MacCallister: The Eagles Legacy, page 1
MACCALLISTER THE EAGLES LEGACY
William Johnstone with J. A. Johnstone
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
THE LONER: RATTLESNAKE VALLEY
Scotland—Donuun in Argyllshire
The White Horse Pub in Donuun had an island bar, Jacobean-style ceiling, beautiful stained-glass windows, and etched mirrors. Despite its elegant décor and clientele of nobles, it was primarily a place for drinking, and most who came behaved with decorum, enjoying the ambiance and convivial conversation with friends. But some, like Alexander, Donald, and Roderick Somerled, sons of Angus Somerled, Lord High Sheriff of Argyllshire, regarded their station in life not one of seemliness but one of privilege. They drank too much, considered all others to be beneath them, and behaved with little restraint.
Duff Tavish MacCallister, a tall man with golden hair, wide shoulders, and muscular arms was sitting on a stool at the opposite end of the bar from the Somerleds. This wasn’t by accident; there was a long-standing feud between the MacCallister and Somerled Clans, going back to the time of Robert the Bruce. And although the killing of each other had stopped a hundred years ago, their dislike of each other continued.
Ian McGregor, owner of the tavern, was wiping glasses behind the bar and he stepped over to speak to Duff. “Duff, m’lad, I was in the cemetery the other day and I saw marked on the tombstone of one of the graves, ‘Here lies Geoffrey Somerled an honest man.’ So this, I’ll be askin’ you. Think ye now that there may be two bodies lyin’ in the same coffin—Geoffrey and an honest man?”
Duff MacCallister threw back his head and laughed out loud. He was wearing a kilt, and he slapped his bare knee in glee. McGregor’s daughter, Skye, a buxom lass with long red hair, flashing blue eyes, and a friendly smile, had been filling three mugs with ale as her father told the joke. She joined in the laughter.
Duff and Skye were soon to be married, and their banns were already posted on the church door. Most of the customers of the White Horse Pub appreciated Skye’s easy humor and friendly ways and treated her with respect due a woman. But some, like the sheriff’s three sons, treated her with ill-concealed contempt.
“Bar girl!” Donald shouted. “More ale!”
“You know her name, Somerled,” Duff said. “And it isn’t ‘bar girl’.”
“’Tis a bar girl she is and her services we’re needin’,” Donald said.
“I’ll not be but a moment, Mr. Somerled,” Skye replied. She had just put the three mugs on a carrying tray. “I’ve other customers to tend now.”
“You’re carrying three mugs, there be but three of us,” Donald said. “Serve us first. You can get more ale for them.”
“I’ll not be but a moment, sir,” Skye replied.
Donald was carrying a club, and he banged it so loudly on the bar that it startled Skye, and she dropped her tray.
“What a clumsy trollop ye’ be!” Donald said. “If you had brought the ale here, as I asked, this no’ would’a happened.”
“I told you, sir, I had other customers.”
“Your other customers can wait. Be ye daft as well as clumsy? Do ye know who I am?” Donald asked.
“Donald Somerled, that is my fiancée you are talking to, and if you speak harshly to her again, I will pull your tongue out of your mouth and hand it to you,” Duff said, barely controlling his voice, so intense was his anger.
“We’ll be seeing who is handing who their tongue,” Donald said, hitting his open hand with his club.
Duff put his mug on the bar, then stepped away to face Donald. “I’m at your service,” he said.
With a defiant yell Donald charged Duff, not with his fists, but with the raised club. Duff grabbed the same barstool he had been sitting on and raised it over his head to block the downward swing of the club. The clack of wood crashing against wood filled the entire pub with a crack almost as loud as a gunshot. The noise got the attention of everyone in the bar and all conversation stopped as they turned to watch the confrontation between a MacCallister and a Somerled.
Donald raised his staff for a second try, but as he held his club aloft, MacCallister turned the stool around and slammed the seat into Donald’s chest so hard that he let out a loud whoosh as he fell to the floor with the breath knocked from his body.
“You’ll be paying for that, Duff MacCallister!” Alexander said, and even as Donald writhed on the floor trying to recover his breath, his older brother charged Duff.
Duff tossed the barstool aside, then put up his fists to meet Alexander’s charge. He parried a wild roundhouse right, then countered with a straight left that landed on Alexander’s chin, driving him back. With a yell of anger, the third of the Somerled brothers, Roderick, joined the fray.
Duff backed up against the bar, thus preventing either of them from getting behind him. He sent a whistling blow into Roderick’s nose and felt it break, causing the big man to grab his nose and turn away from the fight. Now only Alexander was left, but he was the biggest and the most dangerous of the three. Shaking off the blow to his chin, he raised both fists, then advanced toward Duff.
