Scotland Chapter 14 - Epilogue



Chapter 14
Messenger of God.
Five months later.
Paris, France.

The population of greater Paris was over eighty thousand people and William was beginning to lose hope. In his hand was a sketch he had an artist create from his memory of Elisabeth shortly after he made landfall. The thin parchment showed signs of wear from being folded and unfolded countless times as he would often open it, sometimes for nothing but his own benefit. It was kept in his pouch next to a letters from home that he had received after his arrival, and the most recent from last a few weeks back. Both Janetta and Keiron wrote to him faithfully, saving their missives until a boat heading to Calais came to Elgin and they could send them off. Their words were encouraging and William desperately needed whatever reassurance he could get.

A year ago William would have reveled in all the makings of a city the size of Paris, yet today it did not hold the appeal it once had. Intermixed with the opportunities, art, beauty and literature, he witnessed firsthand the disease, poverty, and crowded conditions that on previous trips he had not bothered to notice. William had ventured into areas of the city where people begged from him if he dared pause at a crossroad too long. It smelled there in the poorest of neighborhoods like human waste and he could hear the cries off in the distance bringing this man who had little use for religion to his knees nightly praying that he would not find Elisabeth in this situation. In the past William’s understanding about how the majority of people in the world existed from day to day had been tainted because he had never experienced it himself. He had been born wealthy and only knew privilege, which did have an effect on the sympathy he had once felt for those less fortunate. Now he was starting to comprehend that his father’s belief that poverty was a condition people choose to live with was wrong. Lack of opportunities due to fluctuating economies and whims of the wealthy were more to blame.

Having spent nearly four weeks solely in Paris had worn William down and all but destroyed his faith. Every avenue he took led him nowhere. Sir John Stewart, the man he had met Elisabeth through was still in Scotland according to a report William had received. He doubted she would have sought the elder Scot out anyway for they were not long-term acquaintances. William had never learned the name of the dressmaker Elisabeth had been employed under but he had made the rounds to as many as he could find. No one knew of her. With no other contacts for him to seek out, William he began to look in places he thought she might be based on her abilities. His few social contacts were unaware of any in their circle having recently hired a companion fitting Elisabeth’s description.

William D’Arcy could buy almost anything he desired in the world, but riches were near worthless in this quest. The ships he had inherited from his father were to be sold next month in Norway to a restless buyer. William had two boats he would keep, but the demands of managing the larger vessels was no longer an interest of his and he was glad to think that once they were gone, he would not have to travel as much. This future transaction would only make him wealthier, but once again what good was the wealth if it could not afford William his want of finding Elisabeth. So dark were his thoughts that he was beginning to not be able to concentrate for long periods, and William knew that his health, which had never fully returned, would decline if he did not break out of his gloom.

As a reprise William took two days to recoup, the first rest he had allowed himself in months, choosing to stay in the area of Paris he was familiar with. He went in pursuit of literature to read and ship to Janetta. William’s natural tendency was to be a gift giver and items were carefully purchased then sent to his rented home in Calais to lay in wait for their final destination of Scotland.

Finding a bench to occupy on a busy main road, William placed the illustration of Elisabeth back into his pouch and removed his latest letter from his sister. All the activity around him was easily disregarded as his mind could hear Janetta’s voice reading him the words she had written.

Dearest William,

Our annual gathering has ended two and all was peaceful here despite what is occurring to the south of us with Clan Cameron. The king is bearing down hard on the people and Frederic told us that we should expect an exodus of refugees soon if the fighting remains in the King’s favor. I’m concerned for our people in the southern region because one can never know for certain what desperation will cause men to do. Keiron reassures me that the Cameron’s will not want fighting on two fronts, especially when we Grants are rested and at full numbers. I believe him for the reasoning is sound. He is writing to you at this moment so I will leave the details to him and concentrate on other things.

Yes, you were correct in your last writing about sensing my ‘discomfort’ in my surroundings, but that was nearly three months ago and I feel that I owe you an explanation. Once all the family left and only Keiron, Maura, and myself resided on our floor, the first fortnight was an adjustment I had not expected. Your good friend can be very quiet and I mistook that for his being disinterested. Please don’t say anything to him but I thought we were a burden because he rarely initiated conversation and when we did speak he was not at ease like I had seen him be with you. There were days when I would only meet with him in passing and I had never realized how much Keiron had to do that the rest of us never think about. I had offered to assist him, but Keiron told me that he did not need aid at the time. Certain I was useless here, I had gone as far to sit at his desk to write to Frederic and ask him if I could return to Urquhart. Keiron found me there. He asked me what I was doing I told him the truth. I was not harsh so you need not concern yourself on that matter, but I explained to him that I did not want to be in his way.

He was silent for long time afterward and just as I was about to apologize for offending him, we talked to one another and many misunderstandings were resolved. Keiron told me that he assumed that caring for Maura filled my days. She is a lovely child and not difficult to please, but even a mother as new as I am can only spend so many hours staring at her sleeping. I asked him again if there was anything I could do that would be of benefit and fill my idle time. This time he said yes, and the tasks he requested were not trivial.

If I were to be honest, I’d say that he and I are becoming friends. We actually do stay occupied here but I’ve noticed in the past month that Keiron is making an effort to complete what he has to do and come up to supper in the family quarters where I still take my evening meal. I continued the practice after Frederic and Annie went to Urquhart because in the late afternoon Maura becomes fussy when surrounded by too many people. Last week Keiron told me the history of his great grandfather Chieftain Earnan Grant, a renegade sort of man of questionable morals who in his youth fought with other proud Scots in England. I retold him the story back a few nights later to be certain I had the facts correct. I may have embellished the man’s feats a wee bit just to add flavor because Earnan was quite a character according to Keiron’s account and it was too tempting not to. Keiron seemed to enjoy it, although I’m not entirely certain where he found the humor---in the story or in me.

Tomorrow when I have time I will write another letter telling you all that happened at the gathering this year, but until then I will say that Frederic brought his family and asked many times about you and your progress. I’ll also tell you now that I’m not returning to Urquhart at this time.

Since I have not heard from you lately I’ll assume that you are still on your journey. Please do not give up. I’m sure that the passing of time since you’ve started must feel like an eternity, but I believe in your cause as does Keiron and Frederic. Yes, I do know that this is easy for me to tell you to carry on considering that I have just spent a long week surrounded by people I love, but we also love you and want to see the best for both you and Elisabeth. William, I remember your words from spoken at the New Year ‘sincere effort done with honorable intentions will be properly acknowledged by God.’ I pray you still believe that….

As the illusion of him being alone on the streets of Paris faded, William put the letter away asking himself if he did still did give credence to his own words as he began walking in no particular direction through the merchant district.

He found himself standing outside a jeweler’s shop deciding if he was going to go in or not. Hidden under his shirt was an old silver penny suspended by a thin chain. The medallion was one that his mother had worn everyday she was alive and when she died Janetta had wanted him to keep it because of his fondness for Norwegian coins. The clasp was becoming loose, but not in immediate need of repair. Believing his time would be better spent elsewhere and that he could do this later, William was about to walk away when a man from inside beckoned him to enter. He hesitated only a moment before accepting his offer.

With arms crossed and a look of indifference on his face, William listened as the merchant attempted to draw his attention to viewing his wares. At first he was not inclined, but watching another man work far too slowly on his clasp William agreed in hope that a possible sale might expedite the repairs.

Almost everyone has a preference in color of gemstones and William’s was red. Garnets and rubies were displayed before him but he was not interested in loose stones hence the finished pieces were brought out for him to see. A choker with alternating emeralds and rubies did catch is eye, but it was not until a beautiful ruby cross necklace was unwrapped that all other pieces lost their charm. It was close in design to the one he had given Elisabeth in Oslo, not exact, but near enough that he began to think on the possibility that Elisabeth might have sold the necklace he had given her to support herself. He asked the merchant if he had any other ruby crosses for sale and when he received a negative answer he returned to his impatient pose while his mind began to dwell on the prospect.

William saw that his notion was farfetched but after he left the shop with every design of calling on a man he knew traded in books, he could not fight the temptation of crossing the road and entering another storefront of a jewel crafter instead. Once again William left empty handed. Still the idea would not leave him alone and a third shop, then a forth were entered. The forth was the key and his persistence paid off. Laid out on a table was a beautiful cross made of rubies with a center of diamonds. Turning the piece over he saw it was engraved with what appeared to be a signature, but clearly etched was the word ‘Oslo.’ When William had bought Elisabeth the necklace he was told that it was an original design. Whether or not he believed that now was inconsequential because in his hand was an exact copy. If this was indeed Elisabeth’s gift then he had proof that she had been or was still in Paris. If it was not hers, then he had something he would consider a sign from God that his intentions were indeed to be acknowledged.

“Where did you get this?” William’s voice betrayed his awe as he laid the cross in his hand. The chain that had once held it was missing but under examination he found that the pendant itself was in good condition.

“My brother bought it from a private seller.”

“May I speak to him?” The Frenchman called out to the back room and a gentleman richly dressed in modern finery materialized. The man inspected William with a keen eye for he knew the subtle indicators of wealth and would not waste his time on anyone who could not afford his goods. Regardless of the plaid wrapped around his waist, the weave of William’s shirt, and quality of his belt and boots told the man that before him was a potential customer. Therefore when William repeated his question about where the pendant came from, he answered him.

“A Scotsman like yourself.”

“Do you have a name?” William immediately queried as a stirring of hope rose in him.

“I can’t give you a name.”

“I need to be certain that the man who brought you this,” William held out Elisabeth’s gift, “was not a sailor, or someone mercenary…”

“We do not allow questionable individuals into our shop.”

The man’s statement narrowed William’s mental list of possibilities, as he now knew it was a Scotsman of higher rank. One name rang out in his head. “Sir John Stewart?”

The merchant remained mute for he would not jeopardize his reputation. His shop was known as a safe place for the wealthy to sell their goods when in need of money and he would not endanger this hard-earned status over a curiosity from an unknown man. But if this man believed that William would accept his silence, he was wrong.

“There is a woman missing who wore a necklace like this. Tell me, was it Sir John Stewart who sold you this necklace or someone else? I’ll purchase the piece for the information!”

The Frenchman quoted him a price for the cross that far exceeded what he had paid for it in Oslo by more than double. Without shrinking back William agreed and brought out gold from his pouch. The merchant could not have known that he would have been willing to give him one of his ships at that point for word about the seller. Once the deal was made, including the addition acquisition of a new chain, the man said one sentence that sent William in the direction of the home of John Stewart.

“I will not confirm that Sir John Stewart has ever sold me anything, but I do know him.”

“I’m bloody angry at you, D’Arcy! Sit down.” Sir John roared in foul temper as soon as William entered his chamber in an exclusive neighborhood of Paris. The report William received had been correct, as Sir John had just recently returned to France after a long stay in Edinburgh, very much against the old man’s preference. Sir John hated to travel, he hated France and the damn French language that he still could not speak, and he hated being torn once again from his Scotland. Having already built up a vexation at William because of what he considered neglect on the younger man’s part toward Elisabeth, he unleashed his frustration with glee.

William was caught off guard at the reception from Sir John but complied without argument. He was there to get information and pride was a small cost if that was what was necessary. William did not have a chance to ask why the man was angered for Sir John had only just begun his rant.

“I left her in your care. If I had know you were gonna be gone and leavin’ her unprotected, I would have found her another position! Now look what happened!”

Stunned, William could only ask, “Are you referring to Elisabeth?”

“Hell, who do you think I’m talkin’ about? Aye, Elisabeth. And I’ve had to do what you should have been doin’ since she was under your care!”

“I’ve been searching for her, but Elisabeth’s location eludes me to this day.” The steadiness to William’s voice was a farce because when the man had said the words ‘another position’ he knew right away that he was speaking about Elisabeth. William had come with optimism that Sir John would have some knowledge of her, but this was more than he had expected.

“Christ have mercy! She’s not far from where your boat is docked! You could bloody walk there. How hard could that have been?”

“Calais?” William had his answer, but it left another question in its place. “There are no Elisabeth Benoit in that city. I have checked the records myself.”

“Oh hell, that’s ‘cause she’s using another name.” Sir John poured himself and William a whiskey. “I told her that was a bad plan.”

“Have you been in contact with her lately?”

“Four days ago. You do know that one of those lechers in Elgin got her with child while you were off somewhere else, aye?”

“I had heard that.” Confession might be good for the soul, but William was intelligent enough to realize that this was not the time to make his to Sir John. She must not have told the old man that he was the father, or ‘lecher’ as Sir John referred to him as. Accepting the drink that was handed to him, William adopted an air of composure that was as false as the gold tooth in his countryman’s mouth.

“I expect you to fix it. I’ve had to cover her tail and God knows she won’t tell me anythin’. You go and make it right. That lass deserves better! And don’t get all thrifty on me, either. It happened while she was your charge and I am expectin’ a lot out of you.”

“Elisabeth had the child?”

“Women don’t stay like that forev’er you know. I have one more word of warnin’ for you. Don’t you go to her all full of foolish prudence lookin’ down at her because she wasn’t wed to the rake of a father. The lass takes good care of the babe and I’ve fixed it so no one will know she wasn’t married.”

William did feel guilt at having this man freely give him his blessing to go to Elisabeth, but it did not overshadow his need to draw out as much information out of Sir John as possible. Promising himself that he would at a future date make amends for the deceit he was casting toward the elder Scotsman by not confessing the truth, William volleyed another question a him. “What name is she registered under?”

He had not been able to eat or sleep but for short periods since leaving Paris and the ride back to Calais was miserable solely because it had taken too long. The moon had not cooperated with William granting him the light needed to travel at night and every hour forfeited only encouraged him to drive his animal harder during the day to make up for the loss.

Thankfully the season did give him long days of sunlight and having arrived back in Calais at dusk, he still had enough time to ride by where he believed Elisabeth to live, stopping outside on the narrow dirt road but not dismounting. He could see a faint light coming through a single paned window and a shadow would occasionally obscure it as if a person was walking in the room. If William had been absolutely certain that this particular residence was hers and had the hour not been so late, he would have went to the door. This is what he convinced himself to deny his apprehension about their finally meeting again.

William had no planned greeting or concept about what he would say to Elisabeth when he lay eyes her again. Her reaction he could not imagine, but he was not awaiting her to welcome him with open arms. Elisabeth had left him purposely and if she still harbored whatever had driven her to flee, William did not know what she might do. Time spent meditating on the situation back in Scotland gave William the impression that his asking her to run the household was at the root of her decision to leave. If he could do that day over William would have abandoned his desire to have the ring when he proposed and instead asked her that night, but he could not turn back time. Of course, they had other difficulties that compounded her urgency to leave, including his confirmed belief that she left Scotland expecting their child.

He did not even know if they shared a son or daughter because that was one piece of information Sir John had not felt was important enough to share, but despite this he was thankful that there was a baby born between them. If for no other reason but that Elisabeth was not alone. There were many things William wanted to tell her about the changes that had transpired since she had been gone, including how he and Janetta had become close and the people she brought into his life. The year had not been entirely painful and the bright days stood out against the gray that had encompassed their lives.

William turned his horse and made his way toward his own home some time after the light from the window was extinguished, but had he waited just a few minutes longer he would have heard a baby’s cry come from where Elisabeth lived.

She took a chair in her small sitting room and shifted her son to her right side so she could nurse him. He was not very tolerant when it came to waiting to be fed, but the oats Elisabeth had given him not long before only sustained him for a short time. Branan was a healthy child and growing faster than his mother could make clothes for him. His name came from a suggestion Sir John made while he was still in the womb, and when she heard the meaning behind it Elisabeth chose it without a second thought. She had wanted a Scottish name for her child, not only because he was conceived there but also due to it being William’s heritage. Believing that Branan would never know his father because of the circumstances, if he at least had a name with meaning Elisabeth could ease her conscience just a little over concealing herself and the child.

Branan had been created out of love that Elisabeth believed to be one sided, but this was disturbing for her to think about and most days she did not. Caring for the boy was all she concentrated on, for Elisabeth did not leave her home often unless it was to buy supplies or sit on the grass with her son so he could get fresh air. The once lively woman now denied herself friends for concern that they would ask too many questions and her secret would become public knowledge. Elisabeth was still polite when she would met a neighbor in passing, but no one was allowed too close to her anymore with the exception of Sir John. He was the father figure to Elisabeth that gave her a sense of stability even when months would pass between his visits.

Elisabeth winced after she positioned Branan and reminded him ‘be patient’ although she knew he did not understand. She was looking forward to the day when she could give him a cup because the demands of nursing were becoming difficult, but until then she would continue to hum a tune she had heard Janetta play on her harp a few times to settle her baby. He usually responded to the song by relaxing and the tune itself brought back fond memories for his mother.

“Evangeline, it’s the woman for the wash. I’ll answer the door.” Elisabeth called out the next morning to her elderly companion knowing that the woman could not hear very well and undoubtedly did not notice the knocking. Placing her son on his belly in the center of a blanket in her bedroom, she went to open it.

“Come in, Meribella…” The shock that coursed through Elisabeth at seeing William standing on the other side of the door stole from her any reaction she might have had. Words would not come and her instinct to close the door to protect her son from being discovered could not be carried through on. Elisabeth did nothing but stand there and stare at him with eyes wide open. Dread making her incapable of action. There had been a rumor floating through the city a few months back that a wealthy Scotsman had sent out search parties looking for a particular woman. She had been told of it while at the market one day but as most rumors tend to be, the details were inexact. Elisabeth went to the docks and had seen a boat bearing a Scottish flag, but the vessel itself was unfamiliar to her and she thought herself overly suspicious since so many months had passed since she had left. Now she realized the rumor was truth and what she had thought she could hide from William would soon be common knowledge.

“There is a God,” William whispered, so disconcerted by his own emotions that he could not see hers. What turned out to be Elisabeth’s worst fear was Williams’s greatest desire. He had found her and that love he had held just for Elisabeth rejoiced at their reunion. The road traveled from Scotland to her had been worth it and the patience William had learned to nurture came through as he spoke to her. “I have been looking for you.”

“Leave me,” Elisabeth pleaded, but it was inaudible on first attempt and she had to repeat herself. “Leave me.”

“Elisabeth?” He returned gently. William was not completely surprised by her response. He had even thought this morning to send a note first alerting Elisabeth to his being in town, but he knew she could not read it. His last wish was for her to be frightened of him, but as William looked at her closely that was what he saw on her face. “I’m only here to talk to you. There is nothing to fear.”

“Leave me” was repeated a third time. Elisabeth was afraid for more than one reason and although it might seem illogical, there was one reason that was very real to her. Standing before Elisabeth was a man she knew could easily walk into her heart if he tried. William had done it once already and even with her resolve and anger, she feared it could happen again. But she had promised God that she would do better and not live as a mistress as she had in Elgin. Elisabeth would respect herself more. Vowing to be stronger than the loneliness and temptation to feel loved again, even if the love was only imaginary, Elisabeth found her footing and her natural voice before issuing William a directive.

“Go back to Scotland, William. If you ever cared for me, you will go and leave me as you have found me.”

“I need to know why you left without speaking to me about what had troubled you to the degree that you felt you could not come to me. Will you at least tell me this?” If the passive nature of William’s question left her with the impression that he would give up easily on her, it was not done intentionally by him. Just a few days ago William was beginning to lose faith that he would ever see her again and the grief that this opinion instilled in him was overpowering. He wondered if it was akin to what Janetta experienced after the death of Cameron because that was what it felt like to him; a death. Of course Janetta’s was far more severe because she would never be given a second chance but William had, and God help him he would not let Elisabeth go again without a fight.

“You didn’t need another housekeeper. Your offer was like a slap in the face, and now I actually thank you for it because it made me see that I am better than that.” The hard edge to her expression told him the degree to which his prior suggestion had wounded her. “Return to your wife and never come here again.”

“You are more than that, and there is no wife.” William defended himself. “Why would you make that allegation?”

“The day before I left I heard you and Jorgen talking. Why didn’t you marry Karoline?”

“I was never going to marry Karoline.”

Furrowing her brow, Elisabeth dared him to prove himself a liar. “That’s not what I heard.”

“When I asked him to get a ring made for you?”

“No, that’s not the conversation.” Elisabeth stepped to the side with her hand firmly on the door handle.

“Don’t close the door. Please, give me a moment.” William worked to pull up memories of that day she was making reference to. He could recall him and Jorgen sitting in his study and his asking him to deliver a letter to Anders for him… “We were talking about the acquisition of a new boat, and a letter to Anders with my refusal of an offer he made. You would not have been discussed except possibly in reference to a ring, but I don’t recall divulging to him that I was going to propose.”

The beginnings of a whimper floated through the home, but it was not from Elisabeth. Alarm from deep inside of her began to take over as the sound increased. No more clarification by William needed to be heard because it was all irrelevant when compared to Elisabeth’s motherly instinct to shelter her child. “I want you out of here now.”

William said nothing, for to speak would disturb the sound he was hearing for the first time and break the effect it had on him. Despite what Elisabeth professed to herself, the child was conceived from love on both parents’ part, and she could see William’s features relax as Branan’s cry echoed against him.

“He is not yours! If you have that in your head, you are wrong and I will not let you take my son from me. His father is a…’ Elisabeth’s brief hesitation alerted William that she was about to perjure herself. “A sailor.”

The power Elisabeth used to deliver her words betrayed her because they were laced with panic, and William had been too well trained by his father not to sense it. If he had followed through on the lesson from Luthais he would have used this to his advantage, but William did not want Elisabeth dominated into submission out of that fear. Aware that she would never forgive him if Elisabeth was felt forced to comply with his desire to be with her because she was afraid of the alternative, William lowered his voice and spoke softly to convey that he was not a threat. “I’m not going to take your son from you.”

“Please leave us alone.” Although she was still rigid in her countenance, Elisabeth followed his example and tried to speak calmly. “I’m not the same woman you knew.”

“And I’m not the same man. Elisabeth,” Reaching out, she recoiled from William’s touch as their son’s cries continued to become louder. William realized that his being there was too much for her and he needed to back away. “I’ll go, but please listen to me. I’m not here to take your son from you. I swear it on my life.”

She did not believe him. How could she when she had convinced herself that all the time he had spent with her was pretending on his part? Elisabeth could not fight against William’s money or connections. All William would have to do is tell the Calais officials that she had lied about her identity and her son would be lost to her because she would have no recourse to follow through on. This is what Elisabeth knew to be fact and from this all action stemmed. “He is all I have.”

“That’s not true” William told her before walking away. His heart ached from her words as he bore his share of the responsibility in Elisabeth not knowing that she was loved. The opportunities lost could not be regained, and even now as William understood what his father never had—that the expression of love was not a weakness in a man—he had kept his tongue silent once again. William’s perception of what was important had evolved over the past year, but his ease with articulating it still required time to grow. Here is where he needed to be patient with himself. For his sincerity to be apparent, it could not be forced. With Janetta he had this ease, but he had also had the encouragement of hearing her use statements of love toward him first. William had said ‘I love you’ to Maura on the day he left Castle Grant for Elgin without prompting or thinking it was expected. It came from his heart when he whispered the words to the baby, and this in itself was a step in the right direction.

William never promised Elisabeth that he would not come back, and a few hours later he did. This time was different. Instead of Elisabeth answering the door, an old woman came and explained to him that Elisabeth was busy and could not be disturbed. The baby’s cry, which was louder and higher pitched then he had heard before made it hard for him to understand the woman's words and without waiting for an invitation William entered the home in search of Elisabeth.

“What’s wrong?” Standing in front of him was Elisabeth dressed as if she was going out. Branan was in her arms with a cloth over his head and a large bag hung from the crook of her elbow.

“Why are you here?”

“Where are you going, Elisabeth?” Certain she was running away from him again, William stood tall in the doorway leading to the door. He would not physically restrain her from leaving, but this time by God he wanted to know before she left.

Defiantly she stared back at him, annoyed by his presence more than anything else. She was not fleeing as William suspected, but desperate to get out with Branan just the same. In an effort to gain his compassion so William would not delay her, Elisabeth told him exactly what she was doing. “I have to get him to an apothecary. He’s been crying since early last night and I can’t get him to eat.”

“Let me see him, please.” Elisabeth would not relinquish Branan to him; therefore William perpetuated her lie to give her a sense of security that he was not going to steal the babe from her. “I know he’s not mine so you can stop repeating that to me.”

“You know no more than I do about infants. He needs to be seen by someone who can help him.”

Frustration crackled between them and tempers were rising because both felt justified. Their stubbornness brought about a stalemate that for the good of the child had to be broken. William relented with a compromise, but he would meet resistance once it was put forth.

“I’ll get someone to come to you.”

“I don’t need a savior, William! I can do this alone as I have since before he was born.” If Elisabeth’s words were meant to hurt William, they served their purpose. Had he been a man less determined, William would have admitted his defeat because woven within her statement was resentment he had never perceived in her before. He did not know this unforgiving Elisabeth, but he did remember her well enough to see that any warmth she ever had for him had died. Still, Elisabeth did not have to care for him for William for him to be willing to help her.

“Then let me be your friend and do this for you.” With his urgency matching her own, William started for the doorway before stopping himself and returning to her side. “Please wait and let me bring an apothecary for him.”

Elisabeth finally agreed and asked him if he knew where to find the man. William did because he had been to him the day his boat had made shore.

The majority of children cut teeth near the first anniversary of their birth, but Branan started getting his early by many months. The inflammation of his bottom gum was not only painful for the little boy, it also made it difficult for him to latch on to nurse, which explained the constant crying from discomfort and hunger. The apothecary William had sent gave Elisabeth oil to rub on the baby’s gums to ease the pain of his teething, an elixir for any fever Branan may develop, and a salve for herself. Then he took time to educate her on how to alleviate her son’s need to bite down so she could continue to nurse him. After he left her residence, Elisabeth positioned her now sleeping son on the bed surrounded by pillows and went into her sitting room where William was also preparing to depart the home. The sweet scent of food welcomed her when she opened her bedroom door and Elisabeth silently thanked Evangeline for taking the initiative to make them dinner. It was not the elderly woman who had furnished the supper, but William.

“I’ve already spoken to the man and he explained to me about what was ailing your son ”

“Are you leaving?” While waiting for his reply, Elisabeth looked over at Evangeline. Her companion seemed to approve of the Scot they had in their home if she judged by the contented expression the elderly woman wore.

“I probably should,” He answered before switching to his own language. “I believe I’m trying too hard to convince you.”

“Convince me of what?” Elisabeth also stopped speaking French.

“I am in earnest, Elisabeth. I came to France because I love you.”

She did not meet his gaze but instead suggested that he sit down to supper with them, using the excuse that Evangeline went to bed before the sundown. Elisabeth had heard him say that he loved her, but it was going to take more than hearing those words once for her to consider trusting him.

The talk at the table was unimportant and they both found their selves addressing Evangeline more then each other. It hid their awkwardness at saying something wrong to their former lover that might break the calm of the room. Just as Evangeline was rising to go to bed, Branan was awaking and Elisabeth excused herself to get him. She was changing him as the woman passed by her door and wished Elisabeth a good night.

The apprehension Elisabeth had at bringing her son into the room where William sat was great. It was a frightening leap of faith for her to make. She had not kept Branan from William as a form of punishment for the pain she had endured, but honestly because she feared his removing the babe from her. Elisabeth sat on her bed for a long time while a debate raged within her head about what she should do, then she thought of Janetta and placed faith in her friend that if something terrible happened, Janetta would help her find her son.

Taking a small blanket from the bed, Elisabeth carried Branan into the room and reclaimed her seat at the table. “Thank you for what you did today” she told William before relaying what the apothecary had said as Elisabeth tore off small pieces of a pastry William had bought and dipped them into a jam to give to Branan. The child approved of his mother’s selection and would let out a complaint if she were too slow in her next offering.

“Your son’s handsome.” William observed, trying not to stare too long at him but fighting against the urge to keep looking back at him.

“Yes, he is.” A faint smile came to her face, which William had not seen occur in a year. He watched Elisabeth run her fingers through the child’s hair with her free hand, separating the curls he had inherited from her and William both.

“You have not yet told me his name. May I ask what it is?”

“Branan.” They were both quiet. “It means raven and is known in lore as the messenger of God.”

“It is a very good name. When I left Scotland, Janetta’s daughter Maura was,” William held his hands out cupped together. “A tiny thing.”

“Janetta has a daughter?” Nothing had been spoken about Janetta up to this time and Elisabeth was eager to learn about what her friend had done over the past year.

“Aye. She was born in April.”

Elisabeth could have told William in return that Branan had also been born in that month, but for the time being she felt more comfortable staying with a topic other than herself. “How are Janetta and Cameron? I would like to hear about them.”

“It will take a while. Are you too tired to stay up?” It was not yet seven in the evening and no, Elisabeth wanted to hear of her friend’s wellbeing more than she needed sleep.

“Let’s go to the sitting room.”

Once they were settled, Elisabeth realized that she had forgotten to get the numbing agent for Branan’s gums and she began to get back out of her chair when William asked her if there was anything he could do. Elisabeth directed him to her table by her bed where the bottle was. William found the oil easily and noticed the ruby bracelet Janetta had given Elisabeth on the table. The sight of it there gave him pause and out from the pouch at his side he brought forth its matching necklace he had repurchased in Paris. He laid it next to the bracelet and returned to Elisabeth without uttering a word. She would not see that the pendant until she went to bed that night and then she would weep at the gesture.

The next morning William came again to visit Elisabeth and her son, this time with her permission. The serious conversation the night before was all on his part as Elisabeth sat and listened to his detailed narrative of not only the occurrences related to Janetta, but also to his account about his intending to marry her. An hour into their talk when he was outlining Jorgen’s plan, Elisabeth took hold of his hand and held it like they used to do when they were alone in his room. She did not let go until they said goodnight.

Today would be her turn Elisabeth decided after clasping the cross he had left her around her neck. The doubt was fading and if William would accept what she had to say, as Elisabeth had done for him, then and only then would she determine if she would tell him about Branan.

A beautiful smile graced William’s face when she answered the door with the necklace on, but he did not make an issue it for fear of embarrassing her. Instead he asked if she would walk out with him for a while. William was sending the boat back to Scotland this evening with correspondences and a few presents for Janetta and wanted to make a final venture to the merchants before it set sail. He would stay in France until after it returned, informing her that he had to be in Oslo at a specific date to conclude the sale of his ships. Elisabeth agreed to go to town with him and with Branan in her arms they spent the morning in Calais.

That afternoon after many crates were loaded and sent to the docks, they sat under a tree in his yard while the baby slept nearby. Elisabeth laid out her heart at this time. He did not take the news of her miscarriage during the Grant gathering well, because William believed that even an infant in the womb was a sanctioned being therefore he considered the loss as a death. Moreover, she allowed herself to suffer alone when he would have preferred to share the grief with her. William inquired why she did not tell him about it at the time, and her answer left him mute. Elisabeth explained that she did not want him to make an offer of marriage to her out of obligation. After much thought William approached the subject of why she left Scotland, but she was not so free with her words on this.

“Did you not know that I loved you, Elisabeth?” William asked while his gaze went out toward the ocean that he could see from where they sat close to one another under the tree.

“No.” Her plain reply seemed to confound William, but not enough that he could not pose another question.

“Did you love me?”

“Yes I did.” Branan began to sir waking from his slumber and Elisabeth reached over to pick him up. After listening to his story and the confessions that he made, her doubt about William’s sincerity was gone. The old wounds they both carried would still require time to mend, but Elisabeth now believed him when he voiced that he loved her.

“Your son is getting hungry.” Elisabeth lifted her eyes to William to see if he had caught that she said ‘your’ because this was her way of telling him that he was Branan’s father. William had and his expression burned with devotion for her that she did not need to be represented verbally. “Would you like to hold him?”

“I would.” Branan was not sure about the strange man who now had hold of him and his eyes grew wide as he stared at the man he would someday know as papa. William stared back as he tried to memorize every detail while realizing that his future lie in the face of his son. He had learned many lessons from his mistakes, and although in his lifetime William would make more, he promised himself to do his best to educate Branan from revisiting the sin of his father.

