The Devil’s Laird – Brenda Jernigan

They were going to hang her. And the strange part . she really didn’t care. Fidach, had beaten her for the last time. Lady Siena Bertram had had all she was going to take from her brother. When he’d lunged at her she’d had no choice but to stab him through his black heart. Aye, she regretted taking a life, but when the life was that of a snake, Siena hoped God would forgive her. Evidently, Fidach’s men didn’t agree . since they were the ones who intended to hang her. Siena’s body ached all over from the beating her brother had inflicted upon her, and now the rough handling by his men, who were treating her like a criminal instead of a lady, wasn’t helping. Blood trickled from the side of her mouth.

There was a gash on her arm that needed tending, and she could feel her face swelling. Since a noose dangled in front of her, she supposed a cut wasn’t the worst of her problems, and that simple thought made her smile. Now she wondered if she were truly daft. Who would smile when they were getting ready to hang? Glancing around at the gathered crowd in the bailey, Siena thought she would have had some support from her own people. A few did look uncomfortable, especially the ones she’d healed in the past, but what could they do? Mostly they stood helplessly watching and doing nothing to stop the hanging. Did they, too, think she was a witch? Twisting her wrists, she tried to alleviate the pressure of the rough ropes that bound her, realizing she’d been cursed from the day she was born. She had heard the gossip. They said she’d sucked the breath from her twin brother, so she might live. Of course, that was utterly absurd. However, the strange birthmark on her wrist, which resembled a pitchfork, only added fuel to the gossipmongers. The only blessing that Siena possessed was the vision of sight. However, it didn’t always work, or she would surely have seen this noose being slipped over her head. The guard tightened the noose, placing the knot behind her left ear. She flinched at the pressure on her throat.

She grew tired of not belonging. Perhaps, death would be better. And then she saw him…the devil, face painted blue, charging toward her on a huge black beast. She was going to hell for sure. THEY SAİD he made a deal with the Devil…. ON THE HİLLTOP overlooking Berwick Castle, Laird Roderick Scott threw up his right hand and pulled Hercules, his black destrier, to a halt. His face was painted blue and he was breathing hard. How long had he waited for this day? A day to right a wrong … a day to avenge his family’s death. The rest of his men halted behind him except, Duncan, Roderick’s first in command, who rode up beside him and asked, “What do ye make of it?” Roderick leaned forward on his pommel. “Does it not strike ye as odd that no one seems to be guardin’ the castle and the drawbridge is down?” Duncan nodded.

“Aye. The battlements look bare. Almost as if no one is home.” He watched Roderick and noted the scowl on his laird’s face. The mon was no’ happy, Duncan thought, and he pitied any man who got in his way today. “Could be a trap,” Roderick said, shifting in his saddle. “I canna imagine Fidach has been tipped off we were comin’.” “I can see smoke coming from the chimneys, so the bastards are there.” When Roderick remained quiet, Duncan asked, “What say ye? We dinna put on war paint for nothin’.” “Take all the men but three around the back of the castle, and I’ll take the others with me through the main gate.

I want Fidach to ken I’m coming for him. Remember, Fidach is to be caught alive. He dies by my hand.” “As he should,” Duncan said, and motioned the men forward. Roderick waited until the group had made their way to the back of the castle, then he and the rest of his men started down the hill. On this cold, January morning, the crisp air blew around them and felt good on his face as they rode. They galloped down the bottom half of the hill, across the drawbridge, and straight into the enemy’s castle without one arrow being shot. Surprise would be on his side. However, Roderick wasn’t prepared for the chaos he saw once they rode through the entrance. There was no one manning the main gate.

The entire castle seemed to be out in the bailey. Small fires burned here and there, giving off rotten smells so that the smoke made the air hazy. Everyone, including the castle guards, who had their backs toward the main gate, were gathered on the left side of the bailey near a raised wooden platform. It appeared they were preparing to hang someone. Roderick nudged his mount and they moved closer, so he could get a better view. The crowd parted for him, but no one paid him any attention or his men. Instead, their attention was on the hangman. As Roderick drew near, he saw long, black hair hanging over the noose. My God, they were hanging a woman! What in God’s name could they be thinking? A big, burly guard was getting ready to shove the stool out from under the lass. As he kicked at the stool, Roderick charged forward, parting the rest of the crowd by knocking them down.

Just in time, he reached the girl and snatched her up just as she lost her footing. The hangman had fallen backward in his haste to get away from the rider, and his body had loosened the rope that he’d never gotten secured. Roderick jerked the woman into his arms before the rope could break her neck, then settled her on his lap in front of him. His men moved to flank him for protection. Gently, he loosened the noose and pulled it over her head, noticing the rope burns on her neck. Next, he removed the ropes from her wrists, yet she still hung limp against his chest. Was he too late? Roderick leaned down and placed two fingers on the side of her neck. A slight thumping beneath his fingertips, gave him his answer. She lived! Slowly, he let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. The girl’s clothes were torn and stained with blood.

