The Betrayal - By Ruth Langan Page 0,1
Grant nodded. “Aye. I’ve heard a lifetime of tales about the dragon that guards the loch, protecting the witches who live there. But if the legends be true, and a man successfully crosses into their kingdom, those witches can be forced to reveal their secrets to him.”
“Perhaps.” Grant picked up his dirk and tucked it into his boot. “But the people of Duncrune have declared me laird of the clan MacCallum. With that privilege comes the responsibility of keeping those under my protection safe. If that means I must risk my life, so be it.” He laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I’ll not return to Duncrune Castle until I have what I seek.”
“And what is that?”
Their aunt got to her feet. “You’d take the word of a witch as truth?”
“Am I better off trusting one who would betray me?”
“You don’t know that to be true.”
“I know it in my heart, Aunt.” Grant looked from Hazlet to Dougal, before turning away.
Dougal said softly, “I should go with you.”
“Nay.” Hazlet’s eyes blazed behind her veil. “Our people cannot afford to lose both of you. If you intend to follow through on this folly, nephew, you’d best leave Dougal here to reign as laird in your absence.”
Grant heard the murmur of voices coming from the great hall below stairs, where many of his most trusted men had gathered. “We have the Council. They’re capable of seeing to the safety of our clan until I return.”
“They’re fine enough warriors, if that’s all that is needed. But you said yourself there may be a traitor among them. Who can be trusted to make a decision of any importance while you’re off chasing after witches?”
Grant took no offense at the hint of sarcasm that colored her words. There was a time when he, too, would have dismissed witches and magic as complete nonsense. But that was before he’d become desperate to learn the truth behind his betrayal.
He turned to his brother. “Aunt Hazlet is right, of course. Until I return, I leave the protection of our people to the Council, and any decisions requiring my seal to you, Dougal. You’ll see to it?”
“If you order it, though I’d rather ride with you than stay behind.”
“I order it, then.”
The two men clasped hands.
“What about me, my laird? Will you at least permit me to ride with you?”
At Finlay’s question, Grant looked over. “Nay, my friend. You’ll stay and see to the safety of my brother and my aunt.”
A short time later the three watched as Grant strode from the room. They stood together on the balcony and heard the servants shouting out words of farewell as their laird turned his steed toward the misty mountains that loomed in the distance.
Hazlet turned away, shaking her head. “Grant is as stubborn as my brother Stirling was. I only pray he doesn’t prove himself to be as foolhardy, as well.”
Her words sent a shudder through Dougal. It was common knowledge that his father’s reckless disregard for his own safety on the field of battle had cost him his life and that of his closest friend, Ranald, who had been the great love of Hazlet’s life. Brokenhearted, Hazlet had taken to her chambers in mourning, refusing to see anyone.
To add to the family woes, Stirling’s beautiful young wife, Mary, made frail by the birth of her firstborn, died hours after giving birth to Dougal. Hazlet had been forced to rouse herself from her grief to assist at the birth and care for the infant.
Seeing Dougal’s distress, Hazlet was quick to soothe. “You mustn’t fret, dear heart.”
“But what if our family is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past? You said yourself that Grant is reckless.”
“That doesn’t mean you must be like him.”
“The same blood flows through our veins.”
“As it flows through mine.” She touched a hand to his cheek. “But I am no more like my brother than you are like yours. Come. We’ll go below stairs and meet with the others. Once they learn of their laird’s latest folly, they’ll be in need of wise counsel. Together you and I will ease their fears.”
Behind them, old Finlay remained on the balcony, watching until his laird was out of sight.
The forest was dark as midnight. No sunlight could penetrate the thick growth of twisted, tangled brush that resisted every step taken. Grant had been forced to dismount and use his sword to hack at the vines and shrubs that barred his way. Several times his