Scottish Highlands, 1351
Shrouded in mist, Loch Nis loomed, dark and foreboding, in the distance. Lachlann pulled the packhorse along swiftly, anxious to be home before nightfall. He needed to see his family, to hold his son. He checked his sporan. The wee leather ball and wooden horse figurine were there, safe. He could hardly wait to watch Iain’s little face light up when he gave him the toys.
Allasan should be pleased that he’d found everything on her list. He grinned. They had their differences, but if there was one thing about his wife, she knew what she wanted. She was the most stubborn Gael alive. Despite fever, nausea, and a sick three-year-old to care for, she’d almost pushed him out of the door.
“You have to go,” she’d urged, her brown eyes unnaturally bright. “I want the dye and you’ll find it in Inbhir Nis. You promised! I didn’t work day and night all summer to be disappointed because of a paltry ailment. I have my family and yours all around me if I need anything. Go! You’ll only be in my way here!”
He had to admit, she’d been right. The Lùnastal festival in Inbhir Nis was much larger than their local fairs, with a wide variety of merchants in attendance. Not only had he found her purple dye and wax candles, but all sorts of vegetable seeds as well, even Norse favorites such as horseradish and mustard.
Thanks to a bountiful harvest and the cloth that Allasan wove so skillfully, he’d had plenty with which to barter. He’d even been able to choose gifts – Iain’s toys, silk ribbons for his wife and sisters-in-law, and iron gall ink for the bard.
He only wished that Allasan and Iain had been able to go with him as planned. He’d worried about them the whole week.
What was wrong with the horse? He tugged lightly on the rope. The beast stalled, its ears flat back. He tugged harder, then smelled it, the foul stench of smoke.
“Come on,” he urged the animal. “Someone’s just burning something.”
But burning what? As he drew closer to the village, he saw black smoke billowing from the mountain. His gut clenched. Something was wrong. He moved faster.
The packhorse resisted.
Damn it! He had to get home. When the animal continued to balk, he tied it to a tree and ran.
By the time he reached the outskirts of his village, his eyes were burning. Smoke was beginning to choke him.
He ran faster.
Someone grasped his arms, swinging him to a halt.
“You’re going the wrong way! You need to get out of here!”
Gaelic, but the accent was odd. Dimly, through the smoke, he saw a stranger standing before him, his face shrouded by a hood.
“I’m going to my family!”
“They’re gone. You need to turn around and head back to Inbhir Nis.”
“What do you mean, they’re gone?”
They must’ve moved away from the fire. He pushed forward. He’d be able to help.
The stranger stopped him again.
“You’re the farmer, aren’t you? The Norseman they call ‘Ox’?”
“I’m sorry, friend. Your family is gone. Your entire village was wiped out.”
“Explain yourself!” Lachlann roared, his heart suddenly pounding in his ears.
“They’re all dead. The plague… It took your whole village in less than a week. They’ve been burning everything – bodies, houses, clothing, bedding. There’s nothing left.”
Lachlann began to run.
“Turn around!” the stranger shouted after him. “A Dhaimh, sàbhail thu fhèin!”
He ran as fast as he could, the fetid smoke filling his nostrils, burning his eyes and throat. He rushed through the village without pause, not slowing until he reached his longhouse. He stopped then, gasping, his heart beating in his ears. The thatch roof was gone, the stone blackened with soot.
“Allasan! Iain!” Racing inside, he found only ashes. He stared. Ashes. Their iron kettle nestled on the floor of the hearth, blackened, smoldering. On shaking legs, he walked the short length of the house. Not a sign, not a hint. Where were they?
They had to be all right. Just a week ago, Allasan had been cooking, weaving, arguing. Iain had been playing, laughing. They couldn’t be… They must have fled.
He stumbled back out. Black smoke whirled around him like fingers of death.
Gasping, he ran to his parents’ home. The stone structure still stood, blackened, roofless. Heat seemed to radiate from within. He stared at it, unable to move as dark flakes fell around him. Ashes!
The house built by his grandfather’s grandfather, the oldest and largest in their village, the home he’d grown up in, was reduced to a blackened pile of stones. A shuffling sound caught his attention. His heart leapt.
A hen fluttered from behind the house.
Lachlann turned away, tears burning down his cheeks as dread clamped coldly around his heart.
