Blood of the Clans Ch. 07byRoyceConnors©
Garreth had his men roused before the sun had finished breaking over the mountain tops. The birlinns were loaded the day before, so all he had to do was prepare them for the battle plans.
"Clansmen, we sail fer Donan tae guard the passage from the sea. There's no question they'll see us from the castle, but we need tae get as close as we can, tae see how many men are there. We'll make camp on the shore tae keep watch on the castle, as well as the sea, until the MacDonald's and MacDonnell's march o'er land. Tae the birlinns, MacLeod's. We sail for Donan and glory!!!"
A rousing cry of, "Hold Fast", went out among the men as they boarded the birlinns. Garreth turned to Grayson and Arabella once he finished.
"Be there soon, Grayson. Don'ne leave us tae long, so we get weary of waiting fer ye. I'll be looking fer yer signal in two days hence. God speed ye and yer men, my friend." Garreth held his hand out to him and both clasped each other's wrists and held fast, a look of trust and respect for each other passing between them.
"No tae worry, Garreth. We'll be there and ready fer MacRae blood tae stain our blades." Grayson's eyes telling him it would be so.
Garreth turned to Arabella as they let go. She looked at him with affection in her eyes and held her hands to him. Garreth took them in his own as she spoke.
"Garreth, ye mind what I've told ye. Don'ne attack until we all arrive. Lord knows I will be flaming if ye do. Take care of yerself and God be wi' ye." Arabella told him, a mix of determined strength and affection coming through in her words.
Grayson saw the looks passed between them and pondered their meaning, leaving them in his thoughts, as Garreth turned and made for his birlinn. He looked at his sister, as she looked at Garreth and saw her face redden when she noticed he was looking at her. He smiled and quickly mounted his horse and turned to his men. "The day is upon us men, tae show those who stand against us, that we are kin and stand together as one. None shall stop us. Now, we march fer Donan and victory." he shouted out to them. The roar becoming deafening as they responded.
With a quick smile to Arabella, he turned and galloped to the head of the troops. The men formed lines quickly and soon, the dust rose from the hundreds of feet and hooves pounding the earth. Before long, the sound faded and the dust settled, leaving Arabella standing alone, watching the last of the men disappear over the hill, when a call rang out from the tower that sails were coming into the loch.
Arabella turned and saw a man carrying a bag over his shoulder. "Ye there, yer name." she commanded him.
"Harold, go tae the men and ha'e them return, GO!!!!" her command as forceful as she could make it, hastening the villager to re-act.
Harold dropped his sack and was off running as fast as his feet could carry him, yelling at the top of his lungs for the last of the troops to hear him.
Arabella turned and looked up to the lookout in the tower and shouted up to him.
"How many sails? Are they friend or foe?"
The lookout peered up the loch and made a count. He strained to see any markings he recognized on the sails. Finding one he knew, his face took on a look of great happiness
and yelled back down. "Five sails and they're friendly. It's the Stewart's!"
Arabella looked down the channel and saw the sails wending their way for the beach. As they neared, she heard the sound of horses coming from behind her. Grayson and Glenn
rode up to her in haste, stopping in a cloud of dust and dismounted quickly.
"What sails, Arabella?" Grayson said quickly.
Arabella smiled and turned, pointing into the bay at the sails now coming into view from
behind the castle. "Those sails, dear brother. The Stewart's."
Grayson's face beamed as he looked, as did Glenn's. The bottom's of the birlinns scraped into the coral beach and five men jumped down from the lead boat. A bushy mane of bright, red hair adorned the heads of three, while the other two were fair-haired blondes. Braedon Stewart stood six feet, two inches and a girth around his chest like an ox. For all his size and strength, he had a face of handsome features, his brilliant blue eyes capturing the attention of most. His sons were possessed of the same good looks, some having their mother's beauty in them as well.
The red tartans on them were all glowing vividly in the morning sun, adding to the crimson aura they seemed to cast. Cameron, Braedon's eldest son, was growing up to look just like his father, possessing the same blue in his eyes, while his brother had a darker, but still entrancing shade to them. The fair-haired two were his kin, his cousin's sons spending their formative years with him and learning the skills to be warriors and leaders of men.
"Grayson, greetings. I was just out fer a wee sail and thought I would drop in tae see ye and Arabella." Braedon said smiling, as he approached, his hand extended as he spoke.
