Read MacKinnons' Hope: A Highland Christmas Carol Online

Authors: Tanya Anne Crosby

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Scottish

MacKinnons' Hope: A Highland Christmas Carol

BOOK: MacKinnons' Hope: A Highland Christmas Carol
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MacKinnons’ Hope
A Highland Christmas Carol
Tanya Anne Crosby

A
ll rights reserved
.

No part of this publication may be used or reproduced or transmitted in any manner whatsoever, electronically, in print, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of both Oliver-Heber Books and Tanya Anne Crosby, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

COPYRIGHT © 2015 Tanya Anne Crosby

Published by Oliver-Heber Books

ISBN: 978-1-942820-25-3

Praise for Tanya Anne Crosby

“Crosby’s characters keep readers engaged...”

Publishers Weekly

“Tanya Anne Crosby sets out to show us a good time and accomplishes that with humor, a fast paced story and just the right amount of romance.”

The Oakland Press

“Romance filled with charm, passion and intrigue...”

Affaire de Coeur

“Ms. Crosby mixes just the right amount of humor... Fantastic, tantalizing!”

Rendezvous

“Tanya Anne Crosby pens a tale that touches your soul and lives forever in your heart.”

Sherrilyn Kenyon #1 NYT Bestselling Author

“She has been my Queen of historical fiction for over two decades and she still leaves me breathless and wanting more!”

Barb Massabrook, reader since 1992

“There are moments where your heart will pull hard…where you will be twisted with laughter.”

Leah Weller, reader since 1993

T
his one is for Henry
, my littlest love.

“‘Celtic’ of any sort is, nonetheless, a magic bag, into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come. … Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight…

J.R.R. Tolkien

Part I
The MacKinnon’s Bride
Mackinnons’ Hope is a super-epilogue, meant to complement The MacKinnon’s Bride. For your best enjoyment, please start with Book 1 of the Highland Brides

Free Download

Part II
MacKinnons’ Hope

A Highland Christmas Carol

Prologue

N
orthumbria
, Aldergh Castle, December 6, 1135


I
n the name
of the deceased, lady Eleanore of Aldergh, dead this sixth day of December in the year of our lord 1135…”

H
ugh FitzSimon hurled
the newly arrived letter across his desk.

Eleanore, dearest Eleanore, was dead.

He’d kept her from their daughter all these years past, never revealing to Page that her mother still lived. Why, he could not say, but now that Eleanore was gone, the knowledge settled like a stone within his breast.

To make matters worse, King Henry was calling all his barons to Lyons-la-Foret in France and Hugh could simply not bear to face the man—sovereign or nay. Thankfully, his bastard son, Afric, had offered to save him the trip, representing Aldergh in FitzSimon’s name.

After all, it wasn’t as though King Henry could be dying.

Howbeit, Eleanore, his dearest Eleanore, was gone—her spirit flown to God.

Grief choked him about the throat.

Grief. Shame. Regret.

These now would be his bedfellows.

“Eleanore,” he whispered low—a broken sound that bounced off bare stone.

His wife had been a vision to be sure, so lovely to behold. That she’d found it in her spirit to say nay to their king had simply never appealed to Hugh’s sense of reason. After all, who could say nay to their lord sovereign and protector? Hugh himself would have allowed the man to bugger him if he’d only but asked. It made no sense to him that his meek little wife could hold her marriage vows above the wishes of their king. And despite the fact that she’d sworn she’d remained true, Hugh never found it in his heart to believe her—or to forgive her. And why? Because she’d caught Henry’s eye?

Some part of Hugh had been envious as well.

It was true.

All his life he’d aspired to become more than a lowly baron. And then he’d gone and wed the lovely Eleanore, and King Henry suddenly took notice, inviting them both regularly to court, although his attentions were always for Eleanore, none for Hugh.

Out of jealousy, Hugh had cast his lovely bride away, and pride never allowed him to bring her home. Even now, they would entomb Eleanore near the priory, and he would never again behold her lovely face.

And worse—for all the pain he’d caused, he’d made their daughter pay.

The last time he’d attempted to see Page, the MacKinnon threatened cut out his heart. And that man would do it; Hugh had very little doubt. Iain MacKinnon was not a man to be trifled with.

Ultimately, this was all King Henry’s fault, Hugh decided, although at least he wasn’t alone in his misery. The King himself had no heirs. Henry’s one and only son had found his fate at the bottom of the sea, leaving the king very little choice but to name his recalcitrant daughter as his heir. Hugh might do the same for Page, except that she loathed him still.

A memory crept back to torment him, words that could never be recalled:
“My son for your daughter,”
Iain MacKinnon had offered, tossing Page’s shoe up on the ramparts for Hugh to behold as proof that he held his daughter for ransom.

