Scottish Thistle is the story of Rory MacGregor, a chieftain whose father
arranged for her to wed a Cameron after she witnessed a brutal attack on
her village as a child. That man is Duncan Cameron, foster son of and
bodyguard to the chief of Clan Cameron, Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel. Theirs is a tenuous alliance, endangered by the arrival of Bonnie Prince
Charlie who comes to the Highlands to wage war against the usurper who
sits on the British throne and by those Camerons who prefer traditional
Highland life to the changes introduced by Sir Donald. Duty and honor
dictate that Rory and Duncan answer the call to arms in different ways,
yet separation and bloody rebellion strengthen the fragile threads that
the opening scene while at a faculty meeting twelve years ago,” said Cindy
Vallar. “Once I completed the first draft of the novel, my husband
arranged for us to travel to Scotland to visit sites important to Clan
Cameron and the Rising of 1745. That trip allowed me to provide readers
with a sense of time and place so they feel as if they are in
eighteenth-century Scotland.” After reading The Scottish Thistle, David
Roderick Cameron, President of the Clan Cameron Association in Scotland,
said, “I am very pleased to see a new historical novel involving Clan
Cameron and its Chief the ‘Gentle Lochiel’ in the period of the ’45
following the spirit of the Jacobite novels of an earlier woman writer, D.
K. Broster. The characters of The Scottish Thistle are its strength and
they speak in a blend of Scots and English with occasional Gaelic words to
give some of the romance of Scotland. Indeed it seems to me the script is
there for ready adaptation to a film or TV serial. I do not know how an
American author chose to write on a Scottish historical theme in such a
Scots way and I warmly congratulate Cindy Vallar.”
Scottish Thistle is available in trade paperback (ISBN 1-59105-034-0) and
the following electronic book formats: PDF and HTML. Downloads (ISBN
1-59105-009-X) and paperback copies may be purchased directly from
NovelBooks, Inc., as well as other online venues. Paperbacks may also be
ordered through most bookstores.
The Scottish Thistle is Cindy Vallar’s first novel, books have always
played an important role in her life. Her mother instilled a love of
reading in Mrs. Vallar at an early age. She graduated from the University
of Maryland with a Master’s Degree in Library Science. She worked as a
school librarian for twenty years before her husband’s transfer to Olathe,
Kansas allowed her to retire to pursue a career in writing full-time. She
writes a monthly history column on maritime piracy for Suite101.com, and
is both an editor and copy editor for Wings Press, Ltd. She also reviews
books for Historical Novels Review, Ivy Quill Reviews, Appraisal, and The
Book Report. She is a member of EPIC (Electronically Published Internet
Connection), EPPRO (The Electronically Published Professionals), The
Historical Novel Society, Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust, the Clan Cameron
Association, and the Kansas Authors Club.
PS Cindy's sister did the artwork for her book
Purchase the book here from Amazon.com
Cindy sent us in a wee email saying...
Margo Fallis suggested you might be interested
in some of my writings and in knowing how useful I find Electric
Scotland. Not only do I link to your site from my web site, but I often
refer others to it when I do workshops on Scottish history.
SuiteUniversity asked me to teach a four-part course on Culloden and the
so I selected Electric Scotland's Battle of Culloden and Prince Charles
Edward Stuart pages as recommended resources. I also refer participants
to specific pages in several of the lessons. Since I also referred to
your web site while doing research on my first novel, I want to thank you
for all the content you provide on Scotland.
The 'Forty-five unfolds in my novel, "The
Scottish Thistle," which is historical fiction intertwined with a love
story. I thought visitors to your web site and readers of your newsletter
might be interested in knowing about it. I'm including a copy of the
press release for your information. If you want to read an excerpt or
learn more about me and the novel, I invite you to visit my web site,
Thistles & Pirates, at
And here is a short story from Cindy
entitled "Odin's Stone"
Long ago in the time
when Norway claimed the isles west of Scotland, one clan controlled much
of the land. After Alexander the Third defeated the Norwegian king at
the Battle of Largs, the western isles became part of Scotland.
Alexander’s death left the country in turmoil, for he had no direct
heirs to succeed him. Civil strife, war with England, and the remoteness
of the isles allowed the Lord of the Isles, chief of the largest and
most powerful clan, to continue to rule the western isles. His power
rivaled that of the king. He set laws, decided disputes, and protected
those who pledged fealty to him.
Amongst those leal to Alexander, third Lord of the Isles, were
Clan Gillean and Clan Fingon. In spite of this common bond, one clan had
encroached on the other’s lands and murdered their chief, giving rise to
a feud. This is the tale of how Alexander strove to end those
hostilities by invoking an ancient Norse rite through the use of Odin’s
ready yourself for a journey,” Lachlan of Clan Gillean said, refusing to
meet her gaze.
utterance puzzled Rona. Unwed lasses didn’t venture from Mull without
reason. “’Twould be an exciting adventure, for sure, Father, but I canna
leave the bairns. Who will tend them while I am gone away with ye?”
my meaning, daughter. ‘Tis yourself alone who goes to Skye. Take all your
things, for ye winna return to Mull.”
return?” She blinked several times at such startling news. “But Mull is my
home. What have I done to warrant banishment? Who will see to my brothers
banishment, lass. With your tongue and temper I canna guess the why of it,
but the Lord of the Isle wishes that ye attend him. Dinna fash about the
bairns. Mairi is of an age to tend them. ‘Twill be good training for your
sister before she weds.”
