Book Two The Clan MacDougall Series

More on Findley’s Lass…

The first part of Chapter One can be found on Findley’s Lass Page...

This is the rest of Chapter One …I do hope you enjoy it! Please leave me a note and let me know what you think!

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His voice was as cold as the steel blade of a broadsword and just as deadly. It warned each of the men who surrounded him that there would be no discussion on the matter. He turned and headed towards the wagons while his younger brother Richard followed after him.

“Findley,” Richard began.  “Don’ let yer heart cloud yer good judgment.” If any other man had spoken those words to Findley, he would have gutted him without any thought to the matter.

“Maggy and the boys are out there somewhere, Richard,” Findley tossed over his shoulder.  “With or without ye, I’ll get them back.”

“I never said ye’d be doin’ it without me, brother.” Richard told him as they approached one of the wagons.  “I simply be askin’ ya to think through the matter for a moment. We’ll be needin’ the supplies on these wagons, Findley.” He made no attempt to help Findley who was angrily working the chains and tethers of the harnesses.

“We’ll travel faster without them!” Findley spat.

“Aye, we could.” Richard answered as he rubbed a hand across his bearded face. “Renfrew be but a days ride from here, with the wagons. We can be there by mornin’ time. The Buchannan keep be at least three days from here.”

Findley stopped abruptly and looked at his brother curiously.  “And what be yer point?”

“I say we take the wagons to Renfrew. Trade them in for fresh horses and purchase the aid of a few men. Then we head for the Buchannan keep.”

Findley blinked, running the idea through his mind.  He did not want to waste precious time trading wagons or trying to purchase the fealty of other men.  He could only think of getting to Maggy before any more harm was thrust upon her.

“Think of it, brother.” Richard went on. “There be only four of us. While yer thirst for revenge may be strong at the moment and there be not another man I’d want on the fields of battle with me, we canna go against a hundred men with just the four of us.  Let us go to Renfrew, sell the wagons, buy a few men, men good with a sword. We can send a messenger back to Dunshire and beg Angus for more help.”

As much as Findley did not want to admit it, he knew his brother was right.  He looked at Wee William and Patrick who were now standing nearby. He could see that they agreed with Richard’s plan.  The last thing he wanted at the moment was to waste more valuable time.

Hatred and anger had seized his heart. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew Richard’s idea made good sense.  No matter the amount of bloodlust running through his veins at the moment, no matter the fact that his heart burned with wanting to rescue Maggy, they did need more men to go against the Buchannan clan.

“To Renfrew then,” Findley said through clenched teeth as he began to reattach the harness. “But the first time it appears the wagons slow us, I’ll not think twice of leaving you to them.”

******

They had ridden until long after the sun had set.  With no moon to help guide them, it was far too risky to proceed through the pitch-black night pulling heavy wagons.

Findley slept restlessly, unable to clear his mind of where Maggy might be and what she might be going through. While she was a strong woman who had managed to keep her motley clan together, it was an altogether different matter to be held as prisoner or slave. He swore by all that was Holy, truthful and right that he would lay siege to any man who brought her any harm.

He rose before the first light of day, rolling from under the wagon where he had fought sleep most of the night.  With a heavy heart and racing mind he grabbed water from the back of the wagon and splashed it across his face and neck. His trews and tunic were filthy and travel worn but that was of no import at the time.  He doubted that Maggy would give one wit what he might look like as long as he was able to save her from the Buchannans.

He had given up trying to push thoughts of Maggy from his mind and decided to use his anger as a catalyst for moving forward this day.  He would not rest until he found her.

He could not explain his intense attraction to the auburn haired woman with eyes the color of spring, full of life and hope, for they’d only spent a few hours together the past spring. Their time together had been short and had taken place under less than desirable circumstances.  Her five boys, the oldest just ten and three, had stolen some thirty head of cattle from the Clan MacDougall.  The reiving had set in motion events that changed the lives of many people. His uncle and chief had been reunited with a daughter he had thought long dead. And his friend and foster brother had found the love of his life.

