Highlander’s Forbidden Love (Preview)
The noise was tremendous. Its din filled the broad crescent sweep of Cruden Bay between its two towering headlands.
Elizabeth Bryce pressed her hands to her ears to dampen the explosion of the waves on the beach and the thunder of the wind against the cliffs. The sheer power of the elements frightened her, but it was a good kind of fright that stirred a nervous involuntary giggle in her chest. She loved the wildness of the sea, its vastness; it was still so strange and new to her. She was used to the moorland storms of her native land of Tweeddale, which were wild enough, but even their fierce potency paled alongside the immensity of the sea as it raged and threw itself against the land.
She staggered against the buffeting gusts of the gale, her hair and the ribbands she had woven into it streaming out behind her as she turned her face into the wind, its eddies whipping her long red tresses across her lightly freckled cheeks and brow, releasing the scent of the rosemary with which she had rinsed it that morning. The wind tugged violently at her robes as if it wanted to rip them from her limbs, strip her of the accouterments of civilization that separated her from her naked animal self, and reclaim her to the wild. Their violence thrilled her; she tipped her head up and closed her eyes to relish in the ravages of the clawing fingers.
When she opened them again, she could see her new home, Slains Castle, rise imposingly from the southern headland against the stormy gray sky, its towers and battlements gazing down, stern and defiant, on anyone who had a mind to meddle with it. Its arrogant grandeur contrasted starkly with the humble fisherman’s cottage that cowered away to her right, in a neuk of the rocks not far above the high-water mark with its black line of rotting seaweed. Once again, she wondered at the fate that had brought her there, to that place so far from her calving ground in Tweeddale, and to a station in life that so far exceeded the one into which she had been born.
She was startled out of her reverie by the piercing cry of a gull. She looked up to her left, through the drizzle that was being driven in squalls against her face, and saw the bird struggling to hold its position above the heaving swell of the sea.
She really should be getting back to the castle, she reflected; the tide was coming in, the storm was intensifying, and her mistress, Lady Margaret, Countess of Errol, would, in any case, be expecting Elizabeth for her French lesson. But she did so love the fury of the gale, the delicious chill of its breath on her brow and cheeks.
A little way along the beach, between her and the path that zigzagged up the headland from the boat landing to the castle, a large outcrop of rock rose from the sand. She knew, from her previous sojourns to the bay, that it contained numerous rock pools teeming with strange creatures, so different from the furred and feathered fauna she had grown up with in the countryside around Peebles, which lay as far from the sea as one could get in Scotland. She resolved to tarry by the pools for a brief moment before taking the long steep climb up the precipitous cliff path. It would not make her all that late, she reflected, and she so loved the exotic colors and soft textures of the peculiar lifeforms.
She increased her pace, occasionally slipping on the sludgy give of the wet sand beneath her feet, her vermillion cloak flapping and snapping around her slight frame.
She reached the rocks and scrambled onto them, heedful of their wet slippery smoothness. The pools sat in their sandy-bedded hollows, their mirror surfaces shimmering in the wind. She stepped unsteadily between them, trying not to let her shadow fall across their surface and alert the creatures that lodged in them. Green shore crabs scuttled for cover under the base of the rocks. She could also see young porcelain spider crabs, hermit crabs clinging jealously to their borrowed shells, and a solitary tiny squat lobster. Pink coral-colored starfish and brittle stars clung to the smaller rocks, while spiny sea urchins and florid anemones languidly waved their tentacles in the clear water.
Transfixed and mesmerized by the forms and colors of the strange animals, Elizabeth could not resist dipping her small, slim hands into the pools and stroking their shells and polyps with her fingers, marveling at their textures and at how the anemones so quickly sucked their tentacles tight inside themselves as soon as she brushed them. She was soon lost in her fascination with the miniature undersea world before her.
The loud booming clap and raining spray of a large wave against the outcrop brought her suddenly back to the surface. She straightened up and look around in alarm. While she had been transfixed by the jewels of the rock pools, the tide had raced in and was now swirling around the outcrop, sucking and churning the sand in a powerful vortex. Another wave crashed against the seaward side of the rocks, sending a sheet of spray over her back and shoulders. She pulled up the hem of her gown to her knees and began picking her way carefully back down the slippery rocks to where the beach had been. She slipped and slithered, lost her footing, and slid down the rocks into what was rapidly becoming a heaving maelstrom. The water came up to her thighs, soaking the bottom half of her cloak and gown and threatening to drag her away from the rocks.
