Authors: Dorothy Wiley
VOW OF LOVE
AMERICAN WILDERNESS SERIES ROMANCE
Frontier Highlander Vow of Love
Copyright © 2015 by Dorothy Wiley
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any form, printed or electronic, without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials, in violation of the author’s rights.
To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author via her website
Cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill
Frontier Highlander Vow of Love
is a fictional novel inspired by history, rather than a precise account of history. Except for historically prominent personages, the characters are fictional and names, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Each book in the series can be read independently.
For the sake of understanding, the author used language for her characters for the modern reader rather than strictly reflecting the far more formal speech and writing patterns of the 18th century.
Other Titles by Dorothy Wiley
WILDERNESS TRAIL OF LOVE
NEW FRONTIER OF LOVE
WHISPERING HILLS OF LOVE
To my dear mother-in-law
Roberta Virginia Moore
Happy Mother’s Day 2015
“…down where the Naver runs clear;
And the land a brave race had for centuries owned
Is now trod by the sheep and the deer
The halls, where our ancestors first saw the light
Now blackened in ruins they lie
And the moss-covered cairns are all that remain
Of the once pleasant homes of MacKay.”
—by Elizabeth MacKay
Bridge of Allan 1889
Strathnaver, Scotland, Summer 1792, ‘The Year of the Sheep’
The Strathnaver Valley is a rich green fold in Scotland’s earth, a narrow twisting glen through which the dark blue waters of the River Naver run south to north, from the loch of its name to the Atlantic. Nearby, along the most northerly rugged coast of Scotland, waves pound spectacular high cliffs, ancient sea caves, and sandy beaches with the enthusiasm of a passionate lover.
Artis MacKay’s clan, by name or allegiance, lived there, on the estate of the Countess of Sutherland. Artis’ simple but well-loved home stood with two dozen others, near the southeastern shore of Loch Naver, in a crofters’ village named Achadh an Eas. Nearby a noisy cascade flows from hills where Norsemen once buried their dead after ferocious battles with the Picts.
When Artis stood near the loch and gazed behind her the mountain took the shape of a sleeping woman, her head turned away from Strathnaver. Artis wondered if the sleeping woman was dreaming about her future, as she often did. Since she turned fifteen, she seemed to spend even more time daydreaming. Sometimes she would ponder her future for hours—wondering about the man she would love someday. The man she would marry. Where was he? What did he look like? He would have to be handsome, that much was certain. Would he be kind like her father had been? Would they share their dreams and aspirations? And, would their
home be here? She certainly hoped so. She loved her birthplace.
The people of Achadh, including Artis, considered their home a grand paradise. The landscape, an extraordinary blend of texture and color, both intense and subtle, provided a source of solace and inspiration. Their thatched roof dwellings and abundant peat to burn kept them warm and cozy. The pastures surrounding them stretched for miles—as far as any of them could see or care to walk—where flocks of sheep and goats, and herds of cattle and horses, also lived contentedly. The river supplied fresh fish. The villagers turned cow’s milk into butter and cheese. Farmers tilled small plots of land that yielded potatoes and grains. And hunters found abundant fowl and other game in the hills and windswept moors.
And if they wanted to hear the Gospel, they would assemble on the Sabbath morning beside the flowing waters of the Mallart as the river swept past them a few yards to the east. Artis was always keen to learn more about heaven.
But this morning, she heard only the sounds of hell.
At the clamor of galloping horses and shouting men thundering into the center of their village, Artis peered out her window. To her dismay, she saw Patrick Steller, the Sutherland Estate factor, on his grey stallion. At least a dozen armed men, all bearing fiery torches despite the bright sunshine, followed Steller.
She abhorred the unscrupulous man and the way he swaggered about. She’d rebuffed his advances for a year, ever since her father died. She had no interest in the self-important braggart, and never would.
The last time she saw him, she made her contempt for him clear. He’d threatened to make her pay for her disdain. What would he do to her?
“Tenants of Achadh, go where you like,” Steller yelled from the center of the village, “provided you do not stay on Sutherland land!”
The estate manager’s voice sounded as brutal as his words.
Artis couldn’t believe this was actually happening. She’d heard the rumors of Highland clearances and the inhumanity inflicted on many
tenants by their Lairds. Some were evicted, in the most inhumane and cruel ways imaginable, to turn the land over to profitable sheep farming. The tenant farmers had no choice but to leave the land they had rented and worked for generations and be cast into the wilderness of the moors and bogs along the coast.
The MacKays were a strong and hearty people, but their preacher had told them that thousands of Highland Scots, driven from their homes, were dying from starvation and disease. Others were seeking to immigrate to the American colonies. But many would not survive the passage across the Atlantic.
Could a clearance really happen here? Could the Countess be that cruel? Her mind refused to accept it.
She looked to her mother for answers. Mary MacKay’s venerable countenance bore the impress of fifty-seven winters and her still beautiful green eyes flashed with her well-known stubbornness. But her mum offered no answers.
