Phantom of the Highlands (Preview)
“Here they come,” Col muttered to himself.
He scaled down the tree and dropped into the middle of the soft dirt road. His cousin Finlay — Fin to most — stepped out of the thick bushes that lined the road that cut through the dense forest. Fin was armed with his bow, the short sword strapped to his back, and a pair of matching dirks that hung on his belt. Col looked him up and down, a grin quirking one corner of his mouth upward.
“Think ye’re needin’ all them blades then?”
Fin shrugged. “I just like tae ‘ave options.”
Col chuckled. “Daenae be stupit, ya bleedin’ dobber. If this goes off the way I planned, we ain’t gonna be fightin’.”
“Yeah, well, what ye plan ain’t always what actually happens,” he added with a laugh. “I tawt it best to be prepared, eh?”
A wry grin pulled one corner of Col’s mouth upward, and he shook his head. “Git your arse into the bushes already.”
Fin chuckled as he stepped back, getting himself into position. Col picked up his quiver of arrows and slung it over his back as the sound of horses whickering, and the loud creaking of carts filled the forest around him. He stood in the road, waiting for the carts to come around the bend.
The trees pressed close on either side, the sunlight filtering through the thick canopy overhead left much of the forest in gloom and shadow. Col felt his stomach tighten, and the beads of sweat trickle down his chest.
He saw the pair of foreguard riders come around the bend first. They wore the standard of the House of Hamilton — a yellow griffin bracketed by three white stars on a blue field. It was a standard that Col was well acquainted with since he and Fin, a couple of rabble-rousers from the Scottish Highlands had spent the previous year making life miserable for James Hamilton, the Duke of York.
The taller of the two men at the front held his hand up, signaling to the cart drivers behind them to halt. He turned to Col, his expression one of pure irritation.
“You there,” called one of the foreguards in his clipped English accent. “Clear the road. Make way immediately in the name of the Duke.”
“Seems to me ye’re on a good Scottish road, laddie” Col grinned.
“Clear the way, or you’ll be dealt with,” the man replied, sounding bored.
Two more riders came up from the rear, their armor gleaming dully in the murky light. An older man with long graying hair and deep lines etched into his face stared hard at Col, his jaw clenching. He turned to the man who’d spoken to Col.
“What goes on here?” His voice was authoritative; he was obviously in charge. “Why have you stopped the caravan?”
“This — man — refuses to remove himself from the road, sir.”
The older man turned to Col, his eyes filled with disdain. “What is the meaning of this?”
“As I was tellin’ yer friend here, this is a good Scottish road,” Col explained. “And to travel it, ye must pay a toll.”
The older soldier laughed as if it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. The humor, however, did not reach his eyes as he glared at Col.
“I will give you exactly three seconds to remove yourself from our path –”
“I wull give ye two seconds a’fore me men out there in the woods fill ye full of arrows,” Col interrupted. “How’d that be, eh?”
A moment of tense silence filled the woods as the English soldiers glanced nervously around at the dense, dark forest around them. Col saw the uncertainty in their faces, not sure if he was telling the truth or not.
“Shall we start countin’ then, laddie?” Col asked.
The old soldier stared him down, the younger ones growing even more nervous.
“Tell ye what… I’ll start,” Col pressed, not wanting to give them more time to think. “One –”
“Kill him,” the old soldier yelled.
The words had barely cleared his mouth when an arrow came sailing out of the forest and hit the man square in the neck with a wet, meaty thump. The shaft of the arrow was buried deep in the man’s neck, the sharp head of it protruding from the other side. Blood ran from the man’s mouth, and his eyes stretched wide as a wet gurgling sound bubbled up from his throat.
“Well feck me,” Col muttered to himself. “Wasna s’pose to happen like that.”
All was still and silent around them for a long moment, as if the entire world was holding its breath. Col exchanged wide-eyed stares with the English soldiers, none of them believing what had just happened.