“But why am
fealty on my sword to Alexander of the Isles and dare not refuse him.”
Lachlan drew a finger across his throat to signify what refusal meant. “Or
mayhap ye would have him dispossess your brothers and sisters?”
not.” Rona’s fingers curled into fists. As a woman, she had no say in what
happened to her. She was merely a pawn for men to use as they would. “Did
he not tell the why of it?”
“The Lord of
the Isles dinna have to explain! He expects his word to be obeyed without
question.” Fixing her with his withering glare, he pointed at her. “As do
slouched, hoping to appear contrite. She preferred not to raise her
father’s ire, but she had little control over her tongue. She often
wondered if a vexing fairy spurred her to antagonize her elders. “I ken
that, Father, but did he give no clue as to what he is wanting?”
“Ye are to
wed one of Clan Fingon.”
widened in horror. “Never! I winna wed our enemy.”
“Ye have no
say in the matter, lass. What’s done is done. Ye
to your lord and wed a Fingon if that is what he requires of ye.”
from the galley that resembled the longship of her Norse ancestors. Under
power of sail and oar, the single-masted vessel had brought her from the
Isle of Mull to a pebble-strewn beach on Skye. Shrouded by mist, Dunscaith
Castle sat on an isolated precipice. The wind wailed, as if warning her of
wile and risk within those forbidding walls. She shivered.
lass,” the gillie sent to fetch her said.
She took a
deep breath to give her courage. Gathering the skirt of her ankle-length
gown in one hand, she grasped the man’s extended hand to climb the rocky
hill to the causeway. He escorted her across the turf-covered stone bridge
leading to the castle, and then down several steps. Guards waved them
through the raised portcullis and open inner gates. The gillie led her up
a makeshift stairway of the rectangular tower house. Once inside, she
climbed the narrow winding stairs to an upper floor.
paused outside the chamber at the end of the hall. From behind the closed
door came a child’s muffled sobs and a man’s angry scolding. The gillie
knocked, then stepped aside to allow Rona entry into the withdrawing room.
within raised his hand to strike the child.
single word escaped Rona’s lips before she knew she uttered it.
A curt nod
from his gillie confirmed Alexander’s suspicion as to the identity of the
interloper. He admired audacity, but not when it interfered with the
disciplining of his son. On that he brooked no meddling. He lowered his
arm, sat in his chair, and crooked his finger at the lass. Her fleeting
hesitancy told him she misspoke in haste, but her raised chin warned that
she would not withdraw.
“I think ye
dinna quite finish your thought, Mistress Rona,” he said. “Pray continue.”
straightened and glared at him. “Harsh words and angry blows are no way to
treat a bairn!”
“Even if his
disobedience endangered both himself and others?”
“Do ye not
ken who I be, woman?” Alexander leaned forward. “I am Lord of the Isles.
None may gainsay me!”
“Do ye think
to frighten me? I will not cower when I see injustice! If my tongue
protects those who canna defend themselves, then I will gladly suffer
punishment for them.”
enhanced her beauty. Sprinkles of cream made her dark eyes flicker like
firelight. Strands of rich brown hair wafted across her rosy cheeks. If
his plans were of less import, he might forego them to tumble with her
himself. Instead another would have the pleasure of taming her wildness.
Alexander hoped only that she learned submissiveness before she forced him
to break her. “Me thinks ye did not experience a sound enough thrashing
when a wee bairn. Else ye would ken when to hold your tongue. One day soon
I warrant someone will rectify that.”
She gave no
answer to his prediction. Instead, she turned her back to him and crossed
to the ewer of water by the door. After wetting a rag, she knelt before
his son. “I am Rona. Have ye a name?”
his tear-streaked face, then sat on the rush-covered floor and signaled
for John to join her. Alexander shrugged in answer to his son’s
disobeyed my father, too, John,” Rona said, “even though I kent ‘twould
not go well for me when he learned of my defiance. After numerous
scoldings, I discovered ‘twas best to confess my wrongdoing before he
heard of it from another.”
father not punish ye still?” John asked.
“He did, but
‘twas not so bad as before. Showing humility and regret oft tells others
that ye have learned a lesson in the doing and the ruing. Dinna think
adults do only good things. They, too, err in their ways.”
widened and he glanced at Alexander before returning his gaze to Rona.
“Including my father?”
