A mood of celebration hung in the air. For now, the battle was over, and Robert the Bruce’s most loyal men were making the most of the chance to let their guard down. Sitting back in his chair on the dais where the vanquished Chieftain of Clan MacDougall had held court only days before, Alexander de Moray surveyed the scene before him. It was a veritable orgy of lewd behavior. A rare smile crossed his cold, cynical lips. Everywhere he looked, there was naked flesh. Bodies writhed against one another and moans of pleasure filled the air, a welcome change from the agonized groans of men dying on the battlefield.
Drinking deep from his mug of ale, Alexander tried to put images of death out of his mind. He’d killed more than his fair share of the enemy, striking down those who would question their anointed king’s right to rule. For years, he’d stood side by side with Robert the Bruce in battle, earning himself a fearsome reputation for his unflinching brutality. Now, he was beginning to grow weary of the slaughter.
Setting down his ale, he ran a keen eye over the array of willing young women who followed the army around the country, providing much-needed sexual relief to soldiers who hadn’t seen their own wives for many years. Alexander wasn’t yet married, but recently his thoughts had turned to taking a wife. He needed to sire an heir. Given his exploits on the battlefield, it could only be a matter of time before he met with a bloody end and he knew a man should have a son to carry on his name.
His older brother had been married for ten years now without fathering a child. Unwilling to give up his wife to find another who would bear him a son, Adam was urging Alexander to find himself a bride to provide an heir for the family instead. Reluctant as he was, Alexander knew he should marry and do his bit to secure the de Moray’s future. At twenty-seven, he was already past the age where most men took a wife. Even his younger brother, Iain, had gained a bride and fathered two beautiful daughters before his wife was tragically slain. Yes, it was time he thought about finding himself a suitable woman but, for tonight, Alexander was going to put thoughts of matrimony to the back of his mind. He had more pressing needs and the lovely Edith would serve those well enough.
Beckoning the buxom young blonde, he leaned back in his seat and studied her carefully as she approached him like a cat on the prowl. This was a woman accomplished in the art of seduction. The way she tossed her long, loosely braided hair over her shoulder and swayed those ample hips was enough to make his cock strain against the confining leather of his breeches.
“How may I serve you tonight, my lord?” The smoldering gaze she gave him made his pulse race.
“On your knees, lass,” he commanded. “You know what I like.”
Smiling with a coyness that was the result of years of practice, the young woman sank to her knees before him. She lifted his tunic and unlaced his breeches to free his swollen, erect cock. Eyeing him as though he was her last meal, she edged closer and took his impressive shaft into her mouth. She swirled her tongue around its purple head before pulling him in deeper. As Edith suckled on his flesh, he closed his eyes, so nothing would distract him from the delicious lapping of her wickedly skillful tongue.
Alexander let out a groan as she bobbed her head up and down in his lap. As she took his long, thick rod right to the back of her throat, Alexander sat forward and wrapped his fist in her hair. He anchored her firmly in place as he took control and began to pump his hips. The mewling sounds she made as he thrust into her mouth made his cock swell. As his movements became rougher, he looked down and watched as his shaft slid in and out between her welcoming lips. She swallowed enthusiastically as he jerked violently and spilled his seed down her throat.
As he pulled her up onto his lap, he saw his younger brother, Iain, striding toward them. His face was set into an even more grim scowl than usual and Alexander felt his heart sink. Still wearing his chainmail tunic, Iain had at least acknowledged the celebratory mood by removing his helm and sheathing his sword. Alexander knew he’d just returned from chasing down a band of rebel MacDonnells. They’d come from Lochaber to aid the former inhabitants of Dunstaffnage.
“Put the whore away,” Iain said, ignoring the shrieks of protest from Edith as he lifted her, none too gently, from his brother’s lap and dumped her in a heap on the floor. “You’ve business to attend to.”
“What business might that be?” Alexander got to his feet and started to lace up his breeches. He didn’t spare a glance for poor Edith who sat on the floor like discarded rubbish, cursing his brother’s ill treatment of her.
“The king wants to see you.” Iain gave an ominous laugh. “In the laird’s private chambers.”
“Aye, alright,” Alexander replied. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
“No, you need to come now.”
Alexander frowned, puzzled by the urgency in his tone.
“What about me?” Edith pouted.
“Oh, he’ll not be needing you anymore.” Iain’s lips curled into a wicked smile that put Alexander on alert. “The king’s found him a bride.”
