"Did your Uncle Brodick give you something important?"

"Yes," he answered. "He gave Papa his best dagger to give to me. It has his crest on the hilt. Papa made a leather sheath for it, and he let me take it to the festival. Now it's gone."


"What happened to it?"

"One of the baron's soldiers grabbed it from me. I saw him throw it on the chest in the great hall."

"We'll find a way to get it back," she promised.

"But what are you gonna give me?" he asked again.

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She held up her hand. "Do you see this ring I'm wearing? I treasure it above all things."

In the dying light it was difficult to see the ring clearly. He pulled her hand toward him and squinted down at it. "It's pretty."

"It belonged to my grandmother. My uncle Morgan gave it to me on my last birthday. I'll loop it through my ribbon and tie it around your neck. You'll wear it under your tunic so the baron won't see it."

"Can I keep it forever?"

"No, you can't," she said. "After I've kept my promise to you and gotten you safely home, you'll give the ring back to me. Now close your eyes and try to sleep. Why don't you think about how happy your parents are going to be when they see you again."

"Mama will cry 'cause she'll be so happy, and Papa will be happy too, but he won't cry 'cause warriors never cry. He won't be happy very long, though, 'cause I'm gonna have to tell him I disobeyed him."

"How did you disobey him?"

"He told me not to go near the waterfall. He said it was too dangerous for a boy to play there 'cause the rocks were slippery, but I went anyway with my friend, and when I tell Papa, he's gonna be mad at me."

"Are you afraid of your father?"

He snickered. "I could never be afraid of my papa."

"Then why are you so worried?"

"'Cause he'll make me take a walk with him, that's why, and then he'll make me think about what I did and tell him why it was wrong, and then he'll punish me."

"What will he do?"

"He maybe won't let me go riding with him for a spell… that would be the worst punishment 'cause I really like to ride on his lap. Papa lets me hold the reins."

She rubbed his back and suggested he not worry about it now. He wasn't through confessing his sins. "But that's not all I got to tell him," he said. "I got to tell him what me and Michael did."

"Your friend's name is also Michael?"

"My friend is Michael," he said. "I told you, we were playing a trick."

"Don't fret about it now. Your father isn't going to care about a game you and your friend were playing."


"Sleep, " she ordered.

He quieted down and was silent for several minutes. She thought he'd finally fallen asleep, and she turned her thoughts to more urgent matters.

"You know what?"

She sighed. "No, what?"

"I like you, but I don't like most of the English. Uncle Ennis hates them all. He told me so. He says if you shake an Englishman's hand, you'll come away without your fingers, but that isn't true, is it?"

"No, that isn't true."

"Are you sorry you have to be English?"

"No, I'm just sorry Alford is."

"He's ignorant. You know why?"

She had the feeling he wouldn't let up until he had told her what was on his mind. "No, why?" she dutifully asked.

"'Cause he thinks I'm Michael."

She stopped rubbing his back and went completely still. "You aren't Michael?"

He rolled onto his back and then sat up to face her. "No, my friend's Michael. That's what I've been trying to tell you. The stupid baron thinks I'm Laird Ramsey's brother, but I'm not. Michael is. That's the trick we were playing. We changed plaids, and we were gonna see how long it took for anyone to notice. When it got dark, I was gonna go to Michael's tent and he was gonna go to mine."

"Oh, dear God," she whispered, so stunned she could barely catch her breath. The innocent little boy didn't have any idea of the significance of what he had just told her, and all he was worried about was his father's reaction when he round out about a silly game his son was playing with his friend. It was only a matter of time before Alford would discover the truth, and when he did, this child's fate would be doomed.

She grabbed hold of his shoulders and pulled him close. "Listen to me," she whispered urgently. "You must never tell anyone what you've just told me. Promise me."

"I promise."

There were only a few flashes of distant lightning to illuminate the gray stones of the canyon, and it was difficult for her to see his face clearly. She pulled him close, searching his eyes, and whispered, "Who are you?"


Her hands dropped into her lap and she leaned back against the wall. "You're Alec," she repeated. She couldn't get over her surprise, but the boy didn't seem to notice her stunned reaction.

