From birth, Catriona Campbell and Alasdair Og MacDonald are enemies—for he is the second son of her clan’s most powerful foe. Yet from the moment they meet, they know they will lie in each other’s arms someday. Their love, though centuries forbidden, comes at the most dangerous of times, as they become pawns of war . . . and of history. For rebellion has been stirring, and under the orders of King William III, a bloody price will be paid at Glencoe . . .
This “stirring” love story set against the backdrop of a notorious massacre is “well worth a Highland journey” (Kirkus Reviews).
“Roberson’s world of 17th-century Scotland is atmospherically real.” —Publishers Weekly
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Cat Campbell, flattened behind the bug-ridden peat pile to hide herself from Robbie and the lass but a stone's throw down the hill, was at first aghast that her brother would dare such thing, this forcing a kiss from a woman — — no, a lass still is Mairi Campbell, not so much older than me — — but Robbie had always been a lad who took, be it from his sister or younger brothers, and now, at eighteen, was counted a man. He was eldest, he was heir, he was Glen Lyon's future; they had no choice but to give to the one what he wanted, who would one day be laird.
Cat grimaced. Robbie would take it today, given the moment!
But he wouldn't be given the moment. His father, for all Glenlyon drank, still held authority. Robbie would have to wait.
But not just at this moment, with Mairi Campbell.
Cat scowled. The pungent odor of drying peat cut out of the hillside filled her nostrils, left its taste in her mouth. But it was not her mouth which claimed her attention, now; the mouths glued together below, seeking, sucking, smacking —
"'Tis her," Cat muttered. "Her as much as Robbie." And as bad, she decided, as a ram with a ewe, or a dog with a bitch, if somewhat more polite; Mairi, at least, seemed to want the attention.
Cat's lip curled. The movements were confusing, and without dignity. How could Mairi expose herself so? How could she let Robbie dictate what she would do?
"Not me," she declared to the peat. "I'll no' give up so much of myself like — like ... that — "
And likely a bairn would come of it; often the ewes and bitches settled after consorting with the male. Which put in her mind her father, and the mother she barely recalled.
Cat grimaced. Disgusting indeed, that her mother would permit such liberties, such indignities of person. Five children of it, not counting the bairns who died. And Robbie, born first of them all, seemed wholly intent on starting a string of bairns even as his father before him.
Mairi Campbell, Cat decided, was a fool. Unless she wanted a bairn; or possibly wanted Robbie.
That was a thought worth considering. Cat scowled over it and turned her back on them, leaning instead against the pile of peat squares while she contemplated the unexpected and alien idea of having a sister.
The crowd in Inchinnan, a hungry hound, was fed on anticipation. Alasdair Og MacDonald, in its midst, was less a hound than others, but nonetheless sensed it, smelled it, tasted it. If the captive were not brought out soon, the Marquis of Atholl — the victor conducting the execution — would soon find himself struggling to control the very men who had supported him against the man he meant to die.
Dair chewed absently at his bottom lip. A hound starved for too long — And wanting blood for blood, to pay back the loser for his temerity in trying to replace one king with another. They hate him as much for his title ... And for his name, his heritage; for the blood of their kin spilled during decades of his power, and the decades before his birth: he was the ninth Earl of Argyll, Archibald Campbell, once the most powerful man in Scotland. Now naught but a traitor condemned to die.
The square was filled with Jacobites, Highlanders sworn to King James despite his Popery; he was, after all, a Stuart, and therefore Scottish — and they had not fought for James so much as against Argyll and Clan Campbell, and cared little enough for the political vagaries of England. What concerned these men, lairds and chiefs and tacksmen, was the ending of Campbell power.
It was mid-May and warm; warmer yet because of so many wool-swathed men packed together. Dair was aware, as always, of his father's huge body overshadowing his own. They had named him for his father, then called him Og so as not to confuse others in reference, but by adolescence Dair knew very well the distinction was unnecessary.
A stirring ran through the crowd. The hound shifted stance, hackles rising, then moved aside sullenly as the master brought out the miscreant who would die for his heritage and clan affiliation as much as for his belief in a king other than James.
Caught in the shuffle as the crowd was parted, Dair saw nothing of Argyll as the man was led out. He saw only his own father's fierce face, nearly buried in beard and moustaches, and the glitter in hard eyes. "Campbell," MacIain muttered, "your cattle will be in my glen before the month is done."
Dair looked beyond to the center of Inchinnan's square. Beside the Mercat Cross stood the Maiden, the woman whom no man desired. The guillotine machine was lashed to a wooden platform with wheels at each corner, so it might more easily be taken from place to place. The steel blade, raised high, was as yet unblemished by the gore of Argyll's death. It glinted in clean Highland sunlight. How many necks will she kiss —?
But the thought was broken off as MacIain's callused hand came down on his second son's plaid-swathed shoulder and closed so tightly Dair nearly grimaced. "Count your cows," the laird rumbled. "With each drop of his Campbell blood, count it a cow for Glencoe!"
The warping of the crowd left a channel between oceans of kilts and plaids and gave Dair a clear view. Surrounded by the enemy, the ninth Earl of Argyll walked steadily to meet the Maiden.
