tagNovels and NovellasA Proper Scottish Wife Ch. 32

A Proper Scottish Wife Ch. 32

byThors_Fist©

The second to last chapter of this book. Ailene is captured according to plan, but will the rest of the plan play out as well. Stay tuned.

*****

"Get up, your Lordship. It's time to learn those things of importance to the throne," Thorburn said.

Lancaster sat up, blinking his eyes. Except for the lanterns held by Stuart and Frang, the room was pitch black as was the sky outside his window.

"What time is it?" He demanded.

"Two-thirty, your Lordship. It's time to rise up and learn what's happening the king should be aware of."

"Why must I learn it at this ungodly hour?" Lancaster asked sourly.

"Because it's happening now and we don't want to be late. We've even found some clean clothes for you. They're not as fine as yours, but they are dark and I imagine you'll want dark clothes before the night is over. Hurry, there's men waiting on us."

"Why don't you explain yourself before we go any further?"

"We don't have time," Thorburn explained, "so we'll explain on the way. Get dressed. I'll drag you out of here naked if I have to."

Lancaster got up. "If you're wasting my time, I'll make sure you regret it, Cameron."

"And if you waste mine, you might not live long enough to make me regret it. Lives are at stake."

Lancaster took the clothes Stuart was holding out to him and put them on. Thorburn led them all outside where fifty men were waiting on horseback. Four other horses were saddled and waiting for their riders. They all mounted and Thorburn gave the word and the gate was opened, the riders spewing out of the Keep like a flood from a broken dam. Half went left, half went right, yelling and screaming as they went. The four of them went with the group to the left. Soon, there were other screams as a couple more spies were found and ridden over or skewered with sharp swords.

"What's going on?" Lancaster shouted as they galloped through the woods.

"Rat infestation," Thorburn said. "We have to make sure the rats don't see where we go."

Sure enough, after charging half way around the Keep, Thorburn broke off, the three of them following while the soldiers continued around the rest of the Keep. When they were at least a mile away, Thorburn slowed his horse and they began walking it.

"What are we doing out here, Thorburn?" Lancaster asked.

"We're going to effect a rescue of a young lass who's about to be raped and tortured," Thorburn said. "You required more proof before Blackthorne could be investigated and what better proof than a magistrate witnessing the crimes himself."

"You say Blackthorne's got another woman and he's going to torture her. Who is it? Another maid?"

"Nay," Stuart said, "my wife. You can understand why we're anxious to hurry."

"Lady Ailene? I just had supper with her. How did Blackthorne capture her?"

"Rightly speaking," Thorburn said, "he hasn't captured her yet."

"Is this some kind of joke? If it is, it's not very funny."

"No joke, your Lordship. It's hard to understand the enmity Blackthorne has carried for all the Camerons for years. It's reaching a conclusion, which would be better ended by his arrest, than open warfare. Màiri told us before she passed twas Blackthorne responsible for Jamison's death by poison. We know Blackthorne has spies in our household and is doing all he can to ruin us, kill us, or otherwise put us out of his way. We know he's ambushed us, tried to grab our women, though the perpetrators said they were bandits. He had McTavish try to cheat Frang out of Lady Luck with crooked cards. We know he's after our women to force us to relinquish our lands. He tortured Màiri to find out about our defenses."

"How do you know all this?" Lancaster asked.

"Because Teárlag was one of his spies," Stuart replied. "She was promised Blackthorne's hand if she got close to one of us and spied on us."

"Lady Mackintosh? How did you find out she's a spy?"

"She informed us," Stuart said. "She was regularly whipped and passed around to Blackthorne's cronies and servants and realized marriage to Blackthorne wouldn't be the life of pleasure she hoped for when she agreed to spy on us."

"She's helping us now," Thorburn said, "and through her, Blackthorne's been informed via his spy network Lady Ailene will be unguarded on our property sometime this morning. Given his efforts to snatch our women in the past, we assume he'll come after her to achieve his objectives, trading her back in return for our property. His men will be chased back to the Manor, and knowing his proclivities, will likely be taken to Blackthorne's chamber of horrors. We know Blackthorne has a secret entrance to his dungeon through a tunnel from a house in Achnadrish. It's watched, but we've found a way past the sentries. We need to be in the tunnel before dawn and Ailene's taken there or I believe much ill will befall her."