Elite society would never comprehend why a man of William’s distinction would pursue a woman whose background was the absolute opposite of his own. There were literally a million poor girls with pretty faces and soft voices in the world and had William wanted to soil his feet at the doorstep of such a woman, he need not exert the effort he had to find this one in particular. What Elisabeth wrongly believed to be William’s intent was actually what Luthais D’Arcy would have recommend to his son, had he been alive. Marry a woman worthy of their family name and keep Elisabeth at a discrete distance as his mistress. Bastard children would not be a concern, Luthais would have informed his son, because William would have been advised to anonymously establish meager trusts for them and told not to become attached to the offspring. This is what his father did, and in the city of Bergen, Norway lived the product of Luthais’s indulgence in the form of a younger brother William did not know existed.

His father would have been appalled at his son’s determination to wed Elisabeth and surely threats of disinheritance would have been issued to keep William and Elisabeth apart. On a lesser level, Luthais would have found the idea that Janetta had entangled herself with a Scotsman obscene and a waste of the carefully conceived education he had allowed her. Thankfully William had followed his prerogative when it came to his sister and Janetta had known love in marriage although Cameron’s death scarred her terribly. But this in itself was a gift her father would have never considered a priority.

It can be difficult for people to go against what they have been taught since their formable years, especially when opinions are preached as gospel, and it is little wonder that William failed to fully recognize the value he placed on Elisabeth until she was gone. Yes, he had decided to ask for her hand while she was still in Elgin, but still missing would have been his understanding of her worth to him. Had Elisabeth stayed in Scotland, they could have had a nice life together, but it is doubtful that William would have ever experienced the depth if intimacy possible between them because he restrained himself. The example his parents set was that of an unbalanced relationship where his mother was more of a comfort than a person. He and Elisabeth had already fallen into that pattern and no doubt would have continued this way if she had not exerted her own will and left him.

Life has a way of working itself out because Elisabeth rediscovering her independence and not being willing to stay in a situation detrimental to herself in the end saved the life of Branan. If Jorgen had known she was pregnant, he would have made Elisabeth his first target and William would have unknowingly invited him in to their home to accomplish that dead. In her womb she had carried the threat of two generations standing between Jorgen and the D’Arcy estate, and the cousin never would have ignored that.

William D’Arcy had the great fortune of finding one of the few women who would love him despite his monetary assets. It may be difficult to conceive, but over time Elisabeth had grown to view wealth as the enemy because she believed her own poverty stole away any chance of her heart’s true desire being realized. This woman loved William and she wanted to be with him, but not disguised behind closed doors and never behind a wife’s back.

Last night William spent some time clarifying what he now saw as errors on his part in regard to her, and today she did the same for him. Elisabeth did not think herself the blameless party because she had allowed herself to be altered to fit what she determined he wanted. And she had left William without giving him a chance to redeem himself.

William had not noticed Elisabeth rise to her knees and move closer to him, but he did feel her warm hand against his back. Turning his head slightly, he watched her kiss their son before facing him and saying ‘I love you.’ He responded in the same before Elisabeth took Branan from him and laid the child next to the sand-filled balls she had brought from her home.

She kissed him under that tree; her soft lips whispering endearments against his. Elisabeth’s mind still recognized the feel of his mouth and soon they were kissing as they once had. Her hands were on the nape of his neck, his on her waist pulling her closer to him. William and Elisabeth had not been apart for so long that they had forgotten how to bestow love without actually making it.

Grantown on Spey, Scotland
Five days later.

When Janetta came into the room glowing with unbounded happiness and a smile larger than Keiron had seen from her before, she had his full attention before she even said a word.

“This!” Janetta said waving a letter in her right hand while balancing Maura with her left arm as the babe held on to her hair. “Keiron, he found her!”


Nodding, her smile grew more joyous until his face too reflected it back at her. Laughing, Janetta handed him the letter that he was hesitant to take. “It’s for the both of us. Read it and tell me what you think?”

Keiron scanned the letter William had written in haste after Elisabeth agreed to marry him. It was on the day in Calais they sat together under the tree. The message itself was full of hope and blessedness, and in it William wrote about the woman who was soon to be his wife and their son. A short explanation about the three week waiting period before they could wed was given. Their plan was to marry in France before traveling directly to Norway for the selling of his ships, then home to Elgin.

An offer was made in writing to Janetta to join them with the return of William’s boat from Scotland to make the trip to Oslo with them, and the last sentence stated that William had sent some gifts that would be arriving from Elisabeth and him.

Rising from where he was sitting, Keiron expressed his own pleasure to the successful end of his friend’s search before handing her the parchment back. “Are you going?” He asked in reference to Oslo while he untangled Maura’s hand from Janetta’s hair.

“No. They have earned time together. I can be patient a while longer until they are back.” For the next half-hour they sat together forgetting the day’s responsibilities and discussed William and Elisabeth. There was a cause for celebration and Janetta decided that they were going to have wine at supper that night to mark the occasion.

Two hours later large crates packed with straw were brought up to the family quarter’s common room where Janetta and Keiron were eating. The need had long since past for them to pacify Maura with the quiet of the room in the evening, but the custom remained and supper was always at the same time. Both held dear this time when they could be themselves without the eyes and ears of others on them, and some of their best conversations occurred in this room. Janetta still did not speak as bluntly to Keiron as she had Cameron, Willa, or even Frederic, but through familiarity she was gaining a better understanding of his disposition, and he in turn was more forthright with her. Theirs was a friendship built with the passage of time and from it they were discovering that in each other they had an indispensable ally.

When Keiron asked her which crate she wanted the ropes cut from, Janetta teased that everyone opened the largest one first. There was a note inside every crate that was to be read before the contents uncovered and this one stated that this present was for Maura. A handsome child’s saddle was brought out and the dust wiped from the seat. Keiron admired the construction of it while Janetta retrieved her daughter from across the room and placed her on the saddle during which Keiron quoted a line from William. “He says that since her mother insists on being a horsewoman, Maura may as well, too.”

The second crate opened was actually for Fergus. Inside were a variety of French wines and four dormant grapevines. Instructions were written out on how to plant the vines, but no recipes were included. “Willa is going to have William’s head!” Janetta predicted knowing that her brother sent the items in jest to feed the older man’s obsession with creating the perfect alcohol.

The note with the next crate had Janetta ask Keiron not to uncover what was below the burlap. Janetta’s jovial spirit dissipated as she reread what William had said to her, turning away so Keiron could not see her reaction.

“What is it, Janetta?”

“The last time I spoke to Jorgen, he said words to me that I should pay no heed to, but…I have let them fester.” At this point Keiron could have admitted that they all heard the conversation between her and Jorgen down in the cells, but he held this in because if Janetta did not know, it might be better for her never to know. Janetta had accomplished what needed to be done, and since that night not a word was mentioned about it from anyone. Keiron had wondered if she had simply erased from memory the exchange between her and Jorgen, and now he knew she had not.

“I’m sorry.” Janetta did not want to sour their enjoyment. “You must think I’m childish.”

“No. You have nothing to be ashamed about.” Keiron said the truth. Janetta handed him the message that William had wrote and this time Keiron did not hesitate as he took it to read.

Dearest sister,

During a trip to Sweden with our Father during my fifteenth year, I asked him why we always had to visit clothiers in search of silly gowns for you and mother. There were much more interesting places to go where a young man would not be embarrassed to be seen. He told me that it was his way of giving you a piece of his travels and when he saw you both dressed in the fashion of other cultures, it reminded him of where he had been. I continued the tradition after his death because I liked his answer.

Do not let the words of others, especially those of a sick mind, end our tradition. I have realized in the past year that it is often what you do not talk about that weighs on you the heaviest, and you have never mentioned what occurred between you and him that night you pried the truth from his mouth.

Enclosed are four gowns. The ones from Paris and Rouen are from me. I thought that you would like a dress from Elisabeth’s birthplace. The other two Elisabeth picked out for you here in Calais. I will support whatever decision you make as to whether or not you wear them, but all I ask is for you to know that what he said was a vicious falsehood.

Elisabeth wants me to convey to you that when she arrives home, she will help you alter them if this is your desire.

With much love and respect,
William and Elisabeth

“Let’s see what they sent.” Keiron understood the references were to Jorgen’s statement that her brother needed to dress Janetta up for men to take notice of her and he agreed fully with William’s interpretation. It was not true.

Each of the four gowns were brought out slowly and admired before Janetta placed them on the back of a chair. Her sentimental favorite was the one from Rouen and Janetta announced that this would be her first to alter, but the gown from Paris was magnificent in every way. Keiron listened to her talk about stitches and hemlines, but he was at a loss to contribute to the dialogue except to question “Why do women need so many frocks?”

“Someday if you have a wife, you will understand.”

“I’m not goin’ to have a wife so you’ll have to answer that for me.” Keiron’s statement was made in passing and he did not dwell on what he had said or the impact it might have on Janetta.

She was surprised to say the least, leaving Janetta downhearted at his statement.

“Don’t say that; I don’t want to think of you alone, Keiron.”

“I’m not alone.” Caught off guard by her acknowledgement, his reply was quick and intended to be plain. Instead it gave Janetta more to think about.

The smile that had left her while they spoke of Jorgen returned, but this one was more heartfelt. Keiron was not the sole beneficiary from their companionship and because she had been permitted to stay at Castle Grant instead of going to her brother’s home after Cameron’s death, Janetta was of the opinion that she understood his meaning.

“No, you’re not” Janetta admitted before she walked over to the final unopened crate. The treasures inside of this one were truly intended for both of them to share, but the varying contents would prove to be more meaningful than William could have imagined.

Keiron had a great uncle who had left Scotland for France when he was a young man, never to return. After his departure, the only word they received was that he was living in Boulogne. Through the city’s historian, William had been able to locate documents relating to the man while he was there searching for Elisabeth. Keiron, whose love of history was great, held the papers in his hand expressing only one disappointment with the gift.

“They are in French.” He looked over at Janetta hoping she would say that she could read them.

“I know some French, but nothing compared to William.” Peering at the page showing, she frowned. “Do they all contain such long, complicated words?”

Keiron sifted carefully through the other pages, then stopped. William had already translated the pages for him.

“I love my brother.” Sighing, Janetta began unloading a few books and numerous documents and drawings. Most of them were related to unique buildings and churches that employed various architectural styles William thought Janetta might find interesting. Five papers alone were dedicated to the cathedral of Saint Stephen in Bourges, and her brother had been correct in his assumption that Janetta would be pleased, but hers was not the only curiosity raised. Keiron also found the study of architecture engaging and after Janetta brought out from her room her collection of documents from Oslo on Gamle Aker, he yielded his own of the Dunblane Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle.

Within the papers of Keiron’s was a sketch he had made when he was younger of Saint Margaret’s chapel. Having forgotten that it still existed, he was self-conscious that Janetta had seen it and once she relinquished it back to him, Keiron turned it over on the table and warily admitted that he was the one who had made it.

Sensing his unease Janetta said no more about the sketch, which she considered quite good, but she was not going to allow this subject to rest forever.

Near midnight of that same evening.

“Janetta,” she heard Keiron say from the hallway outside her chamber, encouraging her to rise from bed and see what he wanted at this late hour. She had to momentarily shield her eyes from the brightness of the light that filled the walkway, but once Janetta had adjusted she saw that he was not alone. Nolen Grant and three other men were behind him, and she immediately observed that all the men including Keiron wore swords at their sides.

As soon as Janetta focused on Keiron she could see that he was standing before her cloaked as Chieftain Grant and not the man that usually existed with her in the family quarters. Therefore when he spoke to her without hesitation or much explanation, Janetta knew that Keiron needed her to do what he asked because there were reasons he could not go into at the time.

“Clan Cameron conceded defeat today to the King. There are some outside right now led by their chieftain’s son. I’m goin’ to talk to him. You and Maura will be safe, but I want you to lock your door and remain here until Warlord Grant or I come for you.”

Although they had expected this to occur, it did not make hearing the proclamation any easier to accept. Janetta made only one request of Keiron. “Use caution.”

Janetta did as she was instructed and when Nolen Grant came to her with a request from Keiron hours later, he found her fully dressed and very much awake. “Chieftain Grant asks if you would be able to help him make duplicates of this letter so he could send them out soon after sunrise. He would have to sign them, but if you could get a few written he would be grateful. You can use the writing table in his room and there is parchment in the upper drawer.”

Janetta followed Nolen down to Keiron’s room and after Maura was situated on the bed, she read the letter before he left to ensure she understood it. The heart of the message was to restate the Grant’s stance about their loyalty to the crown and that they would not harbor enemies of the King, but would escort the innocents of battle through their lands.

Janetta wondered if Keiron considered the former Clan Cameron’s son an innocent, but she would later learn that the lad was but fourteen. Checking the desk for supplies, Janetta told Nolen that she had all she needed and he turned to leave.

“Remember to lock the door.” Nolen advised. “No violence is expected, but is better to take precaution.”
By the confines of
Janetta lost track of time but the sun was up and Maura had already risen once to be fed before Keiron returned to his room. When he saw the papers lying out to dry across his table, he politely thanked Janetta. She had made twenty-one copies for him, and he had needed nineteen. Keiron gave her a brief account about what had occurred downstairs, pledging to go into greater detail later in the day.

His room was made up of three separate chambers connected from the inside. He opened a door and entered the area his parents had claimed as a nursery, but he used to store trunks and chests. Janetta stood in the doorway and watched him put coins into a bag, certain they were for the Clan Cameron exiles.

“You are doing what is best for our people because you do not trust this King.” Janetta concluded from the scant information she had received.

Keiron nodded at her correct impression. This was what his conviction told him and why he had to send the people of Clan Cameron off his land, although he could not allow the Cameron’s to stay for several other reasons. The strongest was that he would not risk the welfare of his own people to shelter those who had purposely defied a King. Especially a King that had proven he was not timid when it came to the bloodshed of his own countrymen and kin. Keiron knew the history and had read too many accounts where one man’s actions and poor judgment had adversely affected the lives of hundreds, and that is why Keiron always tried to think about what was ‘good for the whole’ when decisions were made.

Janetta walked over to where he was kneeling at a chest, leaned down and placed her hands on his face before kissing his forehead. “I wish I was more like you,” she admitted before leaving him to his business and returning to her room with Maura.

Keiron wished she had not done that as he forgot about the people on the first floor waiting for him while the affection he had for Janetta broke through the barrier he had encircled around it to expose itself as love. Keiron would suppress it, of course, and remind himself that Janetta would never love him as he did her, but for a brief moment he felt it and it was empowering and more real then it had ever been before. Then he made it go away.

He was wrong about Janetta, though.

Once his bedroom door was closed behind her, Janetta realized that she had made a mistake in touching him. The memory of his skin against her hands was still there and when she brought them up to her lips, she could feel herself kissing him again. Janetta had a secret that she would not expose to anyone on account of a deep-seated guilt that she could not yet deal with. Her husband had been gone nearly six months and Janetta still remembered him everyday, but in the past few weeks she noticed that her thoughts were turning more and more toward the quiet man she shared her life with. It was not the connection that the two men shared that distressed her, for when she looked at Keiron she did not see him as Cameron’s brother but as a man independent. Rather it was the shortness of time between her husband’s passing and her beginning to develop feelings for someone else that troubled her.

Calais, France

They waited on the dock at Calais together, Elisabeth hopeful that Janetta would be on William’s boat as it came into port although he had warned her that he did not expect it. Still, it was a disappointment for her to see that he had been correct. In place of her presence, Janetta sent her own crate filled with items she and Keiron had put together for them. This and a beautifully written letter would have to satisfy Elisabeth until the business in Oslo was over and she was once again on Scottish ground.

William sought out a man to deliver the crate to the home Elisabeth and Branan now occupied with him. The move for her had not been for convenience sake, although William’s staying at her house until midnight and riding back to his in the dark was deemed unsafe by Elisabeth, but rather that another woman had been found to reside with Evangeline sooner than they had anticipated. In an act of goodwill, William paid the women’s mortgage ahead several years so they could live with security and Elisabeth donated her furniture to them.

No spoken agreement between Elisabeth and William about their sleeping arrangement was broached before she came to live. Instead William gave her two rooms and made comments like ‘I will see you in the morning’ and ‘in your room’ to indicate that he held no expectations of their being together until after they were married.

The presents from Grantown on Spey were opened with the two best liked being a rowan branch for Elisabeth from Janetta, and a bottle of firewater that had William laughing at the jest.

“It’s a horrible brew made from an ancient Celtic recipe,” he told Elisabeth, “not even Fergus Grant can’t drink much of it and that is not a fair omen. I have been told that it is useful for removing rust from swords.”

Grinning back at him, Elisabeth brought out another wrapped package and handed it to William. He read the note carefully before repeating what it said. “This is for me and Branan. Janetta wrote the message but she says that the gift is from Keiron.”

Untying the twine that held a protective wool covering over the contents, William laid it out to display two lengths of Grant plaid. He did not make a comment about the offering, but on his face a look of seriousness creased his features as he studied what was before him. Elisabeth’s first reaction was to consider what Keiron had sent as a sweet thought until she looked closer and noticed that the plaid folded up on William’s lap was not exactly the same as what he wore.

“What does this mean?” she asked softly before taking the smaller section of material into her hands. William explained that tartan had varying degrees of intricacy and color to identify a person’s place within the clan. Keiron wore the tartan of a chieftain and was the only person to do so. Then came the family plaid followed closely by the elders, and so forth. When Elisabeth asked him what tartan he wore, William stated that his was below the elder’s.

“What is it that I hold, William?”

“You have the Grant’s family plaid in your hands.” This was the greatest gift, other than his children, that William D’Arcy would ever receive. He stayed silent for a while meditating on what this gesture meant to him realizing that Keiron had went against tradition to give it. Elisabeth allowed him a few moments alone to check on their son sleeping in his room, and when she returned William was smiling contently at her. If only he could put into words how right his life felt to him as if everything that had happened in the past year, with the exception of Cameron dying, had been worth the hardship to get him to this point. William was happy with Elisabeth, their friends and family, and his newfound son. His priorities had changed by his own doing, and once his ships were sold he looked forward to a simplified life where he would not be separated from those he loved for long.

Elisabeth could feel the aura of peaceful reconciliation around William, drawing her to his side to share in it. She did love him; she always had since her fateful voyage on his ship years back from France to Scotland.

Tomorrow William and Elisabeth were to be married at the church of Notre Dame but this day was filled with unromantic obligations as they prepared to leave France. Their belongings had to be packed and what was not necessary for the morrow was to be placed on the ship. If Elisabeth mourned leaving her birth country it was not apparent, as her demeanor was composed and amiable toward the workers filtering through their residence removing the evidence that they had been there. Both agreed that it was prudent to marry before returning to Scotland, even thought it went against their preference to have Janetta and others familiar to them to be their witnesses.

By nightfall the anxiousness of day began to vanish from memory. Elisabeth sat next to the fire in a grand reception room drying the last remnants of moisture from her freshly washed hair with William nearby. He had held true to his honorable intent of being a gentleman and not allowing himself any physical contact with Elisabeth except for kissing. Be not mistaken, his desire for her was consistent and when he would reminisce about how her body felt under his the compulsion magnified, but William had restraint and if that failed him, he would leave her presence until he did. Staring at Elisabeth, he noted that although clothed in an unpretentious nightgown it was still tailored enough to hint about how her body had changed after having Branan. William thought the curves pleasing on her.

“You are an admirable man, William D’Arcy.” Elisabeth voiced with tenderness for no apparent reason. Her personal musings at that juncture were also favorably inclined and William would have been amazed to know how closely aligned with his own they were.

“Your estimate is unwarranted.” He replied, experiencing self-censure for the lusty thoughts he had been dwelling on. “I’m no saint.”

William’s remark encouraged Elisabeth to rise to stand in front of where he was, the light of the fire reflecting from behind making the once modest muslin gown translucent to disclose the outline of her shape. Leaning over with her hands resting on his shoulders, she brushed her lips against his with inviting delicacy, giving incentive for William to capture her mouth if he wanted a fuller kiss. Eyes closed and her mouth now tingling, Elisabeth murmured quietly to William her response. “I don’t want a saint.”

Their kiss persisted and after Elisabeth parted her lips in anticipation a rhythm soon developed. The rise of movement and the gentle glide of tongues became a physical form of endearment. He loved her and Elisabeth knew it, his kiss being a form of further proof if words alone were not enough. William’s hands on her waist guided her closer to him but left Elisabeth standing because to perch her on his lap would be an indulgence William could not allow himself. Elisabeth had no such restriction on her conscious conduct. The exploration of her own hands over his chest and arms must have set well with him if she fashioned an opinion from the increased rate of his respirations.

“I have a confession to make.” Elisabeth whispered into his ear after William’s mouth left hers and found purpose on her neck. The revelation would be truthful, but the shadowy implications were there to tease him.

“I have no plans to be a suitable French wife to you.”

Again he kissed her and Elisabeth’s response was to match his avidity with her own. After they parted he swore he could see the glint of a sinner in her eyes while dampness glistened from her bottom lip. With William’s body responding to her touch he knew that soon he would have to excuse himself or else expose that his flesh was weak when it came to her. But the game he believed Elisabeth was initiating was too tempting to forfeit. They had not spoken to each other with sexual innuendo in the past, rarely had they uttered words once engaged in the agreement to bed one another. With a grin given to him by the devil, William acknowledged to her provocation while falsely believing that he could fend off any lure Elisabeth offered.

“I don’t want a proper French wife.”

The art of seduction aroused Elisabeth and she found it thrilling to assume the role of pursuer. Unlike her future husband, Elisabeth held no qualms about sleeping with William this night; in fact she was determined to do so. Preying on William’s love of language, Elisabeth stopped speaking French and assumed the dialect of him home country.

“I could be tempted to be a Scottish wife if you’d like.”

William’s pupils dilated at the suggestion and his retort matched her teasing tone. “What methods would you employ that would differ? Are you going to throw curses at me when you’re incensed and chase me with a broom when you deem me unmanageable?”

“I may.” Looking at him full in the face, Elisabeth dared him as she lowered her arms down to his thighs to rest her weight.

“Then I will kiss you in front of strangers and say things to embarrass you.”

“Kiss me like you would a Scottish wife.” Wetting her lips with his own, they returned to their former past time but this time William deferred to her and showed her how his mouth would touch his Scottish wife’s. He consumed her and the light banter of just a moment ago was forgotten as it became eclipsed by passion. She moaned and William pressed harder with his full lips as a throbbing between Elisabeth’s legs acknowledged its presence. Need became her primary objective and the game was abandoned as Elisabeth made her plot public. “Come to bed with me.”

“Elisabeth…we should wait until we’re committed....” William weakly replied granting Elisabeth the insight about why his hands had never left her waist. The sentiment was more than noble, but in Elisabeth’s judgment they were already bound to one another and waiting for a Priest sanctify their union was symbolic in nature. Desiring no more discussion on whether making love this night was right or wrong, Elisabeth offered him a sound argument while her hands tucked themselves under his tartan, running coarsely over the bare skin of his thighs made muscular from months of horseback riding.

“We’re getting married tomorrow and setting sail shortly after. We’ll not be alone.” With that sentence, her hands arrived at their final destination where his legs ended and his torso began. Closing his eyes, William allowed himself to be swept up in the feel of her hand wrapping itself around his fully erect organ. Her thumb caressed the sensitive skin of his tip in a circular motion using the wetness he produced to decrease the friction. Rendered stationary by a feather light touch, his mind released his honorable intention and the merits of her argument were enough.

“William, show me how you will treat your wife.” The lover in William awoke after a yearlong slumber, coaxed out by Elisabeth’s invitation and starved for the due it had been neglected while apart from her. When Elisabeth removed her hand from him as William neared climax, his first response was to take hold of her arm and have her finish what she started, but William held back and was rewarded for his patience with what he coveted most; a view of her uncovered body. Elisabeth unlaced two of the ties at the front of her gown and with his assistance the gown was soon discarded onto the floor leaving her naked for William to admire. Her shoulders were rounder, breasts fuller, and hips wider then she had been when he last laid eyes on her. A woman was before him, transformed by childbirth and made more perfect. Tenderly running his fingertips over Elisabeth’s soft skin, he traveled a course over her collarbone and down between the valley of her breasts. Her reddened nipples he wished to touch with more than his fingers, but his eyes recognized a trace of oil applied to them reminding William that she was still irritated from nursing their son. One day they would be his again but for now a soft kiss to each was all he would do.

“I love you” was said against her chest as Elisabeth undid his belt and loosened it so that the plaid draped around William could be removed.

“I love you,” she returned as he lifted himself from the chair to be unwrapped. William was a man teetering on the edge of orgasm and he worried that their first time together after so long would not be satisfactory for Elisabeth because he was already too near. Elisabeth must have read his mind.

“Empty in me. Then in the bed we can make love.” Straddling William’s legs with her own, Elisabeth still did not sit as he explored her hips and thighs before moving to the outside lips of her sex sensing the dampness that was silently begging him delve deeper inside. William had intended to only see if Elisabeth was ready for him, but the gasp that she let out as his finger swirled in the natural lubricant of her body encouraged him on and he went in search of the area that he remembered giving her the most pleasure. It was not long before her response told him that he had found it. Long, even strokes momentarily shocked her but soon Elisabeth was shivering against him reveling in the erotic pressure William was applying. The buildup to her peak enlivened her heart to beat faster and face flush while the thought of him stopping made her mad to reach orgasm. Catching herself from falling, Elisabeth’s hands grabbed onto the back of the chair just as the first wave of contractions ripped through her, followed by another and another. William stilled his hand while her body convulsed, unaware that his breathing was as labored as hers. After the last shudder was released, Elisabeth lowered her forehead to touch his and asked in a sultry tone, “What do you want?”

Gently removing his wet hand from her, William once again placed both on her waist and answered, “To be inside of you.” He wanted to feel her warmth around him girth again, he wanted to emit in her, and know that a part of him was bathed in the warmth that existed between her legs while she slept. It was carnal of William to have this inclination, so possessive in nature that it blinded discernment. Their roles suddenly switched, William now became the pursuer who wished to seek out pleasure from her lush body.

There were no concerns about soiling the chair or their reputations as they positioned themselves to consummate a marriage that had not yet taken place. The seat was wide enough for Elisabeth to put her knees on the cushion with some room to spare and as she was hovering a mere inch above William’s swollen member, Elisabeth waited for him to pierce her.

“Fill me…” She appealed as William lowed her down onto him and the memories and dreams he had of their being joined was nothing when compared to the sensation of his flesh as he slowly slid into Elisabeth.

“My God.” He moaned. William had waited her for religiously and his yearlong abstinence left him far too sensitive not to feel the softest of strokes. Mouth open, he lifted her several times ahead of succumbing to the need and ejaculating into the depth of Elisabeth amidst sounds of lust he had never released before out of fear of detection. With each pulsation, words long dormant tumbled from his mouth including that of her name, and to Elisabeth’s ears they were sweeter than honey.

Oslo, Norway

Elisabeth’s wedding ring caught a few tendrils as her hand ran down the length of her hair she was smoothing from her face. She and William had chosen the ring together in Calais and she had not yet adjusted to wearing it yet. Five days had passed since they arrived in Oslo and yesterday the sale of William’s ships was finalized.

They were planning on staying two more before leaving for Scotland, the delay ruled necessary to give Branan time to adjust from his first boat ride before beginning his second. The child had held together better than his aunt Janetta had after her first voyage, but not so much that his parents did not feel he required a week of rest.

She possessed the state of mind of a happy newlywed so consequently everything seemed divine and very little could distress her including two unplanned days in Norway. Every afternoon she and William went out, often without a clear objective in mind. Her husband seemed to thoroughly enjoy showing her the city, and Elisabeth loved that his formality in public was diminished. William would never be the type of man to make a spectacle of himself in front of others, but the look of admiration he openly displayed toward Elisabeth regardless of whom was near was a pleasant change she was thankful for. Only the company of Janetta and her daughter could make her stay in this city more memorable. When the longing for her friend’s company would overtake Elisabeth she would remind herself that as opposed to this time last year when she believed their separation to be permanent, mere days until they were reunited was not too much to endure.

Leaving the sanctuary of their bedroom, although the word sanctuary is often connected to something that is holy and what they did to each other in that room would never be considered holy, Elisabeth entered the room Branan occupied. Due to the sheltering Elisabeth had provided him during his infancy, their son was not accustomed to strangers. Regrettably, this is what William was to Branan just a few short weeks ago and a trust had to be built between father and son. It was a slow process that required patience from William but with reassurance the child was displaying more ease when in his father’s arms.

Taking Branan from his bed, Elisabeth went down the stairs to wait for William to return with what he called ‘the best smoked pork she would ever eat.’ When she reached the landing on the ground floor Elisabeth heard commotion coming from outside in the form of raised voices. She could identify at least one man speaking--possibly two, and the distinct high-pitched tone of woman chattering at a rapid pace. There appeared to be a quarrel occurring outside the home. When the sounds increased, Elisabeth impulsively moved Branan to the next room over so he would be out of view. Even with anticipation, the pounding on the home’s main door startled Elisabeth and at that moment she had to make a decision as the whether to answer it or wait for William to return. Placing faith in the guards that he had hired, she went back into the room and opened the door.

Two people were talking to her at once, both in Norwegian, which Elisabeth could not understand except for a few words related to domestic activities. The guard was frustrated and garnered her attention first because he was the loudest. His annoyance was directed at a scrawny older woman who was next to him with a heavily creased face and tight buns on each side of her head. Elisabeth recognized that woman as a caretaker from the home of Anders Jonsen.

Calming the guard as best as she could without words, Elisabeth turned to face the woman who continued babbling fiercely while using her hands to make exaggerated gestures. “Karoline” was shouted out and when Elisabeth raised her eyes toward the second guard who had remained at the gate of their home she saw the form of Karoline Andersdatter nervously walk toward her. Elisabeth did not need to give birth to Branan to gain motherly instinct, and when she gazed upon the face of Karoline her instinct told her that the young woman needed her help.

Shortly after arriving in Oslo, William had learned that Anders had died and that his assets were distributed amongst his nephews, but he did not have any intelligence about the fate of his daughter. If Elisabeth were to judge by the appearance of Karoline she would say that the girl had been left without anything.

Karoline’s companion yelled at her again before removing a cloth sack from her back and dropping it in the doorway. The woman’s impatience with the girl angered Elisabeth and when Karoline was within reach, Elisabeth offered her a hand to take. Once Elisabeth had a secure hold on her, she pulled Karoline past the others and directed her to stand behind her. She could not know this at the time but Elisabeth was about to gain herself a sister.

Leveling her eyes at Elisabeth, the older woman spoke words of unknown relevance before saying two Elisabeth did not need to interpret. ‘Karoline yours.’ Turning on her heel and without a word of parting to the young woman she had cared for since birth, the woman left the residence with four pairs of bewildered eyes following her. After she was out of sight the guard that stood at the door shook his head and looked to Elisabeth for instruction about what to do with what he determined to be a beggar girl in the home. Elisabeth patted his arm and picked up the cloth sack she believed held Karoline’s belonging before turning to the young woman.

Concealing her shock at Karoline’s dramatic arrival, a warm smile of recognition lit Elisabeth’s face as she welcomed Karoline formally to their home as the girl had done for her a year before. While Elisabeth’s imagination conjured up possibilities about what had happened to her since her father’s death, she gently lead Karoline over to a chair and invited her to sit so she could retrieve Branan from the next room where he was alone. This gave Elisabeth a brief moment to collect herself and create the illusion of calmness she felt would be needed when she returned. Karoline was nearly unrecognizable. Her once womanly frame showed signs of neglect by evidence of her sunken cheeks and dull eyes, and the condition of her chestnut hair was difficult to ascertain because it appeared to have not been taken care of recently.

With baby in arms, Elisabeth came back to find the chair she had left Karoline vacated and the lady herself back at the door preparing to leave. Although she hated to, Elisabeth cried out “Karoline’ knowing that she had been taught to be subservient to authority and would most likely obey. As expected, Karoline dropped her hands to her side and lowered her head. It was for her own good that Elisabeth was not about to let the young woman go out in to the city unprotected, but seeing Karoline so easily manipulated broke her heart. Elisabeth had to once again bring her back to the chair, regretting that she and William had opted not to have full time help while they were in residence because another pair of hands would have been useful at this time. Within a half-hour her husband returned with the pork he had went after and a basket of food items for their supper. Before William was fully inside, Elisabeth called out to him in French.

