Scotland Chapters 1-7
Scotland (R) Blurb: Set in Scotland during the year 1424, many of Jane Austin’s most beloved characters come together
to tell a story of love, obsession, and the true meaning of honor. Rated R due to sexual content, adult situations, violence,
(A Hundred Thousand Welcomes )
1404 Castle Grant, Scotland. The final gift Maura Grant gives to her husband Calum is a healthy baby boy. The occasion is solemnly marked by the child being christened with his mother’s clan name: Cameron. The Priest performs the ceremony in front of an audience that includes the infant’s sister Maura and elder brothers Gregor, Keiron, and Malcolm. Clan Grant mourns their Chief’s wife by observing “The wearing of Black” for the following month.
1413 Elgin, Scotland. Enlla and Luthais D’Arcy announce the joyous birth of their daughter, Ana, by Luthais holding the babe over his head to the cheers of the gathered folk below his bedchamber window. A celebration is immediately ordered in which the older D’Arcy children, William and Janetta, are allowed to participate. It is on this day that six year old Janetta will be the first to notice there was something not quite right about Ana’s eyes. The babe died seven days later.
Clan Grant Territory
June 21st 1424
As the last of the clan folk slowly filtered out of the great hall, Cameron Grant rose wearily from his place between his two uncles, stumbling just a little as his feet made contact with the floor. For clarity sake it must be mentioned that it might have been due to the fact that his uncles brought out their private stash of the good ale and kept his tankard filled throughout the evening, practically forcing him to partake with their endless toasts and salutations.
At twenty-one years of age and being a tall, stout man to begin with, Cameron was more than able to handle his liquor. Yet, even after two years serving in his country’s regiment he still had not built up the resistance his uncle’s were displaying on this, his first night back on Grant territory.
“Not yet, laddie,” an inebriated Fergus Grant muttered before pushing Cameron back down into his seat “We had no time to clatter. With all the people clambering to reintroduce themselves to you and all. I want to hear the good stuff about ye’re adventuring with the Black Watch.”
“Tonight? Can this wait ‘til the morning?”
Fergus shook his head, rubbing it against the back of his chair.
“I want to hear it now. The women will be wit’ us on the ‘morrow and I’ll be busy listing to Willa bitch all the way to Castle Grant.” Fergus cleared his throat in preparation to give his best imitation of his darling wife.
Realizing what was coming, Cameron rolled his head in the direction of his other uncle, the ever straight-faced Frederic, to pass off an amused glance. For as much as Willa liked to complain during long journeys, Fergus took great pleasure in impersonating her.
“My horse is too slow.” He started out in a high-pitched voice, which did hold an uncanny resemblance to his wife’s. “I don’t understand why this loch has to be so big.”
Frederic lifted the edge of his mouth a bit in humor, and this was all Fergus needed to continue on:
“My bum hurts from this retched saddle, and it’s all ye’re fault, you dirty toad! Give me ye’re blanket to sit on.” The pitch went up one more notch for Fergus’s favorite complaint. “Who exactly was responsible for building Castle Grant so far from Urquhart Keep? I want to spit on their grave!”
Having been susceptible to his uncle’s humor since he was a child, Cameron let out a hearty laugh, thus spilling a large portion of ale on the edge of his blue and black hunting tartan.
“All the way there, men. So ye better be prepared.” Fergus let out a sigh. “Of course, once we get her settled into bed and she sleeps for a day or two, Willa will once again be as fine a woman as ever was. A toast to Willa!”
“Aye!” Three tankards clinked together and Fergus’s original request for more stories was forgotten.
“Cameron, it is time for get ye a woman and settle here at Urquhart with me and Frederic. This is your rightful home as Tainist, or as I call ye ‘Our heir apparent ‘til Keiron gets off his dead bum and finds a bride.’”
“When it comes to weddin’, you’d make better use of your breath on Keiron. When is that MacGregor lass going to be of age so we can get my brother married?”
“You’ve not heard?” Frederic asked sourly.
“What?” Cameron’s question brought a chuckle out of Fergus, but Frederic remained grave.
“I will tell the story, Fergus, you are drunk. Six weeks ago Keiron and I, along with half dozen other men were doing a tour of the lands. Being that we were a short ride to the MacGregor stronghold, Keiron decided we ought to stop to pay our respects. As you know, your father, God rest his soul, signed the agreement for Keiron to marry Edana MacGregor shortly after the death of your brother Gregor, God rest his soul.
We were admitted into the MacGregor keep, where for the followin’ two days a nervous Evan MacGregor went about making excuses for his daughter’s absence. Naturally, I became suspicious and voiced my concerns to Keiron. On the third day your brother insisted that she be presented before us.”
Frederic’s expression turned even sourer, “This request sent MacGregor’s wife into a fit of hysterics. While the others were gathered around trying to calm her down, I slipped away and went in search of the fugitive Edana MacGregor.”
“Did you find her?” Queried Cameron. A snort from Fergus gave him an early indication.
“Yes, I did find her…in full…” Frederic held his hands out in front of his belly to signify girth.
“The bloom had been plucked and the seed planted!” Fergus bellowed. “And it wasn’t our lad Keiron who ‘ad done the deed, either! You knows how he feels ‘bout fornication!”
“That deceitful MacGregor!” Cameron could not believe what he had just heard. “What was MacGregor going to do? Wait for her to deliver the bairn, then pass her off to MY brother as a virgin?”
“Before you plan an ambush, nephew, you ought to know the rest of it.”
“Aye, Cameron. Listen to Frederic.”
“I marched the lassie into the room where your brother Keiron and her family were and demanded an explanation. MacGregor said that he never planned on your brother marryin’ Edana, but was hoping that her younger sister Mary would mature up and Keiron might accept Mary in her Edana’s place. You know, MacGregor had a lot at stake with one of his daughters marrying Chieftain Grant.”
“That still does not excuse his deceit!”
“I agree with you, so stop yelling. Keiron and Evan MacGregor went into private talks and afterwards we left. Once we were outside the stronghold I asked Keiron if I should prepare the troops for a fight and he said ‘No, there is no feud between the two families, but there will also be no MacGregor bride.’ I didn’t ask any more questions of him, but the lad did seem relieved.”
“I cannot say that I would have been as charitable as my brother. MacGregor blood would have surely fallen that day had I been in his place.” Cameron was utterly appalled at the lack of respect he felt MacGregor had shown to his older brother and his fierce family pride was wounded over the affront.
“Aye…but you and Keiron are of different temper. You are more like your brother Gregor, God rest his soul. I will pass on one piece of clatter, but remember that clatter is not always trustworthy.”
“Ha!” Fergus burst forth. “I find clatter to be a reliable means…”
“You would, Fergus.” Frederic interrupted. “As I was saying, rumor has it that Keiron has his eye on one of our own lassies, a girl from the area near the North Sea. I would much rather see him get to marry of his own choice, than to be subjected to an agreement he had no voice in. I hate to see youngin’s wed out of family commitment. ”
“Who is she?” Cameron was well aware of the importance of his brother marrying. It was always better if the Clan Chief had an heir to continue the line, rather than a brother.
“I don’t know and I didn’t ask.” Frederic had never been one to force confidences unless he believed it to be vital to clan preservation. Since Keiron had concluded the problem with MacGregor on his own, he had felt no need to seek further information on the man’s plans for the future at this time.
“Hum.” Curiosity was getting the better of Cameron. ”Where did you hear the rumor from?”
“Me.” Fergus answered for Frederic, “and it is no clatter. The lad tol’ me himself.”
“Well…who is she?”
“Can not do it, Cameron. He swore me to secrecy.”
“Is she at least a fair choice?”
“Aye. Comes from a strong family, and Willa told me she has a good heart and smarts.”
“I thought you were sworn to secrecy!”
“Naw, I keep no secrets from Willa. She knows everythin’ ‘bout me, even my attempts and failures at the chamber pot. Keiron knows that.”
“Well then, let’s drink to Keiron.” Cameron raised his tankard out in front of him and his uncles followed suit. “May he get what he deserves…the very best.”
“Of all us Grant men I believe that Keiron is the very best of the lot. Not a one of us can hold a candle to his goodness, with the possible exception of Malcolm after he chose to join the Church.”
Both men agreed with Cameron’s statement and a final toast to Keiron’s health was had before Fergus rose to his feet.”
“Bed,” he mumbled, “but before I go I want a promise that you will share stories of ye’re two years on the Black Watch.”
“Cameron, tell me…did you kill many English?”
“Aye. A few.”
“Ye got scars, Lad?” Cameron answered his question with a nod. “Show me so I will have sweet dreams?”
Cameron stood up and unwrapped his plaid from over his shoulder before pulling out his shirt and raising it above his head. Running the length of his right rib was a six-inch scar.
“Oh…a bad one.” Fergus commented after a close inspection with his blood shot eyes. “Any more?”
“Aye, but it is near my bum.”
“I’ve seen ye’re ugly bum before! Show me the scar.”
Cameron did as instructed and raised the back of his tartan up enough to show his uncle a much smaller reminder of his time in the Scottish military.
“Get that runnin' away, lad?” smirked Fergus.
“I did not! I was caught from behind.”
“Aye…caught from behind ye’re were.” Fergus swatted Cameron on the bottom, thus ending his inspection. “At least it didn’t get the pretty birthmark on ye’re leg!”
“You should have been a jester, Fergus.” Frederic stated dryly. “Now go to bed and leave the lad alone. Willa will be waitin’ for you.”
Fergus wandered to his room after giving his nephew a bear hug letting him know how glad he was that Cameron made it home safely. Just as he was turning to go to bed himself, Frederic had placed his hand on Cameron’s shoulder to indicate that he wanted him to stay behind for a few private words.
“Cameron, I think you were wrong about Keiron being the best of the lot. I believe I’m standin’ next to him right now. Son, you have made us all proud by the way you served Scotland while wearing the hunting tartan of our people.”
“Thank you, Uncle.”
“I have one more toast in me. For Cameron, my nephew and godson, may you get everything you deserve...The very best! Aye!” The captain of Clan Grant set his tankard down on the table next to him after he took a long drink. “With your experience, you will make a fine replacement for me.”
“You’re not considerin’...”
“I’m getting old, son.”
“How old are you now?”
“Seven and thirty, soon to be eight and thirty. I am slowin’ down and visions of the lake are in my thoughts more and more.”
Cameron didn’t like to hear the man he respected most in the world admit to any deficiencies on his part. To him, Frederic would always be the finest swordsman he had ever had the privilege to train under, and a master unequaled with the war hammer. When Cameron was but a young sprout and the rest of the family had their notice on his three older brothers, it was Frederic who took the lad under his wing to teach him the fine art of battle.
“You need a wife, Uncle.” To this Frederic only shook his head—there would be no wife for this scarred man. He had known love only once in his lifetime, but it was not to be and he was never tempted again. Long ago, some seventeen years, did he give up any hope of seeing her again. In place of contentment, a solitary life as a warrior became his focus and he performed his duty with honor and courage.
“Don’t follow my example, Cameron. Find someone you care for and marry her. I want to see you have children.”
“I hear you, Uncle.” It wasn’t long before the two men parted ways for their separate bedchambers. Tomorrow they would begin the day long journey to the family seat of Castle Grant where Keiron was awaiting his brother’s homecoming.
