Tame A Highland Warrior
Tame A Highland Warrior
Karen Marie Moning
Death itself is better than a life of shame.
THE HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND
THE SCREAMING HAD TO STOP.
He couldn't endure it another minute, yet he knew he was helpless to save them. His family, his clan, his best friend Arron, with whom he'd ridden the heather fields only yesterday, and his mother-oh, but his mother was another story; her murder had presaged this- this- barbaric-
He turned away, cursing himself for a coward. If he couldn't save them and he couldn't die with them, at least he owed them the honor of scribing the events into his memory. To avenge their deaths.
One at a tune, if necessary.
Vengeance doesn't bring back the dead. How many times had his father said that? Once Gavrael had believed him, believed in him, but that had been before he'd discovered his mighty, wise, and wonderful da crouched over his mother's body this morning, his shirt bloodstained, a dripping dagger in his fist.
Gavrael McIllioch, only son of the Laird of Maldebann, stood motionless upon Wotan's Cleft, gazing down the sheer cliff at the village of Tuluth, which filled the valley hundreds of feet below. He wondered how this day had turned so bitter. Yesterday had been a fine day, filled with the simple pleasures of a lad who would one day govern these lush Highlands. Then this cruel morning had broken, and with it his heart. After discovering his da crouched above the savaged body of Jolyn McIllioch, Gavrael had fled for the sanctuary of the dense Highland forest, where he'd passed most of the day swinging wildly between rage and grief.
Eventually both had receded, leaving him oddly detached. At dusk, he'd retraced his path to Castle Maldebann to confront his sire with accusations of murder in a final attempt to make sense of what he'd witnessed, if there was sense to be made. But now, standing on the cliff high above Tuluth, the fourteen-year-old son of Ronin McIllioch realized his nightmare had only begun. Castle Maldebann was under siege, the village was engulfed in flames, and people were darting frantically between pillars of flames and piles of the dead. Gavrael watched helplessly as a small boy sped past a hut, directly into the blade of a waiting McKane. He recoiled; they were only children, but children could grow up to seek vengeance, and the fanatic McKane never left seeds of hatred to take root and bear poisonous fruit.
By the light of the fire engulfing the huts, he could see that the McKane severely outnumbered his people. The distinctive green and gray plaids of the hated enemy were a dozen to each McIllioch. It's almost as though they knew we'd be vulnerable, Gavrael thought. More than half the McIllioch were away in the north attending a wedding.
Gavrael despised being fourteen. Although he was tall and broad for his age, with shoulders that hinted at exceptional strength to come, he knew he was no match for the burly McKane. They were warriors with powerfully developed, mature bodies, driven by obsessive hatred. They trained ceaselessly, existing solely to pillage and kill. Gavrael would be no more significant than a tenacious pup yapping at a bear. He could plunge into the battle below, but he would die as inconsequentially as the boy had moments before. If he had to die tonight, he swore he would make it mean something.
Berserker, the wind seemed to whisper. Gavrael cocked his head, listening. Not only was his world being destroyed, now he was hearing voices. Were his wits to fail him before this terrible day ended? He knew the legend of the Berserkers was simply that-a legend.
Beseech the gods, the rustling branches of the pines hissed.
"Right," Gavrael muttered. As he'd been doing ever since he'd first heard the fearsome tale at the age of nine? There was no such thing as a Berserker. It was a foolish tale told to frighten mischievous children into good behavior.
Ber- serk- er. This tune the sound was clearer, too loud to be his imagination.
Gavrael spun about and searched the massive rocks behind him. Wotan's Cleft was a tumble of boulders and odd standing stones that cast unnatural shadows beneath the full moon. It was rumored to be a sacred place, where chieftains of yore had met to plan wars and determine fates. It was a place that could almost make a stripling lad believe in the demonic. He listened intently, but the wind carried only the screams of his people.
It was too bad the