A four-inch gash on her arm was bleeding, and her lip and one eye were swollen and turning blue. To add to that, she now had rope burns around her neck. The woman had been through hell this day. It was probably a blessing she was unconscious. The men-at-arms, having noticed that they were no longer alone, had drawn their swords. They appeared ready to fight off the intruders. The fools! Roderick thought as he insolently studied the soldiers from his position high upon Hercules, daring them to give him a reason to murder the lot. Rage ran hot in his veins; Roderick took a deep breath and waited for his temper to cool. Everyone need not die because of a few fools. After a moment, he gave them a contemptuous smile.

“Where is Fidach, son of Cinge?” Roderick bellowed so that his voice carried over the crowd’s noise as Hercules pranced beneath him. Roderick tightened his knees and the horse settled down. One of Fidach’s soldiers approached and spat on the ground. “Who the bloody hell are you?” Roderick’s temper flared again. Since he still held the woman, he couldn’t very well throw her on the ground and challenge the insolent guard, so he bumped the man with his stallion, knocking him flat on his back. The rest of the castle guards rushed to surround him, their swords raised ready for battle. However, they kept their distance, afraid of the big black horse who stood twenty-four hands tall. He was snorting and stomping his hooves and appeared just as mean as the man who rode him. “W–what business do you have with Fidach?” the man stammered, having seen the cold fury in Roderick’s eyes. “That would be between Fidach and myself,” Roderick replied lazily.

A guard in the back of the group yelled, “Drag him off his horse! There are only four of them.” The man closest lunged, but Roderick was fast, drawing his short sword with his left hand he sliced the man’s sword arm. The scream of agony echoed around the compound, gaining the rest of men’s attention. “I would look around–” Roderick suggested as his horse pawed the ground. He paused to allow his words to sink in, then he tightened his reins; even Hercules was anxious for battle. “– before you try anything foolish.” The castle guards glanced up at the battlements to find Roderick’s men had surrounded them. One of the castle guards dropped his sword, then another and another. The men on the battlements shouted, “A Bellendaine!” “What the bloody hell does that mean?” a guard on the ground grumbled. “It means … the Scotts are out!” Roderick said in his Scottish burr.

“I repeat,” he ground out even louder, his temper growing short. “Where is yer lord?” “Dead,” spat the guard closest to him. “She—” He pointed to the girl in Roderick’s arms “—she killed him, she did! Lady Siena is possessed. She sees things others do not.” “This is yer lady?” Roderick asked, dumbfounded by the way she’d been treated by her own people. The crowd murmured and nodded their agreement. “Then why do ye not protect her?” “Her brother said she was cursed from the day she was born.” A woman in the crowd, most likely a servant from the way she was dressed, called out, “Bad blood.” “There is no such thing.” Roderick frowned.

He didn’t believe in curses. Glancing down, he saw nothing wrong with the girl other than she’d been abused. Her long, black hair fell away from a petite face . or it would be once the swelling went down. He feared for her safety if she stayed here. He leveled his gaze back on the men and women and waited until all eyes were directed his way. Some looked annoyed, others slightly frightened. “Hear me and hear me well . I am Laird Roderick Scott, Warlord of Kirkurd. I proclaim this castle is now mine!” He paused and waited for his words to sink in.

He heard the murmur of The Devil’s Laird. A name he’d been often called. The rest of Fidach’s men lowered their weapons. He saw the fright in their eyes that his reputation always produced. “I’ll leave a few of my men with you. If ye canna pledge allegiance to me, then ye’er free to walk out the gate by sundown. After that, my men will show ye no mercy.” It only took seconds before shouts went out, “Laird Scott! Laird Scott!” echoed through the crowd. Roderick heard his name on everyone’s lips as they backed away to give him plenty of room. He wasn’t sure how he felt.

It had been over a year since he had sworn vengeance against Fidach. Now justice had been done; yet he felt no satisfaction. Perhaps, it was because he’d not been the one to end the miserable cur’s life. He owed that deed to the girl. And that made one more reason he’d not leave her here to die. Roderick made his way to the stone steps of the great hall. There he instructed his men what he wanted done. From the looks of disrepair around him, there was much work ahead of them. He’d take five of his best men back with him to his holding, they would be enough to provide a safe journey, but the rest would remain here. His army would grow with the capture of Berwick, which was on the English border but now his.

It would take time to shape these men into what he wanted, after all, he was known for training the best men in Scotland. Duncan pulled his mount up next to Roderick and asked, “What of the woman?” Roderick jerked his head toward his first in command, but before he could answer, an older woman, heavyset and square-jawed, with gray-streaked, brown hair rushed through the door, and down the steps of the great hall. “Is she alive?” The woman cried out as she scuttled over to his horse, where she placed a hand upon the girl. He got the impression the woman didn’t care if he was here to kill everyone in the castle as long as he protected the one he held. He also noticed her face showed bruises like those of her mistress. “Aye, but barely,” he finally said. “I take it ye know this woman?” She nodded but didn’t look up at him. “I am Lady Siena’s maid, sire.” The servant answered hastily, then continued, “I have been with Siena since the day she was born, and I can tell you she is not safe here.” “Why is that?” The woman placed both her hands on her ample hips.

