Sweet Highland Revenge – Kenna Kendrick

Will ye yield and swear yer allegiance tae me?” Her father, kneeling in the wet mud, scowled up at the man standing over him. Next to her father, her two sisters huddled against their mother, who cried silently, tears rolling down her face as the girls sobbed wildly. Her older brother knelt on the other side, his chin raised and a defiant look in his eye. She soundlessly wished for him to do as the man asked, swear his allegiance, and be done with this. Tears rolled down her face as Deidre looked around, saw all of the torn and broken bodies that littered the village. The battle, such as it had been, was over, and they were the only survivors. Deidre quietly wept for the destruction of her village. Her home. For all of the lives that had already been taken. A bitterly cold wind swept past, making her shiver. “Please, papa,” she whispered. “Daenae throw yer life away, Donal,” the man standing over her father said, “Yer a good fighter. I can use good fighters. There’s nay reason for ye tae die here tonight.” “Yer a coward and a traitor, Kenneth.

I’d nae serve ye anymore than I’d serve the Devil himself,” her father spat, and Deidre’s heart sank. “Will ye nae then?” the man called Kenneth asked her father. “Faither, please?” Deidre cried. “Quiet, Deidre,” her father snapped, “Tis a time tae be brave. Be strong.” Kenneth turned to her with a malevolent gleam in his eye. “Aye. Listen tae yer da, girl. Tis a time tae be brave,” he said, then turned to her father again, “What yer doin’ is nae brave. Tis foolish.

Wasteful. Ye can serve me just as ye serve Dougal.” “I’ll never serve a traitor,” her father answered, his voice cold. The man lashed out, driving the point of his blade straight through her brother. Abel let out a raspy, choking sound, grasping at the steel in his chest as blood spilled from his mouth. Fury in his eyes, her father moved to jump up, but a man behind him drove the pommel of his sword down onto his head with a hard crack, sending him back down to his knees. Her mother’s and sister’s screams and wails echoed through the night, sounding like a pack of banshees come to claim their souls. But Deidre remained coldly quiet, her rage boiling inside of her. Kenneth yanked his blade free of her brother’s chest and held it up for her father to see his blood spilling down the blade. Her father knelt, blood pouring down his back from the cut on his scalp, his lips quivering and tears shimmering in his eyes.

She felt useless. Hopeless. And at that moment, knew she was going to die. “Will ye nae join me?” Kenneth asked. Her father hocked back and spat a thick glob of phlegm on Kenneth’s boot, drawing a sad smile from the man. “Tis a shame, really. We could’ve done some great things together,” Kenneth lamented. He lunged forward again, driving the point of his blade into her mother’s chest, then yanked it free and struck down both of her sisters. Kenneth stood before her father again, casting a sidelong look at Deidre. “Last chance, Donal.

Daenae make me take the last thing ye have in this world from ye,” he said, his voice icy, “Serve me, and I’ll let ye keep yer last remaining daughter.” “Papa, please,” Deidre cried, not because she was afraid to die, but because she was afraid to see her father killed. “Close yer eyes, girl,” her father spoke, his voice hard. “So be it,” Kenneth replied, before driving his sword through her father’s chest. Wordless tears tracked her cheeks as she watched her father’s body slump and fall into the mud beside the rest of her family. Kenneth turned, and Deidre couldn’t take her eyes off the blood that coated the end of his steel. The man stood, looking her up and down, an expression of amusement on his face. “Got somethin’ tae say, girl?” he asked. “Ye best be sure I’m dead when ye leave here,” she said, her voice cold and without emotion, “Because if ye leave a breath of life in me, I’ll use it tae hunt ye down and kill ye. Ye hear me, Kenneth? I will cut yer bleedin’ throat and leave ye for the crows to pick over.

” The man’s laughter boomed across the land like a rolling peal of thunder. He looked down at her, a genuine smile on his face. “Such spunk,” he said, “Yer a brave one. I’ll give ye that. Unlike the rest of yer family, it seems.” “Shut yer mouth and get tae killin’. Or get the bleedin’ hell out of here,” Deidre roared, half out of her mind with grief and rage, “I daenae care either way, but I’m sick of listenin’ to yer mouth.” A smile flickered across his lips again, and Deidre felt the men shift behind her. Hearing their movements, she lowered her head, squeezing her eyes shut, and waited for the inevitable feeling of steel being driven through her body. “Hold yer swords, lad,” Kenneth said, “I like the fire in this one.

She’s got bigger stones than her faither, that’s for sure. Let her live.” The men behind her chuckled at his words, fueling the fire burning deep inside her. She glared at Kenneth, fury in her gaze. “I told ye. Leave me alive at yer own peril,” she hissed, “Because I will find ye. And I will kill ye. Tis me sacred vow. I’ll kill ye.” He grinned at her.

