Heaven and the Heather
In 1561 the world was a dismal place for anyone named
MacGregor. On August 19th hope arrived on a royal galleon
from France bearing Scotland's new sovereign, Queen Mary
Stuart. For one of the MacGregor clan, hope did not wear a
crown. It bore a crippled hand and a bleak heart.
Chapter One: Le Pays des Sauvages
19 August 1561, Leith Harbour, Scotland:
"Mon pere est mort."
"My father is dead. And I can never go home."
Sabine de Sainte Montagne stared at the paper in
her twisted right hand. She had done so many times since
she had sailed from Calais on the royal galleon bearing
Mary, Scotland's new queen. No matter how many times her
gaze swept over the paper, it did not change the harsh
truth. She was condemned to be a prisoner in this land.
She had received the letter that bore a crimson wax
seal and ribbon as dark as the inside of a wine cask just
before stepping upon the gangway at the French port. She
did not have opportunity to read it until the galleon was
in full sail across the English channel.
Her father had died of the king's evil. She knew
well of the elegant whores who languished in the halls of
Château de Montmerency as frequently as winter snow came to
the Alps. Her Alps. They shadowed her beautiful home. For
that she mourned, not of her father. According to the
letter from her father's avocat, the château and all within
it had been left to a woman Sabine had never met, another
of her father's river of lovers, the last lover.
Sabine could not bear to read the letter any longer
or to have it in her possession. She crushed it in her
mangled fist ignoring the pain that suddenly tore up her
arm with the subtle purchase of a lightning strike.
"Adieu, mon papa," she said tossing the paper over
the salt-encrusted gunwale. "May you find solace where the
heat touches upon your flesh."
Her father had been so in name only. His cruelty,
his banishing her five years ago to royal servitude had
been his parting endearment. Sabine's curse into the mist
that surrounded the galleon was the only endearment she
could summon, the kindest words she could say.
He was gone, leaving her nothing but a crippled
"And a promise to my queen that I shall marry a
good man, a Scotsman."
She peered over the wood railing down to the slate
black water. It was all she saw of this Scotland. The good
man was there, beyond the mist, waiting for her, by the
queen's command and her promise to Sabine's father.
Her intended was a man she had only met briefly
when he had come to France to express his deepest sorrow to
Mary after the death of her mother, Marie de Guise. He was
a Scottish noble, not a savage. His appearances gave her
reason to believe that, to hope that, but her heart would
not soften to this man, this Lord John Campbell, self-
proclaimed master of the mysterious Highland kingdom. He
was a tamer of the people who lived there, so he said.
"Le pays des sauvages," she murmured. "The country
of the savages...l'Ecosse. Scotland. The Highlands."
She had heard the whispered rumors of Mary's
attendants. She felt she knew well of this Scotland and of
its Highland wilds. Men were said to wear clothes which
bared their legs. Women were said not to wear shoes. These
savage people lived as they wished, sweeping down from
their remote hills and mountains with long, terrible swords
ready to fight and die for the meager life they lived in
the wild. These were things she had heard ever since Mary
had proclaimed that she and the whole of her court would go
Sabine strained to catch a glimpse, but the weather
was against her. She gripped the gunwale. One hand held
fast to the crusty wood better than the other. The mist was
as thick as an Alpine blizzard. An impenetrable curtain to
her curiosity, to her fear.
Hope rose in her, because she had a way to escape
royal servitude--this land of savages and the man who by
the queen's command would marry her.
She would make her life her own, even with the mark
of her father's anger upon her crippled right hand. That,
one day too, would not exist. Hope was a gift she had given
herself. Hope was her companion since the day she was
forced from home five years ago.
Sabine reached down under her sapphire velvet cloak
which hung heavy and damp from her shoulders. She forced
two gnarled fingers around the string of a soft leather sac
pinned at her hip. She could not hear the crinkle or clink
under the leather, but the small vibrations against her
fingertips echoed the only bit of security and familiarity
she had known.
