Chapter Twenty Four
Chapter Twenty Four
A noise awoke me just as the sun began to rise. I sat up alarmed. Two riders had just pulled up on the other side of our horses, Conall striding towards them, to greet them. Their kilts were a muted green, black and white different than that of the Sutherlands. The two men were both older than Conall.
Conall spoke in Gaelic and pointed to the path we had come, then to where we were headed. When it looked like he was talking about me the two men’s eyebrows raised. No doubt by the clothing I was wearing as their eyes glanced over me. A few minutes later they all headed my way.
“Matthew, Gabe, this is Lady Morgan Evalina Danu Monroe.” Conall stated. “Lass this is ere is Matthew and Gabe MacKay.”
“Nice to meet you both.” I said with a nod as the two men in turn raised my hand and kissed it. This kissing of hands seemed to be a habit with the highlanders.
“Sassenach.” Matthew exclaimed with a raise of his eyebrow and a questioning look to Conall.
“I was raised in England but I am not English. I am not a Sassenach I’m a Scot!” I proclaimed. Which caused another raise of eyebrows, scoffing at them.
“The lass is feisty and in trews to.” Gabe smiled as he nodded to Conall.
“Aye that she is.” Conall answered with his arms folded about his chest.
I wasn’t happy with them talking about me as if I wasn’t there. “Says the man in a skirt.” I mumbled as I walked back to my blanket.
The two MacKay men broke out in laughter. They had obviously heard my comment.
“Conall tis a wonder ye are still in one piece lad. I’m surprised tha lass hae no torn ye eyes oot yet.” Gabe jested. A glaring look from me simply made them laugh again.
“Aye I could do wi a lass like tha at me keep.” Matthew sniggered “There’s bin nay much entertainment of late.”
I turned to the two men. I was going to give them a piece of my mind but I caught Conall’s serious look and a slight shake of the head. I simply smiled at them, swallowed down my pride and rolled my blanket up instead.
“Conall ye ay no far from Loeg. If’n ye pass through be sure to avoid tha Reverend John MacKay, should he see ye lass. He’s no one of us, but a lowlander. He’s no a man fer tha rabbles of Sassenach lasses wearin’ trews nay matter who she is. He’ll no doubt see it as a sign o’ tha devil. Ye would best tae travel oot ta Dalnessie an come around tha way.” Matthew still watching me.
“Thank ye Matthew I wi take that inta consideration.” Conall said politely.
“Weel be off then lad, wi ha game ta catch, mind how ye go.” They nodded to both Conall and myself before hoisting themselves up onto their horses, Matthew giving me a wink before he turned and rode off.
“Friends of yours?” I asked tying the blanket to Flora’s saddle.
“Aye Matthew is the Laird of MacKay clan, twas his father who took me in ta foster.” Conall replied as he too attached his rolled-up blanket to his saddle.
“Oh dear, I should have been a little politer then. I’m sorry Conall.” Once again, my mouth went to town before thinking. I thought they were rude for talking about me while I was stood there, but the fact that Matthew was a Laird would account for it. It would have been better if Conall had introduced him as Laird. I might have perhaps held my tongue, but then again, I may not have done.
“Dinnae fash lass, they took nay harm. They quite liked ye.” It was a good job he was here or they would have liked the lass a whole lot more. He got on well with Matthew and Gabe but he wouldn’t trust them with a lass as far as he could throw them. If they had been from any other clan, he would have had Morgan in the saddle and been off as quick as a fox in a fire.
As we prepared to mount the horses I asked Conall what the Cailleach said about how to hand over the items at the stones. I wasn’t sure whether we were to meet someone there or hide the box for someone to pick it up at a later date.
“We are to give it to màthair when she awakens. When tis làn ghealach is o’er stomag of Cailleach na Mointeach.”
“Well that make as much sense as what she said?” I huffed.
“At Callanish tis a hill range. Tis shaped like a lass lying on her back. Cailleach na Mointeach means old woman o’ the moors, some call her sleeping beauty, others Earth Màthair. Once e’er nineteen years or aboots tha moon moves across her body, when it reaches her stomag.” Conall moved his hand to his stomach. “The stone they call màthair. That’s mother ye ken.” Which he received a sardonic look from me. “It glows like none o’ the others do.”
