“Lady MacCoinnich, sorry to barge in on ye.”
Behind him stood Matthew of Lancaster.
“That’s quite all right, Jacob. Sir Matthew, what can I do for you? Were we expecting you?” Tara hadn’t been told he was coming. A silent alarm went off in her head.
“Nay, my lady, I was traveling this way when I ran into Lords Ian and Fin. ’Tis a problem.” He looked around the room, lowered his voice. “A problem they need ye for.”
Her unease from earlier returned. “What kind of problem?”
“I was asked to bring ye to them. They didn’t want me to announce what I’ve seen. They said ’tis a private family matter. ” His eyes shifted to the door.
“We should hurry.”
“Of course. Jacob, have my horse readied.” She turned to Lancaster. “I’ll grab my cloak.”
Outside Jacob held her horse with a nervous hand.
She pulled herself into the saddle.
“My lady,” Jacob said, looking up at her with worry etched on his features. “Lord Duncan asked that ye not leave the Keep.”
Tara smiled to give him some ease. Ease she didn’t feel. “I’m on my way to Laird Ian now. Don’t fret. I’m safe with Sir Lancaster.”
“Mayhap another knight should also escort ye, my lady?”
Tara considered the lad’s suggestion, then remembered the words ‘family matter,’ and thought twice about bringing more people to witness the problem.
“I won’t be long, Jacob.” She didn’t give him more time to talk or question. She turned her horse and followed Lancaster. Worry and fear filled her.
Duncan was so far away she couldn’t sense him, let alone speak to him with her mind. She cursed their decision to send him away.
They set out toward the village. Once under the cover of woods, Lancaster changed direction to one she wasn’t familiar with.
So many things raced through her head. She pleaded in her mind for Duncan to return. She couldn’t tell if her thoughts reached him. “What did you see?”
Matthew looked at her and speeded up his mount, making talk impossible. “We should hurry,”
he told her again.
They journeyed deeper into the forest.
Duncan and Lora moved daily to keep anyone who might notice off their track. Not that they thought anyone watched. If anything, all had been quiet. Too quiet. Lora fretted within.
Neither of them was able to talk with their spouses because of the distance. And on this day, they moved well beyond emotions, as well.
They both felt the pull to go back, yet neither acted on it. Instead, they made camp by a stream and waited another day before they started home.
Duncan fished by the stream while Lora dozed.
A dream swept her away until it erupted into a vision.
In her head, she saw Tara riding into the woods.
Above her, faces of the Ancients floated, all of them yelling warnings.
Warnings Tara didn’t hear.
A cabin emerged. Inside was a presence Lora instantly knew was Grainna. A darkened mass threw its shadow over Grainna’s evil form and choked off her vision. But not before she saw Tara in the woman’s clutches.
Lora woke screaming, shivering in a sweat.
Panicked, she jumped to her feet and ran to her son.
Duncan turned in alarm at the sound crashing through the brush. His mother ran to him, out of breath and collapsed at his feet. She warned him, “We have to return. I had a vision.”
Alarm slithered through him like a snake in tall grass. In an instant, he knew his mother was about to reveal his worst nightmare. “What is it? Is Myra returning?”
She shook her head. “Nay, ’tis Tara. Duncan…”
A sob burst forth. “Grainna has Tara!”
Duncan grabbed hold of his mother’s shoulders, his eyes searching hers. “Are you sure?” His jaw clenched on the emotion and bile bubbling in his throat.
She nodded, tears streaming down her face.
He should never have left. They knew there was danger and still they acted though there was none.
Primal rage and terror broiled within. It left cold emptiness in his soul. He cursed his foolishness and prayed Tara’s life would be spared.
Wasting little time, they mounted their horses, leaving most of their provisions behind in their haste.
A howl retched from his gut. He kicked Durk into a faster pace.
“How much farther?” Tara asked, trying to stay in the saddle, which wasn’t easy considering their speed. Tara wasn’t convinced the rate they traveled was good for her baby and started to voice her concern. They’d been riding for over two hours, and she was beginning to think they were lost. Matthew hadn’t said a word during their journey. He ignored most of her questions, making the time even more uncomfortable. The weight of his silence sat heavy on her shoulders.
“Matthew, I need to slow down,” she said, tugging at the reins.
He rounded back to her. “We should hurry.” He forced her horse to a faster pace.
“Matthew, enough! Laird MacCoinnich knows I’m pregnant. He wouldn’t want harm to come to me or the baby.”
He continued to pull on her horse’s reins.
“I insist we slow our pace,” she yelled. She kept the words she wanted to toss at him in her head.
To Tara’s relief, Matthew resigned and rode beside her.
He said nothing.
She watched him out the corner of her eye. His back was rod straight, his gaze glossed over. His look was familiar, but she was having a hard time placing it. Was he angry? In shock? What had he seen to make him so stoic? “Do you know why they sent for me?”
He sneered at her, then moved his eyes forward.
“I think it best they tell ye.”
“That bad huh?”
He said nothing.
The woods were so thick she could barely see the sun through the trees. The smell of rain blanketed the forest and rotting vegetation. Tara thought she heard a waterfall in the distance. That meant a stream must be nearby. She wondered if it was the same stream that followed along the village border.
Most times she would love the heavy scent of oak and moss, mixed with the pine. But the knowledge that she rode toward danger kept her from enjoying the forest. She wished Duncan was here. Despite the knight beside her, she was desperately alone.
Tara needed a distraction from the silence. She glanced at Matthew and picked a topic she knew he would ramble on about. “What species of birds do you find in these woods, Sir Lancaster?”
He stared ahead in utter silence.
“Did you hear me, Sir Matthew?”