The two men danced around the barroom floor exchanging blows, or rather, attempted blows. Duff learned early in the fight that he could hit Alexander at will. That was because Alexander was so big and so confident of his strength that he made no attempt to block Duff’s blows, willing to take them in order to get into position to return the blow. And, he seemed to be taking them with no ill effect.
Duff, on the other hand, bobbed and weaved as Alexander tried roundhouse rights, straight punches, and uppercuts. Finally Alexander connected with one of his attempts, a straight shot that Duff managed to deflect with his left shoulder, thus avoiding a punch to his head. And, even though it was not a direct hit, there was so much power in the blow that Duff felt his left arm go numb, which meant he could no longer count on that arm to ward away any more of the big man’s punches.
Duff knew he was going to have to end the fight soon, so he bobbed and weaved, watching for an opening. The opening came after Alexander tried another roundhouse right. Duff managed to pull back from it, and as Alexander completed his swing, it left the opening Duff was looking for. Duff pulled the trigger on a straight whistling right that drove his fist into Alexander’s Adam’s apple.
Alexander gagged, and put both hands to his throat. When he did so, Duff followed with a hard right to the chin that sent Alexander down to join Donald, who was just now getting up but showing no interest in continuing the fight.
For a long moment everyone in the
They seldom lost a fight, and yet here, in front of an entire inn full of witnesses, one man, Duff MacCallister, had taken the measure, not just of one of them, but of all three, and at the same time.
“Hear, hear, let’s give a hurrah for Duff MacCallister!” someone shouted, and the bar rang with their huzzahs.
“Now, gentlemen, I believe you called for more ale?” the bartender said, speaking to the Somerleds as if nothing had happened, as if he were merely responding to their request. Donald and Roderick responded with scowls and helped their oldest brother to his feet. Then the three men left.
Everyone in the pub wanted to buy Duff a round, but he had already drunk his limit of two mugs, so he thanked them all, accepting their offers to buy for him when next he came in.
“Skye, would you step outside with me for a moment?” Duff asked.
“Ian, best you keep an eye on them,” one of the other customers said. “Else they’ll be outside sparking.”
Skye blushed prettily as the others laughed at the jibe. Duff took her hand in his and walked outside with her.
“Only four more weeks until we are wed,” Skye said when they were outside. “I can hardly wait.”
“No need to wait. We can go into Glasgow and be married on the morrow,” Duff suggested.
“Duff MacCallister, sure and m’mother has waited my whole life to give me a fine church wedding now, and you would deny that to her?”
Duff chuckled. “Don’t worry, Skye. There is no way in the world I would start my married life by getting on the bad side of my mother-in-law. If you want to wait, then I will wait with you.”
“What do you mean you will wait with me?” Skye asked. “And what else would you be doing, Duff MacCallister? Would you be finding a willing young lass to wait with you?”
“I don’t know such a willing lass,” Duff replied. “Do you? For truly, it would be an interesting experiment.”
“Oh, you!” Skye said, hitting Duff on the shoulder. It was the same shoulder Alexander had hit in the fight, and he winced.
“Oh!” she said. “I’m sorry. You just made me mad talking about a willing lass.”
Duff laughed, then pulled Skye to him. “You are the only willing lass I want,” he said.
“I should hope so.”
Duff bent down to kiss her waiting lips.
“I told you, Ian! Here they are, sparking in the dark!” a customer shouted and, with a good-natured laugh, Duff and Skye parted. With a final wave to those who had come outside to “see the sparking,” Duff started home.
Duff Tavish MacCallister was the fifth generation to live on and work Three Crowns, the property that was first bestowed by King Charles II upon Sir Falcon MacCallister, Earl of Argyllshire and Laird of Three Crowns. Falcon was Duff’s great-great-great-great-grandfather. The title passed on to Falcon’s eldest son, Hugh, but died when Hugh migrated to America. The land stayed in the family, passing down to Braden MacCallister, who was Duff’s great-great-great-grandfather. The land passed through the succeeding generations so that it now belonged to Duff.
Three Crowns got its name from three crenellated hills that, with imagination, resembled crowns. The family cemetery was atop the middle crown, where Sir Falcon MacCallister and all succeeding generations, down to and including Duff’s father, mother, and only brother, lay buried. Duff was the last MacCallister remaining in Scotland.
Duff raised Highland cattle on Three Crowns. He liked Highland cattle, not only because they were a traditional Scottish breed but also because they required very little in the way of shelter, enjoying conditions in which many other breeds would perish. Cold weather and snow had little effect on them, and they seemed to be able to eat anything, getting fat on what other cattle would pass by.
