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"The Far Land."

By

J. L. Kramer



"It came to us on the wind and across the
sea...



In Spain, France, Portugal and England... Aye!
Across and throughout Europe, They were saying
that a man named Christopher Columbus had
discovered a new land.



Nay, I tell ye, it is not true, for we have been
here thirteen years before he, and there were
others, long here before us. I have found the
remnants of their fires, camps and homes. I have
found pieces of their belongings... Pottery, tools, a
coin of unknown origin, a book, damp and
decaying, and most startling of all, a piece of
woman's clothing...



Then there are the savages that inhabit this
wild land.



What of them? Where did they come from and
where did the others before us go?



On these questions, I have pondered many an
hour. Were these savages always here, or are they
like us, exiles from the country we loved and grew
up in, from our homes and from our friends?



Of the thirty nine that sailed with us, fifteen,
including my wife Mary and myself, stayed behind
in this beautiful, yet wild land. A land as vast as the
sea, terrible and frightening, yet exciting in its size
and wonder.



As far as my eyes can see, the land, like the
ocean, stretches beyond the limits of my
imagination. It is a land of tree's, big beautiful
tree's... Oak, pine, maple, birch, aspen... Never in
my life have I seen so many.



It is a land...



My God! It is a land that my words alone
cannot describe or do justice too, yet I shall try for
my heart beats joyously just thinking of it.



It is a land of streams, lakes and rivers
abundant with a variety of fish. A land of the deer,
moose, elk and bear, of ducks and geese, quail,
turkey and rabbits... of berries and nuts. It is a land
where the grass grows tall and straight. A land of
plants that the savages eat, that we are learning to
eat.



It is a land of many seasons. Spring is soft and
gentle like a mother with a new born child. It is a
time for awakening fresh and new with wildflowers
and lush green foliage, kissed by a gentle breeze
and warmed by the sun.



Ah summer... Warm and beautiful. A time to
plant, to sew the seeds of life, a time to build, and
to explore the wonders of this strange and wild
land.



Autumn?



A wonderful time of the year. Bright with its
many colors, cool, occasionally frosty of a morning,
but a time to rejoice. A time to gather, to reap the
harvest of summer, to hunt, to ready ourselves for
Mother Natures last season of change.



Winter...





So cold and frightening! The fire in my hearth
eats at my logs with ravenous hunger and I have to
feed it always just to have a little warmth in our
home.



'Tis the season of hunger. A time when our
food supplies dwindle and our children become ill,
yet it is my favorite time of year. It is also a time of
quiet peace, a time to sit around the fire and tell the
stories of old, a time of friendship and of love...



What of the others who sailed with us to this
new land... those who did not remain with us?



We lost a few during the landing, but the
others, they are safe and well, yet it was close to
three years we were in making Edward's ship ready
to face the sea... Three years of digging, sweating,
fighting the elements and repairing the damage
done when the ship went aground during the storm
of our landing.



Three year of building our homes and
stockade to protect us from the savages, of hunting
and fishing, gathering wild berries and planting the
meager crops that hopefully would sustain us
through the cold of winter.



Aye! It was three years before the men who
risked their lives and families to save Mary and me
were able to return home, and it is of this that I
shall speak of now.


I.




We stole away in the middle of a black moon-
less night. I first, for her father's men had warned
me, told me what would happen if I were caught
trying to see her again.



In my heart, my very soul, I felt the fear. I knew
they were watching me for I had seen them lurking
in the shadows, felt their eyes upon my back while
walking through the village...



I knew eluding them would be no easy task, for
these were Lord Killingham's men, alert and ready
to do his bidding, yet I gave them no cause to
suspect me as I went about my business.



A storm, a gale with all its mighty winds,
blowing cold and miserable, was brewing off the
coast. They knew this as well as I, and it was upon
this that I staked my future... Mary's future
happiness.



This night, all ships would be forced to stay in
anchorage... No one could escape them save
taking to the road and the roads would be useless,
for Lord Killingham's reach was far.



He was a man of power, of wealth... He had
spies everywhere, men all to willing to earn his
favor at the demise of another poor soul.



"Mary, sweet, sweet, Mary... I shall not fail
you."



It was dangerous, this thing I had planned. A
fools errand perhaps, yet I would rather risk death
together, than suffer a life time apart.



Perhaps, I thought to myself, just perhaps...
When the wind began to howl, when the rain began
to pelt down upon their backs, perhaps then they
would relax their vigilance. Perhaps...



Ah, I get ahead of myself. I have not yet told
you how this nights errand came to be.



It was a sudden, hastily conceived notion that
took its roots earlier in the day when I read Mary's
hurriedly written note. Her father was sending her
away. The marriage, arranged long ago, would take
place in tow weeks.



"Mary, love of my life..." My thoughts cried out
in agony, my heart though it sank when I read her
note, reached out to her. I knew she was
desperate, the fear showed in her words, her
writing and through the lines.



"If you love me, Joshua, save me. Take me away from here this
very night so that I may live eternally with you, my love, my one and
only true love. If not, I would rather die than spend one night
with..."



Even writing, she could not say his name. The
man to whom her father had pledged her. The man
she feared and despised.



The note had come, passed from Mary, to
Megan... Mary's faithful house maiden, passed on
to another and yet another, and finally to Edward. It
was he, who finally delivered the note to my hand
and he who stood by my side as I read it. And it
was he who spoke first when at last my eyes lifted
to his face.



"Aye," He began. "What can you do? The sea
may blow ill this day, yet there is no comparison to
the illness she feels with in her heart." His huge
hand came to rest upon my shoulder.



"Yes," He continued. "I know of what she
writes, and I can see the fear for her in your eyes.
Fear not though, friend Joshua, leave it to me."



He laughed then, a roaring laugh that sent
chills along my spine. "Do not look so... It is not as
black as you may think. Already, my ship is being
prepared for the sea."



"But the storm!" I cried out.



"Come now, Joshua, you have read her note...
Are you blind? She would rather die than be
without you. Is it not the same with you?"



"Yes, but..."



"Then leave it to me. When this day ends and
a new begins, meet me at the ship. We will sail
then, and you shall be together for the rest of your
days." He turned then and strode away from me, a
giant of a man and no better friend could I have.



For an hour, I sat at my desk, fingers toying
with Mary's note and thinking of her words, of my
friend Edward and what sacrifices he was prepared
to endure for our happiness...



Oh, how the day passed slowly for me. The
hours, the minutes... They dragged on and all the
while the sea and the wind grew more ugly.



Not even the ale, nor the rum could calm my
nerve and fear, yet I forced myself to maintain the
normality of my days.



Noon found me wandering through the
deserted streets of the village. A stop at the shop at
the end of town where I fretted away my free time
and then a slow walk back to my lonely home.



Already, the sky was turning black with the
gathering storm. At home, my supper turned cold,
my appetite gone with the wind, my worry growing
with its strength.



They were out there, four of them, waiting and
watching me as they had done everyday and night
since Lord Killingham discovered my love for Mary.



"Let them watch and wait." I told myself. "If she
believes... How can I let her down?



And Edward... He who would risk everything.
His ship, his very life, so that I, we... might be
together." This I told myself as I blew out my candle
and lay down to rest. I would not fail them. I could
not!



"Mary, love of my life, I shall be with you
forever after this night." I vowed to myself as I
closed my eyes.



Sleep would not come however, as I lay in my
tiny bed. My mind could not let go of Mary or of her
fear.



"Sweet, sweet, Mary." Her of the flaming hair,
the eyes of emerald, and the ruby lips... Beauty
never to be matched by anyone else. But she is
more than just beautiful. She is a woman brave and
true, a woman to love and to be loved by.



It was this feature that made me love her, not
her beauty. If she were not brave and true, I would
be imprisoned today or maybe dead. It was she
who saved me when I needed saving. She who led
me out of the darkness and showed me the light of
day and all its wonderful possibilities. And she who
introduced me to friend Edward.



Ah, but I have not yet told you how I met this
wondrous lady, this woman who would rather risk
death to be with me, than to be forced to marry a
man she did not love.



Where to begin then? It is difficult to speak of
myself for I was a rogue until I met Mary. A thief
and a scoundrel. It is nothing to be proud of, yet it
was not all my fault.



Nay! Most of the fault lay with Lord Maldone,
for it was he who stole our lands, he who killed my
father... My mother, she who could not bear the
loss... She too, died. Died a broken hearted
woman. And I, I sought my revenge upon them.



They came upon us in the wee hours of the
morning, broke into our home with blades drawn...



Papa had arose at the sound of their
approach, but he never had a chance. Quintan
O'Banyon, Lord Maldone's black hearted right hand
man struck him down.



They grabbed me from my bed, drug me
outside where Lord Maldone, himself told me what
my fate was to be...



To die, of course, to die a cruel death at the
hands of evil men.



Four of them took turns beating me, while the
rest of his scum dragged my mother from her
home, from her husband of twenty years.



I tried to fight them, tried to break away as they
set fire to our home. Papa was dead, but I had no
wish to see him burned, dead or alive.



"Bastards!" I screamed at them.



A knee to the groin of one of them, a smashing
right to another mans face and I was free... free for
only the moment.



I ran toward the house, but something,
someone, struck me down from behind.



When my eyes opened again, it was to
blackness and the soft weeping of my mother. My
head rested in her lap, pain numbed my body, yet it
could not stem the pain in my heart, nor the anger
that threatened to engulf my soul.



"Why did they have to kill him?" Mother asked
me through her tears. "What have we done to
deserve this?"



Her weeping grew in strength as her hand
brushed my cheek, and I too, felt my own tears well
with in my eyes and run down my cheeks. I am not
ashamed to admit it. The pain and the loss...



"We must go." I said to her, sitting up. My head
spun with dizziness, but there was no time for
sickness, no time for delay. "They are coming
back."



We both had heard the sound of horse
approaching. To be caught here would be to die.



It took my mothers help for me to make the
woods and even then, I was unable to go very far.
There was no need though, their search was
short... They did not expect us to be there, not after
the beating they gave me, not after killing Papa!



The land was theirs, or should I say, Lord
Maldone's, but I swore that very night he would not
live to profit by his evil deed.



"Laugh now, you Bastards!" I hissed through
teeth gritted against the pain.



They were laughing, I could hear them from
where I lay. "You may have the land for now, you
may have killed Papa, drove Mamma and me from
our home, but you will never live to see another
summer. This I promise you all!"



Even with my vow of revenge spoken, I could
not help but feel the bitterness of it all. Ours was an
old name and we had lived on this land for over a
hundred years. Papa's father, and his fathers
father... They had fought to keep their land, shed
their blood.



It was not that the land had great value. Nay, I
tell ye, it did not. They fought because it was home.
Home of the MacClurey's, place of our birth.



Our livelihood was carved from the soil, poor
that it might be, and from the sea, for the yearning,
the longing to see beyond the horizon, flowed freely
with in our blood.



Now it was lost and I was the last male of our
line. I must live if I wished our name to continue,
but at the moment, I gave no such thought to such
notions. Blood was in my eyes, the blood of hate as
well as my own.



We waited together, Mamma and me, huddle
close against the cool, crisp air of the night. When
they had been gone for half an hour, I risked a fire.
Just a wink of a one... Just enough to remove some
of the cold from our bones, but not from our
hearts... That would take time, if ever!



"What will we do now?" Asked Mamma. Her
tears had ceased and her attention was on me, my
injuries and my anger.



She was a strong woman at that moment,
strong for my sake, but as I was to find out in the
months to come, ye cannot mend a broken heart so
easily.



"Now?" I replied. "First we will rest, then I will
take you to Gowns. Mac will take care of you."



"But what of you?" She could sense the hatred
with in me. Her worry, fear for my safety, could be
felt in her gentle hands, but she knew I was a man
of action and not one to let this black deed go
unpunished.



"Ah, what of me?" I tried to soften the anger
with in me, held her hand... "I shall do what the
MacClurey's have always done. I shall fight for
what is rightly ours. I cannot hope to defeat them
all, but they shall know..."



I broke off, choked by the tears of my grieving,
for I had meant to say "they shall know I am the
son of Angus MacClurey."



"Papa... I swear upon your blood, I shall see
Lord Maldone dead before the year is out." They
were unspoken words, my silent vow of revenge.



They had beaten us, but I would not hide from
them, this too, I promised. First I would see to
Mamma, then I would return here... And here, they
would feel the bite of my blade.





"Sleep now," I whispered to Mamma, for her
eyes grew weary. "tomorrow we must say our good
byes, then we must get you to the home of our
friend William MacGown."

II.



Dawn broke gray and cool. A hint of rain
touched the sky, but that was all right with me, for
black was my heart as we stood looking at the
charred remains of what had been our home.



Mamma stood beside me, her head resting
upon my shoulder, but she shed no more tears as
we said our final good bye to Papa. Like I said, she
was a strong woman then... Strong for my sake, I
think.



When at last, we turned away, it was she who
started and I who shed the tears as I said farewell.
Perhaps it was unmanly of me to do so in front of
Mamma, but it is hard, this loss of someone you
love. Especially for a man just out of boyhood.
Papa had been my world, my friend and my
teacher... Now he was gone!



"Come," Mamma said softy, her arm hugging
me close. "we must go. Maldone is not a man to be
trusted. He let you live by mistake or grace of God,
but he will be thinking of this and he will be back, of
this we can be sure."



"His mistake will cost him his life," I spoke
harshly, yet the words were softly spoken. "this I
promise you, as I have promised Papa."



She had no words for this, none could be
given, and my anger was justified, still I felt her pain
and worry for me. I knew she wished me to forget
my hatred, my plans for revenge... She had lost her
husband and had no wish to lose her son, yet a
man must do what he must.



A man must be strong to survive. He must
meet all the challenges that face him with all the
courage of a warrior. This I would do!



"Come," She said again to me. My arm rested
across her shoulder for my leg had been badly
bruised in the attack, my ribs had suffered as well
and each step was to be a painful one for many
days to come.



Maldone's men had been thorough with me.
My face was bruised and battered, my lower lip
split and bloodied, my nose broken, my right eye
blackened, but there was little swelling with it, so
my vision was not impaired. For that, I was
thankful.



Mamma led the way for she knew the trails
well. Better, I believed, even than Papa had. She
too, had had the wandering spirit in her youth. That
is how they met, Mamma and Papa, I mean. She
came riding down the trails to the fields of Angus
MacClurey, bold and beautiful she was, so Papa
always told me.



His love began that first instant he lay eyes on
her, this too, I remember him saying...



She had looked at him and smiled... "If a man
is willing to toil in useless soil such as this, then he
is a man to stand beside."



Those were the words Mamma had used to
catch Papa. Bold words for a lass, but none truer
could be spoken of a man, for he who is willing to
sweat and bleed, is a man who will provide.



Our journey to William MacGown's was not a
long one. Two days by foot for a healthy man, but
Mamma was not a youngster anymore, and I was a
man beaten in body, but not in spirit.



We traveled slowly, rested often, ate of the
wild berries now almost gone, for it was the season
of Autumn and the days were growing chill, the
nights cold.



From the springs, we drank deeply, the cool
sweet water quenching our thirst and bringing new
life to our weary bodies...