He grinned at her and said, "Do you see? The baron is too ignorant 'cause he captured the wrong boy."

"Yes, I see. Alec, did your friend see Alford's men take you away from the festival?"

He held his lower lip between his teeth while he thought about what had happened. "No," he answered. "Michael went back to his tent to get his bow and arrows 'cause we wanted to shoot them over the falls, and that's when the men came and grabbed me. You know what? I don't think the men were the baron's soldiers 'cause they were wearing plaids."

"How many were there?"

"I don't know… maybe three."

"If they're Highlanders, they're traitors then in league with the baron," she muttered as she threaded her fingers through her hair in agitation. "What a mess this is."

"But what if the baron finds out I'm not Michael? He's gonna be mad, isn't he? Maybe he'll make the traitors go and get my friend then. I hope they don't put Michael in a wheat sack. It's scary."

"We're going to have to find a way to warn Michael's family of the danger."

Her mind was racing from one thought to another as she tried to understand the twisted game Alford was playing.

"Alec, if you both changed clothes and Michael was wearing your plaid, wouldn't his clan notice? Surely he'd tell one of them about the trick you were playing."

"Maybe he'd be too scared to tell."

"How old is Michael?"

"I don't know," he answered. "Maybe he's almost my age. You know what? Maybe he took my plaid off is what he did. That's what I'd do if I got real scared, and he'd be afraid to make his brother mad 'cause he doesn't know his brother very good at all since he only just came back home to be laird. Michael was kind of scared to play the trick too 'cause he didn't want to get in trouble. It's my fault," he cried out, " 'cause I made him do it."

"I want you to stop worrying that you did anything wrong. No one's going to blame you. You were just playing a harmless game, that's all. Why don't you put your head down in my lap and be real quiet for a few minutes so I can think."

She closed her eyes then to discourage him from asking any more questions.

He wasn't going to cooperate. "You know what?" When she didn't answer him, he began to tug on her sleeve. "You know what?"

She gave up. "What?"

"My tooth is loose." To prove he was telling the truth, he grabbed her hand and made her touch one of his front teeth with the tip of her finger. "See how it wiggles back and forth when you touch it? Maybe it'll come out tomorrow."

The eagerness in his voice as he told her his important news was a jolting reminder of how very young he was. Losing his tooth obviously thrilled him.

"Papa was gonna pull it out for me, but then he said I had to wait until it got good and loose."

With a loud yawn, he put his head in her lap and patiently waited for her to rub his back again.

"I was gonna ask Papa to pull my tooth out at the festival 'cause Michael wanted to watch. Michael belongs to Ramsey," he added just in case she'd forgotten.

"And who do you belong to, Alec?"

He puffed up with importance. "I'm Iain Maitland's son."

Chapter Three

Alford liked to play games. He was especially partial to any game that involved cruelty.

He was having a fine time now, though in fact his day hadn't started out well at all. He'd returned to Dunhanshire at midday on Sunday soaked through and chilled to the bone because of an unexpected and torrential downpour that had caught him unaware en route, and feeling quite miserable, he certainly wasn't in the mood to hear that Lady Gillian had tried to help the boy escape. Before he could work himself up into a good rage—he'd already killed the soldier who had imparted the unpleasant news—Gillian and the boy were located and brought back to the castle, and they now stood before him, waiting to hear their punishment.

Anticipation heightened Alford's pleasure. He wanted them to wallow in their own fears, and making them guess what torture he had in mind for them was all part of Alford's game. The boy, the simpleton brother of Laird Ramsey, was too stupid to understand or speak, but Alford could tell he was frightened because of the way he kept trying to edge closer to Gillian. She, on the other hand, was proving to be quite a disappointment, and if he hadn't known better, he would have thought she was deliberately trying to ruin his fun. She didn't appear to be the least bit concerned about her fate. He couldn't discern any fear at all in her.