“Aye. Your father rules the Isles as the king rules Scotland. The first
James and he oft clashed over who was more powerful. The day came when
your father realized that while he was important, for the good of his
people he must submit. He had greatly angered King Jamie, though, and kent
his yielding had to appease the king else none would believe his
dared not give in to the anger that flared on hearing Rona’s words. The
assassinated James Stewart might have been scholar and musician, but he
was also brutal, tactless, and dishonorable. Though some years had passed
since submitting, Alexander still suffered the humiliation enforced on him
by the vindictive king.
Father do?” John asked.
naught but shirt and braies, he knelt before King Jamie and his court. He
offered the haft of his sword, swore fealty to the king and begged his
at his father. “Truly?”
Mistress Rona says is true.”
remained silent for a time, then came to stand before Alexander. “I am
sorry, sir, for not heeding your wishes. I am ready to accept whatever
punishment ye feel is my due. I will never disobey again.”
swiped his hand over mouth and chin to hide the smile that threatened.
John’s sincerity pleased him. Perhaps, in this instance, the lass was
correct about harsh words and angry blows. When he regained his composure,
he put his hands on his son’s shoulders. “A lesson Mistress Rona did not
speak of is that ye should never promise what ye canna deliver. ‘Tis
enough that ye try not to disobey again. Do ye understand?”
with ye. I will set your punishment later.” Alexander leveled his gaze on
Rona, but continued to speak to his son. “I have business with Mistress
Rona, who dinna seem to ken when to hold her tongue.”
"Ye winna be
too harsh? She was only trying to help me,” John said.
son. Off with ye.”
John gave a
quick bow and scurried away. The gillie left with him, leaving Rona seated
on the floor. Alexander extended his hand to help her rise. She blinked,
but accepted his assistance.
“Sit ye in
yon chair, Mistress Rona.” He sat in the chair opposite hers. “I dinna ken
what ye did on Mull, but ‘tis not our way to interfere in affairs that
dinna concern us.”
to lay hands on a bairn in anger.”
well, Mistress Rona. I am a tolerant man, but dinna push too far. John is
my son and heir. ‘Tis for me to decide how best to teach him the lessons
he must learn. Dinna interfere again!”
her head. “I canna promise what I may not uphold, as ye just told your
fate, lass. I could order ye slain for such insolence.”
that.” She averted her gaze and studied her fingers.
sensed she would speak further, so he waited. With his hands held as if in
prayer and his fingers resting against his mouth, he studied her. Her
hesitancy gave the appearance of meekness, but her initial defense of his
son contradicted that. He suspected she was reticent to voice her
thoughts, but her tongue often spoke with a forthrightness that vexed men.
When she lifted her chin and met his gaze, she confirmed his suspicions.
“Is death or
imprisonment less onerous than wedding me to my enemy?” she asked.
“In spite of
your quick tongue and penchant for interfering in others’ affairs, I
selected ye to wed with Fingon because those I asked said ye were
honorable, brave, tenacious, and compassionate. These qualities will help
bring peace to your clan and Clan Fingon.” Alexander leaned back in his
chair. “Enforcing my will on others is my right, but in this case ‘twill
end in more feuding, I think. Since ye find this union so repugnant, I
will give ye a way out without losing face. If, however, ye give the
answer I seek, ye must abide by my wishes and wed with Fingon.”
tempered with shame filled Rona. He honored her with his decision, but
chastened her with his willingness to forsake his desire for peace. He
asked her to put others before herself, a task she had often done when
caring for her brothers and sisters. Much more was at stake this time,
though. Had she the courage he thought she possessed to set aside the
rancor for a clan she thought of as her enemy? To refuse would signify
surrender, something she detested. Highlanders esteemed honor above all
else. She was no different. “I accept your challenge, Alexander of the
Isles. What question would ye have me answer?”
“Ye will ken
soon enough.” He stood and offered her his hand. “‘Tis time for the
pledging. Shall we adjourn below?”
escorted her into the courtyard. His retainers-men, women, and children-as
well as his family and visitors had gathered around a standing stone. At a
height above Rona’s eye level was a hole through the granite. Fitted
around the rim worn smooth by wind and rain was a silver band. He
positioned her so she stood with her right hand nearest the stone. “Do ye
ken this stone?”
our ancestors came to the Isles, they swore oaths by clasping hands
through a ring of silver. On Orkney, they discovered a stone much like
this one that they deemed was Odin’s stone. Vows spoken whilst holding
hands were as sacred as those taken at the silver ring. On Skye, we melded
the two. I had thought to see ye wed before a priest, but since ye
question my wisdom in this matter, ye will plight your troth here. If ye
then canna answer my question, the vow can be undone without injury to
either party. Does this satisfy, Mistress Rona?”
he have her say? Refusal meant her father would never again welcome her in
his home. Her chief might well banish her for not knowing her place. If
Alexander of the Isles disliked her answer, she could well find herself
rotting in the gloom of a prison pit. Or worse, he could make an example
of her and order her death before witnesses. Her shame would forever live
with her family.
given her word. Whilst not spoken here, ‘twas as binding as if she had
kissed the blade of his dirk. She might be a mere woman, but honor was no
less important to her than it was to him. “It does.”