One by one his men began to wake.  After breaking their fast over bannocks and dried beef they headed towards Renfrew just as the sun began to break.  The beautiful morning with its purple and azure sky was in direct contrast to the bleakness lying heavy in his heart.  Findley doubted he would ever enjoy another sunrise again until he had Maggy safely in his arms.

Had they not been low on coin he would have deserted the wagons the day before and set out on horseback.  The battle taking place between what his heart said–leave the wagons and ride fast–and what his mind said–he needed more men than he currently had at his disposal, was causing his head to throb incessantly.

They travelled in silence and as fast as the rough terrain would allow.  ‘Twas early in the morn when a wheel on one of the wagons had gotten lodged between two large rocks. An hour of daylight was lost when they had to unhitch horses from the other wagons to dislodge it. Findley set forth with a burst of heated blasphemies as he grew angrier at each passing moment that was wasted.  His men had quickly caught on to his foul mood and left him alone with it.

At noon time, Patrick asked for a brief respite to stretch his legs and empty his bladder.  Findley unhappily agreed when he saw the weary expressions burgeoning on the worn faces of his friends.

Patrick jumped from his wagon and headed into the woods.  While he stood behind a tree, answering nature’s call, he thought heard a slight rustling of leaves coming from his left.  He pretended he had heard nothing but strained his ears to listen.  Patrick was certain no one else had followed him in to the woods.

As he laced up his trews he began to whistle softly and surreptitiously scan the woods with his eyes. He thought he had heard the faint sound again. There was someone nearby and that someone was not doing a good job at remaining quiet.

Patrick feigned a yawn, stretched his arms out wide and began to walk in the direction the noise had come from.  He had taken but a few steps when from out of now where he heard the blood curdling sound of a battle cry, which was quickly followed by something quite hard hitting him in the side of his head!

He let out a loud curse as stars began to form in front of his eyes and an intense jolt of pain shot down the side of his head to his elbow.  Momentarily stunned, Patrick reached for his dirk and through a dizzying amount of pain he began to look around for the person who had hit him.  His vision had blurred and before he could get a good grip on the situation at hand when he heard a voice yell out.  “Go to hell ya dirty bastard!”

Patrick couldn’t have sworn to it at that moment what with his ringing ears, blurred vision, and the goose egg growing on his temple, but he thought the voice sounded rather young.

He whirled around toward the source of the voice only to be hit in the chest with another stone the size of a chicken egg.  Before he knew it, there was all manner of rock throwing taking place as well as a litany of curses and blasphemies being called out and aimed at his direction. In a matter of moments he was besieged and felled to the ground by stones and rocks and was quickly surrounded by a band of lads who began kicking at him while they cursed.

“Bloody Buchannan!” The smallest of the lads shouted as he landed a kick to the side of Patrick’s stomach. Another boy, not much older than the first, spat at him and yelled, “Ya can burn in hell ya whoreson!” The boy evidently felt it quite necessary then to kick Patrick in his ribs.

The largest of the four boys had a look of anger that Patrick had only seen before in the eyes of a warrior. The lad held a rather ominous looking rock, a small boulder really, in both his hands and had raised it over his head, fully prepared to send it crashing into Patrick’s skull.  Funny, but Patrick had always thought that he would die on the battlefield in some fiery brave final act of heroism.  He’d never imagined himself being pummeled to death by rocks being thrown by a group of small boys.

Just as the lad was ready to send the rock crashing down, a much larger hand swooped in and grabbed it from behind whilst another grabbed the back of his tunic and jerked him violently away from Patrick.  As the lad let loose with curses, more men and hands seemed to appear from nowhere and began pulling the boys off Patrick.

“Filthy rotten Buchannans!” The boys were cursing and screaming in protest.

Wee Williams voice boomed and echoed through the forest, sending birds to flight and other animals to scurry to safety.  “Settle yer arses down now, ya heathens!” He shouted.