Cameron had planned his return to the highlands to coincide with the annual gathering of Clan Grant. There was to be a large celebration, as always, but Cameron was not the only one to return to his homeland during this time.
The Scots had finally agreed to the ransom the English demanded for the release of James Stewart from his eighteen years captivity. Upon coronation, the first real king the country had had since the death of Robert Bruce came to be. The man often referred to as The Poet King due to his beautifully written prose, immediately took charge with an iron fist by exterminating his cousins who had so woefully ruled in his absence.
Removing his belt from around his waist, Cameron glanced outside his window while preparing for bed. His attention was drawn instantly to the moon. It appeared to be shrouded in a most fascinating blood red color.
D’Arcy Keep on the outskirts of Elgin, Scotland
Clan Grant Territory.
June 22nd 1424
Standing in front of large window overlooking the pasture below was a man very much out of his element in the Scottish highlands. His face bore an expression of silent contemplation, much as it always did, although he could not be accurately termed a “stoical” man. It was more that he felt alien in his surroundings—the same surroundings he had been born to twenty years past.
William D’Arcy should have been born in his grandfather’s native France, or Norway where his mother hailed from. Even the Scottish lowlands would have been more suited to his personality and upbringing. Yet, Fate did not choose to place him in a palatable location and he would be forced to live the remainder of his life on the seaboard edge of northern Scotland.
He had a most unusual upbringing considering the time in history for when William was born. While the vast majority of the worlds population could not read—let alone even have a need in learning to do so—foreign tutors were brought to Scotland to train the boy.
Arcane subjects were broached, while oddly many of the more basic subjects were ignored. William D’Arcy was not taught how to properly hunt for food, or to distinguish between poisonous plants and those edible. He was trained in the sword, but more for exhibition purposes than for defense. His equestrian skills were superior, but he was never shown how one might realistically fight while atop a horse.
So sheltered was his upbringing that until his father Luthais death two years ago, he wasn’t allowed to venture to his clan’s yearly meetings, although they were of vital importance to his family. His father and uncle Wallace always represented the family interests, along with William’s older cousin Jorgen.
Jorgen might have been the peer William needed so badly in his life, had there not been such a fierce competition between the fathers. During his lifetime, Luthais had controlled the majority of the family wealth with conditional charity. He did help educate his nephew Jorgen, and for that matter the elder sons of clan chief Grant, but not to the extent of his son.
Luthais had felt strongly about segregating his son from the “savage masses” until William was of an age where they could no longer influence him. In the weeks before his death he had decided that it was time to expose his son to the ways of the others who composed Clan Grant territory, but he died before his design could be realized.
It is no great wonder that William took little comfort in the company of his people. This feeling of uneasiness caused him to withdraw into himself with a loneliness few could ever understand. His parents had taught him to be proud of whom he was, but they were more interested in his being proud in the D’Arcy name and not the fact that he was a highlander. After their deaths, it was up to William to build his own ties with his clan folk, and here is where Fate was both cruel and kind.
The illness that had taken William’s father and mother to Heaven two years ago had also claimed the life of the current clan chief and his eldest son, Gregor. In the chief’s place stood a young man only three years William’s senior, Keiron Grant. During a meeting shortly after the passing of their parents, Keiron and William they found that they did share many similarities in personality—although for vastly different reasons.
They had met four times since, once being at D’Arcy keep, and a bond of sorts was formed. This did give William a slight sense of security considering he was one of few independent landowners that existed in the highlands. The various clans owned and controlled everything and he was no stranger to the fact that the Grants could easily take his land for their own purposes if they so desired.
Still standing at the window, a small smile crossed William’s lips and for a moment he let the weight of his responsibility escape him. At the far edge of his vision he could make out two figures, both as dear to him as his own life.
One was his beloved sister Janetta, a young lady only two years younger than himself but so full of life that he was certain she would never grow old in attitude. She was all he could not be—carefree and unaffected, yet he held no grudge against her for this. One of William’s greats joys in life was witnessing the happiness of Janetta.
The other person William admired from the window this sunny afternoon was Elisabeth, his sister’s paid companion. She came to live with them shortly after his mother died and since that time brought a degree of harmony to their family unit. Elisabeth was lively to be certain, but not in the way Janetta was. Her enthusiasm was more constrained and actions censured. Elisabeth was very much a lady and came highly recommended, despite the unfortunate childhood she had to endure. William had only to meet with her once before knowing that she had the qualities he wished to be passed on to his sister.
Janetta did learn from Elisabeth, perhaps not as quickly as her brother had hoped, but the positive influence was only for her betterment. For many months he silently observed Elisabeth work her magic as she gave gentle instruction to his sister and before he knew it, he too was under her spell. Yet, he could tell no one, nor could he make his regard public. There were reasons.
William turned his head from the view. He could not afford to think on his own wants at this time, especially when the chances of them being realized were so slim. With heavy legs he went in search of someone to fetch his sister for him.
Janetta closed her right eye to allow the dominant left determine her aim. Her arm was trembling slightly from the tautness of the string, but the bow itself remained steady. Slowly turning at attention as she surveyed the targets scattered throughout the grassland, Janetta bypassed a stray lamb that had wandered onto her play field before settling on a specific point.
“See the apple sitting atop the tree stump, Elisabeth? I chose it!” She announced before unleashing her arrow. As it cut through the air, it came dangerously close to the lamb’s tail, startling the poor thing, before landing directly in the appointed target. The apple splintered upon impact.
“I did it!” was shouted by the wisp of a lady as she danced around in a circle. “All hail the Archeress Janetta!”
“I cannot believe you hit that! And to think...I am friends with such a woman!”
“Let’s go see the damage.” Janetta called over her shoulder before she took off running toward the apple with her long, honey-blond hair flying behind her. By the time Elisabeth caught up with her, she had already retrieved her arrow and was eating part of the fruit. “It was a clean hit, Elisabeth. Look.”
Elisabeth accepted a part of the apple and eyed her friend suspiciously. “Did you try to scare the lamb?”
Janetta averted her face with the guiltiest of grins. “Don’t tell William, promise? Ever since I killed that goat he has been harping on me not to take any chances when the livestock are near.”
“I’ll not tattle on you to your brother. ‘Though, I do wish he could have seen your shot. It really was good.”
“Thank you.” Jumping up, Janetta held her bow out for her friend to take. “Now, your turn. Chose your enemy, Elisabeth, and fight a noble battle!”
Elisabeth did not need long before she decided on a nearby stuffed sack hanging from a tree. It was large enough that she might be able to make the shot if the wind remained still and steady.
“I chose the sack.” She whispered before pulling back on the string and adjusting her arrow. Just as she was about to release, a small squirrel high up in the tree fell from its branch causing a flock of birds to flee their perches.
“Wait!’ Janetta called out, but it was too late. The arrow was already airborne and in the blink of an eye it pierced the chest of a bird in flight. For a moment there was silence and during this time she prayed that Elisabeth, whose distance vision was rather poor, didn’t see what had just happened.
Janetta knew of Elisabeth’s belief in superstition, and if her friend were to realize that she had brought down one of the more negative omens upon herself (the accidental killing of a bird in flight), Elisabeth would surely be in a state of distress.
“What? Why did want me to halt?”
“I thought the wind was increasing,” Janetta lied, “and I didn’t want it to affect your shot. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“I missed the sack?”
“Yes, but not a worry.” Janetta was about to suggest that she try another target in hope that the lost arrow might be forgotten when she heard her name being called. Both turned to find one of the women who worked at the keep coming in their direction.
Instantly sensing an opening to take care of the dead bird, Janetta conceived a plan. “Elisabeth, would you mind finding out what she wants while I go search for the arrow? I will be able to locate it quicker than you.”
Once Elisabeth had started up the incline toward the young girl, Janetta turned and casually walked over to the fallen arrow, turning her body so that neither woman could see her pluck the bird free. A quick wipe with the inside of her dress cleaned the evidence of blood off, and as casually as she walked to the tree, she went over to join them.
“William wants to speak with you alone in the house.” Janetta’s stomach dropped at the news, certain that he had seen her shoot near the lamb. Perhaps at eighteen years of age she should have outgrown her reactions to verbal scolding due her, and it was not as if her brother was a violent man, but his lectures always contained the same element. They bored her into submission.
Without a word of protest, Janetta began her journey through the lush fields to the north through the entrance of the stone barrier that surrounded their home. It had been her grandfather who had moved his young family from Calais, France to Scotland so many years ago. He built a residence worthy of man of his position, and then concentrated on building his fortune. Sea trade made him rich despite the fact that he had started with only one small boat, and careful manipulation of his wife’s inheritance provided him with the means to expand. By the time Janetta’s father was a young man, the family boasted two ships to their name. As of today they had three with a forth almost finished being built.
Over the years the home also expanded and with an elegance few were accustomed to in the wilds of northern Scotland. The D’Arcy family was ardently pleased with their French roots, and the interior of their home reflected this. The rooms were oversized and ornate, with furniture shipped from across the sea to fill them. As Janetta reached the carved wooden doors that marked the front of the home, she didn’t pause to reflect on their beauty. She had other matters on her mind.
It didn’t take her long to locate her brother and once she did, Janetta began her excuses with force. “I knew I wouldn’t hit the lamb, so please don’t throw the goat accident back in my face. It was over a year ago and I have improved…”
“What lamb? Did you kill a lamb?”
Janetta stopped her tirade immediately. Time and time again Elisabeth had told her not to jump to conclusions and blurt out information. Obviously her friend needed to remind her of this a bit more because the lesson did not stick.
“No, of course I didn’t.” She replied as if her brother’s statement was scandalous at best.
“Good.” Gazing at her with sudden mirth, William pointed to the seat next to his.. “Please sit down. I have something important to tell you about the upcoming gathering at Castle Grant and it may take a moment.”
“What is it?” She questioned as she curled her legs under her in the overstuffed chair. “You haven’t changed your mind? You told me I could go. Please William! You swore to honor my request!”
“Janetta, you’re going. That has not changed.” Before William could draw breath, his sister continued on.
“Is Elisabeth not invited? I know she is French and obviously not a member of our clan, but William, it is not like she is going to run off to Paris and gossip about a gathering the Grants held.”
“This has nothing to do with Elisabeth, but if it gives you comfort, I have received confirmation this morning that she would be allowed to participate. I have some other information that I thought I should inform you of.”
“Is it good?”
“I’ll ask you the same question after I’ve told you what I know. Today I received a dispatch informing me that we were assigned two rooms inside the castle during our stay. I must say that as landowners in Grant territory, I expected this to be, but what took me by surprise is that we will be stationed on the family annex.”
“Have we ever stayed there before?” This being Janetta’s first visit to the seat of her clan, she had only the information given to her by others to know what to expect.
“No, we have always been quartered on a separate floor. The second half of the letter was what I told you earlier about Elisabeth, and an invitation to the private gathering on the third night of our stay in honor of Frederic Grant.”
“He’s captain of the guard and Keiron’s uncle. You haven’t met him before.”
“I didn’t think so, but William, why does this generosity seem out of place? Are they going to raise our taxes again? Is this the reason for the special treatment?”
William leaned in closer to his sister. “You have just asked the same question I asked myself…except for the taxes. Guess who wrote the letter?”
“I have no idea. The tax collector Fergus?”
“No,” William chuckled, “guess again.”
