Highland Revenge (Fated Hearts Book 1)(9)By: Ceci Giltenan
Now he had the opportunity to repay Bhaltair MacNicol several times over. He had eight warriors and, very soon, he would have the man’s own niece. He wouldn’t leave them to die with no food and water, but he would give them no further consideration than that. He was quite sure his dungeon would be no more comfortable than Castle MacNicol’s, and he was not inclined to improve the conditions. Even Bhaltair’s niece could languish in the cells with the rest of them; it still didn’t compare to Bhaltair’s treatment of Eoin. Furthermore, unlike Bhaltair, Eoin would send a ransom demand. It might be exorbitant, but he would send it, following the dictates of honor and Highland custom.
~ * ~
Although the initial surprise of her flight gave Fiona a few moments head start, she heard horses following through the woods. Knowing she couldn’t hope to outrun them, she searched desperately for a place to hide. But how could she hide her horse? Not too far ahead, just off to the right, she saw a massive tree with a low-hanging branch. She had spent half her childhood climbing trees—she could do this. She knotted the reins behind the horse’s neck and steered her to a stop under the branch. Pulling herself onto it, she released the reins and kicked the mare into a run. Fiona thought Morag wouldn’t run far without a rider, but perhaps she would be well away from the tree in which her mistress was hiding when the warriors caught up. Fiona focused her effort on getting as high up in the tree as she could, hoping to hide herself in the late spring foliage. Climbing a tree had been much easier as a child. Her dress hampered her progress now, catching on the branches. Once she had to yank it free, putting a large three-cornered tear in the fabric.
She had barely reached a spot high enough to be out of sight when several of the attacking warriors raced past, following her now riderless mare. Her beautiful little mare must have run them on a merry wee chase, because it took much longer than she expected for them to return, leading her mare and clearly angry at having lost the rider.
When they disappeared from view, Fiona considered her options. She could slip out of the tree and make a run for it. She couldn’t be far from either MacNicol, Ross or Sutherland land. Their route should have taken them far enough south before turning east to traverse the northern tip of Ross territory, intending to circle around MacKay land. Parlan must have made an error and turned eastward too soon, cutting across the southern portion of the MacKay holding. Just as he had told her, all she needed to do was travel due south to escape. Still, she suspected they would mount a search for her, and she had little hope of eluding so many, no matter how short the distance.
She would have to wait. When they exhausted their search of the area, they would either move on, or set up camp and begin again in daylight. Either way, she believed her best chance was to wait until dark, climb down and head south. As long as she could get off of MacKay land, she was confident she could find her way home on foot
Before long the men Eoin had sent to fetch the lass returned, leading her horse, but without her on it. “Where the hell is she?”
“I don’t know, Laird. She was well ahead of us, and when we finally sighted her mount, there was no sign of the lass.”
The guardsman to whom Eoin had addressed his questions shook his head in disgust.
“What?” Eoin demanded.
“That one doesn’t have the sense God gave a rock.”
“Why do ye say that? She has managed to escape me for the moment. That seems clever enough.”
“But at what price? She has lost her mount. I thought she was a better horsewoman than that. Now the fool lass is lost, alone and unguarded on an enemy’s land.”
“Laird, the reins were tied. She wasn’t unhorsed by accident. She clearly wanted the horse to lead us in another direction.”
Eoin arched an eyebrow at the MacNicol guardsman. “Possibly she is not as brainless as ye think. But ye needn’t fear for her safety. We will find her. Oh, on second thought, I suppose we’re the enemy ye’re worried about. Maybe yer fears aren’t unfounded after all.” Eoin set four of his men to guard the captives while he and his remaining men searched the surrounding area.