EXCERPT: Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 13:00
Posted in category Excerpt

Book CoverLike Genevieve Graham, if you’re a Diana Gabaldon and a Jamie and Claire fan, you’re going to enjoy her MacDonnell family books, Under the Same Sky and Sound of the Heart. They have that rich, historical, and Scottish feel to them. The way of life of these characters is harsh and there are more times of anguish than there are of happy, but that makes the happy moments all the sweeter.

Dougal has survived Culloden and is held prisoner by the English until a daring escape. Along with him is the young teenage boy, Aiden, who Dougal has protected during their imprisonment. They make their way to London, putting more distance between them and the soldiers searching for them. What happens next is a huge surprise and one of those very happy times.

Until the English once again tear his world apart. Dougal takes the lesser of two evils, soldering for the enemy to make his way to the colonies and where his destiny lies.

We have a chapter from the book for you today, and I guarantee after reading it,  you won’t want to miss this book.

Summary:

Dougal MacDonnell, a fierce warrior from the Highlands of Scotland, is able to hear the thoughts of other men and dream how the future will unfold.

Devastated by the loss of his family during the Battle of Culloden in 1746, he fosters a deep hatred for the English. But when Glenna, the love of his life and a Scottish outlaw, is captured and shipped overseas, Dougal is forced to join an English army made of vanquished Scots. Now fighting on the side of his sworn enemies, he embarks on a journey that will take him across the seas to the colonies.

There he will risk everything for the chance to find his true love.

CHAPTER TWO

A Different Kind of March

Dougal’s face still lay in the mud when he awoke. He was no longer sure if the dirt was cold, since his cheek had gone numb. He kept his eyes closed, wanting to cry, but lacking the strength. He was tired, always tired these days, but Dougal had never been a man to admit to that. He was frozen and half-starved, as they all were. That weakness had contributed to a lot of the killings today.

Before they’d even stepped onto the frozen marshes of Culloden Moor, Dougal had known the Scots would suffer. He hadn’t needed one of his damn dreams to tell him this battle would not go well. He and the other Highlanders had marched and practically starved for the past two months, and their plaids had been poor protection from the miserable late winter. None of the crofters they had passed on their travels had food to share. The whole of the Highlands was suffering. The men had gone down to London, up to Culloden, back and forth in the miserable winter and spring months, completely at the whim of their chiefs and Prince Charles himself.

Damn Prince Charles. Dougal had pride in his people, sure. But to throw thousands of them away just so one man could settle his well-dressed arse on a throne? Useless. Unforgivable. And if Dougal ever saw Charles, he’d tell him so to his bonny wee face.

“Hey,” he heard from his right side a few feet away. “Help me, man.”

Dougal consulted the stabbing pain in his neck before twisting to see the source of the voice. The man lay nearby and looked to be about the same age as he, with a dark complexion and straggling brown hair pasted to his face. Dougal didn’t remember having seen him before, but there had been so many of them it wasn’t too much of a surprise. What was one man out of thousands?

“Aye, sir. How do ye fare?” Dougal asked.

“Och, I’ve the most terrible itch on my nose. Ye dinna think ye could help me wi’ that, could ye?”

Dougal stared at the man, whose expression was dead serious. For a moment, Dougal was speechless, then he burst into laughter, feeling his lip split with the effort and his head pound with renewed agony. Laughter was an unexpected sound, and a few others glanced over to see what was up.

Still laughing, Dougal said, “We’re the lot of us trussed like turkeys, probably set to be hangit, an’ ye’re fashed about a wee itch on yer nose?”

“Aye, I am,” the man replied indignantly. “I canna reach it.”

“No, I dinna suppose ye can,” Dougal said, trying to stem his laughter. “An’ how am I to manage it then?”

“I’ve no idea. But ‘twould be a blessin’ if ye’d figure it out.”

Dougal snorted, then, with a flick of one black eyebrow, agreed to try. He rolled to his right side and used his heels to shove his own body, bit by bit, closer to the man. When he was a foot away, he spoke again.