“I truly cannot speculate. Other than our cousin Jorgen, I must confess that I didn’t know anyone else there could write or read. Who was it, William?”
Baffled as to why the chief of the clan was reduced to writing out his own missives, Janetta could only mutter “Why?”
“I may have an answer in this message, which arrived on the back of the original paper, but before you read it be forewarned that it is from our cousin Jorgen. You know about his weakness for rumor at times.”
“As usual, Jorgen talked in circles and his letter made no sense to me. Did you know about this Edana MacGregor?”
Her brother shook his head. “I do know that Keiron was to marry a MacGregor, and lately I had heard rumor that the wedding was off due to some imprudence on the brides part. But, I have no other intelligence about the matter.”
“What did Jorgen mean by ‘promoted your own sister’? Did you, and to whom?”
“I have spoken to no highland man about you.” William did not elaborate. “Janetta, do you remember when Keiron Grant visited here last winter?”
“Yes, but I hardly said ten sentences to the man during his stay. Elisabeth was so ill and I was not in company but a few times. I don’t even think he spoke to me.”
“But when you were not around he asked me several questions about you. At the time I made nothing of it because Keiron Grant was practically married. I have heard from our uncle Wallace that Keiron is what some might call ‘quiet’ around women. This could explain why he didn’t speak directly to you.”
William paused, not certain if he should say more as his sister snatched the letter from his hand to read it.. Never before had he entertained the idea that his sister might someday be connected to a Scotsman, let alone a highlander. This would surely not be the desire of his father.
“Well, if we use your intelligence and combine it with Jorgen’s letter then he appears to be insinuating that Keir…” Janetta stopped speaking as fragments of thought began to cling together. There was a prolonged silence as both siblings dealt with their own thoughts.
“We could very well be making more out of situation than is called for. After all,” Janetta folded the letter and absently put it in her apron pocket, “We are basing our assumption on our cousin.”
“…Who happens to be an apprentice under Keiron’s uncle Fergus. Maybe Jorgen knows something we don’t?”
Once again silence filled the room until Janetta spoke her musings aloud.
“If my hand could bring Grant might to the family this would be the true coup in more than one way. As I know, you have never felt totally safe living this close to the sea. There is very little to safeguard us if those English decided to land in Elgin again and march our way. Also, what Jorgen said about the land was correct. It is only honor that keeps the Grants from reclaiming our property.” William tried to interrupt her, but Janetta carried on “I remember father saying it happened with the independent landowners of Clan MacAllister, so don’t believe that it couldn’t happen here.”
“I have no reason to believe Keiron Grant would siege our land, Janetta. As long as our taxes are paid annually, it isn’t a fear of mine. He made me that promise last year and doesn’t seem the sort of man to go back on his word.”
“History is filled with stories of men willing to forfeit their word of honor, William. You once told me that.”
“Agreed. But you haven’t been around him like I have. He is…religious to a degree where I cannot conceive him holding personal honor so low.”
“Would you say you liked him as a friend?” Janetta asked with interest.
“Yes, I would say that.”
“Do you think I would?”
Her question gave him a moments pause. William felt as if he could read his sister’s mind and that she was forming a plan of action based on his opinions.
“Janetta, there are two things we need to discuss before we go any farther. First off, I agree with your original statement that there is a chance that we could be making more out of our assumption than is cause for. Keiron could be simply expressing kinship. As you said, Jorgen may just be passing on rumor.
“That is true.” His sister conceded.
“Also, I want you to always remember that you do not have to marry anyone you don’t want to. It is not your burden to better the family fortune, but mine. You may live here for the rest of your life without worry, and I would think no less of you.”
“I know you do not require me to wed. But William, am I not allowed to think of our family’s future? If Keiron Grant could provide us with additional guardianship, isn’t that the best I could hope for in a union with any man? Why should I spend all the days of my life tucked away here in your home when I could possibly do some good?”
William was taken aback by the words that had just come out of his sister’s mouth because it reminded him so much of his own parents. Until this time he had not realized that his sister had taken to heart the sermons about family prosperity his father used to give.
“Don’t be too practical for love, Janetta. You have no idea what you’re willing to give up with a statement like that. Promise me that you’ll never consider an offer unless it comes from man you can at least have some degree of affection for. I cannot bear the thought of you miserable because of some mistaken belief that you are doing what is right for the family.”
Janetta had no response. She had always assumed that people married whom ever they were told to, without a real say in the matter.
“Do you promise that you will not marry without affection?” William repeated.
“I do.” Sensing the seriousness in her brother’s plea, Janetta leaned over the arm of her chair and kissed his curly dark head. Neither sibling spoke for some time.
“William, may I ask you a question? If I were to marry a man like Keiron—IF I liked him well enough, is it possible that you might not marry Karoline? There would no longer be a reason; we wouldn’t need her family’s resources. You told me yourself that you cannot even tolerate her presence, and there is no binding agreement between the two of you.”
“Now is not the time to even think on such ideas, Janetta, so settle yourself.”
“But you just told me not to marry someone I do not like, and yet you will not even consider the possibility that you may be able to have a wife you want to marry! Don’t be hypocritical!”
“As you are well aware, the agreement about Karoline and myself was made a long time ago by our fathers…”
“Exactly! By our fathers! But have you ever told the that you would marry their daughter? Have you made an agreement?”
“No, but that is not the point of interest. And furthermore, it doesn’t make me a hypocrite.”
“But, William! If I’m allowed a choice, why can’t you have the same preference?”
Janetta stood and began to pace the floor as she often did when in thought. She quickly realized that she was pushing her brother, and this was not the best way to handle William. After some reflection, she determined that there was actually no reason to bring up Karoline at this time. There was still a little time until the girl would be old enough to wed, and a great deal could happen between now and then.
“I’m sorry, William. I shouldn’t have raised my voice at you.”
“Not a second thought.” He replied absently, wishing to change the subject from the Norwegian woman he felt such abhorrence for. “After the display of honesty you have just shown, I would like a turn at it myself.”
“Please do,” she invited.
“I must admit a hesitancy toward taking you to Castle Grant. I don’t want you to place your expectations too high. Janetta, they are so different from us. So very different. I question if taking you to the gathering as your first outing away from home is ill conceived, but will honor your request. You may be disappointed.”
“We will not know until we go.”
“That is true,” he admitted. “Let’s dispel this gloomy atmosphere here and now. I have a mission for you. Please take the two bolts of silk I have stored and use them to make yourself some gowns.”
“I cannot accept the silk. You’re saving them for your own dowry.”
“Janetta, how long shall we bicker? You know I will win in the end. Now please, gather up as many women as you can to help sew the gowns. We leave in five days.”
After a moment’s delay Janetta wrapped her arms around William’s burley neck and gave him a tight squeeze.
“Thank you.” She released her brother and started for the door to look for as many pairs of free hands she could find. Before she could open it, William called her attention one more time.
“I suggest you seek the aid of your friend. Elisabeth appears well versed in ‘womanly’ arts, such as dress.”
“Oh, Elisabeth.” Janetta’s face brightened, but she would say no more. If there was one woman she wished her brother to show attention to and eventually court, it would be Elisabeth. Perhaps if things went well at Castle Grant, the glances she had seen her brother give the lady might turn into something more.
Near Midnight of the same day.
The route she was taking was as familiar to her as her own hand, yet with every step toward her objective her pulse became stronger. The increase in heart rate was not caused by fear of detection because she knew there wouldn’t be people other than family in this area of the house after bedtime. Rather it pounded with anticipation, just as it did the first time she made this journey six months ago.
Rounding the corner past the small common room, she turned right and continued on until the great double doors at the end were reached. The modest nightgown she wore didn’t keep the dampness in the air away from her skin, but soon enough she would be warm. Knocking, she waited for admittance while pulling her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
“Come in.” Was spoken in French from inside.
Elisabeth opened the weighty door on the left knowing that the right was locked. After stepping through she felt the radiance from the fireplace and sighed contentedly. There was always a roaring fire waiting for her when she came, just the way she liked it.
“It is a chilly night.” She announced in her native tongue to the only inhabitant in the large bedroom.
“Yes, it is.” William looked up at her with the ever-present guilt he felt each time she came to his room. The fact that she had been reduced to mistress because of his conviction over family prosperity tainted the joy he experienced when she was nearby. He loved her, truly in his heart he did, but...
“Your sister is finally asleep.” She commented as she took her chair in front of the fire. “I fear she will not rest well, though.”
“Was Janetta still excited about making the gowns? It’s all she spoke of at dinner despite your best efforts to broaden the conversation.” He asked as he took the chair next to hers.
“That was on her mind, yes. But, there was more. She told me about your talk today. The one about Keiron Grant.”
“I was going to apprise you of it this evening.” William reached over and took her hand in his, bringing it briefly to his lips before releasing it. “What are your thoughts, and please, speak freely.”
He did not ask her opinion to indulge her and Elisabeth knew this. Over the past several months they had developed a nightly ritual to discuss the days happenings and more often than not William took heed to her words.
She hated when he was away on trade, which was more often than she preferred. The separations were always long in duration, and the lack of their clandestine time together wore on her greatly.
Even with her knowledge that they would never have more than this—her sneaking down to his bedroom at night and their pretending not to be intimate with each other during the day, Elisabeth craved his touch always. It distracted her, as touches often do when received from someone you love.
Gathering her wits about her, she continued on with the subject at hand.
“A possible Grant-D’Arcy tie is a rare prospect for your family and his. She must care for him, William, I beg you not to let her settle for less. Janetta’s spirit couldn’t survive a loveless marriage, despite what she may try to tell herself.”
“I wholeheartedly agree with you.”
“But if what Jorgen has written you is wrong, I don’t want to see Janetta making a fool of herself by throwing her attention toward him with too much…what’s the word?”
“Yes! She’s had little contact with men. I’ll do my very best between now and then to talk to her about how a lady acts around them.”
“I know you will.” William nodded. “What do we do if Jorgen is right? I can’t profess to knowing Keiron’s intentions, but I do remember clearly how Janetta captured his attention the few times they were together.”
“I will watch her favor toward him while we are at the stronghold. If there is any. Of course, we both know that once Janetta makes a decision she does everything in her power to see it through. What she really needs is someone who will allow her to be herself. Perhaps this is a man who could do just that?”
“He seems a very good man.” Without thinking, he once again reached out for her hand. “This is all so sudden. I wasn’t quite prepared for it.”
“I think not. Wouldn’t it nice to have your sister so near? If she did truly care for him?”
“Yes.” William had devoted many hours of time today to his sister’s suggestion about marrying for love if she were able to secure the affections, protection, and wealth of Keiron Grant.
Elisabeth was the only person William had ever told about the vow his father extracted from him before he died. It was in effect that he do everything in his power to double the family fortune in his lifetime, and if William ever had a son that he make the same request of him.
Luthais D’Arcy's weakness had always been his want of more; it was a trait handed down to him from his father. He had married for fortune and didn’t consider it wrong to ask William to do so also. In fact, it seemed perfectly natural to the elder D’Arcy.
For William his father had already selected Karoline Andersdatter, the only living child of well-off Norwegian ship building family. When the girl was but four years old the parents began to plot their children’s futures but the plans had never been legally finalized. This was heavy on the mind of Luthais as he lay in his deathbed; therefore the urgency in his final address to his son was very real.