“Dear, we have a visitor and I need you to smile and not stare.”

Like Elisabeth, William disguised his surprise except for the occasional glace at his wife and acted as translator as he passed messages to Karoline while attempting to encourage dialogue on her part. Her resistance to speak was not based on belligerence but the unconditional lack of confidence that haunted her every step. It took him most of the night but eventually William had enough information to piece together a sketchy outline of what had occurred since her father’s death.

Elisabeth drew Karoline a hot bath in a tub and laid out her own clothes for her use, allotting the young woman privacy to clean herself before going to where William still sat in their parlor. Within minutes they determined that he would go out in the morning and investigate who the legal guardian of Karoline was and perhaps discover what happened to her father’s fortune. William refused to accept that Anders would have left Karoline without any means of support but in the back of his mind he did recall the old man mentioning the animosity he had for his own nephews. This confused him because he could not fathom Anders leaving all to this nephews and none to Karoline. Believing he could set Karoline’s situation right before their scheduled departure for Scotland, William agreed to Elisabeth’s request that he sleep that night on the settee in case the young woman attempted escape again.

He was wrong about many of the tentative assumptions he had left their home with the next morning, and there was one surprise he could have never expected. The only documentation on file for Anders at the city registry was an old will dated many years prior. According to it, William’s deceased father was the actual guardian for Karoline Andersdatter. If there was a more recent edition it was no where to be found and with Anders eldest nephew now residing in the man’s former home, William easily recognized no new edition would ever surface. In the will was a clause that if Luthais D’Arcy did not make his claim for the inheritance of Karoline and half of the shipping empire within one years time, both would revert to the sons of Anders only sibling. William might have been able to take legal action against the nephews as Luthais’s heir had he not missed the anniversary of Ander’s passing by twenty-seven days.

When he returned home to Elisabeth near nightfall and told her of the meeting he had with three of Ander’s nephews, in which all refused the responsibility for Karoline, Elisabeth enquired if indeed they could do that. Yes they could, William told her because Karoline was considered ‘of age’ and therefore an adult although she was only sixteen years old. They briefly discussed setting up Karoline in Oslo at William’s home under the care of a Norwegian companion, but there were too many factors involved in which potential disaster could occur. William thought about what he would want if his own sister would have been forced into this situation and with that their alternative became clear. Karoline Andersdatter was to return with them to Scotland.

Grantown on Spey, Scotland.

Janetta had woven herself to the people that occupied Castle Grant to the extent that the inhabitants considered any gossip that might have come about by her and Keiron’s absence from the great hall in the evenings unacceptable. ‘Mistress Grant’ as she was often referred to, was an early riser unafraid to get her hands soiled if the need arose, even when outfitted in her pretty gowns. It was to her great benefit that Janetta was not a passive observer and this in itself was what first earned her the deference of the people. At times she would take liberties like raiding the stronghold’s pantry for supplies and on rare occasions bringing to Keiron a problem on behalf of another, but Janetta did possess the good sense to realize when she needed to seek clearance before acting. Only once did Keiron solicit that she undo one of her acts of kindness and that was when she donated the cradle Maura had outgrown to a new mother unaware that it was a family heirloom.

In a world uncertain, Janetta’s vivaciousness gave them all a source of pleasure and for those old enough to remember, she was as far removed from the likeness of Keiron’s mother as one could be. The original Maura Grant, wife of Chieftain Calum, was known for making demands and holding the expectation that she would be treated like Scottish royalty, despite her lack of grace, dignity, or highborn blood. She would speak out of turn on a regular basis believing that her opinion was the only derived from common sense, and in her tone was an audacity people found intolerable. Those unhappy enough to work on the third floor during her reign often bit their tongue to keep their opinions to themselves after witnessing the way she chose to raise her sons, and thankfully she never took an interest in her only daughter.

So disliked was the first Maura Grant that no one openly wept when she died, including her husband. The atmosphere at Castle Grant remained listless long after her passing because her presence had taken away the openness that had once existed within its walls.

When Janetta first lived at the stronghold as a young bride she was watched from a distance by the clanfolk who lived there, but her attention had been so keenly focused toward Cameron that they rarely saw her. This time she entered their world full-force and the people grew to admire her because she went to the effort of proving to them her sincerity and good nature. They would never be as informal as the inhabitants of Urquhart Keep, but the negative Keiron’s mother brought to their home was just beginning to be diminished by the positive of Janetta. She was young to be certain, but those years where she had been sequestered to her family home with little as a diversion except instruction and education were now an advantage as it made her appear much older than her true years.

Wednesday afternoons many would gather as Janetta resumed her role of storyteller. The tales themselves were different from what she told at Urquhart because they were primarily from the history she had learned from Keiron, and of course she could not help but add a bit to the narration. There were times when the Chieftain could be found outside the door listening to Janetta, but he kept his expression unreadable for those passing by. Only to himself would Keiron admit that she had become an irreplaceable piece of their existence and he was proud of her willingness to be a part of the people’s lives.

Keiron had changed most notably over the past six weeks and elements of his personality that were coming out showed an appreciation for humor and greater ease with himself. This alteration did not occur because Keiron desired to please Janetta, but rather because the reserve he would always have concerning women nearly disappeared in her presence. There were still times when Keiron would still become self-conscious or hesitant when telling her something of a personal nature, but Janetta found his shyness one of his most alluring traits and it was not a hindrance between them.

It was early evening when a much-anticipated letter arrived for them from Elgin announcing the arrival of William and his family. In it he warmly told them about their easy voyage, the addition of Karoline, and a promise that after a weeks rest for Branan they would all come to Grantown on Spey. Overwhelmed with gratitude that God had seen fit to grant them a safe journey, Janetta covered her face while Keiron read the letter and sent a thank you to the heavens.

He knew by her stillness that Janetta was working on a conceivable way for her to get to Elgin and not wait the seven days for William to come to her. When Keiron questioned her she rolled her eyes and pretended her mind was not that transparent to be so easily read, but soon a grin rose to her lips and she confessed all. Janetta wanted Keiron to join her and said so with great enthusiasm, but he had commitments in which people were already traveling for that could not be broken. Disappointed, Janetta then declared that she would wait, but Keiron could see that her heart was not in that decision. It took convincing but less than an hour after the missive from Elgin was received, Janetta with Maura in tow were headed to the quarters of Nolen Grant to see if an escort could be arranged.

While she was gone, Keiron walked around the room they had shared every evening for well over seven months while two conflicting emotions battled within him. Keiron savored utmost relief with the knowledge that William was back in Scotland and he was anxious for their reunion. The letters exchanged had bonded their mutual regard for each other as well as their understanding. Keiron wanted to welcome his friend home personally, as this is what friends do, and be acquainted with his wife and infant son. But now that her brother was back in his home, Keiron did not want William to take Janetta away from them…from him.

Keiron wrongly speculated that he could not offer Janetta any alternative that would compete with what now existed in Elgin.

When together, they were not dull or somber as people may assume, contemplating only on the seriousness of life. No two evenings were alike, sometimes they would talk, or read, play the peg game merels or sit with Maura on the floor as she attempted to crawl. And many nights’ laughter could be heard in the hallway spilling out from the common room.

Sundays were the best and once Janetta had convinced Keiron that working on the Sabbath was wrong, the afternoons were always set aside for more adventuresome activities. Keiron never knew she could master a bow and was actually a very good shot, and Janetta had not realized what a competent horseman he was until she rode with him. It was like they were a couple, no, a family because of Maura, but without the formal commitment or physical intimacy. The ‘love’ word was not spoken but they both had reasons for keeping this to themselves for the time being.

Keiron was worrying for naught about Janetta taking up residency permanently at Elgin. She would not be seduced away regardless of the enticement. Only Keiron’s wedding another would make her withdraw from his home, and that was not going to happen. Interestingly enough, his resolve that he would never marry had received a revision to it recently as he had reconsidered his original statement. Keiron continued in his steadfastness that he would still never marry…unless it was to Janetta.

Swords and Ravens.

January 1st, 1426
Castle Grant

Ian was now eighteen years old and as his father sat down next to him at the large table on the third floor with two mugs of ale in his hand, Frederic had no remorse about changing his New Year’s tradition of spending it only at Urquhart. Two infants in the family made Grantown on Spey a wiser choice because the distance would have been too great to travel with the children in the winter.

It was only last year when Janetta had predicted that there would be more people at their table then expected, and she had been correct. There were new six additions, seven if one counted Keiron, and one absence that Frederic felt acutely. The night before when the women had left to go admire baby gowns that Elisabeth had made for Maura, the Grant men along with William ended up on the topic of Cameron. Without a formal request to do so, each of them said aloud a fond memory they had of the man before making a toast to Cameron and the fine life he had led. It was important to Frederic that his nephew not be forgotten.

Perhaps because Frederic was a man in love with his wife and had become accustomed to expressing affection, he had noticed that there was a familiarity between Keiron and Janetta that he was convinced went deep. It did not take an astute eye to see how they migrated toward one another when in the same room, or how they always seemed to sit by each other and talk in half sentences that only they understood. Frederic did not question the innocence of their relationship, for he knew Keiron too well to even think that he would take advantage of his niece, but he was concerned that if they pursued a courtship Keiron would have difficult decisions to make.

Frederic was of the opinion that Janetta was too young to be a widow for the rest of her life, although this admission did make Frederic feel slightly disloyal to Cameron for a reason he could not pinpoint. Still, Frederic would not wish her lead a solitary life especially if a man he trusted as much as he did Keiron would care for her. If what he suspected was true then Frederic would support Janetta and Keiron publicly in all ways to ease any backlash that would come from a formal joining of the two. It was not an ideal situation, but neither was Frederic’s and they as a family had weathered greater trials in the past.

Ian, on the other hand, was plainly smitten with the Norwegian guest of William’s. Karoline was her name and she was a pretty lass, nevertheless Frederic found it odd that he had not heard her utter a single word in the three days since she had arrived. Elisabeth and Janetta worked tirelessly with their encouragement for her to join their conversations, and William played the part of elder brother very well, but Karoline did not talk although Frederic was assured that she was physically able to do so. The only sound Karoline produced that was audible to the others was not from her throat, but rather a lap harp that had once belonged to Janetta. William had brought the instrument from Elgin not for the purpose of having Karoline perform but because the young woman was so attached to it.

Karoline would play it in her room with the door closed and often Elisabeth would use the music as a means for her to know that the young woman’s whereabouts when she was out of her sight. Ian used it as an excuse to linger in the hallway. Frederic had watched his son attempt to initiate a dialogue with Karoline on a few occasions and he wished he had fatherly advice to give Ian on approaching the young woman, but she was unlike any other lass Frederic had met before.

Shifting the mugs in his hand, Frederic placed one in front of his son and began listening to Janetta who had been recounting the myth behind William and Elisabeth’s son’ name.

“Ian, you should question your cousin. He’s the one that told me the legend and he knows it better than I do.”

Ian had never heard anyone refer to Keiron as his cousin before, and the idea took a moment for him to assimilate. While he was silent, Janetta asked Keiron if he would clarify the myth for her professing that she had butchered the section about Bran’s sword.

Keiron agreed and moved his chair slightly so that he could face Ian while Janetta went to William and took Branan from him. Able to understand or not, she wanted her nephew to hear this story although the babe was not certain that he was going to let Janetta hold him for long. Once they were all four settled, Keiron began his narrative.

“For this tellin’ we’ll say the Immortal Bran was a giant of a man, but remember that not all giants are bad. His size often baffled people and made them fear him without need. Bran was more of a peacemaker than a warmonger. He would fight if the need arose and in this story Bran does, but know that some men use their wisdom to choose their battles and he was one of these men.

In his right hand he held the sword of no history, a fierce weapon that no one but Bran ever wielded. When he was younger he had asked a smith in Ireland to make him a sword of pure metal that had ne'er been used to injure another. The smith at first refused because to place a weapon in the hand of a giant would anger the people of his village. What sensible man would give a giant a sword? But Bran would not accept ‘no’ for an answer. Instead of using his might to force the smith to do his biddin’, Bran used his tongue and vowed that he would never harm a soul if he could avoid it. It took Bran many months to convince the smith but he finally did and that was how he came by the sword of no history.

During the Battle of the Trees in which Bran was defending the honor of his sister, clatter started that he could not be beaten unless a person could guess his name. Many tried and by luck, a man named Gwyddion was able to do it. Once the name of Bran was spoken the giant became mortal before the warrior’s eyes. The Mortal Bran could be wounded and when a poisoned arrow struck him in the leg, Bran’s life began to fade away as if he was a normal man.

After his death his army severed his head to protect it from their enemy but over time it ended up in the hands of the English. Some believe that it is buried under the Tower of London and that ravens keep watch over him, which could be true. No one can say what happened to his weapon but I have heard claims that it was brought to Scotland and made into one hundred new swords, which over the generations had been melted down and made into more and more swords. I’ve been told that there is now a drop of Bran’s metal in every sword in Scotland.”

“Is that what you wanted?” Keiron asked Janetta once the short section of the myth of was given by him. The story of Bran was quite long and he had only told it to Janetta once before, therefore Keiron understood her not being able to keep it straight on her first retelling.

“It was,” she responded as Branan wiggled out of her lap to crawl back to his father.

“If I was a warrior like Bran,” Ian said aloud. “I would want a sword with no history as he did. That way I’d know every cut it made and every time it didn’t cut.”

Frederic now joined the conversation to hear more of his son’s explanation and while they were talking Janetta looked over at William and continued to do so until she caught his notice. Motioning her head to indicate that she wanted to speak to him alone, William joined her away from the others. Ian’s statement had stirred a response in Janetta, a strong response, but she felt obligated to speak with William about what she desired to do.

“Would you permit me to give Ian the sword that was intended for Cameron?”

“The one from Oslo?” William made clear.

“Yes. I’m convinced we have found someone who would appreciate it.”

“Why give it away?”

“Why keep it in a trunk?” Janetta leaned closer to her brother. “Would you prefer that I hold it for Branan?”

“No. I concur that it would be a fitting offering for Ian. Are you of the mind that Frederic would permit you to give his son the sword?”

“I would ask him first.” Janetta agreed. “If Frederic allows it, I would like the sword to be from you.”

“What would be the purpose in that?”

“Ian would probably prefer that it came from a man, and I didn’t pay for it…”

“You selected it by yourself. Janetta, the sword is yours for only you to give away.”

Leveling her eyes at William, Janetta placed her hands on her hips. “We have not had an argument in a very long time, but I’m in too good a mood tonight to offer much to the sport. You may win simply because I have not the mind to put forth my best effort and I could not live with that.”

Laughing against his will, William made a compromise. “Then I will do something absurd tomorrow to anger you and we will have a good row, but for tonight I say that I will seek Frederic’s permission if you will hand Ian the sword.”

“Very well.” A kiss was placed on William’s cheek followed by one on Branan. Janetta did not acknowledge that the child turned from her as she neared him, but William noticed a flicker of hurt cross his sister’s face.

“He is not like Maura, who I’m convinced has never met a person she didn’t trust.” Tilting her head up, Janetta smiled at her brother’s words. “It takes him time to become accustomed to people but once he does, Branan warms up easily. Much like Keiron.”

That Janetta understood and with her smile still in place, she went to rejoin Keiron and Ian while William took Frederic aside. After several minutes, Frederic called Annie over to him from where she was sitting with Elisabeth and Karoline so that she could be part of their discussion.

The skill of waiting patiently was never one of Janetta’s stronger virtues and as she fidgeted a bit in her chair she began to regret not going to Frederic herself. Soon relief was at hand when all three looked over at her and William nodded his head.

“I have a sword with no history,” Janetta stated softly some time later during a lull in the discussion. “Ian, would you like to see it?”

Still meditating on the mythical man Keiron had told him of, Ian replied that he would and she left to get the sword that William had bought her to give to Cameron. Janetta was a woman who could be moved by emotion to react and although she had been working on tempering her impulsiveness of late, there was something about giving Ian the sword that did not require a second thought. Janetta could not explain it to herself, but the instinct was within her that this was the right action for her to take and that was enough for Janetta to free the blade from its hibernation.

The darkness of her room did not detour Janetta for she knew exactly where her trunk was that she needed. Lifting the heavy lid with both hands, she moved her fingers away just as it stuck the wall then went to her knees and reached inside. Under the delicate garments she had stored there at the very bottom it laid silently, it’s weight being an indicator that she had found what she was searching for.

Holding it in both hands, Janetta returned and laid the red velvet wrapped sword in the center of the table before carefully removing the cover that had protected it. She had not looked at it since it had arrived mistakenly from Elgin many months ago and it seemed to Janetta that each time she saw it she perceived aspects about it that had evade her notice before. The sheath was covered in a modern depiction of the tree of life that encircled the metal from front to back and at the very tip the only color was that of inlaid golden filigree. The hilt itself was not overly ornate as much as it was an understated art form. Thin slices of metal had been twisted to create its grip and that design was carried down the length of the hilt until the steel melded seamlessly into the blade. With one hand on the scabbard and the other grasping the hilt, Janetta gave her own narrative as she unsheathed the blade.

“This sword was forged by Norsemen who lived on the northern edge of Oslo. There were three brothers working there as I recall and they told us that each had had a hand in the construction. Only virgin ore was used for its making which must be important because one of the men went on and on about it being stronger than metal that had been melted down too often. What I found interesting was that the eldest swordsmith had an odd tattoo on his left arm of a curved Celtic cross. If you look on the blade, you’ll see its design etched in the steel.” All of the men at the table rose from their chairs to lean over the sword as Janetta held it sideways for them to see.

“I want to show you something.” Janetta said with her eyes focused only on Ian. Switching the sword to her left hand, she held her right index finger out and placed the blade on it, right under the hilt. When she released her left hand, the sword remained horizontal. “Perfectly balanced.”

With the heaviness getting to be a bit much, Janetta positioned the sword next to the scabbard and stepped back from the table as they began to pass it around to inspect it. Words of praise were said as each man handled it and so involved were they that no one except Janetta observed Karoline and Elisabeth come join them.

The filigree on the scabbard caught Karoline’s eye and inquisitiveness encouraged her to lean over to inspect it closer. There was a representation in the design that she was familiar with and ever so quietly she raised her head to say something in Elisabeth’s ear. Unable to interpret all that the young woman had told her, Elisabeth asked Karoline to pass her message on to William. The room fell silent while Karoline spoke out loud to her newly acquired brother in words only he understood.

Taking the scabbard in his hand, William studied the gold while searching for what Karoline had told him about. “She says that there is a symbol here that is associated with Odin, the Norse god of warriors and kings. You have to look hard to find it.” This discovery brought a fresh round of curiosity to the room.

“A Viking sword of no history,” Ian said under his breath as he held the sword for the first time.

“It also has no owner.” Janetta responded as she wrapped an arm around Elisabeth’s waist. “I believe a man who would wield a sword like this would need to appreciate that it doesn’t want to be used unless necessary much like the giant Bran did.”

“What if that man does not aspire to become a warrior, Janetta?” William asked, prolonging her presentation.

“Then the sword will remain without a history until another generation takes it I suppose.”

Originally destined for a Grant Warlord, the sword Ian clutched would end up precisely where it should be once he accepted the gift from Janetta. Into the custody of a future Grant Warlord.


Cameron had been born on the tenth of January and when that day came Janetta observed it privately without mention to the other family still in residence. The day proceeded like the one before it and lost within the bustle and noise of such a large family gathered together, only one person took notice that she was quieter and more somber than usual. Janetta did not believe herself to be alone in the awareness since last year William and Frederic had been at Urquhart and they had a large meal in celebration to mark the occasion of Cameron’s birth, however no one spoke of it when she was near.

She was thankful for their silence since Janetta did not want to talk about it, preferring to keep her own counsel as she had done since shortly after Cameron’s death. Janetta’s habit of holding inside of her those things that hurt her continued to prosper, but inside of Janetta was a secret that for her own good needed to be released.

After supper Janetta left Maura in the care of Karoline and excused herself from the others claiming her head hurt although it was not true. Instead it was the feeling as if the walls were closing in around her was what drove Janetta to her own chamber, yet even in the familiarity of her space the oppression continued.

The door to her room opened and Elisabeth entered without an invitation. She may not have been privy to the consequence of the date, but she was keen enough to sense that her friend was not right. Janetta tried to convince her to leave by claiming that she was only tired, her mistake was in underestimating Elisabeth’s ability to see through a lie when told to her.

With no other choice but to pacify Elisabeth to some degree, Janetta informed her that it was Cameron’s birth date, hoping that she would let the topic be settled with the knowledge. It did not work and gently Elisabeth continued to turn their conversation back to Cameron until Janetta let slip a sentence that began a discussion Janetta had never intended to have with anyone. “I have no right to be here.”

“Why?” Janetta’s only offer of an explanation to Elisabeth was a shake of her head. “You won’t tell me or you can’t?”

“I won’t tell you, Elisabeth. Please let me be.”

“No.” A period of silence passed after Elisabeth’s refusal to leave. Janetta was unaccustomed to the assertiveness her dear friend was exhibiting and she was uncertain if she should be angry with Elisabeth for ignoring her request or impressed that the woman was standing her ground. The Elisabeth of the past would have never forced a confidence, but then again she was not quite the same woman Janetta remembered.

“Do you really want to learn that I’m solely accountable for placing Cameron in jeopardy?” Janetta asked with a sharpness to her voice that made it sound unlike her own.

“Janetta, you know that’s not true.”

“You do not have the particulars to make that statement.”

“Nothing you could say would make me turn from you. William told me of your support of him and me while I was in France. You didn’t abandon us after you found out how long William and I had been together, even though we deceived you by hiding it. And you didn’t pass judgment on our son being born out of wedlock. Let me return the favor for the loyalty you have shown me. I grew up on the streets of Rouen, Janetta. I promise, you can not shock me with your sins.”

Janetta the woman could not make her confession regardless of how heartfelt Elisabeth’s offer was or how much she needed to tell someone. She started several times but the words became jumbled and frustrated with herself, she gave up. But perhaps the storyteller in Janetta could recite the history of what she knew to be her worst mistake. Taking a deep breath, Janetta allowed her alter ego to come forth and shortly thereafter emotionless words began to flow.

“While living at Urquhart Jorgen sent a message telling me that William had fallen ill and that there was little hope he would live much longer. I read it to Cameron and he went to Willa to ask her advice about my traveling to Elgin to be with my brother. As you know, I was with child at the time and we were uncertain how much longer it would be until I would give birth. Before Cameron went to his aunt, he made me swear that I would accept Willa’s answer about my traveling even if it was no. I agreed. Willa’s answer was ‘no’.”

“Cameron relayed to me what Willa had said. Her utmost concern was that my being on a horse for that great a distance could be detrimental for both Maura and me. I didn’t care about the risk and became furious with Cameron for making me adhere to counsel I did not want to hear. Then I broke my promise and manipulated Cameron with my words. I knew exactly what to say to get to his pride and make him to bend to my will. I can still hear myself goading him...I devastated Cameron without conscience until I reduced him to near nothing. If you could have seen his face, you would have been so ashamed of me. I did not cease until Cameron succumbed and told me I could go.”

“What I did was unforgivable and no amount of restitution can take that away. The next morning as we were preparing to leave, Willa stopped Cameron and asked why he was allowing me to go against her advice. He told her that it was his choice and he took full responsibility for it, which was not what happened as you now know. If I had not gone to Elgin, Jorgen would have had no motive to harm Cameron. My actions,” Janetta pounded her fist against her chest, “caused his death.”

“This ‘lesson’ I will never have to repeat. As a testament, I now make every attempt to be prudent with my words and guard what I say to others, but it is of little consequence because the damage I inflicted on Cameron is irreversible. Today is a birthday Cameron will not have because of what I did.”

The storyteller rested and tears formed in the eyes of the woman. Elisabeth heard every word she said and she did understand where Janetta could find blame within herself, but there were flaws in the tale that could not be ignored. Going completely against her urge to take Janetta into her arms and comfort her, Elisabeth decided that for her friend’s peace of mind she was going to point out the inconsistencies to Janetta via a barrage of questions.

“Would Cameron have went to Elgin, even if you had not?” Elisabeth started, her tone even and calm.

“He spoke of going alone, but…”

“If Cameron had known that Jorgen was poisoning William, would he have acted?”

“Of course.” Of this Janetta was certain. Cameron would not have allowed harm to come to William had he had the knowledge regardless of his being in the position of Warlord or not. He was a naturally protective man and he would have taken action to stop Jorgen.

“Do you believe that Jorgen would have come after you if you had not gone to Elgin?”

“It is possible, but to Urquhart?” Turning her eyes from Elisabeth, a frown was cast by Janetta while she tried to answer Elisabeth’s question. “I don’t know how far Jorgen would have went to acquire William’s fortune.”

Elisabeth rested her questioning for a moment because she would see Janetta still deliberating on what she had said last. William had told Elisabeth everything he had known about the circumstances surrounding what Jorgen had arranged including the intelligence Edward Smith had provided him with. This gave Elisabeth direct knowledge about a second strategy that was to be enacted had Janetta not gone to Elgin. The next question Elisabeth would ask she already knew the answer to, but she posed it to Janetta nonetheless.

“Do you think Cameron would have let you die without trying to save you--whether it was in Elgin or Urquhart?”

Appalled by the gall Elisabeth had just displayed, Janetta stared barefaced at her not entirely certain she knew this woman at all. “No, if he was there. Elisabeth, you’re being ludicrous! I beg you to stop this and leave me alone.”

Elisabeth ignored her plea and continued on. “Do you think Jorgen might have tried to use Cameron to get to you?”

“I don’t know!” Incensed to the point of losing her temper, Janetta shouted her answer. This was too painful and it had to end. “Why are you asking me these horrible questions? You’re supposed to be my friend.”

“Because you don’t have all the answers!” Elisabeth replied looking her straight in the eye. “You couldn’t have known what was going to befall him. You just told me that you convinced Cameron to take you to Elgin where he was going to travel to whether or not you were with him.”

“You’re twisting my words, Elisabeth. I said that if I had not gone, Cameron could have lived!”

“You say that like that’s the truth. How do you know that?”

“I don’t…” Janetta cried and suddenly the point Elisabeth had been driving at became clear to her. Janetta could not say that her forcing Cameron to take her to Elgin was the absolute cause of his death, because she did not know what Jorgen’s complete plan was. Where her error in culpability existed was that Janetta had linked her presence in Elgin directly to her husband’s cause of death without considering the plan of the mastermind behind the events. Janetta could not predict what would have happened had she stayed at Urquhart and her assuming that Cameron would have survived the ordeal unscathed was exactly that…an assumption.

Unable to hold back any longer, Elisabeth pulled her dearest friend close to her and apologized profusely for the harshness of her words. They both cried on the other’s shoulder until Elisabeth was able once again to speak. “Did you tell Cameron that you were repentant for what you did at Urquhart?”

“Yes.” Janetta whispered as she tightened her arms around Elisabeth. “Three times.”

“Did he forgive you?” This was a question Elisabeth did not know the answer to, but she prayed that he had for Janetta’s sake.

“Yes, all three times but that doesn’t make it right.”

“Janetta, forgive yourself.” Those words slipped easily from Elisabeth’s mouth but she was not unaware of the difficulty in applying them. With an honesty they had not shared before, the two women spoke from their hearts as their tears dried and hours passed. With no topic deemed sacred babies, husbands, and loneliness were discussed, and a few secrets Elisabeth had never wished to share were brought out into the open granting Janetta an opportunity to be strong for her friend. Off in the distance they could hear the others down the hall, but thankfully William had seen his wife leave after Janetta and made no attempt to infringe on their privacy. He knew that they had had little of that when Janetta had joined them in Elgin but Karoline needed their attention at that time and the small sacrifice they made then was now being rewarded.

There was another delicate matter Elisabeth wished to broach with Janetta and when it felt right, she approached it cautiously as to not appear to be passing judgment. “Dear, how long have you cared for Chieftain Grant?”

“As a friend?” Janetta knew that this is not what Elisabeth was referring to and her bid at disguise was weak.


“Elisabeth, they told you that Annie’s a widow?” Elisabeth acknowledged that she had been informed of that. “Before…before I knew better I once found it difficult to understand how a woman could have affection for another man after she had lost her husband. Annie is a good woman and she deserves Frederic. I would not wish her to not have love again because she had been married before.”

“If you had died instead of Cameron, would you have wanted him to be alone for the rest of his life?”

Shaking her head, Janetta could not say that she would want that fate for Cameron. “No, as long as he didn’t forget me.”

“What do you see when you look at Maura?”

“Her papa. Maura is a lot like him. She’s adventuresome and brave; always doing something.” Janetta smiled widely and then shared with Elisabeth some of the escapades her daughter had, including climbing up the shutters and being rescued by Keiron. Then she went back to the topic at hand that Elisabeth had originally asked her about. “There is this other man…”

“Keiron?” Janetta would not confirm her friend’s suspicion.

“This other man is not a replacement for Cameron. I don’t know if you’ll understand what I’m about to say but it’s like they dwell in two different places in my heart. I believe I now know how Annie could love again.”

“Your brother has noticed.”

“Is it apparent?” Elisabeth smiled but did not answer. This was a concern of Janetta’s and she sought out clarification. “He may not return my affection so I would hope that I’m not appearing foolish in front of him.”

“You’re not appearing a fool. Janetta, I know Keiron cared for you at one time.”

Assuming that Elisabeth was referring to their first clan gathering where she had met Cameron, Janetta spoke with confidence. “No, you are wrong…”

“You’re the one that is wrong, dear.” Elisabeth gave no other explanation and she waited patiently while Janetta digested what she had implied.

“I don’t regret marrying Cameron.”

“You shouldn’t.”

Taking Elisabeth’s hand, Janetta’s eyes fell to her beautiful wedding ring while a confidential admission came from her. “I’m very attached to Keiron. I love him.”

“He’s enchanted by you. Anyone can see that.”

“I don’t know if he is or not. Tell me the truth, is it improper of me to care for someone this soon?”

“How can you put a time limit on your heart?”

“I’ve been attempting not to feel for Keiron because it has not been a year yet…it won’t go away. It’s like I’m drawn to him despite any arguments in my head telling me to wait.”

“It must be love then.”

“What if he doesn’t love me?”

“What if he does?”

After all had gone to bed, Keiron dressed warmly and traveled up the stairs that led to the rooftop. This was a place of solace that he would occasionally escape to when his mind or heart was heavy. Oftentimes just a few moments of taking in the fresh air and night sky would be enough for him to remember that all things worked out in the end. Keiron had not an inkling of suspicion that he would open the oak door and find Janetta already standing up there wrapped in her own heavy coat looking over her shoulder to see who was coming.

Instead of his characteristic response of assuming he was invading another’s solitude and leaving, Keiron went to where Janetta was and stood beside her. The gentle expression of peace she had worn after returning to the common room with Elisabeth remained on her face, and when she smiled up at him with her eyes Keiron knew he was not intruding.

“Ian practiced with the sword you gave him today.”

“Did he? Did they sharpen it?”

“No,” he grinned. “Ian’s still using the wood practice swords at Urquhart, but Frederic’s been working with him and it shows. He’ll never forget your gift.”

Janetta chose not to remark on his last sentence, but the way Keiron said it assured her that he fully approved of what she had done. “It’s cold tonight,” Janetta stated as she changed the subject.

“Give me your hands and I’ll warm them up.” Taking off his gloves, he put them under his arm before encasing her hands with his warm ones.

“Keiron, if I asked you to do something out of the ordinary, would you consider it?” He nodded and waited for her to ask of him what she desired.

“Would you sketch an illustration for me?”

Keiron was puzzled by Janetta’s request. Recalling that she had seen the picture of the old church he had drawn when he was younger, he found it difficult to believe that she had remembered it after all of these months. “I’m not very good,” he admitted candidly.

“Yes you are. I saw your drawing.”

“That was a long time ago.” A refusal lie on the tip of his tongue but it also died there once he gave it more consideration. “I will try. What do you want a drawing of?”

“This place. Castle Grant.”

