Marti Talbott's Highlander Series
by Marti Talbott
(c) All Rights Reserved
In love with a woman he had only seen once and could not find, the Highlander Kevin MacGreagor was growing older and needed a wife to give him sons. No other woman pleased him, even the daughters of other Lairds, so he finally settled for Anna sight unseen. But when his men went to meet her guard, she was all alone and badly beaten.
Who could have done such a thing and why?
Laird Kevin MacGreagor couldn’t seem to take his eyes off the woman in the glen below. A Highlander and a giant of a man with blond curls and blue-gray eyes, he stood beside his horse on a wooded hillside, with his legs apart and his hands clasped behind his back. A soft blue dominated the color of his kilt, a length of matching cloth over one shoulder covered half his white shirt, and his leather shoes were laced up to his knees.
She was magnificent. Her long, black hair hung down to her waist and her soft golden skirt caught on the grass as she walked, released and then caught again. She wore a purple tunic with a woven leather belt and a medallion that hung low on one hip. On her shoulder, she carried a bow and a leather sheath filled with arrows.
He heard it before he saw the huge black stallion breaking through the trees at a trot, but her back was turned and she didn’t seem to notice. The stallion was headed straight for her and Kevin had only just opened his mouth to shout a warning when the stallion slowed to a walk. Gently, the horse nudged her back. The woman grinned, but didn’t turn around and kept right on walking. Determined, the black followed and nudged her again. This time, she laughed and shook her head. Her laughter was wonderful and Kevin wanted to hear it again.
He wasn’t at all prepared for what happened next. The stallion turned, raced around, got in front and headed straight for her. Kevin held his breath, but the horse didn’t slow and when she held out her hand, the stallion lowered his head as if to charge her. Just as it shot past, the woman grabbed the horse’s mane and with ease and grace, swung up onto its bare back. Then she leaned down and hugged the horse’s neck until the stallion slowed to a trot and stopped.
Kevin couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it was obvious she was urging the horse on. She lightly kicked his sides, but the horse didn’t move. Instead, it pawed the ground and shook its head. The woman roared with laughter and Kevin couldn’t help but laugh with her. He’d never seen anything like it.
As the horse began to move again, she carefully got to her knees and then to her feet. She balanced herself perfectly, held both of her arms straight out, and as the stallion brought her close to Kevin’s end of the glen, she closed her eyes and lifted her chin into the wind.
She was indeed the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and he believed nothing she did could astound him now. He was wrong. When the horse began to bring her near again, she reached for an arrow, loaded her bow, and before he could react, her arrow flew between his legs. He didn’t flinch. Instead, he raised an eyebrow and glared at her.
She shouted a word he didn’t understand, sat down, and in an instant, the horse and the woman sped into the trees on the opposite side of the meadow. He quickly mounted and followed, but after a full hour of searching, he had to admit he’d lost her. Disappointed, he turned his horse north and headed home.
It was unwise, he knew, to go off alone the way he did. The capture and ransom of a laird put his entire clan at risk. Yet on this day, he commanded his guard to stay behind, and allow him the freedom he had not enjoyed since he suddenly became laird. Soon, his six-man guard surrounded him and he was not surprised. He might have been annoyed, but each man had taken a pledge to protect him and they were only honoring their word. Besides, he was consumed with thoughts of the woman, and he had neglected his responsibilities at home long enough. The ride through the dense forest that offered good hunting and ample timber, took less than a day, and when the path became a road wide enough for carts, he could finally see his village in the distance.
On each side of the road, farmers working the land or tending livestock, paused to wave and watch their laird. He acknowledged each with a nod and a smile.
The village was not unlike many others, save for one thing -- it was surrounded by a high wall and a moat that added extra layers of protection against enemies. Just outside the moat, a pleasant meadow offered a place for the warriors to practice their skills and for older children to play. A path leading in the opposite direction led to a warm-water loch fit for bathing.
At last, Kevin and his men rode over the wide, wooden bridge into the substantial courtyard, dismounted and handed their reins to boys waiting to take the horses to the stables. From the courtyard, several tree-lined paths led to cottages, and then met at a communal garden in the back. Logs along the paths and near the garden offered the villagers a place to sit, talk and rest.
Kevin was laird over a clan of no less than six hundred, all of whom seemed happy to have him back. Yet it was his sister, Katie, he most wanted to see. She stood on the wooden landing outside the two-story, stone and mortar keep he shared with her and her smile was radiant as always.
At the age of 19, an illness plagued the land taking nearly half the Highlanders, his parents and all but one of his five siblings. Kevin suffered the high fever too and recovered to find himself the clan’s new laird. He expected to be laird one day, but not so soon, and he hardly knew what to do in the beginning. Still, he did as his father and grandfather before him had done -- he spoke the edict, “Any lad who harms a lass or a child shall be put to death.” It was a good law and he was willing to carry it out.
By most accounts, it was a pleasant life. Yet for Kevin, being laird was a heavy burden he sometimes resented. If it wasn’t two followers who couldn’t get along, it was a land dispute or a threatened clan war. Most other clans saw the advantage of calling him friend and few were brave enough to cross him. Still, there were lairds who coveted the life the MacGreagors had and war was always a major concern.