Scarlet awoke the next morning to the smell of food cooking. She slowly opened her eyes and almost forgot where she was. Algernon was not in the tent but his outer tunic lay covering her body. She knew she had to find some way out of her predicament. She knew how to fight, but she also knew there was no way she could battle all of Algernon’s men at once. Before she could get up and run, one of Algernon’s clansmen entered the tent.
“Good morrow, me lady,” he said cheerfully.
“What do you want?” she answered, pulling the tunic up to her chin.
“To invite you to join us for breakfast, me lady.”
“By whose invitation?” she asked warily.
“Algernon’s, me lady.” She was shocked to hear that Algernon requested her presence.
“Do I have a choice in the matter?” she asked.
“Ye do not have to eat, me lady, but you could die of starvation out in the mountains, if you so choose to.” Scarlet considered this and pushed the tunic down to her knees.
“Aright, I’ll eat, but do not expect to eat much!” She got up and stormed past the clansman with a humph.
Algernon looked up when he heard her voice threaten his men, ordering them to bring her this or give her that. Her hair was in disarray and to Algernon she appeared even more beautiful then when he had first laid eyes upon her.
“Good morrow, me lady,” he said.
“Good morrow,” was Scarlet’s only reply.
“Are you going to eat this morning, me lady?”
“Please,” she mocked, “ call me Scarlet. And aye, I will eat this morning.”
Not a word was spoken between them during the morning meal. Algernon ate but watched her every move at the same time. She ate very little, almost as if she was not very hungry, yet she knew she was starving inside. After the meal had ended, both of their plates were taken away by clansmen. Scarlet remained where she was, staring out at the meadow. How she wanted to go home, to her real home. As if he could read her thoughts, Algernon finally broke the silence.
“You wish to go home, do ye not, me lady?”
“Aye, that I do. But apparently you and yer men have no intention of letting me go.”
“You read me mind clearly, me dear. I do not intend on letting you go.”
“No matter,” she shrugged. “Me Papa and his clansmen will find me. And when they do, do not expect to remain alive!” she countered.
“Yer father must be pretty handy with a sword. I’ll wager he has decapitated a pretty plenty of heads, eh?”
“Me Papa does not believe in decapitation as a form of death.”
“Nay? And whyever not, praytell?”
“He believes a formal execution is best,” Scarlet answered with pride.
“Me dear, I hope ye can understand that on the battlefield it is merely life and death. There be no formalities involved. One minute yer alive, the next... well, ye get me point.”
Scarlet bit her lip, knowing she had made a mistake at what she said. He was right, yet again. But what did she know about fighting on the battlefield. She was ne’er taught to fight there. She and her sister were always taught the “formalities” of fighting, naught but that. With this realization came another, more displeasing one. She knew how to pick up a sword and fight in a hand to hand duel, but she had ne’er picked up a sword to fight in a war with death all around her.
“Let me see how well ye can fight,” Algernon said, finally.
“What?!” she exclaimed, shocked.
“If I provided you with a sword, let me see how well ye can fight in hand to hand combat,” he repeated, as he got up from where he sat.
Without saying a word, Scarlet got up and faced Algernon. She had ne’er fought someone of such stature as this man. Before, on her father’s lands, she and her sister would duel with only the squires. When Algernon stood in full length in front of her, she knew she was not dueling against a young, inexperienced squire; she was fighting a man who had killed many men in many battles.
“Byron, get me me sword, and give yers to the lady.” Byron, one of Algernon’s clansmen, looked at him with wide eyes.
“Ye cannot be serious, me laird! Give me sword to a woman?!”
“Ye heard what I said, Byron! Give yer sword to the lady!” Algernon’s face became sinister then and Scarlet knew what she was up against.
Byron handed Algernon his sword and gave his own blade to Scarlet. As soon as she took the sword, its tip dropped to the ground. The clansmen around her began to laugh and chuckle but were quickly silenced by a stern look from Algernon.
“I see you have no experience holding a two-handed battle sword, me lady,” he mocked. To his surprise, as well as everyone else’s, she pulled the sword up to chest length and stared him down.
“Un-guard!” she said, pointing the tip of her blade at his chest.
“Thank you for the warning, me lady,” he countered, crossing her sword with his own.
For at least five minutes, which to Scarlet seemed an eternity, they fought, each time their swords crossed with a spark. After the first few minutes of battle, Scarlet’s arms felt as if they were going to fall off her torso. She could tell that Algernon fought well and with such valor she could ne’er compete with. Her last breath of victory came when she sliced her sword across the air, ripping his black tunic below his shoulder. He winced in pain as he dropped his sword. His hand went up to his shoulder and when he lifted his hand again, it was covered with blood. The eyes that looked at her were not eyes of vengeance or hate but eyes of pain.
“Ye... have... won... me lady,” he said, wincing all the while.
“Nay, yer one of the finest swordsmen I have met. Ye, sire, have won far more than I.”
“I have ne’er seen a woman with such skills in combat,” he commented.