Keiron had been putting his gloves on her hands when Janetta answered and he had to look up from his task to see if she was serious. She was. He stopped what he was doing to explain that what she wanted was out of his range of ability, but when Janetta smiled at him and nodded her head in amusement, Keiron decided that her challenge deserved one in return. “I have a request of you.”


“Will you play the harp for us tomorrow night?”

“I have not played for several years. I never did like the instrument, if I may make the confession.” If Janetta thought her statement would dissuade him, she was disappointed.

“So you will?” Attempting to look serious but failing completely, Keiron let his humor show. Since their company had arrived, the two of them had not had the opportunity to talk alone and this brief reprise was welcome by both.

“I disliked it so much that I have since developed a fear of hourglasses.”

“What does that have to do with the harp?”

“My father used an hourglass to time my practices and I will have you know that no matter how hard you shake them or pound them against the floor, the sand will not flow any faster!”

Able to clearly picture her abusing an hourglass in his mind, Keiron laughed at Janetta’s depiction. “How many years did you practice?”


“Eight! You must be proficient.”

“No, I lack heart.” Janetta replied blandly while a grin danced on her lips. “That is what my last instructor told me. The man was brought over from France just to enlighten my family about my ‘absence of talent.’ That is a direct quote, Keiron. I’m not exaggerating. I could have saved my father the fee and told him that myself. ”

“I cannot believe that. You will play for us tomorrow night?”

“You will draw for me?” Janetta countered.

“I’ve agreed to try.”

“I will play for you.” Contented, Keiron turned his head from her and looked out at the shadowed landscape, but Janetta’s gaze never left him. Elisabeth’s words that he at one time had also cared for her churned in her mind. After some thought, Janetta promised to herself that she would do her human best never to let the love she had for Keiron bring him harm.

The next night Janetta did play the harp Karoline had brought with her from Elgin and it was not as tedious as she remembered, nor was it preformed without heart. Her request of Keiron to sketch their home was more then he felt capable of therefore she changed her the subject to the brick bakery. This structure was simple in design and after their guests had left them, Keiron spent two nights working on it while Janetta sat on the opposite side of the room to give him privacy. Very pleased with what he had done, the following week Janetta asked if he would make an illustration of the stables to send to Malcolm with her monthly letter. Again Keiron complied (after much hesitation since she was going to give it to his brother) and within a weeks Janetta was sitting across the table on the evenings that he drew. Before long she was looking over Keiron’s shoulder and he was determining the subjects.

The winter passed easily and soon it was the first week in March. Frederic and Annie were in route to Grantown on Spey as final preparations were made for an annual gathering of Clan allies for which the Grants were to be host this year. Somewhere between January and this time Keiron settled that in April when the year of respect had passed, he would petition Janetta to marry him. Frederic would be informed of his decision beforehand both out of regard for his uncle and because of Frederic’s role as Tainist. Open declarations of love had still not been expressed between them, but the devotion they had for each other was plainly obvious even to the inhabitants of Castle Grant. A new rumor began to spread, but this one the people did not squelch as it was based on the joyful expectancy of a future engagement.

Chapter 15
The Fairytale

This chapter is dedicated to Sarah.

March 3rd
Grantown on Spey

The sun rose like a phoenix over the horizon stretching its blood red arms out from a fiery white core illuminating two riders moving across an open field. While most good people were still safely tucked in their beds, Janetta lowered her head level with her horses and spurred him on to take flight. The world was hers for the taking and as her riding partner veered off to the right, she rode in a straight line. For a quarter of a mile she traveled at full pace before showing to a halt in the middle of pastureland, leaving her heart pounding and face burnt from the rush of wind against the delicate skin.

Leaning over her saddle, Janetta wrapped her arms around the neck of the horse she affectionately called Runt, never as thankful as she was today that Keiron had changed his mind about selling him last autumn. To the eye of an equestrian the beast lacked height and bulk, but to a woman who was barely five feet tall he was a perfect fit in not only stature, but also temperament.

Whereas she lacked the luxury of riding him as often as she would have liked, Janetta took excellent care of the horse and made attempts to visit him daily if for nothing else but to provide affection and treats. Closing her eyes and rubbing her cheek against his mane, this was her first love affair with an animal and she could not entertain a single flaw in him.

Keiron rode up circling widely around her a few times. It was his idea that they go riding at first light this morning for it would be the last occasion for a week that they would have the freedom to only consider themselves. Later today Frederic was expected and tomorrow their guests were to descend on them for the annual gathering of clan allies.

Janetta was whispering to the horse words too quiet for him to make out while her hands caressed the underside of his ears. Her graceful movements bewitched Keiron’s attention as the application in which she gave love to her horse stirred a response in him could not yet reveal. Lying on her horse, Janetta was as intoxicating as their strongest brew and the longer he stared at the image she was creating, the deeper his own mind sank into thoughts of what it is like to be the recipient of her adoration.

After living with Janetta for nearly a year, Keiron knew that her actions were not consciously exhibited to draw notice to herself. The spirit shown was who she was and he had witnessed how Janetta gave varying degrees to everything she touched and everyone she loved. Keiron did not imagine that he could match the passion Janetta so easily displayed, but he was a man known for not giving himself merit when deserved.

There was fire in him and it had exposed itself through his conduct all his life. The devotion he had for his people was a form of it, as was the longing for this woman he had been able to keep in check by use of patience and reverence. Keiron thought himself a man who used sound reasoning in his decisions, but under that disguise of order was a passionate willing to sacrifice for others out of unfaltering love.

Keiron was a romantic even if he did not recognize it. The horse Janetta rode was never made an issue of, but he had only needed to see her with it once to know he could not sell it. He wrote notes to be delivered to her when he would be late for supper. The majority of his prayers were for other people. Most nights he dreamed in vivid color not knowing that this was rare.

“I hear you,” Janetta smiled while opening her eyes. Bliss could not properly characterize her feelings. She loved it when they would go out riding without any escorts. Before dawn this morning when Keiron was at her door he could have saved his words to tempt her to come break the rules with him. The look of expectancy on his face was enough for Janetta to dress and deliver Maura to the women working in the bakery for safekeeping while they were gone.

“Frederic is wrong about Urquhart.” She told him as her eyes scanned the surrounding countryside.

“How so?”

“He says Urquhart is superior, but that’s not true. He may have Loch Ness, but Grantown on Spey has everything else.”

Very few that had ever been to Urquhart and seen the splendor of its view would make such a statement. Keiron was compelled to question her about what it was she found remarkable and her answers satisfied his wish that Janetta saw what made him prefer this place to Urquhart.

“Do you see the boulder?” Janetta pointed to the south as she rose into a proper sitting position after one last rake of her fingers through the horse’s mane. “I will race you to it.”

Shaking his head a smile of his own grew. “No. I’ll ride with you to it, but I don’t want to race.”


“It’s not wise without full sunlight.” Keiron saw her tilt her head at him. “I don’t want you to get hurt because we’re goin’ too fast and couldn’t see.”

“I could fall off my horse sitting right where I’m at.”

“That’s not the same.”

“Ride fast, Keiron. I won’t be reckless.” This was the truth. Regardless of how much Janetta enjoyed the sport, she would not endanger her own wellbeing for Maura’s sake.


“Ride fast.” She repeated, taking her turn at tempting him.

“You promise to not push yourself?”

“I’ll keep my head and be the champion through skill.”

“You think you can beat me?” Keiron would not purposely let her win despite the sweet confidence in which she delivered her prediction. He learned long ago that Janetta disliked preference given to her when she was competing. If she was to be the victor, she wanted it to be on her own.

“My horse may have short legs, but we together are light. We will spring from the ground. Our size will be our advantage”

“Aye, but my horse is strong and will dig into the earth for leverage. We will win by force.”

Janetta eyed the boulder. “Do you accept my challenge?”

“You’ll be careful?” Janetta nodded her head in agreement while her hands snaked around the reins. “I’ll count and once I say three…”

“I beg your pardon but the wind was in my ear.” She patted the side of her head for emphasis. “Would you kindly repeat yourself?”

Keiron knew by the innocence Janetta trying to portray that something was amiss but he did as she requested just the same. “I said that once I say ‘three.’...”

Janetta took off like a fireball along the plain after the word ‘three’ came out of his mouth and once Keiron had his bearing about him, she was far ahead. Already defeated, he grinned to himself at her cleverness and rode as fast as he could to the boulder. She waited for him bright eyed and attempting to hold in her mirth.

“You cheated!” Keiron laughed.

“I’m affronted by your accusation. I used skill, just as I said I would. You did say ‘three’, after all.”

“I must be wrong. I was taught that trickery was cheating.” Keiron’s words made Janetta laugh out loud. “You don’t use your skill when we’re playin’ merels, do you?”

“No!” Swinging her leg over, Janetta slid off her saddle and walked to the front of her horse to scratch his chest. A southern wind was just starting to pick up causing her full riding gown to billow and bringing with it the smell of the sea from several miles off. It was going to be a beautiful day and one they really did need to start soon. Both had a few tasks left before they could say that they were ready for the morrow. “We should get back, shouldn’t we?”

“Aye. Before Nolen sends people out lookin’ for us.”

“Would you like to walk back?”

“I would.” Keiron dismounted his horse and stretched his arms above his head to loosen his muscles.

“I’m glad you woke me up for this.”

Keiron diverted his eyes to the reins in his hands. He was too.

Frederic, his wife and son entered the back courtyard after a hard ride from Urquhart. They had hoped to surprise Keiron and Janetta by arriving days earlier to help them prepare but Spring storms had prevented their traveling. Had the sky not been clear today it was already settled that Frederic would have then come alone, but fortunately the weather was agreeable this day and they all could attend. Frederic didn’t take chances when it came to his family and his goal for at least eighteen years with them to make up for the time lost was always in the forefront of his mind when he made decisions.

As Heir Presumptive Frederic was expected to be in attendance for the annual gathering of Highland clans that formed their alliance. All of the larger clans took their turn hosting the event and as tradition dictated, which was always five days long and filled from morning to night. Included in the invitations were the Chieftains, their heirs, and immediate family which many did bring. Long was a word Frederic would use to describe the event, long and crowded.

As was habit, Frederic led Annie and Ian through the back door that went directly to the great hall, holding the door open for his wife. Annie stopped a few feet inside and once Frederic’s eyes adjusted to the change in light he immediately perceived that this place was not as he had left it.

Tipping his head backwards, Frederic’s gaze went to the high ceiling where alternating banners of red and blue were stretched across the entire length on brackets that had always been there but long since unused. The Grant colors were vibrant and obviously the material had been recently dyed to bring them back to life because Frederic did not recall them ever being so brilliant.

Taken aback, he said nothing as his eyes took in all that was around him. The floor candelabras had been repositioned to accommodate the additional tables brought into the room and a brilliant red carpet runner marked a center isle that led to the head table. Calum Grant had been the last Grant Chieftain to host the event seven years ago and with perfect clarity Frederic could still see his brother and eldest nephew Gregor presiding over the head table as he walked up alone after giving Annie’s hand a squeeze.

Draped over the center of the head table was their family plaid designating the place Keiron would sit when he presided there. To his right was a small bunch of rowan branches in bloom, the Grant’s official flower, tied together with a red ribbon. This marked Frederic’s spot as Tainist. Four other seats were present for Annie, Ian, Janetta, and Nolen. Not noticing that Janetta and Maura had entered the room and were with his wife welcoming her back, Frederic bypassed the table to inspect the tapestry hung behind it on the wall hoping it was the adornment had been lost eons ago.

He was not an overly sentimental man but this tapestry of their coat of arms, the very one Frederic now realized Janetta had found, meant the world to him. Staring at his grandmother’s talent hanging in its original position, elation swelled in his chest

Hearing Janetta’s voice say ‘cousin kiss’, Frederic turned around to see her and Ian touch cheeks. This was something they had started in January after Janetta embarrassed Ian by insisting that he get a kiss from her like everyone else. Both like the joke between them and as his son’s laughter echoed toward him, Frederic motioned for Janetta to join him just as Annie was taking the baby from her.

Putting his arm warmly around her shoulder, Frederic pulled her near him. “They took this down one Easter when I was a lad and never put it back.”

“It’s striking. It must have taken her years to make.”

“It did. Where did you find it?”

“In a trunk at the back of one of Keiron’s closets. We had to do some repair to it, but I don’t think it’s too noticeable.” Janetta stepped closer to her uncle to whisper to him. “It’s not too much is it? The room? Tell me the truth, Frederic, you won’t hurt my pride.”

“No. Leave it like it is, even after they’re gone.” Frederic bent down to get his kiss and give one of his own. “You did good.”

“It wasn’t me, it was all of us; men and women alike. Last night Keiron had a big supper to thank everyone for their hard work. I went to his study to tell him you were here, but his door is closed. I think he’s in there with Nolen.”

Frederic was not the only man protective over his family. After Keiron finished giving Nolen final instructions about the security during the gathering, he made a plea to the Warlord he could now call friend to have his men pay particular attention to Janetta and Maura’s safety if they were not with either him or Frederic. Keiron did not anticipate trouble but he also knew that if a tight rein was not kept on rowdiness, things could get out of hand quickly. Nolen was not blind to Keiron’s attachment for there was a time when he himself felt the beginnings of it, but that had since passed after observing the two of them together. Janetta obviously only had eyes for his Chieftain and Nolen honored her choice, but his experience of infatuation did open his mind to the possibility that other men might find her equally pleasing.

Once their meeting was over and Keiron was informed of Frederic’s arrival he went to the family quarters straight away. A squeal from Maura alerted him that they were in the common room. Ian and Janetta were on a settee appearing to be in light conversation while Maura entertained herself by slapping her hand against a chair seat, her toys nearby abandoned. Once Janetta saw Keiron enter, she moved over to make room for him and informed him of the other’s whereabouts.

“Annie and Frederic are changing. They should be out soon”

“They’ve been in there a long time.” Ian commented with a frown before being greeted by his cousin.

“They have,” Janetta concurred before thinking about the length of their absence a little more. A blush joined a knowing smile and she looked away from Ian after recalling that Frederic and Annie were still considered newlyweds since it had not yet been a year.

“When’s your brother’s family comin’?” Ian had reasons other than curiosity about William for asking this question of Janetta.

“They’re not.” Clearly Janetta’s response disappointed Ian for he had been looking forward to seeing Karoline again. Ian was a handsome young man and the lasses at Urquhart had taken heed of him, a few brave ones to the point of pursuing him rather aggressively. It mattered not because it was Karoline that Ian liked. She had spoken four words to him as they were all leaving after the New Year and he remembered all four of them. Granted it was not a monumental achievement but for a young man in ‘like’ it was something to remember.

In an effort to compensate for the calamity that Karoline would not be joining Ian this week, Janetta began a narrative of all she knew that had occurred in Elgin since Ian had last seen her.

“…William wants me to come string the floor harp. It’s an all day chore I’d rather avoid, but he claims that Karoline is ready to move up from the lap harp due to her diligence in practicing. I have no doubt she can play better than me by now, but that would not be difficult.”

“You play well.” Keiron interrupted which earned him a smile, but it did not disrupt the flow of her discourse.

“I remember my first meeting with Karoline. It was at her father’s home in Oslo. I was sitting on a two person settee next to this other woman and in walked Karoline. I had never seen anyone as fair in my life and felt quite plain sitting across from her. Her father insisted that she sing for us. Ian, if Angels have voices they would sound like her. William told me that the song was about some sort of Norse hero.”

“Karoline can sing?” Janetta nodded to Ian. “Can you sing?”

“Oh no. My singing is not good and reserved only for Maura. Karoline has mastered arts I’ll never have.” Janetta continued on in this vein until Keiron abruptly stood and addressed her directly.

Keiron could not stand the idea of anyone, herself included, comparing Janetta to another woman. To him, it was others that paled to her. Janetta had the intelligence, sharp wit, and a heart shaped face peppered with faint freckles that exposed all of her emotions. She loved her daughter, her family and him with fervor Keiron would have not known had she not entered his life. Without even knowing it, Janetta had brought him to a place where he was comfortable showing affection and feeling like he deserved it back.

“Janetta, would you come with me? We won’t be gone long.” In this moment he experienced what it was like to be her—moved to act by emotion. With his hand on her back, Keiron led Janetta down the hallway far enough away that Ian could not overhear what he needed to tell her. Tucking her hair behind her ear, Keiron did not waver before leaning down and speaking into it.

“You are plain against no one.” He said in a single breath. Keiron had just whispered to her that he loved her without saying the words, and Janetta interpreted it exactly as he had intended it, as a decree of the strongest affection.

What does a woman say when a man bares his love most unexpectedly? Janetta did not know whether to smile or cry, therefore a melodious ‘thank you’ had to suffice. Keiron stood from her mere inches away and if she tilted her head upwards just a little her lips would touch his. This is what Janetta wanted; she wanted Keiron to kiss her to seal his declaration because she still believed what Bly had told her. A kiss was significant and only to be done between a man and woman when they loved each other and their hearts were committed.

He would have complied with her unspoken wish had the awareness that they would have no privacy here not awoken in him.

In Dreams…

He saw himself in a small castle looking out the window at lush and deep green grass. There are several hills on the landscape and horses running free everywhere. Janetta was with him and they were contented together. That was the feeling he had. Then the dream began to change tone. A group of horsemen arrived at the gate of the residence. The intruders stormed it successfully, making their way into the stronghold. Swords were drawn and fighting commenced. He joined the others trying to stave off the attack, leaving Janetta behind a locked door. From a third person view he can see himself fighting, cutting the foes across the throat with their corpses dropping at his feet. Some time later a horn was blown and the aggressors begin to retreat. He returned to the room where he thought Janetta was safe to find the door broken down and her gone. Running over to the window to look out toward the direction of the retreating horsemen, he caught a glimpse of her blue gown fluttering in the wind behind one of the horses.

Waking with a start, Keiron sat up in bed and reacquainted himself with his surroundings in the darkness of his room. He hated that dream and this was the third time he had had it since the day in Davidson territory when they had found her. Rubbing his hands over his face, he reasoned within his mind that not only was what he dreamt inaccurate, it was most likely brought about this time by seeing Ian in his foreign plaid and Janetta wearing blue that day. Knowing it would be difficult for him to return to sleep, Keiron rose from bed, got dressed, and left his chamber to check on her.

After knocking quietly and speaking her name, he opened her door allowing the light from the hallway to spill into the chamber. Keiron did not enter the room as he was not invited, but made his inspection from the doorway. First visible was Maura in her small bed with the high sides sleeping on her back with her thumb in her mouth. She had begun the habit after being weaned much to her mother’s concern. In defiance of the horrible substances Janetta put on them to make her not want to, Maura continued her newfound comfort.

Keiron cracked the door only slightly more to be able to make out the form of Janetta under her blanket and this was all he needed to be satisfied that she was asleep and secure. Voyeurism was not the purpose in Keiron’s mission and as quietly as he had opened the door he closed it without lingering.

Frederic was waiting for him outside of his own room with his stance wide and arms crossed. The man had the hearing of a bat and very few creaks in the night escaped him. “It’s the middle of the night. Why were you in Janetta’s chamber?”

Keiron stopped and sharply turned his head toward his uncle. “I was looking in on her.”

“I won’t allow her to stay here if you are…” Frederic could hardly say the words. “Don’t violate her.”

“Are you accusing me?” Keiron’s anger was apparent.

“You were outside her room at an hour no one should be awake.”

“I told you what I was doing, not that I owe you an explanation. You need not worry over my imposing myself on her.”

“That’s what I’m troubled over. It doesn’t appear it would be an imposition.” Frederic’s words were not the best chosen. He did not mean to imply that Janetta’s morals were suspect, but rather that she might be moved to indiscretion out of the partiality she had for his nephew. Frederic did not need to ask to see that Keiron was infuriated with him thus he clarified himself, ending with “son, I know what I speak of.”

“The lectures of my father still ring in my head.” The reference was to the regular lectures Calum Grant used to give his sons about respecting a woman’s virtue and not leading an adulterous life due to his own misstep that had bound him to their mother. Keiron’s eldest brother Gregor was born three months after his father married his mother under suspect conditions.

“Yes, but love and lust can be alike.”

“I’m going to ask her to marry me, Frederic. Do you object?” The harsh delivery of Keiron’s words confirmed to Frederic that he continued to be provoked at him regardless of his explanation.

“Not to the choice of wife.”

A tense silence filled the void between the two men as the consequences of the other’s opinions were weighed. Frederic had just received the confirmation he wished to gain. Although he could not change the actuality that Janetta was Keiron’s sister-in-law, the impediment they would have to deal with. In the here and now Frederic could publicly begin easing the way for Keiron to wed Janetta.

“Will you denounce me?” Keiron spoke evenly. Although he did not have the same blind allegiance that Cameron had for Frederic, he did love and respect the man. Keiron had proven himself unafraid to challenge his uncle in the past. He preferred not to out of honor of Frederic’s position in the family, but if he were going to attempt to take his post from him, Keiron would contest his uncle.

“No.” Frederic had never considered seeking to impeach his nephew over his desire to marry Janetta. Perhaps he should have taken offence by Keiron’s posing the question but he could not because it was an occurrence prevalent in history. “I doubt any elders will either. You’ve earned their loyalty. You’ll seek a judge?”

“There’s no other option. I want it to be different for her, but that’s not possible. It makes no matter to me…” Keiron rested his back against the wall while his countenance told his uncle of his regret that he could not offer Janetta what he was convinced she deserved.

“Has she agreed?”

“I haven’t spoken to Janetta about it. I’m observing the year of respect.”

There was more conversation between them with Frederic offering Keiron one more piece of advice. “You know as well as I do what occurs at these gatherings. Keep her from the scavengers.”

Fresh garland had been draped over the main doors to greet their guests and a final inspection by Janetta showed no defects in their preparations. Castle Grant had not appeared as welcoming as it did this day for many, many years and Keiron had not disregarded the importance of letting her know this. They were sitting by each other sharing breakfast when Ian entered the room. Janetta spied him first and under the table she grabbed hold of Keiron’s hand to gain his attention.

“Good morning, Ian.” She said as if nothing about him was different, but there was. Around his waist Ian wore their Grant family plaid, pleated and wrapped in proper breacan feile fashion as his father and cousin did with the excess material being brought over his shoulder. On his left hip was his sword of no history, and on his right was a strip of Davidson tartan tucked over the leather of his belt and hanging down level with the hem of his Grant. Unable to control the tremble in her voice, Janetta nudged Keiron with her shoulder so he would talk and give her a moment to collect herself.

“You wear the plaid well, Ian.” Keiron started, following Janetta’s lead and not wishing to embarrass Ian by saying too much, but be aware that he was damn satisfied to see him in it. “There’s food over on the table. Get some and come join us. It’s the last peace we’ll have for a while.”

When the young man turned is back to get a plate, Janetta used her free hand to wipe a bit of a tear that was threatening to fall on her face revealing her sentimentality. Keiron said something to her that brought the brightest of smiles from Janetta and in place of his relinquishing her hand he laced his fingers with hers as Ian sat down with them. He had told her that Ian looked exactly as Keiron remembered Frederic when he was his son’s age.

Ian had been given the family plaid last autumn at Urquhart and told that he was not expected to wear it unless he wanted to. Neither Frederic nor Annie knew that Ian had brought it with him from their home until he showed up this morning at their chamber door with it in his hands. Ian then made a request of Frederic. He wanted to be taught how to wrap his plaid as his father did.

Frederic stood outside in the hallway watching Ian take a seat by Janetta and Keiron, going unnoticed by those having their breakfast. He was a strong man, but Frederic’s hands shook slightly as he helped his son dress in his family’s tartan for the first time. A prouder father there could not be in the entire world.

Day Five
My enemies are better behaved.

Even for a sociable creature like herself, Janetta was ready for their guests to leave. This, the fifth day, was the breaking point and between the lack of sleep and constant company of others her nerves were becoming frayed. It was not to Janetta’s advantage that she was standing in the doorway of her chamber which she had been sharing with two of Chieftain Gordon’s daughters looking in at the disarray the girls had left the room in.

Their home was filled to capacity as a long list of unexpected people came along with the invited ones. Ian had to be moved into his parent’s room to accommodate and Keiron took in fellow bachelor Chieftain Gunn to make more room. Most of the people were pleasant additions but there were a few like the Heiress Muir that wore against a person’s sensibilities after being near her for long.

Agnes Muir was the sole recipient of her father’s fortune and unattached to any man. Rumor was abundant and word was that she had her hopes set on the King’s second son as a possible match, but this future union was not yet set in stone. In an act of self preservation Agnes was on the prowl looking for a fair alternative should the match not occur. Believing that she was a prize worthy of obtaining, Agnes took great delight in being amongst the Highland elite where not only the strongest clans but also the wealthiest were represented.

Agnes was not the only one searching for a wealthy spouse. Men were equally as censurable for using this opportunity to inspect the potential offerings of their peers and there was one woman present who made the Heiress Muir’s wealth seem like pin money.

Unbeknownst to Janetta her brother had changed his will in Edinburg after he married leaving her a rich woman by her own right once she reached the age of twenty-five. Along with a favorable sum of William’s own money, the profits from the sale of their father’s ships had been split evenly between William and Janetta. Her half was securely waiting for in an institution under the King’s protection. William had informed no one of what he had done except for Elisabeth, but loose lips in Edinburg started talking after the transaction was complete and eventually it spread it the Highlands.

Neither Janetta or Keiron had heard the report but Keiron’s reputation for having a distaste for rumor made it unlikely that anyone would approach him for confirmation. Frederic had caught wind of it through an old acquaintance and it was the reason for his warning to Keiron to protect her from the ‘scavengers.’ This was one of the rare times Frederic wished his niece was not so comfortable in the company of men. He watched them approach her and Janetta’s ease in making conversation with a person regardless of their sex could be interpreted by some as an interest. Until a time when Keiron and Janetta were officially betrothed, Frederic would do his best to remain on guard to shield her from the parade of hopeful suitors.

Standing with her hands on her hips staring into the wreckage that had become her room, wealth was the last thought on Janetta’s mind. She was contemplating whether to go in and pick up after the slothful lasses or wait until after they left the next day when a familiar voice addressed her.

“What’s this?” Ellie Fraser asked her. The two had met when Janetta had lived in Urquhart and the friendship had been agreeably renewed these past five days. The Fraser Clan was neither large nor overly wealthy but they had a strong influence over other smaller clans. This made their contribution invaluable because those smaller clans could raise just as much hell as their larger counterparts.

“Chieftain Gordon’s daughters.”

“Are you goin’ in?” Ellie cast her a good-natured glance. “You might get lost.”

“I don’t know.” The hour was getting late and Janetta was not yet ready for supper.

“Why not come and dress in my room? All of the Fraser men are done.”

Accepting Ellie’s offer Janetta went into her chamber, stepping over clutter covering the floor she had scrubbed herself and picked up a long burlap bag that held the gown she was to wear this evening. She had been saving it for a special occasion and once they were in Ellie’s room, Janetta unveiled the gift that William had purchased when in Paris.

Janetta’s favorite color to wear was yellow and she was not picky about the shade of it. If one were to take golden coins and melt them, it would be the deep color of gold this gown was. The embroidery that covered the Egyptian satin from was dark blue and in the pattern of vines with small leaves coming off from them. As she dressed, Janetta explained that her sister Elisabeth had done the altering and had completely changed the neckline. What Janetta did not reveal is that when she saw herself in the looking glass after Elisabeth was finished, she noticed that the fresh cut gave the illusion of an ample bustline where there was not much before. Janetta did feel like a woman wearing it, which was nice for her since she believed that she her petite frame was lacking shape.

Ellie was in awe as she laced the back of the gown for Janetta, declaring that they had to do something different with her hair to match the grandeur of her covering. Spying a garland wreath Janetta and other Grant women had made and placed in each of the chambers, she took it off the wall and plucked free several of the delicate vines it was constructed from. An intricate braid that would hang down Janetta’s back with the greenery finely woven through it was what she wanted to do.

While Ellie worked, she chatted and made mention of her brother-in-law Arron a great deal. Ellie was innocent of the knowledge about Janetta’s independent wealth, but Arron was not and he had been seeking out Janetta’s favor this week. Janetta had not paid particular attention to this since she was a friend of the Fraser family, but the man’s attempt were in vain regardless since her heart was already tied to another. Arron had asked Ellie to talk to Janetta about him because he saw competition swarming her at times and he was seeking an advantage for Janetta to become acquainted with him.

Once the women were finished, Janetta kindly thanked her friend and began to head back to her room to get the modest jewelry she had forgotten to bring with her. Promises of meeting up in the great room were made and with one last look, Ellie released the woman she had hopes she could someday call sister.

Exiting her own chamber wearing a fine sapphire necklace that fell low on her chest, Janetta adjusted an earring as she walked not paying attention to the others around her. Frederic and Keiron stood with Annie while waiting for Ian to join them so they could all go down the stairs together. Feeling his wife’s hand on his elbow, Frederic followed the nod she gave him in the direction of Janetta. A blend of pride and love composed the smile that came to him as Frederic gazed upon his niece; he had never seen her appear lovelier or womanlier.

He had said to her once that she was their gift and he was sincere in his speech, but now Frederic felt it. He doted on Janetta like a daughter. For the first time since his suspicions about the attraction between Keiron and Janetta surfaced, something inside of him fell into place and Frederic was able to let go of seeing her only with Cameron. Her short marriage to his nephew undoubtedly had an influence on her. This was evident during the stay at Urquhart he and William had with them, however the peacefulness she had acquired in the past twelve months transformed her into the grown woman she had become.

Frederic could see bits of Keiron’s character now a part of her own, and Janetta’s in him. They balanced each other very well and Frederic could be happy for Keiron for having such a woman care for him.

Observing that no one was listening to him, Keiron casually turned his head to discover what had captured their notice. Then he lost his ability to say anything as the shy man from the past who had to work up his nerve to speak to her resurfaced from dormancy. There were no shadows for Keiron to cloak himself in to give him courage as there were nearly two years ago when he and Janetta were outside at night close to the bonfires. He thought loved her back then but compared to what had evolved during this past year it had only been superficial. What he held for her now was living and breathing.

The temperature in the hall seemed to drop several degrees as his assurance did. Keiron prayed that she could not read the questions running through his mind about why a woman as peerless as Janetta would consider him a worthy partner. He was in love and that is a frightening place for anyone to be because of the vulnerability one must experience to dwell there. Some have said that the hopes of a lover hang from a thread connected to God’s hand and one cannot predict when the tether will break leaving them empty and alone with only memories of what could have been.

The sound of Ian coming from his room encouraged Janetta to raise her head up at them with her own blend of love and pride. In this family’s womb she resided and her reminding them that she loved them did not seem an adequate form of reciprocation for what they had given without question. Annie was Janetta’s hero for saving her and Maura from a fate they were not ready for, Frederic her beloved guardian, and Ian the young cousin that was changing quicker than she could keep up with.

But the man next to them, the one who would not make eye contact, she worshiped him. Keiron was her godsend. This week Janetta had seen him as she had never before. His strength rose to new heights and those principals he deemed important were not compromised by the others while they were in his home because he set the example to be followed. Janetta had meant it when she told Keiron that she wished she could be more like him.

Sensing his nephew’s need for a moment with her, Frederic led his family to the stairway while Janetta walked closer to her dear sweetheart stopping in front of him with her own eyes downcast. “Are you ready?” she questioned graciously.

Keiron was and nodding his reply he moved a step closer to her. There were many things he desired to tell her at this moment but the bloody words still would not come out. ‘You look beautiful…I love you…could you be happy here…will you marry me’ were what he would say if it was possible. Exhaling, Keiron brushed aside the frustration with himself and took another step forward before doing what he had wanted to for a long time. He put his arms around Janetta and held her against him. She did not falter in wrapping her own arms around him as her cheek found its home on Keiron’s chest.

Heaven actualized was what it was for them for they had never been this close to one another before and neither had the inclination to let go. While they both fed on the new sensations their embrace produced, the insecurities of the young lovers continued to linger in the shadows of their minds. What was the proof that they sought to be convinced that the other loved them? There had been so much evidence and yet, there was one element other than vocalizing the words ‘I love you’ that was missing to them that would finally convince them it was safe to love. Keiron’s was that Janetta would say yes when he proposed, and her’s was that they would kiss.

