Ravished By A Highlander
Southern Scottish border
High atop Saint Christopher’s Abbey, Davina Montgomery stood alone in the bell tower, cloaked in the silence of a world she did not know. Darkness had fallen hours ago and below her the sisters slept peacefully in their beds, thanks to the men who had been sent here to guard them. But there was little peace for Davina. The vast, indigo sky filling her vision was littered with stars that seemed close enough to touch should she reach out her hand. What would she wish for? Her haunted gaze slipped southward toward England, and then with a longing just as powerful, toward the moonlit mountain peaks of the north. Which life would she choose if the choice were hers to make? A world where she’d been forgotten, or one where no one knew her? She smiled sadly against the wind that whipped her woolen novice robes around her. What good was it to ponder when her future had already been decreed? She knew what was to come. There were no variations. That is, if she lived beyond the next year. She looked away from the place she could never go and the person she could never be.
She heard the soft fall of footsteps behind her but did not turn. She knew who it was.
“Poor Edward. I imagine your heart must have failed you when you did not find me in my bed.”
When he remained quiet she felt sorry for teasing him about the seriousness of his duty. Captain Edward Asher had been sent here to protect her fours years ago after Captain Geoffries had taken ill and was relieved of his command. Edward had become more than her guardian. He was her dearest friend, someone she could confide in here within the thick walls that sheltered her from the schemes of her enemies. Edward knew her fears and accepted her faults.
“I knew where to find you,” he finally said, his voice just above a whisper.
He always did know. Not that there were many places to look. Davina was not allowed to venture outside the Abbey gates so she came to the bell tower often to let her thoughts roam free.
She turned at his soft call, putting away her dreams and desires behind a tender smile. Those she kept to herself and did not share, even with him.
“Please, I…” he began, meeting her gaze and then stumbling through the rest as if the face he looked upon everyday still struck him as hard as it had the first time he’d seen her. He was in love with her and though he’d never spoken his heart openly, he did not conceal how he felt. Everything was there in his eyes; his deeds, his devotion, and a deep regret that Davina suspected had more to do with her than he would ever have the boldness to admit. Her path had been charted for another coarse and she could never be his. “Lady Montgomery, come away from here, I beg you. It is not good to be alone.”
He worried for her so and she wished he wouldn’t. “I’m not alone, Edward,” she reassured. If her life remained as it was now, she would find a way to be happy. She always did. “I have been given much.”
“It’s true,” he agreed, moving closer to her and then stopping himself, knowing what she knew. “You have been taught to fear the Lord and love your king. The sisters love you, as do my men. It will always be so. We are your family. But it is not enough.” He knew she would never admit it, so he said it for her.
It had to be enough. It was safer this way, cloistered away from those who would harm her if ever they discovered her after the appointed time.
That time had come.
Davina knew that Edward would do anything to save her. He told her often, each time he warned her of her peril. Diligently, he taught her to trust no one, not even those who claimed to love her. His lessons often left her feeling a bit hopeless, though she never told him that either.
“Would that I could slay your enemies,” he swore to her now, “and your fears along with them.”
He meant to comfort her, but good heavens, she didn’t want to discuss the future on such a breathtaking night. “Thanks to you and God,” she said, leaving the wall to go to him and tossing him a playful smile. “I can slay them myself.”
“I agree,” he surrendered, his good mood restored by the time she reached him, “you’ve learned your lessons in defense well.”
She rested her hand on his arm and gave it a soft pat. “How could I disappoint you when you risked the Abbess’s consternation to teach me?”
He laughed with her, both of them comfortable in the familiarity of it. But too soon, he grew serious again.
“James is to be crowned in less than a se’nnight.”
“I know,” Davina nodded and turned toward England again. She refused to let her fears control her. “Mayhap,” she said with a bit of defiance sparking her doleful gaze, “we should attend the coronation, Edward. Who would think to look for me at Westminster?”