The power of the undertow shocked her. She staggered and dug her toes into the sand to try and stay upright. She spun around and threw herself at the nearest rock, wrapping her arms around it, pressing her fingers as tightly as she could against the smooth sea-slick stone. With a great effort, she hauled herself gradually back up onto the outcrop, against the powerful hands that were dragging at her robes and trying to haul her back below the seething frothy surface. The wind had suddenly intensified and seemed to be conspiring with the water to dislodge her from the rocks. The clash of the waves and the boom of the wind thundered in her ears. She pressed her frail body into the rocks as the blustering gale whistled above her, carrying ever heavier falls of sea spray that drenched her and the already greasy handholds to which she desperately clung. She began to cough and choke as the saltwater parched her throat and stung her nostrils. She sobbed, but her sobs were immediately torn away and cast into the air by the biting wind.
She did not know what to do. The incoming tide would soon overwhelm the outcrop, washing her into the sea and leaving her at the mercy of its powerful waves and undertows. She considered slipping back down into the water and trying again to wade towards the shore. But, having already felt the irresistible strength of the tide, she knew she would immediately be dragged under and swept away like a wisp of straw.
She froze like a limpet to the rocks, chilled to the bone by both the relentless cold sea and the paralyzing fear that gripped her.
Mairi Cullen heard the wind rise and drive a smatter of raindrops against the cottage door. The sweet and pleasant gale that had been drying her husband’s nets was brewing into a storm, and she knew that she should take the nets down before the storm took them away. If they were damaged, it could cost them their suppers for several days to come.
She pulled her shawl up over her head and stepped out onto the shingle. She looked towards the sea as she straightened up from the low door and her blood ran cold.
“Maister! Maister Duncan!” she cried. “There is a lass caught in the run o’ the tide. The sea is about to take her.”
Duncan Comyn ducked through the door to stand beside her.
“There, maister.” Mairi pointed into the wind. “Out on the skerrie.”
Duncan screwed up his eyes and peered out over the white racing horses. Sure enough, about a hundred yards from where they stood, a small dark figure was clinging desperately to the rocks, the occasional rise and fall of her head her only movement.
The tide was rising fast. It would not be long until the skerrie was completely submerged and the lassie drowned or else dashed from the rocks by the crashing waves to the same effect.
Duncan cast off his robes, jumped over the line of rotting seaward at the high-water line, and began sprinting down the beach to where the breakers slammed themselves onto the sand. The first wave he encountered knocked him over, but he scrambled back onto his feet and plunged again into the surf. The next wave cast him back up onto the beach, sprawling on his back. He stood up again and plowed into the surf, wading in strong, forceful strides, pushing the water aside with his palms.
Suddenly, the suck of the receding wave pulled the legs from under him, and he disappeared beneath the seething eddy. Mairi screamed, then threw her face heavenward in a silent prayer of thanks when Duncan shot up onto his feet again, the water pouring like a silver cloak from his powerful shoulders. He coughed and spluttered, spitting the saltwater from his lungs and shaking the wet hair from his eyes. Almost immediately, another wave slammed into his chest, and he staggered backward under the blow before the undertow grabbed at his legs and hips again and dragged him into the sea’s smothering embrace. He fought to stay afloat, his arms wind-milling backward against the potentially fatal tug of the water, his feet scrambling for purchase against the shifting sand of what had once been firm beach and was now the seabed. He steadied himself and retreated quickly back into the shallows.
He roared in anger and frustration, aiming a kick at the next wave. The currents were too strong, he realized; they would drag him helplessly beyond the skerrie and out into the tempest. It was hopeless; he too would be drowned, and that would be no help to the lassie.
He scowled north along the beach, from where the storm blew. An idea occurred to him. He turned and strode back towards the cottage.
“A line, woman,” he cried to Mairi, “the longest you have. Quick now!”
Mairi disappeared into the cottage and returned with a thick coil of hempen rope hefted over her shoulder.
“Come with me,” Duncan commanded, taking the rope and striding off up the beach and into the wind.
Mairi ran after him. After fifty yards, he stopped by a boulder and uncoiled the rope. He tied one end around his waist and wound the other around the boulder, handing the end to Mairi.
“Sit down and brace your legs against the rock,” he said. “The rock should take nearly all of the strain; your task is to make sure it doesn’t slip.”
Mairi looked at him in horror.
