About the book
This game started years ago, and can only end in the death of one...
On the verge of financial ruin, Lady Juliana Petrey sacrifices herself to save her family’s future. Traveling to Scotland to marry a Laird she has never met, all her plans are demolished when she meets the dashing Highlander sent to escort her.
Andrew MacLohl’s life changed with his father’s death. A warrior under Laird Lochenbrew’s command, he leads a quiet life, despite the Laird’s dismay for him. When he is tasked with the protection of the Laird’s bride-to-be, his efforts not to give in to his scorching desire for her fall short.
Ambushed by bandits, Juliana and an injured Andrew are forced to take shelter in a neighboring Laird’s castle. Only to stumble upon long-buried secrets that should have been taken to the grave: a conspiracy that started twenty-six years ago.
A conspiracy that thirsts for Andrew's blood…
Lochenbrew, Scotland, 1695
Andrew raised the metal hammer high above his head and it rang down on the heated metal below. Sparks of bright orange danced in the dim light of the small blacksmith shop.
Those who saw Andrew on the streets knew that he was a boy, his young face not yet hardened by time, but when he was working around funaces and bellows, he was often mistaken for a man.
He was fifteen years old, yet his forearms were already thick and strong, wielding a hammer with the same skill as he wielded swords. He was already tall, standing over six feet, and wore a constant serious expression on his face.
The bellows were pumped one more time, and the devilish flames raged inside the stone furnace. The sword was plunged into the scalding flame and brought out to be hammered once more. When he was happy with it, Andrew dipped the sword into hissing water, and turned the blade this way and that, admiring the faint sheen on the cooling metal.
“Aye, another fine blade.” Adair came close and studied the metal.
Adair was the only family that Andrew had. His mother had passed away in childbirth, and he was the first and only child of the McLochl’s. His father was an only child too, and contact had been lost many moons ago with his mother’s family. All he had was his father.
Not that it bothered Andrew. Not much in life annoyed the boy. He had grown up under the guidance of his father to be the boy he was today, and, soon, he would be a man. He had learned politeness, courtesy, stubbornness, and patience from his father, but, most importantly, he had learned how to wield the tools of the blacksmith.
If there was one thing that Andrew was born to do, it was to shape metal. Adair was the best blacksmith in the clan, and Andrew would take over that mantle soon enough. They were in such high demand that the Castle often came to them with special work, forgoing the Castle blacksmith for the Adairs. It was the Laird’s sword that Andrew held in his hand.
“It’s not good enough,” complained Andrew.
“Och, ye worry too much about the quality when no one else knows the difference.”
“I know the difference.” It was true that he would be able to tell the difference, but he also knew that his father was right, no one else would know.
“Aye, ye do that,” said Adair. “Well, ye have an hour until Laird Lochenbrew gets here. He’ll like it just the same now as he’ll like it after ye’ve worked on it some more.”
“Just a few more hits.” Andrew liked the way that the metal danced in his hands.
“Aye, aye,” said Adair. “Dae what ye need tae.”
“The Laird is a stern man,” warned Andrew. “Stern but fair. I only want tae give him the best.”
“Aye, he is that. The sword will make a fine weapon for him, ye can be sure of that.”
“I need tae go check the balance.” He knew that he was overcomplicating the process, but he did not want to disappoint the Laird.
“Aye, ye dae that, and I’ll have a wee lie down.” Adair looked tired and a little pale. Andrew worried for the man, but knew the rest would do him good.
“Ye feelin’ all right, Father?” asked Andrew.
“Just a wee bit tired,” Adair replied. “Nothin’ that a wee nap won’t fix.”
“Are ye sure that ye are well, Father? Ye’ve not been well for almost a month.”
“Just the changin’ seasons,” said Adair. “I’ll be back workin’ in no time. Ye just worry about that sword.”
“All right, I’ll wake ye before the Laird arrives,” said Andrew.
Adair retreated to the back room, a small room with two beds and a small fireplace. It was all that Andrew knew as home. He thought about the Laird coming from the Castle. He had been in the Castle twice in his life and marveled at how big and grand it was. He had delivered weapons to the armory, and loved seeing the soldiers training within the Castle walls.
“Someday, I will be a soldier too,” Andrew whispered to himself. He had spent far too long making swords and not enough time wielding them.
The furnace raged once more, and the sword was heated before being beaten again. The orange metallic glows flew through the air and disappeared as if they were fireflies. When Andrew was happy with the blade, he let it sit in the cool water for a few minutes before taking it outside to practice.
Lochenbrew Castle stood tall in the distance, a beacon of hope to those who lived around it. The stone was pale and bright in the midday sun, and a circle of birds swarmed above the towers, before being lost in the clouds. Andrew looked at the small wooden blacksmith shop in comparison.
It was home, but was it much more than that? He dreamed of something different in life, but knew that he had to settle for what he had. It was not that bad of a life, after all. He had not yet told his father, but he was seriously considering finding work in the Castle. He knew what his father would say. The blacksmith in the Castle did nothing more than make the same swords over and over, and life would be tedious, but at least he would get to live within the walls.
He had not yet been able to bring himself to talk to his father about it. As he dreamed of the conversation, he took out his frustrations on the bale of hay in front of him. It was the perfect shape and density to slash and poke with the sword. He loved his father too much ever to leave, yet the life of a soldier was one with the promise of adventure. He thrust the sword deep into the guts of the hay, before yanking it out. He would even settle for being a Castle blacksmith, something to disturb the life that he had now.
The sword had a keen blade and exceptional balance, the type of sword that would feel so natural in your hand, that you would not be able to fully appreciate just how expertly made it was. The sword was light and elegant as the blade caught the sunlight. Andrew twisted it in the bright sunshine, and almost did not see the Laird and his men approaching.
They were only a few hundred yards away when Andrew spotted them and ran back inside to wake his father. The front door was swung open wide, letting the sunlight cascade into the dim room, and Andrew would have tripped over his father if he had not been able to see him lying on the floor inside the door.
“Father!” Andrew screamed. He crouched down and turned his father from his front to his back. Adair lay there motionless and lifeless, his eyes were open but glazed over. There was a look of peace on his face as Andrew shook him, trying to wake the man who was now sleeping forever.