Not waiting to see if his words had hit home, Iain strode off again, leaving Edith wailing on the floor and Alexander staring helplessly after him. For once in his life, he was too stunned to even move.
Castle Donnell, Lochaber, West Coast of Scotland, September 1308
She’d heard it said that curiosity killed the cat but, if that was truly the case, then Ailis MacDonnell would surely have departed this life years ago. Ever since she was a child, she had prowled the secret corridors of her father’s castle and used its hidden spyholes to learn about things the men would never dream of discussing with a mere female. Ailis hated to be left out. After all, at the age of eighteen and with an enquiring mind, she was every bit as capable as her older brother of understanding the ways of the world. It was just a pity that, as a woman, she could not put her knowledge to practical use.
She carefully lifted the loose stone slab from the floor by the bed in the laird’s chamber and pressed her ear to the grate. Ailis would be able to hear every word that was said in the room below. She knew, however, that whatever information she gleaned, it would give her no comfort. Even though nobody ever spoke to her about it, she was aware that the country had been gripped by war for many years. Every laird in the land had been drawn into the terrible bloodshed at one time or another.
It was now more than three weeks since her own father had stepped into the midst of the conflict by marching south with a small but formidable group of the clan’s best fighting men. He’d gone to stand with his cousin, John MacDougall, in defiance of the king and nothing had been heard of him since. The sudden flurry of activity in the Great Hall told her that something had happened. Although her brother had ordered her to go to the women’s solar with the other ladies of the household, Ailis had not been able to resist slipping into her father’s private rooms in the central building of the castle. She was desperate to discover what news there was.
Shifting her position so she could see into the room below, Ailis recognized the imposing figure of Niall MacDonnell, one of the clan’s fiercest warriors and a man she much admired. His return with only a handful of men from the dozens who’d set out together, and without her father, did not bode well. Like so many of the men, Niall seemed to carry his worries on his shoulders. Even from this distance and with the limited view the spyhole afforded her, she could tell that he was tense.
Standing next to him was her father’s closest adviser, Angus Munro, whose stooped posture might be owed as much to his advancing years as to a sense of defeat. Somehow Ailis doubted that old age was the cause. Given the agitated way her brother, Gregor, paced before the other men, she knew that something evil had befallen their clan.
“The weather delayed us too long,” Niall said. “Dunstaffnage was lost before we reached Ardchattan. Your father ordered us to turn for home, but the king’s troops caught up with us. Many fine men were lost, your father among them.”
Ailis raised a fist to her mouth to prevent herself from crying out. It wasn’t that she and her father were close, far from it. She’d always suspected that her physical likeness to her late mother had upset him. At times, her father had barely seemed able to look at her. She wondered if there was truth to the rumor that he’d hated her mother, that he’d thrown her to her death from the battlements. Whether that was the case or not, for as long as Ailis could remember, the great Lachlan MacDonnell had always had more important matters than his motherless daughter to concern himself with. Most of his attention had been given to his sons. It was only right, Ailis supposed. He needed to prepare them for the responsibilities they would one day assume.
No, it was not the loss of her father that shocked Ailis, but the realization of what that meant for the future of Castle Donnell and its people under her vicious brother’s rule. She feared what would happen to them and to her younger brother, Ruaridh, as well. Gregor had never had much time for the boy and, even though he was just a child, he might see him as a threat.
“So, I am laird now?”
Although she couldn’t see it, Ailis could imagine the avaricious gleam in her brother’s eyes at the thought of taking control of their rich and powerful clan. It made her shudder.
“Aye, you are,” Niall replied. “If you can hold the castle.”
From her concealed position, Ailis saw her brother’s hand shoot out to grab the collar of Niall’s tunic and haul him close. She knew that it was only respect for the title he now held that prevented the proud warrior from striking back against Gregor. Her brother was a cruel man, but ultimately a weak one and few of their people would revere him as they had her father. Despite his shortcomings when it came to her upbringing, Lachlan had been a decisive and just leader of Clan MacDonnell.
“What do you mean by that?” Gregor demanded.
“I’d have thought that was obvious,” Niall said, his voice steady despite Gregor’s provocation. “King Robert has branded your father a traitor and so his lands and castle are forfeit. He sent me back to tell you that he’s given them to Alexander de Moray.”
Ailis felt as though her heart had stopped beating as she heard a name almost as famous as the king’s, one that struck down even the bravest of warriors in fear.
“He hands my birthright to the devil himself?” Gregor released his hold on Niall and began to pace once more. He reminded Ailis of a cornered beast and she knew that when he felt threatened, he was at his most dangerous.