Now William found himself at a crossroad; either he could honor a most loved father’s dying request or follow his own desire.
“I’m thankful she has you to turn to. Janetta is at times on the wild side. Compared to the other lassies running around she is quite cultivated, but we both know that manners are easily achieved. I must thank you for all you have done for my sister.”
“You don’t have to thank me. Janetta has matured much since the winter. I wouldn’t worry over her. We must be patient and see what happens”
“Do you think she could be pleased living in a place like Castle Grant? I want my sister happy above all else.”
“I believe Janetta could be happy anywhere she decides to be.” Elisabeth’s words calmed his concerns and improved his mood to a point where a few silent moments later he was ready to release a little humor.
“Do you think you can keep slippers on her while we are there?”
Elisabeth’s smile reached into her eyes. “I can’t promise that, but I will do my best.”
“You always do.”
“Come to bed, William.” Rising from her chair, her hand still in his, she encouraged him to stand.
“Are you certain?”
“Why do you ask me every time?” Elisabeth lifted her lips so he may kiss them. “ I’m curious.”
“Habit, I believe.”
Five days later.
Early morning at D’Arcy Keep.
A journey begins.
The trunks that had been packed the night before were already on their way to Grantown on Spey, including the new gowns the women worked on for Janetta. None of the seamstresses had ever touched silk before, therefore the better half of the first afternoon had to be spent practicing stitches on scraps of cloth before construction could begin. It had been a difficult task, but one that ended with cheers when Janetta tried on the second gown and all in the room proclaimed it was the most beautiful dress they had ever seen.
Elisabeth rubbed her eyes trying to remove the last remnants of sleep. She was tired. Another hour of sleep would have made her more fit for the journey today, but William wanted to arrive in the afternoon so he would have time to prepare before the evening.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Elisabeth dropped her legs over the side and stretched her arms high above her head. There was some commotion in the hallway and the sound of high-pitched squeal intermixed with a few Gaelic curse words. Smiling widely to herself, Elisabeth realized the servants must have been rolling Janetta’s tub down to her room so she could bathe.
Of all the unique quirks her friend’s personality possessed, this she found the most amusing. There were people in the world that did not fully bathe but twice a year, yet Janetta took to the tub two times a week—even in the dead of winter! Elisabeth had warned her against getting her entire body wet on chilly days, especially the hair, but Janetta only laughed and went on with her business.
It was all a mystery to Elisabeth and one she really didn’t have the time to reflect on this morning. Standing up, a wave of dizziness hit her and she had to immediately sit back down. For a minute she allowed her body to adjust itself before she attempted to rise again. On a small table in her living quarters were two bowls filled with pebbles that no one but she was allowed to touch. She walked over and picked up the bowl on the left, shaking the contents with a sense of dread. Out onto the bed went the pebbles and began to count them until she reached forty-two.
Forty-two. This was how long it was since her last monthly. Several minutes passed before Elisabeth collected enough calm to go over to her dresser. There she opened the second drawer and removed a glass bottle containing a vibrant blue liquid she kept hidden under a cloth.
Elisabeth turned the bottle she was holding upside down to check the wax seal before placing the bottle in the small bag she was going to wear on her person this morning. The turtle shell she used was known not to be the most reliable of means for birth control. Many women considered the bleeding liquid a godsend, although it was not without its price.
Elisabeth pondered the alternatives and settled on taking the elixir with her and possibly giving herself a dose tomorrow. This way she would be able to help Janetta with her introduction to Keiron tonight, take the next day off to bring about menstruation, and hopefully be well enough to attend the party in honor of Frederic Grant the following evening. If she were to hold off until they all returned to D’Arcy Keep, it might be too late. The woman who had sold the herbal concoction to her had counseled Elisabeth about going over fifty days by recounting stories of women who had died from the bleed they induced at that late date.
To entrap William with a child was never a choice she would consider, even though she knew that there were women who would do such a thing for a man of his means. If William would not marry her out of love, she certainly did not want him to marry her out of obligation. Elisabeth understood his situation with Karoline before going to his bed for the first time. To have his companionship until a time when another woman would be granted the rights of his wife, this was what she lived each day for. It was an odd sort of love she had for this man. Such devotion she had never felt before. In her eyes he was the perfect man, and she would do anything to protect him. In simpler terms, she loved him more than herself.
When Janetta told her what William had said about Keiron, and then added her own thoughts relative to keeping her brother from marrying Karoline, Elisabeth felt the first real stirrings of hope develop. Perhaps if his sister did marry well, William would make the decision that this was enough and turn away from his notion of family obligation.
Of his love she was certain, even though it was never spoken. If she had been born with wealth, property, or both, Elisabeth knew in her heart that she would have been the wife of William D’Arcy by this time. Her fate of birth parents left a great deal to be desired, and her brothers, if they were not already in prison or hung, were surely outlaws by now. All her family could boast about was having some of the most worthless men in all of France; men who would rather steal than work, men who were without a bit of personal distinction or integrity.
The odds were against the youthful Elisabeth ever making anything of her self other than a serving wench or whore, and had she stayed in Rouen with her family she surely would have fallen into one of those occupations. But this young woman had an understanding her kin never mastered, and it was a sense of something better. At the age of fourteen she walked out of their lives and kept on walking until she reached Paris. During the next six years she worked her way up from lowly store clerk at a run down textile shop to eventually become a rich woman’s companion.
Never should the impression be given that her time on her own was one of few hardships. Everything she had Elisabeth earned with her own sweat and blood. More than once she found herself living hand to mouth on the streets, forsaking her principles at times to avoid starvation. Even when hope was at its lowest, somehow she survived.
Now a prospect was before her that she never dreamed possible, and Elisabeth was determined to assist Janetta in every way to win the admiration of Clan Chief Grant if it was meant to be.
Janetta might not be the only woman to have happiness should a union between the families take place.
The activities of the morning made it pass quickly and before they knew it, it was time to depart. Janetta spent well over an hour straightening her bedroom. It was if a part of her was preparing just in case she didn’t return to the home in the near future.
On her bed lay the neatly folded letter Keiron had written her brother. How many times had she reread it during the course of the past five day? Too many for her to count.
The handwriting was not horrible she convinced herself. Could it possibly be the script of her future husband? This question she was not brave enough to answer. She had always assumed that one day her brother would bring a man to their home and tell her that this was the man she was to marry. This is what her mother told her to expect. Now the rules had changed and her brother was offering her a choice…a say in the decision. She doubted she had the ability to distinguish between good marriage material and bad.
Janetta that was frightened to leave the room; frightened that the next few weeks might bring about an irrevocable change she was ill prepared for. She knew she had a good life as it was presently. Her responsibilities were few and the temperament of the house was favorable. What if she did not find this sort of felicity at Castle Grant?
Had the barbaric stories her father told her about the highlanders been fiction or were they based on the truth? Images of blood and filth filled her imagination when she dwelled too long on that question. The only true violence Janetta had ever been exposed to happened when she was very young. From these cloudy memories she recalled an English raiding party landing just south of Elgin that had worked their way to the outer wall of her family’s property. She could clearly hear her father’s voice as he related to her mother what was transpiring nearby. The Grants had received advance warning of the planned attack and Scottish Nightwatch troops along with clansmen were laying in-wait throughout the countryside. For two days all remained silent within the keep; even the animals instinctively knew that something was amiss. Then the English came and the screams of battle could not be drowned out.
After it was over and the Scots were successful in their slaughter of the intruders, she was allowed out of hiding, but with the strictest of warnings not to open the drapery and look outside. Janetta did not heed the warning and forever burned in her memory would be the pile of dead bodies stacked atop one another on the western side of their horse barn. The Scots were using the property as a clearinghouse for the English deceased, removing anything of use from the bodies.
It was Elisabeth who found Janetta in her room. By the aspen color on her friend’s face, she knew her courage was not quite as strong as she professed. Elisabeth had moved into so many different situations throughout her life that change rarely frightened her anymore. But Janetta’s life experiences were completely the opposite. She only knew ‘home’ and with the exception of a rare trip outside the wall that protected her to the town of Elgin, she had never seen anything of the world.
Compassion led Elisabeth to offer words of comfort to her friend; once again reminding her that she need not perform for the strangers she was about to meet.
“If you do not behave as yourself,” she advised, “you may form hopes you will never be able to live up to. Please, Janetta, think of your long-term happiness. If they do not love you for what you are, they will not love you for the person you think they want you to be.”
“I want to do what is right.” Janetta confessed with great trepidation.
“You will my dear.”
“How can you be so confident?”
“Because I know you.” Elisabeth smiled. “Are we going to sit in this room all day or shall we have an adventure?”
Janetta let out a deep breath before answering. “Let’s have an adventure. But swear to me you won’t leave my side.”
“I swear.” With that promise, Elisabeth linked her arm with Janetta’s and started for the door. “Your horse is ready outside, although I think if he knew that he was about to be ridden for three hours, he might just lay down in protest right now.”
Janetta gave a weak laugh in response. Elisabeth’s magic was beginning to work and by the time she mounted her horse, Janetta’s mind was more at ease.
The journey itself was nothing remarkable, unless one was to consider that Janetta D’Arcy had never been so far from home before. Everything she passed held wonder—the homes, the woods, even the road itself. Elisabeth reveled in the joy her friend could not contain; it was the sort often reserved for children. Yet nothing could prepare Janetta for her first glimpse of Castle Grant.
The wall was easily three times the size of that which encompassed her home, and despite the size, it still did not completely block the stone of the building it surrounded. And there were people! People everywhere. Few were on horses like herself, but the majority traveled by foot. Many pulled small carts behind them containing different types of household items, bedding, and children of all ages.
The closer they came to the main gate, the heavier the traffic became. She could not help but smile at the clan folk she passed, and much to her delight, she received smiles in return. It was if all were sharing the same festive mood and at this very moment, they were of one mind.
William did not stop the horses once they were in visual distance of the castle, yet Janetta was still able to pick up bits and pieces of conversation from the people they passed. Keiron’s name she recognized several times, and always it seemed to be in the tone of boasting about him, but most folks seemed content just to chatter about nothingness as they neared their destination.
The cheerfulness of the assembled was not the only common denominator among the people, there was another. As far as her eye could see, the plaid of Clan Grant was worn and displayed. There were two distinct cloths, the black and green of the hunting tartan, and the long-standing red and green. The sight of such unity made Janetta feel the first inkling of pride in her people and she wished for nothing more than to dismount her horse and learn all she could about them, but she knew William would not approve.
“I will make the introductions to the guards,” her brother spoke as they neared their turn to be allowed into the keep. William had remained silent for most of the trip but Janetta assumed it was because of his familiarity with the area. She could not have known that it was actually due to the apprehension swelling in his gut.
Both of the heavy gates were open to allow the castle visitors easy access to the inner courtyard and as the people filtered through, the guards welcomed many of them by name. Janetta’s attention went from man to man until they settled on one in particular. He was an older and dressed as the other guards, with the exception of a large silver insignia pinned over his left breast.
He appeared to be a man of importance, which Janetta determined because of the way he carried himself when addressing the other guards. Her eyes stayed glued to him and he must have sensed this because it was not long until his gaze met hers. What he was thinking she could not tell because the man did not change his expression, but instead examined her, then Elisabeth, then herself again.