“Father!” He cradled his father in his arms, a man who once was a giant who would tower above him, and now felt so frail and weak. Andrew let the tears run down his cheek. That is how the Laird found him.
“What is goin’ on?” asked Laird Lochenbrew. “What have ye done?”
“What have I done!” screamed Andrew, momentarily forgetting who he was talking to. If it were anyone else, he would have lunged at him. Who was this man to think that he had done anything? Instead, he composed himself and looked up at the Laird, searching with his eyes and looking for help. “He was fine a minute ago. I just went outside tae test the sword. Ye have tae help him.”
“I’m sorry.” The words were plain and stern. “There is nothin’ more that can be done.”
“But ye have them fancy healers,” pleaded Andrew. “Ye have tae help me.”
“We’ll dae what we can,” said Laird Lochenbrew.
Still, Andrew looked up at the Laird and the men surrounding him, expecting one of them to reach down and wake his father, tell him that everything was going to be fine. He wanted that but knew that it would never come. He knew that there was nothing that the Laird could do, as powerful as he was.
His father was dead.
“I should've been there for him.” Andrew wiped the tears from his eyes. “I have tae tell someone. He didnae have much family, and a funeral, and the blacksmith shop, and I just wish that I had done better by him.”
He had felt like a man only a moment ago, pounding on the steel of the sword, and thrusting the blade into imaginary enemies, but the maturity slipped away. He was a boy again.
Andrew looked up at the Laird, the man who watched over the clan, and hoped for something to happen. The Laird stood with a stony and stoic look on his face. Andrew did not know what to say to the man.
“Is that my sword?” asked Laird Lochenbrew, finally breaking the silence.
“Aye.” Andrew had forgotten that he was still holding it.
“Ye can give that tae me,” ordered the Laird. “It is mine, after all.”
“Aye, of course.” Andrew stood up and handed over the sword. He wanted to look down at his father again but could not bring himself to look at the man who had raised him, lying dead on the floor.
The silence hung in the air.
“He had been sick,” said Andrew, the silence broken once more.
The Laird nodded.
“But, I didnae know that he was this sick,” said Andrew.
“Aye.” The words were impatient, the Laird had more important things to attend to.
Andrew wanted to cry, or shout, or run into the Laird’s arms. He wanted someone to tell him what to do. He wanted his father back.
“Ye’ll be fine,” said the Laird to Andrew before talking to his men. “Prepare the horses.”
“Aye, Me Laird.” They sprang into action immediately.
“Ye cannae go,” pleaded Andrew. “Please, ye have tae help me.”
“Ye will be fine.” The Laird folded his arms. “Yer a man now, Andrew. Yer time has come tae take over from Adair. He would want no other tae dae so.”
“Take me with ye,” blurted Andrew.
“Take me tae the Castle, please.” Andrew was desperate to be taken from this place. He could not be here anymore.
“I dinnae understand,” said the Laird. “Ye have work tae dae here, Andrew.”
“After all of this, I cannae work here, not now. Let me work in the Castle. I can fight for ye. I know how tae use a sword. Send me off intae battle, I dinnae care.”
“We have enough fighters,” said the Laird.
“Ye always need more blacksmiths. I’ll work for little. I work hard and dinnae mess around. Ye’ll not regret it.” Andrew was grasping for anything that the Laird had.
“We have blacksmiths,” said the Laird. “Ye have a good life here, ye dinnae want tae work in the Castle, Andrew.”
“Please, Me Laird. I’m begging ye. I cannae work here, it’s not right. I need tae get out of this place. I’ll dae anythin’ for ye at the Castle.”
There was silence once again. Andrew stood looking up at the Laird. He could not breathe as he waited for an answer. The Laird looked down at the lifeless body of Adair on the floor and seemed to be considering the proposition. Andrew dared not speak.
“Take care of what needs tae be taken care of here, and then we’ll talk,” said Laird Lochenbrew.
“Thank ye. I won’t let ye down.” Andrew wanted to run over and shake the Laird’s hand.
Once more, the Laird stood there in silence, this time staring at Andrew.
“The horses, My Laird.” The Laird’s man had returned from outside, it was time to go.
The Laird nodded at Andrew and turned to leave the blacksmith shop.
Andrew felt a flutter in his chest. He knew that he could not stay in the place where his father had died and had enough determination to make the Laird proud of him. He had to be a man now and step up to deal with what had happened. There were things to organize, and people to contact. When everything was done, he would start a new chapter in his life.
Plans for Marriage
Gordontrent, England, 1707
Juliana watched as the butler walked past the library, peering in to see her sitting in the reading chair. She had a copy of the Iliad raised in front of her, the spine worn and creased. She looked up from the book in time to see Hastings pass before she went back to her reading.
She liked the Iliad, there was no doubt about it, but it was so dated now and did not contain as much adventure as she would like. She almost chuckled to herself as Hastings walked by none the wiser that she concealed a second book within the first.
Her father would call it uncouth, but she could not get enough. Her friend in the market would pass her the books in secret, and she would gobble them up at home, reading about great warriors from foreign countries, knights defeating barbarians, and the like. Juliana read on:
‘The great warrior swung his deadly blade and cleaved the barbarian in two. They were no more than animals, so he was doing them a favor. The blood gushed from the body as it fell to the ground, dead and lifeless. He had killed another of the barbarians who wreaked havoc on the village and would have his rewards.
The nameless warrior cleaned himself up in the crystal clear stream, washing the blood from his face. He could not help but admire his own handsomeness and went so far as to wink at himself. The warrior smiled and went off in search of the village. There would be gold, a feast, and beautiful women. He was one step closer to the barbarian king.’
Juliana could not get enough. When she thought about the men in her life, they were so unlike the warriors in her books, that it was disheartening, not that anyone could ever live up to the great men that she read about. They were raw and strong.
Now that the Treaty of the Union had been signed, there were no more wars, not that she wanted them so close to home. No, she only dreamed of wars in faraway lands, with men thick like trees, only coming home once they had rid the world of evil, to claim their rightful prizes.