“Bring yer damn neb here,” Dougal said. “I canna reach farther.” He wiggled his swollen fingers in illustration. They tingled with strangled circulation from within their rough bindings.

He heard the shuffling of a body behind his, then felt the strange pressure of the man’s nose moving against his fingers. Dougal couldn’t help himself. He started to giggle.

The man behind him moaned with relief. “Ye’re a godsend, man,” he said. “That was killin’ me.”

That was killin’ ye? Well, if that’s all, then ye’re better than most of us. That is one of the strangest things I’ve ever been asked to do,” Dougal said, still smiling. “All done?”

“Aye, I am. Thanks very much.”

The men rolled onto their stomachs, though Dougal would have greatly preferred to lie on his back. If only their hands had been tied in front. The man beside Dougal gave him a friendly smile and what would have to suffice for a nod.

“John Wallace,” he said. “Yer servant, sir.”

Dougal returned the smile. “Dougal MacDonnell. Good to meet ye as well.”

There wasn’t much to say, so the men sank into an uncomfortable doze while they waited to find out what would happen next. It was becoming more difficult for any of them to stay awake these days, weakened as they all were. Now pain and—Dougal hated to accept the word—defeat weighed down every fibre in his body.

Dougal hadn’t realised he had slept until he was jolted awake by a solid kick of a boot connecting with his ribs. He grunted and rolled away, wide awake. But when he automatically reached for the offending boot, his bound arms permitted no such movement.

“Wake up, dog,” a soldier snarled.

Dougal smothered the words that pressed against his lips. They would do him no good here. He would wait. Bide his time. Beside him, John Wallace apparently came to the same conclusion. He snorted into consciousness, looked around, then dropped his face back down to the mud.

Someone grabbed Dougal’s feet. He kicked and tried instinctively to yank his feet away, but his legs were held fast. He twisted as far as he could so he could watch a soldier untie the ropes at his ankles. So they would be walking, would they? Fine. Anything was better than this, lying helpless as a lassie in a roomful of brawlers.

Other men’s legs were being untied as well, and there were groans and mutterings as the Highlanders stumbled to their feet. Most of their hands were still bound, so the men were limited to shrugging and squirming to release cramped muscles.

They were a sorry lot, Dougal thought, watching the others rise and stretch. Especially when compared to the English soldiers, who were clean, fed and glowing with victory. The Highlanders were filthy and bedraggled, covered head to barely covered feet by bruises and blood. He recognised a few men with whom he had walked on the road to hell, men who, like him, had left their families alone and unprotected while they went off to war. That thought brought Dougal back to images of his family. Of his mother in particular. Dougal was fairly sure he was the only man in the family to have survived. So now she was alone out there, with no means of defence other than her dirk, which she carried all the time.

Be strong, Mother. I’ll come back for ye someday.

She was smart, so she might take to the woods. Then again, she might stay in the house, waiting for her men to return. They were big men, all of them, and she wouldn’t have expected any of them to die.

No. That wasn’t true. She’d known as well as they had. She’d packed their food and seen them off, then turned and ducked through the small door to the croft. She’d never shed a tear. Or if she had, it had been secret, falling within the refuge of her empty home.

What of his brothers? He knew, of course, the fate of his father. The sound of a bayonet ripping through Duncan’s body came back to him, forcing bile up Dougal’s throat. He swallowed it down, determined to banish the sound forever, knowing it was an impossible feat. But what of Ciaran? And Andrew? He should have been with them. His back should have been against theirs, fighting as they’d been taught. But that damn fog, the cursed smoke. He’d lost them as soon as they’d started running, shrieking, onto the frozen moor.

John Wallace jostled him from one side and Dougal gave him a placid smile.

“What of it?” John asked.

“Eh?”

“I was sayin’ I think we should leave,” John suggested. “Just go. When the sons of bitches are lookin’ elsewhere.”

“Oh, that’s a fine idea, John. I reckon they’d just let a wee slip of a man like yerself take a walk off into the trees wi’out too much notice. No, ye fool. They’ve plans to work us hard. Otherwise they’d have shot us by now.”

