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October 01, 2010
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Excerpt from Highland Hellcat by Mary Wine
"Come, my beauty, we shall see if we can impress anyone tonight with our skill."
Brina patted the mare on the side of the neck, and the animal gave a toss of its silken mane. She smothered a laugh before it betrayed to those around just how much she was looking forward to riding out of her father's castle. She gained the back of the mare, and the animal let out a louder sound of excitement. Brina clasped the animal with her thighs and leaned low over its neck.
"I agree, my beauty. Standing still is very boring." Brina kept her voice low and gave the mare its freedom. The animal made a path toward the gate, gaining speed rapidly.
Brina allowed her laughter to escape just as she and the mare crossed beneath the heavy iron gate that was still raised.
"Don't be out too long... Dusk is nearly fallen..." the Chattan retainer set to guarding the main entrance to Chattan Castle called after her, but Brina did not even turn her head to acknowledge the man. Being promised to the church did have some advantages after all. Her undyed robe fluttered out behind her because the garment was simple and lacked any details that might flatter her figure. There were only two small tapes that buttoned toward the back of it in order to keep the fabric from being too cumbersome.
The mare seemed to understand her and took to the rocky terrain with eagerness. The wind was crisp, almost too chilly for the autumn. Brina leaned down low and smiled as she moved in unison with the horse. The light was rapidly fading, but the approaching night didn't cause her a bit of worry.
She was a bride of Christ, the simple gown that she wore more powerful even than the fact that her father was laird of the Chattan. No one would trifle with her, even after day faded into night.
But that security came with a price, just as all things in life did. She straightened up as the mare neared the thicket, and she spied her father's man waiting on her.
Bran had served as a retainer for many years, and he was old enough to be her sire. He frowned at her as she slid from the back of the mare.
"Ye ride too fast."
Brina rubbed the neck of the horse for a moment, biting back the first words that came to her lips.
"What does it matter, Bran? I am promised to the church, not betrothed like my sisters. No one cares if I ride astride."
If she had been born first or second to Robert Chattan, there would be many who argued against her riding astride, because most midwives agreed that doing so would make a woman barren.
Bran grunted. "It's the speed that ye ride with that most would consider too spirited for a future nun."
Brina failed to mask her smile. "But I shall be a Highland nun, not one of those English ones who are frightened of their own shadows."
Her father's retainer grinned. "Aye, ye are that all right, and I pity those who forget it once ye are at the abbey and training to become the mother superior." Bran turned and made his way into the thicket.
Brina followed him while reaching around to pull her small bow over her head. The wood felt familiar in her grip. It was a satisfying feeling, one for which she might thank her impending future as well. Her sisters had not been taught to use any weapons. They were both promised to powerful men, and the skills of hunting would be something that those Highlanders might find offensive to their pride.
She snorted. Going to the church suited her well indeed, for she had no stomach for the nature of men. She could use the bow as well as any of them. "At least I know that ye will nae go hungry." Bran studied the way she held the bow, and nodded with approval. "Those other nuns will likely follow ye even more devoutly because ye can put supper on the table along with saying yer prayers."
"I plan to do much more than pray." Bran frowned and turned his attention to finding a good spot to hunt from. The burly retainer didn't believe her.
That thought sobered her. She would have to leave soon, because the seasons were changing and the church was beginning to pressure her father for her. She didn't dread departing, beyond that it would be hard to leave her sisters, but she did detest the attitude from those around her that she was going to the abbey to do nothing but kneel in submission. Bran was correct about one thing, she would not be a mother superior who allowed the men who came to her church to act like savages the moment they received their absolution.
"Those rabbits will nae be waiting on ye." Bran spoke up, his voice drifting on the wind from where he was perched in a tree. Despite the gray in his hair, he was still a strong man, and his legs with their knee-high boots were pressed against the bark of the tree to keep him solidly in position. His back was propped against a higher portion of the tree and his bow held steady while he looked back at her. Brina smiled at the challenge in his voice. "I plan to fell one before ye do."
Bran chuckled and offered her a wink. "Ye sound like a lad."
"What does it matter if I am less than feminine? Better that I am practical, for that will bring me more comfort in my life with the church, and it will see more good done if I am not delicate but might face injustice with my shoulders set firmly."
Bran chuckled again. "For certain, it is a good thing that yer father has no' changed his mind about sending ye to the church, for ye have been raised too long with the knowledge that ye shall have no master upon earth."
"Now ye are teasing me, for I know the place that shall be mine. I simply plan to make the most of it."
"Aye, Brina lass, I can hear that ye do, and may God have mercy on those who try to cross ye, for ye will have none upon them."
Brina shook her head and swept her skirts away from her ankles so that she might climb up the trunk of another tree and perch very much in the same manner Bran was.
"I'd think that ye might be impressed with the fact that I intend to take to my place with such passion." Bran didn't answer, but something entered his eyes that looked a bit like pity, and she forced her thoughts on to her arrow and lining it up correctly so that she might be able to ignore the emotions that threatened to send tears into her eyes.
She'd be a good mother superior. The best possible, because her father had given his word on the matter, and it was a poor daughter who shamed her father by refusing the place that he set for her.