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20. The Campbell Lass
 Kelpie went back to the hut, since there was no other shelter and it was better to risk Campbells than to freeze to death. But she found a hiding place on the river bank, just in case, and for three days she alternately huddled over the tiny coals which were all she dared have during the daytime and watched the path for signs of the invaders.
There was plenty of time to think. She wondered whether the message had got through to Montrose, and what he could do even if it had. For he was trapped in the Great Glen between two armies, and no way out except over mountains impassable with snow. She wondered about Alex and that long, inscrutable look he had given her, and it came to her that she had been a fool to tell him that she knew what he had done. For if he could strike down his foster brother, it would be nothing for
 him to silence her. She began to feel very trapped herself. Was no place in the world safe for her?
Lost in brooding, she failed to keep her sharp watch, and on the third afternoon she heard, too late, the crunch of heavy steps in the crusted snow. Before she could do more than turn, a heavy-set Campbell flung the door open, two or three others looming behind him.
“Here’ll be another cursed Cameron or two,” he shouted, and his broadsword bore grim stains from the last house he had visited. “And where is your husband hiding, lass?”
Kelpie’s wits, well trained in crisis, worked quickly. “Husband indeed!” she retorted, staring boldly into the ruddy face. “Where are your eyes, man, that you cannot recognize a Campbell when you see one?” She snatched up Lady Argyll’s cloak and waved it at him, thankful for that particular theft. “Och, but I am glad that you have come,” she went on with a trusting upward smile through her lashes. “It was my wicked Cameron uncle who came by my home on Loch Awe with that devil Montrose and all the army, and stole me away to keep house for him, since his wife died, and he saying I must be his daughter now and some day marry a Cameron; and have I not been biding my time and waiting for warm weather to run away back home?”
The Campbells blinked and believed her. She was utterly convincing, and in any case, what Cameron would have claimed to be a Campbell, even at the edge of death?
 And had she not the once fine Campbell cloak, clearly given her by a lady of that clan? The sword went back into its sheath.
“Och, well,” said its owner with a sigh. “Naught to do here but burn the place. But at least you can be coming back the now.”
This was the last thing Kelpie wanted! “To another army?” she jeered, hiding her panic. “No, now, I’ve enough of armies and battles. Leave me be, just, and when ’tis warmer I’ll be finding my own way. Will you not be fighting Montrose soon?” she demanded. “Or is it only women and bairns you are after?”
They shuffled their feet. “We’ll be taking care of Montrose,” promised the stout one. “But we cannot leave you here, lass. You must just come along back to Inverlochy, and perhaps himself will be seeing you’re sent back home.”
Kelpie’s heart threatened to choke her. He’d be sending her back, fine enough! “Dhé!” she sputtered, knowing her life might depend on her next words. “Will ye be bothering the likes of him with a nobody, and him with a war on his hands? He’d no be thanking ye for it! Besides,” she confided beseechingly, “it is myself am afraid of Mac Cailein Mor, and he so great and all. No, now, just leave me here, and then it’s away back I’ll be by myself.”
The stout one was not unsympathetic. “Well, women have daft fears,” he observed. “But ’tis true enough that himself is an awesome man. We cannot leave you here,
 but perhaps we can be tucking you into a wee bit place near Inverlochy where you’ll not be noticed until we move on. There is a burned shieling just near the loch, with one end left untouched. Come along now.”
To argue further would be hopeless and perhaps fatal. This was a stubborn man, already close enough to suspicion. Numb with apprehension, Kelpie wrapped the cloak firmly around herself and let them lead her outside while they fired the thatch.
And then, just as they were climbing up the bank, a tall man pointed to a faint wisp of smoke to the southeast. “Another shieling,” he announced happily.
It was no shieling at all, of course. It was Alex’s fire, and now Kelpie’s curse would be well and truly fulfilled. Why hadn’t she thought of telling them herself? And why was it that she felt more dismay than elation? Frowning, she probed at the feeling, trying to figure it out. Och, of course; It was not for Alex’s sake she did not want him caught, but for her own. For he would be sure to tell them that she was no Campbell at all but a gypsy lass, and then they would take her straight to Argyll. She bit her lip as she silently followed the Campbells up the Cour in the direction of the telltale smoke, hoping passionately that Alex would either get away or be killed before he could betray her.
He nearly did get away. The cave, when they finally found it, was empty, the fire quenched with snow. The
 tangled footprints in the snow seemed to lead nowhere, and they might have given up but for the stubbornness of Hamish, the stout man. But at last someone saw Alex hiding high up amid the dark needles of a pine tree.
“A MacDonald!” Hamish peered upward. “Come away down, now, or we’ll shoot you there.”
“And what difference?” asked Alex mockingly from his high perch. “I’d as lief be shot here as on the ground.”
Kelpie set her teeth. She hoped they’d shoot him now, before he could see her and speak against her. She did! But again Hamish had other ideas. What was a MacDonald doing here at all, he wanted to know, and one, moreover, who was clearly well educated and therefore at least the son of a chieftain? It was a thing out of the ordinary and had better have the attention of his own chieftain, Campbell of Auchinbreck.
“We’re no for shooting you now,” he announced, “but will be taking you prisoner.”
Alex seemed............
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