“You’re no’ meaning to go in again?” she said in disbelief. “The sea will take ye. The lassie’s lost,” she added. “There’s nae sense in you gaein’ after her.”
“I can’t stand by and watch her drown,” he snapped. “I must try and save her, even if I drown in the attempt. And, what if I do drown? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself otherwise in any case.”
“Dinna dae it, Maister!” Mairi pleaded.
“Wheesht, woman! And hold on tight. I can always pull myself back to safety with the rope. What I’m hoping is that the storm will blow me around in a big wide arc and onto the rocks, and then back onto the shore once I’ve grabbed the lassie.”
Tears streamed down Mairi’s face, mixing with the rain and spray.
“Ye’ll droun, maister! And, forby, I’m feart I’ll no be able to haud ye.”
Duncan placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
“You’ll do fine, Mairi, a fine strapping woman like yourself. Christ, if you can carry your man to and from his boat, and haul that same boat up onto the stand, you can hold the weight of a wee bit chiel like myself.”
Mairi sat down in the sand behind the boulder, placed her feet firmly on the rock, and took the strain with her powerful arms and legs.
“Be quick then, maister,” she said. “Thon lassie doesna ha’e muckle time left.”
Duncan looked out towards the skerrie. The waves were by then breaking over the top of the rocks and dragging at the girl like voracious hounds.
He ran into the surf and let the sea take him. It quickly sucked him out into its seething tumult, tossing him around among its heaving waves like a piece of flotsam. He swam into its arms, far beyond the line of the skerrie, until the rope tautened, and its fibrous sinews creaked and squealed around the rock. Mairi wrapped the end more tightly around her fists, leaned back, and pushed against the boulder with all her might.
The current caught him, and Duncan began to swing in a long arc towards the skerrie. He fought with every ounce of strength that his arms and legs possessed to keep his head above the water.
Suddenly, the line went slack. The tide was carrying him in towards the shore. With a sinking heart, he realized that he was going to pass short of the skerrie. The strength seemed to drain from his limbs. If he missed his mark, the girl would be lost for sure; he would not have time, nor the energy, to start again and make another pass. Gritting his teeth, he kicked and paddled with his weakening arms against the flow of the tide that was taking him shoreward. But it was no use. His strength was all but gone, and the reserves he did have were no match for the power of the sea. He watched helplessly as the skerrie seemed to sail away from him.
Then he felt the sand beneath his feet. A shallow sandbar must have been deposited by the flow of the incoming tide in the lee of the skerrie. He scrabbled with his toes, plunging them deep into the sand and levering himself laboriously forward against the powerful current.
He leaned into the tide, the waves tumbling over the lassie’s head and then over his head and shoulders. Slowly, inexorably, he was making progress up the sandbar towards the rocks. Soon his chest was clear of the water, and he only had a few yards to go. He could see the girl clearly now, a small, frail figure with red hair plastered to her scalp and shoulders, clinging desperately to a rock with deathly white fingers, her eyes wide with terror, but also – he saw – with a stubborn determination. He suddenly felt glad that he had matched her stubbornness and persisted in his rescue; it would not have done to be outdone by a lassie.
But all at once the line grew taut. He was only feet away from being able to seize her, but he had run out of line. He tugged and pulled and bent all his weight into stretching those last few feet, but to no avail. The sand was beginning to fall away from his feet, and he was sinking inch by inch, further and further away from her. The waves were by then cascading over the skerrie and crashing like a shield attack into his chest. The undertow was dragging at his legs and hips, threatening to tear him away and continue him on his arc back towards the shore.
The girl’s eyes met his. Her lips moved.
“Please!” she implored, silently mouthing the word.
He began to wrestle with the knot at his waist. It was a hitch-knot, and it came away easily. Grasping the end of the rope tightly with one hand, he stepped forward and clutched the shoulder of the girl’s robes with the other, drawing her to his chest. He carefully shifted his grip until he had her clamped against him with his arm, and then pushed off the skerrie with his legs. He looped the line around his forearm and, holding both their heads above the water, he let the tide and the wind push them south until the line completed its arc and tumbled them both onto the beach.
As soon as they were landed, Mairi released the rope, sprang to her feet, and raced down the sands to them. She helped Duncan to pull the girl up beyond the high-water line, where they collapsed in an exhausted heap.
“Here, lassie,” Mairi said, slipping the shawl from her shoulders and wrapping it around her small thin body.