Without any indication of approval or disapproval, he turned on his heel and with long strides walked much out of her sight. Frederic Grant had just completed issuing his latest orders to his men and was now in search of his nephews. He wasn’t seeking them out to let them know William D’Arcy and his party had arrived. This was not of any real importance to him. Instead he wanted to make sure all was well with the lads. At gatherings the size of this one, a person could never be too cautious when it came to safety.
Frederic stood on top of the roof facing north. In the distance he could make out two riders coming full gallop toward him. A rare smile washed over the hardened soldier’s mouth as his eyes focused on the horizon. The horses were evenly matched in size and speed, one black and one roan, and they were coming in fast. From experience Frederic Grant knew it would be the skill of the men gripping the reins of the beasts that would determine who made it to their goal first.
In the time it took for the heart to beat twice, the rider on the black horse lowered his head and spurred it on shouting “rive”, gradually widening the span between himself and his opponent until he was two lengths in front.
“You know what to do.” Frederic said under his breath to the man on the roan horse. “Don’t let him get in front of you. Move it, now!”
Crossing his arms over his chest, he watched. But a moments hesitation made it possible for the black horse to be repositioned directly in front of the roan, and an occasional move to the right or left held the slower man back as they neared the rowan tree. One final assault gained the black horse an even larger advantage, with the rider drawing his sword from behind his back and aiming it at the piece of cloth fluttering from a branch.
“Stand Fast, Craigellachie” was shouted as the rider’s blade sliced through the material. The winner was determined.
Frederic nodded his head at the victor, then turned and silently walked over to the door leading to the stairs.
Laughter from the two men echoed in the stairwell as he closed the heavy door behind him.
“I was wonderin’ when you were going to get here.” Said Cameron, trying to look as bored as possible even if his heavy breathing was an indication of recent exertion. “I’ve been waiting half the day.”
“You’re a poor victor, Cameron.” Dropping down from his horse, Keiron gave his brother a good-natured pat on the back. As children they often had races. Frederic used the competitions as a means for the boys to rehearse the tactics he had taught them. Keiron knew Cameron had just defeated him with one of the more basic moves they had learned long ago, and that he was out of practice. There had not been much of an opportunity to exercise lately.
In the bylaws of the clan there was the stipulation that the Chief may not lead his forces into conflict without a son as heir to replace him should his death occur on the field. There was no heir, nor any real conflicts and Keiron allowed himself to believe this was why Frederic did not press him to hone his battle skills. He was only partially correct in this assumption.
Years ago it was taken for granted Keiron would be the next Captain when Frederic retired. Early on Frederic had recognized that Keiron lacked the blood lust many considered necessary to make a good warlord. He had hoped the young man was simply hiding it, in the same manner Frederic did when not engaged in a fight. Perhaps, Frederic had told himself, the warrior in Keiron would come out when faced with an adversary.
It did not.
Three summers past there had been yet another border clash with Clan Davidson, as the men from this small clan refused to believe they could be stopped by the much larger, much stronger Grants. Frederic saddled up the young Keiron and brought him to the field. As they entered the arena Frederic was relieved to see the “look” upon Keiron’s face and kept close to the inexperienced brave as they drew their swords and joined the fray.
It wasn’t long before the ground turned red with blood as the Grants pushed the Davidsons back into their own territory. The fighting turned out to be fiercer than expected due to the fact that the Davidson Chief had promised his men riches if they could capture the section of land he had his eye on.
With the evidence of two men slain upon him, Frederic went searching for his nephew after the Davidsons began their retreat. He was found kneeling next to the body of the only man he had killed that day administering last rites over him. Keiron was dutiful in his pursuit, pausing only to place his shaking hands on the ground to hold himself up while he vomited. None of the other men said anything about Keiron’s reaction. They had all been in his position before and the first kill was something each man dealt with differently.
Frederic Grant had an enormous amount of patience, although the men who followed his lead might dispute that statement. He didn’t press Keiron to deal with the death, but allowed him to learn to live with the consequences of combat on his own.
Looking back, Frederic later regretted this decision as the shadows he saw on his nephew’s face did not fade with the passage of time, but intensified.
It was several months before Keiron returned to his old self, and during this period Frederic had given thought to a way to release him from his duty of birthright. Tradition dictated that the second son was always granted title of Captain, but this rule was never written into law.
Before Frederic could broach the subject with his nephew, illness swept through the land stealing the life of Keiron’s elder brother Gregor and then fourteen days later his father, Calum. Being the next in line to inherit the title of Chief, Keiron was thrust into a position that, quite honestly, he was better suited for. The dynamics of war were left to Frederic—as they should be until a time when Cameron would take over.
Smiling like the cat that ate the mouse, Cameron accepted his congratulations from his brother for winning the race and began to sheathe his sword when Keiron stopped him.
“Can I see it?”
“Aye.” Cameron handed over the sword he used while on the Watch. The double-edged blade was thinner than any Keiron had seen before, lacking the weight he was accustomed to.
“You fought with this while you were in the Nightwatch?” His brother nodded. “And how did it compare with the broadsword?”
“Wield it, Keiron,” Cameron stepped back. “You’ll be surprised by the balance.”
Keiron swung the blade over his head several times before nodding in agreement with his brother’s assessment of the weapon.
“Does the blade nick easily?” He questioned, returning the sword to its rightful owner.
“No, not easily, but it nicks like any other blade. The steel is stronger than you might think. I used this sword for the entire two years, and once had to work major repairs on it. I’ll grant you, it’s no good against armor, but the English rarely outfitted their men with anythin’ other than the shirts on their backs.”
Keiron watched his brother resheath it with a bit of envy and pride. “Did you see much of the country while you were gone? I was half expecting you to come home with a bride.”
“Where I was at, there weren’t a lot of lassies. I didn’t care for the lowlanders, anyway. They spout off ‘bout their hatred for the English, but all I saw was their trying to imitate them. You know, they think very little of us in the north, ‘til they need a border guarded or a war fought. You should have seen them! Anyone who thought they might have a drop of Stewart blood in them were walking around with their chests puffed out while Murdoch was in charge.” Cameron sported a toothy grin. “I’d like to be there now, seeing their reaction to the new King James. As I was leavin’ to head home, I heard that James was already ‘cleanin’ up’ and the Stewarts were running with their tails between their legs in fear of their own kin.”
“Another reason being a Grant is better than being a Stewart.” Smiled Keiron.
“Aye!” Cameron turned and looked out onto the pasturelands behind the massive castle. “It’s good to be back home, Keiron.”
“Good to have you.” He replied sincerely.
“I wish Malcolm was here, though. I know God’s work is important ‘an all, but that still doesn’t keep me from wantin’ him here with us. Do you think he’ll return soon? I asked Frederic that question but he didn’t have an answer.”
“Aye, he’ll be back, but not until the good Lord is ready. Before you know it our brother will be leading us in sermon.”
Cameron wasn’t sure he liked that idea, but it would be worth it to have his elder brother Malcolm back in the fold. The devotion his kin showed to the Catholic religion had always been more intense than he thought necessary, with the ‘prayers before this’ and the ‘prayers before that’, but if it made them happy, so be it. For Cameron life was a little simpler. Clan-God-Country, in that order. Clan, of course, meaning family. If you lived on the land the Grants claimed as their own, you were family.
As the afternoon sun settled on two of Colum Grant’s three remaining children, the resemblance between the brothers could not be denied. They both possessed the strongest of the Grant features, the sturdy chin and alert blue eyes. Granted, Cameron was a bit taller and more filled out than Keiron, but physical exertion does that to a man.
Where they did differ was in the way they led their lives. Keiron was reserved and thoughtful; rarely did he act out of impulse. Consequences were always considered before action if possible. The ordeal with the pregnant Edana MacGregor was a fine example of this. Yes, he had every right to take revenge against Chief MacGregor for his deception, but the humiliation MacGregor felt suited Keiron’s purpose and there was no reason to take it any further. Why make a blood enemy when you didn’t need to?
Cameron, on the other hand, was everything a good warrior should be. Like Keiron, he realized that any bloodshed avoided was a good thing, but when the need arose he could be counted on fight with all he had. Cameron admired his brother for the man he had become, and at times even wished himself to be more like him. Keiron was not perfect, but his flaws were few.
“We’d better go in now. People will be arriving and they’ll want to see you. Two years is too long for anyone to be away from home.”
“They ain’t coming for me, Keiron. They’re here for you.” Cameron took the reins of his brother’s horse. There was no resentment in his voice when he spoke those words. “I’ll stable these and meet you upstairs. We’re dressing in full garb?”
“Aye. Uncle Frederic’s suggestion.”
“Will do, then.” If Frederic suggested it, Cameron would comply without dispute.
“Cameron,” Keiron said with a touch of hesitation. He wasn’t sure if now was the right time to bring the subject up, but he also wasn’t sure when he might get another change in the coming days. “Do you know Frederic’s plans for you?”
“He mentioned the Captainship when we were at Urquhart keep.”
“Are you going to accept it? With Malcolm in the Church, you’re the next in line. The Captainship is yours by birthright.”
“Do I have a choice?” Tilting his head, Cameron eyed his brother. He wasn’t about to admit what an honor it would be for him to inherit his Uncle’s position.
“No, not really.”
“Question answered.” He said with a note of finality in his voice. “But he isn’t old. It seems too soon for him to be thinking ‘bout stepping down.”
“But he’s ready.”
Refusing to acknowledge the last statement, Cameron began to walk in the direction of home with his brother at his side. When the two men parted ways—one going to the left and one going to the right—a soft breeze from the east touched them both. Such a minor phenomenon went without notice as they each took their separate paths.
Janetta was out of sorts with her brother because he had kept her sequestered in their room since their arrival. There was so much she had wanted to see and do, but William would hear nothing of it. With a sour look upon her face she sat on the bed she and Elisabeth were to share with rags wrapped tightly in her hair so she might be presentable tonight.
Her afternoon was spent looking out the small window at the people below enjoying themselves without any respite at all. Elisabeth did not even come to her rescue. Instead she agreed with William’s plan and took a nap to pass the time!
Her only consolation was that it was finally dark outside so surely she would be freed soon as the gathering was to begin.
“I will send for you at the proper time.” William announced to the women. “Elisabeth, I’m not sure how long it will be, but could you get Janetta ready within the hour? I need to leave now and join the others.”
“Hour?” Janetta complained with fire in her eyes. “You want me wait another hour in this bloody room cooped up like a bloody animal?”
“Yes.” William was quickly nearing the end of his patience with his bored sister. “You’ll find that if stop thinking about how deprived you are, the time will pass more quickly.”
“That must be easy for you to say considering you have been able to leave this prison today.”
“Janetta, cease acting as if I take pleasure in making you miserable. I promise tomorrow you can go out and explore all you like. Just for tonight, please behave yourself and don’t harp on me anymore.”
“I’ll hold you to that promise!”
“Of that I have no doubt.” Casting an empathic glance toward Elisabeth, he left her to tend to his sister. He was not three steps from the room when he heard his Janetta demand of her friend that they ‘get these bloody scraps out of my hair.’
William was right, the time did pass more quickly once she began to dress and focus on the coming evening instead of what she had missed out on during the day. By the time to came back to fetch her, Janetta was calmer and deeper in thought. She had not been so angry earlier to forget the importance of what was before her.