“Aye, and there’s more. He has also decreed that de Moray should wed…”
“My sister.” Gregor quickly reached the most obvious conclusion as Ailis stifled a gasp of horror. “Well, he is welcome to her at least.”
“You cannot mean that,” Niall protested.
“But I do. In fact, I cannot think of a more fitting punishment for her willful disobedience these past few years,” Gregor sneered. “Perhaps the brute will finally teach her a woman’s place.”
All her life, Ailis had known that her brother despised her, but hearing his callous remarks still cut her to the bone. The bonds of blood they shared should be enough to compel him to wish to protect her against such a fate. Ailis knew, however, that he would willingly sacrifice her if he could see any benefit in it for himself.
“But marrying her will cement de Moray’s claims upon these lands.” Angus spoke up for the first time. “If he takes her as his wife, the people will accept his right to rule over them more readily. They have a great affection for wee Ailis.”
As Angus himself did, Ailis knew. The kind-hearted old soul had always looked out for her welfare when her father’s neglect would have allowed her to wander into harm.
“Affection—hah!” Gregor scoffed. “They have a greater respect for custom and our tradition dictates that I take my father’s place.”
“So, you intend to fight Alexander de Moray?” Niall’s tone held more than a hint of derision.
“Aye, if I must.”
“It would be folly, Gregor,” Angus interjected.
“Laird MacDonnell to you, old man.”
Ailis was shocked but not surprised by the way her brother spoke to their father’s most trusted friend.
“Laird MacDonnell.” The older man bowed his head deferentially and Ailis wondered how much of a toll that gesture had taken on his pride. Few would be able to stomach having to grovel to Gregor. “I believe that it would be foolish to stand against de Moray. He has a great army at his disposal and the backing of the king. With the men we have left, we might be able to hold the castle for a day or two, but no more.”
“I know, I know,” Gregor said impatiently, although Ailis doubted that he’d been aware of the futility of trying to hold off an attack. Her brother wasn’t much of a strategist. “So, what would you have me do?”
Considering the contempt he’d just displayed toward the old man, Ailis seemed surprised that Gregor would seek his counsel. It was a sign, perhaps, that beneath his bluster, he was terrified of what might happen if he had to face de Moray’s army.
“You must leave here and seek the protection of our allies,” Angus said. “When you have amassed a stronger force, you can return and reclaim what is yours by right.”
“At last you speak some sense, old man.” Gregor paused as though weighing his next words carefully. “But I cannot go alone. Niall, ready what fighting men we still have. We leave at daybreak.”
Ailis saw Niall’s posture stiffen.
“Only the men who can fight, my laird?”
“Aye.” Gregor’s tone was one of impatience. “What use are the old and weak to my cause? What do I need with women and children who will do naught but slow us down?”
Ailis bit her bottom lip, hard enough to draw blood. So, the coward was going to seek his own way out and leave those less able behind to fend for themselves? If he had even an ounce of honor in those selfish bones of his, he would consider the safety of his people first. She could almost feel Niall’s anger at her brother, a sense of outrage she shared, vibrating on the air around him.
“And what of wee Ailis?” Angus asked.
“What about her?” Gregor sneered. “With any luck, de Moray will be so distracted by his virgin bride, he’ll not see us coming when we attack.”
“You cannot mean to let him have her.” Ailis could hear the disgust in Niall’s voice. “You’d not sacrifice your own sister?”
“Half-sister,” Gregor corrected coldly. “And I hardly consider it a sacrifice. Still, if you’re hell bent on it, you can stay behind and try to protect her virtue.”
“Aye,” Niall spat out. “That I will, and a dozen of my men as well.”
“Four men,” Gregor said, a hard edge to his tone. “You may keep four of my men.”
Ailis felt her heart sinking. A dozen men would have had little enough chance of holding the castle against an invading army but four had no hope at all. She expected Niall to argue, but instead, he nodded curtly and turned to march out of the room. Down below her, Angus held out his hands to her brother in some sort of entreaty. Then, seeming to decide that it was futile to try to reason with Gregor, he shook his head and walked away without uttering a word.
Suddenly alone in the Great Hall, her brother looked toward the ceiling and Ailis fell back into the shadows. Although she knew it was impossible, given the ingenious way the spyhole was disguised by the decorated ceiling below, she felt as though he was staring straight at her. Had he known that she was there the entire time? It made the things he’d said seem even more callous.
