MacFarland's Lass, page 1
by Glynnis Campbell
Published by Glynnis Campbell at Smashwords
Copyright 2014 Glynnis Campbell
MacFarland's Lass by Glynnis Campbell
Published by Glynnis Campbell
COPYRIGHT © Glynnis Campbell 2014
1st Edition, October 2014
Produced with Typesetter
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced or transmitted in any manner whatsoever, electronically, in print, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of both Glynnis Campbell and Glynnis Campbell, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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For Sarah and Kira,
sisters of my heart…
R. I. P.
Special thanks to…
Brynna, Dylan, and Richard Campbell,
Lauren Royal, "America,"
Winona Ryder, Karl Urban,
and Carol and Velera from Celebrate Romance
TABLE OF CONTENTS
From the Jewels
"Thief! Thief! Stop her!"
Lady Mavis Fraser's sharp shrieks cut through the noise of the Selkirk Fair like the blade of a claymore.
Luckily for the thief, clutching tightly to her prize as she raced through the crowd—bumping a pie man, dodging a lady with a monkey, and passing perilously close to a fire-eater—most of the afternoon revelers were too drunk on bayberry mead to pay her much mind.
But the shrill screams of outrage jangled Florie's nerves and doubled her panic, spurring her to run faster. Her heart pounded with fear and amazement and, to her shame, a warped thrill of triumph.
She had what she wanted now. The precious gold pomander rested safely in her palm. But at what price?
Florie Gilder, respected apprentice of the goldsmith to the Princess Mary herself, with one reckless act of passion, had become a common outlaw.
Florie knew she should stop running. She should never have bolted in the first place. A wise lass would calm herself, use diplomacy. 'Twas only a simple misunderstanding, after all.
But panic propelled her past stall after stall of tailors, potters, jewelers, glovers, and cobblers, wreaking chaos as she went. She elbowed aside a lad playing an hautboy, making a discord in his music, and earned hisses from a cluster of children as she barged between them and a puppet play. She scattered a flock of tethered hens, then trod upon the hem of a lady's velvet gown.
Fortunately, Florie's small size, which made her tiny fingers perfect for crafting the most intricate gold filigree, served her here as well. She was able to slip easily under the noses of the Selkirk guards, now alerted to the presence of a thief in their midst.
She scurried past the vendors of roast capon and oatcakes, gingerbread and umble pies. But then, sparing one quick glance over her shoulder, she spied a pair of determined men-at-arms clearing a path toward her.
Lord Gilbert's constables!
Her heart jabbed against her ribs.
Lady Mavis must have reported the crime to her husband's men, who were naturally everywhere, since 'twas Gilbert Fraser, the lord sheriff, whose amber-colored glove was displayed atop the pole at the fair's entrance, signifying his permission for the event.
"Ballocks," she whispered.
At that moment, one of the constables locked gazes with her. Florie, unable to hide the culpability in her wide eyes, spun and bolted away.
She crashed through a circle of dice-casting peasants who yelled at her in anger, careened past an old woman selling ribbons, and wriggled through a knot of spectators wagering on a wrestling match.
She really had to stop. Running was a sure sign of guilt. Besides, what did she know about the countryside of Selkirk? She'd get lost, and the men-at-arms would catch up with her in no time.
But she could no more fight her instincts for self-preservation than a vixen could keep from fleeing a pack of slavering hounds.
Ahead, the way parted—leather goods down one lane, kitchenware down the other. Deciding in haste, she bolted to the right. The toe of her boot caught on an upright pole hung with iron pots, knocking the lot over with a clamoring like alarm bells.
"Shite!" she hissed, tearing away while the merchant shook his fist at her.
At last she reached the end of the fair, where the crowd began to thin and the trees to thicken.
She didn't dare look back. She knew the guards pursued her. Her only hope was to head for the forest and pray they'd lose track of her in the afternoon shadows.
Just past the last stall, she darted into a copse of trees overhanging a narrow deer trail. Fortunately, when she'd gone to the privy earlier, she'd taken off her bright blue apprentice's smock. Now, clad in her gown of fawn-colored brocade, Florie practically vanished among the shedding sycamores as she moved swiftly down the path.
The cacophony of the fair gradually receded, yielding to the still of the forest. But Florie's jagged breathing and the rapid beat of her heart seemed deafening as she scurried through the wood.
The path constricted as it angled through the brush. Branches reached for her like a brazen cutpurse, one of them snagging her black velvet French hood and snatching it from her head. She cursed as her dark waist-length hair tumbled helter-skelter out of its pins, half blinding her. Her heavy skirts seemed to plot against her as well, dragging through the mulch, catching on twigs, slowing her progress.
