Laird MacPherson must die. Diana Montgomery reiterated the first priority of her assignment as she stood at the edge of an open grassy area, a quarter mile away from an unadorned medieval castle. As an agent of Time Weavers, Inc., it was her job to return history to the way it was before the Disruptors fiddled with it. In this case, she must ensure the chief of this clan died in the upcoming battle. She gazed at the square structure at the top of a gentle rise. It was a warm, sandy brown smothered in greenery, but whether it was covered in moss or vines, she couldn’t tell from where she stood. It exuded strength, protection, and longevity. Behind her was a forest, quiet and still, but the land in front of her bustled with activity, from the men walking the tall outer walls to the carts rolling through the tunnel-like entrance. What her mother wouldn’t have given to see this. Though Mom had been a professor of English literature, Sir Walter Scott had been her favorite author. She shook off the bittersweet memories. “So, this is what the Scottish Highlands really look like.” It was far more beautiful than the images of Scotland in the fourteenth century implanted in her mind by old Arthur, one of TWI’s support team. He sported a long gray beard that made her think of Merlin, and he treated her and the other agents like granddaughters.
His hypnotic eyes were his own form of magic, as they were how he transferred his research of time periods into their brains, which on her current assignment included the Scottish Gaelic language. As the most experienced of the five female time travelers now operating out of her family’s mansion on the New England coast, she’d been sent on this particular mission. In the twenty-first century, there was no longer a country called Scotland, or even Great Britain. As of yesterday, it was all New France thanks to the Disruptors, though only TWI’s employees recognized the sudden switch. The change had been so significant that even the land around her home, their district headquarters, was no longer owned by her and was cluttered with rundown houses. After her parents died two years ago, Stonehaven felt too large for one person, so she offered her home up to her fellow TWI agents, who were scattered across America. This gave her fellowship when she was actually home and more when the TWI staff also joined her, providing a warm sense of community like she’d never had. With this disruption, they were all lucky that her family’s ownership of the house hadn’t changed. It literally brought home how connected all events in history were as this was the closest the Disruptors had come to affecting her personally. She had a lot at stake.
She studied the area around her. Despite her training to be objective, she found it breathtaking. Everything was so vibrant—the green grass, the muddy road, even the golden stonework of the castle shimmered, as if in her time, after seven centuries of human life later, the world had been dulled with use. The Earth appeared fresh, renewed, which she hadn’t noticed with any other mission. Then again, it could simply be the country. She’d never been to Scotland. Sensing the pace of life, she started forward at a slow walk toward the road, but before she took ten steps, the ground beneath her feet vibrated and the sound of thundering horses roared closer. She ducked into the shadows of the tall evergreens to wait while a couple dozen men raced past, kicking dust and sod into the air. The group slowed as it approached the stone archway of the castle’s outer wall, and the carts stopped, making way for the new arrivals to enter immediately. Now what was that about? She rose from her crouch and walked toward the road again.
With old Arthur’s knowledge in her head, she maneuvered herself to blend in with one of the carts to avoid looking like she traveled alone. As she neared the entrance, the thundering sounded once again. The cart she walked with was pulled forward, and the great iron portcullis slammed down behind her. At least she was in. Now the serious work began. Even if her family’s land wasn’t at stake, she would have volunteered for this mission. This was no “hiccup” in history as they referred to all the previous fixes. This was a “gremlin,” which could cause serious problems in the future. Her unseen boss, Jules, was worried, and if her boss was worried, then she’d do all in her power to help. It had been Jules’s calm but sarcastic voice in her head that had made sense of her very first time-travel experience, and in a way, Jules had given her a new family and a new purpose.
She sidled her way along the outer defense wall until she reached what had to be the bakery. The smell of fresh bread wafted by her nose, causing her stomach to grumble. Oh, Shakespeare, she’d forgotten to eat before leaving again. If her head weren’t attached to her— “Why be ye on MacPherson land, and who be ye, stranger!” A voice boomed from above her on the castle wall. Her thoughts scattered, sending her heart into double-time as she froze in place. She glanced up, but the man who shouted faced the road and not her. She breathed again as her heart slowed in relief. A man outside the castle replied. “I am William of the Clan Comyn and I seek the traitor, Robert the Bruce. We have followed him for days, and he headed this way.
” A murmur ran through a group of men across the yard from her, not far from the side door of what appeared to be the castle keep. She studied them. More than a dozen stood around one who was obviously their leader. Holy Hamlet! It was Robert the Bruce, future king of Scotland! Goose bumps raced down her arms. He and his men must have been the ones who raced to the castle when she first headed toward the road. She’d never been this close to an historic figure. Usually, the Disruptors affected an unknown person’s life so that it changed more important events further along the timeline. Jules called it the “lynch pin theory.” Every assignment was ranked based on its influence over history. “Hiccups” were minor changes that TWI agents fixed to prevent further disruptions.
