Highlander’s Bewitching Healer – Maddie MacKenna

Cillian could almost feel the man’s heart beating through his chest as time slowed down. Life was the toss of a coin, and Cillian quickly flipped his sword, the blow incapacitating him but not killing him. I hope that my mercy does not come back to haunt me. Each death was not only a member of their Clan, but they were also a father, brother, husband, child. More arrows twanged as they pierced the ground beside him. Then there was peace, a brief respite from the din of war, and the breathing of those who were still alive could be heard. Cillian wheeled around; Dominic was down on his knees helping a wounded soldier, others were dragging men from the middle of the battle to the outskirts, but far too many lay motionless and devoid of life. “They’re regroupin’, and we’ve lost too many,” winced Dominic. “But, we’ll—” “Aye, we’ll fight,” finished Dominic before adding, “me Laird.” Cillian wiped the sweat from his head and sat down on a small clump of dirt. “Is it all worth it?” “They started it,” said Dominic. Cillian could not help but laugh at that. “Aye, that they did, and it needs to be us who finish it.” “The men are lookin’ to ye,” said Dominic. All for a few fields.

The Fields of Clannach had been MacPherson land for as long as Cillian could remember, and he often ran through the fields as a young lad, playing some war game with Dominic and the others, though how naive they were at the time in their imaginings of what war was like. Cillian knew that he would never have partaken in those childish games if he had known what he knew now. “Ye’ve followed me this far,” shouted Cillian. He took a step on to the small mound of earth and surveyed the men around him. A few were clambering to get to the group, but there were still at least a hundred good fighters with him. A look to the far end where the rolling hills disturbed the flat green showed a more buoyant group, numbering at least double theirs. “I ken that this seems like we are nae fightin’ over much,” continued Cillian. “It’s nae nothin’,” shouted someone. “Aye, this is our land!” “Aye, that may be true, but what we’re fightin’ for is nae just this land. We’re fightin’ for so much more.

We’re fightin’ for everyone, for the Clan, our children, our way of life. The Gregor Clan, misguided in their wisdom, I’m sure, are nae wantin’ this land because we have it. Nay, they want it to change how we do things. This battle is nae about givin’ up a wee bit of field; it’s about protecting what the MacPherson Clan stands for.” There was a cheer from the men, smiles returning to faces as the belief returned. Cillian looked down at himself, clothes ragged, leg scratched up. He wanted to call it a day and be done with the injustice of it all, but he knew that he would lead from the front, something which the other Laird did not. Cillian would not have it any other way. If he were going to take his men into battle, he would be the first one to fight. That was what had inspired the men so far, outnumbered and fading, but still protecting all that they held dear.

“Here they come,” said Dominic. “MacPherson!” shouted Cillian. “MacPherson!” The shout was deafening as hundreds of men came back together to clash one more time. There was desperation on everyone’s face; they knew that this was the final coming together, that most of them would not walk away from this. Cillian led the charge, flying into battle and stopping the first man in his tracks, a large brute with a flowing red beard. The ax came down from above, threatening to split Cillian in half, but what the brute had in strength, he lacked in speed and agility. Cillian ducked and rolled, moving under the ax and coming back to his feet to the side of the man. As Cillian looked up at the ax, moving away just in time, he could see a large black crow flying in the grey sky above. Oh, to be a bird and have the chance to escape from all of this. The bird sailed around in the sky, watching the battle below before flapping its wings and going off to find food.

Cillian thought about staying down, giving in to the oncoming defeat, but he was better than that. The ax hit the ground one more time, this time clanking against a rock buried just below the surface, and the collision sent a shudder up the man’s arm. The bearded warrior was tiring, and Cillian knew it, but a flash caught his eye before he could land a blow. His training told him never to take his eyes from his enemy, but his other senses were screaming. He did look, keeping the man in his peripheral vision and keeping enough space between them to dodge should the ax come close again. “No,” the gasp escaped Cillian’s lips, lost in the noise of the battle. Dominic was on the ground, sword in hand, but not enough time to raise it. Cillian acted on instinct. He jumped back as the ax came for his stomach, hoping to take a bite. Cillian launched his own sword through the air, not at his attacker, but at the one standing over Dominic, mace raised, ready to cave in Dominic’s skull.

The sword spun through the air as Cillian dodged another swing from the ax, huffs of breath coming with each swing. The sword hit the attacker, not piercing him, but enough to knock him off balance, and the mace landed within an inch of Dominic’s head. The attacker fell on top of Dominic, and, for a moment, there was no movement. As Cillian turned, his instincts kicked in again, and the dagger that was aimed at him was thrust toward an attacker from behind, downing the man before the short sword could do its damage. Another man went down, and Cillian’s eyes roved back toward Dominic, who was pushing up the man who had fallen on him, Dominic’s sword sticking out of his back. Cillian let out a sigh of relief at the sight and ran to help him as the battle raged around. He was almost there when the pain shot up his leg, through his stomach, and into his shoulder. Cillian stumbled and fell face first into the dirt, the dagger flying from his hand. His head knocked against a hard patch of ground and the light danced around. Dominic was there by his side, helping him up and shouting something unintelligible.

Cillian wondered if he had been deafened, the pain pulsing loudly inside. The world came back into focus, and he tried to shout out his commands, but could only wince and scream. Dominic was pointing, not for Cillian’s benefit, but for the men around him. “Get him off the battlefield,” Dominic ordered. Cillian looked down at his shin, and the pain came into focus when he saw the arrow sticking out of his leg. He reached down, moving his hand away from Dominic’s. He could feel the splintered bone beneath the skin, the mangled muscle, and the ever-present pain. He had every intention of pulling the arrow out, but the pain caused him to black out as soon as he touched the arrow. “Where’s me sword?” demanded Cillian as he came to again. “Get him out of here, now!” shouted Dominic.

Cillian could see more of the enemy soldiers approaching, Dominic whirling around to face them and keep his Laird safe. “Nae!” shouted Cillian. One more time, he tried to stand up, reaching out for his broadsword that lay on the ground only a few feet from him. The pain was unbearable, and the darkness came once again, blinking in and out of reality. He darted his hand out, but he was pulled in another direction. His head moved from side to side, rolling on his neck, not quite sure what was happening, a soldier on either side of him. Nae! Nae! Take me back! He tried to force the words out, but he could not, or he did, but he could not hear them. The Laird of MacPherson Castle was sucked backward, pulled against his will but unable to do anything else, the blood pumping through his ears, his heart beat slowing. Then the crow. It had flown down in front of his face.

He batted at it, but could not catch the bird nor move it, the flapping black wings obscuring his vision. Behind the creature, he could barely make out Dominic, who was on his knees, or was he the one fighting? Cillian could not be sure. Then a stab and a cry of pain, a cry that he had heard before when he and Dominic were children and his friend had fallen on a rock. The cry came again and turned into the cawing of the crow as the wings flapped faster, and the bird came straight for him. Cillian could not move this time, could not defend himself as the crow attacked, the darkness encompassing him. He took one final breath and gave into the darkness.

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