Surrender to the Highlander

By: Terri Brisbin
Chapter One

Lairig Dubh, Scotland


His sword sang its death song and the sound pulsed through his soul, giving him strength and resolve. Swinging it over his head and aiming its sharpened tip down, Rurik Erengislsson allowed the Viking buried deep within him to rise as he became one, in that instant, with the messenger of death in his grip. Only his control, exerted at the last moment, kept the deathblow from being delivered to the man lying at his feet in the dirt. Raising his face to the sun, he screamed out his battle cry like a berserker of old, loud and long, until it echoed out past the buildings of the yard and even over the walls surrounding the keep of Lairig Dubh.

His opponent judiciously allowed him the moment of triumph and did not move. The sharp tip of the sword held at Connor’s neck was, no doubt, part of what held him motionless, waiting for Rurik to relent. When those watching erupted into cheering, he lifted the sword away and reached down to his vanquished foe, the man he called laird.

“I was beginning to think this was the end,” Connor MacLerie, Laird MacLerie and the Earl of Douran, said under his breath. “There was an expression in your eyes I did not recognize, Rurik.”

The laird brushed the dirt from him and held his hand out for his own weapon, which Rurik had tossed aside during their battle. A boy ran to pick it up and bring it back to Connor.

Rurik cleared his throat and spit in the dirt. “I do not kill those I serve.”

Connor nodded at the gold armbands he now wore. The laird was an observant man. “The sword. The armbands. I suspect they are related to the visitors who stand in my hall and await your arrival there.”

“Visitors?” he asked.

Nodding to another of the lads who stood watching, he leaned over and gave him instructions before handing his blade to the boy. Facing Connor once more, he knew that an attempt at feigning surprise would not be missed and would be considered an insult by the laird, who was also his friend.

“They come looking for Rurik Erengislsson. They carry word from the Orkneys…from your father.”

The news was nothing he did not already know. Two previous visits by them had not gone unnoticed, but they returned north after being unsuccessful in their quest each time. In spite of his ability to avoid them, Rurik had not been able to cast the items they sent to him away as easily as he had their written missives.

“I know,” he said. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Rurik shrugged. “I do not wish to speak to them.”

Connor’s not-even-furtive glances over his shoulder told Rurik that the men approached from behind. Although quite capable of knocking them to the ground, he understood that Connor had welcomed them and had thus protected them with his name and hospitality. Attacking them, even if to give himself time to escape, was not possible without making the MacLerie himself an enemy. And the urge to run was growing, disconcerting him even more.

“That sword held over me in your hand tells me otherwise, Rurik.” Connor clapped him on the shoulder. “You cannot run from your past forever. ’Tis a lesson I learned and one that you should consider.” Leaning closer, he lowered his voice. “You need not repeat my mistakes to learn from them.”

That sword had been his failing. The armbands, although appealing to him, did not carry the importance of the sword. He damned his own weakness in not simply burying it when it was delivered to him. Rurik gazed over to watch the boy following his instructions on how to clean it. Giving in to the inevitable step he must take, he nodded at Connor and turned to face the two men who had dogged his every move for more than three months.

They need not remove their hoods for him to recognize two of his boyhood friends now grown. Rurik held out his hand to each in turn. Memories flashed through his thoughts reminding him of how much trouble three boys, who were all bark and no brawn, could get into when they had too much time and not enough guidance.

“Sven. Magnus.”

The hesitation lasted only a moment more, until Sven reached over and pulled him into the crushing clinch given by one friend to another. Reluctant to admit even to himself how good it felt, Rurik pulled away. Magnus’s reaction should not have surprised him, but it did and he barely missed having his wits knocked out of him by the blow when it came. The silence in the yard grew as he climbed to his feet, brushed some dirt from his breeches and began to laugh.

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