Eamon Wilson felt the cold stone against his back as he hid out of sight of the torches. He couldn’t wait until all this hiding was over, and his enemy could be removed from his list of concerns, his head cut off and set upon a stake, finally quelling the reach of the serpent’s tongue into his lands. His hand clutched the sword at his side, and his eyes roved from one end of the shadowy stone wall to the other. He was close to the enemy because Lord Cutler was in the very same fort that Eamon was watching, most likely stuffing his face with cold meats and jellies, bread, and sweets, oblivious to the bloody fate that lay before him. The boy was late tonight. The thought irked Eamon, for at any moment, he could be found by Cutler’s guard and taken into the fort to be tortured and eventually executed. The English were bloodthirsty, land-hungry, and greedy beyond compare. Eamon knew what they were capable of. He’d seen it before when soldiers would come and destroy the villages, looting them, killing its inhabitants, having no mercy. War had been going on too long in these lands, and Eamon wanted it back for the pride of all Highlanders, especially for the ones slaughtered at Culloden. Eamon was tired of being afraid. There was a time in his past when he had been too afraid and, thus, fled. His family and his brother’s family had suffered greatly as a result, and for years, he hadn’t had the courage to return to them. He didn’t know if his brother would ever forgive him for what he’d done, but this time he was not going to flee. He was going to face the enemy head-on, and once he learned everything about them, he would find Sean and try to get him to understand the danger he was in.
The English would stop at nothing to get what they wanted, and this time the King wanted revenge. Just last year, the King’s nephew, Sir Henry Shefford, was in the Highlands and attempted to slaughter a well-known band of Scottish thieves, but he died in a vicious battle at the hands of those same criminals. The King had sent another representative to fight and bring the band in to answer for their crimes. But he too was killed, and so now the King burned with thoughts of revenge. Lord Darius Cutler, a nobleman of one of the highest ranks, had been sent in order to find the guilty party once and for all and execute them to satisfy the King’s thirst. That was the man outside whose fort Eamon Wilson waited in the shadows. It was too damning, for Eamon’s brother Sean had been the man who killed the second proxy. He would now be hunted unless Eamon did something about it. Thoughts of all the wealth stolen from the King’s purse as he committed the killing did nothing to dampen his desire to plan for the man’s demise. Eamon was growing impatient with waiting.
He was about to take his leave, get a message to the boy to think of another time, and make his way back to his men when he heard light, quick footsteps coming down the passage. Eamon tensed, slowly removing his sword from his scabbard, but then he saw the outline of the boy, lit dimly by torchlight, enter his vision. “Eamon!” the boy whispered, and Eamon took the boy’s arm and yanked at it, pulling him into a darker passage. “Boy! Dinnae be a fool! We must keep our voices low and our forms out of light. Ye are late! I have been waiting for ages!” The young boy attempted to catch his breath before he spoke, and Eamon took in his features. He still wore the same ragged clothing with belt and cap, but one thing that Eamon noticed was each time he saw the boy, he thought he looked more and more like a young girl rather than a boy, for his waist went inwards instead of straight and strong. That made Eamon think he was far younger than he imagined. His voice had not dropped yet, and it still had a light, feminine lilt to it. The boy continued. “Forgive me, Sir.
But I had trouble finding the time to get away. My master is becoming ever more suspicious with my movements of late.” Eamon tensed and looked around him, clutching his sword hilt once more. “Have ye brought me intae a trap, lad?” “No, no. Do not worry. I was able to get away. I do not mean he is suspicious of me consorting with Scotsmen. I only mean he is ever desiring to know my location. It’s as if he wants to discuss something with me at every turn. No matter.
To the topic at hand.” Another thing Eamon noticed about the young boy was the fact that his word choice was more proper than he’d expected. He spoke like someone older and well-educated, but he supposed it was due to the fact that his employer was so high in society. “Go on. What new word do ye have for me?” “My Lord comes with men, a dozen at least, but I think he plans to find more men at Fort Augustus, along the way. He will decide soon. They plan to head further into the Highlands, towards ‘The Wanderer’ and his land in the next few days. I have heard him speak of it. But you should know, he will bring money and gold with him, and each of his men will carry a portion of it.” Eamon leaned back against the wall and grinned.