"What's this got to do with the King?" Lancaster asked. "Was that just a story to get me out to the Keep?"

"Nay. I think the King would be very interested in knowing his loyal subjects are being tortured by one of his noblemen, especially those of noble and gentle birth such as Lady Ailene. She was a Lady before her marriage and is now by marriage. One of the penalties the King may impose if Blackthorne is convicted of his crimes would be loss of all his lands and wealth to the crown. Given how rich Blackthorne is, the King's coffers would be mightily swelled by such forfeiture for which he might be agreeably disposed to the man who brought such crimes to his attention. That would be you. I'm certain the King would reward the man who so increased his wealth, don't you?"

Lancaster smiled. "You may be right."

They rode along awhile longer and Lancaster asked, "Why do you think Blackthorne hates you so much?"

"Teárlag said McTavish asked the same thing when he and Blackthorne were plotting together in her presence. Blackthorne said he and Jamison were rivals for Stuart's mother. She chose Jamison and Blackthorne challenged him to a duel. Jamison handily beat him and humiliated Blackthorne, saying he should grow up before challenging a man. Stuart's mother, Beatrix, laughed at his humiliation. We suspect it's the reason he poisoned Jamison, hates us, and despises women."

"Aye. I could see how that might nettle a proud man."

Shortly thereafter, Thorburn came to a stop. "We need to leave the horses here and go by foot the remainder of the way, else the sentries will spot us."

"We're still three miles from Achnadrish," Lancaster complained.

"A little exercise is good for the constitution," Thorburn replied. "We can't speak anymore either except in a whisper, and I suggest to you all to hold your tongues unless I speak first, as only Stuart and I know where the guards are stationed."

Stuart added stonily, "My wife's life is in great danger. If she's harmed in any way due to a misstep or outburst of yours, I'll happily kill you myself."

Lancaster's mouth got dry. He recognized a real threat when he heard it.

Thorburn set out at a rapid pace but slowed as he got closer to the ruined village. He waved them down and crept forward with his scouting glass, looking for any changes since Bjarkë had scouted last night. Seeing none, he found his previous path and led them slowly and carefully down to the outskirts of Achnadrish. Slipping from shadow to shadow, they reached the house hiding the tunnel's entrance. Lancaster was as silent as the rest. Thorburn pulled himself to the roof, pulled the thatch aside, lifted each of the other three beside him and descended into the house. He helped the others drop down so they wouldn't make a sound. Thorburn and Stuart passed out several candles to the others and moved the cabinet to expose the tunnel. Once they were in and the cabinet returned to it's position, Thorburn lit four of the candles and they made their way near the end.

"It's still dark and Ailene shouldn't be taken until near nine," Thorburn whispered. "If you want to sleep a bit, feel free. I brought a little food as well. You can have a bite but no speaking."

They all had a little food, then Lancaster and Frang laid down and closed their eyes. Stuart stayed awake.

"Don't you want a bit of sleep, brother?" Thorburn asked quietly.

"I can't sleep. I'm too worried."

Thorburn laid his hand on Stuart's shoulder and squeezed. "I know."

******

Teárlag went to Ailene's door at six and knocked softly in case she was still asleep. Ailene answered immediately and invited her in.

"Were you able to sleep much?" Teárlag asked.

"Not much," Ailene answered. "I don't know if I'm more worried for Stuart or worried for me."

"I'm worried for you," Teárlag answered. "He'll only kill Stuart."

Ailene nodded. Somehow, her own possible death didn't leave her as afraid as a lifetime without Stuart would. "How about you?"

"I didn't sleep much either. I was okay as long as Thorburn remained in bed, but as soon as he left, I've been on edge."

There was another knock on the door and Ailene asked whoever to enter. Isobel walked through the door.

She saw the expressions on both their faces and said, "I'm nervous, too."

"If we lost all three of them, what would we do?" Ailene asked sadly.

"Carry on," Isobel said. "I have to carry on for my child."

Ailene and Teárlag looked at one another. Ailene shook her head, no.

"Why not?" Teárlag said. "They're not here to stop us. We're doing this now and there's naught to prevent it."

"I don't want to think about it. I can't think about it."

Isobel looked at both of them questioningly. Something was going on of which she knew nothing.

"What's going on?" Isobel asked. "What are you not saying?"

Ailene warned Teárlag again. "Don't."

