Morganna (The Brocade Collection, Book 4)



Jackie Ivie




AD 1310


The screams faded by midday, leaving the groans of the dying. Morgan waited, even then.

She knew the ragtag group of young men that followed her were
impatient, and she knew why. That didn’t make her give the signal. Not even
when she watched other groups descend did she let her own lads go. There
was no honor in stripping a dying man of his belongings. The vultures from other
crofts could do so. Morgan wouldn’t go until death took over.

She tossed her black braid over her shoulder, hunched down f
arther behind the rocks and waited for the
of legend to take the
souls and leave nothing she’d worry over. The banshees she could deal with later, after the fog covered everyone’s progress. Morgan swallowed her fear,
looked at the others and gave the whistle.

Scots had no legal right to swords, belts, dirks,
daggers known as skeans, or other
embellishment, and a dead Scotsman had no need for either, although she drew
the line at pulling the plaids from the bodies. She had to look away, as her lads
had no such qualms. The bounty on the field in front of them would keep crofter
homes warm and supplied with game, since few, if any, had done anything with a
sword except sharpen it for its English owner.

The work was onerous, and several times her belly gave every signal of emptying itself of its contents, but Morgan plugged on, lifting a hand here, a
waistband there, checking for rings, bracelets, amulets, knives – anything of value – before moving on.

The moon came out, shedding light through the wispy fingers of mist, and
Morgan shivered in her kilt and tartan. She lifted the
drape from where it slapped against the back of her ankles, to cover her head. That was
dangerous and she knew it, for legs as hairless and shapely as hers couldn’t
belong to a boy, no matter how much she worked them. It couldn’t be helped, though. Her ears were cold, and she didn’t want anyone to see what the last
remnant of the clan of KilCreggar had been reduced to.

There was an immense body laying face down on what was once a clump
of thistle weed. The warrior’s body had flattened the bush, and it was easy to see why. Morgan narrowed her eyes on legs close to tree trunks in size, narrow
buttocks, and such wide shoulders, she forgot all about anything except benign
feminine appreciation.

He had a wealth of light brown hair, messily strewn about his head. She
couldn’t tell the length. She could barely tell the color of his sett. Her eyes
sharpened in consideration. This had been a skirmish of battling clans, nothing more,
nothing less. There weren’t but fifty-odd men dead on the field, and none was
wearing as finely-worked a shirt, nor a kilt as richly made, as the man in front of

Morgan pushed at him with her boot, and getting no response, knelt to
shove him over.

She didn’t have time to cry out as hands resembling iron bars seized her ankles and pulled, sending Morgan onto her rear in shock. Then the man was on
all fours, straddling her and breathing like nothing dead could. Morgan hadn’t caught her breath yet, and knew her eyes were wide and frightened. She only hoped the tartan covered it.

ou robbing the dead, lad? You doona’ know the penalty?”

What moonlight there was highlighted a fine-shaped nose on a face handsome enough to make many a maiden swoon, and Morgan was no exception, for exactly four heartbeats. Then, she was kicking and shoving herself from him, in a lumbering backward crawl, to put as much field under her as she could before she dared swivel to her feet and run.

He was after her, of course, and there wasn’t any part of his body that
looked wounded to her as he easily kept pace on hands and feet. Clods of sod and pebbles marked their progress away from the battlefield and closer to the
rocks she’d hidden behind. Morgan was moving like one possessed to reach
them, and he was right with her the entire way.

The tartan was what tripped her. Morgan’s foot stepped onto the
frayed end, stopping her with a jolt of her neck. She went down again, bruising
what parts of her that hadn’t been bruised the first time. He was atop her instantly, his
weapon-hung belt digging into her belly, and thighs she’d known would be strong
straddling her legs, immobilizing her. Morgan held him from her with arms that
were hardened by work, but she knew she couldn’t keep his weight that way
forever. He was too solid.

Her arms started trembling with the weight. Then, they began shaking.
inally the support collapsed, dropping him onto her folded arms without him expending a hint of effort.

You know the penalty, and this is the best you can do?”

Now, she was going to die, and it wasn’t even a warrior
’s death. Morgan
closed her eyes and made herself ready to welcome it, since he was too heavy to allow her to breathe, anyway. Something about him changed, as his chuckling stopped. Morgan opened her eyes and met his, and the strangest thing happened.
Almost as though she’d taken a swig of Mactarvat’s finest whiskey on the coldest of mornings. She was never certain, even afterward, what it was.

“This is a woman’s bane,” he said finally. “
’Tis na’ fit for a youth such as
yourself. Is this what we’ve been reduced to?”

Morgan thinned her lips. Her own father and four brothers had met their end on a battlefield just like this one. They hadn’t left one bit of security for
Morgan, or her older sister by twenty-one years, Elspeth, the village hag.
Robbing the dead wasn’t what she wanted to do, but it brought in needed funds
for the crofters, and the lads needed someone to lead them. The village elders needed someone they
trusted, someone the lads would follow, someone who wasn’t afraid of
poucahs, skelpies
or banshees. They needed someone they could make do it, someone without
anyone to take care of, or to take care of her. The village elders needed someone
like her to do the deed. They needed someone they could force. She glared at the man atop

“You’re straw-thin, too. Food scarce? Game? Is that why you rob the

“They’ve little use...for their riches,” she panted in what space he left her for breathing.