Juliana had bloomed into a rare flower. She was twenty-one years old, at an age when she would soon be married, and she knew that she would be sought after by the Lords in England. She had hair as black as the night, and it hung down almost to her waist. She tied it up in a braid to keep it neat. Those braids were not as neat as they used to be now that her mother was tying them and not a maid.
Her eyes were beautiful voids that caught your attention and drew you in. Juliana did not claim to be the most educated woman in the world, but she did have an allure that kept most men hanging on her every word. Once they became lost in her eyes, they were captivated for hours.
The only problem for Juliana was that she would never get to marry a warrior, not like the ones in her book. She wanted to get married more than anything in the world and dreamed of starting a life with a family of her own, but she only wished that real life could have a little more adventure to it. The struggle within her often kept her awake at night.
She could never tell her father that, of course. He was a man of tradition. There was a way to do things, and that was just how it would be. She could never tell him about the stories in her books. He would laugh at her and instruct her that the world is not like that.
No, she knew that she would marry a Lord, and he would be a good man. Her father would arrange everything, and she trusted him to choose a man that would suit her and take care of her. She would live out a happy life, with lots of fulfillment, and bring children into her family. Her life would be a good one, yet she could not help but dream of more.
Juliana closed the book. The warrior was just too handsome to read on. On top of that, the place was just too quiet. Her father had fallen on hard times, and business was slow, but that would change soon, it always did. She sighed and put the Iliad back on the shelf, hiding ‘The Handsome Warrior Who Saved A Kingdom’ beside it. She went off in search of her mother.
“Mother?” Juliana tapped lightly at the door to her mother’s room.
“Oh, my dear,” came the reply from inside.
“Can I come in?” asked Juliana.
“Please do.” There was a weariness in her mother’s voice that Juliana had become accustomed to.
Juliana slowly opened the door and found her mother lying on top of the bed, staring straight up at the ceiling. There was a look of hopelessness on her face.
“Mother, I hate to see you like this.”
“It has all been taken from us,” said her mother.
“We will be fine. Father knows what he is doing.”
“I do not know anymore.” Her mother shifted in the bed to find a more comfortable position. “My maids are gone, the footmen, the stables are in disarray. It is a wonder that we have been able to hang onto Hastings, but how much longer is he going to stay around?”
“Mother, you do make such a fuss. Do you remember the time when—”
“Juliana! You do not get it, do you? We are finished! The money is gone!” Her mother sat up in the bed and stared straight through Juliana. “I do not know what we are going to do, I really do not.”
“Mother, you are scaring me,” said Juliana.
She had gotten her beauty from her mother, who had been magnificent when she had married her father, but time had taken that beauty from her, that and the constant ups and downs of the family fortune. As she stared at her mother now, she almost did not recognize her. The words were not registering.
Juliana did not understand how everything could be lost. She only had to look around her to see the grandeur of their home. Sure, it was devoid of the staff that usually populated it, and that brought a quaint quietness to the house, but it was gratuitously decorated with grandeur.
She would take regular walks around the large house when the weather was not in agreement, and it would take an hour to visit every room, and when she did visit them, there was artwork, and statues, and tapestries, and hangings, and much, much more. She thought about telling her mother that, but it would make no difference when she got in a mood like this.
It has been nice to not have a maid pandering after me for the past six months. A lady should know how to look after herself, and I do. It will not be long until we regain what we once had, and will we not all be stronger for having gone through this again?
“Mother, please rest until dinner, and we can sit together and sort this whole thing out,” said Juliana.
“If there is anyone to serve it to us, or to cook it.”
“Mother, you are so dramatic. I am off to see Father this very instant, and I will see if he can convince you that we are going to be fine.” She had every confidence that this would be just like the previous times, when her mother had worried, unfoundedly.
Her mother said nothing more, looking at Juliana with a small hint of a smile. Juliana smiled at her mother and pulled the blanket up over her. Her mother had scared her for a moment there, but the whole world was a stage to her.
Her father was in his study, poring over what looked like very important papers. His small, round glasses were perched on his thin nose, and he peered over them from time to time, looking like he was trying to decipher a secret code on the papers in front of him.
Where her mother was dramatic and elegant, her father was serious and slight. He had pointed features and a face aged with hints of wrinkles. He was small and squirrelly, but as generous as they came. He had a look of coldness about him when he was absorbed in his business, but his temperament would change as often as the weather did. He had a head for business and a heart for people.
“Juliana,” he said when he noticed her standing in the doorway. “Is it time for supper already?”
“No, Father. I only wanted to come and see how you are.”
“Oh, fine, fine.” Her father was distracted, but beckoned for Juliana to come in. “As good as can be expected.” He took off his spectacles and laid them on the table in front of him.
“Mother is not taking this well,” said Juliana.
“No, she is not,” admitted her father, he had a slight look of concern on his face.
“But, you are not worried, are you?” asked Juliana.
“Me? No,” replied her father. “Not worried at all. We just need to…I mean, as long as—”
“As long as what, Father?”
“I have not made the wisest decisions.” He picked up the spectacles from the desk, turned them over in his hands, and replaced them in the same spot. “The money was tied up, and then it was not, and I moved it, and things are not what they once were, and…well, I do not need to bother you with the specifics of it.”
“So, Mother was right?” asked Juliana.
“It is my fault, and I must deal with it. If only—” he hesitated for a moment, unsure of how to continue.
“What, Father? What is it? Just tell me what I can do to help, and I will.”
“I am so glad to hear you say that.” Her father picked up the spectacles again, and they rested in his hands this time. “We just need a little time, and you are a woman now, and it would seem that the two are meant to be. I cannot force it on you, of course, but sooner or later—”
He trailed off again.
Juliana pulled down her dress and stood up a little straighter. She had known her father long enough to know when he was trying to say something and knew when to read between the lines. She always laughed at her father's non-subtlety when he thought he was treading elegantly around a subject.
I need to help my family, and if my marriage is the answer, then so be it. I knew that this day would come sooner or later. I will be like the warrior who steps up to save his kingdom, only I am stepping up to save my family, and I will not have to do any of the barbaric stuff. I will only have to make a home and start a family.
“I will do it,” said Juliana, standing up straighter.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, Father. I do believe that I have more of an idea as to what you are proposing than you do.” A smile crossed her face, he could be so oblivious at times.
