" I sent the MS to a Hostile Witness and got a stream of excuses: "I don't read much", "I am a very slow reader"... And then came, "That was a terrific story; I couldn't put it down."" - 14-year-old grandson
From Chapter One:
Ivor's adventure had begun three nights ago, in the thane's hall, where he had been eating with the rest of the runners and the unmarried housecarls. The long, irksome winter was drawing to a close at last. Every man in the hird was bored and frustrated and tempted to start real fights, which was not a good idea. Dougal, his number six brother and official trainer, was off at sea in the longship Petrel, on her spring trials. So was Angus, eldest of the Brackens, head of the family and captain of Petrel. Neither had remembered to put anyone else in charge of the baby, the one they had taken to calling "Runt" since he shot up taller than most of them. So the rest of Ivor's helpful but idle brethren had been working him to death with unending practice in swordsmanship, horsemanship, wrestling, rowing, sailing, net casting, harpoon throwing, and anything else they could think of. Two-hour runs had been a favourite.
Thane Carrak ate in his own quarters when there was no feast, but that night he walked into the hall unexpectedly and stood by his big chair to look over the assembly. The great hearth was dark and cold, and for a moment nobody noticed him in the faint glimmer of the candles. Then everyone stopped talking.
"I need a man to take a message to Rorie of Ytter for me," Carrak boomed. "He lives on the far side of Loch Gurnie. Any volunteers?"
Ivor leaped on his feet, shouting, "Aye!" before anyone else could move.
He was always quick, but he did have an advantage that time, because the other runners would have to locate their trainers and get permission before they could volunteer. In fact the thane had said man and might well have had a housecarl in mind for a long mission beyond the boundaries of his own demesne, but the younger swordsmen present had taken a moment too long to realize that he had not specifically asked for a boy.
Tough! The battle is usually to the swift.
"Ivor of Bracken?" the thane said. "It's a very short message. I'm not sure it needs such a long messenger!"
Any joke the thane made always brought the house down. Carrak leered at the response. "But then, I'm thinking he'll no' be tiring the horse overmuch."
More laughter, a bit forced this time, because they all knew the lord of the glen was taunting a victim who could not answer back without risking a whipping. But the second remark could be taken as consent, so Ivor stalked forward to hear his lord's instructions. No one else rose to challenge his right to the job. He bowed, straightened up, and waited. What if he was still thinner than a ship's mast, when he could look clear over his thane's head?
Carrak frowned. "I asked for one, not a horde. I dinna' want a gaggle of your brothers going along to babysit you on this."
The same horrible thought had occurred to Ivor at about the same time, so he hastily said, "Of course not, Thane." He very nearly added, "Thank you!"
"Have you any idea where Loch Gurnie is, boy?"
"No, Thane, but my brother knows."
Fortunately Carrak did not ask which brother, because Ivor didn't know. He was just confident that at least one of them was bound to. The thane merely said, "Then hear my words."
He dictated his message in a voice too quiet to be overheard by anyone else. It was a surprising message, and the instructions that followed it were outrageous. Carrak was always drunk by that time of day, of course.
Never mind! Ivor of Bracken could escape from his regiment of brothers for a week or so and be trusted with man's work, even if it was merely to fetch some flea-ridden holy man, and if necessary kneel to him! Saints forgive him. A housecarl never knelt to anyone. Except God, of course. Or the king, but he was a long way away, in Scone.