Blood of the Clans Ch. 08byRoyceConnors©
Grayson and his men were also up before the sun broke over the mountain peaks. Breaking camp and mounting up, they followed River Sheil to the mouth and turned west, to ride along the shore to a narrow crossing of Strath Duich, shallow enough for them to traverse it. They were just making their way along the coast of Loch Duich, when the sound of cannon fire broke the misty morning silence, sending wildlife fleeing from their safe positions. Grayson knew immediately that the battle had started, despite the plans to wait for their arrival. He broke his horse into a full gallop, the others following close behind him in formation. Again a cannon roared and echoed down the loch to them, signalling their need to make all speed for the castle.
Garreth had made his way across land in the night, sliding the birlinn over the rough, sandy ground, until it was in the waters of Loch Long. They had quietly rowed across, north of the castle, as Cameron Stewart had suggested. They went back and forth bringing men over quietly, until a hundred men were across. Peadair MacLeod had taken two birlinns with forty men in each and sailed out and around the castle to avoid detection in the night, mooring south of the castle. With the cover of the thick woods, they had made their way to the castle and had set up positions to attack from.
Five men found the entrance to the castle through the underground passage Lady Anne told them about and entered, walking through the dank, wet tunnel until they came to the store room entrance and waited. Another contingent of men stayed on the point, waiting for the signal to surprise attack from the loch side and raise ladders when the signal was given.
Seeing a lack of movement, Garreth gave the order for two men to make it to the wall and raise their ladder, hoping the MacRae's inside weren't alert while on guard. The plan had gone well, until one of the MacRae men heard their movement trying to raise a ladder against the curtain wall close to the bridge. Arrows were let loose at them and the alarm sounded. The men escaped back to the bridge and hid behind it, but their element of surprise was broken and now a siege under fire was upon them. The ladder, so carefully positioned, was tossed back down and afforded no chance of scaling the walls now. Blair MacRae and the others were quickly positioned on the land side of the castle, where the attack came from. They saw the men in the woods and fired the small cannons into the woods in hopes of dispersing them and driving them from their point of attack.
Garreth ordered his men to stay under the cover of the forest, until all the men were in place and ready to attack. One of the MacDonnell clansmen climbed high in an oak tree to peer over the rampart walls to spy on the men in the castle and distinguish their numbers. Watching their movements, he could only see seven men positioning themselves along the walls. Using hand signals, he informed Garreth below, that he could only see the seven and no others.
The tide was in Garreth's favour and afforded them free crossing over the soggy ground along the bridge and stay under the cover of it. He looked across and saw the birlinns waiting for the signal to come across and then down the loch to where Peadair and his men were readied. Feeling it was time to make the charge, he ordered the flaming arrow sent up as the signal to charge. With the sight of it streaking across the sky, a volley of arrows were released, the sky blackened with their numbers, forcing the MacRae's to seek cover.
Garreth and his men charged over the slippery surface of the lichen coated ground, his men stumbling and falling, trying to make it to the bridge and safety. The MacRae's rose again and took aim at them, letting their own arrows fly. Several men dropped and lay dead, but most made it to cover. Four men carrying ladders, stood at the front of the
others, waiting for the signal for covering fire, to race up and raise the ladders against the wall. Garreth signalled to Peadair, who had his men fire another volley of arrows. As they watched them pass overhead, the four men climbed the embankment and raced for the wall. They made it safely, but were struck down by arrows as they started to raise them. Once more he signalled for covering fire and hundreds of arrows streaked at the castle. They collected the dead and wounded and brought them back out of the line of fire, before tending to them and await orders from Garreth.
Grayson heard the echoed shouts of men in the distance and continued riding as hard as he could. Following the coast, he could see the birlinns moored along the shore and recognized them. Knowing there were enough men to attack, he was still discouraged they hadn't waited for their arrival. Nearing the battle zone, two men came from the woods and halted his progress. Grayson reined hard on his horse to stop, the other riders doing the same.
"Laird Grayson, ye've made good time. Laird Garreth was hoping we'd ha'e the castle taken by the time ye arrived. The Stewart's brought all the troops yesterday, and a plan was made tae attack at first light." Robert MacDonald told his cousin.
"Who's being fired upon by cannon?" Grayson asked him, looking ahead to see what was happening.
