Authors: Delaney Rhodes
By DELANEY RHODES
Darina O’Malley watched the sun set in the bay from the great tower in O’Malley castle. She said a silent prayer for her cousin, Kyra, hoping the message that was delivered to the MacCahan’s did not spell sudden doom for her and her people. If what her Uncle Ruarc had told her was true, she was to be married to a stranger in nearly a fort night, and her world would turn upside down.
The realization that her clan held secrets which could destroy them forever - chilled her blood. Who was this son of a Laird that she was betrothed to and how would he react when he learned the truth?
: This book contains adult subject matter and adult material not suitable for children. It may contain any or all of the following: explicit sexual contact, graphic language, occult references, and violence and adult subjects.
Copyright © 2012 by Delaney Rhodes
Cover Design by Kim Killion
Edited by A. McConnell
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used, reproduced or copied in any manner whatsoever except with written permission.
To my loving and infinitely patient husband – without you my life would be incomplete. To my daughters who have no idea how much they teach me.
MacCahan Castle - Northern Ireland - Fall 1457
“Patrick! Patrick!” repeated the annoying sound from the castle grounds. “Patrick!” The sound was getting closer as was the rhythmic tempo of approaching footsteps, as they navigated the muddy grounds. “Patrick - you are to be married”, declared the voice sounding somewhat out of breath.“Your father has said it is so. “You,” the boy bent over to catch his breath and hold his sides. “You must come at once, the Laird has requested you in his chambers,” declared Braeden, matter-of-factly and quite loudly over the sound of rain. “And I am to accompany you to the O’Malley strong hold for fostering. Isn’t that grand, Patrick? Isn’t it?”
“Braeden, you know how Patrick despises an interruption while he works,” stated Airard, the village black smith, quite sternly. “Whatever is this non-sense you speak of?” questioned Airard, who was more than remotely acquainted with 11 year old Braeden’s vivid imaginings. In all of his sixty and two summers, Airard had never known a child so precocious, or so talented at story telling. Braeden had a knack for weaving tales and spinning webs that rivaled the most popular gossip. It would come as no surprise if Braeden became the village storyteller someday.
Yes, Braeden will make a fine bard one day, indeed.
Twenty-six year old Patrick MacCahan never looked up from his work. Not even a glance. Sweat covered his brow and his concentration wavered as he continued to stoke the intense fire before him. As the eldest son of Laird MacCahan, Patrick had a reputation for patience that had undoubtedly come from his mother, Bevin.
“Patrick! The Laird must see you at once,” stated Braeden. “There is much to be done to prepare for the journey to the O’Malley keep and not a second to waste according to your father. Come quickly lest you rouse his temper Patrick.”
Patrick had just heated the iron to the exact temperature he needed and was ready to begin forging the steel when he was interrupted.
For the love of the gods, what now?
It was the second time within the week he had been interrupted by Braeden while working on the sword to be given to his youngest brother, Payton.
How is a man supposed to work with such noise? It would make him daft.
“And you thought to escape the bounds of matrimony Patrick,” laughed Airard. “It appears the bells toll for you this day Patrick,” Airard quipped through clenched teeth.
“You and I both know you are mis-mis, you are no doubt mis-mistake-mistaken, Airard,” stammered Patrick, throwing Airard a frigid glare. “Tis nothing more than a humorless j-je-je-jest.”
“Ah, my friend, I wish it were so,” replied Airard, his tone taking on a serious nature. Airard stood beside Patrick as he worked on the weapon and then placed a hand on his shoulder in condolence.
“T-te-te-tell me wh-wha-what you know.” Patrick had never questioned that he would not marry. After all, what did he have to offer any lass? Sure, he was the Laird’s eldest son, and he was well respected. But he stammered, and he had but partial use of his right hand. Even though he had trained intensely and become a fine black smith, it was hardly what the women of his village sought in a match.
I can’t even speak to them. They avoid me. I frighten and confuse them, and I have not the countenance of my brothers.
Patrick stood head and shoulders above his brothers. By far the tallest man in his clan; he had an imposing size that garnered respect from men and awe from women. He was not as hard to look upon as he suspected, but he had not the form or face that made the lasses seek him out as they did Parkin, his younger brother, and middle son of Laird MacCahan. Parkin was never without female company, and tales of his prowess had spread throughout the neighboring clans, so much so that Laird MacCahan feared he would never make a match for Parkin, because his reputation preceded him.
