Seduced By a Highland Thief – Maddie MacKenna

Thomeas was running. His feet stomped on the ground with every step that he took, and he could already tell that he would be sore the following day. He’s big…he’s verra big. Unlike the man that towered over him, Thomeas was nothing more than a young boy of five, and his legs could only take him so far before the merchant caught him by the arm and yanked him back, making him stumble and fall onto the hard soil. Thomeas made no sound other than a soft grunt, even as his back hit the ground. Even so, his entire body hurt, and he had to choke off every pained groan, every sound of anguish. The man was no different from the children who teased him in the village, apart from the difference in size, after all. I cannae let him see that it hurt. I’m nae a wee lad anymore. I must be strong. “Do ye ken what we do to thieves here?” the merchant asked as he pulled Thomeas back onto his feet, his voice rough and threatening, sending a chill down the boy’s spine. The man’s hand was encircling his entire arm, and the grip on him had already left faint bruises behind, ones that would soon blossom to a purple patch shaped like fingers. “Aye,” Thomeas said. “I live here. I’ve seen thieves before.

” His insolence earned him a slap, and Thomeas reeled from it, his hand immediately coming up to rub at the sore flesh on his cheek. Even his ear was burning from the strike, red and angry, and Thomeas had to fight the tears that threatened to spill from his eyes. “Then ye must ken that I’ll have yer hand for this!” the merchant roared. Now, the entire village was there, watching the altercation. Some of the locals, the older ones, were muttering among themselves, pointing at Thomeas and gasping, while the younger ones, the children, called him a thief again and again. Thomeas had stolen some food, that much was true; but his stomach had been grumbling for days, and he couldn’t take the hunger anymore. Stealing hadn’t been his first choice, of course. Even he, a child, knew that stealing was wrong, so he had asked for help first. No one had given him any help, though. No one had been kind enough to give a starving child some food, and so Thomeas had been forced to steal.

He had only taken some eggs and some bare bannocks, just enough to keep his stomach full for a few days, but that seemed to be an offence great enough to warrant having his entire hand cut off. That was what the merchant was saying, at least, and none of the people who stood around them stepped in to stop him. How will I eat without me hands? Thomeas had one choice. He twisted his arm out of the merchant’s grip, even though the wringing of his sensitive skin made him wince. Once he was free, he dropped all the food that he had stolen, and then he ran. He ran and ran, until he couldn’t hear the merchant’s horrible, screeching shouts anymore. He ran until the village was nothing but an outline in the distance, until his lungs felt as though they were on fire, begging Thomeas for oxygen. Then, he ran some more. Running away had always been the hardest part of the job, if one could even call what Thomeas was doing a job. It’s hard work, and it pays.

Those who claim I’m nae more than a leech, taking wealth from innocent people, dinnae ken what they’re sayin’. There isnae a job in the world that I can do better than this one. The only problem came when it was time to run away. His beloved mare, which he had stolen from a wealthy farmer as a teenager, was getting old and slow, and her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be anymore. “Come now, lass!” he shouted at his horse, as the wind and the rain whipped his skin mercilessly. “If they catch us, it willnae be good for either one of us!” Thomeas’ eyes were watering in the wind, forcing him to ride blindly. The rain had already soaked him to the bone, weighing down his plaid and rendering it a nuisance. The chill that seeped into his flesh made his hands and his fingers stiff as ice, and yet he persevered, riding through the darkness in search of shelter. He could hear multiple hooves behind him, thundering, their frenzied pace matching the beating of his heart. They were still far away, but ever-present, as the men who were chasing him refused to back down and return to the safety and warmth of their homes.

They weren’t just chasing him so that they could take back what Thomeas had stolen from them, he knew. They’re out for blood. If it isnae me blood, then it’ll be theirs when they return to their masters empty-handed. Thomeas gave his mare a kick in the flank, urging the horse to go faster. He didn’t know where he would find a shelter where he was, in the middle of nowhere, but he was hoping to find an old hut or perhaps a cave, where he could wait out the wrath of the storm and of the men from whom he had stolen. The woods seemed to have no end, though. Thomeas looked around and he only saw the towering, willowy silhouettes of the trees that surrounded him, stretching as far as the eye could see. On the other hand, the men seemed to be too far away for him to spot them, and he could hardly hear them anymore as they chased him through the woods. If I cannae see them, then they cannae see me…and if they cannae see me, they willnae see me hide once I find shelter. Just when Thomeas thought that he would be trapped in the forest with no exit in sight, he came to the last line of trees that laced the edge of the woods.

