Authors: Gian Bordin
"The boat!" the ferryman called out suddenly, and the two helpers tore
themselves away from watching Andrew, and scurried back to their task,
poling the ferry slowly across the river.
Andrew removed Robert’s other wet pistol, picked up a leather strap
lying in the deck, and quickly tied the fellow’s hands. He fastened the
strap firmly to a hook on the side of the boat. Only then did he retrieve
his own dagger, rinsed the pointed blade in the river water, wiped it on
his pants, and put it back into its sheath. Robert’s sleeve started to stain
as blood seeped from the wound. Andrew filled a pale with water and
poured it over the tall man’s face. Slowly, he began to stir, gasping for
air. When he opened his eyes, naked hatred hit Andrew.
Rubbing the sore knuckles of his right hand, the latter turned away and
faced Helen for the first time. Her expression reflected a confusion of
disbelief, pride, and awe. She had never regarded him as a fighter. Sure,
she had seen him as tough, fast, calculating, but she hadn’t judged him
to be able to stand up to a big man like Robert, her father, or her brothers.
And there he had cut down Robert as if it were child’s play. So dominant,
decisive, and in complete control. She didn’t know how to respond to his
silent appeal for her approval. Her impulse was to jump up and hug him,
too relieved that no harm had come to him. However, she remained
seated, still breathing shallowly, meeting his gaze, trying to smile, but not
He came over and put a hand on her shoulder. It trembled slightly. She
covered and pressed it, searching his eyes. Suddenly, she could breathe
Robert had recovered his voice and broke into a verbal barrage of
protest and abuse in Gaelic, directed at everybody, full of obscene shouts
and threats. Helen blanched. It brought up the scene at the lochan. She
covered her ears in a vain attempt to suppress it.
With three quick steps, Andrew was at Robert’s side. He picked up the
knife the lad had dropped and pushed the point under his chin, forcing his
face upward, the sharp point just piercing the skin. The shouting stopped
abruptly. Robert shrank back, his face suddenly a mirror of fright.
"Another sound of abuse, and I will gag you. Got that?" Andrew’s
voice was hard and uncompromising.
Robert attempted to nod without moving his head and winced when
Andrew slid the blade from under his chin, leaving a superficial cut. He
rubbed his chin with the top of his tied hands and stared in dismay at the
smear of blood.
"You cut me!" he said through clenched teeth. His voice had a
Andrew ignored him and returned to Helen’s side. She reached out to
touch his hand. She wanted to say something, but only managed his
name. A smile fleetingly softened the hard steely look in his eyes.
"So that rider at the Partick bridge must have been one of them. That’s
why they were so fast on our trail," he said in a low voice.
"Yes, that must be it. They probably split up to watch all roads out of
"I think you’re right. I wonder where the Drummond lad is."
"Stealing another horse to get back home," she answered sarcastically.
"What are we going to do now? We won’t have much of a head start on
"I think we stick to our plan, except that we go into the hills, rather
than along the coast… I should go and explain things to the ferryman,"
he murmured, withdrawing his hand from hers. Reluctantly, she let go.
The ferryman did not hide his apprehension when Andrew approached,
picking up the two pistols as he went past Robert. Andrew’s apologies
and offer of an extra two shillings calmed the old man’s agitation somewhat, particularly when Andrew humbly accepted his rebukes for
interfering with the control of the ferry. Andrew gave him Robert’s
weapons and asked that he take the lad back to the pier on his return trip.
He also told him not to hurry, that it would help them to have a good
* * *
The south side of the river had no pier. The ferry ended up at the edge of
a mud bank, well below its usual landing place. Helen and Andrew
climbed on their horses from the ferry and rode to dry land. Once on solid
ground, they galloped south for several miles, keeping to a narrow,
meandering path and passing through several small villages.
"Why are we riding along this path where everybody can see us?"
asked Helen when Andrew slowed down to give the horses a breather.
"So that people see us go south and can tell your father," answered
Andrew with a grin. "He’ll then believe that our ultimate destination is
England and that we only made the detour to the ferry to avoid the
Glasgow police… I think I still remember a trail that cuts into the hills
another mile or so south of here."
"Didn’t you often pass through these parts when you were with the
"We usually worked farther south. We only came twice through here.
That’s the trail I thought of taking. It skirts around towns and villages."
At a sharp bend in the road shortly after crossing the River Gryfe at
Fulwood, Andrew turned west. There was no sign of a path.
"Are you sure this is the way?" questioned Helen anxiously.
"Yes. It’s deceiving, but we’ll get to a well-formed trail shortly."