Where was everyone? He glanced wildly about him. They couldn’t all be gone, not the whole village.
Castle Chisholm! They would have sought refuge at the castle. Allasan and Iain would surely be there. It had been Allasan’s home. He beat the trail up to the castle. The smoke was thinner as he approached the unfinished stone structure. The gates were closed, but he knew the guards.
“My family,” he said urgently. “I want to see my family!”
Brian, an old friend, stepped forward, grimacing.
“Lachlann…” he faltered.
The Gael shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
“Where are they?”
His friend’s hands grasped his shoulders.
“They’re not here, Lachlann,” he said quietly. “They died.”
“They can’t be dead! I just left them a week ago!”
“It happened quickly. Your whole village was struck.”
“My parents, my brothers…”
“To the best of my knowledge, you’re the only survivor.”
Lachlann’s knees buckled. Brian’s hands braced him, held him up.
Allasan, Iain, Mother, Father, Ivar, Vali, their wives, their children…
How could they all be dead? It wasn’t possible.
“Allasan’s parents?” he choked.
“I haven’t seen them, but they could be here.”
“Can I go and look for them?”
Brian shook his head. “The chief forbids any of the Norse to enter, if there are any left besides you. The sickness started in your village, but we’ve already lost some of our own people.”
“Rónán and his family?”
“Last time I heard, the bard’s family was all right. I thought Rónán would be with you.”
“With me? Why would you think that?”
“He set off for Inbhir Nis on one of the chief’s horses to find you and tell you of your family.”
“Rónán went to Inbhir Nis?” He could hardly fathom it. Rónán hated riding.
“That’s where he said he was going. He left a few days ago.” The Gael held out a flask. “Take this. I’m sorry, Lachlann, but you have to go.”
“Where are the bodies?” His own words sounded distant, as if someone else had spoken them.
Brian gazed at him, tears in his dark eyes. They’d shared many a meal through the years.
“I haven’t been to the village, but from what I’ve heard, all were burned.”
Lachlann’s stomach roiled.
“Did the chief order this?”
The warrior shook his head. “We bury our dead. But with a sickness like this…” He shuddered. “In the end, some of our people helped. The chief might order the same here to stop the disease from spreading.” He pushed the flask into Lachlann’s hands. “Drink.”
Lachlann accepted the flask and tried to swallow. But his throat was clogged with smoke and tears. He gagged. Wordlessly, he handed the flask back to Brian and nodded a farewell.
He had to check all the houses. He would bury any bodies he found. His family, his people… He headed back to the village on legs he no longer felt. Only his mind worked.
Find your dead.
But where? The scant structures all looked the same, scorched and black with soot. Piles of ashes were everywhere, some still smoldering.
He wandered from house to house, looking, listening for signs of life. But there were none. Silence taunted him, stark and pervasive, broken only by his own shallow breaths. What should he do? His mind felt numb.
“What are you doing here?”
Starting violently, Lachlann turned to see the hooded stranger striding towards him. A cloth covered his nose and mouth.
“Why are you here?” the man asked him.
“I seek my dead.”
“I told you, they burned everything. You’ll find no bodies.”
“Where did they burn them?”
The man stepped closer to place his hands on Lachlann’s arms.
“In their homes,” he replied quietly. “Mostly in their beds, where they died.”
Oh, God. He couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. Iain. Lachlann fell to his knees, gasping for air, gagging on it. His chest… He couldn’t…
“Breathe.” The man pressed his shoulders, sounded long, even breaths.
“Breathe,” repeated the voice. “Steady.”
Lachlann tried to mimic the rhythmic breathing of the stranger crouched before him.
“That’s right. Keep going. Good.”
He didn’t know how long they knelt there as he struggled for control. But the pressure remained on his shoulders until he stopped shaking.
“There’s nothing left for you to do here.” The voice, with its strange accent, finally penetrated his consciousness. “You must leave. You could still get sick.”
“Where will I go?” Lachlann asked hoarsely. “I should have helped my people.”
“There was nothing you could have done.”
“Then I should have died with them.”
“But you didn’t,” came the quiet response. “You’re obviously not meant to die yet.”
Lachlann swayed. The man shook him slightly.
“Go back to Inbhir Nis. Return in spring.”
