Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter Twenty Six
Rathlin Island Ireland 1306
Conall was up before dawn going to the horses. He was not happy at all. As he entered the lean-to Dougall jumped up banging his head on the bar that stood between two horses. Seeing Conall, even in the dim moonlight he could tell something was eating at him.
“What be amiss then.” Dougall said quietly so as not to disturb the horses, rubbing his head.
Conall turned to face his brother anger frowning his eyebrows.
“She called me bràthair!”
“Oh, aye and why would the lass say that?”
“We were talking about being born at the same time. She asked if’n I’d be disappointed if she be me sista. Then she called me brother!” he spat out.
Dougall crossed his arms grinning at Conall. “What’s got yer temper in a knot?”
Conall growled at him.
“Ah, I see. Ye love the lass then.”
Conall glared at his brother. “Nay! I do not. I am her protector, nay more.”
“I see. Is that why she has ye in a tether. I see tha way ye watch her, ye canna take ye eyes from tha lass.”
“Ack, haud ye wheesht. Ye nay ken what ye are aboot.” Conall snapped again.
Dougall came to stand in front of him, placing his hands on his shoulders.
“Bràthair did ye no say how brave the lass is?” Conall nodded. “An is tha lass not the bonniest ye ha e’er seen?” again Conall nodded. An do ye no love her?” Conall nodded. His eyes widened as he just realised what he nodded to.
How could he disagree with his brother in that the lass was the bonniest, but love, no. He couldn’t allow that to happen it would be an unacceptable transgression of his mission. He had however, been the one to kiss the lass, twice. A mistake he truly was not sorry for doing.
“Bràthair ye are besotted. Ye love the lass. Makes no difference if’n ye say so or no.” Dougall chortled.
Conall ignored the last statement. “Dougall we need to deal with tha Bruce. We’ll let the horses go they’ll have plenty to eat and drink until we return.” Conall needed to focus on the Bruce and not on the lass, their birth dates and definitely not on whether he was her bràthair.
Conall and Dougall removed the bridles and bits from the horses and led them out of the stables. The horses were happy to be released and ran and jumped as they made their way down the meadow. Conall wasn’t worried about anyone turning up and rifling through his saddle bags. He had caught sight of the wolf, and knowing he was around he felt certain he would remain in the area until he and Morgan hopefully returned.
I was filled with worry about what to do with my bag containing the box. There was nowhere to hide it, and I couldn’t very well take it with me. Conall and Dougall wondered what I was fussing about when they came in the door. I held my bag out and shrugged my shoulders. Dougall smiled as he lifted the bed up to reveal a shelf attached to the underside.
“Ye bag will be safe here while we are gone.” he said taking the bag from my hand. He slid it onto the shelf with ease.
“Dougall how did you know that was there?”
Dougall laughed. “I built it milady. I have been ere a few times.”
“Oh, I see, thank you.”
Conall attached his sword, claymore and dirks and then the three of us huddled together in the middle of the room. Conall took me by the waist, and Dougall put one arm around his brother and the other around me. Conall held his pendants and said the words that would transport us to Rathlin Island and the Bruce.
Again, the grey fog enfolded around us. Head spinning and body gyrating as it had done the first time. I pushed my face into the crook of Conall’s neck. I think Dougall did the same. I had a sudden thought, time for a little payback, I nipped his neck lightly.
I breathed with gratitude when the time shift was over. Time shifting was not something I wished to do regularly. Lifting my head biting winds hit me as if I had just walked into a windy freezer. I reviled leaving the warmth of Conall’s chest, but both he and Dougall had let their hold relax and I found myself apart from them. I did however notice the wide eyed stunned look on Conall’s face when I looked up. I turned away as if nothing had happened.
We were standing on a lush green promontory high above the sea. The wind snapping with strength. There were so many birds, puffins, razorbills and guillemots, flying about over the crashing sea. Seals sat on jutting rocks and playing between dark blue waves, crested white. It was absolutely beautiful, but really windy. So much so that it took a fair bit of balancing to keep standing.
Dougall pointed to a higher cliff further along the coast. A castle, grey and daunting perched at the end of an outcrop of basalt and limestone, surrounded on three sides by sea. With the wind and the screeching of birds even shouting was an effort. Dougall resorted to waving his arms motioning us to follow him away from the cliff.