“My lady…” He reached for her. “We cannot. You know--”
“I jest, dear friend.” She angled her head to speak to him over her shoulder, carefully cloaking the struggle that weighed heaviest upon her heart. A struggle that had nothing to do with fear. “Really, Edward, must we speak of this?”
“Yes, I think we should,” he answered earnestly, then swiftly, before she could argue, “I’ve asked the Abbess if we can move you to Courlochcraig Abbey in Ayr. I’ve already sent word to—”
“Absolutely not,” she stopped him. “I will not leave my home. Besides, we have no reason to believe that my enemies know of me at all.”
“Just for a year or two. Until we’re certain—”
“No,” she told him again, this time turning to face him fully. “Edward, would you have us leave the sisters here alone to face our enemies should they come seeking me? What defense would they have without the strong arms of you and your men? They will not leave St. Christopher’s, nor will I.”
He sighed and shook his head at her. “I cannot argue when you prove yourself more courageous than I. I pray I do not live to regret it. Very well, then,” The lines of his handsome face relaxed. “I shall do as you ask. For now though,” he added, offering her his arm, “allow me to escort you to your chamber. The hour is late and the Reverend Mother will show you no mercy when the cock crows.”
Davina rested one hand in the crook of his arm and waved away his concern with the other. “I don’t mind waking with the sun.”
“Why would you,” he replied, his voice as light now as hers as he led her out of the belfry, “when you can just fall back to sleep in the Study Hall.”
“It was only the one time that I actually slept,” she defended, slapping his arm softly. “And don’t you have more important things to do with your day than follow me around?”
“Three times,” he corrected, ignoring the frown he knew was false. “Once, you even snored.”
Her eyes, as they descended the stairs, were as wide as her mouth. “I have never snored in my life!”
“Save for that one time, then?”
She looked about to deny his charge again, but bit her curling lip instead. “And once during Sister Bernadette’s piano recital. I had penance for a week. Do you remember?”
“How could I forget?” he laughed. “My men did no chores the entire time, preferring to listen at your door while you spoke aloud to God about everything but your transgression.”
“God already knew why I fell asleep,” she explained, smiling at his grin. “I did not wish to speak poorly of Sister Bernadette’s talent, or lack of it, even in my own defense.”
His laughter faded leaving only a smile that looked to be painful as their walk ended and they stood at her door. When he reached out to take her hand, Davina did her best not to let the surprise in her eyes dissuade him from touching her. “Forgive my boldness, but there is something I must tell you. Something I should have told you long ago.”
“Of course, Edward,” she said softly, keeping her hand in his. “You know you may always speak freely to me.”
“First, I would have you know that you have come to mean—”
Davina leaned over the stairwell to see Harry Barns, Edward’s second in command, plunge through the Abbey doors. “Captain!” Harry shouted up at them, his face pale and his breath heavy from running. “They are coming!”
For one paralyzing moment, Davina doubted the good of her ears. She’d been warned of this day for four years, but had always prayed it would not come. “Edward,” she asked hollowly, on the verge of sheer panic, “how did they find us so soon after King Charles's death?”
He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head back and forth as if he too refused to believe what he was hearing. But there was no time for doubt. Spinning on his heel, he gripped her arm and hauled her into her room. “Stay here! Lock your door!”
“What good will that do us?” she sprang for her quiver and bow and headed back to the door, and to Edward blocking it. “Please, dear friend. I do not want to cower alone in my room. I will fire from the bell tower until it is no longer safe to do so.”
“Captain,” Barnes raced up the stairs, taking three at a time. “We need to prepare. Now!”
“Edward,” Davina’s voice pulled him back to her, “you trained me for this. We need every arm available. You will not stop me from fighting for my home.”
“Orders, Captain, please!”
Davina looked back once as she raced toward the narrows steps leading back to the tower.
“Harry!” She heard Edward shout behind her. “Prepare the vats and boil the tar. I want every man alert and ready at my command. And Harry…”
“Wake the sisters and tell them to pray.”
In the early morning hours that passed after the massacre at St. Christopher’s, Edward’s men had managed to kill half of the enemy’s army. But the Abbey’s losses were greater. Far greater.
