Read April Holthaus - The MacKinnon Clan 02 Online

Authors: Escape To The Highlands

April Holthaus - The MacKinnon Clan 02 (10 page)

Jacqueline felt her stomach tighten with nervousness as the wetness she felt between her legs deceived her. Jacqueline fought the urge to open her eyes. Her hands clenched the top of the blanket as she felt the sudden shudder of him pressing up against the bed. Ewan pulled onto the folded blanket at the end of the bed and slid it off the bed and stepped away. Jacqueline heard him settle himself onto the ground. She felt relieved but deep inside had a foreign feeling, of disappointment.

She wondered what it would be like to lie in his arms. When he held her in his arms on top of his horse, it only gave her comfort. Angered at herself for her irrational thoughts, she knew that a relationship between them was a foolish notion and thought that she was taking too kindly to his generosity. She swore to herself that the kiss had meant nothing and would not have happened if she was not moved by his compassion. Jacqueline made up her mind that it would never happen again. She rolled onto her side and fell asleep.

 

 

“Jacqueline, Jacqueline wake up,” Ewan called to her as he gently shook her awake.

Jacqueline squinted her eyes open, waiting to become fully conscious from her deep sleep.

Yawning widely, she asked, “What is it?”

“We need to leave. Somethin’ is going on outside. The English are goin’ door to door checking rooms. I’ve been watching ‘em through the door.”

Jacqueline scrambled out of bed. Grabbing her cloak, she threw the hood over her head and indicated that she was ready to leave immediately. Ewan cracked the door opened and peeked outside. Looking across the way, he saw several armed guards stationed around the village.

“Damnation,” he said as he squeezed his fist tightly around the door frame.

“What is wrong?”

“The stables are on the back side of the building. We can nay go out the door wit out being seen. We will have to climb out the window.”

Jacqueline looked over at the small window at the back of the room. Not believing that this would be an easy task, she limped over to the window and looked down. The back of the inn rested along a steep cliff. She knew that one slip and she would go tumbling down the hill. Ewan joined her and sat on the window’s ledge.

“I will go first, and help ye down,” he said as he swung both legs over the side and jumped. He was thankful that the window was not too far away from the bottom. Holding his arms up, Ewan waited for Jacqueline to follow.

Hearing the loud banging on the door, Jacqueline’s head turned to the door.

“They are here,” she whispered out to Ewan.

“Jump, now.”

Listening to Ewan’s directions, Jacqueline shifted her weight over the side of the ledge and dropped down into Ewan’s arms. Ewan ran carrying her towards the stables. As fast as he could, he strapped a saddle onto one of the horses he found inside a stall. Helping Jacqueline on top of it, he led the horse to the barn door, but he was too late.

“Halt. Halt, I say,” a voice called from behind them.

Ewan raised his head to Jacqueline, “Ride north. I will be just behind ye. Dinna stop. Go,” he said as he forcefully slapped the horse’s rear. The horse bucked and ran off with Jacqueline holding tightly onto the reins.

Ewan waited as two English guards headed towards him. Glaring into their eyes, Ewan could sense their hesitation. The two men had a small frame and appeared to not be a great challenge for this overpowering Highlander. Pointing their sword in his direction, they circled around him. No words were spoken, only deadly glares. Each man evaluated the other’s stance, watching and waiting for the slightest advance. Ewan took the first step towards them.

“What do ye want?” he asked.

“We saw you at the pub. You did not have a woman with you if I recall when you left,” one of the English guards said.

“The lass was just a whore. What do ye want wit her?” Ewan growled.

“Where are you hiding her?” the other asked.

“The whore? I dinna ken she was spoken fer.”

“You and I both know very well the lady was no whore,” the guard said.

The taller of the two guards replied, “At least we now know who is protecting Lady Jacqueline, which brings me to believe that you were also one of the savages who escaped with the prisoners. Lord Wessex will stop at nothing to have her returned. So why help the girl? She is nothing to you. Give her up and I shall make sure you have a quick death. If you fail to do so, I will personally see to it that your death is a slow and painful one.”

