Alistair Munro returns to Scotland after six years of exile in France to find is wife, son, and estate in the hands of another man. Alistair determines to regain his property and child. The beautiful sister of Clan Munro’s chief, a distant cousin to Alistair, attracts his attention and captures his heart; however, Davina must solve conflicting issues before her affections can belong to Alistair. Can the two overcome adverse circumstances to love again?
A Highland Bride, an inspirational Scottish historical romance,is the fourth book in the Highland Treasures series. The series continues in the 16thcentury Scottish Highlands.
The North Sea
September, 1519 A.D.
Alistair Munro stood at the bow of the cutter, Nola, watching for a glimpse of Scotland’s shoreline. Salted spray pelted his face, stung his eyes, and wetted his armor.
In a thick Scottish brogue, the captain called above the waves’ roar, “’Tis a storm brewing, sir! Ye should go below! We canna make shore before the hard winds blow.”
Alistair watched the ominous clouds roll across a darkened sky. He gripped the cutter’s bow and watched without heeding the captain’s voice. Rain pummeled his head, ran onto his face, and into the breastplate he wore, making the heavy coat more uncomfortable.
“Sir, ye need to go inside before a swell washes over and knocks ye down. Could even send ye overboard.” The captain paused his commands to Alistair, then barked orders to the crew.
Waves crashed over the ship’s side, causing the knight to grip the railings tighter. Alistair refused to leave the bow without first viewing his homeland. He had spent six years in exile, thinking about Bridget and his son with each passing day. He did not intend to spend another moment away from Scotland.
The cutter seemed to be changing directions. Alistair yelled to the captain, “What’s this? You’re turning away from shore.”
The captain called above the fray, “’Tis too dangerous to go closer. The breakers could carry us against the rocks. We need to stay out to sea until the storm passes.”
“Nae!” Alistair commanded. “Go on into port!”
“Canna do so, sir. ’Tis too dangerous. I’ll no’ risk my crew and ship.” The captain stood his ground. “Ye must go below now. I order ye to leave the bow!”
Wind blew with gale force. Trying to get a glimpse of Scotland was useless in this storm. He took the captain’s advice and slowly made his way down the ladder to the main deck, then below to the cramped quarters where Fergus waited.
Fergus sat on the side of the bunk with his head in his hands and a bucket between his large legs. He looked up when Alistair entered the chamber. “I be sick, Ali.”
Alistair’s heart tendered toward the big man who displayed untold strength in battle and while fighting at the knight’s side, but now sat helpless with seasickness.
Fergus’ one good eye, red and bloodshot, gazed at Ali. Perspiration glistened on his broad forehead. Fergus had proved to be a faithful friend and fierce warrior in the many battles they had fought for Francis I of France before Andrew, Chief of Clan Munro, had obtained both their pardons from the Scottish King James V.
The time Alistair had prayed for these past six years finally arrived and the ship couldn’t sail into port. He sat on a small stool beside his friend.
“Ferg, ’tis time we prayed for deliverance from this storm.” The knight patted the strong back of his friend. Tense muscles rippled beneath his hand. “Lord God of All Creation,” Ali began, “deliver us from this storm so my dear friend and I can go home.” He gave Ferg’s back another pat then rose to pace the small cubicle the best he could without losing his footing.
A roll of the ship sent Alistair against the wall. He removed the uncomfortable armor and hung it on a peg as the ship tossed him against the one table. Fergus retched in the bucket.
“Lord, help us here. We’re about to drown.” Ali’s lips moved in silent prayer while bracing himself with the table.
The roar suddenly seemed to quiet, and the rolling became more gentle. Alistair turned toward his friend who now sat up and wiped his mouth with a soiled rag. Opening the lid of a wooden keg, the knight took a dipper that hung from the side, filled it with stale water, and handed it to the sick warrior.
“Here you go, Ferg. You need to drink now. You’ve lost a lot of fluid.”
Fergus took the dipper as the ship’s steep rolling ceased, and the water stayed inside the cup. He drank deeply then poured the remaining liquid over the rag and wiped his face. “Think I’ll be fine, now the ship stopped its tossing.” He gave Alistair a half-smile and handed the dipper to him.