He shook Grayson's wrist strongly and then turned to Arabella. His eyes met hers and for a long instant, they connected. He softened his smile to one of warmth and his hand took hers gently.
"Arabella, lovelier each time I see ye and always a pleasure." he said in an affectionate turn and kissed her hand, keeping his eyes locked on hers, Arabella accepting the affection. "So, what are ye good folk doing on this lovely morning?" Braedon finished saying to them all.
"Aye, Braedon, we're just off for a wee visit ourselves, tae Eilean Donan. Seems the MacRae's ha'e come tae visit and ha'e no been nice guests, so we're going tae teach them some manners." Grayson jested back, but letting Braedon know full well, they were off to do battle.
"So I've heard. News has travelled tae me fast. I know ye don'ne ha'e enough birlinns fer all yer men, so I thought I could send along a few, tae help out wi' things. Would yer men care tae sail wi' a few of us tae Donan?" Braedon joked back, offering his alliance to them in the battle.
"Braedon, I can'ne thank ye enough. I can ride fast wi' my men on horseback and be there by the morrow's morn. Make sure they save us a pot of something tae eat, we'll need a wee something before we start out in the morning." Grayson said in earnest humour.
"Aye, we can at least do that fer ye." Braedon replied and winked with a smile.
The two held each other's shoulders and hugged in bonding, then clasped the wrists of their right arms in allegiance once more.
"Are ye okay here, Arabella?" Braedon turned and asked her in concern.
"Aye, I am Braedon, thank ye." she smiled back, with a small curtsey.
Their eyes met again and a flush grew on Arabella's cheeks. Braedon smiled a little warmer at her after noticing. Grayson and Glenn watched the inter-action between them and then looked at each other and Grayson smiled, knowing what it was all about, Glenn looking puzzled. Grayson turned Glenn away and walked back to the horses.
"E'en in battle, Glenn. Ye ne'er know when it'll just come up and slap ye in the face." Grayson said laughing quietly to him.
"What's that, Grayson?" Glenn replied, not knowing the answer.
"Love, ye fool. Did ye no see the look on they two faces? The way they looked at each other? Are ye blind, or just daft?" Grayson joked with him.
"Really? Ye think Laird Braedon has affections fer Lady Arabella?" Glenn asked him back.
"If that's no love, Glenn, I don'ne know it either. Ride and bring the men back. The riders can keep going, we'll catch up tae them shortly." he told him and turned his head, hearing Arabella laugh.
He looked at Braedon taking Arabella's arm, to go up to the castle, Arabella playing the proper Lady now walking with him, holding her poise as she was taught as a young girl. Grayson looked back at Glenn, then cocked his head back towards the two walking away together.
"Like I told ye Glenn, love" Grayson smiled and patted his friend on the shoulder, Glenn smiling as he understood and then jumped quickly onto his horse, turning it quick and riding back.
"Stewart's come wi' me and share a dram, before we part." Grayson said heartily, as he put his arms over the shoulders of the middle two Stewart's, guiding them up to the castle.
The five followed behind Braedon and Arabella, watching them interplay with jokes and a growing fondness. Glenn had the troops turn and head back to the shore for a very welcome boat ride, then he directed the riders to head off as planned and that he and Grayson would be along soon. He rode back, taking Grayson's horse and rode up to the castle, entering it.
He saw an older villager, sitting on a stool, lovingly stroking a cat and asked him to watch the horses, while he was inside. He smiled at him and put his hand on his shoulder in thanks, as the old man smiled a toothless smile back and gave a slight bow, as he took the reins. The horses immediately took to him, as he patted their snouts gently, nuzzling him and showing an affection. Glenn found it a bit odd, that they took to him so fast, as he kept walking, hastening his speed, as he entered the keep.
Inside, Arabella and Braedon were still engaged in pleasantries, standing beside the fire, while Grayson, Robert and the four Stewart's were standing together, Grayson pouring hearty cups of the clan drink for each.
"One more, Laird Grayson." Glenn said striding up.
"I ha'e one here fer ye, Glenn. Come, drink wi' us and we'll bid good cheer tae our friends and allies." Grayson replied over his shoulder to him, before turning back to his guests.
Glenn reached the table and took the lone cup and held it up with the others. Cameron Stewart, Braedon's oldest son at sixteen, looked at everyone and spoke, while Braedon and Arabella stood away from everyone and watched.
