Highlander’s Wicked Prophecy (Preview)
Knock Castle, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Robbie stood next to his brother, James, in the great hall of Knock Castle, watching him exchange wedding vows, swearing his love for the English noblewoman that he had rescued from a shipwreck, Lady Elizabeth Dawson, before God and man. The time of their handfasting had ended, and they would now be legally man and wife, until death. A pang of envy caused a pain in Robbie’s chest, not for Elizabeth as he had no interest in her apart from a sister, but for the love that she and his brother shared together. He envied the surety they had for who they were and their place in the world and with each other. He and James had grown quite close since the truth of Robbie’s paternity had been revealed, and he was grateful for every moment that they had spent together, but he could not escape the feeling that he was missing an essential element of himself, that he lacked the purpose for his existence.
As a product of rape, Robbie had often felt that he should not be alive. He had struggled for the entirety of his life with the fact that it had been through his mother’s greatest pain, the most terrible moment of her life, that he had been conceived. He drew breath because she had been attacked and violated. It was an impossible burden to live with. Knock Castle had been the only home that he had ever known, but the screams of his mother’s pain called out to him from every stone. He could not walk through its doors without being reminded of his origins. As much as he loved his brother, he knew he could not stay any longer. Now that the truth was known, he had done what he had set out to do, and the rest of his life yawned before him as a purposeless void.
Once the ceremony was over, the hall erupted into celebration for the happy couple. James turned to Robbie and embraced him after kissing Elizabeth. James’ joy was so strong it was palpable in the air around him. The celebrations went well into the night, with many kisses exchanged between the bride and groom and many toasts drank to the bottom of the tankard. When it was over there was nary a man standing, but those that needed to be to keep all safe. James and Elizabeth walked over to Robbie wreathed in smiles. “Will ye stay the night, brother?” James invited.
“Nae,” Robbie shook his head, smiling at his brother’s happiness. “But I would discuss a matter with ye upon the morrow.”
“Aye, but it will wait.”
“Nae, I have time now. Elizabeth was just heading up to bed, and I was going to speak with William afore following her.” William was the castle’s keeper and James’ most trusted man. “Ye can walk and talk with me on the way.”
Robbie looked to Elizabeth for permission to distract her new groom for a brief time. “Are ye certain?”
“Yes, I need a moment to myself after such a celebration,” she smiled kissing Robbie’s cheek. She turned to James and whispered against his lips before kissing him, “But not too much time.”
James grinned. “As ye wish, My Lady,” he bowed with a flourish, then Elizabeth left the room, radiating sheer and utter happiness.
James turned to Robbie and wrapped his arm around his brother’s shoulders. “Ye need tae find yerself one o’ those,” he indicated toward his wife in delight.
“I wouldnae wish tae curse a lass with the likes o’ me for all eternity,” Robbie argued shaking his head.
“Nonsense! Ye are a good and honorable man. Any lass would be fortunate tae wed ye.”
Robbie chose not to argue the subject further, not wishing to anger his brother on such a happy day. “As ye say,” he demurred.
“Now what is it that ye wish tae speak with me about?”
“I am leavin’ Skye.”
James stopped mid-step. “What? Why?”
“I need tae find my purpose in this life, James. I was nae meant tae be born, but I was. I need tae find what it is that God wishes o’ my life, why I am here.”
James stood silently studying Robbie’s face. “I will miss ye, brother. It seems as if we have only just found each other, and I dinnae want ye tae go, but I understand. Were it nae for Elizabeth and our people, I might feel much the same way.”
“Aye, our faither’s legacy is a burden tae the both o’ us.” Their father, Alexander MacDonald, the former laird of Knock Castle, had not only raped Robbie’s mother, but many others as well. James had only just learned of their father’s sins two years ago and it had changed everything for both of them.
“How long will ye be gone?”
“I dinnae ken,” Robbie shook his head.
“Swear tae me that ye will return,” James demanded. “I couldnae bear tae let ye go if I didnae ken for certain that ye would return, brother.”
Robbie’s heart clenched at the sincerity of his brother’s words, and his throat grew thick with emotion. “I will return, I swear it,” he promised with his whole heart. “Once I have found the answers that I seek, I will return.”
“When do ye plan tae leave?”
“Upon the morrow. I plan tae sail with Duncan and Ian when they return tae the mainland.” Duncan MacGregor Campbell and Ian MacDonald were two of James’ closest friends who had come for the wedding.
James nodded slowly. He reached out and pulled Robbie into his arms. “Return tae me soon, brother, for my heart couldnae take yer absence for verra long.”
“Nor mine for the absence o’ ye,” Robbie answered, returning the embrace. Tears sprang to both men’s eyes, and they separated, both wiping the offending liquid from their cheeks.