Ah... I tell you, it was a journey of sweet and
sorrow, and one I shall never forget for it was my
last time spent with my mother. If only I had
known... If only my heart had not been filled with
such hatred. There are things I would have wished
to have known, things I would have said...



I cannot even remember telling her how much I
loved her. T'was wrong of me, but I know she knew
how I felt. She had love herself... Love of Papa and
of me.



Even as I sit here telling ye of this, my heart
aches and my eyes grow weepy. The love of a son
is strong, yet he does not often find the words to
express his feelings.



Why?



Why is this? Is it unmanly to say what is in the
heart? Does it show some hidden weakness?



Nay, I tell you, it does not, yet I cannot
truthfully answer this question for I do not know
myself. It is a foolish thing, whatever it is, and one
does not come to understand this until it is too
late...



"Mamma... Papa... I love you both and I miss
you."



Forgive me, even now I feel the shame of
crying. Why this is, I do not know. Age has
changed me, my love for Mary has changed me as
well. I can tell her I love her and feel nothing but the
warmth in my heart, yet to cry...



Where was I?



Our journey ended on the noon of our forth
day. It was good to see friend MacGown again. His
greeting was one of jot turned sorrowful at the
news of Papa's murder, yet he spoke little of it. Like
the true friend he was, he took us in, gave us food
and drink, shelter for mother...



"I must warn you, William," I told him. "they will
look for me. I may bring trouble to your home..."



"Bah!" Was his reply. "They are nothing but
cowards, the likes of them. They only have strength
in numbers. Let them come if they wish, I fear them
not." He was that kind of man. Brave and true to his
friends.



"You are a good friend indeed, William, but I
will not ask you to take the risk for me. I will go
when I have rested." I told him. "Will you care for
mother whilst I am away?"



"Aye, you need not have asked, she is always
welcome in my home." His eyes were upon me as
he spoke and I knew what he was thinking, though
he would never speak of it openly. "And you my
young friend, have a care."



Three days, I rested. It was not near enough
time for my body to heal, but it was all the time I
would give it.



Hatred is a strong emotion and one not easily
set aside. I was going back... Not to hide as some
animal, but rather, I would return to the village for
all to see. If they wished to find me, then I would
meet them with my sword drawn.



"Mother, it is time," I said to her on the morning
of my departure. I thought she would try and
convince me to stay, but all she said was, "I know."
William, he who spoke so lively, he said not a word,
just a clasp of my hand, then he was gone.



"Take care of yourself... And do not worry, I
shall return." These were to be my final words to
her. Not the words I wanted to say, but they...



As I turned and strode away from the home of
friend William, I heard her say "Good bye Joshua, I
love you." They were words that brought a lump up
into my throat, tears to my eyes... words I could not
say myself, for I had wished...



Ah... She knew, she had to of known of the
love I felt for her. Of this, I must believe, for I would
not have left without saying "I love you, Mother" if...



The day of my leaving William MacGown's
house is the day they say I turned rogue. It is a
small point and one not worthy of arguing.



All I remember of that day and the days that
followed is the feeling of sadness with in my heart.
T'was a feeling of loss that turned to hatred and
bitterness as I drew nearer the charred ruins of my
home of youth.



Bittersweet is the memory of the day I finally
stood gazing at the ruins. Unlike emotions, this was
something real... Something I could see and touch.
The bones of my father lay here, the remnants of
all that had been... And here too, lay the body of
Quintan O'Banyon!



I had expected no trouble, wished for none in
fact, as I stood looking at the ruins with a light, cold
rain coming down, washing away my tears.



They, on the other hand, had plans. There had
been three of them, hiding, waiting for my return,
for they must have know I was returning, why else
would they have been there?



"So, the Boy comes back to join his father,"
Said Quintan O'Banyon as he emerged from hiding.



They could have killed me with an arrow, but
O'Banyon, blackguard that he was, could not resist
speaking to me. "such a fool, and now you will die!"



They came at me, fanning out as they did so.
They expected me to run, to be afraid, but at the
moment, I had no fear.



My sword came to hand and I stepped to meet
O'Banyon head on. His blade was the first to swing,
mine the last, for his blade missed and mine did
not.



Never... ever... Would I have imagined that a
man could die so suddenly. The other two froze in
place. This, they had not expected, and now they
were uncertain.



"Come on you, Bastards!" I screamed at them
as I turned to face them. "Come feel the bite of my
blade!"



I moved forward toward the one on my right
and he backed away a hurried six paces. It was a
mistake on my part and one I will never forget. As I
moved to follow, the other attacked.



Here, though, my youth served me, saved me
in fact, for my blade came around just in time to
deflect the blow that would have split my head in
two. Still, it was a powerful stroke and I felt the bite
of his blade upon my shoulder as it slid from my
own.



My scream was one of pain, yet it was one of
anger as well. I fought like a mad man and when it
was finished, another lay dead at my feet and the
third crawled on his belly to escape me. I should
have followed and killed him, but having tasted
death at my own hands, I found no pleasure, only a
sickness with in my belly.



"Crawl, you Bastard," I hissed as I watched
him drag himself away. "crawl back to Maldone,"



The voice with which I spoke was not of my
own. It was the voice of hatred, and later on, it
would scare me. "tell him he is the next to die! Tell
him the son of Angus MacClurey is coming for
him!"



I stood there then, my body shaking, whether
from exhaustion or something else, I do not know.
Perhaps it was out of fear or maybe shame at
having killed two people... Maybe it was a
combination of many things.



At any rate, I watched him crawl to the top of
the slope, watched him stand, his left arm hanging
useless from the wound I had put there...



"Papa," I said turning to gaze at the ruins when
he had gone from my sight, and wiping the tears
from my eyes. "I have come back."



I knew they would come for me now, hunt me
with every effort they could muster. It did not
matter, let them come, I told myself as I sat fighting
the tears. Papa was gone... Our home destroyed.



Though I tried, I could not fight the confusion of
my emotions. I only knew I wanted to live long
enough to see Lord Maldone dead and in his grave.
After that, what did it matter.

III.



To be hunted is not a pleasant thing. Oh, they
came for me as I knew they would. I was forced to
live like an animal deep with in the forest, living off
what the land could provide and that which I could
steal from Maldone's fields. And yet, through it all, I
was not without friends.



There were those who knew my pain and
sorrow, families who had felt Maldone's cruelty.
They left me food where I could find it, and when
they could, gave me shelter when I needed it.



Such goodness touched my heart deeply, yet I
shied away from them. This was my troubles and I
had no wish to bring the wrath of Lord Maldone
down upon them, but that was not the only reason.



And this... This shames me to say. I trusted
them not, for I had a price on my head now, a sack
of gold to anyone who turned me in.



Days turned to weeks. Winter would soon be
upon the land, but I feared not. I had constructed a
sturdy shelter, hidden from view unless you were
standing right next to it almost. Built it strong
against the wind, warm against the cold, here I
would survive and live to fulfill my vow of revenge.



No longer did Lord Maldone's men ride the
country side in search of me. Now, they just waited
and watched.



I had made my threat, by reason they would
expect me to try and carry it out, but I had no such
plans, not yet at least. I needed food for the winter
and time was running short to gather it.



I hunted at dusk, at night when the moon
shone bright, and I hunted in the wee morning
hours before the dawn. By day light, I slept and
loafed about, gathered what few nuts I could find...



Ah, those were the days. You might think a
man hunted such as I was, would never enjoy the
brightness of a new day, but you would be wrong.
There was peace in the forest, love and
friendship...



What's that you say? Love and friendship?



I speak not of human love and friendship...
There are animals, creatures of the forest...



Birds would come and sing to me their songs
of love and happiness. Deer, rabbits, squirrels and
fox... These were my friends and it hurt me to hunt
them, yet I had too if I wanted to live.



It was on one of these sad hunts, that I came
to kill my third man. Darkness was almost upon me
and I was hoping to catch a deer feeding down by
the little glade where water ran cold and sweet out
of a spring hole.



What I got instead, was the scream of a
woman. My heart came up into my throat for her
scream was one of utter terror, yet I did not hurry,
for to hurry was perhaps to die.



I saw them there in the glade when at last I
made my way through the forest. A giant of a man,
a woman, dwarfed by his size and bulk...



He had hold of her hands in one of his, his
other tearing at her clothing...



"Now, my little wench," I heard him laugh. "now
we will have our fun."



A hard slap across her face brought a cry of
pain from her lips, then I heard her dress being tore
from her body. I needed no light to feel her terror,
yet I stood waiting and watching. My bow was at
the ready, but I had no wish to use it out of fear of
hitting her should he jerk her into my arrows path.



Ah, how I trembled that night with indecision.
My sword was back at my shelter and other than
the tiny dagger, sharp though it might be, my bow
was my only weapon and he was armed with blade.
I could not hope to defeat him in hand to hand
combat... Sword against dagger! It was a foolish
thought!



Her hand pulled free and she raked at his
eyes. His startled yelp was then followed by a gasp
of pain... From what I do not know. A knee to his
groin perhaps, but whatever she did to him it
infuriated him beyond reason.



"For that, Bitch, you will die!" There was pain in
his voice, pain and anger. From his belt, I saw the
glint of steel flash in the rising moon light. A
dagger!



In that instant, my bow came up. even as I set
my arrow free, I was moving into the clearing.
Weeks of hunting in poor light had sharpened my
skills and my arrow struck true to where I aimed it.



"Cover yourself, Lady of the forest and be
gone from here." I said stepping nearer to where
the giant had fallen. "Speak of this to know one."



She was a bold lass, this one was. Even as I
knelt to relieve the giant of his belongings, she
made no move to cover herself.



"Go," I said to her. The giant was not dead yet,
but he would be soon, for he was choking on his
own blood. My arrow had found its place deep with
in his neck. "his friends may come looking for him
and I would not wish to see anymore harm come to
you."



Still, she stood there. I could not see her face,
but there was no missing the whiteness of her
body. Perhaps she was in shock. I confess, I was.
Shock at having killed yet again, but more so by
seeing a woman's...



"Go! Hurry," My words were of panic and fear.
"we have little time I think. They will be coming." At
last, she turned to go, but my word stopped her.
"Wait." From the giants body, I had found a sack of
coins. "Take this," I said moving toward her. "it
cannot make up for what he tried to do to you, but it
will help when the winter grows long."



"I need nothing from him, least of all money."
She said, then quickly kissed my cheek and was
gone into the night.



I was alone then, save for the body of the
giant. Alone and frozen in place by my mixed
emotions. Hers had been the first kiss I had ever
experienced. Her lips had been soft and warm
upon my cheek... And then there was the sickness,
the nausea of having killed another man.



"Move you fool!" I told myself. "They will hang
you this very night if they find you here."



Ha! They would have hung me day or night no
matter where they found me. Still, the thought
brought motion to my feet and like the Lady of the
forest, I disappeared into the growing blackness.



Back in my shelter, sleep would not come. My
mind whirled with thought! Mamma, Papa, the
home now lost, Lord Maldone and his henchmen,
the Lady of the forest...



Who was she? Where had she come from?



Thoughts of who I was and what would come
of me...



Would I ever live to see the day when I could
return the kiss of a woman such as she, or would
death find me of the morrow?



It was with that final thought that sleep finally
over took me, yet I had been asleep but a few short
hours when a voice called of me.



"Joshua? It is your friends, William," The voice
called, yet I lay still in my shelter, fearful of a trap.
"Joshua? I have news... Sad news. Your Mother is
dead!"



"No, no, it can't be true!" My mind said. "It must
be a lie, a lie to lure me into a trap." but in my heart,
I knew the voice was that of friend William, and I
knew he would die before betraying me.



"William, I am here." I called softly.



The dawn was still hours away, yet there was
still enough light to see his approach. He was alone
and his step was that of one who had traveled far.



"Ah, it is sorry I am to bring you such news,"
He began when I clasped his hand. "I knew not
what to do... Where to find you, but you have
friends here and they gave me a care."



"How?" It was the only word I could get out of
my throat turned choked with emotion.



"She was a strong woman full of grief, yet I had
believed she had turned the corner... I was wrong."



His words were meant to comfort me, to
explain and I listened fighting my own grief.



"Joshua, my friend, I do not know why she
died, all I know for sure is, it is not an easy thing for
a woman to live when her heart is broken by the
loss of the two she loved so much."



This I could understand, for now I had lost the
two which I loved most. Mamma, Papa... Still,
understanding did little to ease my grief or the guilt
which claimed my soul. If only I had moved sooner
from my blankets the night Papa was killed... If only
I had stayed by Mamma's side...



We spoke until the sun crested the tree tops,
then William lay down to catch a rest for he had
traveled long and late into the night to reach me.



While William slept, I went out to check for sign
of Maldone's men. By now they would have missed
the giant, if indeed he was one of Maldone's
blackguard. Yet, all was quiet, even at the glade
where I had killed my third man. The glade where I
had saved the girl from a certain and horrible
death.



The body of the giant was gone, so someone
had found him. It brought fear to me and I moved
with ever more caution, my eyes darting from tree
to tree, searching out every hiding place a man
might be, yet nothing save the songs of birds
disturbed the silence of the morning.



"Ah, it is you," William said upon my return. "I
was getting worried."



Even with such heaviness upon my heart, I
could not help but smile, nor could I miss the
dagger held in his right hand.



"Trouble?" He asked.



"All is quiet." I told him.



"But you are worried, my friends, aren't you?"



"Yes," I replied, stirring the coals of our fire last
night. "but I have had trouble before."



"True," Was his reply. "but this, whatever it
may be, it is different, is it not?"



Ah, there was no fooling William at anything.
So I told him of the giant and of the lady of the
forest. When I had finished, his laughter roared in
my ears.



"Do not worry yourself over a man such as
he... I would have killed him myself and with my
bare hands." His hand slapped my back and he
looked straight into my eyes as if he could read
what had happened since my departure so long
ago.



"Ah... Now I see it." He added with a chuckle.
"You do not worry over the killing... It is of the girl
that you think."



Again his laughter filled my ears. "To be young
again... To love as you love now. You should have
walked her home, stolen her sweet kisses as..."



"William!" I cried out, though in my heart, I
knew he was not far from the truth. Love it was not,
of that, I was certain, yet I could not stop thinking
about... Could not shake the image of her standing
before me half...



"So tell me, Joshua, how has it been for you?"
William questioned, disturbing my thoughts, and for
that, I was grateful.



"It has been all right," I began, and I meant
what I was saying. "hard some days, but others,
like today, sitting with..."



"It is time you gave up this vengeance of
yours." His interruption startled me... Angered me.
"It is time for you to settle down and make
something of your life."



"No! I will see him dead!" I snapped out.
Then... It was stupid of me, but I walked out and did
not return until night had fallen, and by then, friend
William was gone.

IV.



Winter came upon the land cold, dark and wet.
It chilled my bones, but it did little to dampen the
flames of my hatred, nor soften the pain with in my
heart.



William had been right of course, but I was
blinded by my need for revenge. I should give up
this quest, make something of my life... Something
for which mother and father could be proud, yet I
remained in my forest shelter.



It was the hunger time of year. Food was
scarce, yet I hunted daily, hunted on the land
claimed by Lord Maldone and stole from his
outposts when I dared.