“Yes, yes, I am sure that you do,” he said. “You always have had an intelligence that I cannot keep up with, and a wisdom that I only aspire to.”
“Well, it is clear to me where I got that from.” She smiled at the proud man before her.
He beamed back at her with all the love in the world.
“I am sorry that it has to be done like this,” admitted her father. He finally put his spectacles back on.
“It does not matter. It is for the good of the family.” Juliana felt the courage rise inside of her.
“You really are the most amazing person,” said her father. “I am waiting to hear, and I expect a letter to arrive tomorrow. If everything goes as planned, this will ensure all of our futures.”
“Lord Gordontrent wishes to see you.” Hastings stood back straight and arms by his side as he enunciated every word.
“Thank you, Hastings,” said Juliana. “I will be right there.”
Juliana had been nervous all through the night and all morning. Yesterday, the prospect of marriage had seemed the right thing to do and was almost exciting, but that excitement was turning to butterflies in her stomach.
She would not know the Lord that she was to wed, and that brought dread and joy. He could be anyone. She wondered what he would look like, how he would act, what type of a man he was. She hoped that he was handsome, not that it was the most important thing; she only wanted someone that she could start a family with.
But, she did not know what he would be like. He obviously had money if he was the one to save the family from financial ruin. She wondered if he knew of all that. Had her father told him? She was not sure that many Lords would marry, knowing that they were going to lose some of their money. That restricted the number of available Lords.
Oh, bother. These thoughts are going to drive me insane. My father has arranged for me to be married, and I trust his judgment more than anyone I know. Though, he has made some questionable decisions with money. No, I cannot think like that. It must not have been his fault. Get a hold of yourself, and just go and find out who you are to wed.
Juliana made her way to her father’s study, and found him, once again, poring over documents. When he noticed her, he fished out the letter that had come that morning and gave it a quick glance. Juliana wondered if he had forgotten what the answer had been.
“Please sit down, my dear,” said her father.
“Are you well?” asked Juliana. “You do not look very good. Was it bad news? It is, is it not? The Lord does not want to marry me. Oh, Father, what are we to do?”
“Much you get from me, but there is a lot of your mother in you too.” There was a nervousness playing across her father’s face. “There is nothing to worry about. Just sit down, please.”
“You are worrying me, Father. I was sure that it was bad news. So, we are all going to be fine?”
“The letter has returned, and the marriage will go ahead.” He sat back in his chair with a relieved air, and let out a long sigh, but there was still some tension in his face. He was holding something back.
Juliana almost did not want to ask. If the marriage was to go ahead, then that was surely good news, but her father was acting as if there had been a rejection.
“Who is the Lord that I am to marry?” asked Juliana.
“I should never have let the business spiral out of control,” admitted her father. “This is all my fault, yet you have to deal with the sins of the father.”
“Who is the Lord, Father?” The response worried her, and images of English Lords flashed through her mind. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
“I could not approach the Lords from around here. God knows that bad news spreads fast, and there is almost no one who does not know of our situation, our lack of current funds. Oh, they rejoice over it, I can just feel it, but we will be back where we belong soon.” He hesitated again.
“Please, Father. Will you just tell me which Lord I am to marry,” said Juliana with exasperation.
“Not a Lord…a Laird.”
“What?” She was too stunned to say anything else.
“It would never have been my first choice,” admitted her father. “I scoured the country for an English Lord who would make a fine match, but the news of our disappearing wealth has spread far and wide. Not one of the well-respected Lords would so much as think about it. It was the only choice, you have to believe me. If we were not in this financial situation, there is no amount of money that could be given for me to allow this. But, if it is not to happen, then we will be steeped in poverty. All of this will be gone. I know that it is a lot to ask of you, but I do not have anything else.”
Her father slumped in his chair, looking like half the man that he had been only twenty-four hours previously. He would not even look Juliana in the eye.
A Scotsman! I hoped to marry a great warrior, but I get a barbarian instead. Oh, father, why have you done this to me? I do not want to, yet I cannot say no. If this is my destiny, then so be it. I will sacrifice all that I am to make this family what it once was.
“Father,” started Juliana. She got off of her seat and walked to her father. She took his hand in hers. “Father, I will do it. I will do it for you, and mother, and this house, and everything that we deserve. I can see that it pains you, and it pains me too, but when times are bad, great sacrifices must be made. I will do whatever needs to be done.”
Her father straightened and wrapped his arms around Juliana; she could feel the warmth in the embrace.
“Thank you,” he said. “The wedding will be soon. We only need to hope that he does not find out the truth about our situation until you two are wed.”
A Sight So Breathtaking
A group of children sat on the brown dirt within the walls of Lochenbrew Castle, so captivated by the story, that Andrew was not sure when any of them last blinked. He loved the attention of the children and had been charged with training them to fight, though his stories often got in the way.
“Tell us more, please!” shouted one of the children.
“More, more, more.” The chants continued as each of the children joined in.
“All right, all right, If ye’ll promise that ye’ll dae everythin’ that I tell ye tae.” Andrew threw his hands up in defeat.
“We promise,” came the response.
“Listen closely, for I’ll only tell ye this story once.” He deepened his voice and spoke a little quieter. He had them right there. The children leaned in to hear better what was about to be said.
“Laird Lochenbrew has many enemies,” started Andrew.
“But he strikes them down, right,” said a small boy at the front.
“I think that someone else wants tae tell the story.” Andrew pretended to get up and leave.
“No, no, ye can tell it. Ye are much better at tellin’ stories,” said the boy.
“I’m just jokin’ with ye,” said Andrew, sitting back down on the dirt. “Did I ever tell ye about the time that we were attacked by bandits?”
“No,” came the collective response.
“Laird Lochenbrew was travelin’ from the city tae the south, back tae the Castle, when our carriages were attacked. As ye know, the Laird is a smart man, and never travels without protection. I was one of the young men charged with his protection that day. When the bandits attacked, we were ready.
“They came on horses, out of the trees tae either side of us, whoopin’ and screamin’, tryin’ tae frighten us, but in battle, ye have no time tae be frightened. In battle, yer life is at stake. The bandits had us on the back foot, but not for long. I drew my sword and took down two before they even got close tae the carriages.
