A Conall Christmas
A Morna's Legacy Novella
Both girls had apparently already decided that we would go tree hunting today if we returned from Morna's. The gathering of everyone went entirely too smoothly, as if they all waited on pins and needles for us to get home. The excitement of Christmas was starting to move through our merry little group.
The snow was beautiful, covering every inch of the castle grounds. I found myself wishing more than once that I'd enlisted Morna to cast us all a pair of sturdy snow boots as well, but we were all having such a wonderful time, none of us thought much about our ice-cold toes.
It took us some time before we found a tree that everyone could agree on. Many that held the perfect shape proved far too large. Some of perfect size were not the right shape. Eventually, the perfect tree stood before us. While Eoin, Arran, and Mary's husband, Kip, worked at chopping it down, all of us girls stood huddled together, watching.
The landscape remained silent save for the crack against the wood as the men took their turns driving the ax into its base. For a moment, I thought I'd imagined the soft, whining sound coming from somewhere behind me, but as I listened, I felt certain that I had not.
An animal, of that much I was sure, and a young one at that, made the noise. I couldn't tell what kind of creature it might be. My heart squeezed uncomfortably at the thought of anything so tiny and helpless being trapped out here in the snow.
Afraid that too many people approaching would cause it fear, I slowly crept away from the group and went off in search of the soft whine.
* * *
Hew stepped out in front of the small cottage, frowning as he looked out over the landscape drenched in snow. He'd hoped very much that he would be able to leave today, but it would be impossible. Even though snow no longer fell, he feared his horse might break a leg if he forced him to trudge through snow so deep.
He threw his arms up above him, stretching and groaning at his frustration. In response to the noise he uttered from his throat, something whined not far from him. Compassion compelled him to go in search of the creature.
Turning, he draped himself in thick coverings. The chill from his ride yesterday still set deep within his bones. Grunting, he took off in the direction of the noise. He stepped only a few trees away from the cottage before he caught the dark, whimpering ball of fur at the base of the tree.
Hew bent, picking up the puppy gently as it shivered uncontrollably in his large hands. He wrapped the pup up in his own furs, rubbing his hands back and forth over the small creature to warm it. It was a miracle the creature still lived, for it must have spent the previous night out in the storm as well.
He held it closely to his chest, waiting for the puppy to stop trembling. When he felt its warm tongue start to lap at the inside of his fingers, he knew the pup was only cold, not injured. He uncovered the tiny animal, smiling as he took in its handsome features.
Hew raised him to check the gender and, finding him a boy, sat him back into the cradle of his hand. The dog was fluffy with thick hair that made him look much bigger than he seemed. Dark hair covered his back; but a beautiful mixture of spots of gray, brown, and black fur covered his chest and feet. Warm brown eyes oozed kindness out of them. Small patches of light brown hair sat above his eyes, standing out on his black head, giving the illusion of brows.
"Why, ye are a handsome pup, are ye no?" He pulled the creature in close to him once more, reaching down to pick the clumps of icy snow from between the pup's paws. He stilled when another small whine caught his attention near him. "Ach, it seems that ye have another wee friend close to ye. Let's go find him together."
* * *
It had not taken me long to find the source of the noise. If not for the weak bark that the creature let out as I approached him, I would have probably stepped right on top of him, the white of his fur matching the snow.
The puppy lay hidden, only his black nose and mouth sticking up out of the drift, quite close to the Conalls' small cottage. I gasped when I saw him, quickly reaching down to snatch him out of his icy home as I brushed the snow off of him with my bare hands. "Oh, you poor thing!"
The creature responded with another small bark. Once he was free of the snow, I lifted him, examining his coloring. His hair was straight but full. Beautiful, but it was the kind of dog I was sure would shed easily. White fur covered most of his body, but his backside was black. With the exception of his white mouth and snout, each side of his face and both ears were black, too.
I'd expected the creature to squirm in my grasp but, once he became warm, he collapsed relaxing completely, his small legs dangling on each side of my arm. I grinned as I pulled him in close. I hoped very much that Eoin would not object to having a dog in the castle because the pup would come with me regardless.
A voice behind me caused me to jump, jerking my arm so that the puppy came awake, groaning in displeasure.
"Ah, I thought I heard another one making noise. Seems our two little friends must be brothers, aye?"
I turned around to face the most handsome man I had ever seen.
© Bethany Claire