|Out on January 2|
The year 2011 is coming to a close — yes, another year has whizzed by — and I’m going to spend every waking moment between now and Jan. 1 finishing Defiant. Then I’ll ring in the New Year by celebrating the reissue of Untamed on Jan. 2.
As far as Defiant goes, I’ve got 30 chapters written — about 390 manuscript pages — and have about two chapters plus the epilogue left to write. That’s about 9,000 more words or so, depending on how quickly I can wrap it up. I hate to rush endings, so it might be more than that.
I was on such a roll the other night but had to stop because it was 3 AM, and I needed to pick my younger son up at the airport. So I had to stop writing because driving is dangerous with your eyes closed. But before I stopped, I wrote a two-page sketch of all the remaining scenes in the story.
Wish me luck! I am excited to finish the story, after which I hope to take a bit of time off. There are a lot of things I want to change about myself and my life, and I need to put some focus on that as the new year begins. I have high hopes for 2012 — I will, after all, turn 12, or, rather, celebrate my 12th real birthday. It seems there ought to be something especially lucky about turning 12 in 2012.
In the meantime, I believe I promised you the original first chapter of Untamed — and by original I mean “as written.” As followers of this blog know, about twenty-five manuscript pages were cut from the story before it was published the first time. It is being reissued with all of the original material intact, including a major plot change in how the villain is dispatched.
When I get author copies, we’ll have a fresh round of contests to get copies of Morgan’s story in your hot little hands.
While I finish Defiant, I’ll leave you with a taste of the restored first chapter of Untamed.
April 19, 1759
New York frontier
Major Morgan MacKinnon lay on his belly, looking down from the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain to the French fort at Ticonderoga below. He held up his brother Iain’s spying glass—nay, it was now his spying glass—and watched as French soldiers unloaded kegs of gunpowder from the hold of a small ship.
Clearly, Bourlamaque was preparing to defend the fort again. But if Morgan and his men succeeded in their mission tonight, that powder would never see the inside of a French musket.
Connor stretched out beside him and spoke in a whisper. “I cannae look down upon this place without thinkin’ of that bastard Abercrombie and the good men we lost.”
Morgan lowered the spying glass and met his younger brother’s gaze. “Nor can I, but we didna come here to grieve.”
“Nay.” Connor’s gaze hardened. “We’ve come for vengeance.”
Last summer, they’d had no choice but to follow Abercrombie—or Nanny Crombie as the men had called him—to a terrible defeat. An arrogant bastard who paid no heed to the counsel of mere provincials, Abercrombie had ignored their warnings that Ticonderoga could not be taken without artillery. He hadn’t believed that the hastily built abatis—the barrier of felled trees and branches that had been piled afore the walls—could hinder trained British Regulars and had ordered his men against the French breastworks with naught but muskets. Soldiers had become ensnared like rabbits, cut down by French marksmen afore they could reach the walls, victims of their own loyalty and Abercrombie’s overweening pride.
On that terrible day, the Rangers, then under the command of Morgan’s older brother Iain, had taken position to the northwest together with Captain Joseph’s Muhheconneok warriors and had fired endlessly at the French marksmen, trying to dislodge them. But the French had turned cannon upon them and pounded them into the ground. So many had been lost—good men and true, men with families, men who’d fought beside them from the beginning.
’Twas here they’d lost Cam—and dozens more. Dead for naught.
When Abercrombie had finally sounded the retreat and the smoke had cleared, the fort had stood just as it had afore.
Never had Morgan seen such senseless death—and at the age of seven and twenty he’d seen death enough to sicken a man’s soul. For nigh on four years, he and his brothers had lived and breathed war. Forced by that whoreson Wentworth to choose between fighting for Britain or being hanged for a crime they had not committed, they’d taken up arms against the French and their Indian allies, harrying them with ambuscades, seizing their supplies, fighting them in forest and fen. They’d slain fellow Catholic and heathen alike, burying their own dead along the way.
Morgan had never imagined that he, as a MacKinnon, would fight the French, traditional allies of all Scotsmen still faithful to Church and Crown. During the Forty- Five, the French had aided the Highland clans, including Morgan’s grandfather—Iain Og MacKinnon, laird of Clan MacKinnon—in their vain struggle to drive the German Protestant from the throne. Then, after the disastrous defeat at Culloden, the French had given refuge to many an exiled Scot, saving countless lives from the wrath of Cumberland.
