Read Highland Courage (Highland Brides) Online

Authors: Ceci Giltenan

Tags: #historical romance

Highland Courage (Highland Brides) (21 page)

“Aye,” she whispered.

“Then we have to fix that.”

“What do ye mean?”

“Although if it is within my power ye will never have to defend yourself, ye need to know if pressed, ye could.”

“But, Tadhg, look at me. I can’t defend myself, it just isn’t possible. Ye said it yourself.”

“Nay, love, I said ye
believe
ye can’t protect yourself, but ye can. I can teach ye.” She cast him a disbelieving look, but he just smiled. “Have ye never heard of David and Goliath? David was just a lad when he brought down the giant Goliath.”

“With a weapon—a slingshot. I don’t think a slingshot would do me much good even if I had the skill to use one.”

“Nay, it probably wouldn’t, but David went into battle armed with more than just a weapon. He had wits and confidence on his side. David was fully aware of both his strengths and his weaknesses, but he had the confidence to use his knowledge to his advantage. Goliath was so arrogantly sure of his own brute strength he failed to see the danger presented by a young lad with a few small stones.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that David had the ability to use those few small stones, and I have no ability at all to defend myself.”

“And that, love, is what I am going to teach ye. If any man ever attacks ye again, he will be like Goliath, arrogantly confident in his strength over yours. Ye, however, will be armed with the knowledge of his weaknesses.”

“If I don’t know my attacker, how can I know his weaknesses?”

“Because all men have certain weaknesses and arrogant men fail to guard against them from wee lasses.”

“I think I’d feel better with a weapon.”

Tadhg laughed. “I never knew my sweet bride was so bloodthirsty. The truth is, Mairead, any weapon takes years to master and it can quickly be turned against ye. Furthermore, if ye rely on a weapon but it isn’t to hand when ye need it, ye are left with nothing. Sweetling, the most powerful weapon ye have is your quick mind, and that is what ye will learn to use.”

She didn’t look as if she believed him but asked, “When will we start?”

“If ye want to learn, we’ll start now.”

“I am not as sure about this as ye seem to be, but I want to try.”

“Good. Let’s go back to David and Goliath. Why did Goliath’s strength not matter?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, ye do. Think about it.”

She thought for a moment. “Because he wasn’t close enough to David to use it.”

“Exactly. So your first defense is to avoid a situation where ye might be attacked. Ye are always guarded for that very reason. Never take unnecessary risks. What I am going to teach ye is to be used only if your other protection fails.”

“Aye, I understand.”

“If ye do find yourself faced with an attacker, stay out of his reach as long as possible and make as much noise as ye can. Scream your head off. Do whatever it takes to attract attention and summon help. Don’t let fear paralyze ye into inaction.”

“Avoid dangerous situations, evade an attacker, and attract attention,” she summarized.

“Smart lass. Aye. Avoid, evade, and attract attention. I think ye know how to avoid and how to attract attention so I am going to teach ye a bit more about how to evade. How to break someone’s hold on ye, allowing ye to get away. A man who grabs hold of ye is relying on his strength and your fear, so ye need cunning. When someone grabs ye, the natural response is to pull away, but ye won’t be able to if your attacker is bigger and stronger. Ye have to learn how to use your whole body and your attacker’s inherent weaknesses to break free.”

He spent several hours teaching her ways to escape an aggressor’s hold until she could use the weight and position of her body as well as that of her attacker’s body to maneuver out of various grips, enabling escape. When the time came for them to return to the keep, she was tired and flushed, but she seemed very pleased with what she had accomplished. However, as they rode toward home some of her fear resurfaced. “Tadhg, I appreciate everything ye have taught me, but what if it doesn’t work for some reason? What if I can’t maneuver and get away? David was only successful because Goliath never got close enough to him.”

He gave her waist a squeeze and kissed the top of her head. “I know, sweetling, but this is just the start. ’Tis true your best defense will always be distance, and so it is what ye must learn to use first, but there is much more to learn. It has taken years of training for me to be a warrior. It may take more than an afternoon to make ye one as well.”

She laughed. “Ye know I don’t want to be a warrior.”

“Aye, love, I do, but thinking on it now, warriors spend time training almost every day. Perhaps ye would gain more confidence if ye did as well.”

