Authors: Lecia Cornwall
For my aunt, Mary Hayes-Sheen, with love
Glen Dorian, 1817
s that a true story?”
Duncan MacIntosh let his gaze bore into the child from across the fire.
“It’s as true as any tale ever was, lad. ’Tisn’t a story—it’s the history of your own clan. Do you doubt my word?”
“But how can a dragon eat a whole village?” the boy asked, not half as frightened of the aged clansman’s scowl as Duncan would have liked. So he raised his hands over his head, spreading his plaid above himself like wings. He leaned away from the fire, letting the shadows transform him until his eyes gleamed, and the crags and valleys of his wrinkled skin deepened in the firelight. “He
a dragon!” the boy cried out in terror, and clutched his mother’s skirt.
of Clan MacIntosh sat down, coming back into the light, his face benign now. He set a gnarled hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Och, don’t be afraid, lad. ’Tis all for fun, that tale. It’s a
’s job to keep the tales of the clan, and tell them—even the almost-true ones about dragons. Shall I tell you a truly true one?”
The boy stuck his lip out mutinously. “Are there dragons in it?”
“No. There’s a pretty lass called Mairi MacIntosh, her brave laird, and a soldier in this tale, but no dragons—well, unless you count the fearsome Duke of Cumberland.”
“Who’s he?” the boy asked.
“He was the wicked son of a king. He came to vanquish the MacIntosh clan, and all the rest of the Highlanders.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “Is there blood and swords and killing in this tale?”
Duncan’s brow crumpled. “Too much of that, I fear. Are you afraid?”
The lad shook his head. “Is there kissing?”
The old man’s brow smoothed as he laughed. “Aye, some—though not nearly enough.”
“How does the story end?”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t got an ending yet.”
“Haven’t you made one up?” the child demanded.
Duncan pursed his lips. “As I said, this is a true tale, not a made-up one. True tales are long in the unfolding, lad. You can’t just conjure the ending out of the air. Something happens to begin the story—a dreadful thing sometimes—and then we must wait for the outcome. D’you understand that lad?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Then you must listen closely, and learn this story, so one day you can tell it. There have been a great many MacIntoshes in this glen before you and me, and I intend to see to it that you know all about every one of them before I leave this earth. Someday it will be you sitting here by the fire, lad, telling the tales to your sons or your grandsons, and they will do the same in their turn.”
The boy glanced over his shoulder at the loch of Glen Dorian, named for the otters that had always lived there. The water shimmered in the moonlight, black and deep. “Will I find the ending of this story?” the boy asked, stepping away from his mother to set his hand on Duncan’s knee.
“I hope you will. But for now you should know how it started.” The old
took the boy onto his lap, kissed the top of his dark head, and looked out at the rest of his audience, a half-dozen MacIntosh clansmen, women, and children who sat around the blazing fire on this summer evening, listening to stories under the stars, just as other MacIntoshes had done before them.
Duncan stared into the fire as if he could see faces and events written there, and the others leaned nearer too, as he began to speak.
“This is the story of love, and hatred, and war—and of kindness, too. It all began many years ago, during the forty-five, when the clans rose to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie Stuart, and in the choosing of sides, many things happened—terrible, sorrowful things that still hover over this glen—including a powerful curse.”
“Mairi’s curse,” someone whispered fearfully, and a murmur rose with the smoke of the fire.
“Aye,” Duncan said. “Mairi’s curse. Listen now. I will tell you all I know, but that curse remains upon our glen, waiting for the day when someone will come at last and break it, and bring love and happiness back to Glen Dorian.”
“And kissing?” the boy asked.
“And kissing, too,” Duncan said, and began to tell the tale.
Glenlorne, summer 1817
ady Megan McNabb stood beside the old tower of Glenlorne and looked out across the valley. Summer was at its height, hovering on the pinnacle between lush green perfection and the graceful slide into the golden glory of autumn. Megan drank in every detail—the old tower behind her, the new castle in the valley below, the loch, and the way the clouds rested on the peaks of the highest hills that sheltered the glen, and sighed. She would miss autumn here, but she’d be back again by spring, and then she would never, ever leave home again, no matter what anyone else expected of her.
She looked down at Glenlorne Castle, and her defiance was nudged aside by guilt. She should be packing. She and her sisters were leaving in a few short hours. They would board the coach and travel to Dundrummie Castle to stay with their mother. The Dowager Countess of Glenlorne had retired to live with her widowed sister-in-law now that her stepson Alec had taken his place as Earl of Glenlorne. Alec was newly married, and it had been decided that his sisters would spend a few months with their mother, to give the newlyweds time to enjoy a honeymoon.
they must go—really she did, being in love herself. But she could not help but envy her brother’s happiness. Megan’s love was far away, and they could not marry. Not yet at least, and that made it seem most unfair indeed.
Oh, Eachann, lovely Eachann! She had kissed him good-bye on this very spot, in the shadow of the old tower, pledged to wait for him, to keep their love a secret until he returned and could honorably offer for her. She put a finger to her lips, lips he’d kissed scarcely a month before, and felt her heart twist with yearning.
Surely the time would pass faster if she went away, didn’t face reminders of Eachann everywhere she looked. It was hard to hide her sighs of longing, but she must. Her mother would forbid the match as unworthy of an earl’s daughter. Alec would tell her she was too young to know her own mind. Alec’s new wife, Caroline, would tell her gently that she should see more of the world, spend a Season in London, before she made her choice and settled into wedded bliss. Her sisters would tease her for falling in love with the penniless son of Glenlorne’s gamekeeper. No, better it remain a secret that only she and her true love knew. She took the tiny promise ring out of her pocket and slid it onto her finger and stared at it with a smile. Soon, very soon, Eachann would come home, rich, a man of the world, and no one would tell them no then.
But now, Megan was to go to Dundrummie, then on to London in the spring for the Season. Her mother expected her to charm a rich English lord, wed him before summer came again, and live forever in England. Lady Devorguilla McNabb had spent all the nineteen years of Megan’s life, and the seventeen years of her sister Alanna’s life, and every moment of Sorcha’s twelve years planning to marry her daughters to Englishmen, whom she considered superior in every way to Scottish men, plain or noble, poor or rich.
Megan frowned. Her mother was going to be very disappointed with her eldest daughter, but a lady could not help falling in love, and Megan’s heart had been given. She loved Eachann Rennie, gamekeeper’s son, and she was certainly old enough to know her own mind. The very idea of marrying an English lord of her mother’s choosing—a complete stranger—and never seeing her homeland again made her shudder.
Megan scanned the glen again without seeing it. Her heart was sailing the high seas with Eachann as he strove to make his fortune. Not even her mother could object to him then, surely, with gold and a fine wedding ring in his pocket. They would be married in Glenlorne’s chapel, build a grand house here in the glen, and live happily ever after.
“Megan!” she turned as Sorcha, her youngest sister, struggled up the hill, her braids coming undone, russet curls askew around her flushed and freckled face. Her gown was stained with grass and tucked into her belt, her bare feet muddy. She wondered just how her mother was ever going to make an Englishman’s bride out of Sorcha. But then, her little sister was only twelve, and by the time Devorguilla frog-marched Sorcha to London for her debut, she would be the perfect lady, fit to wed a duke. Perhaps. She wished her mother—and the unknown lord—the best of luck with Sorcha.