Every Monday and Thursday brings two more free chapters of my exciting historical paranormal romance novel, Return to Rhonan (that’s four chapters each week). Set mainly in the Scottish Highlands, the reader will find much to enjoy on this mysterious well researched journey.
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here:
Return to Rhonan: Chapters 31 & 32
Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Wearily, Jess returned to her room to see the answer phone flashing. Pressing the button, she listened to his voice, ’Jess – you have to stop this. We have to meet up. Nat has just told me about the attack. For goodness sake – don’t you think you have punished me enough? Please answer this message; I’m worried sick about you. I love you. Just answer – please.’
Tears sprung to her eyes, stupid – stupid pride. She should answer it – wanted to answer it; the bitterness replaced with yearning. Her hand hesitated over the phone. She realized how awkward it was for all concerned. The friends would feel obliged to invite him to the séance. It was after all his hotel. They couldn’t spurn him because of the quarrel. Maybe he wouldn’t turn up. Part of her felt relieved at the thought, but another part longed for him to be there. Taking a deep breath, she knew she had to get this together – meet it with dignity. Even if her heart did threaten to leap through her chest.
Dropping her hand to her side, she turned to the window, looking over the lake, the water dark and still, the mausoleum barely visible. Walking out to the balcony she clutched the wrought-iron railing as she whispered, ‘Murial – who are you? What do you want?
Re-entering the room, Jess shut and locked the large windows. She looked again at the phone; it was late; the wine had gone to her head; her speech might be fuzzy; she might babble, or not make sense – best to leave it until she was quite sober. But then, without the wine maybe she wouldn’t find the courage to phone him.
After undressing and donning an oversized tee shirt, she brushed her hair, plating it into two long braids and pinning them on top of her head. That familiar heaviness tugged at her eyes, as she climbed into the bed pulling the duvet up around her.
Murial struggled awake to Becky pounding on the door. ‘Milady, wake up, wake up.
Unlocking the door, she met the frightened eyes of the maid, ‘Oh milady tis terrible news – you must come quickly. Tis the village of Tanmore, the soldiers are tumbling the cottages.’
Splashing her face with water Murial flung on a fine lawn shirt hanging ready for her along with men’s underdrawers and her leather knee breeches. Oh God, this would happen with Duncan on his way to Jamaica.
Pulling on thigh-high boots, she snatched up her riding crop and belt with her short sword. Whilst buckling it on, she dashed after the maid, shouting out to her to run to the stables and see her horse was saddled. Meanwhile, she ran to Guy’s room. ‘Guy, wake up, wake up Guy,’ When he didn’t answer, she pushed the door open, only to find the cluttered room empty. Running down the broad oak staircase, she made her way to the dining room but again, the room was empty. Seeing a servant scurrying by she shouted, ‘Where’s Sir Guy?’
‘He’s saddling his horse in the stables milady, tis such a terrible thing – a terrible thing.’
Hearing the clatter of horses’ hooves outside, she ran to find Guy waiting for her, his delicate face paler than ever. ‘Come on Sis, seems the devils couldn’t wait.’
She saw John the footman already saddled up along with the kennel man and head groom. A couple of other male servants made up the group. At least if there was a skirmish, they had enough manpower and weapons. She just wished Duncan was with them. He would certainly have rounded up more men, and he was a formidable adversary.
As they rode to the village, Murial said, ‘So the estate owner is evicting them?’
Guy’s face was grim. ‘Aye – he wants the land for grazing.’
‘But surely he can’t do this – how can he turn a whole village out of their homes? There must be ninety families living there. They can’t possibly turn starving families out of their very homes?’
‘Tis within the estate owners’ rights. They can do anything they like with the land; you know the tenants have no rights at all.’
‘But we know these tenants. They are quite prosperous, built the cottages themselves. Do you remember? They saved the land, over four hundred acres, from the bog, split the stones up themselves and built the cottages with their own hands. Now that fiend is destroying their homes. I know the tenants have the rent ready. They are renowned for paying their rent upfront. Oh God – how is this allowed to happen?’
‘Tis avarice – selfishness. Many of the estate owners just treat their tenants like animals. Look at Father, he has them use tunnels. He has forbidden any of them to show themselves when he is in residence. He even has the tunnels running under the front lawns, so they cannot be seen. Only the house servants are allowed above ground and that is through sheer necessity.’
