Seduced By Her Highland Prisoner – Alisa Adams

Acold wind drove squalls of spring rain in gray sheets across the mountainous country, which divided the lands of Clan Strachan from those of Clan Montrose. It was mid-March, but in these inhospitable borderlands in the far Northern Scottish highlands, winter would only grudgingly give up its grip. Heavy clouds the color of granite lowered over the rocky land from horizon to horizon. The wind moaned and howled through the dark evergreen woods that cloaked the lower slopes of the hills, and rattled its way across the bare and rocky moors upon the hilltops. This was a merciless land. On a low rise overlooking a nameless little glen, the bright blue weave of Adaira Strachan’s woolen shawl shone like a flower among the dark, rainwashed stones. The wind had teased a lock of raven-black hair out from under the dyed blue linen wrapped over her head to keep out the cold. She reached one gloved hand up to push it back distractedly from her cheek. She was not alone. Beside her, dressed in the more somber colors of a servant, stood Maudie, the young woman who was both Adaira’s maidservant and closest friend. In contrast to her mistress’s dark coloring, she had light brown hair and eyes the same color as evergreen trees. On any other day, the glen below them would have been empty of life, but today the sight that met their eyes was not the peaceful patchwork of green hills and forested glens but something much more grim and dreadful. In the glen, with their backs to the women, mail-clad pikemen stood rank upon rank, facing out onto the open ground. Mixed units of archers stood behind them, and on either side, protecting the flanks, groups of spear-armed light cavalrymen on their nimble little horses shifted and moved restlessly, as if they were eager for the fight. Everywhere, standards flew in the Strachan colors—forest green and royal blue—and the soldiers’ shields were emblazoned with it.

There was no sign of the enemy yet, but the women guessed that it would not be long now. “I dinnae like this,” Maudie admitted to her mistress, shivering and drawing her shawl more closely around her shoulders. “The weather?” asked Adaira. She knew the answer to the question but was making conversation so that she would not have to think. “The weather, the land, what’s about tae happen, any of it,” Maudie replied. “This is nae place for us women. I dinnae know why we had tae come.” “I do,” said Adaira. “We were made to come and watch because my brother wants us to see a battle. He knows that neither of us will enjoy it, and that very fact seems to bring him pleasure.

I suppose we should be glad to see our enemies beaten in a fight.” She paused, thoughtfully. “They are the enemy, after all.” “The enemy, aye,” said Maudie, without conviction, “but ye must know what the word is aboot that.” Despite the unpleasantness of the situation, Adaira found a smile and a joke for her old friend. “Surely, Maudie,” she said, smiling, “you do not imagine that a noblewoman—a daughter of the clan chief, such as myself—has any knowledge of the idle gossip of commoners and servants?” Maudie gave a small snort of laughter. She knew well that Adaira took a great deal of interest in what the common folk of the clan thought; she was not haughty and distant like many of her class. Then she became serious again, glancing around warily. A little way off, a group of elite Strachan clansmen stood, holding horses ready. They were to act as Adaira’s personal bodyguard in the unlikely event that the battle should go badly and she should need to flee.

None of them were paying any attention to the women, but Maudie lowered her voice before speaking all the same. “Ye know what I’m talking about,” she said quietly. “The folk have had enough o’ our war wi’ Clan Montrose. They say Clan Montrose seeks an end tae the conflict, once and for a’. Some even say that Montrose has offered peace, but your brother willnae accept it. That is just madness. I just think men love tae fight.” “Hush!” said Adaira suddenly, glancing around. The clansmen had all snapped to attention. There was a thunder of hoofbeats, and cantering up the hill came a group of armored cavalrymen.

Adaira’s brother Duncan, the heir to the Strachan clan, was in the lead. Duncan was a thin young man, tall and gangly, and at twenty-one, he was only two years older than Adaira. He looked out of place, she thought, in his steel breastplate and clean tabard with the Strachan arms upon it. Around him and behind him were his chief lieutenants, armor-clad, mounted on huge warhorses and armed to the teeth. They were experienced soldiers of the Strachan clan and well seasoned in battle. These older men were tense and wary-looking, but young Duncan was excited, clearly glorying in the experience of being a young lord in command of an army. At Duncan’s right-hand side, the hulking figure of Sir John MacCormick, Duncan’s closest ally, sat silently astride a great black destrier. The two women instinctively moved a little closer to each other. “Enjoying yourselves?” called Duncan in a snide voice, as he reined his horse in too hard in front of them, making the animal crow-hop a few steps before coming to a stop. His men stopped behind him, but MacCormick advanced a few steps until his horse stood side by side with Duncan’s.

He gazed down dispassionately at the young women. “Did you not hear me?” Duncan said, sharply, when his sister did not immediately reply to his first taunt. “I heard you well enough,” said Adaira acidly, “and to answer your question, no, I am not enjoying myself. I do not know why you forced Maudie and me to join you here. You know I have no taste for bloodshed.” Her brother shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands in a gesture of complacency. His sister was younger than he, a woman, and therefore very much his inferior, so he cared nothing for her opinion. “Bloodshed is a fact of life, Sister,” he said, as if this was a profound revelation that had just occurred to him. Then he leaned over his horse and glared at Adaira. “It would be good for you to realize it.