“I’ll not leave my home!” Mary swore. “But ye will my daughter.” Her mother hauled a traveling bag from beneath her own bed and tossed in onto Artis’ bed. “Pack yer bag, quickly now!”
“No, I’ll not leave ye,” Artis disputed.
“Och! Ye’ll do as I say. Now grab yer clothes and cloak. And take yer Bible. I fear ye will need it.”
Artis gathered her things, her fear building. She could hear the other villagers struggling to save the most valuable of their possessions, the frightened cries of women and children, the bellowing of the terror stricken cattle, and the yapping of shepherds’ dogs amid the smoke and fires.
She quickly stuck her tresses in her silver hair clasp and donned her tartan shawl for warmth. Her mother grabbed her bag and carried it toward the door. As Artis followed her, she strapped on her grandfather’s old dirk, and hid the dagger’s leather scabbard beneath her long shawl.
“I have a few coins I’ve saved over the years. Hopefully it will be
enough and ye will na have to indenture yerself as so many others have,” her mother told her while retrieving the coins from their hiding place. Her mum tied the money into a handkerchief, and knotted it tightly. “Put this between your bosoms!”
“Mum, no! You may need your funds.”
Her mother shoved the knotted cloth well down into Artis’ stays just as one of Steller’s snarling men barged through their plank door.
“Out! Now!” the big man bellowed.
“How dare you drive us from our cottage! My family has called this home for centuries. This land is rightfully ours,” Artis shouted. Her eyes burned with indignation and the tears she struggled not to release.
With an air of authority, Steller strutted in behind his man. “Yer animals who deserve nothin’. Sheep are more valuable now.” Condescension twisted his thin mouth.
“Ye’re a savage,” Artis yelled. “What kind of man would place the value of sheep over men? Only a savage would put the needs of sheep above his fellow Scot.”
“Aye, ye have it right daughter. The man’s a savage of the devil’s own tribe,” Mary spat.
“Sometimes savagery is necessary for the greater good,” Steller declared, his jaw thrust forward. A smile that did indeed look demonic spread across his merciless face.
“Yer home is already set afire. Ye need to get out now,” Steller’s man warned.
Artis could smell the smoke now and with each rapid breath, her alarm grew.
Steller turned his dark eyes toward her mother. “The flames are making rapid progress, Widow,” he snarled. His eyes glistened with the ire of evil.
When she glanced up, Artis’ heart thundered within her chest. She could see flames begin to encircle her home. The fire crackled and
crunched like a hungry beast as it seized the ancient timber that supported the roof of turf and then devoured it. She could feel the heat of the beast’s breath on her face. Between her breasts, sweat popped out, dampening the cloth that held her mum’s coin.
But she would not leave without her mother. “Mum, we must go,” she pleaded. “Please.”
“Nay, darlin’,” she said. “Remember this, I love ye and always will.”
Was her mum saying goodbye? Panic spurted through Artis. What if her mother refused to leave?
“Take the girl,” Steller told his man, his voice grim. “I’ll take care of this one.” He shot Artis a bitter smile. A muscle quivered angrily at his jaw.
He wasn’t going to bring her mother out at all. Her rage almost choked her. “You bastard!” she yelled. “Leave her alone! It’s me ye should punish, na her.”
He turned his hate-filled eyes back to her Mum. What was he going to do?
“Please, I beg you, do na hurt her,” Artis entreated Steller.
Desperate, Artis turned to the big man who gripped her arm. “I’ll go willingly. Please, carry my mother out of here! I beg ye.”
Steller peered at his man and shook his head no. “She’ll walk out, or she does na leave.”
“I’ll na leave me home till God takes me out of it,” Mary swore, her flinty eyes squinting at Steller. “And ye’ll never marry my daughter. She will na lower herself to marry a loathsome bog scum like ye.”
“I’m tempted to haul ye outside right now, pull up yer skirts and take ye, because I can. And then take yer daughter’s virginity, because I want to,” Steller threatened.
Her mum drew her hand back and slapped Steller hard.
Stunned, Steller’s eyes widened and his face turned crimson. “Bitch.”
With her hands fisted and firmly planted at her sides, Mary spat in Steller’s smug face.
Steller yanked out his dirk and lunged toward her mum.
“Nay!” Artis cried. She tried to stop Steller, but the man who held her jerked her toward the door.
She stared back in horror.
Steller vindictively ran the blade across her mother’s slender neck. Blood followed the path of the knife’s edge.
Artis screamed. “Nay! God no! Nay!”
As her mum’s body crumpled, so did Artis, her shock crippling her.
“Ye do na want to die here lass,” Steller’s man said. “Get up, we must hurry.”
“Damn her, the old witch. She should have listened. Let her burn!” Steller snarled and stormed out.
Steller’s man grabbed Artis, his strong fingers pressed painfully into her wrist. With an iron grip, he yanked her toward the door but she struggled against him.
With an immense snapping and hissing sound, a portion of the roof collapsed onto the alcove that served as her snug bedroom her entire life. Bright orange cinders flew everywhere and swirls of smoke and ash filled the air.