Secret of the Highland Jewel (Preview)

Chapter 1

The wind howled through the dense forest like an animal hunting its prey. Thomas MacKay bit his lip and braced himself as he hunkered down further into the cover that the bush provided him. The movements felt like a routine that he knew well, for he had been hunting for the majority of his life. He didn’t dare to move as the animal finally came into his sight and exposed itself to the end of Thomas’s bow. He was to bring home a large amount of game that would be the centerpiece of the feast that was currently being prepared for his brother.

Mist that had risen up earlier in the morning from one of the nearby rivers was starting to clear on the forest floor. The hills were sloping up around the trees, raising up the landscape and isolating the forest away from the other lands around them.

His fingers were hesitant, but he waited patiently for the right moment to release the bow from his grasp. The forest sounded as though it was alive with a myriad of sounds as Thomas tried to block it all out and focus on the deer in front of him.

He was one of the best hunters, if not the best, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have to focus on what he was doing. His breathing was steady and his eyes were narrowed as he tried to concentrate despite the sounds of the forest around him. The birds were squawking and matching the same tempo as that of the wind that rustled the thick branches of trees. The forest floor was alive with creatures that Thomas didn’t even want to think about, and he kept his gaze on the large animal in front of him and nothing else.

He was the eldest of his brothers, but he was also his father’s favorite. As much as he would never admit that to his other siblings, Thomas glowed with both pride and ease at being the favorite.

Thomas felt his heart flutter at even the thought of seeing his brother after so long. Philip MacKay had been in France for the last five years, and his return was highly anticipated by everyone in the clan.

Thomas wanted to get the best deer for the feast, but he knew that he was going to have to steady his hand to do so.

“There ye are,” he whispered, as his bow hovered in the air. He closed one eye and moved his face even closer to the bow in order to get a better look at the animal in front of him. Silence was key, and the deer, still unaware of his presence, moved even closer to him.

Finally, Thomas felt that he was ready to release the string of his bow. His fingers were growing sore from holding the tension of the string, and the muscles in his arms were starting to ache from being in the same position for so long. Thomas was thankful for the weather remaining clear, despite the slight whisper of the wind that brushed through his hair every now and again.

The hunting party would be waiting for him on the outskirts of the forest, near to the castle. But Thomas was fine to let them wait; he wanted the shot to be clean and perfect. If his arrow didn’t hit the animal somewhere near its head, then it wouldn’t do as a hunt to boast about back in the castle.

A stick snapped somewhere behind him. It caused the deer’s head to jerk up and look around. The majestic animal was on high alert, with wide eyes and twitching ears. Thomas held his breath and wished that he had taken the shot only moments before the sound had cut through the silence. If it were one of the men from the hunting party, he could already feel his anger building up at that thought. He had given the group specific instructions to not disturb him, but it was clear that someone had chosen not to listen to him.

The deer was completely still, and Thomas didn’t dare to move a single muscle. His chest was getting tight from his lack of breathing, and when he did breathe, each breath was incredibly shallow and unhelpful.

Thomas bit his lip as he could see the deer readying itself to bolt back into the thick forest around it. He waited a moment more, but another snap of a twig caused the deer to jerk into action.

“No, no, no!” Thomas groaned, as he released his arrow in vain. The deer was already darting between the small gaps in the trees and moved out of sight within a matter of moments.

Thomas cursed and hit his hand into the ground as he put down his bow and turned to see who it was from the hunting party that had ruined his kill.

However, as soon as Thomas turned around, he was met by the blunt butt of a piece of wood. The solid weapon collided with his head and sent him sprawling to the floor with a sickening thud. Thomas grunted and blinked through the sharp and splintering pain that was erupting through his temple. He was in shock at the sudden action that he hadn’t been expecting, as well as in a lot of pain.

“What’s going on?” he groaned, as he managed to peer up at three figures standing above him. His eyes would only open a little as he looked around and tried to comprehend the kind of danger that he was in.

The men weren’t from the hunting party; that much was clear to him through his haze. His head was throbbing, and his confusion was only continuing to persist.

“Who are ye?” Thomas was aware of how groggy he sounded all of a sudden. The forest was getting darker as his eyes were getting heavier; it became so difficult to keep his eyes open that Thomas was almost succumbing to the darkness.

