tagNonConsent/ReluctanceThe Abduction of Lady Ardis

The Abduction of Lady Ardis

bydr_mabeuse©

The road from Castle MacDimmit runs gentle and true from the cliffs of Sunderland down through Horsa's Glen, till it meets the Invernary Way at the crossroads known as Buell's Bucket. It's called such because here, where the two roads meet at the little stone bridge that crosses the Buell, the river has cut for itself a snug little vale or depression in the hills much like a watering pail, so deep and so sudden that even the nimblest coach must slow to a cautious walk to negotiate the steep turn that leads down to the bridge; and as it descends, it is out of the sight of an observer's eyes, and blind itself to what awaits it at the bottom of the Bucket.

It's long been a favorite of highwaymen and a place of ambush and unsavory dealings, and was so when we MacBeuses came to this land and put an end to lawlessness and disorder. And such peace had we brought that by the time the MacDimmit usurpers took it from us, Buell's Bucket had lost most of its evil reputation.

But not its usefulness. Not for a heart that ached for justice and a mind set on revenge. Not for this outlawed son of his murdered father with no reason to live if the grievous outrages visited on family and clan weren't repaired and repaid, and repaid in the selfsame coin of blood and betrayal with which they'd been purchased, and repaid with a most generous hand.

And so it was that I, Liam MacBeuse, second eldest of the Laird Orrin MacBeuse, found myself now poised on the hilly rim of Buell's Bucket, watching the road from castle MacDimmit in the dim and murky moonlight, my sword at my side and two loaded pistols in my belt, and evil in my heart .

The Maiden Ardis MacDimmit. I knew her from afar, as did many a lad and full-bodied man, even before her father stole our land with his lies, and double-dealings. Indeed, there was no other way to know her. Coddled, spoiled, and with no desire to mingle with the likes of us, I remember her peering from her daddy's coach when her perfidious senior sought the aid of our clan and came to seek my father's counsel. And then, after murder and betrayal made MacDimmit Laird of our lands, I remember the same look of icy disdain as she rode to sport through our fields and gardens, or tore through our villages at all hours of day and night on her endless rounds of balls and revels at kinsman's manors and castles.

And most, I remember her on that fateful trip, when her party stopped to post the infamous notice that banned us from our own lands and decreed that we and all we owned were now property of the Laird of MacDimmit, to be used and disposed of as he wished. The proud MacBeuse tartan, known to friend and foe alike, was banned, and even worse, all young men of clan MacBeuse not engaged in tilling the fields or serving the MacDimmit's needs were banished outright and made outlaw in their own country.

And what I remember most clearly about that day, was the maid MacDimmit's petty irritation as her party was delayed that her father's men could nail the notice up on the church doors, and she in her finery and with a ball to attend.

Is it any wonder that I burned with anger for revenge against the MacDimmit and all his ilk? Is it any wonder that I'd turned to the life of a highwayman to keep body and soul together and wreck what small havoc I could on the travelers venturing to and fro on the Laird of MacDimmit's new roads? And is it any wonder that when I heard of the maid MacDimmit's betrothal to that fop Dougal Fensby that the news was like salt rubbed into an open wound?

It was a vision that would have driven a saint mad: Her haughtiness being feted in every croft and castle for miles around, not only by her father's boot-licking allies, but in the homes and halls of my own people, who were forced under threat to celebrate this symbol of their own destruction. While I sat alone by my stingy little fire, gnawing the bones of an outlaw's meager repast, and thankful enough for that.

Nay, I couldn't let it stand. I couldn't. There were still enough of my clansmen in the braes and glens around, gone to ground but just waiting to be called to purpose. And I had spies enough in the castles and towns to keep me well apprised of the MacDimmit's comings and goings and the nature of his infamous business. No one needed to be told of his daughter's betrothal and her endless forays in celebration. But when the news came to me of her latest party and the details of departure, I knew what I must do.

And so I watched now from the edge of Buell's Bucket as the MacDimmit coach approached over the moonlit road, and all alone, with not a guard to be seen. How very foolish.

I rode down into the Bucket and secured my mask, and hid myself to wait in the shadows of a willow. It was ghostly still. Even the gurgling of the Buell seemed muffled and subdued, and the crickets held their breath. The breeze was slack, just enough to worry the trees and set their leaves to casting moving webs of indigo shadows on the moon-gold road.