Alistair rehung the dipper, secured the top on the water keg, opened the door, and headed for the deck ladder. Surely Captain planned to take the Nolainto port now the storm had subsided and the water was calmer. When he reached the top rung, his head popped out into the open air. He took a deep breath. Fergus’s retching made the berth smell like an outhouse. The big man couldn’t help being seasick, but Ali didn’t have to stay in the chamber with the unpleasant odor.
Making his way to the bow, Alistair took up the vigil of watching for the shoreline of Scotland. The knuckles of his hands turned white in the cold salt spray as he gripped the sides of the ship once more.
He watched the now gentle rolling waves and whispered, “Thank you, Lord.”
“We’ll see land soon, sir,” the captain called.
Alistair smiled at the burly man. “Aye, soon, and I’ll be right here when we do.”
The mist lifted and the grey image of a shoreline appeared on the horizon. Alistair swiped at the moisture, or mayhap a tear fogging his sight. Beloved Scotland, his home.
The cutter docked beside the quay at the port of Cromarty. Alistair, wearing the armor and carrying his small bundle of possessions, hurried down the gangplank with Fergus following. Ali had no idea what his future held, but kissing the soil of Scotland entered his mind. If the armor were not so unwieldy, he would have done just that. He stood with Fergus by his side, drinking in the flavor of the Scots bustling around and listening to their Scottish brogue. How pleasant to his ears, the sound of those conversations after six years of nothing but French to speak and hear.
“Ali, I dinna see Sir Gavin. Do ye think he forgot?” Fergus questioned, looking around the dock.
“Nae. Dinna fash yourself, Ferg. He’ll be here,” Alistair said, reassuring himself as well as Fergus. “Mayhap he’s in one of the pubs, having himself a pint or two.”
“Or three or four.” The large man looked around spotting the two pubs along the waterfront. “I dinna see his horse, Maith, though.”
“Let’s look in the Silver Fox. He kens the proprietor. I only hope his problems with Torquil Urquhart are settled and he’s no’ in the dungeon of Cromarty Castle.” Ali shook his dark, still damp head. “Gavin has a knack for finding trouble.”
The two men crossed the road, dodged a horse and rider, a loaded wagon pulled by a team of sumpters, and made their way to the pub. They entered the gloomy public room filled with the odor of sweaty men, stale food, and ale. Alistair’s eyes scanned the dingy place. Fergus tapped his shoulder then pointed to a pair seated at a back table engaged in conversation over trenchers of roast mutton and mugs of ale.
A smile broke Ali’s face. “Aye, you may ken the mon’s up to his usual instead of watching for us.”
Making his way to the table, he dodged a serving maid carrying a tray loaded with mugs of ale. She stopped in front of him and flashed a broad smile. He took a tankard as did Fergus.
“May we join the two of you?” Alistair asked as he placed his ale on the table and pulled out a chair.
Gavin looked up, recognized his friend, knocked the chair over when standing, and gave Ali a bear hug. The tankard left Ali’s hand and landed on the floor with a thud, spilling the golden libation all over his armor.
“Saint’s teeth, Gavin. Must your welcome spill my ale?” He tried to sound angry, but a grin broke through the facade as he returned the embrace of his friend.
Gavin pushed away, scrutinizing the warrior. “Are you going into battle, Ali?” He fingered the armor’s breastplate and motioned to the burly warrior who rose to greet the returning Scotsmen. “I guarantee Erskin and I mean you nae harm.”
“The only battle I see is one with you, mon, if you dinna replace my ale.” Ali slapped his friend’s broad back. “I purchased this armor with my own funds and I mean to keep it. Who kens, I may run into a beefy warrior like yourself who needs a lesson or two.”
“’Tis good to see you, mon. Sit and I’ll order some food and drink for you and Fergus.” Gavin reached over to shake Fergus’s hand. “’Tis good to have the two of you home, on Scottish soil once more.”
Ali, Fergus, and Erskin took seats at the table while Gavin ordered food and drink for the new arrivals. The men discussed conditions in Scotland over the meal. Ali and Fergus consumed the food in large mouthfuls and gulped the ale.
“Were you fed in France?” Gavin asked between mouthfuls with the corners of his mouth turning up. “The way you’re eatin’ I’m thinking you may have starved.”
“I’ve had nae roast mutton like this since leaving Scotland six years ago.” Ali gazed into the warm hazel eyes of his friend. The sight of Gavin and Erskin made his heart leap. The two looked older, yet not abated in strength. Gavin’s arms still had the appearance of well honed muscles and Erskin’s arms still looked like limbs from a nearby oak. These men had covered Ali’s back in many fights and battles. And he had covered theirs.