Alone in the bell tower, Davina stared down at the bodies strewn across the large courtyard. The stench of burning tar and seared flesh stung her nostrils and burned her eyes as she set them beyond the gates to the meadow where men on horseback still hacked away at each other as if their hatred could never be satisfied. But there was no hatred. They fought because of her, though none of them knew her. But she knew them. Her dreams were plagued with her faceless assassins since the day Edward had first told her of them.
Tears from the pungent air slipped down her cheeks, falling far below to where her friends…her family lay dead or dying. Dragging her palm across her eyes, she searched the bodies for Edward. He’d returned to her an hour after the fighting had begun and ordered her into the chapel with the sisters. When she refused, he tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of grain and brought here there himself. But she did not remain hidden. She couldn’t, so she’d returned to the tower and her bow and sent more than a dozen of her enemies to meet their Maker. But there were too many—or mayhap God didn’t want the rest, for they slew the men she ate with, laughed with, before her eyes.
She had feared this day for so long that it had become a part of her. She thought she had prepared. At least, for her own death. But not for the Abbess’s. Not for Edward’s. How could anyone prepare to lose those they loved?
Despair ravaged her and for a moment she considered stepping over the wall. If she was dead they would stop. But she had prayed for courage too many times to let God, or Edward down now. Reaching into the quiver on her back, she plucked out an arrow, cocked her bow, and closed one eye to aim.
Below her and out of her line of vision, a soldier, garbed in military regalia not belonging to England crept along the chapel wall with a torch clutched in one fist and a sword in the other.
A cool breeze, moist with the fallen rain, lifted a raven curl from Robert MacGregor’s forehead. Looking up, he glared at the pewter clouds as if daring the heavens to open again. ‘Twas bad enough he and his kin had to leave Camlochlin during a storm that promised to tear auld Tamas MacKinnon’s roof off his bothy. Trekking across Scotland in the mud did not make the journey any easier.
Rob was still unsure if he agreed with his father’s reasoning for leaving the clan to attend James of York’s coronation. What did laws made by stately nobles, dressed in powdered wigs and ruffled collars, have to do with MacGregors? Only a handful of them knew of the MacGregors of Skye, and none of them would dare venture into the mountains to enforce their laws, even if they did. What fealty did his clan owe to an English king?
“Rebellion is not always necessary,” his father’s words invaded his troubled thoughts, “protectin’ the clan must always come first. ”
As firstborn and heir apparent to Callum MacGregor’s title as Clan Chief of the MacGregors of Skye, Rob had been taught to understand his father’s ways of thinking. He knew that civilly showing their support to the new king was the intelligent thing to do. For as much as he cared nothing about politics so far south, there were many in Parliament who believed the Highland ways of life, with a Chief having sole authority over his clan, were outdated and should be abolished. If kissing the king’s arse would keep his clan safe and intact, than Rob would do it.
He didn’t care if his father was chief or if he was. He’d taken on every responsibility as a leader, and more. He tilled the land, herded and sheared the sheep, repaired falling rooftops and, more times than not, denied his physical pleasure for hard work. He made decisions for his kin’s welfare alongside his father and honed his swordplay diligently and by his own choice, knowing that any weakness of body or will could destroy what belonged to him. And it had been in his blood for generations never to allow that to happen.
But it still angered him that he should have to leave his clan to kiss the arses of men who would likely shyt in their breeches on any kind of battlefield.
“Tell me again why ye insisted on takin’ this route, Will?” Rob asked his cousin, and yanked on his reins to steer his mount away from a muddy trench in his path. They had left their main troupe on a road just before the English border. The detour was Will’s idea, and Rob was beginning to question why he’d listened to him, or why he’d agreed to let anyone else come with them.
“St. Christopher’s Abbey,” Will called out over his shoulder. “I told ye, Sister Margaret Mary lives there.”
“Who the hell is Sister Margaret Mary?” Angus MacGregor growled, rubbing the small of his back. “And why does a daughter o’ the Lord interest a black heart like yers?”