And into this silence came the clattering and creaking of a heavy coach and the call of the coachmen trying to slow his charges. And soon after this they came into sight, the horses capering and tossing their heads as they slowed against the weight of the carriage, the driver leaning on his friction brake to further slow their descent. And not a guard to be seen with them.

No sooner had they reached level ground than I touched spurs to Bess and she leaped out boldly into the middle of the road, me on her back and both pistols drawn.

"Stand, there!" I cried. "Hold! Stand and deliver! Where are your men? Bring them out now!"

The coachman was an old fellow and went white with sudden fright, too addled at first to even let go of the reins or brake. But he knew the sight of a highwayman when he saw one.

"Sir have mercy! There are no men! Just ladies and girls, on route to a ball!"

Bess was skittish, and as she turned me about I could see it was so: no armed guards, not a shred of defense. Such was MacDimmit's overweening confidence that he sent his daughter our on the roads at night without escort. The man was a fool.

A head popped out of the coach, a matronly face beneath kerchief and cap, that took one look at me and screeched like a demon and began to wail: "Help! Help! A cut-throat! A brigand! We'll be robbed and raped and left for dead! Help! Oh, help us Lord Jesus, Mary, and all the saints!"

The entire coach began to jostle and shake with the frantic scurrying and babbling of frightened women, and in the midst of this fracas a little casket or strongbox was heaved from the window and landed with a little thump on the grassy verge.

"Take it!" the voice cried. "Take our money, our jewelry! Take what you will but spare us our lives! Oh misery! Oh cruelty!"

"Oh hush, granny!" a calmer, more authoritative voice said. "Don't be such a ninny. What is it? A robber? Let me see."

But I'd already calmed Bess enough to ride to the window and peer inside the coach, and there I saw the trembling old matron and two young servant girls all motionless with fear, and sitting nobly in a corner one who could only be the maid Ardis MacDimmit. She was covered by a heavy traveling cloak with a cowl that hid her face, but even so there could be no mistaking that regal bearing and air of easy command.

I raised my hat. "Good evening, ladies. Calm yourselves. I do apologize for the inconvenience."

Their quaking and fearfulness only increased, but the maid MacDimmit leaned forward and regarded me from beneath her hood with a gaze that was direct and perhaps even a bit amused.

"Who are you, sir, and by what right do you accost us? Are you indeed a brigand, with so poor a mask and outlandish a costume? Or might you be in the employ of my friend the Lady Montclair, and this yet another of her silly follies, a jest at my expense?"

"This is no jest, Maid MacDimmit, I assure you. You will oblige me, please, by stepping out of your coach?"

She looked at me again, more curious now yet still without fear, then boldly reached across the others for the handle of the door, and brushing away their attempts to restrain her, exited the coach and hopped prettily to the ground.

This drew another fluttering wail from the ladies inside, whom maid Ardis impatiently silenced before turning and addressing me.

"Sir- if I may dignify you with such a form of address—if you're playing a role, you play it poorly, and you must tell Jenny Montclair or whomever it was who sent you that they must ask for their money back, for I am utterly unimpressed.

"But if you are in truth a brigand, I must tell you that you've made for yourself a most grievous mistake. For surely you see the escutcheon on my coach? And surely you know who I am and who my father is, and how he treats with those who so much as appear to threaten my safety, even in mime. Or do I accord to you too much common sense?"

She spoke very well, and with great poise and confidence. Arrogance even, to call it what it was.

"Now release us at once and clear the road," she went on, "and perhaps I'll forgive your ignorance and treat this as a silly but innocent prank. Proceed with your farce, and nothing will save you from my father's most certain and terrible wrath. He does not tolerate robbers on his roads, and he values my safety above all else."

A pretty speech and admirably delivered and I must admit that for a moment I hesitated. But only for a moment.

I turned to the coachman and said, "Here is your chance to make of yourself a hero, granddad, and preserve your Mistress's life and well-being. Drive from this place as ever fast you can until you reach the village of Inchkelling. Anything else and her fate will be upon your head. Now go!"

And I fired a pistol into the air, so alarming the already skittish horses that they almost leaped from the road and tore off at breakneck speed across the little stone bridge with carriage in tow, rocking and bouncing as the women inside shrieked in terror and the coachman bounced cruelly in his seat till they were at last lost from view, swallowed by the dark of the forest.

