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21. Vengeance
 In the shocked silence which followed, Hamish forgot his comforting grip on the poor wee frightened lass for an instant, and in that instant the poor wee frightened lass vanished.
She crouched on the far side of a rhododendron bush, tensed and ready for further flight. For the moment, it was best not to move again, for there was silence beside the river, and she dared make no noise that might call attention to herself. Och, the good luck of it! And a fine chance there was that, with this news, no one would think of her again at all.
“Impossible!” said Argyll. His voice was thin.
“It is true, Mac Cailein Mor!” insisted the messenger. “On the north slope of Ben Nevis it was, his army ran into our outpost, and some of our scouts escaped and came to warn us.”
“Impossible,” repeated Argyll more thinly yet. “He
 couldn’t. He went up the Great Glen, and he hasn’t come back down it. And there’s no other way he could have come in this cold and snow—not with an army and horses and cannon. It’s not humanly possible.”
There was a good deal of sense in this. Even Kelpie, still as a bogle behind her bush, frowned in puzzlement. How could Montrose have come so quickly, and not through the Great Glen? Over the bitter impassable mountains, then? Och, Glen Roy, it must be! Argyll didn’t know this country as she did, and as the Camerons and MacDonalds would. Through Glen Roy, then—and it was next to impossible even then, but if anyone at all could do it, then it would be Montrose and his Highlanders, and she the cause of it all, with her message! She hugged herself silently.
“It couldna be the army,” said an Edinburgh voice soothingly. “Gin ’tis Montrose at all, which I doot, ’tis a mere handfu’ o’ wild Hieland thieves he could ha’ brought, and we’ll wipe ’em oot the morn.”
“Still and all,” came another voice, “it might be best for you to be going on board your galley, your Lordship. You’ve an injured shoulder, remember, and you’re too valuable to risk your life in a mere skirmish.”
“You may be right.” There was unmistakable relief in Argyll’s voice, and Kelpie lifted her short lip in contempt. “I can put you in charge, Auchinbreck, and send commands from my galley. Who is that over there?”
His voice rose sharply, and Kelpie’s hair stood on end until she heard Hamish’s apologetic answer. “Hamish Campbell, just, with a MacDonald I found skulking up near the Spean River, and I thinking you might be wanting to see him.”
“A MacDonald?” Auchinbreck’s voice was incisive. “Aye, he’s likely a scout for Montrose and may be able to tell us something. Will you speak to him, your Lordship?”
“Later,” said Argyll. “Take him down to the shelter by the loch and stay there yourselves on guard. See that no one goes near the galley, and I’ll question the prisoner before I go board.”
There was a crunch of snow as Argyll and his party started back toward the castle, and then a pause. “Why isn’t he tied?” came Argyll’s voice accusingly.
“Och, your Lordship, he has a hurt foot, and it would be too hard to carry him this whole way if—”
“He could have been shamming, you fool!” Argyll was furious. “Tie him now.”
He went on, leaving the other group of dark shapes where they stood. “Well, so, and himself was saying ‘now,’” muttered Hamish, “so now it is, my lad. We’ll have your two hands behind you. Were you shamming?”
“Not a whit,” said Alex coolly. “I’d have left you before this, if I were.”
“Well, I almost have it in my heart to pity you, just for
 your courage, though you’re a cursed MacDonald. Angus, where’s the wee lass?”
“She was off and away at the word Montrose,” reported Angus, “and no wonder. She’s frighted even of our army and will be in terror of his. She’ll no be staying for a battle.”
“Och, she’ll freeze, just, poor amadain!” said Hamish worriedly. “And she could have been staying at the shelter with us, and quite safe. Well, so. Come away now.”
They moved off toward the loch, leaving Kelpie to figure out her new situation.
It was a great improvement, surely, but hardly rosy. If only the weather were warm, there would be no problem at all. She could set off for safety, leaving Alex just where she wanted him, and Montrose over behind the mountain to settle with Argyll after Argyll had settled with Alex. But it was cold! And there would be no shelter near, what with all the homes burned. And she didn’t want to freeze.
An hour earlier she would gladly have taken the chance, gladly frozen, even, in preference to meeting Argyll. But now that she was out of danger from him for the moment, she wanted to live, and how could she be arranging it? If it were not for Alex, she might slip down to the shelter after all, and just hide when Argyll came. But Alex would not miss another chance to betray her. He had delayed too long once before, and he must be cursing himself for it.
But she had to do something! Shivering, she got to her feet and silently followed an orange glimmer down near the loch. Och, a fire! Kelpie hurried her steps until she could see the ruins of a shieling hut, one side open to the night, but with a warm fire just at the edge, where the fireplace had once stood. Alex, well bound now, was lying against one wall, and the other men were grouped around. As she watched, they began taking food from their pouches.
In an agony of indecision, Kelpie crouched in the bushes, just too far away to feel the warmth of the fire, but she didn’t dare to go closer. She could almost wish Alex free, so that—
Her eyes widened. Alex had turned over to face the wall and was unmistakably settling down to sleep! How could he? Reluctantly Kelpie admired him for it. He was a bad one, but for all that he had a cool courage that was fine.
She waited a few minutes more; then she had to get warm! And Alex seemed to be truly asleep. Standing up, she raised her voice scarcely above a whisper. “Hamish!”
He was up, his ruddy face turning to search the bushes. “The wee lass! Are you frozen, just? Come away to the fire. It was gey foolish of you to run off.”
She came, rubbing her numbed hands in the heavenly warmth, even though it made them hurt sorely. “I was affrighted,” she explained, “of Montrose, and of all the men,
 and of Mac Cailen Mor, and even of him.” She nodded toward Alex. “Please, if anyone comes, could I not be hiding away at the back behind the walls until they go?”
“Ou, aye,” said Hamish tolerantly, “if you’re so frighted as all that.”
It was nearly morning, and Kelpie had napped a little herself and was warm and fed (with a wary eye on the sleeping Alex), before voices and steps announced a party coming from the castle. In a flash she was around behind the ruined shieling, just at the corner where she could hear everything an............
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