He signaled to the gatekeeper who opened the massive doors that led them out of the safety of the Keep. Ian’s falcon sat perched on his arm.
Once they cleared the stones of the yard, they kicked their horses into a gallop. The bird took flight and followed in the air above.
Liz let out a long-suffering sigh when the gates closed. “I need a drink!”
“So do I,” Tara put her hand to her back.
It would take the men three days to get to where Grainna was staying, and the waiting would be hell.
Michael noticed the hound cringed under the hand that slid over its coat. The eyes of the dog matched those of all the fighting men in the courtyard, and most of the women. Grainna’s reign over her people was held in place with fear. They worked endlessly on repairs of the home she had made out of the ruins.
She sat as regal as a queen looking over her subjects, with her back rod straight and her dark hair piled high on her head. Even the costume she wore befitted royalty. The woman who previously wore it had the unfortunate luck of traveling through her land. The two knights who had escorted the lady were now posted as guard over Grainna’s court.
It was eerie how she changed almost daily since they had come here. Her eyes weren’t dark, they were black. Unlike eyes of a mere human, her pupils almost never constricted. Instead, they stood open, in constant surveillance.
Michael took the last few steps and stood at her side. The dog curled into a ball, whining at his mistress as he approached. Michael felt sorry for the hound that couldn’t leave until she released him.
“I trust you had a fruitful journey.” Grainna folded her hands in her lap.
“Perhaps, but as you see I come alone.”
She lifted her chin, but said nothing.
“There is one promising woman in a village near Lancaster.”
“And she is not with you… why?”
Michael nodded to the people surrounding them.
“I think we should continue this conversation in private.”
“I,” she spoke in the deadliest of tones, “decide when we will speak in private.”
He cocked his head, gave a slight bow. “If you insist. Her name is Margaret. She is like us, and possibly intact. I won’t know for certain until I bring her to you.”
Pain hit his head hard. He did his best not to flinch at her intrusion into his head. She peered to see if he spoke the truth and he prayed his abilities kept her unaware of every thought he possessed.
“Then bring her, woo her. Marry the bitch if you must, but bring her to me.”
She had dangled the carrot, his gift of immortality, in front of him long enough. He wanted payment before he delivered.
“Our war with the MacCoinnichs is coming,” he said. “Now would be a good time to guarantee my survival.”
As her head slowly moved in his direction, and her deadly stare met his, Michael held his breath and did his best to think only of serving her.
Her glare turned into a smirk. “Yes. Yes you have waited long enough. I warn you…it is not for the weak of heart. Immortality has its own set of, let us say, side effects.”
“If it is the curse you speak of, I already know.”
“Not only that, but the task of living long past everyone you know, anyone you will meet.”
“I don’t crave human companionship, Grainna.
Besides.” He placed a hand on hers. “We will have each other. Even now your beauty shines through. I would take your bed if you allowed such a thing.”
“It pleases me to hear such a conviction, as that is exactly what my ritual requires from you.”
His stomach rolled and bile rose in his throat.
Forcing a smile to his lips could quite possibly have been the hardest thing for him to do.
Michael stared into the eyes of what equated to the devil. He swallowed the bile that threatened at the thought of f**king her. He would have to prepare for the event, give him time to protect himself from her evil if she turned on him, or attempted to control him as she had the others.
“Tonight then.” He picked up her hand and kissed the back of her cold hard flesh.
“Tonight is so long from now. Meet me in my rooms in half an hour. After, you can return to your Margaret’s village and retrieve her.”
“As you wish.” He would have to hurry. He left her side, rushed to his room, and purged every morsel from his stomach.
The men camped deep in the forest, far off any path or road in which they might meet up with renegade warriors or mercenaries wanting battle, or gold. They needed their strength for the impending fight.
Duncan sat smiling into the flames of the small fire they had made to cook the fresh meat they had hunted.
“What’s so amusing?” Todd asked after noticing Duncan’s expression.
“The women. They are drinking and carrying on like drunken men. Not Tara of course, but she tells me that Lizzy is ripped. What does that mean?”
Todd’s head tipped back and a hollow laugh escaped. “Drunk. Lizzy’s drunk.” He elbowed Fin.
“Nice to know what effect you have on women, MacCoinnich.”
“Don’t speak too soon, Blakely, Myra is as well.”
Duncan stopped, obviously listening to something Tara said. He slapped his hand to his thigh and laughed hysterically. The three men scowled wondering what it was he knew. Even Ian had to guess what was happening, because Lora was keeping him out of her thoughts.
Tara thrust a plate of food in front of the women. “You guys had better start eating, or you’re going to regret it in the morning.” Lora hiccupped, bringing Myra and Liz back into a fit of laughter.
“Tara is right, this is really inappropriate,” Lora said. “I for one am t-tired of always doing what is appropriate,” Myra stuttered.
“Hah!” Liz moved to the wall where she kept the cord. “You’re the poster child for sixteenth century propriety.” She tossed the cord in Myra’s lap. “You won’t need this anymore.”
Myra’s jaw dropped, eyes rounding to her mother.
Lora attempted to hide a laugh behind her hand.
Lora laughed harder.
“I am not brainless.”
“But if you knew then so did father.”
“You were always a bright child.” Lora picked up her glass, finished her wine. “Do you think your father waited to bed me until we had exchanged vows?”
“Why, Lora, you big hussy,” Tara teased.
Myra stared at her mother. Where was the woman who had given her every rule of right and wrong for her twenty-one years? Her confessions liberated everything she had done since she had met Todd. Relieved her of any guilt she had felt for deceiving her parents.