“God be with ye, brother.”
James nodded, and Robbie turned to walk away. I will return, he silently promised with every painful, heartbreaking step, when I can do so with honor.
“Never doubt that ye are loved, brother. Never for one moment ever doubt it. Ye will always have a home here with me,” James called after him, as Robbie walked off into the darkness, a single tear rolling down his cheek to disappear into his MacDonald plaid.
I will return…
The next morning, Robbie boarded Duncan’s boat, christened the Marra after Duncan’s dearly beloved wife, Marra MacDonald, Lairdess of the Isle of Jura. The boat would first return Ian to the Isle of Jura and then go on to mainland Scotland where Duncan’s family and people anxiously awaited his safe return. Robbie was to remain with Duncan’s family until a decision had been made as to his future prospects for employment elsewhere. Duncan had offered Robbie a permanent place among his own men, as Robbie’s prowess in battle was well established, but Robbie had refused, feeling that what he sought lay far beyond the shores of his highland homeland.
As he sat near the stern of the boat, he watched Knock Castle fade from view, then the Isle of Skye vanished from the horizon altogether. Robbie drew in a shaky breath and turned to face the unknown future. He caught the glint of sympathy in Duncan and Ian’s eyes, but neither man spoke, leaving him to say goodbye in his own way and time without interruption. Duncan and Ian maneuvered the boat with speed and grace, leaving Robbie with nothing to do but think and mourn. He gazed out over the crystalline sun-speckled expanse of water and wondered what adventures lay for him beyond the horizon. What is there for me to do in the world other than be a warrior? I know naught else but the land, sea, and sword of my birth.
“I’ve heard tell o’ highland mercenaries bein’ hired by men o’ import who need protection, from kings tae ladies tae ship’s captains bound for the Americas,” Ian’s voice startled him out of his reverie. He did not realize that he had spoken his thoughts aloud. “There is always someone ready tae hire a good swordsman.”
“Aye,” Duncan nodded his head in agreement. “If ye dinnae mind the risk o’ lendin’ yer sword tae less honorable men than yer brother. Most are nae as good as he, ye ken, but ye could choose carefully who ye work for and bring honor tae yer own name if that is what ye seek.”
Robbie nodded his head. “And where would I find such employers?”
“Well ye could hire yerself out tae any number o’ lairds among the clans. I could make inquiries for ye if ye wished?”
“And what of the Americas?” He had found the thought of traveling so far a distance from home to be exhilarating. No one would know who he was or how he came to be in a place so far removed from Knock Castle.
“There are any number o’ ports that ye could visit, but if ye wish tae be sure o’ findin’ such a ship, ye would do best tae go tae London or tae Belfast. I had a cousin who immigrated from Scotland to Ireland, and then from Ireland to the America’s, and he left from Belfast. I’d say that London has more ships tae choose from though. Mind, ye would be surrounded by Sassenachs.” Ian spit over the side of the boat in disgust as if to rid himself of the bad taste of such a thing.
“Aye, that is somethin’ tae be thinkin’ about tae be sure.” Robbie nodded his thanks to the men for their aid and sat back to contemplate his options in silence. He had never been farther than the highlands and islands of Scotland. He thought of James’ bride, Elizabeth. As far as being English went, she was a good lass to be sure, but the men who had come after her to take her back had been the evilest of men. Robbie shook his head in horrified disgust at the memory of it. Her own father had taken her and tied her to the bow of his ship. Surely nae all Sassenachs are bassards o’ such evil ilk, just as nae all Scots are honorable men. My own faither certainly wasnae.
Robbie turned his gaze to the west out across the sea. Beyond the British Isles lay a new land of untold possibilities. He did not wish to leave Scotland forever, but just for a time, just long enough to find his way in the world apart from his father’s bloody legacy. James had found his redemption in Elizabeth. Robbie needed to find his within himself, and he could not do that with his father’s ghost breathing down his neck. He rolled his broad muscular shoulders in an attempt to erase the feeling such thoughts caused. He thought over the possibilities and decided that being a mercenary for a ship’s captain bound for foreign climes was certainly worth a try. He was strong, hardworking, skilled in warfare and strategy, as well as sailing. He would have no trouble finding a captain willing to hire him.
“America then,” he voiced his decision aloud.
Ian nodded his head in acceptance. “I dinnae ken why ye would wish tae leave Scotland tae be crammed on tae a ship with Sassenachs, but I wish ye well, lad.” Ian, a Scotsman of Jura through and through, had never once in his entire life dreamt of living anywhere else.
Duncan quietly studied Robbie’s face for a time before answering. “Are ye certain, lad? ‘Tis nae likely that ye will be able tae outrun the ghosts o’ yer past. I find it is best tae accept them for what they are and move on. On Skye, ye are kenned and loved for who ye are. How ye came tae be in this world does nae matter. ‘Tis the man ye are that counts.”
