Highlander Unchained (Highlander Trilogy 1)(2)

By: Donna Fletcher

It was warm and soothing, not at all distasteful and yet she sensed it was wrong. She should not feel this sense of pleasure from this mongrel who butchered like a savage dog.

Whatever strangeness tethered them was broken by the crowd that pushed forward, sweeping her along as they kept pace with the warriors who moved further into the village. Once the warriors stopped the crowd circled them. Dawn warned herself to take her leave and yet once again she paid no heed. She remained enthralled like the others while wondering if the devil had already doomed them all.

Cree. She shut her eyes for a moment, his name echoing through her, not like a tolling bell, but a whisper that tingled along her flesh, and she feared that the mere thought of his name might hold the power to conquer. She could not imagine what the power of speaking it would do.

When Dawn opened her eyes her glance fell on him. He stood proud and tall, looking not at all fearful or concerned by his capture, though the warriors around him did. They kept their distance, some even inching further away.

Colum dismounted his mare holding grasping the chain that restrained the prisoner. His short height and barrel-shape did not threaten, but his stinging voice and quick hand to those who displeased him left no doubt to his indisputable authority. Besides he had his troop of near fifty warriors to protect him.

Upon his arrival, he had made it clear to all in the village that he was to be obeyed and the land worked hard for the feudal lord. He had demonstrated on a hapless farmer what would happen to anyone who proved unruly. He had beaten the man so badly it had taken him weeks to heal.

All had worried they would suffer greatly under his command and while he demanded long hours of toil and strict obedience, he did not starve them. And though life was not easy under his rule, at least no one went hungry.

“You see my strength now,” Colum shouted. “I captured the mighty Cree and I shall make a gift of him to the liege lord. We will wait on the Earl of Carrick’s word to see what is to be done with him.”

“He stays here among us?” Timmins the smithy asked with concern.

Dawn saw Timmins cringe, realizing his mistake too late and those around him quickly moved away.

Colum stomped over to him and spittle sprayed from his mouth as he shouted, “Do you doubt my ability to protect you?”

“Nay. Nay, my lord,” Timmins said, his head bent in supplication. “I questioned my own ability to forge more sufficient chain to hold him.”

Dawn was not surprised by Timmins’s apologetic response. He had a wife and two young bairns to worry about. He would not be so foolish as to insult Colum.

“This chain will do,” Colum boasted. “I have kept him secured with it thus far and I will continue to do so. He will give us no trouble. His warring days are done. Now go. Get back to work, all of you.”

She turned to take her leave when she found herself unable to stop from taking one last peek at the prisoner.

His dark eyes latched onto hers as bold as could be and a jolt of heat hit her and rushed through her with such fury that her cheeks felt on fire and no doubt flamed red. She startled and nearly stumbled when she turned and as soon as she secured firm footing, she made haste.

She hurried to see to her duties, while trying to shake Cree free from her thoughts. He lingered there like a bad dream she had trouble escaping.

Familiar high-pitched shouts managed to penetrate her foggy mind and had her running. Dawn was one of many helpers to the cook Flanna who ran her kitchen with a strict hand. She was probably annoyed that everyone had deserted their duties so they could not only greet the returning warriors but have a look at the notorious Cree for themselves.

Cree again? Dawn could not seem to keep her thoughts off him. It was as if one look had branded him to her every thought and that disturbed her. Slaves were branded and she had no desire to be a slave to anyone. Though she was far from free, at least she wore no one’s mark.

Another sharp shout hurried her steps and when she rounded the back of the keep Flanna was berating two workers, who paled as she shook a large wooden spoon dangerously close to their faces. They scurried off without a word to do her bidding. She then turned and had at Dawn.

“You will be working extra hours along with the others for deserting your duties,” she shouted and threatened Dawn with the same wooden spoon. “Lord Colum will no doubt want a fine celebration feast this night and I cannot prepare a pleasing one with just two hands. Now get busy, see that we have enough dried dandelion root for drinks and make certain there is enough thyme and then see to cleaning the root plants for the stew.”

Thyme. Brewed, it chased away nightmares. Could it rid her of thoughts of Cree?