Today's Reading

"Did he really think we'd believe his men's lies about crossing onto Campbell land in search o' his lost bride?" Gille growled with disgust. "He should ken we'd have our ear to the ground and ha'e heard about his attempt to force the eldest MacFarlane daughter into marriage," he said, and then added heavily, "And that he failed."

"Hmm," Calan muttered, mouth tightening at the thought of that mess. It was bad enough that MacNaughton had made the attempt, but that the lass's uncle, Gilchrist Kerr, had conspired with the bastard to get the deed done just made it all that much worse. He'd been glad to hear that the lass had been rescued and returned home.

"Especially with the Wolf involved," Gille added now. "His intervention was enough to ensure all of Scotland heard o' the debacle ere MacFarlane's daughter was even returned home to him."

"Aye," Calan agreed solemnly. While they hadn't heard the particulars, they had learned that the renowned mercenary called the Wolf had got the lass away from Kerr, returning her to her father, Gannon MacFarlane, just the day before last... and all without the necessity of battle. It was something Calan suspected few could have managed. But the Wolf's reputation would be enough to scare most men into submission. Her uncle would not have wanted the Wolf and his warriors laying siege to Kerr Castle. The mercenary was not known for being merciful to his enemy. And he never lost.

"Ye ken that lost bride business was all lies to cover for the fact that he and his men were intending on running more raids on Campbell land," Gille said with anger, and before Calan could respond, added, "I can no' believe the bastard's up to his old tricks. I thought we'd taught him a lesson the last time he tried this nonsense. He certainly came sniveling to Kilcairn afterward." He snorted. "Though that business o' tryin' to convince ye to let him marry Inghinn was a surprise. The man certainly has some huge bollocks on him. I would no' doubt yer refusal is the reason he went after Claray MacFarlane afterward."

"Most like," Calan said grimly.

"Aye. Which makes it surprising he'd try raiding again."

Calan didn't bother to respond, and wasn't surprised when Gille smiled grimly and continued, "But we sent the bastard and his men packing. His men'll think twice ere crossing onto Campbell land again."

"Aye," Calan murmured. Gregor, his first, had woken him in the middle of the night with the news that a party of six MacNaughton soldiers had crossed onto Campbell land and had been confronted by a group of his own men patrolling the border. He'd dressed and headed out at once with Gille, Gregor and two dozen warriors to ride to where the battle was taking place. But by the time they'd arrived, it was over. Two MacNaughtons were dead, three seriously injured, and one was on his knees with several swords at his throat when Calan had entered the clearing where the confrontation had occurred.

He'd taken a moment to check on his own men, none of whom had more than a paltry wound here or there. Even so, Calan had sent his wounded soldiers back to the castle for tending because even paltry wounds could kill a man if they got infected. He'd then questioned the last MacNaughton capable of answering. The man had insisted they weren't there to raid, but to find their laird's new wife who had "got lost." He'd said that men had been sent in all directions to try to find her. Most, he'd said, had gone east, but his party had been sent north to Campbell in case she'd "wandered" that way.

Calan hadn't believed a word of it, especially when the men had refused to give the name of this supposed bride. Still, he hadn't seen any reason to keep the men. They'd paid dearly for their trespass. While only two were dead, the three who were wounded had taken injuries so severe they weren't likely to survive. He'd escorted the group back to the border with a warning to pass on to MacNaughton. That if he valued the lives of his men, he'd not send them onto Campbell land again without first dispatching a messenger to ask permission. For the next time a group of armed MacNaughtons crossed the border unexpectedly, no one would be alive to return their dead.

Calan and his men had then watched the uninjured man lead the horses carrying his injured and dead comrades back into MacNaughton territory.

He supposed he could have returned to the castle and his bed then to indulge in at least a couple more hours of sleep. But his blood had been up after the abrupt waking and confrontation, and Calan had known sleep was unlikely in that state. He'd decided to stay with his men and joined them on patrol for the last couple of hours of night. But once the sky began to lighten, a prelude to the sun's rising, he'd decided to head back to the keep. Calan hadn't been surprised when Gille had opted to join him.

"If we hurry, we might yet get in a short nap ere everyone wakes up," Gille said suddenly, stifling a yawn that tried to claim him at the end of this suggestion.

Calan had to fight a sudden urge to yawn himself, but shook his head and reined in as they broke from the trees into a clearing along the loch. "Nay. I've a full day planned. A nap would do little but make me grumpy at this point. You go ahead and find yer bed though, do ye wish."

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