Reckless Highlander – Elizabeth Rose

From the ashes of vengeance and retribution, a legend is reborn. The king of England was closing in fast. Reed was the only one of the triplet bastards still immune to the wiles of their birth father, Edward III. Twice now, King Edward III had succeeded in turning Reed’s brothers into naught more than simpering dolts. Not long ago, they’d all worked together to raid the king – vowing vengeance on the father who wanted them killed at birth. But now his brothers, Rowen and Rook, paid allegiance to the man instead. Mounted atop his horse, Reed led his small army back toward the catacombs where his brother, Reed, had recently lived. The stab of betrayal tore at his gut and his vengeance now found a new home – against his brothers. Never had he thought Rook would turn against him the way Rowen had done. But he’d seen it with his own eyes. Rook jousted to try to win Lady Calliope’s hand in marriage, knowing all along he was planning on accepting the king’s deal instead of remembering why they were there – to raid him. Once a team with his brothers and known as the legendary Demon Thief, they raided from Edward to pay back the misery he’d bestowed upon his own bastard sons. Now the tide had turned and Reed felt like a ship lost at sea with no way home. “Reed, slow down,” said his good friend, Gair, riding Rook’s horse. Reed wasn’t about to leave his brother’s horse at Naward Castle while he watched the traitor get married and be knighted.

Rook would have wealth, a castle, a title and a noble wife now. None of these things motivated Reed. The only reason he raided was to get back at his father. He never even kept the pilfered goods, but instead gave them to the MacKeefe Clan in the Highlands where he’d been living with Ross for the last ten years. Ross had been the only father he ever knew. Never would Reed accept Edward as his father. “I canna slow down. I’m too angry,” spat Reed. “But the men are on foot and carryin’ trunks and barrels and all the goods we’ve stolen from Edward.” Reed glanced back over his shoulder at Naward Castle where the huge celebration was still in progress.

He didn’t see Edward’s soldiers coming after them yet. Then again, what started out as a jousting competition to win a lady’s hand in marriage ended up as a horrific melee. “All right,” said Reed, slowing down. “Edward’s men havena come after us yet. But ye better believe that it willna be long before they come lookin’ for the king’s goods.” “Then we need to get back to Scotland as soon as possible,” said Gair. “Aye.” Reed nodded, wondering just how they were going to do that. Brody, Rowen’s first mate when he was a pirate, had given them a ride here on the Sea Mirage. But Brody wasn’t willing to raid with them since he thought that would be betraying Rowen.

It was sickening the way Brody was still loyal to Rowen. Rowen wasn’t a pirate anymore and, yet, Brody acted as if they were still good friends. Reed’s red kite shrieked from above him, making a quick circle in the sky before the hawk headed back to the catacombs. His brothers’ birds were nowhere in sight. It seemed odd – and lonely. “Mayhap we can hide in the catacombs until we secure transportation back to Scotland,” suggested Gair. Gair was a short man with red hair like Reed. He had been one of Reed’s closest friends growing up in Scotland. Gair lost his family the night of Burnt Candlemas, just like Reed had. As Edward pillaged and burned the lands, Reed and his brothers were separated, taking them ten years to find one another again.

Reed had gone to live with Ross in the Highlands. Gair, being all alone, had joined them. “Nay, it willna be safe since Rook is now against us,” said Reed. “He kens the catacombs and we dinna. Even if we hide deeper in the mazes, he’ll find us or we’ll get lost.” “What will we do?” asked Gair, looking at their small army of less than two dozen men. Reed noticed a few men missing. They were most likely dead inside the gates of Naward. “A few of us will stay behind to distract the soldiers when they come for us,” Reed told him. “The rest will head to the coast with the bounty.

Mayhap now that we have coins and goods, we can buy passage back to the Highlands.” “We’ll need a horse and cart to get to the coast,” said Gair. “The villagers have a cart,” said Reed. He remembered seeing it earlier. “We’ll send these two horses along to get our men there faster.” “We?” asked Gair with a raised brow. “Aye. I figured ye, Odar, and Murray, would stay with me while we sent the others ahead.” Gair hesitated before he shook his head slowly. “I willna let anythin’ happen to us,” Reed promised.

“I believe ye,” said Gair. “Ye’re like a brathair to me, Reed. Ye’re also the only family I have.” “Then ye’ll do it?” “I will. But still, I dinna understand ye.” Sadness showed in Gair’s brown eyes. “Ye saw yer sister, Summer, at Naward. Didna ye want to talk with her? I’d give anythin’ to see my sister again.” He hung his head in sorrow. Reed felt his throat tighten.

