Chieftain in the Making Prologue


Prologue

 Year of our Lord 1091 


Ransom.

Never in the whole of his admittedly short lifetime had Rob McArthur imagined the word passing his lips. And over those self-same years, in many dreams where he had watched his return to Wolfsdale, he hadn’t envisaged himself a prisoner, hands bound, eyes blindfolded.

Shame ran deep in his veins for choosing ransom instead of cold steel when he was captured. Aye, it mortified him to behave the way that, according to his uncle Gavyn Farquhar, came naturally to the French. Aye, as well as yon bluidy Norman knights—the ones who’d captured him—did when they were in fear for their lives. Truth be told, Rob didnae fear dying as much as he did letting down his father. Only son of the McArthur clan chieftain—only heir—he had departed the formidable cliff top housing Cragenlaw Castle accompanied by a group of clansmen, every one of them young and eager for battle—like Rob, all intent on following in the footsteps of King Malcolm Canmore.

Doing his duty.

Experiencing the reality of all the warcraft he had learned frae his father.

Making the McArthur proud.

Aye, with Rob’s complex family history, he owed the McArthur too much to dare disappoint him by ending his days at the hands of the Normans. Until the unfortunate incident of his capture, he and his wee friend Nhaimeth had been keen on having a grand adventure into Northumbria, desirous of taking part in their first battle beyond Scotland’s border. The undertaking, meant to be the culmination of all he and Nhaimeth had been taught by his father and uncle, had ended on a day that was almost his last.

Under his command, his clansmen had formed part of a shield wall on the right flank—a wall that had buckled under the onslaught of mounted Norman knights. He could still see it all around him. The wounded—Scots ,Saxon and Norman alike—lay bleeding, dying in their gore. He thanked God that Nhaimeth had survived the mêlée.

Aye, it wasnae a day he remembered with pride, considering he had wanted to weep. Not simply for his own sake, or the deaths of his men. Nae, he had lost his mount—his auld friend Diabhal—during the battle. For years the great black destrier had served first his father then himself, not only well, bravely. Normally surefooted, his auld friend had stumbled on the battlefield, breaking a leg and tipping Rob over its neck onto the ground. Although it had almost shattered that hardy organ he called his heart, Rob had done as his father would have expected and put all that magical symmetry of flesh, blood and bone out of its misery.

That’s when he had been captured.

It was a memory he avoided, one that brought the harsh sting of unshed tears to his eyes. Grief for the loss of friends could still make his vision blur. If it hadn’t been for the company of bonnie Melinda, Rob felt he would have gone crazy, hampered by all the restrictions of his confinement.

Rob’s long dead uncle, Doughall Farquhar would most likely be laughing at the irony of Rob’s imprisonment at Wolfsdale. There would little else to bring him pleasure down in Hell. The thought made Rob catch the inside of his cheek betwixt his back teeth.

Hadn’t it been the Moor Kalem and the lecherous Doughall’s corrupt intentions that sent an eleven-year-auld Rob, fleeing Wolfsdale with his mother in the first instance? Twelve years ago, taking naught more than the clothes they stood up in, they had escaped. He didn’t think he would ever again experience the emotions he had felt when they actually walked through the gatehouse into the Bailey at Cragenlaw—completed their journey without Doughall catching up with them.

All well and good, but it now felt paradoxical to be back at Wolfsdale, especially as a prisoner of the high-handed bastard to whom William of Normandy had awarded the Farquhar family manor. Nae doubt, La Mont received the Barony as a reward for his part in slaughtering folk living on the shifting border betwixt Northumbria and Lothian Scotland. Those he hadn’t killed, the Norman had ground under his heel in a manner unknown in the days when Rob’s grandfather had been Baron Wolfsdale.

Rob glanced out the window at the square stone tower and walls replacing the wooden hall and palisades his grandfather had built The auld man would be hard pressed to recognise the manor now. La Mont’s new manor house had replaced the wooden structure with a stone curtain wall in an attempt to keep out raiders—Scots like himself inclined to ride across the border as if it didnae exist.

The Wolf, his grandfather, had depended only upon his standing in the Borders, and a fiercesome reputation it had been—a fact that still made his death by family treachery stick in Rob’s craw. His gaze returned to the wall, and for an instant he wondered if everything on the other side of the training grounds had been lost—difficult to tell in winter while the snow lay thick, hiding the far side of the Bailey.

Shaking his head in disgust that he even longed for yon days, he turned back to survey his lodgings, his prison. A place far removed frae anything he had expected, and not because La Mont had discovered his connection to the land the Norman now dominated. Nae, the name McArthur had become synonymous with justice, fair play and retribution over the years since Rob and his mother had gone to live with him. Men respected his father and the men, his allies, who added their might to his.

