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Taken by a Highlander- chapter 3

Ella blanched as his words became clear to her. “I believe I will claim you for my own."

 

                                      The Forbidden Forest

 

As they rode across the moors, Ella kept from freaking out by trying to figure out what the man's last words meant. If she could only picture them in her mind, then she would have a chance to decipher them. Meanwhile, the horse's gallop devoured up the miles. Every once in a while Ella tried to push herself away from her captor. He automatically pulled her back against him. His attention seemed mostly on getting to the forest as quickly as possible. As they raced across the moors, Ella mulled his words over in her mind. She was gradually able to translate his words. She whispered quietly to herself... Creidim go mbeidh mé ag éilíonn tú dom féin cailín.” Breaking each word down...I thought...or I believe...yes! I will or can. OK...now.. own, want, take...claim! That's it! It means claim.” She took a deep breath before continuing thinking, “I don't think I like where this is going. Now for the last part, “tú dom féin cailín “That first word must be I or you..probably you, next to or for or and. The last has to be something like me, mine myself.”

 

They had been galloping for at least an hour; the horse was starting to tire. Rówann slowed Bryce down to a trot. By then, they weren't far from the forest. Ella suddenly blanched as his archaic words became clear to her. “I believe I will claim you for myself girl.” Her back stiffened and her green eyes sparked fire. Taking a deep breath, she was about to turn and challenge the man when she realized, “If I blast him now he'll know I can figure out his language. This may be the only advantage I have to escape this madman! No, I'll bide my time and come up with some way to escape.... if it's the last thing I do!”

 

They finally arrived at the edge of the ancient forest. Some of the trees were very tall with huge trunks the likes of which Ella had never seen before! Many had branches covered in hoary moss hanging many feet down. The breeze caused the moss to sway reminding Ella of a scary movie she had seen last year. When she looked further into the interior of the forest, it became very dark. Hardly any sun peeked below the abundant canopy of leaves many feet above their heads. On the ground, there was plenty of fungus and moss-like plants. They slowed down in front of a tree that had a mark carved into the base of the trunk and walked into the forest from that point. Ella was later to learn how very critical that mark was. As they entered Ella could feel a change in the air. She couldn't put a word to it, but it was not like anything she had ever felt in her life. She shivered as they went in deeper. There was plenty of animal and bird life from what she could hear as they moved along. As well as the small plants she could see the occasional sapling trying to grow near a place where the sun seeped through. Many years of fallen leaves had been blown into the empty hollows of bare ground. Their passage was mostly silent and unmarked as they traveled along.

 

Suddenly Ella heard from a distance someone cry out forlornly as if they were lost and couldn't find their way out. This was exactly what had happened to the owner of that cry and many others over the millennium. As the cry echoed again, Ella cried out, “What is this place? We must help that person!” Even though he couldn't understand what the girl said, Rówann had a good idea. When she looked up at him, he shook his head and said in Gaelic, “He canna be helped, he is one of the lost ones. We must travel as quickly as we can and get out the other side. I know the way, but canna help anyone else! Powerful gods hold sway over this place. Even more powerful than the Christian God. The old gods lived here ages ago, always have and always will. We pass through only on their sufferance lass.” She looked puzzled at his words and tried to translate them as they continued onward. There were too many words and by now her head hurt. She gave up and occupied herself by trying to mark their passage in case she had a chance to give him the slip.

 

Rówann had a good idea about the forest but of course, couldn't tell the girl even if he wanted to. And he didn't. If she or any of the other girls he had taken from the other side as he thought of it, knew what he did, they would try to get back home. That was never going to happen. As far as he could understand this forest took people to different lands. The few times he had ventured inside he had been very lucky to have not been lost himself. He truly believed the gods favoured him.