But she hurtled along as best she could, guided by spots of sun that flashed through gaps in the thicket.
Before long, her mouth grew as dry as chalk. Strands of her loose hair clung to her damp face. And a javelin of pain began to stab at her side, making her wince at every limping tread. It seemed to Florie as if she'd run forever…that she'd never stop. And she began to regret taking that first fateful step.
Then she tripped over an exposed root, dropping the precious pomander and landing hard on her hands and knees.
She knelt there, gasping for breath. Her cheeks were flushed with heat. Run
Then she remembered the disparaging men of the goldsmith's guild. They'd belittled Florie when she'd taken over her foster father's trade, claiming that a lass was too frail and weak-willed for the work. They'd admonished the master goldsmith, saying he should have apprenticed a lad instead.
She wasn't about to prove them right.
With a determined oath, she scooped up the pomander, secured it quickly to the girdle of gold links about her hips, and forced herself up again, staggering forward.
Anger and despair warred within her as the gorse thickened and the trail narrowed, thwarting her escape. Then, just as she began to fear the path would dwindle to nothing, it blessedly opened up again. She plunged forward down the gradual slope, faster and faster, tripping along moss-covered stones, slipping through the sycamores, and skidding on the leaf-fall.
So quickly did she descend the hill that she almost broke through the trees when the path emerged unexpectedly upon the main thoroughfare. Somehow she managed to slew to a halt soon enough to avoid running into the open road and revealing herself.
Leaning against an oak to rest, she pressed at the sharp stitch in her side. Curse her luck! This close to the road, she was no better off than when she'd set out an hour ago.
Maybe she should just surrender herself to the authorities. Perhaps Lord Gilbert would be more reasonable than his wife. She'd seen him earlier when he'd passed by her stall, a comely man of forty winters or so, and his face had not seemed unkind. His neatly clipped dark beard revealed a penchant for order, his carefully selected jewels a preference for restraint—things Florie admired.
Perhaps he'd grant her mercy. After all, she was a respected merchant. And she hadn't precisely stolen the pomander. She'd only reclaimed it.
But she doubted that even the guild would concur with her reckoning of the incident. As her foster father oft complained, Florie's uncompromising nature might serve her well when it came to crafting exquisite jewelry, but 'twas a curse when it came to marketing what she made.
This incident was certainly proof of that.
Yet what else could she have done? The pomander was too important to let it fall into the hands of a spoiled noblewoman. Within the precious piece dwelled the secret of Florie's past and the key to her future.
From the very first, when she'd decided she could no longer live in the shadow of her dead mother, her foster father had warned her against going to Selkirk, against opening old wounds.
But she hadn't listened to him. He wasn't her real father, after all, and she had to find the one who was.
It didn't matter that 'twas the first fair she'd been to on her own, did it?
Or that her bargaining skills weren't quite polished yet?
Or that her uncompromising nature would drive her to commit a seemingly criminal act where a noblewoman screamed at her and lawmen chased her through the woods?
She blew out a breath of dismay, shaking her head.
'Twas hard to believe that only a fortnight ago, Florie had been welcomed into the queen's private solar at Dumbarton Castle. There, surrounded by the ladies of the court, she'd had the honor of presenting a gold pendant to young Princess Mary.
As always, Florie hadn't been allowed to take credit for the work, even though she'd designed and crafted every part of it, from the brightly jeweled bouquet of flowers to the filigree butterfly that perched upon them. She was, after all, only a lowly apprentice. 'Twas her foster father who claimed the title of master goldsmith to the princess.
But Mary's delighted cooing and the gleeful squeals of her companions, the Four Maries, had been reward enough. The queen had expressed her appreciation with a nod and an approving smile that promised future commissions.
Now the memory made Florie wince. She wondered what future a known felon could possibly have in the royal household. And as far as finding her real father now…
How could things have gone so wrong so quickly?
Curse Wat! This was his fault. She wouldn't have brought the servant along at all if her foster father hadn't insisted on his coming for her protection. Protection? He might be as brawny as an ox, but what Wat possessed in the way of intimidating bulk he made up for by a lack of wits.
Only moments ago, Florie had left the booth to answer the call of nature at the public jakes, trusting Wat to watch over her goods. Somehow, in her brief absence, he'd managed to sell her mother's pomander, the one piece she'd handed to him for safekeeping.
As for Florie, she'd simply attempted to secure the pomander's return…which was only reasonable.
She'd been more than fair in her dealings with Lady Mavis. She'd explained in civil tones how the sale of that particular piece had been an error. She'd managed to conceal her impatience, offering to substitute a beautiful girdle—one with a lovely little jeweled looking glass attached—in an equal exchange, even though the girdle was worth much more than the pomander.