“Will he then? I imagine that tae be an even greater sum than I’d hoped. And ye dinnae know the exact day that they will leave?” The boy shook his head. “No, they are deciding. But they seem to favor the day after tomorrow, once they collect the supplies. How long will it take them to travel to The Wanderer?” “A few days at most. I will have time tae warn him and make plans. Aye, that’s good. Thank ye, boy.” He placed a coin in the boy’s hand and was surprised at the softness of the skin there. “Boy, ye know that ye must harden yer hands if ye are tae become a man.
These are like ladies’ hands.” The boy chuckled to himself and bowed in thanks. He looked one way and then the other and made a move to slip back into the near passage and return to his chambers. But Eamon caught his arm again, and the boy’s face turned back to the older man’s. “What is it?” “Why do ye help me? Why do ye betray yer employer? It certainly cannae simply be for the coin. This is a dangerous job, too dangerous for one as young as yerself. What motivates ye?” Eamon watched the boy’s shadowed expression with a critical eye. He needed to make sure that his whereabouts would not be tracked as he made his plans to kill Lord Cutler. The boy stuttered back forcefully, a surprise to them both, and said, “I do it for The Scots.” In surprise, Eamon dropped the boy’s arm, and the boy fled away, the sound of his footsteps growing fainter as they disappeared back to the Fort.
Chapter One Northern Highlands, March 1756 Sean and Rose Wilson stood staring at Eamon Wilson with suspicious eyes after he told them his plans. He had arrived almost half an hour ago after traveling days to find them. He had left his men in a nearby tavern to wait for his instruction. He feared to give away his brother’s location to anyone. If there was any lesson that he had learned over these past few years, it was to give out one’s trust sparingly, perhaps even better if one trusted no one. “Brother, I know that ye have cause tae distrust me, but I do this for ye. And the wealth of course, which we can split taegether. Ye need it if ye are going tae help yer family. Ye will nae be able tae do so if ye find yerself killed by Lord Cutler’s sword.” Sean nodded and eventually sat down.
A pregnant Rose followed suit. Sean continued. “Aye, I have agreed tae yer plan, brother, but it is nae just my distrust of ye that makes me hesitant. I dinnae ken how we will muster the strength tae fight back. I have men here, but they are content with their new and peaceful lives. We havenae practiced our swords for many a month. And ye are only yerself.” “Is there a way we can keep Cutler’s men from finding this place? I dinnae think the battle should be done here,” Rose said. Eamon sighed, what he was about to say weighing heavily on his chest. “I am sorry tae say, lass, that they know this place already, despite its remote nature.
My spy has told me that Cutler will arrive in the next few days. Since my journey here, he also has already begun his own. I would expect him in two days’ time. So, we must set to planning. Sean and I can ride tae meet him upon the road tae prevent his seeing the village, but he still knows where it lies.” Rose’s face screwed up with anger, and her skin flushed red. She slapped a hand against the table. “Then ye must kill all who ride with him. But who is this spy ye speak of? Can they be trusted?” Sean chimed in. “Aye, how do we even ken what the spy says is true?” Eamon twisted his mouth in thought as he planned his words.
He leaned forward again. “Ye will find this bit of news quite interesting. I asked the spy myself about why they would help a band of Highlanders attempting to protect themselves, and ye know what the boy told me? He said he did it for The Scots.” Eamon waited as the words sank into his companion’s minds. Rose and Sean both wore a similar expression. Confusion, then surprise, then disbelief. Sean said, “Truly? But that doesn’t make any sense.” Rose added, “Aye, all members of The Scots are now settled in these lands. They are working on nae mission. They have nae plans of rebellion at this time.
” Eamon shrugged. “He did not say that he was a member of The Scots. My spy is an English boy.” Again, Rose and Sean showed expressions of surprise. Eamon nodded. “Aye, I ken. It doesnae make sense, but I am under the impression he doesnae get treated well by his master. Perhaps that is why he rebels against him?” “And leads him tae his potential death,” Rose said to herself. “Aye. There have been papers nailed up in the surrounding areas calling for a rebellion against the English.
Could this be the work of the boy?” He unfolded a page and displayed it for Rose and Sean to see. “I took one on the journey here so I could show ye. I thought it might be The Scots, but I suppose nae, after ye said they are at Peace now.” Rose nodded. “How very strange. I mean, ‘tis nae strange that men want tae rebel against the English, but that these would spread around just as this Lord Cutler comes tae take his revenge.” Eamon sighed. “Well, whether it be strange or nae, this is our chance tae get the man before he comes for ye. Leave the riches tae me if ye dinnae want them. I know, Sean, ye wish tae live a different life.