But then the old soldier slumped in his saddle and fell to the side, hitting the ground with a dull thud, breaking the paralysis. The two soldiers who’d been at the head of the line spurred their horses and came charging straight at Col, their swords drawn and raised. Behind them, Col noted four more soldiers coming up the line with their blades bared.
Another arrow streaked out of the bushes, narrowly missing the two soldiers riding toward Col, but it made them slow for a heartbeat. It was just long enough for him to pull an arrow from his quiver, nock, and release it in one fluid motion. Col’s bolt punched through the first soldier’s breastplate, knocking him backward off his horse. He drew another arrow, nocking it as he spun and released. It took the soldier in the arm, and he let out a grunt of pain but wheeled his horse around, another arrow from the forest just missing him.
As the four other soldiers reined to a stop beside their fallen commander, Col aimed with another arrow.
“Stop, stop!” Col called. “Stop ye’re bleedin’ shootin’.”
The soldiers all cut glances at their dead then stared hard at Col. He kept his arrow nocked but lowered the tip and stared back at them.
“We’re gonna give ye this one chance to git the feck outta here,” he told them. “Dae that and ye’ll live. If not, ye’ll die.”
The soldiers exchanged glances, none of them seeming to know what to do without their commander there to give them orders.
“Leave the carts and get the feck outta here. Now.” Col tried to sound as authoritative as he could.
They continued to hesitate, waiting for somebody to step up and assume command. Col grimaced, knowing he needed to squeeze them even tighter to get them moving and put an end to more violence and bloodshed.
“Daenae do this. We daenae want to kill ye,” Col said, and after a moment of silence passed between them, he called out to the forest. “Archers.”
“Okay, okay, bloody well wait,” one of the soldiers nearly screamed. “We’ll go. Just — don’t fire.”
“Hold,” Col called out, locking eyes with the soldier who’d spoken. “Leave the carts, and go now.”
He watched with grim satisfaction as the drivers climbed down off the carts and followed the departing soldiers on foot, running down the road away from them. Col walked along well behind them, making sure they were leaving and didn’t have reinforcements waiting on the road behind them. However, it was clear, and soon the soldiers and drivers disappeared from view.
“Ye can come oot now, Col chuckled.
Fin stepped out of the bushes, a broad smile on his face. He slung his bow over his back and joined Col beside one of the carts.
“Worked agen,” he said.
“The English ain’t none too smart. More’s the pity,” Col replied with a grin. “Takes the bloody sport oot of it. ”
Col turned and eyed the two dead English soldiers on the road behind them then turned back to Fin, giving him a pointed look.
“Mosta the sport at any rate.”
Fin shrugged. “I was aimin’ fer his leg. He musta moved.”
Col clapped his cousin on the shoulder and turned to the three carts sitting idle on the road. The horses whickered and stomped their hooves on the soft earth.
“Let’s see what we got,” Col asked.
Fin rubs his hands together, a broad grin on his face. “Aye. Let’s do that.”
As they rifled through the carts, tossing aside the things they had no use for, Col kept an eye on the road behind them. He was still concerned about the English. He knew that eventually, the raids would take a toll. And he knew Duke Hamilton would send more than eight easily intimidated soldiers to protect his caravans. He ultimately knew that the Duke would send his army to deal with them.
Col knew it would happen and worried about what they would do. As much as the clan elders disapproved of what they were doing, even they understood the necessity of it. They would never actively support him and Fin, but they reaped the benefits all the same. Their clan chief lived many miles to the north of their village and proved to be as useless as the elders — though he demanded his share of the spoils. It was a bone of contention that Col held onto, but the good of the clan outweighed everything else for him. Their people needed to eat.
“Lotsa food,” Fin’s voice cut into his thoughts. “Vegetables. Taters. Some salted meats. Should keep the bellies full a couple o’ weeks at least.”
Col nodded. “That’s good… real good.”
He turned to Fin, hopped up on the cart, and hefted a small wooden chest. Fin looked up at him, curious but hopeful. Col opened the small chest with a flourish and grinned. He reached in and pulled out a gold coin, tossing it to his cousin, who grinned with delight.