Put your right hand through the stone and clasp hands with the man on the
grip was strong, yet did not crush her. He cleared his throat, then spoke.
“As the oath sworn on the dirk, I give thee my sacred pledge to honor,
shelter, and protect ye until my last breath. In four days’ time, I will
wed with ye and make ye my wife. I do so plight my troth.”
plight my troth,” she said, wondering who had spoken such honorable words.
This man might be her enemy, but there still existed a chance that Holy
Church would truly join them in matrimony. Then she would have to live
amongst his people. Therefore, her words could be no less honorable. “I
promise to cleave to ye, to honor ye in all things, and to provide ye with
home and bairn once we wed.”
the Isles raised his hands. “And so do these two plight their troth. All
here present do bear witness. Come, Mistress Rona, ‘tis time to meet your
emerged from the other side of the standing stone. The first man, who was
neither short nor tall, seemed ill at ease. When he bowed, a curl of
soot-black hair fell onto his brow. He brushed it aside, revealing eyes
that were blue like winter ice. “I am Eric, falconer to my chief.”
man’s smile made his round hazel eyes twinkle. Wisps of hair the color of
honey escaped the hood that covered his head. He stood a head taller than
Eric and was as thin as the sword that hung from the baldric wrapped twice
around his waist. “I am Aidan, a gillie gifted with stories.”
The last to
introduce himself reminded Rona of birds of prey. His sea-green eyes
tracked her like the falcon, while his hair was the rust of a kestrel and
the brown of an eagle. He was tall like the fir pole men tossed and sinewy
like an ox. “I am Kyle, a warrior.”
am I to wed?” she asked. Perplexed at meeting three suitors instead of
one, she realized she didn’t recognize any of the voices. Unaware that her
lord would test her further, she had concentrated on the oath spoken
rather than the person speaking.
left eye twitched and he gave her a devilish grin. “That ye must discover
on your own, Mistress Rona. Ye will spend one day with each man. At
eventide, ye will return to the castle where ye will share a bed fully
clothed and separated by a bolster.”
had heard of this wooing custom, Rona blushed. ‘Twas one thing to lay with
your betrothed, but to do so with two who were not? Tongues would wag for
sure over this for many a day to come. The sound of the Lord of the Isle’s
voice roused her from her embarrassment.
fourth day, we will gather at the kirk where ye will tell me with which
man ye plighted your troth.” He drew his dirk. “To be certain that ye
answer true, ye will so swear before all gathered here. Should ye answer
false, then I will have the right to slit your throat.”
How like a
man to think a woman had less honor than himself. If Alexander of the
Isles wished to belittle her, so be it. In the end, she would prove him
wrong. “Before I so swear, I would ask three boons of ye.”
witnesses gasped at her insolence. Alexander shook his head. “One day that
tongue of yours will go too far.”
be, but here and now I think not.” She met his searching gaze without
blinking. Did he crave peace as much as she suspected?
would ye have me grant?”
“I would ken
how the oaths spoken at Odin’s stone can be broken without shame.”
“Ye and he
who also spoke the vow will enter the kirk together, but depart through
separate doors. What else?”
“If I name
the man who spoke the vow, then he must swear on the dirk that he weds of
his own free will rather than at your bidding.”
A thin smile
spread across Alexander’s lips. “Ye are wise in spite of your tongue,
Mistress Rona. Agreed. If he will not so swear, then ye may also break the
oaths without shame. Your last boon?”
your dirk that ye will answer truthfully whether I guess right or wrong.”
drowned out the voiced dismay of the others. Then he lifted her chin with
the point of his dirk. She drew in her breath and held herself still.
much, Mistress Rona. If I was not already wed, I would enjoy taming ye.”
He flipped the dirk, then kissed the blade. “I swear that I will answer
true when ye identify the man ye think spoke the vow.”
to name the man ye chose for my husband, I will give an honest answer.”
She took the dirk from him and sealed her pledge with a kiss.
breaking her fast, Rona went in search of Eric. She found him within a
caged aviary on the far side of the courtyard. He wore trews and a leather
doublet over a saffron shirt. His feet were shod in pointy-toed leather
poulaines. Many Islemen remained barefooted except in winter, but as
falconer, Eric held an honored position that allowed him luxuries most
could ill afford.
morrow, Eric,” she said.
at her, then returned his attention to his falcons and hawks without
uttering a word. His lack of response and his attentiveness to the birds
told her that they held more sway with him than she. That knowledge both
irked and hurt. How could she live with a man for the rest of her life if
he cared more for his animals than he did for her? Duty bound her to spend
the day with him, so she waited.
gone hawking before?” he asked, when he emerged from the cage with a
hooded falcon ensconced on his thick leather gauntlet.
canna wed with me unless ye do. Wait here.” He re-entered the aviary and
coaxed the falcon onto a wooden perch. He extracted a smaller gauntlet
from a pile of leather and returned to Rona. “Give me your arm.”
to go hawking both thrilled and frightened her. The challenge appealed to
her sense of adventure and her desire to do what few had the chance to
try. The birds of prey, however, had huge wingspans and sharp talons.