“Ye would take time to teach me?”

Tadhg laughed. “Of course I would.” Sobering a bit, he added, “It is important, Mairead. Although I pray ye won’t ever need to use these skills, I never want ye to feel helpless again. Ye have let fear rule your life for too many years and by doing so, ye gave your attackers power over ye. Ye have a choice to make, love, either ye feel the fear and choose to rule it or ye let it rule ye. I think knowing a bit about how to protect yourself might go a long way toward helping ye rule it.”

“So do I. Aye, since ye are willing, I want to train some every day.”

“That is what I thought my brave wife would say. Since ye have made that decision, there is one other thing I want to discuss.” She nodded and he went on, “I know after the Michaelmas Fair seven years ago, ye never left Carraigile until the day ye came to Cnocreidh. Just before Roodmas there is a May Fair not far from Currancreag, the Chisholm stronghold. I generally go every year with a fair number of my clan. If ye are willing, we could journey there first, going to Duncurra for the wedding on our way back.”

She looked up at him; the wistful look on her face nearly broke his heart. “I used to love fairs.” He remained silent and watched the play of emotions on her face. “I will be safe.”

It pleased him that she made it a statement of fact rather than a question. “Aye, ye will.”

“I don’t want fear to rule me.”

“I know ye don’t, pet, but if it is too soon, we don’t have to go.”

“Nay, ye are right. I have given them too much power over me for too long. I want to go to the May Fair with ye.”

“Then we will go. I’m very proud of ye.”

“Tadhg?”

“Aye, love?”

“I’m still a bit afraid.”

He kissed the top of her head again and said, “I know love, but fear and courage are brothers.”

~ * ~

Over the next few weeks Tadhg taught Mairead more ways to defend herself. After she mastered the basics of escaping someone’s grip, Tadhg moved on. “Mairead, when we started this ye summed up the best approach to protecting yourself in four words, avoid, evade, and attract attention. Today I am adding another one, attack. Sometimes simply evading someone will not be enough. Ye will need to inflict injury, which will give ye time to escape.”

Mairead looked crestfallen. “What can I do to injure a full grown man? I can’t fight like a man.”

“Nay, but ye can be cunning and fight like a lass. Ye need to exploit a weakness. Have ye ever seen men fighting without weapons?”

“With their fists, aye.”

“Well, get that image out of your mind. When men fight, they are trying to defeat each other. Your goal is simply to inflict unexpected pain and get away. Some particularly sensitive spots are a man’s eyes, nose, throat, groin, and kneecap.”

Mairead made a fist. “I should try to hit him in one of those spots?”

“Aye, love, but not with that wee fist of yours, ye won’t do much damage and ye could break your hand in the process. However, ye can gouge a man’s eyes with your fingers or thumbs and send him reeling. Ye can break his nose if ye shove the heel of your hand into it, full force, pushing up. If he is behind ye, ye can do the same thing with your elbow. I can tell ye from experience a woman’s elbows are sharp and painful.”

Her eyes narrowed accusingly. “How is it ye have experience on the wrong end of a woman’s elbow?”

“Do ye recall hearing I kidnapped Katherine MacIan last year?”

“Aye, but ye weren’t trying to hurt her.”

“Nay, I wasn’t, but she didn’t believe me right away, and she nearly unhorsed me elbowing me in the gut.” Mairead giggled. “Ye are a cruel lass to laugh at me.”

“’Tis sorry, I am.” She dipped her head in mock contrition before rising on her tiptoes to give him a kiss. He cupped her head in his hands and deepened the kiss. With a low groan, he reluctantly released her. “Stop distracting me. We haven’t finished this lesson, but it reminds me of something else I want to cover before we are through.”

He proceeded to show her the most efficient ways to inflict pain in sensitive spots using not only her hands and elbows, but also her knees and feet. After practicing for quite a while, she looked hot and tired. To teach her one last lesson, Tadhg overpowered her, forcing her to the ground. He sat astride her and held her arms down until she couldn’t move.

She struggled and panted trying to catch her breath. “Now who is using someone’s weakness against them? I think I need a rest.”