"Grayson, long ha'e we held oor allegiance tae the Lord of the Isles, the Donald's. We'll stand wi' ye against the MacRae's, or any other clan who challenges ye. That allegiance stands fer the MacLeod's as well."
Braedon stopped himself drinking at hearing the words his son spoke, and affirmed what his son said. "Aye, the MacLeod's ha'e been our allies in the past and come tae our aid when needed." Cameron saluted to his father for adding that, before continuing.
"True, Father, let us salute tae oor joining and declare a victory now." Cameron finished, then took a drink.
The others drank as well, then Grayson spoke out. "I accept and honour our allegiance, Stewart s of Appin. Our clans will grow together in friendship and trade. Tae the Stewart's." Grayson toasted and drank back the rest of his drink.
The others followed in suit and tossed back the last of their drinks. The younger members were shaking their heads and making faces at the strength of it and the burning taste it left in their mouths. That brought a chuckle from the older ones, as they smiled at each other.
"I ha'e decided tae stay wi' Arabella and make sure she'll be all right. Ye four know enough tae get them there and back now, sure." he said to his sons and nephews. "Grayson, take
good care of my lads, see that they don'ne get themselves intae any trouble. I'm depending on ye." Braedon said, as he approached him. "Ye take care as well my friend." he ended with, as he took Grayson's wrist, looking into his eyes, speaking more with them, than any words.
"Braedon, my eternal gratitude fer yer aid. Wi'out it, the battle could be far different in MacRae's stead. I'll keep yer kith and kin safe, they'll ne'er be in harm's way. That's my promise and oath tae ye." Grayson assured him. "Now, ye four must get my men tae Garreth, he can'ne be no more than a hour's journey ahead and assist him in guarding the waters off Donan, nothing more, am I understood?" he said sternly, as he looked at all of them, stopping at Cameron for the most effect, knowing he was in charge of his kin and wanting him to know he spoke in all seriousness.
Cameron looked at Grayson and then to his father, seeing that his desire to see action was denied, then looked back and bowed his head. "I understand, Laird Grayson, yer orders are clear." to which the four crossed their right arms over their chests to him,
Grayson doing the same to them, before they left the hall.
"Glenn, we tae must ride hard tae catch up, so we best be going as well. Braedon, take good care of my sister till I get back." he said with a wink and a smile.
"I will Grayson, I gi'e ye my promise." Braedon said back with mirthful pleasure, taking Arabella's hand and holding it on his elbow, then more seriously, "Grayson, God speed yer way and guide yer hand."
Grayson looked back and bowed his head slightly to him and then looked at his sister once more, smiling, before turning and hastening out of the hall with Glenn and Robert right behind him. They entered the courtyard and found the old man still patting the horses, the reins unchecked. As Grayson and Glenn took the reins of their horses, they refused at first to leave the old man, until he motioned for them to go with their riders. The horses immediately obeyed him and allowed them to be taken.
"Thank ye, Fletcher, yer a good man, yer aide was greatly appreciated." Grayson told him, a mild look of disbelief on his face still.
"Ye've done well my friend, I thank ye as well." Glenn told him, patting him on the shoulder once again.
Painfully, the old man bowed fully to them, as they mounted, then rose again to raise his hand in farewell. Grayson and Glenn waved, as they rode out of the castle and along the path of land, the hooves now splashing in the rising tide. Grayson knew the castle was now well protected, till the tides changed again. They reached solid ground and sped along the trail of Loch Moidart to the head and onward through the valley of the mountainous peaks, shadowed from the mid-morning sun. Both Grayson and Glenn seemed surprised at the way their horses ran with such speed, as they closed the distance rapidly on the others.
The Stewart's birlinns were loaded and Robert was helped up by Cameron, as they set out in a fleet back up the loch to the inner seas, rounding the Isle of Shona and disappearing north up the passage towards the Kyle of Lochalsh. Arabella and Braedon watched from the tower, as the thickening fog rolled in and closed off the view of the sea. By the time they had reached the ground again, the fog was sweeping along the loch and engulfing Tioram in a grey shroud, the wet mist laying a coat of water over everything, soaking whatever lay bare to it. They sat in the hall by the fire, talking of the possibilities of the outcome and how to prepare for them, as they drank a hot, herbal tea, laced with some whisky, to fend off the chill.
