Highland Intrigue (Duncurra Book Book 3)

BOOK: Highland Intrigue (Duncurra Book Book 3)
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Highland Intrigue


Duncurra Book 3


Ceci Giltenan

This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.


No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.







Duncurra LLC


Copyright 2014 by Ceci Giltenan



October 2014

Cover Art by Earthly Charms

Produced in the USA

Other Books by Ceci Giltenan



Highland Solution, Duncurra Book 1

Highland Solution Audio Book


Highland Courage, Duncurra Book 2

Highland Courage Audio Book


Coming November 17, 2014:


Highland Revenge, a novella included in:

The Scrolls of Cridhe, Volume 1 - Highland Winds




For my dearest Eamon, you are my rock and my soft place to land;

My greatest strength and my deepest need;

My steady course and my wild ride;

My one and only and my whole world;

I love you with all my heart.


For Natalie, without your love and support I would never have written the first book. There isn’t a word that can sum up what you mean to me. Best friend falls woefully short so I will go with beloved sister. Someday, I will give you fairies.


For Rhonda, another beloved sister, who has blessed my life in countless ways, thank you.


For my beta readers, Ann, Annie, Annie (hmm, there’s a pattern here) Barb and Maria—a heart-felt thank you for the gift of your time and feedback. Highland Intrigue is better because of you.


For my editor John Robin, thank you for everything. You are the best!

Pronunciation Guide


ALE suh




AY dunn


EN ya


FINN guhl


GILL ee ahn






NIGH uhl


NOO lah


O luh ghur


RHEE ann un




(BAREn) a baby


(BRA huh need) the MacLennan stronghold


(Kah rah GHEEL) the MacKenzie stronghold


(CLOO tee) a euphemism for the devil


(Doon KOO rah) the MacIan stronghold


(KERTCH) Also called a
(BREEDt); a square of pure white linen folded in half and worn by married women to cover their hair. It is a symbol of the Holy Trinity, under whose guidance the married woman walks.


(LAY in ah) A full tunic-like garment. A woman’s
is a full-length dress with full sleeves that is worn belted at the waist. A man’s
would only come to his knees, similar to a long shirt. Both men and women generally wore a plaid over this garment.


(NEEVE doon) The MacKay stronghold.


(RAMsuns) Pungent wild garlic.


(WHEEsht) hush or shhh


Brathanead Castle, The Highlands, October, 1354


“Gillie, what are ye doing up there lass?”

Gillian MacLennan sat perched between two branches of a tree with her face buried in her knees. She didn’t answer her da’s question because she didn’t want him to know she was crying. When she told her mother the problem, her mother had just gotten angry and told Gillian she was being silly. She didn’t want her father’s disappointment too.

“Come down out of the tree lass and tell me what’s wrong.”

Gillian wiped the tears away with the heels of her hands before reluctantly climbing down.

Her father gently took her face in his hands. “Gillie, ye’ve been crying. What happened?”

“Oh Da, everyone teases me about being so tall. They call me ‘Gillie the Giant.’”

“But, pet, ye know they are joking. I’ve heard ye laughing with them.”

“That’s just because I don’t want them to know it bothers me. I don’t like being a giant.”

“Ye aren’t a giant, sweetling. God just stretched ye out a wee bit more than other lassies.”

Gillian thought that was an understatement. She towered over all of the girls her age and she was even taller than some of the lads.

“Gillie, just ignore them. Words won’t hurt ye.”

She loved her father, but he was wrong. Maybe words didn’t hurt when ye’re a strong warrior, but words did hurt her. Still, she knew he wouldn’t understand that, so she ignored the statement. It wasn’t the things other children said that most upset her. What hurt the most were her mother’s words. “Mama says I’m hopeless and that no man wants a tall awkward woman.”

“Yer mama isn’t an expert on what men like. When ye’re all grown up, ye will make a fine wife for a braw young warrior.”

“Ye think?”

“Oh aye, ye will be a beautiful, tall, strong lass. I can assure ye, men like that. I will have to fight them off.”

“But I’m awkward. I trip and bump into things. People laugh. Look what happened at dinner yesterday.” She had tripped on her own feet hurrying to the table and went sprawling. Her father’s lips twitched now at the memory but he had the good grace not to laugh.

