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Highland Wolf Pact:Compromising Positions(40)

By:Selena Kitt

It was the first time in her life she cursed not being able to turn into a wulver when she wanted to.

She heard it again, the high scream of a horse in pain. Kirstin ran for  the woods. Nowhere near fast enough on human legs. She tired far too  quickly. She reached the edge of the forest and stopped, listening. Her  ears were faulty, she was sure of it. It was almost like going a little  deaf.         



In the distance, through the trees, she saw Donal's big, black charger.

She made her way through the brush, approaching the animal carefully  from the side. It wasn't until she was almost on top of it that she saw  the other, now dead, horse on the ground. Its neck was broken. Had this  been the horse screaming?

"Easy, boy." Kirstin soothed, taking Kestrel's reins. The horse's head  bobbed, but he didn't seem afraid of her. She saw that he had two arrows  in his hindquarters and winced at the sight of the animal's blood.  "Where's yer master, hm?"

She blinked as she looked around the forest, wishing for her wulver's  eyes to see with. It wasn't light enough to see much with human ones.  The sun was just casting its first, early morning orange glow over the  land, but here in the forest it was still like dusk.

Kirstin squatted, touching the flank of the dead horse. Whose? She  wondered. No identifying marks on the saddle. But she had a strange  feeling that she'd seen this horse before. If only her sense of smell  were working-she'd know it in an instant.

Kestrel pawed the ground nervously, shaking his big head. Kirstin stood,  patting his neck. She'd have to take him back to the castle to tend  him. But first, she had to find Donal. Kestrel whinnied and nudged her.  Kirstin stumbled, grabbing onto the horses reins, but the big horse had  knocked her hard enough to make her fall to the ground.

She sat there for a moment, the wind knocked out of her, and that's when she saw him.

Donal was swinging from a wulver net, trapped high up in the tree.

"Donal!" she called, but he didn't answer.

Kirsten checked her boot for her dirk, making sure it was there, before  she began to climb. It didn't take her long to reach him-or to find  that, while unconscious, he was, thank the Lord, still breathing. She  didn't want to cut him free-the drop to the ground was too far. She'd  have to pull the rope and lower him, she realized, although she wasn't  sure if she had enough upper body strength to do it.

"Donal?" she whispered, nudging him in the net with her foot as she  inched out onto the branch. She realized, from this vantage point, that  this was the very same tree, the very same trap, she had been entangled  in when she met him. Kestrel had moved closer to the edge of the forest,  as if the big animal knew her plan to lower Donal to the ground and had  gotten out of the way.

Donal gave a little groan and she leaned over to look more closely at him.

"It's a'righ'," she assured him softly. "I'm gonna get ye down."

"Kirstin." Donal's eyes came open, wide. "No, lass!"

"Make a move to lower that trap, she-bitch, and I'll shoot an arrow through your heart."

Kirstin froze at the sound of Eldred's voice from below.

"Do'na touch 'er!" Donal growled, twisting in the net, trying to see the  man who had an arrow aimed in their direction. Kirstin couldn't see  him. He was somewhere in the trees. But she could hear him. "I'll kill  ye!"

"You're not exactly in any position to be making threats, MacFalon."  Eldred chuckled. "I think I'm going to have a little ‘fun,' as my  captains liked to say, with your wulver-bitch, before I kill 'er."

"I'll kill ye," Donal said again through clenched teeth. "If ye lay one hand on 'er, I'll kill ye!"

"Blah blah blah." Eldred sighed, then he snapped, "MacFalon, you touch  that knife in your boot, I'll put an arrow right through her eye."

Kirstin saw Donal's hand stop moving downward and he winced.

"Sad, what's happened to your family," Eldred called. "You're all dirty  wulver-lovers now, aren't you? Your father would be appalled to know you  had wulvers sleeping in your castle. And your grandfather must be  rolling over in his tomb."

Kirstin met Donal's eyes, seeing the anger and fire in his. She could  only feel fear, knowing Eldred had his bow aimed at them. She couldn't  think of what to do. The animal instinct she'd come to count on had  seemed to dry up and disappear overnight. Her limbs felt paralyzed.

