Help me welcome my friend and best-selling author Ashley York to Medieval Monday. From one of her popular Highland novels, The Bruised Thistle, Ashley shares a travel scene that's fraught with tension as Seumas seeks revenge.
Seumas kept a fast pace through the night, traveling as if the devil himself were after him. His thoughts were morose, tortured by the screams of people murdered in the dark of night, a young man threatened at sword point to reveal the location of his hidden gold, Giles bending over the young girl. Atrocities no one should ever have witnessed. Atrocities he could not overcome.
By day, he rested. The memories made sleep impossible. He ate nothing and drove himself with only one thought in mind—revenge. Iseabail’s murder would be avenged.
It was near midnight when he finally saw her home. She was a woman of great wealth, and Seumas understood now why her uncle would have been so relentless in trying to acquire his brother’s estate. The castle walls were well-maintained. He would never be able to gain access. Retreating into the darkness of the woods, he pulled his tartan around him and slid down against a tree, keeping watch. His memories pressed down on him, drowning him with heavy thoughts of his revenge. The man would die slowly, in as much agony as Seumas could inflict upon him. Time became just another element, like the wind and the rain. He had lost all sense of it. Daylight came and went. And he waited.
The whinny of his horse woke him instantly. With eyes already adjusted to the dark, he scanned the road. A lone rider traveled toward him from the castle. A hiss escaped Seumas as he saw the way the man was dressed. His opulence was unmistakable.
What type of fool travels the roads at night so ripe for robbery?
Without a doubt, this pompous arse was Iseabail’s uncle.
He stayed hidden beneath the trees as the rider approached. He had worried as he planned out his revenge that he would not recognize their uncle. He almost laughed at the audacity of this man. The whoreson believed he could kill his niece, steal his brother’s lands, and go about his life as if he were a king? Tonight he would find out he was wrong. Seumas stepped out onto the path and waited to be seen.
“Hold.” Seumas held up his hand, demanding compliance.
“What is the meaning of this?” the man blustered as his horse shifted and turned at Seumas’s sudden appearance. “How dare you travel my roads in the middle of the night?”
Seumas bowed in mock respect. “M’lord, I beg yer pardon. Whose lands have I unknowingly trespassed on?”
The man tilted his head and squinted. “These are my lands. I am the MacNaughton.”
Seumas felt the air leave his lungs, to be replaced by rage. “John MacNaughton?”
“No, I am his brother, Henry.” Seumas slowly stepped toward the man, taking the horse’s reins. Henry was clearly not expecting that. “What are you up to?”
“I wish to speak to ye, sir, if ye would please dismount. I would have us speak as men.”
“What business have I with you, sir?” Henry tried to pull the horse back, away from Seumas, who held tightly and moved closer. “Why would you travel these roads at this time of night?”
“I would ask ye the same.” Seumas’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Will ye dismount?”
“I will not. Unhand my horse this instant.”
Seumas gave a sharp yank and the horse reared away, effectively unseating Henry, who fell to a heap on the ground.
Seumas stepped in closer until he towered over him, using his size to intimidate. “Ye will.”
He merely observed the man as he worked to right himself. The buffoon struggled with his cloak, mumbling and grunting as he tried to unwrap his large limbs. The horse skidded away from the bumbling oaf. The knife was a surprise. Henry pointed it at Seumas, the blade glistening even in the dark, all pretense of ineptness discarded.
He sneered. “What do you want from me? Tell me quick and I may allow you to live.”
“Are ye not the brave man?”
His sneer slipped, revealing his confusion. “What are you talking about? Get off my land.”
Seumas rounded on him, his brows arched high at the absurdity of the answer. “Yer land?”
Henry tipped his head as if assessing the true meaning of his obtuse question. Seumas sensed his bravado crumbling.
“I heard ye stole it from yer brother,” Seumas continued, standing with his arms akimbo. The man blanched. “Yea, I know quite a lot about ye.”
“What do you want with me?” Henry’s voice broke with his fear and his blade shivered in the moonlight. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Ah, Henry…” Seumas spoke as if to a child. “Ye were already in a bad way and now ye have made it even worse.”
“How so?” he said, his voice now quivering.
“Tell me.” Seumas moved in closer. The man’s dagger still trembled in his hand. “Is that the dagger ye used to run yer niece through?”