Friday, May 25, 2012

BronwynK Week 105: Ròs an Dùbhlachd

Bronwyn Keith

Picture 1

Picture 2

Bronwyn’s Choice: Picture 1

Ròs an Dùbhlachd

A light layer of snow coated the barren ground. It was the first snow in six weeks. There was a hush over the land, as if nature held her breath. The cold December air caressed Aine’s cheek as she stood at the entrance of the cave, watching and listening.

Her sword was strapped to her hip. Her dirk was in her boot. The bow and arrows were attached to the saddle on her horse. She pulled the cloak over her shoulders, pulling the hood over head to hide her tell-tale red hair. If she wanted to arrive in Aberdeen that evening she would need to ride hard for the day, but first she needed to get herself and her horse to the valley.

Confident that it was safe to leave the cave, Aine led her horse along the narrow path back to the base of the hill. Not far from the hill would be the main road that went to Balmoral Castle. The ground was wet and muddy from the light snow as it melted. It wasn't going to be a warm day, but not cold enough to keep the snow on the ground.

As she picked her way over the rocks and tree roots, she thought about her brother. Ian was the reason she was so far from home. He needed to come home. Their father, Angus, Laird McDonnell, was ill. It was time for Ian to return from fostering with the Laird Gordon to take his place among the Clan. It was known that Angus was gravely ill. Two of the neighboring Clans made a bargain and joined forces to eliminate the McDonnells. But they wouldn't attack until Angus was in the ground and the clan was in chaos because of the lack of leadership. After months of sending men to retrieve Ian with no results, Aine crept out of the castle one night to get him herself. After sleeping mostly in the bracken and heather for three days, she was cold and tired. She was ready for a hot meal and a warm drink. She was only a day's ride from both of those and a warm bath.

Aine reached the bottom of the hill and mounted her horse. She pointed her mount toward the road. As they moved forward, she watched and listened for any sign that she wasn't the only human in those woods. Aine knew the stories of outlaws living in the woods and did her best to stay on guard. But she wasn't as helpless as many of the women in the stories. Angus made sure his only daughter knew how to use a sword and bow. He didn't want her dependent on a man to survive.

As she approached the road, Aine heard a branch snap. She silently slid off her horse, pulling her knife from her boot. Only large animals like deer and horses would make a branch snap that loud, and the deer rarely got so close to a human. She moved to her horse's head just as he raised his head and looked to his right. She followed his gaze and saw another horse and rider approach.

The cloaked figure stopped his horse and watched her with his piercing green eyes. Even with his cloak on she could tell he was broad across the shoulders like her father. He lifted a gloved hand and pushed back the hood of his cloak. His black hair was pulled back from his angular face. His jaw was covered in a few days growth. On most men it would have made them look unkempt, but it just added to this stranger’s masculinity.

“Lady Aine, I’m guessing?”

“Aye, and ye are?” She watched as he dismounted his horse. Under his cloak she saw that he wore the plaid of the Frasers. She knew instantly that he was sent by her father.

“I’m Malcolm.” He said with a slight bow of the head. “I’m here to escort ye to Balmoral Castle.”

“I dinna need an escort.”

"That may be so, but I swore an oath to Laird Angus. You will be delivered first to Balmoral safely than returned home with your brother."

Aine let out a frustrated sigh. She left a note for her father telling him not to worry about her.

"If ye insist on accompanying me, ye best keep up." She turned to her horse to mount but paused when she saw the flower. It was a beautiful rose covered in the morning snow and slightly sheltered by a large fern. Her mother always said the goddess Brigid would provide a sign that she met her mate. She never expected it to be so beautiful. Aine moved away from the rose and mounted her horse. Her mother will be happy to hear that Brigid made a good choice for her daughter. However, Aine wasn't convinced.