Even now France sheltered the rightful heir to the throne, bonnie Charles Stuart. Every true Scotsman owed the French a debt. Aye, it was a devil’s bargain that had spared Morgan and his brothers the gallows. Father Delavay, the French priest Iain had kidnapped last year when he’d had need of a priest to marry him and Annie, said the sin was not theirs but Wentworth’s. And yet absolution stuck in Morgan’s throat, for it was not bloody Wentworth who pulled the trigger on his rifle, but he himself. If anything gave him peace, it was knowing that Iain was now out of the fray, settled on the MacKinnon farm with Annie and little Iain, the firstborn of a new generation of MacKinnons.
Wentworth had released Iain from service, not because he’d wished to spare Iain, but because he was besotted with Annie. Whatever the cause for Wentworth’s mercy, Morgan was grateful. He’d never have found the courage to face Annie had Iain been slain in battle—or worse—taken captive.
Morgan saw something move in the dark forest below, heard the slow click of rifles being cocked around him, and felt a warm swell of pride. He rarely needed to give orders. Having fought side by side for so long, the Rangers thought and moved as one. There were no better fighters in the colonies, no men better suited to the hardship of this war. ’Twas an honor to lead them, as Iain had done afore him.
Morgan closed the spying glass, raised his rifle, cocked it. But it was not French scouts who emerged from the green wall of forest, but Captain Joseph’s warriors, eighty men in black and white war paint moving swiftly and silently through the shadows.
They’d been watching the Rangers’ west flank on the long march northward and had gone on to scout out the French sentries while Morgan and his men surveyed the fort from above.
Morgan lowered his rifle and whispered to Joseph in the Muhheconneok tongue. “You thrash about like a randy bull moose. We heard you coming from a league away. You might have been shot.”
Joseph grinned. “There is more to fear in a bee’s sting than in your muskets. My blind granny has better aim.”
Bonded by blood to Morgan and his brothers, Joseph Aupauteunk was the son of a Muhheconneok chief and a fearsome warrior. He and his father had come to the MacKinnon farm, bringing gifts of dried corn and venison that had helped Morgan and his family survive their first bitter winter of exile in the colonies.
Though Morgan’s mother—God rest her soul—had at first been terrified of Indians, a lasting friendship had grown between Morgan’s family and the Mahicans of Stockbridge. ’Twas Joseph and his uncles who’d taught Morgan and his brothers to track, to fight, to survive in the wild. As for what Joseph’s sisters had taught them, Morgan was too much of a gentleman to say—without a gill or two of whiskey in his belly.
Morgan switched to English so that those amongst his men who did not speak Muhheconneok could understand. “What does Bourlamaque have waitin’ for us?”
It was time to plan their strategy.
# # #
Amalie picked at her dinner, her appetite lost to talk of war. She did her best to listen politely, no matter how dismayed she felt at the thought of another British attack. Monsieur de Bourlamaque was commander of a garrison in the midst of conflict. It was right that he and his trusted officers should discuss the war as they dined. She did not wish to distract them with childish sentiments, nor was she so selfish that she required diversion.
And if, at times, she wished her guardian would ask to hear her thoughts . . .
Her father was the only person who’d ever done that, and he was gone. And so Amalie passed the meal in silence much as she’d done at the abbey.
“We must not let last summer’s victory lull us into becoming overconfident.” Bourlamaque dabbed his lips with a white linen serviette. His blue uniform, with its decorations and the red sash, set him apart from his officers, who wore gray. “Amherst is not a fool like Abercrombie. He would never have attacked without artillery.”
Lieutenant Fouchet looked doubtful. “Surely he will think twice before attempting to take us again. The British lost so many men!”
Amalie had heard that British losses exceeded fifteen hundred men. She could not imagine so many deaths. In all, the French had lost a hundred with another three hundred wounded, and that had seemed devastating. And yet, Amalie had overheard Bourlamaque call those casualties light.
Lieutenant Durand took a sip of wine. “How can they dare to plan another attack after having been defeated so resoundingly?”
“That resounding defeat is exactly why Amherst will attack.” Bourlamaque fixed both Fouchet and Durand with a grave eye. “For the sake of British pride, he will try to capture the fort this summer.”
Lieutenant Rillieux leaned back in his chair, his face a wide grin. Alone amongst the younger officers, who favored their natural hair, he wore a powdered wig, the white a marked contrast to his olive skin and dark brows. “Let him do his worst.”
Amalie stifled a gasp. How could he tempt fate in such a way when it meant the deaths of his own men? He’d do far better to pray for peace!
But Lieutenant Rillieux didn’t seem to realize he’d said something thoughtless. “We shall drive Amherst back into the forest just as we did his predecessor. My men are ready.”
