventure was too great an opportunity to pass by, and with his mind filled with possibility, Luthais fell asleep, dreaming of all that was to come.
“Bullseye! Dae ye see that, from fifty yards, a perfect shot,” Valora Campbell exclaimed, tossing aside her bow and clapping her hands in delight.
Her friend, Ella McGill, sighed and shook her head, threading an arrow to her bow and aiming at the target they had attached to a tree across the clearing in which they were practicing.
“I have missed every other one of my shots,” she said, as now she let loose her arrow, and it whistled off into the trees, this time entirely missing the target, despite the concentration of her aim.
“Ye will get better – it takes practice, Ella,” Valora said, but Ella only groaned.
“I have been practicing as long as ye. Why is it ye can hit the target perfectly every time and hardly a single one of my arrows have hit home?” she asked.
Valora shrugged her shoulders and laughed.
“I daenae know – perhaps an ancestor of mine was skilled in such a way,” she replied as Ella sat down on the mossy ground and folded her arms sulkily.
They had slipped out of Valora’s father’s castle early that morning, taking a hidden passageway carved into the rock – built as an escape in times of war – which led out into the forest. They had often slipped away like this, even if Valora’s father had strictly forbidden it. Neither Valora nor Ella paid much heed to what they were and were not allowed to do, and they were often in trouble for disobeying the Laird’s rules.
“If an ancestor of mine were, they would be ashamed of me,” Ella replied, sighing and lying back on the grass to gaze up into the sky above.
It was a bright, sunny day, a gentle breeze playing through the trees and the sweet scent of the forest in the air. Valora took up her bow once more and aimed a perfect shot at the target, letting out a cry of delight as she did so.
“Our enemies will soon be vanquished,” she said, and Ella laughed.
“And dae ye think yer father will allow ye to ride out and fight? Nae, Valora – ye and I both know what our lot is to be,” she said, and Valora’s face fell.
“Aye, all too well,” she said, knowing her friend’s words were true.
She had often dreamed of fighting alongside her fellow clan members, of riding to victory at the head of her father’s army. For that reason, she had practiced long and hard with sword and bow. But her father would never allow such a thing. He would claim that a woman was fit only to bear children and be a faithful wife, that the very idea of one such as she or Ella wielding a sword or aiming with the bow was a folly of the worst kind.
“Women daenae fight, they raise children and remain obedient,” he would say – she could hear his voice even now.
“And what have ye done about it?” Ella asked, sitting up and looking at Valora with her head on one side.
“Done about it? Nothin’ is what I have done, and nothin’ is what I intend to dae. But ye know my father will nae rest until he has me married off for some political gain. I am a pawn, Ella, and tis’ as a pawn I will remain,” Valora replied.
But in the back of her mind, the matter weighed heavily on her. Her father was growing increasingly insistent on her finding a husband, not only to take her off his hands and make her someone else’s responsibility but for the good of the clan, too. These were dangerous times, and a well-placed marriage would have ramifications far beyond the bedchamber.
“Yer father will nae wait much longer – he will force ye to marry his own choice if ye daenae make yer own,” Ella said.
“And since when was I to make my own choice, anyway?” Valora retorted.
She knew precisely what her father intended. He already had a match in mind, and all those she had been introduced to had been of his design, too. Her father, the laird, would never allow a match born out of love or affection. This was a political matter, and if it happened to correspond with Valora’s own feelings, that would be a happy chance. Her fate was decided, and it was a fate she felt burdened by. But out here, in the clearings of the forest, with Ella at her side, Valora could at least pretend to be master of her own destiny, and in her mind, that destiny was the path of the warrior.
“I only pray that the next one he chooses is better than the last,” Ella said, rolling her eyes, a smile coming over her face.
Valora laughed – her father’s last choice had been a man Valora had taken an immediate disliking to him. Her father had insisted on the match, but after Valora had taken her suitor riding in the forest and left him humiliated in the chasing of a stag, the betrothal had been hastily called off.
“Perhaps ye will fall in love,” Ella said, but Valora shook her head.
“What man could tame this wayward lass?” she asked, fitting an arrow to her bow and aiming it at the target.
She let it fly with a whoosh, the arrow meeting its target perfectly, and she smiled, fitting another arrow to her bow, just as the crunch of a twig caused both women to look up.
“Daenae shoot, I am unarmed,” Callum Campbell said, appearing through the trees with a smile on his face.
He was one of her father’s most loyal and trusted soldiers, charged with protecting Valora – a task she did not make easy.
“How did ye know we would be here?” Valora asked, lowering her bow as Callum stepped into the clearing.
He was a tall man, handsome and rugged, with a neatly trimmed black beard and bright blue eyes. He smiled at her and glanced at the target, where the arrows stood out as a proud testament to her skill.
“Ye were neither of ye in yer chambers. I knew ye would be here; ye always are. Yer father was angry, I knew ye would disobey him… I knew ye would be here,” he said as Valora smiled.
“Have we been missed?” Ella asked, but Callum shook his head.
“Only by me, and I was lookin’ for ye – but yer father will dae so soon. He has somethin’ he wishes to say to ye. We should return to the castle. We can take the way ye slipped out through, the way that is forbidden ye,” Callum replied, raising his eyebrows.
Valora laughed. There was not much which escaped Callum’s notice. He knew of her desire to fight in her father’s army, and he knew well enough of her disobedience, has often taken the blame for her waywardness. She was fond of Callum – a dependable, loyal, and courageous soldier, trusted and respected by all.