“Gold,” Fin nodded.
“Couple o’ hundred coins in here if there’s one.”
“That will do some good fer the clan.”
Col nodded. “Aye. But not as good as that food will do for them. For now, daenae tell the elders about the gold. I daenae want it disappearing.”
“Aye. We turn that over to them bleedin’ vipers, we’ll never see it agen. Neither will the clan.”
They continued to dig through the carts, loading what they planned on taking into one of the wagons for easier transport. Col knew they needed to get moving. The soldiers would likely be coming back to claim the bodies of their men and would soon be bringing help. And he did not want to be around when they did.
“God is good,” Fin crowed. “This mebbe worth more than that wee chest of gold ye got over there.”
Col turned to find his cousin holding up a bottle of a brown liquid he took to be whiskey. Fin was grinning as he pulled the cork out of the bottle and took a long swallow. He grimaced as the liquid burned its way down to his belly then nodded.
“That’s good,” he rasped. “I’ll be keepin’ that to meself if ye daenae mind.”
Col laughed. “All yers, Fin. Let’s just finish up and get outta here a’fore the Ainglish come back with friends.”
Fin corked the bottle and looked at it longingly before stowing it in a bag and setting it on the seat of the cart they were loading before hitching the other team of horses… they could always use new mounts.
When they were finished, Fin hopped up onto the seat and got the cart moving. Col mounted one of their newly acquired steeds and followed along behind Fin, keeping an eye on the road behind them. They took a circuitous route back to their village, careful to mask their path to avoid giving the English a map to guide them when they came seeking retribution.
As they entered the village, people flocked to them, a cacophony of cheering and voices calling to them as if they were conquering heroes, returning from battle. Col supposed in their eyes, he and Fin probably were hero-like. Especially when compared to the elders who refused to do anything to improve their situation.
Fin climbed down off the cart and handed the reins to Bernard, a large burly man with no hair and a foul disposition. Bernard was in charge of doling out the things that the villagers needed, such as food and medical supplies — a position he took very seriously. He gave no real sign of it, but Col knew Bernard appreciated what he and his cousin were doing on behalf of their clan.
“Made it back alive, did ye?” Bernard said.
“Daenae we always, old man?” Fin replied.
“Aye. Until you daenae.”
“With all that bleating, ye sound like an old goat, Bernard,” Fin quipped.
Fin and Col both chose horses from those they’d taken from the English as the older man grumbled and climbed aboard the cart and steered it all away to where he stored the goods for the village.
“Col,” a voice sounded behind him. “A word, laddie.”
He let out a soft sigh and turned around to see Hugh, the oldest of the elders and leader of their council, striding toward him. He turned back to Fin and handed him the reins of his horse.
“Will ye take it hame fer me, please? I’ll be along shortly.”
Fin nodded, a sour look on his face. He cared no more for the elders than Col did. Col watched his cousin walk away before he turned back to Hugh. He was a tall man with long gray hair, a close-cropped beard, and a body once broad and strong but now turning to flab. Col had watched him year after year, growing fatter as the people went hungry.
Eventually, Col had enough of it and had started to do something about it. He had acted where Hugh had not. He had provided for his people when the elders sat idly by as crops grew rotten and fields lay fallow, the soil not fit for planting. The elders never skipped a meal though their people had missed many. Col saw to it they never went to bed with an empty belly.
“Whatsit then, Hugh?” Col snapped. “I’m tired and wish to go hame, not stand ‘ere and fight with ye.”
“Always so disrespectful, laddie,” Hugh replied. “If I weren’t so used to it, I’d take bleedin’ offense.”
“Take offense if ye wish. It troubles me not,” Col growled. “All that matters to me is doing what ye and the elders should be doing. And that’s providing fer and protecting our people.”
“Protecting them?” Hugh chuckled ruefully. “You call bringin’ the might of the Ainglish army down on us protectin’ them? And mark my words laddie, that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.”
“Ye assume tae much, old man.”