"Traitor begets traitor," MacIain muttered. Then, in a lion's roar: "Traitor begets traitor!"
Argyll's step faltered as he heard the shout and the response it prompted; the eighth earl, his father, had also been charged a traitor. Dair knew this day was the genesis of legend: because father and son were executed, they would say the loins were tainted.
He glanced at his brother. It was John, not he, who was heir; John, not Alasdair Og, who would be judged by his predecessor. He was himself entirely free to act in whatever manner he chose — with my loins left out of it!
Argyll stopped altogether as he reached the enemy from whom the shout had issued, the white-haired Glencoe giant known to all as MacIain. There Argyll held his ground, if briefly, to match fixed, unwavering gazes; to witness an enmity and spite that were yet mutual but would be, very shortly, a one-sided affair, because only a man with a head on his shoulders could nurse a Highland feud.
Nostrils pinched in Argyll's aristocratic face, as if he smelled a foul odor. Unlike MacIain's it was not a warrior's face, not the face of a man who wielded a sword but who wielded the words that would set men against men, Scot against Scot, Highlander against Highlander.
The Earl of Argyll disdained his soiled kilt and torn coat, the spatters of flung mud, the ruffling of his hair by an impudent wind uncognizant of his rank. His bare head, naked of bonnet, struck Dair as oddly vulnerable: a thistle on too slender a stalk. Would the executioner, once his task was completed, catch a fistful of the graying hair and hoist the grisly prize?
Argyll's face was stubbled and grimy. The bruised mouth, so tautly compressed, loosened to emit a curiously flat voice. "There were Campbells before me. There will be Campbells after me. But what will they say of Glencoe when all the MacDonalds are dead?"
It silenced those near enough to hear. In the mass of shorter men, MacIain had no need to raise his voice, to lift a hand, or rely on artifice in stance or gesture to hold the attention of his kin, or the others in the square. He smiled. He jerked his head toward the guillotine. Teeth gleamed briefly in the mass of curling white hair. "Dinna keep her waiting, your woman. She despises a cold cock, aye?"
In the male roar of approbation for the vulgar sally, Argyll was escorted to the Maiden. He offered no statement, no declaration of innocence; he had backed the wrong man and now would die for it, as his father before him, the powerful marquis, had been executed for his beliefs.
But as the Maiden's blade descended, Argyll, leader of Clan Campbell, locked eyes with MacIain. The gaze was broken only as the blade dropped and the neck was severed, and the wind-ruffled head toppled onto stained wood in a gout of arcing blood.
MacIain's eyes narrowed. His head rose a fraction, lifting his bearded chin. Nostrils flared once above the grandiose sweep of dual moustaches. Even as his mouth tightened the flesh by his eyes hardened.
This hunt, then, was finished, but there would be another. Dair, like his father, like his brother, knew too much of Campbells to dismiss the great clan's power with the death of a single man. There would be another.
Uneasily Dair muttered, "There is always another man."
The Earl of Breadalbane, Grey John Campbell, had never been a man who forsook opportunity when it behooved his plans. In his expensive Edinburgh town house near Holyrood Palace, Breadalbane received the news of the Earl of Argyll's execution with the grave concern and deep regret due the bereaved; Argyll had been his nephew. He closeted himself in his private quarters, poured himself whisky, then walked deliberately to the mullioned window overlooking Canongate.
All was darkness, save for a winking necklace of palace lamps, and the diffused glow of distant torches atop the massive rock hosting Edinburgh Castle. Breadalbane stared fixedly at the black bulk of castle. He was a robust man not dissimilar to his dead nephew: clear gray eyes; a narrow, prominent nose; thin, compressed lips; and the fair skin and reddish hair, now graying, not uncommon to Highlanders. He was no longer young, at fifty, but neither was he too old to comprehend or appreciate the politics of the situation.
Breadalbane drank most of his whisky, savoring the pungent, peat-flavored taste. He envisioned the execution; the report said Argyll had coupled with the Maiden in a brief, deadly embrace.
Argyll is dead.
A tremor of unexpected emotion caused the tide of whisky to slop against costly glass. The earl stilled it instantly, squeezing the glass with thin, well- groomed fingers; he was not a man given to physical display, lest it hand claymore to the enemy.
Argyll's death was significant. The enemies of Clan Campbell would move to replace the traditional strength of Argyll's clan — and Breadalbane's — with another, possibly even the tumultuous, thieving MacDonalds, that most despised of all clans, though particularly by Campbells; specifically by Breadalbane. MacDonald holdings were wide-ranging, their numbers vast.
Taut lips parted in a brief rictus of enmity. "Their women are rabbits," Breadalbane murmured, "and their men rut upon them like boars. 'Tis why they steal the Campbell cows, to fill their gawping mouths!"
Argyll is dead.
Breadalbane stood transfixed a moment, staring blindly into darkness. Clan Campbell was in one fell slice of the guillotine blade rendered leaderless.
Argyll is DEAD —
Abruptly he barked a brief, satisfied laugh and raised a mute toast to the executed. He in his nephew's place now commanded Clan Campbell. And he in his own place would find a way to destroy the MacDonalds.