Before reaching the village, they could hear the screams, smell the air acrid with smoke, hear the roar of soldiers’ voices. The scene that met them tore at Murial’s heart. It was a picture from Dante’s Inferno no less. Thatch, slates and stones flew through the air as the infantry tore off the roofs of the cottages. A small canon boomed creating jagged holes in the stone walls, tumbling them to the ground.
Murial could see the villagers had been abed when the soldiers attacked the village. Some were half dressed, others still in their nightclothes. Men fought with spades and bits of wood only to be felled by armed militia. Women screamed holding onto doorposts, desperate to stay in a home now just a pile of rubble and burning wood. Their children sobbed clinging to their skirts.
Guy with Murial following, led the group into the melee of muskets, swords and blood, screaming for the soldiers to desist. Riding up to the Captain she shouted, ‘I order you to stop now, I am from Rhonan Manor and I order you by the name of the Earl to desist.’
The man trying to keep his horse quiet shouted back, ‘I take orders from the General – forgive me but this work must be done.’ Turning her horse away from him, she cursed, ‘Damn you; these are decent law-abiding people. You are doing the devils work this day Sir, the devil’s work.’
Guy rode to her side. ‘Tis no use Murial – there is nothing we can do. There are too many. Come let us go now. ‘
‘Never.’ She screamed, ‘I’ll fight them with every bone in my body. Come Guy raise your sword and fight. Charging into the crowd, she swiped at the soldiers working on the cannons, trying to pull others from their horses. They dare not touch her for she was one of the Quality, yet neither did the soldiers fall back. Guy, John and the other men bravely took on the attackers, swords in hand to be met with broadswords or knocked to the ground fighting to keep out of the way of the horses, rearing terrified, their eyes wide, hooves chopping air.
Leaping off her horse, Murial went to the aid of one young woman holding a baby whilst fighting to snatch some belongings from the smoking ruins, her child crying, clutching a rag doll. Using the flat of her sword, she struck a soldier on the back, whereupon, she rallied the horse around to hit another across the side of his head. Dazed, he looked at her with shocked eyes, before falling to the ground. She turned to help the woman, snatching up a frying pan, bed linen and some clothes before escaping from the flames.
Short of killing the soldiers, Guy and Murial were almost helpless. They could not turn them away. Horrified at the screams of the children, she looked to see older ones bravely trying to fight the soldiers with their bare fists only to be flung aside. As she raced towards them, to her horror, she saw a young man barley sixteen years old, try to defend his mother. Everything turned to slow motion as she ran to help him only to see the soldier lift his gun and shoot the lad in the head, hearing the mother’s anguished wail as he fell dying at her feet.
Holding the weeping woman struggling in her arms Murial screamed at him, ‘You bastard – I’ll kill you – kill you.’ Baring her teeth she let go of the mother lunging at him with her sword tip now pointed towards him. The force of her thrust knocked him down. Together they rolled in the dirt and ashes of the ruin, the man narrowly escaping a fatal blow as her sword bounced off his chest armour. The mother now screaming like a banshee leapt on him, fists flailing giving Murial the advantage. Snarling, clenching her teeth she yelled as she leapt to run him through only to feel herself lifted away. Guy’s voice rang out, ‘Don’t Murial – don’t hang for him.’
Still kicking, trying to escape his arms she cried, ‘He killed a child Guy – an innocent lad – I’ll murder him, run him through.’
Wresting the sword from her, he helped her back on her horse. ‘Murial – my braw brave girl – save yourself to help others. Tis all we can do now.’
Murial put her head in her hands and wept. As she wiped away the hot tears, she saw another child lying on the ground, her tiny body battered by horses’ hooves. Kicking her horse into a gallop she rode over to the Captain, who was still on his horse watching the heart-wrenching turmoil, she said. ‘You will rue this day Captain – don’t talk to me of duty – this is evil – the slaying of innocents.’
He turned a weary head to her, his eyes glittering, ‘He will pay for that act madam. Tis not our choice; this day will burn in our hearts. The order was not to shoot death into the crowd. That blackguard will not live to see the night – that I promise you.’
Murial turned her head to see the man now manacled, led out of the fighting.
Jessie moaned, as if in pain, her body writhing between the sheets. Rivulets of sweat rippled down her face, running in beads onto her chest. She was living a nightmare – Murial had reached out once more and drawn her into the shocking reality of the Clearances. Part of her wanted to stay in the dream to see if Murial and Guy could help the victims, the other part of her struggled to escape experiencing the sheer cruelty meted out to the helpless tenants. Thrashing her arms, she fought to escape, to gain consciousness. Forcing her eyes open, she blinked away the sweat, feeling her clothes wet to her skin.
