Since it's starting to build a good layer of dust on it, I thought I'd pull it back out and work on it a bit at a time in between the other three books I'm writing (...sleep? WHAT'S sleep?)
This is half of the Prologue. I'll share the other half next week, if you guys are interested.
It has the working title of 'Immortality Sucks' but that, I'm sure, will change the further into it I go.
“Malvina! Stop your daydreaming and put your mind on your chores,” Gwendolyn Campbell shouted to her seventeen-year old daughter. “The sooner they’re done, the more time you’ll have for play.”
Malvina was the oldest of her four siblings and the only girl, so far. There would have been seven of them but two of her brothers were taken by a fever and the baby girl her mother had the previous year died at birth. Born two months too soon in winter’s cruelest days, she was too little to survive the harsh elements. So Malvina prayed daily that the new bub living in her mother’s womb would be a girl and all the burdens of growing up female in a house filled with men would finally be shared.
She watched her brothers practice swordplay with their father, William, aching to have that time with him too. So what if she wore skirts while they sported pants. She was strong and, unbeknownst to them all, she honed on her own sword skills while they worked in the fields and their mother rested. Her skills were equal to those of her brothers; perhaps even greater. And yet, being female, her interest and talents were overlooked forced instead to wash britches, clean the home and help her mother with cooking.
Stupid, lucky boys, she thought.
“Malvina!” her mother shouted even louder, startling out of her thoughts. “I can’t see this laundry jumping up to the line on its own, now. Please come and have it done.”
“Coming,” she said, flinging her dark, auburn hair over her shoulder.
Malvina was the spitting image of her mother with her beautiful, waist-length curly hair and eyes as green as emeralds. She had a slight figure but was strong from doing chores and helping in the fields when needed. William was a doting father who treated all his children equally and believed man and woman were team members, sharing life responsibilities. The only thing he forbade Malvina from participating in was swordsmanship. Because she was the only girl, he didn’t want her to participate in any of the fighting going on around them at that time. She understood but was still disappointed she wasn’t given the chance to at least practice with him.
She grabbed the basket of soaking wet laundry her mother had left for her at the door and steadied it on her hip. Her mother appeared at the door.
“Ah, Mallie-girl,” she said, placing her palm on Malvina’s freckled cheek. “I know how much you’d like to go out there. I guess your Pa is afraid he’ll lose you.”
“It’ll happen one way or another,” Malvina said, pressing her mother’s hand closer to her face with her shoulder. “I have to go off to have my own family one day, don’t I? I can’t be a maid to this lot for all times.”
Her mother laughed. “Aye. I guess you are just the dear one being the only girl. He knows you practice out back, you know. Between us, he thinks you are very good. He couldn’t deal with losing his beautiful Malvina should a soldier take her in a fight. It isn’t just because you’re a girl. But don’t tell him I went and said so.”
Malvina didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or proud that her father knew she picked up a sword. She smiled, kissed her mother’s palm then nodded to the clothing line running from the side of the house to the tree several feet away. “Our secret,” she said. “You go on in and lay down while I hang these. Then I’ll help with supper.”
“Sweet Mallie-girl. What would I do without you?”
With that her mother pushed the door closed and Malvina lugged the basket over to the line and dropped it on the ground beside her. She grabbed one of her father’s shirts by the shoulders, flicked it into shape then hung it over the line. The boys had dropped their wooden swords into the grass and were wrestling with their father. He was well over six feet and stronger than most other men. With all three of her brothers dangling from his shoulders and arms, he was still able to run about with little trouble.
Malvina smiled. She was about to bend down to pick up another shirt when something caught her eye in the distance. She squinted. A chill exploded through her body. A massive band of men on horseback thundered across the field. A trumpet blew and the band divided into several smaller ones, each heading to a different section of the entire community.