“Aye. Mebbe.” ***** Deidre woke from the dream that wasn’t a dream that she’d had every night since her family was slain. She arose with the dawn and slipped off the straw-covered pallet she’d slept on for more than a year. Not a day went by that she did not think of the downstuffed mattress in her old home. Everyday she thought of the things she used to take for granted and missed them mightily. Clothed in just her shift, Deidre shivered in the cold that clung to the darkness within the drafty cottage that she now called home – crumbling down around her. And she was lucky to have that. An innkeeper had taken pity on her and let her sleep in the cottage behind the inn. If not for him, Deidre would be sleeping rough in the cold weather.

As she waited for the cottage to grow warm and loosen up her muscles and joints, she broke her fast on a couple of pieces of salted meat, a stale biscuit, and a pear. It wasn’t much, but it would ply the gnawing hunger in her belly. For a little while, at least. She would eat a proper meal later at the inn. As she washed her grubby little meal down with a cup of watered wine, Deidre began to dress. Pulling back her dark hair, blacker than a raven’s wing, into a tight plait, she slipped on a pair of breeches and tunic that were far too large for her. She was just pulling on a pair of soft boots – stolen from a huntsman – when a knock sounded on the door, thunderous in the early morning. “Girl,” he called from outside, “Are ye up?” “Aye,” she returned. “Then come be about yer business already, eh?” Deidre slipped a dagger into the top of each boot, then unrolled the oiled skin where she stored her short sword and slipped it out. The fire from the pit glinted off the dull steel.

It was cold. Menacing. Like her. The blade had belonged to her father and seemed little more than a dagger in his large hands. Deidre had always stood in awe watching him wield it. Any blade, really. He had been a master with the sword. “For ye, faither,” she whispered to his blade. Deidre pushed through the door and walked out into the early morning mist. It was thicker than normal.

The air about her colder. Damp. These were not good fighting conditions as the moisture in the air deadened sound. It was harder to hear someone sneaking up on her. But Deidre was a clever girl and in tune with the natural world. She knew, thanks to her father’s teachings, to feel for vibrations in the ground. He taught her that she needed to use not just her muscles or steel when she used a blade – but her mind. And her senses. All of them. And it was because of his teachings that she felt a rushing from behind.

Deidre spun to her right, slicing with the edge of her blade as she went. But he was fast and parried her defensive strike. His laughter rang in the air around them, and when she turned, he stood with the flat of his blade laid casually upon his shoulder, hand on hip. “And what’s so funny then, eh?” “I was just thinkin’ that I could live tae bae a thousand years old, and I’ll never see somethin’ as funny as a lass dressed a lad,” he called, “I ken we’ve been sparrin’ for a while now, but I’m still nae used tae seein’ it.” “Ye ken what’s funnier than a lass dressed as a lad?” she asked. “What’s that?” “A grown man bein’ bested with a blade by a lass dressed as a lad.” And with that, Deidre launched herself at him, thrusting, slicing, parrying, and blocking. Steel rang against steel, filling the meadow with the song of their battle. Deidre had been taught by her father, but she enjoyed sparring with Halvech. He was good with a blade.

A capable man – and he was nice to her. He had been good to her from the day she had arrived and treated her like kin. Back and forth, they battled for an hour, with neither of them gaining the upper hand on the other. When Halvech finally called a halt, Deidre was grateful, and they sank to their knees, gasping and gulping lungfuls of air as they tried to catch their breath. “Twas a good bout,” he said between breaths, “Yer a dangerous lass with a blade. Even if ye are dressed like a lad.” “Keep talkin’ like that,” she wheezed, “and I’ll turn ye from a lad to a lass with the edge of me blade.” Halvech’s laughter was a wheezing, gasping affair that had him rolling on the ground. Deidre sat back on her haunches and closed her eyes, letting the cool, misty air soothe her burning skin. He dropped down beside her and handed her a waterskin.

Deidre nodded her thanks and drank deeply, the cool water soothing her insides the way the mist cooled her skin. “Ye fight like a demon, lass,” Halvech said, “Ye’d best most men in combat, I’d reckon.” “Except ye,” she said, flashing him a grin, “I’ve yet tae best ye.” He shrugged. “Well, that’s because I’m a god with the steel.” She rolled her eyes. “And so modest tae,” she laughed, “Twas a good bout, though. I like trainin’ with ye because ye’re better than me. I learn from ye. And when I best ye, I’ll ken I’m ready.

” He drank deeply, never taking his eyes from her before lowering the skin and pursing his lips. “Ready for what?” he finally asked. “Tae fulfill me vow.”

.

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