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Glen Grudie Scottish Highlands
Megan MacLeod hurried across the snow-covered ground, her long skirts swirling around her boot-clad legs. The wind howled through the pine trees, snatching the breath from her lungs and causing the wool plaid of green, blue and yellow to stream out behind her. As she reached the bank of the frozen loch, she paused, drawing the plaid across her face and trying to shield her skin from the bitter cold.
Bracing her lambskin boot against a large boulder, she listened to the sounds of the wintry glen, the fierce whistle of the wind and the groan of the barren branches heavily laden with ice and snow. It had begun snowing in earnest. Oversized flakes chased each other through the air before settling on the ground, creating a thick white carpet. She could not see the water for it was hidden beneath the snow and frozen beneath an inch of ice. It was the contrast of seasons. In the summer hundreds of animals flocked to this spot to partake of the loch's sparkling clean water. But now in the dead of winter, the river was still and game was scarce.
Today, however, she had not come to the loch's edge seeking food. Instead, she had hoped to hear the crunch of hooves on the cold earth and the unmistakable murmur of men's voices as they returned to the camp. To her dismay, nothing other than the rush of the bitter wind disturbed the regal silence of the forest.
She glanced up at the sky, trying to determine the time. Although she suspected it was just past midday, the horizon was gray and full of clouds. A bad omen. It meant that the storm would continue and perhaps grow worse. Usually the weather didn't bother her, not even the damp, chilling cold that was typical of Highland winters. She was accustomed to it, having lived all of her twenty years in the rugged splendor of the glen she called home. Yet for more than a week the weather had been unusually frigid. This day seemed the worst yet. Deep-seated cold permeated the air and the wind grew stronger. Megan knew full well that poor weather could interfere with, even hinder, the men's raid. They had been due back hours ago.
In frustration, Megan clenched her plaid together, the heavy wool bunching beneath her icy fingers. The raids against the English had become more than just an act of defiance. They were necessary to feed the many hungry mouths of clansmen and their families. Stripped of their rightful heritage, they had been forced to live in the hills like animals, stealing, harassing and resisting the English with whatever methods they could employ. It was not a life Megan had envisioned for herself or her family, but it had not been a path willfully chosen.
Narrowing her eyes against the wind, Megan pictured Castle Kilcraig, the proud ancestral home of the MacLeods of Gairloch. The enormous walls and the jutting twin towers had always been a place of security and pride for generations of MacLeods. But all of that had changed with the Jacobite Uprising and Scotland's crushing defeat in the fields of Culloden six years earlier. Despite the fact that her father had never openly supported the young Stuart prince's claim to the throne, the English had invaded their home anyway, ordering Robert MacLeod to sign an oath of fealty to the English King. When Robert refused, the English had cast him and his family from the land that had belonged to them for centuries.