Janetta could perceive the hypnotic rhythm of his heartbeat with her ear against his shirt, relaxing her and playing a trick on her that time was standing still. She would give about anything if they could forfeit the evening ahead and stay on the third floor alone, hiding from the others. Despite her better judgment Janetta allowed herself to abide in the daydream as he crossed his arms against her back bringing her even closer. Utter stillness enveloped them and as if Fate herself was standing guard, no other person came into the hallway to intrude on their harmony.

“Keiron.” Her voice was so soft.


“Will you dance with me if they play slow music?”

“I’ll make certain they do.” The regret he had from two years ago when he did not ask her to dance would be buried for good this night.

Feeling her smile, Keiron placed a kiss against her hair and gently let her go. The awkwardness had dissipated and with her hand in his they left the refuge to join their guests.

Dinner was over, tables cleared, and the musicians were playing. The week had been a success regardless of the arguments, innuendoes, and occasional derogatory slander thrown about. The represented spectrum at Castle Grant was at times volatile, especially when the conversation turned to what they could do about the much hated King of Scotland, but the bloodlust of some were tempered by the good sense of others and no immediate action was settled upon. There would be a time when the Grant’s long enduring stance on patriotism would protect them from the wrath of the King when he would make the decision to force highland loyalty rather than earn it, but for now there was peace.

The expression on Keiron was unreadable as he and Chieftain Gunn stood apart from the crowd; each observing what was before them without the need to discuss it. The Heiress Muir had joined them at one point and was talking at them, but only the rare sideways glance from Keiron informed her that he acknowledged her presence. Keiron was not known for rudeness, but this woman was a casualty of greed and he had nothing to say to her of consequence. Once she realized she was wasting her effort on him, Chieftain Gunn became the object of her consideration and with barely veiled cues Agnes Muir convinced him to come with her to the Frasers table leaving Keiron alone.

The hour was moving toward midnight. To the area reserved for the musicians he walked, speaking with the man who represented them. Keiron did not know how to dance and this he admitted to the leader so that a song selection could be made that would require little talent. Then he went to Janetta’s side while the musicians finished their current piece. She had a flock around here made up of both men and women, as was commonplace during the week, but his entry into their circle did not go without notice.

Janetta greeted him as Chieftain Grant with a curtsy as was custom when they were not in the family quarters, knowing that Keiron did not like her to use the title ever. They had had that discussion too many times before, but she had been well trained and Janetta could not break with propriety in the company of his peers to appease him.

Keiron spoke his request to dance with her in a tone low enough that he doubted anyone else could hear him. Producing a smile at his kept promise, Janetta agreed and took his arm to be led away.

“I can’t dance.” Keiron’s admission came just as the music was about to start and they were near the center of the area cleared. There was a hint of a grin on his lips at their plight, but Keiron was certain Janetta would know what to do.

“I’ve been taught. Follow me and I’ll get us through it.” Standing apart at a respectable distance, Janetta placed her hands on his forearms and had Keiron do the same before giving basic instructions about the movements. It was not a difficult dance to learn as it only had two steps and once music filled the room, Janetta counted softly under her breath to help him keep measure until he was able to do so without prompting.

They were both in good moods, which could have been related to the company they kept at that moment. This week had been extraordinary unrelated to the official business that had occurred around them. They were becoming bolder with one another and had they been alone, the odds were that they would have known exactly where the other stood in regard to their love. Neither desired to break the year of respect they voluntarily honored, which would end in three weeks, but those matters of the heart sometimes override best intentions.

Discourse flowed unhindered between them as they danced until out of the corner of her eye Janetta saw a man she was not fond of. Her dislike for him was based on Janetta’s overhearing his remark to another fellow about the size of her hips and ability to bear children. Despite the fact she was never meant to hear the comment, Janetta took offence to it because it was not only inappropriate for him to make, it also prayed on her insecurity that she was not as well formed as other women.

“Is thinking that a person is a pompous arse worthy of a confession?” She asked Keiron while still peering at the man.

“I wouldn’t say so. Who is it?”

She leaned close to whisper the name. “Marcus Cummings.”

“That would be tellin’ the truth.” Keiron did not do it often, but once in a while he would let slip a little sarcasm and that merited him a mischievous smile from her.

“I will add that to my sin list regardless. Father Brian will get a good laugh out of it.”

“Do you make a list?”

“Confession is boring and long...”


“For some unfortunate souls confession can be long. As you might have been informed, on occasion I may say a word that could be interpreted by some as sinful.”

“People say that about you?” Keiron openly teased. “Like last Sunday when you tripped up the stairs. You might have said ‘sinful’ words then?”

“Oh yes, that was double bad because it was on the Sabbath. When something of that nature occurs, I have made it a habit to write it down and take the paper with me to confession.”


Janetta looked up at the ceiling. “The banners turned out very well.”

“Why?” Keiron dared her to finish her tale and after a moment’s contemplation Janetta accepted his challenge.

“The first time I did it Father Brian was patient with me as I read down my list. The second time he stopped me before I was finished and told me he had heard enough. The third time… Now he just has me read the worse offence unless I’ve written down something that he might find entertaining. I’m in and out of there quickly and we usually have a good visit afterwards.”

Trying his best to hold in his laughter, Keiron thought this was one of the funnier stories that Janetta had ever shared with him. “Are you tellin’ me that you manipulate a Priest to get out of confession?”

“You make it sound ugly.” Her comment brought from him a grin from ear to ear.

“I have no worry over your eternal soul. You will charm your way past the gates of Heaven.”

“That is my plan.” The matter-of-fact delivery she gave roused Keiron’s good humor and he had to look away from her lest he burst out laughing. Once his composure was intact, he turned his head back to catch Janetta stifling a yawn.

“Are you tired?”

“I am. I believe I could sleep for a thousand years. I was thinking about going to Elgin to visit Elisabeth for two or three days next week if you don’t mind for a holiday.”

“That would be good for you.”

“Perhaps Ian would like to join me. He’s been sulking about and a diversion might do him some good. Will you come?”

Keiron shook his head, disappointed. “Frederic and I have much to do next week.”

“Should I stay?” Her tone indicated a need for Keiron to tell her the truth and not hesitate to say if he needed her at Castle Grant.

“No. But tell William he doesn’t have to wait until July to come here.”

“I will.” The dance they shared was what they both had hoped it would be and once the previous mirth died down, contentment was left in its place that was obvious to those who knew them.

When the song ended, Keiron convinced Janetta to get Maura and head to her room for sleep. He would stay up with their guests. The suggestion of being with Maura was enough for her to agree since Janetta had not seen her daughter this week near what she had been accustomed to and she honestly missed her. Leading her through the people to the doorway out, private words were exchanged and with that she left. Janetta was close to her destination when she heard Keiron’s voice.

“Janetta, wait.”

She stopped outside the room where the children were being tended and turned around. Keiron was coming toward her alone in the brightly lit hallway. Curious as to what he had forgotten to tell her, she moved forward to meet him. Keiron’s hands covered her shoulders as soon as Janetta was in reach and he did not waste time satisfying her interest.

“I don’t know how to thank you for what you’ve done.”

“You just did,” she smiled up at him with her eyes wide. “There’s no need to express gratitude, Keiron.”

Janetta assumed that he was speaking about the work she had put forth for the gathering, but she was only partially correct. Keiron meant more. Reflecting back the smile she was giving him, Keiron pressed his lips against her cheek and he could feel Janetta’s warmth on the impressionable skin of his mouth. “You are beautiful.” Keiron told her before repeating the same words a second time.

His breath was light and even while his hands passed smoothly from their chaste location to cross Janetta’s shoulders and weave under her braid to the bare skin of the nape of her neck. Another kiss was given, this one closer to her ear and once received, a slight tilt of her head offered encouragement for a third against her neck. When he broke the spell by removing himself so that he could look at her, Janetta saw what she could only identify as a passion different from any Keiron had shown her before.

A wordless agreement was made between Janetta and Keiron that neither of them would be able to understand because it came from a source other than conscious thought as their souls acknowledged one other.

Janetta woke later then usual the next morning, but it was still before most would call a civil hour. Even before opening her eyes, she could detect that there was sunlight in the room and her heart soared. Their guests would be leaving this morning under the clear conditions. She was ready for the peaceful routines she had once taken for granted to be restored. Pulling the blankets away, her feet touched the cool floor and she stood to prepare for the morning.

While she had been at supper last night, the Gordon sisters must have returned to her chamber and cleaned up their mess. Janetta had been pleasantly surprised when she and Maura had found it nearly as tidy as she had made it before their arrival. Not questioning their motivation, she happily walked across her now barren floor and noticed a rolled scroll that was near the door.

Her name was written on the outside and Janetta recognized the handwriting as Keiron’s. Removing the twine that kept it taunt, she peered over her shoulder to make sure her roommates were asleep before opening it and viewing what he had left her.

Janetta could not find her robe quickly enough to cover her nightgown and once it was on, she left her chamber and ran down to the common room on their third floor. To hell with anyone that was awake, she was not about to waste time dressing before finding Keiron. Surely he had to be up Janetta told herself as she rounded the corner and spied Keiron and Annie as the only occupants of the room. As fast as her legs would take her, she went to stand in front of him.

With both of her hands on Keiron’s face and the parchment still in her right, Janetta found herself in the rare condition of being speechless. For a full minute, which is a very long time when one cannot take their eyes off another, Janetta thought sweet words about him before removing her hands to wrap them about her precious gift. Then as silently as she had entered, Janetta left to return to her chamber.

Two weeks ago Janetta and Keiron were talking about how the King of Scotland wrote romantic prose that according to some was quite lovely and well conceived. That conversation bloomed into Janetta making the statement ‘If the King can write poetry, why can’t Keiron Grant draw people?’ Their discussion about the differences between drawing a building as opposed to a person Janetta did not accept, and they finally had to call a truce on the subject. Keiron made no promises; in fact he did not even say that he would try.

The parchment in Janetta’s hand was a simple sketch of Maura made in lead that Keiron had done in his room several nights after their conversation. He had not told Janetta about his attempt and although he did not think that it was very well done, Keiron knew she would appreciate having it regardless of the quality.

This was his way of thanking her.

The Embodiment of Hope

Respects were given in the northern courtyard of Castle Grant as their guests prepared to leave. Janetta was with Ellie Fraser away from the others in private conversation, watching Ellie give Maura a kiss before passing her back to her mother. If only they had lived closer to one another, the odds were that these two women could have been very close friends.

“If you were to come to Urquhart, we could visit more often.” Ellie suggested with a smile on her pretty face.

“This is my home now, but I would welcome you in a heartbeat if you wished to return.”

“And you are more than welcome in our home.” Ellie looped her arm with Janetta’s as they walked closer to where the Frasers were to depart from. “Would you come this spring for a stay?”

Janetta raised an eyebrow at the enticement, her smile as bright as her friend’s. The Fraser land was reportedly quite beautiful and she had no hesitation about their hospitality. They had always treated her with kindness and respect. “That is tempting, Ellie.”

“It would make Arron happy for you in to be in his home.” Once again Ellie made reference to her unwed brother-in-law. Earlier in the week Arron had asked his sister to speak with Janetta about him, but at present it was all Ellie’s wish for a woman like Janetta to be a part of her family that motivated her. Like the Grants, the Frasers lacked female members and that did create a want for companionship, but to have good rapport as was growing between Janetta and Ellie would be a true blessing to their household.

“Arron?” Janetta clarified. She was uncertain if Ellie had invited her to their main home or if Arron had an estate elsewhere that her friend wanted her to visit.

“Surely you must have seen his attention to you?”

“No, I did not.” Janetta was quick enough in mind not to need any more explanation and she was about to make her lack of intentions toward the man clear when Ellie’s tone of voice turned pleading.

“Janetta, please hear me out. We know there are other men who have shown an interest in you while they have been here and that they come from larger clans, but men like Marcus Cummings…”

“Marcus Cummings? I assure you that he can have all the interest he wants. That man will receive none from me.”

“He was not the only one.” Ellie lowered her voice. “Honestly, the only man Arron was sure would not be seeking you out was Chieftain Grant. There was clatter about his possible tie to you, but no one believes that he would go against his religion.”

At a loss to understand Ellie’s statement, Janetta immediately questioned her. “Religion? I don’t understand you.”

“The church law that forbids Chieftain Grant from marrying you because you are his brother’s widow.”

“Oh yes.” It took an act of God for Janetta to hold the smile she had on her face just as her mother had instructed her to do to disguise her confusion. This was the first she had ever heard that there was an impediment, let alone one of this magnitude. With no other course of action before her but to stand there holding her daughter, Janetta pretended to listen to Ellie while a sick feeling radiating from her belly threatened to expose her true reaction to the intelligence bestowed upon her.

“Arron is a good man…” Ellie continued on and for several minutes she was so intent on her discourse that she did not notice the look of despondency on Janetta’s face. “Have I upset you?”

“No.” Mistaking Janetta’s silence as an effect of the information she was giving her about Arron, Ellie next invited the man himself over to join her.

Arron Fraser was not a horrible man and although his primary interest in Janetta was her inheritance, he did take note of her other assets that made her a desirable bride. She was a handsome woman, svelte, and an excellent conversationalist who seemed to be at ease even in the company of strangers. Of course, having William D’Arcy as an indulgent brother was an asset all in its own. Janetta’s physical stature in regard to her bearing children did concern Arron, as it had Marcus Cummings, but in her arms Janetta held the proof that she was able to. Unfortunately, his attitude about what constituted a good wife was not as uncommon as is should have been, even amongst the Highland elite.

Arron spoke at Janetta with prompting from his sister-in-law but his breath and smiles were wasted. Janetta gave no reaction for her mind was too full considering a way for her to find out if what Ellie had told her was correct. Ian and Frederic were across the courtyard talking when Frederic saw Arron rub Maura’s head before taking Janetta’s free hand in his own. Before the elder man had time to react, Ian was striding toward her after having witnessed it himself. His father had asked him to on the lookout for men imposing themselves on his cousin and Ian considered the man touching Janetta and Maura too bold without another of her family present.

Ian arrived right as Arron was about to place a kiss on the backside of her hand, but the imposing figure of the youthful relative standing behind Janetta made Arron reconsider his action. The two men acknowledged one another coolly, and a short time later Arron excused himself and Ellie so they might leave for the first leg of their journey to Urquhart.

“Janetta, don’t let strange men hold your hand like that.” Ian said when he was certain they could not hear him. “He’ll get the wrong idea.”

“I know the Frasers” Janetta returned dryly as she covered her mouth with the hand Arron had tried to claim. So many thoughts occupied her and she truly did not know what to think.

“Are you sick?” Ian could plainly identify that Janetta was not well by the paleness of her skin. “Do you need to go to bed?”

“I can’t.”

Annie had taught her son excellent manners but he was determined not to leave Janetta’s side until she agreed to give him Maura and go to her bed, not relenting even when she claimed that there was nothing wrong with her. Ian was no debater but he was stubborn at times like Frederic when he felt he was in the right. It did not take much effort on his part before Janetta gave into his request and handed him Maura, but she did not go to bed as she told him she would. Janetta headed toward the chapel instead.

Father Brian was not a morning person and quite frankly he was too old to change his ways. Janetta waited patiently for him for nearly an hour, as there was nothing else she could do. She was unwilling to go to anyone in her family with her questions and asking Keiron was not an option she would consider. While waiting different scenarios played in her thoughts, the majority of which were not in her favor. Janetta might be many things, but she was not fickle. She loved Keiron and regardless of what the priest might tell her, she would continue to do so even at her own expense. At the sounds of the old man stirring Janetta was on her feet and knocking on the door to his private chamber.

“Too early for confession, Janetta.” He greeted her already dressed but looking like he still needed many hours sleep.

“I need to talk to you as a priest, Father Brian. I’m not here for confession.”

Stepping outside his door, he got a better look at her in the light. “What is it?”

“This is between us.” If Janetta had not sounded sincere, Father Brian would have laughed at her for making such a statement to a priest. “Is it true that there is a decree in our Catholic faith that forbids a man from man from marrying his brother’s widow?”

Father Brian did not need to ask for any explanation as to why she Janetta posed this question to him; it was obvious. Like nearly everyone else who lived in Grantown on Spey, he observed that Keiron and Janetta were becoming inseparable and secretly he approved, but as a priest Father Brian was expected not to advance the union. His features softened as he dealt the blow to her in a single word. “Yes.”

Unaware, Janetta had been biting down on her lip while she waited for his reply to keep it from quivering; the salty taste of blood not registering as it touched her tongue. In her lifetime she had known her share of heartbreak, her parent’s dying, Elisabeth being gone, and Cameron. What the priest’s word implied brought up the physical feeling that had been a common thread throughout those experiences. It was the manifestation of despair.

In her mind, Janetta was unable to separate love and marriage. Perhaps it was a simplistic view for her to have, but she believed that when a man and woman loved each other, marriage was the natural result. Janetta did not require a husband to give her purpose and a safe home. She had those. Rather she wanted that bond the act of matrimony gave to seal the love she had for Keiron.

Unable to think while next to a priest, she left without accepting Father Brian’s offer for discussion and went to her chamber, avoiding the most populated avenues so that no one might stop her. Annie met Janetta on the second floor and questioned her about where she had been, but Janetta’s vague ‘I had to go somewhere’ was all she was able to coax out of her. She judged Ian’s assessment that Janetta was ill as correct and led the young woman to her room. After Annie closed her door to allow her peace, Janetta got out of bed to listen as her aunt’s footsteps became faint indicating she was out of hearing range and then she locked the door.

Once she felt secure in her privacy, Janetta’s mind went to work against its greatest enemy, itself. Bewildered thoughts twisted their selves around each other and for the first hour she was heartbroken because she allowed herself to believe the impediment greater than their love. Then common sense had had enough and demanded that Janetta approach this situation as an adult.

With the sketch of Maura in hand, she contemplated the man she had grown to care for and clarity of mind rose from these thoughts. Keiron was not an impetuous creature, or at least she had not observed that tendency in him when matters were serious such as defying church rule to be with her. Her faith in him told her that Keiron had surely thought the consequences through and had a moral impasse developed he would not be encouraging the love they were showing each other. As Janetta had been discovering, Keiron Grant had many different aspects that made up his personality but with certainty she could state that he was not the sort of man to play with a woman’s affections.

It was sometime later when Janetta finally unlatched her door and the woman who exited her chamber was not willing to allow an unknown to fester within her, tainting her and the happiness she had earned. She realized, as an adult, that it was better to know the truth than to allow speculations to rule her behavior. Janetta went looking for Keiron and found him writing at his table in the room he used on the first floor. Their guests had evidently all departed because he was alone as Janetta hoped he would be.

Her face serious, Janetta knocked although that was not necessary since the door was open. Before Janetta had fully entered the room Keiron was questioning her about her health. In the short time it took for Janetta to explain that she was no different from the day before, he concluded by her behavior that something was troubling her.

“Will you tell me what is wrong?” He asked simply and there was no pause in her reply.

“Do you have a moment for me to finish the story about my confessions to Father Brian?” Keiron answered in the affirmative before Janetta went to close the door so the others outside would not hear what she had to say to him. There would be no humor in this telling.

“What I told you last night was not embellished and I would not deem it unfair if you thought that I may not take repentance as seriously as I should, but know that I do. I don’t share my true sins with Father Brian because I disagree with the premise behind giving a confession to a priest. My own impression is that I can tell them to God myself and they will be heard. I’m not rebelling against our faith although I realize that my views go against church customs, but I cannot conform to this aspect of it. I exercise my free will in that choice.”

“Janetta, it’s not my place to judge you. You have to do what you decide is right.”

“Do you believe that a person has to obey every law of our religion to be a dutiful catholic?”

“No. I don’t agree with every teaching or law of the church. How could I expect anyone else to?”

“I didn’t know that about you.” Sitting on the edge of the table, Janetta’s posture indicated that Keiron’s last statement brought her some peace of mind. She still lacked a direct answer to her concern, but she had only asked vague questions and could not expect one.

Without a doubt Keiron was perceived as unyielding in his adherence to traditional Catholic ways and he did nothing to break that illusion, but it was not correct. This man had a mind of his own and though he did consider himself faithful, Keiron was not without opinions of his own. For the next several minutes he shared some of them with Janetta after moving from his position behind the table to stand next to her. Religion was not a topic they had discussed before and his brief explanations opened for her another facet of who he was.

“You’re an interesting man.” Janetta concluded aloud while taking his hand in her own. In spite of the changes she had undergone of late, Janetta was still a person who used the sensation of touch to reveal herself and her fondness. This trait she would keep throughout her life for it was too much a part of her to subdue.

Teasing her, Keiron admitted to Janetta that she might be the only person to have ever said that about him, which she adamantly denied as possible. She thought him fascinating because he did not try to be. It was difficult for her to put into words, but a year ago she would have never fathomed that behind his inconspicuous nature was a more than just a ‘good man.’

There were times, especially in the past months when Janetta wondered how she could have not seen all there was to him when they first met, but perhaps it was because Keiron did not attempt to impress her that she did not notice his complexity. Once again, Janetta thought Keiron fascinating because he did not try to be, and this is what made her fall in love with him. There was some small talk between them but like Janetta, Keiron had a matter on his mind that he wished to clear.

“Janetta, if I was too forward last night…” Keiron’s attempt to apologize for kissing her without warning after the dance was cut short by the most encouraging words he could receive.

“You weren’t.” Her other hand joined his. “I love your drawing of Maura. I’m going to keep it for myself.”

“She looks so much like you as she grows.” That quiet affirmation brought Janetta closer to him and with a smile that said one thousand words she gazed up at him before kissing him on the cheek.

Keiron next took his turn to tell her a story. “I remember the first time I caught sight of you. It was at Elgin and you were taking care of Elisabeth while she was ill.”

“The night I joined you for supper?” Janetta recalled the visit he came when her friend was bedridden.

“No, the day before that. You passed by the room I was quartered in shortly after I got there and I watched you go by. You were wearing a white dress with a gold belt and your hair was hanging down loose.” Keiron could still see the picture of her in his head.

Janetta could not help but be moved by his aged memory. “I wish I would have stopped to talk to you.”

“I probably wouldn’t have said anything.”

“You do now.” Keiron nodded in agreement. He credited Janetta for that change in him and they had both benefited from the alteration.

“Could you be happy here?” This question was one Keiron had wanted to ask her the night before, but could not.

“I already am.” The point of no return had been breached by their honest conversation. Janetta paused a moment to compose her thoughts before she created the enchantment of turning an unspoken love into its spoken form.

“Keiron, I want to make a confession to you. There is this man that I have given my heart to and I have said nothing although I believe he may suspect. Today a friend informed me that the Church says that my affection for him is unsuitable according to their laws. I believe they are wrong, but at New Years I made myself a vow that I would not bring him any harm.”

“You won’t.” Keiron replied with persuasion as he lifted her hands to his mouth to kiss. “What man would refuse you?”

Janetta shot him a bashful grin that expanded into a full smile the longer she looked at him. With immeasurable happiness she said those three words coveted above all others. “I love you.”

Of the two of them, Keiron never expected Janetta to be the one who would first profess their love in a manner so distinct. For a moment he stood very still as the feeling that accompanied the words inundated within him. He had become too comfortable with the assumption that he loved Janetta more than she would ever be able to care for him. It was Keiron’s humility that led him believe this and not doubt in her, but in that instant he experienced a love equal to what he had for this woman.

Keiron was loved for himself; one of the purest forms of love that exists. Janetta did not tell him the words out of obligation or mutter them in response to his saying them. She spoke them because it was factual and that in itself was the greatest gift she could give him.

“I promise I won’t let you go again,” was his reply. Their hearts could not wait any longer and as Keiron’s lips neared hers, he made his own confession.

“I love you.”

63 AD In the Judean desert on the mountain top fortress of Masada, the Jewish sect known as Zealots kill themselves to avoid capture from Roman forces. A soldier finds the body of a handsome woman among the dead. The soldier perished several years later having not forgotten the memory of her face.

813 China. A male child is born in Changan during the Tang Dynasty; seventeen days later a woman births a daughter and is bedridden with fever. The girl’s mother does not survive, which prompts her father to send her off to live with relatives. The two children never meet.

1095 Pope Urban II calls upon European Christians to recapture the Holy Lands. A poor farm boy answers the summons. Three days after his departure, a young woman enters his settlement for the first time. The boy does not return home.

1313 Kenya. An arranged marriage falls apart after a bitter feud over the dowry. Both parties do not see each other again as the woman moves to a neighboring village four miles away.

1426 Scotland. A Highland Chieftain professes his love to a gentlewoman and seals the beginning of their first incarnation together with a kiss. Two souls rejoice.

Keiron’s ardent pledge to Janetta not to let her go again had been lifetimes in the making although he did not know this. Near misses and the interference of others had kept them apart time after time and during this lifetime it seemed as if they had once again forfeited their chance, but here they were expressing a love that was more ethereal than secular.

Their souls had waited centuries for this very moment to share mortal love with one another and the serendipity within them ignited at the anticipation. Initially perceiving the breath of the other warm against their skin, Janetta’s fingers lost themselves in his hair while Keiron’s hands went to her waist drawing her to a closeness that no one but a lover would consider polite.

Their physical forms became as intertwined as their fates and it could only be described as if they were coming ‘home’ to each other for the first time. It was their souls and hearts that consummated their union; as if a spiritual marriage had taken place and the perfect harmony it left in its wake was revealed in emotion. Something other than instinct told Keiron how to kiss this woman and as the feel of their mouths encountering overtook the senses, restraint was brushed aside to make way for spontaneity.

Using her preferred sense of touch Janetta glided her lips across his, marveling at the softness of them as she said his name with the sweetest tone Keiron had ever heard.
When her mouth stilled and parted ever so slightly, what started out as a peaceful yet daring kiss turned passionate. Hands became curious with slow, purposeful movements feeling out the bodies that would someday belong wholly to each other…and the kiss deepened in response.

There was an undercurrent of deep-seated intensity and like fire, it would need to be handled with care to keep in under control. The longing that consumed them had its root too far back in history to be readily satisfied. When he withdrew from Janetta after tasting her bottom lip between his, Keiron returned to an area he had discovered the night before--her neck. He had long admired its graceful length and appearance. Janetta’s reaction to his attention against the translucent skin encouraged him to spill out beautiful words of love Keiron never dreamed he would say aloud. If Janetta had any question about the depth of his commitment toward her, it was gone as she listened to his unguarded whispers.

For Janetta and Keiron the judgment was made. Nothing would part them again.

After supper that night they all sat around the fireplace partaking in leisurely conversation. The week had been long, but it was the revelations each had experienced that left a mark on their lives. Janetta and Keiron were next to one another with his arm around her shoulder and Maura stretched across her mother’s lap getting her back rubbed as she fell asleep. They were not so blatant about their passion as to embarrass Frederic, Annie, and Ian, but young lovers want to kiss and they want to talk; it is natural. They subdued their need for expression out of respect for their family, but the more subtle signs of love like a hand brushing against an arm or a long look were not censured.

The third floor of Castle Grant was considered home to Janetta and Keiron and here is where they dropped the masks they had to wear throughout the day. It was hard in this environment for them to not be themselves, but they did try which was met with fair success.

They had been discussing the importance of education with Ian when Keiron rose to go look for a booklet he had used when he had first learned to read. Janetta took this opportunity to place Maura in her bed for the night and steal away a minute alone with him. Not as oblivious as he had once been to the signs of endearment, Frederic watched the pair share an unspoken communication and he had no doubt that a private rendezvous was agreed upon.

“It is safe to say that they are attached to one another.” Frederic said aloud once they had vacated the room. He had done this for Ian’s benefit after observing the perplexed expression his son had worn during the latter half of the evening.

“Do you think so?” Annie answered as she tried not to smile, but Frederic’s statement about the obvious status between Keiron and Janetta struck her as amusing. Of course they had talked about it in the privacy of their own chamber, she and Frederic making predictions about when the wedding would occur. Annie’s heart was overjoyed and she hoped they would be as happy in marriage and she and her husband were.

“They like each other?” Ian asked, directing his question to Frederic. He had not suspected that Janetta and Keiron were ever anything more than friendly until this night.

“It’s more than ‘like.’” Thoughtfully, Frederic explained to his son that he suspected they would become betrothed within a month’s time. The man knew what he spoke of.

In the hallway outside of Janetta’s room, Keiron placed a kiss on Maura’s forehead as it rested against her mother’s shoulder. Then he kissed Janetta after being reminded by her that she loved him.

Two days later.

The great stone cross did not intimidate her as she looked up at it admiring its beauty while holding her daughter in her arms. Janetta had not returned to this sacred ground since the day they laid Cameron to rest, but a year’s absence can heal many wounds and as she placed Maura on the grass next to where her father was buried, she was at peace.

Janetta had not noticed before the silhouette that the cross had cast across the graves of the ancestors. Wondering if the men who had carved the stone had purposely considered it’s placement so that the phenomena of light and shadow would occur, she took a few steps forward to stand at the foot of the mound that marked where Cameron rested.

The young woman who greeted him was not the same person Cameron had married. Janetta had changed significantly in the past year because of the experiences she had. From the brave widow who had to learn to trust people again emerged an adult woman who worked for the respect she was shown. There are some people who are born to do acts for the betterment of others with the influence they wield. They are often natural humanitarians and molded into leaders by those with experience. Janetta was one of those individuals who had within them the potential unrealized, and in her grasp were the men who had the means to show her the way if she so desired it. That would be a decision she would have to make.

It is not polite to think about, but had she remained married to Cameron the chances of her achieving her potential most likely would have been slim. Janetta would have been happy with him and they could have had a good life together, but missing would have been the exposure to things greater than themselves and the population that made up Clan Grant. No individual is safe from the influence of outside world and many believe that it should not be ignored because it cannot be stopped. Keiron was a man who understood this, but Cameron was not. He loved his people first and foremost, yet Cameron did not see beyond their territory unless he considered others as a threat.

Cameron’s legacy was left in the form of a little girl who at the moment was hanging onto her mother’s dress trying her hardest to stand on her own. Maura had no fear, which can be both good and bad, and the child’s destiny was one of adventure. Her loyalties would remain strong and unquestionable just as Cameron’s did, but Maura would someday go places her father never imagined with the blessings of those who loved her. Cameron’s memory would continue to live through her.

Brushing her daughter’s red curls from her forehead, Janetta explained to Maura where they were and who the man beneath the soil was. Then, as if he could hear her, Janetta did the same for Cameron. It did grieve Janetta that Cameron never saw Maura, but she liked to think that he would be satisfied with the way she was being raised. The child spent her days either with her mother or in the company of the young girls who were eager to tote the babe around and feed her sweet bread when her mama was not looking. Her nights were always with Janetta and Keiron, as were Sundays.

Moving to the head of his mound where a small marker lie, Janetta sat down to talk to him while her daughter crawled nearby. Two nights ago Keiron had been giving Maura a drink during supper and Janetta swore that after he took the cup away, the child called him papa. Janetta pretended she did not hear it at the time, lacking the courage to look at Keiron to see if his face registered surprise but the word was clear. Janetta had no idea where Maura picked it up at since she and Keiron only referred to him by his Christian name but she suspected that Maura’s interaction with the other children had introduced her impressionable mind to the notion of parents.

Janetta could not say with absolute certainty what the future would bring for her and Keiron, but the man loved her and Maura. Her one sided talk with Cameron began with the words “I hope you understand…” and for the half an hour she told him the truth in regard to how she felt about Keiron and how he was helping her raise their daughter.

The man Nolen had sent to escort Janetta came forward from his discreet location when he saw her leave the graves with Maura on her hip and her horses rein in her hand. They traveled by foot back to the stables, the man leading both horses and Maura holding onto her mother’s hands and walking. Once inside the northern courtyard, Janetta spied a large congregation of the Nolen’s men coming together and a solemn Keiron walking toward them with a sword in his hands. Tilting her head up, Janetta could make out the sun’s position behind the clouds indicating that it was near high noon. This was the designated time they were going to make their journey to pay respects to the fallen Warlord. Keiron had wanted to do this ceremony before Frederic returned to Urquhart so his uncle could be a part of it and therefore moved the date up by two weeks.

The sword in Keiron’s hands was Cameron’s.

D’Arcy Keep
Eight days later.