The three men worked together to carry Thomas. He wanted to struggle, but his body was far too heavy and tired to manage to take on three men. Where the wood had hit him, the skin felt hot, and there was something dribbling down his face.
The men weren’t looking at him, but Thomas knew that they didn’t mean anything good. He was scared, but he was also angry that the men were thinking they would get away with this. If it weren’t for the injury to his head, Thomas liked to think that he would have been able to defeat the three men with ease.

“Who are ye? What do ye want with me?” Thomas could barely get his words out. He gritted his teeth through the pain and continued trying to move, but it was no use.

“Hush now,” one of the men spoke with a gruff voice as he chuckled and shook his head. Thomas glanced around to see that the reason he’d not been able to see who they were was that their faces were covered with pieces of cloth that concealed their identity. Up ahead were some horses that were attached to a large carriage. Thomas frowned as they drew closer, and he realized that he wasn’t going to be home any time soon.

“Where are ye taking me?” Thomas tried one last time, but it was clear that his efforts at understanding were futile.

One of the men opened the door to the carriage while the other two held onto him so that he couldn’t move.

“My father will nae stand for this, he is the laird of our clan, he–”

Before Thomas could finish his threat, one of the men had hit him over the head again. The blow was harsh and made an awful sound against Thomas’s skull, rendering him unconscious.


Chapter 2

Myra paced around her chambers in a frantic panic. She felt both shocked and angry with herself at losing her mother’s necklace. It was the same one that she had worn for years, and upon staring at herself in the mirror, she realized just how bare her neck looked without it. She wanted to cry and shout in frustration because she had never lost it before, and it was the last piece of her mother that she had.

When Myra was younger, her mother had become incredibly ill and had died shortly afterward. It was unlike any other wound that she had ever sustained; there was no scar, for the wound would never properly heal over enough for her to feel complete again. Myra, her brother, and her father had been devastated by the loss, but it had also been felt by a lot of the clan too.

Unlike her father, Myra had wanted to hold onto her mother’s memory and never forget her. But her father’s approach had been to forget about her completely and to get rid of any belongings that reminded him of her.

Myra touched the space on her neck that was normally occupied by the dainty silver chain. It was one of the most precious jewels in the country, and Myra wouldn’t let anyone tell her to take it off. Over time, it had simply become accepted that she wore the necklace, and her stubbornness surrounding this decision meant that nobody could tell her any differently.

“Good afternoon, my lady, how are ye?” Iona asked from the doorway, as she slowly approached and entered the room.

Myra was slightly startled by the sudden appearance of her maid, although she was relieved that she now had somebody to share her panic with.

“Nae good,” Myra sighed and ran a hand through her curly hair. “It’s bad, Iona, really bad!” Myra felt her voice shake as fresh tears blurred her vision.

“Why’s that?” the maid’s voice softened almost instantly as she walked over to her and started to fuss about fixing her hair.

Myra pushed her hand away a little rougher than she had been expecting to and instantly regretted it.

“I’m sorry,” she looked at the maid in the mirror. “It’s just…it’s just that I’ve lost my necklace.”

Myra finally felt the shock wearing off of her as she turned towards Iona with teary eyes. The room was moving, swimming in the view of her tears, and Myra let a sob escape from her lips.

“It will do ye nay good to get so upset, my lady,” Iona spoke to her softly.

Her maid had always been like a mother figure to her. Iona was older than her by a lot, and she was certainly a lot wiser too. Myra wrapped her arms around the woman and cried on her shoulder as she thought about where she could have left it.

“Perhaps it came off when ye were riding?”

Myra had already considered this, although even her maid didn’t know the full extent of what she had been through during her ride through the forest. There were brigands in the forests that they were always warned about, but Myra knew how to protect herself.

Much to many of her family members and close advisors’ dismay, Myra had trained to defend herself from a young age. She could handle herself, which many brigands never expected when they crossed her path in the woods.

It was very possible that one of those filthy men had taken the necklace from her when she had been forced to fight off many of the men at once the day earlier. Myra shuddered to think that her most prized possession was being sold by men who did not care for it at all.

“I dinnae think it came off when I was just riding,” Myra sighed heavily as she started to wipe her eyes.

“I’m sure that it will turn up, my lady,” Iona tried to comfort her.

“But where? It’s lost, Iona, and if I dinnae have it, then there is nothing left of my mother in this castle.” Myra felt fresh tears brimming in her eyes.