It was not enough for me! There was no
satisfaction in poaching his wild game. I needed it
to survive and nothing more. I wanted to strike out,
to hurt him, too see him dead!



As the weeks passed and it grew on toward
spring, my mood grew blacker. If I could not get
him one way, then I would do it another. His men
rode out through the lands to collect his taxes...



It was a notion that brought a smile to my face
and one I planned on carrying out.



No more hiding for me...



I wanted Maldone to know it was me, wanted
to anger him into making a fools play!



Do not look at me so. It is not something I am
proud of, yet it was the only way for me. It was
strike back or go mad with my grief and anger, my
hatred and need for revenge...



Ah, it was easier than I would have ever
thought. Just two men sent to collect from the Inn
and other little shop keepers...



I was there waiting for them at the edge of the
village. My arrow took the first solidly in the chest
and the second stood as I instructed. In a matter of
seconds, I had what I wanted.



"I let you live for one reason," I told the
second. "I want Maldone to know it was I, Joshua
MacClurey, son of Angus, who stole his taxes."



"You will be dead before the morrow for this."
Said he, and I could only smile.



"Be gone with ye," I said to him. "before I
change my mind and kill you as well." With that, I
took hold of the dead mans horse, sprung up into
the saddle and rode away.



No thought did I give to pursuit, the second
would ride first to the castle of Lord Maldone and
make his report. Then and only then would they
come after me and I would be waiting... Waiting my
chance, hoping Maldone, himself would ride at the
head of them all.



"Come on, Maldone, don't disappoint me." I
said to myself, as I circled back around to the Inn.



First, I would return the merchants money,
then I would make my way back to the castle of
Lord Maldone...



Even by back trails, it was not a far ride and
the horse was a good one, steady and true, and I
made it in time to see the second riding through the
gates of Maldone castle.



My time had come, my wait over...



All the sacrifices I had been forced to endure...



To die would be nothing if only I knew for sure
that I took Lord Maldone with me.



These were my thoughts as I settled down into
the brush to wait and it would not be a long wait, of
that, I was sure. Maldone would come riding
through the gate and my arrow would take him
through his blackened heart.



After that, I did not care what happened to me.
All that I was, all that I had been, was gone and
nothing could ever change that fact. Not even
Maldone's death would do that, but at least I would
have fulfilled my vow.



Seconds seemed like minutes, minutes
seemed like hours. My patience grew thin, my
nerve unsteady.



Where are they? Why aren't they coming?



Sweat began to bead my brow even in the
coolness of the day and then my heart leaped
upward. The gate was opening and there... there
mounted on a big black horse, sat Lord Maldone.



"Come on, you Bastard," I thought as I
steadied myself for a shot. "just a little bit closer,
and I'll send you to hell."



Twang!



My heart stopped and I felt the fear. How could
I have missed, I wondered in disbelief.



It was true though, my eyes told me it was
true. The arrow meant to kill Maldone stuck in the
chest of the man to his right.



"Get him!" Maldone's voice broke the spell of
fear that held me fast. "I want him alive... I want him
to beg me to let him die!"



They were coming for me, but they were yet
far enough away where I still had a chance to run
for it. I did not want to run. I wanted it over with... I
wanted him dead and I did not care if I died with
him.



"Maldone!" I shouted, coming to my feet.



When his eyes met mine, I let my second
arrow go and it was true to it's aim. He took it full in
the chest just below the breast bone.



Lord Maldone, murderer of my father, was
dead!



"There!" Someone shouted. "Get him!"



I hadn't cared if I lived when I stood up, but
now I knew I did. I wanted to live, wanted to carry
on my fathers name.



Even as I moved to escape, an arrow cut the
top of my shoulder, yet it could not prevent me from
reaching the horse. In an instant, I was mounted
and moving and run, this horse could.



"There! After him!" The voice shouted again.



Behind me, other shouts followed. They had
dismounted to search for me and only now were
they organizing pursuit on horse back.



Their lost time became my gain. I reached the
deeper part of the forest well ahead of them and
here, I held the advantage for they would have to
ride ever fearful of a trap.



Onward they came however. Twice they
closed in on me, and twice fools luck and that
magnificent horse saved me.



The first time, they rode down upon me from a
high sloping bank. They had had no idea I was
there in the bottom land. Rocks tumbled, men
shouted upon seeing me and that wonderful horse
raced away on it's own accord.



Perhaps it had been frightened by the sliding
rocks, or perhaps the shouts of my pursuers. It
mattered not, I cared less... I was free of them.
Free if only for a little while.



The day grew long as the shadows left by the
setting sun. Try as I may, I could not shake my
pursuers entirely and they caught up with me for
the second time.



Fools luck again? Who knows for sure, and I
will not question my good fortune.



I had dismounted at a tiny stream to drink of
it's cool water, to bathe my face and neck. When I
stood again to take my seat in the saddle, it was to
shock and fear. The horse, it was gone!



Had he wandered away from me? Had
someone... My enemies mayhaps, stolen him from
under my very nose?



How I wondered, could this be possible. Was
my weariness so great...



My hand felt of the blade at my side. Panic
threatened to engulf me and then I knew fear, real
terror, for I heard the voices of men approaching.
Voices and the sounds of horses drawing ever
nearer.



Ducking low, I crawled through the brush.
Crawled on my belly like a snake in the grass, for
the brush was thick and thorny. My mind whirled
with the fear. Sweat beaded my brow and ran down
my back. I had to escape... I wanted to live!



Emerging from the heavy undercover, I came
to a wee bit of a clearing. A small pool gathered
here and there, drinking from, it stood that
wondrous animal.



Again, it had saved me, though not entirely. I
was trapped where I stood, surrounded by the
heavy thicket save for the tiny stream.



"We're wasting our time." I heard one man say
as they came upon the stream. "He's gone by this
time, gone on the winds I say."



"Like hell he is!" Came an angry reply. "We'll
find him... And when we do, he'll live to know what
it feels like to die!"



I held my breath as I listened, held the nose of
the horse, least he call out to the other horses.



"Go on," I though to myself. "go on you,
Bastards, ride."



"Look!" Another voice called out. "He's been
here. His boot print is as plain as day."



"Aye... Can't be more than an hour old."
Responded another.



"Drink up!" Came the voice that had replied so
angrily to the man who had said I escape them.
"Spread out, find his direction of travel... Search for
him, damn it!"



At that moment, there was a crash in the brush
nearby where I stood hidden. A deer perhaps,
startled by my scent or the loud voices just beyond
my sight. Fear again stole into my heart, yet I
waited...



"There! He's getting away!"



"After him, you fools!"



They were gone in an instant and I stood with
my fear. My legs tremble and I felt a queer sort of
sickness with in my belly. Call it luck, call it fate, call
it whatever you wish... I was free once more and I
wasted no time thinking about it.



Three days and nights they pursued me and
on the evening of the third, my luck ran out.



Again they came upon me. This time in a
clearing. A field barren of crops, and here I was
surrounded by them.



"Ye had your run," Called the man nearest and
facing me. "now it's time to die."



"It will be a good night to die," I called back to
him. My heels raked the ribs of the horse and my
hand drew my blade even as the horse lunged
forward. "if only I can take you with me!"



The distance was not that great between us
and the others were busy closing in around me.
Surely, he must have thought I would give up.



He did not know me though. He did not know I
was the son of Angus MacClurey!



I was upon him before he could completely
draw his blade and mine cut deep with a slashing
blow. He who had said it was time to die, fell before
me and I was once again free and running for my
life.



"Get him!" Came a shout from off to my left.



My horse was racing toward the forest now just
a few short rods away, but I felt him stagger, saw
the arrow sticking in his side...



Even as the horses legs were beginning to fold
up under me, I was leaping free.



Now you are finished for certain, I told myself
as I hit the ground, yet if only I could make the
forest, there might be a chance. Darkness was
almost complete now...



If the clouds should cover the moon...



"Run... Run, damn you!" I told myself and run I
did. Fear can motivate a man to do the impossible.



I ran as I had never ran before and when their
horses were upon me, I rolled and crawled on my
hands and knee's the few remaining feet.



Once I reached the underbrush, I was safe, yet
it was only a moments reprieve, a chance to catch
my breath and nothing more. They would find me,
this I knew for certain. I knew this too... I would die
this night or come the sun.


V.



Part of me wished to stop, to get it over with. I
was so tired...



Let them kill me, my mind cried out. You have
upheld your vow to Papa. It was not for me though,
my instinct for survival were too strong to give up.



I moved onward, deeper into the brush.
Branches slapped at my face and eyes, thorns tore
my flesh.



Oh, how I prayed for the moon to be gone and
then it was and again, I was up and running, slower
this time, running from tree to tree.



"You cannot escape us now." Called a voice.
"You are on foot and soon we will have you."



They were not far behind me, yet on foot I
gained a little distance. I had no obstruction to
change my course as they did, for the branches
hung low here and they had to duck limbs or find
free passage.



"There!"



Their shouts came to me, sent chills along my
spine.



"Over here!"



"Get him!"



My heart pounded in my chest as I fought to
suck the cool night air into my starving lungs. How
long could I go on like this, I wondered. The tree's
were beginning to thin out...





Whatever else this forest was, it was small in
it's size.



Deliberately, I slowed my pace, veering away
from their voices. Once out of the forest, I knew
they would find me and...



Before my eyes showed a wink of a light,
another, then another. It could not be, I told myself,
but there was no deceiving my eyes. It was there...
A village or whatever.



I had come many miles in my flight to escape...
It was possible. If only I could...



"He couldn't have gone this way."



They were near, yet moving away from me. It
was my chance, long that it might be, and I took it.



In the instant the speakers voice faded, I was
up and running. I broke from the brush, branches
slapping at my face, cracking in the night with my
passage and there before me, looming blacker still,
than the darkness that surrounded me stood a wall.



Ah, what fear I felt in that moment. Panicked at
having made a mistake, given myself away, yet I
had seen the lights so by reason there had to be an
opening with in the wall. A gate perhaps.



Quickly, I moved along the wall, hoping and
praying, searching for an entrance for they were
coming for me. They had heard me emerge from
the brush and now they would have me unless...



"Here! He went this way!"



"Over here!"



My mind raced as I searched. I had been
wrong! Instead of finding freedom, I had put myself
into their hands. This was not a village, this
appeared to be a fortress of some kind surrounded
by walls.



Here was the end of me for sure, I told myself,
yet I wasn't prepared to give up. I moved with my
fear, slid along the wall.



"Think, damn you, think." I told myself with
despair that turned to hope.



The opening to the wall loomed before me and
I ducked through, moving toward the main building.
There were other building, three that I could make
out in the gloom, but this one was the closest,
perhaps...



"Now we have him" Came a voice from behind
me. "He's in here!"



"Then what are we waiting for?" Another
questioned.



"Find him, damn it!" Responded yet another.
"Alive... I want him taken alive if we can!"



There was no time left for me. I knew they
could not yet see me, but soon they would be upon
me and then all would be lost.



Luck again smiled upon me. I found a
window. It opened to my hand... What awaited me
with in might be just as dangerous, but I knew it
was a chance I had to take.



"This way!" They were inside now, searching
for me.



"Here now, what is the meaning of this?"
Called an angry voice. A voice new to me and one
that came with the opening of a door.



Who's voice it was, mattered not. It was crawl
through the window and face whatever lay with in
or go out and face those who pursued me. I chose
the window.



Perhaps I was a coward at that moment, but to
give up your life is something few are ready to do,
and that is what I would have had to do for they
would not take me alive.



"We seek a killer." Returned one of my
pursuers. "He came in here and now we will have
him."



"No one came in here!" The speaker, the Lord
of the manor, I presumed, responded angrily. "Be
gone with you! I have twenty men with in these
walls, some of them already stand behind you...
They are all fighters and all ready to die for me."



"Do not be hasty, My Lord, I speak the truth!"



Their voices were growing softer as if they had
closed the distance between them and were
speaking in normal voice.



"Your gate... it is open and unguarded. We
saw the man we seek run into here..."



The room into which I crawled lay empty to my
eye and it was with a sigh of relief that it was.
Fragrances filled my nostrils... Jasmine, lilac... It
was a room sparsely furnished, yet there was no
mistaking it was the room of a woman.



"Meg..." She stood before me naked, save for
a cloth towel. Our eyes met, yet scream she did
not.



"Forgive me, Lady, I am hunted." I stammered.
"I will close my eyes."



She laughed then. "Are you not afraid I will
attack you when your eyes are closed?" She
asked. "No? Then you have need for your dagger
or your blade."



Beautiful she was. I tried not to look at her
nakedness, but am I not a man? She of the full
breasts, hair of flame, eyes of emerald, lips of ruby,
skin of ivory...



"Forgive me again, My Lady," I could feel my
face color, feel the stirring of my blood. "for I would
never harm you, but I..."



"Have I screamed? Have I called for the
guard?" She asked cutting my words off.



The door to her room began to open. Instantly,
I moved toward it, sword at the ready, but she was
there blocking my path.



"Fear not my young intruder," She said to me.
Her hand rested on my chest and there was
strength there. Strength and reassurance. "it is just
my house maiden, Megan, she will harm you
none."



"Mary, there are..." She came in. When she
saw me, I thought she scream, but like her
mistress, she did not. Instead, she just moved
toward the bed saying. "I will get your robe, Mary."



My mind whirled as I turned my back to her to
give her privacy while dressing. The men outside
who hunted me... The women inside... Never in my
life had I seen such beauty, yet I was getting no
where standing here.



What to do?



Her hand came upon my back and I gave a
little jump. Laughter spilled from her lips. "You are
much to trusting my young intruder. Had I wanted
to do you harm, or summon help by some secret
method... You would be dead or in the hands of my
fathers men waiting to die perhaps."



I had given no such thought to anything like
that. Megan, her maiden, had gone immediately
after giving the Mary her robe to the window and
closed the shutter. That in itself was enough to give
me trust in her. Not that I needed anymore proof.
She could have screamed when she first saw me.
She could have...



"I am sorry, My Lady, I shouldn't have come
here. I have no wish to bring trouble to your door.
The men... Their master, Lord Maldone, had my
father killed so he could have our land..."



"My mother, she died soon after, a broken
hearted woman. I stole from him in revenge and
when he would have my head, I killed him. That is
why they seek me." I told her.



Even as I spoke, I half expected her to reel
from me in shock, but she stood still by my side.



"And is there nothing more?" She asked me.
"You were not thieves or poachers? Had he no
reason to attack you and your family?"



"No, My Lady, we were nothing of the kind." I
told her. "Ours was an old family, our lands were
given to us over a hundred years ago. It was only
Lord Maldone's greed and lust for what others had
that drove him to kill my father and steal our land."



"And you sought revenge. Is it so easy to kill
then?" She asked me, her eyes looking into my
own. "He kills your father and you kill him. Was it
worth it? Look at you now, hunted like some wild
animal."



"No, My Lady, it is not so easy a thing to do.
It... " I said to her. "If I had it to do over again, I..." I
broke off, footsteps sounded in the hallway, coming
this way.



