This is PART THREE of a SIX PART SERIAL NOVEL. They must be read in sequence in order to understand the story.
PART THREE: The threat of clan war brings Daniel and Maryn together in matrimony and draws Daniel into the Maclean fold.
Set in the turn of the thirteenth century Scottish Highlands, this is the story of Daniel MacLaurin, a handsome, rugged warrior-laird haunted by his past, and Maryn Donald, the beautiful, high-spirited lass destined to help him find his heart's ease.
HIGHLAND VENGEANCE is a steamy adventure romance, but it is also a family saga. It's the story of how a man overcomes the horror of his past to find love, connection, and contentment once more.
The Highlands, Scotland 1204
The MacLaurin castle was enveloped in the gray mist of morn, rising high on the heath-covered hill. Maryn could hear the distant clanging of the blacksmith's hammer and barely-audible voices as she and her father picked their way up the steep incline leading to the gatehouse entry.
"Aye, this be as fine a fortress as the lad said 'twould be someday. Fergus, God rest his soul, told me his grandson spent these years building its defenses using the skill of some of the finest craftsmen."
'Tis massive, Maryn mused. She wondered how many people lived behind its walls. 'Twas larger than the Maclean holding, and that one was three times the size of their own fortress. She tried to envision what it must have looked like after the massacre, but could not.
"You said the older man, Angus, died two years past? That must have been painful for Laird MacLaurin. Was he not the MacLaurin's mentor and friend?" Maryn asked.
"Aye, he died of a lung fever. I heard the lad was desolate for quite a time afterward. I know not how he fares now, but we are bound to see for ourselves in only a short time."
She had a vague memory of meeting Laird MacLaurin as a bairn, but the memories were interwoven with the fantastical bible story of David and Goliath she had loved so well at that time. She was having trouble separating truth from myth where the MacLaurin was concerned, and 'twas an added disturbance to her already frayed nerves to know of the barbaric violence that made up his early years.
"Papa, I think this scheme of yours will surely go awry. For, why would a man of Laird MacLaurin's wealth and renown marry a lass such as me? I can bring naught to this union; no wealth, no important alliances--and I certainly am not known for my courtly refinement." Her heart pounded in her chest as panic gripped her. She couldn't take in a breath. Her hands felt clammy inside her gloves. Oh, God. There was little doubt that this man would not only be appalled by her rural ways, but look upon her with only contempt once the truth of their need for this marriage was made known to him.
Laird Donald patted his daughter's knee. "You are as lovely and gentle a lass as the Highlands has ever borne--you must not worry on that score." Straightening in his saddle, he continued, "And ease yourself over the whys and wherefores regarding the rest, daughter. Leave the details to me. I've a strong suspicion that you shall be Lady MacLaurin by nightfall, my dove."
As they moved closer to the gatehouse, the drawbridge began to lower and the portcullis began to rise.
"Ah, I see the Maclean's missive arrived. We are expected, and glad I am of that," Laird Donald said.
A stableman awaited them in the courtyard. The sturdy lad moved toward Maryn and attempted to help her dismount. "Nay, lad, I must take care of my mare myself. She's quite particular and wants only me to tend her."
"Ease yourself. Show me the way to the stables and all will be well. I shall explain the predicament to your marshal, fear you not."
"Aye, m'lady," the lad replied and began leading the two travelers towards the stables.
* * *
Neither guest was aware of Daniel's presence as he stood watching the exchange a few yards away. Laird Donald's daughter was so covered up, he could not see more than an outline of her face. But he liked her voice; 'twas low and mellow. He wondered what other changes he'd find in the impish bairn he remembered. An image of an older version of the filth-covered lass came to mind--but with a much larger slingshot. He chuckled and shook his head. God's truth, 'twould be dreadful!
Turning his eye then to the father, Daniel studied the man he'd met twelve years before. The laird looked much older than he remembered. And seeing the weary way in which he now moved, Daniel wondered once again at the reason for the hastily arranged visit. For the journey to this holding was a long one, and not easily traveled.
As he made his way over to the stable to greet his weary guests, Daniel's eyes were inexorably drawn once again to the daughter.