“Were they ready when MacKinnon and his men attacked that last supply train?” Bourlamaque raised an eyebrow in clear disapproval. “We lost a fortune in rifled muskets—not to mention several cases of my favorite wine. No matter how well you prepare, the Rangers seem to stay one step ahead of you.”
Amalie’s belly knotted, as it did anytime she heard mention of MacKinnon’s Rangers. They seemed to be everywhere and nowhere, these men who had killed her father. Although Papa had reassured her that there was no such thing as chi bai, she’d begun to wonder if her cousins were right. Perhaps the Rangers weren’t men after all.
Lieutenant Rillieux’s nostrils flared, and he bowed his head in apology. “My regrets once more for your loss, monsieur. The MacKinnon brothers are formidable adversaries, but we will break them.”
“Let us hope so. Perhaps now that the eldest MacKinnon has been released from service, the Rangers will fall under poor leadership.”
“I doubt that, monsieur. Morgan MacKinnon is every bit the woodsman, marksman, and leader that Iain MacKinnon was. It would be foolish to underestimate him. But arrangements have been made. As I said, my men are ready.
Amalie wasn’t ready. She hadn’t forgotten last summer’s battle and feared the prospect of renewed bloodshed. Her grief for her father was still keen, her dreams filled with musket fire and the cries of dying men.
If only the accursed war would end! Life would be free to blossom again in New France. Sails would fill the harbors, bringing not soldiers but men and women who wanted to build homes and raise families here. The towns would bustle with hay wagons and apple carts instead of cannon and marching soldiers.
Farmers would return to their fields and orchards, trappers to their forest trails, wives to their gardens and their weaving.
And what will you do, Amalie? Where will you go when the war is won?
Bourlamaque, who was now her guardian, believed that it was past time for her either to take vows and serve Christ or to marry and serve a husband.
“I would see you safely settled,” he often reminded her. “It is my duty to your father, whom I greatly admired, despite his politics.”
But Amalie had no desire to return to the dreary life of the abbey. It seemed to her that she’d drawn her first real breath when, after sixteen years, she’d left its walls. There she’d felt listless, as if some part of her were trapped in slumber. Here at Fort Carillon, in her father’s company, she’d been truly happy. She’d felt alive.
She supposed she ought to marry, and yet in her grief she had not the heart for it. Bourlamaque assured her that a husband and children were the answer to her sorrow, and she knew he believed a swift marriage would be best for her. Still, she had hoped to make a love match as her parents had done. Women were expected to perform certain duties in marriage—to lie near their husbands and to bear their children—and Amalie knew from Sister Marie Louise, who’d taken vows after her husband and children had died of smallpox, that these wifely duties—did a man really mount his wife as a ram mounted a ewe?—were onerous even when one felt affection for one’s mate. To hear the good sister speak of it, childbirth was akin to the tortures of hell.
“I’d rather spend my life kneeling on a cold stone floor than suffer such agony again,” she’d whispered one afternoon as they’d tended the herb garden together. “God demands far less of a woman than does a husband.”
What little Amalie knew of birth seemed to prove Sister Marie Louise’s words true. It was not uncommon for a young girl to be left at the convent to bear a child in shame, and more than once Amalie had been awoken by the piteous cries that marked the throes of labor. Hadn’t her own mother perished in childbed? If Amalie were ever to suffer so, it would be on behalf of a man she loved. She wanted a husband who cherished her and whom she cherished in return, a man who, like her father, would value her opinions more than her obedience, who would see her as more than a helpmeet and the mother of his children, who would truly see her.
Certainly, Lieutenant Rillieux, while possessed of many admirable qualities, was not such a man. After her father’s death, he had begun to show an interest in her, pressing his suit with her guardian despite her insistence that she did not wish to be his wife. He did not seem to understand that his disregard for her opinions was the very proof she needed that they would not make a suitable match. And so she had pleaded bereavement, feigning confusion over which path to take—that of a novice or that of a wife—and Bourlamaque had relented in his efforts to find her a husband.
Yet she knew her reprieve wouldn’t last. Neither Monsieur le Marquis de Montcalm nor Monsieur de Bourlamaque wished her to remain at Fort Carillon any longer than was necessary, insisting that the frontier was no place for a woman without a husband.
If it hadn’t been for MacKinnon’s Rangers, whose lurking presence made the forest around Fort Carillon perilous, Bourlamaque would have sent her back to Trois Rivières when Montcalm had traveled north to Montréal. But the destruction of several supply trains and the loss of almost thirty soldiers to the horrid Scotsmen had convinced him that she was safer for the moment staying at the fort.