The bitch still had the power to spook him, and he silently cursed himself for his own cowardice because he couldn't hold her gaze long. Save me from the righteous, he thought to himself. Going into battle against a league of soldiers was far less intimidating than this mere slip of a girl, and although he reminded himself that he was the one with the power and that he could order her death by simply uttering a quick command, in his mind she still had the upper hand. He'd never forgotten how she had looked at him when he'd ordered her brought before him after the massacre. She had been a little girl then, but the memory still made him inwardly flinch. He knew she had seen him kill her father, but he'd believed that in time the memory would fade from her mind. Now he wasn't so certain. What else did she remember? Had she heard him confessing his sins to her father before he gutted him? The question brought chills to Alford's spine. Gillian's hatred frightened him, weakened him, made his skin crawl.

His hand shook as he reached for his goblet of wine, and he diligently tried to shrug off his fears and get down to the business at hand. He knew that his mind wasn't sharp now, but dull and muddled. It was unusual for him to become this inebriated in front of his friends. He'd been a heavy drinker for years because the memories wouldn't let him rest. But he'd always been careful to drink when he was alone. Today he'd made an exception to his own rule because the wine helped ease his anger. He didn't want to do anything he might later regret, and though he had considered waiting until tomorrow to deal with Gillian's defiance, he decided that he was still clearheaded enough to get the chore over and done with so he and his companions could continue their celebration.

Alford stared at Gillian through bleary, bloodshot eyes. He sat at the center of the long table and was flanked by his constant companions, Baron Hugh of Barlowe and Baron Edwin the Bald. He rarely went anywhere without his friends, as they were his most appreciative audience. They so enjoyed his games that they often begged to join in, and Alford never had to worry that either one of them would ever betray him, for they were just as culpable in their past transgressions as he was.

Gillian and the boy hadn't eaten since early morning the day before, and Alford assumed both would be ravenous by now, so he forced them to watch while he and his friends dined on a feast worthy of kings and discussed various punishments. The table was heavily laden with pheasant, rabbit, peacock and pigeon, yellow wedges of cheese, chunks of coarse black bread with jam and honey, and sweet blackberry tarts. Servants rushed back and forth with widemouthed jugs of dark red wine and additional breaded trenchers piled high with more offerings to tempt their gluttonous appetites.

There was enough food on the table to feed an army. Watching the three of them eat was such a disgusting sight to Gillian that her hunger pains quickly vanished. She couldn't make up her mind which one was the most foul. Hugh, with his big protruding ears and pointed chin, kept making grunting noises while he ate, and Edwin, with his triple chins and beady red eyes, had worked himself into a sweat as he frantically shoved fistfuls of greasy meat into his mouth. He acted as though he thought the food would disappear before he could fill his enormous belly, and by the time he paused for air, his face glistened with beads of oily perspiration.

All three of them were drunk. While she stood there watching, they downed the contents of six jugs of wine and were now waiting while the servant poured more.

They were like pigs at the trough, but Alford, she decided, was by far the worst offender. Strands of pigeon skin dangled from his lips, and when he shoved a full, plump tart into his cavernous mouth, blackberry juice squirted down on both sides of his chin, staining his red beard black. Too drunk to care about his manners or appearance, he eagerly reached for another.

Alec stood on her left, near the hearth, watching the spectacle without making a sound. Every now and then his hand would touch hers. As much as she longed to comfort him, she didn't dare even look at him because Alford was watching her closely. If she showed any concern or affection for the little boy, he'd have a weapon to use against her.

She had tried to prepare Alec as best she could by warning him that it would get worse before it was over, and she had also made him promise that no matter what happened, he would remain silent. As long as Alford believed the child didn't understand what he was saying, he would hopefully continue to speak freely in front of him and perhaps say something that would explain his purpose in stealing the boy.

When she couldn't stomach watching the animals eat any longer, she turned toward the entrance. She knew she must have played in this hall when she was a little girl, but she didn't have any memories at all. There was an old chest against the wall near the steps, and she wondered if it had belonged to her parents or if Alford had brought it with him. The top of the chest was cluttered with maps and rolls of parchment, but near the edge was a dagger. Alec had told her the soldier had taken one from him and tossed it on the chest. It was still there. She could see the unusual, intricate design on the handle and was strangely comforted by it. The dagger had been a gift from Alec's protector, Brodick.

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