01 - Chapter 1 - The Mercy Stroke
Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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The Mercy Stroke 



Chapter  1






Dhugal MacArdry, Tanist and heir to clan MacArdry, hunched his shoulders into his cloak and tried to ignore the bitter mountain wind lashing into him. It might technically be spring, but that season came slow and late to the Highlands, and winter was not yet ready to give up its hold.

Dhugal wished he were back in the warmer Lowlands with his friends, especially Prince Kelson. But he wasn't, and all the wishing in the world wouldn't take him back to Rhemuth--any more than wishing would bring his older brother Michael back to life. It was Michael's sudden death at age 29 that had caused 12-year-old Dhugal's departure from Court and the end of his service as a page to King Brion Haldane. Dhugal was now his clan's Tanist as well as the next Earl of Transha. His father Caulay, the current Chief and Earl, had told the king that he wanted to see to Dhugal's training himself.

In all honesty, Dhugal hadn't wanted to leave Court. Even though he'd been uncomfortable when he'd first arrived in Rhemuth, he'd made a place for himself. He'd made many friends, especially Crown Prince Kelson, King Brion's son and the future King of Gwynedd. He still sometimes found it hard to believe that he and Kelson had become friends; he was glad, though. Kelson had helped him get past homesickness and in dealing with other pages and squires who looked down on Dhugal's border braid and traits. And even if he and Kelson were far apart now, they would always be blood brothers.

He hadn't said much about the relationship to his acquaintances and clansmen at Transha. Most wouldn't be impressed at his having a Lowland prince as his brother and the rest would think he was boasting.

Firmly telling himself to forget about what couldn't be changed, Dhugal forced his attention back to the task at hand. Dhugal and several other MacArdrys were on a patrol of the clan lands. Sure-footed the border ponies might be, but the terrain demanded an attentive rider.

Everything had been going perfectly until the group approached a rugged section of cliff trail. A rider, just ahead of Dhugal and his gillie Ciard, misjudged the footing and his pony slipped over the edge of the ravine. The moment seemed to last forever, the scream for an eternity. Ages and moments later, the man hit the bottom of the canyon and the scream stopped.



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