“Hush now, child, yer mother will always be with ye in yer heart. Ye dinnae need a piece of jewelry to ken that.”
Myra understood where her maid was coming from, but she still felt a little more empty without the one physical memory that she could hold when she needed to.

“That necklace means more to me than anything else, Iona; I need it back,” Myra admitted.

She stepped away from the mirror and walked over to the window by her bed. The rain was pattering gently against it, distorting the view of the town below and the hills that bordered them. The woods that covered the hill looked so beautiful, even when overshadowed by the dark clouds above, yet they held so much danger within them.

Myra thought about her last ride back to the castle and how she had thought that she would get back without having any trouble on the way. However, a couple of brigands had jumped out at the last minute and startled her horse. Myra had been thrown to the ground, but she had taken enough tumbles off of her horse in her life to know how to roll and land without hurting herself.
She had been up on her feet once more in an instant, with her sword drawn and ready to fight. The men had laughed at first, Myra remembered bitterly as she looked out of the window. They had been making comments about how a vulnerable woman like herself wouldn’t stand a chance against them, but she had quickly shown them that she was no such thing as a vulnerable woman.

The shock on their faces was something that Myra had enjoyed seeing, but as they fled the scene, she was now trying to test her memory as to whether any of them had been holding her necklace.

It was hopeless. She couldn’t remember, and she didn’t want to assume that she had been robbed of it if there was still a chance that it could be in the castle.

“When was the last time ye were out on a ride, my lady?” Iona asked, as she started to look for herself around the room. Myra knew that her search would be in vain; she had already looked everywhere in her chambers before she had properly started to panic.
“I went riding yesterday afternoon,” Myra sighed and shook her head. “It’s hopeless, Iona, it’s not in here. I’ve already had a look around.”

However, Iona continued to search as Myra turned her attention back to the window.

“My mother wore this necklace all the time, didnae she?” Myra asked in a small voice.

“Aye,” Iona said after a slight hesitation.

“I really miss her,” Myra admitted. “I just wish that she could have survived, that I could ask for her help right now.”

Myra noticed the way that Iona seemed rather reluctant to engage in a conversation about that. Her lips were pursed, and her eyes darted around as though her response was waiting for her on the floor in front of her.

“She’s at peace,” Iona managed to say. “That’s all that matters.”

“She would be disappointed to know that I’ve let her down by losing the necklace,” Myra muttered as she tried to think about where she could have left the jewel.

“I’m sure that she would still be proud of who ye have become,” Iona said while flashing her a small smile.

“Thank ye, Iona,” Myra nodded to her.

“I came here to tell ye something else, my lady, but if ye would like me to come back later, I’m sure it will be fine.”

Myra was in half a mind to ask her maid to leave her, but her curiosity got the best of her.

“Nay, tell me what it is.”

“A prisoner has been brought to the castle,” Iona’s words instantly caught her attention.
“Who is he?”

“Thomas MacKay,” Iona recalled. “Do ye ken the name?”

“I…I dinnae ken,” Myra admitted. She was too frustrated about losing her necklace to properly care about the news of a prisoner. There were always prisoners, and she wasn’t sure why this news was so special. “I’m sorry, Iona; I’m going to go and find my brother.”

“Of course, my lady.” Her maid bowed her head before leaving her alone in her chambers.

Myra glanced at herself in the mirror once more. The woman staring back at her had incredibly pale skin and sunken eyes; it was obvious by looking at her eyes that she had been crying. The blank space on her neck where the necklace had been was the only thing that she could focus on, though, and Myra ignored all else of her appearance that would be perhaps slightly concerning to others.

She breathed deeply as she tried not to think about it. Myra knew that she was going to have to be stronger about the situation when in the presence of others. With Iona, she could express herself, but when around other servants or even family members, she knew that people in the castle liked to talk. Myra didn’t want people to know just how upset she was at losing the necklace.

After waiting a short time, she exhaled deeply before leaving her chambers and heading deeper into the castle in search of her brother. Myra was hoping that he would at least know what to do about the situation.


If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

  • Very intriguing beginning. Look so forward to reading more. I know it will be great as you are a terrific writer.

  • Brigands in the woods, eh? Maybe Thomas will be Myra’s new jewel 😉 And so, their adventure begins …

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