Duff had read of the great cattle ranches in the American West, and how they required many cowboys to ride atop the huge herds across vast areas. But because the Highland cattle were so easy to handle, and he had only three hundred acres, Duff was able to manage his farm all alone. He did have something in common with the cowboys of the American West, though. He oversaw his herd from the back of a horse, and this morning he saddled his horse. Then, as the sun was rising, he took a ride around his entire three hundred acres, looking over his cattle. It was a brisk morning and both he and his horse blew clouds of vapor into the cool air.
His horse whickered as he rode through his small herd of cattle, distinctive with their long hair and red coloring. The cattle were grazing contentedly, totally unresponsive to the horse and human who had come into their midst.
As Duff rode around his herd, he imagined what it would be like when he had a son to help him run the farm. He and Skye had spoken often of it.
“What if our first child is a girl?” Skye teased.
“Then we shall make her a princess, and have a son.”
“But if we have only girls?”
“Then I will make them all tomboys, and they will smell of cattle when they go to school.”
“Oh, you!” Skye said, hitting him playfully.
Duff also planned to build a place for Skye’s parents so they could live on Three Crowns with them. For now, Skye’s father, Ian McGregor, enjoyed a good living running the White Horse Pub, but there would come a time when he would be too old to work. When that time came, Duff promised Skye, Ian could retire in comfort in his own house, right there beside them.
As Duff reached the southern end of his property, he saw a break in the fence. Ten of his cattle had gone through the break and were now cropping the weeds that grew on the other side of the Donuun Road. Duff slapped his legs against the side of his horse, then rode at a quicker pace until he reached the break in the fence.
“Who told you cows you could be over here?” Duff said as he guided his horse through the break and across the road. He began rounding the cattle up and pushing them back across the road toward the break in the fence. It wasn’t a particularly hard thing to do: Highland cattle were known not only for their hardiness, but also for their intelligence and docile ways. He had just gotten the last cow pushed back through the break, when Rab Malcolm rode up. Malcolm was one of Sheriff Somerled’s deputies.
“Your cows are trespassing on county property,” Malcolm said. “You could be fined for that, you know.”
“My cows were keeping the weeds down along the side of the county road,” Duff said. “I should charge the county a fee for that.”
“Making light of the offense does not alter anything,” Malcolm said. “I saw your cows on the road. That is a violation and you could be cited.”
“Cite me or ride away, Rab Malcolm,” Duff said. “I’ll not be listening to your prattle.”
Malcolm was wearing a billyclub hanging from his belt. He lifted it from his belt, then used it as a pointer, pointing it directly at Duff.
“With your wild carryin’-ons last night, ’tis an enemy you have made of the sheriff,” Malcolm said. “And in this county, ’tis not a smart thing to make the sheriff your enemy.”
“Sure’n the Somerleds and the MacCallisters have been enemies for two hundred years and more. I doubt that there is anything I could have done last night that would make it more so.”
“You will see,” Malcolm said. “The sheriff was very angry. I’ve never seen him more angry.”
“Be gone with ye, Malcolm. ’Tis enough of your mouth I’ve listened to today.”
“See that your fence is mended, Duff MacCallister. I will not have commerce along this road disturbed by the likes of your cattle,” Malcolm said, just before he rode away.
Because the cattle frequently pushed through the fence at one point or another around his ranch, keeping it mended was an ongoing operat
“I’ll not be playing the pipes at my own wedding,” Duff said that evening at the White Horse Pub. “For sure now, and how would that look? My bride would come marching in on the arms of her father, finely dressed in her bridal gown, looking beautiful, but there is no groom standing at the chancel waiting for her. ‘Where is the groom?’ people will say. ‘Poor girl, has the groom deserted her at the altar?’ But no, the groom is standing in the transept playing the pipes.”
Skye laughed. “No, I dinnae mean play the pipes at the wedding. But afterward, at the reception you could play the pipes. You play them so beautifully, ’twould be a shame if ye dinnae play them.”
“A fine thing, Ian,” Duff said to Skye’s father behind the bar. “Your daughter wants me to work on my wedding day.”
“Duff MacCallister, for you, playing the pipes isn’t work. It is an act of love and you know it. Sure’n there’s no’ a man alive can make the pipes sing a more beautiful song than you.”
“So the two of you are doubling up on me, are you?” Duff said.
“And if we need another, there’s m’mother,” Skye said. “For she would want to hear you play as well. Say you will, Duff. Please?”
Duff laughed. “Aye, I’ll play the pipes, for how can I turn you down?”
“Best you be careful Duff, m’boy, lest you let the lass know how much power she has over you.”
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