Scraps of paper rested inside. Worthless to anyone
except her. Sabine clenched her eyes shut feeling her right
hand cramp a little. She fingered a small, fist-sized
woolen ball. Each day, with its help, ignoring the pain in
her hand became a little easier.
She extended her fingers as far as she was able.
The tips of her two middle fingers brushed the cool,
familiar feel of four gold pieces. Four? She stretched her
fingers again, ignoring the pain, held her breath and made
a quick mental count.
"Cinq," she breathed. "Good."
These five pieces of gold, a gift from her mother,
countless years ago before she died, would save Sabine's
life. These five pieces would give her freedom from all
that lay before her like a borderless dark path, dismal and
foreboding. She would never marry a man she had barely made
acquaintance, much less loved, and for the purpose of
keeping of a royal promise to her father. The queen would
never see the folly of that promise, 'twould be treason to
With the gold she could travel far away from the
savage land that remained veiled behind a stubborn mist.
The queen would not miss her. She had ten other attendants
and five ladies-in-waiting. Sabine could return to France,
sort things out, then continue with the course of her life,
by her will.
"Hope," she breathed, "mon amie."
Above her the great sails lowered from the mist.
Shouts from the galley's crew shattered the muted, misty
"Le port! L'Ecosse!"
She opened her eyes and stared forward. But where?
As much as she strained, she could not see a thing! Her
fears of coming to this land would be easier to face if
they indeed had a face. Mist was all she had seen after
they had rounded the east coast of England ruled by Mary's
cousin, the flame-haired Queen Elizabeth, and protected by
her fleet of overbearing ships.
Her heart tightened at the pictures that remained
in her mind. Her beloved Alps and the way the seasons made
them magical. She puzzled why home, that held so much
cruelty still called to her heart. Scotland was a fearful
unknown, the devil she did not know. France, her home for
better and worse, was the devil she had known all her score
"L'île des sauvages," Sabine whispered. "Why would
Mary wish to return here?"
"That question is not yours to ask, impudent
She whirled around to face one of the queen's five
ladies-in-waiting, all Marys. This was the uppity one, Lady
Mary Fleming. Her earth-colored hair was concealed beneath
a dark velvet cowl. Her face, prunish at best, held
Offering a brief curtsy, Sabine eyed the proud
Scotswoman, the only one of the royal court, other than the
queen, whose blood ran from this land hidden by the misty
pall. She prayed the loathing in her eyes was similarly
"Madame," Sabine said, with a nod. A sudden puff of
wind stirred about her, teasing several thick, corkscrew
strands of black hair about her face. She lifted her chin
higher. 'Twas not just the Scots who held the repute for
Lady Fleming narrowed her pale eyes. Her gaze
dropped to Sabine's right hand and paused. "Get ye to the
others," she said, forcing her gaze up. "A common femme de
chambre with spirit is as worthless to Her Majesty as a
"I emulate Her Majesty's independence of spirit to
glorify her," Sabine said proudly. She meant this with all
of her heart. Mary was indeed independent, going against
her French councilors and returning home as sovereign.
Home. Were royals the only ones destined to find home?
"Insolence will be your undoing, la petit chien!"
Lady Fleming grabbed Sabine by the arm. "To the bowels of
this ship with the others of your station. Now!"
"Sauvage," she whispered, shrugging away her
grasp. "You've come home."
Lady Fleming raised a hand to strike her. It would
not be the first time. "What did you say?"
"I said, 'you're fortunate to have come home',
m'Lady." Sabine stared hard at her. The breeze heightened.
It buffeted the hood from her head and sent the tumble of
black curls spiraling about her face.
The Scot slowly lowered her hand.
"Ever since your father sent you to Her Majesty's
gracious service, you've been but a bane to my very
"I did not ask for her charity."
"Five years have not tempered your selfish
yearnings. Your concern should be for the needs of your
queen. Now, to your position."
