Rescued by a Highlander(9)By: Keira Montclair
“Do not go far tonight, Madeline, I think we need to talk again.” Kenneth’s lips curved into a slow smile as he roughly let her go. “As always, I look forward to it!”
Madeline turned and proceeded toward the stairs, making sure to pause and greet each servant she passed. He could beat her all he wanted. She would not marry the Comming. She cringed as she thought of the night Niles had attacked her, of the indecent things he had subjected her to, all the while wearing that sick look on his face. He had taunted her relentlessly. She had to remain strong. When she reached her room, she slipped quietly inside. Slowly, she lowered herself to the bed. Only then, did she finally let the tears flow.
What recourse did she have, after all? Her parents had taught her to be obedient. As hard as she tried, she was unable to understand Kenneth’s cruelty toward her. The harsh treatment started way before the Comming had asked for her hand. She didn’t understand it.
Many said her father had spoiled her, mayhap it was true. Her father never raised a hand to her, and she had never seen him mistreat her mother either. Why was Kenneth so vicious? She had never hurt him.
Was it the way of the world? Did all men treat women callously? The Comming was no better than Kenneth. Thoughts of her knight in armor danced through her head. Would he beat her into submission as well? She had noticed peasants slapping their wives on occasion. Was that to be her fate now? Mayhap her mother and father had protected her from the cruelties of the real world. If that were true, she wasn’t certain she wanted to be part of that world. A convent may better suit her needs. Orphaned children abounded according to her mother. Perhaps she could care for them as her life’s vocation. Their innocence and trust needed to be protected.
She needed a plan. Somehow, she had to get away.
Help me, Papa, there must be a way.
The map revealed a tunneled passageway leading from inside the MacDonald keep to a cave in an area far into the woods. Alex’s keep had such an exit used in case of attack. He and Brodie tied their horses in a small clearing not far from the suspected entrance. They had left his guards a distance away to watch for anyone’s approach. They crept quietly through the trees, surveying the area for clues to the cave opening, speaking little as they searched diligently through the forest. Alex crinkled the map in his hand, uncertain how far they were from the MacDonald castle and stared into the dark night lit only by a wee moon visible through the trees. The black soot he wore on his face for protection itched, but he refrained from rubbing it off.
“Here, Alex!” Brodie called out.
As Alex reached his brother, Brodie tore at overgrown branches and vines, “I think this is it.”
“This map best be accurate,” Alex said as he climbed through the brambles and peered into the darkness. He and his brother yanked on the old wooden door. Rusted hinges creaked as they tugged. The door finally gave way and they crept inside, lighting a torch to see what they could discover about the passageway. After removing massive amounts of cobwebs, a tunnel beckoned in the dark off to the left. Alex’s heart pounded. The sounds of running critters echoed in the cavern. Making their way carefully, neither spoke, intent on their mission. Bristles of the unknown crept up the back of his neck, forcing a shudder. Visions of bruises on porcelain skin propelled him on.
At a split in the tunnel, Alex checked the map under the torchlight. Following the fork to the left, they inched along until Alex realized they were close enough to pick up sounds inside the castle. They were able to distinguish voices, but not words. Alex motioned for Brodie to stop.
Madeline rested in her chamber due to the pain in her ribs, drawing from her inner strength to heal from her stepbrother’s beatings. How many times had this happened? She vowed not to weaken. She had to remain strong.
“Do not get up, lass,” Alice said as she patted Madeline’s shoulder. “That nasty man is looking for you again. I think we can keep him away for a few more days if you lie still in bed.” A knock sounded on the door. Egan, Kenneth’s second in command, yelled out, “Bring me the lass!”
“Stay there, Madeline, I will send him away,” Alice whispered.