“Gillie, ye are a growing lass. Ye are all feet and elbows at the moment, but it happens to every youngling when they start to grow. Lads are much worse. Ye are but ten and three. It will change, I promise ye.”

“Fallon isn’t clumsy.”

“Yer sister is two years younger. Her clumsy years are still in front of her and by then ye will be poised and practically grown. Mark my words.” Her father pulled her into the kind of hug that always made her feel better. Gillian was closer to her da than to any other person. Her mother was critical and always too busy for her but she could count on her da to fix things.

Chapter 1

Brathanead Castle, February, 1361


A relentless pounding noise penetrated her dream. It was a good dream. She was with her father again. “Go away,” Gillian moaned, turning over to bury her head in the pillow. The pounding persisted, followed by the sound of a guardsman’s voice. It couldn’t be morning yet. The fire was still burning brightly in her hearth. She must have just barely fallen asleep.

“Lady Gillian, the watch reports that an army, at least a hundred strong, approaches.”

The lingering warm, happy feeling brought on by her dream fled as surely as if the guardsman had doused her with cold water. “Please give me just a minute,” she called through the door. Jumping out of bed, she pulled on her clothes. She wrapped a plaid around her shoulders before opening the door to Gavin. “What’s happening? Whose army is approaching? Can we defend against them?”

“My lady, they bear the king’s banners, but MacIan’s banner was also spotted.”

“MacIan? In the middle of the night? This can’t be good. Are the gates still barred?”

“Aye, they are,” Gavin assured her, “but we can’t refuse to allow a representative from the king to enter Brathanead.”

“Nay, but we can sure as well find out what they are here for before we open the gates.”

Brathanead was a simple tower keep with four floors above the great hall. Two sets of stairs gave access to the upper levels. Gillian hurried down the front stairs with Gavin, through the great hall, and out the main doors of the keep. Stepping into the cold night air, she pulled her plaid over her head, wrapping it tightly against the biting wind.

She glanced up. More men than usual had taken up positions on the curtain walls. The foreboding sight chilled her more than the winter wind. She hurried across the courtyard, entered the barbican, and climbed the stairs to the top of the tower. Other guardsmen, including the captain of her guard, awaited her. “Eadoin, how long until they reach us?”

“They will be close enough to parlay within a quarter of an hour.”

“Do ye have any idea what they’ve come for?”

“Nay, my lady.”

Eadoin’s frown worried her. She wasn’t sure he was telling her everything. “Do ye think MacIan seeks revenge?”

Eadoin shook his head. “I would have trouble believing that, my lady. If he had been planning to lay siege to Brathanead, he would have done it last spring while we were severely weakened and the weather was not so foul. Nay, they bear the king’s standard and we have done nothing to anger the king. Be patient. We will know his purpose soon enough.”

“Aye, I suppose we will.”

If Eadoin had other suspicions, he clearly wasn’t going to share them with her at the moment. She turned away from him. The moonlight illumined the approaching army. A quarter of an hour seemed like an eternity as Gillian waited on the cold wall. Dear God, how had she ended up here? She wished nothing more than to be able to change the events of the last year.

It was hard to believe it had been just over a year since the MacLennan army had ridden forth from Brathanead on the eve of Candlemas, expecting an easy victory. Unbeknownst to many of his clan, Laird Malcolm MacLennan had systematically worked to weaken the MacIan clan for years, while pretending to be a staunch ally. His ultimate goal had been to attack Duncurra, claiming it and all the MacIan lands for his own.

To everyone’s surprise the MacLennans were not victorious and a mere remnant of Malcolm’s men returned to Brathanead following the attack. Not only had they not taken Duncurra, but many of their men had been killed or were held for ransom. For a while the clan held onto hope that their laird had escaped. According to some of the men who had made it back immediately after the battle, he had captured Laird Niall MacIan’s wife and escaped with her. Gillian had been particularly hopeful that her father, Duncan, the laird’s second-cousin and captain of his guard, was still alive.

Gillian remembered waiting in the frozen courtyard weeks later with her mother, sisters, and Aunt Meara, searching for her father among the returning ransomed men. Eadoin had been with them. When they hadn’t spotted her father immediately, her mother had grabbed Eadoin’s arm as he passed. “Eadoin, where is Duncan?”