Unwilling to show hesitancy, which Eric might mistake for cowardice, she
offered him her right arm.
other one,” he said, failing to hide his irritation. He fitted the
gauntlet onto her hand, then held up leather straps with tiny bells for
her to examine. “These are jesses. While the bird perches on your arm, ye
must hold these tight twixt your fingers. Dinna release them unless ye
want the bird to fly.”
the bells for?”
hawks are wild birds, much like yourself I’m thinking. No matter how much
training or taming ye have-” His face reddened when he realized he
misspoke. He swallowed. “I…I meant the birds. They may not wish to return
or they fly farther than desired. The tinkling of the bells helps me find
those gone astray.”
Eric.” She touched his sleeve, but he jerked away from her. “Ye did nocht
but speak the truth. There are times I forget myself. Is there anything
else I should ken?”
from them. If ye can imitate the stance ye took yestreen with the Lord of
the Isles, ‘twill stand ye in good stead.” He glanced at her from beneath
hooded eyes. When he saw her smile, he gave a quick grin. “Are ye ready?”
At her nod,
he brought out a bird with blue-grey feathers and an undercoat streaked
reddish brown. He coaxed the merlin onto Rona’s gloved arm. The bird’s
powerful talons gripped her wrist so tight she gave an involuntary gasp.
“Are ye all
right?” Eric asked.
“Aye. I just
did not realize how strong they are.”
“’Twas why I
gave ye the merlin. Can ye handle the weight?”
“I can.” She
wrapped the jesses as he had shown her, then waited while he retrieved the
dark brown falcon from its wooden perch. Upon his return, he set off
across the courtyard, matching his stride to hers. “Eric, why do they wear
prey find their food by tracking with their eyes. When they canna see,
they dinna get excited.”
a fair distance from the castle, but not as far as the village.
to let them fly. Watch what I do.” He removed the hood from the falcon’s
head, then swung his arm while releasing the jesses at the same time. The
bird took flight. It circled the field for a time, then gracefully landed
on a stout branch of a weathered oak. “Think ye can do the same with the
Rona took a
deep breath, then followed Eric’s steps. She lacked his finesse, but the
merlin didn’t seem to object. It came to rest on a boulder not far from
where they stood.
must call him back.” Eric placed raw meat on her gauntlet, then called to
merlin soared toward her. It took all Rona’s steadfastness to keep from
flinching as it swooped onto her wrist. While it devoured the meat, she
tried to recapture the jesses, but her fingers shook. Eric fitted them
between her fingers, then bid the falcon to come to him.
apologize, lass. Ye did well. I ken ‘tis fiercesome your first time. With
practice, ye will come to master the trick. Are ye willing to try again or
would ye rather leave off for the day?”
seemed to please him. They spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the
field and giving flight to the birds. As eventide approached, they
returned to the castle.
with trepidation for Eric to come to her bedchamber. When he arrived, he
seemed as restless as she.
“’Tis been a
long day.” He swallowed. “Mayhap we should just retire.”
what to say, she approached the bed. A thick bolster divided it in two.
“Ye are on
your honor to behave,” said a voice from the doorway.
Both she and
Eric jumped back from the bed.
the Isles roared with laughter. “Sleep well, Mistress Rona. Master of the
could give a retort, he touched hand to forehead and disappeared from
whence he had come.
“Dinna say a
word, Rona.” Eric’s tone warned her not to disobey.
and sat on the bed. “Ye dinna approve of my forthrightness, do ye?”
out on his side of the bolster. He clasped his hands behind his head
before he gave answer. “No. I have worked hard for my standing within the
clan. Even so, I stand apart, for ‘tis difficult for me to be with people.
I am most comfortable amongst the birds. They accept me as I am. Had I the
freedom to choose whom I wed…”
have chosen a lass who kens her place,” she finished.
When he said
no more, Rona dared to glance at him. He was fast asleep. Whilst hawking,
they had gotten on well together. Yet, he spoke of little else but his
birds and he aspired to learn nothing of her. As she settled under the
plaid, she felt a vague disquiet. She admired his skill with the falcon
and merlin, but he seemed uncomfortable around people. His unwillingness
to learn about her and his disapproval of her quick tongue boded trouble.
If they truly had spoken the vows, how did the Lord of the Isles expect to
win peace between their clans when she and Eric seemed ill matched? Before
she found an answer to that question, the rush of the day caught up with
her and she fell asleep.
Aidan strode into the hall where Rona broke her fast and sat beside her.
He helped himself to bread, cheese, and ale. “Good morrow, Mistress. I
pray ye slept well last night.”