"Quick! Under the bed." I hesitated only a
second, but it was long enough to bring hurt to her
face. "If what you say is true, I will not betray you. I
would not wish to see any harm come to you." She
said and her hand rested upon mine briefly.



A knock sounded on the door as my feet
disappeared beneath her bed. I trusted her, yet I
waited for betrayal, my nerves dancing wildly, my
breath held tight with in my chest.



"Just a minute." I heard Mary call and I heard
her move toward the door. Megan had come and
sat on the bed, for I felt her tiny weight upon the
mattress, saw her hands straighten the coverlet.



"Yes, Father, what is it?" I heard Mary say as
she opened the door. "I was just getting ready for
bed."



"I do not wish to disturb you, or scare you, but
there are men here, strangers," Her father began.
"they tell me a hunted killer is loose amongst our
buildings. They wish to search for him inside and
out."



"Here? With so many men guarding the
place?" Questioned Mary, and I could detect a hint
of mockery in her voice.



"Forgive us, Lady, it is true." Came a voice of
one of those who pursued me.



"And you think he is here, hiding in my room?"
Mary laughed her wonderful little laugh. "What you
must think of me... to hide a killer. Do you not think
I would have screamed out if one should enter my
room uninvited?"



"Forget it, Mary, we will bother you no more."
Said her father.



"No, Father, let him search and be damned for
this insult." Mary replied and I heard her move
aside. "I would have no man call me a liar."



"Nay, there is no need for that," Said my
pursuer. "and I apologize, My Lady, for my
insolence."



"Enough of this," Said her father. "finish your
search and be gone from my property. My men and
yours have searched the ground, and you and I
have searched my house from top to bottom and
what have we found? Nothing!"



"My Lord, I swear to you, we saw him run
though the open gate." Said my pursuer.



"Are you sure he is not hiding under my bed?"
I heard Mary ask tauntingly. Still, it gave my heart a
little leap.



More heavy footsteps sounded in the hall and I
held my breath even tighter, fearful that somehow I
had been discovered.



"Lord, we have searched the grounds
thoroughly and found nothing." Came a voice I had
not heard before.



"But..." My pursuer started.



"Then show these men out." Said Mary's
father. "You have made a mistake, I believe. In the
darkness there are shadows that may appear as
many things, but for my daughters sake, I will post
a guard under her window and another outside her
door. Do not bother us again with your presence or
I shall have your heads. Is that clear?"



"Perfectly clear, My Lord, but I swear..." Again
my pursuers words were cut short.



"Bah! I have heard enough of this! If your killer
is found here, rest assured he will die. Now be
gone with you, before I lose my patience." Mary's
father said angrily.

VI.




I awoke to a strange darkness... Little shafts of
light showed where I lay, above only blackness. For
a second, I lay disoriented, not knowing where I
was then I heard her humming. She who had saved
me from certain death...



Her of the flaming hair... So beautiful.



The coverlet lifted and her face showed. "Are
you going to sleep all morning?" She asked, a
bright smile on her face that turned serious. "We
haven't much time."



I lay there a moment longer, remembering the
events of last night, feeling ashamed that I had
slept in her room, that I had seen her... Slowly, I
crawled from under the bed, feeling a stiffness in
my body I had not noticed before.



"I am sorry, My Lady, I shouldn't have..." I
broke off, looking from her to the door.



"Do not worry," She said, as if she read my
mind. "they are gone. I told my father, I needed no
protection from shadows."



"I have brought shame to you!" I cried out. "I..."



Mary laughed he beautiful laugh. "You have
brought me no shame... and call me Mary, please,
My Lady, makes me sound old... do I look old to
you?"



"But, I slept in your room!" I stammered. "I saw
you..."



"Scandalous to others," She laughed. "I would
be a ruined woman in the eyes of some, but it
would not change who I am."



"Oh no, My Lady... Mary, do not say that... I
should be hung for bringing you such disgrace."



"My father would do worse than that if he knew
you were here." She laughed, and her arm came
around my neck. She kissed me full on the lips... I
tried to resist... She laughed yet again when she
stepped back. "Am I so bad?" She asked.



"No!... I..."



"Now my father will have real reason to hang
you." She smiled at me, then turned serious once
more. "You have been injured, and from the looks,
you have yet to care for it."



"Injured?"



"Take off your shirt and I will clean and
bandage it for you."



I remembered no injuries, but then I did... The
arrow that cut my shoulder when fleeing from Lord
Maldone's castle.



"I will not," I told her. "I have shamed you
enough already." I added. She just looked at me...
Smiled. The door opened and I gave a little jump,
but it was only Megan.



"Megan, will you bring a pan of water?" Mary
asked, looking to Megan, then her hands pushed
me down onto the bed. "Please, take off your shirt
and let me clean your wound... I would not wish to
see it become infected."



Megan had a smile for me when she brought
the pan of water. "Do not argue with her... She will
have her way." She said to me. "I brought you food,
you must be half starved by this time."



Mary's hands had begun to unfasten my shirt
and I gave into her, gave into my hunger as well, Twice, while she cleaned my wound, she had to tell
me to stop squirming.



"Eat with your other hand." She scolded. "We
have little time left and I need to finish bandaging
the wound."



When she finished, Mary stepped back and
looked at me as if she were taking my measure. "It
will be a tight squeeze," She said then. "and a bit
uncomfortable, I suspect, but it will work my
young..."



She broke off looking at me again. "You have
not even told me your name yet."



"Sorry, I..." I stammered. I cannot say why, but
she had some strange effect upon me. Whenever I
wished to speak to her my tongue would become
all twisted.



"Forgive me, Mary, it's Joshua, Joshua
MacClurey." I finally managed, looking
dumbfounded I am sure.



Whatever she had meant with her comments
about being a tight squeeze, I had no idea, but I
was quickly learning that women, while sweet and
beautiful they might be, they were also mysterious
and confusing.



Mary laughed at me again, bent forward and
kissed my cheek. "Well, Joshua, Joshua
MacClurey, it is my pleasure to make your
acquaintance again." She said to me.



Again?



No matter... I was finishing fastening my shirt
when we heard footsteps, then a knock upon the
door.



"Just a minute, Father, I am still not quite
finished dressing." Mary called out. "You may send
the men to pick up my trunk, but not those two oafs
who dropped it the last time."



There was a little laugh outside the door.
"Forgive them, my daughter, I know you, and I
know the trunk is heavy as well."



She went to the door as I hurriedly slipped
under the bed. Megan busied herself folding
clothing and putting them atop the bed.



"Would you have me go naked, Father?" I
heard Mary ask when she opened the door. Both
laughed then.



"No, my dear... you are much like your mother
was." Came her fathers voice to my ears. "I will
send the men, and they will not be the two oafs as
you call them."



"Give me five minutes, I am not quite ready."



"With so much clothing, it is not a wonder." Her
father laughed.



The door closed and I emerged from my hiding
place beneath the bed. I was still wondering about
what Mary had been talking about before her father
appear, beginning to wonder as well, how I was
going to get away, when she laughed again.



"Their backs will be twice as sore this
morning." She said smiling at me. "Today, I will
have two trunks to be loaded onto the wagon."



I still had no idea what she was talking about...
And then I did! "Oh no, not for me..." I began.



"It is the only way," She said coming to me.
"this is a place we come to only occasionally, but
there are men here always and you cannot know
how lucky you were last night in getting in here."



"Father had expected company, that is why the
gate was open. A man should have been guarding
it, but he wasn't, and for that he will be lucky to
keep his life. My father is a hard man and he
expects his orders to be carried out without
question." She told me.



They were coming for her trunk. We could here
their footsteps upon the stone floor.



Quickly, Mary took my hand and led me to
where the trunk awaited. Only a moment did I
delay, then I was squeezing myself inside it.



"Megan will open it as soon as we are
moving." Mary told me, closing the lid down upon
me.



I waited then. Moments seemed to take forever
to pass. Inside the trunk, I could hardly hear
anything, yet I felt the motion when the trunk was
lifted and I heard Mary's raised voice.



"Be careful you fool's, it contains glassware,
and I would not care to see them broken."



Whether the men who had hold of the trunk
responded, I do not know. I was aware only that I
was being carried from the room, aware when it
seemed to me that I was lifted higher and then the
trunk came down hard.



The thud stunned my body, sending little
waves of pain through me. I was sure that I had
gasped out loud when the trunk landed wherever it
did, the back of a wagon I assumed. I waited, my
breath held tight, for the lid to come open and for
myself to be discovered, yet nothing happened and
the minutes passed by.



My next awareness was one of feeling
something else being set down beside me. Motion
then, a start that banged my head into the wall of
the trunk... I was beginning to feel panic, the air
seemed to be going, I was suffocating...



The lid opened a sliver, an inch more. "Shh,"
Hissed Megan in a voice so soft I was not sure I
heard it until she spoke again. "A man drives the
wagon. We stop at noon... I will bring you water if I
can."


VII.




That is how I came to meet Mary, love of my
life, and Megan, friend and confidant of Mary and
dear friend of mine.



We traveled three days by wagon. By day I
was scrunched up in the trunk, wondering how I
was going to get away from the wagon before it
reached Lord Killingham's castle.



By night, when everyone had gone to bed, I
would crawl out and stretch my aching body, eat of
the food Megan brought me and spend many an
hour talking softly with Mary.



My love grew for her with each passing minute,
each precious hour spent together...



Mary knew of my worry. She knew as well as I
that escape was impossible, even at night, for the
camp was well guarded against intruders. When I
was with her though, it did not matter...



We spoke of the little things, spoke of myself
and of my family. And eventually, she managed to
get the whole story from me. The killing of my
father, the death of my mother, of friend William,
the death of O'Banyon, the giant and the Lady of
the forest, and finally the killing of Lord Maldone.



"Was she beautiful?" Mary asked when I spoke
of the Lady of the forest.



What could I say? I had not seen her face
clearly in the growing dark. I had only...



"I do not know," I told her. "I did not see her
face, but I think she was, though not as beautiful as
you." For this, I earned a sweet kiss and a smile.



Ah, I remember it still, even after all these
years in the new land. I remember it clear as I did
on that night I wait to make my escape with her...



What's this?



You say I left out part of this story? You ask
how I escaped from the wagon?



I shall tell you this then. Mary's bedroom in the
castle of Lord Killingham was lavishly decorated
and not wanting comforts. I spent a glorious week
hidden there, talking to her and Megan, dreaming
of love and happiness.



My escape from the castle came exactly seven
days after our arrival. It was a night of food and
celebration, a night of entertainment.



Mary saw to it all, arranged for the jugglers and
court clowns, and Megan saw to my costume.



Once the festivities began, it was no problem
to slip down the steps dressed as a court fool... To
tumble down the stairs rather, to listen to their
laughter at me...



The hardest part of the whole evening was the
saying good bye to Mary. I loved her and she loved
me, and even before I skipped out the gates of the
castle with my freedom, my heart began to ache for
her.



"Go to the village and wait for me," She had
told me, kissing me and laying her head against my
shoulder. "I am free to travel about here, and I go to
the village at least twice a week."



"I will wait for you, my love," I said kissing her
back. "wait for you with this aching in my heart."



Those were the days. She would come to the
village and I would have to contain myself from
rushing to meet her, from taking her into my arms
and kissing her sweet lips, for after our first
meeting, it was clear that while she traveled freely,
she was watched by at least two men from afar.



They came to me, those who watched her,
after that first meeting. They asked me who I was
and what I was doing talking to the Lady of
Killingham castle.



What could I say? I told them I was but a poor
man it was she who chose to sit and talk to me. I
begged their forgiveness, saying I had not known,
then I begged them to thank her for speaking to
someone as worthless as I.



They laughed at me. Laughed and slapped me
across my back, then tossed a coin at my feet.



"Here," The one said to me. "go have yourself
an ale, but have a care, never bother the Lady
Mary again."



"You have been warned, beggar." Said the
other man as I bent to pick up the coin, and he
could not resist kicking me in the backside.



It was a powerful boot and it knocked me
sprawling in the dirt. It left me hearing their laughter
as they moved away from me, Left me feeling the
rage, my anger, building with in. I had to fight the
urge to get up, to run after them and let my fist
repay the man for his deed.



The second meeting with Mary is one I shall
never forget, for it is on this meeting, that I met
Edward. I stood in a shop where I could not be
seen by anyone watching from the street...



First came my love, Mary, then came Edward.
A giant of a man, he was, with a laugh that sent
chills down my spine. I liked him instantly, for how
could you not like a man who was a dear friend of
Mary's?



We talked for but a short while together. Mary
did her little shopping, then she left us. Edward and
me waited. I had warned them both that Mary was
watched by her fathers men. She did not believe at
first, but I told her where to look...



She was mad then, mad and hurt, but there
was something else, I felt it... Something she had
not wanted to tell me.



Edward told me later, when Mary had gone,
when the men who followed her had gone...



We had walked the streets together, talking of
the little things, went to his house for our supper
and an ale. We talked there of the sea and of the
changing weather...



"Aye, Lad, it is love," He said suddenly. "I can
see it in both of your faces."



It came from no where and I sat quiet for a
long minute. His laughter, loud and gay, filled the
room. "Do not be so shocked my friend... I've
known her since she was but a wee lass... she
loves you and you love her, is it so bad?"



"Yes," I finally said, and he laughed again
before I could find the right words.



"Yes, love is bad, or yes, you love her?"



"I love her, I swear I love her, as I have loved
no other." I replied defensively.



This was not something men talked about, or
so I thought. What did I know though. I was a man
with nineteen years behind me, true enough, but I
was still a boy when it came to love.



My face colored and sweat broke out on my
forehead. Edward missed none of this, and laughed
all the more, adding to my discomfort.



"Ah, then I feel all the more for the both of
you." He told me, his face turning serious. I sat, not
knowing what he meant or where he was going, but
it was only a short wait. "Her father, the fool that he
is, has promised her to another."



What could I say to that?



My heart sank and I felt I would surely die if I
were to lose her love. "Come now," Edward told
me, for he could not help but see the hurt in my
eyes and upon my face. "if you two are meant to be
together, then I believe fate will arrange it."



"But..."



"Let us speak of more pleasant things." He
said then, and he laughed his roaring laugh. "Do
not look as if I had kicked you in the belly... you
have her love and she has yours. Be happy in that,
and let time take care of the rest."



We talked then of many things. Talked of the
exciting places his ship had sailed to, of the people
he had met. We talked of my life... Of my mother
and father, and of Lord Maldone and his men.



"Maldone?" Edward's face again turn serious
when I spoke the name. "It is a name I know... An
evil man he is."



"Was," I said to him. "He's dead. I killed him!"



He sat looking at me long, measuring me and
trying, I think, to read my thoughts. "Then it is all
the worse for you." He said finally. "All the worse
for this land. Lord Maldone has a brother, twice as
evil, and his ambitions will bring pain and
bloodshed to many.



I was stunned, shocked speechless by this
revelation. "Brother?" I managed, finally finding my
voice. I had never heard of a brother.



"Aye, my young friend, a brother." Said
Edward. "The one you killed is a product of the
older ones power and ambitions. He lives far to the
north of here, but he is moving, ever encroaching
this way. The lands held by the younger one, were
just a start of things...And now...If I know him as I
think, he will never rest until he has you."