“Frederic is having difficulty teaching Ian to read and write. He told me so before I came here.” With her back to the morning sun, Janetta pulled the sting of her bow back level with her ear. As was her practice, she closed her right eye to better focus on her target before releasing the taunt string.

“Good shot.” William replied as he cocked his own arrow and waited for his sister to move away from the mark they were shooting from. This was a rare treat; just the two of them being able to have a moment without anyone else around. He was enjoying their time alone and regretted that it would end soon when she and Ian returned to Grantown on Spey this day. “What’s the problem Frederic is encountering?”

“His obstacle lies in explaining the finer points of language in its written form. Frederic also states that he’s meeting resistance from Ian who does not agree with the mandate he imposed that for every hour Ian spends practicing swordplay, he dedicates an equal amount of time in some form of education.”

William released his own arrow into the target. “Does Ian have any particular interests that Frederic could build on?”

“Swords.” Janetta responded with a sheepish grin, meeting the eyes of her cherished brother. Somewhere in the midst of the past year their relationship had evolved into the best of friendships, and gone were the days where he acted the part of guardian and she of rebel sister. William missed this connection he had formed with Janetta when she was at Castle Grant; the letters they exchanged not quite filling the void. Other than Elisabeth, she and Keiron were his closest confidants and the distance separating them he keenly felt. Now that Branan older and able to travel easier, William told himself that he and his family would increase their visits to Grantown on Spey on account of it was easier for them to get away than Keiron.

William liked going there because he felt a part of something bigger than himself when in residence. As a child he had been taught good principals, but was encouraged to pursue them selfishly. The experience William had during this past twelve-month of coming close to losing everyone he cared for had a profound effect on the man and aided in showing him another way to live. William realized the value of his loved ones; they were priceless.

Janetta removed another arrow from the sheath and continued on with their discussion not knowing that her brother was at that very moment counting his blessings. “My theory is that Frederic sees his son preferring the sword and he doesn’t want Ian placing himself in the dangerous profession he had.”

“An interesting insight.” William replied as he moved to his left to allow his sister more room to set up her shot. “What would have me do to help?”

“Would you make him up lessons like you did for me?”

“Elisabeth and Karoline have been moving briskly through theirs. I could send you back with the plans they have completed.”

“I’m proud of your educating them.” Then again, Janetta was proud of her brother for more reasons than just his tutoring the women he shared his home with. “William, you have an innate ability and I often wonder what God’s plans are for you. Grand, I’m sure.”

“My wife is a intelligent woman and she makes it effortless. But I have no exceptional gift, Janetta.” What William said about Elisabeth was true, but he was wrong about his talent. It was God-given.

“What of Karoline’s future?”

“Karoline has nothing to go back to. I don’t anticipate any future for her in Norway, and I won’t leave her there alone. Consider her your sister, Janetta.”

Janetta would. In spite of the fact that Karoline continued to be uncommonly timid, when the young woman made an effort to exert herself there was a sweetness that came through that few naturally possessed. Babies were Karoline’s first love, even more so than her music, and her time spent with Branan proved therapeutic. When in the company of the little ones Karoline forgot herself and the side of her that was unafraid to show joy was as lovely as the young woman herself.

“I’m going to tell Ian that Karoline is learning to read.” Janetta pointed her finger at her brother as she handed him her bow. It was nearing time for her and Ian to leave. “It may motivate him.”

“I’m curious, does Frederic and Ian get along with one another?”

“Yes, from what I’ve observed. I have yet to hear Ian publicly refer to Frederic as his father, but I dare say Ian has developed a respect for him.”

“Yesterday I accidentally called Ian by his father’s name.” Placing the strap from the arrow sheath over his shoulder, William walked beside his sister as they went toward the target to retrieve what they had shot before returning to the house. “I continue to be astonished by the resemblance.”

“They seem alike in personality, also.”

“Why do you have to return to Grantown on Spey today? Stay another week here and indulge your poor brother. Keiron’s undoubtedly occupied right now and less likely to notice your truancy.”

Janetta threw her brother a suspicious glance, which William met with a formidable look of his own. She had planned on talking with him and Elisabeth about Keiron before she departed this morning, but from his simple sentence Janetta believed William was indicating that he was already aware of something. “May I ask what you’ve been told?”

Brothers can keep secrets just as well as sisters, and with a wide grin William refused to reveal his source.

Hours later William stood by himself following the distant figures of Janetta, her daughter, and Ian as they began their travel back to Grantown on Spey under guard. Janetta had indeed taken her brother and Elizabeth aside and poured out her most private thoughts about what had transpired between her and Keiron. She spoke of a love that grown over time and the genuineness of her feelings for the man. William needed no convincing as it was plainly evident on his sister’s face when she mentioned the Grant’s name that she was in love and not infatuation, but it was the private letter Janetta brought him from Keiron that solidified the future union for William.

Keiron wrote that once the year of respect had passed he wished to propose to Janetta. There was a long explanation included about their inability to wed in the church. Reassurances were given by Keiron that this subject had been discussed between them, though marriage itself had not. This situation was what was on William’s mind when Elisabeth approached him after sending Branan with Karoline to the house. She had been watching her husband and knew him too well not to identify that he was lost in thought.

“Janetta made a statement to me that I cannot get out of my head.” William said aloud when he heard her near him.

“What is it?” Resting her cheek against his shoulder, Elisabeth threaded her arm around his.

“She regrets that for Keiron’s sake he would not allowed to have a church wedding if they ever wanted to marry. Janetta believes this impossible and I did not tell her any different because I did not want her hopes to rise. I questioned her relentlessly and am certain Janetta does not care whether a priest or a judge marries her, but she still wishes it for him.”

“What do you mean by ‘her hopes to rise?’”

“There is one method that could grant them the ability to take their vows in a church, but I don’t know much about it except for the principle…”

Where the breakdown in his logic occurred William was not sure, but he was already four days into a five-day journey to seek out the advice from the last person in the world he thought he would—Malcolm Grant.

His conversation with Elisabeth had started out harmless enough as he explained what he understood about papal dispensation, but somewhere between his description and her questions an idea began to form. William left Elgin the next morning escorted by four other men and with Elisabeth’s words of wisdom echoing in his ears.

“Don’t lose your head,” Elisabeth had warned him and she meant it literally. She wanted William to return to her with a head attached to his body, therefore he needed to exercise good judgment and not do or say anything that might prompt its removal.

With counsel like that how could a man go wrong, William had though at the time but now he was wondering if he was not off on a fool’s errand. Malcolm Grant was not the only man who could have advised him and why William was seeking him out now was perhaps the most reckless action he had taken in recent history. William could have saved the effort and sought out a nearby priest, but once he was set on going to Malcolm…that was where the breakdown in logic occurred.

William had the men who were escorting him stop for a rest period and once he dismounted his horse, he paced for a good thirty minutes. Back and forth he went in his mind between returning home and continuing on, arguments made for both actions. William had never been an indecisive man but deep down he realized that he was taking the initiative on a matter that perhaps he should have gotten permission to pursue. This did disturb him, as did involving Keiron’s brother.

In William’s opinion, Malcolm had acted disinterested when he arrived at Grantown on Spey after Cameron’s funeral. During his short stay he spent most of his time alone in his room and when Malcolm did join the others he had an aura of discontent about him that left an uncomfortable air wherever he went. On the evening of Frederic’s wedding William had overheard Keiron lash out at his brother for his behavior and lay down his expectation that he was to at least be civil or else not come out of his room again. The reprimand worked somewhat and although Malcolm still did not speak much, he tried to appear tolerant for the remainder of his visit.

So why was William going to this man for advice and possible help? He did not know, but whatever force it was that had led him this far enticed William to continue the last leg of his journey placing his arrival at early the following afternoon.

Leading his animal to an area designated for livery William wore his most confident face as he walked toward the stable. The seminary was imposing in a purist sense, emitting the cordiality of hardened steel. Immediately William felt out of place and after offering himself a final chance to get back on his horse and join the men he had sent to town, he hesitated just long enough to reconsider.

A lesser man might leave, William told himself in an act to build up his confidence, but he had come too far to turn back now. The true purpose of his being there was a worthy cause and had the positions been reversed, he held no doubt that Janetta and Keiron would do the same for him.

This was what broke the cloud of doom stationed in his thoughts and now with true confidence, he strode over to the entrance of the barn to deposit his horse so that he could seek out Malcolm Grant.

A man in a robe acknowledged him once he made it inside the main structure and when William asked for Malcolm, the man responded back ‘Brother Malcolm’, showing William a chair he could occupy before leaving him alone while he went to fetch him.

Brother Malcolm echoed through his head and he almost laughed aloud. William had seen very little evidence of ‘brotherly’ conduct come from Malcolm and the term did not fit. Cold, selfish, bitter might make a better titles William concluded and to take his mind off Malcolm’s personality defects, he inspected the small waiting room he would end up spending most of his afternoon wondering if the dreary place was haunted.

After hours had passed and the man did not show his face, William added ‘arse’ to his description of Keiron’s younger brother and asked the robed man for the umpteenth time if he would go investigate the delay. The man’s now customary response that he told Brother Malcolm he was waiting was given yet again.

“You could have left the letter.” Came from his left and William shot the man himself an angry glare that said what his tongue would not.

“I have no letter, Malcolm.”

“Come with me.” With nothing of importance left to say, Malcolm led him through a maze of rooms to his own barren chamber consisting of no comforts other than a bed, chair, and small trunk. Lighting an oil lamp he kept atop the trunk, Malcolm motioned for him to take a seat and then perched on the edge of his bed waiting for William to tell him why he was here.

Angry as hell, William did not speak for a full five minutes as he summed up the man across from him. There could be no denying that Malcolm was a Grant as he had many of the same features and build of his brothers, but in personality he was a creature all his own. William could not fathom where the man’s social ineptness came from, but then again he had never met Malcolm’s mother. He was her son and a favorite of the former Maura Grant’s. It showed.

Reaching into his pack, William withdrew a bottle of single malt he had brought with him and uncorked it. He was to the point where he did not bloody care if it was acceptable to drink alcohol in the seminary or not, he was going to. Observing that Malcolm’s notice was on him, William took a long drink while rolling the cork between this thumb and forefinger.

“Grant?” Malcolm inquired flatly as to the origin of the brew.

“Fergus’s finest.” Malcolm acknowledged his words with a grunt. A sly smile was held back by William who perceived a touch of longing in Malcolm’s countenance as he watched William take another drink. He did not bring the alcohol with the plan of getting Malcolm inebriated, but reasoned that a bit of loosening up might serve him well. “Want a draught?”

“What do you think?” His hand went out to take the bottle from William. It went down smooth. “Give me the cork before you ruin it.”

William did as he was asked although Malcolm did not recork the bottle, then the true conversation began.

“Why are you here?”

“I need to ask you some questions about how a man goes about obtaining a papal dispensation.”

“What for?”

“A marriage between a man and his brother’s widow.” William named no names on purpose.

“I’d tell the man to find another woman to wife.” Malcolm shrugged, indicating that he did not deem the reason one important enough to fight the church over. “It’s not simple, you know and probably not worth the effort.”

“I’d expect that coming from a man in your position.”

“True.” Malcolm conceded. “The man is set on wedding this woman?”

“He has not asked her yet, but I’m certain of his intent.”

“Hasn’t asked her? Sounds like he isn’t certain of anything.”

“Yes he is.”

“Do I know this man?”



“I have no brother.” Malcolm was raising the bottle to his mouth when William spoke those words, but it never reached its designation. Without needing to be asked William began to tell the story of Keiron and Janetta, and within an hour the bottle was empty

“Either you are too used to getting your own way or you’re crazy.” Malcolm said to William with a smirk on his face. “Which is it, D’Arcy?”

“Both.” William propped his feet on the trunk. In less than an hour he had learned a lot about the man who sat across from him. Malcolm liked to verbally spar with people, he had a very dry humor that William was positive few others would be able to understand, and he was not as heartless as he had thought. Be not mistaken, Malcolm was as far removed from his older brother in temperament as one could be, but William detected Malcolm maintained an underlying loyalty for Keiron by the way he talked about him.

In that trunk under William’s feet were letters Keiron and Janetta had sent him. For the past year the frequency of their arrival had increased to monthly, and although he only wrote back twice Malcolm looked forward to each and every page written. When he had last been home on Grant territory, the only words Malcolm said to Janetta during his entire stay were ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ Yet, she wrote to him long, detailed letters faithfully and he wondered if it was not her influence that had encouraged Keiron to correspond on a regular basis.

Malcolm had noticed the difference in his brother’s writing, especially since January. Words like ‘we’ and ‘us’ were now commonplace when Keiron described what was occurring at Grantown on Spey and though his brother did not come out and admit he cared for Janetta, William’s explanation of their relationship made sense to him. Keiron must have changed his mind, Malcolm decided and he thought no more on his brother’s motivation.

It was long after sundown when Malcolm told William where to find a spare bunk for the night and after he had left, he reread a few of his most recent letters. William had been trying to temp him to go seek out the Pope for him and even offered him a boat at his disposal to accomplish the mission. Malcolm did not say anything to him at the time, but inside he was laughing. He did not need a boat to travel across the sea to petition for a dispensation because the Pope was not at home at the time and the endeavor would have been fruitless. The Pope was in England.

March 29th
Third floor of Castle Grant

Janetta looked out of the window on the third floor at the sunset with interest while waiting for Keiron to join her and Maura for supper. Frederic and his family had left them to return to Urquhart and though Janetta missed their company, she enjoyed the privilege that privacy afforded her and Keiron. They had stayed late the prior night talking without inhibition, something that was becoming a habit lately. Bonds became strengthened through even the funniest of childhood stories, yet it was the sweet liberty of love shown or spoken of whenever the mood stuck made Janetta more than willing to relinquish sleep to revel in the intimacy.

Much to her disappointment, Keiron was to leave soon to travel to St. Andrews and then Edinburgh for two weeks. Janetta was accustomed to long absences because her father and William had traveled regularly when she was younger. Still, being accustomed to it did not make the thought of his parting any less stinging. She was given the opportunity of going to Elgin so she would not be alone, but settled on staying in Grantown on Spey as the planting season began to do what she could while he was away.

Keiron entered the room and paused near their table to take in the sight before him. There was nothing uncommon about the scene he was observing, but for this man it was extraordinary. The woman who had garnered Keiron’s attention the first time he laid eyes on her was there waiting for him, and that little girl who stood next to a chair precariously balanced had his heart.

Yesterday morning Maura had taken her first steps in this very room and as Keiron bent down and held his hands out to her, she effectively took four more steps to him to receive her reward of being held up high in the air. Turning her head toward her daughter’s laugh, Janetta greeted him with a broad smile. “Did she walk to you?”

Keiron answered yes as he went to stand next to her, one arm holding Maura so she could see out of the window and the other going casually around Janetta’s waist. Growing up in a household of men, he had not witnessed many examples of how to show outright affection to a woman, but found it easy once he took the leap of faith. In fact, it came quite naturally.

“I received a message a short time ago from the Frasers.” He told Janetta after kissing her properly and putting a restless Maura down so she could practice walking some more.


“Not only from Ellie.” The brightness to Keiron’s eyes exposed his amusement and this awakened her curiosity. With each passing day Janetta was becoming better at reading his expressions and this one told her that he had a secret he wanted to share. “There’s an invitation for you to come to their home for a stay.”

“Do you have any time that you might be free to go?” It did not occur to Janetta that she might travel there without him, therefore the innocence of her question was justified.

“I wasn’t invited.” Keiron has a positively devilish look about him as he tried to determine if she was going to be able to guess the true purpose of the letter from the Frasers.

“Then no.” Janetta countered with an eyebrow raised in defiance. “I’m not going without you.”

“There’s more.” Brushing his lips across her cheek, he continued on. “Arron Fraser has asked my permission to seek courtship with you.”

With eyes wide, Janetta gave him her response to that offer. “No.”

“Do you have a reason I should give him?”

“Yes, because I love you seems to be a very good explanation. Do you need another?” Janetta laughed not at Arron Fraser’s expense but at the situation itself. She had once heard someone say that nothing attracted unwanted suitors like a woman in love and Janetta was beginning to believe it was true.

“I was going to write Arron and tell him that only over my dead and bloodied body would I allow that to happen.” He kissed back to her.

“Coarse, but straightforward.” Teasing him with her own assessment, Janetta placed his free hand around her waist to join his other before reaching up to bring his mouth down to hers.

“Your answer is better.” Keiron grinned before complying with her wish to be kissed. As the last remnants of light for the day came through the window, the color of sunset red bathed them in the hues of nature while their familiarity was being nurtured in its infancy. Keiron was the one who ended the kiss with a question begging to be asked. “Janetta, is it too soon?”

“Too soon?” It took her a moment to understand what he was asking, but after the implication of Keiron’s question dawned on her, Janetta gave him a heartfelt reply as the tone of their conversation changed. “No.”

Bravery rose within him and with the timing seeming to be perfect, Keiron took yet another leap of faith. “Will you marry me? I swear to God I will love you all my life.”

The room filled with silence as Janetta allowed his words to roll over in her mind. Then she spoke “love me longer.”

With lips quivering and tears forming that she was not ashamed of, Janetta preceded to pose her own request to this man she adored more than she knew she could. “Let’s agree that whichever of us gets to Heaven first, we’ll wait for the other. Love doesn’t have to end with our lives.”

“I will.” Keiron made his promise with his heart pounding out a beat against his chest. He needed to hear Janetta speak her answer. “Say the word?”

“Yes. I will marry you.” Blinking teardrops made up of one hundred different emotions, they fell to Janetta’s cheeks to be wiped away by his fingers. This would be Keiron’s lifelong job from now on—the man who would make her tears stop. “If you knew how much I love you…”

Janetta could not speak anymore and Keiron heard enough that there were no more questions left for him to ask. The reds of the horizon turned smoky blue as ‘I love you's’ danced around their heads in-between tender caresses and love made through kisses. Both shared the feeling as if butterflies were inside of them, but that was not what they experienced. It was their souls singing praises of jubilation at the success of their long journey to find one another reaching yet another milestone.

And all was as it should be.

Time was unaccounted for as they warmly shared the joy their engagement brought them. With his head atop Janetta’s feeling the softness of her hair against his cheek, Keiron gazed over at the child that in this life he would refer to as his daughter and a smile came to his lips.

Sometime during her parent’s very important decision, Maura had managed to reach the table and steal herself a large loaf of bread. A laugh vibrated through Keiron as he watched her stumble and fall to the floor, the fugitive bread softening her landing and leaving her uninjured. It was not but seconds later before Maura was able to stand again with her prized possession held tightly to her belly. She was getting quite good at this business of walking and it would not be long before she would learn to run.

“Maura has snitched our supper.” Keiron laughed with it growing harder the longer he watched her mischief. “She’s not a reliable chaperone, Janetta.”

Later when supper was over and Maura dreaming on a pad of blankets, they stretched out on the long settee next to each other discussing their future. Janetta told Keiron of her plan to occupy a room on the second floor while they were engaged for propriety sake. He was against the move, but when she explained that it was for sleeping purposes and to set an example, Keiron eventually relented to her sound reasoning. His main contention was that he disliked the idea of her and Maura being sent out of their home to appease the sensibilities of others.

A date for their wedding was set between them and it was to be the day after the Clan Grant gathering at the first of July. Their family would already be there for the yearly celebration, as would the friends they wished to be invited.

This would be the only night during the whole of their engagement that they would fall asleep together, his arms around her and her hand against his chest. Keiron was intent to carry through with his promise to Frederic that he would not take advantage of their situation by making love to Janetta before they were married. It would prove to be a difficult promise to keep, but they were able. When Keiron returned from St. Andrews with the diamond ring he had commissioned to be made for their engagement, the first test of his resolve was passed. There would be other tests, one in particular where they made it all the way to Keiron’s chamber door lost in the want to be together in all ways before regaining their senses. She was a passionate woman and he was mad in love, a combination hazardous to virtue but good for a happy marriage. Still, waiting was the right decision for these two for many reasons.

As the news began to spread that Janetta and Keiron were to be wed, so did an uprising of sorts at Castle Grant. Many of the folks that lived there felt free to express their opposition to Father Brian’s not being willing to overlook church doctrine so they could be married in their church. The elder priest had always held a good rapport with the people, but he soon found out that their loyalty to the church was weaker than their loyalty to their Chieftain and his bride to be. Keiron and Janetta did what they could to ease the minds of their kin; telling them that they were satisfied with a civil ceremony performed by a judge, but the people remained vocal in their opinion.

The folks at Urquhart took the announcement differently since they were not as personally acquainted with Keiron as they had been with Cameron. The younger brother still retained their devotion and many did not understand how his wife could switch allegiance after such a short time. Frederic did as he vowed to himself he would and gave words of encouragement to soothe troubled consciences, with Annie, Willa, and Ian also taking the initiative to assure the people that the union was genuine and content. By July there was still concern, but a general acceptance of the couple had been achieved.

For the elders, only two of twelve voiced their disapproval with one quickly changing his mind. The sole objector did not raise a call to impeach Keiron for his going against church law.

July did not come soon enough for the couple and the morning their first guests were expected to arrive for the gathering, Keiron moved Janetta and Maura back to their former chamber on the third floor while she and the babe bathed downstairs. In a week they were to be married.

July 2, 1426

Happy ending as promised.

Branan D’Arcy sat contently on his mother’s lap out on a grassy area behind Castle Grant. His attention was not on the other women who were with them as they talked and laughed, but rather on a wee red headed girl who was digging at the ground just beyond the blanket they were sitting on. She had found some sort of treasure that Branan could not quite make out, but whatever it was it wiggled between her fingers when she held it up to be inspected. Or at least it did before she put it in her mouth.

“No, Maura! Dirty!” Janetta exclaimed before taking her finger and sweeping her daughter’s mouth. The babe, not at all happy with her mother’s interference, pouted her lips as she threw herself across Janetta’s lap and cried. It did not take Maura long to realize her endeavor was for naught, therefore she moved over to her Aunt Willa where she was lavished with sweet nothings being said to her and a soft shoulder for her head. Turning away so her mama could not see her, Maura slipped her thumb into her mouth and looked down at Branan.

He was intrigued. Soon his cousin was off again and her next destination was a wagon wheel not far from where they sat. While Maura grabbed hold of the spokes and tried to find a way to climb it, Elisabeth lifted her son and placed him to her side.

“…And when we can no longer tolerate her because she is spoiled, Maura will be sent to you, Willa.” Janetta sparred with her aunt noticing Elisabeth stand out of the corner of her eye. “Are you going to change your gown after all?”

“I’m too hot.” Elisabeth nodded. “Will you be here when I return?”

“Grievances will be starting soon and I’m going to sit in on it. I’ll be in the back of the great hall if you want to come, otherwise I have nothing planned for this afternoon unless I watch the dueling with Keiron.”

“When shall we our final sizing of your wedding dress?”

“May we do that this afternoon?” With only three days left until she was to be wed, Janetta realized that some sacrifices would need to be made if she was to be ready. “I can miss the dueling so we can finish the alterations.”

“We’ll meet up then.” Elisabeth smiled over at Karoline, asking her if she would keep an eye on Branan while she was changing. As always, Karoline readily agreed and with that Elisabeth left her friends.

Opening her door, Elisabeth had not expected to see her husband sitting in the room on such a perfect afternoon when there were many activities going on outside. William did not appear to be engaged in anything of significance, just sitting there in a chair thinking to himself.

“What are you doing, Dear?”

Shaking his head, a contented smile came to him as if often did when Elisabeth was around. “Have I told you that you’re developing a Scottish accent?”

“No,” she answered as she sat down on their bed and put her hands on his knees. “Do you prefer it?”

William’s words came out slow with a touch of sultriness added for effect. “Very much so.”

“Tell me why are you inside on this day?” Elisabeth’s eyes danced as the spirited wife William loved leaned toward him to give him a dose of teasing. “Has everyone abandoned you?”

“You obviously haven’t.” William teased her back. “To be truthful, I’m enjoying the quiet. I like it here, Elisabeth.”

“I do, too. They have made it a home.”

“I wish I could have…”

“You promised you would not berate yourself if Malcolm was unable to get the papers for you. William, you knew it was going to take time. Didn’t you tell me he suspected half a year to a year just to receive an answer?”

“I did.”

“Then let’s not dwell on what we cannot change. Do you believe they really care where they are married?”

“Not if I was to listen to them talk.” Settling against the back of the chair, William accepted her wisdom. “I love you.”

“I haven’t seen proof of that…” Elisabeth returned while twisting her hair between her fingers. “Since we’ve been here.”

“Tonight we need to send Branan to Karoline’s room to sleep.”

Making exaggerated movements, Elisabeth scanned the room. “He’s not here now.”

“Come sit on my lap.” Elisabeth let out a hearty laugh at his request. “Come here and let me remind you.”

“Will I be rewarded properly?”



Two hours later…

It took a lot to shock William D’Arcy. His composure was generally speaking in tact and other than his wife who had taken to the sport of surprising him, he did not startle easily at the unanticipated. But standing out by the gate that led to the front courtyard of Castle Grant, he felt himself shake as he looked up at the imposing figure of a filthy Malcolm Grant on a horse.

William had been summoned by a guard with the communication that he had a visitor per the message Malcolm told the man to say. He did not want a ruckus made about his being in Grantown on Spey, therefore Malcolm did not want his name mentioned.

“Tell me,” William blurted out after a silent prayer was recited. Knowing what he wanted the man to say was only possible by a miracle, William hoped there was one more for him in God’s bag of tricks.

“Not much of a greetin’.” Malcolm said with his usual bored tone. This from a man who considered greetings frivolous small talk. “Are they getting’ married?”

“In three days.”

Out of his saddlebag, Malcolm pulled free a rolled parchment. “Here.”

“Is it?” The Grant nodded his head and William could have hugged that man at that moment had it been anyone else but Malcolm Grant. “The Pope agreed?”

“You were right,” Malcolm next retrieved the bag of coins William had given him just in case gold was needed. It was much lighter than when he started out on his journey. Biting hard on the inside of his mouth so he would not grin back at William, Malcolm brushed the hair out of his eyes as if what was occurring was nothing more than commonplace, but inside he knew they had accomplished the impossible. “Donations are always welcome in the Holy Church.”

“God bless Pope Clement VIII!”

“I never got that far.” Malcolm confessed. “God bless his minions.”

“Get down from your horse and give this to your brother.” Chiding the man like he would a brother, William would never forget this day for more than one reason.

Malcolm peered around the gate at the crowds of clanfolk mulling about. “I don’t think so. You give it to Keiron.”

“Get off of that animal before you kill it, Malcolm. No one likes an arse.”

“You would know that, D’Arcy”

Malcolm dismounted as he was told and removed his belongings while William found a young lad to take his horse to the stables. Tossing his saddlebag over his shoulder he walked side by side with William in the direction where Keiron was with Ian. Malcolm’s movements were slow, but unexpected as he had spent the majority of the past few months riding a horse through Scotland and England. His single mindedness paid off with a papal dispensation for his elder brother. No one approached the two intimidating men as they made their way past the people; Malcolm commenting that after William gave Keiron the paper he wanted to take a bath. William was not going to have any of that nonsense and he forced the rolled parchment back into Malcolm’s hand as they neared where the dueling contest was taking place.

Keiron and Ian were intently studying the moves of the man who had long ago broken down the chamber door of Jorgen D’Arcy with an axe, the one everybody simply called Bull because most had forgotten his real name. For a man his size his technique was fluid and when he swung the broadsword over his head, Keiron leaned on the fence entranced.

“How does he do that?” Ian asked his cousin, his attention never leaving the fight.

“We should have him show us.”

“Before I leave next week?”

Keiron nodded, noticing that William had returned from his summons. “Is all well?”

“Look behind me.” William urged his friend.

Tearing his eyes from the duel, Keiron looked upon the phantom he had truly believed he would never see on Grant land again. His brother. “Malcolm?”

“Here.” Malcolm held out the parchment for Keiron to take, his eyes meeting his brothers briefly before he assumed a sternness to his face that disguised the satisfaction he was actually experiencing.

Knowing there would be no more explanation, Keiron broke the seal on the paper without looking closely and unrolled a parchment with a foreign tongue written on it. “Is this Latin?”

“Italian.” Malcolm answered as he gazed out on the field beyond the warriors and swallowed hard. He was proud of himself for his achievement, and it had done it solely for his brother.

The questioning expression Keiron gave William went unanswered, forcing him to directly address Malcolm for further clarification. “What is it?”

“You can wed properly in a church.” Malcolm informed him nonchalantly before turning to face Keiron once again. These two men were like night and day in comparison to one another, but the blood that flowed through them was the same and that did count for something even to Malcolm. With a tilt of his head in William’s direction, Malcolm gave his brother a summary of all that had happened. “D’Arcy bribed the Pope.”

“I did not!” William cried out and soon laughter from the depth of him overtook his senses, spreading to Malcolm. Keiron’s confusion about the importance about what he held in his hand would remain until the uncharacteristic display of humor passed from his brother. Afterward the four of them, Ian included, went to Father Brian with the missive signed by the Pope, and then parted ways as Keiron alone went in search of Janetta while William escorted Malcolm to the room on the first floor where he could clean up.

The year before when Keiron had sent William the Grant family tartan while he was in France, he had in effect made him a brother. Yet it was William who brought Keiron his own brother back into the fold of their family. Perhaps a gift returned is not always bad omen.

Fergus Grant was not easily dissuaded once he made his mind up and this evening he was determined that the men in his family were going to properly celebrate Keiron’s last night as a bachelor—regardless if they wanted to or not. In Fergus’s head Frederic’s party had been a bust because of all the babies and children running about, not to mention the shocking lack of drinking that occurred that night. This time he had warned the womenfolk well in advance of his intention just to insure there would be no expectations that these men would be in any shape to do much of nothing.

He selected the roof as the gathering area, which with any other group of men might not have been the wisest of locations. Fergus assumed that Nolen would keep his head enough and if any of them teetered too closely to the edge, he would probably have time to get to them before they fell over. And if all else failed, Malcolm might consider getting up from his seat to rescue them.

At sundown the first cask of woodsy flavored ale was cracked open and Fergus himself handed a mug to all assembled as he rambled on like a proud grandmother about his brew. It was gone before the oil lamps needed to be lit. Praise was properly given it its creator by those who knew Fergus well, and with his blessing a special recipe bitter next made a brief appearance. Then the arguments began about which was better and why, much to the delight of the older man.

“Those bloody grapes ain’t growin’!” Fergus bellowed at William, both men already showing signs that both the ale and the bitter went down smoothly. Fergus might be a master brewer but he was no farmer. The plants William had sent him from France had been plopped into the ground at Urquhart shortly after their arrival and the most tending he had done since that day was to put a fence around them so the goats would not eat them.

“I told you it takes time.” William replied lazily swinging his near empty mug as he spoke.

“No time. No time!” Fergus shook his head. “I’m gonna crush ‘em up and stick ‘em in my mead if they don’t start growin’.”

“A thousand Frenchmen just rolled over in their graves on account of what you just said, Fergus. Those vines were contraband, you know.”

“You don’t have much respect for laws, do you D’Arcy?” Malcolm interrupted sarcastically. It was a shame that his attempt at humor was lost on all present except William, but he thought it was a damn funny observation.

“It’s all in the interpretation, Malcolm. One man’s rule can be thought of as another man’s guideline if looked at in a different light. I’ve found there’s a lot of gray area to work in.” Grinning at the incomprehension written on Malcolm’s face, William reached over to the cask and dipped him mug into it. “What truly matters is I still have my head, and that’s all my wife cares about.”

“Simplicity itself when you consider keeping your head as a sign that you’re following the correct rules.”

“Exactly.” William nodded catching an amused expression coming from Keiron as he lifted his mug to his lips.

“I gonna crush ‘em up!” Fergus warned for a second time, having forgotten what he had said earlier. William turned his attention back to the man.

“For a person who nurtures his stout like he’s conjuring up holy water, you apparently have no patience for the cultivation of the plant itself.”

“I gonna crush ‘em up.”

“Did you follow the planting instructions I sent you?” Fergus did not answer William’s question, which said everything he would not. As confirmation of his brother’s negligence, Frederic rolled his eyes as he settled deeper into his chair while William and Fergus continued their banter.