“They were probably after money, but I could not let the Laird be hurt. Of course, the Laird can take care of himself and has one of the finest swords ever made. I bet ye can guess what blacksmith made that sword.”
“You!” came the collective shout.
“Aye, that’s right. But, he had no need tae use it.”
The children did not say anything, they sat there wide-eyed, hoping that there were more bandits to come. No more did, but they did all stare up when they saw Laird Lochenbrew standing there.
“Is this how ye train the defenders of our castle, Andrew?” asked Laird Lochenbrew.
“We were just takin’ a break. I, uh, just wanted them tae know what a real battle was like.” Andrew jumped to his feet, annoyed with himself that he had not noticed the Laird arriving.
“And, dae ye think that the enemy takes breaks?” asked Laird Lochenbrew.
“No, Me Laird.”
“I chose ye for a reason, Andrew, but ye are easily replaced. Teach them tae fight, or get back tae work with the other blacksmiths, but don’t sit around having story time with the bairns.”
“Sorry, Me Laird. It won’t happen again.” He mentally kicked himself again.
“No, it won’t.” Laird Lochenbrew surveyed the scene before continuing. “Finish up yer work and pack yer stuff.”
“Please, Me Laird, I’ll work harder.”
“Aye, I should toss ye out, but not today. I need ye tae travel down tae England with a few of the men. Ye are tae bring the daughter of Baron Gordontrent back with ye.”
“The daughter of an English Baron,” said Andrew. “What for?”
“What for? What for, is not of yer business. We are tae be married, and that is all that ye need tae know. Now, quit yer stories, worry about yer own business, and get back tae trainin’ these lads. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Me Laird.” Andrew turned back to the children as the Laird walked away. It had been twelve years since the Laird had taken him in, and his life had not developed as he had dreamed it would. He had been excited to come and live in the Castle, but now he was not so sure.
It was when he was away from the Castle that he felt the most joy. He had always been as good with a sword as he had with a hammer, and the Laird had soon discovered that. Andrew had started life as a blacksmith in the Castle, but his duties were soon added to when the Laird had seen him swing a sword.
Andrew had been sent out with other men, always changing as some came and went, to do battle with the other clans. It did not take long for him to be recognized as the best fighter in the Castle, not that Laird Lochenbrew cared.
In fact, Andrew was unsure why the Laird had taken him in at all. He was fifteen when he had come to live at the Castle and was thankful to the Laird for rescuing him after his father had passed, but he could not help but wonder why the Laird had done it. If there was an idea that the Laird wanted to take him on as a son, then that sentiment was soon forgotten. The longer that Andrew resided in the Castle, the more he got the impression that the Laird hated him.
Andrew kept his head down, did his work to the best of his abilities, and hoped that he did not succumb to death in his next battle.
“Stories are what keep us goin’,” Andrew said to the kids. “It separates us from the animals. But, a good story will not stop a sword from cuttin’ through ye, so back tae trainin’ we go.”
The children were disappointed that story time was over, but they had seen the Laird there too and knew that it was time to get back to work. They picked up their wooden swords and swung them like Andrew did, copying his movements as best they could.
Andrew knew that he was only a good teacher because of his father. His father had taught him the ways of the world from a very young age, and Andrew had to hold back the tears as he showed the children how to wield their swords. It did not seem like very long ago that his father had given him the same training that he was now giving the kids.
The Laird had furthered that training to make him the fighter that he was today, but it had always been the personal touches of his father that had made the most difference. His father had been the hammer that had shaped him, and the Laird was the cold water that had steeled and hardened him.
Andrew knew that he was invaluable to the Laird in what he did for him, but he also knew that the Laird could replace him in an instant with someone else. He was glad again to be leaving the Castle once more to do the Laird’s work.
“This is important.” Laird Lochenbrew was an imposing man, and stood close to Andrew as he spoke.
“I know, Me Laird,” said Andrew.
“I am trustin’ ye with this. Dinnae mess it up.”
Andrew wanted to appeal to the Laird. He had made a few mistakes over the years, but nothing damaging, and none were entirely his fault. “I won’t, Me Laird.”
“The lass gets here safely. I have plenty enemies on the roads up tae here.”
“Aye,” said Andrew, taking his orders from the Laird. He wanted to add that the Laird was not important enough for someone to try and kidnap her and that he would be fine babysitting this English lass for a few days on the road, but he knew that would only make things worse.
The comments the previous day when he had been teaching the kids had scalded him, and he was still angered by them. There were so many times that the Laird had made comments like that that he wondered why the Laird had not yet thrown him out of the Castle, not that he was worse than any of the other men. In fact, he was known as one of the fiercest warriors in the Castle and could make better weapons than anyone.
Andrew often wondered why he did not just get up and leave. It was a small mercy that he had these trips away from the Castle, and he could often clear his head when he was away for days at a time, but there would be work for him elsewhere. There must be other villages needing good, hardworking men, even a castle, perhaps.
He got into the carriage, a comfort that he did not want, and tried not to look at the glare from Laird Lochenbrew as the carriage pulled away. He would rather be on a horse than cooped up inside, but the English lass needed the carriage, and he would be in there with her, so a horse had not been allocated for him. He did not feel like the mighty fighter that he was.
Andrew wondered if those that they passed would mistake him for a nobleman. Perhaps if they saw his face through the opening, and only his face, but not if they were to see his ragged clothing. There would be no mistaking him for a man of importance.
He had been tasked with traveling down to Gordontrent and bringing back the Baron’s daughter. Andrew did not know how the titles ranked down in England, but he did know that a Baron was important. Laird Lochenbrew had done well to make a match with the daughter of a Baron, and it would be advantageous for the Castle, and the trade that came with it.
Andrew often wondered if he would marry. The time alone with his father, growing up just the two of them, had given him a solitary nature. His father had been without his mother for so long, that living by himself had become normal. Andrew often thought about taking a wife but did not know that he ever would. With running errands constantly for the Laird, and going into battle, he did not think that he could give a woman the life that she deserved.
He had had offers, of course. He was a handsome man, and many women had approached him in the Castle. The need for companionship was somewhere there inside of him, and he had lain with a woman many times, finding happiness in the fleeting moments, but always longed to be alone again shortly after.