John shrugged good naturedly. “Worth a thought.”

Dougal gestured with his chin toward a cluster of older men off by the trees, hunched and curled into themselves with resignation. “Those fellows willna fare well. Nor those.” He switched his gaze to a couple of small boys standing together, watching the activity with owlish expressions. They were probably no more than thirteen or fourteen. Drummer boys, he imagined. Frightened lads who should have been home practicing with wooden swords, not facing the menacing glares of hardened English soldiers, ripe with victory. The boys’ hands were untied, he noticed, as were those of some of the older men. The ropes were for bigger men, those who offered obvious threat to the soldiers.

“I’d think they’re no’ much use besides entertainment.”

As if he’d been overheard, a couple of soldiers strode toward the boys. Dougal saw them stiffen but set their slender shoulders in defiance, and the darker of the two stepped forward, placing himself as a shield in front of the smaller one. The soldier stood head and shoulders taller than the little Highlander, but Dougal wondered which, when faced with death, would be more brave. The soldier chuckled at whatever the boy had said and Dougal heard the cold sound from thirty feet away. The boy’s jaw was clenched, and when the soldier turned away, the boy spat at the receding red coat.

The soldier whirled and Dougal took an instinctive step toward the youngsters. “You little pig turd,” the soldier growled. “You’ll show a bit more respect, you will.”

Using his momentum, the soldier ploughed his fist into the boy’s cheek. The slender body crumpled, and though his hands were still tied behind him, Dougal stepped in as the soldier moved toward the smaller boy.

“If it’s a fight ye’re after,” Dougal said. “Might I offer my own services? Surely ye’d no’ want yer men to see ye crowin’ o’er a couple o’ wee lads. Doesna seem so gallant when they’re barely thirteen, does it?”

“Sixteen,” came a whisper, which Dougal ignored.

“You’ve fight left in you, ‘ave you?” the soldier demanded with a sneer. “Bloody Scots ‘ave no idea when to quit.” Needing no further encouragement, he smashed one fist into Dougal’s cheek, then plunged the other upward, under Dougal’s ribs. Dougal doubled over as the breath whooshed out of him, then turned to the side and spat.

He straightened and glared at the soldier. “Better?” he asked, voice still gruff from lack of wind.

The soldier gave him a wide smile, his mouth a checkerboard of missing teeth. “For now, my lad. But we’ll talk later, shall we?”

Dougal slid his jaw one way, then the other, testing the extent of the injury. Satisfied, he sniffed and started back toward John. The soldier hadn’t had much of an arm, fortunately. Good enough, but now Dougal knew what the man was made of. And at least he’d forgotten about the boys for now.

“I could have done just fine on my own, sir,” came the whispered voice.

The boy still standing was slender and gaunt, large blue eyes huge in his sunken face. His blond hair raged wildly around his head and Dougal had an urge to pat it down. To cut it off, even.

“Sure. I reckon ye could have. ‘Twas only I’ve a fondness for gettin’ hit,” he teased. “It had been a couple of hours, I reckon, since the last one.”

The boy, lips tight with pride, studied Dougal skeptically.

“Dinna fash,” Dougal said. “They’ll come back to hit ye soon enough. There’s plenty hungerin’ for a fight. An’ they dinna seem to mind if it’s a young lad, an’ old man, or a big fellow wi’ his hands tied. I’d keep well enough out o’ reach, if ‘twas me.”

The small face seemed to relax a bit. “Thank ye, sir,” he said. “I’ll do that.”

Dougal looked down at the fallen boy, just starting to push himself back to his feet. The side of his face where he had been hit was already swelling; the other side was black with fresh mud. How many times had Dougal taken part in boyhood brawls, gotten hit, then jumped back up again, eager for a rematch? He waited to see the boy’s expression, nodded approval when he recognised the glare of defiance, then turned back toward John, who had come closer to watch.

“Very gallant,” John said.

“Oh aye. I’m a real hero,” Dougal said.

“Right. Well, then I’ll stay by you. They’ll hit ye first, I reckon.”