Young James V now ruled with the aid of regents from Stirling Castle, Gavin related. Andrew was able to obtain Alistair’s pardon from the king after his father, who outlawed Ali, died in the Battle of Flodden Field.
“I canna thank the chief enough for pursuing our pardon.” Ali nodded toward Gavin. “How is your brother and Chief of Clan Munro?”
“Andrew is fine now. He lost an eye and gained a limp in the Battle of Flodden, but he’s home and tending to clan business. I’m his legs and help with activities outside of Fàrdach Castle.”
“You mean like chasing reivers and such?” Ali swallowed a large bite then emptied his mug.
Gavin motioned for the serving maid and ordered another round of ale plus helpings of bread pudding for each. He took the opportunity to scrutinize the pub’s patrons.
“By the way, where are the horses you promised?” Ali suddenly remembered Fergus and he were afoot.
“In the stable back of the inn. We’ve been here three days waiting for you. I dinna wish to take a chance on the Urquharts seeing us.” A broad smile covered Gavin’s face. “I think they still hold a grudge from my fight with Young Torquil, but I’m not sticking around to find out.”
“Then let’s eat and go. I’m anxious to see Bridget and my son.” Ali’s heart leapt at the thought of seeing his son who was born soon after he left for France.
Gavin cleared his throat. “About Bridget…”
Alistair stayed the hand headed toward his mouth with a chunk of bread and stared at Gavin. “What about her?”
“She’s remarried. After you left, she had Maighstir Tam annul the handfast.” Gavin gazed at his empty food trencher, avoiding Alistair’s piercing dark eyes.
“Who’s the fortunate mon? Is he a good father to my son?” Alistair’s heart raced and his blood boiled at the thought of another man raising the lad. “I ken I’ve been away for a long time, but I wrote to Bridget often. She sent one missive informing me of Blane’s birth.”
“’Tis the way of women, Alistair. Most are fickle, that is most beside Flora and Maidie. Those ladies are rare jewels.” Gavin smiled when he spoke of his wife, Flora, and Andrew’s lady, Maidie. “Took a lot of convincing to get Flora back after being away for five years, and ’twill be the same for you.”
“Flora wasn’t married when you returned from your adventures in the New World. Bridget is married, or so you say. Who is the mon?” Alistair swallowed around a large lump in his throat and drained his mug.
Gavin finished his ale also. “He is Struan Sutherland. I ken little about him as he stays close to Contullich Castle.” Gavin slammed the mug on the oak plank. “’Tis time to go. Erskin, if you and Fergus will fetch the horses, I’ll settle our bill.” He pushed back from the table, rose, and walked to the pub’s owner who stood behind the bar.
Alistair walked to the front door that opened to a cool ocean breeze. The refreshing salty air washed across his face and brushed the armor, cooling the metal links. The serving maid bumped against his arm when she passed with a tray of ale for two newly arrived patrons. She flashed the knight a broad smile showing white teeth. Her eyes danced with teasing. Ali returned the smile, but moved away. He had no time for frivolous flirtations.
Gavin settled the debt with the proprietor and motioned for Alistair who joined him by the storeroom door. The two passed through bags of grain, flour, and barrels of spirits. One barrel was stamped with the word WHISKY, making him wish for a shot of good Scotch whisky after six years of French wine and ale.
Grabbing his arm and pulling him toward the outside door, Gavin shook his head. “Now’s no’ the time to eye the whisky barrel.”
The two men made their way outside to the horses. Erskin and Fergus were ahorse on two fine steuds. Two others stood ready. Gavin gave one that favored Maith, his warhorse from six years past, a pat on the nose then mounted. The horse remaining for Alistair looked to be a fine chesten gelding with a black mane. Large bright eyes followed the knight when he climbed astride.
“His name is, Brody. He’s from Andrew’s stable of steuds. The chief personally chose him for you,” Gavin said.
Ali patted the silky neck. Brody neighed in return. “He’s a fine one, he is. I must thank Andrew properly.”
“You can thank him in a couple of days. I have orders to bring you to Fàrdach Castle first. Then you can take care of this business with Bridget.” Gavin turned his horse toward the open lane.
“I want to see my son, first,” Alistair complained.
“Andrew’s orders. He has important news for you,” he called while spurning Maith to an open gallop.
