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Surrender to the Highlander(Terri Brisbin)

By:Terri Brisbin

Surrender to the Highlander
Terri Brisbin

       Chapter One





Lairig Dubh, Scotland

1356


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.                       
       
           



       

"Connor, come and meet these two worthless … "

They both jumped him when he turned back to the laird and he continued  laughing as they all hit the ground. He held his own in the battle for a  few minutes and then Rurik pushed them away, ending the fight and the  uncomfortable beginning between them. Connor approached then and he  introduced them in the Gaelic spoken by the clan here. When the laird  invited them to seek the comforts of the hall, Rurik shook his head. He  did not wish to hold the coming conversation in front of those here.

Leading the two out of the yard, through the gate and toward the  village, Rurik felt the knot in his gut tighten. What kind of mistake  was he making in wanting to hear their message?

He'd lied to Connor and knew the truth of it in his soul-he feared the  words sent by his father. He dreaded the choices he would have to make  once they were spoken. Swearing not to return to the northern islands  was fine when there was no invitation, but now what would he do?

Sven and Magnus did not speak on the way to the cottage Rurik maintained  here in Lairig Dubh for his use. A woman from the village watched over  it when he was gone and kept it clean and stocked while he was here.  Rurik smiled as he thought on the other things that the lovely Daracha  provided to him during his stays. His body hardened and his mouth  watered in anticipation of such things happening this night after the  village quieted.

Sven and Magnus would have to sleep in the keep.

He pushed the door open and let them walk in first. Leaving the door  open to allow the breezes to flow through, he pulled the few stools and  chair near the small table and pointed for them to sit. Going to a  storage cupboard, he took out a skin of ale and three cups. Filling  them, he sat and nodded at Sven, the one who would most likely deliver  the message.

"We have sought you for nigh onto three months now, Rurik. Why have you avoided us?"

"I had no interest in your words or the one who sent you," he offered,  not certain he believed the excuse, but it sounded like a good one.

"And now?" Magnus asked. "Why did you want to hear it now?"

Rurik looked around the cottage and wondered himself about the reasons  that drove him to avoid them for months, as they'd said, and now  approach. "It was time."

Sven and Magnus snorted, almost in unison, exchanged looks and then  shrugged before drinking more of their ale. The tension around them  dissipated, as though now that they knew he would hear them out, they  did not have to worry about his trying to leave them behind.

"He wants you to come back. He is willing to recognize you as son and heir," Sven said, not bothering with niceties.

"Heir?"

The word slipped out before Rurik could stop it. The longing tore  through him and his gut tightened. Years and years of fighting it and,  with one word, it won.

"He needs someone to oversee his lands in Sweden. And there's a marriage offer to be considered."

Rurik tried to fight the smile and was as successful in that battle as  he had been with trying to hold back the hunger for exactly what had  just been offered to him. "Marriage?"

"Come now, Rurik, you know his connections. Many would like to be linked  to the son of Erengisl Sunesson. Bastard-born or not, you are an  advantage to have as husband to some nobleman's daughter."

The reference to his illegitimacy stung, but he knew the truth of Sven's  words. Many alliances were made through marriage and his birth would  not really be an impediment to many who craved a connection to those  with political or social power, or wealth. His father had all of those.

"Will you come?" Magnus asked.

Rurik held back that part of him that wished to jump at the offer. Many  here depended on him and he did not wish to disappoint them. The laird  was one such person, as was their uncle, who had taken him in without  question and without rancor for his beginnings. Although hesitant to  reveal so much about himself, Rurik knew that he must in order to make  such a decision wisely.

"I will think on it, Magnus. I need time."

Sven and Magnus exchanged another look and then both of them peered  around the interior of the cottage. Their plan was obvious; their  distrust or suspicion palpable. They turned back to face him.                       

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