“And ye don’t think enough, boy,” Hugh yelled.
The older man looked away as he took a long breath, then let it out slowly. Col glanced at the people milling about in the village square, all of them doing their best to appear as if they weren’t listening. Hugh finally raised his gaze, and Col could see the anger burning in the old man’s eyes at his defiance. At his lack of respect.
“Sooner or later, the Duke, with his whole army, will come searching fer whoever’s filchin’ his goods,” Hugh said. “And what’ll ye do then, boy? How’ll ye protect this village against an entire fecking army?”
Col opened his mouth to speak but closed it again, knowing he had no response to the question. The truth was, although he and Fin took precautions against being found and covered their tracks as well as possible, being discovered was always a possibility. And if it came to that, if Duke Hamilton marched his forces on their village, their only recourse would be to run and hide deep into the Highlands. He knew some… maybe most… in the village were willing to assume the risk and the consequences for what he and Fin brought home. Others he knew shared Hugh’s opinion on the matter. Not that it stopped them from partaking of their bounty.
Col stepped closer to Hugh, his jaw clenched, his eyes narrowed. He leaned forward until the tips of their noses were but inches apart.
“Mebbe, if you did something to help provide fer our people, we wouldnae have to do this,” Col growled through gritted teeth. “Mebbe if you didnae sit on your arse, waitin’ fer God Almighty himself to rain food down upon us, we wouldnae have to do this. Our people are hungry, Hugh. Our people need food.”
Hugh stared hard at him for a long moment, the air between them crackling with tension and the whispered promise of violence. Col gritted his teeth and, with his eyes, dared the older man to make a move. He knew Hugh would be no match for him, and unleashing on the man he blamed for their people’s hardships might feel good.
As much as he wanted to take a swing at Hugh, Col held himself back, and the moment passed. He let out a frustrated, angry breath and turned, choosing to walk away from the situation.
“Ye’re gonna be the death of us, boy,” Hugh called after him.
Col thought it was a possibility, but until the English brought the hammer down on them, he would keep doing what he was doing … providing for his people.
“I see your uncle has returned,” Jane said.
“If this is the part where I’m supposed to break into song and dance, I fear that will be a long wait for an unsatisfactory result,” Gillian replied.
Jane laughed and turned away from the window. “Cheeky.”
Gillian shrugged but smiled. Jane had been her handmaiden and best friend since childhood. She probably knew Gillian better than anybody else in the world and was the only person she allowed herself to speak freely around. Jane knew well that Gillian’s relationship with her uncle was often contentious. But Gillian knew the importance of keeping up appearances and never indulged her feelings in public. Her uncle did the same.
“The wagons your uncle was supposed to be escorting did not return with the caravan,” Jane noted.
At this, Gillian put down her book and raised an eyebrow. “Did they not?”
“It did not appear so.”
Gillian got to her feet and smiled. “Shall we go see what my father has to say about that?”
“I thought you would never ask.”
Trying to stifle their giggling, Gillian led Jane by the hand as they rushed down the corridor in a swishing of silk skirts and the scuffle of slippered feet. They dashed down the stairs and followed the corridors usually used by the servants, doing their best to be unobtrusive.
Sidling down a long corridor, they came to the door that led into a small antechamber outside of her father’s office. Her father was the Duke of York and a significant man. Unfortunately, his duties also necessitated his attendance at Court in London quite often. Gillian missed him when he was gone, but he would not let her go to Court with him, saying she was not ready for that viper’s nest.
Her father was a good man who doted on her, and she loved him. He said he wanted to shelter Gillian from it as long as he could. But at the same time, Gillian knew he could not keep her from it forever. Not if he wanted to find Gillian a proper suitor. While she desperately wanted to go to Court, the thought of so many men vying for her attention as if she were a cow at auction tempered her enthusiasm.
Gillian looked at Jane with a broad smile on her face. “Okay, now be quiet.”
Jane stuck her tongue out at Gillian grinned. “As if I didn’t know that already.”