“Aye, ye do, but it brings me to my last point. If someone attacks ye, their goal is to subdue ye and the best way to do that is with exhaustion. Ye mustn’t let it get that far. If ye find yourself overpowered, acquiesce. Stop fighting and save your strength. Tell him ye give up, and ye will do whatever he wants. And, love, this is important, ye must do whatever it takes to stay alive.”

Tears welled in her eyes. “I don’t want to be hurt in that way ever again. I thought that’s what all this was about.”

“Aye, love, it is.” Her tears caused his heart to ache, she had been afraid for so long. He released his grip on her arms slightly. “If he believes ye have given in, he will relax. Stay calm and focused so ye can look for an opportunity to try again.”

“Just give up?” Her stricken expression wounded him.

“Aye, whatever it takes to stay alive, until ye find a way to strike and escape.” She closed her eyes, and her chin quivered. “Sweetling, please don’t cry.” He gently brushed a tear from her cheek, releasing one of her hands.

Instantly she brought the heel of her free hand up aiming for his throat. He dodged to miss it, losing his balance, and she was able to twist from under him. “Like that?” she said triumphantly.

“Just like that, well done,” he answered with a grin.

Seventeen

 

Between preparing for Easter and continuing to practice defense techniques, the weeks flew by. After Easter, Mairead still had plenty to do helping to make ready for the May Fair. It was an opportunity for the Mathesons to sell new wool as well as surplus goods produced during the winter and early spring. Matheson weavers created high quality cloth, which fetched a good price. Also, Aifric, the Matheson brew master, and his wife, Hazel, produced distilled spirits, which were highly sought after.

Although she didn’t think she was over-working herself, recently Mairead had been more tired than usual. She was in the habit of rising before the sun, often before Tadhg, but in the week before they left for the fair, she woke nearly every morning with the sun streaming through the window, and even then she had to force herself to leave the bed. On the morning of the fair, Tadhg gently shook Mairead just before dawn. “Sweetling, wake up. We must get an early start in order to be fully encamped by dark.” Mairead rose from bed but was swept by a wave of dizziness, groaned, and lay back against the pillows. “Mairead, love, I know ye are sleepy, but ye must get up now. Ye can ride in my lap for a while if ye need to rest longer.”

“Nay, I’ll be fine, I just got up too quickly.” She rose more slowly and although she still didn’t feel quite right she hurried to get dressed so as not to delay them. Father Mungo said Mass quickly—it would have been a bad omen to begin a trip such as this without receiving the sacrament of Holy Mass. Afterward they ate a hasty meal before they left, but Mairead didn’t have much of an appetite.

In spite of her desire to not be ruled by fear, not to mention all the effort she had spent learning how to defend herself, she felt nervous and bit queasy. The sun was barely above the horizon when she and Tadhg left the keep. Although when he offered she hadn’t planned on riding with him, now the thought of seating a horse for hours was daunting. “Tadhg, would ye mind terribly if I did ride with ye for a while?”

He laughed and hugged her. “Sweetling, have I ever minded having ye in my arms?” She smiled happily as he lifted her onto his horse, mounting behind her. She snuggled against him when he wrapped his arms around her as the large party of Mathesons set out. To her surprise, Mairead did fall asleep in his arms, sleeping for several hours. When she awoke later in the morning all traces of her nausea had passed. Famished, Mairead ate heartily when they stopped in the middle of the day to rest the horses.

Her burst of energy had faded by early evening when they arrived at the site of the fair. The encampment sprung up quickly and was nearly complete by nightfall. Mairead watched the activity around her, feeling a bit out of her element.

Oren approached her. “Is everything aright, my lady?”

“Honestly, Oren, I haven’t the first clue about what needs to be done.”

“My lady, it looks like it is all getting done anyway.”

“I guess it is.” She smiled weakly. She continued to chat with Oren, when Meriel approached, looking uncharacteristically timid.

“My lady, may I speak with ye?”

“Go on, Meriel, I’m sure ye have work to do,” said Oren.

“It’s fine, Oren. Meriel, what do ye need?”

“I never thanked ye, my lady. I love working with Mae. I’m learning so much. I know I didn’t deserve it after what I did, but I am so happy. I can’t ever thank ye enough.”

“I’m glad to hear how well it is going.” Mairead smiled broadly. Meriel did seem happy, and Mae only had good things to say about her work.

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