Flailing arms and legs stopped mid flail, mouths hung open, and all eyes turned to the giant before them.  Patrick was certain that had he been any one of those boys at whom William had just yelled at, more likely than not he would have pissed his pants.

“Weel have no more of it, ya beasties!” William added for good measure, shooting each of the boys an angry glare and tossing the large rock over his shoulder. It landed with a dull thud on the ground behind him.

Apparently there was not much on this earth that frightened the oldest of the boys for he returned Wee Williams glare with one of his own.  “Shove it up yer arse ya filthy dog of a Buchannan scum!”

Patrick had known Wee William for most of his life and never in all the time that he had known the giant had he ever seen the man blink when an insult had been hurled his way.  But Wee William did just that.

But truth be told, what had surprised William the most was that he had never met someone who had not be intimidated by his size or the mere sound of his deep and gravelly voice. It threw him completely off guard, but only for a fleeting moment.

“Haud yer wheest ya little shit! I be no more a Buchannan than ye are!” William’s response seemed to surprise the boy into a momentary bout of silence.  The lad began to look about at the men before him.  He could not hide his sudden recognition or relief when he saw Richard and Findley.

“Aye,” Findley said when he saw recognition in the lad’s eyes. Findley was holding a young boy under one arm and another by the scruff of his tunic. “’Tis me, Findley.  And me brother Richard. Ya remember us, don’t ya lads?”

The lad’s jaw set to stone as he nodded his head.  “Aye.” His face was awash with distrust and anger.

“Might I ask why ya felt the need to attack me man, Patrick here?” Findley asked as he eyed each of the boys.  Patrick lay still on the ground trying to catch his breath. The boy Findley held under his arm began to wriggle as he spoke. “We thought ya was Buchannans.”

Findley rolled his eyes.  “Apparently.”

“And we hate them dirty bastards!” The boy wriggled again, fighting to be set free.  Findley adjusted the lad and squeezed him tighter.  “Settle down, ya hellion!”  He warned.  He recognized the boy as Maggy’s youngest, Liam.  “Elst I’ll let Wee William skelp ye!”

The boy lifted his head, took one look at Wee William’s angry glare and settled down immediately.  He may have felt brave enough to pelt a man to death with rocks, but he wasn’t stupid.  The giant standing just a few feet away, holding his oldest brother up with one hand as if he were showing the group a large fish he’d just caught, could most certainly kill him with one blow.  Liam decided it best not to chance raising the man’s ire any more than they already had.

Findley and his men gave the boys a moment to settle themselves down before loosening their grasps and freeing them.  Wee William disgustedly shoved the oldest boy to the center of the group, clearly not happy with the lad’s pig-headedness.

An overwhelming sense of relief had washed over Findley the moment he had seen the boys, even if they had been pelting Patrick with rocks.  At least they were alive!  Now if the same could be said of Maggy, his heart might begin to beat again.

“Where be yer mum?” Findley asked as he extended a hand and pulled Patrick to his feet. Findley would have sworn the knot on Patrick’s head was growing with each throb of his pulse.

Patrick shook his head, took a deep breath and turned to look at the boys.  “Can I skelp these little hellions, Findley?” He asked with another shake of his head and looked determined to do just that, with or without Findley’s permission.

“Nay,” Findley told him.  “No’ till we find out where Maggy is.”  Findley glowered at the boys.  “I’ll ask ye again.  Where be yer mum?”

Each of the lads clamped their mouths shut and shook their heads, refusing to divulge Maggy’s whereabouts. Findley’s nostrils flared as he took in another deep breath in an attempt to ward off the strong urge to throttle each of their scrawny necks.  As he studied each of them a bit more closely he could see they were filthy and had lost weight since the last time he’d seen them.

He imagined it had been some time since any of them had bathed or eaten a good meal.  Terrified yet determined eyes with dark circles stared back at him.  “Lads. We’re here to help and we need to know where yer mum is.” Findley spoke in an even tone and tried to hide his worry.