"The MacRae's opened fire on us, but their shots were just tae scare us. No one was killed or hurt by them, but we've lost a few men tae arras. The charge tae the wall has just begun, but we can'ne raise the ladders yet. Young Cameron Stewart came up wi' a good plan of attack, and so far, it's working." his cousin relayed the events so far.
"Dismount and leave yer horses here. we'll go on foot and join the attack." Grayson shouted back to his men.
In moments, a hundred and fifty riders were dismounted and following Grayson through the thick woods towards the place where Garreth's archers were stationed. They arrived beside them and received a hearty welcome from the men. He found Peadair and walked to him.
"When I give the signal, Peadair, let loose a volley, so we can reach Garreth and his men. When we do, I'll give another signal tae fire and keep firing until the ladders are raised and the men are up. Don'ne stop until I give the order, is that understood?" Grayson commanded, showing the signal he would make with his sword.
"Aye, my Laird. We'll be ready fer the signal." Peadair nodded in a bow, then joined his men and readied a flight.
Grayson could see Garreth was pinned down and no hope of reaching the wall without losing many men in the process. He turned and signalled with his sword to release the volley, breaking cover and charging over the slippery ground to reach Garreth. Garreth saw Grayson coming and smiled at his friend making his way to him. Grayson rushed up and lay on the damp earth beside him, his men taking shelter under the arches of the bridge along with the others.
"Garreth, good tae see ye again. Looks like ye ha'e a wee problem on yer hands." Grayson said jokingly.
"Aye Grayson. Ye made good time getting here. Would ye like tae join me in a morning stroll up tae the castle?" Garreth joked back.
"Och, is this the best ye can do fer me? Just a wee stroll? How about we say hello properly and show the MacRae's some hospitality the MacDonald way?" Grayson replied. keeping up the lighthearted talk.
"What do ye ha'e in mind?" Garreth asked him.
"Wi' the next volley, we rush the walls, I told Peadair that once we charge, tae no stop until the men were climbing the ladders. We make them stay under co'er and no gi'e them a chance tae attack us. How many are there, anyway?" Grayson asked.
"From what we can make out here, there's seven on the walls. If there's more, we don'ne know where they are." Garreth relayed what they knew so far.
"Seven. That's it? We've got o'er three hundred men here. A massive surge and we'll o'er-power them and take them. Are ye ready fer some fun then?" Grayson told him, feeling confident they could take them by sheer force of numbers.
"I'm ready fer some fun, Grayson. Let's see what ye ha'e in mind then." Garreth said in mockery of Grayson's boast.
"All set?" Grayson asked him.
"Aye. Away ye go." Garreth told him.
Grayson turned and waved his sword in circles, giving the signal to start firing on the castle. Immediately the air was filled with arrows, the whistling passing overhead. As soon as they saw the defenders going for cover, he rose and charged to the wall. More volleys were let loose, keeping the MacRae's from returning fire, allowing Grayson and Garreth and all the men to reach the wall. The ladders were raised and two men started to climb rapidly up each one, swords in hand, ready to scale the tops and fight.
At the same time, the five men in the tunnel had heard the cannon fire and took it as their signal to breach the store room and enter the castle. The first man went up and tried moving the door, but it wouldn't move. Another climbed up beside him and the two put their shoulders to the door, heaving with all their strength. The door opened slightly and they peered into the room. With no one seen, they pushed harder and moved the heavy crate off and the door swung open. They climbed out and rushed to the door, opening it slowly. Peering out, they saw no one guarding the room and signalled for the others to come up. Soon, five men stood in the room and waited to make their way into the castle.
Cameron Stewart stood on the shore, watching the battle unfold and wished to no end that he could join in the fray with the men in the three birlinns waiting for his signal to row across the short distance to the castle. Seeing Grayson arrive and approach the castle, all the action was on the far side and no one was guarding his side of the castle, so he took it upon himself to give the order to go.
"Men, row now fer the castle and raise the ladders." he told them and jumped into the birlinn, standing at the prow.
At first the men didn't obey, knowing that the signal hadn't come from Garreth to attack and that Cameron was supposed to remain on-shore in safety. When they didn't row, he turned with rage in his eyes.
"I've gi'en the order tae row. As yer Captain, ye'll follow my command, now row!!" he screamed at them.