 

As they rode along, he thought back to the first time he had crossed into the “Forest of the Lost” as his people sometimes called it. As a child growing up only a few hours ride from the forest, he was told of the “Lost Ones.” The tale was that whoever went into the forbidden forest would never come out again. For as long as people had lived in the area the story handed down over the ages was that powerful gods lived deep in the forest and became angry if people went into their domain. Whether they were killed or made into slaves, no one ever came back out to tell. The tale became a good way to keep small children most adults from venturing into the forest.

 

But of course there were times when young lads wanted to show their bravery, so every generation seemed to lose a young man or two to the forest. Girls were rarely lost as they were not allowed to wander far from the village. What with the raiding parties from other clans out and about. The men from many of the clans made a living out of stealing cattle, stored food, and the occasional woman if she was comely. In those days, most clans were rivals. It was a way of life as well as a good form of entertainment. Strength and bravery were important as eating to the early Highlanders. It was also what kept the clans thriving.

 

When Rówann was about sixteen in age, he had already proven he was a man in battle, being rather larger than most. His secret dream was to go into the forbidden forest and come out again. Just because no one else had ever done, it didn't mean he couldn't! He decided he was old enough to fight anything that came at him. Next morning after packing some food he set out with his weapons telling the chieftain, his father, he was going hunting. Not long after leaving the village and making sure no one saw him he turned his horse in the direction of the forest. Two hours later he saw the dark forest come into view. Once he came to the edge, he stopped for a few minutes to listen and look around. He had always been one to first contemplate his actions if possible. This attribute is what would make him a good chieftain one day.

 

All was quiet except for the occasional bird call. The interior was dark, the trees tall with most of the leaves many feet above his head. Some of the trees were very old, others much younger as well as smaller. That is when he noticed the large tree to his right. His sharp eyes caught the edge of some mark carved into the base of the trunk, moving his leg he signaled his horse to move towards it. Slipping off Rówann bent closer, he could now see more marks. The base of this tree had runes carved all around it. He couldn't, of course, know what the Runes meant as most of his people couldn't read including himself. He ran his hand over the magic marks feeling that this was a good sign. Making a note of the kind of tree it was as well as it's location and shape, he jumped back onto his horse and entered the forest on the right side of it. Luck was on his side he decided. The runes were proof of that. Making sure he didn't wander off too far he spent the better part of the morning exploring the forest. Finding a place to take his lunch, he slid off his horse and tied it close to a clump of grass. There wasn't much in the way of grass since most of the sun didn't reach the ground. He did notice there was plenty of wildlife from the sounds he heard and the tracks he found on the bare ground. He did sight a pair of young deer that soon disappeared. In the low areas, there were deep piles of old leaf litter blown by the wind.

 

As Rówann finished his meal of hard bread and cheese, he heard a man's deep voice shout for help. He listened carefully to note where the voice came from, he didn't want to lose his bearings or come across someone he couldn't handle. Taking his horse by the reigns, he headed in the direction of the voice. Once he got close enough, he left his horse tied to a tree and cautiously moved forward. Meanwhile, the voice had stopped minutes before. He hesitated when he heard his horse snort. Cursing to himself, he turned and ran back to the place he had left the animal. There was a short, stocky, man trying to mount his horse, Rowann pulled out his claymore then thought better of it. Quickly resheathing it, he pulled his dirk out instead and made ready to throw it. Just as the man and horse started to move, he threw. It hit him straight in the ribs knocking him off the horse. Rówann ran over to the moaning man and crouched down laying his hand on his shoulder. When he saw that it was a fatal wound, he asked, “Why didn't you just wait? I wouldn't have hurt you. I want to know more about this place. Can you tell me anything?”

 

The bleeding man moaned again in pain before looking up at the young man. “All I can tell you is that you're doomed, you will never get back home. I have tried again and again to get home!” He paused and coughed before continuing, “When you leave the forest you somehow end up in another land, it's magic! The gods have put a curse on the forest; you can't go back home...you will die in here....” With that last word, his head fell to the side.