“Is the hill really shaped like a woman?”
“Aye it is. I’ve only bin there once, tis a bonny sight to see, an tha stones, they are quite impressive, are far as stones go.”
“So, I am to assume that this is the nineteenth year and on the next full moon, the mother, that’s màthair ye ken, stone will glow, as you say?”
“Aye, I wondered aboot that myself. It would seem tha timing is verra coincidental. If’n it had been last year then we would no doubt ha to spend a year running an hidin’ from the Brollachans. If it had a been next year then who’s ta say what would a happened, wi havin’ ta wait another eighteen years.”
The thought of having to wait eighteen years if we had been a year out, was too much to think about. I had to admit though that the timing was uncanny. I didn’t exactly believe in fate as such but this was enough to question the providence of it.
As we rode Conall talked about his fostering time at the MacKay keep. Not to mention some of the mischief he and his brothers had gotten up to. What I did take in though was how hard he had trained, the hours he had put into the training. Anyone else I would have thought they were exaggerating the story of it, but I knew Conall wasn’t. We were riding around the base of a hill, covered in green, heather and stone. He suddenly moved his horse closer so that his leg was almost touching mine. He leaned over keeping his voice calm.
“Lass ready yer bow.” I looked at him with shock. “Now lass.” his voice more demanding.
I did as he said and pulled Abbey from the brace. I couldn’t hold her, pull a bolt and hold the reins at the same time. I certainly couldn’t shoot from a moving horse, lord I could barely ride one. Conall leaned over grabbing Flora’s reins from my hand. I was shaking but managed to open the quiver still hanging from my belt and pull a bolt, squeezing my thighs against Flora, terrified that I was going to fall.
Loading a bolt into Abbey I took the reins back. Abbey in one hand, reins in the other. I still had no idea how I was going to shoot. Conall was expecting me to ride and shoot at the same time. I could feel drops of sweat run down my face and neck. I was shaking so much I thought I could throw up, I swallowed not wanting Flora to be the object of my stomach contents.
Looking ahead I could now see what had Conall worried. Six riders heading our way on horseback, moving fast. Then I felt the burning of the pendant under my shirt. Looking at Conall a determined and angry look to his face, I screamed “Brollachans.”
Once again, he leaned over his horse towards me. “Lass do ye trust me?”
I nodded I was too frightened to say anything. I trusted Conall, but did I trust myself. We were however, about to find out.
“Drop the reins lass.”
I looked at the reins then back at Conall mortified. If I let the reins go I would surely fall off.
“Trust me lass drop the reins, hold ye balance with her knees against Flora. Ye can do this.” he shouted with resolve.
Petrified I dropped the reins hugging Flora’s side in a power hold with my legs. I could see the riders were getting closer, hanging on to Flora tight with my legs and feet, sweat from fear rolling down my face. Conall pulled his claymore from where it was strapped to his back.
As they closed in Conall yelled for me to shoot. I lined the bolt with one of the riders and let it loose. It whizzed through the air and plunged into the man’s shoulder. Not a perfect shot but it was enough so that the rider fell backwards off his horse. Surprised that I had actually managed to fire straddled to Flora like a rodeo cowboy. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I would have smiled but there was no time as I pulled another bolt and loaded. My next shot hit through the chest of another rider. My aim was better. Again, I loaded but before I could finish Flora lost her footing and I flew off her back landing hard on the ground.
I scrambled to my feet watching Conall riding hard towards the Brollachans yelling a Gaelic war cry. He swung at one rider catching him across the arm. The rider managed to stay on his horse but lost his sword. He swung his horse around to come up behind a rider separating his head from his body, and took off after two riders still racing in my direction. I should have been horrified to see a head flying through the sky to land bouncing along, but for some reason I wasn’t. Then I realised I didn’t have Abbey, I had lost her when I hit the ground.
My eyes went back to Conall chasing the two riders, but the third one that he had caught in the arm with his claymore rode hard behind him, throwing a dirk embedding it into Conall’s back. I screamed watching in horror as Conall fell from his horse. The two riders were still coming. I didn’t run, my legs felt concreted to the ground.
My anger rose as I screamed at them waving my hands around, calling them every blasphemous word I could think of, tears running down my face. It was then I noticed that as I waved my hands around, dirt and stones were floating above the ground. The Cailleach had said my ability was earth. Ok then let’s see what my ability can do.
