The Highlander's Dangerous Temptation Online

Prologue

‘Come with me!’ Athdar called out like the commander of his father’s warriors would. With his wooden sword brandished high in the air, he pointed deeper into the forest and nodded. ‘Our enemies have taken to the woods!’

Athdar led his friends, two his cousins and two the sons of a villager, all almost the same age as him, through the thick growth of trees and bushes. Following the rough path along the river, he sought any sign of movement deep in the shadows.

There! Something moved and he called out orders once more. Deer or some other wild animal—it mattered not to him what the target—scampered ahead of them as the sun’s light flickered through the leaves and branches above them. Laughing, they followed the sounds ahead of them as the creature outraced them. After some time and distance, the sound of the river quieted, telling Athdar that their path had changed. Glancing around, he realised that nothing looked familiar to him. Athdar paused for a moment and then raced off, calling for the others to follow him. Without warning, he reached a small clearing bordered by a gully, a remnant of the river’s previous path, that blocked their way.

He was tall enough, strong enough, a good runner and jumper, to make it across so he speeded up and crossed the pit with little effort. Skidding to a stop on the other side, he landed in a pile of leaves and quickly stood up.

‘Come now!’ he called out. ‘It is not wide enough to stop us.’

As the chief’s son, Athdar was used to being in charge and making the decisions for his ragtag collection of friends and followers. He waved them on now, waiting for them to obey.

‘Are you afraid to jump?’ he asked, challenging them to the edge. ‘Get a running start and you will make it.’ He saw the uncertainty on their faces and would not allow that to ruin their adventure.

‘Cowards!’ he shouted at them. ‘Only cowards would disobey their chief.’ The words burned his mouth as he said them, but he knew his friends only needed some encouragement to do as he did and cross the gully.

Athdar watched as they nudged each other, nodding and backing up to get a good running start to their jump. Smiling, he crossed his arms over his chest the way his father often did and waited for them to reach his side. One and then another soared into the air above the deep gash in the ground....

Their cries turned to screams as they plummeted down into the dark crevasse below them. Athdar watched in horror as the screams faded into a deathly silence. Only the sound of his breathing broke that stillness as he crept over to the side and peered down.

The bottom lay about twenty feet below him and his friends lay strewn across the small floor of the gully. Even his seven-year-old mind understood some were dead and the others badly injured. Arms and legs and heads twisted to impossible angles foretold of much sorrow.

He was the cause of this! Searching through his sack, he looked for the rope he always carried and could not find it. More soil loosened as he crept to the edge once more and poured down on his friends. A faint cough told him that someone yet lived. Shaking, he called out names until Robbie groaned back.

‘Robbie! I am coming down!’ he said, easing his legs over the side and planning to slide the rest of the way down to his friends.

This was his fault. His fault. He must help them.

‘Stay,’ Robbie moaned out. ‘Ye’ll be of no help if you get trapped here.’

Athdar paused, grabbing on to the exposed roots of a tree to keep from sliding down into the pit. ’Twas true. Without the means to pull his friends up, he was of no help. The winds rustling through the trees reminded him of the time passing. Soon it would be dark and new dangers would arise.

‘I will go for help,’ he called out in a loud voice. When no sound answered, he called out again, ‘Robbie! I will go for help!’

Gathering up his sack, Athdar glanced around, trying to get his bearings. They’d run through the forest from east to west. Or had they? Now, it all looked the same and he took deep breaths, trying to keep the panic at bay.

He had to find his way back home. He had to get help. He had to...

Athdar ran, ducking through the low