“Look up the hill, to your right,” Teague said sharply.
Graeme yanked his head up and then focused in the distance where Teague directed as the drawbridge slowly began to grind its way down.
He almost missed the slight figure and then when his gaze swept back over it again, he frowned and turned back to his brother, wondering why on earth Teague would have called his attention to it.
“Is that a person?” Teague demanded. “What’s he doing up there alone on the hill?”
“Afraid she’s going to come down here and knock you off your horse?” Bowen drawled.
“She?” Teague said in disbelief.
“ ’Tis a lass,” Bowen said, nodding his head in the direction of the distant yellowish blob.
Graeme strained forward again. “How can you tell at this distance?”
Bowen gave them both mocking glances and then shook his head in dismay. “Think you any men run around in yellow dresses?”
Teague lifted his eyebrow. “Well, ’tis the Armstrongs, so I suppose anything could be possible.”
The men around them laughed, and then the drawbridge hit the ground with a thump, stirring up dust around the horses. When Graeme glanced up the hill again, he could no longer see the girl. How had she disappeared so quickly?
He urged his horse ahead, focusing his attention forward, ready for the impending confrontation. It was the truth he’d rather face battle outnumbered three to one than have to go meekly into the Armstrong keep and join himself to this clan in marriage.
It appalled him on every level. His da would be turning over in his grave. It was a dark day for Montgomerys everywhere and it would be a day long remembered in their history. If he had his way, the entire event would be stricken from any oral or written accounts henceforth.
But of course he couldn’t very well do something so permanent with a wife. As tempting as it may be.
He rode into the courtyard to see Tavis Armstrong standing beside the Earl of Dunbar. Graeme wasn’t startled to see the king’s man there, though he’d honestly expected the king himself to attend since this was of such importance to him.
Graeme reined in and sat astride his horse, staring down at the chieftain of the Armstrong clan. Tavis stared back, and then beside him appeared his two sons, though Graeme didn’t know which was which. The last time he’d encountered the Armstrong whelps, he’d sent them packing after a brief skirmish in the dead zone—the small plot of land that lay between the Montgomery and Armstrong borders. It belonged to the McAlpins, but they’d long since abandoned it due to the proximity to the warring clans. It was a tiny sliver of land, a mere fingerling of their holding, and it was no big thing to keep to the south and away from the feud.
Tavis flinched first, a fact that brought Graeme satisfaction. He’d take a victory no matter how insignificant. He might have been forced to venture meekly onto Armstrong land, but he damn sure wouldn’t allow any Armstrong to intimidate him.
Tavis took a step forward, cleared his throat, and said, “Welcome to our keep, Laird Montgomery. You and your brothers are welcome inside. Your men will find accommodations in the outer perimeter where tents have been erected for their use. Food and drink will be provided for all.”
For a moment, Graeme didn’t speak. Then he glanced to his brothers and gave the signal to dismount. Graeme swung himself over his horse and dropped down.
Tavis motioned several of his men to take the horses and lead them to shelter in the stables.
And there they stood. Montgomery warriors face-to-face with Armstrong warriors. They bristled with dislike. The Armstrongs looked as though they’d just welcomed the devil into their sanctuary and well, maybe they had.
Such a thing had never been accomplished in the history of their clans. Never had they stood so close without swords drawn and much blood shed. Graeme’s hand itched for wanting to grip his sword, and his throat ached from wanting to bellow a war cry.
“I do not like this,” Tavis said quietly, his voice steady with a thread of steel. “As God is my witness, there is no part of me that agrees to this madness.”