Lady Fleming stole one more glance at Sabine's hand
before padding across the deck toward a huddle of the
femmes de chambre, ten in all, clucking at them, waving her
arms. The queen was on her way. Sabine took a deep breath
and walked carefully across the deck slick with sea spray.
She stopped and curtsied low. She loved her queen, but she
loved France more. To leave royal service would be treason,
yet she could not perish the thought. Not as long as a
loveless marriage and a life in Scotland were her only
choices. Perchance, her queen would understand. Perchance.
The coin weighed against Sabine's thigh. Hope. Royals were
not the only ones who possessed it.
Mary Stuart, the queen of the Scots, passed before
her entourage. Sabine caught a glimpse of golden brocade
against dark velvet, strands of pearls and jewels, and hair
that rivaled the fiery foliage of autumn in the French
The galleon lurched. A sudden stinging oily scent
mingling with the mist made Sabine's eyes water. Distant
shouts rang up over the gunwale.
Sabine stood upright.
"L'Ecosse," she whispered in frightened awe.
She turned around and looked over the gunwale.
Through the mist the grey wharf teemed with grey, dour
people. The stench of tar and garbage rose up to greet her.
Sabine cupped her left hand over her nose and mouth. The
crowd on the dock stared up at the royal galleon. Their
pale faces shone out from beneath moldy hoods and mist-
Sabine swallowed hard.
This place was just as dismal as she had
She clutched her hood, drew it up over her head.
She willed one foot forward toward the gangplank, into the
Scotland. Mon Dieu! She walked slowly, eyes
searching the wharf for any of these savages that came down
from their mountains with swords in their hands and death
on their lips.
Her sac banged against her thigh. Soon she would
seek a way out of this wilderness.
* * * *
"I will demand justice for my clan. I will seek
revenge for the murder of my father and brother."
Niall MacGregor, chief of his besieged clan, saw
the shadow of a large ship looming over the wharf. The
vessel was magnificent, worthy of royalty. Hope surged in
him for the first time in forever. This was the queen
returning to Scotland. With her there was hope for his
He fervently wished his father, the great chief of
his clan, could be here instead of dead beside Niall's
older brother, Colin. Yet, they lay in graves a fortnight
old on the side of Beinn Tulaichean, which guarded Niall's
home and his clan in the Highlands. He had left his home
for one purpose, revenge against an auld and persistent
His father and brother had come to the Canon Gait,
neutral ground just north of Edinburgh eleven miles from
Leith, and had died there.
"Peace," Niall silently hissed. "Our enemy gave
them peace eternal.
Niall looked away from the ship as another wave of
mist roiled in between his hiding place in a shadowy,
narrow close and the great galleon. His eye caught sight of
a post and a notice nailed on it.
He read quietly to himself: "By order of the Privy
Council of Scotland and the Isles..."
His throat tightened. Privy Council. Lord John
Campbell was the bloody privy council in the Highlands, so
he declared with his castle, men, and vast wealth and
influence. Campbell would shoulder with the newly arrived
royalty. Rumor was that he had already gone to France to
express grief to the new queen over the death of her
mother. It was rumored that he alone had influenced Mary to
return to Scotland, that as tithe for his kindness, she had
gifted him with one of her attendants, personally arranged
the betrothal. Some French maiden was the queen's political
pawn who would bring Campbell and the Highlands closer to
Niall knew Campbell's true character which Mary was
so blinded to. No viler, nastier heart beat in Scotland. No
man hated Clan Gregor more than Campbell. The proof was
printed on a wrinkled and torn notice before Niall's
He stared at the paper. The words, printed in the
darkest ink, the boldest letters, slammed him in the
Be it known to all good subjects of Her Majesty,
Marie Reigne, Queen of Scotland and the Isles, that
conscription has been imposed against all who embody
allegiance to Clan Gregor, all claiming themselves as
MacGregor, and the like. All nobles and good and loyal
subjects of Her Majesty are ordered to forthwith pursue
Clan Gregor with fire and sword. It is forbidden for all
lieges to help Clan Gregor in any way with food, drink,
weapons, shelter, care for the sick, or transport.