“’Twould be because most of the women ye have seen are the whores who enter yer tent when you travel, and the mistresses who enter yer bedchamber when you spend time at a local inn!”
“’Tis going to cost you, me lady!” Without warning and through extensive pain, Algernon sliced his sword up, catching the tip of the blade on the strings of her bodice. One by one, the strings were cut, loosening her bodice around her chest.
“Me lady, ‘twould appear yer dress has been ‘delaced’!” he laughed aloud. Scarlet grabbed at her garment and ran as fast as she could towards the meadow, knowing it could be her only hope of escape.
“Should we go after her, me laird?” Byron asked.
“Nay, I will go alone on foot. She cannot run that fast while clutching her dress about her.”
“But me laird, yer arm still bleeds!” exclaimed Byron.
“Forget me arm for now! What matters is that we do not lose what we have rightfully captured.” With that remark he set out after Scarlet.
Though the pain in his upper arm remained constant, Algernon was still able to catch up with Scarlet. He grabbed her arm, bringing her to a halt. With one quick move, he had turned her around to face him. Tears stained her cheeks and both of her eyes were red.
“Why do you weep, me lady?” he asked, gentleness in his voice.
“You ask me to fight in a formal duel, yet ye have the nerve to humiliate me in front of yer men!”
“Is that what this is all about? Come now.” He pulled his arm around her shoulders to comfort her and was caught with a surge of pain.
“Yer in pain. Let me see yer arm,” she demanded.
“I am fine, really I am,” he winced.
“If ye do not let me see the wound, you’ll be fine but you’ll be dead!” For once in her life, Scarlet knew what she was talking about and she knew she was right. She grabbed his arm, making him cry out in pain.
“”Twill will only hurt for a moment.”
“Believe me, Scarlet, I have dealt with pain far more than this and wounds and scars far deeper than this mere scratch.”
She did not care about his war-hero stories. She needed to stop the wound from bleeding any more that it already had or he would surely bleed to death. She tore a strip of fabric from the bottom of her dress and started to wrap his wound, making sure it was tight and enough pressure was applied to the wound.
“Here, this should stop the bleeding for awhile.” She worked with skill and grace as she wrapped the fabric around his arm. When she was finished wrapping his arm, she used a hairpin to fasten it together.
“Where did ye learn such skills?” he asked, inquisitively, after she had bandaged his arm.
“Me mother taught me when I was but sixteen. Me father was at war at the time and me mother and I tended to the men’s wounds.” She sat down as she spoke, unable to hide her sorrow.
“Ye miss yer mother, I see,” was all Algernon could say as he sat next to her.
“I loved me mother,” she said quietly, almost in tears.
“Ye use the word ‘love’ in the past tense. Why is that?”
“Me mother died trying to save me younger brother on the battlefield,” she began.
“Does it hurt to talk about it?” he asked, trying to comfort her.
“Nay, I have not spoken of me mother since she died, some four years past.”
“Tell me about her then,” Algernon stated.
“Whyever do ye care so much for me mother?” she asked defensively.
“If I knew something about yer mother, perhaps I could learn a thing or two about you.”
She looked up at him then, surprise in her eyes. Why did this kidnapper want to know more about her? No words could describe what she felt at that moment. All she could do was stare into his sea-green eyes. As if by a magic force, Algernon reached up his hand to brush Scarlet’s tendrils out of her face. Just his touch made Scarlet shiver. His hand slowly made its way around the back of her neck and he looked deep into her eyes before pulling her chin towards his.
This kiss was more passionate than the first. Scarlet let out a gasp of surprise but soon relaxed her body and wrapped her arms around his neck, deepening the kiss. She did not know why but she wanted to kiss him, wanted to feel his heart beating in time with hers. Slowly, almost unaware of what was happening, Scarlet was lowered to the ground, all the while being kissed by the gentlest of lips.
He showered her with childish kisses, on her cheeks, on her eyelids, on her ears, on her neck. Another surprised gasp escaped her lips, but was quickly silenced with his mouth over hers, as his callused hand began to linger down her body. At that moment, Scarlet managed to wedge her arms between them and push him away. He looked at her questionably but pulled his arm away from her. He could tell he had gone too far and knew he had to be careful lest to frighten her.
“I’ve ne’er met a woman as beautiful as you,” he said, brushing her locks behind her shoulder, which she jerked away in response to his touch.
“Ye must say that to all the whores that visit yer bedside at night!” she retorted, getting up and brushing the grass off her dress.
“There be only one wench I see before me bedside tonight!” he countered, getting more aggravated.
“I am not yer wench and I will not be at yer bedside tonight!” Scarlet turned around in disgust but did not run. She could not run. ‘Twas as if she was paralyzed by his presence.
“Come. We have a long journey ahead of us and I do not wish for there to be any conflict between us. I would hate for you to be left in the mountains to die.”
“Very well,” she answered, not turning around. “I will do as ye ask, but do not expect me to do for you what a mistress does for her master!”
He took a step closer and placed is hands on her shoulders. She shivered as a chill ran down her spine, a reaction from the touch of his cold hands on her warm skin. She wanted to go home, to her sister, to her father. She did not want to be here, with this clansman, and somehow he sensed it.