“Aye, maybe ye are right, but I will nae ken it for sure until I try.”
“Verra well. I will give ye the loan o’ a horse and supplies tae see ye on yer journey. If ye would like tae write a letter tae yer brother explainin’ what it is ye plan tae do, I will see that it is delivered after ye are gone.”
“I thank ye, Duncan, for yer aid and will pay ye for yer troubles.”
“Nae, I will nae take anythin’ from ye. ‘Tis a gift. Yer brother has done far more tae aid me and mine.”
Robbie nodded in gratitude and turned back to staring out at the horizon. Sea journeys could be treacherous. Many ships and their crew did not survive to reach their destinations. He knew all too well that he might be swallowed up by the sea never to return, and yet the idea of such a fate did not detour him. If I am tae die in my pursuit, then so be it. I will either return tae Skye a whole man who kens his purpose or nae at all.
Upon reaching Duncan’s keep, they were swiftly enveloped into the warm embrace of his loving family. Marra MacDonald was an exquisite beauty with her warm smile and scarlet tresses. Their son, Ewan, was a bubbling bairn of little over a year, with hair as bright as his mother’s. Duncan swept them both up into his arms giving his wife a resounding kiss. He tousled his son’s hair, smiling from ear to ear. “’Tis good tae be home.” He kissed his wife once more, then turned to introduce Robbie. “My love, this is Robbie MacDonald o’ the Isle o’ Skye, brother tae James. Robbie, may I present my wife, Lady Marra MacDonald, Lairdess o’ the Isle o’ Jura.”
Robbie bowed low over Marra’s hand. “My Lady.”
“Mr. MacDonald,” Marra inclined her head in greeting. “’Tis pleased I am tae meet ye. I have heard many good things about yer prowess in battle.”
“I thank ye, My Lady. Please call me Robbie.”
“And ye may call me Marra. Yer brother is wee Ewan’s godfather after all. That makes ye family does it nae.”
Robbie bowed once more, smiling in gratitude for the warm welcome. “And this must be young Master Ewan,” he remarked gently shaking the wee lad’s tiny hand.
“Aye,” Duncan grinned proudly at his son. “And another on the way,” he laid his hand affectionately on his wife’s abdomen.
“My congratulations tae ye both.”
“Aye, I was greatly sorry tae miss the weddin’ but ‘tis best nae tae be travelin’ just now,” she ran her hand over her protruding stomach with a tender smile.
“Ye were greatly missed, my love, but James understood. He sends ye his verra best wishes and asks that we send word when the bairn’s time has come,” Duncan reassured his wife.
“Well come in, and we will find ye a good hot meal and a warm bed,” Marra waved Robbie toward the keep, and he followed the couple inside. “Will ye be stayin’ with us long?” She asked with a kind smile.
“Nae, I will be leavin’ upon the morrow, with yer husband’s blessing o’ course.” Robbie inclined his head to Duncan in deferment as the laird of the castle.
“That is tae bad. It would appear that there are several young lassies among our kinswomen who would wish it to be otherwise.” Marra gestured with her head toward the kitchens where a gaggle of lassies were staring at him, blushing and giggling.
Robbie shook his head. “I am nae o’ a mind for a lass at this time, but I thank ye for the compliment.”
Marra paused and looked up into Robbie’s eyes, reading what reasoning might lie behind their blue depths. “Ye are in pain,” she murmured, her compassion for him clear on her face. “I ken the truth o’ yer birth and ken well the cruelties o’ yer faither, but hear me, Robbie MacDonald, ye are nae tae blame for any o’ it. Yer faither’s actions are his and his alone. A man is more than his faither’s misdeeds. Ye are more than yer faither’s savage legacy. Dinnae let it take ye from those who love ye for verra long. It is tae easy tae lose ourselves in the sin o’ others if we attempt tae face the world without love.” Robbie looked down into her eyes and was struck by the knowledge and sincerity that he found there. James had told him of the suffering that Marra had endured in her young life before she had wed Duncan. He knew that she was all too familiar with pain, betrayal, and the dishonorable conduct of evil men. “Ye may try tae run for a wee while, but remember in the end, that ye have a home with people who love ye verra much, with a brother that loves ye verra much. In the end love is the one thing that will defeat the darkness that ye fear marks yer soul.”
Marra moved away seeing to the arrangements for supper, but her words hung in the air long after she was gone. “My wife is a wise woman,” Duncan murmured, laying a consoling hand on Robbie’s shoulder. “Heed her words, lad, as best ye can,” he advised then motioned for Robbie to follow him.
