Highland Hills

By: Riley Moreno

DARK DANGER IN THE HIGHLANDS





CHAPTER 1



Lester Abbey, Western Scotland, April 1321



Angela shook her head and sighed. She felt that if she stared at the parchment any longer she would go blind. The candle had almost burned out; all that remained of it was a little stump of a wick floating in a big, broad pool of molten wax. She brushed her curly blonde hair out of her eyes and dipped her quill in the pot of blue ink, and leaned over to begin working on the task again.

After a few minutes, her eyes had readjusted and she was absorbed in the artwork – doing the scales on a green dragon wrapped around a tree, to which a fair maiden was tied. After she had done the dragon, she would start on the knight who was charging in through the trees to rescue the damsel in distress. For him, she would use silver leaf to do his bright, shining armor. She was eager to get to that part, for she loved using the silver and gold leaf to really make her paintings gleam and glow.

She had already been at work on this particular illustration for two days. The details involved in it were intricate and minute. Luckily, Angela had had an obsession with art since being a little girl. After her parents had died when a bridge had collapsed into a river, she, as an orphan, had been raised by the monks and nuns in an abbey near her village. She had spent her days as a young girl learning calligraphy and the art of painting illuminated manuscripts, watching the master monks as they immersed themselves for hours in the tiniest of details and the most complex of scenes.

By her teenage years she had become as good as any of the master monks, and by the age of twenty-one, she had been, without a doubt, the best artist in the entire abbey. Lords and ladies from all over Scotland sent documents for her to illustrate. This particular one was for a prince, and indeed, he was paying a princely sum for it. The money, though, would not go to her, but to the Church.

Angela didn't mind; she didn't do her art for money – she painted because it was in her blood, because it had been all she had wanted to do since being a child. Without painting, she felt, there would be no reason to live.

She could read and write very well too; the monks and nuns had made sure of that. And while most of the literature in the abbey consisted of religious texts, on her days off she was able to ride a pony into the nearby town and browse through their library, in which she could find tales of wonder, adventure and... love.

Angela paused painting for a while when she thought about this last point. Romantic love... What a concept! She closed her eyes and imagined some prince sweeping her off her feet, some knight in shining silver armor on a white horse, or some brave, powerful Highland warrior with a great two-handed claymore and flowing locks of wild hair carrying her away.

She sighed. Such things were just silly dreams, fantasies that could not possibly come true. Although she had not yet joined the nunnery, as someone who had spent her childhood in the abbey being raised by nuns and monks, it was subtly expected of her to become a nun herself. Mother Morag, the strict Prioress in charge of all the nuns, was quite explicit about this. Father Argyle, who was in charge of the monks, put less pressure on her and gave her more freedom, but he often dropped hints that he was hoping for her to make her vows soon.

Angela frowned when she thought about this. Why should it be their choice what she wanted to do with her life? She was grateful to them for raising her and providing for her all her life, but with all the money she had made for the abbey with her expert painting, she had more than paid back her debt. Some days, she really thought in all seriousness about packing her meager collection of belongings and sneaking off at night to run away and start a new life somewhere. But where would she go? Her only experience of the world outside the abbey had been the nearby town – and it didn't really provide much more excitement than the abbey itself.

No, she wanted to run away to lands far away – England, Ireland – maybe even go across the sea to France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Now that sounded like the kind of adventure she would like – not just sitting around this dull abbey for the rest of her days. And, of course, she wanted that man of her dreams, that rescuer with his powerful muscles, dashing good looks and boyish charm to accompany her. She found her skin warming and her pulse beginning to quicken as the fantasy moved more toward the man she would be with, rather than the places she would go. Oh, how she longed for him, this imaginary hero in her mind, this man who she had not yet seen – but had imagined in her dreams, in the eyes of her mind, so many times. He would have dark hair – chestnut brown or raven black, either would do, and light eyes. Blue or green – but green would be better, to go with her eyes, which were blue. And, of course, powerful, broad shoulders. There was nothing that got her pulse racing more than a set of huge shoulders. She had always had a vivid imagination, since being a young child. It did not take much work for her to close her eyes and conjure up a true-to-life image of how this man should look, and how he would act.

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