The creaking of the old oak door garnered the notice of the men as they looked over to see who else was joining them, thus ending all conversation. No one was expecting the smiling face of Janetta to peek around.

“No women, wee lass!” Fergus was not going to have another bachelor party ruined

“Very well.” Winking over at her intended, Janetta assumed a carefree pose. “I’ll just take this tray of food back downstairs and feed it to the dogs. I’ve noticed a few of the hounds looking like they could use a good meal.”

“What do you have?” Frederic called out. No one present had thought about bringing supper with them except for Malcolm, and he was not sharing his hoard.

“Oh, some roasted chicken, pulled pork, the yellow cheese you like…”

“We’ll take that.”

“But Frederic, you haven’t asked me what it will cost you. Do you believe I brought this all the way up from the kitchen without wanting something in return?”

“No cryin’ bairns …”

“Hush, Fergus!” Frederic growled at his brother. He was hungry and had no doubt that Ian was too. “What do you want?”

Balancing the heavy tray on one arm, Janetta pointed over to Keiron. “A moment alone with that one. I promise to return him to you, but if I don’t get the groom then you don’t get the food.”

“Be the sacrifice, Keiron.” Frederic counseled his nephew as his belly rumbled. “Bring us the chicken, first.”

A fair exchange was made of one groom for a tray of food and all parties were satisfied with the trade. Janetta led him back to the stairwell, which despite being poorly lit was the best option for a minute of privacy. The door had barely closed before Keiron began kissing her, steps taken backwards until Janetta was leaning against the cool brick wall.

“Are you having a good time? I could hear William and your uncle arguing in the stairwell.” Keiron told her that he was, his grin felt rather than seen. “I wanted you to know that I put a few of my things in your room tonight.”

Her sentence gave Keiron a fresh reminder that tomorrow the chamber would no longer just be his, but theirs, and the many implications that came with that knowledge.

“Don’t let me disappoint you,” was Keiron’s dark secret he needed to share.

“You couldn’t.”

“I mean tomorrow…night.” That was very hard for Keiron to say and he was certain his face was red from embarrassment, but thankfully the darkness shielded it from her eyes. It had been on his mind, perhaps because he had idle time this week to dwell on it. When they were with one another no thought was required, but apart he was not convinced that he could make the wedding night memorable for her.

One topic they did not openly discuss was Janetta’s experience and Keiron’s lack of it. Janetta was not concerned about their being together because from what she already knew, her enthusiasm fed his and Keiron would not be a selfish lover. Yet, Janetta could understand where his apprehension could lie. She did not believe Keiron was seeking from her for a lesson but rather direction when the time came if it was needed. This she could do for him. “I have faith, but I won’t forget what you just asked.”

Janetta then kissed him deeply, her body pressing against his bringing about the familiar burn that preceded the dissolution of inhibition. Keiron’s hands were neither gentle nor forceful as they slid down her sides luring her hips close to his, the need inside of him once again threatening to make him forget their surroundings. It was not alcohol instigating his forthrightness. Keiron was completely sober. Rather it was that they had become this open with one another.

“Any more I touch you and I’m lost.” Another secret slipped through Keiron’s lips as her hands dropped low on his waist.

“We need to get married.” Janetta recognized and for the next several minutes sensual indulgence played in the dark with them until a blinding light from above announced that the door had been opened.

“I tol’ you they weren’t talkin’!” Fergus slurred to everyone on the roof. “Kiss ‘er later, Lad. Me stout is breathin’ and ‘bout ready.”

“Close the door.” Keiron’s voice was low and left no room for argument. “I’ll be there soon.”

Their indulgence had to be put on hold and after a rest period, Keiron walked Janetta down to the third floor and bid her an affectionate good night at her door for the final time.


Earlier in the day the mirror from Willa’s room was brought into Janetta’s chamber so she could use it to dress the morning, but this evening it was already serving its purpose. Standing in front of it, Janetta held the wedding gown up against her body that her dearest friend had sewn for her. Elisabeth had outdone herself and in less than three months had fashioned a creation worthy of nobility. Inasmuch as the Paris gown was grand, Elisabeth’s was breathtaking and the care taken with the details far surpassed any Janetta had ever seen. Every consideration was taken in its construction and the Ivory beaded silk shimmered in the candle light as if seducing Janetta to put it back on once more. She had never owned anything as perfect this gown and even Janetta could not find any flaw with how she looked when it was on her. Yet with a heavy heart she knew that she could not wear it on the morrow to her wedding.

Carefully laying the material over her bed, Janetta silently opened her door as to not wake Maura and made her way to Elisabeth’s chamber. Walking through the hallway she heard voices coming from the roof through open windows and knew William would not be in their room. Whispering her friend’s name against the wood, Elisabeth was still awake and beckoned her to enter.

Sitting on Elisabeth’s bed beside her, Janetta took a moment to summon her courage before she began. First she gave her sincerest compliments and gratitude for the gown, then she paused long enough to take hold of her dearest friend’s hand.

“You know that tomorrow Keiron and I are getting married with three other couples. I met the brides-to-be today and they were very agreeable about us joining them. Two of them are from farm families and the other from Urquhart where her husband is a guard. I’m worried, Elisabeth. I’m worried that they may feel…” Janetta searched her extensive vocabulary for the word that would best describe what she was trying to say, but the right one she could not find.

“Over shadowed?” Dissatisfied with the choice, Janetta gave up the search and continued on. “I’m afraid that if I stand with them in your beautiful gown, they may feel this way.”

Elisabeth sat motionless and made no reply to her friend’s statement. Fearing that she had deeply offended her, Janetta added to her explanation. “I’m no better than they are just because I was privileged to be born to a wealthy father and generous brother. I don’t want those women to think they are less deserving of being lovely brides because they do not have the resources William does, or a talented sister as I do. If Keiron and I were still to be married in a private service I would wear the gown and proudly, too.”

“Shh…” Elisabeth did not need for Janetta to complete her rationale because she understood completely. In the past she had confided bits and pieces of her history to Janetta, but Elisabeth never made her growing up in poverty sound as bad as it really had been. She had not thought Janetta would be able to appreciate the differences between them…until now.

“In my city people treated the poor like they were diseased. When I was a child I could not walk past a cart of produce without its owner warning me that I had better not steal anything or else I would lose my hand. Can you imagine being a child and being told that? People expecting the worst out of you because you were without money?”

Janetta shook her head. No, she could not imagine what that would have been like.

“It was true that we had nothing to call our own. My father and brothers did not ease our situation by seeking steady work. My mother was employed as a laborer and what little she made was often drank away. I was ashamed of being that way…poor. I remember wearing the same dress for years until it was too torn to mend anymore.”

“Before I came here I knew only one person of wealth who did not treat me like a servant or worse, and as fate would have it he was a Scotsman. Sir John Stewart was his name and he was the acquaintance of one of my employers that I have told you about before. Then I met you and your brother. I still remember the first night in your home when William insisted that I take my supper with you and him at your family table.”

“I do, too.” Janetta reminisced. Elisabeth had filled the void after her parents were gone that despite his best efforts William could not.

“I’m proud of you for not wearing the gown tomorrow. Your consideration impresses me.” Elisabeth patted her leg and stood. She did not want this night to be one filled with sad stories of a past that could no longer touch her. “No tears. Let’s go find you another gown to wear from those you own.”

Happy wedding, Keiron and Janetta.

It was nearing high noon when Keiron came out of the chapel, having made his promises to God and giving thanks for what was about to occur. Keiron had always favored the old building, built before the castle and rustic in design. Within these walls many of his life’s milestones had passed. He was made Chieftain here, Maura christened, Frederic married, first communions of his brothers, and his father mourned. All occurring in sight of the great wooden cross that hung on the wall reminding him of sacrifices made by those who came before him.

The initial wedding ceremony was to occur in front of the chapel before a second would take place inside and conducted in Latin. Once again the wooden cross would witness another turning point in his life; marriage. As he stood off by himself waiting for his family to come down from the third floor and join him outside, Keiron accepted early congratulations from those passing by him as the crowd began to come together. It was slightly overwhelming for him to see the growing number of recognizable faces knowing that they would be watching him and Janetta be wed, but the peacefulness that had surrounded him while he was in alone the chapel tempered his inherent reserve.

Soon three other groomsmen stood beside Keiron while they waited for their brides, each greeting the other but not inclined to make small talk on this important day. Searching the masses Keiron could not miss Frederic and Ian towering above the rest as they made their way toward him. With them were the rest of the Grants and the D’Arcys; somewhere in the middle Keiron assumed was Janetta.

They stopped before reaching the people so well wishes could be given to the bride. Janetta held onto Maura while being embraced by her family until it was time for her to venture up to the chapel entrance. To her beloved brother Janetta handed her daughter, tears threatening to fill her eyes as she smiled upon him recalling the courage he displayed holding the newborn Maura on the night before Frederic’s wedding. How unsure he was then and how easy it was for William now, his year of being a father giving him a relaxed confidence.

“Who would have thought…” Janetta whispered as she put her arms around William, and he grasped what she was referring to. Who would have believed that these two children of Luthais D’Arcy would have turned out as they had? Happy. How different their lives would have been had their father lived and to himself William often wondered if God had not been watching out for them when the illness that took his parents left him and his sister unscathed.

“I love you.” William returned to Janetta. “You are going to marry the best of men.”

“I am.” Pulling away, Janetta left one arm around him as they walked forward to the front of the crowd. Maura was the first to see Keiron, calling out Papa and trying to wiggle out of her uncle arms to get to him. She was Keiron’s girl, there was no denying it, and her little shadow was often found following his whenever they were together.

“Stay with Uncle William,” Janetta advised her daughter gently.

Frederic came forth while Janetta was reminding William to hand Maura and Branan off to Willa’s daughters before they entered the church for the second service, and once she had finished Frederic asked her if she was ready. Gazing over at Keiron with all the certainty in the world, Janetta was. Taking Frederic’s elbow, they took those final few steps together.

Janetta never failed to surprise her groom and today was no exception. She was wearing the white dress Keiron remembered her in the first time he saw her in Elgin; the very one he described her on the day they admitted that they loved each other. Her hair was down like it had been then, and the only improvement to the memory was the smile Janetta now had on her face.

Frederic brought her up to Keiron, but before he relinquished Janetta over to his nephew Frederic pulled her close to his heart revealing rare public sentiment for this young woman. Janetta would be the closest Frederic would have to a daughter, and it had been her request for Frederic to give her away at their wedding. The connection between them grew once again on this sunny afternoon as he placed her hand on Keiron’s after kissing it.

There was no need for Frederic to tell the groom to take care of the lady because he knew that was a given. With one final look, Frederic turned on his heel and returned to his wife and son while Father Brian cleared his throat before starting the ceremony. Janetta and Keiron stood among the couples, the only item distinguishing them from the others being the Chieftain tartan worn around Keiron’s waist.

They did not have the privilege of speaking alone this morning and the opportunity was not ripe at present with the priest not three feet away from them, therefore they used silent communication to say what they could not. Janetta could see that Keiron recognized the simple gown she had worn, and that he took note of the gesture of it being on her this day. She and Elisabeth had to dig deep in her trunks the night before to locate it and just as they were beginning to believe it had been left behind in Elgin, Elisabeth pulled it free. They wet the material down and took it outside to hang on a line so that the wrinkles from years of being folded would fade away and this morning were welcomed by the dress appearing in its original condition.

Grasping her hands in his, Keiron ran his thumb over her knuckles, her engagement ring catching his finger and producing a smile from him. Both bride and groom believed that they were receiving the better end of the bargain in their union not realizing that their own influence had helped craft the other into the person they were today. She had brought him life and he gave her unconditional love in return. Fifteen months of being with each other nearly everyday had taken them from virtual strangers to friends, from admirers to lovers. And each knew that the other was so deeply woven into their hearts that they were irreplaceable.

During the vows there is section expected to be repeated by the participants which is ‘’til death do us part.’ After the priest had recited the words for the brides, the other three women faithfully repeated the phrase, but Janetta did not. A quiet ‘no’ was said by her instead and Keiron did not miss her reference to a conversation they had shared months ago when they became engaged. She had promised him that she would love him even after death and that they would be together in Heaven. When his turn came, he also had no inclination to say the words, opting to lean over and kissed her full on the lips in front of everyone. A few cheers came from the crowd and a lot of laughter and clapping, but Keiron’s visage reflected only tranquillity at his bride. They were going to have a good marriage.

That afternoon after they had officially become man and wife, Keiron and Janetta stayed outside with their kinfolk and had a celebration feast for all four of the marriages Father Brian had preformed. Everything was in abundance, from joy to food and drink. Musicians placed melodies of love while the people danced and made merry. Keiron and Janetta stayed close to one another for most of the time, and he asked her to dance without being prompted while Maura showed Branan the joy of running barefoot through mud that had formed near a water barrel. On their third dance Janetta opened her eyes as her head lay on his shoulder and saw Ian leading a very timid Karoline out to join the dancers. ‘Keiron look,’ Janetta said quietly to her husband and he did, noticing that Frederic and Annie were close behind them.

It was not until near dusk when the bride and groom with their respective family retired to the third floor for their own reception. Keiron lost track of Janetta shortly after they made it to the family quarters and nearly a half of an hour later she came from her now former chamber wearing the wedding gown Elisabeth had made for her. It was a stunning sight to behold, the simple frock replaced by supple silk that made no sound as she moved in it. Her hair was intricately braided by the seamstress herself in the pattern of a Celtic knot and held in place with pearl combs Elisabeth had brought from home for her. Maura had also been changed into a pink dress with a wreath of flowers on her head, her dirty little feet washed clean and remnants of her luncheon removed from her cheeks.

He could not stop himself, Keiron’s eyes fell to the wide cut of the neckline that exposed most of Janetta shoulders, dipping down low on her bare chest. The gown was in no way indecent, but her wearing it sparked something in side of him that made him regret that the evening was still young and it would still be hours until they could be alone. To him, Janetta was every man’s dream of a beautiful bride, the admiration shaped from this belief evident by the way he gazed at her as she crossed the room to take up residence at his side.

Gifts were given to the newlyweds, two in particular that nearly brought the bride to tears. The first was from Frederic, Annie, and Ian. Two gold crosses, identical to the one Frederic had given Maura at her birth but larger in size were bestowed on Keiron and Janetta. Their newly formed family was now all wearing symbols of their faith. Before the evening was over Janetta would observe that they were not alone; Annie, Ian, and Frederic also had the same crosses hanging around their necks.

From William and Elisabeth they received the paperwork that went with the fund he had established for Janetta to receive on her twenty-fifth birthday. The amount was vast and honestly they did not need such a sum since Keiron had more than enough to provide for them. After her gratitude was heartily expressed, Janetta said under her breath “What will we ever do with all of this?”

“I don’t know.” William replied as if Janetta was addressing her question to him. “Build something.”

William’s words were actually an omen of things to come, for build they someday would and what was to be constructed would bring William and Elisabeth to Grantown on Spey permanently. It would also draw another brother home once and for all, giving him a purpose that would aid in healing his sense of not belonging.

Malcolm approached the couple only after he found them away from the rest of his family. He was not quite sure what the polite greeting was at a time like this, so he said the first thing that came to his mind to Janetta. “You write long letters.”

“Yes I do.” She acknowledged. Janetta was not afraid of Malcolm for she did not believe him as indifferent as he tried so hard to appear.

“I suppose now that you are married you will not have the leisure to do so anymore.”

“You are wrong, Malcolm Grant.” Lifting an eyebrow, she challenged him with the sweetest of smirks. “They will only increase until I start receiving longer letters from you.”

“Torture?” Keiron’s eyes narrowed slightly at his brother’s choice of words, but Janetta saw a crack of a smile on Malcolm’s lips.

“A form of it.”

Nodding his head, Malcolm placed his hand on her shoulder. He liked her. “You are much like your brother.”

“More than you may be comfortable admitting.”

Malcolm turned to Keiron and with a deadpan expression offered him his own version of a congratulation. “Good luck.”

An hour later Fergus decided that he was going to return outside, and made the suggestion aloud that he thought it would be good for all of them to go. Most caught his hint that it was time to leave the newlyweds alone, although it did take William explaining to Malcolm that he needed to come with them and end his conversation with his brother.

Janetta loved on Maura before giving her over to Annie for the night. She would be spending the next few days under her and Willa’s care. There was a moment of awkwardness between Keiron and Janetta once the room had been deserted as the idea that they could finally be alone and make love if so desired seemed more preplanned than spontaneous. Keiron broke the silence by telling Janetta that he had a gift for her, to which she replied that she too had one to give to him.

Hand in hand they entered what was now their chamber. Once the door was closed behind them and Keiron went to retrieve her gift, Janetta inhaled the scent of the room where she would spend the rest of her life. It was spacious even without the addition of the two chambers that were at each end and she could understand why the small fireplace directly across from the bed was needed.

Keiron’s writing desk that she had used when the King defeated Clan Cameron remained the same except that there were two chairs instead of one. More trunks occupied the space then Janetta had remembered, but she recalled that Keiron had cleared out one of the side rooms that had once been his nursery for Maura to occupy until she was old enough for a room of her own. Thankfully, it had a door.

Smiling to herself, Janetta went over and sat on the bench at the foot of her bed as he reentered a few minutes later with something square and thick in his hands covered with a cloth. Placing it down on the bench next to her, Keiron next asked if she wanted a glass of the wine William had given them.

“I do.” Janetta laughed lightly. “I’m all knotted up.”

“I am, too.” Glad she had admitted it, Keiron felt himself relax a bit. “I don’t know why. We’re not strangers.”

“I think we’re just being silly.” Janetta watched as Keiron opened the bottle and brought it with the glasses over to the bench. “Are you planning on getting me intoxicated?”

“Not!” He answered with a wide grin.

“How many mugs did you have last night on the roof?”

“Seven? Too many for me, but nothin’ compared to the rest of them.”

“What about Ian?”

“Four before he fell asleep.”

“What’s this?” Taking a drink of the wine, Janetta placed her left hand on his gift. The solid gold wedding band that matched his was loose but her engagement ring held in securely in place. The ring would never be resized because when the time came to send it back to St. Andrews so that the man who designed it could make it smaller, Janetta would refuse to part with it.

“I hope you like it.” Keiron placed the gift on her lap and relocated the wine bottle to the floor so that he could move closer to her as she unwrapped it. What he had bought Janetta was a large leather bound book filled with empty pages made from the finest of parchment. Janetta opened the front cover and on the first page was a sketch made in lead of her face from the side. Under it written in what appeared to be fresh ink were the words ‘I love my wife.’

“When did you draw this?” Her words trembled. Keiron had sketched her, but more importantly, it was not on a loose sheet of paper he could hide away or destroy because he did not think it was good enough.

“That day last week after we returned from our ride to the pond. The pages in the book are blank for you to put what ever you would like on them. I won’t look in it unless you want me to. You once told me that you keep[I] things[/I] inside of you, and I thought that…”

“I could write them down?”

“If you wanted. It’s for your use, Janetta.”

“It’s perfect.” She held on to Keiron for some time thanking him. His gift was evidence that he understood her. “I’ll get yours, but I fear it is not as good as this.”

Janetta had left a small wooden box with her nightclothes on a chair. She gave him the box before reclaiming her former seat to watch as he opened it. Between his thumb and forefinger Keiron brought out a long, thin golden braid that was tied at both ends.

“My hair will not always be this color and I wanted you to have this so when I am old and you can not remember what I looked like in my younger days, you will have this to remind you."

Keiron fingers ran down the length of the braid, careful not to loosen it. “I’ll not forget what you looked like today,” he said without raising his eyes up. He loved this gift.

“I doubt you’ll be able to find where it came from.” Janetta said lightly, trying to cover up the rawness she was feeling at this moment that the exchange of gifts had left her with.

Keiron knew what Janetta was doing and freely took her bait, kissing her softly before putting her braid back into its box. Responding in his own light tone, Keiron declared that he would find where the braid came from if she would turn around.

The ritual of Keiron taking Janetta’s hair down whenever she wore it up had started shortly after they became engaged. It had gotten them into more trouble during their courtship then any other act because in the past it always led to heavy necking or more, but tonight it would be a prelude instead of a temptation.

With Janetta’s back to his chest, Keiron brought one of his legs up on the bench so she could sit between them. Scooting closer, she moved backwards. The pearl combs came out first after he admired the pattern woven. Then over the next ten minutes his fingers raked themselves through her soft tendrils long after the braid was gone, Janetta occasionally flexing her neck to catch his mouth or rub her cheek against his.

“I can’t reach the ties in the back. Will you undo them for me so I can put on my nightgown?” Gathering her hair between his hands, Keiron draped it over her shoulder to expose the back of the gown. The ties were hidden between folds of material and he had to use his palm to find the crease in the muted light coming from the one oil lamp burning on a side table. An index finger lifted the top layer of silk to locate the ribbon that held the dress closed and with a gentle tug on one end, all that was left was a knot that was easily negotiated when he brought his finger under it and out. The response of the gown was to spread open, the ribbon unthreading itself from the loops causing the soft material to slide down her arms.

“You’re beautiful,” He said against her back as his lips traced small circles on her skin. The leg Keiron had beside her was bent and while he did these things to Janetta that made her lightheaded, she leaned to the right and placed her cheek on his knee, hands around his calf. For a while, time was lost.


“Hum?” His hands were on her waist and lips at the base of her neck.

“I have nothing on under this gown.” There was silence in the room for several seconds before a forced exhale was released next to her ear. Janetta turned around and tilted forward so that her lips would reach his while balancing on one hand. With her other she untied one of his boots before switching arms and undoing the next. And the pace began to hasten once his shirt was untied.

“That night I wrote those letters for you in this room,” she said quickly as she removed his boots. “After I kissed you I knew that loved you.”

Her dress fell further down her torso exposing the milk white skin of her breasts. Before his mouth explored this new frontier Keiron admitted, “I loved you then, too.”

Freeing her arms from her sleeves, Janetta stretched closer to him as he worshiped her body with wet kisses over her chest. The pace stepped up again as she began tugging at the back of his shirt to remove it. “By New Years I was determined never to leave you even if I had to live here only as your companion.”

“I already set my mind to asking for your hand by then.” Raising his arm, Keiron helped her take the shirt off.

“You’re a very handsome man.” Her vision focused on the scar over his right breast in the shape of a cross. Janetta had not considered that he had been bled when he took over his position of Chieftain. “I can’t believe you’re mine.”

Those words sent shivers down his spine. “You’ve owned me for years, Janetta. From the day I saw you…”

“Make love to me?” Not waiting for a response, Janetta stood and allowed her gown to fall from her body. The sight of his wife standing naked in front of him took away all trepidation Keiron had about their wedding night. His eyes followed her as she crawled up on their bed, pulling the blanket down as she made her way to the pillows and tossing off her slippers once she got there.

Rising, Keiron began to unbuckle his belt to free the remainder of his tartan when Janetta sat up and made an odd request. “I want the plaid.”

A mischievous grin played on his face as he did as she asked and handed her the tartan after his belt hit the floor. The grin converted into adoration when he observed Janetta wrap it around her shoulders before reclining back onto the pillows.

Keiron kissed his way up her legs, following a path from the foot of the bed as Janetta had. Words of passion were muffled against her stomach as he tasted her skin. Here he tarried for some time, patiently inching toward the headboard while her fingers ran through his hair and touched his face with feathery caresses.

When they finally lay face to face, satisfied smiled were traded as Janetta took the far edges of his tartan and enveloped them both in the plaid of a great highland chieftain. “I love my husband,” she said with joy reciting the words he had written in her book but exchanging out just one.

“Why did you marry a fool like me?” Keiron laughed.

“Because I’m a smart woman.” Janetta’s smile remained as she spread her legs to prepare them for the next milestone; consummation of their marriage.

“You cannot hurt me.” Reaching down, Janetta took hold of Keiron to guide him into her. Her fingers wrapped around his most sensitive skin sending waves of ecstasy to his brain. Once her own wetness was on him, Janetta gave her only instruction of the night. “Push slowly until you are all the way in. Remember, you cannot hurt me.”

“I love you.” He whispered.

“I know.” She responded when she felt Keiron enter her for the first time. The gradual advance woke pleasurable sensations along its way. Goosebumps rose on her skin and her nipples hardened against his chest as his body became one with hers.

“Open your eyes,” Keiron pleaded breathlessly once he had reached a barrier far inside of her. A rhythm soon developed and slow love was made while the sounds of a celebration outside their windows went unnoticed by the newlyweds. Keiron would stop at irregular intervals, sometimes to say something only for her ears or to feast on her body with his lips.

She was a small woman and he a broad man. Janetta found herself arching her back to reach him. An idea of convenience came to her and blindly reaching out to her side, she grasped hold of a plump pillow with a tight grip.

“Lift up, Sweetheart.” When he did, Janetta placed the pillow under her buttocks, then rested back with her hips now raised from the bed. By doing this, the angle of his penetration changed and soon Janetta began to experience sensations she never had before. At first it felt like an uncomfortable pressure was building up inside of her then suddenly it was replaced by a sexual tingle she could feel from head to toe. She did not fight or deny the intensity of the pleasure, and the longer Keiron continued rocking inside of her the stronger it became.

“Please don’t stop,” Janetta cried out against his shoulder as the overwhelming draw of lust now flowed through her veins. Keiron watched as she closed her eyes and allowed her head to drop back, her mouth forming words he could not hear. It was a beautiful sight, right before Janetta reached her peak when she reopened her eyes wide and stared at him with wonder. Instinctively he pushed into her harder and this is what took her over the edge into orgasm.

He could feel her tightening on him as she contracted, deep moans coming from her throat while sweat beads formed in the valley between her breasts. Witnessing her pleasure made it impossible for him to contain his anymore and with a warning that he could not wait, Keiron released himself into this woman he now called wife as the tartan of a chieftain slid from his shoulders unmasking the back of a man.

They would have a good marriage.

A child had been conceived that week on the third floor of Castle Grant, but it was not the bride and groom who were to be blessed…

D’Arcy Keep
Elgin, Scotland
April 17, 1427.

The pounding on the door startled Keiron awake but his wife was already slipping her nightgown over her head as she went to answer it. They had arrived in Elgin four days earlier for the impending birth of William and Elisabeth’s second child. Janetta was not completely convinced the mother would be birthing before their two-week holiday was over. Elisabeth simply had too much animation about her and did not seem to be near the birthing stage. Janetta was wrong.

“William, what is it? Elisabeth?”

“I need you to come with me.” Janetta questioned him no more and reached out for her robe as William gave direction to her husband. “Keiron, go to Mavis and ask her to fetch Mary.”

Janetta ran ahead of her brother into the chamber he and Elisabeth shared. The mother-to-be was in bed on a pad of blankets with her knees spread and in obvious labor. Without asking, Janetta removed the thin sheet covering the lower half of Elisabeth’s torso and what she saw she was certain was a head.

“Christ have mercy on all that is holy in this world!” A slew of words came out of Janetta. Some Gaelic, some English, and a couple possibly French, but they all had one common denominator…

“Stop cursing!” William shouted at his sister, his nerves frayed. “You’re worse than the seamen I hire!”

“Why did you wait so long?” A bewildered Janetta asked Elisabeth to which her reply was the shaking of her head. Willa had warned her that second babies often came faster than first babies, but Branan had taken most the morning to birth so Elisabeth assumed she had at least four hours before the midwife would need to be brought to the home. Elisabeth was wrong.

“I need to push.” Elisabeth said with broken breath.

“NO!” Janetta cried back.

“Oh yes!”

“Bloody hell…” Janetta again peeked between Elisabeth’s legs. This was not going to take long. “You don’t want to see this, William.”

“Yes I do.” He dropped a pile of clean linens on the bed as his wife bore down following instinct over common sense.

“Where’s Mary?” William asked the air as he crawled onto the bed to face his wife as Janetta took her position behind her.

“Mavis is gettin’ her.” A man who’s face turned pale within seconds of entering the chamber answered his question. Keiron had seen plenty of livestock being born, but this was his first woman.

Janetta looked over when she heard the sound of her husband’s voice. Noticing his reaction, she sent Keiron off to bring them warm water and get him out of the room.

Repeated to William were Janetta’s remembrances of birthing Maura, told as she supported Elisabeth with her body. “Once the head is free, the rest of the body comes quickly, William. You need to be ready to help the baby’s shoulders out. And don’t forget, the child will still be attached to the mama so don’t pull the babe too far away from her.”

“I’m sorry.” Elisabeth whispered as tears started to run down her face.

“Don’t be,” Janetta smoothed her hair back from her face. “You have two of us here and we’re all D’Arcys’. It’s going to take more than a baby to scare us off.”

Doubtful, Elisabeth’s tears soon turned to sobs. “I need to push again.”

“Then push!” Janetta said optimistically although inside she was shaking.

“Push!” William’s strong voice rang out as his role of the passive observer was over. “Give me your hands and we’ll get this baby out together.”

Kneeling between her legs, William reached out for her hands and used his leverage to hold her as Elisabeth pushed hard while Janetta offered encouragement from behind. “We’re here with you. Come on, Elisabeth, you can do this.”

Blinking away the wetness that clouded her vision, Elisabeth locked eyes with William and fed off of the confidence he had in her. A minute later she was baring down again in the silence of the room as the baby descended further down the birth canal.

“I see a face,” William told the women. “Do you have Elisabeth, Janetta?”

Janetta nodded and William once again asked his wife to push, this time with a smile and his father’s hands supporting the head of his yet to be born child.

“Push, Elisabeth.” With this effort, the shoulders were freed and within seconds the remainder of the child’s body slipped out and into William’s sturdy grasp.

“We have a daughter!” Another dark, curly headed D’Arcy baby was born that day.

“Put her on her mama’s belly, William.” Janetta brought the pillows from the bed to where she had been sitting so that she could lay Elisabeth back and start the task of cleaning the child off. “What’s this beautiful babe’s name?”

With tears of his own staining his face, William caught his breath long enough to answer his sister’s curiosity as his hand gently patted the back of his baby girl.


He appeared so much older than his twenty years standing in the walkway outside of Keiron’s chamber on the first floor of Castle Grant. The bells ringing outside could be heard deep within the structure as they were being beat to a rhythm his father had taught him. The Call to Arms. Leaning his back against the wall, the disillusioned cast of a little boy shone in Ian’s eyes when betrayed by what artificial light there was at this hour in the night.

The door opened and Janetta came out by herself, closing it behind her. The only acknowledgment Ian received was her placing her hand on his arm as she passed by without stopping, her gait listless and metered. Not a ten seconds later Keiron followed her, calling out Janetta’s name firmly enough that she stopped and waited for him. From the distance Ian could see that her shoulders were shaking, yet confirmation that she was weeping did not occur until Keiron pulled her against him. Ian had heard Janetta cry once before, but to see it was unbearable and he had to look away as the guilt he had by association ate at him.

“How could they?” She choked between sobs. Ian had asked himself that same question over and over since word of the atrocity reached him. How could those people believe that what they were doing would ever earn them that which they coveted most? The Grant lands that bordered their own.

Over the vibrations of the bells calling out again Ian could hear Keiron’s response. “There will be an answering.”

Her labored breathing marked the passage of time, gradually subsiding until Janetta spoke. “No amount of bloodshed can bring back those we have lost.”

“I will make them think twice before they consider doing it again.” It was the way Keiron voiced this statement that caused Ian’s stomach tangle up in a knot. He had not known his cousin to be a man to make threats, although it sounded more like a vow than a warning.

“You’re leaving in the morning?” There was desperation in Janetta’s question to Keiron, another first for Ian to unwillingly witness. No longer wanting to be an intruder to the private conversation between two people he had great admiration for, Ian considered which means of escape he could employ to leave them to their selves.

Having not yet answered his wife’s inquiry, Keiron was thinking the same as Ian and made the decision for him.

“Go in the room, Ian.” He said without taking his eyes from Janetta. “Frederic is still in there.”

In any other circumstance Ian would not hesitate to do as Keiron told him but as he reached for the door handle and considered the ten other Grant men that were congregated inside, his father and Nolen included, he could not face them as he was now. With long strides he went down the hallway past his cousins saying, “I’ll be back later,” as he caught sight of the wet area on Keiron’s linen shirt where she had cried against him. This tore at his heart and Ian’s pace increased to put distance between himself and his shame.