Inbhir Nis. Rónán had gone to Inbhir Nis. He could find him. Slowly, he rose. The man rose with him.
“Go,” he urged again.
Nodding, Lachlann turned away. When he reached the edge of the village, he glanced back. The stranger stood watching him, a lone, upright figure swathed in smoke, surrounded by ruin.
Lachlann began running, pausing only when he reached his fields. They were cloaked in the same deathly smoke that was choking him. He hurried on until he reached the loch.
Collapsing to his knees, he howled, the sounds of a tortured animal ripping from his chest.
How could they all be dead, and he still lived? He should have been here. He might have helped them.
He might have died with them. Death would have been preferable to this.
Gasping, he yanked at his tunic, ripping it away from his neck.
“Nei!” he bellowed.
He sobbed and raged until his throat was raw, until he could hardly breathe.
He was suffocating.
Up. He had to get up or he would die here in the ashes. He had to find Rónán.
He trudged onward, his legs shaking so hard that walking seemed impossible. But he didn’t stop. He forced himself to keep moving, one foot in front of the other. Walking. Stumbling.
Night fell. The smoke dissipated, then disappeared altogether. Stars twinkled in the dark, clear sky. Tears poured from his burning eyes, down his cheeks, as he pressed on.
His whole family, his whole village… they’d all been dying whilst he bartered for vegetable seeds and ribbons.
Please, Rónán, be alive and well.
The ground suddenly trembled. Lachlann glanced at the loch. The water was rippling, but there was no breeze. He moved away from the water and kept walking. But this wasn’t the mild sort of tremor they usually had in the glen. The earth shook violently. Ahead of him, an enormous pine tree uprooted completely.
Voices! Was someone calling his name?
“Rónán!” he called urgently.
In the moonlight, cracks appeared in the earth. He heard the ground breaking. All around him, it was breaking! Twisting, turning, Lachlann desperately tried to find safe ground. Suddenly, there was a terrible roar, like a giant screaming in pain.
A crack raced towards him, widening into a chasm beneath his feet. He shouted as he slipped, grasping desperately at the earth. It crumbled beneath his hands.
He tried to climb out. He was sliding.
“Lord, have mercy on my soul!”
I’m proud and excited to be interviewing Mary Morgan, award-winning author of the series Order of the Dragon Knights. Mary is a prolific writer with a brilliant and beautiful imagination. I just finished reading/listening to the second book of the series, Dragon Knight’s Medallion. And yes, I do mean reading and listening. It’s hard to be very active and busy and enthralled by a story at the same time – but I’m managing it!
Mary has two other series, Legends of the Fenian Warriors and Highland Holiday Books. Her new romance, To Weave a Highland Tapestry, is latest in the Order of the Dragon Knights series.
I’ve already met a few of the Fenian warriors in the Dragon Knights series, and I have to say that I think I might already be madly in love with … all of them? But enough gushing. I have burning questions.
Welcome, Mary. Thank you so much for joining us. I’ve fallen in love with your beautiful characters and the world you’ve created. How in the world did you come up with these stories/legends? What was your inspiration?
Thank you so much for the wonderful welcome, Anastasia! I’m delighted to be here, and thrilled you’re enjoying the first few stories in the Order of the Dragon Knights series.
My inspiration began when I took my first trip to Scotland twenty years ago. The birth of a series--the Dragon Knights were born one evening while I was sitting on a boulder in the Highlands surrounded by the magic and the mists of the land. However, on the second half of my trip, I visited beautiful Ireland. As I wandered the soft rolling hills in various shades of green, the land spoke to my soul and urged me to place the Dragon Knights here as well. It would be several more years before I decided to use both countries—Scotland and Ireland as part of my stories. A perfect solution to a problem I had been debating on for the Dragon Knights—my mythical Highlanders.
It's a perfectly wonderful solution and we, your readers, are benefitting from your decision. You mention the magic of the land. You felt it, then? There’s no shortage of references to the magical quality of Scotland and Ireland. In your travels, have you found this to be true?
Definitely, Anastasia! In truth, I blame part of the magical quality on my own DNA: Irish, Welsh, Scottish, and a wee amount from Sweden. The land speaks to my soul, especially in Scotland and Ireland.
