Healing the Broken Highlander – Ann Marie Scott

Kaiden McGregor unsheathed his sword and sent his horse into a swift gallop, his heart thundering in his ears. His shoulder length red hair was a mess and his bright blue eyes were trying to focus as the dense fog made it difficult to see beyond a few feet before him. But the sounds were enough for Kaiden to ensure he was going in the right direction. Adrenaline flowed through his veins as he gripped the sword hilt tighter, the horse’s hooves pounding in the dirt. He barely felt the chill of the wind as he raced through the wood, knowing that at any moment, he would be coming out into the clearing and in the heat of the battle. Battling was what he lived for. His father wanted him to take his rightful place as laird of their clan, but Kaiden didn’t see any sort of excitement in doing so. Tedious meetings with his advisors and listening to the squabbling of their clansmen were not things that he wished to do. He wanted to be in the heat of battle, the smell of blood and the groans of the dying addling his senses. Kaiden wanted to wield his sword like an extension of his body, cut down those that dare rise above the McGregor clan. His sword, his warriors; they were what drove him. He would always settle the score with the steel in his hand and not the words that his father liked to use. No, he was not ready to become laird. The trees parted, and some of the fog cleared. Kaiden slowed his horse as he surveyed the scene.

He could see the fight, his clan’s tartan swirling in and out of the fog. Kaiden dismounted in one swift move and struck down the charging Scot, his sword making clean work of the falling enemy before he was on the move once more. His muscles stretched with effort as he swung his sword repeatedly, taking down his enemies without hesitation. When he had told his father that he wished to be a warrior, his father had conceded, likely to keep Kaiden from asking so many times. But it was likely that Laird McGregor never imagined his son to be in the thick of battle like this, leading their warriors to a likely victory. “Mah lord!” Kaiden whirled around to see his second-in-command, Erik, standing before him, his sword coated with blood. “Wot?” he asked, wiping his brow with his hand. Erik arched a brow. “Wot are ye doing here? I thought we agreed—” “We agreed that I would lead the warriors,” Kaiden interrupted, pushing Erik out of the way so that he could take on the ensuing Scot. Their swords clashed as Kaiden stopped a death blow from coming down on his head, pushing the Scot back with a grin on his face.

“Ye think ye can win?” he bellowed, moving his sword into the other hand. “Ye think that ye can smite me?” The warrior didn’t respond, but instead charged toward him. Only he never made it. “Ye talk tae much,” Erik grumbled as his sword ran through the enemy’s stomach. The man went down with a grunt, but the two Scots were already moving away. “There are more coming from the north,” he continued, a frown on his face. “We will be surrounded in a matter of hours.” Kaiden gripped the hilt of his sword tighter. “If we dinnae stop them, then they will move tae the village.” All the warriors were on this battlefield, leaving the village largely unprotected.

It wasn’t what he wanted to do, but the sheer size of this clan had taken all the warriors that he had. “We cannae fail.” Erik nodded, the understanding dawning in his eyes. This was not just a battle, but the one that could have their clan’s future at stake. He reached out. “We fight until we cannae any longer.” Kaiden clasped the Scot’s forearm. “Until the end.” Erik cleared his throat and moved away, back into the fray, and Kaiden did as well, cutting their enemies down with a vengeance. The entire clan’s future rested on his shoulders.

With a roar, he swung his sword harder, letting all his anger come through his swings. This was not going to be the end. He couldn’t let it be the end. The McGregors would prevail. A tall, bulky Scot turned toward him, and Kaiden gave him a leering grin as he stalked in his direction. The Scot met Kaiden’s grin with one of his own, wielding his own sword in anticipation for the strike. These were the matches Kaiden thrived in, the ones that he felt true strength and power. There were no words shared, just the clang of their swords as they met in the midst of the battlefield. Soon, Kaiden’s arms were heavy under the constant swinging of the sword, sweat pouring down his back. The other Scot grunted under the exertion as Kaiden pressed him, kicking at his thigh to make the other Scot fall into the dirt.

He was winning. His momentary distraction in his thoughts made Kaiden overlook the Scot’s movements, and Kaiden roared as a searing pain shot through his left leg, the hilt of the sword lodged deep in his own thigh. He fell to the ground in agonizing pain, blood pouring out of the wound. “Ye were never meant tae be a warrior,” the other Scot said as he loomed over Kaiden, yanking the sword from Kaiden’s leg. Kaiden swallowed as he noted his own blood on the steel, feeling his body weaken from the blood loss. This was not how he had pictured his death to be. The other Scot grinned as he raised the sword high, the death blow impending. “Yer clan is no more, McGregor,” he stated before the sword hurled toward Kaiden’s chest. Kaiden whispered an apology to his father as he closed his eyes, waiting for the final blow that would take him to the gods. He had failed.