He laughed at that, a great barrel-kind of laugh, and even with her breasts bound, Morgan felt the reaction, like lightning spears to the crests of her breasts.
Her binding wouldn’t keep that hidden, and she was grateful her own hands were
smashed onto the offending parts. She spent every bit of energy stopping the
reaction, and missed the beginning of his next words.

“...take a squire where I can find one. You know anything about

She shook her head, more due to incomprehension than an answer to his
question, although it was the same one. She knew next to nothing of any animal like a horse. Poor crofters used their own legs.

Well, you’re about to learn. Up. If I straddle a body, I want to make
certain it’s a bonny lass with lush curves, not a lad made of bones.” He didn’t
wait for an assent, he simply lifted from her, and before she could gulp in one
lung-expanding breath, he had a hand looped through her belt and had her hauled
to her feet.

The missing air was responsible for the way she weaved right next to him,
and Morgan sucked in great gulps as he appraised her. She was more than a little pleased that she reached his cheekbone, and he wasn’t a short man. He probably stood over six feet, easily. She was just extremely tall for a lass. In fact, she was
so tall, no one mistook her for a girl, ever. At least, they hadn’t since she turned
ten, lost everyone in a gore-filled skirmish with the most hated clan on the earth,
and consequently changed her gender.

Not even the waist-length black hair, worn in a single braid, branded her
the correct sex, especially to short men. Morgan caught the giggle before it sounded. This man was making her his squire? It was unheard of, and
completely amazing. Surely there were youths available to him from his own

“That’s KilCregga
r sett,” he said, and there was a snide tone in his voice.
“I’d recognize it anywhere, even if it’s worn wrong, and in tatters. You aren’t
allowed to wear it. There isna’ a KilCreggar walking the earth. My clan saw to

Morgan flushed, and her thoughts stopped. Her knees even sagged
because she knew exactly who he was, and why she should have fought like demons from Hell were on her heels. He was from the most hated clan on earth: t
he Sassenach-lovers, the rapists, the Highland clan named
FitzHugh. He was a FitzHugh. The realization had the strangest effect on her as her insides swam with a jelly-like sensation she recognized as fear.

Then her back stiffened
, and her legs resumed holding her upright. She
knew every prayer she’d uttered from the age of ten was being answered. She,
who’d as much chance of avenging her family’s demise as she had of flying, was
being gifted with it. Nay, she was being forced to it. She was being drafted into
service to a FitzHugh, and there was no one more despised.

Slivers of mist wrapped about their legs, making it look
as though they rose legless from the fog. Morgan considered
him, and told her blood to hush. She was no more female than the lads she led were. She’d killed off every bit of her that was female so many years ago, she
rarely was even bothered by that most stupid of female ills, a monthly flux.
Everything she’d killed off years ago was rising through her blood as she
considered him, though. She had no doubt about what it was, either.

He was too handsome by far, with his sharp cheekbones, large lips, deep
cleft chin, shoulder-length hair, and lushly lashed, dark eyes, of an indeterminate
color. He was a healthy size, too…brawny and well-muscled.

He was also a FitzHugh. He might not look it, but he was bound to have
weaknesses, and soft areas where a dirk could slip when he wasn’t watching. He was showing the famous FitzHugh stupidity, too. He was asking his enemy...nay, he was forcing the one person who had vowed to harm him, into the closest echelon of his life. It was too heady for her mind to absorb, and Morgan watched him fold
his arms while he waited.

swallowed, then she shrugged. “It was warm and serviceable,” she finally answered, lifting her chin to look him squarely in the eye.

“You probably took that from a body more than five, no six years ago.
You should have replaced it since. There’s better on yonder field.”

It was eight years, and
I’ll never replace it, you dolt,
she thought. Her eyes narrowed. “I
like the color,” she answered with absolutely no inflection to her voice. She was very proud of it.

“Gray and dingy black? There’s more color to the night sky. Come.
FitzHugh sett in my tent.”

He didn’t see her reaction, and that was probably a good thing. He
simply put an arm out and pushed her ahead of him back down the slope. He
wasn’t giving her any chance to say yea or nay, and the two times she stumbled, he shoved her harder. Morgan caught herself clumsily, bit any response and kept

The battlefield was covered with mist, blanketing everything with a
ghostly whiteness that was unnerving. Morgan crossed herself hurriedly, and saw
that he’d seen, although he didn’t say anything. She dipped her head and
continued at his pace, jogging at his side.

If he recognized her stamina when they reached his horse, it didn’t show.
Morgan looked over the animal, saw that it was taller at the neck and shoulders
than she was, and regarded it with what she recognized as the beginnings of awe.

She hung back when the man clicked his tongue, spoke softly and the
horse whinnied in response. “You were na’ here to fight,” she remarked.

He looked up at her as he tossed a saddle over the animal.
“Nay,” was all
he said.

“Then why did you?”

He ignored her, and lifted himself by the arms, above the horse, before
swinging a leg over. Morgan watched him do it, watched the muscles in the
backs of his arms, and then those in his legs, and swallowed the excess moisture
in her mouth. She realized she hadn’t seen a man so fine in her life.

Other books

Pros and Cons by Jeff Benedict, Don Yaeger
So As I Was Saying . . .: My Somewhat Eventful Life by Frank Mankiewicz, Joel L. Swerdlow
The Creation: Chaos Rising by Art Gulley Jr.
Forged in Flame by Rabe, Michelle
The Assassins by Lynds, Gayle Copyright 2016 - 2024