The men reluctantly obeyed him and started rowing for the castle. Cameron stood proudly at the prow, holding the black, winged horse head of his father's birlinn. His face took on a look of pride, that he would win the fight for them and have glory heaped on him. They were closing fast on the castle, the men rowing hard and with a few more minutes to go and the shore reached, he smiled in his boldness. In that moment, Fate took it away from him, as a cannon roared in his direction, the shot finding its mark, ripping away the figurehead of the winged horse, obliterating Cameron's head from his shoulders and shattering it against the birlinn he was commanding.
The shot continued through the body of the first MacDonnell and through the second, removing the leg of the third, before smashing through the hull. The men were tossed into the frigid waters, most sinking quickly in their heavy armour. Cameron stood fast for a moment, his hand still clutching the remains of the prow, before toppling in a crumpled
heap into the water. The other two birlinns raced to the scene as fast as they could for rescue, but only four men clinging to pieces of the boat, were there for them to rescue. The red and gold striped sail and wreckage floated on the surface, all that was left to show where they'd been.
The two birlinns were rowed as fast as they could for the shore, reaching it and slamming into the rocky shore. They climbed out with a ladder, swords at the ready, as they rushed along the high walls, until they came to a spot where the ladder's height would afford them entry. Quickly they raised it, archers at the ready, as the men charged up the ladder, one after the other. No more thoughts of Cameron or the others were held, as their own lives were at risk now.
The attack on the other side was going well, the men making it up the ladders. The arrows stopped firing, as Grayson waved his sword in signal, then they scaled the ramparts and entered the castle. The MacRae's had left their posts upon seeing the first men and were finding cover inside the buildings, readying themselves for the final assault. Garreth and Grayson climbed the ladder and joined the men now running along the walls and securing the area. The five in the store room watched, as four MacRae men made their way to escape out the tunnel. As soon as they burst through the door, they were set upon and surrendered without fight, dropping their swords and kneeling before the five men, the sharp points of Claymores inches from their faces.
Five more MacRae's took to fending off the attackers, but in minutes, they lay bloodied and dead, hacked down by swords and axes. The four captured MacRae's were led outside, hands tied behind their backs, pushed roughly by the five who captured them.
"MacRae's, it'll be my pleasure tae bring ye and the others before the King's court, tae stand trial fer yer crimes and hang." Garreth said standing before them, the look of disgust in his eyes.
"Ye'll ne'er ha'e the chance, MacLeod. My clan will arrive and slaughter the lot of ye's where ye stand." Blair cursed back and spat defiantly in his face.
Grayson quickly took the heel of his Claymore and drove it into Blair MacRae's face hard, shattering his nose and mouth. Blood poured from Blair's nose and mouth, as he raised his head again.
"Now try and spit, MacRae. Ye and yer clan will ne'er take Donan away from Lady Anne and the MacDonnell's. Our clans are more powerful than ye'll ever be. Yer father will be held in account as well, fer this." Grayson told him, holding the point of his sword to Blair's throat. "If I had my way about it, I'd push this sword down yer throat and be done wi' ye the now."
The men opened the gates and hundreds more poured in, entering the buildings and scouring each room for more of the MacRae's. Soon they returned to say there were none, but had found three women captives. The women were wrapped in robes, their clothes torn from their bodies and hanging in shreds. One of the women, dishevelled and battered, approached Blair and stood before him. It was Heather MacDonnell and she looked at him with pure hatred, before driving her fist into his shattered nose and mouth, dropping him to his knees in pain and going unconscious.
"Ye filth. Ye disgusting, vile filth. Mark my words. If I am wi' child now, I'll bear it, but it will be put tae death, as soon as it breathes. Ye and yer clan should all be put tae death, ne'er leaving one of ye's alive tae continue yer line." The bruised and beaten woman screeched at him.
Grayson watched until Heather was finished her vitriol and saw her start weeping. He came to her quickly and upon her seeing it was him, she came into his arms for the security she needed. He held her tightly and talked in whispered tones to her. Soon she had stopped sobbing madly and looked at Grayson. The look held more than her comfort
from him and Grayson felt it touch his heart. He was taken aback by the feelings that raced through him and needed to stay focused on what was happening.