Once Ian made it to the great hall, he sat down on the hearth of the old fireplace that was still harboring embers from the evening before. It was not even two weeks ago news reached Urquhart that the Davidson chieftain had died in his sleep many days before. With this information came assorted rumors attached to the death including that the man had black bruises around his neck at his burial. Of his two sons, only the eldest lived in the same residence as his father and circulating within Davidson territory was the innuendo that he had long desired his father’s death due to what he considered incompetence in his ability to rule.

Frederic did not give much heed to the rumors, but he did express an opinion about Sean Davidson taking his father’s place. For as much as the elder chieftain had hated the Grants, Sean despised them with a passion that came from the very core of his being. He was not known for being a man of reason, but rather a man of intent no matter how illogical his aspirations were. There was no secret about what Sean desired. It was what generations of his neighbors had cleared and worked to cultivate. The soil belonging to the Grants.

Two nights past a strike was made against them during the dark of night that no one had expected this soon. The casualties were high and indiscriminate, fires still burning when Frederic went to investigate the next morning. The farmstead the Grants had used when Janetta had been rescued from her captors no longer existed, and the homesteader who rode through the night to give Frederic Annie’s message about Janetta’s whereabouts was dead. One of many who were innocent.

No one doubted who instigated these attacks since the Davidsons did not use disguise as a method to confuse the Grants. Survivors gave reports of both visual and verbal proof and once Frederic was satisfied he had enough, he and Ian rode hard to reach Grantown of Spey while Nolen’s men began to set up defenses to protect the area.

Fingering the stripe of Davidson tartan he still wore hanging loosely down from his belt, Ian wished he could defend the actions of his former kinsmen but it was not possible. Tugging at the plaid, he removed it from his body and reverently folded it, placing it beside him on the stone. The harming of innocent people was never acceptable if it could be avoided. This is what Frederic had told him at least fifty times since they first met, and now Ian understood this was one of the most important directives his father could give him.

In the silence of the room he unsheathed his sword and tilted the blade so that the light coming from the embers would be reflected on the steel. There were no nicks or repairs needed to be done, just scratches and one shallow gouge from it’s being used in mock combat. It also had no history for him to be embarrassed of, nor any to give him pride. The only blood that the blade had seen was Ian’s own when he cut himself sharpening it.

Some time later Ian identified his father and Keiron arguing as their bitter words floated into the great hall while their footsteps signaled their descent down the hall.

“Because you have no heirs except me!” His father shouted as he neared the open door. “I don’t give a damn if you go, Keiron, but don’t you dare enter into a bloody fight and risk leaving me to pick up the pieces of our family. Fergus will never enter the line of succession, and I can’t do what you do!

“Why do you talk like I’m already dead?”

“If you leave her a widow for a second time…”

“Leave my wife out of this!” The footsteps stopped and Ian held his breath. Tonight truly was one of firsts, and he prayed that the tempers that were flaring because of the tension of the situation were not about to get out of control. Relief came when Frederic’s much calmer voice spoke out once again.

“Swear you will not enter the fighting. I’ll stay here with Janetta. We cannot both be in the same location when war breaks out.”

What his father had said was true; Frederic could not go with Keiron if he went to the area where the attacks had occurred. They had to remain separate in the event that one would lose their life, there would still a man from Calum Grant’s bloodline to lead their people. Standing up, Ian sheathed his sword. In his father’s place he would accompany Keiron. He would not leave his chieftain’s side.

Sean Davidson was dead five days later and in his place stepped a younger brother who did not share the bloodlust his elder had. Under the unyielding glare of the Grant’s chieftain the man signed a treaty that he would take responsibility for all that occurred and that the attacks would cease.

Keiron returned home three weeks after his departure, and Ian rode by his side from Urquhart. They barely made it the stables when he saw Janetta running from the back door of the castle to meet them with Keiron’s brother Malcolm walking not far behind. He had come from Edinburgh as soon as Janetta’s hastily written letter had reached him, and the now ‘Father Malcolm’ seemed to have misplaced his priest robe and had to don the plaid of his family.

The day was Wednesday and at Janetta’s regularly scheduled time when she still recited stories each week to her kinsfolk, Keiron addressed them instead and told them all that had transpired. The crowd was great and the questions from them many, which the chieftain answered patiently while Ian and Frederic stood at the back of the room. Leaning in toward him, Ian asked his father a question of his own.

“How does a man become a great warrior?”

“Through practice and knowledge.” Frederic shifted his gaze from Keiron to Ian. In his gut he knew that his son had made the decision about what he wanted to be in his adulthood. Frederic was neither disheartened nor happy by this disclosure, but accepting that this was his choice.

“I want to go to William D’Arcy to learn. Will you and mama come with me?”

Frederic nodded to his son. He was willing to leave his Urquhart for his son’s education.

“And will you teach me everythin’ you know?”

“I’ll not teach you how to fight, but I’ll show you how to defend.”

To some fighting and defending are one in the same, but Frederic differentiating between them would be lesson number one for his son.

“I’d like that, father.” Ian Grant replied.

The Epilogue.
And the sun goes ‘round the moon…

During the first two years of her marriage, Janetta witnessed many changes occur on the third floor of Castle Grant. There was a constant flow of family members coming and going, and some days she wasn’t certain how many people to prepare their supper for because they were generally difficult to keep track of. After the attacks near Urquhart had ended, Malcolm announced one night that he was not the most accomplished priest. When Janetta asked him why he thought this, his reply caused Keiron to choke on his supper.

‘I don’t care much for people’ he said with a straight face. None at the table that night really knew if he was serious or not. ‘Then stay here and minister to our pigs and sheep,’ Janetta advised him. Malcolm took her up on her offer and resigned from the Church the next day. He was a terrible priest so it was a good decision for all involved.

Malcolm had every intention of keeping his vow of abstinence since he had little patience for women and their ways. They talked too much and needed things, he told himself to justify his honoring the vow and keeping him out of harms way. Much to his misfortune a large ship in need of emergency repair docked at Elgin not even a year after his giving up the priesthood. He was with William at the time aiding in Ian’s education and took no interest until the owner of his ship and his family came to stay at D’Arcy Keep while the repairs occurred.

The family was Italian and being that Malcolm was the only person who understood a little of what they were saying, he grudgingly became translator. With them was a daughter of twenty-six years. She was not an exceptionally attractive woman either in looks or personality, but she had the forked tongue of the she-devil and a temperament to match.

A twisted form of ‘love at first sight’ festered between these two and their arguments would often go on well into the night; more than once bringing William out of his chamber to break them apart so that he could get some sleep. Something had to be done, for they were disrupting the household and confusing poor Karoline who was not accustomed to spirited debate. William took it upon himself to counsel Malcolm, suggesting that the two of them find a way to form a truce. They did.
I am to be wed Sunday.
She is from Italy.


Keiron and Janetta thought Malcolm was in jest when they first read his note. William had anticipated this and sent a longer letter of his own detailing the peculiar courtship he had endured for the past three weeks. Inasmuch as Malcolm getting married shocked them all, their astonishment reached an all time high when during the service the bride put her hand on her hip and leveled her eyes at the groom daring him to say ‘I do.’ Malcolm was a happy man.

While Malcolm was wooing his new bride in a home of their own that Keiron set them up in due to the turbulence that followed them where ever they went, Frederic and Annie moved the last of their belongings into Castle Grant. This was their arrangement while their son split his time between Grantown on Spey and Elgin. William had kindly offered to tutor Ian and a pattern soon developed where the young man would alternate weeks between the two places so his father could also work with him. No one could have anticipated the dedication Ian showed to these two areas of his life and the common thread between them both was the presence of Karoline.

When Ian was being educated she was beside him doing the same, and once Karoline reached the age of eighteen she traveled with him to Castle Grant on the weeks he spent under Frederic’s guidance. The young woman would never be completely comfortable in the presence of most people, but when the other adults were away from the third floor she could be heard singing and playing for Maura while the little girl danced circles in her room. Ian was also privileged to these impromptu concerts.

Their romance was one of innocence. Karoline spent countless hours watching him master the art of swordplay and when the day came that Ian broke Frederic’s practice shield during a duel, she was there as witness. She was also the first to know when with Keiron’s aid, Ian decided to legally take his father’s surname.

Ian joined the Grant militia at the age of twenty-one and shortly thereafter asked Karoline to marry him. Karoline’s surreal beauty was not all that had attracted him to her. The gentleness in which she approached everything gave him hope. He was in love with the sweetest of women and with William’s blessing they were to be wed in a small service nearly two years after Keiron and Janetta.

Keiron was the one who gave Ian [I]the talk[/I] before he was to be married and what could have been an embarrassing situation turned out the opposite. The elder cousin had dreaded the task, as he was not certain exactly what he should say to Ian or the level of detail, but once they sat down it came out all right. Midway through their conversation Ian relayed that he and Karoline had kissed but from the way he phrased his words, Keiron interpreted that the couple was not openly intimate with one another. Following his hunch, Keiron gave his cousin advice that would prove to be a great relief to Ian. ‘Just because it’s your weddin’ night, that does not mean that you have to do anything that one or both of you are not ready for. You have time; life is long. There’s no rush, Ian.’

Elisabeth once again made a beautiful wedding gown, patterning it after the fashion she had observed when she and William were in Oslo. William gave his foster sister away to the groom believing in his heart that he had done right by Karoline by bringing her to Scotland with them, although it robbed her of the heritage of her people. Karoline would not have had it any other way.

They honeymooned at Castle Grant after being joined in matrimony in Elgin. The day after their wedding they rose early and joined their family in the common room to break fast. They did not take advantage of the two day reprise where they were expected to stay locked up in their room as couples before them had, instead making the choice to go riding. On the ninth night of their marriage they were both comfortable enough to be with each other…intimately. Ian loved his bride and treated her with the gentleness she had always shown him, and as Keiron had told Ian there was no rush.

Fergus and his family returned to Urquhart after the wedding for a few weeks before he had to assume his duty as tax collector. It was an autumn afternoon when his seventeen year old daughter Genevieve came into the room he used for brewing after collecting some of the French grapes Fergus had allowed to grow wild. She sat her basket on a stool and retrieved a mug from a shelf on the wall before dipping it into a barrel of her father’s ale. ‘This would be better with hops,’ she told him, Fergus nodding knowingly back at her.

“I’ve been thinkin’” Genevieve continued on, “’bout what would happen if we crushed some of these grapes, added a bit ‘o molasses and allowed yeast to grow with haste in it under heat.”


“No, papa. I was thinkin’ ‘bout bitter or stout with wee hint of flavor to it. Not too sweet. ‘Course, the wood you brewed it in would be important. I was thinkin’ that a mild scented tree would be good.”

Genevieve pulled a dried grapevine from her basket and handed it to her father. ‘Smell this,’ she said seriously. ‘I wanna make this smell into a taste.’

Fergus could have cried right then and there! When the time came for him to go collecting, he took Genevieve with him and promptly deposited her on the doorstep of William D’Arcy. ‘Can ya teach ‘er to read an write recipes?’ he asked. ‘I’ll be back in a month.’

William accepted in his latest pupil with some trepidation about any success being achieved. She was an odd young woman. Genevieve smelled things. In fact, she smelled about everything she came into contact with. William would hand her parchment and she lift it to her nose, she would sniff at the woodpile, the leaves on the ground, even the ground itself. Her favorite haunt was the pantry where the spices were stored. One day William asked Elisabeth if she too had observed this queer behavior in the woman Grant. His wife could not deny that the trait was blazingly obvious and that Genevieve might not be quite ‘right’ in the head.

Little did they know that they had a brewing genius staying in their home. They had just thought she was strange. William taught Genevieve what he could in the short time Fergus had given them before she returned home to Urquhart. That winter father and daughter schemed and bickered, the only break allowed was to attend New Years at Castle Grant. Batches were made and consequently thrown out until in late March of the following year they had captured the smell Genevieve had wanted to taste. It was bloody good, too.

With his chest puffed out like a rooster, Fergus drained his first mug of the brew before giving his final approval. Genevieve Grant Grant’s brew—she had married a distant cousin during this time—was named after her most esteemed mentor, Fergus, and soon it was ready to be shared with the inhabitants of Urquhart keep.

Not long afterward Fergus asked his daughter what she wanted to make next. She pulled from her pocket a small bag Elisabeth D’Arcy had given her, inside of it were dried elderberries. She put the muslin up to her father’s nose to which he replied ‘wine?’

“No, papa.” From the floor she lifted a jug of single malt, uncorked it and put it one the table with her berries. After a piece of partially burned wood was brought over from the cold fireplace, Genevieve took a deep breath and inhaled the three together. “Whiskey.”

Fergus could have cried right then and there.

William and Elisabeth were astonished when a small barrel of Fergus and Genevieve’s concoction arrived at their home as a thank you for him teaching the young woman. They sipped some that night after putting their children to bed and checking in on the two lads Janetta had sent them from Grantown on Spey. Somewhere in the past two years D’Arcy Keep had become a place of learning and it had happened so gradually that they never thought about what the consequences would be. William was fortunate that his wife had a level of intelligence he had not foreseen, and a strong enough spirit to handle the parade of strangers that went through their home.

Malcolm had stayed with him a great deal during the first year when he was in charge of educating Ian and the few stray children that would occasionally arrive, but since his marriage and wife’s delivery of a daughter, the Grant was less apt to travel and be away from them. Malcolm had been an enormous help and in his absence Elisabeth stepped in. Branan and Sarah would always remain her first priority, but there were hours each day that Elisabeth had free to devote to the others.

William had never planned on being an educator, but that God given talent Janetta had mentioned seemed to have a will of its own. It was not difficult for him and as he soon realized, equally as natural for Elisabeth.

Rolling the unique whiskey Genevieve had sent around in his mouth trying to distinguish the flavors, William swallowed then turned to his treasured wife and partner. “It would be easier if we were not in Elgin but in Grantown on Spey.”

“I know,” she acknowledged back and no more was said on the subject for years until Janetta turned twenty-five and informed William of her plans for the wealth he had bestowed on her and Keiron.

“We want to build a place for the children to learn if you would consider coming to it. It won’t be too awfully large, and Malcolm has already committed.”

That is what it took for William and Elisabeth to give up D’Arcy Keep and move their family…to their family at Grantown on Spey. But that was still years off and as William sat in a chair next to Elisabeth holding her hand as he always did, a little girl entered in through their partially open chamber door.

“Come, Sarah.” William said in an inviting tone and his daughter ran to him to be lifted to his lap. “Maybe your mama can find us a book to read. Would you like that?”

Sarah was still too young to fully understand what her father was referring to, but the word ‘book’ she recognized as she settled in for a good read from her papa and avoid sleep for just a little while longer.

As the third anniversary of their marriage was nearing, Janetta received a letter from William explaining that only he and Branan would be attending the annual clan gathering. The reason for this was that Elisabeth recently discovered was expecting their third child. This news came on the heels of Annie delivering a son for Ian and Karoline the month before, and Malcolm informing them that his wife was ‘indisposed of’ once again. As it was impossible to have so many young couples newly married without enduring a population explosion, none of this could be deemed unexpected. From everywhere there were babies entering the family. Everywhere except from Janetta.

She handled the news of impending birth graciously and with joy, but as the blessed announcements continued to pour in, Janetta held within her the profound remorse that she and Keiron could not offer them any happy news in return. Janetta had spoken to Annie in the strictest of confidence about why she thought she was not with child after being actively married for so long. When Annie asked her about her monthly bleeds, she confessed that she had only had two since she and Keiron had been wed, even less than what she used to endure before she had Maura. Her aunt carefully mentioned that she believed that may be what was taking them a little longer and to not be discouraged. Annie’s reassurance fell on deaf ears.

Keiron was out when William’s letter arrived and Janetta left it on his desk on the first floor before going about her business for the day. They usually read their messages together, but she was busy and had much to do. At least that is what Janetta told herself. Keiron found her when he returned in the early afternoon after reading the letter.

“New Years will be noisy this year. How many cryin’ babes do you think Fergus can listen to until he goes hiding on the roof?” Keiron could not have been happier for his friends.

“Not many,” Janetta smiled a little, not meeting his gaze for long.

“Is something amiss?” In his defense it did not occur to Keiron that their being without an infant by now was worth worrying over. They had Maura and his attitude was ‘what would be would be’ as far as any other children were concerned. Janetta not being in a maternal way had afforded her the ability of traveling with him since their marriage, and Keiron sincerely enjoyed being able to show her the Scotland she had never seen.

Janetta replied that she simply had a lot on her mind and was distracted, which he accepted but as the day progressed she felt herself nearer and nearer tears. When she had to excuse herself from Karoline’s room after visiting her son, Janetta realized that she could not hold this in anymore.

The book Keiron had given her on their wedding was half full. In it were pleasant memories, stories he had told her that she wanted to keep and personal insights about the cities she had been to. This was the purpose Janetta had assigned the book, but this day as she flipped through the pages in an attempt to cheer herself up, Janetta used it for one her husband had suggested.

That night Janetta claimed tiredness as a reason not to join the others for supper, which was partially true and after Maura was put to bed Keiron came into their room as was their habit so that they could have time alone. Again he asked her if something was wrong and after much soul searching, Janetta let him read what she had written in the book.
How do I explain the guilt I feel for denying him this opportunity because I am flawed? If Malcolm does not have a son then I have successfully ended their father’s line…

Afterwards Keiron set about making her understand that producing heirs was not what they were married for. For hours they talked, she had cried and that broke his heart. Keiron’s efforts were in vain, but not for the reason one might think.

While he was convincing his wife that if they never had any other children he would be satisfied, Janetta was already pregnant, three months along in fact but she did not suspect. During the next four weeks she would blossom to a point where not even she could deny that there was a child growing inside of her. That New Years the loudest crying baby was their firstborn son. Fourteen short months later, he had a brother join him in the nursery.

For the next two years the activity of raising Maura and the two boys consumed what used to be their private time in the evenings, but they were well worth it. When their youngest was two and half years old, Keiron moved the lads into a room of their own to share and that freedom rekindled the honeymooners they had once been. It also gave Janetta a chance to hear the words ‘you have a son’ for the third time at the age of thirty.

Her monthly bleeds stopped after Neal was born, but this was not necessarily unwelcome. Between their four children they had a brood to be reckoned with. But perhaps there could be room for just one more…

As Janetta’s thirty-fifth birthday approached, she looked over the supper table at her husband one night and told him flatly ‘I feel old.’ The boys had been in more mischief that day while they were supposed to be cleaning out stalls, and Maura had recently decided that she knew everything she needed to know and no longer required the guidance of her mother or the tutoring of her Uncle William. Keiron understood and as soon as the lads had finished their supper he sent them to their rooms to complete their punishment for being naughty at the stables.

He then listened as Maura complained as a young girl of fifteen often does about the dire situation of her life, promptly sending her to her chamber once she was done to think about all she was blessed with. In the silence Keiron then announced to his wife that he was going to bed early and left her there to enjoy the peace he had created for her.

During the half-hour while Janetta sat happily by herself, Keiron went into the adjourning room he stored many of their trunks and began searching for a long lost keepsake he had not seen for some time. It did not take much effort for him to locate it for he was an organized man, and from it’s wooden box Keiron removed the braid Janetta had cut from her hair fourteen years before.

When she joined him in their chamber Keiron stared for a moment as he did not see Janetta as older, but rather the twenty-one year young bride that had brought him to his knees on their wedding night. ‘Let me take your hair down for you,’ he said, a rite that had fallen by the wayside as their lives became hectic.

“Do you remember me?” Janetta smiled, seeing the braid in his hand. Keiron replied that he did, and then she told him that he had only grown more handsome in his forty years. Sitting on the bench that still remained at the foot of their bed, he invited her to come sit by him. If her hair had faded with the passage of time Keiron did not see it as his fingers relived the sensation of days gone by.

That night he made slow love to her as he had before, his hands running freely over her skin while his lips kissed the area below her navel that had given him four beautiful, healthy children. Keiron held back his own desires until he heard Janetta cry out his name into the room that had witnessed the best years of their lives. Then he did it all again. The next morning Janetta woke to see her husband smiling down at her. Her body ached, her hair was tangled and spread across his chest, and inside her womb their final child began to grow.

She was seven months pregnant when on a frosty day Ian came bursting through the front doors of Castle Grant in a panic to find her. As Warlord he always was by Keiron’s side when he went away from the grounds, and Ian was faithfully there when his cousin’s horse lost it’s footing and threw him to the ground against the rocks they were traveling over. They brought their Chieftain in on a makeshift stretcher and took him up to his bed on the third floor. Keiron was in the deepest of sleeps.

As the days began to advance and no change occurred in his condition, their family started to filter in. William, Elisabeth, and Malcolm were there since it happened, leaving their own children with Malcolm’s wife to watch over them. Annie, Frederic, and Fergus soon following from Urquhart. Janetta only allowed those closest to him tend to her husband and false reports were ‘leaked’ by Ian that Keiron was showing improvement, which was an outright lie but felt necessary due to their eldest son Christian’s age. Janetta absolutely refused to believe that Keiron would not get better, but she did realize the need to protect his heir in the event that someone might try to take advantage of the Grant Chieftain being in a weakened state.

When the days turned into weeks there were some in her immediate family that suggested that she stop giving him the milk based drink she was feeding him every two hours and let Keiron pass away in peace. Those were the first people she banished from his sickroom, for that certitude she clung to did not wavier and Janetta refused to be surrounded by anyone who had lost their faith. She ran all their business from the table in their chamber, Christian and Malcolm were with her, but it was Janetta who knew what needed to be done. In the back of her mind she realized Malcolm was trying to groom her young son for the possibility that he would soon inherit a title he was not ready for, but Janetta let this slip because of her fondness for her brother-in-law.

Maura was the best at getting her papa to swallow and that became her purpose in life during this time of need, chatting at Keiron as if he was awake about the good things happening around him. This did take its toll on the young lady but she was as stubborn as Janetta once her mind was determined; a D’Arcy trait one might say. The two younger sons were allowed to come in and play on their father’s bed as long as they were behaved, but they were not permitted to tell their friends that their papa did not move or talk back to them.

And Janetta, she was not ready to let go of Keiron yet. His hands she would put on her belly at night when she would lie beside him to sleep. Keiron had always loved to feel their babies kicking and she was not going to let him miss this opportunity because he was unable to reach out toward her. Janetta was his nurse and he was her confident as she would talk to him until she could no longer keep her eyes open and fall into her own slumber. If Janetta was afraid she disclosed it to no one including herself.

A little over six weeks after his accident Janetta went into labor and Annie delivered her a fifth child. They had a daughter. An hour after giving birth, Ian helped Janetta back to the bed she shared with her husband and tucked her in as she laid next to him once a pillow was placed under Keiron’s arm so that he could hold their baby. As she positioned the wee girl in the crook of his arm, Janetta described what she looked like to him and then she told him a decision she had made.

“I’m going to name this one since you named Neal. I’ve decided on…” In that brief moment between words, Janetta lost her own faith that he would come back to her. Sensing the eyes of Ian on her, Janetta pulled herself out of the despair that was threatening to betray her and she continued on. All of this occurred within the blink of an eye.

“Her name is going to be Hope.”

For the first five days of her life, Hope spent her time in the arms of her father when not being nursed by her mother. That night Janetta was particularly fatigued and as the baby began to cry she said without thinking ‘Keiron, please get her for me.’ His hand moved in response and Keiron began to wake after a very long sleep.

His convalescence would take many months, but none could dispute that the care Janetta had given him was what saved Keiron when all hope was gone. It also bought them another fifteen years together as husband and wife. The child Hope gave her parents great joy in the latter stages of their lives. She had the appearance of her mother with the blond hair and small build, and the gentle-hearted personality of her father when he was a young lad. Hope was easily pleased and rarely sad, although she did cry for days after her older sister Maura married a young sea captain Uncle William had introduced her to.

The courtship of Maura was fast, furious, and decisive. Much like Malcolm’s, sans the argumentative tendencies her uncle and his wife still enjoyed. With the money from Wallace D’Arcy’s estate that Keiron had put away for her after the death of Cameron, Maura and her husband bought their own moderately sized boat and set sail. They traveled everywhere and what Maura would see she would write down in a journal akin to the one her mother had. Maura always remembered to return home and at least twice a year they would make port in Elgin with tales and treasures from abroad. They never had any children of their own, but with the lifestyle the couple had chosen perhaps it was for the better and fortunately Maura did not feel as if she was incomplete because of this. Her brothers and sister would someday give her nephews and nieces to dote on, and Maura had enough cousins to fill a small country.

One of those cousins, Branan D’Arcy stood in the front courtyard the day Maura and her husband of two hours left on horseback for Elgin where they would set sail the next morning on a newlywed cruise to deliver brewed goods to Norway. He was not alone for long when his sister Sarah came up beside him.

“There are women authors who are published in France.” Sarah said, rekindling an old conversation she could not quite let go of despite the look of annoyance her brother gave her.

“I know.”

“Papa won’t take me.”

“He took you last year.” Branan defended his father. At least once a year William brought his wife and three children on an adventure by way of boat. This is what they did as a family and France had been last year’s destination.

“I want to go to Paris.” Knowing she was getting under her brother’s skin, Sarah smiled. It was the young woman’s hope that her brother would state his preference as Paris this year when their father would ask where they wanted to go on holiday. She was certain she could get her younger brother to do the same if Branan would.


“So I can find and read their books. I would like to write and have other people read it.”

“Have you written something worthy of publishing?”

“I believe so.” This was the first time Sarah answered him in the affirmative, before she had usually claimed that it was improving and she needed more practice.

“Show me.” All three children voted to go to Paris that year. Sarah found her woman authors and would someday become one herself, and Branan found that he liked watching his father negotiate business. One day the D’Arcy family would once again have full sized ships of their own, but they would be run by Branan and never used to transport people against their will as his grandfather had.

April 22, 2005
Elgin, Scotland.

Georgiana Darcy waited patiently in the sitting room of the Inn looking down at her knees and hoping that no one would pay any particular attention to her. She worked in New York and had been sent to Scotland to do research for her latest project, although why they sent her she was the last to understand. Of all the people in her group, Georgiana believed herself the least likely to get anyone to talk to her. This was because it would require her to talk first.

Letting a slow breath out from her lungs, she caught the woman innkeeper approaching her and being followed by what appeared to be the legs of a man in denim jeans. Georgiana prayed this was the person she had come to see because her nerves could not handle waiting for the unknown much longer.

Introductions were made and as she gazed up at the man with fiery red hair and the build of a football player, she was somewhat certain she had the wrong person. The Duncan Grant she needed taught history and had in his possession some of his family’s oldest treasures from the fifteenth century. She had expected him to be very old and wearing tweed, perhaps even using a walking stick or cane. But when she shook this man’s hand and the innkeeper said his name, it did fit.

“You are the professor of history?” She questioned the man who could not even be thirty years old.

“I am.” Duncan replied in a thick accent. “And you are the woman from the movie people? Georgiana?”

“Well, the costumers. Yes.” There was an awkward silence after the innkeeper left them alone and Georgiana realized that she needed to forward the conversation. It was true that she not good at small talk but as she laced her fingers together and looked about the room, Georgiana told herself that she was a professional and this was part of her job.

“Where do you teach?” She asked him in an attempt to appear at ease.

“At Napier in Edinburgh.” Duncan had never met a shy American before and once he established that Georgiana was indeed uncomfortable, he decided to lighten the atmosphere by making a joke. “We’re the ones that advertise the lively nightlife of our capitol city to draw students in.”

Georgiana looked up at him as the corners of her mouth turned upward, but as quickly as it came it dropped as the idea that she had inconvenienced him came to mind. “You did not come all that way just for this?”

“No, it was my weekend to visit my mother, who happens to own this fine establishment. She’s very particular about me showing up. Hits me with a stick when I don’t. Now, tell me why you’re here.”

With the preliminaries over, Georgiana relaxed somewhat as she began to talk about her industry. “We’re working on a movie that is set in the 1400’s Scotland. It’s based on a book and the author wants…has demanded that the costumes be authentic. She’s a strange one; she doesn’t mind if her story is distorted in the least bit. All she seems to care about is that we have the tartan correct.”

“American author?” Duncan asked with the lift of an eyebrow, secure in the belief that Georgiana was going to answer him in the positive.


“I thought so. Wait here and I’ll bring you what I have.” He disappeared for a while to go to the safe where he kept his irreplaceable links to the past and when he returned carrying a long wooden box, the jovial aspect of his nature was still in place. “Is this movie about the Grants?”

“Loosely based.” Georgiana admitted as she put her hands on the table to support her weight as she peered into his box. Her curiosity often won out over her timidness.

“Good. We don’t need another movie about William Wallace now do we?”

“Wrong century,” Georgiana corrected him in a small voice. He may be an expert at History, but she designed historical wear for plays and movies. Therefore she knew a little of what she spoke.

“You claimed it was an American author?” Tilting his head, a grin spread across Duncan’s face as he took great delight in teasing her.

“Yes.” Rolling her eyes at his assumption that an American would be so bold as to change Scottish history timeline to suit their purposes, Georgiana let out a laugh before reaching into her purse for her glasses.

From the box Duncan brought out a length of ancient Grant plaid and laid it in front of her. Georgiana reached out to feel it, but what he placed on the table next garnered her notice away from the cloth immediately.

“May I?” She asked before touching the drawing in a frame.

“That’s a sketch that we found with the Warlord’s Ian Grant’s belongings when they were renovating Castle Grant.” Duncan stopped what he was doing and looked at it with her. It was a drawing of five children’s faces. “I had it framed to protect it because we believe it’s from the same era and it needed the protection. It’s not the Warlord’s children though, we know that because he had five sons.”

“His poor wife.”

“Women always say that.” Duncan concurred. “We’re convinced it’s of the children of the Chieftain he served under. If we’re correct, the daughter to the right of the others was Hope Grant Stewart. She married a close relative of a King and we have much written about her at the national archives. She was a revered philanthropist who supported education in Scotland of all children against popular opinion during her times. I’m positive it’s the offspring of Chieftain Keiron Grant because it matches the style of another drawing we once had in a journal belonging to his wife that was burned in a fire many years ago.”

“That is a loss.”

“It is, but would you like me to show you what was saved?” Nodding, Georgiana consented and he asked her to stay put while he was gone. When Duncan returned with a sword wrapped in a heavy cloth, Georgiana gently cleared him an area so that he could lay it down. She then proceeded to catch her breath when it was unveiled to her for the first time.

“This is Warlord Ian Grant’s sword.” Duncan turned the blade to catch the light as its original owner had done hundreds of years ago so that the illumination would reveal the scars on the steel. “If you look closely you can see nicks in the blade where it must have been used in battles. He was a warlord for twenty-one years. An amazing reign considering Warlords rarely lived through their tenure.”

“May I hold it?” Georgiana was lost in the presence of this sword and when he handed it to her, the warmth of the metal where Duncan had been handling it transferred into her own palm.

“Its six hundredth birthday will be coming up before we know it. I’m going to have it a party.” He watched her laugh as her pretty face became prettier, then he turned serious for a minute. “I will never part with this.”

“I wouldn’t either.”

They went through the contents Duncan had retrieved for her and discussed most of it before out of the blue Duncan made Georgiana a proposal.

“Have you been to the G. Grant Brewery?”

“No, but I’ve had the stout before.”

“In a bottle in America?”


“How would you like to have a pint of Genevieve Grant’s original Spring stout at an authentic Scottish pub while a Scotsman, that would be me, told you stories about the Warlord Ian Grant?”

“Let’s go,” was whispered in return.

As they were leaving the Inn, Duncan leaned over and asked Georgiana what she did for fun back in America. With a little hesitation she admitted that she played the piano.

“There’s a piano at the pub. Would you grace us with a song if I buy your supper?” He asked with mirth in his voice, and to which she replied that she did not often play for other people. Duncan questioned her no more as they passed the doorway leading to the sitting room where another piano existed. Before the night was over Georgiana would play it for him, and before the year was over she would refer to Duncan as her husband.

After being at the pub for a good hour, they made a toast to Ian and Karoline Grant, not knowing that in actuality they were drinking to themselves.

The End


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