With nervous fingers she straighten the skirt of her dress while waiting to hear what her brother thought of her appearance. She had honestly never looked lovelier, and something inside of her knew this, but she still wanted to hear his approval.
The burgundy silk William had given her complemented her complexion perfectly. The design of the dress was Elisabeth’s idea. It was womanlier than anything else Janetta had ever worn, but then again, Janetta was a woman now. At eighteen years of age many of her peers were married and caring for their children. When they had been measuring for the neckline of the gown, Elisabeth dropped it just enough not to be juvenile, but not so low that it was vulgar. The result was alluring.
“Flawless.” He said softly. “I never realized how much you resemble our mother until now. She would be very proud of you at this moment.”
“Thank you.” And once again all was well between the siblings. “I suppose we should leave now. Elisabeth?”
From the corner of the room where she was standing while the brief exchange took place, Elisabeth stepped out to join Janetta and William. Her beauty was also not to be contained, although she chose a simple ivory gown to wear.
Perhaps it was the candles lighting the room, or maybe it was the feeling he had for the woman, but William could speak no words as he gazed at her for a full half-minute. This could have posed an awkward situation had Janetta not also been feeling overwhelming love for the lady. Elisabeth was a true godsend to the both of them.
Without talking, the party traveled through the ancient walkways and down to the common room where the celebration was to be held. They were fortunate that no one else was near the entrance so that William might be able to give them final instructions.
“Uncle Wallace arrived late this afternoon and is inside with our cousin Jorgen. I don’t believe cousin Cora is here. If I am not with you, avoid our Uncle as much as possible. You know of his crudeness when he’s been drinking.”
“I will.” Janetta had not thought about her uncle making the journey until this moment. He traveled rarely.
“Only one drink tonight. The mead is strong.” William watched her agree with a nod of her head. “Once we are inside, look for where the other women are congregated and work your way in their direction. As soon as I am able, I will reintroduce you to our Chief. Until then, do enjoy yourself…but with regulation.”
William turned his attention to Elisabeth. “Take care of her,” was his only instruction. With nothing left to say, William opened the doors and released the voices of two hundred people into the hall.
The party had already begun.
Janetta’s first coherent thought was how warm the room was when compared to the hallway. She felt as if she was walking outside of her body—floating for a lack of a better description. Much to her credit she didn’t feel faint, just otherworldly.
‘Otherworldly’ could have been the word the folks who attention she drew might have used to describe her.
Most had never seen a young woman dressed in the finery she wore on this evening. Not even the late Maura Grant, daughter of Calum, owned the type of cloth that appeared as luminous. It wasn’t long before whispers started around the room since very few people even knew whom she was. The most interesting rumor was that William D’Arcy had brought lowlander royalty with him to their gathering.
Janetta felt no discomfort from the fact that many folks had stopped talking just to stare at her. She didn’t notice them. It wasn’t until a plump middle-aged woman came up and stood in front of her brother that she realized there were other people in the room.
“I was wonderin’ when she’d get to come down, D’Arcy. I was startin’ to think you were gonna keep her up there all night!” The voice sounded vaguely familiar causing Janetta to focus on the face.
It was that of Fergus Grant’s wife, Willa.
It wasn’t by accident that Willa was the first person to come up and greet Janetta. As clatter seemed to be drawn to Willa like a moth to a flame, she heard the ‘royalty’ comment and decided to get to the lass before someone said something stupid out loud and made her feel unwelcome. She had met Janetta when the Grants had went to visit last winter, spending time with her in Elisabeth’s room as she cared for her. Willa liked the girl, and by God, so was everyone else before the dawn broke.
“D’Arcy,” she commanded at William, “you go run off and do whatever it is men do. I’m takin’ Janetta and her pretty friend with me to meet me girls. You can come fetch her later, when the dancin’ starts.”
Janetta didn’t pay much attention to her brother obeying the older woman as her mind was occupied with what Willa had said about dancing. It had been years since her mother had taught her how to dance and she had never had the opportunity to do so since. She probably should have felt some apprehension at this, but she didn’t. All she could think of was what other unknown wonders the night would hold for her.
At a long table near the back of the room there sat seven girls. Two of the girls were whispering, and the other five stared directly at Janetta as she came closer to them. Their expressions were a mixture of awe and fear. These five were the ones Willa wanted her to meet.
“Lassies, stop lookin’ at her like she has two heads.” Willa barked before she was in a discreet range. She wanted to put an end to the rumors, therefore she was louder than she needed to be so the folks around her would hear. “This is just Janetta D’Arcy and she doesn’t bite.”
“Oh, Mama!” one of them cried, very embarrassed. Willa didn’t pay a lick of heed to her but instead beamed over at Janetta.
“And these are me barins. The one with food on her face is me youngest, Meig. Next to her is Dora, Genevieve, Grace, and Bly. Them other two girls--who better stop whisperin’ before I get a switch after ‘em--ain’t mine, but they might as well be since they spend so much time with me. They are Eby and Finola.”
“I am very glad to meet you.” Janetta said politely as she bowed her head. “May I introduce my friend Elisabeth to you.”
Meig, who squinted her eyes in an act of perplexity, was the first to speak. “She don’t talk like us, mama!”
Well…it was a retched beginning, but a beginning just the same. Once Willa sent the youngest three up to bed, and the two that weren’t her daughters off to find their own mothers, the conversation did improve. It didn’t take long before Bly and Janetta attached theirs selves to each other, since both were of the character to be at ease and happy. When Willa felt comfortable that no harm would befall Janetta, she took Elisabeth by the hand and led her over to a table of women closer to her age.
A few folks did make their way to where Bly and Janetta sat, and her new friend did a fair job of introducing her to them. One particular young man passed by, but he didn’t stop. It was obvious that he only had eyes for Bly and judging by the blush that covered her cheeks, there was a mutual attraction at work. When he was out of earshot, Janetta asked her about him.
“His name is Rory MacSwain.” Bly admitted somewhat shyly. “Umm…”
Janetta just smiled back at her as Bly thought about how much she was going to confess.
“Janetta!” she exclaimed with excitement. “Do you need somethin’ to drink?”
“I’m fine, but thank you.” Janetta didn’t take the bait.
“No,” Bly grinned, “Do you need somethin’ to drink? I would go get somethin’ for you.”
Janetta paused for a moment before she understood. “Is Rory over there?”
“Yes.” Bly lowered her voice. “The music is going to start soon and he may be afraid to ask me to dance in front of anyone. What do you think? Should I happen to be near him for the first dance?”
“Yes!” Janetta answered quietly. Then in a normal voice she continued, “Oh, I am thirsty. It’s not a bother?”
“Not at all.” Under the table Bly squeezed her hand, thanking her. “I’ll be rightly back.”
Seeing that Janetta was now sitting alone, Elisabeth excused herself from her company and directly went to her. She seemed satisfied with how their first hour had gone and wanted to see if her friend shared her feelings. Janetta did and for several minutes while Bly talked to Rory across the room the women spoke about the people they had met thus far.
At one point William came in visual distance of them. Janetta noticed that he was talking with Keiron and assorted other Grant men. She had hoped that she could catch his eye to let him know that now was a good time for re-introductions, but before this could happen the musicians started to play and the center of the room quickly filled with eager dancers.
“Elisabeth, let’s go to William.” Janetta declared so that a chance encounter could occur. Spying her way to her brother, her eyes fell to a most unwelcome sight. It was that of her uncle.
“Uncle Wallace is up ahead. It will be expected for me to greet him, but please don’t stop walking.”
Wallace D’Arcy was too fat to move about much. He was a dissatisfied man who took little pleasure in anything other than food. His lot in life was grievous indeed; being born a second son and having a brother like Luthais, dead though he might be. Yes, Wallace suffered so and he was always the first to admit it.
Yet, when one examined his life it was hard to feel any true degree of pity for him. He had a fine home, two healthy children, and not a real want for fortune. But this was—and would never be—enough. Just as he gorged himself on every morsel of cuisine placed in his vicinity, so did he feed upon greed, envy, and resentment.
He was most displeased with his son Jorgen’s inability to obtain his cousin Janetta’s hand in marriage last month. He was certain that William would have seen the benefit of keeping the wealth within the family. But William was hard-headed, much like his father, and he did not buy into the scheme Who really cared that the Scot’s frowned upon cousins marrying each other? Other people did it all the time without consequence.
Another thorn in his side—for there were many—was now he realized that there wasn’t a chance in hell for him to convince William that his own daughter, Cora, would make a suitable bride for himself. Granted, she was an idiot, but she followed instructions exceedingly well and didn’t talk much.
These were the miseries Wallace D’Arcy faced, and his idle mind allowed his own misfortune to fester into something more. Wallace was becoming angry.
“Uncle.” was all Janetta was going to say to the man as she passed by him. William’s warning to stay far from him was fresh in her memory. With her eyes lowered to the floor she began her escape with Elisabeth three paces behind her.
Seeing that she was about to flee, Wallace reached out with his grubby paw and took hold of her left wrist. He had a few words reserved for this pert lassie and wasn’t about to face any embarrassment by Janetta brushing him aside in front of all the others.
“All dressed up I see, little Jane,” Wallace tightened his grip on Janetta, jerking her closer to his side. “But with your prospects as low as they are, you really should have saved the material to sell.”
Janetta had no response. She wasn’t certain why the man evoked such a fear in her, but of all the people she had ever met in her life, he only had to glance her way and she would freeze.
“You are to go to your cousin Jorgen and dance with him.” He instructed. “I want all to see what a merry a family we are. Do you understand me?”
“I can not.” She returned, feeling a minute wave of courage flow through her. “I’m going to find my brother. He’s expecting me.”
“Do you actually think you’re going to disobey me? Is this the sort of daughter my brother raised? Defiant to her elders?”
“Let go of my arm” Janetta pleaded. “I have to find William.”
“No, I will not!”
“Let go of my arm!" she repeated with a definite tone of urgency in her voice as she began to struggle to get our of his reach.
“I gave you an order and I expect it to be…”
“Let go of her arm now, or I will force you to!” came another voice, one deep and firm in its resolve.
“This is family business…” Wallace fell silent after he bothered to identify the offending intruder. Without a word of protest, he released his grip on his niece.
Before Janetta could look up, a different hand was on her, holding her forearm out to her uncle. She didn’t dare protest.
“Do you know what we do to men who leave marks on women?” The man demanded of Wallace. “Do you know the penalty?”
“I never meant to hurt the girl.” Wallace objected violently. “She’s blood!”
Tense silence fell between the two men as each waited for the other to make a move. And there stood Janetta in the middle, only wishing for the scene to be over. Turning her head slowly, she sought out the face of the one that had stopped her uncle. Much to her surprise…and mortification, she recognized that face.
“Heaven help me,” she cried in her mind. “Keiron Grant!”
Janetta could not help herself, she simply stared at the man with eyes wide open. This was obviously not how she had hoped their re-introduction would have been. The polite phrases she had practiced at home in front of the looking glass were forgotten, and all she was left with was a muteness that was foreign to her.
When his eyes met her, she could visually see the sternness in them dissipate to a slight softness she could vaguely remember from his trip to her home last winter. His face more handsome than she recalled, although to be fair, this was the closest she had ever been to him before.
What does a woman to say to a man in a situation like this? Janetta didn’t know. Therefore, the words ‘I’m fine. Truly,’ slipped from her mouth with all of the calmness she could muster.