“Lana, I’m sorry. Duncan is dead.”

Her mother screamed. “Nay, ye’re lying, ye’re lying!” She continued to scream as Aunt Meara tried to calm her.

At the time, Gillian too believed there must have been some mistake. “He can’t be dead, Eadoin. We heard he escaped with Lady MacIan.” Her sisters had looked on in horror. Fallon sobbed while silent tears slipped down little Ailsa’s cheeks.

“Gillie, I’m sorry but it’s true. Yer da did flee with Lady MacIan and met up with the laird, who also managed to escape from the battle at Duncurra. But Niall MacIan caught up to them. Lady Eithne was riding with yer da.”

“Lady Eithne? Why was she riding with Da?” The MacLennans had known for some time that their laird and Laird MacIan’s step-mother were close friends. Frankly, they expected them to marry. Surely if Eithne didn’t have a mount of her own she would have ridden with Laird Malcolm.

“I’m not sure why, but she must have been afraid of what MacIan would do when he learned about her part in what was to have been the MacIans’ downfall. She stabbed yer da in the gut and tried to shove him off the horse. I suppose she was trying to escape Laird MacIan and figured she would never be able to riding double. But as yer da fell, he pulled her off with him. They were both trampled. I’m sorry lass.”

Gillian had been so sure her da had survived and would return to them. She remembered standing in silent shock, trying to make sense of what she had heard.
Dead. Her da was dead.

Her Aunt Meara stopped Eadoin before he walked away. “What about the laird?”

“He’s dead too. He escaped briefly into the snowstorm, but evidently his horse lost its footing. They were found at the bottom of a ravine several days later.”

Remembering that day now brought back the same searing pain she had felt then. How could her father be dead? She loved him. She needed him. She wanted to retreat, to run and hide as she had when she was upset as a child. Da had always found her; he could make everything better. But she couldn’t hide on that horrible day any more than she could now, and outside of her dreams her da would never seek her out to comfort her again.

Watching, waiting for the approaching army—one year later—the memories from that day flooded her relentlessly, as though they were happening today. Her sister Fallon, who was only two years younger than Gillian, clinging to their mother, both of them sobbing uncontrollably. Her youngest sister, Ailsa, eleven at the time, weeping silently, her whole body trembling. Aunt Meara, bereft. Over the years Meara had lost practically everyone she loved, her parents, husband, her own children, and now her brother. All around Gillian people were either elated to be reunited with a loved one or devastated by loss. There was nothing between the extremes.

She remembered asking Eadoin that fateful question, “If the laird is dead, who becomes the chief? He has no family. Who is the laird now?”

Eadoin answered, “As ye well know, Malcolm had no brothers or sisters and neither did Laird Kelvin before him. As a second cousin, yer da would have become laird. With him gone, it would be yer Aunt Meara, but things aren’t exactly clear. There are some that say it should be Eithne’s son, Fingal.”

“Fingal MacIan? Why in the name of all that’s holy would anyone suggest that? He isn’t a MacLennan.”

“Apparently that’s debatable. It seems that Malcolm was his natural father. One reason Malcolm wanted Duncurra was to claim Fingal as his heir to ensure he inherited both Brathanead and Duncurra.”

Shocked, Gillian said, “Nay, that isn’t possible. The clan won’t stand for it.”

“Lass, some of the men are already clamoring for it. We are in a bad state now. If Niall MacIan wanted to—and I can see how he might—he could crush us. If Fingal were made laird the MacIans would once again be powerful allies.”

“Surely there is someone else who can lead the clan and keep it strong,” she said.

“Well, there is yer Aunt Meara or ye. The two of ye are now the laird’s closest relatives, but ye are women. Ye can’t lead this clan without a man. The elders will have to discuss it.”

Over the next weeks the elders had indeed discussed it. Incessantly. At least half of the clan was united in their desire to petition Fingal MacIan to be their chief for the very reasons Eadoin had told her. The other half of the clan was only united in who they didn’t want to be their leader: Fingal MacIan. She remembered the perpetual arguments.

“If the MacIans are the cause of all our woe, why would we hand the clan over to one?” asked Owen, the oldest of the clan elders.