What will you do if the British prevail and the war is lost, Amalie?
She could not journey to France, for she knew no one there.
Nor would she seek out her mother’s kin, whose customs and language were strange to her. From two different worlds, she seemed to belong in neither.
The thought doused her last spark of appetite. She set her silverware aside.
“You haven’t eaten a bite, Amalie.” Bourlamaque frowned. “Are you feeling ill?”
Amalie had come to feel affection for Bourlamaque, the sort of affection one might feel for a favorite uncle. She did not wish to seem spiteful. “I fear talk of another battle has ruined my appetite, monsieur. Forgive me.”
“There is nothing to forgive.” He smiled indulgently. “We soldiers must do better to govern our tongues in your company.”
Lieutenant Rillieux took her hand, stroked his thumb over her knuckles. “You have nothing to fear, mademoiselle. There is not a soldier at Fort Carillon who would not fight to protect you. Is that not true, messieurs?”
“But of course!” Fouchet and Durand insisted, almost in unison.
Amalie pulled her hand free, tucked it in her lap. “I am not afraid for myself, messieurs, but for the soldiers. Almost two hundred have perished since I arrived last spring. I would hate to see more crosses planted in the earth.”
Lieutenant Rillieux chuckled. “Your concern is to be commended, Amalie, but they were soldiers. It was their honor and privilege to die for France.”
Amalie felt heat rush into her face, and the words were out before she could stop them. “That does not mean France should be wasteful with their lives.”
Lieutenant Rillieux’s smile faded, his gaze boring through her. “And what can a young mademoiselle who was raised in an abbey tell us about the complexities of war? Do go on, for I am most eager to hear.”
She lifted her chin, was about to speak, when Bourlamaque held up his hand.
“Your point is well taken, mon cher lieutenant,” he said, “but let us speak of something else. In Paris, we would never be forgiven if we were to persist in speaking of so dismal a topic in the presence of ladies.”
Lieutenant Rillieux bowed his head again. “Ah, quite right, monsieur. I do apologize.”
But Amalie did not miss the flush beneath his olive skin, or the angry press of his lips.
It was Bourlamaque who spoke next. “Père François tells me the medicinal herbs you planted in the garden are thriving, Amalie.”
And so they passed the remainder of the meal in polite but forced conversation, Amalie regretting her temper if not the words themselves. Bourlamaque, Fouchet, and Durand spoke on topics they seemed to think might interest a woman—the uses of herbs, the new vestments Amalie had sewn for Père François, the weather—while Lieutenant Rillieux looked bored. The last course had just been cleared away when she heard it.
The sharp retort of musket fire.
Then the front door flew open and a young sergeant dashed inside, a look of excitement on his face. He stopped when he saw Bourlamaque and saluted smartly. “It is MacKinnon’s Rangers, monsieur! We have them!”
# # #
Morgan knew it was a trap the moment the first powder keg failed to explode.
He’d waited until it was dark. Then with Connor and Joseph to guard the retreat, he’d crept along the riverbank with a small force of Rangers to fi re upon the kegs and ignite them. But, though he knew for certain he’d hit his mark and the others theirs, not a single keg had gone up. Now the French were alerted to their presence, and with no explosions or fire to distract them, they would come after the Rangers with their full strength.
Even as he shouted the command, the French opened fire—but not only from the walls. At least twenty infantrymen stood on the deck of the ship moored behind them, muskets aimed at the pier below. ’Twas like shooting ducks on a pond.
Morgan and his men were trapped in a cross fire.
“To the river!” He drew his pistol, felt a ball whiz past his cheek, crouched down to make himself a smaller target, peering through the darkness to account for his men.
Killy. McHugh. Brendan. Forbes. All running back to the riverbank.
Where was Dougie?
Then the forest behind them erupted with musket fire as the combined forces of the Rangers and the Muhheconneok—almost two hundred men—returned fire. They staggered their fire, giving the enemy no chance to breathe, sowing panic amongst the French, particularly those on the ship who seemed to realize all at once that they were far outside the fort’s walls.
That’s the way, boys!
Morgan took cover behind a battered hogshead, aimed his rifle at one of the soldiers on the ship, and fired, watching out of the corner of his eye as, one by one, his men reached the riverbank and dropped out of sight, Killy cursing all the way.
“Bastard sons of whores!”
But where was Dougie?
And then he saw.
Dougie lay on his back near the stack of kegs, reloading his rifle, a strip of white tied around his thigh. “Go on! Go!”