“Then we should return inside. I wouldnae want ye to get in trouble for nae watchin’ us, Callum,” Valora said, smiling at the soldier as she gathered her things.
Ella did the same, and the three of them walked together through the trees and towards the rocky outcrop on top of which lay her father’s castle. An impregnable stone wall appeared, craggy and with trees growing precariously from crevices in the rock. But Valora now led the way to what appeared to be an enormous clump of brambles spreading out along one side of the crag. Stooping down, she scrambled through a small opening and emerged into the hollowed-out center of the clump, where the rock was smooth and appeared as a dead end.
“I left it open,” Callum said, and Valora now put her hand behind a small rock at the base of the wall and lifted it to reveal an opening down into a passageway below.
The secret passage was well hidden, its existence was known to only a few. Whilst its purpose was an escape in times of war, it had more than proved its usefulness for an exodus of a different kind.
“Let me help ye, Ella,” Valora said, scrambling down through the opening and holding her hand up to Ella, who now jumped down next to her.
The passageway floor was sandy, and while it was pitch black, once the stone was pulled back, Valora knew her way without the need of a candle or lantern. She took Ella by the hand, the two of them leading as Callum followed behind.
“I left a candle on the ledge there,” he said, but Valora only laughed.
“Ye daenae need a candle, Callum. Tis’ a straight passage and then the steps. Follow me,” she said, and she led the way forward, counting her paces – knowing it was fifty steps to the staircase.
“How often have ye used this passage?” Callum asked, as now they began to climb up inside the rock.
“Dozens of times, and I would use it more often if I could get away with it. But I know ye would only be cross with me,” she replied.
She pictured the blush coming over Callum’s face. She ran rings around him, but still, he remained her friend. She liked to tease him, and it was all done in good humor. He was a loyal friend and proved that loyalty on many occasions.
“I only wish I knew what ye were up to at times – ye are a law unto yerself,” he said, stumbling on one of the steps as he spoke.
“And one day, I shall be under the law of a husband, and then I shall have nay freedom at all,” she replied, sighing with a heavy heart.
The day was coming, and she knew it was inevitable. Her father would marry her off to the son of a laird, or worse, one of his elderly friends. Her duty would be to bear an heir, perhaps two or three. She might be happy, but happiness came second to duty.
“Tis’ for the clan, Valora,” her father would say, as though those words gave reason for imposing his will on her as he saw fit.
“If ye say so, though tis’ a brave man who can tame ye, Valora,” Callum replied.
They had reached the top of the staircase – there were one hundred and four steps in total. Valora had counted them often. The passageway opened out into the castle library. It was an ingenious mechanism attached to one of the bookcases, which swung open like a door and could be locked from the inside. She felt around for the handle, which gave way with a click, and cautiously opened the door into the library.
There was no one there, and the three of them stepped out, blinking in the sunlight which streamed through the upper windows, the dust dancing in its streams. Valora liked the smell of the library, that of ancient volumes and woodsmoke from the fire – the smell of learning and scholarly pursuits.
It was a large, high-ceilinged room, vaulted, with a gallery running around three sides, books lining every wall. There was no fire in the hearth, for the day was warm, and Valora slumped down in one of the chairs by the hearth, sighing at the thought of her freedom hanging in the balance.
“Daenae get too comfortable. I told ye, yer father is lookin’ for ye,” Callum said, and Valora raised her eyebrows.
“Then perhaps I should run away,” she replied.
The thought had often crossed her mind. It would be simple enough to do, even if the exact details of a plan remained hazy. She could slip out of the castle in the dead of night and make her way towards Edinburgh or south towards the English border. The idea was growing more attractive by the day. With her father now set on imposing his will on her, Valora’s thoughts had turned to her freedom more than ever. Most women wanted to marry – she knew that – but in Valora’s mind, she had always imagined marrying for love rather than duty. Often, she had dreamed of being a simple peasant, able to marry whom she chose, unencumbered by the thought of duty to her clan. She was loyal, but that loyalty could not extend to the breaking of her heart for the sake of what others desire.
“And leave me here alone?” Ella exclaimed, looking at Valora with an indignant expression on her face.
“And who would get the blame for that?” Callum said, raising his eyebrows.
It was a foolhardy thing to say, and Valora knew it. But she was feeling like a prisoner in her own home, a sorry fate hanging over her. Her future appeared bleak. To remain at her father’s castle meant certain misery, and to flee would mean inevitable misery, too, even of a different kind. She sighed and brought her fist down hard on the arm of the chair, a plume of dust flying up into the air and causing her to sneeze.
“I know tis’ a sorry fate, ye…” Callum began, but at that moment, the door to the library flew open, and Valora’s father appeared before them.
Despite his advancing years, the laird was still a formidable figure to behold, and despite him being her father, Valora had always been somewhat in awe of him. He was over six feet tall, with a long, white beard and weather-beaten face. Valora inherited his hazel brown eyes, bright and now glaring angrily at her.
He was dressed in a green tunic, a sword slung at his belt, and a red cloak wrapped around his shoulders. His boots and leggings were covered in mud, and it appeared he had just returned from riding with the hunt. He jerked his head at Callum and Ella as a sign for them to leave.
“Ye found her then – sneakin’ around through that passageway. I should have it sealed up. Away with ye both,” he said, and Callum and Ella hurried out of the room.
“Must we talk now?” Valora said, rising to her feet and making to follow the other two out of the library, but it seemed her father was in no mood for games.
“Aye, Valora, we must. Now sit down, I have somethin’ to say to ye,” he said, blocking her path as he did so.
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