Isle of Lies

By: Donna Fletcher


Chapter One




SCOTLAND 1513



The incessant pounding shattered the peacefulness of the quiet night. A candle flickered in a lone window of the convent and soon a succession of flickering lights followed in the other windows. Hushed whispers echoed through the stone halls, doors creaked open and bare feet were heard padding along the stone floor.

The endless pounding continued.

Most of the nuns, twenty in all, who resided at the convent knew full well to remain abed; if needed they would be summoned. Mother Superior would see to the impatient arrival, and several laughing smiles were followed by prayers for the unfortunate person. Mother Superior did not take kindly to the convent being disturbed in the dead of night; therefore, candles continued to burn and ears remained alert.

The thick wooden door sounded about to splinter when Mother Superior, fully attired and fully annoyed by this untimely intrusion, took anxious steps along with Sisters Elizabeth and Anne across the courtyard.

The autumn night held more than a mere chill. The wind swirled in gusts around them, sweeping up the leaves on the ground and sending them twirling through the darkness.

The playful wind and the unexpected drop in temperature caused a shiver to race through the three women, who grasped their white shawls tightly around them in hopes of warding off the cold that seeped into their bones as they hurried to bring a halt to the persistent pounding.

The door trembled against the weight of the mighty fist that refused to cease its steady and annoying rhythm. The unidentified person presumably was intent on entering the convent by any means, and with the convent grounds being fortified by a surrounding six-foot stone wall, the door—along with Mother Superior's approval—was the only way to gain admittance.

"Cease, or I will refuse you entrance," Mother Superior shouted. Her strong, deep voice carried her demand with force and timbre and the pounding abruptly stopped and blessed silence once again reigned.

Pleased with the obedient response Mother Superior continued. "Who bids entrance to the convent at such a rude hour?"

The reply was immediate and strongly male. "I bring an urgent message for Moira Maclean from her father, Angus Maclean."

Mother Superior grew alarmed. Moira Maclean had been placed in the convent when she was but ten and two with direct orders she was to take no vows but to wait on her father's word. Since that time, ten and seven years ago, the only message from her father was the yearly stipend he paid the convent for her care. After all these years of neglect and disinterest, why had he sent an urgent message in the middle of the night?

With concern for Moira, and having no other choice, Mother Superior reluctantly signaled Sister Anne to open the door. No sooner than the bolt was released, did the door burst open. It was not only a sole messenger who entered but what appeared to be a whole clan. The courtyard was soon filled with men who seemed to have come straight from the battlefield.

Their faces and clothes bore the signs of a hard-fought battle and one that looked to have been less than victorious. Streaks of blood covered flesh and clothing, and dirt clung to them as tenaciously as the sweat-drenched garments. Though the clansmen looked too weary to remain afoot, they all stood with pride and dignity and respectfully bowed their heads to Mother Superior as they passed by her.

Their manners won her respect.

The man who first stepped through the door differed from many of the men in height and form. While the dark night, heavy smudges of dirt, and streaks of dried blood masked his features, there was no denying his unique size. Most of the men were average in height and weight, possessing stocky, solid forms. Not so the man who spoke for the group. He towered over them by at least two heads. He was lean in build yet solid in muscle. At first glance one might mistake his slim form, but a keen eye would catch the hard definition of muscle in his arms and the veins that bulged with his life's blood. He was a force to be taken seriously and one better yet to avoid.

"I must speak to Moira Maclean."

Mother Superior caught the wide-eyed looks of Sisters Elizabeth and Anne and was not surprised by them. The strange man's voice belied his ragged appearance. He spoke in a fine articulate tongue, but it was the soothing lilt of charm in which his words were delivered that caught their attention. It coerced, cajoled, and captured.

Mother Superior was well aware of the consequences of such a charmed tongue on innocent women. She silently prayed he did not possess a face to match or at least that his face remained dirt ridden and he smelly while at the convent. She wanted none of her innocent, naive nuns tempted by this devil's charm.

"This message is so important that you disturb our sleep?" Mother Superior demanded. She crossed her arms, fixed her most stern expression on him, and stood straight, and still she had to tilt her head back to look him in the eye. And she was no small size herself. She stood a good head over the average woman.