He’d seen Summer, Lady Cordelia’s lady-in-waiting. Lady Cordelia was Rowen’s wife. But Reed had stayed silent in hiding under his cloak as he prepared to steal from the king. He’d also seen all his sisters – or cousins as they really were – along with their mother, Annalyse, at Rowen’s wedding. It did make him long for the days when they’d been children. Those times were simple and so much happier. Still, anger pushed through his body. All he could think of was how he wanted to kill Rook and Rowen right now for abandoning him. “Gair, all that matters right now is gettin’ these men and the goods safely to Scotland. Lead the men to the village.

I’m goin’ to double back and make sure no one is followin’ us. I’ll bring up the rear.” “Aye, I will,” said Gair, turning his horse around to talk to the men. Reed nodded at the Scots that had risked their lives to raid with him today. They followed him loyally, never questioning his word. At one time, each of his brothers also had a small army following them. But Rowen had deserted his pirates when he married Lady Cordelia. Rook’s mercenaries, on the other hand, had all left him when they weren’t paid. Reed didn’t have the means to fight Edward much longer. Then again, if he had to, he would die trying.

Chapter 2 A few hours later, Reed headed to the catacombs with Gair at his side. Murray and Odar stood watch, waiting for Edward’s men to arrive. The sun was low on the horizon. Soon, nightfall would be either their ally or enemy as the four of them did their best to distract the soldiers and give the Scots more of a head start to escape to the coast. “Why havena they come for us yet?” asked Gair, sounding very nervous. “And how will we distract them without losin’ our lives in the process? We dinna even have a horse anymore.” “Dinna worry. I’ll think of somethin’.” Reed’s stomach growled, reminding him he needed food. He headed toward the secret room in the catacombs where his brother, Rook, had lived amongst the dead.

“Let’s get some food into our bellies first. I’ll think better that way.” “I dinna believe ye have a plan at all,” said Gair, following him in the dark. “Ye acted recklessly again, and didna think things through. And where are we goin’ in the dark?” “I’m gettin’ us food.” His stomach growled on cue. He reached around the large stone door, searching for the secret lever to the hidden room, but couldn’t find it. “Reed, there’s still time. Why dinna we catch up to the others?” “Nay. We’ll stick to the plan.

Now stop worryin’ like a lassie, will ye?” His fingers ran across something cold and smooth. He pulled it upward and, sure enough, the stone door slid to the side. “What’s that noise?” Gair jumped backward. Reed heard him unsheathing his sword. “Put that thing away before ye take out an eye,” warned Reed. “We’re at Rook’s secret lair. He’s got food in here, I’m sure of it.” Reed pushed open the heavy wooden door that had been revealed, reaching inside until he found what he needed. As he lit the candle, the room glowed orange to reveal that his brother had lived like a king instead of a pauper in the crypts. The room was lined with a wooden floor and the walls were whitewashed.

On the far wall was a mural of a knight jousting. Reed snarled at it, as it only reminded him of his traitorous brothers. Holding the lit beeswax candle, he made his way past the large bed with velvet curtains. When he got to the table with the chess game, he put the candle down. His eyes darted over to the marble figures of the game. Each of his brothers depicted a piece on the game board. Reed was the rook – the castle. He blew air from his mouth in a small phft noise as he thought about the irony of it all. He didn’t even have a castle! Rowen was the knight. Although it seemed the knight should have been represented by Rook since he was the brother that had dreamed of being a knight ever since they were children.

Instead, Rook was the bishop – since he lived in the ruins of the priory. And while Reed’s piece was the castle, he didn’t feel it was correct. He’d never cared about living in a castle. He was happy living with Ross and the MacKeefe Clan in the Highlands. That was his home now and he wanted to get back there as soon as possible. “Where’s the food?” asked Gair, dragging him from his thoughts. “In here.” Reed reached over and pried the lid off a barrel. He dipped his hand inside and had to reach down to the bottom to find anything at all. When he pulled his hand up, he clutched a rotten, moldy apple.

“What the hell!” He whipped it across the room in aggravation, hitting a rat that had followed them into the room. The rat squeaked and ran out the door. “Try that one,” said Gair, pointing to another barrel. Reed ripped open barrel after barrel desperately looking for something to eat. When he was done, he had only some dried beef, a few dozen salted herrings, and a handful of sweetmeats – dried fruit. “Mayhap we can see if the villagers will give us a meal,” suggested Gair, looking at the small offering of food Reed placed on the table. “Damn Rook,” spat Reed. “How did he let his coffers get so low?” “There is plenty of wealth in this chamber,” said Gair, surveying the items in the room. “We should have sent some of these things with the men.” Gair walked over to the hearth and picked up a golden chalice to inspect it.