“You will change yer mind soon enough, me lady,” was his only reply.
She turned around to face him. His words and his face both amazed her and without knowing why, she reached up her hand to lightly touch his face. He kissed her palm, all the while looking into her eyes. He was mesmerized by the way they gleamed in the sun, just as she was paralyzed by his, which glowed through the shadows.
She abruptly pulled her hand away, the warmth of his kiss lingering on her palm. Algernon knew why she pulled away- he had gone too far once again. This maiden was stubborn, he figured, and that was one thing he knew he could not change or try to change about her.
“We must get back to the camp. We have a long journey and we both need our strength.” She nodded her head in agreement.
They walked back to the campsite without saying a word to each other. Scarlet knew what she was getting herself into but she did not have a choice. She was now the possession of this man, as if she was bought and paid for by a slave trader.
Her mind began to wander then to the life she had before Algernon took her away. Her home always felt warm and secure on a cold winter night. Her father would bring her into his lap and her sister would sit on the floor at his feet. They would all sit by the fireplace and drink tea while her father would tell stories of his adventures overseas. She missed his stories; she missed the protection of her home.
“Whatever is wrong, me lady?” Algernon asked, turning her around and grabbing her hands.
Scarlet could sense there were tears forming in her eyes. She could not speak and she could not even look at Algernon. He let go of one hand and pulled her chin up to look into her eyes and make sure she was looking into his.
“I miss me Papa’s stories!” she said in full tears.
Algernon didn’t know what to say. He knew it had been wrong to take this lass from her home. He pulled her into his arms and let her cry. She cried until she had not a tear left, all the while leaning in the comfort of Algernon’s arms. Algernon took a deep breath before he spoke again.
“I will bring you home, Scarlet.”
She looked up at him abruptly, eyes tear-stained and red. She could not believe what he had just said to her. Was he really going to do as he promised, or was it just some clansman trick?
“Ye give me yer word?” she asked suspiciously.
“Aye, I give you me word as a knight.”
Scarlet knew that knights were taught at a very young age that honor was everything. She also knew he would keep his word to take her back to her home, or lose his honor as a knight and warrior.
Just then, out of the clearing, came the sound of thundering hooves. Scarlet turned around to see her father perched atop a black stallion, followed by a troop of knights. For a reason she did not know, instead of running towards her father, she clutched protectively at Algernon’s arm.
“’Tis aright, Scarlet. He will not harm you.”
“’Tis not what I am worried about. He may harm you!”
“Whatever do you mean?” he questioned.
“Algernon, ‘tis me Papa!” She looked up at him then, fear in her eyes.
“Byron!” Algernon commanded, letting go of Scarlet’s hand. “Get me me sword!”
“Algernon, wha-- what are you doing?!” Scarlet gasped.
Algernon pulled the sword from its scabbard and held it up to the light of the sun. The gleam that was once in his eyes had all but vanished and what remained were cold, dark, sinister orbs. She knew at that moment that she had to make a choice. If she chose to stay with Algernon, her father would surely slay him. Scarlet did not want to stay with this kidnapper any longer. She had even told him she had missed her father and wanted to go home.
Her father dismounted his horse as the horses behind him slowed their pace. Behind her and Algernon, the clansmen began to form a squad, preparing themselves for battle. She was in the center of a bad situation and she knew she had to say something, and fast.
“Unhand me daughter!” her father demanded, drawing his sword as he spoke.
“Papa, no!” Scarlet shouted, stepping in front of Algernon.
“Whatever do ye mean, child?! Scarlet, please, do not interfere!” Her father took a step towards them as Scarlet retreated closer to Algernon. “This man has taken me daughter from me home! Now he must pay the price!”
Her father lunged forward with his sword. In one quick step, Algernon pulled Scarlet out of the way and blocked the thrust. The two fought like Scarlet ne’er thought two clansmen could. Every clash of the sword, every grunt of strength, could be heard on the still meadow. She wanted them to stop; she wanted to go home to her sister. Before Scarlet could intervene, Algernon cried out in great pain. Scarlet looked up and saw Algernon on the ground, bleeding from his other shoulder; her father’s blade was pointed at his throat.
“No!” Scarlet shouted as she approached Algernon. “Papa, please!” she pleaded.
“Get out of the way, Scarlet, and let me finish the job!”
“No Papa! I will not let you do this! If ye let this man go, I will return with you unmarred,” she pleaded once again, looking at Algernon’s clansmen approaching the scene of the combat.
Her father did not say a word but moved his sword away from Algernon’s throat. Byron came over and helped Algernon to his feet. Scarlet could feel his pain as he winced when he got up. She looked over at her father who turned away in disgust.
“Let’s go, Scarlet!” was his only words.
Scarlet followed her father across the meadow and saddled her father’s horse. The horse snorted in response to her father mounting behind her. All she could do was stare as the steed was turned around. Algernon turned around from where he was standing, hand on his cut shoulder. Together they stared, sharing a silent but unforgettable farewell. . .