“Are you sure?” he asked in response, not breaking eye contact with her.
“Yes. I’m not hurt.”
Nodding an acknowledgment of her answer, he released her arm and turned to Wallace once again. “Touch her again and I’ll know ‘bout it. That’s not an empty threat.”
Wallace pursed his lips together and said nothing in return. His glare hardened after the Grant man turned his back to him, walking away with Janetta by his side and Elisabeth several paces behind. To be made a fool of was not something Wallace was accustomed to, but the man was wise enough not to force the issue with so many Grant loyalists nearby.
He led the women over to a serving table that held a large barrel and several somewhat clean mugs. After dipping out a drink for Janetta and Elisabeth, he then got one for himself.
Neither man nor woman spoke while they stood there as both were nervous about starting a conversation with the other, instead they chose to busy their selves with watching the crowd. Janetta gazed over at Elisabeth once, but her friend was looking away at the time.
Numerous clans folk filtered by them during this time of silence. They had inadvertently chosen the most popular spot to stand. That was next to the mead.
The mood in the room was jovial, and it quickly became obvious to Janetta that few people, if anyone witnessed what had taken place between herself and her uncle. This was a great relief to her and as her unease about making a public scene passed, she found herself relaxing and returning to her former nature.
The young Grant spoke with many of the men wishing to fill their glasses. One even had the boldness to ask him why he wasn’t dancing with “that pretty lass ye’re wit’.”
“Would you like to dance?” He asked apprehensively as he looked at the cup in his hands. He had been wanting to ask her, but wasn’t sure she’d even consider the offer.
Janetta concentrated on the dancers before replying honestly “I’ve never been taught to dance that way.” The calculated, graceful moves her mother had educated her about was not what was being displayed on the floor.
“I haven’t either,” he admitted. This was all the encouragement Janetta needed.
“Let’s dance, then, and we can both be made ridiculous together.”
Dance they did for three songs. He was a little shy, she thought to herself, as William had told her, but not to the degree she had expected. Perhaps it was the preoccupation with dancing that gave them ease, but it wasn’t long before both were laughing at their selves and more comfortable.
Janetta’s newfound friend Bly had indeed been invited by Rory MacSwain to dance and the two couples found their selves in close proximity most of the time. They switched partners for part of one song, and Rory seemed a pleasant, although an awkward young man. But of all her partners, Keiron was her favorite and without thinking, her smile grew when he was with her.
Holding both of her hands in his own, he explained to Janetta that when the music ended he had to go to the front of the room with his family. For some reason she could not explain, she felt true disappointment from the thought. If it had been possible, she would have danced with this handsome man all night.
Janetta was in high spirits after they parted and the impression he left on her was a good one. She sought out Elisabeth or William to share it with, and found Elisabeth first.
“I am so happy! I feel like I’m dreaming.”
She waited for her friend to share her fervor, and when it did not come she questioned her. “Elisabeth, are you not having a good time? I cannot believe William did not come over here and ask you to dance when I saw him talking to you. I will say something to him about that.”
“Janetta,” she answered in a hushed tone. “Do you know you were dancing with the wrong Grant?”
“What? You are mistaken, Elisabeth. That was Keiron Grant I was with.”
“That was not Keiron, dear. Look at the center chair at the front table. That is chieftain Grant.”
“Who was it, then?” Janetta demanded, unable to stop staring at Keiron. “My dance partner?”
“Cameron Grant, the younger brother.” Elisabeth took Janetta’s hand in her own. “William wants you to come to him now.”
The Morning After.
Janetta sat on the edge of her bed staring down at the sleeping form of Elisabeth. Without having to be told, she knew that it would be her brother’s wish for her to remain in the room until he came to get her. Yesterday he had promised her that she would be free today, and if she waited too long, this promise would be forgotten by William and she would most likely be pawn to his plans once again.
Dressed in her plainest gown, specifically chosen for that purpose, she sat trying to decide which path she should follow, that of obedience or independence. She had to decide quickly because with each passing minute she lessened her chances getting to choose at all. William was never one to sleep late in the morning and if he caught her, she would not fight with him.
If she stayed—which her conscience told her she should—she predicted that this day would be like the previous evening when William had joined her and Elisabeth after she danced with Cameron Grant. At that point any enjoyment she might have gotten out of the evening vanished and every move afterward was premeditated by her brother.
William’s displeasure was not spoken when he gathered the two ladies and sat them at a table for the feast, but the sternness in his eyes said what he would not verbally express. They were stationed near the center of the room facing the main table and from that position Janetta could clearly see the Grant kin take their places. As she observed two men in particular, she realized that they were not quite as physically alike as she had thought. Her excuse for confusing the brother’s, based on their physical likeness, died a horrible death when she realized the weakness of that observation.
In her defense, Cameron had never introduced himself by name to her, of that Janetta was certain. But then again, she did leave him with the impression that she knew who he was. It was all a tangled mess she wished to leave behind her. No true damage was done that could not be fixed, she assumed, although her interview with Keiron later in the night was uneventful at best.
William had made the introduction, and Janetta smiled prettily. The only response she received in turn was brief eye contact and a nod of the head. After that occurred, she pretended to pay attention as the two men spoke about the economic benefits of shipping Scottish wool to Denmark for what felt like forever.
Bly and Willa came to her rescue after thirty minutes of discussion, bringing her and Elisabeth to a small group of women gathered at the far end of the room. They were a lively collection, if not a bit noisy, and all sorts of topics were covered from weaning babies to curing lamb. One subject, however, left Janetta in thought long after it was abandoned. It was her dress.
The women had made such a fuss over the material and it wasn’t until then that Janetta really took a good look around the room. The finery of her clothing was so above that which was worn by everyone else, to a degree that Janetta couldn’t help but feel self-conscious about her appearance. Had she known in advance the casual mode of dress that the other women came to the gathering in, she would never allowed herself to appear in public clad as she was.
For a moment Janetta contemplated going to her room and changing, but she determined that this would possibly draw more attention to herself in the end. Instead she vowed to be more careful in future selections and make William aware of her decision. She was certain her brother would understand, after all, she wasn’t there to make a spectacle of herself.
‘Why am I here?’ she asked herself in the silence of her mind.
The answer she already knew. What had been originally planned as a trip for her to get to experience her people had turned into a hunt for a possible husband. Keiron Grant seemed a civilized enough man, and she had caught him looking at her several times after she had left his side. Janetta did nothing to warrant or encourage his notice, but sat quietly as the other women spoke.
Before they came to Castle Grant Elisabeth had told her not put on a show for others. If she were to follow her friend’s advice, she would not have turned down Cameron for a second set of dancing after the feast was over.
Dancing was wonderful. Sitting down appearing demure and having a man might admire her from a distance was not. Janetta was so full of life and curiosity, yet completely naive to the ways of the world that she found it difficult to contain her excitement. As she sat perched on the edge of the bed she shared with Elisabeth deciding if she should wait in the room or venture out the door, her inquisitiveness won out.
It wasn’t twenty minutes later when Elisabeth woke for the day. Even before she had opened her eyes she knew that Janetta had fled the room. Changing out of her nightgown in preparation to go find her friend, she noticed a large bloodstain on the back of it.
Elisabeth knew that God had passed his own judgment on her past and present sin.
“It’s ready for the water, Bly” Janetta announced as she crawled out of the over-sized metal pot she had tipped on it’s side to clean. They had both found themselves out in the back courtyard helping some other women wash the cooking pots from last night. This was the demand Willa Grant placed on her daughter before she was free for the day, and Janetta immediately offered her services to hasten the process.
“I’m tryin’,” Bly answered as she struggled with a heavy bucket of water.
“Let me help you.” Placing her filthy cleaning rag on top of the pot, Janetta ran over to the well. The two girls laughed as water spilled from the bucket Bly had filled, earning them a deserved scowl from the main cook who was waiting impatiently for the pot to be cleaned.
“What happened last night with Rory?” Janetta whispered as they lugged the bucket so that the few folks near them wouldn’t hear. “You don’t have to tell me anything that makes you uncomfortable. I don’t desire to force a confidence.”
Bly smiled and confessed all. “I love him! I want to tell you somethin’, but I don’t want you to think I’m bad.”
“How could I possibly have a poor opinion of you?” Janetta stated before taking a cleaner rag and dipping it in the water to rinse the pot. “I will not judge you.”
“I let Rory kiss me.”
“Is kissing bad?” She honestly didn’t know the answer, as the subtle rules of romance were one of the areas where her education was lacking.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to do it unless you’re willin’ to marry someone.”
“I didn’t know that.” Janetta replied, her eyes lit up with surprise.
“I think that’s what it is.”
“But you love him, so perhaps you didn’t act our of turn. Are you willing to marry him, Bly?”
“With all me heart.” Bly’s statement was sincere. “What about you, Janetta? Do you love anyone yet?”
She only replied by shaking her head.
“You still have eight days, so I’m not worried!”
“Eight days until what?”
“On the last day of our meetin’, all the couples that have come together get married in a big weddin’. Mama says our priest is old and it’s easier for him this way…you know, to marry everyone at once. Less weddin’s for him to do the rest of the days. Last year there were ten couples!”
“Oh yes! One year there was fourteen! That was a big weddin’.”
“At present I’m not engaged, so I doubt it will be a concern of mine.”
“Not I, either. But eight days is a long time.” A smile passed between the two newfound friends, and Bly felt comfortable enough to speak about a matter that had been on her mind all morning. “Janetta, can I ask you somethin’?”
“Why does your brother pay Elisabeth to be your friend? Everyone here likes you. They said so last night. I mean, he doesn’t have to pay someone when you can have friends for free.”
“I don’t understand your meaning. Could you explain?”
“Mama called Elisabeth your paid friend last night and said your brother gives her money to live with you and be your mate.” Bly squeezed Janetta’s hand reassuringly. “Ambie Grant and Maggie could be your friends. ”
“Who are they?”
“They live at your brother’s keep, silly lass! You don’t know ‘em? They’re our age and mighty fun. Rory has some kin nearby, also.”
“Oh,” Janetta said slowly, trying not to appear surprised. Bly’s revelation about Elisabeth disturbed her more than her pride would allow her to exhibit. She had never heard this before.
They both quieted and returned to their work. Once they had exhausted their supply of clean water, they returned to the well for a second fill.
“It’s too heavy.” Janetta declared. “We need help if we’re ever going to finish washing the pot.”
It only took Bly a split second to locate an able pair of hands who appeared to be without a task at the moment. “Cameron!” She bellowed across the courtyard at her cousin as he was passing through. “Help me?”
Janetta froze in place after she heard Bly call to the one person she was hoping to avoid this morning. She really hadn’t thought far enough ahead to formulate a plan in case an accidental meeting did occur. Should she acknowledge that they had danced together or just pretend it didn’t happen? Should she avoid eye contact? Janetta didn’t know, therefore she recalled Elisabeth’s words to her said long ago about what to do if she ever found herself in an uncomfortable situation. Janetta would remain calm and quiet, not drawing interest to herself but also not appearing startled by his being there.
The two Grant cousins began talking as soon as Cameron reached them. “What are you carrin’?” Bly asked curiously.
“How many?’ Bly smirked while eyeing the bag he had slung over his shoulder. It sure didn’t look like many to her.
“Two.” That was embarrassing for the man to admit and it showed on his face.
