He wields a powerful blade, but her weapon is the mighty quill.
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Excerpt from Highland Spy – Book 4:
“Caleb, I swear I’m goin’ to kill that sneaky wee weasel of yers!”
Awoken from a sound sleep as the door to the hut banged against the wall, Caleb MacKeefe’s eyes sprang open. From his prone position on the bed, he saw his good friend Logan standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips. Logan’s bulky form was silhouetted by the early morning sun that rose behind him, peeking out over the bonnie hills of Oban in the Highlands. His wet, shoulder-length blond hair clung to his neck and he looked as if he’d just come from bathing in the loch. Logan’s pet wolf, Jack, stood right behind him sniffing the air.
“Logan?” Caleb pushed up in bed to his elbow and blinked several times. “What’s all the shoutin’ about? I’m tryin’ to sleep.” He rubbed one sleepy eye with his fist.
“Ye ken very well what I’m talkin’ about,” spat Logan. He stomped into the hut, leaving a wet trail of footprints in his wake. His wolf silently followed. “That rodent of yers has stolen from me for the last time! I had to walk bare-arsed in front of half the lassies of the clan lookin’ for my braies when I stepped from the loch to discover my clothes missin’. Now are ye goin’ to control that troublesome pet of yers or am I goin’ to have to send Jack out to hunt it down for dinner?”
“I ken what ye mean,” grumbled Ethan, walking into the hut led by his large, white Irish wolfhound. The dog and the wolf sniffed each other, being friends, just like their owners. Another of their group, Hawke rushed up behind Ethan to join them. The four men were the sons of some of the best MacKeefe warriors. Hawke was the son of their clan’s chieftain, Storm. Logan was Aidan’s son, and Ethan was the bastard son of Onyx. Caleb’s father was the last of the madmen, Ian MacKeefe. “That weasel stole my dagger last week,” Ethan told them.
“That’s nothin’,” said Hawke, plopping down on a wooden chair at the small table. “My da’s clan badge was missin’ for nearly a month before I found it under yer pallet, Caleb. And since I ken ye are no’ dumb enough to steal from our chieftain, I figure it had to be that doitit pet of yers causin’ the trouble.”
“Slink is no’ a stupid pet,” Caleb protested. “Neither is he a weasel or a rodent. He’s a pine marten. Why canna ye all remember that?” He sat up, looking for his pet that normally slept in bed with him. The animal wasn’t there. Swinging his feet over the side of the pallet, he grabbed for his clothes and hurriedly dressed. “Besides, Logan, everyone kens ye like struttin’ around naked by the loch. It’s no’ as if it’s the first time it’s happened.”
“That was before I was a married man,” Logan reminded him. “Rhoswen doesna like me to sunbathe in the nude anymore and I am doin’ the best I can to respect her wishes.”
“Ye mean ye’re henpecked,” said Caleb with a yawn. “Just like Ethan and Hawke. Ever since ye all got married, ye are no fun anymore.”
“No fun?” Hawke raised a brow. “What does that mean? We’re the same men we always were.”
“That’s right,” said Ethan. “Actually, we’re even better than before.” He stood straight and proud, acting like he truly believed it. Well, Caleb didn’t.
Things had changed with all of them since their weddings. They seemed to be less carefree and more uptight since they had wives and even children in their lives now. Caleb was the only single one of the bunch. As far as he was concerned, he was the only sane one, too.
His friends had crazed looks in their eyes, as if they were really upset about the actions of his pet. There was no telling what they’d do if he couldn’t smooth things out quickly. He had to find Slink before the poor thing ended up being roasted by his friends, strung up on a spit over the campfire.
“Just leave Slink alone. He doesna mean any harm. Besides, I dinna complain about yer pets,” Caleb told them. “And ye really need to stop callin’ him a weasel,” he scoffed.
“No matter if it’s a pine marten, a skunk, a weasel, or a rat, I dinna care,” spat Logan, his hands waving wildly in the air. “Ye need to do somethin’ about it, Caleb. The thing is a pest and a nuisance with the way it keeps stealin’ things around camp. This needs to stop.”
“He’s right,” agreed Hawke, pulling out his dagger and shining it with the end of his plaid. “It’s startin’ to become a problem. No’ only for us, but for everyone in the clan.”
“Dinna fash yerself, I’ll take care of it,” Caleb assured them, not believing his pet was as troublesome as they made it sound. “After all, it’s no different than the three of yer pets scarin’ the bairns of the clan.”
“Our pets dinna scare anyone . . . except for mayhap our enemies,” said Logan with a shrug, looking over at his wolf now lying spread out in front of the hearth.
“That’s right. The children love Trapper,” said Ethan, rubbing his dog’s ears as Trapper put its paws on his shoulders, matching his height. Ethan was the tallest of the four friends, so when his dog stood on its back legs, it was impressive and sometimes overwhelming.
“The wee ones only like it because ye let them ride on the hound’s back,” said Caleb, continuing to dress. “Blethers, Ethan! I ken the dog is big but it’s no’ a horse, so dinna treat it like one.”
“I only let them do it once or twice,” said Ethan in his defense. “And it was just to make the lassies laugh. The wee ones were light and didna hurt Trapper at all.”