“We’ll take these things ourselves.” Reed pulled out his dagger and hopped up onto the bed and started to rip down the velvet bed curtains. “We’ll use this to carry whatever we can. Throw it all on top and we’ll wrap it up.” “Ye’re stealin’ from yer brathair?” asked Gair, squinting one eye and cocking his head. “Ye’re damned right I am. The way I figure it, Rook owes me this, after betrayin’ me. And once we’re back in Scotland, we’ll get a big enough army together that we’ll come back and steal from first Rowen, and then Reed, and then Rowen again.” “What about the king?” “If he gets in the way, we’ll steal from him as well. But my brathairs and goin’ to ken that I dinna take betrayal lyin’ down.

” “I’ll get the chessboard,” said Gair, reaching out for the game on the table. “Nay, leave it.” Reed stopped him. “Why?” asked Gair. “We could get half a crown or more for this.” He picked up a marble bishop and ran his fingers over the smooth surface. This was the piece that represented Rook. He should sell it. Gair was right. But something about taking the chess game just didn’t sit right with Reed.

It was a game he and his brothers had played since childhood. Ross had taught them. Out of the three brothers, Reed had always been the best at it. He could remember where the pieces were without even looking at the board if he so chose. They’d all spent many wonderful times playing the game and he would never forget the bond between them. Nay, he didn’t want the chess game. He had his own back in the Highlands. “Reed, they’re comin’,” shouted Murray, running up to the open door with Odar at his side. “Edward’s men?” Reed’s hands stilled on the bed curtains. “Aye,” answered Odar.

“They’re marchin’ this way from Naward.” “Ready yer weapons,” said Reed, jumping off the bed. “We’ve got to lead them on a wild goose chase to give the others time to get away.” “There’s too many of them,” exclaimed Murray. “Reed – there are at least four dozen men against the four of us. There’s nothin’ we can do. Let’s run.” “Nay! We’ll no’ run.” Reed took the candle and headed out of the room. He stopped in front of a large stone sarcophagus.

“My brathair has extra weapons we can use.” He handed the candle to Gair and proceeded to push open the stone lid. The other Scots peered over the edge to look inside. It was empty. “Where?” asked Gair. “I dinna see a thing besides that big, ugly spider.” “Damn. Rook must have given them all out when we went to raid Naward.” “It’s a bad omen,” said Gair, shaking his head. “We need to go.

Now.” “Go where?” asked Odar. “In another few minutes, Edward’s men will be everywhere. I dinna care to lose my life over this.” “Me either,” said Murray. “I think we should run as well.” “Nay!” Reed slammed his hand down atop the sarcophagus. “Are ye men or mice?” he spat. A rat crossed over Gair’s foot just then, making him jump back, dropping the candle. The flame extinguished.

“We’ll split up,” said Reed. “We’ll keep showin’ our faces. When they come for one of us, we’ll disappear, and another of us will pull them the other way. We’ll do it long enough to give the others a good head start and then we’ll join them.” He led the way out of the dark catacombs with the others right behind him. “I got a bad feelin’ about this,” said Gair, pulling his sword from his sheath. In the light of the moon, Reed saw Edward’s soldiers marching slowly toward the catacombs. He half-expected Rook to be leading the way. Reed’s red kite squawked from atop the ruins, flapping its wings excitedly. Reed listened for the sound of Rowen’s osprey or Rook’s raven, but didn’t hear them.

So his brothers weren’t going to be here to guard his back. They’d deserted him and, this time, it would be forever. “Go!” shouted Reed, lifting his sword high in the air with his dagger in his other hand. “Buaidh no Ba!” He cried out the MacKeefe war cry before rushing straight for the troops. “Gair, are ye ready?” he shouted, making his way over the ruins, climbing atop a rock to make sure he was seen. “Ready,” shouted Gair from the opposite direction. He looked over to see his friend standing atop a crumbling wall. “Odar, Murray, where are ye?” shouted Reed as the troops came closer. “I’m over here and Odar’s headed toward the village,” shouted Murray from behind him. Reed’s fingers gripped tightly to his weapons.

The anger he held for his brothers made him want to fight each and every one of these men by himself. But Murray was right; there were too many. To stay alive, they would have to lead the cat and mouse chase without actually having to fight, and without getting caught. “I’m over here,” shouted Reed, making his presence known. One of the soldiers pointed toward him and they turned in his direction. Reed waited until the last minute, then called out Gair’s name. As Gair made his presence known, Reed jumped over the rocks and disappeared, backtracking back to the church of the priory. His green plaid would be seen easily in the moonlight. He wished he’d not discarded his cloak that he’d used as a disguise when they’d raided Naward. He heard Murray cry out next, and the soldiers split up.