The McArthur’s messenger had arrived, but late in the day. Tomorrow Rob would go home to Cragenlaw on Scotland’s northeast coast, and he wished he felt happier about his imminent departure and the amount it had cost his father. The last time Rob had left this place, his auld home, he had been lucky to escape with his life. That had been almost half his lifetime ago—a year less now that he had had come of age and turned twenty-one, a man in all the ways that counted.

Melinda.

His innards churned at the very notion of leaving her behind, but of choice he had none, for she wouldnae leave her father. Now he was left with nae more than a few hours of darkness betwixt him and the dawn hour to say farewell to the lass he had fallen in love with.

Deep in his heart he knew Melinda wasnae his first love, yet today she felt like his last.

Her father had departed south to London more than a month ago to plot Norman revenge against the Scots, and to celebrate Yuletide at court without his daughter of sixteen years, his only child. Rob and the ransom he was worth had been left in the hands of his constable, a man with a blind eye when it came to Melinda, but not blind enough to let Rob whisk her off to Scotland.

Like her widowed father, the constable doted on the lass, and why not? Such was the sweetness of her demeanour Rob had easily fallen for the honey-trap.

His breath caught as he hurried across the room in response to a soft scratch at the door. “Melinda,” he murmured. The sound filtered through the pocket of gravel sitting in his throat, rough with emotion. He drew her into the room, swiftly barring the door with one hand while pulling her close with the other—breast-to-breast—heart to pounding heart.

“Rob,” his name was like a prayer on her lips, one he knew there was but a single answer to, and it lay in her arms.

Swinging her up high against his chest, he carried Melinda—his love—over to the bed and sank down beside her. Her kisses were frantic, born of the knowledge that this night would be their last. His heart pounding, he slipped his hand beneath her skirt, smoothing her silky skin under his palm until he reached the damp place where pleasure lay for them both since, in his arms, she was nae a simpering miss but a woman determined to experience all they could share together.

Never in all his days had he imagined finding a love such as this—strong, lusty, meant to be. With Lhilidh he had felt all the sweetness of first love and been too wary of Gavyn and his wife Kathryn, who had her in their care, to dare more than a look or the touch of the hand. Lhilidh had been younger than he, delicate and beautiful in a way that had stolen his heart. That had been all, and who could say what might have happened if she hadn’t been murdered. After that, he had done all that was left to do for her, killed the man responsible for her death.

Melinda, in contrast, was full of life, trembling in his arms.. “I can feel ye pressing against me. Ye are big everywhere, Rob, a real man. What will I do if my father marries me off to some poseur the likes of William Rufus? I’ve heard the whispers, the laughter of those gossiping behind their hands over dinner, talking the kind of treason they wouldn’t say to the King’s face and shouldn’t be saying in front of a young lass like myself.”

“I willnae let such a thing happen to ye. If the planning of such an event comes to pass, send me word in plenty of time. I’ll carry ye away frae under their noses, at the point of a sword if need be. Ye are all mine and I’ll let nae other man have ye, Melinda. I give ye my word.”

“And ye have mine, my promise.” She clung to him and he tasted tears on her face as he kissed lips, breasts and her secret womanly folds as she squirmed and cried out, “Take me now, Rob. Fill me up with yer whole length until we become one body, one heart, one soul. Make me yer own for all eternity for I will have no other.”

When he thrust inside her it was like going home—not Wolfsdale, Cragenlaw. Rob vowed that one day he would take her there to be his wife. “This must be like heaven Melinda, naught could be more wonderful. Ye ken I’ve ne’er felt for another what I feel for ye.” he cried out, “And ne’er will.” as with one last thrust as her body tightened around him, squeezing him, demanding he spill his seed inside her instead of atop her belly as his father had always warned he should do. It was as if he couldn’t stop the flow frae his body’s release fighting to reach her womb, but he heard nae protest from the lass he had promised to return for, and he stayed joined with her as he expelled every last drop.

He had made a promise, and to him it was as binding as marriage. Rob neednae have worried, for the words Melinda whispered against his throat showed they were of one mind, “I love ye, Rob, and will to the end of my days. Ye have my love and my promise to wait for your return.”

His relief left his lips in a long sigh as he vowed to himself that although he had lost Lhilidh, he would what he could ne’er to lose Melinda. The night would be long—nae time for sleep—and only the hope that after he left on the morrow they might one day find each other again as promised.

 

 

Copyright © Frances Housden