Read an Excerpt
Under the Highlander's Spell
"Burn, witch, burn!"
The crazed chant rang throughout the village while Zia watched two men continue to pile kindling around her feet. Struggling was senseless. The coarse rope scraped her bare arms and dug into her stomach.
She had done nothing to deserve such unfair judgment. She had simply responded to the village of Lorne's need for a healer. Instead of being grateful for her help, the villagers had begun to gossip about her extraordinary powers, especially after she brought a babe back from the brink of death. Wagging tongues immediately claimed her—a witch.
Zia had tried to reason with the people, but it seemed to make it worse. They did not understand her explanations of how specific mixtures of herbs and poultices could aid in helping the ill heal. They argued her concoctions were works of the devil, and her beauty was even called to task. Why else would every man in the village be unable to keep their eyes off her? And the mark of the devil was on her for sure in the unnatural color of her long, dark red hair sparked with fiery blond streaks.
She had realized that her only choice was to run and leave the ignorant to their fate. Unfortunately, she had reached that decision too late and several men had burst into the small cottage, the village had first so eagerly provided for her. Two men grabbed hold of her and while another man burned her few possessions and healing items in the hearth, the others shoved her face down on the worn wooden table and a woman took a knife to her hair, chopping it short.
She had then been dragged, by no means passively, andtied to a stake in the middle of the village for the jeering crowd to torment. And in mere moments the torch a stout man with a grim expression gripped tightly in his beefy hand, would set the pile of kindling aflame and the villagers would cheer as they watched her burn.
Her fate appeared sealed. She could think of nothing to save her. Words were useless; they would fall on deaf ears and frightened minds. The only thing left to her was prayer, but before she could recite the familiar and hopeful words, her grandmother's ageless face popped into her head.
Zia couldn't help but smile. She loved her grandmother dearly. It was she who had taught Zia all about healing. Her grandmother had even chosen her name. Zia meant staff of life and her grandmother claimed she had been born to preserve life. Zia had worked diligently at learning all about the healing arts and had been willing to travel to wherever her skills had been needed. She also learned that not all people thought highly of healers.
Zia understood the risks, especially being an exceptional healer, though she believed her skills natural. As her grandmother had predicted, she had been born to preserve life like so many in the long line of healers before her.
Unfortunately, her life would be a short one and she so wished for more time to help people and to gain more healing knowledge.
She glanced around, certain she had heard a familiar voice call her name. She recognized no friendly face in the grumbling crowd.
He comes to save you. He is good for you.
Zia smiled hearing in her head her grandmother's voice. Her grandmother had always been there for her even when they weren't together. It was a strange connection they shared but one she never questioned or doubted. Her grandmother subscribed to the Old Ways, the old beliefs and she had passed them on to Zia, and she was grateful she had.
Zia searched anxiously past the jeering faces in the distance for her rescuer, but disappointingly saw no one. She would wait. Even as the man holding the torch walked toward her ready to light the kindling, she kept faith in her grandmother's words.
Suddenly, thunder erupted and she glanced overhead at the canopy of dark clouds that had moved in ever so swiftly, and her smile grew as fat raindrops assaulted her face.
Accusatory shouts sparked the air as many cried out that she commanded the weather to do her bidding.
Was there no end to their ignorance?
Just as she prepared to whisper a prayer of gratitude for her abrupt reprieve, she spied riders on the outskirts of the village.
Four men approached, the leader easily distinguishable. He sat his stallion tall and proud, a good-sized dog following at the horse's heels. A few in the crowd followed her stare and hurriedly alerted all to the arrival of strangers. A rash of mumbling gave way to hushed silence as the riders entered the village, and the crowd parted slowly, clearing a significant path for the imposing leader and his cohorts.
Apprehension crackled in the air along with the thunder as Zia met the leader's dark brown eyes and felt a jolt to her senses. Surely, the deep color was born from the depths of the earth where the soil was the most fertile, where roots dug deep to reach and from which all life sprung.
He broke the contact, glancing over the crowd, and announced in a clear, confident voice, "I am Artair Sinclare of Caithness, and I have come to speak with Zia the healer."
Gasps and murmuring circled the crowd before the village leader, Harold, stepped forward. "Zia the healer is a witch and has been sentenced to burn at the stake."
"Then I have come in due time. I will speak to her first," Artair commanded.
Zia wasn't surprised by his authoritative nature. One would have to be blind not to see that he was a great warrior. Not only did he sit astride his horse with pride, but he held himself in the same manner, his broad shoulders drawn back, his firm chest expanded, his long lean fingers heavy on the hilt of his sword.Under the Highlander's Spell. Copyright © by Donna Fletcher. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.