He had let down his father and his clan. “N 1 ay! Wot are ye doing?” Ferra McLeish frowned at the cluster of herbs she had in her hand, poised to fall into the grinding mortar she was working with. “I’m making a potion.” The clan’s healer, Sorcha, clucked her tongue disapprovingly. “Wot sort of potion is it this time, Ferra? The dying kind? That’s hemlock in yer hands, not anise.” Ferra frowned as she looked down at the cluster in her hands. “Och, I didnae realize it.” “Go on now,” Sorcha stated, her voice holding no admonition in it. “Wash yer hands well, lass. I dinnae want ye tae poison yerself accidentally.

” Ferra dropped the poisonous herbs on the linen cloth near the mortar and bound it up tightly, carrying it with her as she made her way through the hut and outside, where the air was heavy with recent rain. Ferra drew in a deep breath and ran her hand through her dark auburn hair, and a smile formed across her face. Her pale green eyes were filled with joy! She loved how everything smelled after a good rain. Things felt fresh, like a blade of grass popping up in the most unlikely place. After burying the hemlock so that no one else would find it, Ferra used some of Sorcha’s lilac soap to wash her hands, dredging them in the cold water a few times so that she was certain she got the remnants off her skin. She didn’t know what had possessed her to mix up the two herbs, as she had always been so careful in the past. Perhaps she was growing lax in her attention to detail. After Ferra’s hands tinged blue in color, she wiped them on the cloth next to the basin and walked back into the hut. For years she had been visiting the healer, learning all that there was to know about the art of healing others. At first, Sorcha had been against teaching the laird’s daughter her trade, but since she had no other apprentices, Ferra had finally worn her down.

The hut was the very picture of what Ferra hoped to have one day, from the drying herbs hanging from the rafters to the ever-present smell of lilacs clinging to the air. While Sorcha didn’t require coin for her services, her patrons saw the need to give her payment nevertheless. She always had an abundance of rations, clothing, and trinkets being left at her door. But that wasn’t the reason that Ferra wished to be the clan’s healer. She wished to help others, to feel the success flooding through her veins at bringing a bairn into this life or helping another remain here for a few more years. Healing gave her purpose, and when they did lose a member of their clan, she mourned harder than most, her mind wondering if there was something that she could have done differently to prevent their demise. Sorcha had often told her that she couldn’t save everyone, but Ferra liked to think she could. Sorcha looked up from her worktable as Ferra picked up her pestle. “I wilnae let it happen again,” Ferra stated. “’Tis not like ye, Ferra,” Sorcha sighed.

“Is there something else ye are needing tae discuss?” Ferra gripped the pestle in her hands, feeling the smooth wood that had been worn from many years of use. “’Tis mah da. He wishes tae speak tae me.” “Ah,” Sorcha replied, understanding dawning. “Ye’re worried this time.” Ferra drew in a breath. She had just reached the twentieth year of her life, and by all accounts, should be wed with a passel of bairns clinging to her skirts. Why her father had not forced his hand until now was a surprise to Ferra, but she imagined it was because her other sisters had already fulfilled the duties of begetting grandchildren for them. Her sister, Garia, lived on McDougal land with her husband and their bairns. Her other sister, Breta, also lived on McDougal land, though her home was in the McDougal keep instead of a hut in the village.

Both of her sisters had wed hardened warriors, and both were known to be the apple of their husbands’ eyes as well. Ferra visited them often, if nothing more than to revel in the love they had both found and the bairns that were the product of that love. “Aye,” she finally said. “I’m worried.” Sorcha braced her hands on the worktable. “’Tis only a matter of time, lass. Ye are a laird’s daughter, after all. Ye are bound tae have tae wed.” Ferra closed her eyes after hearing those words. When she was younger, she had thought about her own bairns someday, a house she would keep, and a faceless Scot that would become her husband.

But as she grew older, Ferra realized there were other loves she had, namely the art of healing, and her dreams of a family faded into existence. “I dinnae wish tae be a wife,” Ferra said firmly. “I wish tae be a healer.” Sorcha chuckled as she returned to her work. “I dinnae think ye will have much tae say aboot yer future, lass, but ye can be both, ye know. There’s nothing stating ye cannae.” That would mean she would have to find a husband that was willing to have a wife as a healer, and Ferra doubted that many would allow their wives to have a trade instead of just begetting bairns. She had come here today to get her mind off what her father might say, but in worrying about their meeting, she had nearly made a grave error. It seemed the only way to move past this day was to face it head-on. “I must go.

” “Of course,” Sorcha replied, not looking up. “Whatever he says, Ferra, doesnae mean that ye must settle for only that course. A course set is meant tae stray when the timing is right.”

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