Teárlag persisted. "We're both walking into the lion's den. Neither of us may return. I should not be the only one to know this because if I die too, there's no one to tell, and it should be told if anyone's left to be told."

Ailene considered briefly, then said, "Fair enough. Isobel should know as she's remaining here. If Stuart makes it and we don't, he should know." She hugged Isobel and said, "I'm with child and so is Teárlag."

Isobel drew back. "You can't go then."

"I have to go," Ailene said. "Our men are waiting for me to be taken to Blackthorne's lair. How long would they wait for me to show up. Would they be discovered? Killed? I must go. I want to go. I don't want to raise a child in this fearful situation."

"When you volunteered for this mission, you said you weren't pregnant. You lied. Why shouldn't it be me if we're both with child."

"I didn't say I wasn't pregnant. I said you were too far along with child. That's true; you are. I'm the better fighter right now and still able to keep my baby secret from him. Believe me, it has a side benefit. I may be raped, but they can't leave a bastard inside of me."

Isobel put her hand over her mouth. "Oh, God, Ailene. Are you sure?"

Ailene put her arms around the shoulders of her friends, saying, "Both of you have had much harder lives than me. I've had it easy. In love and married to a wonderful man. Treated kindly and with respect by family and friends. Isobel, you've endured a marriage to McTavish. You've already gone through what I merely face and which I may escape. Teárlag; you've been whipped and beaten by this man, given to others in the worst kind of sexual brutality. You've endured it, been made better and stronger by it. I'm proud to call you both my friends and my sisters. Why should I put you through more of the same when you've already had your share. Why should I always be the lucky one. If you could come through it, I can too. Not that I want to, but if necessary, it's my turn, not yours. We've got a good plan. Play it out and see where it takes us."

"Are you sure you're not doing this because you're guilty about Màiri and worried about other women falling into his hands?"

"Of course I feel guilty. I don't want anyone falling into his hands. Who or what is going to stop him if we don't? With any luck at all, I'm taken there and before he's said a word to me, our men come out of hiding and I'm safe. He's not going to get what he wants by torturing me. The only way he does is if I come back in one piece. So maybe, the worst that happens is we're all impoverished gentry without a home. Ending up like Màiri is at the lowest range of possibility. If I'm killed or tortured, Thorburn and Stuart will raise an army and burn Blackthorne to the ground. I still get what I want; the end of him. If I've given the world that, I'll find my place in heaven. Come on, now. Let's eat and go out to face our day. Sister?" She hugged Teárlag. "Sister?" She hugged Isobel.

"Sister," both said.

******

Bjarkë made a major search of the woods at dawn. Blackthorne had limited time to replace the men he'd lost in the first sweep a few hours before. All they found were a few corpses and one fellow who'd been missed in the dark. He wasn't missed this time. Bjarkë especially worked to clear the eastern side of the Keep around the meadow. If the ladies were going to be taken, it wasn't going to be until the proper time and with sufficient men. He wanted someone in charge and not some straggler.

Teárlag and Ailene left the Keep around eight, walking. They were in dresses; not their best, they were picking plants after all and wanted to look the part. When they got there, Ailene showed Teárlag what plants she needed to pick and they proceeded to gather as many as they could.

"Quit looking around, Teárlag. You look guilty and like you're expecting someone."

"I am expecting someone. Only you aren't supposed to know they're coming."

Ailene laughed. "You're right, but if I notice you looking around, wouldn't I question you about it."

"I suppose."

"It's a lovely day," Ailene said. "The kind of day I would really enjoy coming out to pick plants on. When I was almost raped by the bandits, I was daydreaming about my wedding night and touching myself, not paying attention on top of disobeying the Laird's orders. Stuart is so handsome and I'm so in love. I couldn't even think of the pleasure he gives me without pleasuring myself again. Probably gave the highwaymen ideas, watching me."

"What do you want to name your child, Ailene?"

"Màiri if it's a girl, to honor her. Probably Jamison if it's a boy, though I'll let Stuart pick the boy's name. I think he'd like naming him after his father though. What about you?"

"I've not thought of any. I have no idea what my life's going to be like. Will I be in a new country, dead, in hiding somewhere? I have a difficult time imagining a child, though I want to keep it."

"Aye. I'm sure."

"Don't look around, Ailene but there might be one or two men looking at us right now."