Then he heard Odar. When Reed poked his head out from behind a crumbling wall, he saw his friend doing something he hadn’t been told to do. Odar must have gone crazy because, instead of pulling back, he raced forward with his sword drawn, right into the midst of the soldiers. “Nay! Pull back, Odar,” cried Reed, but it was too late. Odar swiped at one guard after another and, in defense, they struck back. Odar fell to the ground with the end of a sword in his chest. “Ooooodaaaaar!” Reed shouted, rushing for his friend. He didn’t get far before he was stopped by Gair’s hand gripping his arm. “Dinna do it, ye fool, or ye’ll lose yer life as well,” warned Gair under his breath. “Nay! I’m goin’ to kill them all.

” Reed pulled out of Gair’s grip, but was stopped this time by Murray blocking his way. “Reed, there’s nothin’ we can do for him,” said Murray, holding him back. Gair helped. “We need to get out of here before we all wind up dead.” “There’s nowhere to go,” said Gair, watching as the soldiers started in their direction. The death of Odar brought Reed back to his senses. He’d been so angry with his brothers that he put his friends in the path of danger. He’d made a reckless decision once again, just like his brothers always told him he did. Now Odar was dead. If Reed didn’t do something fast, he would lose Murray and Gair as well.

“There is only one place to go,” he said, leading the way to the church. His red kite flew overhead and Reed called out to it. “Go home, Thor!” The bird knew what that meant and would fly back to the Highlands. Reed continued inside and into the bowels of the church. “Ye’re takin’ us into the catacombs?” asked Murray from behind him. “If we can lose them in here, we might have a fightin’ chance to get out of this alive.” Reed was filled with emotion, not able to get the vision of his dead friend out of his mind. “I’m sorry I put ye all in danger.” “Ye did it to help the others escape,” Gair reminded him. “Dinna blame yerself, Reed.

” “This way,” said Reed, skimming his hand over the rock wall to feel his way back to his brother’s chamber. Once there, he reached inside the door and lit another candle. “We’re hidin’ in here?” asked Murray, entering the room, looking around. “Nay. We need to go deeper into the catacombs,” explained Reed. “It’s our only chance.” “Reed, people have gotten lost in the catacombs and never returned. We’ll die if we do that,” said Gair. “We’ll die if we stay here.” Reed scooped up the food from the table, putting it into his sporran.

“Wrap up some of the items in the bed curtains. We’ll need to sell some things to buy food later.” His friends did as he instructed. The sound of the soldiers’ voices was getting louder. They had entered the catacombs looking for them. “Let’s go, Reed,” said Gair, throwing the bundle over his shoulder and heading for the door. Murray did the same. Reed paused next to the chessboard and reached out to gently touch the king. “This is one son ye’ll never beat at this game, Faither.” Then, in anger, he swiped the king with his hand, knocking the piece to the ground as he hurried to the door.

He stepped out, holding the candle – their only means of light. “Which way?” asked Murray. The sound of the soldiers marching through the catacombs echoed off the walls. “I dinna ken,” said Reed looking at all the fingers of passageways that led in every direction. If they took the wrong one, they would end up right back at Naward Castle. That was the last place he wanted to be right now. “What’s that?” asked Murray, pointing to a corridor that was lit up by an orange glow. “I dinna ken.” Reed pulled his sword from his scabbard and held it up as he made his way toward the light. He stepped around the corner with his sword drawn, only to meet with Brother Everad – Rook’s good friend.

“Don’t hurt me,” said the monk, almost dropping his torch. “I’m here to help you.” “Ye are?” Reed scanned the area, but could only see dark shadows. “Who’s with ye?” “No one. I came by myself.” “Did Rook send ye?” asked Reed. “I dinna want anythin’ from that traitor.” “Really?” The monk eyed the purple bed curtains filled with items. Gair readjusted his grip, and the golden chalice fell to the floor. “I heard something,” came the voice of a guard from somewhere in the catacombs.

“You’ve got to leave, quickly,” urged the monk in a low voice. Gair picked up the chalice and shoved it back into the bundle. “We are leavin’,” said Reed. “We’re goin’ through the catacombs.” “Good. You’ve already decided to take the catacombs all the way to Scotland,” said the monk. “To Scotland?” asked Murray in surprise. “Do they lead that far?” “They do,” said the monk with a nod of his head. “That’s why I’m here. I wanted to tell you which way to go.

” “Who sent you?” asked Reed, still not sure this wasn’t a trap devised by his black-hearted brother. “It was Rook, wasna it?” “Nay. He doesn’t know I’m here,” said the monk. “Now listen, so I can tell you how to escape.” “I dinna like this,” said Reed. “I hardly think ye came of yer own accord. I’ve fought alongside ye, but ye owe yer loyalty to Rook, not me. Why are ye really here?” “Because we want to help you.” Lady Calliope – the woman Rook loved stepped out of the shadows. “Calliope, get back,” warned the monk.

.

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