“Ye’re a smarter fellow than ye let on, sir,” Dougal replied.

Within a half hour the crowd of men was shuffling along on the rough, drenched road to Inverness. Dougal’s shoulders ached, the joints burned from the restraints on his wrists. His worn shoes scraped along the road so that little pebbles danced ahead of him like raindrops on a still loch.

God, he was tired of walking. Always walking. Or waiting. He wasn’t sure which was worse. Either one allowed him to drift away in his mind, which could be either a good or a bad thing. Sometimes he used the time to think about easier times, to bring back memories and voices that made him smile. But more often his mind slid back to the sight of his father’s dying eyes, and the sound of his voice. “I’m proud of ye, son.”

He thought of Andrew. Two years younger than he, quiet and introspective, but with a sharp mind. Andrew was the thinker of the three brothers. No, that wasn’t right. Ciaran was the thinker, the one with promise, the one the family hoped to send to Europe to attend university someday. Andrew was the dreamer. Always sinking into places Dougal never saw. Always with that faraway look, as if he saw something beyond the sea. But when the situation demanded it, Andrew was just as quick as Dougal. Just as strong and skilled with his sword. They’d been more than brothers. Andrew was Dougal’s best friend.

It didn’t seem possible, imagining Andrew dead. Andrew was the most vibrant person he knew, filled with a deep energy that never let him rest. He was almost as big as Dougal himself: well over six feet. While Dougal’s hair was jet black, Andrew’s fell in brown waves. Dougal’s eyes flashed a clear blue while Andrew’s were a deep brown. Other than that, the two couldn’t have been mistaken for anything but brothers.

Dougal tried to picture Andrew’s body, motionless like all the rest, blood matting his hair and staining his kilt, his dark eyes forever closed. But he couldn’t hold the image. It felt wrong. The thought that Andrew’s corpse might be sprawled on that field of death was beyond Dougal’s comprehension. He looked into the forest on either side of the parade of captives, peering deep into the spring branches. The slender trees glistened with promise of new life, but any buds were barely visible. It was too early for green. Still, Dougal looked for any sign of his brother, then snorted at his own idiocy. Even if Andrew had somehow survived, even if he had run for his life, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to hang about and follow soldiers.

Go home, Dougal thought hard. If you’re out there, go home.

He could almost visualise Ciaran going down. That seemed, though the thought broke his heart, almost feasible. Their younger brother was smaller-boned and almost feminine in his looks, but fierce from necessity. The way of the youngest, always chasing the older two. He stood up to everyone, just to prove he had more than just a bookish mind, but swordplay wasn’t his strongest asset, and they all knew it. Ciaran should have been fighting with his father that day. That was how they always practiced.

Then again, Duncan was dead. He wouldn’t have been much help.

For the thousandth time, Dougal sifted through his memories, wondering if there were anything he could have done to change the day’s outcome. At least to have his brothers and father marching alongside him on this miserable road to incarceration, rather than draped over other corpses whose pock-scarred skin sizzled and spat over some English pyre. No matter how far they marched, Dougal could still smell the smoke from those fires, started randomly across the battlefield. Corpses, and some bodies close to death but not quite there, were stacked like wood, packed with anything that burned, then lit. The woollen plaids caught quickly; the fire was too hot to pay much mind to the dampness of the material. It ate through flesh and wood and wool, candling toward the sky, the smoke black as ink and stinking of meat.

Hundreds of bodies burned. Thousands more limped along this road with him, the undead marching toward the unknown. The Highlanders had set off the year before with such confidence, building their numbers and their conviction with every step. The clans had come together for their Prince, and now they had died for the man. And where was this wonderful Prince? Gone. Some of the men in the crowd actually spoke of seeing him ride away. He’d cheered them on, ridden his beautiful white horse back to a safe distance, then turned tail when the loss became horribly obvious. Dougal shook his head with disgust and winced at the resultant pounding in his head.

There was nothing he could have done to save the others. He knew that. And yet he supposed his soul would always wonder.

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