The thick forearms of the fifteen-year-old had transformed into the muscular arms of a man. When he was in battle, he was seen as a mountain of a man, standing well over six-feet tall, with arms and legs as thick as cabers. His broad chest, combined with his broad shoulders, made him look like a giant when he went one-on-one with another man in the heat of war.
The smooth lines of his face had hardened like the steel of a sword, sharp and angular, cheekbones defined and eyes deep and dark blue. He was handsome in a raw, uncontrolled way, and he would have his pick of women if he wanted to. There were even some of the noblewomen who would choose to lay with him if they could do it in secret.
The thought of noblewomen brought him back to the lady that he was being sent to retrieve. Juliana was her name. If she were the daughter of a Baron, then this was not about money for her, thought Andrew. Laird Lochenbrew would not have as much money as her family did, even if he did own a castle.
Andrew felt sorry for the lass. He had lived in the same castle as the Laird and did not like the man. He had a respect for him, but he was not likable. Laird Lochenbrew had taken Andrew in, and he was eternally grateful for that; he had saved him, in a way, and given him purpose, but Andrew still wondered what his life would have been like if not for the selflessness of the Laird.
It tore at Andrew at times. It had been a selfless act, Andrew knew that but that selflessness stopped after the act. Andrew despaired to think of a new bride being treated the same way as he had been. He wondered if she knew what she was getting herself into.
If not money, then what?
He had not grown up with any money, and, now, as a man, he had little to his name. He lived in the Castle and had enough to pay for his food and drink, but he was far from being a rich man. Andrew tried not to think about it any further. This was a time to clear his head, not dwell on life in the Castle.
The journey passed quickly. It only took a few days to travel down to Gordontrent, and Andrew tried to enjoy the comfort of the carriage. They stopped to eat and sleep, but Andrew longed to be outside, on a horse of his own, feeling his way down the road, instead of experiencing every bump and jolt from a thinly cushioned bench. He was glad when they finally arrived.
Lord Gordontrent was standing out front, waiting for the carriage as they arrived, and Andrew knew that his wife and daughter were the two ladies standing next to him. It was obvious that the younger of the two was Miss Petrey. Andrew did not get a proper look at her until he stepped from the carriage. When he did, he did not think that he had ever seen such beauty in his life.
Andrew’s heart skipped a beat. The young woman was like a mythical creature from another world, both heavenly and mysterious. Her long black hair cascaded down her back, and lay gaily on her shoulders, showing off her gentle and dainty shape. She had a maturity in her eyes, a piercing blackness that drew Andrew in immediately.
She wore a dress that clung tightly to her shape, showing a figure that would be admired by people everywhere, not just men. She stood tall too, slightly taller than her mother, and the ruby-red lips were almost a dare. They whispered to him to be kissed. Andrew wanted to dash over there and take her in his arms.
His immediate thought was that the Laird did not deserve this woman, did not deserve her at all. He stepped down from the carriage and tried to compose himself. It was proving difficult. She was a sight so breathtaking that Andrew’s head swam with the possibilities.
The Journey Begins
Juliana sat in the library, biting her nails. She knew that she would be told off by the housemaid if she were seen biting them, but the housemaid had been let go so long ago, that it would not be a problem. She grabbed the book from the shelf and stuffed it into one of her bags. Hastings would come soon to take her bags outside when the Laird arrived.
She still could not believe that she was marrying a Laird. She knew that she had to do it for the good of the family, but she still had reservations. Those reservations would never get in the way of her duty; her father had made the match, and she would live with it, no matter where it took her.
It had frightened her when she found out that the Laird was from the Highlands. She had expected a Laird from one of the southern towns, close to the border, but the Highlands were so far away. Scotland seemed like a distant land, but the Highlands were another matter completely. She wished that there was someone here to help her pack. The more she had to pack herself, the more real it seemed.
She listened to the sounds of the large house. There was one time when the house was alive with noise, the bustling of maids going about their business, or the chatter of the stable hands and footmen. It had crept up on her so slowly that she had hardly noticed it happening. She should have seen the decline, but she expected that her father was on top of things.
“You are requested, Miss Petrey,” said Hastings.
“Thank you, Hastings, I will be right out.” Her heart jumped up into her throat. There had been a small part of her that had hoped the whole thing would be called off. Perhaps her father had made a mistake somewhere, and all this would go away.
No, it is because of his mistakes that we are in this situation.
Hastings had already left with her bags, and she followed him outside, her mother and father were waiting for her there. In the distance, a carriage kicked up the dust from the dry road. As the carriage crept closer, so did her nervousness rise in her chest.
She wanted her mother or father to say something, but the three of them stood there in silence, with Hastings slightly behind them. Juliana also noticed that what little staff they had had been called out of the house, too, to line up with the butler.
The marriage had to be quick, Juliana knew that, but surely the Laird would see through this pretense. She looked at the entire staff of the house and almost laughed. There was a panic in her heart as she imagined the Laird visiting the house and seeing that they did not have a full complement of staff, but she remembered that her bags were already packed and waiting outside. The Laird would see a glimpse, and then they would be off to start their new life together.
The carriage stopped in front of her, and Juliana wanted to run. She wanted to grasp onto the last of her freedom and run from this Laird. She did not want to be married anymore. She did not want any of this, yet she knew that she would accept it. There were worse reasons to be married, she knew that.
The carriage door opened, and the Laird stepped from it. Juliana had to admit that she was surprised. The Laird was not at all what she had expected. She was pleasantly surprised by how he looked, for the most part. Juliana had never been quite sure if the tales of Highlanders had been true or not, especially with some of the animosity that came with it, but the man did have a barbaric handsomeness to him.
She had expected a large and burly man, but not one quite so strong. He was thick and muscular, with a rough, yet handsome face. And, the way that he was looking at her made her believe that he was marrying for more than just money. She looked into his eyes and knew that she could accept this marriage.
The only thing that worried her was the clothes. She was not sure what a Laird should dress like, but it was certainly not like an English Lord. His clothes were ragged and old, but she was not one to judge, yet she still did. Juliana took a quick look at her father to gauge his reaction. If those were the clothes that a Laird wore, then perhaps he was in it for money too.