“She was m’ nursemaid fer six years after m’ mother died.”
“I think I’ve heard Tristan speak of her,” Colin, Rob’s youngest brother joined in thoughtfully, managing to steer his mount around a mossy incline without incident. Rob was torn between being thankful that his brother Tristan hadn’t come with them—mostly for the sisters of St. Christopher’s sake—and being angry with himself for letting Colin come along. Clearly, Will had no notion of where the hell the Abbey was. He was leading them deeper into the hills. A band of outlaws could attack them from almost any direction unseen. Not that Rob fretted overmuch about a fight, or Colin’s ability to come out of one unharmed. He just preferred that if there was a skirmish of some sort, his youngest brother not be there.
“Do the sisters in England pray as much as the ones in Scotland do?”
“We’re no’ in England yet,” Rob murmured impatiently, glancing at Finlay Grant from over his shoulder. The lad looked stricken for a moment, as if he had just proven himself lacking in the eyes of his leader. Hell, what would he do with Finn if they were attacked? The lad could fight well enough, but he’d always shown more interest in playing the pipes and reciting tales of past heroes than in swordplay. Every laird had a bard, and Finn was determined to become Rob’s. As irritating as it sometimes was to have the lad always underfoot, watching what he did and what he said in the event that some heroic deed he performed needed retelling, Rob was fond of Graham and Claire Grant’s youngest son. He was a respectful lad with a curious nature, and since he wasn’t the source of Rob’s frustration, he should not bear the brunt of it. “And nae,” Rob told him in a milder tone, “Scottish nuns pray more.”
“I dinna care if her knees have worn straight through her robes,” Angus grumbled, reaching for a pouch of brew hidden in his plaid. “If she brought Will and Tristan into this world, I have nae desire to be meetin’ her.”
“Hush, Angus.” Rob held up his hand to silence the older warrior. “D’ye hear that?”
His companions remained quiet for a moment, listening. “Sounds like the clash o’ swords,” Angus said, his hand falling immediately to his hilt. “And that odor— That’s flesh burnin’.”
“The Abbey!” Will’s face went pale as he whirled his mount left and dug his heels into the beast’s flanks. He disappeared over the rise of a small crest before Rob could stop him.
Swearing an oath that his cousin and closest friend was someday going to get himself and everyone around him killed by rushing headlong into the unknown, Rob raced forward to follow, warning the younger lads to stay behind.
Rob and Angus stopped just beyond the crest, where Will had also halted his horse and stared with both shock and horror at the scene before him. When Colin and Finn reached them, Rob swore violently at his brother for disobeying him, but his gaze was already being pulled back to the small convent nestled within the fold of low hills.
The Abbey was under attack. By the looks of it, the siege had been going on for more than a few hours. Hundreds of dead bodies littered the ground. Only a handful of what looked to have been two separate armies remained while ribbons of black smoke plumed the air, the residue of burning tar. The left wing of the structure was completely engulfed in flames.
“Dear God, who would do this?”
Will did not bother answering Finn’s haunted plea, but snatched free his bow and yanked an arrow from his quiver.
“Will, nae!” Rob stopped him. “’Tis no’ our fight. I’ll no’ bring whoever did this doun on our clan! No’ for those who have already per—”
The remainder of his words was cut short by a searing jolt of pain in his left shoulder and the whistle of two of Will’s arrows slicing the air in the next instant. Stunned, Rob looked down at the thin shaft of wood jutting out of his flesh. He’d been hit! Son of a… Fighting a wave of nausea, he closed his fingers around the arrow and broke off the feathered end sticking out from his plaid. Setting his murderous gaze on the skirmish, he clutched the broken arrow in one fist and dragged his claymore from its sheath with the other.
“Now, it’s our fight. Colin,” he growled before he charged his mount forward, “Ye and Finn take cover or I’ll set ye both on yer arses fer a fortnight.”
Finn nodded dutifully, but Colin grew angry. “Rob, I can fight. I want to fight.”