Duncan led Robbie up a flight of stone steps and down a long hall. Robbie could not help but notice the marks upon the floor and walls that were the remnants of an attack on the castle a little over three years before. “Ye will stay in my maither’s auld room for the night. Come the morn, I will have a horse and provisions awaitin’ ye in the courtyard. Are ye certain that we cannae persuade ye tae remain a while longer?”
“I thank ye, Duncan, but nae. I am set on my course. Ye are a good friend tae offer, mind.”
“Think nothin’ o’ it, lad. As my wife said, ye are family.”
Duncan saw Robbie to his room, then went below stairs to see to his wife. The bathwater was brought up, and Robbie cleaned and changed himself for the evening meal. By the time he descended the stairs, the hall had transformed into a lively medley of food, people, music, and conversation. Duncan, seeing him, waved Robbie up onto the dais at the head of the lines of tables. Robbie joined him, and Duncan raised his arms in a sign for silence. The room went quiet and all heads turned to their laird. “A toast tae Robbie MacDonald! May yer journey be a safe and productive one, and may ye return tae yer people whole and happy. Tae Robbie MacDonald! Slainte!”
“Slainte!” the room echoed back, and everyone raised their glasses to Robbie’s success.
The room returned to blissful chaos as food was brought out and laid upon the tables. Large platters of venison from the Isle of Jura were brought out, followed by bowls of boiled root vegetables, kale, bread, cheese, apples, and other delectable treats, including a large pigeon pie. Robbie’s mouth watered after a long day of sailing with naught to eat but bannocks. He dove into the meal with relish, devouring his food with such gusto that the castle cook actually came up to him and pinched his cheeks in delight, filling his trencher with another helping of everything. Ale flowed freely around the room, and Robbie allowed himself to be swept up in the revelry of the evening. The laird of the castle had returned, and his people were happy to have him home. Robbie would never know such respect as that afforded to a laird, but he admired men such as Duncan and James who had it.
When the supper had concluded, a space was cleared for a bit of dancing and friendly competition. A bonnie fair-haired lass asked Robbie to dance, and he acquiesced, allowing her to lead him out onto the floor for a reel. When the music ended, Robbie released the lass, declining to dance further after seeing the unhappy face of a man who he guessed to be either her brother or her suitor. Robbie slipped outside, escaping the heat of so many bodies in one room, and breathed in a deep cleansing breath of sea air. A voice from behind him interrupted the brief peace of the moment. “Is it true what they say about ye?”
“That would depend on what is bein’ said,” Robbie answered. Hearing the confrontation in the man’s voice, he turned to face the intrusion.
“That ye are the bassard son o’ Alexander MacDonald born o’ a kitchen whore.” The man sneered out the words in a drunken hiss.
“’Tis true that I am the bassard son o’ the Laird Alexander MacDonald, but my maither was nae whore. She was raped.” Robbie knew when his mother had decided to support James and come forward with the truth about Robbie’s conception that word would travel. He had also known that there would be repercussions to the revealing of the truth, but he had not expected it among the people that his brother had worked so hard to save from ruin. No one other than Marra had said a word to him about it until now, and he knew that even now it was nothing more than a drunken utterance of jealousy.
“Bassard son o’ a whore.” The man spat at Robbie’s feet in disgust. “Ye stay away from my woman. Ye keep yer bloody hands off o’ her, ye hear.”
“I have absolutely nae intentions toward the lass. She asked me tae dance, and I didnae wish tae be rude and refuse her. That is all.”
“A man o’ yer ilk cannae be trusted with a bonnie lass such as my Irene. We dinnae allow our women tae be whored as ye MacDonalds o’ Skye have done.”
Robbie moved forward and stared hard down into the face of the drunken man. “Rape is nae whoring. It is a cowardly attack, the perpetrator o’ which is tae be punished severely at the end o’ a sword. I will nae stand here and listen tae ye malign the name o’ good and faithful women who have done naught wrong.” Robbie turned away in an effort not to do violence upon a clansman of whose Laird he was guest.
“Bassard son o’ a whore,” the man sneered at his back in triumphant disgust, believing himself to have emerged superior from the discussion.
Unable to contain his temper any longer, Robbie turned and punched the man square in the face, breaking his nose. Blood sprayed everywhere, soaking his hand and the stones at their feet. “My maither is nae a whore, and the next time I hear ye say such a thing, it will be my dirk that ye will answer tae, nae just my fist.” Robbie stepped over the prone body upon the ground as it rocked back and forth, crying and moaning in pain.
Duncan met him at the door. “What happened?”
“Ask yer man there. I am sure he will be all tae glad tae tell ye,” Robbie replied, and moving through the hall, he retired to his room for the rest of the night. Come the morning, Robbie set out for London and never looked back.
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