With his imposing size, Patrick was a picture of a man. Long shoulder-length chestnut hair laid in waves down his back and green eyes, the color of newborn leaves, graced his chiseled face. It was only when he tied his hair at the nape of his neck that one could really see him for the handsome man he was. Although Patrick wasn’t aware, he had been the object of many a temptress in his village, but none had succeeded in securing his hand. He had more important things to do than waste his time on the frivolities of romantic entanglements.
Yet, Patrick was no innocent. Nay. He had had his fair share of female company when the need arose, thanks to his uncles and his father’s fighting men. They seemed to know the exact location of every ale house and brothel within a day’s ride. The ventures were pleasant enough but he always seemed to leave with regret at having disappointed his company with his refusal to talk.
They would simply throw me out if they knew. Of course they expect to converse, they are after all, female.
“I know what you’re thinking Patrick, and you’re wrong my son,” stated Airard. “You have more to offer a lady than you think, and there is no reason you cannot have the home and family most men seek. You are after all, a Laird’s son, with all the status and comfort that affords.”
“B-bu-bu-but my hand,” replied Patrick. “I am use-use-useless.” Patrick held up his right hand for inspection. While it looked normal, it had been crushed and broken many years before and he had never fully regained the use of it, although it was hard to tell from simple observation. It was the grip that had never fully come back. He would likely never wield a sword with his right hand again, at least not accurately. It was what caused him to begin using his left. His Uncles had ensured he was just as adept with his left as he had one day been with his right.
“Nay, I will not hear such nonsense from you,” declared Airard. “You are a keen warrior and simply the finest black smith in all of Northern Ireland, and you can wield a sword better than any of your brothers, even if it is with your left hand,” replied Airard. “You can thank your Uncle Fionn for that.”
It was true. Fionn had worked tirelessly to ensure that Patrick had a proper training in fighting. Even when his own father would no longer permit him to spar with the others, Fionn had taken him aside, and to neighboring villages to practice the art. Patrick was as good as any soldier out there, and even more daunting when his challengers found him to be left handed. He could switch sword hands in the blink of an eye and catch his combatants unaware. It was a startling revelation indeed.
“Patrick! Are you coming? Your father awaits you; impatiently at that,” exclaimed Braeden. “Let’s go, I’m eager to hear the details of our journey and gather my things.”
As if you have many things, Braeden. What am I going to do with a pestering child on a trip such as this? It will be the death of me.
Patrick didn’t miss the knowing stares and crude comments thrown his way in jest from his brothers and his uncles as he walked through the castle doors and through the great hall. Even when he had stopped to wash the mud from his boots just outside the castle doors, he suspected the servant Jarvis had snickered at his expense. Everyone knew that Patrick did not wish to marry, and that he had no use for the ladies. Although none of the men understood why.
It was apparent the way the kitchen servants came alive and openly gawked at Patrick - that he intrigued them-this giant of a man with few words. A hushed and reverent silence fell over the keep whenever he entered to attend to clan business or to break his fast. If Patrick didn’t know, or couldn’t see the attention he received from the lasses, who was he to explain it to him?
Jarvis suspected it was a result of Patrick having grown up with little female interaction, and the many years of isolation and refusal to socialize that had turned Patrick into a hermit. “Nay, it is not my place to instruct the lad on matters of matching and loving,” Jarvis murmured to himself, under his breath.
Payton wasted no time in aiming for Patrick. “Well, well dear
,” his brother stated. “I hear you are betrothed?”
“Tis n-no-no-not so,” stammered Patrick, “tis but a na-na-na-nasty rumor. One which I i-i-in-in-inten-intend to squash post haste.” Patrick’s face grew red as the emotion and embarrassment boiled in his blood.
How he hated being teased by his younger brothers when it came to the lasses. They made sport of it as often as possible, and their father had ensured that this time, they had plenty to go on. “Bo-both-bother me not, I have bu-bus-bus-business to attend to up-stairs.”
Patrick managed to skirt past the entire great hall filled with those gathered for the noon meal without stopping, and reluctantly took the stairs that led to the third floor master’s chamber three steps at a time.
I might as well get this over with. Father will be unhappy, but he will see things my way.
The entire clan had come alive with wild speculation just three nights previous when the messenger arrived with an urgent missive from Laird O’Malley. It was even odd the way it was delivered. They had never had a missive from a clansman who remained seated on his steed at the Castle Gate.
Fionn was aghast that the messenger remained on his perch, taken aback by his lack of protocol, and therefore he deemed it necessary to request the messenger step down in order to size him up. But alas, the messenger stepped down as requested; only to mount the steed mere minutes afterwards when Laird MacCahan’s reply was received, sending the messenger on his way once more.