Bride of Mist – Glynnis Campbell

Banished… The harsh curse cut through the crisp air like winter’s icy breath. To Fergus and Morris mac Giric, not yet seventeen years old, abandoned to the rugged shores and wild woods of western Scotland, the punishment may as well be execution. Discarded by their laird in dishonor, they were exiled forever, never to return. Forgotten by the clan. Damned. Left to rot. And they didn’t deserve it. They weren’t the villains. It was Colban, that high-and-mighty foundling runt, who should have been cast out. Not Fergus and Morris. For shite’s sake, they were blood kin to the laird himself. But cunning Colban had found an ally in the laird’s young son. Morgan mac Giric had welcomed the filthy bastard into the clan as if he were a long-lost brother. The ten-year-old lads did everything together. Morgan trained with Colban.

Rode with him. God’s blood! Colban even supped at Morgan’s right hand, the place that had once belonged to Fergus and Morris. Like a conniving cuckoo, Colban had usurped their nest. And he’d begun to believe he was as good as they were. Young Morgan was too naive to see how the devious orphan had insinuated his way into the household. Too stupid to realize the kind of disgrace the whelp of a harlot would bring to the clan. Fergus and Morris, older and wiser, had simply taken it upon themselves to compensate for Morgan’s lack of good judgment. They meant to show Colban his place. Teach him that the nameless son of a whore could not assume their rank in the proper order of things. That he would never be their equal. Prove to the bastard, once and for all, that blood was thicker than water. And leave him with scars that would remind him of that for the rest of his life. But then Morgan had spoiled it all. He’d squealed to his father. Once he’d brought the laird their bloody whip and shown him the bastard lad’s bloody back, there was to be no forgiveness.

They never imagined Laird Giric would react so harshly. After all, they’d only given the lofty Colban what they deemed a much-needed lesson. Now they were banished for their pains. Banished. The laird had treated a nameless cur that had shown up at his door with more respect than two youths born of his line. And now they were nothing. Less than nothing. But if the incident had taught them one thing, it was that good fortune was seized, not won. If the son of a harlot could rise to greatness from nothing, so could they. So, seething with hurt and anger, cursing the name of mac Giric, Fergus and Morris christened themselves anew—the Fortanach brothers. Against his skin, close to his heart, Fergus wore the mac Giric clan badge to serve as a cold reminder of unhealed wounds. One day, they swore, no matter how long it took, they would seek retribution. Find a way to ruin the clan that had ruined them. Bury Morgan mac Giric. And destroy the mac Giric legacy forever.

Chapter 1 Castle Darragh near Ayr, Scotland Spring 1156, 10 years later Dougal mac Darragh had heard the rumors. There was a price on his head. His brother had put it there. For weeks now, Laird Gaufrid had offered a reward to any warrior in the clan who could bring Dougal down on the sparring field. He was sure his brother didn’t mean to have him killed. Gaufrid only meant to humiliate him. To punish Dougal for his own lack of self-worth. But the warrior facing Dougal now didn’t know that. He circled Dougal with murder and desperation in his eyes. Dougal couldn’t blame him. The man needed that reward money. Maybe for his family. For his bairns. For food. The trouble had started two years ago, when Dougal and Gaufrid’s father had died unexpectedly.

By tradition, the clan had chosen the oldest son as the new laird. But Gaufrid knew nothing of leadership. He was no more qualified to be a leader of men than a harlot was to be a nun. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t do sums. Too frequently, he found solace at the bottom of a bottle. And he was a poor judge of character, a fact made clear by the company he kept. Gaufrid’s closest companions were the Fortanach brothers, a pair of miserable vagabonds who’d ingratiated themselves to him shortly after the laird’s death. Dougal didn’t trust them from the beginning. Fergus and Morris Fortanach claimed no home. No history. No background. And they reeked of vice, intrigue, and mischief. But Gaufrid had been grieving for their father. Dougal didn’t have the heart to tear away his brother’s newfound friends in his time of need.

Perhaps if he hadn’t had his hands full, holding the clan together under his brother’s neglect, Dougal might have intervened sooner. But by the time he grew aware of the changes in Gaufrid, it was too late. The Fortanachs had already sunk their claws deep into Gaufrid’s malleable mind. Toying with his affections. Drinking with him. Whoring with him. Poisoning his soul. Using gushing flattery, freeflowing ale, and carefully chosen whispers, they bent Gaufrid to their will. Under their influence, Gaufrid gradually replaced his father’s once loyal soldiers with brutes and mercenaries gleaned by the Fortanach brothers from God knew where. Dougal devoted himself to protecting those harmed by his brother’s excesses and cruelty. The villagers. The servants. The crofters. But since Gaufrid was laird, Dougal had only limited power. When the Fortanachs’ exorbitant tastes quickly drained the Darragh coffers, Gaufrid—eager to fulfill their demands and prove his own merit and power—filled them again by raising taxes on the surrounding villages.