Hugh’s heart had remained cold.
“What need have I of that brat?”
he’d said.
“I’ve sons aplenty and the means to forge myself more.”
All bastards, not a one fit to bear his name.
And yet, he’d declared,
“Keep her, or kill her. I care not which.”

And so MacKinnon kept her, and then he’d wed her, and FitzSimon never saw his daughter again.

A rumble of a sigh escaped him, the sound amplified in the cavernous interior of his home. What good were riches if they would be heaped upon his grave? What good was gold to a miserable sack of bones?

Aye, in truth, FitzSimon rued the day he’d sent his women away, for now who remained? He was alone, save for Afric, who’d stayed only because he hoped Hugh would enfief him some day—another bastard son to bear the Fitz name. Afric would then be known as Afric Fitzhugh FitzSimon—hardly a legacy to be proud of!

Outside, the wind raged like a wailing banshee, sending furious howls into the castle through cracks in the walls. FitzSimon hadn’t bothered with a fire in the hearth tonight. Why should he? He wore a fine, heavy cloak, lined with ermine—as splendid as any cloak worn by any king. Some day, it would be moth bait in a forgotten coffer somewhere, left to be picked over by wastrels who’d come to steal his remnants.

Heart heavy and despairing, he peered out the solar window, into the courtyard below. It was deserted now, as many of his wards had abandoned him already to spend the winter with their families.

Afric, too, would soon be leaving for France. But Hugh was glad for that, because he did not enjoy Afric’s companionship. He, like his common mother, reeked vulgarly of cloves.

Cursing softly beneath his breath, FitzSimon moved across the chamber, plucking up the odious parchment from his desk. One of the paperweights rattled carelessly across the desktop and rolled, falling with a rude clatter upon the wooden floor.

Still cursing, he rolled the parchment furiously, eyeing the burning taper on his desk, prepared to burn the letter. Something like tears burned at the back of his eyes. Sobs constricted his throat.

Forsaken.

That’s what he was.

Be damned if he would allow himself to grieve over the loss of a woman who’d never loved him true.

At least that’s what he told himself and that’s what he was determined to believe. Fueled by a fresh rush of anger, he bent to blow out the taper.

What need had he of light when he knew every corner of this godforsaken mausoleum? He had paced it from end to end for far too many years. And now, the castle was devoid of life—not a soul to happen upon, trip over, or even send scurrying back to their beds.

Muttering still more curses, Hugh stuffed the missive into his belt, deciding to put it away in a safe place, as he spun toward the solar door. His bed summoned him now, beckoning like a whore to his crackling bones. He made quickly for the door, stopping short at the sight of a shadow squirming there.

“Papa?”

Hearing the familiar voice, FitzSimon clutched at his chest, blinking to dispel the image of a little girl, her features growing clearer by the second.

“Papa?”

Could it be? But nay! It was only a child, her face gaunt with sunken cheeks. Did they not feed her well enough? He smacked his breast to see if he might be dreaming in his bed. The whack he gave himself knocked the air from his lungs.

“Page?”

The girl’s tiny form hugged the threshold, as though she feared he might rip her free of her support and haul her away by the scruff of her neck. “I’m afeared, Papa” she said.

In times past, Hugh might have scolded her for presuming such a familiarity with him, because she was
not
his daughter—or so he’d once believed. Confused now, he rubbed his eyes and stuck a finger in his ear.

His daughter—what appeared to be his daughter—lingered in the threshold, her image a shimmery visage from his past. He asked her, “Why art ye afeared?”

The little girl, illumed by a strange blue aura, not unlike the blue heat of a flame, persisted in the doorway. “I cannot sleep, Papa. The wind wails, and my pillow is much too thin.”

Now he could clearly see the features of the girl’s face, illuminated by that strange blue light. She looked
exactly
like Page at that age. “Your pillow’s too thin?”

“Aye, sir.”

Surely this child could not be his daughter Page? Page was fully grown by now, with children of her own. “Gads, child! What would ye have me do about the bloody wind? It seems to me ye’d do better to go and seek your prayers.”

The child’s face fell. “But… I cannot sleep, Papa.”

“Aye, well, you should not be here,” FitzSimon scolded her. “I’ve no idea what you be doing in my home. So shoo, now! Shoo! Shoo! Be gone!”

For a moment, the child’s expression appeared crestfallen, and then her mouth twisted into a disheartened moue, though she did not cry.

Of course, Page
never
cried. He remembered that stoic expression all too well. Even now it left Hugh with a guilty pang.

Disgusted, as much with himself, but no less with the child for having given him a prick of guilt, FitzSimon stamped his foot at the girl, as though she were naught but vermin in his home.