Swinging her legs off the side of the bed Jessie rose to walk to the bathroom. Switching on the cold-water tap, scooping up handfuls of cold water, and bathing her face, she looked into the mirror, seeing the violet shadows beneath the eyes, the horror in her gaze. Had that really happened? Had a landlord or estate owner been so callously cruel as to rip people from their own homes, burning them to the ground? Did he ever feel remorse for those wretched people, innocent law-abiding citizens and defenseless children?
They’d paid the rent, goddamn. Where were the laws to protect them? Jessie remembered the grim faces of the soldiers and something else in their eyes, a dreadful flatness, as if they were trying to blank out the devil himself. How did they feel as their horses stamped on the fragile bodies of the children, on the mothers trying to save them?
Why was Murial showing her these gut-wrenching scenes? Did she want retribution? But, how could Jessie help two centuries later? It had all happened – there was nothing she could do. It was like watching the appeals on television for Somalia, sending money only to know that thousands of pounds would be swallowed down the ever hungry throats of corrupt governments. It was too late for many of the helpless starving children. Even now in a century where technological advances challenged mortality itself, famines broke out. Even now, there were worlds of extremes, of celebrities earning millions, of children in the ghettos starving – dying.
Was Murial showing her because she wanted her descendents to know what she suffered? What Scotland suffered? Pouring herself a glass of water, she began to drink, only to find herself slipping back into the dream. No, this couldn’t be happening. Powerless to resist, she felt the trance, numbing her body, her mind, as she slumped in the chair.
Within hours not one cottage stood. After the departure of the soldiers, the former tenants picked among the smoking ruins. Murial worked alongside the evicted tenants. Nearby Guy and the men, hurled debris aside helping those half buried under fallen doors and rubble. Added to their despair, on the estate owner’s orders, no help was to be given them from neighbours in the adjacent village. They were to leave the estate for the coast before night.
Not even the children or babies were to be offered shelter. The stricken villagers now faced a night without food on the roads.
Murial, her face and clothes grimy with dirt and ashes saw a small cavalcade arrive. She managed to smile as Meg along with some servants arrived with a cart laden with food and clothes and bedding. It was mutually decided to ignore the estate owner’s orders and to build a habitable space in the ruins with doorposts serving to hold a roof of branches and turf. At least, that way they would have a couple of days to plan what they might do to survive the roads.
As night fell, so tenants from a neighbouring village crept in unseen to help. The stricken victims sat with hearts broken in the ruins of what was once a beloved family home. The remains of cherished kitchen dressers served as benches on which to sleep. These people through the toil of their own hands had enjoyed a certain prosperity, but even that did not save them when the estate owner claimed the very land on which the cottages stood.
Murial watched Meg handing out food, whilst she provided the half-naked villagers with warm clothes but sadly, there were not enough to go around, the villagers’ own clothes and bedding having been destroyed in the tumbling. Murial waved a weary hand to Guy, and others helping the men to try to build makeshift dwellings, chopping up branches, heaving loads of rescued turf. At least that would give them some shelter against the cold and rain of the night hours.
Dawn ushered in Hell. The soldiers were back to drive them from the very ruins. Again, with no warning, the broken people awoke to the thrum of horses’ hooves and the clash of metal swords. Murial opened her eyes to see the soldiers surrounding the ruins; weapons raised. Desperate cries wrought the air, ‘Ye canna do this? Oh dear God in heaven save us – save us oh Lord.’ The people scattered pausing to scoop up their sobbing children as they climbed from the mud and ashes of the blackened holes, their only shelter.
One woman fell to her knees followed by others who held up their hands in prayer. ‘Please Mary Mother of God, save us, save the wee bairns. Do not desert us Mother Mary – save our bairns.’
But, the only replies were the coarse curses of the solders as they dragged them praying from the ruins.
Murial knew it was useless to fight, but she could at least see they were not roughly handled, ‘Get your bloody hands off her.’ she cried as one soldier dragged a woman half dressed along the ground. Seeing her raised sword, he dropped the pitiful form.
Clutching a handful of clothes with the odd cauldron, the people were forced off the estate and onto the open road now, only the ditches could offer any respite.
Streams ran through some of the ditches, others were almost a bog. Wearily, Murial rode alongside the evicted tenants, a child on her lap, another clinging on behind her.