“The MacIans are not the cause. Malcolm’s greed brought this on. The MacIans were our allies. Niall would have given his own life for Malcolm and see how he was repaid,” said Daniel, another one of the elders who in his younger years had been captain of the guard and a close friend of Malcolm’s father. “Nay, it is better to have a strong leader with powerful allies and Fingal is that. God’s teeth, man, Laird Chisholm and Laird Matheson both stood with MacIan against us and that was more likely due to their relationship with Fingal than anything else.”

“Aye, and we have all known for years that Fingal was really Malcolm’s bastard,” said Archie, another elder.

“Nay, I tell ye, if Fingal had wanted to lead this clan, Malcolm gave him that chance when he attacked Duncurra. Damnation, Fingal stood to gain the leadership of both clans but he turned his back and let Niall MacIan chase Malcolm to his death, father or no. I will not go crawling to him now. Nay, we need to choose a leader from within.” With barely three score years behind him, Nolan was the youngest of the elders and arguably Malcolm’s closest friend among them.

“Aye, Fingal turned his back on his father—a father who betrayed his allies. At least we can all agree that Malcolm was Fingal’s natural father. Therefore, Fingal is the rightful heir,” Daniel said, and the whole argument started over again.

Gillian smiled, remembering the moment when her Aunt Meara had reached her limit. She’d stood, banged an empty tankard on the table and called for silence. “This arguing must stop. The fact is, Fingal is not here and by all accounts has no love for the MacLennans. Malcolm may have brought this on, but I agree with Owen and Nolan we shouldn’t humble ourselves further by begging Fingal MacIan for help.” At the shocked expressions Meara said, “That’s right, I said Fingal MacIan. He may have been Malcolm’s bastard, but he was raised by Eithne and Alistair MacIan and that is where his loyalties lie. For the love of God, his mother gutted my brother, the man who should have become our laird. Ye should not be arguing about whether or not to ask Fingal MacIan for help but rather who among us can lead the clan.” Her statements had been met with some murmured agreements.

Archie looked stunned. “Meara, other than Fingal ye are Malcolm’s closest relative but ye have no husband and no heirs. Are ye suggesting that we should make ye our leader?”

Meara laughed. “Nay, not me, Archie. Gillian.”

Gillian remembered the looks of surprise on the elder’s faces. “Gillian?”

Shocked by her aunt’s comments herself, she squeaked, “Me?”

Archie tried to reason with her aunt. “Now Meara, I’ll give ye that Gillian is a fine strong lass. Smart as any, but she is inexperienced and unmarried.”

Gillian’s mother had never been overly affectionate, but even so Gillian was surprised when Lana said, “Gillian can’t lead this clan.” Frankly, Gillian had never thought about it and while she too wasn’t sure she was up to the task, her mother’s absolute assurance that she couldn’t be a leader hurt.

Aunt Meara scowled at Lana before saying, “With my help and the help of the elders, Gillian can lead this clan until an appropriate husband is chosen for her.”

“That is not a bad idea,” Owen said.

“It is a bad idea,” Lana said. “Gillian is completely unprepared. Fallon would be a better choice.”

Meara looked flabbergasted. “Fallon? Have ye lost yer mind Lana? Fallon is but ten and six, and is certainly no better prepared to be a leader than Gillian. At least Gillian has a head on her shoulders.”

That finally shook Gillian from her silence. “Aye, Aunt Meara, I do. I have enough sense to know that, at the moment, I am not capable of leading this clan and neither is Fallon.” She silenced her mother with a glare. “Ye, on the other hand, at least have their respect.”

Meara did have their respect. Ultimately, they recognized her as the clan’s leader and Meara agreed to this for the short term. However, against Lana’s wishes, Meara insisted that Gillian begin to learn about the management of the clan and keep. She intended only to lead the clan until the elders decided who should marry Gillian and become laird.

Still, things hadn’t gone well. The clan remained divided in spite of all Meara’s efforts. Then a little over two months ago, in early December, Meara had died. She simply didn’t awaken one morning. Some thought her heart gave out while others suspected she was poisoned. Gillian thought this was the product of over-active imaginations. There were always people who were willing to see conspiracy in anything. Aunt Meara hadn’t felt well for days. She was not a young woman and the leadership of the fractious clan had taken a toll on her health. It was as simple as that.

BOOK: Highland Intrigue (Duncurra Book Book 3)
5.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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