Sinbound to the Highlander – Eloise Madigan

The din in the castle’s Great Hall had Evan Saunderson, the Laird of Ruthven, ears ringing. His people were getting scared, and rightly so. The Jacobite forces were rising, and soon would come in these lands. They had already taken Glenfinnan, Aberdeen, Perth, and were now nested a hop and skip away from Moray, their home. The forces, though stationed for the time being, were coming closer, like a river carving its way through the rock. The Ruthven Clan, a territory of proud Protestants, seated in Moray, was not as tightly knit as other clans, as their people were spread out on plains, all the way to Loch Fionn Èireann. There was no walled central village, and for them to send guards to every village would not be possible. But then, to lose their people without even trying would hurt them even more. “People,” he called. “Please, I ken it’s a very troublin’ time but try to keep yer calm. The Jacobites have camped and arnae movin’.” “Yet,” someone called out fearfully. “Every place they’ve gone through, they have razed to the ground. What to say we arenae next?” “Aye,” another shouted. “We fisherfolk are terrified to leave our huts when we see the smoke risin’ from their camp.

” “I hear the blasted Marquess Murray is a part of them,” a man sneered. “After his two defeats, he should have learned by now. A bloody disgrace to our land, he is.” Evan was tired, and as he cast a look to his mother, Annys Saunderson, seated on her throne-like chair, he knew she had to be tired also. Despite the fact that he was the Laird and held control over the territory, she made sure to have a say in all that went on as well. Evan knew that she did it to honor his father’s memory, even now, twenty years after his death. His mother had held up bravely, but he could see the deepening lines at the sides of her eyes and her cheeks that grew gaunter every day. But no matter how he asked her— pleaded with her—to leave the Lairdship to him, she just shook her head and told him that it was not a problem to her and she could handle it. They had convened this meeting after dawn, and now it was nearly dusk. When tensions grew high, he had called for a meal to be set before all of them, knowing hunger and anger went hand in hand.

It was time to end this, so he stood and even descended from the dais to prove his point, “I assure ye all, I will use every power I have at me disposal to make sure ye are all safe. I have sent spies to where the Jacobites are stationed, and they will send me a message if they learn that they will be movin’ inward.” He paused to take a broad, sweeping look around the room, “I have also found a few hundred acres of land far inside the woodlands, that, at worst, ye will be moved there where the soldiers will guard ye. But the army hasnae moved yet, and I ask ye to pray that they daenae. I must ask ye to be ready to move if we call, have a pack of yer essentials ready if ye are to run. But by God’s grace, I pray we won’t have to.” He dropped his tone deep enough that they all knew this meeting was at an end, and he gestured for the guards to usher the people out. When the hall was empty, he took a moment to rub at the small throbbing at his temples and then stood. “Come, Maither, let’s get ye rested,” he said while extending his arm to her. It did not pass his notice of how she grimaced when getting to her feet and how hard her grip was on his arm.

He had to speak to her again about leaving all the Lairdship duties to him. He knew she wasn’t going to take retirement well, but she had done her best all the past years; it was time for him to relieve her. Accompanying her up the steps was another sign that she had to step back from these long days, as she had to stop and massage her left knee every two or three steps. Entering her room, he had barely opened his mouth when she sighed, “I ken, Evan, I ken.” He gently rested his hand on hers, and spoke. “We both ken that this is too taskin’ for ye. I want ye to fully leave the matter of the Lairdship to me, once and for all. Please, Maither.” Her lips thinned, and a deliberating settled on her face, “I will, but ye need to marry first. It’s a bit overdue, daenae ye ken?” She was right, it was the time for him to marry, but she had been right there when he had courted multiple women, and none of them had met the mark he had needed.

And now the war was on their heels, and he needed to make a strong alliance with another Clan if they had any hope of surviving. “I ken,” he replied, solemnly, as he glanced out the nearby window, “I believe I’ve been looking too close to home for the Lady I needed.” He paused. “I am told that Laird Lobhdain has a daughter that is canny and beautiful, which are the qualities a Lady of a Clan needs. He has the armed forces that might help us with this war if it comes to our doors.” “It would be a marriage of convenience,” his mother replied, slightly shocked, “Ye believe in love, Son, I ken ye do as that was the example yer Faither and I showed ye.” “At this point,” Evan shrugged, “I’ll take the most sensible option for me people, me happiness can wait.” A shake of her head told him about her reaction to his dismal outlook, “Evan, that is a hard sacrifice for ye to take. I believe that there must be a lady out there with a family that has the resources ye need but also the soul ye will love. I refuse to believe it will be one or the other.

” “If that’s the case, I’ll take it, but if nay…” he gave her a tight smile. “Faither always said a leader must be able to sacrifice himself for the good of his people. I tend to follow his advice, Maither.” She still did not look comforted, “Evan, please. I dinnae ken that this is the right way for ye.” He kissed her cheek, “I’ll send a message to Laird Lobhdain on the morrow. If I find any favor with God, she’ll be the woman I’ll love from the outset, nay grow to love.” “And if she isnae?” his mother asked. Evan let the question linger in the air while he shrugged, May God have mercy on me soul. Later that night, Evan braced his palms on the cold brick of his room terrace’s balustrade.

It was dark, but the smoke that rose from the Jacobite’s camp miles away was still inkblack against a gray sky. He knew the stories, testimonies, and rumors of how vicious the Stuart supporters were when they went through a town and slaughtered all that moved. “They’ve taken Aberdeen and Dundee, places with strong resistance…what will they do to me?” he wondered out loud. War was nearly on their doorstep, and Evan woke up every morning with the fear that a messenger would come from the capital, demanding him to send young men to fight. Thinking of it, he grimaced; young men torn away from their wives and boys ripped apart from their mothers, breaking loving bonds and fracturing his people down the middle. Rubbing his tired eyes, he then rethought his commitment to sacrifice his chance at love for the safety of his people. After mulling over it for a moment, his spine firmed. He would sacrifice his happiness for those who had no other option but to rely on him. His father had told him countless stories of kings and royal men who put their satisfaction before others. His father had been cut from a different cloth, deeming his people more important than he was.

He would be disgracing his father’s legacy if he did not do the same. After speaking with his mother, he had sent off a letter to Laird Lobhdain, and his strident hope was that the reply would be a good one. Why wouldn’t they take it? The lass would have a good home, she would be taken care of, and their Clans would have a sound alliance. He couldn’t promise he’d love the lass as he’d dreamed of loving a woman, but for all the rest the assurances were sure. Again, what could stop them from taking the marriage? War might end upon them as well, and they would be very foolish to disregard an alliance that could help them. It’s all up to ye, Laird Lobhdain. Would ye go about this war alone where many might die or take me offer and have someone to stand by ye?

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