02 - Chapter 2 - The Mercy Stroke
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The Mercy Stroke 



Chapter  2




  It took unknown minutes for the rest of the party to make their way safely down to where the man had landed. Ciard's experienced eyes told him that Seamus MacArdry's injuries were serious. Both legs were broken and likely his back as well. Life might continue for a while, but it would be no real life at all. Seamus could no longer fight for his chief or king, or provide for his family.

Dhugal's own training and talents had led him to beginning to learn about medicine and battle surgeoning. As his father had said: A laird needs to be able to patch up his men and animals. Dhugal moved closer to Seamus and peered at the obvious injuries.

"He isna going to make it, is he, Ciard?" Dhugal whispered under his breath.

"I dinna think so, lad," Ciard agreed. "His hurts are bad ones and trying to help him would only cause him more pain than he needs to endure."

"What can we do, then?" Dhugal asked, feeling helpless.

"Death would be a mercy for him," was Ciard's answer.

Dhugal turned away, sickened. The coup de grace was a part of life in the borders, even though the church silently disapproved of such mercy killings. Ciard's brief response to Dhugal's question obviously indicated who the gillie felt should help Seamus. But Dhugal didn't think he could do it. He was only just 13 now. How could he coldly and deliberately draw a dirk across Seamus' throat or slid one between his ribs?

In his mind, Dhugal could hear the voice of his friend Kelson, offering the advice that Kelson would give if he were with Dhugal physically. "Being a leader sometimes means doing what you would rather not--acting for the good of others instead of what you want."

Dhugal was Seamus' tanist and future chief, sworn to protect and aid his men. The only aid he could offer now was a merciful death. Dhugal turned back and dropped to his knees, silently praying for courage, strength, and forgiveness. He didn't really register that the other MacArdry clansmen were doing the same thing. Once his prayer was over, he moved slightly to crouch by Seamus' head.

"Ye'r verra badly hurt, Seamus," he said quietly. "The injuries canna be healed and you'll be in great pain."

"I understand, young Dhugal," Seamus whispered. "I wish ye ta act and spare me the agony."

Dhugal nodded slowly. He listened carefully as Seamus gave him a final message for his wife and children. Then with another prayer for forgiveness, Dhugal quickly slid his dirk across Seamus' throat. He drew back and waited until he knew the man was dead.

Minutes were spent in prayers for Seamus' soul. As Dhugal rose, Ciard directed several men to wrap Seamus' body in plaids for the final journey home. Then he drew his young master aside.

"It wasnae an easy thing, was it, laddie?"

"No," Dhugal managed.

"As hard as it was for ye, remember that it was a mercy for him. Ye did yerself proud today, Dhugal."

As they remounted their ponies and headed for Castle Transha, Dhugal knew that this day would be a marker for him, that he would later look back at this and think: If I could do that, then I can do this.



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