There was nothing but a small meadow in front of him, surrounded by short hills, a creek running through its middle. And there, in the far end of the meadow, a small building. Thomeas looked behind his shoulder one more time, ensuring that his pursuers were still out of sight, and then he headed for the hut. Upon closer inspection, the hut seemed to be abandoned, the wooden planks that held it up old and rotten, looking as though they were ready to collapse. To its right, Thomeas could see an even smaller building. Stables. Just as he had expected, the stables were as empty as the rest of the meadow, and once again, he could only think that the place was abandoned, as he left his mare there and closed the door behind him, before entering the house. When he stepped foot inside, he thought that perhaps he had been wrong. Unlike its exterior, the interior of the house gave him the sense that the place was not simply inhabited, but also well-loved, decorated with all sorts of ornaments and baubles, some of them placed on furniture while others hanged from the walls. From the inside, the house appeared to be grander, and Thomeas even noticed that there was a staircase leading up to the second floor.

Nae candles…nae fire…there isnae a soul here, in this house. Must be a hunting lodge, thank the Lord. Thomeas dropped his bag on the floor, along with his rain-drenched clothes and the two swords that he always carried on his back, and looked around the house, searching first for the kitchen. Everything else could be explored later, but his grumbling stomach demanded some food, and so he raided the pantry, trying to find something to satisfy his hunger. There wasn’t much there, but there was more than he had expected. There was cured meat, and even potatoes, carrots, and apples, all of them crisp and fresh as though they had been picked that very day. Someone from the nearby village must own this house…cannae leave anything to make the master of the house angry and have an angry horde chase me back into the woods… might take somethin’ on the way out, though. Thomeas made himself at home. He had some of the meat and two apples, ravenous after the events of the evening. He then grabbed his bag and stepped into the first bedroom he found, perching himself on the edge of the bed as he pulled the stolen goods out, examining them closely.

In the dark—where Thomeas sat as he didn’t want to risk lighting a fire or a candle—he could hardly see the sparkle of gold and silver, the shine of the gems that were so carefully mounted on the rings and necklaces in his hands. He could feel them, though, hefty and precious, the bags of coins that he had managed to purloin rattling with the most delightful sound he had ever heard. “Must be enough to start a new life,” Thomeas hummed to himself for the first time since he had started his career as a thief. About time I did. He placed the stolen gold and the jewelry back in his bag, before stretching out onto the bed. The heavy blankets that cocooned him brought the life back to his limbs, slowly warming him up once again and smoothing over the goosebumps on his body. Sleep came over him like a wave, fast and all-encompassing now that adrenaline wasn’t coursing through his veins. His pursuers were nowhere to be seen, his loot was safe in his bag, and he was the most comfortable he had been in his life, the plush mattress and the blankets that covered him making him feel as though he was lying atop a cloud. Soon, Thomeas was plunged in a warm, comforting darkness, lulled into a deep sleep by the sound of the howling wind. There was something sharp on his chest.

In his sleep, Thomeas tried to swat it away, only to have his hand slapped away with the same, sharp object, which made him open one eye and look down in search of the offending item. It was a sword, and it was held by a young woman. She was a sight to behold, illuminated gently by a candle that she seemed to have lit before she had woken him up so abruptly. Her face, with its dusting of freckles and almond-shaped eyes the color of copper against the fragrant earth after the rain, was framed by her long, dark curls that draped over her shoulders, bouncing gently as her breast rose and fell every time she took a breath. There was color on her cheeks, the skin there flushed and pink, as she worried her bottom lip between her teeth, looking uncertain and hesitant, even as she kept her blade firmly pressed against Thomeas’ chest. “Who are ye?” she asked him, her voice steady, unwavering. Thomeas supposed that holding a sword made one braver. “What do ye want?” Despite the woman’s apparent bravery and bravado, Thomeas didn’t fail to notice that her hand was trembling ever so slightly where she was holding the sword. He, too, remembered a time like that, a time when facing an opponent made his hands shake with nerves and fear. The girl would learn to keep her hands steady soon enough if she were to survive in that world.