Campbell had not put his name to this piece of
rubbish, but the timbre of the words bore his stench. So
did the deaths of Niall's father and brother. Of this he
needed undeniable proof. He also needed the help of his new
queen. The penetrating question was how he, a hunted outlaw
by virtue of this paper, would get an audience with the
queen, to warn her of the vermin in Scotland, to tell her
the truth of his clan.
He stepped from the close, hood over his head,
concealing his flame-colored hair, as much a mark of Clan
Gregor as was his plaid dyed from an azure heather that
grew in profusion in his glen.
Mind reeling, Niall stood alone amid the bustling
crowd. No one paid him any notice, his face shrouded in
shadow and mist, his stature that of an average man. His
will that of a hundred.
"I will not die by fire and sword," he
whispered. "Neither will my clan."
He narrowed his gaze at the galleon through a
thinning patch of mist.
"By God we will not."
Niall took one step forward.
The mist from the Firth of Forth obliterated just
about all in front of him. Oddly grateful for the
concealing Scottish weather, he wove his way through the
gathering crowd. The mist was as much a part of Niall as
his damned ginger hair and condemned name. He made his way
to the bottom of the gangplank to seek an audience with the
newly arrived queen, to make his clan and their loyalty to
He would sacrifice his freedom, risk imprisonment
or death, to tell her that the edict set forth by the Privy
Council, by Campbell no doubt, was a lie. All she had to do
was hear him out.
"In a bloody dream, perchance," he told himself.
There was no way the queen, fresh from her journey, would
deem to listen to him. But he damn well had to try.
"Misneach is sìth," he whispered in the comforting
Gaelic over gnashed teeth. Then in the tongue the queen was
certain to understand, "Fortitude is peace." He paused. She
was coming from France. "Le courage est la paix."
A sharp breeze thinned the mist for a moment and
pushed the hood from Niall's head. He grabbed it just as he
saw her. The woman cautiously stepped off the gangplank,
clutching her velvet cloak to her throat, a hood concealing
her hair. Niall stopped in the center of the wharf, the
crowd flowing around him. Was this stunning beauty the
queen? He wished she did not have the hood over her hair.
He would know immediately if this breathtaking woman was
the queen or not if he saw her hair. It was reputed to have
the same fiery hue as his own.
He stood, rapt, a few dozen steps away from her.
She turned and caught his stare with the most beautiful
amber eyes on a face straight from his wildest...
"...dreams," he gasped.
A dark shadow suddenly raced past him in a fury of
hoofbeats almost knocking him off of his feet into a stall
laden with fragile-looking baskets of chickens and various
other poultry. He caught himself from faltering into the
pile of clucking madness and droppings. He stared ahead, a
dozen paces away, as darkness settled close to the beauty,
halting its mount so near her.
"Campbell," Niall hissed.
The crowd quickly closed in around him. They, too,
knew the queen had arrived in Leith that day. Only Niall
seemed to know the devil himself had come to greet her on a
He glanced at the stall of chickens. An audience
with the queen. He would have to distract those about her,
and, in the same instant, come to her rescue.
* * * *
The man Sabine was ordered to marry by the queen's
command had come to greet her. She reached beneath her
cloak and tapped her sac to comfort her turbulent mind.
She told herself not to be foolish. Lord Campbell
had come to see his queen. Seeing Sabine had to be
secondary. This thought brought her little succor.
Sabine followed Mary off the gangplank onto the
muddy wharf. Fifteen people preceded her, the ladies-in-
waiting and the ten femmes-de-chambre. She was last in the
procession. The instinct to turn and flee to the galleon
and hide deep within its salty hold surged many times in
her. She had to will her leaden feet forward, each step
taken with determination.
Urgent whispers rippled through the line of velvet
cloaked ladies and attendants.