“Don’t be cheeky.”
Stifling their giggles, they quietly slipped into the antechamber and softly closed the door behind them. On the other side of the room, a wooden door was cracked partially open and led into the Duke’s office. Gillian could already hear her father and uncle inside … and her father did not sound well pleased.
“How in the bloody hell did this happen? Again?” Her father roared, punctuating his displeasure by slamming his fist down onto his desk. “You assured me you had this brigand… this Phantom… in hand.”
“Actually, your Grace, I believe I said we will have him in hand. And we will. I assure you,” William replied. “Also, I will not dignify this man by using that name. Nor will I suffer my men to use that stupid name.”
“And yet they are using it anyway, whether you suffer it or not,” the Duke howled. “You have been assuring me that you will have him in hand for months now, brother. When will I see results? When will I see this brigand in shackles in the cells below this keep?”
“Soon, your Grace,” William said. “I assure…”
“Yes, yes. You assure me,” James cut him off. “I am growing tired of your increasingly empty assurances, brother.”
Gillian and Jane huddled near the door, eavesdropping on the conversation. She knew it was childish, petty, and even vindictive, but she could not deny feeling a certain sense of satisfaction at hearing her father tan her uncle’s hide.
But more than that, she wanted to hear more about this brigand who had bedeviled her uncle for months. All she knew was that he was a Scottish Highlander with a knack for outsmarting and outmaneuvering her uncle and his men.
For almost a year now, this brigand had been ambushing the Duke’s supply trains. In one sense, he scared Gillian. Her uncle was many things, but stupid was not one of them. That this brigand had been making him look the fool for a year now was terrifying. What if he suddenly decided to sack York?
On the other hand, Gillian was fascinated by this brigand… for the same reason. His undeniable intelligence was utterly captivating. Gillian knew she was probably romanticizing his exploits, but she could not help it. The whole situation was more than a little amusing to her. Gillian had long enjoyed tales of adventure and action.
“Your Grace, I will take my men north, and we will root out…”
“No, you will not. I will not have you laying waste to Scottish villages because you are angry,” her father interjected, his voice echoing around the anteroom. “How you conduct yourself reflects upon this House and me.”
“With all due respect, your Grace …”
“William, the King has tired of war. He feels it has proven to be costly and fruitless. He now desires to end hostilities and establish commerce with the Scots.”
A door slammed heavily somewhere close by, and Gillian tensed. Hard footsteps approached the door to the anteroom before fading away. Jane looked at her with wide eyes and gripped her hand tighter. Gillian knew if her father caught them eavesdropping, he would stripe her backside.
“We should go,” Jane whispered.
Gillian shook her head. “Not yet. Just a bit longer.”
“I know how you handle situations like this, and I will not have you laying waste to Scottish villages,” her father interjected. “I will not have you tarnish my good name any further than you already have.”
“Your Grace, their nobles are warring with themselves. They have no king. They are weak and vulnerable,” William interjected. “Now is the time to strike.”
“War is proving to be counterproductive. I see it. The King sees it. And we both agree that finding a peaceful resolution is in all of our interests,” her father added.
“And how do you achieve a peaceful resolution with bloody savages?”
“We can have greater influence over the Scots if we help choose their next king. One that will be a friend to the Crown,” her father said evenly. “And if we can hold influence over the Scottish king, then all the better for our king. Understand?”
Gillian’s uncle muttered, but it was too low for her to hear. She frowned as if she was missing out on some vital piece of information, listening to the conversation with rapt attention. As much as she loved tales of action and adventure, she enjoyed politics and intrigue even more. That was one of the reasons Gillian wanted to go to Court so badly… to see it first hand.
“To that end, you will travel to Edinburgh on the morrow. You will assure their nobles that we bear them no ill will for the doings of this brigand, and you will work with them to ascertain this man’s identity,” her father went on. “You will also treaty with the Scots to ensure that when caught, this brigand will be brought here to York to face the King’s justice.”