A deep, dark gloom settle over the room and
we both sat quietly with our own thoughts. Mine
were of Mary and of Lord Maldone, of mother and
father, and of the chase that brought me to her. Of
Edward's thoughts, I cannot speak, but I believe he
was thinking of Maldone and of the evil I had
released by killing him.



Edward is a man of deep thought and for
years, he was a man I knew well as a good friend,
yet I knew little of his past. In time I would. I would
learn many of his deep secrets, but now is not the
time to tell you of these.



My eyes grew weary and I must have fallen
asleep for when my eyes opened again, sunlight
showed in my eyes. Edward was gone and in his
place, lay a note.



"Have gone to make some arrangements. We must meet
again soon." It said, then went on. "Have a care my young
friend. Killingham would have you beaten and whipped for
speaking to his daughter. Maldone's brother will do much
worse if he finds you. Edward."



Things were beginning to become clearer to
me... Things that had bothered me. I had never
been able to figure out why Lord Maldone's men
pursued me the way they had.



Reason had told me, that they would give up
shortly, that with their master dead, they would
return to his castle and loot it of its valuables. They
would turn on each other, snapping at each others
throats until one man emerged as the new leader...



How could I have been so wrong, I wondered.



They had pursued me with all the effort they
could muster. Had the older brother been present
when I killed Maldone?



It was something to ponder, yet it changed
nothing. I had fulfilled my vow to Papa, but in doing
so, I released an evil worse than Lord Maldone, or
so Edward had said.



My mind turned to Mary as I walked the street,
to her father... How could a man give away his
daughter as if she were a scrap of trade goods?



Why?



My heart ached with each step I took. I could
find no sense to it. "Mary, I love you with all my
heart." I said to myself, fighting my tears and
feeling a heavy weight upon my soul.

VIII.



Caught!



We met in secret for months. Spring gave way
to summer and summer grew long onto fall. Our
love grew with each meeting, each secret
rendezvous and I cherished every precious minute,
for that was all she dared to spend with me.



Mary and I, would meet in the little shops,
sometimes Megan would accompany her, other
times Edward. There was little privacy and we
spoke in soft whispers. We spoke of the little things
in our lives, things that brought joy to our everyday
life... The beauty of the morning sun, of a glorious
sunset, of flowers in sweet bloom, of birds singing
their songs of love...



Edward, bless his heart, is a romantic and a
great story teller. He would often start talking with
someone, telling them tales... His laughter would fill
the room and soon all would be around him
listening and Mary would be in my arms, her lips
meeting mine, if only for a brief second.



Those who followed her, those who watched,
grew more suspicious with the passing of time, yet
it was not they who caught us together.



He came in, a man I had never seen before...
He walked around looking at the various goods, yet
I had caught him looking at me twice and it gave
me reason to suspicion.



His eyes lowered suddenly and his feet
shuffled nervously when our eyes met. I started to
move his way, to ask what his trouble was, but he
quickly picked up a small item then vanished from
the shop only to come back a minute or so later.



I liked none of this, and when he spoke to me
upon returning, I knew fear. Not for me, but for
Mary. Still, Edward was with us on this day, and I
knew he would see to her safety if trouble arose.



It did!



"I know who ye are," He said to me.

He
was a small man, dirty and foul smelling, with
beady black eyes. "now they will have you, and I
will have my sack of gold!"



Through the door then, burst three men with
blades drawn. I pushed Mary away from me, even
as their eyes sought me out.



The foul little man made a lunge for me, but he
was a fool and too slow, for my own blade took him
through his throat.



Behind me, Mary cried out and I felt her arm
upon my shoulder.



"Go!" I told her.



The three were coming toward me now. "Get
out of here, Mary!" I added, with fear for her safety.



"Hold there!" Edward's voice, booming in the
suddenly gone still room, checked the movement of
the three. "Three against one... it hardly seems fair,
so I shall take a hand here."



They stood frozen, not liking it. One had his
eyes upon me, the other two, their heads turned,
looked to Edward.



"You, my friend," Edward said to me. "take the
fool who watches you like a hawk, and I shall deal
with these two." His blade was in his hand now and
he stood ready, a giant amidst everyone else in the
room.



"You know not what you get into," said one of
those who looked to Edward. "stay out of this or our
master will see you dead as well."



Edward's booming laughter filled the room,
chilling even me. "Your Master? Are you a cur?" He
laughed, but there was no humor. "Lord Maldone
was a greedy fool and the world is better off with
him gone... Your Master, Maldone's brother... he is
like a plague upon the land and he should be
exterminated along with any fool who follows him."



How he knew who they were, I have no clue,
but as he finished speaking, Edward moved. A
giant of a man as I have said many times already,
but a man with cat like quickness.



Edward's blade swung and there was force in
those mighty arms of his and had it not been for the
fact that the one who faced me, chose to attack me
at that very moment, I would have stood in awe
watching him.



"Now, you will die!" Said the man who faced
me as his blade swung.



Metal clank as I parried his blow. He was
good, I give him that, yet in the confines of space,
there was little chance of feigning. It was attack and
defend, Attack and defend.



Our blades met, slid from each others only to
come together again. Mary was behind me and I
feared for her safety, but there was nothing I could
do for her except survive.



Anger touched my soul, a killing rage I had
never knew I had with in me, when his blade drew
blood from my shoulder. I attacked, my blade
swinging with all the force my arm could muster. I
drove him back, back into the other two...



Mary's scream filled my ears as my foot
slipped from underneath me and I went down on
my back. Fear touched me, sent shivers along my
spine.



"Die!"



He moved quickly to kill me. Too quickly, for it
cost him his life. His blade was ready to run me
through, but even as he bent forward, arm starting
its downward thrust, my own blade lifted and sank
deep into his soft exposed flesh.



I shudder even after all these years, with
memory of that day. Mary's scream of terror, the
mans eyes as my blade took his life...



Edward had killed one of his antagonists and
driven the other out into the street...



"Joshua," She was kneeling at my side, her
arm around my neck when they came rushing in...
The men who watched her from afar, protected her
from harm...



"What is this?" One asked, taking in Mary and
me.



"What is the meaning of this?" Another
questioned.



There were three of them and their eyes
looked to me as Mary helped me to my feet, looked
to Edward, still ready with his blade, then back to
Mary and it was to her they spoke next.



"Lady Killingham, who are these men?"



Others crowded into the shop, among them
two more of the men who followed. The two who
had seen Mary and me together on that first
meeting in the village.



"You again, is it?" Spoke up the man who had
tossed the coin at my feet. "You were warned!" He
added, stepping toward me.



I stood ready, for what, I did not know, but
Mary's voice checked the coin tossing mans
movement.



"Stop!" Her voice was shaken, yet there was
still strength in her words. "These men protected
me, I cannot say that for you."





The room grew quiet as she went on. "Do you
think I am a fool? Do you think I do not know you
follow me? My father will hear of this..."



"My Lady, it is he, who sends us to follow and
protect you." Said the coin tossing man. "If we had
known your life was in danger..."



"Protect me?" Mary laughed a strained laugh.
"To spy on me, you mean. Well, no matter... my
father will wish to thank these men personally for
saving me from harm... as for you..." She let her
words die there, for by their faces, there was no
need to finish.



Edward's laughter filled the room. "Yes, Mary,
he will want to thank us, and he will be especially
pleased to see me again."



Again the men who guarded Mary, looked to
me, then to Edward. Their eyes lingered upon him
and I could swear I saw a wry smile touch Edward's
lips as if he found some deep dark humor in his
words.



I knew not what to think or say, but there was
no need. "Yes, My Lady, you are right of course.
When you are ready, we shall escort you and these
men back to the castle." Spoke up the man who
had kicked me.



"First, clean up this mess." Edward said to
them all, stepping forward to where Mary and I
stood. "Come, Mary, this is no place for a lady... I
am sorry you had to see this."



We walked through Killingham's henchmen,
their eyes dark and challenging, their minds
brooding over Mary's word, Edward's word as well,
I am sure, though I had no idea what they might
mean.



Edward and Mary led the way, I followed a few
paces behind. As I neared the coin toss man, he
stepped into my path and spoke quietly to me.



"The Lady, she protects you now, but we will
see what Lord Killingham has to say." His eyes
were bitter and they could not hide his sudden
hatred of me.



"Joshua, are you coming?" Edward called over
his shoulder.



"Go," said the coin tossing man, stepping
aside. "I can wait!"



It was in my mind to smash him down, but I let
it pass and followed Mary and Edward outside into
the fresh air. Mary's eyes were upon me as I exited
and I could read her concern for my well being.
That, and her love for me.



"I am fine," I told her and let a smile touch my
lips. "and thank you my friend." I added, turning my
eyes to Edward. "Without your help... who knows."



Mary wished to come to me, I could see it in
the way she looked at me, but some of Killingham's
men had followed us out and they watched with
their hawk like eyes.



"My Lady," Spoke the coin tossing man "there
is no need to be here any longer... if you are ready,
we shall go to your father."



"Yes," Edward spoke before Mary. "we shall go
now, but you will follow at a distance. I know the
way, and she is safer with the two of us, then she
will ever be with the likes of you."



"Why you..." Footsteps sounded behind me
and I turned as he spoke again. "I take no orders
from you, nor will I take your words now!"



"You will do as I say!" Mary's voice was sharp.
"And I say, you will follow as he asks."



"My Lady, but your father..."



"Is not here," Said Mary. "but I certainly will
speak to him of this when we get back to the castle.
Now do as I you were told."



"Very well, My Lady." Replied the coin tossing
man. "We will follow, then we will let your father
decide."

IX.



Killingham castle.



It stood stark against the beauty of the day.
Enormous in its size, it was situated on a hill so it's
occupants had a wide view of the area around. To
tackle it, would be no easy task, I thought, as I
stood gazing up upon it in the light of day.



I had seen it before in daylight, but never this
close. I felt a shudder course through my body as I
stood looking up at the high gray walls. There was
evil here. Not nearly the evil that I had felt prevalent
around my home area, yet there was something...
Something I could not see...



I felt it though! Felt the chill along my spine.
Mary stood beside me and I felt her hand touch my
back... She felt it too, I believed.



Though she had freedom to come and go as
she pleased, she was a prisoner here none the
less. She was a prisoner to a father who would give
her away to a man she did not love.



This was a subject that we never discussed. I
tried at first, when Edward had first told me, but it
only brought her sadness and touched her heart
with fear and she refused to speak of it. Instead,
our brief visits had been of dreams and wishes.



And now...



The others had come up to us. Their hail was
answered and the big heavy door opened inward.
Mary started forward, Edward did too, but I lingered
a second, my mind busy with thought.



A heavy hand shoved me from behind and
when I turned to look upon the man who shoved
me, I felt none us were free anymore.



We were escorted through the gate and
through a double set of doors, down a hallway and
into a large room with a fireplace crackling of dry
wood. It was a room I had seen before. The room
where the celebration was held the night I escaped,
but there was no celebration here now, no laughter
or joy...



"Lord," Spoke up the coin tossing man before
another could speak. "there has been trouble in the
village."



"Father," Mary started. "Let me explain and..."



If Lord Killingham heard her, he showed no
sign of it. His eyes looked upon me for a second,
then settled on Edward. When he spoke, there was
anger in his voice and perhaps a touch of fear.



"Who dares let this man in here?"



"I did, father." Answered Mary, but again Lord
Killingham seemed to have not heard her speak.



Edward's deep laughter filled the room,
resonating off the walls. "Fear not, my brother,"
Edward said when his laughter faded. "I have not
come back to claim what is rightly mine. You have
your life and I have mine... I am happy in what I do,
so give it no fear that I am here. I come only
because Mary wished it."



"Ah, Mary," Lord Killingham breathed, and
there was no warmth in his voice. "of course you
would come for her. She always did love you more
than she did me."



"Father, you know that is not true." Mary cried
out.



The two men, the coin toss man and the one
who had kicked me, had moved up so they stood
on either side of Lord Killingham. I stood stunned,
shock by this turn of events. Edward was Mary's
uncle!



"You spoke of trouble," Lord Killingham said,
turning to the coin toss man. "tell me of it."



"I will tell it!" Mary said stepping forward, her
voice raised in anger.



"Very well, daughter of mine." Killingham
smiled, but it lacked warmth. "You have your
mothers strength and stubbornness, so I will not try
to argue with you. But please, be on with it. I would
speak with my men, Edward and whoever this
young lad might be."



I liked none of this and my feet shifted under
the gaze of Lord Killingham. Coin toss man
watched me as well and I had no need to turn
around to know there were others standing behind
us.



We were trapped!



Why I should feel that way, I cannot explain,
for it was nothing more than a feeling with in my
bones. We were here to be thanked for saving Lord
Killingham's daughter from harm and nothing more,
yet...



"As you know, I went to the village today,"
Mary began. "four men tried bothering... Edward
and Joshua, they protected me..."



"Joshua?" Killingham queried. "It is not a name
I am familiar with. Have you known him long?"



"And do you take me for a fool?" Mary asked in
return, her voice raising a bit. "Do you not think I
don't know that you have men follow and spy on
me?"



"To protect you, daughter, nothing more."
Replied Killingham, his weight shifting under Mary's
accusing words.



Mary laughed then, a little laugh without
humor. "And where were they today... where were
they when I needed protecting?"



None of this was true. I knew it, and so did
Edward. The men who had come into the shop
were men doing Maldone's brothers bidding and
they had come for me and me alone. Yet, I stood
silent, waiting to see where this conversation was
leading. Edward remained still as well.



"Lord, when we heard her scream, we were
there instantly." Said the man who had kicked me.



"That is why Edward and Joshua are here."
Mary said stepping closer to her father and taking
his hand. "they protected me, and for that, I thought
you would wish to thank them."



"And how shall I thank you, brother Edward?"
Lord Killingham asked, standing and patting his
daughters hand. "Gold? It is said that you are
already a wealthy man, but if..."



"I seek no thanks from you, my brother."
Edward said interrupting Lord Killingham. "I would
gladly give my life defending Mary's."



"Ah, so it is true." Said Killingham, stepping
closer to me. He had released his daughters hand
and now he faced me alone, his eyes searching my
face, probing... looking for what, I do not know.



"And you my young lad," He asked, letting a
smile touch his lips. "what is it you wish? Gold? A
piece of land, you can call your own perhaps? No
wait!"



Lord Killingham's hand lifted into the air,
silencing the words I was about to speak. "You look
to be a brave lad, how about a place amongst my
men?"



"I seek nothing, My Lord." I said at last when
he had finished. My mind thought other wise, for I
wanted my freedom, wanted to be away from here,
yet I wanted Mary to be with me.



"Come now, the both of you," Lord Killingham
said, stepping back and finding his chair. "I must
give you something... Ah wait, I have it! A feast
tonight in your honor."



"Father! What a wonderful idea." Beamed
Mary and she moved to hug her father. "I shall see
to the arrangements. Megan will be glad to help."



Silence settled upon the room like a heavy fog.
Waiting for Mary to be gone from the room. The
only noise, the light little steps of Mary as she left
the room, the creaking of the door as it opened, the
heavy clank as it closed and the breathing of the
men with in the room.