"Has no one but Lord Campbell and this gaggle of
commonfolk come to greet Her Majesty?" Sabine heard Mary
At the foot of the gangplank she allowed the others
to walk away from her. She strained to see along the wharf
through the gathered crowd and the mist. The savages were
out there waiting. She could feel them as well as she felt
the tremor of her own fear of the many unknowns before
Sabine stepped forward into ankle deep mud. She
grabbed her cloak and gown and lifted them up as best she
could while retaining courtly dignity. The others had
walked far ahead of her, so her embarrassment was her own.
She pulled her feet out of the filthy quagmire with a rude
sucking sound. Her slippers were a complete loss.
"Merde," she said under her breath.
"I have a cursory understanding of the French, but
I'll wager you're not at all happy with my country so
Sabine froze. She stared up the long, bony body of
a man immaculately clad in dark stockings, pantaloons, and
doublet. Equally as dark were his neatly-trimmed beard and
peppery curls of hair under a jaunty velvet cap topped with
an ostrich plume. His face was flushed as if he had been on
a recent and hard ride.
"Oui," she uttered, "I understand you,
"Good," Lord Campbell said.
He stared up and down her.
Sabine, in turn, stared at his pointy face, at the
wide eyes, the raised brow, the sneer of surprised disgust
on thin lips. His reaction was more common than she cared
She hastily glanced away from her betrothed to the
queen. The ladies and the femmes-de-chambre, too distant to
conceal her, hovered protectively about their
"Pardon, monsieur," she said, stepping away from
the man in dark velvet and brocade.
"Her Majesty arrived a wee bit early," he said. "We
were expecting her in a fortnight."
Sabine tipped her chin up, craving the huddle about
the queen. A crowd of spectators had gathered around them--
A ring of pink faces and the grey wool clothing. The queen
appeared not vexed by the situation. She looked radiant
from the hushed adoration of the crowd about her.
As if sensing her worries, he said, "We have met,
you know, on several brief occasions in the French court.
Yet, allow me to introduce myself again, as I fear you may
have forgotten me. I'm Lord John Campbell, at your service--
" he paused and tossed a glance at the crowd "--and Her
Majesty's of course." He looked long at her. "I have ridden
from Edinburgh on another errand only to find that Scotland
has been made more lovely..." He stole a glance at her
right hand, paused, then said, "...now that you've
"Your thoughts should only be for your queen," she
snapped. Were all Scottish men were as rude as he?
"And for my betrothed," he said, taking her right
hand and raising it to his lips. He looked at it, paused,
and gave the back of her hand a quick, dry kiss, much like
the peck of a chicken in dust.
Sabine could only glance away with a bitter swallow
as she regained possession of her right hand and tucked it
beneath her cloak.
"Ah," he said, looking up the cobbled street, a
ghost of relief on his face, "the carriage has arrived. I
shall assist Her Majesty. Never fear, I shall return to
assist you in good time."
Sabine watched him walk away. Good. She would never
fear as long as that fripon was a good distance from her.
Escape from him and this nasty country would come none too
soon for her.
A cry suddenly rose up in the crowd.
Sabine whirled around and was suddenly filled with
more fear than the day she sailed from Calais.
"Mon Dieu!" she cried.
A chicken flailed toward her, parting the
crowd,then terrifyingly sought sudden refuge under her
skirts. She flapped the many layers of velvet and brocade
at the excited bird as it raced about her legs. Tiny claws
ripped into her silken stockings scratching her tender
She dropped her skirts. Birds calmed in the dark.
She prayed this was true. Then she looked up.
A horrible man, non, a monster rushed toward her.
His dark cloak flapped open. A cross-hatched patterned wool
skirt beat against powerful reddened knees above calves
wrapped in strips of frayed wool. Piecemeal leather shoes
pounded the mud. Hair the color of a fiery sunset after a
storm, blew back from his face. Then he threw his body at
her feet and disappeared halfway under her gown.
Sabine tried to leap away from the creatures
beneath her gown, but the crowd had pressed around her,
staring. She could not help but act a consummate fool and
scream when savage hands grabbed her legs, taking
Her body turned rigid as her attacker rose before
All she could do was gasp.
