Savage of the Sea – Eliza Knight

Shaw MacDougall stood in the great hall of Edinburgh Castle with dread in the pit of his stomach. He was amongst dozens of other armored knights—though he was no knight. Nay, he was a blackmailed pirate under the guise of a mercenary for the day. And though he’d not known the job he was hired to do until he arrived at the castle, and still didn’t really. He’d been told to wait until given an order, and ever since, the leather-studded armor weighed heavily on him, and sweat dripped in a steady line down his spine. The wee King of Scotland, just ten summers, sat at the dais entertaining his guests, who were but children themselves. William Douglas, Earl of Douglas, was only sixteen, and his brother was only a year or two older than the king himself. Beside the lads was a beautiful young lass, with long golden locks that caught the light of the torches. The lass was perhaps no more than sixteen herself, though she already had a woman’s body—a body he should most certainly not be looking at. And though he was only a handful of years over twenty, and might be convinced she was of age, he was positive she was far too young for him. Wide blue eyes flashed from her face and held the gaze of everyone in the room just long enough that they were left squirming. And her mouth… God, she had a mouth made to— Ballocks! It was wrong to look at her in any way that might be construed as…desire. There was an air of innocence about her that clashed with the cynical look she sometimes cast the earl, whom Shaw had guessed might be her husband. It wasn’t hard to spot a woman unhappily married. Hell, it was a skill he’d honed while in port, as he loved to dally with disenchanted wives and leave them quite satisfied.

Unfortunately for him, he was not interested in wee virginal lasses. And so, would not be leaving that lass satisfied. Decidedly, he kept his gaze averted from her and eyed the men about the room. Torches on the perimeter walls lit the great hall, but only dimly. None of the candelabras were burning, leaving many parts of the room cast in shadow—the corners in particular. And for Shaw, this was quite disturbing. He was no stranger to battle—and not just any type of battle—he was intimately acquainted with guerilla warfare, the pirate way. But why the hell would he, the prince of pirates, be hired by a noble lord intimately acquainted with the king? Shaw glanced sideways at the man who’d hired him. Sir Andrew Livingstone. Shaw’s payment wasn’t in coin, nay, he’d taken this mission in exchange for several members of his crew being released from the dungeons without a trial.

Had he not, they’d likely have hung. Shaw had been more than happy to strike a bargain with Livingstone in exchange for his men’s lives. Now, he dreaded the thought of what that job might be. This would be the last time he let his men convince him mooring in Blackness Bay for a night of debauchery was a good idea. It was there that two of his crew had decided to act like drunken fools, and it was also there, that half a dozen other pirates jumped in to save them. They’d all been arrested and brought before Livingstone, who’d tossed them in a cell. And now, here he was, feeling out of place in the presence of the king and the two men, Livingstone and the Lord Chancellor, who had arranged for this oddly dark feast. They kept giving each other strange looks, as though speaking through gestures. Shaw shifted, cracking his neck, and glanced back at the dais table lined with youthful nobles. Seated beside the young earl, the lass glanced furtively around the room, her eyes jumpy as a rabbit as though she sensed something.

She sipped her cup daintily and picked at the food on her plate, peeking nervously about the room. Every once in a while, she’d give her head a little shake as if trying to convince herself that whatever it was she sensed was all in her head. The air in the room shifted, growing tenser. There was a subtle nod from the Lord Chancellor to a man near the back of the room, who then disappeared. At the same time, a knight approached the lass with a message. She wrinkled her nose, glancing back toward the young lad to her left and shaking her head, dismissing the knight. But a second later, she was escorted, rather unwillingly, from the room. Shaw tensed at the way the knight gripped her arm and that her idiotic boy husband didn’t seem to care at all. What was the meaning of all this? Perhaps the reason presented itself a moment later. A man dressed in black from head to toe, including a hood covering his face, entered from the rear of the great hall carrying a blackened boar’s head on a platter.