 

Rówann drew back retrieving his dirk and wiping it on some moss before putting it back in his belt. He pondered the dead man's words. “What could he mean, another land?” He decided, he had been in the forest long enough. Mounting his horse, he turned back the way he had come. He glanced up at the sky and noted where the sun was situated making sure it was at his back. He walked his horse carefully as he looked for signs that he had passed by earlier. When he saw the bare ground, he saw his horse's hoof print; the right front hoof had been slightly deformed when he was born. At that print, he nodded his head. He knew he must not waver; patiently, he backtracked to the place he had sat and had his lunch. He sighed in relief knowing his luck was still with him when he'd made it back to the same general area of the forest he had entered. Sliding off his horse and keeping in mind what the man had said, Rowann poked his head out of the edge of the forest.

 

To his amazement he found himself looking at a totally different landscape. He couldn't help but blink several times. What he was looking at made his heart thud rapidly. The land he knew was gone and in its place were fields of grass and cattle. Many fat cattle from what he could see. He pulled his head back and said out loud, “How can this be? What that man told me is true. It is magic...by the gods! How am I to get home?” He walked twenty yards to the left, which happened to bring him closer to the tree with the runes and poked his head out again. Now he saw a landscape of small fields of some crops he couldn't identify. Again he leaned back to think. “So....where ever you go out of the forest, you end up in a different land....or something. I must find that tree with the runes, that will be the way back home!” He looked around, and saw with a great sigh of comfort there was the Rune tree not ten feet away from him. He took his horse by the reins and lead him out, by the left side of the tree. Since he entered on the right, he reasoned he must return to his left. To his profound solace, he found himself back in his own land. He knew his luck and canniness was what had saved him. Bowing his head slightly, he thanked the gods for allowing him to come back home.

 

It was years later that Rówann decided to go back to the forest, but it was for a totally different reason. He had become Laird after his father had passed on. The raids of the Campbells were becoming a real problem. The thing was on their last raid; they had taken a dozen of their fat cattle and four of their young girls. And then they disappeared without a trace. The men including himself had searched for weeks with no luck. That was when he decided that they must have gone into the forest knowing they would be hunted down. He decided to go in alone and look for clues. The entire clan was against it, but he was the Laird after all and would do as he thought best.

 

First things first, he set out to locate what he came to think of as the Rune tree. Once inside the forest, he searched for signs of the girls. Some time later he came across a bit of cloth. On examining it, he found it was from clan MacGregor. They were lost, he knew it in his bones. He thought about the parents of the girls and grimly planned to get some compensation. But not the usual kind. He went through the forest marking trees as he went and finally after two hours came out the other end. The land was indeed different. Again marking the tree he had passed, he rode into the land searching for a village or farm. As it was, he came across a farm, the people spoke differently, dressed differently, it was all very strange. He continued, he had gone there for a reason, to find a replacement for one of the girls those damn Campbells had taken. So, he did just that; it wasn't like he had never done such a thing before. Raiding was raiding in his book. He grabbed a young girl of about fourteen that happened to be walking outside a village. Once he had her, he turned his horse around and miles later re-entered the forest at the same tree he had marked. Over the next few months, he did this two more times. He did it at different places so as to not make the people start a war over their losses. (Because it was different times, hence the old wives tales of girls disappearing that wandered too far from the village.) He never took the time to really look at the landscape. If he had he would have realized it was the same land, just maybe different crops or animals or just grasslands. He might have grasped that it was a different time.

 

Rówann blinked becoming aware of the woman he had in his arms, “And this is the last lass I am taking. She is certainly different from the other lasses.” He felt himself harden as he felt her warm bottom between his thighs. Her reaction was to struggle to pull away from him. He leaned down laughing warmly and whispered, “Mine!”  Ella didn't have to translate that word, she knew, and it made her shiver. In fear or anticipation, she didn't know and didn't want to find out either!

 

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