Highland Fire

By: Elizabeth Thornton


Shrugging out of Crombie’s grasp, MacGregor rubbed his throat and went on doggedly, “Instead o’ mollycoddling the lad, we should be arranging his baptism, makin’ a man o’ him, ye ken.”

“And just what do ye mean by that?” Young Gordon’s hackles were up.

MacGregor smiled easily. “Wenching, ye ignorant whelp. When next I go tae Ballater, ye are welcome tae come with me, or dinna ye like the lassies?”

“I like them well enough,” mumbled the boy, and everyone laughed.

“Whisht!”

All heads came up as the muffled thud of hoofbeats approached. “By dand.” The password was given, the Gordon motto, and then Daroch himself came thundering down the incline and sprang from his horse.

Even in that dim light, he cut an impressive figure. Youth, pride of race, and sheer devil-may-care audacity—every man there felt the pull of the young laird’s magnetism. Given their druthers, they would have elected him to be chief of any clan they could name. Unfortunately, the chieftainship was always hereditary, and Douglas Gordon of Daroch belonged to one of the younger branches of the great house of Gordon. He was a laird, but he would never be chief.

“Up and at it, lads,” he said. “Ye ken what to do.” His glance roamed from face to face until it lit on his young kinsman. His eyes were twinkling. “Someone maun bide here tae look after the ponies,” he said, and ignoring the lad’s protests, led his men up the slope.



At that very moment, Rand was mounted on his huge bay, trailing the lights of his own carriage as it wended its way to the Feardar Bridge. He was glad of the exercise, glad to get out of the confines of his coach even when it meant that he was flanked by a detachment of troopers from the garrison at Braemar Castle.

The patron had halted him six miles east of the village. He had gathered that they were on the lookout for smugglers. A lone carriage, setting off at twilight, had roused their suspicions. He’d told them the truth, that he’d had every intention of staying a night or two at Inverey when he had received a garbled message from his factor warning him not to delay. Since tomorrow was the Sabbath and there could be no traveling the King’s highways in Scotland during this hallowed day, he had decided to set out at once.

Whether or not he was believed was debatable. On balance, he thought not, which was why a detail of troopers was giving him escort to his own front doors. The arrangement suited him. A lone carriage traveling at dusk invited brigands to try their luck, whereas a troop of redcoats must give men pause.

The journey from Perth had been a long one, but far from boring. A man would have to be a philistine, Rand was thinking, if the Highlands of Scotland did not make some impression on him. And whatever else one might say about Scotland, and he could say plenty, it had the finest vistas of any he had seen in his life. The moors, the snow-capped mountains, the ancient forests in all the glory of their autumn colors, the lakes and rivers with waters so pure, so clear that one could see right down to their rocky beds, from Dunkeld over the pass to the Braes o’ Mar—no one who had not seen it would credit that such stark beauty existed. Uncivilized was the word he wanted, but he did not mean it in a bad sense. Man had not made much of a mark on the Highlands and that was all to the good.

The weather had been fine, of course, and that had added to his pleasure. If it had rained, it would have been a different story. When it really rained in Scotland, one either packed one’s bags and made tracks for England, or one built an ark.

He’d cracked that little joke with his good friend and host, John Murray of Inverey, with whom he’d planned to stay for a few days. John’s face had not evinced a trace of amusement. That was the trouble with the Scots. They had no sense of humor. Dour. It was a Scots word but he comprehended its meaning to a nicety. The Scots would be all right if only they would take themselves a little less seriously, enjoy life more.

This last thought led to another. David. Now, when it was too late, he wished he had taken the time to get to know his cousin better. After Waterloo, when he was back in England, he had paid a visit to David’s father, hoping to find some answers. It was too soon. The old boy was immersed in grief. Rand had taken his leave knowing no more about his cousin than he had ever known. God, he hated regrets. They were such a waste.

This time, there would be no regrets. The girl had mattered to David, and he had given David his word. The thing was, he wasn’t quite sure what had been on David’s mind. A hundred times since, he had retraced that last conversation on the eve of battle. The girl. Scotland. He didn’t know what to make of it all. He knew one thing. David had wanted him here, and for the present, that knowledge must suffice.

It was unfortunate that the girl was a Randal of Glenshiel. The feud would not be circumvented easily, though Rand was not overly pessimistic about bringing Glenshiel to heel, not when he had set his mind to it. According to his mother, the feud was something which Glenshiel, alone, perpetuated. Over the years, there had been overtures of friendship on his family’s part, which the old boy had spurned with unbridled disdain. His family had not grieved overmuch at the loss of that friendship. In England, the Randals were great landowners, each successive English bride adding to the family’s estates and coffers. As he had told David, only the name and title were Scottish. In all other respects, they were English to the bone. Yet, David had demonstrated a clear attachment to all things Scottish. That must be the girl’s influence.