He walked slowly, and as those sitting at the table turned their gaze toward him, their eyes widened. In what though? Shock? Curiosity? Or was it fear? Did Livingstone plan to kill the king? If so, why did none of the guards pull out their swords to stop this messenger of death? Shaw was finding it difficult to stand by and let this happen. But the man in black did not stop in front of the king. Instead, he stopped in front of the young earl and his wee brother, placing the boar’s head between them. Shaw knew what it meant before either of the victims it was served to did. “Nay,” he growled under his breath. The two lads looked at the blackened head with disgust, and then the earl seemed to recognize the menacing gesture. Glowering at the servant, he said, “Get that bloody thing out of my sight.” Shaw was taken aback that the young man spoke with such authority, though he supposed at sixteen, he himself had already captained one of MacAlpin’s ships and posed that same authority. At this, Livingstone and Crichton stood and took their places before the earl and his brother.

“William Douglas, sixth Earl of Douglas, and Sir David Douglas, ye’re hereby charged with treason against His Majesty King James II.” The young king worked hard to hide his surprise, sitting up a little taller. “What? Nay!” The earl glanced at the king with a sneer one gives a child they think deserves punishment. “What charges could ye have against us?” Douglas shouted. “We’ve done nothing wrong. We are loyal to our king.” “Ye stand before your accusers and deny the charges?” Livingstone said, eyebrow arched, his tone brooking no argument. “What charges?” Douglas’s face had turned red with rage, and he stood, hands fisted at his sides. Livingstone slammed his hands down on the table in front of Douglas. “Guilty.

Ye’re guilty.” William Douglas jerked to a stand, shoving his brother behind him, and pulled his sword from its scabbard. “Lies!” He lunged forward and would have been able to do damage to his accusers if not for the seasoned warriors who overpowered him from behind. “Stop,” King James shouted, his small voice drowned out by the screams of the Douglas lads and the shouts of the warriors. Quickly overpowered, the noble lads were dragged kicking and screaming from the great hall, all while King James shouted for the spectacle to cease. Shaw was about to follow the crowd outside when Livingstone gripped his arm. “Take care of Lady Douglas.” Lady Douglas. The sixteen-year-old countess. “Take care?” Shaw needed to hear it explicitly.

“Aye. Execute her. I dinna care how. Just see it done.” The man shrugged. “We were going to let her live, but I’ve changed my mind. Might as well get her out of the way, too.” Livingstone wanted Shaw to kill her? As though it was acceptable for a lord to execute lads on trumped up charges of treason, but the murder of a lass, that was a pirate’s duty. Shaw ground his teeth and nodded. Killing innocent lassies wasn’t part of his code.

He’d never done so before and didn’t want to start now. Blast it all! Six pirates for one wee lass. One beautiful, enchanting lass who’d never done him harm. Hell, he didn’t even know her. Slipping unnoticed past the bloodthirsty crowd wasn’t hard given they were too intent on the insanity unfolding around them. He made his way toward the arch where he’d seen the lass dragged too not a quarter hour before. The arch led to a dimly lit rounded staircase and the only way to go was up. Pulling his sgian-dubh from his boot, Shaw hurried up the stairs, his soft boots barely a whisper on every stone step. At the first round, he encountered a closed door. An ear pressed against the wood proved no one inside.

He went up three more stairs to another quiet room. He continued to climb, listening at every door until he reached the very top. The door was closed, and it was quiet, but the air was charged making the hair on the back of his neck prickle. Taking no more time, Shaw shouldered the door open to find the knight who’d escorted the lass from the great hall lying on top of her on the floor. They struggled. Her legs were parted, skirts up around her hips, tears of rage on her reddened face. The bastard had a hand over her mouth and sneered up at Shaw upon his entry. Fury boiled inside him. Shaw slammed the door shut so hard it rattled the rafters. “Get up,” Shaw demanded, rage pummeling through him at having caught the man as he tried to rape the lass.

Tears streamed from her eyes, which blazed blue as she stared at him. Her face was pale, and her limbs were trembling. Still, there was defiance in the set of her jaw. Something inside his chest clenched. He wanted to rip the whoreson limb from limb. And he knew for a fact he wasn’t going to kill Lady Douglas. “I said get up.” Shaw advanced a step or two, averting his eyes for a moment as the knight removed himself from her person, letting her adjust her skirts down her legs. Shaw waved his hand at her, indicating she should run from the room, but rather than escape, she went to the corner of the chamber and cowered. Saints, but his heart went out to her.