“Did you hear that, girl?” Gregor roared. “The devil himself is coming for you. Do you know what a man like Alexander de Moray does to sniveling little virgins? He’s going to split your worthless cunt in two!”
Her heart pounding in terror at the brutality in her brother’s words, Ailis scrambled to her feet and fled from her father’s chambers. She didn’t stop running until she’d climbed the stairs to the wall walk that joined the four towers of the castle enclosure together. Looking out through the crenellated battlements, her eyes were wild as they scanned the countryside. She imagined she might, at any moment, catch a glimpse of this formidable man striding out of the misty night to claim her. But, of course, there was nothing but an eerie calm.
Eyes filling with tears, she thought about her brother’s words and the fate that awaited her. What would Alexander de Moray, the devil incarnate, do to her? What had Gregor meant when he said those awful words? There was little privacy within the castle walls and she knew quite well what happened when a man and a woman lay together. She had never heard of anyone being torn apart during the act, though.
Gripped by fear of the violence Alexander de Moray might inflict on her, Ailis fell to the floor and drew her knees up to her chest. Her whole body shook, and she couldn’t hold back the great, convulsive sobs that heaved almost painfully through her. Somewhere deep inside, she acknowledged a little voice telling her she was going to have to be braver than this but, for now, she was going to allow herself a moment of weakness. Laying her head on her knees, she wept for the dark days ahead.
Castle Donnell, March 1309
Smoke drifted in on the wind. Ailis knew that it wasn’t from the burning homes of her people but from the fires in the enemy camp meant to keep the men warm as the evening air chilled and for them to cook their food upon. As she thought about them sitting around the fire, roasting a pig on a spit, her stomach rumbled. They might even have venison or a boar. Just the thought of it made her salivate. It was so unfair. Her enemies were probably out there enjoying a great feast while she was trapped within these walls wondering if her own belly would ever be full again.
In the distance, shouts could be heard but it didn’t sound to her as though there was any actual danger. Not yet, at any rate. It had taken the man to whom she’d been promised by the king seven months to come for her. Although he was now within striking distance of the castle, it seemed he was still in no hurry to claim his bride. In fact, he appeared to be making himself at home out there in the glen.
Ailis wasn’t sure whether she should feel grateful for the continuing reprieve or insulted that Alexander de Moray had not immediately stormed the castle’s poorly defended walls to carry her off.
Ten days ago, when de Moray and his impressive army were first spotted on MacDonnell land, Ailis had ordered that all the women, children, and old men be brought within the walls of the castle for their protection. She’d assumed that their homes would be burned, that innocents would be slaughtered, and everything laid to waste as de Moray sought to assert his authority. None of that had happened and, in truth, Ailis found it disconcerting that he hadn’t behaved as she imagined an invader would.
Although there had been no signs of aggression from the enemy, Ailis was still not sure that her people would be left unharmed, so they remained camped within the castle enclosure. Most had to sleep in the open air, but the most vulnerable had been given beds of straw indoors in the Great Hall. Conditions in the overcrowded bailey were deteriorating fast and, after a harsh winter, they didn’t have the necessary food stores to sustain them. Sickness was taking hold and people were dying. Hell had come to Castle Donnell and Ailis had to accept it was one of her own making.
Something had to be done about their situation. As Ailis passed the now empty stables, she thought about her brother. When Gregor rode out all those months ago, he’d taken all the horses and almost all of the weaponry. He’d also taken most of their stores of grain and much of the gold their father had accumulated during his time as laird. More than three dozen fighting men had gone with him, not out of personal loyalty to Gregor, but because they’d sworn an oath to protect their clan chief, no matter who held the title. The women, Gregor’s wife Edane included, had been abandoned to their fate along with the children.
Shrugging off bitter thoughts about her brother’s actions, Ailis pushed open the heavy wooden door of the tower. She began to climb the steep, winding staircase that would take her to the battlements. Running out of options to save her people, she knew that the time had come to be bold. As she came out into the open air, which seemed so much fresher up here than it was in the crowded courtyard, she looked around for Niall.
Spotting him over by the far wall, she began to move along the walkway toward him. At the sound of voices, she stopped and stepped back into the shadows. She pressed herself against the wall, where she knew she wouldn’t be seen. The warrior was not alone. There was a woman with him, whose face Ailis couldn’t make out clearly from this angle. Even in this fading light, however, she could see that the woman was naked. As she sank to her knees in front of Niall, Ailis felt a sense of unease that told her she should make her presence known. Even though she opened her mouth to call out a greeting, no words came from it.
