Highland Hellcat(2)

By: Mary Wine

“Those rabbits will nae be waiting on ye.”

Bran spoke up, his voice drifting on the wind from where he was perched in a tree. Despite the gray in his hair, he was still a strong man, and his legs with their knee-high boots were pressed against the bark of the tree to keep him solidly in position. His back was propped against a higher portion of the tree and his bow held steady while he looked back at her.

Brina smiled at the challenge in his voice. “I plan to fell one before ye do.”

Bran chuckled and offered her a wink. “Ye sound like a lad.”

“What does it matter if I am less than feminine? Better that I am practical, for that will bring me more comfort in my life with the church, and it will see more good done if I am not delicate but might face injustice with my shoulders set firmly.”

Bran chuckled again. “For certain, it is a good thing that yer father has no’ changed his mind about sending ye to the church, for ye have been raised too long with the knowledge that ye shall have no master upon earth.”

“Now ye are teasing me, for I know the place that shall be mine. I simply plan to make the most of it.”

“Aye, Brina lass, I can hear that ye do, and may God have mercy on those who try to cross ye, for ye will have none upon them.”

Brina shook her head and swept her skirts away from her ankles so that she might climb up the trunk of another tree and perch very much in the same manner Bran was.

“I’d think that ye might be impressed with the fact that I intend to take to my place with such passion.”

Bran didn’t answer, but something entered his eyes that looked a bit like pity, and she forced her thoughts on to her arrow and lining it up correctly so that she might be able to ignore the emotions that threatened to send tears into her eyes.

She’d be a good mother superior. The best possible, because her father had given his word on the matter, and it was a poor daughter who shamed her father by refusing the place that he set for her.

Her sisters would wed their arranged matches, and she would be a bride of Christ. It was the way to maintaining peace and balance in the Highlands.

The light faded more, and the animals of the forest began to brave the semidarkness to seek out food. Brina didn’t fear the night as so many did, but she kept that a closely guarded secret, for it was not something to share with those who did believe in witches and ghosts. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in specters. It was just that she was not afraid of them.

An arrow sliced through the night air, and there was a thump as a rabbit fell. Brina bit her lip in reprimand, for her attention was wandering and now she had lost the advantage. Bran jumped down with a soft step, one he’d taught her to use while hunting. It was a skill that took practice and concentration, but he walked toward his prize, his feet avoiding the dry leaves on the ground so that no sound marked his path. He held the rabbit up, and even though she could not see his expression clearly in the deepening darkness, she knew that his face was split with a smile.

Well, he had earned his victory, but that did not mean she was going to return to Chattan Castle empty-handed. She focused her eyes on the shadows, seeking out any motion and listening for the tiniest sound. When she let her own arrow fly, it sailed true and straight toward the rabbit she had spied near the base of a tree.

She smiled before climbing down, remaining mindful of her every step so that she might be as silent as Bran had been. Her father didn’t know that Bran had taught her such a skill, and she saw no reason to mention it. Such ability was considered essential for a boy who would grow into a Highlander. They were not the most feared fighters on the planet for no valid reason. Boys began training from the moment that they took their first steps. They practiced the art of blending in with the night so that their enemies might never know where they were until they struck.

Brina stopped halfway back to her tree and lifted her head. In the distance she could hear the faint sounds of a horse, its hooves beating against the earth at a fast pace. She climbed the tree nearest her and scanned the hillside until she saw the animal. A single woman rode it. A dark cloak fluttered in the breeze while she leaned low over the neck of her mount, but she had her hood secured on the top of her head to keep her features hidden.

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