Shaw was a pirate, had witnessed a number of savage acts, and the one thing he could never abide by was the rape of a woman. The knight didn’t speak, instead he charged toward Shaw with murder in his eyes. But that didn’t matter. Shaw had dealt with a number of men like him who were used to preying on women. He would be easy, and he would bear the entire brutal brunt of Shaw’s ire. Shaw didn’t move, simply waiting the breath it took for the knight to be on him. He leapt to the left, out of the path of the knight’s blade, and sank his own blade in quick succession into the man’s gut, then heart, then neck. Three rapid jabs. The knight fell to the ground, blood pouring from his wounds, his eyes and mouth wide in surprise. Too easy.

“Please,” the lass whimpered from the corner. The defiance that had shown on her face before disappeared, and now she only looked frightened. “Please, dinna hurt me.” “I would never. Ye have my word.” Shaw tried to make his words soothing, but they came out so gruff, he was certain they were exactly the opposite. He wiped the blood from his blade onto the knight’s hose and then stuck the sgiandubh back into his boot. He approached the lass, hands outstretched, as he might a wild filly. “We must go, lass.” “Please, go.

” She wiped at the blood on her lips. “Leave me here.” “Lady Jane, is that right?” he asked, ignoring her plea for him to leave her. She nodded. “I need to get ye out of here. I was…” Should he tell her? “I was sent by Livingstone to…take your life. But I willna. I swear it. Come now, we must escape.” “What?” Her tears ceased in her surprise.

“Ye canna be seen. The lads, your husband…” Shaw ran a hand through his hair. “Livingstone willna let them leave alive. He doesna want ye to leave alive.” That defiance returned to her striking blue eyes as she stared him down. “I dinna believe ye.” “Trust me.” She shook her head and slid slowly up the wall to stand, her hands braced on the stone behind her. “Where is my husband?” Shaw grimaced. “He’s gone, lass.

Come now, or ye’ll be gone soon, too.” He’d not been hired for this task, to take a shaking lass out of castle and hide her away. But the alternative was much worse. And he’d not be committing the murder of an innocent today. Indeed, he risked his entire reputation by being here and doing anything at all, but he was pretty certain the two lads she’d arrived with were dead already, and along with them the rest of their party. Livingstone and Crichton weren’t about to let the lass live to tell the tale or rally the rest of the Douglas clan to come after them. That line was healthy, long and powerful. “I dinna understand,” she mumbled. “Who are ye?” “I am Shaw MacDougall.” She searched his eyes, seeking understanding and not finding it.

“I dinna know ye.” “All ye need to know is I am here to get ye to safety. Come now. They’ll be looking for ye soon.” And him. This was a direct breach of their contract, and Livingstone would not stop until he had Shaw’s head on a spike. But Shaw didn’t care. He hated the bastard and had been looking for retribution. Let that be a lesson to Livingstone for attempting to blackmail a pirate. His men would be proud to know he’d not succumbed to the blackguard’s demands.

As he stood there, they were already being broken out of the jail at Blackness Bay. Stopping a few feet in front of the lass, he held out his hand and gestured for her to take it. She shook her head. “Lady Jane, I canna begin to understand what ye’re feeling right now, but I also canna stress enough the urgency of the situation. I’ve a horse, and my ship is not far from here. Come now, else surrender your fate to that of your husband.” “William.” “He is dead, lass. Or soon to be.” “Nay…” Her chin wobbled, and she looked ready to collapse.

“Aye. There is no time to argue. Come. I will carry ye if ye need me to.” Perhaps it would be better if he simply lifted her up and tossed her over his shoulder. Shaw made a move to reach for her when she shook her head and straightened her shoulders. “Will ye take me to Iona, Sir MacDougall?” “Aye. Will Livingstone know to look for ye there?” She shook her head. “My aunt is a nun there. Livingstone may put it together at some point, but I will be safe there for now.

