Home > Highland Justice (Sons of Sinclair #3)

Highland Justice (Sons of Sinclair #3)
Author: Heather McCollum

 

Chapter One


   John Knox, Scottish theologian, 1550 AD

   Christmas Day shall not be celebrated with popish joviality but be a day of godly reflection and worship.

   Gideon Sinclair held up three velvet pouches. “Gifts for ye,” he said, tossing one to Cain, his eldest brother and chief of the mighty Sinclair Clan of northern Scotland. Cain balanced his eight-month-old daughter, Mary, over his shoulder as he caught it.

   “Your second brother is dead,” Joshua Sinclair said, smiling wryly as he snatched out of the air the pouch Gideon threw at him.

   “Do not believe everything chiseled on tombstones,” Gideon said, referring to the false grave marker Joshua had left behind on Orkney Isle, which declared his death.

   It was Christmas morning, and all four Sinclair brothers and their sister and aunt had gathered with their growing families at Girnigoe Castle, their ancestral home in the north of Scotland. Morning church services with Pastor John were finished, and they had just eaten a hearty meal to celebrate the end of the fast leading up to Christmas.

   Gideon handed his youngest brother, Bàs, his pouch. As large as the rest of them, the bag looked small in his solemn brother’s calloused hand. “Open them,” Gideon instructed his brothers.

   “’Tis not Hogmanay yet,” Ella, Cain’s wife, said, referring to the last day of the year when gifts were usually exchanged. She gently pulled their daughter from Cain’s shoulder. Cain met her gaze with a gentle smile on his stern face. Ella certainly had softened the mighty Horseman of Conquest.

   Gideon’s jaw tightened, and he rubbed at it absently. “I want my brothers to have them now,” Gideon said. “To remind us of who we are.” He pushed a smile onto his mouth as he turned a ring on his finger.

   Cain was the first to tip the heavy ring out into his palm. It was a thick gold band. On one side was etched a bow and arrow; on the other side was the same horse head that was tattooed on each of the brothers’ arms. Inside read Eques a Conquestum.

   “’Tis Latin for Horseman of Conquest,” Gideon said, even though his brothers were well versed in Latin.

   He turned to Joshua, his second brother, who had brought a horde of Orkney inhabitants back to Caithness, including his wife, Kára. She sat in a chair by the hearth nursing their son. “And yours says—”

   “Eques quidam de bello,” Joshua pronounced perfectly. “Horseman of War.” He rolled the gold ring in his fingers, holding it to the light, to see the sword on one side and the horse head on the other.

   “A rich gift,” Joshua said, nodding.

   Gideon’s smile increased. “A worthy reminder that we are God’s Four Horsemen.” He held up his own ring that had the scales of justice etched on one side.

   “Thank ye, brother,” Bàs said, his tone even. Gideon saw him slide his ring, pronouncing him the Horseman of Death, back into the velvet bag. “I must go,” Bàs said. He never remained long in their presence, preferring to live alone in the forest between Girnigoe and Varrich castles.

   Gideon hadn’t expected his brothers to dance with joy about the rich gifts, but he hadn’t expected them to study their rings with barely a smile. “Do ye not like them?” he asked.

   “That depends on the meaning behind them,” Joshua said, sliding the ring on the finger of his right hand. He held it up to catch the light. Hannah, their meek and mild sister, came over to study it.

   Gideon pulled out another pouch. “Hannah, one for ye.” He stepped forward to kiss the top of her head and laid it in her palm. The look of joy on her face made his chest tighten. She’d been ignored for so long by their father that she didn’t question the insult of being forgotten.

   “For me?” she asked, waiting for his nod to open it. She pulled out a thin gold ring molded with swirls along the top. The tiniest horse’s head was engraved on both sides. Inside was soror karissima, beloved sister.

   “Thank you,” she whispered, sliding it onto her finger. At least she looked happy to receive her gift.

   “Where is my rich ring?” Aunt Merida asked, inspecting Hannah’s finger.

   “I will have something for you on Hogmanay,” Gideon said, smiling at his eccentric aunt who never failed to keep things lively in the household.

   Gideon met each of his brothers’ gazes in turn. “I wanted to give ye each something now to remind ye that we are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that Father raised us to be: Conquest, War, Justice, and Death.”

   “We don’t come down from the clouds, Gideon,” Cain said, placing the ring on his finger. “Da thought it was the end of days when Mother died, so he raised us that way.”

   “My brother was insane with grief and then rage,” Aunt Merida said. She passed the sign of the cross before her, something she’d done her whole life even though Scotland was now Protestant. “You were all raised engulfed in his madness.”

   Near the fire, Kára stood with her son, Adam, over one shoulder, patting his back. Joshua leaped up, eager to hold his bairn, something Gideon still hadn’t gotten used to. The Horseman of War was a father and husband, enthralled with both son and mother. “We can be something different,” Joshua said over his shoulder and then lifted the bairn high in the air.

   “Not over the head,” Kára said with a small laugh. “He’s quite full of milk.” Joshua pulled the little lad to his chest and inhaled deeply against his head as if relishing the bairn’s scent.

   “Again, thank ye,” Bàs said, holding up the pouch. He took a step toward the door of the keep.

   “I have need of my brothers’ advice before ye go,” Gideon said, stopping him.

   Wee Adam began to fuss. Joshua dipped low and then straightened, starting a swaying type of dance while rising and falling, his knees bending and straightening. “See he likes the motion,” Joshua said, glancing at his wife as he bobbed.

   Ella swayed with wee Mary because she, too, began to fuss. Cain took the bairn from her. “Maybe she’s fouled herself,” he said, lifting the bairn to sniff her lower half.

   Gideon’s jaw dropped open as he watched his oldest brother sniff for possible shite. When had two of the fiercest, most brutal warriors in Scotland become nursemaids?

   Gideon ran a hand down his jaw and raised his voice to be heard above the swaying, fussing, and sniffing. “The Mackays are not adjusting well to our occupation. They resist merging with Sinclairs.” Gideon had been tasked to bring peace between their clan and the conquered Mackay Clan. He’d moved into Varrich Castle in the summer, trying to sort through the many layers of crime and antagonism there. Using the vast knowledge of law and guidance from philosophers, kings, and statesmen from the past, Gideon had formed his own code of ethics and laws under which the Sinclair Clan flourished. He’d researched the barbaric customs along with the compassionate rules of governing people to create the best of life for his people. Yet the Mackay Clan did not always adhere.

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