But then there is nae other option than tae fight back and kill the man, and his men, afore he takes the life of yer family once more!” Once Eamon said the words, he knew that he should have put it more delicately. He had spent years punishing himself for leaving his brother to fight against a Highland enemy, where they lost their father, and Sean lost both his wife and child. Eamon would not be the orchestrator of his brother’s ruin once more. “Forgive me, brother,” he continued, “But I cannae see this happen tae ye again.” He watched as Rose placed a hand softly upon Sean’s arm. The intimate movement touched him, and for the first time in a long time, Eamon desired that someone would be there for him to comfort and to love, just as he was. But he pushed that desire out of his mind. It would serve him no good when revenge and wealth needed to be at the center of his thoughts. Sean nodded solemnly. “Aye, ye are right, brother.
We will prepare. But we must begin by practicing our swords.” Eamon grinned, filled with energy that the plans would begin. “That we must. I hope ye will find my skills have improved over the years. All the men will remember what they must do once they lay their hands once again upon their swords. It will not be too late. And do not worry. It is not just me. I have a group of men waiting for my word at a tavern in the town below.
They will come when we need them.” The two men stood, and Rose looked up at them with longing. “I apologize that I cannae join ye in the practice.” Rose looked down at her stomach briefly. Eamon raised an eyebrow, and Sean chuckled, placing a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “Aye, brother, ye should see my wife in a battle of swords. She is nae one tae trifle with as leader of The Scots.” Eamon paused for a moment, and his eyes widened. “Is this Scots land as well? I’m impressed, Rose. I found out about The Wanderer, and everyone’s heard of The Scots.
But I did not imagine there tae be a connection such as marriage between my brother and the infamous band of thieves. Well, then, it is doubly good that I came tae warn ye.” Rose sat up and lifted an eyebrow. “Ye are impressed because I’m a woman and women cannae do such things, is that it? Think a woman cannae handle the job? After the loss of my clan, I was all they had!” Eamon paused, knowing that he was in dangerous territory once he spotted the dark look in Rose’s eyes. He held up his hands in defense. “Forgive me, sister, I didnae mean tae offend. ‘Tis nae that a woman cannae do it, of course, but ye must admit ‘tis highly unusual. That is why it impresses me so.” Rose seemed to calm at that, and the taut muscles in her face relaxed. Sean’s hand remained on her shoulder.
“Come, I do hope that one day, ye and I can have a battle of swords taegether. I wish tae see yer skill.” Sean smiled, and so did Rose. “Aye, lad,” Sean said. “A woman has the advantage of being lighter of foot and quicker. They are the experts of the hidden dagger thrust intae the belly just when ye least expect it.” Eamon looked impressed. “That I could definitely see. Now, come, shall we speak tae the men?” Sean nodded. “Aye.
I shall call Donovan. He’s our second-in-command, and we shall discuss with him first. Goodbye, Rose. Please try to rest a little, my dear.” Sean and Eamon wandered outside of the cabin and into the bright sunshine. The blue sky with white clouds scudding across it brightened their spirits, even though the ominous arrival of Lord Cutler loomed in their minds. Eamon watched as his brother motioned for Donovan to come to meet him. He was happy for him. His big brother had made such a change in life. He wanted to hear all about it.
Deep down, he was grateful for the danger that Lord Cutler brought, for it had forced him to come and seek Sean out, the infamous Wanderer, a hired sword. Now that Sean had settled, it had been much easier to find him, climbing his way through the rocky and hilly Highlands, speaking to clans along the way, hearing whispers of a remote area, hidden away from clan and town, close to Loch Ness, but nestled in a foreboding forest. It gave Eamon a purpose once again. Since he fled his father’s lands, he had worked hard labor for a time, until he met with a man who gave him everything he was missing in his life: the skills with a blade and a sense of belonging. They had wandered all over the North of Scotland, seeking, fighting, and plundering. But he missed the warm bosom of his family, and he’d heard rumors about what had occurred. His heart broke when he found out about Sean’s wife and child. He was afraid that Sean would never want to see him again. So once he found out that there was a price upon his brother’s head, he wasted no time in coming to find him. He just hoped that his brother would trust him once more.
