Warrior meets widow in this Scottish Romance.
Publisher Erin Hawthorn
Warrior meets widow in this Scottish Romance.
A cold, howling wind blew in restless sheets throughout the Highlands. Yet, asleep on the frozen ground, Tormack began to sweat. Giving an involuntary kick, he freed himself of his frost crusted furs, but the rush of cold air offered little relief. ’Twas no sickness caused his body to fire. The fault lay in his dreams. Unchaste dreams. Dreams of women. Sensual lasses who knew how to spark a man’s urges and torment his sleep. Oh, what she-devils these lassies be as they tossed their long flowing hair and kicked their skirts high baring their soft, plump thighs. Hips swayed, and bodies bent deep offering tantalizing views of full, ripe breasts. Tormack licked his lips and mumbled a curse. ’Twas wicked to tempt a McLaine warrior so! With outstretched hand, he sought to touch the bottom of one such temptress. But, as quick as a heartbeat, she laughed and twirled away, leaving him with only the breeze from her swirling skirt to fan his fingertips. Sweet Jesu! It’s been too long since he felt a woman’s sweetness. This is torture! PUFF! Like wind snuffing out a candle, the women vanished replaced by a heavy hand clasping his shoulder shaking it hard. Tormack woke with a start, his warrior instincts making him reach for his sword.
“Easy, Tormack,” came a familiar voice. “Hold still your hand. Danger is naught,” Spoke his commander, Gareth. “Wake your brother and be quick! We break camp, NOW!”
Tormack blinked twice and gave his head a quick shake, then shoved his licentious thoughts into a corner of his mind to be revisited on other night. He gave his well-muscled arms a wide stretch. With a loud yawn, he sprang to his full height, and looked about shocked to find darkness surrounding him. The fire, he built earlier was still glowing. Why should Gareth want to break camp at this strange hour? For a brief second, he considered questioning his commander, but then, thought better of it. Giving his wide shoulders a shrug, Tormack turned to the task at hand.
“Wake, Lyell!” Tormack barked at the mountain of furs under which his brother lay asleep. But, like the ice hanging in tatters on a nearby tree limb; his words hung frozen… unheeded. Annoyed, Tormack, lifted his foot to kick the feet protruding from the furry mound when he hesitated. Such a large pair of feet, he thought, made even bigger by their hide and leather wrappings. ’Tis sinful to have a younger sibling thicker and larger,’ he grumbled. Though their brotherly ties were strong, it pricked Tormack’s nerves that Lyell, younger by two winters, was taller and fuller. If not for Lyell’s boyish, whiskerless face one could easily judge the sleeping giant his elder. Peeved by nature’s oversight, Tormack put a boot to his brother’s foot. From beneath the layers of fur a grunt emerged, but the warrior did not waken, instead he burrowed deeper under the warm furs. Tormack’s face soured. He wasn’t fond of getting roused when the sky was still as black as the devil’s heart, any more than Lyell. But, when Gareth orders to break camp, you dare not question his reasons, at least not aloud. Still, it was unusual for his commander to offer no reason for his order to suddenly break camp or to bark it so. Gareth, a legend amongst the McLaine clan, was normally a man of even temper. Who, like wet kindling, is slow to fire. Why at this ungodly hour, did they need to ride to yet another village to deliver their Laird’s missive? Of all the tasks he performed for Laird McLaine; this one had become the most wearisome. Not that it was unimportant. Before departing the McLaine keep, his laird repeatedly stressed its significance. Though he agreed, he silently thought he could be more useful training with the other warriors, sharpening his skills should Talon strike. Also, where, he sighed, the lasses are pretty. Instead, he found himself roaming the out-lying villages, his sword collecting dust in its sheath and where the women are a sorry, disappointing lot.
Village after dreary village, he journeyed, and while his commander delivered Laird McLaine’s warning; his roguish eye searched among the women. He was certain his golden locks and flashing green eyes could coax a fair lass into a secluded corner for a quick toss. But, among the villages he visited, the fair, were few. Hard village life showed on the faces of the women fading their youth. Their tedious labors bowed their backs and rendered their arms thick as a man’s. Nary a one had a waist narrow enough for a man to wrap an arm around. ’Twould be putting his arm around a barrel. Could it be that his commander was eager to return to the McLaine keep for the same reason? Tormack shook his head, quickly brushing off the thought. Women no longer ran to greet the gallant warrior hoping to catch his eye, not now, not since… he threw a furtive glance at Gareth. Pity marked his eyes. Nay, that was not the reason! ‘Twas more likely it was the last village they needed to alert and give arms.