"Lady Heather, I'm glad yer safe, yer mother will be relieved beyond words tae know this. She's at Tioram the now, wi' Arabella and as soon as we know it's safe, we'll ha'e a birlinn take ye and yer cousins there. Ye'll be safe there and Arabella will ha'e rooms made fer ye's"
Heather's face broke to a faint smile at hearing her ordeal was over and hugged Grayson tightly once more. He held her close to him, partly for comfort, partly for the joy of holding a woman he favoured very much. Garreth could see the bonds of affection between them and felt good that his best friend had hopefully found his love. Grayson finally let her go and she smiled more at him now, then she turned slowly and went back to her cousins and told them they would be leaving here soon.
The men led the women back inside to find clothes and tend to their injuries. Unknown to the men, they had no idea what horrors the women had faced, while at the hands of the MacRae's. Those horrors would soon surface in the days and weeks to come. Garreth and Grayson looked about the castle and started to disperse the men to stand guard and watch for signs of the approaching MacRae's.
"Signal fer Cameron tae send everyone o'er wi' the birlinns, after breaking camp and bringing everything o'er, Garreth told a soldier.
"My Laird Garreth, I hate tae be the one tae tell ye, but young Cameron Stewart is dead, along wi' sixteen men." one of the men from the birlinns told him sadly with remorse and worry of his reaction.
"What do ye mean dead? He was tae stay on shore till I gave a signal fer him tae send the men o'er." Garreth said in disbelief, his anger coming on strong.
"He saw the battle being waged on the land side and thought he could cross and take the castle from behind. The men did'ne want tae go, but he had yer command and they obeyed." the clansman told him.
Garreth turned to Grayson, who stood with shock at hearing the news, knowing his promise and oath to Braedon he would bring his sons and kin home safe had been broken. Grayson turned and walked away in sorrow, feeling he had let down his friend and ally with his word
"Show me where." Garreth asked his soldiers and followed them to the loch side of the castle and where they pointed to the sail and wreckage in the water. "He was tae stay and send the men only. Where's his brother and kin?" Garreth asked him.
"They remained as they were told, my Laird. There." he said pointing to the men barely seen on shore across the bay.
"Take three men and row across. Ha'e them break camp and bring everything tae the castle. We can'ne think about this now. MacRae and his army will be here soon and we need tae prepare fer a battle. Retrieve the sail fer Laird Braedon and any men ye can find." Garreth told him without strength in his voice. He too knew what this meant to their allegiance with Braedon.
The soldier left with three others and pushed the birlinn into the water and rowed for the wreckage. They pulled hard on the water-soaked sail to get it aboard, cutting the lines from the mast. They rowed about in a circle, looking for signs of bodies floating and found three, none being Cameron Stewart.
Men were busy re-stocking the powder and cannon shot, as well as carrying quivers of arrows to stations set up for archers. The sadness of loss and mourning weren't part of a battle, as the bodies were laid on the ground, along side the others who died in the taking of the wall. Once the preparations for battle were finished, a birlinn would be loaded with them and sailed back to Tioram, to be given the peace and rest their souls deserved.
The four men cut away the lines of the sail and carefully folded it, before handing it to Garreth. He held the crimson and gold canvas in his hands, feeling the weight of sorrow and guilt in it. Carefully, he laid it on the ground beside the other fallen men, as much as if it was Cameron Stewart himself. He bowed his head and made a silent prayer for Cameron's soul and another for forgiveness from his father, Braedon.
Grayson returned to Garreth, the stain of tears marking his face. Garreth made no mention of them, knowing the pain he was feeling at the loss.
"Grayson, ha'e two riders go out and watch fer the MacRae's approach. They'll be coming along the valley trails from the other side of the Kintail Ridge. Wi' luck, we'll ha'e time tae set up our attack and see if we can take them from vantage points." Garreth said in less strength of tone he normally would, the joking banter gone from his words.
Grayson only nodded his agreement and went to his men. Garreth stood looking at his friend, his sadness and worries shared by him, then turned and went up to the men on the walls and made sure everything was prepared for the impending battle, Seeing that things were going well, he came back down and gathered his captains to him. He drew in the sand where they were and where they could set up several attack points from the surrounding woods. The men were dispersed and left for their command points and prepare them. Garreth saw two riders mount their horses and ride off back down the loch to watch for the MacRae army approaching. Grayson walked back, his head bowed in despair, his ability to focus on the battle clouded in remorse and grief.