“Well, what about Hawke’s red tail?” asked Caleb, spotting the bird out the open door. It was circling the sky right above the hut, probably waiting for Hawke. “I’ve seen that bird rip at a man’s skull with its sharp talons, no’ only drawin’ bluid but takin’ a full-sized man to the ground. Ye canna tell me the bird isna dangerous.”
“Apollo has never once hurt anyone from our clan,” Hawke protested, raising a halting hand in the air. “The bird only does that to our enemies, and only when I command it to attack.” Hawke lowered his hand and used the tip of his dagger to clean under his nails. “At least my pet hasna ever stolen anythin’,” he mumbled, looking at his hand rather than Caleb when he spoke.
“Get back here, ye thief!” came the cry of a woman from outside the open door of the hut.
“It sounds like yer pet is as it again,” grumbled Logan, motioning to the door.
“That sounded like Bridget.” Caleb ran over to the open door. “It is Bridget!” he said with a pleased smile, seeing the daughter of the king’s chronicler chasing his pine marten around the campfire. The animal had something in its mouth and disappeared inside a hollow log that was used by the MacKeefes as a seat by the fire.
Caleb drank in Bridget’s beauty. Her long, red braids were tied together with a green ribbon and trailed down her back to her waist. They bounced up and down with each move she made. Bridget Ogilvy was a small woman, sometimes even being mistaken for a young girl from a distance because of her braids and her size. Plus, she wasn’t as curvy as some of the other lassies of the clan. Or perhaps she was but no one could tell under the baggy clothes she always wore. It didn’t matter to Caleb. He liked her anyway. After all, he wasn’t the biggest or strongest man of the clan so he figured she was the perfect match for him.
“Och, nay. Why is she back here at the MacKeefe camp?” grumbled Ethan, pulling out a chair and flipping it backwards, sitting down right across from Hawke. “I thought she and her faither left here months ago.”
“They left to visit the other clans,” Hawke told them, wiping off his blade and slipping it through his weapon belt. “If they’re back, there must be a reason. Mayhap the king wants his chronicler to write more about the MacKeefes in that book of his.”
“Aye, ye’re probably right. And since they’re back, mayhap I can get the chronicler to add me to the Highland Chronicles like everyone else,” said Caleb.
Logan walked over, nudged Caleb aside, and gazed out the door. He stretched his neck to see the girl. “She probably wants to write more about me in there. That’s why she came back here.”
“Ye wish,” said Caleb, pushing Logan aside as he headed back into the shelter. “No’ everyone listed in the book truly deserves to be there.” He glanced over at Ethan and Hawke when he said it. Not only all their fathers’ heroic acts had been recorded in the Highland Chronicles, but lately Hawke, Ethan, and Logan had been added to the book as well. In Caleb’s opinion, he was just as worthy. Therefore, he didn’t know why his name wasn’t on those pages.
“Bid the devil, ye make it sound as if we bribed the man to put us in the book,” said Ethan shaking his head.
“Och, I didna even want to be mentioned,” said Hawke looking up. “It just sort of happened.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I didna really care.”
“Me, neither,” said Ethan, acting as if it meant nothing even though it was an honor to be mentioned in the Highland Chronicles.
“Same for me,” added Logan.
“Ye all say this now, but that wasna yer tune before yer names were scribbled onto the pages of that book,” Caleb reminded them. “My name should be mentioned in the king’s book as well.”
“Hah!” Logan walked back to join them. “Ye need to earn it, Caleb. Just like we all did.” Logan slid the Sword of Triumph from the sheath attached to his weapon belt and held it up, admiring it – just for effect.
“I’ve done plenty of things to deserve it,” said Caleb. “If I wanted to be mentioned in the book, I could get into it with no trouble at all.” He waved his hand through the air and tried to act nonchalant like his friends when they’d said they didn’t care.
“Really?” Ethan raised a brow. “Then do it,” he challenged Caleb.
“Huh?” Caleb turned to find all three of his friends staring at him. He already regretted spouting off because there was no way he’d be able to brush off what he said. His friends heard it and were going to hold him to it and make his life miserable because of it. There was nothing he could do now but stand behind his words.
“Caleb, no one is goin’ to write ye into any book unless ye do somethin’ big,” said Logan.
“That’s right,” agreed Hawke with a chuckle. “And we all ken there is nothin’ big about Caleb.” They all laughed at that.
“Haud yer wheesht!” spat Caleb, as his friends teased him about his height and build. He might be smaller than the rest but he still had good-sized muscles and worked harder than any of them to keep it that way.
“Calm down, Caleb. He’s only jestin’,” Ethan told him. Still, Caleb was fired up now and he wasn’t going to sit there and do nothing about it.
“If I wanted to, I could have my name mentioned in that doitit book with no problem at all,” Caleb informed them. “Bridget likes me and I’m sure she’s tellin’ her faither right now to put me in the book.”
Another shout from Bridget was heard out the open door. Glancing over, Caleb saw the girl kneeling next to the log and sticking her hand inside to try to get her stolen item back from his pine marten.
“Somehow I dinna think that’s exactly what she’s sayin’ right now.” Logan crossed his arms over his chest and smiled as he looked out the door.
“Most likely what she’s really sayin’ are a few choice words no’ suited for the Highland Chronicles,” said Ethan, making them all laugh again.