Eamon had mixed feelings as he approached his brother’s land on horseback. He was surprised at how well his older brother looked after all this time and hardship. One could tell they were definitely kin, but while they were both dark-haired, Sean’s was the lighter of the two, while Eamon looked the swarthier. Seeing Sean’s look of wariness had made his whole body tense with each pounding of hooves. He will wonder why I have come after such a long time. He might even kill me on the spot. But Eamon had been lucky. Sean had done nothing of the sort and gave him a listening ear. Now they were on the verge of moving together once more as if the past had not occurred. “Donovan! Come.
There is much to discuss.” Sean yelled over to Donovan, his right-hand man. He was young with reddish hair and stood tall and proud. “Aye, Sean?” Donovan walked towards them, skepticism in his eye as he took in Eamon’s figure. He was the one who had noticed Eamon’s approach when he was still far away. Eamon was used to being eyed thus, as he knew that his rough appearance often made others think he was a dangerous rogue. Sean said, “Donovan, this is my brother, Eamon. He comes with bad news, I’m afraid.” Sean explained the approach of Lord Cutler. “We need to prepare the men tae meet him out in battle before he and his men find the village.
” “And there is wealth to be had,” Eamon added. “We dinnae wish tae rob anyone anymore, like I said,” Sean said sharply. “Even if they are our sworn enemies?” Eamon asked, skeptical. “Aye, even so. Ye may take the money if ye so wish. But that could bring the King once again upon our heads if he knows it was The Scots that both killed and robbed his men.” Donovan replied, “Is the information certain, Sean? Could it nae be that someone wishes tae lure us away from our homes so that they can attack when there are nae people tae defend it?” Sean paused for a moment. He glanced at Eamon, and Eamon knew he was trying to search for the lie in his eyes. He hoped Sean knew him well enough that he would know Eamon wouldn’t do such a thing. Eamon was not a liar.
He might have been fearful, but he was an honest man. And despite the draw of Lord Cutler’s wealth, Eamon would have ridden in search of Sean anyway, to warn him that he was in danger. Sean shook his head, and Eamon wanted to sigh with relief. Sean looked back at Donovan, who continued to eye Eamon with doubt. “Donovan, that wouldnae make sense. Most of the villagers here are swordsmen and women, but perhaps they dinnae know that. Besides, Lord Cutler wishes tae kill Rose and me for what happened tae his nephew and Lord Marcus. It wouldnae behoove him tae remove us and then come back tae an empty village, would it?” Donovan colored a little, and Sean hesitated slightly before continuing, trying to ignore Donovan’s discomfort. “The plan is for the men tae practice their sword skills. We need tae leave in a day’s time tae meet him.
We must start right away. Then, we can prepare for our journey: horses, food, weapons, and the like. How many men come with Cutler?” Eamon answered, “My spy tells me that he could come with at least a dozen men, but he plans to pick up more soldiers at Fort Augustus as he travels northward. We may have the advantage in numbers, but I assume they will be well-armed and well-skilled, for each of them will be carrying a small percentage of wealth upon their person.” “Aye. Donovan, do ye nae think we will have the advantage over a dozen men?” Donovan looked surprised for his opinion to be requested. Eamon could tell Sean was pleased. “Aye, I think so, but if it becomes twice that, we may struggle. We just need tae remember our swords. But I think we ought tae hide in the hills and forests and take as many down as we can with arrows first.
” Eamon’s eyes widened with excitement. “Have ye bows and arrows?” At the two men’s nods of assent, he grinned. “Then, we shall be saved. They will nae be able tae fight with their muskets when arrows fall from the sky down upon them.” Sean nodded. “Donovan. Gather the men. Tell them tae leave any of the building tasks they were completing and meet in the large clearing in the woods.” Sean pointed. Donovan left quickly, off to send the message out.
Sean turned to Eamon. “The village is not large, but it will take time for the men to drop whatever they’re doing. I hope they will come as soon as they’re able. We’re in the middle of building homes, outhouses, storage spaces, everything we need for a full, thriving village. You must understand my disappointment that a vengeance-hungry Englishman is the cause of our delay.” Eamon smiled, happy his brother was willing to share such information. “Aye, ye have built a good life, brother. But ye would rather take pause, I am certain than have everything ye’ve worked for be burned tae the ground.” Sean grunted in assent.