Penetrating, bright, fierce eyes, the blue of an
Alpine river, stole her breath. Damp, wavy, auburn locks
framed a heart-stopping face of perfect furrows and ridges.
His lips turned upward into a grin. Sabine forced herself
to breathe. This was a true savage of Scotland.
"Got ye," he said sounding more Scots than Lady
Sabine heard herself breathe from far
She feared her struggle with the sauvage before her
had just begun.
* * * *
Niall dropped the chicken. It weaved away into the
crowd. His plan had worked. He had not saved the queen but,
he was nearer to her, very near to this intended of
Campbell's, this royal pawn.
While staring deep into the dark eyes that studied
his own with as much intensity, he silently celebrated this
wee victory. This woman, a beauty among beauties, was
Campbell's prize from the queen. That much he had heard and
seen, 'twas no longer rumor. Yet, from the conversation
Niall had overheard, from the way this French lass had
looked and stood apart from Campbell, she was none too fond
of the impending nuptials. He had found a kindred spirit,
tenuous at best, but they seemed to share the same
sentiments toward Campbell, if his eyes and ears did not
deceive him. He feared, though, he would only have a moment
to state his demands to her, so a moment would have to
The woman tipped her chin up a little, revealing
the long line of her neck to the stiff collar of silk and
lace concealing her throat. Her dark gaze, as sparkling as
the spring waters of Loch Katrine, captured and disarmed
She had the presence to be queen. She was of noble,
regal bearing, as she condescended to him with one
Niall swallowed again. He was so close to her. His
left hand rested inside her cloak, his fingers brushing a
soft leather purse. He clenched his fist about it without
thinking, a reflex. Dear God, how lovely she was standing
there taking small, nervous breaths over perfect lips. She
stared hard into his eyes as if she was afraid of him, as
if she expected him to do something.
"Scotland sauvage," she said with a toss of her
head. Her hood slipped down. Hair darker than pitch spilled
out. It glistened in the mist. The tendrils dangled against
the porcelain skin of as lovely a face he had ever
seen. 'Twas a shame she was a French snot.
Niall's mind turned over rapidly. He must seek an
audience with Her Majesty through this woman. He did have a
repute for charming the lassies of his glen. This comely
lass should be no problem. If she would only lower her chin
a wee bit.
The beauty reached up with a twisted hand to
replace the hood over her hair. He gave her hand no more
than a passing glance. Her eyes were far more
"Aye, well," Niall said finding his grin, "the true
"A MacGregor!" A horrid and familiar voice rang out
Niall jerked around taking the soft leather purse
with him. He stabbed his free hand under his cloak for his
But it was as futile a gesture as deeming to soften
one of the royal court to him. Several pairs of hands
grabbed him, yanking him roughly away from her, jerking his
hands from his knife.
"Ye're ruining a lovely moment, lads," Niall said.
Jest was all he could find for the moment. He struggled
against his captors
He was whirled about. His head was yanked back by a
fistful of his hair, forcing his chin up. His gaze met that
of Satan himself.
"Campbell," he rasped.
"The mademoiselle knows you better than you know
yourself, MacGregor," Campbell said.
"Then she must also realize that ye are but shite
beneath her feet," Niall hissed.
Campbell slapped him. The leather gauntlet stung
the side of Niall's face, but he remained steady, giving
his enemy not so much as a wince.
"Ye hit like a lassie," he said. "Weak, like your
claim to Gregor land!"
"Take this scum to the Tolbooth," Campbell
"On whose authority do you do this, Lord John?"
Campbell suddenly bowed low to the queen. She was a
young yet stately woman with hair more fiery than Niall's.
Her clothes rivaled the sun with their brilliance.
"Release this man," she commanded.
The guards obeyed her. Niall stumbled toward the
He bowed before Scotland's new sovereign. Hope for
his clan burned deep inside his soul. He prayed the queen
had not heard the lies against his people, had no knowledge
of the edict posted against all MacGregors.