Ah… the last village… the words sweeter than honey. Facing upward to the dark skies, he murmured his thanks that their journey neared its end. Only a few more days and they would be on their way back to the McLaine keep. Just one more frightful missive to deliver. Indeed, it was a frightful missive that Gareth delivered, one that caused fear. Tormack saw that fear on the face of every villager who heard the missive. He saw it their eyes, heard it in their voices and felt it in the tremor of their hands as he passed out the weapons from their wagon. They had a right to be afraid. Bands of savage, rogue warriors, renegades had been set loose by their merciless leader Talon to raid the defenseless out-lying McLaine villages. Like the cowards, they were they chose the dead of night to attack. Caught unaware, the men of the villages fell swiftly. Savagely they plundered; ransacking and burning homes, stripping the food larders bare and seeking any token of value regardless how meager. The younger women were carried off to be passed among them, repeatedly raped and defiled until their captors’ lusts were sated. Then, with cruel disregard, they were abandoned miles from their homes to fend for themselves. Still clothed in their night dress, their bodies bruised and bloodied, they were left to wander aimlessly through the snow. The lucky ones froze to death. Others, met a more, ghastly fate, at the jaws of hungry wolves. Their abductors would have shown more mercy had they just put the poor, wretches to the sword. Could it be that Gareth sensed that they may cross paths with these dogs who dared to call themselves warriors? The notion brightened Tormack’s spirits and his fingers twitched longing to raise his sword in battle beside the mighty Gareth. He was now as eager to be on his way as his commander. Reaching down, he took hold of the furs covering his brother flinging them aside. He was about to give Lyell a good, hard shaking, when he paused. On Lyell’s large lips was a wide grin. Tormack knew that lovesick look all too well. ’Tis a lass, the big overgrown Scot, is dreaming of.’ Smirking, he sank to one knee burying it in the snow. Leaning over his brother and lifting his voice to a pitch higher than his own, he sang into the sleeping warrior’s ear. “Oh, Lyell, you’re such a brave warrior, such a strong warrior, such a hero…” He chewed his bottom lip holding back a laugh. His words had the slumbering young giant puckering his lips to make stomach turning kissing noises. Wrapped in the fuddle of sleep, Lyell stretched out his paw of a hand blindly searching to caress the face of the lass his dreams envisioned.
Observing from a short distance away, Dunmore, eldest of the small party of McLaine warriors and second in command, poked Gareth in the ribs. “He’s at it again, teasing Lyell,” he chuckled nodding towards Tormack, hoping that the youthful warrior’s mischief would lighten his commander’s sudden, anxious mood. The two men looked on as Tormack continued to murmur sugar coated flattery into his brother’s ear, sounding more like, in Dunmore’s mind, a whinnying horse than a flirting lass. ‘Tell me more Lyell…’ The dozing Lyell’s fingers still searching then finally finding the long locks that brushed Tormack’s shoulders. His lips stretched wider until his hand traveled to his chuckling brother’s face. At the feel of a scratchy, rough beard Lyell’s smile faded and his brows came together. His eyes flew open.
“Oh Lyelllll….” Tormack teased in his false female voice as he rolled backward, holding his stomach as it shook with laughter. Awake and realizing he had been made a joke; Lyell angrily sprang to his feet. His eyes narrowed on Tormack, he snorted like an enraged bull; his hands curling into tight balls ready to knock the jester grin off his sibling’s face. But before he could charge, Gareth, gave a sharp shout. “Enough! The two of you, stop acting like unruly lads and pack up those furs and douse the camp fire. We need to be on our way!” Both men immediately obeyed, but not without Lyell muttering to his smirking brother that he would settle with him later. Tormack answered by puckering his lips and blowing him a kiss.
“Don’t be so hard on them,” Dunmore said to his usually less sensitive commander, “’twas just a bit of fun, they’re good lads. Why the need to hasten, Gareth?”
Dunmore was right. Lyell and Tormack are good warriors despite their occasional foolery, but Gareth was in no mood to be quizzed. Without answering, he stomped through the snow and over to his massive steed throwing blankets and saddle onto the horse and turning his back on Dunmore’s questioning face.
How could he explain to his friend and fellow warrior what he knew not himself? Something wakened him, stirring his soul with an overwhelming urgency to proceed to the next village. It was a strange force, with a strength unknown to him. Something called out to him and the need to seek it was as fierce as his need for air. Not waiting for the others, Gareth swung himself atop his steed when without warning, the horse’s cinch broke. Saddle, blankets and warrior slid from the startled animal sending all crashing to the ground.
Gareth fell, but not onto the cushion of snow that surround their camp. He tumbled atop the campfire; the flames scorching his bare forearm. With a curse on his lips, Gareth rolled from the flames and leapt to his feet wincing in pain. His fellow warriors rushed to his aid. Thinking quickly, Dunmore scooped up a handful of snow and packed it onto Gareth’s seared skin. Following Dunmore’s example, Lyell repeated the action while Tormack steadied Gareth’s horse. Under his breath, Gareth swore, but not from the burning pain. His swearing was aimed at an old enemy; one he had clashed with before... fire! Gareth stringently ordered his men to stop fussing over him and proceed with breaking camp, then went to his horse and threw a blanket atop the steed. From over his shoulder, he called to Dunmore to put his saddle in the wagon as he would have it repaired in the village. Then, as if pushed by an unseen hand, Gareth threw himself atop his horse and headed toward the village which stood at the very edge of McLaine land.
“I swear if Gareth could sprout wings, he would fly from here. You know him best, Dunmore, why is he so eager to be on his way?” Tormack asked the older warrior as he and Lyell packed their furs.
“Something crawled under his skin.” Dunmore returned scratching his red beard, “but what it is I know not, nor has he said. We best keep our tongues still. You lads have never seen the temper in him rise up, but I have.” Dunmore shuddered as he placed his commander’s saddle into the wagon, “’Tis a fearsome sight!”
Lyell and Tormack exchanged glances; Dunmore was a powerful warrior it would take much to make him tremor.
“You two better make haste to catch up with Gareth. I’ll follow as best I can in the wagon.”
After dousing the fire and packing their belongings, the brothers mounted their horses and sped away in the direction Gareth had taken.
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Author, Classic & Film Noir movie buff and family cook, cleaner and chauffeur. Pushover for as-seen-on-TV gadgets.