Ewan thought carefully about the man’s words. Jacqueline was starting to become more than just nothing. He felt very protective of her. The insult sparked his rage, causing Ewan to grasp his sword at his side more firmly around the handle.

“Yer lord is a coward fer no’ retrieving the lass himself.”

Both Englishmen jabbed the tips of their swords towards Ewan, but with one movement, Ewan pulled his sword out of its sheath and swung it high above his head blocking each blow. As one of the swordsmen raised his sword and was about to swing, Ewan took advantage of his vulnerable position and kicked him hard in his stomach, knocking his opponent down to the ground. Clashing swords with the other, Ewan was no match for this young inexperienced lad.

In the corner of his eye, Ewan saw Aron casually stroll out of the stables, no longer tied to the stall where Ewan had last seen him. Advancing forward to back off the men, he swung forcefully and turned to run towards Aron. Setting his foot in the stirrup, he kicked Aron into a run and swung his leg over onto his back. Staying any longer would have put a greater distance between him and Jacqueline and he did not want for her to be kept unprotected.

He turned back and noticed the two men run into the stables to mount a horse to chase after him, but they never came. Off into the distance, a group of the freed horses ran into the opposite direction. At the back of the stables stood Gawain leaning against a post, smiling. Ewan bowed his head to him in gratitude and headed north to find Jacqueline.

 

Chapter 9

 

 

Ewan found the speckled grey stolen horse grazing on a fresh patch of clover when he rode up beside him. But one thing that was amiss, his rider. Ewan desperately called out to Jacqueline, hoping that she would answer. But she did not respond. Worried of what might have happened to her, Ewan went to search for her.

The snow had melted so there were no tracks to follow. Ewan noticed no horse tracks either so if she was taken, it was not by horse. Ewan couldn’t help the uneasiness feeling he had that something bad had happened to the lass and began to blame himself. He had sworn to protect her and undoubtedly had failed at his task.

The surrounding woods around him were thickly covered in fog and it had become hard for him to see beyond the few trees that were in front of him. As the wind blew, every swaying tree branch and whirling leaves that littered the forest floor had caught Ewan’s attention, hoping that it was her.

If it was one thing Ewan hated, it was to unnecessarily worry. A cluster of disturbing thoughts had entered his mind. Could she have gotten taken by some rogue in the woods? Could the English have found her? Could she have been thrown off the horse and be hurt? Ewan continued to call out her name.

“I am over here,” he heard the lass’s voice yell out from behind him.

Angered that she had not listened to him to stay with the horse, he growled, “I told you to stay with the horse. I have been calling, why have you not answered me?”

“A lady needs her privacy,” she snapped. “If I just called out where I was, you would have come running.”

Unhappy with her response, Ewan took a deep breath. “I dinna care if ye were bathin’, if I call ye, ye answer,” he barked.

Jacqueline pursed her lips together at his demand not understanding why he was so mad.

“What happened to the guards? They will not find us will they?”

“Nay, Ole Gawain made it a wee difficult fer them to follow us.”

“I am sorry for all the trouble I have caused you.”

“Ye need no’ apologize. Mount yer horse. We are only a few hours away from Carrick and I think it is time we get on our way,” he said not wanting her to know how much worry she had caused him.

 

 

Once they reached Carrick, Jacqueline stayed within the great hall to eat the meal she was offered as Ewan asked that Robert grant him a meeting concerning her welfare. Ewan paced the halls outside of the library waiting for his audience with Wallace and the Bruce.

Ewan was consumed with curiosity and suspicion as he was joined with other clan leaders and landowners whom had also been waiting. No one spoke a word. Instead, they listened to the shouting coming from the other side of the door.

Wallace was angry. His voice boomed and echoed throughout the castle. Ewan knew that whatever they were discussing, it was not good. The men around him stood up as the door to the library swung open. Ewan entered the room and took account of both Robert and Wallace standing in the center of the room, both with the most unsettling look.

Ewan shook Wallace’s hand as he entered, but Wallace had remained impartial to his greeting. His hands felt cold and clammy to the touch. The topic they were debating Ewan guessed must have upset him greatly. Each man stood about a foot apart around the back of the room and waited for Wallace or Robert to speak.

