Not Without Juliet
Author:L.L. Muir

Gordon Land, Scotland, 1496

They rose from the heather like dead men rising to complain of their bumpy purple graves, and Quinn knew by the sneers on their faces, he was the dead one.

“Greetin’s, Laird Ross.” A long-legged man sporting an ill-fitting Gordon plaid offered a mocking bow, not bothering to knock the dirt from his body. “Ye be a long drink from home this day, but we heard ye’re no longer sensible of boundaries, since summer last.”

Quinn wished he could have called the survey folk to come spray-paint the bloody borders of Ross land, but he couldn’t have afforded the extra charges to bring them all the way back to the fifteenth century. And oh, how he hated being babysat by young boys who knew from birth where Ross land ended and Gordon land began.

“I beg pardon, sir.” Quinn nodded. “I trusted my horse to keep me on home ground. I’ll be sure to punish him accordingly.”

He laid the reins against the scapegoat’s neck to turn back South, but when more Gordons blocked his way, he turned again to Long Legs and awaited the filthy man’s pleasure. If they killed him, at least he wouldn’t be around to watch Ewan’s eyes roll back in his head when he learned of yet another of Quinn’s foolish mistakes. All that rolling surely gave the new laird migraines.

“I be ridin’ the horse, yer lairdship. And you be walking.”

“I’ve no doubt you ken I’m no longer laird of the Rosses,” Quinn said clearly so they all would hear and maybe reconsider harassing him.

“We do,” said Long Legs. “But once a laird, always a laird. Ye were a shrewd mon to give yer clan over to Ewan Ross though.” He pulled Quinn from the saddle, not caring whether or not he landed on his feet. “If ye hadn’t, they’d be leaderless this night, I reckon.”

Long Legs shoved, but Quinn stood his ground easily enough. The man snorted at him and mounted. He motioned another Gordon forward who tied Quinn’s hands before him, then handed up the slack. Quinn felt the comforting weight of the knife in his boot and decided to bide his time. No sense taking on the lot of them at once when it might not be necessary.

The sound of approaching hooves turned all attention to the meager road. A horse was coming fast, seemingly riderless but for the two wee legs flapping at its sides.

Dear Lord! It was Orie, the smithy’s son.

Quinn turned to Long Legs.

“Hold your men. You will not harm this child.” He spoke quickly while he held the man’s gaze. “Do what you will to me, but if this boy is not allowed to return home without so much as a scratch, I will call upon the devil himself to see you and your posterity swept from the face of the earth.” He glanced over his shoulder. Orie was closing. “You remember my sister, Isobelle, was a witch. Do you doubt I can do it?” Quinn stepped close so no others could hear him. “Satan himself came with Isobelle in summer last, to dance with her upon her own tomb. Did no one tell you?”

Long Legs’ eyes were wide as he raised a hand, freezing his men where they stood. Orie and his horse kept coming, and he’d soon see the ties around Quinn’s wrists! It would be too late!

“Is that what drove ye mad, Laird Ross?” The man swallowed. “Did the devil take yer wits? They say—”

“Laird Ross, sir!” Orie waved one hand and slowed his horse. “You forgot your sword, sir. And you forgot me.” The boy looked around at the Gordons spread about the field of heather.

“’Tis all right, Orie.” Quinn looked to Long Legs, who nodded and discreetly cut the ropes from his hands.

“If ye touch yer sword, the ladboy dies no matter,” the man whispered.

Quinn nodded and turned to the boy, who looked him over, his small brow furrowed. A patch of dirt-colored hair poked up from the back of the lad’s head and a well-defined line ran all the way around his small face showing he’d at least tried to wash up. Grime stayed to one side of the line, pink skin to the other, like he was peering out through the only clean spot of a filthy window. The next chance Quinn got, if he got one, he’d toss the boy into some good clean water.

“No worries. We are but cutting flowers.” He gestured to the Gordons who then looked for a nod from Long Legs before bending and using their bare blades to chop at the blossom-covered branches. Tiny purple balls began flying. “We’re taking them to Morna’s grave. I will have no use for my heavy blade this day. The Gordon lads will see to my safety, will you not?” He turned to Long Legs.

“Aye. We will, that.” The Gordon man grinned.

“Laird, why does he sit yer horse?” Orie pointed, as if Quinn hadn’t noticed. All the Gordons stopped cutting flowers and waited. Quinn could feel them all itching to get their hands on the child.

“Twisted his foot is all.” He waved away Orie’s concern. “I’m sorry I did not wait for you, but I couldn’t take such an important lad all the way to the Gordon Keep. Go home now. Have the stable master take my sword to my chambers, and I’ll see you when I return.” He dared not step closer to the boy and the sword, but bent instead to gather the heather another man had cut, holding his breath and praying for obedience.

Thankfully, the boy was quick to follow orders, and Quinn continued his acting until the sound of Orie’s retreat faded to nothing.

Long Legs’ sudden burst of laughter sent a chill up his spine.

“A grand idea, that. Ye’ll be carrying the flowers, but they’ll be for yer own grave, not yer sister’s.”

Quinn was content with the irony that Morna was neither dead, nor his sister, but was living happily ever after in the twenty-first century. A year before, Morna had faked her death and then been taken into the future, along with the real Montgomery Ross. Quinn had volunteered to switch places with him, due to the plain fact Montgomery had the love of a fine woman to live for, and Quinn had naught.

And if Isobelle, Morna’s sister, danced, it wasn’t with the devil as she, too, was alive and well, though it was uncertain where she hid. It was a fine trick the Rosses had played on their neighbors, and all for the health and happiness of their women.

Ultimately, if Quinn was about to die, history would play out as it should, and no one would know the Gordons would be killing the wrong man.