"I hope Blackthorne wasn't stupid enough to send only two. I'd be severely disappointed. You told them how many to use, didn't you?"

"Thirty to forty."

"That should be sufficient. Forgive me for what I'm about to say to you soon," Ailene said, a big smile splitting her face.

"Forgive me for spying on you."

"Long past forgiven. Are they still watching?"

"No, I think they're gone."

"Maybe a small scouting party to see if we're really alone or if we'd set a trap." Ailene continued to gather plants. "I must come back here and collect these if I survive. It'd be a waste to leave them rotting on the ground given I spent an hour of my life collecting them."

"How can you be so calm?" Teárlag asked. "My heart's racing."

"I'm going into battle mode, focusing on the task at hand. Worrying about what might come reduces my focus."

"Ooh, there's more; men on horseback circling around the outside of the trees."

"Don't react until they say something or enter the meadow."

"I love you, Ailene."

"I love you, too."

"Some men have dismounted and they look like they're trying to sneak up on us."

"Tell me when they're about 40 feet away."

"It won't be long now, three, two, one, now."

Ailene looked up like she was stretching and seeing the intruders, jumped to her feet and drew her rapier.

"Teárlag, run to the Keep, get help. I'll try to hold them off. Go now!" She screamed.

She looked around, evaluating, calculating. Seemed to notice Teárlag still standing there.

"Run, Teárlag. Why are you standing around?"

"There's too many, Ailene. Give yourself up. You'll get killed if you resist."

"You traitorous bitch. I'll kill you, myself."

She started approaching Teárlag as if aiming to do just that and Teárlag fled between a couple of men.

"Capture her alive, men," Teárlag said, backing. "Blackthorne wants her alive. He'll cut the balls off any man who harms her. She's ransom."

Ailene began backing, seeing the men slowly approach her. One man made a quick run at her and she ran him through, still backing.

"Why, Teárlag, why? Thorburn gave you a home, he loved you," Ailene screamed.

"Not as nice as the one Blackthorne's giving me. The Keep is old, dusty, dreary and gray. I much prefer the Manor."

Ailene noticed a couple of men carrying a net. So they hoped to keep her from fighting, huh. It would take more than that. She backed her way to the pond, kicking off her slippers before going into the water, standing about waist deep. It would prevent men from circling behind her.

"Come on, you bastards. Are you afraid of a wee lass now? Bunch of fucking cowards. Come on, try and take me. I'll carve your nuts off."

A couple more started wading into the water trying to approach. She skewered the closest one, then turned and got the farther one. Their bodies floated like lily pads in the water.

"What are you waiting for?" Ailene screamed. "A fucking army! You don't have enough men here to take a woman?"

Three more went into the water. One slipped on a stone and got stabbed in the neck. One shivered a little when the cold water hit his balls and Ailene was on him in a flash, taking him through the heart. The third one backed away, slowly.

"Run, you coward. At least your friends were willing to face a woman."

Ailene had killed five already and the fight had just begun. They weren't allowed to kill her. They could have shot her up with arrows; several men had bows, but they had to take her alive and how they were going to do that was looking more difficult by the moment.

"Bring up the net," Ian ordered. "Throw it on her."

Ailene had chosen her position well, the bottom of the pond was slick with mud. Footing was none too secure, though she could feel it better in her stockings than they could in their shoes. The depth of the water made it difficult to get a good throw for any distance with the net, and it tended to float on the water, so Ailene would duck herself in the pond when they threw it, swim under it, come up on the other side, dripping water and yell at them again. If they tried to get closer, she'd kill them. They couldn't hold their swords and the net at the same time. It was too heavy, especially wet. Three more were down. Christ, Ian thought, no wonder Thorburn was using her to help train his troops. He'd left half of his force in reserve in case once the scouts brought word it was only the two women. He hated to think he might need all eighty to take her captive.

He considered the problem.

"You five get in the water down there. You can get farther out; you're taller. You seven get in the water up there, five blades in front and the net behind. You ten, line up along the shore between them. Those in the water start coming together, squeezing her between you, forcing her towards shore. She can't go any deeper and still fight. Her arms will be underwater. Hurry. We've been here long enough."

"If you think it's so fucking easy," Ailene shouted, "why don't you come out here, you prick, and I'll gut you, too. As soon as I'm done with these bastards, I'm coming for you Teárlag."

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