Conall was struggling to hold his kilt flailing in the high wind. I thought back to the conversation I had had with Ula about the kilt should it be lifted. I smiled to myself at the thought and glad there were no children around.
Rounding hedgerows, we came across several white stone cottages, each with a red door, and a chimney stack on the right side. They all sat neatly at the same distance from one another. Dougall opened the door of one and beckoned us to enter. Crowding into a small room it was good to be out of the wind and the screeching of birds. The men had to bend slightly due to the low beams of the ceiling. Dougall bade us to wait before he disappeared out the door back into the swirling wind, banging the door closed as he went.
I could see Conall was a little uncomfortable having to keep his head bent to accommodate the height of the ceiling. “If you don’t sit you are going to get a crick in your neck.”
There was only one seat in this small room I motioned for him to take it. I had no problem with the ceiling height. After a few minutes Conall pulled me to sit on his lap, holding me in a tight grasp.
“I don’t mind standing.”
“Aye I ken ye may not, but I am no in tha habit of sitting while a lady stands.”
“How very gallant of you.” I said sarcastically as I sat on his knee, noticing a smile dangling on the corners of his lips.
“Lass did ye no bite me before?” he whispered into my hair, sending more flutters and flitters streaming through me.
Before I could answer not that I was really intending to Dougall came through the door and seeing me sitting on Conall’s lap raised an eyebrow, a smile edging his lips. A man came in behind him holding a cap in his hand, he looked very nervous.
“Seamus this be me bràthair Conall, and this is Lady Morgan.” he said as he shut the door. Seamus bowed as he approached. I got up from Conall’s lap.
“Dougall told me yer looking fer The Bruce.” Seamus said in a thick Irish accent as he took Conall’s arm in a shake.
“Aye Seamus have ye seen him?” Conall was sure that Seamus had not as Agnes had said the Bruce had been in the cave for some time.
“Nay. Dougall says ye tink he is in Avaragh Cave. When he first disappeared, we took to tha boats and checked all tha caves we could. We could nay find Avaragh cave, well not where we tought it was. Tis a legend tha says Avaragh cave was a safe place fer tha children of Lir. A seer woman created a rock bar affront of it to keep the tide out. The ledge is there but no cave, it may ha collapsed at some time.”
Conall’s lips set in a grim line as he pulled his hand through his three-day beard growth. “Seamus if’n there was a cave would ye access it by boat?”
“Nay ye ha ta climb down o’ side o’ cliff about a hundred and fifty yards from castle. Tha sea would nay calm afore spring. It’s too rough ta drop in tha sea and wade in. Ye would nay get close, even if the cave was still there. Ye’d be pounded on rocks an washed out ta sea.”
The words Andrew had spoken at the inn suddenly dawned on him. “Centre ye stride at fifty-five yards.” Conall muttered to himself.
I turned to look at him, remembering the words but confused at their meaning.
“Seamus can ye show us where ye think tha entrance to the cave would be from atop the cliffs?” Conal asked. Seamus nodded confused as I was.
“Bràthair what do ye have in mind?” Dougall asked also looking confused.
“Seamus could ye meet us there in two hours?” Conall ignored Dougall, not wanting to discuss anything in front of Seamus.
“Yes milord.” Seamus backed out of the door bowing as he did.
Dougall gave Conall an enquiring look.
“When Andrew came ta see me at tha inn, he had a message from Agnes, but I didnae understand it until now. If we find the centre of the cave entrance and walk backwards fifty-five yards we can safely transport into tha cave.”
“Are ye sure? I dinnae want ta be embedded in a cave wall, I will nay forgive ye if’n that happens, neither will da.”
There wasn’t much I could say. I trusted Conall. I was however unsure of what we would find in the cave once we transported. How many Brollachans would be waiting for us and was the Bruce even there to begin with. I only had six bolts left, they would have to be enough.
Two hours later we met Seamus. He showed Conall where the entrance to the cave should be. Conall precariously hung over the edge of the cliff with Dougall hanging onto his legs ensuring he didn’t topple over into the wild sea. He marked the ground at his chest with a piece of stone then told Seamus to return to his family. Seamus was happy to do so; the wind was like being in a washing machine and deathly cold. Once Seamus was gone from sight Conall made his strides from the marking until he was at what he approximated to be fifty-five yards.