“Go to hell.” The oldest boy said. “You can skin me, poke me eyes with sticks, and pull me fingernails off!  I ain’t tellin’ ya nothin’.  Ya canna have her!” The fierceness in his eyes promised each of the men before him that he meant exactly what he said.

Wee William took one broad step, grabbed the lad by his dirty tunic and lifted him off the ground.  He held the boy close to his own face.  “Let’s test that theory!” Wee William seethed.

Not a flinch, not even a flash of fear could be seen in the lad’s face. Findley and his men were stunned.  Apparently, Wee William had finally met his match, and it was in a lad half his height and a fraction of his weight.  The lad was going to make one hell of a warrior someday.  That is if he could ever get his temper under control.  ‘Twas his fearlessness that caused Findley concern.  A man without fear would often make reckless decisions.

As Wee William threatened the oldest lad, the youngest, Liam, rushed towards Wee William and kicked him in the leg.  Wee William ignored the boy and kept his eyes peeled on the lad before him.

“Put me brother down!” Liam yelled as Richard swooped in and pulled him away from Wee William.

Findley had reached the limit of his patience.  “I’ve had enough!” He boomed.  “We’re here to help ye, ya fools!”

All eyes turned to him as he yelled on.  “We ken the Buchannan’s attacked yer camp.  ‘Tis why we’re here!  We hate the bloody bastards as much as ye do!  And I swear, if ye do not tell me where yer mum is right this very moment, I’ll skelp each and every one of ya!” He paused long enough to take a breath.

“Now, do ye wanna leave yer mum with no children and break her heart and risk the chance of the Buchannan’s findin’ her, or do ya want to do the intelligent thing and tell us where the bloody hell she is so that we can help?”

Each of the boys looked to the other for silent direction and approval.  The boy who appeared to be nearest in size and age to the eldest finally spoke.  “Do ya promise ye’ll no’ harm her?”  There was much worry and distrust in the lad’s bright blue eyes.

It then dawned on Findley that he knew all too well what the lads were going through.  He had been just ten and one when his family was murdered. Their deaths had taken a hard toll on Findley and it was many years before he could trust anyone again. It had been but a few days since the Buchannan’s had raided their camp and it was not going to be easy to convince the lads that Findley and his men could be trusted.  Findley was asking them to put their faith in a near complete stranger.

He let out a long, heavy breath and began to chew on the inside of his cheek.  “Lads,” he searched for the right words.  “I ken ya be afeared ye canna trust us and I canna blame ya fer it.”  He rubbed the back of his neck as he put a hand on his hip.  “Yer just wantin’ to protect yer mum and ‘tis verra noble.  A good warrior protects his family to his own death.  Ye be doin’ the right thing.” He would have done the very same thing had he been in their shoes.

Pride flickered momentarily in the eyes of the oldest boy, but only for the briefest of moments before it was replaced with suspicion.  He stared at Findley for a very long while, searching for any sign that he was being disingenuous.  He then turned to Wee William.  “Can I talk to me brothers fer a moment?” He asked him.  Gone from his face was the hatred and repugnance. Replacing it was a look of solemnity far beyond his years.  He should be enjoying his youth.  Instead, he had been thrust into the roll of a man, a leader and a protector.

Wee William nodded thoughtfully and set the boy down.  The four young boys huddled together and spoke in hushed tones for a while. Occasionally, one of them would look up and stare at Wee William for a moment before drawing back into the conversation.

Findley and his men came together, giving the boys the time and space they needed.

“Do ya think Maggy is well?” Richard whispered as he dusted dirt from the leg of his trews.

Findley cast a glance at the boys before answering. “I believe she is. And I believe they’re protectin’ her.  They ken where she is.”  He looked thoughtfully at his brother.  “Ye ken as well as I brother, how hard it is to trust someone, especially a man, when ye’ve lost all that ya have.”