Instead, she stood and watched in fascination as Niall tore his tunic off over his head to reveal a broad chest and the flat planes of his stomach. He quickly unlaced his braies to free his manhood. Ailis had seen a man’s body before, but never one like this. He was muscular, she’d known that, but seeing him in the flesh was a revelation. Every part of him was toned to perfection, the result of the rigorous battle training he underwent to ensure that he was always fighting fit.
As her eyes traveled downward, Ailis saw that the thing men referred to as a cock was jutting out proudly. It was hard, erect, and impossibly large. Ailis marveled that such an impressive rod could fit inside a woman’s body. Her breath hitched as the lass kneeling at Niall’s feet leaned forward and took his massive shaft into her mouth. She heard him groan and then he started to slowly move his hips, thrusting his cock between the woman’s lips.
Ailis raised a hand to her chest and felt her heart pounding. Although she’d witnessed the act of copulation before, she’d never seen people do anything like this. It was both horrifying and fascinating at the same time. She wasn’t sure how a man as honorable as Niall could do something so base, how the woman at his feet could bear to be used in such a manner. As Ailis listened intently, however, it seemed to her that the sounds coming from across the battlements were not anguished. In fact, the groans the woman emitted as she took Niall’s cock into her mouth seemed to signal that she was enjoying what was being done to her.
“That’s it, Maggie, lass,” Niall said in an encouraging tone. Ailis gasped in surprise as she realized that the woman at the warrior’s feet was her sister-in-law’s companion, Lady Margaret Baillie. “Take all of me.”
Ailis licked her lips as Niall cupped his hand behind Margaret’s head and pushed his steely shaft further into her mouth. As she continued to watch this strangely erotic act, utterly transfixed, Ailis felt that same stirring in her loins that she experienced whenever she thought about lying with a man. It was a tingle that started in her most feminine places and became a deep ache that she somehow understood would only be assuaged by the touch of a man’s hand.
She knew she should turn and walk away, that it was wrong to become aroused by the scene before her, but her feet would not obey her mind’s instructions. So, she just stood there staring, her cheeks growing flushed, her pulse racing. She bit down on her bottom lip as she imagined kneeling at a man’s feet and wrapping her mouth around his cock. Her heart fluttered at the thought of it and, for a moment, she wondered if there was something wrong with her that made her want to do such things.
Suddenly Niall drew his enormous shaft from Margaret’s mouth and hauled her to her feet.
“I need to be inside you when I spend,” he said, his voice urgent as he spun Margaret around and bent her over the lowest part of the wall. Wrapping his arms around her and taking her breasts in his hands, he thrust inside her. His movements looked rough, animalistic, and Ailis felt moisture pool at the apex of her thighs as she pictured herself in Margaret’s place.
“So wet,” he bit out, sounding as though he was having trouble forming words now.
“Only for you,” the young woman said.
Ailis looked on, mesmerized by what she was seeing as Niall drew his arm back and then brought the palm of his hand down on Margaret’s outthrust bottom. She shifted from one foot to the other, trying to dampen down the wild pulsing at her core as the other woman squealed and wriggled. Rather than trying to get away as Ailis thought she might, Margaret pushed herself back against Niall, seeming to want closer contact.
“Only for you, sir,” Margaret said, correcting herself.
As Niall praised the young woman and continued to thrust into her at an even faster pace, Ailis had a strong urge to lift her dress and slip her fingers between her own legs. Knowing it would be wrong to pleasure herself as she spied on such an intimate moment, she resisted the desire to touch herself. But, she couldn’t stop imagining what it would be like to be in Margaret’s position with a strong, muscular warrior pounding his cock into her welcoming body. Ailis felt a prickling sensation weaving its way to her core and then a clenching deep in her belly as she pictured herself being bent over like that and spanked on her bare bottom as she was thoroughly used. Would Alexander de Moray take her like that? Would he make her suck his cock and then fuck her as though both their lives depended on it? Ailis shook her head, barely able to believe that a part of her would welcome such rough treatment.
She blinked away those lusty thoughts as both Niall and Margaret yelled out sounds of ecstasy. There was a moment of stillness as Niall collapsed over his lover’s back. He wrapped his arms around her in what looked like a loving embrace before straightening himself up and stepping away from her. He helped Margaret, who seemed a little unsteady, to put on her gown and surcote and then stooped to pick his own tunic up from the floor where he’d dropped it. He threw it on over his head, laced up his leggings, and ran his fingers through his unruly red hair.