The others followed and soon the streets of Cromarty gave way to the open road dotted with runrigs now brown with the stubble left from barley harvest. Shaggy Highland cattle and sheep grazed in green pastures separated by hedge rows and large trees. Alistair’s heart leapt with the welcomed sights of his homeland. While in France serving with Louis’ army and bivouacked under the stars, he imagined the same celestial bodies shining over Scotland. Several times he had seen the Northern Lights in winter skies over his home country, but not in France. Hopefully, they would return this winter with their green and purple hues spreading across the night skies, truly a sight to behold. The biting wind said winter would soon be upon the land.
She stood in the chief’s well-appointed library of Fàrdach Castle. Davina had sought Andrew concerning her desire to return to London.
“But Davina, you just came from London. Now you wish to return, unescorted.” Andrew’s voice reached the high pitch of anger. “I’ll no’ fund another journey. Too, traveling to London is too hazardous this time of year. Your elderly aunt is wintering at Dunrobin Castle, and you may reside with her if you wish, but you must stop this whining.”
Her brother’s one good eye shot arrows of fury into her, and she felt certain the black patched one shot the same missiles. Andrew, Chief of Clan Munro, stood his ground. No amount of begging would change his mind, but she must try. Scotland and Fàrdach Castle this time of year sent waves of depression coursing through her very being. Daylight hours shortened until darkness covered the land. Snow and icy rain never ceased. Chills racked her body in spite of roaring wood fires in great fireplaces and peat fires in braziers throughout the castle.
“I dinna wish to spend the winter in Dunrobin Castle. ’Tis worse than Fàrdach with its cold and chill,” she retorted and closed her eyes, waiting for Andrew’s slap to her cheek.
His voice softened. “Open your eyes, Davina. I’ll no’ strike you as did your husband. I’ve never struck a woman in anger and shan’t begin now, but I also dinna take kindly to backtalk from anyone. You must obey my orders while you reside here.”
“’Tis the point, brother. I wish no’ to reside here.” She couldn’t help but say the last word.
Andrew took the distance between them and wrapped still strong warrior arms around her, pulling her close. “Must you always have the last word, lass? I love you and only have your best interest at heart. ’Tis why I say you canna make the journey alone, and I canna spare the men to accompany you. Also, winter is upon us making travel in the Highlands almost impossible.”
She buried her head on his chest. Unabashed tears flowed, wetting her brother’s saffronleine. Of course Andrew was right. He sent members of his luchd-taighe or armed guard to fetch her from London when Edward died of a fever, leaving her alone, but reivers were about while all stayed inside beside warm fires. Winter was their treasured time to steal cattle.
Andrew stroked her hair while she cried. “Come now, sister.” He held Davina at arm’s length, searching her wet eyes, then reached with a calloused thumb and brushed the tears away. “Maidie will be most happy with your company this winter. There is plenty to keep you busy helping her with the castle duties while she’s big with our third bairn, and then his arrival around Christmastime.” A smile broke his solemn face when he spoke of the babe.
Davina returned his gaze. She couldn’t stop her mouth from turning up at the corners also. “How do you ken the bairn’s a he?”
Andrew’s smile broadened. “I feel it in my bones.”
Davina’s head shook at the thought. “Your bones are old and arthritic, they feel a lot of things.”
“I ken in my heart this bairn will be the last babe for Maidie and me, and he will be a man of God. Not like his brother, Willie, who will lead the clan. My days on this earth are fast coming to an end.”
Her brother’s words caused Davina to step back and search his face. “Brother, how can you say such a thing? You’re still a fine, strong warrior and leader of our clan. I feel strength in your arms.”
A winsome smile crossed Andrew’s face. “A mon kens such things, Sister. ’Tis why I desire you to stay in Scotland and let me find you a suitable husband here, in your homeland.”
“Nae, I want to find my own husband.” Davina pushed away from Andrew, turned, and made her way to the door. Looking back before leaving the room, she said, “And I want to find him in London.”
Davina opened the door then slammed it shut. How exasperating this brother of hers.He ruled Clan Munro with an iron fist and tried to do the same with her. She would not have him dominating her life and making her stay in Scotland. She planned to put all of her energies into finding a way back to London. Mayhap she could convince Maidie, then Andrew’s wife could in turn, alter her husband’s mind. Davina made her way to the nursery on the third floor where she hoped to find her sister-in-law.