Beside them, Duncan lay coughing and retching on the shingle.
“Mother of God,” Mairi exclaimed in alarm. “The poor lassie is as cold as a corpse. We need to get her out o’ the storm and in beside the fire.”
The girl was shivering uncontrollably. Her hands and lips were blue, and her face was as white as a ghost’s.
Duncan hauled himself unsteadily to his feet and helped Mairi raise the girl between them. He was surprised at how light she felt, even in her sodden robes. She was just a wee wisp of a thing. He was amazed that she’d had the strength in that slight frame of hers to cling fast to the rocks, against the powerful suck of the tide and the pounding of the waves. Shouldering an arm each, they half-carried her along the shingle beside the stinking bank of rotting seaweed towards the low door of the cottage, her feet moving but mostly dragging across the stones.
She is so delicate and pretty.
Duncan could not shake the thought from his head, nor the surge of protectiveness that shot through his veins, boosting the strength of his tired limbs as they bore her into the cottage, more dead than alive.
Who is this girl? And why has she been brought thus to me?
Mairi and Micheil Cullen’s Cottage
Duncan and Mairi sat Elizabeth down on a low stool by the hearth, and Mairi dropped another couple of peats onto the fire along with some driftwood. She eased the old banked peats up with a stick to let the air seep underneath, and the fire suddenly flared into life, sending long tongues of yellow flame up towards the roof beams and filling the room with billowing waves of scented smoke.
She fetched a faded yellow kirtle and a plain woolen shawl from a kist by her sleeping place against the back wall and crouched in front of Elizabeth. Duncan sat down on the other side of the hearth and began to peel off his wet shirt and hose. Elizabeth noticed that a baby lay asleep in a small wooden crib by the sleeping place, wrapped tightly in a snowy-white christening robe.
“Come, lass,” Mairi murmured, “let’s get ye out o’ thae wet claes.”
Elizabeth’s cloak was already gone, ripped away by the clawing sea. Mairi drew off the now wet shawl she had given her on the beach and began to tug Elizabeth’s gown over her head.
“No,” she protested, clutching the sodden cloth to her breast, her eyes round with alarm and glancing nervously through the smoke and flames to where Duncan was stripping himself.
“Come now, lassie,” Mairi insisted, sweeping Elizabeth’s arm aside and pulling the gown over her shoulders, “or the cauld will draw a’ the heat frae your blood and you’ll shiver awa’.”
She peeled off Elizabeth’s chemise and braies, until the girl sat bare on the stool, her stark white skin gleaming in the firelight, covering her small breasts with her arms and shrinking forward over her nakedness. Mairi drew across a sack of ‘charpie’ and began rubbing Elizabeth’s limbs and body vigorously with handfuls of the woolen lint.
“There,” she said. “That will dry you off and draw the hot blood back up to the skin again.”
Once she was dry, and a glow had been restored to her pale flesh, Mairi slipped the kirtle over Elizabeth’s head and pulled it down to her ankles.
“It’s a wee bittie big for you,” she observed, “but it will dae the turn until we can get your ain robes dried.” She laughed. “It’s no’ like you’re going to be wearing my auld duds to a ball.”
Duncan, meanwhile, had stripped his clothes and huddled shivering in a rough woolen plaid. Mairi gathered up the wet clothes and pegged them on a line that had been strung across the width of the one-roomed cottage, just next to the hearth in the middle of the floor. The storm was blowing the smoke from the fire back through the smoke hole in the turf roof, and the whole cottage reeked with pungent peat smoke. Down by the floor, where Elizabeth and Duncan each sat on their low stool, the air was relatively smoke-free.
Mairi set a blackened kettle of water on the peats and reached a clay bottle down from the rafters.
“A hot toddy is what you’ll be wantin’.” Mairi smiled.
When the water had boiled, Mairi poured hot water into a pair of wooden beakers and splashed each with a generous measure of uisge beatha, the water of life.
She handed a beaker to each of them. Duncan immediately took a long sip of his and shuddered as the warm draught shot its fire through his veins. Elizabeth took a more tentative taste and swallowed. The fiery liquid burned in her throat but spread a welcome golden warmth through her chest as it went down.
Mairi hunkered down and tended the fire with her stick. Outside, the storm raged against the sod walls and whistled through the turf thatch, swirling the smoke with its violent gusts. The steady patter of heavy rain drummed on the shingle beyond the door, and in the distance, the sea boiled and roared in the kettle of the bay.