“Ok this is where we go in from. Lass ye will need to load yer bow, bràthair sword at the ready.”
Dougall withdrew his sword and stood with his back to Conall. I loaded a bolt into Abbey. I also needed to turn my back to him. He could not transport me facing him with Abbey loaded, I would probably panic and shoot my bolt into Conall’s chest.
Conall put his arms around us for the transportation, which meant he couldn’t draw his own sword or claymore. Only then realising our job was to protect him until he could do so. Conall put his arm around my waist pulling my back up against his chest, again the flutters.
“Ye canna bit me wi ye back ta me.” He whispered into my hair.
As soon as he held his pendant said the words he put his arm around Dougall, who was looking a little suspicious catching Conall whispering to me.
Unlike the last two transports this was fast. It took only a few seconds or so to accustom our eyes to the darkness inside the cave. The smells of the enclosure, rock, sea, moss and unwashed bodies were a potent blend. My pendant was heating and fast.
Dougall leapt at two Brollachans running towards us. I took one down with a bolt. Conall had moved past me before I loaded another. The surrounding space was immense, but rocks and holes in the floor were obstacles. If a foot was caught it could spell disaster.
I shot another bolt as Dougall jumped into the space between my shot and a Brollachan. Hearing it coming he moved his head back. He looked at me startled, eyebrows raised, the bolt barely missed him but took its target out. I mouthed the words sorry.
I reloaded and stood waiting for an opportunity to fire. Conall parried a blow, pirouetting to one side and following through his own swing across the chest. His sword angled upward, a death blow. I was in awe at the way he moved, for someone as big as he was he moved damn fast.
Suddenly an arm grabbed me around the throat from behind, causing me to drop Abbey, a knife coming up to my chin. I didn’t scream out fear that Conall and Dougall would be distracted. I hadn’t thought to look behind me with the fray at the front.
The last three Brollachans dropped dead at the swords of Conall and Dougall. They stopped motionless when their eyes fell on me. They daren’t move forward for fear of the dagger held against my throat, Conall’s eyes full of dread.
Slowly I reached to my belt where I had the sgian dubh, not taking my eyes from Conall’s face, giving me the slightest nod that he was aware of what I was doing. Once I had the blade firmly grasped Conall placed his hand slowly on his dirk at his belt. My aggressor shuffled slightly but said not a word. Dougall already had a dirk in hand.
Conall glanced at Dougall receiving a nod, then he gave me a nod. I reached behind me slamming my blade into the Brollachan side hoping that it hit a vital area the Brollachan screamed and let go of me. I bent down quickly as both dirks flew through the air piercing the neck and eye of my assailant. He stumbled back falling dead at my heels.
Conall was upon me quickly pulling me into an embrace. Dougall checking to make sure my assailant was dead, kicking the body with his boot. It was then that Dougall saw men laying further into the cave.
“Are ye alright lass, did he hurt ye?” Conall asked searching my face and neck for any telltale signs of injury.
“I’m fine, go, Dougall needs you.” Dougall ran to the men at the back of the cave.
He cut the ropes at the wrists and feet of one man, and sitting him up held a canteen to the man’s lips whereby the man came around, staring wide eyed at him and then at Conall and I.
“Who are ye?” he asked as Dougall pulled him to his feet. He stood wobbling slightly holding onto Dougall’s arm.
Conall let me go and approached the man bowing as he did. “Ye be The Bruce?”
“Aye that I be, and ye?” the man asked.
“I be Conall Sutherland, this is my bràthair Dougall and this is Lady Morgan.”
The Bruce looked around at the dead bodies of the Brollachans. “An ye two did this, ye killed our subjugators?”
“Aye we did and Lady Morgan too.”
The Bruce looked slightly shocked at me. One assumes that in this time period woman held no such positions as warriors. They were simply bearers of children, cleaners and cooks. I raised my eyebrows and sallied forward not impressed. I stood in front of The Bruce and held out my hand for him to take. Take it he did dropping a kiss to my hand. More hand kissing.
“I am pleased to meet you my lord.” I said as I clumsily curtsied. So this was The Bruce.