“I did.” She
ignored his rakish grin.
day in the village, but I fear the day is not so fine as ye had for
grow up on the isles without learning to abide the weather. Whether ‘tis
windy or calm, sunny or wet, ‘tis a good day for going to market.”
twinkled with merriment. “Mayhap ye are the lass of my heart. Fetch your
cloak and I shall escort ye to yon village. Since ye are guest of the Lord
of the Isles, I am sure he will purchase whatever fancy catches your eye.”
much, Master Aidan.” Alexander stopped at the ewer to wash his hands.
“’Tis your responsibility to fend for your lady, but since ye are not yet
wed, I will grant that Mistress Rona may select some trinket as a token of
my lord,” she said, wondering exactly how much he respected a woman who
dared to defy him. Aidan offered her his arm, and they departed the tower
small, the village bustled with people and traders, artisans and
entertainers. Aidan delivered broken tongs to the blacksmith, who promised
to repair them within a sennight. While they haggled over price, Rona
wandered amongst the stalls. She fingered finely woven wool and elegantly
embroidered cloth. She admired spoons of horn and drinking cups made of
staved wood. She couldn’t decide what to purchase until she spotted a
miniature seal carved from a stag’s antler.
the thing for she who is named for the seals,” Aidan whispered, as he came
up behind her. “Would this please ye?”
“Aye, but it
has no purpose.”
are too practical. Ye must learn to dream. Not all must have a purpose.
‘Tis enough that it makes ye smile.”
herself to something just for pleasure was a rarity. Since the Lord of the
Isles had given her leave to buy something, she set aside her doubts. “Ye
have the right of it, Aidan. This is exactly what I want.”
haggled a second time, then gave the merchant a crest with a boar’s head
on it and told him to present it at the castle gate. Alexander of the
Isles himself would pay the agreed-upon price and add a wee more for the
strode through the village, Rona asked Aidan about the crest.
badge of Clan Fingon. Are ye hungry?”
with me. I ken a widow who will feed us, then we can walk the moor while I
dazzle ye with my stories.”
the moon rose when they returned to the castle. The portcullis was down
and the inner gates shut. Aidan shouted to gain someone’s attention, but
the wind carried away his cries. “I am sorry, lass. I dinna ken we had
strayed so far that we would return after curfew. Either those inside
canna hear us or we have riled Alexander of the Isles so he refuses to
give leave to unbar the gates.”
“What are we
to do?” she asked, furious that Aidan had ignored her pleadings to return
earlier. He acted as if only his desires mattered.
somewhat sheltered here, and I would not wish to miss being here when the
gates reopen on the morrow. I suggest we sleep here. If ye dinna mind
lending me your cloak, I will shelter ye within my arms while wrapping the
cloak around us both.”
relinquished the garment. He wrapped it around himself, then sat so he
blocked the wind from her. When she sat, he enfolded her in his embrace.
His warmth drove the chill from her.
“Have ye no
other stories?” she asked. “Mayhap ‘twould ward off the cold.”
“Ken ye Cú
Chulainn, the Hound of Culann the smith?”
hero who slew the blacksmith’s hound and had to take its place?”
“Aye. Did ye
ken he once lived within these walls?”
fairies-or a witch if that is more to your liking-built Dunscaith in a
single night with their singing. From out of the cliff grew palisades of
iron. Seven ramparts protected the tower and turrets within. To discourage
intruders, they filled a pit with vipers and beaked toads. The warrior
queen Sgathaich took up residence here and instructed many, including Cú
Chulainn, in the ways of war. ‘Tis from her that the castle gets its
whistling wind conjured up the fairies in Rona’s mind. She could see the
walls rising up from the rocky precipice. An ironic thought struck her
when she thought of the warrior queen. “Do ye think Alexander of the Isles
ever thinks of Sgathaich when he sees me?”
brought no response from Aidan.
she heard his soft snore. At least his spinning of tales had woven its
magic for him. Was something wrong with her that he was the second man to
fall asleep in her company? Did men find her dull? Her sympathy turned to
anger and she chided herself for such ridiculous thoughts. She wasn’t the
problem-the men were! Aidan had gifted her with a day she would long
remember, but she knew no more of him than she had when they broke their
fast together. If a husband was supposed to protect his family, how could
she ever depend on Aidan to do so when he thought of himself before
others? He would amuse and charm her, but she would always feel
exasperation and annoyance whenever he failed to deliver what he promised.
chamber in the tower house, Rona marveled at the cloth-lined wooden tub
that held steaming water for her bath. Alexander of the Isles had been
none too pleased to find her outside the portcullis when he woke, but
seemed to have expected it. At least he vented his rage on Aidan rather
than her. His command to her was one hour to bathe and dress before the
last of her suitors appeared. She would prefer to postpone their meeting,
but ‘twas not to be.