There was a long, tense silence, and she pictured her uncle turning several shades of purple. The man was boorish and did not enjoy being ordered about by anybody. Surely he must be apoplectic by now?
“Will there be anything else, your Grace?” he finally muttered.
“No, that is all.”
“Then, by your leave, I will take my ease for the day,” he replied, his voice tight. “It would appear I have a journey ahead of me.”
The next thing Gillian heard was the sound of heavy boots stomping on the hard stone floor of the chamber, followed by the door slamming shut. Her father sighed, and Jane took her hand, pulling her toward the door they had entered by.
“Gillian, would you be so good as to come in here, please?”
Her father’s voice froze the blood in her veins. She and Jane shared wide-eyed, fearful expressions. He had known they were there the whole time! Jane silently urged her to withdraw, but Gillian shook her head. She took her hand from Jane and motioned for her to go. She would face whatever punishment awaited her alone. Standing up straight, she smoothed out her skirts and put on an expression of careful neutrality before going through the door and closing it solidly behind her… giving Jane the chance to escape.
She crossed the chamber and stood before her father’s desk with her hands clasped before her. Gillian’s heart fluttered in her chest like the wings of a hummingbird. Her father looked at her as he took a long drink of wine.
James Hamilton, the Duke of York, was an imposing man. Tall and broad through the shoulders and chest, his hair was dark, though beginning to gray at the temples. His hair, like his beard, was trimmed neatly and short. Lines were forming at the corners of eyes that glittered like chips of sapphire and carried within them, a fierce intelligence.
Gillian’s father was not an overly demonstrative man, emotionally speaking. He was usually very even, though he did have a temper and could be provoked to a fit of anger that most feared. Gillian had heard most speak of him as being cold and aloof. Many were intimidated by the Duke… some outright terrified of him.
Yes, he carried himself with that royal bearing… a product of his station. Gillian knew that was how he had to be seen. But she had never known him as anything other than warm and caring. He doted on her and always favored her with the warmest of smiles. He allowed himself to be less guarded and more open around her, and she loved him for that.
“Correct me if I am mistaken, daughter,” her father started, “but have we not discussed your penchant for eavesdropping before?”
He set his goblet of wine down on the desk and looked at her, his eyebrow raised, eyes twinkling. She knew that he should be cross with her, but a mischievous smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
“We have father,” she added, trying to sound abashed.
“And I further seem to recall telling you what would happen if I caught you at it again,” he said.
Gillian swallowed hard and nodded. “You did, father, but my curiosity has won out again.”
He chuckled softly. “Curiosity can be a virtue,” he said. “But it can also be a curse… the sort of curse that leaves one with a striped backside.”
“I… have been told,” she lowered her gaze to the floor.
“Master Covey has just carved himself a new paddle, and I believe he is most anxious to break it in.”
Gillian’s stomach lurched, and her heart fluttered anew at the mention of Master Covey… the Sergeant-at-Arms of the household. Or as Gillian liked to call him, the Chief of Cruelty. Covey was the one who doled out punishments for the household staff who broke House rules or worse. Gillian had even heard whispers that he carried out executions for her father. She had seen him whip somebody to within an inch of their life but she had thankfully never seen him lop somebody’s head off.
“Father, I did not mean to eavesdrop…”
She fell silent as he arched his eyebrow again. Gillian looked down at the floor, fearful she had finally crossed the line with her father and had earned a striping for her transgression. Looking up at him, she decided to be honest, hoping to avoid an appointment with Master Covey.
“I only wish to learn, father,” she said. “I am curious about a great many things… how you conduct the affairs of your office among them.”
Her father sat back in his chair, a look of interest on his face. He had not expected that… Gillian admitted that she could be a girl of whimsy and fantasy. But deep down, there was a thirst for knowledge that could never be slaked. Even her tutors had noticed that about her… though most did nothing to encourage it. Most of her tutors believed she should focus on what it took to make a good wife to a royal husband.