“I must be getting back,” Elizabeth said, making to rise from her stool.
Mairi placed a firm hand on her shoulder and pushed her back down again.
“You’ll bide where you are,” she told her. “At least until your robes are dry an’ the storm’s past.”
“But they will miss me at the castle,” Elizabeth protested weakly. “They will be worried.”
“Then let them worry.” Mairi laughed. “The thing is no’ to gi’e ocht to the worry. I’m sure they’d rather find you safe and sound in the warm and dry than lyin’ droun’d at the foot o’ the cliffs. That would be a greater worry indeed.”
Elizabeth sank slowly back onto her stool. Across the fire, she could feel Duncan’s eyes upon her, and she gave another little shiver, conscious of the ill-fitting kirtle that hung off her like a sack and her nakedness beneath. He was, she admitted to herself, a fine handsome man, with dark curly hair and a shadow of stubble on his cheeks and jaw. She was suddenly conscious too of his nakedness beneath the plaid he clutched tightly around his throat, and she blushed, feeling a warmth rise in her chest that made her swallow.
She became aware that Mairi was watching the pair of them with an amused look in her eye.
“Aye, Maister Comyn,” she addressed Duncan, “are ye no’ feared that you might ha’e caught yourself a selkie?”
“A selkie?” Elizabeth enquired.
Being an inlander, born and brought up so far from the sea, she had no idea what a selkie might be.
Mairi grinned at her.
“Aye, a selkie; one of the seal folk. Whiles, a selkie maiden will come ashore and hide her selkie skin. Then a man will come along and find a bonnie naked lassie on the seashore and compel her to be his wife. But the wife will spend her time in captivity longing for the sea, her true home, and will oft be seen gazing longingly at the ocean. She might bear her human husband several bairns, but short or lang she will retrieve her skin from where it is hidden and return to the sea, abandoning the man and the children she loves.” She turned and addressed Duncan. “The trick is, maister, to discover the whereabouts of the skin and keep it from her. Then she will be bound to him always.”
Duncan looked up with a wan smile.
“And is that what happened to you, Mairi Cullen, for your man is surely the master of you.”
Mairi raised her eyebrows in a knowing look.
“Oh, I ha’e my selkie skin laid by safe,” she assured him, “don’t you ha’e any fear o’ that.”
A stuttering cry arose from the crib and Mairi went to lift the bairn. Cradling it in the crook of her arm, she slipped her kirtle from off one shoulder to uncover a heavy swollen breast. The baby fastened onto the teat and snuffled contentedly.
“Where is your man?” Elizabeth asked.
Mairi jerked her head in the direction of the sea.
“My Micheil’s out there, hopefully, amang the shoals of herrin’, fetching a fishie for me to turn into milk for this wee hungry mannie.”
“In the storm?” Elizabeth gasped.
“Aye, in the storm,” Mairi confirmed, her brow creasing with worry. “But he’s a cannie boatman,” she added. “I trust he will be safe.”
On the other side of the fire, Duncan stirred and shifted on his stool.
“And what about you, my selkie lass, do you have a man?” he asked.
Elizabeth’s eyes grew round, and she swallowed down a smirk.
“Heavens, no,” she replied.
Duncan tilted his head back and appraised her curiously.
“And why would that be such a strange idea?”
She raised her face nervously and ventured him a glance.
“Who would have me?” she murmured.
Aye, she thought; who would have me.
She was nineteen years old but still had a girlish look about her. She was as thin as a stick, with unruly red hair and tiny dimples for breasts. Her thin body was marked with scars and welts from the many beatings she had taken as a child, and she was not even a virgin – and had not been for many a year.
“Och, dinna say that,” Mairi objected. “You’re a winsome wee thing. True, ye’d never be able to haul a boat up the strand nor carry a creel-fou o’ silver darlings on your back around the country, but you’d still break a chiel’s heart. Wouldn’t she, maister?”
Duncan did not reply. He just continued considering her thoughtfully across the flames.
Elizabeth considered him too, out the corner of her demurely downcast eye. Who was he, she wondered, and what was he doing here in this fisherman’s cottage? From his demeanor and bearing, she could tell he wasn’t of the class of men who worked; nor was he one who prayed. He must, therefore, be a warrior. So why was he here, in this humble shack, amid the squalor of ropes and nets, breathing the fetid air of an open hearth and of damp cloth and of a bare dirt floor?
