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Ailean located the cow and her calf on the side of a hill before midday. Good. At least he wouldn’t spend the whole day looking for one old cow.
But the cow refused to be driven up the slope. He tried every tactic to turn her in the right direction. He cajoled, yelled, waggled his walking stick at her and waved his arms, but she stood staring, unmoving, her skewed horn aiming an empty threat at him.
“You! You there!”
He turned and looked down the hill. Two men wearing blue Cambeul tartan labored up the incline. When they drew near, Ailean recognized one of them and groaned.
Just what I needed. More trouble.
Ailean brushed his hair from his face and tugged the right side of his bonnet further down on his forehead.
“Well, well. What have we here. A MacLachlainn. Trespassing on Cambeul land,” Latharn Cambeul said. “And trying to lift some of my cattle, besides.”
“No, I’m not. This cow belongs to my da. She wandered from the airigh.”
“You’re a liar. And you’re a cattle thief.” Latharn moved to the left and signaled his companion to circle to the right.
A flush of burning anger colored Ailean’s face a deep red. “I’m no thief. That’s my da’s cow, and I can prove it.”
“Let’s see you try.”
“Before we drove our cattle to the airigh this spring, we put Da’s mark on them all with tar. On the right side of the neck, like we always do. You can see it from where you stand.”
Although the small, shaggy cow was black, the clotted black tar mark was visible on her neck.
“I don’t see a thing,” Latharn said. “Do you, Odhran?”
His companion hesitated, then shook his head.
“You can leave now, MacLachlainn. Without my cow.”
“No. I’ll not leave without this cow!” Ailean shouted.
“I think you will.” Latharn drew his sword.
Ailean gritted his teeth and reached for his dirk, berating himself for leaving his sword in the hut. His dirk would be no match for Latharn’s sword. If only he had his sword, he’d teach Latharn a thing or two about tangling with a MacLachlainn.
“Odhran,” Latharn said. “Your sword.”
When Ailean heard the metallic scrape of Odhran’s sword leaving its sheath, he began backing away from the two men as they advanced, keeping his eyes fixed on Latharn. The cow, intimidated by the two additional men, wheeled and ran clattering up the rocky slope, followed by her calf. Ailean turned and ran after her.
Latharn laughed. “Look at the coward run, Odhran. Isn’t that the funniest sight you’ve ever seen?”
Ailean stopped for a moment and looked down at Latharn. “Not nearly as funny as watching you lose the camanachd game year after year.”
“Get off my range!” Latharn shouted.
I’ll never run from him again. No matter what, Ailean thought as he ran behind the cow, humiliation dogging his steps like a hound on the trail of a fox. Even if he cuts me to pieces, I’ll stand and fight.
The cow reached the pasture of the airigh with no further trouble. She and her calf trotted to join the herd, and Ailean circled around the cattle to his father’s side.
“Da, that old cow brought me some trouble today. With Latharn Cambeul.”
His father glanced at him. “How so?”
“She wandered onto their range. He and another man came along when I was trying to get her moving, and he accused me of trespassing. He called me a liar and a cattle thief.”
Aodh turned to face him. “And did you demand an apology for the insult?”
“And why not?”
Ailean looked away, unable to meet Da’s piercing stare. “I was without my sword.”
“You were without your sword?”
Ailean didn’t answer.
“Sometimes, Ailean, I despair of you ever learning to do the right thing.” He took a deep breath, released it in a disgusted sigh. Aodh emphasized each word as he said, “What have I told you, again and again.”
Ailean ducked his head, fixed his gaze on the grass at his feet and repeated his father’s directive. “‘Always be armed, always be prepared for trouble if it comes, but don’t make trouble.’”
“That’s right. Remember that. Don’t ever go about without your sword again.”
Ailean stood, stiff and unable to move, embarrassment and frustration, like twin spikes, fastened him to the spot. He had disappointed Da again. His impatience and disobedience cost him more of Da’s respect.
“Where is it?” Aodh asked.
“In the hut.”
“Put it on. Now!”
Tommie Lyn has lived in the Florida panhandle for almost four decades. Her high school sweetheart and husband of 49 years retired from the Navy after being transferred there from Okinawa in 1975. Many of her novels and some of her short stories are set in the panhandle.
She writes short stories and novels in a variety of genres: historical, mystery/suspense, supernatural thriller and mainstream fiction. Eight of her novels and an anthology of flash fiction stories are available for purchase from Amazon.com.
Encouraging other writers is important to her. In order to provide that encouragement, she maintains membership in her local Panhandle Writers Group as well as several online writers’ groups.
You can find out more about Tommie Lyn and her writing at her website, Tommie Lyn Writes.