"But don't worry, the MacFalon name will die with you this day, Donal."  Eldred chuckled. Kirstin felt tears coming to her eyes, panic clawing up  her throat. She leaned over, edging just a little closer to Donal,  hugging the big branch with her limbs. "There won't be much of your  family left to carry on the name after the wulvers are done with them  anyway. And you let them walk right into your castle. Foolish."         



Donal swore, twisting and turning in the net, going mad, tearing at it  with his bare hands, making them bloody. Eldred just laughed. The motion  caught Kirstin's eye and she glimpsed him through the trees. She knew  where he was then, at least for the moment. Donal looked at her, his  gaze moving from her to the rope, and she knew what he wanted her to do.

But could she?

She wasn't sure she had the strength. Or the courage.

Donal gave a slight nod, urging her, and Kirstin grabbed the rope. She  pulled it, hard, and then let go. The length of rope ran quickly through  the pulley, Donal's weight taking the net toward the forest floor. It  happened very fast. One moment, Kirstin was leaning over the tree  branch, the next, her shoulder was on fire, and she was falling,  following Donal down toward the ground.

She screamed. She heard herself, landing on her hurt shoulder with a  sick thud, the wind knocked out of her completely. The world went gray.  Everything was a blur. She heard Lord Eldred drawing his bow again and  opened her eyes to see Donal cutting himself free of the net with his  dirk, his face a mask of horror and concern at the sight of her with an  arrow through her shoulder.

She heard the zing of the second arrow and prepared for it, knowing it was aimed at her.

Donal heard it, too, and he roared, turning to face it and covering her body with his.

She screamed again, but she couldn't hear herself. The scream was coming  from the inside, from the sight of the tip of the arrow that had  pierced Donal's left shoulder appearing just inches from her eye.

Then Donal was on his feet, charging at the man in the underbrush,  drawing his claymore, one-handed, a Herculean feat. Eldred screamed.  Like a woman, he screamed, high pitched and frightened. He managed to  draw his longsword at the last minute to stop a rageful, deadly swing  that would have split him from the top of his head to his heart-even  one-handed.

She tried to call out, to warn him, but she couldn't seem to find her  voice. She was still screaming. It was just all in her head. Both men  had their longswords out-Donal had abandoned the heavy claymore. It had  been an impossible feat the first time he'd lifted it one-handed, and  she didn't think he could do it again.

Donal was tiring quickly. She could see that much from her forest floor  vantage point. Her shoulder screamed too, when she tried to move, but  that was also on the inside. Eldred drove him back toward her, toward  the net. It was disarmed now, useless. Then she saw it, glinting silver  in the early morning light. Donal's dirk, the one he'd used to cut his  way out of the trap.

The sound of their swords clashing filled the air. It hurt her ears,  made them ring. Kirstin reached her good arm out, groping in the dirt.  The knife felt like it was ten feet away, although it was probably only  inches from her hand.

Donal yelled in pain when Eldred knocked him into a tree, his hurt  shoulder up against the bark. But he didn't stop swinging his sword. Now  she could see Donal's face, as they circled, Lord Eldred's back to her.  Kirstin's fingers touched the hilt of the knife. Just barely. Almost  there.

Swords clashed again, the men grunting, breathing hard. Kirstin winced  and rolled, her shoulder burning with pain, but she grasped the dirk in  her good hand. She had it!

Now, what was she going to do with it?

"Is this bitch really worth it?" Lord Eldred panted, using both hands to  block a one-handed blow from Donal. "You're The MacFalon. You deserve  better than to lie with the dogs."

"I'm goin' t'take great pleasure in runnin' you through," Donal growled,  driving the older man back another step. "And draggin' yer corpse  behind m'horse back to the castle, jus' like m'grandfather used t'do  wit' t'wulvers."

"You're not going to win this fight." Eldred grunted and ducked,  blocking another blow. "Even if you kill me. The wulvers are already  doing my bidding."

Was it true? Kirstin trembled at the thought. Had the enchantress found a way to compel them, without using Raife's blood?