Juliana looked from her father and herself to the Laird. She knew that if anyone were to look at the two side by side, they would expect that the Scottish Laird was marrying because of failed businesses and a lack of money, not the other way around. She began to worry that the Laird would not be able to help them.
Juliana remembered her manners and approached the man as he came toward them. She curtsied and smiled.
“My Laird,” said Juliana. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Laird,” laughed Andrew. He looked at Juliana and shook his head.
Juliana tried to keep a smile on her face. “I am sorry, but I do not see the joke.”
“Och, there is no joke. I am not yer Laird, I’m only here tae bring ye tae him.”
“To bring me?” asked Juliana. “He did not want to come here himself?”
“He had other business tae attend tae,” said Andrew.
“Of course. Yes, the Laird must be a very busy man.” She tried to hold back the tears. It was obvious to her now that she was not the priority. Perhaps the Laird did know about their situation and was doing this for his own reasons. Whatever business he had, it was obviously more important than she was.
Juliana was glad that this man was not the Laird. His clothes were ragged and worn, and he did not have money. This man could not save her family, and the Laird could, but a part of her wished that she could go back to the point when she thought he was the Laird. She wanted to stare into his eyes one more time and imagine a life with him.
“Andrew,” said Andrew.
“I beg your pardon.” Juliana was caught in her thoughts. “Sorry, where are my manners. I am Miss Petrey. It is a pleasure to meet you, Andrew.”
“Likewise,” said Andrew. “Are those yer bags? I can load them up for you.”
“It is fine. Hastings will take care of it.”
Hastings nodded at her and began to load the bags onto the carriage. Lord Gordontrent watched Andrew but made no move to him. The last few minutes of Juliana’s family life was made in almost complete silence. She was soon in the carriage with Andrew, looking out at her mother and father.
There was a steely look of determination in her father’s eyes. She wanted to tell him that everything was going to be fine. Her mother lifted her hand in a stationary wave as the carriage started to move. Juliana looked away from Andrew and kept her eyes on her mother and father. They were the only ones who should see her tears as she left her old life and started her new one.
Juliana did not turn her head from the window until the tears had run dry, and she was sure that the man beside her would not see her weakness. He would report everything she did back to the Laird, she had no doubt about that.
She stole a glance at the large Highlander beside her and could see the tension in his face and body. He was staring straight ahead, at the plain carriage wall before them, and did not once turn his head to look out of the window. Juliana thought about continuing the journey in complete silence and keeping up the defiance for the entire journey, but she just could not do it.
“If the Laird is engaged in important business, then you must be his most trusted man.” She hoped that was true. The absence of the Laird was already disappointing to her.
“I dinnae know about that. Aye, he trusts me with certain tasks.”
“Like escorting his future wife?” asked Juliana.
“Aye, that and other things.”
“Well, this is going to be a very long carriage ride. Perhaps you can tell me about those other things, and we can get to know each other better. Unless you want to sit in silence for hours.”
“Days,” said Andrew.
“Oh, goodness.” She had not realized just how far away the Highlands were. “What other things do you do? Are you his butler?”
“No, I’m not a butler.” A look of puzzlement crossed his face. “I started as a blacksmith when I first came tae the Castle, and I still dae a wee bit here and there, when it’s needed. When the Laird saw that I could use a sword, he trained me up and sent me intae battle.”
“You are a warrior?” asked Juliana with some surprise. Her mind went to the book that was stowed away in her luggage. She turned in her chair to face toward Andrew, instead of facing out of the window. He still sat facing forward as if he could not move while sat beside her.
“I wouldnae say that,” said Andrew. He looked uncomfortable at being given the title.
“But, you go to war and fight with other men.” This was all very intriguing to Juliana.
“Aye,” said Andrew.
“Then, you are a warrior.” The point was made, whether he would admit it or not.
“Aye, I guess that ye are right,” said Andrew with a slight smile. He shifted a little for the first time.
“I read this book once,” said Juliana. “Oh, a long time ago, when I was a lot younger. It was about a warrior who went off and killed all of the barbarians, and—” Juliana trailed off. She stole a glance at Andrew. She had heard that Highlanders were barbarians, but this man beside her did not act like one. He certainly had the roughness and stature, but not the indignant manners of a barbarian.
“No, nothing. It was a silly story. I do not know why I even remembered it.” She suddenly remembered that the barbarians had been Scotsmen.
“I like tae read too,” said Andrew.
“Really?” Juliana was surprised.
“Aye,” he said.
“And what do you read?” asked Juliana.
“Och, I dinnae know. Just some traditional Scottish books, English ones tae, I suppose. Nothin’ fancy, ye know? Whatever I can get my hands on in the Castle. What about ye?”
“The usual stuff. You know, the Iliad, history books, stuff like that. It helps a woman to be educated, or so my father told me.” She did not admit that they took second place to any book with a mighty hero.
“And one book about a warrior,” said Andrew.
“Yes, a long time ago.” Juliana blushed. She was looking down at the floor of the carriage, not daring to look up. She could see that Andrew was staring directly at her and would no doubt have a smile on his face. She did not want to give him the pleasure of meeting his gaze, no matter how handsome he was.
“I’ve read books about great battles, too,” said Andrew.
“You must have traveled a lot.” Her interest was piqued again.
“All over Scotland, and down into England too,” said Andrew. “Farther south than Gordontrent. There was talk of goin’ tae France once.”
“That sounds delightful,” said Juliana.
“Delightful?” asked Andrew. “Aye, the journey down usually is, but there are always men wantin’ power, and that means fightin’.”
“Sound awfully exciting.” She could tell by his tone that he did not see the trips as delightful, but the fact that he was a warrior made him all the more attractive.
“What about ye?” asked Andrew. “Yer future belongs tae the Laird, but where does yer past belong tae?”
“Nothing as exciting as yours,” she replied. “I have lived my whole life in Gordontrent. This is my first trip out of the village, save to the next town over for the annual ball, but that is boring, and I do not want to send you to sleep. I am much like any other girl in these parts. Raised by my mother and father. My father is the Baron, of course.”
“Aye, a Baron,” said Andrew.
