Torrian (The Highland Clan Book 2)

By: Keira Montclair

Chapter One





Early spring 1280s, Scotland





Heather of Preston jolted up as soon as she was able to clear the sleep from her brain. Nellie, wee Nellie, where was she? She crawled across the cold stone floor until she found her daughter of four summers. Gathering the lassie into her arms, she pressed her cheek to her forehead, her heart hopeful. The heat from her wee one’s tender skin shattered that hope in an instant. Still, she crooned to the lassie and shook her ever so slightly to see if she could wake her.

She could not. After three days, her daughter’s fever had not abated. Heather carried her out of the hidden cave, hoping the early dawn light would rouse her. Nellie’s fair locks, normally shining from the sun, hung limp around her face, and the skin across her cheekbones was dry and dusky. Her eyes had not opened in two days, and her breathing was even shallower than it had been the day before.

Heather had to do something. Afraid to move Nellie and even more afraid she would be unable to carry her far, she took the lassie back into the cave they had lived in for the past three summers, covered her with a warm plaid, kissed her cheek, and struggled to keep the tears from running down her face. “Mama loves you, sweeting. I must go for help. ‘Tis time to go to the greatest healer in the Highlands. You know we’ve watched her for many moons. She’ll know what to do.”

A sickening feeling welled in her gut at the thought of leaving Nellie, but there was no choice. After strapping her bow and quiver to her back, she tied on her boots and set off toward the Ramsay clan.

Just move one foot in front of the other and you will get there.

She continued her mantra as she raced through the forest, thankful it was early spring so she did not have to run through heavy snow. In her heart, she feared she would not be successful. It was a trek, especially since she hadn’t eaten much of late for fear of leaving Nellie to hunt, but her daughter meant more to her than aught in the world. Neither beast nor man would impede her effort to reach Brenna of the Ramsays. She would not allow her fears to get the best of her.

When she finally reached the meadow, her ragged breathing was audible above the sounds of the morning birds. Please God, please God, save my daughter, she is everything to me.

She’d watched the Ramsays from afar for many moons, admiring the clan’s tenacity and hard work. There was one lass who was an amazing archer, and Heather had watched and listened as she trained the youngest members of the clan. Using the lass’s lessons as a guide, she had crafted her own bow. It had taken her a long time, but it was worth it to have another weapon besides her dagger.

Why hadn’t she hunted for food before leaving? The grumbling deep in her belly reminded her how long it had been since she’d eaten. She could feel her legs weakening beneath her, but her will would prevail. Of that, she was certain.

She had to save her daughter, she just had to.

***

Torrian Ramsay, first son of the Ramsay chieftain, stood near the gate of the Ramsay curtain wall, conversing with two of the guards and his friend and age-mate, Kyle.

“Aye, Torrian,” Kyle said, “‘tis time for you to marry. Your sire wishes it, Brenna wishes it, just pick one. Why not that saucy wench who was clinging to you the other eve? She had plenty of…attributes.” The guards laughed right along with Kyle, but Torrian took it in stride.

“When I find the right lass, I’ll marry. Until then, worry about the lasses in your own beds.” His sire and his uncle told him it was the way of men to tease each other about their sexual exploits, and Uncle Logan had taught him how to spar with words. No one needed to know that he preferred not to keep company with promiscuous women.

The sound of heavy, ragged breathing reached his ears, and he turned his head just in time to see a frenzied lass running straight for them, coming from the meadow, not the village. Though she was fleet of foot, she seemed weak.

One of the guards started to make a quip, but Torrian cut him off. “Is your tongue so busy you have forgotten to do your duty?” He pointed to the lass and then launched himself in her direction, Kyle fast behind him. He made it to the meadow behind the row of cottages just in time to catch her before her head hit the ground.

He scooped her into his arms and headed back to the castle, intent on finding his stepmother, Brenna, the Ramsay clan’s healer, but her eyes flew open and she shoved her wee fists against Torrian’s large chest.

To his bafflement, he realized he’d seen her before on Ramsay land. He’d tried to speak to her, but she had run from him as soon as their eyes met. There was no mistaking her, for she had one blue eye and one green eye. The only other person he’d ever seen with eyes like that was his cousin, Loki Grant. The Grant family had adopted Loki after he was found living behind an inn at the royal burgh. Did the shared eye color mean they were related? He had no idea, but he would be sure to ask his cousin the next time they met.

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