Note that this scene won’t be in my upcoming novel. It’s part of my main male character’s background history. But it contains major clues about the story… 😀
Western Highlands, near Strathconon, August 1471
Alexander could neither stop nor rest; his father’s life depended on him. The warning had been clear; this night would see Murdoch’s death.
He heard a muffled noise to his left. Was he being followed? Reining in his horse, he looked around and scanned the mist-covered moor around him. His hand gripped the handle of his dagger – not that at ten and two he stood much of a chance against a man full grown, let alone a band of cutthroats. His eyes searched the heather covered hills in the distance and closer, a small copse of pine trees. The perfect place for an ambush. But a moment later, a high pitched screech told him some rodent must have taken its last breath under the fangs of a fox. Ambush aye, but not for him. Nay, he was alone.
Gently, he stroked the horse’s sweat-dampened neck, sorry for pushing it in such a way. Under his palm, he felt the animal’s strain to gulp in air, and he felt all the more guilty. If his young legs ached, the poor beast must be nearing exhaustion after so many long hours at this neck-breaking pace. John MacRae, would have his hide for mistreating a loyal mount so. To avoid thinking of his foster father, he pushed the horse forward – but to a slow walk until it regained some of its strength.
At this moment, the clouds parted and the moon appeared. The sight froze his blood. It was unusually large, lower than he’d ever seen it. And it was orange.
A blood moon. A bad omen.
Fearful shivers ran down his spine then. But he wouldn’t let silly fishwives tales deter him. He’d lied, stolen a horse and ran away from his foster family so it would take a hell of a lot more than an odd coloured moon to stop him.
He’d wasted enough time – the moon was already on its downward arc – so he spurred his horse onto a fast trot.
Minutes later, the forest where he knew the attack would take place came into view. He’d made it! The low branches and thick darkness forced him to slow his pace but he did not stop. He struggled to identify trees where his mind conjured menacing shapes but as his other senses were heightened, he easily spotted muffled voices.
Prudently, he kept his presence hidden and quietly slid off his mount before tying it to a tree. He then made his way as silently as he knew how to towards the sounds. And he identified two male voices.
“Stay away, traitor.” The venom in the first man’s hiss made Alexander flinch. “Yer blood isna mine anymore…”
“Stop this madness. Ye’re the one who betrayed his vows!”
Alexander thought he recognized the voices, but he was still too far to be certain.
“Another step,” the first man’s voice seethed with fury, “and it’ll be yer last…” The ominous sound of a steel blade scarping against its sheath was then clearly audible.
“God’s teeth!! Have ye lost yer mind? Enough of this!”
Da! Alexander wondered if he’d spoken the word out loud but if he had, his voice had not carried to the three arguing men.
“Not a word from ye. ‘Tis all yer fault, bastard!”
The insult’s sting reverberated against the trees and stuck in the cold night air, like an arrow to its target. It was followed by an angry cry and by the sounds of steel crashing against steel.
Too late, Alexander ran. Low branches tore at his flesh and cruelly whipped his face while he stumbled on roots. But he pushed on. He had to stop them.
The next scream audible was not one of anger. ‘Twas the sound of a man wounded, in pain. And he recognized the voice.
“Da!!” As he got closer, Alexander heard more fighting sounds and another painful cry, this one from a different voice. Which one, he wasn’t sure. At last, he erupted in a small clearing bathed in the eerie glow of the orange moonlight.
The scene was exactly as it had been in the warning. His father lay on his back, in agony, while another man was sprawled next to him, as still as death. The blood on their tunics looked black in the unnatural light and their pale faces made them look like ghosts.
Bad omen. Blood moon.
Alexander saw no trace of the third man. Still on his guards, he knelt by his father’s side, terrified, unsure of what to do. But a moment later, he felt the hair rise at his back of his neck.
At his father’s warning, Alexander spun left. A silvery blade slashed towards his face. He screamed as the metal sliced through his flesh, fell backwards and heard the sickening thud of his skull hitting a rock. But as darkness engulfed him, he knew that the wound was not lethal and that within a few minutes, he’d awaken to watch his father die.