The child turned and fled. Hugh made to chase her, but he stopped when her strange blue light extinguished amidst the dark hall. He stared down the corridor, not entirely relieved now that she was gone. Strange as it was he could still hear her little footsteps echo down a distant hall.

“Rats,” he muttered to himself. “”Tis naught but rats.”

God’s truth, he’d never touched a drop of
vin
this eve—not one drop. After all, what fun was there in drinking all alone?

Scratching his head, he reached for the parchment at his belt, and finding it still there, he patted it neatly and kept marching down the hall, all the more determined now to find his bed.

His feet felt fat tonight, his toes swollen in his boots. His eyes burned. His gut churned, and it felt much the same as though some fat boar were seated upon his chest.

Outside, the wind bellowed harder, the sound all the more unnerving for the uncanny silence now ringing through his halls—a silence that grew, piercing his eardrums, and making him wince with pain.

By the rood, he did not feel well tonight.

It must have been that greasy pheasant! Rubbing his ears with the palms of his hands, he massaged them to ease the ache. But then, after removing his hands from his ears, he heard a woman’s song in a faraway voice…

A
las
, my love, you do me wrong,

To cast me off discourteously.

For I have loved you well and long,

Delighting in your company.

H
ugh rubbed his ears again
, peering around in confusion. By the bones of the saints, what devilry was this?

I
have been
ready at your hand,

To grant whatever thou wouldst crave;

I have both wagered life and land,

Your love and good will for to have.

I
t was an auld song
, one his wife used to sing quite a lot—in fact, right there, in that very solar. The chorus was such an annoying earworm. It went like this:
Greensleeves was all my joy, Greensleeves was my delight, Greensleeves was my heart of gold, and who but my lady Greensleeves.
Hugh thoroughly despised the song.

Of course, at the time he’d loathed Eleanore all the more. And Page, she’d never had a prayer of a chance, for she’d looked precisely like her mother.

Listening closely, FitzSimon tried to determine where the voice was coming from.
Surely not the solar, from whence he’d only just come?
He spun about, a human compass veering north.

From inside the solar came a strange glow, and the sound of the woman’s voice grew clearer yet…

'
T
is I will pray
to God on high,

That thou my constancy mayst see,

And that yet once before I die,

Thou wilt vouchsafe to love me.

T
he solar itself
seemed to glow with a strange blue incandescent light, and the light seemed to be expanding as the song and voice grew in clarity.

Like a moth drawn to the light of a flame, Hugh took a wary step toward the solar door. It occurred to him in that instant that he might well meet a moth’s fate, but he could not stop himself. One foot went after the other.

“Eleanore?” he called out.

No answer came from the singing woman, but her song continued as Hugh inched his way toward the solar, his footfalls echoing like claps of thunder along the empty hall. Only once he realized the clatter he was making, he took greater care to soften his step, lest he startle the woman and she flee. He tiptoed the last few feet.

He spied the singing woman the instant he poked his head into the room—seated before the hearth, right there, where Eleanore used to sit and rock their babe.

Stunned by the sight of his long-lost wife, Hugh’s hand clutched at his heart.

Nay, but there was no babe in her arms at the moment, but she sat rocking in that chair, arms crooked into empty space, as though she were clutching a tiny baby to her breast. “Eleanore?” he said, aghast.

She appeared exactly as he recalled, with dark wispy hair that defied thick raven plaits. She peered up at him, and for an instant, the sweet look in her eyes nearly brought him to his knees.

Then suddenly she dropped her arms to her sides and stood, and by the time she did so, her look of love was fled, replaced with one of the most fearsome visages Hugh had ever beheld.

“Hugh FitzSimon,” the apparition shrieked—and now he knew it for what it was, for the light of the room emanated solely from this creature—from the blue sockets of her eyes.

“Eleanore!” The hand over his breast became a desperate claw, nails digging into his flesh, as though to burrow deep inside and snatch out his aching heart.

Eleanore pointed a long shadowy finger at him. “You will die
alone
,” the apparition proclaimed. “Already it has begun. Can you hear the keening of eternal silence?” The ghost suddenly lurched at him, sliding over the wooden floor.

“Please,” Hugh begged. “I am an auld man!”

The room was brilliant now, the light otherworldly, like the hottest depths of hell—except not red, but blue. The wind outside continued shrieking, but not so loud as the apparition did when she spoke, despite that Hugh sensed she never raised her voice.

“Not old enough to regret your vile deeds,” she screamed, reaching out an upturned hand, as though beckoning him to take it.

Hugh cowered from the ghost and turned to flee. But there she was again, standing behind him, gliding toward him from the hall.

BOOK: MacKinnons' Hope: A Highland Christmas Carol
9.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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