Your affinity for these lands comes across in your stories. Is there a particular location that has impacted you more than others?
The Highlands touched my soul first. Each time I’ve returned, I know the precise moment we’ve crossed the border from England into Scotland. No matter if I’m reading or eating on a train, I have this spark of awareness within my soul that I’ve come home.
I understand that feeling of homecoming. It’s a beautiful thing. With all this in mind, if you could magically transport to just one location at your earliest convenience, where would you go?
Whisk me away to Urquhart Castle in Scotland! I finally had a chance to visit these incredible ruins three years ago. My husband never uttered a word of complaint as I stayed and roamed the area for almost four hours. In addition, he took many phenomenal photos and captured the epic landscape and castle ruins.
I just finished reading and listening to Dragon Knight’s Medallion. It has one of the most emotional endings I’ve ever come across in a romance. I was stunned. Once I finished listening to it, I actually read it just to prolong the experience. I appreciate that you put your characters through torture, but not through unnecessary angst. Will you tell us more about your writing?
I write from my heart and soul. Life and love are messy. In my humble opinion, love is the greatest power—it can bring such joy and sorrow. Yet the rewards are epic. Everyone should experience love at least once in a lifetime. I’ve been blessed to find my own knight in shining armor, so I believe in happy ever after.
I’m really excited to continue the journey with your characters, especially since we get to move on to those gorgeous Fenian warriors. Did you always mean to have a special series for them, or did their characters demand it as you wrote?
Absolutely! The moment Fenian Warrior Conn MacRoich stepped into the scene in Dragon Knight’s Sword, I knew his story had to be told. And he made his demands known, too. By the end of the series, the MacGregor brothers (Rory and Liam) would also have tales to be written. As far as their leader, Aidan Kerrigan, I made a promise to my editor that I would write his and Rose’s love story. I won’t give away any spoilers for your readers, but let me say it was important to honor this couple with their own story.
It’s also such a boon that we have a new Dragon Knights book to enjoy. Will you tell us a little about To Weave a Highland Tapestry?
This is the third spin-off (Highland Holiday Books) from the Order of the Dragon Knights. I felt it was time to give the hero, Patrick MacFhearguis, brother to Adam MacFhearguis from Dragon Knight’s Ring his own happy ever after.
He’s been a secondary character since my first book and series, too. I sensed he was brooding at his home in Scotland. What he needed was a wife and a purpose. I wove his castle, Leòmhann, as the center of this love story, along with an ancient yew tree.
What began as a Highland holiday novel, morphed into a much broader story—one that connected the past and present-day Clan MacFhearguis. And incorporating the Dragon Knights (Clan MacKay) into the story meant I was in for an even larger scenic tale. If you’ve read my stories, nothing is straightforward with these two clans. They dominate every scene they enter, each fighting for control. While they started out as bitter enemies, they are now allies and good friends. With this friendship, there also came loss. I realized both clans still mourned the absence of family members.
Now that I’m in the middle of Dragon Knight’s Axe, I can really appreciate your giving Clan McFhearghuis some spotlight. With all of these wonderful characters, do you have a favorite or two?
Oh, Anastasia, all my characters are favorites. They are my fictional family within my mind and heart. The only time one will edge out above the others is when I’m writing their story. Currently, it’s a Viking/Scot hero called Magnar.
A Viking/Scot? Maybe Magnar is my favorite already! More seriously, that’s how I feel when I read your stories. My favorite hero is the one I am reading about, but really, I love them all. Can you tell us a little more, clue us in? What can we look forward to next?
I’m delighted to announce that this summer comes a brand new paranormal historical series set in thirteenth century Scotland and the Orkney Islands. Mercenaries, spies, thieves, rogues, and seducers. These men are known as the Wolves of Clan Sutherland—Protector of King William The Lion of Scotland. Look for the cover reveal of Magnar, known as the Barbarian and leader of the wolves next month!
I can hardly wait! So exciting!
Before we go, I feel it important to mention Mary’s wonderful website and blog. On her blog, Mary’s Tavern, readers can find book reviews and wonderful recipes. One of her last foodie posts is about honey – something the characters in Dragon Knight’s Medallion uniquely enjoy. Having just finished the book, I recalled the scene with delicious clarity and a big grin. I will definitely be trying her recipe for Honey Butter.