But Morgan wasn’t about to leave without him. He’d led his men into this trap. He would bloody well get them out— all of them.
He glanced toward the riverbank, saw McHugh, Killy, Brendan, and Forbes nose their rifles over the top of the bank and take aim, ready to cover him. He hurled his rifle, his claidheamh mòr, and his tumpline pack to Killy and got ready to run.
And then it came—the Muhheconneok war cry. It rose out of the forest, primal and raw, terrifying the French, turning their attention away from the pier and giving Morgan the chance he needed.
Blood thrumming, he drew in a breath, dashed out from behind the hogshead, and ran a jagged path toward Dougie, barely feeling the ball that burnt a path across his forearm or the one that creased his hip.
“A fine time to get shot this is!”
But Dougie was ready for him, crouching on one knee, his injured leg stretched out beside him. “You’re daft, MacKinnon!”
Morgan dropped down, took Dougie onto his back, and forced himself to his feet. “Och, you’re heavy as an ox! And you stink!”
His gaze fixed on the riverbank a hundred feet away, Morgan ran, Dougie’s added weight pounding through the straining muscles of his thighs to the soles of his moccasins, his heart slamming in his chest.
“You run like a lass!” Dougie shouted in his ear. “Can you no’ go faster?”
But Morgan didn’t have the breath to do more than curse. “Mac-dìolain!” Whoreson!
Sixty feet. Fifty. Forty.
A roar of cannon erupted behind him, the French firing their twelve-pounders at the forest just as they had last summer, trying to turn the shelter of the trees into a charnel pit. Jeers coming from the trees told him balls had fallen short of the mark—this time.
Thirty feet. Twenty. Ten.
Morgan sucked breath into his aching lungs, drove himself forward, hurling both of them over the edge. They tumbled, arse over elbow, down the embankment to the sand below. No sooner had they landed than McHugh and Forbes took Dougie between them and hurried him along the river toward the forest beyond.
Young Brendan clasped Morgan’s forearm, helped him back to his feet, then hurried after McHugh and Forbes, already reloading.
Killy held out Morgan’s rifle and his pack, a smile on his scarred Irish face. “You bloody daft Scot.”
Another blast of cannon.
Morgan slipped the tumpline over his head, tucked his sword into place, grabbed his rifle, and then began to reload, shouting over the din. “Help McHugh and Forbes! I’ll cover our backs in case those bastards on the ship try to follow!”
“Aye.” Killy turned and was gone.
Morgan got into position, peeked over the edge of the riverbank, picked a target on the darkened deck of the ship, and fired.
Reloading quickly, he kept up a rapid fi re, glancing over to watch his men’s progress until they disappeared amongst the trees.
Then, feeling a rush of relief, he cast one last glance at the fort walls— and felt something strike him in the right shoulder. Instantly, his right arm went numb, falling useless to his side. Something warm and wet trickled down his chest.
He’d been shot.
It was then the pain struck, forcing the breath from his lungs, driving him to his knees. He heard a shout of victory and looked up to see a French soldier high in the ship’s rigging, musket raised over his head.
So this is how it ends.
The thought ran through Morgan’s mind, detached from any fear.
But no’ just yet.
Unable to load and fi re his heavy rifle with one hand, he dropped it to the sand, withdrew his pistol, aimed, and fi red, ending the soldier’s celebration. But several other soldiers had climbed and before Morgan could take cover, they fired.
A ball ripped through his right thigh, the shock of it like fire and ice.
And Morgan knew it was over.
He fell onto his side, forced himself onto his belly, and tried to crawl for cover, gritting his teeth against the pain.
He recognized Connor’s voice and saw his brother emerge from the forest at a run, Killy, Forbes, and McHugh behind him.
“No, Connor! Stop!” From somewhere nearby Morgan heard the tromp of hundreds of boots and knew the gates of the fort had been thrown open. Were the French planning a counterattack? “I am lost already! Get the men out of here!”
Even in the dark, he could see the anguish and horror on his brother’s face as Connor realized he would not be able to reach him in time to keep him from the swarming French.
His strength all but spent, Morgan met Connor’s tormented gaze, his chest swelling with regret, grief, love. So long they’d been together, the four of them— Morgan, Iain, Connor, Joseph.
And now . . .
Gathering all his breath, Morgan shouted. “Beannachd leat!”
Blessings go with you, brother! And dinnae mourn me overlong. Tell little Iain—
But Morgan never finished the thought.
The last thing he heard before darkness claimed him was Connor’s anguished cry.
(C) Copyright 2011 Pamela Clare