“No’ today,” Rob’s warned, his jaw rigid with fury about to be unleashed. This time Colin obeyed.
Rob had fought in raids before. He’d even killed a few Fergussons, but this was the kind of fighting that flowed through his veins. What he had been trained to do by his father. Protect himself and those in his care at any cost. He didn’t care who shot him. They were all going to pay for it. Reaching the dwindling melee, he brought his sword down with savage satisfaction, killing swiftly, while Will and Angus fought a few feet away. He was about to strike again when his would-be target screamed out at him.
“Hold, Scot! Hold for the mercy of God!” For the space of a breath, the man withered in his saddle staring into Rob’s eyes, and then at the bloody sword above his head. He spoke quickly, gathering what strength of will he had left. “I am Captain Edward Asher of the King’s Royal army. We were attacked just before dawn. I am not your enemy.”
Rob quickly looked the man over. His dark hair was wet with blood and sweat that dripped over his brow, creating streaks down his dirty face. His garment was also bloodied, but belonging to the king’s regiment.
His fury at being shot still unabated, Rob began to turn his mount to cut down someone else.
“Wait.” The captain reached for Rob’s arm to stop him. “You are a Highlander. Why are you here? Has someone sent you?”
“Ye ask many questions rather than be grateful that here is where I am.”
“You have my thanks for your aid.”
Rob nodded. “Behind ye.”
Captain Asher spun on his horse and barely managed to avoid a blow to his head that would have killed him.
Taking a moment to assure that no other enemy soldiers were in fighting distance, Rob watched with a look of bland interest while the captain felled his attacker to the ground.
“I owe you my life,” Asher said, panting.
“Right. Are we done here? There are more comin’.”
Asher’s shoulders sagged heavily as if he’d had enough and knew his fate. He didn’t bother to look behind him, but wiped his moist brow. “Your name, please.”
Hell, the man was half out of his mind. Loss of blood, Rob decided, and taking pity on him, gave him what he asked.
“Robert MacGregor, if I die today you must save the Lady Montgomery.” Before Rob could consent or decline, the captain rushed on. “Please, I beg of you, save her. She still lives, I know it.” His eyes dipped to the broken arrow in Rob’s hand.
Following his gaze, Rob suspected who shot him. His jaw clenched, as did his fingers. “You live. You save her.”
“MacGregor!” Captain Asher shouted as Rob rode away. “They burned the chapel. All the sisters—dead. They were all she had. She only did what you or I would have done. Save her before the flames claim her. It is what they want.”
Rob set his gaze toward the burning Abbey. Hell. He should find Will and toss him into the flames to find the lady since ‘twas his idea to come here. A lady. Bloody hell, he couldn’t leave a lass to the flames, even if she’d tried to kill him. With his sword held high, he cut down another rider coming at him and did not look back to see what had become of Asher. He scanned the smoky courtyard for any sign of a female then muttered a string of oaths when he didn’t find her. With a look of such dark resentment and determination on his face he frightened two more soldiers out of his path, he rode his snorting beast straight to the fiery entrance. There was only one way to get inside and no time to hesitate. Yanking hard on his reins, he dug his heels into his horse’s flanks and heaved the stallion upward onto its hind legs. The charred doors splintered and cracked beneath the weight of his mount’s front hooves. Thick smoke stung his lungs and made it almost impossible to see. He called out, “Lady!” His stallion neighed and bucked at the roaring flames all around them, but Rob’s hand was strong and the beast was forced to continue. He called out again, and was about to give up and count her among the dead when he saw her. To his astonishment, the lass was trying desperately to put out the flames with a meager blanket.
“’Tis too late, lass. Give me yer hand!”
At the sound of his voice, she whirled around, bringing the blanket to her face to keep the smoke from choking her. “Edward?” She coughed trying to see through the suffocating haze. “Edward, I—” The blanket slipped from her fingers and her legs gave out beneath her.
Rob charged forward, leaning down in his saddle. Before her body hit the ground, he plucked her from the ashes.