Wild Highland Magic (The Celtic Legends Series Book 3)(2)

She wasn’t a doctor’s daughter for nothing. She recognized a stabbing when she saw one.

Murdered, then.

A terrible chill shot through her. Da had always warned her that outsiders were a strange, violent folk. Proof frequently came by boat when men wounded by sword or mace or axe found their desperate way to his sickroom. Still, she couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for this outsider who’d had his life shortened before its natural time.

For he was not an older man. She could see that in the smoothness of the skin around his eyes. To better see his face, she came around to his other side. She wondered what kind of strange work he’d done to have built a body such as this. She wondered if, somewhere far away, a young woman stood staring out at the sea, pining for him.

Crouching down, she dared to slip her finger under a lock of hair that covered his brow, relieved to see that the rest of his face was untouched by the ravages of the sea. She pushed his hair aside to see his features better.

For a breathless moment she gazed upon him. A snatch of her brother Niall’s poetry came to her, from the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows.

I would have a man like that

Hair like the raven

Cheek like blood

His body like snow

As handsome a man as she’d ever seen lay before her. His brow was painted with salt-stains, his lashes sand-flecked.

Then he opened his eyes.


Lachlan thought he was still on the ship. He felt it rocking beneath him, tilted up at the bow at an alarming angle. Though the sun was too bright for his eyes, he heard a crew close around him, grunting and shouting at each other in garbled Gaelic.

His mind wasn’t working well, but he reasoned that if he was still on the ship, then he hadn’t been stabbed. He hadn’t been pushed overboard. He hadn’t felt the pressure of the ocean squeeze the air out of his lungs as he sank, watching the ship’s keel recede by the watery light of the moon.

But he couldn’t still be on the ship, because after a time the rocking stopped and he was in a dark place. Some crew of brutes was pressing him down. He could barely breathe as someone stabbed him with sharp, thin knives. His head swam but the pallet beneath him didn’t, and the contrast confused him. The room he was in was too hot.

He was pulled into a dream that was a memory. He heard seabirds. Sand tasted gritty in his mouth. Something warm and soft floated over him. The faint fragrance of spring flowers emanated from that warmth, reminding him of the verdant hills around Loch Fyfe. His mind grasped that memory, tried to draw closer to it though it was like pulling a hemp-line attached to an anchor without the gears to ease the lift. The warmth he sensed burrowed near him and brought comfort. He stretched for that with all his might and suddenly found himself blinking against a light so bright that it stung his eyes.

He tried to focus on the creature leaning over him, haloed by the sun.

I’m dead, he thought.

I’m dead and this is heaven.

“No, you’re not dead, young man. Though considering what you’ve been through, you should be.”

Lachlan froze at the deep, unfamiliar voice. His sight cleared and he realized he wasn’t staring at the face of the creature of his dreams, but instead at the figure of a tall man towering over him, grinding something in a small bowl.

Lachlan started to sit up but pain speared through his shoulder. He eased back down on the pallet.

“A wise decision,” the man said, not pausing in his grinding. “After we brought you up from the strand, I had to pull pieces of linen out of your shoulder. You’ll be glad to have slept through that.”

Shooting pains stole the air from his lungs. He slipped his good hand over his chest and felt rough linen bindings.

“The wound is deep.” The man scraped around the inside of the bowl. “Fortunately for you, whoever wielded that blade missed the vital arteries.”

A memory returned, of a trample of feet, a surprised shout, a blur of faces, a burn through his back, and then weightlessness until he hit the cold sea.

“Do you understand me?” The man paused in his grinding. “Parlez-vous fran?ais? Do you speak English? Sprechen sie Deutsch? Hablas Espa?ol? V?ce fala Português?” A strange spark lit his eyes. “Türk?e biliyor musun?”

Lachlan’s tongue was swollen and dry. “I understand you.”

“Ah. A Scotsman.”

The man sounded disappointed. Lachlan tried to take the measure of the stranger. The man wore the simple woolen tunic of a farmer or a sheep-keeper, but something about the way the man carried himself spoke of a more martial livelihood.

“You’re on the island of Inishmaan, one of the Aran Islands,” the stranger said, anticipating his question. “I am Conor, the island’s surgeon, apothecary, and tooth-puller, when necessary.”

Lachlan didn’t know the place, but he had cousins in Ulster. Even with his senses so addled he realized this man was Irish.

The doctor said, “We found you washed up in a cove like a piece of flotsam. The fishermen brought you to me. Another hour upon the strand and you’d be dead.”

He muscled up some spit to moisten his tongue. “How…long?”

“We’ve been fighting to keep you alive for a week.”

A week.

Panic flashed through him. He struggled to sit up.

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