Once Upon a Tartan Online - Grace Burrowes

One

When Tiberius Lamartine Flynn heard the tree singing, his first thought was that he’d parted company with his reason. Then two dusty little boots dangled above his horse’s abruptly nervous eyes, and the matter became a great deal simpler.

“Out of the tree, child, lest you spook some unsuspecting traveler’s mount.”

A pair of slim white calves flashed among the branches, the movement provoking the damned horse to dancing and propping.

“What’s his name?”

The question was almost unintelligible, so thick was the burr.

“His name is Flying Rowan,” Tye said, stroking a hand down the horse’s crest. “And he’d better settle himself down this instant if he knows what’s good for him. His efforts in this regard would be greatly facilitated if you’d vacate that damned tree.”

“You shouldn’t swear at her. She’s a wonderful tree.”

The horse settled, having had as much frolic as Tye was inclined to permit.

“In the first place, trees do not have gender, in the second, your heathen accent makes your discourse nigh incomprehensible, and in the third, please get the hell out of the tree.”

“Introduce yourself. I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”

A heathen child with manners. What else did he expect from the wilds of Aberdeenshire?

“Tiberius Lamartine Flynn, Earl of Spathfoy, at your service. Had we any mutual acquaintances, I’d have them attend to the civilities.”

Silence from the tree, while Tye felt the idiot horse tensing for another display of nonsense.

“You’re wrong—we have a mutual acquaintance. This is a treaty oak. She’s everybody’s friend. I’m Fee.”

Except in his Englishness, Tye first thought the little scamp had said, “I’m fey,” which seemed appropriate.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Fee. Now show yourself like a gentleman, or I’ll think it’s your intent to drop onto hapless travelers and rob them blind.”

“Do you think I could?”

Dear God, the child sounded fascinated.

“Down. Now.” That tone of voice had worked on Tye’s younger brother until Gordie had been almost twelve. The same tone had ever been a source of amusement to his younger sisters. The branches moved, and Rowan tensed again, haunches bunching as if he’d bolt.

A lithe little shape plummeted at least eight feet to the ground and landed with a loud “Ouch!” provoking Rowan to rear in earnest.

***

From the ground, the horse looked enormous, and the man astride like a giant. Fee caught an impression of darkness—dark horse, dark riding clothes, and a dark scowl as the man tried to control his horse.

“That is quite enough out of you.” The man’s voice was so stern, Fee suspected the horse understood the words, for two large iron-shod hooves came to a standstill not a foot from her head.

“Child, you will get up slowly and move away from the horse. I cannot guarantee your safety otherwise.”

Still stern—maybe this fellow was always stern, in which case he was to be pitied. Fee sat up and tried to creep back on her hands, backside, and feet, but pain shot through her left ankle and up her calf before she’d shifted half her weight.

“I hurt myself.”

The horse backed a good ten feet away, though Fee couldn’t see how the rider had asked it to do so.

“Where are you hurt?”

“My foot. I think I landed on it wrong. It’s because I’m wearing shoes.”

“Shoes do not cause injury.” He swung off the horse and shook a gloved finger at the animal. “You stand, or you’ll be stewed up for the poor of the parish.”

“Are you always so mean, mister?”

He loomed above her, hands on his hips, and Fee’s Aunt Hester would have said he looked like The Wrath of God. His nose was a Wrath-of-God sort of nose, nothing sweet or humble about it, and his eyes were Wrath-of-God eyes, all dark and glaring.

He was as tall as the Wrath of God, too, maybe even taller than Fee’s uncles, who, if not exactly the Wrath of God, could sometimes be the Wrath of Deeside and greater Aberdeenshire.

As could her aunt Hester, which was a sobering thought.

“You think I’m mean, young lady?”

“Yes.”

“Then I must answer in the affirmative.”

She frowned up at him. From his accent, he was at least a bloody Lowlander, or possibly a damned Sassenach, but even making those very significant allowances, he still talked funny.

“What is a firmative?”

“Yes, I am mean. Can you walk?”

He extended a hand down to her, a very large hand in a black riding glove. Fee had seen some pictures in a book once, of a lot of cupids without nappies bouncing around with harps, and a hand very like that one, sticking out of