Highland Raider (The King's Outlaws #2) - Amy Jarecki
The Battle of Loch Ryan, 10th February, the year of our Lord, 1307
“Retreat!” Angus bellowed above the thunderous tumult of battle. Swords clashed, barbed maces thudded into iron mail while dying men shrieked in a fight no mortal could win. Sidestepping toward the shore, he thrust out his shield, stopping an attacker with the deadly spike jutting from its center. Within his next heartbeat, Angus drove his sword into the gullet of another. “To the boats!”
“They outnumber us ten to one,” shouted Raghnall, still fighting like a man crazed.
“Go now,” Angus ordered, as he cut down another, creating a gap for his men to escape. “Raghnall, I commanded ye to withdraw!”
The man-at-arms leapt in front of Angus, fending off the army as the gap closed. “Not until ye’re aboard, m’lord.”
Slinging his targe to his back, Angus grasped the man’s plaid and dragged him into the surf. “There are too many of them and I’ll not see ye killed this day.”
Behind them, MacDonald warriors had already taken up oars in the nearest birlinn, its sail billowing with a fierce westerly, thank the gods. His boots filled with water and slowed his progress, though Angus gnashed his teeth and surged ahead with all his strength, defying the tug from murderous kelpies of the deep. He tossed the enormous sword he’d inherited from his father over the side and summoned the dregs of his strength to haul himself into the hull. Raghnall landed with a thud beside him.
Gael MacDonald thrust a helping palm in front of Angus’ face. “We feared we’d lost ye, m’lord.”
“Never.” Taking the offered hand, Angus let his man tug him to his feet, though nothing could have prepared him to face the massacre on the shore behind them. Worse, the two men who’d led the charge were already bound and gagged. All but two of the birlinns Angus had provided for this mishappen raid were alight, flames leaping where they moored just shy of the sands.
“My God,” growled Raghnall, leaning heavily on the rail as he sucked in deep breaths.
“’Tis amazing anyone survived,” said Gael. “I fear the king’s brothers are lost.”
The man-at-arms pounded his fist on the side of the boat. “Those hapless bastards will be executed for certain.”
Gulping against his urge to wretch, Angus turned away and headed for the tiller. Before they set out, he had told Robert the Bruce this was a stargazer’s plan, but the king chose to ignore his warning. Regardless of what Angus predicted, he had already given his word—committed sixty men and five of his fleet to Scotland’s cause, which set the bile to churning in his gullet. ’Twas a foolish risk, though one he’d recklessly hoped was worth taking if it meant ridding the Hebridean Isles of the Lord of Lorn and his clan of MacDougall scourge. Those feuding bastards sided with Longshanks. They’d killed his brother, the man who ought to still hold the title of Lord of Islay. Come what may, Angus would pledge his soul to any king who promised to help him in his quest to claim vengeance.
Raghnall sat on the bench in front of the tiller and took up an oar. “Robert never should have divided our forces.”
Angus ground his molars. He’d argued the same to no avail. From the outset there’d been nary a choice—side with Bruce or side with Longshanks, even though at one time they’d all pledged fealty to the English crown. ’Twas difficult to believe an alliance with the man who claimed himself overlord of Scotland once seemed the right thing to do—until the bastard had become a tyrant.
Nonetheless, Scotland had been embattled for nearly a score of years and her sons were not yet ready to take on the fiercest army in Christendom. Aye, the newly crowned King of Scots had spent most of the winter in hiding. Now His Grace had only begun to raise an army and the damn mutton-head decided to split his forces—attack the northern and southern borders of his ancestral lands. Although, if Angus wore the man’s cloak, he’d thirst for retribution as well. But before he sent his kin into battle, he would have made certain they had the numbers needed to face Edward’s army.
As the birlinn sailed into the North Sea, Angus bore down on the tiller and pointed her westward. His losses had been heavy, but not as devastating as those of the king. Moreover, Angus should have been the man to lead the charge. He should have been the one the English