The lady Ardis and I were left in silence, and I turned to her now to find a young Mistress much changed in attitude and regard for the seriousness of my purpose. The pistol shot had no doubt alarmed her. She was still far from fearful, but she looked at me with a wariness and cautious respect that was more to my liking.

"That was a rash thing to do," she complained. "A very rash and foolish thing. I must ask you now, sir, if this be not some foolish bachelorette trick, just what is your purpose?"

It was chill on the road and she cowered in her heavy cloak, more from the cold than from fear of me, I think.

"You must come with me now, Lady Ardis. You are my prisoner."

"Am I now?" She smiled defiantly. "And by whose authority and under what law?"

"By the authority of the Laird MacBeuse, whose lands these rightfully are, and under the law and custom of warfare, in which we're now engaged. "

"MacBeuse? War?" She blinked at me and stared harder, trying to read my face. "Ah. I see. You're one of that infamous bunch? Clan MacBeuse, that tribe of nefarious barbarians my father ousted from these lands, with charter from the Duke of Northumberland, I might add. Yes, I should have recognized that hideous tartan. Which has been banned, sir, as you well know, along with all males in your mangy line! You are a criminal, sir, and you'll be treated like one. Hunted down and taken, and broken in the dungeon before you're hanged, drawn and quartered and your head displayed on a pike!"

"Bold words from a maiden to an armed and desperate man on horseback, and we alone on this empty road in the middle of the night."

"Sir—?"

I dismounted and approached her, and she stood defiant till I came right up to her and used my pistol to open her cloak, whereupon she immediately snatched it closed and turned away in furious outrage.

"Sir how dare you!? How dare you touch my person!?"

But her anger went hardly noticed compared to the shock of what I'd seen. Beneath Maid Ardis's cloak she was attired in a most unseemly and salacious way, in a manner I'd not seen since my days in Italy as a student thoroughly soaked in debauchery, wallowing in the sin and depravity of that most singular land.

It was a costume of sorts, fit only for the private salons and secret rendezvous of Carnival, and then only if accompanied by a mask complete enough to conceal the wearer's identity from the certain scandal and ignominy such a costume would engender. That peek beneath her cloak had revealed clothes that were a lascivious parody of highland dress, a kilt so scandalously short that it not only revealed the little pink bows at the very top of her white hose, but gave a generous view of the fair skin above them. And as short as her skirt was, just so snug was the black velvet bodice she wore on top, and this over a white chemise-shirt of some fabric so marvelously fine and sheer that it was all but transparent to the eye. The bodice was tightly laced, thus emphasizing the thinness of her waist and the generous flare of her hips, but ended most immodestly beneath her breasts in a style I hasn't seen since the flesh pots of Rome and Venice, making show of the fullness and impertinence of her lewdly proffered bosom as well.

All in all, a scandalous outfit, and one hardly suitable for a highland maiden.

Of all the hazards and dangers I had anticipated in my abduction of the Maiden MacDimmit, I had not anticipated anything like this, and I was for a moment paralyzed with confusion. Moment enough for her to close her robe tightly and stammer a hurried defense.

"It's for a ball! A masque! As if you would you even know of such things! I'm betrothed! I'm attending a ball in my honor given by my friends. Lady friends. High-born lady friends. A costume ball. Do you even know—"

"Oh, I know the custom quite well, my lady," I replied. And indeed, in a family with five sisters, and given my own keen interest in the fair sex, I knew quite a bit about woman's matters, though never nearly enough. I knew of the kind of unladylike ribaldry and scandalous behavior that often went on at these private pre-nuptial celebrations, where girls and women alike gathered to laugh and howl and shock each other with vulgar and outlandish tales of the marriage bed.

"I very much doubt that!" she rejoined. "And I resent that look in your eye. Stop it at once! You're disgraceful, sir, to roll your eyes and leer at what you don't understand. Contemptuous, like the rest of your kind. And that silly mask you wear! How ineffective it is! My fiancé would cut you down like a dog in an instant! Do you think me afraid?"

I seized her easily by the arm, and so unaccustomed was she to being handled or touched that she offered no resistance. I pulled her to me and she staggered.