Garreth had his birlinns sail as close to Donan as he could, to look it over and judge the
defences of the MacRae's. Not a person could be seen on the parapets or along the crenellated walls. It was as though the place was deserted and not a soul was to be seen. As his boats turned away to moor at a safe distance, the roar of cannon fire was heard. In moments a large spray of water rose less than a hundred feet away. As the men in the birlinns readied the oars, another roar of a cannon was heard. The men waited for the shot to land, this time landing broadside of the last birlinn.
"Row men, pull on they oars or the next one'll be up yer kilts." Garreth shouted back to them.
The oars were in the water with haste, the men pulling hard and fast, to gain speed and distance. Another booming roar came from the castle, but not a man stopped rowing. The second from last birlinn took the hit, the rudder area disappearing from the rest of the boat. In shock, the men stopped rowing, as they noticed the entire rear section missing, the boat rocking violently from the impact. In an instant they realized too, that John MacDonnell was no longer with them either. They pulled hard on the oars again, trying to make for land, the water rushing up the open section and filling the boat. The last birlinn pulled along side and the men started unloading the gear onto it. Another stopped and rowed backwards, pulling up along the port side of the boat. The men jumped aboard, as the battered birlinn took on heavy water and sank slowly into the bay.
"Make fer the island and tend tae any wounded." Keith MacDonald, Grayson's oldest cousin, yelled to them from his birlinn.
The other birlinns were pulling into a small cove in the sandy island, well out of reach of cannon fire, as they beached the boats on the shore and disembarked. They stood looking at Eilean Donan in the distance and took stock of their situation. The last two birlinns beached and unloaded, all the men gathering around Garreth.
"Did we lose any men?" he shouted to them.
"Aye, John MacDonnell's gone, but we managed tae save the weapons and the rest of the men, only some gashes tae mend, but they ll still be able tae fight." Argent MacDonald shouted to him.
"We'll make fer the shore and set camp. Two scouts will make fer the shore o'er there and see if we can see hoo many are stationed there. Lady Anne felt there were'ne anymore than a dozen or so, twenty at best. We know three are dead at Glenn MacDonnell's hand, so they don'ne ha'e that many men guarding it. Once we know more, we can make a plan fer attack." Garreth informed them, drawing in the sand, letting everyone know what he was thinking.
"Sails!" A cry went out.
Everyone turned quickly to see a number of sails coming down the loch. Colourful sails, held taut with the strong breeze blowing in.
"Friend or foe?" Garreth shouted out.
"I don'ne recognize any markings, Laird Garreth." A soldier shouted out from the head of the men.
Garreth made is way through the men to look for himself. His eyes strained to make out the crest on the middle ship and saw the gold sunburst in the middle of the red field of sail with broad gold stripes running vertically.
"That's the Stewart's coming. God has gi'en us a blessing this day. If I miss my count, we ha'e another two hundred joining us." Garreth relayed with excitement in his voice.
A rousing cheer went up, many holding their Claymores high. In the distance, many men on board raised their swords and returned a loud, roaring cheer. As they neared, they could start making out faces and realized it was their troops on board. The birlinns came ashore and men poured from the sides and came up to them.
"Laird Garreth, we've brought along some help fer ye. My father thought ye could use a hand getting yer men here a wee bit sooner." Cameron said striding up to him.
He held his hand out and Garreth took his wrist and clasped it tightly in thanks.
"Cameron Stewart, yer turning intae a fine, young man. I owe yer father a great debt fer this kindness. We can look at attacking noo and taking the castle back, before the other MacRae's arrive." Garreth informed him.
"I am at yer service, Laird Garreth." Cameron told him proudly.
Robert MacDonald approached Garreth and whispered to him.
"Laird Garreth, Laird Braedon's lads are'ne tae see battle. Laird Grayson made a vow tae him, they would'ne see danger and return them safely tae Tioram."
Noting the message without expression, he turned to Cameron and talked in confidentiality.
"Cameron, ye can best serve me by commanding the troops tae the shore across the way and setting up camps. When the battle starts, ye and yer men will be needed, tae tend tae the wounded and collect the dead. It's yer father's bidding that ye and yer kin are'ne tae see battle or put ye in danger. I'll honour that request." Garreth told him in hushed tones, so the others didn't hear and diminish him in their eyes.
"But Garreth, I am of an age tae fight. I've been practising and I'm ready." Cameron pleaded to him quietly.
"I think ye may be ready tae, Cameron, but I must abide by yer father's wishes. Honour me and the men by taking they positions fer me. It's a great deed ye'll be doing fer us."