I focused on the dirt and stones on the ground as Conall had taught me, connecting to the energy. They began rising into the air like a wave rising in the sea. No time to think about what was happening I threw my hands at the two riders who were almost upon me. They were showered with the cacophony I held up. Knocked to the ground from their horses.
Raising my hands, I lifted a boulder from nearby and dropped it on them squashing and pinning them down. The third rider was still coming but further back. I lifted another smaller boulder into the air. I didn’t want his horse hurt so I hurled the stone hitting him above the horse’s head. It landed on the ground with the Brollachan beneath.
I stood shaking, tremors running through my body caused my teeth to chatter before getting a grip on myself and yelling for Flora. She came trotting up to me, pulling myself into the saddle and racing to where Conall had fallen. I dropped from the saddle and sprinted to his side.
A knife stuck out of his back. He wasn’t moving. I yanked the blade out, blood seeped through his clothes. Holding my hand over the wound as I had done with the wolf, I shut my eyes and focused calling to Mother Nature to help me.
Suddenly my attention was caught by someone screaming close by. I looked up at a Brollachan racing towards me with his sword held high. Then everything happened in slow motion. I put my hand up to protect my face from the sword not thinking that it would serve little purpose, only to see the flash of silver as the wolf leapt catching his jaws around the Brollachans neck. Hearing the snap of bone from strong jaws, Brollachan and wolf landed heavily on the ground.
I looked back at Conall the wound had healed and he was regaining consciousness. I turned back to the wolf who now stood at Conall’s feet blood around his muzzle.
“Morgan.” the dry throaty voice of Conall brought my attention back to him.
“Conall you’re alright, oh God I was so worried.”
Conall turned over onto his back and then sat up rubbing his head and wincing. I ran my hands over the back of his head to find blood. He must have hit it when he fell from his horse.
“Hold still a minute.” Pulling his face to my shoulder while I healed the wound. “Is that better?”
“Aye it is lass, the pain has gone.” Conall turned to see the wolf still standing where his feet had been. Then at the body on the ground with his throat ripped out. “I see ye had a wee bit o’ help.” he said nodding at the wolf.
“He saved my life. Thank you, my wonderful silver friend.” The wolf looked at me as if he knew exactly what I was saying. Then he turned and padded off.
Conall whistled for Torq who came trotting to him, once we were in the saddle we made our way back to where I was when I fell off Flora to find Abbey. We passed a large boulder with legs sticking out from underneath.
“Lass did ye do that?” he asked stunned.
“Aye” I said
“So ye found yer ability then?”
I simply smiled at him. It didn’t take too long to find Abbey and thankfully she was not damaged. Once I had her secured on my back we rode for several hours without talking.
Conall was troubled with the fact that even though he took one Brollachan down, it was Morgan and the wolf that finished of the others. For a protector, he wasn’t doing a very good job. If the lass hadn’t found her ability she could have been killed. This did not sit well with him. He understood she had abilities but he was still her protector.
Late in the afternoon we came upon a hut at the base of a huge hill with a burn trickling past. Dismounting, Conall took the horses to a small lean-to a bit further to the left of the hut. Bales of straw stood within. He unloaded the horses and removed their saddles.
“This area tis called Corriekinloch tis fairly remote. Tis no used at this time o” year so there’s nay anyone about.”
With my back to the door the hill we were on sloped down to a river. We were higher than I expected. Glens and hills stood behind the river, mountains in the background. It was truly a beautiful serene place.
Venturing inside the hut to discover it was a small room with a hearth, bed, cupboard, table and two chairs. It was quaint and far better than the inn room we had stayed in.
I watched Conall as he got a fire going seemingly troubled, though he gave me a slight smile when he realised I was watching him. There were times I wished I could get inside his head, just to see what he was thinking. He was definitely moody, I wish you would talk to me more easily about your feelings I thought.
“We will leave for the Bruce in the morning.” he said as he left mumbling something going to catch dinner.
Looking around the sparse cottage, in one corner, there was a box that held some wilted vegetables. Too far gone to use I took them outside. I ventured around the back to find a small vegetable and herb garden, now this I can work with. Grateful for the bounty they held I picked some turnips, carrots and onions, with the addition of a few herbs.