"I care nothing for your feelings nor your fiancé, my lady," I said. "Nor indeed for my own life either. So you would do well to come with me."

"Sir, unhand me! Oh creature most foul! Help! Help!"

I paid her no heed, nor her cries, which hardly would have roused a sleepless mouse. And for all her bold words and fiery attitude, she knew nothing of how to protect herself in even the most rudimentary and instinctive manner, such resistance being as foreign and unaccustomed to her as would be preparing her own food or emptying her own chamber pot. Such little squeaks and yelps as she offered did nothing to slow my actions.

I quickly relieved her of her cloak and spun her around, leaving her for a moment standing shivering in the moonlight, a piteous sight in her naughty outfit with one arm crossed protectively over her chest and the other pushing down the hem of her tiny kilt. I took her wrists and fastened them behind her and then bound her elbows behind her as well for added caution. I stopped her whimpering with a kerchief tied over her mouth. Then, bending down, I tied her ankles smartly together. But perched precariously on her Italian costume slippers with their outlandishly high heels, she quickly lost her balance and began to fall, forcing me to stop what I was doing and catch her in my arms.

For an instant our eyes truly met without pretense, as man to woman, and I thought she perhaps recognized me as my father's son.

But the look in her eyes was not in recognition of my person, but in recognition of something of far more consequence, yet something I would only learn of later. In any case, that look so disarmed me that I cast about for some way to blindfold her or otherwise cover her eyes. But I'd done a poor job in preparing for this abduction, and the only thing that came to hand was a small feed sack from Bess's saddle. It was crude and ignoble and the weave was so coarse that it would not block her sight, but at least it would keep me from the power of that look. I slipped it over her head in spite of her muffled protests and hastily put her cloak back on her and did it up lowering her hood to hide her face.

It was then that I remembered the strong box that had been tossed from the coach. I laid Maid Ardis against the flank of the hill and retrieved it and turned it over in my hands.

It was no such money box as I had ever seen, but a small and intricately inlaid box of wood without keyhole or hinge, with not even a sign of a crack or joint that would indicate it was not all of a piece. Yet when I shook it, some subtle shift of weight suggested there was something within, something heavy and presumably metal and therefore probably of value.

I slipped the box into Bess's bag for later consideration, then returned to the bound and hooded Maid MacDimmit. Lifting her up onto Bess's back, I sat her on my saddle like a man, with legs astride, short skirt and pretty stockings be damned. I climbed on after her, and wrapping one arm around her waist, off we went.

Over the bridge and then skirting the woods, and coming out in the vale of Tyree, I put spurs to old Bess, and anyone who'd seen us would have wondered at the sight of a man racing across the moor with a scarecrow on his mount in front of him, for so looked the Maid Mac Dimmit in her cloak and feedbag hood.

The sense of speed and wild ride did me good, as did the bouncing and pressing of maid MacDimmit against me as I held her snug, for her own safety's sake, of course. Somehow in my plans I had failed to take into account the maid Ardis' beauty and feminine attractiveness, believing my enmity and anger toward her father and herself would preclude such tender feelings, but now they were having a most disturbing and unsettling effect on me, and rendering level-headed concentration on the task at hand quite difficult. Occasionally as we raced along, my grip slipped and I felt the pressure of a firm yet yielding breast against my arm, or she slid back and her backside impinged against my loins, which only inflamed me further. And I couldn't put out of my mind what my sister Annie had once told me about women who sit astride their mounts like men, and the secret and shocking thrills this practice affords them.

Concentrate, concentrate! Once we reached Donbeleath and the braes of Smoove I slowed Bess to a walk and made for my family's hunting cottage hard by the moors of Skweekellen.

Skweekellen Cottage had fallen into disrepair and neglect since last anyone used it, which I took as a good sign that its very existence was still unknown to the Laird MacDimmit, for this was far from the rich pastures and villages he favored ruling. The first floor was crude, having seen double use as both a stable and the stable boy's quarters in years past, but the hearth still drew, and the crude and rustic furniture was dusty but intact. Sturdy doors and narrow windows made it an ideal place to keep the Maid MacDimmit, and the ample supplies of rope and tackle could be useful in insuring her confinement. Upstairs where the servants weren't allowed were the guests' lodgings, which didn't interest me now. The roughness of the stable would do for now.

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