Highlander’s Lost Heir – Fiona Faris

Two figures stood on the rocky outcrop, silhouetted against the starlit sky, overlooking an encampment in the valley below. A slumbering sentry could be seen by the glowing embers of a dying fire. One of the figures motioned to his companion to duck down beyond the camp’s line of sight. With their backs pressed against the hard ground and tufted grass that littered the Highland hills, the shorter of the two whispered to the other, “What do ye propose to do now, Broehain?” His tall companion bent his head closer so that no word of their conversation would be heard in the camp below. “We must bring our men nearer and strike at dawn, Ragnall. ” “What about the sentry? Will he nae be awake and alert by that time? Should we nae take our luck in both hands and make our attack immediately?” Ragnall furrowed his brow, trying to remember the battle strategies his father had taught him. Broehain bent his head in silence as he gave the matter his full attention, and in his mind, played out different scenarios. His companion did not interrupt his train of thought – he was used to Broehain quietly weighing up the consequences of his actions. After many minutes, he turned to Ragnall, his mind made up. “We should strike at dawn. It will give us time to better position the men. Having made it undisturbed through the night, the brigands will have their minds on breaking their fast, nae posting guards.” Broehain waited to see if the plan was to his cousin’s liking. When he saw Ragnall’s handsome face slowly break into a smile, he continued speaking. “We must water and tether the horses where we lie.

They will nae give us the advantage on such a steep descent. Do ye agree, Ragnall?” “Aye, Broehain. ‘Tis well thought out. Let us get back to the men an’ see to it.” The cousins quietly made their way back down the hill, rapidly jumping from rock to rock in silence. As they approached their hiding place, Ragnall placed two fingers inside his mouth and made a thin whistling sound, precisely like the birdcall of the Highland nightjar. The soldiers were waiting attentively back at the camp. They recognized the captain’s call and lowered their spears and crossbows. Ragnall and Broehain moved calmly amongst the men explaining how they would proceed. Ragnall would give a man his order and move onto the next soldier.

Broehain followed behind to make sure the orders were understood and to answer any questions. The eastern sky began to lighten over the two captains readying the small troop for the skirmish. The men did not look much like cousins. Broehain had an imposing stature. He stood over six feet and three inches tall in his black leather boots, with broad shoulders and slim hips. His muscles, lean and hard from years of sword training, could not be hidden by his clothing. His green eyes and strong jaw set him apart from every other man. However, those same green eyes were usually reading a book when he was not busy ridding the countryside of brigands. Ragnall had never grown up in Broehain’s shadow, despite his cousin’s formidable height. As the son and heir of the Laird of the Ewing clan, and commander of his father’s armies, Ragnall never let his lack of stature get in the way of his ability to win his battles or hunt.

His stocky frame was as muscular as Broehains – and his eyes were blue enough to make many a lass turn and stare as he passed by. Both men looked grim as they tightened their broadswords and plucked at the taut strings over their crossbows. All the men watched Ragnall, and at his sign, began to make their way back up to the outcrop. Every metal stud and embossed sword sheath was swaddled in plaid and leather to smother any sound of their approach. The men moved in deadly silence towards the brigands’ camp. Down below, there was much evidence to show the lawbreakers were waking and stirring. The slumbering sentry was bending over the campfire, stirring fresh logs with his foot and fanning the smoke away from his face. Men gathered at a stream to remove their leather jerkins and dented breastplates to wash the sleep from their eyes. Ragnall shouted, “Forward, ye all, for the glory of the king and me faither! Death to all that live outside the law!” The men thundered down the steep hill. With swords raised and crossbows twanged, the battle between lawmakers and lawbreakers had begun.

The camp was surrounded, and the brigands swiftly realized they had no chance of escape. Each man decided to die by the sword or wait for the hangman’s noose. Most chose to fight to the death. One by one, they fell. Broehain and Ragnall fought side by side as they had since training with wooden sticks as children. Each had the other’s back as they cut a swathe through the deadly melee. Inch by inch, they made their way slowly to where the outlaw chieftain was attempting to fight his way across the stream. A group of mangy ponies was grazing a few yards away, and he had spied a possible escape route. Broehain broke into a run. Slashing out at the brigands on either side, he sprinted towards the chieftain – Ragnall was not far behind.