“You’d best be off, lass,” he told Margaret, “before you’re missed.”
Without a word, Margaret nodded, turned, and obediently hurried off inside. Thankfully, she chose to use the stairs behind her rather than coming back along the walkway, past the place where Ailis remained hidden. To be caught, flushed and breathless as she was after what she’d witnessed would be mortifying.
After a minute or so had passed, Ailis stepped out of the shadows, hoping that Niall was not aware she’d been spying on him. It had been wrong of her, she knew, to watch such a private moment between a man and a woman. Her curiosity about such things had always got the better of her.
“Niall.” Ailis raised a hand in greeting as she hurried toward him.
“My lady.” Niall acknowledged her presence with a courteous bow. “I didn’t see you there.”
“Oh, I just this moment arrived,” she said, a little too breezily. The narrowing of the warrior’s eyes told her that he didn’t quite believe her, but he offered no challenge to what she’d said.
“So, how might I be of assistance, my lady?”
Ailis cleared her throat, glad to get straight to the point. “We need to face facts.”
“Oh? What facts might those be, lass?”
Ailis smiled at how quickly Niall slipped back into more familiar terms with her. She had never taken on the airs of a great lady, as she might have done as the laird’s only daughter and she hoped she never would. There was something about the formality her sister-in-law seemed to thrive upon that she found stifling.
“Our food is running out and the people grow sick with hunger. There is death within these walls. You know Mairi MacLean’s babe died just this morning.”
“The child would have died anyway.”
Niall’s matter-of-fact words had not been meant unkindly. They both knew it was simply the way of things. The child had been sickly from the moment of his birth and there was little that could be done for him.
“Perhaps,” Ailis agreed, “but if we do not replenish our food supplies soon and allow the children to run outside and breathe fresh air once more, others will surely follow him to the grave. We have been enclosed within these walls for ten long days and yet de Moray makes no attempt to take the castle. I believe it is time for us to make a move.”
Niall scrubbed at his face and for the first time Ailis saw how weary the man was. He seemed to have aged greatly these past few months and she realized that she had asked a lot of him already. With Angus Munro away from the castle, accompanying Gregor on his quest to find allies to help him seize back his birthright, she didn’t have anyone else to lean on.
“So, what is it you would have me do, lass?”
“Go to Alexander de Moray and bid him welcome,” she replied with as much conviction as she could muster for a plan she suspected was akin to inviting her own destruction. “Throw open our gates and let him come.”
“You would have us surrender before a single blow is struck?” Niall shifted from one foot to the other as though suddenly uncomfortable. “You would surrender yourself?”
“There is no shame in it, Niall.” Ailis fidgeted with the sleeve of her tattered woolen gown, her fingers picking at the threads in the only outward sign of her uncertainty. “Not if we can save the lives of our people.”
“Are you sure it will save them, lass? He is not known as the devil for naught.”
“I realize he has a certain reputation,” Ailis said quietly, “but I do not think he will harm us. If he meant to hurt us, he would have done so by now, would he not?”
“I don’t know, lass,” Niall said. “I know the man only through the tales I have heard, and they are not pleasant.”
“What have you heard?”
“That he is utterly ruthless in battle,” Niall replied. “He puts down any insurrection with brutal force.”
“Those things are to be expected from a warrior, are they not?”
“Aye, perhaps, but he displays a fearlessness that few men possess and an ability with the sword that most envy. He is a hard man, Ailis, and from what I have heard, he shows no tenderness to the lasses either.”
Ailis gave a shrug of resignation, having never really expected to marry a man who would be soft and sweet with her. It was simply not the way of things that women like her married for love.
“Still, I want you to invite him in.”
“Very well, lass,” Niall agreed. “If you’re sure that’s how you wish to proceed.”
“I am. Thank you, Niall.”
The tall, red-haired warrior nodded and surprised her by reaching out to cup her cheek in his callused hand, more used to wielding a sword than showing compassion to a frightened young woman.
“You’re a brave lass, Ailis MacDonnell,” he said. “I’m proud of you.”
Not a man to procrastinate, Niall took his leave of her and Ailis knew that he would set out immediately to de Moray’s camp. She leaned over the crenellated wall and looked down into the sea churning violently below. She could only hope that Niall’s pride in her was justified, otherwise they might all be dashed to pieces like driftwood splintering on the jagged rocks below. Of that, she had no doubt.