It was an oppressive silence, a waiting silence.
Waiting for Mary to be gone from the room.



Eyes shifted, mine to Edward, to Lord
Killingham, the coin toss man... Back to Lord
Killingham and then once more to Edward.



At last, the door closed and Lord Killingham
clapped his hands. "Now, to the business of men."
He said, and his eyes turned to me, Edward and
finally to the coin toss man." Tell me, who were
these men who dared bother my daughter?"



"I do not know, Lord," Started coin toss man.
He was hedging, searching for the right words.
"when we entered the shop, three men were down
and a forth was running away down the street."



"Edward?" Killingham questioned, his eyes
settling upon me for a brief moment.



"Your men are dumber that I believed."
Edward said. "If they were not, they would have
known the men who troubled Mary, were men of
Charles Maldone."



"What?" Lord Killingham came out of the chair.
Why, I did not know. "Impossible! His castle lays far
to the north of here... Power he might have, but
here I have the influence and strength."



"True, my brother, but there is the younger
Maldone..." Edward started.



"Bah! A fool and nothing more. I could sweep
him from the land whenever I wished." Killingham
snapped, his voice raising in anger. Clearly, he was
disturbed by this possibility.



"He's dead!" Edward said it quietly.



"Dead?" Lord Killingham had started back for
his chair, now he turned and faced Edward. "How?"



"It is unimportant," Edward replied and his
eyes briefly touched mine. "but know this, Charles
Maldone will scour the country side looking for the
man who killed his brother. He will move his men
into his brothers fortress and from there, he will be
in position to challenge your position if he so
chooses."



I liked none of this. They were talking about
the man I had killed, talking about the brother who
pursued me... Still, I was learning. Lord Killingham
feared this Charles Maldone... I could see it in his
eyes and his it in his voice.



"He wouldn't dare," Lord Killingham said,
finding his seat again. "we have an arrangement."



"Yes," Said Edward. "and a sorry one it is."



"Ah, I knew you would find it distasteful."
Killingham replied. "It is none of your affair though."



"True, but you best be thinking hard about it,
Brother. If Charles Maldone thinks for a second,
that you had in any part in the death of his brother,
he will sweep you from the landscape and take
her..."



Silence befell the room again briefly and we
stood, Edward and I, Lord Killingham upon his
chair, alone with our own thoughts once more.



Again, I was wishing to be away from here,
with Mary at my side, but I was also thinking of
mother and father, of friend William and of Lord
Maldone.



"Leave me now," Lord Killingham said at last.
"I would speak to my men alone."



"Certainly, Brother," Edward replied. "I... we,"
He turned and gestured to me. "have things in the
village to attend to."



As we started to turn to go, coin toss man
leaned over and spoke into Lord Killingham's ear.



"Wait!" Killingham said, coming to his feet. His
eyes were on me, but only for a brief instant. "You
cannot leave... if you did, Mary would think I sent
you away. We must not hurt her feelings... She is
looking forward to tonight and suddenly, so am I.
Stay, enjoy what the castle has to offer you."



My heart sank. Edward had given us an
escape, but now that avenue disappeared. We
were trapped...



I know it sounds like an illogical assumption on
my part, but that is how I felt. The men behind us
had not moved, Lord Killingham had not ordered us
taken prisoners, yet looking at coin toss man and
the evil smile that touched his lips, I knew... Edward
knew as well!


X.



Ah, the feast of the doomed...



After our parting from Lord Killingham, we
were shown to a room where we could rest and
clean up and prepare ourselves for the feast. We
were free to move about the castle, yet there was
no mistaking the men who lingered here and there.
We were being watched.



"Ah," said Edward, when we were alone. "it is
bad for us, worse for you, I think. I will help if I can,
but who knows what he has planned for me."



"What will he do?" I asked. I knew Edward was
right. Young I might have been, but I was no fool.



"He knows now that you have been seeing
Mary," Edward began, looking at me. "for that, he
will likely have you beaten... If he knew you killed
Maldone, he would see you dead or turned over to
Charles Maldone."



"Killed!" I was shocked by Edward's words.



"But why?"



"Ah, my poor lad," Edward said, sadness in his
voice. "I was hoping to avoid telling you this, but
since you have asked... My brother would kill you
because the deal he has working with Maldone's
brother hinges on the fact that he has pledge Mary
to be his..."



"No!" A lump choked my throat.



"I am sorry for you... For the both of you!"
Edward's big hand clapped my back and he smiled
a big bright smile. "Do not look so sad." He told me.
"It is not over yet, and there is always hope, and do
not forget my young friend, you have me to help
and I am very creative."



"And what of you?" I asked, suddenly wanting
to change the subject. "What will he do to you?"



Edward laughed his reply. "With me, he must
be careful. He has this castle and men who follow
him... I do not need a castle. I have many friends
and they would take it unkindly if something
happened to me." He said to me, and so I learned
the story of Edward and Lord Killingham.



Edward's father had been a man loyal to the
king. He had fought an shed his blood to preserve
his reign against would be foe's, and for this, he
had been rewarded with a cast estate and control
over it, yet it had been a dark time... A time when a
mans life was little more than a breath away from
death.



Despite the time of upheaval, Edward's father
had ruled his holdings with a fair and kind hand.
Men of action followed him, swore their allegiance,
but in the end, it cost him his life.



How exactly, Edward was unsure, for during
his fathers rule of the region, he had taken it upon
himself to explore the sea's and the wealth that
could be gained through trade.



Edward had believed that through this action,
he could help build his fathers strength and
influence, for trade with others, while adding
wealth, also provided sources of potential allies.



"Ah, Joshua, those were the days, but then..."
Edward told me. "One day I left for the sea, my
father was alive and strong in his place... Upon my
return several months later, he was dead..."



"And your brother sat in the chair where your
father once had." I commented.



"Aye," Edward's eyes took on a dark and
gloomy look. "He sat in our fathers chair, with men
surrounding him. I tried to find out what happened
to our father, but no one would talk... To this day, I
have my suspicions, but that is all they are. If I
knew them to be true, I would kill him with my bare
hands."



"You suspect your brother?" I asked. I was
stunned and unsure what to say, but the look in his
eyes gave me my answer.



"Twice, there were attempts on my life after I
returned. The last time, I sent word to my brother,
summoning him out to the glen with a note that said
I had uncovered a plot against him. He came as I
knew he would, surrounded by a dozen men..."



"It was then that I told him what I suspected,
told him the next time someone tried to take my life,
I would come for him."



"Edward, you fool!" Came his reply and
laughter. "If you suspect me of killing our father,
why tell me, why not just try and kill me?"



"Spilling the blood of my own kin wouldn't
please me, but you have been warned now.
Believe me, I will if I have too."



"So there it is," He said. "You were always
jealous of me." He turned to his men. "Teach him
some manners, then toss what is left of him onto
his ship and set it to sail." He paused, then looking
into my eyes before continuing.



"Unlike you, Edward, I have no problem
shedding the blood of my own if they stand in my
way or pose a threat to me. I spare your life for only
one reason... You have friends here, so this must
be done carefully. Take it from me though, if they
do not beat you to death, never come here again,
for I will not be so generous the next time."



"He must have thought me a fool, Joshua. I
appeared to be alone, but indeed I was not. When
his men started to dismount, my own men stepped
out of the brush."



"Your brother has warned you Killingham."
Said one of my friends. "Now we will tell you... You
hold the castle and a few men, but Edward has
friends far and wide... Should something bad
happen to him, we will come for you, and I promise
you, your death will not be a pleasant one. That
goes for the rest of you as well."



"And so it has been the way it is for ten years
now." Edward told me. "I come and go as I please,
but until today, I have not set foot in this castle, this
home of my mother and father..."



"Aye," Said I. "I am truly sorry friend, Edward,
for it is I who have brought this misery upon..."



"Nonsense!" Edward cut me short. "If it were
not for you, I would be here for Mary. I will not see
her turned over to the likes of Charles Maldone."



Silence fell between us. Each in his own turn
did battle with his thoughts. Dread was upon me.
Fear for Mary, for Edward, and yes, I felt fear for
my own safety. I had no wish to die. I only wished
to be away from here, Mary at my side...



"Forget it," Edward spoke at last. "rest whilst
you can. We will have enough to deal with, without
digging up old troubles."



Ah, the hour of the damned!



Twilight fell while we wrestled with our
thoughts. Darkness, like the gloom in my heart,
descended upon Killingham castle.



The hour fell and there came a knock upon our
door. Mary stood outside, an angel trapped in hell
as much as Edward and I were. A smile beamed
across her lips, yet I know she could sense our
uneasiness. It was written in her eyes. Still, she
said nothing about it, for Edward spoke before she
could find voice.



"Ah, Mary," Laughed Edward, trying to lighten
the mood that enveloped us. "you are as lovely as
your mother this night, even more beautiful
perhaps."



"Yes, Mary," I smiled. "you are indeed a
beautiful woman." She smiled back at my words,
but then what woman does not like to be told how
beautiful she is?



"Come, Father is waiting." Mary told us, her
hand reaching out to take hold of mine and
Edward's hands. Side by side then, Edward to her
right, I to her left, we walked down the cool gray
hallway, our footsteps loud in the silence of the
castle.



I remember it well, for with each step closer to
the big room we got, the sinking feeling in my
stomach grew. It was a walk of the doomed...



"Ah, Edward... Joshua, the heroes of the day!"
Lord Killingham greeted us, a smile upon his lips.
"sit, tonight we feast in your honor. Eat, drink, and
be merry."



I will say this for Lord Killingham, he knew how
to put on a feast. Roast duck, venison, roast
piglet... Dozens of foods to please a mans appetite.
Fine wines to drink, pleasant talk to make the mood
merry. Dancers to entertain us, yet I found no glee
in the events of the night, only trepidation as the
hours slipped passed.



"Joshua," Lord Killingham called as the hour
grew late. "tell us a story. We know of Edward, but
we have yet to learn of you. Tell us where you are
from and how you came to know my daughter."



There was a smile on his face as he spoke, yet
his eyes betrayed him. He was trying to bait me, to
catch me in a lie perhaps.



"A story, My Lord?" I questioned. "What is
there to tell of myself. I am but a poor scoundrel
who was lucky enough to meet a friend such as
Edward. As for your daughter, forgive me Lord, I
am unworthy of speaking to her, but her smile
brightens the room when she is present..."



"Indeed!" Called Edward. "A toast to the fairest
Lady in all the lands!"



"Of course, to daughter, Mary, the most
beautiful woman in the land." Lord Killingham
called, and the others quickly echoed his words.



Leave it to Edward to change the subject. Still,
Lord Killingham was not prepared to let go so
easily.



"Come now, Joshua, enlighten us about
yourself..." He called with a faint smile. "You would
not wish us to think you are hiding something would
you?" He asked as the smile disappeared.



"No, My Lord, I hide nothing." I started. "I..."



"Always the suspicious one." Edward laughed.
"Leave him be, Brother. The hour grows late and
we must return to the village. We have a ship to
unload in the morning."



"Ah, yes, Edward," Lord Killingham smiled
anew. "I have heard your ship is in anchorage here.
What is it you have brought to our shores this
time?"



Edward's deep laughter filled the room. "You
already know the answer to that, Brother. Your men
have been to my ship to inspect and to tax."



"Only what is right and fair, brother Edward."
Lord Killingham's smile remained, turned to a
chuckle, yet his eyes grew dark and the mood
turned bleak.



An uneasy silence settled over the room and I
shifted in my chair liking none of it. It was time to be away from here, yet I did not want to leave Mary.
At last though, Edward's chair scraped backward
and he stood. His eyes turned to me, then to Lord
Killingham, the others in the room, and finally
settled upon Mary.



"Thank you, My Dear Lady." Edward said to
her. "It was a wonderful evening. And thank you as
well, Brother, your feasts are legendary... I have
always heard, but to sit and enjoy..."



Edward let his voice trail off. We were all on
our feet now, the party ended. Coin toss man had
moved over to where Lord Killingham stood and I
saw Killingham whisper in his ear. What, I can only
guess, but I liked none of it. Liked it even less when
coin toss man left the room before us.



"Joshua, Uncle Edward," Mary came to stand
between us and her voice was louder then perhaps
it need to be, yet she went on. "since you cannot
find it with in yourself to accept a reward from my
father for saving me today, I will reward you both
myself." She said, and with that, she leaned
forward and kissed me lightly upon my cheek, then
turned and kissed Edward.

XI.



Ah, the black look I received in that moment.
Blacker than the night we walked out into when we
finally left Killingham Castle.



It is a look I shall never forget, and it is a night
to be remembered as well. Sweet and sorrowful,
bitter.



They waited for us in the bushes along the
trail. Stepped out into our path and challenged us.



"Hold! Who goes here?" The voice called. It
was a voice I knew, for I had heard it several times
before. It was the voice of the coin toss mans
partner the day they kicked me like a dog in the
village.



"It is Edward, brother of Lord Killingham."
Edward returned, his voice raised slightly. "Now, be
gone from our path before I have your heads."



"Take them!" Another shouted. It was the voice
of the coin toss man. So, the party was complete.
"No harms is to come to Edward unless he tries to
stop us."



"And he will, try." Another laughed.



They came at us from all sides, jumped upon
my back as I tried to fend off those who stood
before me. My hand struggled to reach my dagger,
but a sledge of a fist dazed me, dropped me to my
knee's, then they were all upon me.



"You shall all die for this!" I heard Edward
snarl. Then fists and boots pounded me into
unconsciousness.



I awoke to the dawn, a pail of cold water
thrown in my swollen and battered face. My eyes
were nearly closed with the beating they had taken,
yet I could not miss the smile on the face of the
coin toss man.



"So, the fool awakes at last." Coin toss man
smiled. "You were warned before to stay away from
Lady Mary, but you ignored that warning... I wanted
to kill you, but Lord Killingham said no, that Edward
would never stand for that. We could have killed
him too..."



He was laughing now, an evil mocking
laughter. His hand motioned and two men lifted me
to my feet so our eyes were level.



"Go near her again and you will die!" He
hissed at me and his fist sunk deep with in my
exposed belly. "Teach him some more, then take
him to the village and dump him in the street for all
to see."



Oh, they worked me over good those two did,
yet I hardly felt their blows. My body was still numb
from the beating the night before. It was their
laughter that hurt me worst of all. Their mockery of
me...



Little more do I remember of that morning, nor
do I care to remember, for it only brings back the
black bitterness to my heart. They had done their
evil deed, beaten me twice with in an inch of my
life...



When I awoke next, darkness surrounded me.
Fever was heavily upon me and I shivered with the
cold sweats. Where was I? I wondered. What had
happened and what of Edward?



These were just a few of the questions that
worried at my tortured mind for I was delirious.



Am I dead? I asked myself. Is this hell?



Ah, it might not have been hell, but it felt like
hell. Every muscle in my body ached with pain.
Even the littlest of movement brought a groan to
my clenched teeth.



I was vaguely aware of lying in a bed, soft and
comfortable beneath my battered body. Aware... It
was a scent... Light and fresh. The scent of a
woman... Jasmine.