Seeing a towering Highlander in full battle dress charging toward him, the chieftain dropped his sword and raised his hands into the air. Broehain thought it a good idea to take the man alive; he could be interrogated regarding his allies and stashes of coin and jewels. Lowering his sword, he turned to see how the rest of the battle was faring. Quick as a flash, the chieftain drew a dagger out of his jerkin and flung it straight toward the back of Broehain’s head. Ragnall was only a few feet away, and lunged towards his cousin, tackling him to the ground just as the dagger whistled overhead. Without stopping to see how Broehain fared, Ragnall jumped up. With one fell swing, the chieftain’s head hit the ground next to where Broehain lay. The two men looked at one another for a brief second, the sweat of close combat and adrenalin still marking their faces. “Ye will catch hot water from our auld martial teacher when he finds out ye turned yer back, Broehain!” Ragnall joked to diffuse his emotions. Broehain pulled himself from the mud, a rueful look in his eye.

“I trust ye nae to tell him, Ragnall. He would box me ears harder than a mountain troll if this were to get out!” The men began to laugh as the triumph of victory replaced the narrow escape. All around the encampment, brigands lay on the ground, the soldiers standing proudly over them. Broehain clasped Ragnall by the hand and drew him closer into an affectionate, brotherly hug. “Ye saved me life, Ragnall. I stand forever in ye debt. If by doin’ any deed or action I can repay ye, I swear I’ll do it.” Ragnall shrugged his shoulders and laughed it off. “’Tis to be hoped that I never require ye to pay that debt. I plan on stayin’ quiet in the castle for many a day after so many months on the road.

” He reached up to slap his cousin on the back. “Come. Let us away to the horses. I must send a messenger back to me faither to relate our good news.” The two men turned and began to make their way back through the camp together. “I cannae wait to tell Aileen about our adventures these past months,” Ragnall said to his cousin between ordering his men to sift through the baggage the brigands had left behind. “She will be green with envy that we saw so much action – an’ she left behind to sew samplers and brew potions.” “Aileen has always been a headstrong lass,” Broehain agreed. “We must make all haste to see the little one upon our return, and tell her our story.” Broehain thought that the days of Aileen’s wishes to fight battles and wield a sword were fading quickly into the past.

When they had said their farewells to her last year, she had shown more interest in the townhall dance that May than yearning to accompany her closest playmates on their quest. With many days of traveling back to the castle ahead of them, Ragnall gave orders to half a dozen men to stay behind and strike the camp. The rest of the company mounted their horses and rode slowly alongside the carts full of the spoils of war. The castle pennants were blowing gayly in the brisk spring air as the Ewing stronghold came into view. Ragnall’s father, Laird Oswald Ewing, had ordered the turrets and towers to be decked in bright banners and bunting for the return of the men, announcing yet another victory for the Ewing clan. As the carts and horses made their way up the coastal road towards the castle’s portcullis, the Laird stared out of the balcony on the second floor. He waited to catch a glimpse of his son leading the triumphant procession into the courtyard. There was an atmosphere of resigned depression amongst the villagers lining the road as ordered. Laird Ewing imposed punishing taxes on the people he ruled over. His aggression and need for constant acclaim rose with every military success his son brought home.

Ragnall and Broehain strode into the great hall side by side, and the Laird frowned from his raised platform. It seemed to him that Broehain was always trying to act as an equal to his cousin. It was not so much the man’s superior height that irritated the Laird as the fact that with his piercing green eyes, noble brow, and dark red hair, he cast shade over his cousin’s cheerful, charming countenance. “How fare ye, faither?” Ragnall called out across the great hall as he sauntered casually across the stone floor. “Well enough, ye careless scamp. I hear from the messenger that ye waited ‘til dawn before pouncing on those scoundrels. ‘T’was a dangerous strategy, but all’s well that ends well.” “I gave the matter careful consideration, Sire,” Ragnall grinned. “An’ at the end o’ the day, it was me own life that was on the line, nae so?” “An’ the life of me soldiers!” The Laird roared. His anger simmered just as soon as it had started.

“I have a feast planned in yer honor, my son. I have gathered chieftains and Lairds to pay homage from near an’ far. They will be in attendance here this night.” “Are Helga and Aileen invited?” Ragnall asked. Broehain lifted his head at the question. The Laird sighed, “Me messengers have lately been sent on higher errands, Ragnall. So the healer has nae yet received an invitation to the feast.” On hearing this, Ragnall turned on his heels and began to stride out of the hall with some haste. He called out over his shoulder to his cousin, “Hurry, Broehain. Let’s race to the village to see Aileen! Adieu, Faither.

Thank ye for the welcome.”

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