“Her good-for-nothing brother convinced everyone in the holding that Siena is possessed. It’s because of Fidach that they do not trust her.” She waved a hand in the air. “Can they not see how she has been mistreated? Her brother should have been killed long before now,” she finished, and then muttered under her breath. “We’d all have been better off.” He nodded toward the girl. “So Fidach did this to her?” “Aye.” Roderick took a deep breath. He wished the son of a bitch were still alive so he could beat him to a bloody pulp before killing him again. Finally, he asked, “Yer name?” At last, Agatha managed to look at the warrior on the great beast and she had to catch her breath.

Good Lord Almighty, the man was huge with broad shoulders and his eyes were dark and cold, so that she felt like he was looking through her. He wasn’t bad to gaze upon if she could only stop shaking. “M–my name is Agatha, sire.” She curtsied, clumsily. “I beg you, protect Lady Siena and take her away with you.” “You and I agree on one thing . Fidach should have died sooner,” Roderick said with a nod. Agatha smiled, and he knew right away he liked something about her. She had an honest face and he saw kindness also. He studied her for a moment, then commanded, “Go and pack for yer lady and yourself.

You will be returnin’ with us.” Once Agatha had scurried off to do his bidding, Roderick told Duncan, “Give me something to wrap around the lass’s arm, or she’ll be dead by the time we camp tonight.” Duncan produced a long strip of clean cloth to wrap the woman’s arm. He agreed. The cut was a nasty wound indeed, so he poured whisky over it, then wrapped the cloth around her arm. Duncan wondered at the odd behavior of his leader. Why hadn’t Roderick handed the girl to one of his men, so his hands would be free? It was almost like he was protecting her. The woman was definitely in bad shape, and Duncan couldn’t call her pretty with her swollen eye and a fat lip, but it was the first time in a long while that Roderick had shown any interest in a woman. Nonetheless, Duncan would not question his leader. He knew of Roderick’s temper.

He wasn’t one to be crossed. Roderick turned his horse, so he was facing the crowd. He waited as one by one the people approached him and pledged their allegiance to him. When all had finished, Duncan reported that five soldiers had left the castle. “That is their choice,” Roderick said. “Bring three horses from the stables around here.” “Three?” “Is it not what I said?” Roderick asked with a frown. He wasn’t used to explaining his actions, but to get Duncan moving he added, “Lady Siena and her lady’s maid plus an extra horse for their belongs. They will be accompanying us back to our holding.” He saw Duncan raise his brow to question bringing the lasses with them; however, he knew better and once again held his tongue.

Roderick couldn’t explain why he’d chosen to take this woman with him, other than he wanted to protect her, which made no sense at all. He picked five of his most stalwart men to ride with him, and a short time later they were ready to leave. He instructed Gareth and Maclean to strap the bags, which Agatha had packed onto the extra horse. After giving final instructions to Gordon for securing the castle, Roderick and his men began their journey back to Black Dawn. “Fergus take the lead,” Roderick commanded as they crossed the drawbridge. The weather was brisk, but their speed was good as they traveled across the rolling countryside. He didn’t much like riding out in the open and would feel better once they passed over the Cheviot Hills up to higher ground. They had ridden only a few hours, when Duncan rode up beside Roderick. “Are ye certain the lass is alive?” Duncan asked. Roderick glanced down at the warm body held next to his chest.

“Aye.” “What are ye going to do with her?” “Truth be told. I’ve not given it much thought. I couldna leave her behind for fear of her safety, and…” he paused. “Then there is the small fact she did kill our enemy for me. Even though, I’d rather have killed him myself.” He sighed with regret that he hadn’t been the one to end Fidach’s life. “I owe the lass somethin’. I’ve no doubt that she’ll fit into our household.” “But she is a lady,” Duncan protested.

“Aye. Though at the moment she looks no better than a servant.” Duncan nodded. “Do ye want me to take her for a while and give yer arm a rest?” Roderick glanced at the battered woman nestled in his arms. “Nay. The sun is going down. We’ll camp for tonight and give the horses a rest. She’ll be waking soon.” “Gareth!” Roderick called, then waited for him to join them. “Find a suitable place to make camp.

” Without warning, the slip of a girl in Roderick’s arms bolted straight up, bumping his chin. He had to tighten his hold to keep her from falling. The sudden shifting on Hercules’s back, startled the horse, and he reared. Roderick tightened his knees to keep them both seated. “By all that is holy! Hold still before we both fall to our deaths!”

.

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