Author: Nate Davis Volsungassonnr PM
An empire fighting for lebensraum. A people fighting for freedom. A dying race fighting for survival. In the middle of it all stands Jared MacCleod, hunter, trapper, tradesman, mercenary. Rated T for gratuitous violence and non-descriptive sex.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Western - Chapters: 2 - Words: 2,545 - Reviews: 2 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 10-24-11 - Published: 03-29-11 - id: 2903187
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The Cattle Raid, part one
"Thae curst horse-leeches o' the Excise
Wha mak the whiskey stills their prize!
Hauld up thy han, Deil! Ance, twice, thrice!
There, seize the blinkers!
An' bake them up in brunstane pies
For poor damn'd drinkers."
Two men—one astride a great black stallion, the other following behind on a modest brown mare—rode hard across the Borderlands. A storm had swept in from the northwest the night before, leaving the rolling green hills and deep swampy hollows bathed in a thick, nearly corporal blanket of fog; the two riders had to stay close to each other lest they become lost in the haze. They avoided the roads—which the storm had transformed into impassable mires—and drove their horses along the rocky ridge-tops. Below them through the haze they could just barely make out turf farmhouses, herds of sheep and furry hill cattle, fields of oats and barley, dry stone fences: The picture of the pastoral ideal. Only the shell craters, the abandoned cannon, and the bloated corpses betrayed the carnage that the haze of late spring rain had all but washed away.
They came at length to an abruptness where the ridge dropped off to a granite cliff and a densely-forested hollow. Thick tangles of laurel, birch, rowan, primrose, and blackberry hid all within. The men dismounted and led their horses around the rim of the abruptness, being careful to tread only on bare rock wherever possible. They descended by switchback into the hollow and hobbled their mounts just within the thick trees.
The man who'd been riding the big black stallion scanned the forest floor carefully. He was a fairly young man of moderate height, slim but muscular, with a long aristocratic face. He wore a wide-brimmed felt hat with a peacock feather stuck in its band, a scarlet doublet, a hauberk of burnished chain maille, immaculate white trousers, and big black boots. A big highland claymore was slung over his shoulder, and a razor-sharp dirk and two cap-and-ball pistols were stuck in his belt. He pointed into the wood and announced, "It's this way."
His companion, who was of similar look but garbed far more modestly, snorted derisively and demanded, "Beggin' your pardon, m'lord, but how in Hell can ye tell? This wood is thick as the Devil's beard, so it is, an' from wha' ye've said o' your man he doesnae seem like the type tae leave a trail if he can help it."
The other laughed and said, "As usual, my friend, the answer is so obvious that it has escaped your notice. Stay your breath for a moment and listen."
He did so, and heard a man's voice—very faint—drifting through the trees, singing in this wise:
"As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a maen:
The tane unto the t'ither did say,
'Whaur shall we gang and dine the day?'"
A woman's voice sang in response:
"'O doun beside yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new-slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk, his hound, and his lady fair."
"'His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady's ta'en another mate,
Sae we may mak' our dinner sweet."
The two men struck off into the wood, following the sound of the singing which grew louder as they pressed on.
"'O we'll sit on his white hause bane,
And I'll pyke out his bonny blue e'en;
Wi' ae lock o' his gowden hair
We'll theek our nest when it blaws bare."
"'Mony a ane for him makes maen,
But nane shall ken whaur he is gane.
Over his banes when they are bare,
The wind shall blaw for evermair.'"
As the song ended, the two men came upon a misty hollow. The lot of it had been tilled and planted with tall stalked weeds bearing five-fingered leaves and rich pink flowers. At the head of the hollow, near a tiny spring, lay a man and a woman. The man was six feet tall and easily three hundred pounds, with a tangled brown beard and a wild shock of brown hair. The woman was much shorter, with a lean and springy body hardened by a lifetime of transience. They were both wearing the garb of a Borderer man—plaid woolen kilt and plain canvas tunic—and were passing a brown jug back and forth between them.
When the man saw the two intruders, he immediately sprang up, grabbed a stout wooden club that had been lying next to him, and rushed at them with a terrible shout. The man with the felt hat pulled one of the pistols from his belt and exclaimed commandingly, "William Connaught MacTeague, you belay that truncheon or I'll put a lead ball in your belly!"
He immediately halted, dropped to his knees, and cried out, "M'lord! I didnae recognize ye! Ye know better than tae come sneakin' intae me hollow like that, so ye do!"
"Time is of the essence, my friend," he said as he returned the pistol to his belt. "Big Bill MacTeague and Fightin' Em O'Brien, I have need of your services."
Big Bill rose up and shook his hand vigorously. "Ye need but tae name the favor, m'lord Gordon. We're at your service, so we are."
Lord George Gordon ignored the offer for the moment. He looked around and approvingly commented, "You've got quite a crop coming along this year, I see."
"Aye, m'lord, I do, at that. An' it'll fetch a good deal o' siller e'er it's picked! If I can get it past the blasted excisemen, a'course."
"And that, old friend, is what I wanted to talk to you about. You know that I want nothing more than to keep the Borderlands free. To see that what my father won with blood and lead at Jericho Hill is not lost." He clenched his long fair hands into fists. "Invaders ride roughshod over land that belongs to free men. I am forced by threat of annihilation to allow foreign armies free passage through the Borderlands, and every day I feel a little bit more of my birthright and our liberty slipping away. No more."
Big Bill grinned. "I like where this is going, so I do!"
"I thought you would, friend. I thought you would."