Gaufrid’s efforts were misguided, of course. Taxing the villagers didn’t buy their respect. It made them hate him more. What it did buy, however, was an army of bloodthirsty warriors willing to fight for the laird—to the death, if necessary—if it meant their survival. Which was why, when the warrior’s sword swept with killing force toward Dougal’s ribs, he responded in equal measure. He thrust up his targe with enough power to both knock away the blade and send the man stumbling backward into the dust. No sooner had one foe fallen than another came to take his place. And another. And another. Dougal defeated them all. But he felt no thrill of glory as he watched them depart from the field one by one, hanging their heads in disappointment. He felt grateful that he’d live to fight another day for what was left of his father’s noble legacy. He also felt the need to get away from the castle for a while. Leave the stench of hate and hopelessness behind. Fill his lungs with fresh sea breeze.

“Campbell,” he called out to the stable lad. “Saddle Urramach, will ye? I’ll stretch his legs today.” He’d ride out from the sea cliff to the countryside. Check on the crofters. There had been a christening at Kirkoswald this morn. He’d make an appearance on behalf of the laird. Give the new parents a wee gift of coin. Look after the villagers in whom his brother took no interest. “Congratulations, brother!” There was Gaufrid now. Drunk again. Already, and not yet noon. He leaned against the gate of the wattle fence that bordered the field, beaming, as if pleased by Dougal’s victory. Dougal knew better. Gaufrid’s smile might be indulgent. But his eyes simmered with long-burning, deep-seated, rumor-nourished resentment.

His brother wanted nothing more than to see Dougal soundly defeated. Only when Dougal was felled in shame would Gaufrid finally feel like he’d triumphed. Like he’d earned the lairdship. Like he deserved it. But they both knew Gaufrid wasn’t fit to be laird. Nor would he ever be. The brothers might be similar in appearance. Both had their mother’s coal black hair and their father’s keen blue eyes. They were striking enough to turn the lasses’ heads. They were tall and powerful in stature, with wide shoulders and commanding voices that demanded attention and deference. But in character, Dougal was nothing like his brother. Gaufrid was petty, greedy, foolish, insecure, and utterly lacking in empathy. A weak and wheedling bully. Nonetheless, he was the chosen head of the clan. He deserved Dougal’s deference, if not his respect.

Dougal acknowledged him with a nod. “M’laird.” The new maidservant, a timid, young red-haired lass, came up beside Gaufrid, bearing a cup on a tray. When she hesitated, Gaufrid seized her roughly by the arm, shoving her through the gate. “Well, go on. Can’t ye see our champion needs refreshment?” The lass blushed and stumbled toward Dougal. She slowed as she approached, eyeing his claymore with trepidation. She needn’t have worried. Dougal was nothing like his brother. He didn’t assuage his own inadequacies by browbeating others. And he would never raise his blade—or his hand—to a lass. To put her at ease, he laid down his sword and hauled off his helm. Scraping the damp locks of his hair back from his sweaty brow, he managed a disarming smile. “Merraid, isn’t it?” She smiled in pleased surprise. “Aye.

” There was an awkward moment of distraction as she stared up at him in wonder, almost as if she’d forgotten what she was doing. “Hand me the cup, lass,” he softly warned, “lest ye want to suffer the laird’s disapproval.” She blinked. “Och. Aye.” He downed the ale all at once. It soothed his dusty throat. But it couldn’t wash the bitter taste of injustice from his mouth. It was a travesty that maidservants like Merraid should have to cringe from the laird who was supposed to protect them. It was outrageous that warriors like those he’d just defeated were driven to murder to keep from starving. “Go on now,” he urged the lass. She was looking up at him with the sort of lovesick gaze that would only get her into trouble. As she scurried off, Campbell brought Urramach, saddled and ready, to the field. The destrier had shied at his last battle and was worthless in tournament. But Dougal didn’t have the heart to get rid of him.

Besides, the beast loved to run. Dougal took the reins, giving the horse a pat on the neck, and then narrowed his gaze at his brother. Ordinarily, the daily trouncing that Dougal gave the laird’s warriors tested Gaufrid’s temper. His eyes would glitter with rage. His teeth would grind with frustration. He’d try to wound Dougal with his sharp tongue.


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Updated: 15 September 2021 — 03:14

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