The Laird of Glenlyon let the reeds slip from his mouth. No more keening wail of pipe-song; he was left now with nothing but a clutch of raddled leather hugged against his ribs.
Christ Jesus ... He exhaled heavily, emptying his lungs as the bagpipes had emptied, wishing he might give way to a belly-deep moan as evocative as the instrument's wail and wheeze. But there was no one to fill him again, to set lips to his reeds and breathe new life into his spirit, that he might once again fill the air with a rousing pibroch, a battle rant so stirring that he would go down against the enemy knowing himself invincible.
He was not invincible. The battle he fought was personal, and the enemy himself.
He looked around his room, marking sparse furnishings, an interior as naked as his own. Chesthill was not a huge, imposing manor such as the English had, or rich Lowlanders. It wasn't even a castle, and certainly not a palace. It was, simply, a stone-built Highland house, large enough for Glenlyon, his daughter, his sons, and a handful of loyal Campbell servants. He was laird over all of Glen Lyon, but he wasn't a rich one. He wasn't a poor one. What he was, was bankrupt.
It was dark, save for smoky light exuded from the oil lamp on the table next to his elbow, beside the decanter and brimming silver cup. It cast but piecemeal illumination; the lamp glass was caked black with the soot of oily smoke, so that only the smudged blots made by fingermarks let the light shine through cleanly.
If there were another way ... Glenlyon stirred sharply in the chair: an awkward, involuntary spasm of denial, of acceptance, of an abiding despair impinging on desperation. His movement brought forth a final brief wheeze from the bagpipes. He did not take up the reeds again or set aside the pipes; forgotten, he allowed the instrument to fall slackly between his ribs and the chair as he reached for the cup of whisky.
As he drank, taking solace in the harsh seduction of the liquor, he heard the scratching at the door. No, no — not now — But wishing away solved nothing. If such things as that had power, he'd be a man of honor again, a man with dignity, with all his debts paid off and his heritage unencumbered.
The scratch sounded again, more importunately. He was tempted to ignore it altogether; a servant, receiving no answer, would go away. But he knew the sound. It was Cat, not a gillie; wearily, falling back against his chair, the fifth Laird of Glen Lyon called for his daughter to enter.
She was dressed for bed, as she should be at such a late hour: a tattered tartan plaid doubling as shawl was pulled haphazardly across thin shoulders clad in dingy nightclothes. Her hair was braided carelessly, one loose strand hanging beside her face. It was, like the braid itself, a brilliant, unmistakable red, even in wan light; he had not bequeathed his daughter the yellowed strawberry of his own now-graying hair, nor the watery gray-blue eyes through which he watched the world.
Acknowledgment pinched; he had sired handsome boys, and one unhandsome daughter. What will I do with this lass? What man will have her?
Barefoot, Cat came into the room and stopped but two paces from the open door, as if wary of his mood. She left herself escape; Glenlyon's smile was warped as he recognized the foresight, the care with which she approached the man who had sired her.
He was not so fou, so drunk as to be blind to her resolution. He saw it in her eyes, in her jutting chin, in the stubborn set of her mouth. "Tomorrow," she said.
"Tomorrow," he agreed; there was no need to elaborate.
Blue-green eyes held steady. "Can I come?"
The wide mouth — too wide for her face, he thought absently — tightened fractionally. "You promised me I could go to Edinburgh."
"You will go — but not tomorrow."
She raised her chin. "I'm thirteen, now."
He smiled. As he lifted the cup to his mouth the welcome tang of whisky filled his nostrils, begging to be swallowed. Saliva flowed into his mouth. He savored the peat smell, anticipating the bite, the taste, the warmth, the empowerment — and the escape. "So old?"
It was challenge, not question. "No longer a wee bairn."
He swirled liquor in his cup. The pungency of the whisky, reinforced by the motion, made his eyes water.
"Why can I not go tomorrow?" The plaid slipped off a shoulder; she dragged it up again. In the brief, impatient motion he saw the texture of prominent knuckles newly scraped raw, glistening wetly in lamplight. "You'll be taking Robbie —"
It stopped her in full spate. Straight but eloquent eyebrows slid closer to her hairline. "You willna be taking Robbie ..."
"I said so." The waiting was done. He drank, gulping steadily. He saw the sharpness of her attention center briefly on the cup, as if she blamed whisky for his intransigence, and then her gaze slid aside. "I'm taking no one, Cat. No one but me was summoned."
"Summoned!" Astonishment was plain. "Who can summon you? You're Laird of Glenlyon!"
His hand shook. Whisky slopped over the rim of the cup, trickled between clenched fingers, dripped to his kilted thigh where it beaded briefly on wool, then soaked in slowly. The addition of his other hand temporarily stilled the trembling, but Glenlyon was aware of it nonetheless. The tremors, he knew, were merely outward manifestations of the soul shriveling within.
"Who?" she repeated.
The mutinous set of her mouth slackened. "Oh."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Lady of the Glen"
Copyright © 1996 Jennifer Roberson.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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