Their family lived in the lowlands of Scotland in a small farming community not far from the ocean and the city of Edinburgh. There were several families living around them, each with their own patch of land, and during harvest time they’d all travel to the village, now known as Musselburgh, to celebrate and sell their wares. At that moment, she watched as the larger group of the band came straight at her father and brothers. As they got closer, Malvina recognized their English uniforms.
She dropped the shirt she was holding and ran to the edge of the field. “Da! Da! Soldiers!”
William froze, looking around them, then threw the boys in the direction of the house. “Malvina! Get them inside and shut the door. Secure the door and hide. Now!”
Was he insane? She wasn’t about to let her father stand up to those men alone. But she knew she had to get her brothers and mother to safety. As she rushed out to meet the boys, her father picked up his sword, holding it close to his side. It had to be the size of her five-year old brother, Duncan, if not a stone bigger.
Fear paralyzed her.
The two older boys ran past Malvina into the house, screaming at their mother to hide. Duncan, whose right leg was lame, wasn’t able to keep up the same momentum. He kept stumbling the harder he tried to run. Malvina sprinted to him, yanked him off the ground then hoisted him up. He wrapped his arms and legs around her torso, hiding his face in her hair. She paused.
The leader of the group coming toward them looked nothing like the rest of the soldiers. First, he wasn’t wearing a uniform. He was dressed like a Highlander, the Scotsmen in the mountains who wore their clan’s robes. His black, wavy hair hung past his shoulders and his eyes, darker than any tea her mother had brewed. His skin was leathery and rough, same as any man who has spent many years in the cold weather. He held himself tall on his horse, commanding control merely with his presence. And he scared Malvina worse than any demon could.
He seemed to know her father. “William of Campbell,” he yelled, his sword held out, leading the men. “You cannot hide any longer. Today is your turn.”
Hide? From what? Malvina had never known her father to hide from anything. In fact, he was one of the first to storm out whenever a neighbor was in trouble. That wasn’t the first time their land had foreign feet stomping on it for a fight. But it was the first time so many came at once. Despite the dark man’s words, her father stood his ground. He turned his head to Malvina, their eyes locking for mere seconds before he screamed, “Get inside, girl. Now!”
She walked backwards, Duncan clutching her hair in his fists and sobbing, In her panic, Malvina forgot about the basket of clothes and tumbled to the ground, Duncan flipping from her arms. Momentarily dazed, she instructed Duncan to go.
“Crawl back around to the door. Stay under the tall grasses. Knock on the door three times, Brodie will know it’s one of us.”
“What about you?” Duncan said, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I can’t go without you.”
“Just do it! Tell Brodie and Alasdair to get you and Ma into the cellar. You should be safe down there because it’s hard to find. It’s just like hide-and-seek, right? Stay very still and quiet and you’ll win! Don’t come out until you hear no noise then count to one hundred before coming out. Now get going!”
Duncan nodded then crawled faster than she thought possible over to the tall grass surrounding their house. When she saw him disappear, she rolled over into a crouch and crawled into the wood pile beside the clothes line.
Her heart pounded in her ears, her mouth as dry as sand. She peeked from among the logs and kindle. She was smaller and nowhere near as strong as her father, but she wasn’t going to let him face this fight on his own.
The dark man was about a horse-length away from her father. When he spoke his voice was deep, gravelly. “I have wasted many years trying to find you William of Campbell and here you are living as common as they come.”
“I was never hiding,” her father said. “You just weren’t looking very hard. That, or your Watchers weren’t doing a sufficient job.”
“Enough of this idle talk,” the dark man said, swinging his sword around. “I have ordered my men around to kill all around here. No sense in leaving others behind now is there.”
Malvina repressed a gasp as her father held his sword out. “Leave the innocents alone. You have found me. You have what you want. They mean nothing to you.”
“Ah! But they mean everything to you,” the dark man said. “And we can’t have witnesses around, can we? Besides, this fits right in with the Anglo-Scot wars going on all around us. They will not be missed. And neither will you.”