A moan of agony brought movement. Light foot
steps sounded, a door creaked open, then a shaft
of light showed. Fear touched my soul for an
instant. It was Megan, and I thought for a moment I
was being held with in the walls of castle
Killingham.



It was unreasonable to believe, unless Mary...
"Where...?"



"Shhhh... You are safe," She said to me,
coming and sitting on the bed beside me. She
wiped my forehead with a damp cool cloth, easing
some of the fever induced discomfort.



"Where?" I asked again, not understanding.
"How?"



"You must be quiet and rest." Megan said, her
voice soft and soothing. "I will tell you what I know.
After the party... Lord Killingham's men attacked
you and Edward... They beat you horribly. Edward
found you the next day laying along side the road
to the village, he brought you here..."



"Edward?"



"Shhhh... He is safe and well. They would not
dare hurt him." Megan whispered. "The people
would rise up and storm the castle. I don't know
what they think... It's only Edward who prevents the
people from..." She broke off as if she were about
to reveal some dark secret.



My mind twisted through its foggy haze. There
were questions that I wanted to ask, yet I could not
frame the words, nor put voice to them.



"When Mary found out what happened to you,
she sent me to take care of your needs until..."



"How long?" I managed.



"Four days."



I was stunned, shocked by her words. Four
days? It was impossible, yet nothing made sense to
me. I was in a world of narcotics, given to me to
ease pain.



My eyes grew weary and I drifted off to a world
of bitter dreams. So much sadness and misery had
touched my life...



"Mary, I love you." The words were spoken in
my sleep. In my world of sadness and misery, I had
found her. In her, there was love, unconditional and
true, there was happiness and there was hope.



Ah, I tell ye, it was a bitter time, and long time I
was in recovering fully from the effects of the
beating they gave. In fact, it was not until we stole
away and were well into our journey, was it before
the bruises faded from by face and body.



Lord Killingham moved quickly after my
beating. He made the arrangements for Mary to be
married and I knew nothing of it until the note
arrived at my door.



I had lazed about Edward's place for nigh onto
ten days before I made my first venture outdoors
and into the sun. It was then, that they came to me,
laughed at me, and warned me what would happen
should I try and see Mary again.



Yes, they put the fear of God into me that day,
for I truly believed they would beat me again and I
would be helpless. I need not have feared...



Edward had followed me. When Coin toss man
and his two blackguards saw his approach, they
slithered away like the low life snakes they were.



"Ah, Joshua," Edward smiled at me. "It is good
to see you up and about. You had me worried, my
friend."



I smiled back, a smile of friendship, a smile of
thanks, yet inside I shook with my fear. It is an easy
thing to be young and brave, but once you have felt
the brutality of life's harshest punishment, the
cruelty of man, the bravery fades as does ones
confidence in himself.



"It is good to be up and about, friend,
Edward." I replied, but my mind was wandering.
Tormented by my new fear, embattled with the
emotions of hatred, anger, bitterness... The need to
strike back at those who hurt me.



"Leave it go, Joshua." Edward said, and his
eyes sought mine. "Their day will come, and theirs
will be no less painful than what they gave to you."



And so it went, and so Edward's words
became the truth. The stiffness in my body, and
scabs upon my battered face faded and fell away,
yet the deep bruises and bitterness remained.



I returned to my daily routine, yet it was an
uneasy routine for they were watching, lurking in
the shadows, following behind, watching every
move I made.



In all that time, I had not seen Mary, yet
occasionally a note would come to me, passed
from one hand to another. I would reply the same
way.



It was no easy thing, my heart ached for her,
longed to hold her in my arms, to kiss her soft red
lips. I could sense the worry with in her words.
Concern for me and worry for her own safety, but
what could I do? I was but one man against so
many...



"Patience," Edward told me. "all is not lost, nor
is nothing ever as bleak as it looks."



Ah, Edward, friend true and true, an a
philosopher of sorts as well, yet I found no comfort
in his words, only fear, helplessness, grief and
bitterness. And then... Then came the note of
despair from Mary and the gloom that settled upon
my heart.


XII.



Leave it to me, Edward had said...



Even to this day, I do not understand how he
could be so calm. The waiting for the hour, the
storm raging outside...



It eroded my nerves until I thought I could
stand it no more, but at last, at last the hour came
for me, for us, I prayed, to make our escape.



Many thoughts and questions raced through
my mind as I gathered what few belongings I
wished to take with me.



There was not much, save the few precious
memories I had stored away in my head that I
could take with me. Clothes, my weapons, and a
small bundle of food... All the rest had been taken
from me.



Mamma... Papa... Friend William, who had
taken my mother in when we had no place else to
go... He who had brought me the news of her
death. I would not see him again.



Sadness touched my heart as I gathered my
bundle around my shoulder and stepped to the
door. So many bitter miles I had traveled and yet...



The wind and rain touched my face as I
stepped out into the gloom. There was no turning
back now, nor would I, if I could. My love for Mary
was strong. I would not wish to live knowing
another possessed her against her will. Better to
die together in the raging sea's than to live apart in
misery.



My eyes searched the gloom as my breath
held tight with in my lungs. They were out there
somewhere...



Had they heard my door open?



My mind went through the journey I would
have to make. It was not far, yet I could not go
directly to the ship. It was too much of a risk.



A moment longer, I waited, the wind and rain
battering my face, chilling me to the bone, then
away from the shelter of the house I stepped.



"Ah, do ye think we are fools?"



It was a question from out of the gloom and I
gave a startled jump. How, I wondered?



"You were warned, now you shall pay the price
for your foolishness."



They stepped from the shelter of the tree's and
bushes that stood near the house and there were
three of them and I but one.



"Do you think we do not know, Edward has
made his ship ready to sail?" It was the coin toss
man and he drew a step nearer, his hand holding
the shaft of his blade. "He has her for the moment,
but in the morning, she will be back in the castle
and he will be dead, but first... Take him!"



My bundle dropped from my shoulder and my
blade came to hand as the other two rushed in on
me. They were fools and my blade cut deep and
quickly. One died in an instant, the other moved off
his arm hanging useless.



"Now, it is just you and me." I said to the Coin
toss man and stepped to meet his blade.



"Die, fool!"



Lightning flashed and the rain came harder as
our steel clank together. He had strength in his
arms and for a moment, I was forced to give
ground, but only for a moment.



This was a fight for life itself, for Edward, for
my love of Mary, and it was a fight I had to win.



Again lightning flashed as our blades met in
anger. His face was lit up in that moment and I saw
the hatred.



Coin toss man meant to kill me, meant to be
there when they killed Edward and took Mary back
to the castle...



My scream of rage echoed the thunders boom.
My blade swung with all the might my arm could
muster and Coin toss man gave ground to me.



"The son of Angus MacClurey doesn't die so
easily." I hissed at him when he came to meet my
blade again.



"MacClurey?" He spoke the name as if he
knew it and was shocked by it. Why, I do not know,
and perhaps I will never know the whole truth of it.



Our blades met yet again, sliding down to
where the shafts met in a struggle of might. His
other hand slid a small dagger at my exposed belly
and I felt the bite of cold steel as it sliced through
my shirt, felt the killing rage burst forth in my brain.



My free hand swung with all its might,
slamming into his head, then my blade was free
and swinging with all my strength.



Staggered from my blow to the head, Coin toss
man was forced backward, his foot slipped on wet
stone and only that saved him from a quick death,
yet my blade found him and it cut deep. He would
die, but first he would have time to suffer for his
black deeds.



I stood for a moment then, my eyes gazing
down upon him, as the wound in his neck spewed
his life's blood onto the rain washed stones of the
walkway. There was no sickness in my stomach
this time, no regrets for having killed this
blackguard, no thought of the other two...



"Mary, I'm coming for you and soon we'll be
together, forever!" Was my thoughts as I gathered
up my bundle and set off toward Edward's ship.



Around me the storm raged with ever growing
intensity. Rain whipped by gale force winds
battered me as I bent low against them and
struggled my way onward.



I was free... I was going to be with Mary.



"Mary..." Coin toss man had said Mary was
with Edward, so she too, was free. Soon we would
be together, yet how could we escape?



No ship could survive on the storm tossed
sea's of this night. It was impossible!



My mind whirled with thoughts and worries. I
was chilled to the bone, yet I could feel the warm
stickiness of my blood as it seeped from the wound
in my side.



How bad it was, I did not know, nor did I care
to take the time to look at it. "Mary, sweet, sweet
Mary, I'm coming to you!"



Ah, I remember it well even to this day. I
remember the slow painful trudge through the
darkened village. The lightning flashes, revealing
glimpses of shuttered windows, and darkened
doorway. I remember the rain that ran like a river
down the cobbled stone street, and the thunder that
rumbled and shook the ground beneath me.



Each step was one of constant struggle, yet at
last my eyes saw it. It was a tiny yellow wink light
far in the distance, occasionally blotted out by the
gloom of the wind driven rain.



It was there, yet my mind refused to believe. I
knew I was close to the ocean, for I could taste the
salty brine blown in from the churning sea.
Edward's ship... Mary...



My footsteps hastened, yet I gained no more
ground than I would have had I just continued my
steady pace. Here where the sea roiled with the
storm, the wind howled even more fiercely.



Here, I had to duck my head ever lower, just to
gain a few feet. I was exhausted, yet I pushed on.
Mary was there, waiting for me, worrying about me.



When at last I came to the shore, she was
there waiting for me. Her arms encircled my neck,
then our lips were pressed together. We clung to
each other until Edward's big hand slapped my
back.



Edward!



It was good to see him, yet seeing the ocean
toss before me, I felt the chill of fear. There was no
way we could escape. The little boat could not
possibly survive the rage of the sea.



"Do not look so green," He laughed at me. "I
came ashore and survived. We'll will get back to
the ship just the same."



"But..."



"Have faith my friend." He said to me, yet how
could I have faith in such foolishness? To look at
the sea...



My instinct was to take Mary's hand and make
a run for it inland. With a little luck, we could
escape and make our way back to the home of
friend William...



"Come, it is time to go." Edward called.



I stood, my feet unwilling to move, but Mary's
gentle hand urged me forward.



Six strong men waited by the boat as we
approached. Their faces were masked with
solemness, yet they were steady men and took
their strength from the man who led them.



"Courage my young friend." Edward laughed.
"It might be rough, but you will come to love the sea
as much as I. Just give it time."



Mary was seated in the middle of the boat,
then Edward found his place in the rear. A moment
longer, I waited, then I too found a seat in the boat,
the others following behind me, taking their places
and gathering their strength for the long pull.



"All together now boys," Edward called, and
the six men laid shoulder to the oars. "give it
everything you got. Once we clear the shore we
should be just fine."



My eyes and my heart filled with fear as we
moved away from shore into the cold churning
water. The ocean tossed us about and I felt myself
getting sick, yet I fought it off.



Mary sat calmly, or at least pretended to be,
and I had no wish to show her the terror I felt. No
wish to show her how weak I was at this moment.



Our journey was measured in feet at first. Each
stroke of the ours pulled us out to sea, yet the
waves pushed us back toward the shore, the boat
rocking and swaying perilously. Water washed over
the sides and I thought surely the boat would sink,
but at last, we broke into water less churned by the
storms might.



"Pull now," Edward called over and over. "pull!"



Rain pelted down upon us, driven by the wind,
that once free of the shore line, aided us in our trek
to Edward's waiting ship.



It was a cold, bone numbing wind, that tore
through our drenched clothing leaving our teeth
chattering, but at last, we came along side the ship.



"The Lady first," Edward shouted above the din
of the storm. "then young Joshua."



Getting on board Edward's ship proved equally
as difficult as the voyage, for the ship rocked and
swayed with the movement of the sea.



Again, I felt the fear grip me as I watched Mary
handed up the rope ladder. She slipped, but
Edward's strong hand held hers and she found her
balance and at last made it over the side.



My body trembled with my fear, yet I made it
up and over the side without too much difficulty,
then I stood and watched the others come aboard,
watched as the boat was pulled up and over the
side and tied in place.



It was an amazing sight to see and few would
believe it possible. These were Edward's men
though, and no finer could be found.



"Now my young friend, you shall see." Edward
said to me. "Dibble, show the Lady below deck." He
shouted and a man appeared out of the rain and
mist of the storm tossed sea.



"This way my..." I heard the man begin, but
Edward's booming voice drown his words out.

"Patrick, are ye ready?" Edward called.



"Ready when you are, Edward." Came the
barely audible reply.



"Then let us be away from here. Pull the
anchor and set the sail." Edward shouted, then he
took my arm and led me below deck. "See to our
Ladies needs." He said to me, then he was gone
again, gone above deck where the rain and wind
raged.

XIII.




Megan answered my knock upon the cabin
door. Her face showed her worry, yet she forced a
smile for me. "She changes out of her wet
clothing." She said to me. "You should do the
same."



"I would," I began, trying a smile of my own. I
was scared, this was not for me. Give me a good
blade and I will stand and face any man, but this...
How can you stand and fight such a beast as the
raging sea? "but my bundle is as wet as I am."



"Edward saw to your needs. Come this way,
and I will show you." Megan told me, stepping from
the cabin, then adding. "Will it be all right?"



The ship tossed and turned angrily. Just
staying afoot was a challenge, and like the sea, my
stomach turned bitter, yet I fought against the
sickness growing with in me.



"Yes," I told her, though I did not believe.
"Leave it to Edward. He will see us safely through."



Ah, I tell you this true. There are times in
everyone's lives that are remembered to your dying
day. That night was one for me. The tenseness of
the wait, the mortal battle... The sea and the
sickness, the fear...



When Megan had gone, I sat long upon the
tiny cot where I would sleep, thinking and tending
to my wound. I am not a religious man, but I prayed
then, prayed for Mary's safety and asked for
deliverance from this hell that held us captive.



Through the horror filled night, the storm
tossed us about and I thought surely we would all
perish.



At last though, my eyes closed and when they
opened again, it was to a gentle rocking of the ship.
We had made it, we were free of Lord Killingham's
reach. We were...



When I went above deck, it was to see the
weary faces of Edward's men. Concerned and a
touch of fear perhaps, showed in some of their
eyes.



Mary and I were free from her father, but the
storm had blown us miles and miles out onto the
open ocean.



As far as my eye could see, there was nothing
but blue. The blue green of the vast ocean and the
blue mixed with touches of grayish black and white
of the sky.



"Do not let it scare you so." Edward said to me
when I shuddered with my fear.



"How can it not?" I asked of him, feeling the
sickness of the sea with in my belly.



"We were lost, Joshua. With the night there will
come the stars and we shall find our direction. We
have maps and we..."



Edward's laugh boomed as he broke off. "Ah,
my young friend. You have a touch of the green
stomach. It will pass in time, and like me, you will
learn to love the sea."



"How can you be so calm, Edward? There is
nothing but blue to see...nothing but this sickness
in my belly."



"Have faith my young friend." Edward's voice
was patient. "It may be true that we do not know
exactly where we are at the moment, but are not
lost. As I have said, we have maps, and with the
stars tonight we can navigate..."



"But..."



"Hush now, my young friend and trust me. The
scholars, fools that they be... They believe the
earth is flat, that if you sail far enough, one will fall
off the earth. It is not true." Edward told me, casting
a knowing eye at me as I gazed out further into the
emptiness.