And then she suddenly remembered herself.
“I haven’t thanked you for saving my life,” she said with a start.
Duncan looked away modestly.
“I could not stand by and watch you drown,” he said simply. “It would have been against my nature.”
“But you risked your own life,” she insisted, looking him full in the face and meeting his look.
Duncan was the first to break their gaze.
“My life would be worth nothing had I not done the right thing.”
Elizabeth nodded slowly. His reply had confirmed her suspicion; the man was a knight. He had just evinced the knightly virtue of courage.
“Then I thank you, sir, for it would be ungracious of me not to acknowledge my gratitude and your worth.”
“My, what a pretty dance!” Mairi exclaimed, half-mockingly. She glanced around the squalid room in amazement. “I didna ken I was at court, in the presence of royalty.”
She gave an exaggerated curtsy, sweeping her baby in a wide arc before returning it to her breast.
Elizabeth laughed, and Duncan grinned. She liked that grin, she decided; it lit and transformed his otherwise dark, grim face. His brown eyes glinted in the firelight, and a dark thrill lanced through her body as his plaid fell away from his leg to reveal a pale and shapely muscled calf and a thigh lightly downed by dark hair.
“Listen!” Mairi broke the silence that had descended over them.
They listened. The only sound to be heard was the gentle crackling of the fire.
“The storm is over,” Duncan observed.
“I telt you it was just a squall,” Mairi said. “It didna ha’e the feel o’ a storm that was settlin’ in for the day. The wind has blown it over. It will batter itself out in the mountains.”
Elizabeth rose again from her stool. She seemed stronger, restored.
“I really must be getting back now,” she said, gathering her dry clothes from the line.
She held her gown against her face and wrinkled her nose.
“Aye,” Mairi confirmed apologetically, “they might stink a bit from the salt an’ the smoke, but they’ll get ye hame.”
Duncan rose too and reached for his breeks and sark.
“I’ll see you safely back.”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew round in alarm.
“No, no! There is no need,” she insisted hastily.
“But thon is some climb, up the cliff path,” Mairi observed in surprise. “And after your ordeal…”
“I’m quite alright,” Elizabeth assured her, with a note of desperation in her voice. “Thank you, again, for your hospitality and… and… all that you’ve done for me, for helping…” She turned to Duncan. “Heavens, I don’t even know your name, sir.”
“Duncan Comyn,” he offered.
“Aye,” Duncan replied, inclining his head and looking at her curiously. “And yours, milady?”
“Bryce,” she told him. “Elizabeth Bryce.”
Duncan gave a little bow.
“I am honored to make your acquaintance, Elizabeth Bryce. I will take myself outside to dress and leave you a little privacy.”
He ducked through the door. Elizabeth climbed out of the kirtle Mairi had lent her and into her own robes.
Outside, Duncan again took his leave of Elizabeth and watched her walk quickly along the high-water mark towards the foot of the path that wound its tortuous way up the cliffs. The sky had cleared and shone a deep azure blue. A stiff breeze was all that remained of the storm that had passed, and it whipped the calm surface of the bay into a field of little whitecaps. He contemplated the slight figure that picked its way across the shingle, the long red tresses that rose and fell in the gentle wind. Mairi appeared at his elbow, her child still at her breast.
“And who is Elizabeth Bryce?” he wondered out loud.
Mairi shielded her eyes against the bright sunlight and watched the receding figure.
“All I know of her is that she bides at the castle. She has just lately arrived with the new earl and his wife.”
Duncan’s face contorted with a brief grimace of angry frustration at her reply.
“But what is her connection to the Hays?” he asked, a mild air of impatience inflecting his voice. “Is she a daughter of the house or just retained as a servant?”
“That I dinna ken, maister,” Mairi replied regretfully. “Though, if her name’s ‘Bryce’, I doubt she’ll be ony o’ the Hays’ ilk.”
Duncan watched as Elizabeth began to mount the path.
“I’m kind of glad she wouldn’t let me convoy her to the castle,” he remarked thoughtfully, “given that it would be like walking into the lion’s den. But I wonder at her reluctance…”
“Maybe she didna want ye to find her selkie claes,” Mairi said with a smirk, and she turned and passed back into the cottage.
A selkie, Duncan reflected, straining his eyes to make out the small distant figure trudging up the steep path. Something that is not quite what it appears to be.
Do you have any secrets, Elizabeth Bryce? And, if so, what might they be?
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