“And what about your father? Does he work in the Castle, too?”
“No,” said Andrew. He did not follow up the word, and Juliana let him sit there in silence, waiting for him to finish what he needed to say. “He passed when I was fifteen.”
“I am sorry,” said Juliana.
“They say that it was his heart. They dinnae know for sure, but he was not an old man. It was just his time. It was the Laird who took me in.”
“You do not like him, do you?” Juliana was nervous about meeting the Laird, and the conversation was not helping.
“The Laird? He is not for me tae judge,” said Andrew. “He took me in when I had nowhere tae go. He gave me a job, lodgin’, and a purpose. Aye, he may be stern at times, but he runs his clan well. I dae what needs tae be done, and try tae keep tae myself.”
“But something about him bothers you,” said Juliana.
“Dinnae worry, he willnae treat ye badly. He is a kind man, especially tae those who he loves. Ye’ll have a great life in the Castle.”
“Will you be in the Castle, too?”
“As long as I’m needed,” he replied.
Juliana had been nervous about being wed before leaving her home, but she was more nervous now. She did not know why the Laird was marrying her, but it bothered her that he did not treat Andrew well. He had not come out and said it, but she could tell that Andrew did not like the Laird. She had to shake the feeling from inside. Andrew was only one man, and he spoke fondly of the Laird, no matter how he had been treated.
Juliana found a thrilling beat in her chest. “Were you sent here to protect me?”
“Aye, I guess that I was,” said Andrew.
“So, am I under threat from anyone?” The thought excited her. She had read enough of her books to see it as something to be proud of. She had the warrior beside her, so there was nothing to worry about.
“No, I dinnae think so, but ye cannae be too safe with a beauty like ye,” said Andrew.
Juliana felt her chest flutter again. Andrew shook his head slightly and turned away.
“Sorry,” said Andrew. He was facing the window now. “I shouldnae have said that.”
“I am not yet married,” said Juliana. She bit her lip almost as she said it, not believing that she had actually come out with it.
“Ye will make a beautiful wife for the Laird.”
That was enough to dampen Juliana’s spirits a little, and she went back to looking out of the window and sitting in silence. She wanted to shout about the handsomeness of the man beside her, but the spell had been broken. This Highlander beside her was the Laird’s man, and he would be loyal to him. She could not do anything that would risk his loyalty as much as she wanted to.
Oh, why can Andrew not be the Laird? Maybe the Laird is even more handsome and genial. I can only dream.
“It’s gettin’ dark,” shouted Andrew out of the window. “We should stop soon for the night. The lass will be gettin’ tired.”
“Aye,” came the reply of the coachmen. There were two men sitting up front. One drove the horses, switching with the other from time to time. Juliana assumed that they were both there to offer extra protection. She looked at Andrew again, who was still staring out of the window. She did not think that she needed any more protection with this massive muscular man sitting next to her.
Juliana looked out of her window. The day was beginning to darken, and she had to admit that she was feeling tired. She could not believe that they had been traveling for almost a full day. She had lost herself so much in the conversation with Andrew that the journey had flown by.
They stopped at the next village, as the sun disappeared behind the trees in the distance. Juliana did not like being on the open road as the blackness approached, and was glad to see the lights of the town when it came into view.
The town was quaint, much smaller than the town that she had grown up in. The houses were built from rough pieces of stone, with rich clay filling the gaps, long dried out over time. Wisps of smoke rose in long serpentine columns to join with the black sky above.
There was the crest of a hill in the distance, just beyond the line of trees. The trees surrounded the village, and were rich green in color, darkened by the night. A small road led into and out of the town, and Juliana was sure that she could hear the bubbling of a small brook close by.
Andrew went into the inn when they arrived and came out to inform them that there was only one room, but the stables were half-empty, and they could do what they wanted there.
“Ye’ll get the room, Miss Petrey,” said Andrew. “The three of us will sleep in the stables. The night is warm, and there is plenty of straw tae bed down on.”
Andrew showed her to her room, bringing her bag with him. Juliana looked down at the bed and thought about Andrew sleeping on the cold, rough hay. She wanted to ask him to stay in the room with her, but it would not be proper, not when she was promised to the Laird.
Juliana wished that she did not have the expectations that came with being the daughter of a Baron. If only she were a common girl, then she could engage in whatever she pleased but, being of noble blood, she knew that there were appearances to be upheld.
She was not sure if she would be able to forgive herself if she did engage in what she wanted to engage in.
Andrew wished her goodnight and closed the door behind him as he left. Juliana lay down on the bed and thought of his muscular arms. She wished that they had decided, instead, to just ride through the night, and they could sit and talk until the sun rose.
Juliana was promised to the Laird, she knew that, and she had always been a woman of honor. She knew that she could not think such thoughts, but the Laird had sent his strongest man to protect her, and that was a distraction.
He sent a warrior to protect me? Does that mean that I am in danger? If he is here to escort me to the Highlands, then are there those on the path who would wish me harm?
Juliana did not feel safe anymore. She had been safe in the carriage with the warrior beside her but, now that she was on her own, she realized that there was no one here to protect her. She did not even know if Andrew could get to her in time if she did shout.
“Is someone there?” asked Juliana. She jumped up from the bed, sure that she had heard a noise. She sat there for a moment, trying to focus her hearing on picking up the slightest sound. There was a window at the far end of the room, and no curtains were there to cover it, leaving her feeling exposed.
She was on the upper floor of the inn but dared not look out of it in case someone stood below or, worse, someone had climbed up. It was almost worse having the silence there than any more noise. Juliana stood in the middle of the room with her ear trained on the window, she could not hear a thing.
She crept closer to the window, steeling herself to peek out of it, hoping that there would not be anyone directly outside. The moon had risen high in the sky, and she could see the tops of the trees as she got close. With a burst of bravery, she took a quick glance out of the window to find no one there, not man nor monster.
The moon was beautiful in the clear sky, and Juliana sighed in relief. Then her heart fluttered. There was a shadow down there, she had seen it out of the corner of her eye; it had moved somewhere in the trees and bushes. She jumped back from the window, sure that someone was watching her.
She ran for the door and down the stairs. She had to find Andrew, that was the only way that she would be safe and make it through the night.
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