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“Dinna touch me, ye dirty swine!”
The high-pitched demand jerked Gillis MacDougal out of the half-sleep that had filled the hours of endless dark. He crawled to his feet, inhaling a hiss at the reminder of bruised ribs.
“Walk or be dragged, laddie. ‘Tis nay matter to me.”
Gillis recognized the brutal voice. He wouldn’t forget those iron fists for some time.
“I am the heir, nay some laddie!”
Gillis grimaced. Heir or not, insulting your captors was not smart. He wasn’t surprised at the thud quickly followed by a gasp of pain. He hadn’t recovered from his own beating and he was a man grown. Cold, damp, dark, and lack of food and water sapped a man’s strength.
He stood beneath the hole, blinking at the unaccustomed torchlight. A head, shown in shadow, leaned over.
“Ye still alive down there?”
“Aye, as ye can see,” he replied, sounding as forceful as possible.
“Not yer business.”
“The laird will be back on the morrow. He’ll make ye talk.”
“Aye,” added another. “He has a fine touch with the cat.”
Gillis winced at the news. Being flayed by a cat o’nine tails would be just the beginning. When they discovered he was a MacDougal they’d toss him back in the pit, shut the stone lid, and forget him. Though once powerful his clan had little coin or land and too many sons with bellies to feed. He needed to escape tonight, either by himself or with the help of his brother, who remained free.
“Get in the hole,” ordered the leader.
“Me father’ll nay pay a groat for me corpse!”
Gillis silently applauded the shrill voice. Instead of the arrogance of a moment ago he heard equal fear and bravado. Was this the lad’s true nature?
“Och, laddie, ye’ll nay die afore the morrow.”
“You in the pit! Dinna hurt the lad or ye’ll die slow. He’s worth gold.”
Gillis reached up to catch the boy so he wouldn’t land on the stone floor. He grunted as a sharp elbow smashed his bruised chest. The toe of a boot barely missed one of his most tender parts, not that he’d have much chance to use it again unless he could escape. The lad scrambled out of his grasp as soon as his feet touched down.
Coarse laughter followed the comment as they trooped out, leaving the trap open, thank God. The silence which had surrounded him, broken only by the rustle of vermin, was no longer absolute. The boy panted shallowly rather than breathing deep. Had they bruised his ribs as well?
“Who are ye that ye are worth gold to the Campbells?” he asked.
“Ye tell me first.”
Scared the boy may be, but he was doing his best not to show it. He had to come from nearby, unless the Campbells had slaughtered his escort.
“I willna ask yer clan, but are ye a Macintosh or Macpherson?”
That was good. Though the two clans were not MacDougal rivals, they were of his foster father, Laird Cameron of Cameron. Gillis and his older brother, Angus, were to attend Darach Cameron’s wedding, representing the MacDougals. If Gillis couldn’t escape this pit, Angus would be attending his funeral instead.
“Is yer clan allied with the Campbells?” asked Gillis. There was no quick answer this time. He waited while feet shuffled.
“If my father had been their ally, capturing the heir might change his thoughts, aye?”
The words and their phrasing showed education. It did not match the arrogant lad who’d insulted the Campbells and got swatted for it. The lad was a puzzle and Gillis had nothing else to do except doze and wish the morning would not bring torture and death.
“We have a common enemy, young friend. I be Gillis.”
The boy coughed and fidgeted. Gillis had six younger brothers. He could tell when a lad was deciding how to adjust the truth to suit the situation. He’d done it often enough.
“Call me Patrick.”
An interesting choice of words as it said nothing but his choice of name.
“Dinna fear the dark, Patrick. Ye’ll nay be here long.”
The boy gave a very adult snort of amusement. “Sitting in the dark is safer than facing a brute with a temper and a whip.”
“He’ll nay touch ye if ye’ll bring gold. Unlike me,” added Gillis ruefully.
Gillis snorted sarcastically, wincing at the bruised ribs.
“A wee while back Robert the Bruce helped Campbells steal our land,” he said. “I’ll nay ask my laird to take food from my many brothers to save my hide.” He grimaced. “If I am here on the morrow, I die. So, we must escape tonight.”
“We? Ye’ll take me with ye?” The eager voice trembled.
“Ach, laddie, I’d nay leave an adder with these murderous bastards. If ye can keep up with my running we’ll take ye along. My brother is outside, lookin’ fer a way in.”
“I can run like the wind if the Campbell hounds are behind me.”
It was Gillis’ turn to shuffle his feet and fidget. He’d been there two days by his count and his only plan for escape depended on his brother. Unfortunately, there was one brother and a castle full of Glenorchy Campbells.
“There’s one wee problem,” he admitted. “We’re at the bottom of this deep pit.”
Silence descended again. Small feet shuffled in the muck.
“’Tis nay that deep.”
© 2018 Reece Butler. All Rights Reserved.
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