But the nasty woman had rejected her generous offer. Naturally, Florie had no choice but to take the pomander back by force. To her credit, as she snatched it and turned to flee, she even tossed back to Lady Mavis the coins she'd laid out for the piece.
Now Florie was branded a thief and a fugitive. And contrary to her foster father's belief in Wat, she knew the servant was unlikely to rush to her defense. Considering the tongue-lashing she'd given him for selling the pomander in the first place, he'd probably retreated somewhere to lick his wounds.
While Florie stood there, catching her breath and wondering how she'd ever restore her reputation in the guild, a soft rumbling sounded in the distance.
Horses. At a gallop. Coming nearer.
As the thrumming grew louder, she peered cautiously down the road from behind the oak. And gulped.
The amber-colored crest of the snapping pennant was unmistakable. Lord Gilbert Fraser himself charged down the lane with a half-dozen men. She whipped back behind the oak trunk, frozen in breathless waiting while they passed in a flurry of flapping cloaks and horseflesh, close enough to choke her on the rising silt.
Only when they were well past the bend in the lane did she dare peek again through the branches to the road beyond. That road was the same western passage she'd come in on three days past. She tried to remember what shelter lay along the route—an inn, a tavern, a crofter's cottage, anyplace she might hide until tempers cooled and the incident faded in memory. Damn, where could she go?
A stream ran along the south side of the road for several miles, she recalled. At one point it deserted that course to pass through a sunken lea, opening up into a large round pond. Up the rise from that pond, near the crossroads, stood an old wayside church.
She could claim sanctuary. By law, churches were obliged to protect outlaws, weren't they? She'd take shelter inside until tensions settled and reason prevailed.
Bolstered by hope, she pushed off the tree and hastened forward, skirting the edge of the main road. How far was it? A quarter of a mile? Half?
Lord Gilbert would pass this way again, realizing his prey couldn't go far on foot. How long would he ride before he wheeled about?
She didn't dare wait to find out. Dismissing the painful throbbing in her chest, she sprang forward like the quarry in a foxhunt, racing her pursuers and the setting sun.
Rane MacFarland stood motionless behind the cluster of elms. His bow lay at rest across his thigh, but an arrow was nocked at the ready. 'Twas almost sunset. Soon they'd arrive.
Invisible flies nipped at the quiet water of the deep pond, making tiny ripples across its surface. A squirrel had come to drink its fill, and a fox, fooled by Rane's masking scent of rosemary, had fearlessly approached the water, unaware that a hunter lurked not ten yards away.
Rane wasn't interested in the fox. He sa
The lowering sun winked through the elm branches, and Rane shifted the slightest bit to the left to keep his eyes in shadow, imperceptible. The fair hair he owed to his Viking forefathers blended perfectly with the pale bark of the elms. Garbed in the muted greens and browns of the forest, he was nearly invisible. Now he had only to watch and wait.
'Twas a dangerous game he played, poaching in Ettrick Forest, the royal wood guarded by Lord Gilbert Fraser, sheriff of Selkirk.
After all, Rane was Gilbert's own huntsman, well-respected in the nobleman's household. Chosen for his keen eye and steady hand, he'd put food on the Fraser table for seven years.
'Twas a point of pride with Rane that, unlike other archers, who crippled prey with wounds that were grievous but not mortal, he almost always felled game instantly with a single arrow through the heart.
Still, only years of practice steadied his arm now, for the peril of committing such a crime would have set most men's limbs to trembling.
He scanned the trees on the far side of the pond, at the narrow break that marked the end of the deer trail. No creature stirred the brush yet. But he knew they'd come. They always came to the water at twilight.
The shadows grew long. Soon the Selkirk Fair would close. He swallowed down the acrid taste of apprehension, a taste to which he was unfortunately becoming accustomed. By the grace of Odin and his own fleet hand, he'd have a stag slain and dressed and be gone by the time the first burghers passed by on the main road.
For if he didn't, if anyone caught him with his prize…
He frowned. 'Twas too late to think about the penalty for poaching. He'd already weighed the consequences when he'd decided he had to do something to feed the starving crofters.
Between King Henry VIII's years of relentless razing of the Borders and the massacre done by the English at the River Esk last fall, Scotland had suffered wounds from which it might never recover, wounds that were felt most deeply by the helpless poor. Yet the Scots nobles had done little to relieve the suffering of their subjects. Even now, Lady Mavis was likely ambling through the Selkirk Fair, wasting her husband's coin on some frippery or other.