Highlander Most Wanted

By: Maya Banks

Bowen pulled up, his horse dancing sideways along the edge of the steep rise. Beside him, Teague, Aiden, and Brodie reined in their horses and stared at the keep below.

“I plan to run Patrick through with my sword,” Bowen said calmly. “ ’Tis offensive that he still breathes our air. He is a liar and a coward.”

“Aye,” Brodie said with a dark scowl. “He looked me in the eye and said he had no knowledge of my sister while he knew she lay below in the dungeon, sorely abused by his bastard of a son.”

Aiden’s brows drew together and he gestured below as the rest of the Montgomery and Armstrong soldiers ascended the rise and made an impressive line atop the hillside.

Their armor glinted in the sun, bounced, and reflected a dazzling array of flashing beams. To those below, it must look like hell about to descend. The Montgomery army alone was an impressive enough sight to make the most hardened warrior flee in terror. But add the might of the Armstrong soldiers and it was a fighting force unrivaled by even the king’s army.

Never before had two such powerful clans allied. It would likely never happen again.

“Is that a white flag draped from their guard tower?” Aiden asked in disbelief.

Bowen’s gaze sharpened and honed in on the banner fluttering in the wind.

“It looks like a bed linen,” he muttered.

“Aye,” Teague agreed.

“There are two of them!” Brodie exclaimed, pointing at the twin tower on the other side of the gate.

Sure enough, another linen was unfurled, catching the breeze and fluttering wildly from the wide window cut into the stone tower.

“They’re giving up without a fight?” Aiden asked in disbelief.

Bowen frowned. “Perhaps ’tis a trick.”

“If so, ’tis a stupid trick,” Brodie growled. “They’re vastly outnumbered, and even if the odds were even they would be no match for us. Even if they were able to take a few of us by surprise, they would be quickly annihilated.”

“There’s only one way to find out,” Teague said with a shrug.

He drew his sword and urged his horse forward.

Bowen dug his heels into his horse’s flanks and hurried to catch up to his brother.

Behind him, Brodie and Aiden let out a shout that was caught and echoed through the ranks of their men until the entire hillside roared with their battle cry.

When they were a short distance from the wide-open gate to the courtyard, a young lad stumbled outside the walls clutching a sword that was much too big for his small frame, and attached to the end was a crudely made white flag.

There was no need for him to wave it, because his hands shook so badly that the swatch of material flapped madly in the wind.

Bowen reined in his horse in disgust and stared in disbelief at the lad, who couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old.

“They send a child to confront an approaching army?” he roared.

Teague was without words as he stared, dumbfounded, at the sight before him. Aiden and Brodie looked to Bowen, shaking their heads the entire time.

“Cowards,” Brodie spat. “ ’Tis naught I despise more than a coward.”

“Please, do not harm us,” the child said, his teeth chattering as if he were in the dead of winter. “ ’Tis a flag of surrender we fly. We bear no arms against you.”

“Where is your laird?” Bowen coldly demanded.

“G-g-gone,” the lad stammered.

“Gone?” Aiden echoed.

The lad nodded vigorously. “Aye, this morning. My mum says he fled because he knew he was going to die for his sins.”

“Your mum was right,” Teague muttered.

Fear flashed in the lad’s eyes. “Many are gone. There aren’t so many of us left. We don’t want war and would pray that you are merciful in your dealings.”

He kept his gaze averted, his head bowed in a subservient manner, but Bowen could see the lad’s hands trembling and it angered him that this child would be sent into harm’s way.

“Ansel! Ansel!”

A woman’s voice rang strongly through the courtyard. It resonated with anger—and fear. And then a slight figure adorned in a cape that completely obscured her features from sight appeared through the gates.

She ran to the child and grasped his arm, quickly pulling him into the folds of her cape until he was hidden from view. Only his feet stuck out.

“Who sent you on this fool’s errand?” she demanded, looking down in the direction of the child’s head.

It was a question Bowen would very much have liked to know the answer to as well.

“Corwen,” the child said, his voice muffled by her cloak.

The only thing visible on the lass were her hands peeking from the long sleeves of the cape. Bowen studied them with interest as they gripped the child so tightly that they went white at the tips.

Young hands. Smooth. Nary a wrinkle in sight. The nails were elegantly fashioned and rounded at the tips, and the fingers were long and slender, pale, as if they hadn’t ever been kissed by the sun.

’Twas evident this was not one who worked in the fields. Or in the keep cleaning, either.

“Cowardly bastard,” she spat, startling all four of the men with her vehemence—and the base language. Not that any disagreed with her assessment.