Richard nodded his head and turned to look at the boys.  He had been seven when he lost his family, along with their entire village.  To this very day he still fought the nightmares, even though the man responsible for the attack was dead.  Richard believed that evil would always exist in this world.  Evil men were like bugs—you squash one and there were a hundred more ready to takes its place. “Aye, I do.” He understood it all too well.

Richard realized then that one of the boys, the one who looked very much like Liam, was missing.  “Do ya think the other small lad be with Maggy?” He asked, bringing it to Findley’s attention.

“I would ken so, Richard.” Perhaps they’d left the lad with Maggy as her guard and protector.  A smile came to Findley’s face at thinking of these five small boys who were protecting their mum with all that they had in them.  Aye.  They’d make fine warriors indeed someday.  He was glad they were on his side for they would undeniably be formidable adversaries.

******

The boys had apparently come to some conclusions and decisions.  They formed a line, crossed arms over chests and put stern looks upon their faces as they faced Findley and his men.  They’d let the eldest do the talking.

“I be Robert McKenzie.” The oldest lad said by way of an introduction.  “These are me brothers.  Andrew, Connell and Liam.”  Each boy gave a curt nod of his head at the mention of his name.

“Ya seen what the Buchannans did.” Robert said. Findley detected a slight catch to the boy’s voice and it was the first time that day that he showed any sign of weakness.

Findley and his men remained quiet and gave slight nods of their heads.  Aye, they’d seen it and it would be forever burned in Findley’s memory.

“The Buchannan wants our mum fer his wife. ‘Tis why they raided our home.”  Robert cleared his throat and stood taller.

Findley’s stomach lurched at the thought of Maggy being forced to wed the Buchannan.  He’d kill the bastard before he allowed that to happen.  He began to chew on the inside of his cheek again and kept his thoughts to himself.

“But our mum dunna wanna marry him.” Andrew offered.  They boy was nearly as tall as Robert, but was in sharp contrast to Robert’s blonde hair and brown eyes. Andrew had a thick mop of red hair, a freckled face and vivid blue eyes.  He could have easily passed for Patrick’s younger brother.  “She dunna like the man.”

“And we dunna like him either.” Liam offered as he swiped a hand across his sweaty forehead.  “The Buchannan’s a dirty bastard.” He said as he spat at the ground.  The boy certainly had tenacity even if he severely lacked good manners.

“Do ya kiss yer mum with that filthy mouth of yers, lad?” Wee William asked.

Liam’s face turned crimson.  “I’d never talk like that in front of me mum!” he told him.

“’Tis good to know it.” Wee William said. “I’ll thank ye kindly to watch yer language at all times, lad.” He shot a warning look towards the boy but said nothing more.  The boy didn’t realize it, but it was his first lesson in being a gentleman as well as a warrior:  control your temper and at all times behave honorably.

They turned their attentions back to Robert.  “They burned ye out ‘cause the Buchannan wants yer mum fer his wife?” Patrick asked just to make certain he understood the situation correctly.

Robert nodded his head. “Aye, they did.”

The men pondered the information for a time.  While Findley could well imagine any number of men would take a fancy to Maggy, what with her dark auburn hair and bright green eyes and beautiful face.  But to kill innocent people for her? Nay, that ‘twasn’t done to impress or woo her into marriage; ‘twas done to scare her into it.

“How did ye escape them?” Richard asked.

“We were no’ there when they came.  The lads and me was huntin’ rabbits.  Mum was lookin’ for herbs to help break Ian’s fever.  We heard the ruckus and hid ‘til the bast–” Robert stopped himself as he cast an apologetic look towards Wee William.  “’Til the eejits left.”

Wee William gave the lad an approving smile.  “And yer mum and Ian?” Wee William asked, biding him to continue.

Robert looked at his brothers and his face fell.  “Mum is well.  But Ian…” his voice trailed off and his eyes began to water.

“What of Ian?” Findley asked, knowing he wasn’t going to like the lad’s answer.

“The Buchannans got him.”
(more…)