“I thank ye fer coming,” William Wallace greeted. “There will be time fer each of ye to update us on yer status but first we have pressing issues at hand. We have received reports that Longshanks is combining his forces. He means to wage war against us and we have word that their soldiers have been moving north. King Edward seeks revenge of his fallen men at Stirling. I ask any mon wit a sword to fight. I will lead us into this battle but we will no’ surrender to the English crown,” William Wallace said.

“I support Wallace, but there has to be a political way to end this. I think our action is to talk to the other Lords and Earls, get their support behind you. The elders agree. Edward’s men are in the thousands,” Robert exclaimed.

“There is nay any time for politics. Do ye really believe Longshanks longs for peace? It is our land he is after and it is our land that we fight,” Wallace said to the room of men.

Ewan had not expected Edward to advance his soldiers so soon.  But he was ready to lay down his life for his people and country.

“Clan MacBain will fight wit ye,” a man shouted from behind Ewan.

The familiar voice caused Ewan to turn and look behind him. There stood Oliver in the far back of the room.

“Aye, so will Clan MacKinnon from the north.”

Ewan immediately looked towards the windows. With a complacent look on his face, his younger cousin Bram stood leaning against the windowsill.

Each man in the room called out their agreements to fight. Ewan knew that war was inevitable. The battle at Stirling had cost Edward many lives, but his army still grows. Wallace only had a few hundred men behind him, but good fighting men; and ones who would fight against the odds.

As the meeting concluded, Ewan walked over to where Bram was in deep conservation with one of their many allies, Keenan MacNeil.

“Bram, what are ye doing here? Did Rory send ye?”

“Aye. We got the message about Longshanks on our way to Dundas. Rory and Annella continued heading east and I traveled here with the MacNeil clan to offer my services. I take it yer mission went well?”

“Aye, it did. Better than expected.”

“Will ye be returning to camp wit us?” Bram asked.

“Aye. There is something I must take care of first. I will meet ye tonight.”

“Take care of?” Bram curiously asked.

Ewan knew that if he mentioned the lass to Bram, he would insist on meeting her and with Bram’s reputation, he would want to keep Jacqueline as far away from his seductive behavior as possible.

“Aye, I have a personal request to inquire about that I need to discuss with Bruce. I will meet ye tonight.”

Bram gave him an untrusting, awkward look and walked away with Keenan. Ewan waited for the rest of the men to leave the room to speak to Robert alone.

“My Laird, I have a request to ask ye. It is of the upmost importance,” Ewan informed Robert.

“Ye may ask and I shall see what can be done,” Robert answered. 

Ewan explained the situation to Robert, hoping that he would agree to offer Jacqueline sanctuary.

“She may be English, but the lass has given her own freedom to support our cause. I owe her that much,” Ewan said.

“If what ye say is true, then she would be in all of our debt. I will grant yer request. I will send a missive to the abbey at once to ensure the lass’ protection and keep her identity a secret.”

“Thank ye.”

Ewan left the library to join Jacqueline outside in the courtyard where she was hiding out, trying to avoid talking to anyone as Ewan had suggested. When he saw her, Jacqueline gave him a welcoming smile. He felt his chest tighten with sadness as he was uncertain if he would ever see her again.

The look she gave him took his breath away. She was the most beautiful lass he had ever seen. He wanted nothing more but to tell her that, but he knew that it would only complicate matters. What he needed to do was to just say his goodbyes and be on his way.

“Robert the Bruce has granted my request. Ye will be taken to the abbey where ye can be protected and where ye will be granted an asylum. As for me, a group of us are heading to Falkirk. A battle is afoot and we need to prepare and train. This is where ye and I shall be parting, my lady,” Ewan said, trying not to sound too sorrowful.

Jacqueline knew that when they reached Carrick, this would be where Ewan and she would part ways. Still, she couldn’t stop her heart from aching from saying goodbye. Jacqueline looked up at him, feeling her heart ache as if she was already mourning his death. Battle meant that there was a chance that he would not survive. She was not willing to think on the thought. Ewan proved himself as a strong and cunning warrior. She told herself that no matter what, he would survive and she would pray every night for his safe return home.

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