“Dinnae ye think that sword is too big for a wee lass like yerself?” Thomeas asked her. His gaze went back and forth between her face and the sword that she was holding, and he could only find one way out of that situation. He had to take the sword from her, so that she wouldn’t hurt him or herself. Without a sword, she would be harmless, and Thomeas could run once more before she could notify any of the guards that were after him of his presence. “Dinnae ye think that it is rude to eat another one’s food and sleep in another one’s bed without an invitation?” the girl said, and Thomeas watched as the knuckles on her hand turned white when she clutched the hilt of the sword tighter. “I asked ye who ye are and why ye’re here. Answer me.” Thomeas raised his hands up, just a little, just enough to show her that he meant no harm. It would do no good if he ended up getting stabbed, after all. “Me name’s Thomeas Fraser,” he said.

“I gave ye me name . now give me yers.” The girl hesitated. She seemed reluctant to give away that information, but in the end, she licked her lips that had suddenly gone dry and told him. “I am Dorathia,” she said, not giving him her family name, as her gaze drifted to the coins and jewelry that peeked through his open bag. “Are ye a nobleman? Where did ye find all this?” That gave Thomeas pause, and he tilted his head to the side, regarding Dorathia with a small frown on his face. Could she really not know what I am? Could she be so naïve, so innocent? He decided to tell her the truth, or at least part of it. “Nay…I’m nae a nobleman,” he said. “Do I look like one? No one has ever said so to me afore.” “Nay…ye dinnae look like one,” Dorathia said, a hint of disgust in her tone as she scrunched up her nose to whatever offending smell was coming off Thomeas that day.

“I’m only lookin’ for shelter,” Thomeas said. “I dinnae wish for any trouble, I promise… especially when a creature as bonnie as yerself is involved.” Dorathia’s eyes narrowed and she took a step back, but she still pointed the edge of the sword at him, ready to strike him down if he so much as said the wrong thing, something that he seemed to have done already. Thomeas made a mental note to not comment on her appearance again. “I dinnae ken who ye are, but when me Faither comes home, he’ll deal with ye the way ye deserve,” she said. “Dinnae ye move, do ye hear?” It was then or never for Thomeas. He could either overpower the girl and take her sword, before leaving the place and avoiding all the troubles that came with being there, or he could let her keep him there until her father returned, who was certainly much more dangerous than she was. It wasn’t really a dilemma in Thomeas’ head. He stood slowly, still keeping his hands up in mock surrender. The sword that was between them kept him at a fair distance away from Dorathia, but if he could somehow maneuver around her, then he could make her drop it and incapacitate her long enough to escape.

She won’t even see it coming. In one swift motion, Thomeas spun around Dorathia, his right hand grabbing onto her forearm as his left hand reached for the sword. Just when he thought that he would get a grip on it, though, Dorathia’s elbow connected with his gut, and Thomeas stumbled backwards as he howled in pain, clutching onto his stomach for just a moment. Suddenly, he realized that he was naked. He was naked, and he was fighting a girl, who didn’t even seem to be fazed by his state of undress. She only seemed to be a little curious, her head tilting to the side as she noted all the differences between their bodies. That was his chance, and so he tried again. He was nothing if not patient, after all, and if she was going to fight dirty, then so would he. Besides, he was a thief, and thieves weren’t known for their honor, no matter how much Thomeas liked to think that he still had some left in him. He reached for the sword once more, leaping towards Dorathia as he did.

As much as he considered his size an advantage, though, his broad shoulders and robust built making him look intimidating and giving him a boost in strength, Dorathia was slight and lightfooted, which made her fast and quick to move away from his grasp. Thomeas had fought numerous men, some of them guards who were trained for this exact thing, and yet none of them had ever been a match for him—none of them, apart from Dorathia, who was making him prove his worth when it came to a fight. “Stay still, lass,” he told her, a grin spreading across his face. “How will I catch ye if ye dinnae stay still?”

.

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