She shed her
clothes and sank into the water. It was a rare treat. At home she had
washed in a pond near her home. This tub was fit for a king, for she could
submerge all but her knees, shoulders, and head. She leaned back, closed
her eyes and savored the heat that dispelled the last chill of the night
jarred Rona awake. She blinked several times, then opened her eyes wide in
alarm. Encircling the tub were trimmed fir logs cut in lengths for the
hearth. She peeked over the side and saw the naked sword that had fallen
from atop the logs.
second time Clan Fingon has surprised Clan Gillean,” a deep male voice
said from behind her.
escaped her lips. She tilted her head back to look into predatory eyes
that held her captive.
the chief of my clan visited the Lord of the Isles, your clan stole our
lands. Thinking ‘twas a deed well done, your chief and his warriors slept
within a fine house on Mull. Fingon showed your clan the error of such
thinking. He ordered fir trees cut and trimmed, then set them around the
house wherein Gillean slept. When done, Fingon bared his sword and set it
atop the fir he himself placed before the door. Do ye ken why?” Kyle
traced her jaw with his finger.
shivered, then swallowed. She half whispered and half squeaked her answer.
“To show Gillean death was near to hand.”
“Aye. As in
days past,” he said, retrieving his sword from the floor and pointing it
at her, “I could have slit your throat while ye slept. Instead I showed
mercy to my enemy.”
Her scream echoed in the chamber.
yourself who is getting out and right now. Ye have kept me waiting over
about modesty. I saw all ye have to offer whilst I reenacted our shared
history. Now get dressed before I dress ye myself.”
“We are not
yet wed, and until we are, which I can assure ye ‘twill never happen, ye
will not be giving me orders!”
‘twould be fitting to see Mistress Rona and ye go at each other, Master
Kyle, she does have a point,” Alexander said, standing once again in her
doorway. He pointed his finger in her direction. “Ye had best be dried,
clothed, and in the courtyard before my gillie comes to fetch the tub. If
not, Master Kyle will have my leave to carry out his threat.”
her door shut, she scrambled from the water. She fumed at herself for
showing meekness and at Kyle for his unmitigated gall, daring to intrude
upon her whilst she bathed. How dare he threaten her within Alexander of
the Isles’ abode? She tried to plait her hair, but her fingers refused to
cooperate. Wisps of hair escaped the braid, which had a slight crook in it
that she could not straighten. Exasperated, she gave up trying. If she
looked less than her best, ‘twas his fault for scaring away her wits.
scurried down the hall, she met the lord’s gillie and two others heading
for her chamber. The instant she appeared at the top of the steps leading
to the courtyard, Kyle turned and headed for the gate. She hastened to
follow, sensing he would ignore her plea to wait. For every stride she
took, he covered twice the distance. Soon out of breath, she paused to
rest. He kept walking. The farther ahead he got, the angrier she became.
How dare he ignore her! How dare he assume she would do his bidding! No
more. If she dared to defy Alexander of the Isles, she could well gainsay
a Fingon. With that, she began walking again, only this time she returned
the way she had come.
warning, she found her feet no longer touched the ground. In fact, Kyle
slung her over his shoulder.
down!” She pounded his back to drive home her point, but cried out in pain
when her fist struck his shirt of mail.
disregarded her demands and pleas. She hung upside down, seeing only his
back and the ground he walked. Why ever had Alexander of the Isles thought
she would consent to wed such an irritating man?
reached a small loch, he waded into the water, transferred her from his
shoulder to both arms, and said, “Since ye are over fond of water, I bid
ye bathe to your heart’s content.”
understood his intent, he dropped her into the cold water. She fought
against the panic that clawed at her throat. Her feet struggled to find
purchase, but the depth was more than her height. She thrashed about, and
somehow reached the surface. When she opened her mouth, water rushed in
instead of air. Before she could spit it out and scream for help, she
sank. She flailed her arms, hoping to gain Kyle’s attention. Just as her
lungs felt like they would burst, strong arms hefted her from the water
and carried her back to shore.
“Why did ye
not tell me ye could not swim?” he asked, peering down at her.
remember being asked!” When her breathing slowed and calm returned, she
pushed him away. She slowly regained her feet and retraced her steps
toward the castle.
better if ye remember that the fault of this feud between our clans lies
with Clan Gillean.”
she thought to ignore Kyle’s claim, but honor demanded she give answer.
She whirled. “’Tis not!”
lass, ‘tis! First, ye thought to steal Mull from us. Then your chief
contrived to wed the daughter of John, first Lord of the Isles, by
kidnapping him until he gave his leave. During the reiving, though, ‘twas
Gilleans who slew the chief of Clan Fingon. Ye have yet to pay that debt.”
knew no bounds. With hands on hips, she stomped back to confront him.
“’Twas Fingon who insult Gillean, contrary to the rules of Highland
hospitality. My kin sought only to right the slur, as was their due. ‘Twas
not my doing and ye canna blame me for it. After all, I am but a mere
provoking her further.
the way of men. Dinna be blaming me for your foolishness, Kyle of Fingon.
Ye or yours could have sought justice or recompense, but instead ye held
the grudge. We are blood enemies and naught will change that.”
said, not appearing ruffled by her words. “If ye ken the way, ye should
arrive back at the castle before curfew this night.”
she know the way? She had spent most of the walk slung over his shoulder.
When he turned his back to her, the simple gesture broke the last of her
restraint. If he wished to keep the feud alive, she would gladly honor his
wish. Gathering her strength, she launched herself at him just as he spun
around. She hit him a glancing blow. He reached to catch her, but tore her
cloak instead. Her momentum carried her toward a rock. She tried to twist
her body to avoid the collision, but too late. Blackness descended.
glow of a fire welcomed Rona when she opened her eyes. She lay on a bed
piled thick with furs. Spying the thatched roof overhead, she realized she
didn’t lie in her bed within the tower house at Dunscaith. Was this Kyle’s
home? Strange that he would bring her here rather than return her to the
castle. With all his bullying and intimidation, she never expected him to
tend her wounds.
She made to
rise, but dizziness and twinges of pain forced her back against pillows
stuffed with heather. Her head throbbed. She touched her brow and felt the
swelling where her head had grazed the rock. Her attempt to examine her
other bruises caused the pelts covering her to slip. A purplish welt
discolored her shoulder. The sight of her bare skin brought with it the
awareness that she wore nothing from her head to her toes. She scanned the
room. Her scattered clothes dried near the fire.
in a chair beside her bed. Asleep, he seemed less fiercesome, but he
maintained a warrior’s stance. One sun-browned hand held his dirk at the
ready, guarding her while she slept. Intertwined with the fingers of his
other hand were her fingers. His tenderness surprised her, and she
reconsidered her initial impression of him. His shuttered eyes erased the
wariness she saw when he looked at her. She fought the urge to brush
strands of rusty brown hair from his forehead. His nose reminded her of an
eagle’s beak. The comparison confirmed her previous impression of likening
him to birds of prey, but she liked the sculpted ruggedness of his face.
returned to the hand that held hers. A tingle stirred within her, bringing
a smile to her lips. In spite of their differences, he had rescued her and
kept her safe.
awoke on the morrow, Rona found herself safely ensconced in her bedchamber
at the castle. She possessed no memory of how she had gotten there.
Perhaps she had dreamed the day spent with Kyle. The soreness in her
shoulder and the bump on her head belied that notion. After her morning
ablutions, she descended the winding stairs to the hall. Alexander of the
Isles waited while she broke her fast, then escorted her to the kirk. His
train of gillies accompanied them as did young John. Already gathered were
the priest, Eric, Aidan, and Kyle. None met her gaze.
“Ken ye your
betrothed?” Alexander of the Isles asked.
stand beside him.”
Rona took a
deep breath, then went to Kyle. The simple act sealed her fate, for she
knew without a doubt that he was her betrothed. The path before them would
be fraught with trials and arguments, of that she had no doubt since his
stubbornness matched her own. She hoped, though, that honor and courage
would provide a strong enough footing for unity and peace between
themselves and their clans. To show her willingness to try, she slipped
her hand in his. Kyle glanced askance at her, but didn’t break the
“Why do ye
pick the one with whom ye argued?” Alexander asked. “It would seem more in
keeping to choose Eric or Aidan.”
good men,” she said, “with qualities that speak both for and against them.
Eric has goals that dinna include me. If we wed, we would manage, but he
dinna trust his enemy. Ye canna win peace where distrust exists. Aidan
brings smiles to all he encounters. If we wed, we would live in a world
spun from gold, but he canna reveal the truth to himself. Without honesty
peace falters. Although Kyle and I have our differences, we dinna hide
them from each other. We value honor and loyalty. Our word once given is
sacred and we would rather die than break it. These are the foundations on
which peace thrives.”
answered as I hoped, Mistress Rona.” Alexander stroked his beard. “Ye ken
this means ye must wed?”
Kyle swears on the dirk that he weds with me of his own accord rather than
on your orders.”
yourself who holds the answer I need, Master Kyle. Will ye so swear?”
ken. I must think on it within.” He nodded toward where the priest waited.
“But ye must
swear before ye enter,” Alexander of the Isles said.
his head. “No matter the answer, Rona and I must enter yon kirk. If I give
my oath, ‘tis given to her not ye, Alexander of the Isles. If I refuse,
then ye have already sworn on the dirk that we may dissolve the vows she
and I spoke at Odin’s stone. Me thinks ye must wait to see whether we
leave the kirk by one door or two.”
He bowed and
Rona curtseyed. As he escorted her to the kirk, she felt elated and vexed.
Kyle’s refusal to give answer showed the Lord of the Isles that she wasn’t
his only subject who dared boldness. While this pleased Rona, it also
nettled because she wondered if Kyle would wed her. He held the power to
decide her future and she knew not what lay ahead.
the door wide enough for them both to enter together. The priest followed
and closed the door…