Following are links to Mary's books as well as her blog and social media. There is also a special treat -- an excerpt from To Weave a Highland Tapestry.
Mary, thank you for sharing your time and imagination with us.
O WEAVE A HIGHLAND TAPESTRY (A Tale from the Order of the Dragon Knights)
By Mary Morgan
Release date: December 9, 2019
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Time-travel/Scottish medieval/Paranormal Romance
Patrick MacFhearguis, hardened by battles won and lost, desires what he can never have—peace within his heart and soul. Yet, the ever-meddling Fae weave a new journey for him to conquer—a task this highlander is determined to resist.
When skilled weaver, Gwen Hywel, is commissioned to create a tapestry for the MacFhearguis clan, she embraces the assignment. While seeking out ideas, she finds herself clutching the one thread that can alter the tapestry of her life and heart.
A man conflicted by past deeds. A woman with no family of her own. Is it possible for love to unravel an ancient past, in order to claim two badly scarred hearts? Or will the light of hope be doused forever?
Gwen approached quietly by his side. “Pity. It was a great throw.”
“Aye,” he acknowledged softly. “One of my best. My brother, Adam was a champion at this game. I should have studied him more.”
“Interesting,” she mused.
Straightening, Patrick started forward. “I can help ye pick more mushrooms. Are they for the Midwinter feast?”
“Yes. Apparently, they’re for an onion and cabbage dish. Sounds delicious. I’m amazed at how all the women have managed here in this time-period.”
“I had heard it was a struggle in the beginning for them.” He glimpsed sideways at her. “How do ye find being here? I cannot fathom what ye must miss.”
She shrugged. “There’s simplicity here. I’d almost call it serenity. I’ve learned a lot this past month. Whereas, in my town you can go crazy trying to keep up with everything.” Gwen waved a hand outward. “And don’t get me started on city life. Traffic congestion, speedy drivers, people always on their cell—” She giggled. “Sorry. Too confusing for you.”
Patrick smiled, trying to perceive everything the lass was saying. Each time she spoke, her face would light up. There was a musical lilt to her voice that soothed him. He found her enchanting, regardless of the words spewing forth from her.
Noting a group of mushrooms, he moved away from Gwen.
“Since you have lost, what about my end of the bargain? I believe I can claim something of value.”
Patrick froze in his steps. Glancing over his shoulder, he stared at her in disbelief. “Ye wish to claim a reward?” Hope soared within his heart as if the sun’s rays stoked the emotion.
Her tongue darted along her lower lip. “Absolutely.”
He turned slowly around. “Name your reward.” Tension coiled within his muscles.
She approached him in an unhurried fashion. “You might have requested one kiss as your reward, but I’ll take four—the same number of times you skipped the stone over the water.”
His heart hammered against his chest. His mind refused to understand the magnitude of her words. “Four?” he uttered in a hoarse voice.
“Four,” she affirmed, stepping closer. “Do not keep me waiting.”
In one swift move, Patrick crushed her to his chest. Her soft curves were warm against his body. “Start counting, leannán.”
She never had a chance to respond as he hungrily covered her mouth with his lips.
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/to-weave-a-highland-tapestry-mary-morgan/1134375461?ean=9781509229079
About the Author:
Award-winning Celtic paranormal and fantasy romance author, Mary Morgan resides in Northern California with her own knight in shining armor. However, during her travels to Scotland, England, and Ireland, she left a part of her soul in one of these countries and vows to return.
Mary's passion for books started at an early age along with an overactive imagination. Inspired by her love for history and ancient Celtic mythology, her tales are filled with powerful warriors, brave women, magic, and romance. It wasn't until the closure of Borders Books where Mary worked that she found her true calling by writing romance. Now, the worlds she created in her mind are coming to life within her stories.
If you enjoy history, tortured heroes, and a wee bit of magic, then time-travel within the pages of her books.
Connect with Mary at these places:
FACEBOOK AUTHOR PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/MaryMorganAuthor/
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Morgan/e/B00KPE3NWI/
AUDIBLE AUTHOR PAGE: https://www.audible.com/author/Mary-Morgan/B00KPE3NWI
CAPTIVATING QUILL: http://www.thecaptivatingquill.com/Author/Mary-Morgan