"One only needs to look at the sun to know it is
not." Edward added. "Does it not rise each day in
the east and set in the west?"



I had heard the tales told by the scholars and I
admit, it scared me to think that we might be getting
near the edge of the world, but Edward's calm
voice and self assured reasoning eased my
troubled mind.



We talked then of my escape from Lord
Killingham's men, of Mary's escape, and of a dozen
other little things. Of the ship and it's working, how
the sails were set, of knots and of places Edward
had seen.



It was all a diversion meant to ease my
troubled mind, yet it did nothing to ease the
sickness with in my belly.



"Have faith my young friend," Edward told me
when I was ready to leave him. "if not for yourself,
then for Mary and Megan."



Perhaps it was wishful thinking on Edward's
part, or maybe he just spoke to ease my fears
slightly, I do not know for sure. What I do know, is
with the nooning, the ocean came alive once again
with it's evil. The wind gathered it's strength and we
were battered anew and driven even further away
from land.



For four horrifying days, the wind and sea
raged. Our ship was tossed upon the waters as if it
were but a toy in a pond. The main sail collapsed
and with it, so went even the reassuring calm voice
of Edward. We were in trouble and each and every
man aboard knew it.



Further and further, we were pushed away
from any known land. Then on the fifth day, the
Lady of Luck smiled down upon us. The wind died
and the sea became calm.



"What do we do now?" I asked Edward.



"We rest, and we make what repairs we can,
then we go on." Edward told me. Told us all. "There
are rumors I have heard, it tells of a land... we will
make ready and sail for that."



"But, Edward..." One of his men began, worry
clear in the tone of his voice. It was in all of us... the
fear, I mean.



"No buts, Jonathan." Edward cut in, his big
hand raised to silence the others as well. "Our ship
is damaged and we have been blown far away from
our shores. We must go on."



"But how can we?" I asked. "You have said it
yourself, the ship is damaged... What if we are hit
with another storm?"



"That is precisely why we must make our
repairs now and go on." Edward replied. "Look
behind you... look at the storm clouds gathering
there. What chance would we have if we ran into
that storm?"



Our eyes turned back to where Edward
pointed. It was true. Behind us, where the horizon
met the water, black clouds gathered yet again. To
be caught in it...



Our faces told Edward that we knew the
answer to his question, yet he put word to it just the
same.



"Aye," He told us. "We have no chance against
another storm of the likes we have faced on this
voyage. We must go on. We must stay ahead of it if
we can and find safe haven if God is willing."



Worked began immediately, the repairs hurried
and temporary at best. There was no time for me to
feel the sickness, no thought of anything save for
Mary's safety and what little I could do to make
myself useful on deck.



Edward's men move with haste, yet no move
was without purpose. These were true men of the
sea, and no finer could have been found, I think.
They were dead tired, exhausted to the point of
near collapse, yet they refused to quit in the face of
hopelessness.



The main sail had collapsed, yet by sheer will
and ingenuity, we, they, for it was them who did the
work, we managed to rigged her again with in a few
hours.



We all knew, It would not take much battering,
but with luck and God's will... maybe!



When we were ready as best we could be,
Edward's voice rose above the gathering of the
wind. "Set the sail and let us be off! And may God
watch over us and protect us."



Ah, I tell you it was a voyage of the damned.
Storm after bitter storm battered our tiny vessel, yet
Edward kept us together with his determination and
strength.



When we were scared, sick and miserable with
longing of shore, his booming voice would reassure
us that the day was near.



When we were at each others throats with
anger, he would be there to tell us to save it for the
rage of the sea.



In all that time, I saw little of Mary, for as a
man, my place was on deck with the others who
risked every thing to save us. When I did see her,
her face showed a smile to me, yet it could not hide
what I saw in her eyes.



Like me, she was scared and she was feeling
the sickness. Still, there was love in those eyes and
each precious moment we spent together were
magical moment. Our love grew with each glance,
each touch of the hands and of the sweet lips...



Fifty seven days we sailed upon the sea and it
was not all bad. There were days when the sun
shone brightly with hope of a tomorrow filled with
promises of good fortune and the sea was gentle.



On these days, true to Edward's word, I came
to love the ocean, and I became more adept at the
art of sailing. My body grew darker, my legs
steadier and my muscles bulged stronger beneath
my clothes, still I worried, for I began to hear
grumbling from the crew that even Edward's
strong voice could not quite quiet.



Our food supplies dwindle, our water was all
but gone and we became faced with a new
challenge and one that could not be over come with
strength of voice or muscle. We had to find land
soon or perish from starvation and thirst.



"Edward, you have never failed us, but this
voyage will be the death of us." Patrick Wendt,
Edward's trusted first mate, spoke one day, and
when he spoke, it was for everyone on deck save
myself perhaps, yet even I had my doubts.



"Nay, I tell ye Patrick, it will not be." Edward's
voice boomed with strength of knowledge and
confidence. "I tell the rest of you the same. You are
all sailing men, surely you have looked to the skies
and have seen the birds... Our voyage is almost
over. Stay steady my lads and keep a sharp
lookout for we shall soon be seeing landfall."



My eyes went skyward, all our eyes did, and
what we saw brought hope to our hearts. It was
true, there were birds in the skies above us, birds
that would not venture far from land... Surely shore
could not be far away.

XIV.



Land!



We caught a glimpse of a rocky shoreline far in
the distance as the last of the light of a gloomy day
faded into blackness. Our hearts swelled, yet it was
short lived for the storm we had been trying to stay
ahead of was growing ever upon us.



"Steady now, lads, steady!" Edward's voice
boomed above the gathering strength of the wind.
"Steer her slightly inward, but keep alert! Look for a
cove, anything to get us out of the heart of this..."



Rain battered our faces. The wind stole our
breath, and drove the sea crashing over the railing.
Around us, lightning flashed and thunder crashed
loudly in our ears. This was what we had all feared,
yet faced with it, we moved as one to do what was
needed.



"Hold her... hold her steady now!" Edward's
voice boomed once more. "Jonathan, get that sail
trimmed!"



"We're trying, Edward, but..."



My heart sank, all of us felt it... the fear and the
panic, I mean. One moment rain whipped
darkness, then the air was shattered by a flash of
brilliant light and the crash of thunder that left us
shaken and dazed.



"Look out! It's gonna..."



Ah! T' was a night, that night was. One that
tears at my emotions still after all these years. In
that flash of lightning that hit our main mast and
sent it toppling down upon the deck, I saw my
dreams and my hopes for a life with Mary vanish.



I saw Christopher Aldon swept over board, lost
forever to the bitter sea, and yet...



"Where is he?"



"Do you see him?"



"No!"



Edward's voice boomed above the others.
"He's gone! We'll all be gone if we don't work
together. Patrick! Man the wheel, the rest of you
move! Get that deck cleared!"



I stood shocked for but a minute, then my legs
moved and I started to go and help the others, but
Edward's big hand checked me. "Go below deck,
stay with Mary and Megan."



"But..."



"No buts, Joshua... we're in trouble here, and
your place is with her."



It was the first time in our acquaintance that I
had ever seen Edward worried, and worried he
was. If he thought we were in trouble, then it was
something to fear.



"Get them ready, then bring them up on deck."
He told me, checking my movement again for a
brief instant.



"Is it that bad?" I asked, but Edward was
already gone from me, moving in a flash of
lightning to help the others clear the deck.



"Edw..." The words were all but lost to the
howling wind and to my ears, the speaker
unknown. "I see... Land!"



"Hol... eady, Patr..."



A moment more I stood, transfixed by the rage
of the storm, the hustle of the men on deck, and by
my own fear, then I struggled against the swell of
the rising sea as it tossed the ship about and made
my way below deck.



Mary and Megan met me at the door to their
cabin, fear showing clearly on their faces in the soft
glow of the swaying lamps. My arms reached out to
her, taking her, taking them both into my arms and
holding them close.



"Is it bad?" Mary asked, for like me, she could
see the fear written on my face.



What could I say? "We've spotted land, but...
Come gather what you can carry, we must go
above deck." I told her, releasing my hold on them
and moving further into the room. "Even Edward is
worried. Hurry now."



"Was it worth it, Joshua?" Mary asked
suddenly as she began to gather her things. Our
eyes met and held for a brief moment, then her
head lowered. "I only wanted us to be happy, to be
loved by someone who truly loved me..."



"I do, Mary, and yes..." I moved to her, took her in my arms, our lips meeting briefly. "I would
risk a thousand death to be with you... I love you,
Mary, have no doubt about that."



"But..."



"Shh... Gather your things, we must hurry
now."



Wind and rain greeted us as we emerged on
deck. Around us, men hurried to and fro, fighting to
keep their feet as the ocean tossed the ship about.



Faces showed grim in the flashes of lightning,
yet as I have said, these were no ordinary men of
the sea. These were Edward's men and they
labored without thought of what might happen in
the next few minutes. Now was the moment and
they labored for the now.



"Look! Edward, look! Land!"



"Turn her... turn her if you can! Turn her out to
sea!"



Even in peril, Edward remained in control of
his emotions that night. His giant bulk standing in
the middle of the deck, his voice booming his
orders above the raging wind.



Ah! What a night that was. Though they made
every effort to turn the ship back out to sea, the
storm, and the anger of the churning water, drove
us inward until the keel was grabbed by the rocky
sand and mud of the nearby shore.



Like a toy, the ship lurched sideways, driven
by the waves as it crashed against the side and
spilled over the decks...



Men were tossed about, knocked from their feet by the sudden wrenching of the ship as it
plowed into the bottom. Mary, Edward, myself...



"Megan!" Mary's scream rang in my ears as I
held onto her with one arm, the other holding tight
to the rail in which we had been cast.



I tried to catch her, to hold onto her, but I lost
my grip on Megan's tiny wrist and like some of the
others, she was flung into the swirling water.



Oh, the helplessness of that moment. To hear
her cry for help and not to be able to help her... It
tore at my heart, my very soul, I tell you.



In that horrible instant, I thought we had lost
her, but in a flash of lightning, we saw her head
come above the water. Patrick Wendt held her in
his strong arms as he struggle toward the shore.



Then they were gone from our view when
lightning lit the rain blackened night once more.
Whether safe upon the shore or lost to the sea
forever, we could not say at the time, nor did we
have time to grieve if they had not survived.



"Hang on, everyone!" Edward shouted above
the din as the ship rocked violently once more.

"Hang on!"



Too late, I heard his warning shout. I was flung
headlong into the broken stub of the main mast.
Stars exploded before my eyes and I was cast into
a world of darkness.



When I awaken, it was to an eerie fog
shrouded world heavily laden with the salty brine of
the sea, and for a long moment, I thought I was
dead, but then my eyes found Mary laying near my
side.



"Mary!" Was she dead too, I wondered? No, I
told myself, I could see her breathing... I could see
the swell of her...



"Hello the ship!" Came a voice out of the fog.
Who, or from whence it came, I could not tell, nor in
my dazed state was I even sure that I had heard
the words. "Edward? Anybody?"



"Patrick?"



"Edward?"



"Yes, we're here, Patrick?" Edward's voice
boomed from off to my right, but my attention was
on Mary as she stirred beside me. Blood showed
on her right cheek as she sat up and I moved
quickly to her side, pulling her into my arm and
holding her close.



"Thank God," She breathed into my ear. "I
thought I had lost you!"



"Oh, Mary... Love of my life... We made it!"



"Yes, my love, we've made it."



Our lips met in a long embrace, the tension of
all those days and nights, releasing in our teary
union. We were alive... Where, it did not matter, for
we were together and together, we could build our
future. Our love could be shared without regret or
worry of tomorrow.



"I love you Mary." I whispered. "Be my wife
now... The mother of our children."



"Yes, Joshua, yes."



Again, our lips started to meet in joyous union,
but I pulled away, the one word escaping my lips.



"Megan!"



"Megan!" Mary shouted beside me. We were
on our feet then and moving to the side of the ship.



"Megan!" Came our voice's together.



"Yes! Mary... Joshua... I'm here! I'm here!"



We waited on board our tiny ship until the sun
of a new day burned away the fog that cloaked our
new home in mystery.



Ah, my friends... It was a land strange and wild
that we came to, yet it was full of beauty too. The
birds, the tree's all dressed up in their Autumn
finery, deer feeding off in the distance, the coastline
itself...



How lucky we had been...



At the time of the storm, we knew not how
lucky, but by the light of a fresh new day, we could
see the rocky shore line a scant three hundred
yards away. If the ship had not run a ground when
it did, we would have been smashed against the
rocks and many more lives would have been lost.



As it was, we lost three. Three good men taken
from us by the bitter sea, and yet, it was their way
of life, and if they had to go I am sure they would
have all said "To the sea with me, when my time
hath come!"



"Look at it, Joshua..." Edward said to me when
we made our way to shore. "Look at it!" And so I
did, for this was to be my home, Mary's home and
the children who would come as our love grew.



We rested, explored, and hunted a little that
first day, and it was... I cannot find the words to tell
you how I felt with Mary at my side, the love we felt
for each other, being able to show it...



My mind was filled with the wonderment of it
all, yet I could not help but think of the price it cost
Edward and his men to get us to this place. What of
them? Mary and me had had no choice but to flee
to this new world, but...



"Joshua," Edward said to me at last, when he
caught my eyes drifting back to the ship, and
wandering over the faces of the men. "don't look so
sad for us. Tomorrow we shall look the ship over...
If we can get her back to sea, we shall, if not, we
will stay here and have no regrets."



"But your families, your homes!" I cried out.



"Joshua, listen to me." Edward said patiently.
"We are men of the sea and we know the risks, our
families know the risks we take. Many a man has
gone to sea and never returned. Their families
grieve for them, true enough, but they also
remember and they smile for them because they
know that their loved one was happy at what he
did."



And so it went, and so began our three years
of labor in making Edward's ship ready for the sea,
the building of our homes, the planting and hunting,
the exploring and the ever growing love with in my
heart.



Edward married Mary and myself, married
Megan and Patrick Wendt for love blossomed for
the two of them on that horrible night of our landing.
We have five children, Mary and I do. Edward
Patrick, Joshua James, Megan Ann, Elizabeth and
our youngest, William A. MacClurey.



Megan and Patrick have children of their own
and some of the others have taken wives amongst
the savages, they too have children and others
have joined us over the many years and many
voyages Edward has made to visit us. We have
grown from a little band of fifteen to a community of
over sixty, and we will grow more as the years go
by.



Of Lord Killingham, I can tell you, he is dead.
Edward brought us the news three years after our
landing. It was a hard thing for Mary and part of the
story we did not tell her. Charles Maldone killed
him, revenge upon his brothers death, but more so
for the loss of the woman he coveted.



Maldone is free and rumor has it, he searches
for Mary, searches for me, for I stole her from his
evil clutches.



Nay, I tell ye! I did not steal her, I love her and
she loves me and we are happy, and while there is
little chance he will ever find us, we do keep a
watchful eye on the sea. Watchful for Edward and
for others who might bring trouble to our shores.



The End.




------
"You cannot worry about that which you cannot control."


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The following comments are for "The Far Land"
by sgt_cook





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