” His voice was harsh, and despite her determination not to, Adaira felt herself quail at his tone. She was about to reply, but just as she drew breath to do so, John MacCormick leaned over and tapped Duncan on the shoulder. “Forgive me for interrupting, Duncan,” he said quietly, “but we should make our way down to the men. I see our scout approaching.” Duncan twisted his head to look away from his sister and her maid. Reluctantly, Adaira and Maudie also looked in the direction John MacCormick was pointing. There was a murmur from the bodyguard of men behind Duncan. Across the wide-open space in front of the waiting Strachan army, a man was riding a lathered horse pell-mell across the muddy field. “Aye, you are right,” said Duncan to MacCormick. “We should go down now.

” He looked back at his sister. “Enjoy the show, Adaira,” he said coldly. Adaira had often wished for a man’s bodily strength, and at that moment she was so angry that if she had had enough power in her bare hands she would have killed her brother and smiled while doing it. Duncan turned his horse’s head and began to make his way down to his army. The rest of the men followed, but MacCormick moved more slowly than the rest. His gaze lingered on Adaira, and he ran his eyes over her in a way that made her feel deeply uncomfortable and dirty. Then, reaching one gauntleted hand up to his helmet, he snapped his visor down and turned away, riding off down the hill with the rest of Duncan’s guard. The hooves of the big destriers kicked the wet mud up into the air as they departed. As the thunder of the horses retreated, both women let out pent-up breaths. “It won’t be long now,” said Adaira, and Maudie nodded, pulling her dark shawl closer around her shoulders.

Adaira was right. It was said that the art of battle is nine parts planning and one part fighting. Duncan, with the advice of John MacCormick and the other senior noblemen loyal to the clan, had planned well. A fresh pattering of rain began to fall as Adaira and Maudie watched the scout race across the field. The Strachan pikemen parted their ranks to let him through, and he made his way straight to where Duncan had taken up his position, on slightly higher ground at the left of his army. The outrider leaped from his horse and knelt, then rose and began speaking urgently. He was too far away to be heard, but his urgency was apparent from the way he waved his hands about and pointed at the dark woods across the glen from the army. Even as he did so, Adaira and Maudie could see what he was showing them. From their vantage point above the army, they saw a number of dark figures appearing from the trees in the distance. First, there were only two or three, but as they watched, more appeared from all sides.

“They are here,” Adaira heard a man mutter. She glanced around to see Captain Hamish McMahon, the man in charge of her bodyguard, standing nearby. He was a grizzled old veteran, gray-bearded, a common soldier who had risen through the ranks due to his service to Adaira’s father, back in the days when Clan Strachan had been a far more honorable name in the Highlands than it was now. Hamish was gazing intently into the glen, and suddenly his eyes widened and he spoke again, as if to himself. “It cannae be!” he said incredulously, then, “Aye, it is! I’d know him anywhere!” “What is it, Hamish?” said Adaira, who liked and trusted the old warrior. He looked at her as if he’d forgotten her presence. “Look!” he said, pointing. “Dae ye no’ see?” It took her a moment. Everything had changed in the glen. Where all had been still, now a strong force of mounted men had assembled in the field and were riding toward the Strachan army.

They were lightly armored, equipped for speed and agility more than for prolonged battle. As she watched, Adaira saw at the front of the group a man taller than the rest. Unlike the others, he wore no helmet and seemed to be dressed only in a bright plaid and hose. His hair was long, reddish-brown, and it flowed behind him like a banner in the wind. He carried a long sword in one hand, and as she watched, he stood up in the saddle and gave a great bellow. He had a booming voice like a foghorn, and the cavalry behind him all roared in response. “Who is he?” Adaira asked in wonder. “He is the heir tae the Montrose dynasty!” said Hamish. “That there is Rodric Montrose, and the fact that he has come out in direct command of his men doesnae bode well for yer brother’s command of this battle! But surely, look, he cannae be goin’ for a direct charge—that would be suicide!” In the glen below, the Montrose horsemen, led by Rodric, had formed into a great wedge of cavalry, and they were charging straight toward the ranks of pikemen. The pikemen braced, the bitter points of their weapons facing the advancing horses in a wall of death.

Even from here, Adaira could hear the roaring of the attackers, and she thought she could even hear Rodric Montrose’s voice, louder and deeper than the rest, as he led the charge. “I can hardly bear tae watch,” Maudie whispered, covering her face with her hands. “It’s going tae be a slaughter.” However, at the very last moment, Rodric gave another cry. With incredible swiftness, the cavalry peeled off into two lines, charging away from each other parallel to the lines of pikemen. Then Adaira saw what she had not noticed before. Advancing at a run behind the riders, there came a troop of men on foot, bearing swords and shields. They charged into the lines of pikemen while the horses, led by Rodric Montrose on the left-hand side, charged along the lines and engaged with the Strachan cavalry, preventing a flanking action. The wind moaned mournfully across the glen as the roar of fighting men, the battle screams of horses, and the clashing of weapons filled the air. Adaira watched the tall figure of Rodric as he made his way through the battle.

What is he doing? she wondered. Then she understood. He was heading straight for Duncan.

.

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