“Gremlins” were more serious with significant changes made within the timeline, and “situations” were the worst, causing a completely new future. They hadn’t had a situation yet, but this assignment had been categorized as a gremlin. Now she had an idea why. She was standing in the same yard as King Robert I himself, who was being hidden by Clan MacPherson. The man above her chuckled before replying to William, who remained shut out from the castle. “Aye, ye be on the man’s trail. I gave him hospitality not more than an hour hence, and he continued on his way.” The silence that followed heightened the tension in the courtyard. Her body vibrated with it, making her want to soothe the very air, a bit beyond her special ability. Her sensitivity to tension was her biggest weakness as a TWI agent, but her ability to calm was an asset.
None of the king’s men inside the walls moved, their faces turned toward the ramparts. “You gave a traitor food?” Outside, William was clearly not pleased. “Have you a sympathy for this man? I warn you, protecting him will only bring your clan misery.” She watched as the MacPherson man leaned back against the crenellation, his body completely covering one of the square gaps along the wall-walk, as if he discussed the morning’s hunt instead of the future of his country. With his back to her, she couldn’t see his face. Was this the laird of the clan? It had to be if he spoke for the castle. “Sympathy? Not for him. Perhaps, though, for ye because ye wear down yer horses and men on a fool’s quest. No one in the Highlands will point ye to the Bruce.” William chuckled.
“That is not true. You yourself just assured me of my direction.” “Ach, that is because the Bruce likes a bit of a challenge now and again. He asked me to do so, and so I have.” The MacPherson man disappeared from the courtyard side of the wall. She couldn’t see him at all. He had to be leaning over the front. His deep baritone voice exploded. “Now be gone!” The sudden change in tone made her jump. That definitely sounded like the head of a clan.
William, however, didn’t sound intimidated. “Despite your cocky confidence, I will hunt the traitor and bring him before King Edward to be torn limb from limb.” His words did little to ease MacPherson. “Listen well, Comyn. Don’t ye cross MacPherson lands again. I will not guarantee ye safe passage.” “Bloody traitor!” The lessening sound of horses’ hooves pounding the earth outside was clear in the courtyard, and she breathed a sigh of relief while just steps away the king’s men congratulated him on fooling the Comyns. Pushing away from the wall, she peered up for a better view of MacPherson. She needed to know what he looked like since he was her mission. But while she could see men on the battlement clapping him on the shoulder, the sun behind him kept his face in shadow.
No problem. She’d see him at some point in the next two weeks. First, she had to settle in so she could watch for a Disruptor. If she could discover her identity before the fateful battle, the gifted staff of TWI could possibly find the Disruptors’ headquarters and stop them once and for all. Energized by the possibility of success, she turned toward the bakery and stepped inside. … Torr MacPherson descended from the battlements and clasped arms with Robert the Bruce, rightful king of Scotland. “I doubt we’ll see any Comyn for at least a fortnight.” When he made to pull away, the king held on. “Thank you. Your family’s loyalty to me is humbling.
” Robert finally released his arm, and Torr stared directly at him. “It is our way.” He would protect his king with his life if he must. “But I know your sorrow. My own brothers dead and my wife and daughter captured by Longshanks.” Robert shook his head as if trying to rid himself of the sorrow that plagued him. “Have you heard aught of Carnach?” Torr suffocated the sharp pain that always tightened his gut at the mention of his lost family. First his father, then his two oldest brothers had been killed in the fight to put King Robert on the throne of Scotland. His brother Carnach, no more than a year his elder, was captured by the English king last year. His mother was fortunate not to have survived many years past his younger brother’s birth.
He shook his head. “If he is not dead, he will be soon and will join the rest of my family.” “I am sorry.” “As am I, but as long as their deaths were not in vain, then the MacPhersons are pleased to aid their king.” He looked over the king’s followers before returning his gaze to him. “Yer room is ready for ye, and yer men will find plenty of space to lay their heads in the Great Hall.” He smirked. “I sent twenty of my men to lead that Comyn on a merry chase.” Robert clapped him on the back. “Always one step ahead of the enemy.
I admire that about you, MacPherson.” “In the meantime, my men and I are scheduled to practice our battle skills. Yers are welcome to join us. Or if they would prefer a meal, my clanswomen will be pleased to oblige.” The king turned back to his men before answering. “I think sustenance would be preferred. We will join you later.” Torr bowed his head. “As ye wish.” Robert and his men meandered into the castle through the west tower while Torr scanned the courtyard.
“Kerr!” “Aye!” His younger brother emerged from the blacksmith’s hut. “Gather the men. It is time.” Kerr nodded and strode toward the stables where a contingent of MacPherson men stood. He studied his brother’s gait, his limp completely gone, the leg stronger. Last winter he’d thought he’d lost the last of his family when they found Kerr lying still beneath another clan’s dead horse, but the damn beast had actually kept the lucky sop from freezing to death, while Kerr’s wounded leg had lost little blood in the frigid temperatures. He would protect the king with all the strength he had in his body and every mote of wit he had in his head, but he couldn’t lose another family member. He wouldn’t allow it.