Highland Revenge (Fated Hearts Book 1)(7)

By: Ceci Giltenan

“Alec made ye a rash promise, lass, but he is too young to know what is best. I thought ye would be happy. Many a lass meets her groom on her wedding day. Ye will have the opportunity to get to know him well before the wedding.”

“But Alec—”

“Enough, Fiona. Ye will be marrying Laird Sutherland’s heir. Ye will become Lady Sutherland someday. Alec may well have wished for ye to stay here, but the Sutherlands will be strong allies. This is not only in yer best interest, it is in our clan’s best interest as well. Yer brother will be a good laird someday, but he isn’t ready yet. His promise to ye was well meant, but it was the naïve choice of a loving brother rather than the wise choice of a strong leader. Ye want what’s best for yer clan, don’t ye?”

But was it for the best? “Aye, I do, but couldn’t we wait a bit? Alec will be coming home soon. If, after speaking with ye, he thinks this is the soundest choice, I won’t argue.”

She knew in an instant she had pushed too hard. Rage had enveloped her uncle, as it so often did after one wrong word. He had flung the tankard he held across the room. Spilling ale in its wake, it splintered against the stone wall. He roared, “Ye won’t argue anymore!”

Nay she wouldn’t. Seasoned warriors knew to avoid Bhaltair MacNicol when he was in a temper; she wasn’t about to cross him further.

Plans were set in motion that day for her aunt and uncle to escort her to the Sutherland holding. Fiona hadn’t challenged him again until yesterday morning. Aunt Sorcha had fallen ill with a stomach ailment. Fiona had seized the opportunity to try to delay the inevitable. “With Aunt Sorcha ill, she will need help running the keep for a few days. Perhaps we should delay the journey until she is better.”

“Nonsense, she isn’t gravely ill and she has Kara to help her.”

Her cousin Kara was a sweet lass, but at barely ten and two, was hardly able to manage a household the size of Castle MacNicol. Furthermore, if her aunt wasn’t gravely ill, why did Uncle Bhaltair insist on staying at her side, rather than escorting his niece? Just as she had the night he announced her betrothal, she tried to reason with him. Nothing she said changed her uncle’s mind. Finally she tossed her pride aside and tried begging. “Please, Uncle, I don’t want to go alone.”

“I have had enough of yer willfulness, Fiona. Ye aren’t a bairn and it’s barely a day’s ride. Ye will be well escorted and ye don’t need me or yer aunt leading yer pony.”

“But if we wait just a few weeks, Alec will be home. He can escort me.”

“Do ye think me addled, Fiona? Do ye think I don’t see through this? If Alec returns before ye leave, ye will talk him out of it, no matter how important the alliance is for the MacNicol clan. It shames me to see how thoughtless and self-centered ye have grown. Yer parents would be so disappointed in ye.”

Would her parents have been disappointed? Honor, loyalty and duty had been important to them; they were important to her now. Uncle Bhaltair’s words had their desired effect. Sufficiently embarrassed, Fiona had argued no more. She packed her things and, early this morning, had ridden out of Castle MacNicol with a small contingent of MacNicol guardsmen, prepared, however unwillingly, to meet her betrothed. Surely it was fear of the unknown that was making her so uneasy now. As she tried to talk herself out of her nervousness, she heard the rumble of hoof beats. In a moment warriors surrounded her small group with weapons drawn. Her guardsmen encircled her and tried to hold the attackers off, but they were badly outnumbered. Fiona spun her mount, surveying the battle around her. Her men were losing. There was nothing she could do. If they continued to fight, her clansmen would all be killed.

Parlan, the captain of her uncle’s guard who had stayed at her side, spoke urgently under his breath. “I have to end this, but maybe ye can escape capture. When I call for the surrender, as they lower their weapons, turn and ride hard to the south.”

“Parlan, I can’t abandon—”

“Don’t argue. Do it.”

She didn’t want to leave them but, likewise, she couldn’t bear the thought of being taken captive. As Parlan called for surrender, she tamped down her panic, sought an opening and spurred her mare to a run.