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

“Don’t be foolish.” The doctor placed a solid hand on Lachlan’s good shoulder. “If you move too quickly, you’ll tear open the stitches again. I’ve had a devil of a time keeping that wound closed.”

The wound pulled and tugged, a pain that made beads of sweat pop out on his forehead. A week gone already, and who knew how long it must have taken the ocean currents to drag him to this shore.

He remembered the last time he saw home, riding out of the keep with his father’s hopes heavy in his heart.

“I have to get back,” he said through gritted teeth. “My father will think I’m dead.”

“If you don’t let that wound heal, you will be dead.” The doctor increased the pressure on his shoulder. “Trust me, your father will be elated at your resurrection.”

The doctor’s grip was implacable, but it was the black scrim starting to wink before his eyes that felled Lachlan. He sank back on the pillow breathing as heavily as if he’d rowed the whole white-capped distance between Derry and Loch Fyfe.

Damn it.

“Not a simple sailor, are you?” The doctor released him and frowned. “A Scotsman builds shoulders like that by wielding a claymore.”

Lachlan used the excuse of his weakness not to respond. He wasn’t so dazed as not to realize he had to be discreet. He didn’t know who this man was, or whose side in the conflict he might be on, or even if he knew anything at all about the clan war brewing.

“Trouble then,” the doctor grunted at his silence. “Should I send men to watch the shore? Against the enemies who’ll return to finish the job?”

Lachlan remembered the sound of the assassins laughing just before the ocean swallowed him up.

“There’ll be no trouble.” His lips stuck to one another. “They think I’m dead.”

He should be dead. He’d been stabbed, thrown overboard in the middle of a gale, yet woke to find himself alive in a room with a wary Irish physician. He struggled against the darkness, thinking I must get back.

The assassins believed they’d murdered him.

The next man they would murder would be his father.


Cairenn hesitated outside the stone outbuilding where her father tended his patients. He was the best doctor in all of Ireland. She knew this because it was always the sickest, most desperate people who found their way across Galway Bay in little coracles to hire donkeys to carry them to the heights of Dun Conor. People doubled in agony, cut apart by war, groaning under sicknesses no one could see, half-mad in the mind.

She could always feel those minds, whether she wanted to or not. They roared in pain and anguish. Many a night she’d scurried away from the bed she shared with her sisters, fled the house, the courtyard, and the whole stone-walled fort. She’d rather shelter in the caves on the north of the island than sleep within mind-hearing distance of that bloody room.

Now, standing in the white sun in the middle of the courtyard, she spread her thoughts into the sickroom. She sensed a pair of swallows nested in the thatch, warming a clutch of eggs. She sensed one of the house cats cleaning its paws in a patch of sunshine. Blocking out her father’s presence, she stretched her mind and probed every corner of the room until she could sense the buzzing of a bee just outside the window, the rustle of a mouse amid the straw in the corner, all the tiny tickles of life that made her head hurt. But for all her probing, she sensed no other human life in that room except her father.

Not even the one she knew lay on the pallet inside, living and breathing when he shouldn’t.

The emptiness disturbed her more than a hundred thousand bloody screams.

“There you are, Cairenn.”

Her father stood in the doorway. He’d been waiting for her help in the sickroom, but she’d dawdled while she helped Ma clean up the midday meal.

“Why are you standing there?” he said. “Are you going to come in here and do your father’s bidding?”

“I’m not my sister,” she said, feeling her chin pucker. “I’ve no gift of the healing hands.”

“I know very well that Aileen is an ocean away.” As always, when he spoke her sister’s name, it came with equal measures of pride and melancholy. “And you know that I called you for other reasons. It’s not a healing that our patient needs now.”

Her father slipped into the dimness of the room, expecting her compliance. She swallowed the fear and made her way across the bare stone of the courtyard like the dutiful daughter she was supposed to be. She stepped into the cool shade of the building and grasped the doorjamb against the smell of the place—tart herbs and peat smoke and, underneath it all, the copper-tang of blood.

She couldn’t help herself. The nothingness on that pallet was like a void she couldn’t stop peering into. But sending her mind toward the outsider was like tripping into thin air.

“This man you found,” Da said, casting a hand toward the pallet, “is no wayward sailor caught up in a brawl, I can tell you that.”

No, Da. No, he isn’t.

“I didn’t want to talk about this over dinner and worry your Ma. Asking you to help me with his bindings was a pretext to get you in here.”

“I can tell you nothing about his mind.” That, at least, wasn’t a lie. “He was so far gone when I found him on the strand, that I felt nothing but his pain.”

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