"Lord John, what say you to this disruption?" the
"Your Majesty, I heartily apologize--" Campbell
"I did not ask for apology," she said, voice firm.
She waved a hand forward. Still bowing, Niall looked up
through his hair. The French lass stepped forward. She was
more lovely than her sovereign. Surely, that must be
treason in itself.
"Our Sabine, what say you to this disruption? You
appear to be the source of it," the queen asked.
Niall's grin escaped. He now knew her name.
Sabine curtsied. "I regret, Your Majesty, that I
cried out. I was affronted."
"Affronted? By whom?"
Campbell stepped forward. "That MacGregor, Your
Majesty. An outlaw from an outlaw clan. Your Privy Council
decreed it, in your name."
"We did not solicit a response from you, Lord John.
We are most affronted that policy is made by our Privy
Council without our knowledge. We have yet to determine the
truth of any accusation you bring to one of our
Niall held his head higher and threw a wink at his
queen. She was a lass after all. The merest hint of a smile
played at the corners of her mouth.
"But, Your Majesty, MacGregors are--"
"Enough!" The queen stifled a yawn with bejeweled
fingers before her lips. "We are weary from our journey.
This matter can certainly wait." She turned away to the
carriage and the huddle of nobles that had seemingly
appeared from nowhere. Sabine continued to curtsy but took
a furtive glance at Niall.
He mouthed her name. Sabine.
She blinked, gasping. Good. He deserved something
from her, even if it was a startled reaction. If she had
not disarmed him with such beauty, he would not be in this
"Take him away," Campbell said to the guards.
Niall suddenly dropped to the mud. Like a newt, he
slipped through the muck evading the grappling hands. With
one hand he reached for his dirk, neatly sheathed, hidden
in a fold of his kilt. Brandishing the weapon, he parted
the crowd in a hail of gasps and startled breaths. He ran
through Leith with speed and fury of a spring storm, to the
outskirts, to a forest where his horse was tethered and
He vowed to see Sabine again, for the sake of his
clan. She would get him inside the palace, but how?
He looked down at his left fist. He had not
unclenched it since he had been torn away from Sabine. He
opened his fingers one by one, revealing a small, leather
purse in his palm.
An idea leapt to mind. He sat down in cover of the
forest and opened the purse.
* * * *
Sabine stared into the mist as a light rain began
"He has escaped, no?" she asked Lord Campbell.
She knew the answer to her question. One as bold as
that MacGregor could leave her life as quickly as he had
entered it. She could still feel his firm touch upon her
legs, see his fierce yet heavenly gaze in her mind.
"Curse all MacGregors," Lord Campbell replied to
Sabine allowed him to escort her to her queen. This
vile and savage place was her new home and not for
She reached inside her cloak, down to her sac, with
her right hand, stretching the fingers, strengthening them,
reaching to the symbol of her freedom--
Her heart froze, and her spirit plummeted to harsh
reality. She rustled her hand frantically under her cloak
until all about her gave her hard stares. She stopped,
forced her hand into view and stood quiet and demure as a
good attendant should. Inside the depth of her mind and
soul she was screaming.
Mon Dieu! Her sac! It and the hope it bore was gone!
Lord Campbell stared at her, face frozen in
confusion, unsure of what to think of her. Then he offered
her a thin smile and his hand.
Sabine had no choice but to place her hand in his.
She offered him her left hand this time. He gladly took it
and escorted her to the waiting carriage.
* * * *
Niall sat against a stout oak. He allowed his
breathing to calm. His mount chewed lazily on the
undergrowth of fern, the chomping a distant sound.
He opened the gut strings wide and reached into the
purse. He pulled out what at first glance looked liked
brittle autumn leaves, but upon closer inspection they were
scraps of paper with images from another place drawn in
He picked up one of the papers. Set before his wide
eyes were jagged snow-topped mountains. The sun shone on
these bold outcroppings to the knife's edge of a fir
forest. Niall did not have to see the winter sunlight to
know its power and rarity in these select charcoal
markings. He also knew this place was not Scotland.