Gradually, a trail began to form in the forest, getting more pronounced
as they continued. It seemed that whoever took this route tended to fan
out before joining the road south so as to leave no traces. After a while
the path cut north and then followed the River Gryfe on its westerly
course to its source.
At noon they hid in a coppice and ate the rest of the food Rose had
prepared for them. They let their horses graze, holding on to their reins
to prevent them from straying out of the protection of the bushes and
Both had been unusually quiet since leaving the ferry. They had
restricted any talking to passing information. Helen found it difficult to
come to terms with what happened on that crossing, and Andrew didn’t
seem to notice, too intent on finding the secret path. She was replaying
the scene on the boat, when Andrew’s question brought her back to the
"Helen, is anything wrong? You’re so quiet."
She hesitated, looking at him pensively, not knowing how to say it.
"Are you upset about what happened on the ferry? That your father is
still after us?"
"Yes and no… I’m troubled, but not that father is still after us. I knew
that he wouldn’t give up. No. What disturbs me is how I misjudged you
"I don’t understand."
"I knew you were brave, even if my father always said you were a
coward because you didn’t join either side in the rebellion. Still, I didn’t
see you as physically strong. Compared to the MacGregor men, you’re
slight. You’ve none of their bulk. It was almost as if you had awakened
in me a motherly instinct to protect you. So, when Robert came after you,
I thought you stood no chance. I was ready to throw myself between you
"I know, that’s why I called out to hold on to the leads."
"Yes, it stopped me from acting immediately on my impulse, and a
moment later, that big lad lay on the deck. He didn’t even have a chance
to lay hands on you. Everything happened so fast, and you were so
ruthless. It didn’t sink in right away."
Andrew said nothing. Just the trace of a smile lit up his eyes.
"And when you put the knife under his chin and cut him, and I saw
him reduced to a whimpering boy, I got a bit afraid myself. I felt that you
enjoyed humiliating him. I didn’t know that you had a vicious streak in
"Yes, I got some satisfaction in showing him up. But, Helen, do you
believe me that I would never turn that vicious streak, as you call it,
She moved closer to him, putting a hand on his shoulders, leaning
against him. "I do, Andrew. I just have to readjust my image of you."
"Are you not a bit proud of me?"
"Oh, yes, Andrew. I am…proud, even a bit awed."
A quiet happy smile covered his face.
"You told me that you were good with a knife. Yet I had no idea what
this really meant. I didn’t even see you pull it, and suddenly it stuck in
Robert’s arm. Nor did you tell me that you’re equally good with your
fists. One blow and he lay on the deck."
"I only saw one. You were so fast!"
His smile broadened. "Speed is crucial. It gives your opponent no time
to parry. But knocking a man out isn’t difficult, especially a fool like
Robert who only relies on his superior strength. You only have to know
where to hit."
She kissed his cheek. "I’m not yet used to this new Andrew that I
didn’t know existed behind your innocent face."
"You still love me?"
"Oh, you silly man, I do."
"As much as before? I need to hear it."
She hesitated for a moment and then broke into a big smile. "I got you
frightened for a second, didn’t I? Yes, even more."
He reached out to hug her, just as their horses pulled in different
directions and separated them. Both let go of the reins and rushed into
each other’s arms.
"Where did you learn how to fight like this?"
"At the University in Edinburgh. Initially when I got there, I was often
picked upon because of my size, until my mathematics teacher showed
me how to use my fists. After that, nobody bothered me anymore. He had
also been in Italy and learned how to throw daggers. He taught me." He
pulled out his dagger. "This is a gift from him."
Helen took the narrow blade and touched its sharp point cautiously.
"This is useless as a knife, except for spearing… Is it only for fighting?"
"For defense. Only for defense. I’ve never used it otherwise."
"Robert isn’t the first?"
"No, in Greece somebody wanted to rob me, and in France I got into
"Did you kill anybody?"
* * *
By early afternoon they reached the ridge above Port Glasgow. They
could just make out the road into town along the shore, passing in front
of Newark Castle. This was familiar territory for Andrew. Shortly
afterward they came across ancient ruins. Helen reined her horse and
exclaimed: "Look, Andrew, a lord must have built his castle up here.
What a marvelous view! Let’s rest for a short while."
"Yes, let’s!" he replied and dismounted. "These ruins are actually the
remains of old Roman fortifications. A guard tower, I think. You know,
the Romans build a wall all the way across from the Firth of Clyde to the
Firth of Forth. In a few parts it still stands."
He lowered himself into the grass and Helen joined him.
"How long ago was that?"
"Sixteen, seventeen hundred years ago."
"You’re so learned. I envy you. I would have liked to go to school. It’s
so unfair that girls are kept away from schools."