Riding alongside her with more children on his horse, Guy said, ‘Murial you’ve had no rest. You must go back to the Manor, rest, eat and then return in warm clothing.
Her eyes felt full of grit as she looked at him. ‘No, we have to see these people settled. We must do what we can now. Besides I would not rest. You know that. I am strong I can carry on.’
‘No Guy – please, there are over four hundred people here, let’s find somewhere for them at least for tonight. Thank God, some people from the other estates have ignored the threats of the estate owners; they have come en masse to help us. Even if it means they too could lose their homes. They’ve brought clothes, blankets, food, cooking pots, dry wood. They can help build the shelters in some of the dryer ditches. But, Guy it’s shocking, only yesterday these people were abed in their own homes, a fire in their grates, warm kitchens, pretty parlours and now this. They built those cottages Guy, saved the land from the bog. Not much is getting into the newspapers. These innocent hardworking people have done nothing to deserve such treachery. The world does not know yet. And when it does, it will be too late for many of them here.’ With a sob, she clutched the child to her breast.
Even in a state of shock, the courage of the Scottish people shone through, some singing, others talking quietly and yet others softly bewailing their fate. Yet, their spirit was not yet broken, neither did they blame their God, as they set to building the shelters in the ditches. Some men dug as others stamped down the ground. The women gathered branches and turf in readiness for the makeshift roofs. By nightfall, the fires were lit on the roadside and the food cooking, but it was not enough. Many tonight would go hungry for yet another night. Murial wondered how long the food would last. The neighbours could only share so much as they themselves were near starving.
Mud seeped into the bottom of the ditch as Murial awoke to light filtering through the branches overhead. The earthen walls of their tomb seeming to shake as the occupants awoke to a dull thudding. Pushing aside a couple of the branches overhead, she heard men shouting. ‘They’re here again – tis the soldiers.’ Murial tried not to disturb the sleeping child as she climbed to her feet. Her whole body ached from half sitting half lying huddled among the evicted tenants. Wearily, she wiped streaks of mud from for her eyes as she peered into the distance. Yes, they were coming; she could see the flash of sunlight on steel. Dear God – what now?
Groups of people were already about, as dawn peeled back the night. Joining Guy, who stood quietly talking to a group of men, she heard him say, ‘They will not attack us surely, these are ditches, the people must rest somewhere. They must be on their way to yet another estate.’ His words were cut short as the soldiers neared their weapons raised menacingly. A woman screamed; others began to shout as Murial watched some soldiers alight from their horses and begin tearing off the roofs of the shelters, dragging out the screaming people.
Her heart pounding Murial ran forward, what was happening now? Surely, they couldn’t be evicting them from the ditches, from mud-filled holes in the ground? Running to her horse, she untethered him and leapt on his back. She looked a mess; a beggar with a filthy mud streaked face, and dirt caked clothes, as she joined Guy, who was now speaking angrily to the Captain. She caught his words, ‘This is beyond belief Captain – how in hell’s name can you evict these people from the ditches? They are past the boundaries of the estate surely?
The Captain shook his head bringing out a map, ‘Sir; they may be beyond Lord Tanmore’s estate, but they are now on Lord Gallagher’s estate. They must keep to the roads until they reach the forests and the coast.’
Guy’s face whitened. ‘You can’t do this – in God’s name man they will perish for sure, tis only the bogs and the forests left to them.’ Shaking his head, Guy turned to see Murial approach. It’s no use Murial– there is nothing we can do.’
Murial bit her lip. For once, she was lost for words. Neither Guy nor she could start fighting; people would be hurt more than they were now. Looking at the Captain she said, ‘How can you live with yourself. Could you not have turned a blind eye to this? Could you not let these poor people rest? At least let the children eat?’
The Captain looked at her with dreadful eyes, his speech almost a whisper. ‘I am sworn to serve my General – t’would be treason to disobey. I and my men would be hung or shot madam. May God forgive me for this day’s work.’
Guy spoke softly, ‘Come sister, you are needed at the Manor – there are others there who are near starving – dying. Let us go.’
Murial bit her lip, her eyes brimming with tears, as she whispered, ‘Captain let them eat first – please.’
The Captain bowed his head, ’Of course madam – then we must escort these people from the estates. Be assured no one will be hurt. Death will go hungry today.’
No part of this book may be stored, reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Katy Walters
All rights reserved
Don’t worry if you miss any chapters, since you will find links to other posted chapters here: