Hidden Heiressby Amanda Scott
She is called Elspeth, a bonny lass whose dusty servant's rags conceal her well-born status. She recalls nothing of her past-or of the coveted Dunsithe treasure that is her birthright. From her lonely room in Farnsworth Tower, she dreams of a mist-shrouded forest and yearns for the miracle that will free her from a life of drudgery. In the guise of an English… See more details below
She is called Elspeth, a bonny lass whose dusty servant's rags conceal her well-born status. She recalls nothing of her past-or of the coveted Dunsithe treasure that is her birthright. From her lonely room in Farnsworth Tower, she dreams of a mist-shrouded forest and yearns for the miracle that will free her from a life of drudgery. In the guise of an English nobleman, Sir Patrick MacRae risks his life for his fellow Scotsmen. With danger at his heels, he finds refuge at a border estate where he meets an intriguing young woman who, like him, is not what she seems. Now Patrick must earn Elspeth's trust even as his enemies seek to unmask him. For only together can they protect his mission...and uncover her true identity in time to save their love.
- Grand Central Publishing
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The Secret ClanHidden Heiress
By Amanda Scott
Warner ForeverCopyright © 2002 Lynne Scott-Drennan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Scottish Highlands, ten years later
Twelve ships sailed down the narrow Sound of Raasay between the east coast of the Isle of Skye and the west coast of Kintail on the Scottish mainland. At the bottom of the Sound, the ships turned east into Loch Alsh. Despite an August morning mist rising from the loch and giving the steep surrounding hills a softened gray-blue appearance, the day promised to be a fine one. The mist dissipated before the ships came within sight of their objective.
At Eilean Donan Castle, on its islet at the east end of Loch Alsh, where the loch forked into Loch Long and Loch Duich, the first warning of danger was a shout from the ramparts. "Ships on the loch!"
The shout echoed down the spiral stone stairway to the great hall, where the constable of the castle, Sir Patrick MacRae, sat at the high table, looking over accounts supplied to him by the castle's mistress. As usual, he checked them only to digest the information they afforded him and found no errors in her ladyship's careful calculations. He had been about to set them aside when he heard the shout.
A tall, broad-shouldered, muscular man with dark hair and gray eyes, he leaped to his feet with the agile quickness of an athlete trained to deal with crisis and ran for the stairway, shouting at two nearby men-at-arms to follow. Halfway up the stairs, they met the watchman clattering down.
"Ships, sir!" "How many?" Patrick demanded, pushing past him up the stairs.
The man turned to follow with the other two close behind. "I lost count but at least a half score, maybe a dozen."
"How far away?" "Not far enough," the man replied tersely. "Maybe a mile and a half beyond Glas Eilean."
"So they are still three or four miles off. How is the wind?"
"Stiff, sir, and from the northwest. I reckon we may have an hour but no more than that and probably less."
Patrick had reached the top of the stairs, and he strode through the open doorway without replying. On the crenellated walkway, he saw at once what the watcher had seen, and the sight stopped his breath. A dozen large ships sailed toward the castle, one of them significantly larger than its companions.
"Holy mother of God," he muttered. The other three men crowded close behind him, echoing his dismay.
He said crisply to the two who had followed him from the hall, "The laird and his lady are in the village. Go at once and fetch them. Also, bring back anyone else who desires to take shelter within our walls."
"Who d'ye think it be, sir?" the third man asked as the two others turned away. "Be it them wretched Macdonalds again? It be more than a year since their laird attacked us and died here, but mayhap young Donald hopes t' take his place."
"Those are not Macdonald galleys," Patrick said. "I know of only one group of ships in the area. Those are Jamie's ships."
"The King?" A note of awe tinged the man's voice. "Aye," Patrick said grimly. "I wish we had finished building our new horn work, so we'd have our cannon mounted and ready."
"But would his grace no ha' sent word o' his coming, sir? Folks in Portree kent for a week a forehand that he were going to visit there."
"He would have warned us had he desired to be our guest," Patrick said. "They say, though, that he is collecting Highland chiefs as hostages, hoping thereby to tame an area he fears still remains hostile to him. He has already collected Macdonald of Clanranald, Macdonald of Glengarry, and MacLeod of Dunvegan."
"But why would the King o' Scots come here? Forbye, sir, if he be collecting his enemies, he should collect Donald Gorm o' Sleat. After all, it were his father, Donald the Grim, who tried to take back the Lordship o' the Isles last year and raised an army and a fleet o' galleys against the King. Our laird remained loyal to Jamie throughout. Moreover, his own father and yours died in battle against the traitor, and it were here at Eilean Donan that Donald died."
"Aye," Patrick said, still watching the approaching fleet. His gut told him that his grace was not coming to thank anyone for ridding him of Donald the Grim.
By the time he saw Mackenzie of Kintail and his lady being rowed home across the narrow tidal channel between the islet and the Kintail mainland, the lead ships were close enough to make out their royal banners.
Hurrying down the stairs, Patrick had begun to issue orders to men in the hall when Kintail strode in with his wife, Molly, Lady Kintail, at his side.
"We saw them from below," Kintail said. "What make you of this, Patrick?" "Is it really the King?" Molly asked. "Aye, I'm sure it is," Patrick said, managing a smile for her. He had a warm place in his heart for his master's wife.
Turning to the laird, who had been his close friend from childhood, he said, "As to what I make of this, Fin, it can be nothing good. If Jamie and his advisors are coming here without first sending word that we should expect them, it can mean only that they did not want to warn us of their coming."
"But the gossips say that Jamie and Cardinal Beaton are collecting hostages," Molly protested. "Taking Fin would be pointless. We fought against Donald. Moreover, we had planned to spend the month of September at Dunsithe!"
"I have no answer for you," Patrick said. "One can rarely divine Jamie's thinking, but the wind has picked up, so we'll have answers soon enough."
Half an hour later, men rowed to the castle in a small boat from one of the lead ships, demanding that Kintail surrender to the King's grace. Kintail refused, albeit with respect and a suggestion that the parties first discuss the matter civilly.
Shortly thereafter, the first explosion sounded from the ships' cannon.
MacRae men-at-arms under Patrick's direction did what they could to defend the castle, but although Eilean Donan was impregnable to most attacks, its walls were small defense against cannon fire. Not long after it began, when a furious barrage threatened to bring down part of the curtain wall, Kintail ordered a halt.
"Take a boat to Jamie's ship and tell him I yield," he said gruffly to Patrick. "Invite his grace to join us for supper and offer him a decent bed for the night."
Patrick left at once, but the first thing he learned was that he should have paid more heed to the banners, for the largest ship was not Jamie's. When he asked the man-at-arms who met him as he boarded to take him to the King, repeating the command in broad Scot when the man shook his head at his Gaelic, the man smiled wryly and said, "Ye've come aboard the wrong ship tae see his grace, sir."
"Then whose ship is this?" "It be Cardinal Beaton's ship. That one yonder be the King's," he added, gesturing toward the second largest. "Then I will seek his grace there." "If ye-" The man broke off, stiffening to attention, his gaze fixed on a point behind Patrick.
Turning, Patrick found himself facing a man he knew most women would find attractive. In his late forties, he was dressed all in red, his elegant velvet doublet and trunk hose slashed with crimson silk in the French style.
"I am Davy Beaton," the man said. "Have you the authority to yield Eilean Donan to the King's grace?"
"Aye, sir," Patrick said. "I am Patrick MacRae, constable of the castle, acting at the command of Mackenzie of Kintail." Uncertain exactly how he was supposed to address Cardinal Beaton, who was said to be one of the most powerful men in Scotland-more powerful even than the King, some said-he decided that under the circumstances, proper form did not matter.
When the cardinal said nothing to indicate that he cared one way or another, Patrick added, "Kintail bids you and his grace the King to join us at Eilean Donan for supper and to spend the night if that be your pleasure. Bring any others you care to bring, for the laird would like to remind his grace that we have ever been his grace's loyal subjects and that this attack on a peaceful residence is unseemly."
Beaton raised his eyebrows. "Peaceful?" "It was you and yours that made all the noise," Patrick said bluntly.
"Aye, 'tis true, but you shut your doors to us." "Only after you demanded that Kintail surrender to the King's grace as a hostage. With respect, sir, one does not take one's friends hostage. You would have done better to seize young Donald of Sleat, who is your proven enemy."
"Aye, and so we expected to do," Beaton said, "but someone warned him, and he has fled. Doubtless, he will find sanctuary with England's Henry. He would not be the first enemy of his grace's to do so."
"That is true enough," Patrick said. He had never encountered England's Henry, the eighth of that name to rule there, but like any educated Scot, he knew that Henry had for years been a thorn in the side of his nephew, James of Scotland. "Nevertheless," he added, "Kintail is no enemy of the King's, sir."
Beaton smiled. "You should call me 'my lord,' or 'eminence,' Sir Patrick."
Patrick found himself smiling back, astonished that Beaton knew his title. "I apologize, my lord. I have never conversed with a cardinal before."
"I am also the papal legatas a latere," Beaton said. That news astonished Patrick, for having studied at St. Andrews University, which was connected to the Archbishopric, he knew that the title Lateran Legate meant that Cardinal Beaton acted as the Pope in Scotland.
Uncertainly, he said, "Does that mean you make the decisions here, my lord, or should I still present my master's invitation to King James?"
To his further astonishment, Beaton grimaced and said, "I am certainly not the one making the decisions today, Sir Patrick. You must render your duty to his grace, of course, and mayhap he will accept Kintail's generous invitation-if you can persuade him that it will serve his interest to do so." More uncertain than ever about what was going on, Patrick bowed. "I thank you, your eminence. I shall go at once to his grace's ship."
As he turned away, Beaton said gently, "Sir Patrick, I am told that you are astonishingly loyal to Mackenzie of Kintail, so it occurs to me that we may find opportunity to meet again."
Glancing back, Patrick raised his eyebrows. "I do not take your meaning, my lord. Unless his grace orders me to accompany my master, as constable of Eilean Donan and Dunsithe-Kintail's castle in the Scottish Borders-it is likely that I shall remain to attend my duties." "Nonetheless, sir, if you are ever in need of a friend at Stirling, you may apply to me."
Bowing again, but no wiser than before, Patrick said, "I thank you and hope you will not think me disrespectful if I add that I hope the occasion does not arise." His expression unreadable, Beaton dismissed him with a nod.
Still bewildered, Patrick descended the rope ladder to his boat and told his oarsmen to row to the next ship, where after learning his mission, a lackey led him below to a cabin from which issued the sound of hearty masculine laughter. His escort pushed open the door and, blocking the way, announced loudly, "Sir Patrick MacRae desires speech wi' your grace, an it suit ye, sire."
From within a mild voice said, "Bid him enter." His escort moved aside, and Patrick stepped through the doorway to find two men inside a luxuriously appointed cabin. Their clothing was rich enough to make him aware that his was no longer even fashionable. Tapestry hangings covered the walls, and carpets decked the floor. A leather dice cup and a pair of ivory dice lay on a marquetry table between the two men, along with a gold wine flagon and two delicately etched golden goblets.
Although Patrick had never met the King, he had no difficulty recognizing which of them was James, fifth of that name to be High King of Scots. At twenty-eight, his grace was tall, handsome, and well built with the Stewart red hair and blue eyes. Rumor had it that he drank too much and wenched too much, and indeed, Patrick could see that the royal face and figure were puffy, and the royal complexion blotchy. He decided that his grace probably needed more stimulating exercise than spilling dice from a cup.
The man at James's side-also handsome-was younger, more slenderly graceful, and carried himself with a lordly arrogance that James lacked. Bowing deeply to the King, Patrick waited until he heard his name spoken before he looked up again. James smiled and said in broad Scot, "Does your master yield to his king?"
"He does, your grace," Patrick said, speaking the same language.
"Then where is he?" demanded the second man. "He should be here."
Not liking his shrill, arrogant tone, Patrick had all he could do not to reply sharply, but he suspected that the gentleman must be one of the King's infamous favorites, and Patrick was not a fool.
Carefully controlling his voice, and addressing a point midway between the two, he said, "As constable of Eilean Donan, I speak for the Laird of Kintail and yield to a superior force." Turning slightly, so that he now addressed only James, he added gently, "He commanded me to offer hospitality, as well, your grace. The Laird bids you join him and his lady at supper, with any number of your party whom you choose to accompany you, and to pass the night in a comfortable bed."
James chuckled, but the other man said indignantly, "He would see us murdered in our beds, more like. Don't do it, James!"
"Peace, Oliver," James said with a fond smile. "You know that these Highlanders have notions of hospitality far stronger than ours. In any event, the Mackenzies of Kintail have ever remained loyal to the Crown."
"I have told you and told you, James! The only safe Highlander is one you can watch every minute! Do you really believe he will surrender so meekly?"
Since it was not appropriate for him to interject his opinion, Patrick held his tongue, but he longed to tell James he had nothing to fear at Eilean Donan. James glanced at him, his eyes twinkling. As if he could hear Patrick's silent thoughts, he said, "Have you naught to say in your defense, sir?"
Bowing again, Patrick said quietly, "Not in my own defense, sire, but for the people of Kintail, I say that all here remain loyal to your grace. In fact, sire, were you enemy instead of friend, you would still be safe inside our walls now that Kintail has extended his welcome to you. Highland hospitality forbids attacking those seeking its benefits. Our rules forbid, as well, any refusal to grant hospitality. In a fierce winter, such a refusal could equal a death sentence."
"There, you see, Oliver. Ah, but I have not yet properly made Oliver known to you, have I, Sir Patrick? This is Oliver Sinclair," James added with his easy smile. "He is my friend, and those who are loyal to me are likewise loyal to Oliver."
Excerpted from The Secret Clan by Amanda Scott Copyright © 2002 by Lynne Scott-Drennan. Excerpted by permission.
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