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Chapter One

The peace of winter didn’t last long. Spring brought with it sunshine and danger. While Ewan Ross struggled to decide what his future entailed and what was best for the advancement of Clan Ross, he remained with Clan Fraser. The keep was two days’ ride south of Ross Keep, which helped with the current alliance between the clans.

They were in Laird Fraser’s study, a routine of each day before the leaders went out to speak to all the guards.

There was a knock on the door frame and a man entered.

“Laird, I was on patrol at the border with Mackenzie lands. A farmer and his family have been attacked. Four of them are dead. Every one of them cut through,” the guard’s voice broke as he informed them.

“Which family?” Laird Fraser asked, his expression tight with restrained anger.

The guard let out a long breath. “Thomas Lewis, his wife, and two sons. There was an infant as well, a girl. We took the wee one to a neighboring family to care for.”

Keithen Fraser, the laird’s son, jumped to his feet. “We must declare war on the Mackenzie! Ye know they are responsible.”

“Lewis was a good man. He worked hard to ensure a good life for his wife and bairns. What reason could anyone have to kill him?” the laird stated.

The guard shook his head. “We asked the neighboring farmers. One reported to have seen men riding through. A group of five or six. They did not wear distinctive tartans but were described as menacing.”

Although it could not be proven that the people who died were killed by a Mackenzie, no one else in the region had reason or was capable of such savagery.

Always infuriatingly fair, Laird Fraser, motioned for Ewan, Keithen and Broden McRainy, a guard, to come forward. “We will do nothing until there is proof. Go out with four men each. Scour every inch of the border until ye find something to prove who was responsible.”

Laird Fraser banged his fist on the table. “Bring me back something.”

Within the hour, the men were divided, each of them assigned four of the best scouts and warriors. Ewan and his four men raced northwest of the small farms, where families had been massacred.

They rode hard until reaching the closest Mackenzie border and pulled their horses to a stop. Looking to each of the men, he directed them in which direction to continue. “Each of ye, ride until the sun is directly overhead and then return here. Keep yer eyes open for any sign of recent travel, blood, torn clothing. Anything.”

News of attacks on other people of clans in the surrounding area had been reported consistently. Although everyone suspected the new Mackenzie laird, there was little proof, as the attackers ensured there were no survivors to bear witness.

Upon the death of the last two Mackenzie lairds, a new seemingly benign leader, named Atholl Mackenzie, a nephew of the first late Mackenzie, was given the lairdship. The man, who remained single, although with a reputation for ruining many a lass, had met with Laird Fraser recently. He extended promises of goodwill. However, in the passing months, it was becoming more and more evident that he was as power thirsty as his predecessors.

The senseless killings were meant to bring clans to war with one another, a tactic that, thankfully, had only caused small squabbles so far. Almost every laird suspected Clan Mackenzie, and not one another.

It made little sense that the Mackenzie would target Clan Fraser. With newly acquired alliances with Clans Ross and Grant, they were not an easy mark. There was also the fact that just a day’s ride away, another large Clan Fraser lived.

Keithen Fraser, the laird’s son, had married Ava Mackenzie the late laird’s only daughter. It was a marriage that had been negotiated by the lairds in an effort to come to a truce following battles. However, the relationship remained tenuous at best. And now, the new Mackenzie demanded a new public pronouncement, one way or another.

Being that Laird Fraser’s son, Keithen, was married to the late Mackenzie’s daughter, Ava, any kind of pronouncement was superfluous. Except for the fact that the Frasers and Mackenzies had never truly been on friendly terms.

Perhaps it was because of the lack of formal terms that now a farmer and his family had been attacked and killed. It was that innocent people who had nothing to do with quests for power often paid the price.

Hours later, all of the warriors met back at the farm. None of them had found any clues that stood out.

“How can it be that we found nothing?” Ewan asked, frustrated.

Broden, shrugged. “It could be the attackers traveled southwest to throw us off their tracks.”

“Or that we are mistaken, and it was not the Mackenzies, but others,” Keithen suggested. “It could be they expect us to not come after them and all of this has nothing to do with the Mackenzie.”

“That is why two groups are scouting the eastern areas. We will find something. Once we do, whoever is responsible will pay.” Ewan frowned toward the small house and its land. “They did nothing to deserve such a horrible end.”

Broden met his gaze. “It is usually the innocent that pay for warring people in power.”

“True,” Keithen replied grimly. “We should search the home and surrounding area. Keep yer eyes open.”

They dismounted and walked around, searching for any clues of who was responsible. Ewan scanned the area, from the newly dug graves to the corrals where the few livestock the family owned were grazing.

“Ye both can return to the keep,” Broden told them. “The day is ending. My men and I will ride out to the neighboring farm and ask the farmer to come over here and take care of the animals. Hopefully soon, the laird will grant this land

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