” “Aye.” “Oh…” She started to tremble uncontrollably. “Oh my… I… I’m going to…” And then she fell into his arms, unconscious. Shaw let out a sigh and tossed her over his shoulder as he’d thought to do just a few moments before. Hopefully, she’d not wake until they were on his ship and had already set sail. He sneaked back down the stairs, and rather than go out the front where he could hear screams of pain and shouts filled with the thirst for blood, he snuck her out the postern gate at the back of the castle. He half ran, half slid down the steep slope, thanking the heavens every second when the lass did not waken. Though he’d arrived at the castle on a horse, he’d had one of his men ride with another and instructed him to wait at the bottom of the castle hill in case he needed to make an escape. Some might say he had a sixth sense about such things, but he preferred to say that he simply had a pirate’s sense of preservation. Livingstone was a blackguard who’d made a deal with a pirate to commit murder.

A powerful lord only made dealings with a pirate when he needed muscle at his back. And when he chose to keep his own hands clean. But that didn’t mean Livingstone wouldn’t hesitate killing Shaw. Well, Livingstone was a fool. And Shaw was not. There was his horse waiting for him at the bottom of the hill just as he’d asked. “Just as ye said, Cap’n,” Jack, his quartermaster—called so for being a Jack-of-alltrades—said with a wide, toothy grin. “What’s that?” Shaw raised a brow, glancing at the rounded feminine arse beside his face. “A lass. Let’s go.

” “Oh, taken to kidnapping now, aye?” “Not exactly.” Shaw tossed the lass up onto the horse and climbed up behind her. “Come on, Jack. Back to the ship.” They took off at a canter, loping through the dirt-packed roads of Edinburgh toward the Water of Leith that led out to the Firth of Forth and the sea beyond. But then on second thought, he veered his horse to the right. When they rowed their skiff up the Leith to get to the castle, they’d had more time. Now, time was of the essence, and riding their horses straight to the docks at the Forth where his ship awaited would be quicker. No doubt, as soon as Livingstone noticed Shaw was gone—as well as the girl—he’d send a horde of men after him. Shaw could probably convince a few of them to join his crew, but he didn’t have time for that.

A quarter of an hour later, their horses covered in a sheen of sweat, Shaw shouted for his men to lower the gangplank, and he rode the horse right up onto the main deck of the Savage of the Sea, his pride and joy, the ship he’d captained since he was not much older than the lass he carried. “Avast ye, maties! All hands hoy! Weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen. Ignore the wench and get us the hell out of here. To Iona we sail!” With his instructions given, Shaw carried the still unconscious young woman up the few stairs to his own quarters, pushing open the door and slamming it shut behind him. There, he paused. If he set her on the bed, what would she think when she woke? What would he think if he saw her there? She was much too young for him, aye. But whenever he brought a wench to his quarters and laid her on the bed, it was not for any bit of saving, unless it was release from the tension pleasure built. And yet, the floor did not seem like a good spot, either. He settled for the long wooden bench at the base of his bed. As soon as he laid her there, her eyes popped open, and she leapt to her feet.

“What are ye doing? Where have ye taken me?” She looked about her wildly, reaching for nothing and everything at once. Blond locks flying wildly. “Calm yourself, lass.” Shaw raised a sardonic brow. “We sail for Iona as ye requested. And from there, we shall part ways.” She eyed him suspiciously. “And nothing more?” He crossed his arms over his chest and studied her. As the seconds ticked past, her shoulders seemed to sag a little more, and that crazed look evaporated from her eyes. “Nothing save the satisfaction that I have taken ye from a man who would have done ye harm.

” “Livingstone?” “Aye.” Her lower lip trembled. “Aye. He will want to kill all who bear the Douglas name.” Shaw’s eyes lowered to her flat belly. “Might there be another?” he asked. She shook her head violently. “Ye saved me just before that awful man could…” “Ye misunderstand me, my lady. I meant your husband’s…” Ballocks, why did he find it hard to say the word seed to the lass? He was a bloody pirate and far more vulgar words, to any number of wenches, had come from his mouth. She lifted her chin, jutting it forward obstinately.

“There is nothing.” Shaw chose to take her word for it rather than discuss the intimate relationship she might have had with her boy husband and when the last time her courses had come. “Then ye need only worry about your own neck, and no one else’s.” He expected her to fall into a puddle of tears, but she didn’t. The lass simply nodded and then said, “I owe ye a debt, Sir MacDougall.” “Call me Savage, lass. And rest assured, I will collect.”

.

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