They believed her education should consist primarily of affairs of the house, rather than the affairs of state. But her father had insisted that she received a well-rounded education commensurate with that her brother, Henry. Her father believed that a woman of his House should be intelligent, articulate, and knowledgeable about all things. And Gillian loved him for that too.
“It is why I wish to travel to Edinburgh with uncle William on the morrow,” she added.
Her father pursed his lips and looked at her, an inscrutable expression on his face. But he had not immediately dismissed her idea as ridiculous, and to Gillian, meant that he was at least open to the possibility.
“I believe that watching uncle William negotiate on your behalf would be quite instructional,” she pressed. “I believe it would greatly enhance my education.”
“I just do not know if it is safe, my dear child,” he said. “Not with this… brigand… still roaming freely.”
“Father, my understanding is that this brigand attacks supply wagons. From what I have heard, he does not attack people or take hostages. His interest is in the goods those wagons carry. Which means he is a commoner simply trying to provide for his family.”
“For a year now, he has taken only wagons…”
“For the moment. That could change, my dear girl.”
“Father, in all our time here in the north, I have never been,” she pleaded. “I would love to see it. And I would love to see the negotiations with the Scots first-hand.”
“Father, you have always stressed the importance and value of education and experience,” she urged him. “I want to add value to this House and be prepared to help advise my husband when I marry.
Her father took another drink of wine, giving her a long, considering look. Finally, he sat forward and set his goblet down, a small frown pulling the corners of his mouth downward.
“I cannot allow it, Gillian. I am sorry, but it is too dangerous. I cannot have you risking your life. I will not.”
“I have made my decision.”
Gillian stood before her father pouting for another moment before turning and fleeing his office, slamming the door behind her. She dashed through the castle until she reached her chamber, barged through her door and slammed it behind her. Jane looked up from her seat near the window and lowered her book.
“You look vexed,” she said.
“I am vexed!” Gillian almost shouted. “He will not let me go to Edinburgh.”
Gillian dropped heavily into the chair across from Jane, her expression dark. Folding her arms, she frowned deeply, as Jane closed the book and set it on the small table next to her.
“And why won’t he let you go?”
Gillian’s expression soured. “He says it’s too dangerous,” she hissed. “He’s worried about the brigand swooping in and stealing me away.”
Jane rolled her eyes and laughed softly. “That is…”
“Ridiculous,” Gillian cut her off.
“So, what will you do?”
Gillian shrugged, “What can I do?”
A wicked smile touched Jane’s lips. “That depends. How badly do you want to see Edinburgh?”
“Very badly,” Gillian complained. “I have wanted to see Edinburgh for as long as we have lived in the north.”
A mischievous light sparkled in Jane’s eyes that brought a smile to Gillian’s face. She knew that look well… it meant that Jane was about to propose something entirely outlandish and daring. Gillian watched as Jane got to her feet and sauntered over to the window.
“Well, you can sit here moping about it,” Jane said. “Or, you can do something about it.”
Joining Jane at the window, Gillian casually surveyed the bailey below, watching for a few moments as her uncle directed his men to load the wagons and prepare for their ride to Edinburgh. And as she stood there watching, an idea took root in her mind.
Gillian looked over at Jane and smiled. She had been Gillian’s courage and sense of adventure since they were young. Jane often prodded Gillian into taking a chance. Into taking a leap of faith. Jane had always been able to get Gillian to do things she did not usually believe she could do.
In some ways, it was a good thing. It helped bring Gillian out of her shell. In other ways, it had caused her endless trouble throughout her life. Their antics did not always amuse her father. But Gillian sometimes enjoyed the way Jane pushed her to do things that made her uncomfortable. She played things so safe in life, and doing something out of character was fun.
“What’s going through that mind of yours, Gilly?”
A devilish smile touched Gillian’s lips. She looked at the men loading the carts in the bailey one more time then turned back to Jane.
“Fetch me some breeches, a long-sleeved shirt, and a cloak,” Gillian said with a smile. “I am going to stop complaining and do something about it.”
“You are wicked,” she laughed.
“I have learned from the best.”
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