He looked at another paper. A man with a small
mustache and pointy chin whiskers stared back at him. One
thin brow was cocked jauntily above a glinting eye. The
realism was startling. The fact that this man was naked was
"A lover, no doubt," he mused wickedly. This man
was not Campbell. "I wonder if the bastard knows about
Amused, he thumbed through the other papers. More
beautiful scenery met his eyes, but no more revealing
portraits. He looked to his lap. There resting in the
center, nested in the dark plaid like an egg--it was a ball
made of strips of wool wound round and round.
He picked the ball up. He lifted it to his nose,
savored her delicate flowery fragrance. He drew her scent
in deep and captured her. A curious possession, aye, but no
more curious than this woolen ball.
Niall recalled her right hand. A minor flaw on an
otherwise perfect beauty. Perchance, it was not a flaw at
all. He gave the ball a squeeze. The muscles in his fingers
tightened against the slightly resilient orb. He squeezed
as hard as he could until the veins on his forearm stood
out against the pale, mud-streaked skin. He relaxed his
hand, his fingers felt a wee bit stronger.
The purse still weighed heavy in his palm. He
unended it. Five gold pieces fell into his lap.
"A bloody ransom!" was his first reaction.
He then clapped a hand over his mouth. He glanced
through the wood, and up and down the road. He remained
Five gold pieces! 'Twas wealth as he had never held
before, yet alone seen.
"She'll want this back, oh aye," he said with a
He shoved the papers and the wool ball back into
the purse. He dropped the coin one by one into the opening
and cinched the gut strings tight.
He was no thief. He was chief of a clan that would
be slaughtered of he did not seek out the queen. The
MacGregors could remain hidden in their remote glen, fend
off an attack, but for how long? As much as he hated to
admit it, he needed help.
He could not help but grin to himself. He knew
several of the French lass's secrets. Perchance he would
know more, after he forced her to do his bidding. If she
wanted it returned she would take him to the queen. This
leather purse was his key.
Sudden hoofbeats seized his attention. He reached
under his cloak for his dirk and held it at the ready while
he waited in the tree shadows.
The rider wore a cloak that blew back from his
shoulders. It ill-concealed his dark plaid and the chaotic
black curls of his hair.
His best mate, Rory Buchanan, a hapless but loyal
soul fostered a score ago into Clan Gregor, slowed his
mount to a stop before the stand of oak. He puckered his
lips and let loose with a poor imitation of a woodcock
trill. Niall relaxed and placed his dirk back into its
sheath at his hip.
"Aye, aye," he said stepping from the wood. "I hear
ye, ye daft bastard." He glanced down the road. "What news
of the Canon Gait? Any witnesses against Campbell?"
Rory slumped a wee bit in the saddle. He sighed and
raked a hand through the rat's nest on his head.
"What is it?" Niall asked, taking the reins of
Rory's mount as his friend thumped to the ground. Rory
would not leave his father alone. The Buchanan, a giant,
but with as much brains as a midge fly, was the chief's
champion, his protector.
Rory looked askance to nowhere in particular on the
"What news?" Niall demanded.
Finally, after a heaving another sigh, Rory looked
his chief in the eye and said, "Nowt."
"Nowt?" Niall stood firm. There were no witnesses?
Not a bloody one?
"None." Rory's voice trailed off on a meandering,
Niall held tight to Sabine's purse. Rain began to
fall around him. He looked to the south. One word crossed
through his mind and his lips. He shoved the purse into his
sporran, a humble satchel that hung from the belt that
cinched his plaid to his waist.
He turned and walked determinedly to his mount. He
climbed into the saddle over the horse's rain-sicked back
and faced the beast north to the palace at Holyrood eleven
Sabine's purse weighed heavy inside his sporran.
She would help him. She had to.