“Well, that’s not gonna fill that pot for the meat stew we’re having tonight,” She pointed over to the large pot Janetta had just finished scrubbing. “You should’ve taken Janetta here! She knows how to use a bow.”
“I can’t take women, Bly, it’s bad luck. You know that.”
“Bad luck for the hare, perhaps.” Janetta exclaimed. Her plan had not even lasted a minute. She hadn’t intended to say anything, it just blurted out of her as opinions sometimes did.
Cameron found himself without words as his eyes locked with the petite issuer of such a challenging statement. Last night she had been dressed up like a princess with her hair in an intricate design and her lips tinted pink. Now before him she stood in a plain gray gown muddied at the hem and barefoot.
Up until that moment she entered the great hall last night he had no knowledge that William D’Arcy had a sister of age. Cameron couldn’t say with honesty that he ever had any interest in her kin. Her uncle Wallace D’Arcy he had no respect for, and his son Jorgen was too pleasing and smooth for his taste.
What he did know for certain was that the D’Arcy family had helped build up the small port at Elgin, but they rarely spoke to or mingled with its inhabitants. Cameron knew they were wealthy, and that their tax money had made his family well secure, but not much more.
William D’Arcy was a mystery. Cameron found it odd that he sported the Grant tartan, yet it looked as if it was freshly woven. Keiron professed that William was a man that could be depended on, but until Cameron knew him better he would not be so easily convinced.
Janetta he did not judge so harshly. His observations of her during the evening led him to believe that she was a spirited lass. Of course, she did turn him down for a second round of dancing, and although she did it with pretty words, he left her side reluctantly feeling as if he would not get the opportunity again. A woman like that would surely never consider the fourth son of a highland chief as anything more than an amusement.
Gradually a sly grin crossed his lips. If Janetta was brave enough to challenge his belief in what constituted bad luck, he wanted to hear her explanation.
“You don’t believe it’s bad luck for women to hunt?”
“Heavens no. How can it be?”
“Everyone says it is. I’m sure it’s been proven somewhere.”
“If a woman can slaughter a chicken or clean a fish, both activities I have seen performed countless times, then why can’t she hunt for her food? If I went out to the lake with a net and caught a fish, would you call that bad luck or good luck?”
“Good luck I’d say!” Cameron answered before smiling broadly at her. That lass definitely had spunk. “But what ‘bout the use of weapons?”
“Is a knife not a weapon?”
“Good question! I would say it is a weapon, aye.”
Janetta’s only retort was to return his smile after she felt her point was made. Without any more conversation, he carried the bucket of water over to the cooking pot and rinsed it for them. After this was done, he accepted their thanks and left. For the longest time Janetta stood silently watching Cameron walk away from them as he delivered the hares to the cook.
“You should marry Cameron!” Bly proposed, quite pleased with her brilliant idea. “He’s not promised to anyone yet.”
“I cannot marry Cameron.” Janetta shook her head violently at the suggestion; all the while her eyes remained affixed to the man.
“I…I don’t have any intelligence about him to even consider matrimony at present.” Turning her head to face her friend, Janetta saw that Bly didn’t understand her statement.
“I don’t know Cameron,” she simplified.
“But I do! I can tell you anythin’ you want to know.”
“I have no real questions to ask of you.” Instinct told Janetta not to pursue her curiosities about Cameron.
Bly paused in her enthusiasm before reaching out for Janetta’s hand. “Come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“I want to tell you about my family.”
Bly Grant held a distinct advantage over many of her peers at the stronghold; she was the daughter of Willa Grant. Rarely did an occurrence happen in Grant territory that Willa was not aware of. As the two walked over to a secluded area where they could speak in hushed tones, many questions Janetta had were about to be satisfied.
“Cameron was named after his mama’s clan when God took her soul. They are bad, bad people whom we Grants don’t pay a heed of thought to anymore. I heard they drink the blood of their enemies.”
“I can’t imagine that!” Cried Janetta, horrified at the idea of such a barbaric act.
“That’s what I heard. Did you know that Uncle Frederic is gonna tell everyone tomorrow night that Cameron is going to take over as Captain of the Guard as soon as he teaches him the ways?”
“What does that mean? What exactly is a Captain of the Guard?”
“Cameron will be the warlord. If someone means us harm, Cameron will lead the battle. That’s why he went to the lowlands and joined the Nightwatch, you know. To learn how to protect us.”
“Protect all of us? What if there was a raid on Elgin?” This revelation held a great deal of interest to Janetta.
“Cameron would go there as captain. Anyone on Grant land will be protected. He won’t let anythin’ bad happen, my Uncle Frederic says.”
“Was your Uncle up at the front table last night with the other Grants?” Janetta had heard some about this uncle, but wasn’t sure which man he was.
“Yes, he has dark hair with some gray in it.”
“Have I met his wife?”
“He has no wife. The story as I know it is Uncle Frederic fancied a lass but her papa gave her away to a man from the Davidson clan during a truce we had when I was born. Once the fightin’ began again, no one ever heard from her.”
“Gave her away?”
“Aye! Uncle Frederic was goin’ to marry her, but she was already gone an’ married when he found out.”
While Janetta was mentally digesting the information about Frederic, Bly continued in her enlightenment.
“…Keiron thinks a lot, but maybe that’s because the learnin’ he got when your papa sent those wise men here.”
“My father sent tutors here?” No one had ever told Janetta this.
“Yep, he did. All of Uncle Calum’s sons were taught, ‘cept for Cameron. His papa said he was too young and didn’t need to know much since he had older brothers. But mama thinks it was because Uncle Calum was mad at Cameron for killin’ his wife when he was born. That’s why he didn’t give much heed to him. Good thing Uncle Frederic is his Godfather.”
“What sort of man is Keiron?” Janetta asked in an attempt to steer the conversation away from Cameron. “I haven’t much information about him.”
“I like Keiron. He has always been real nice to me. Mama believes he should have been the priest instead of Malcolm because he treats folks good. Malcolm is not very nice. Um…” For the first time since their conversation had began, Bly was at a loss for words. “I like Keiron. Oh, I already said that.”
“Do you feel he displays sound judgment, if I may ask such a question?”
“Aye! Papa says he makes good decisions.”
“What else can you tell me about him?”
“He goes to church twice a week. Have you heard ‘bout Edana MacGregor?”
“Some. I was told that Keiron was to marry her, but the wedding was canceled due to the bride being with another man’s child. Is this correct?”
“Aye, you know the story. Keiron doesn’t have to marry any lass now. He’s free.”
“Do you know if he is attached to any particular woman at present?” Janetta realized this was a dangerous inquiry to make, but if Bly had heard the rumor that Jorgen had written William about, she wanted to know.
“None that I have heard ‘bout.” Bly let out a sigh before her attention was drawn to an archway leading from the castle to the courtyard. “There’s Eby! Want to go fetch her and walk a bit? I can show you everythin’.”
“I would like that,” Janetta exclaimed with excitement. “But I have to be back soon for Elisabeth.”
“Well and good!” With that, the days history lesson was concluded.
Keiron sat on a small wooden bench at the foot of his bed mulling over the days events before him. This morning he had the meeting of tribal elders, followed by an afternoon of grievances to contend with. There would be no time to do as he pleased until the evening. In the past his responsibilities did not seem as burdensome as they did at this moment, and this was the first time he could remember that he had wished they would just disappear. Perhaps her staying here had something to do with it.
Fergus was the only person he had confided to about his attraction toward Janetta. Willa knew of course, but that was a given as Willa knew everything meant to be secret.
Keiron could recall with vivid detail the first time he laid eyes on her. Of course, at the time he was engaged to Edana MacGregor and would have never acted on any impulse, but that luckily worked itself out. Now that he was unattached, he could think of no other but Janetta.
He wondered if Janetta’s brother would approve, but in his mind he knew that was not the largest barrier between him and the lady. It was Keiron’s own inability to overcome his introversion that would hinder him the most.
Since he was a small child, he had always been uncomfortable around women. Some of those people close to Keiron blamed his mother for that. Maura Grant was a crass woman who used intimidation and callousness as tools in an attempt to make her sons strong. With her eldest Gregor her parenting plan did work. He was a mean child, wild and competitive. But Keiron did not react the same. He withdrew when women were around, not speaking unless directly spoken to while weighing his words carefully. This was the legacy his mother left him with.
Last night he berated his self endlessly for not speaking more to Janetta. He knew he should have asked her to dance as Cameron had. Janetta had no other partners the rest of the evening and seemed to enjoy dancing a great deal. That is what he should have done. It wasn’t as if it was the most difficult task he had ever faced...and yet, it was.
Here sat a man who held the welfare of so many lives in his hands. The decisions he made every day were considered law by the people, and there was no hesitancy when it came to clan business. When he was surrounded by men, Keiron displayed nearly as much confidence as his Uncle Frederic.
Keiron knew that was no easy solution to his predicament, but perhaps the best step would be to speak to William in private. If William was opposed to his courting Janetta, then he would abandon his pursuit. Family preservation and harmony was a precedence Keiron was not willing to endanger by coming between siblings.
If the brother approved, perhaps William would help bring the two of them together in company often and through familiarity Keiron could overcome his debilitating handicap.
A soft knock at his door brought his attention back to the present. Assuming it was Frederic or Cameron, he opened it immediately only to find a lovely lady on the other side.
“Dear me,” Elisabeth sighed, appearing embarrassed. “This isn’t Bly’s room.”
Keiron shook his head in response.
Not meaning to offend the man, she felt an explanation was in order. “I believe she and Janetta had plans to meet up. Her room is two doors that way?”
Elisabeth pointed in the opposite direction.
“Aye.” He answered. After several seconds of silence, Keiron added, “I heard Bly earlier this morning outside my door talkin’ to her mama. I don’t believe she’s there. You want to look in the great hall.”
Puzzlement showed on her face as Elisabeth recalled the route to the great hall aloud. “Down the stairs, then right…to the second hallway…”
“I’m goin’ there. Would you like to follow me?”
“I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Not a bother.” Keiron assured her as he closed the door to his room and began the journey through the family quarters of the castle. Once they were on the second floor, Keiron peered out a window and asked Elisabeth to stop.
“I see Janetta in the courtyard.” He pointed out the window. “Bly is with her. There is a pack of them together.”
“That’s good to hear. Janetta has never been anywhere as large as your home before. I worry about her becoming lost.”
“You need not worry. Bly will not let injury come to her.”
“Then I think I will let her be for a while. It is good for her to make friends.”
“I agree.” Keiron replied absently. “Do you think she is enjoyin’ herself here?”
“Everyone has made us feel welcome. We all very much wanted to come and are thankful for the invitation.”
Maybe it was the openness Elisabeth naturally exhibited that made people comfortable in her presence, or perhaps it was something as simple as her curly hair reminding him of his own departed sister, regardless of the cause Keiron found himself making casual conservation with the lady almost effortlessly. The talk was all centered around Janetta of course, but the respectful manner he was addressing his inquiries quickly won the approval of Elisabeth.
Watching like a ghost from the top of the stairway, Frederic said nothing to declare his presence as Keiron and Elisabeth spoke. He was far enough away not to hear their soft exchange and for this he was glad. He did not want to intrude on their privacy, but there was some pleasure in his heart brought on by the scene. As silently as he arrived, he backtracked and returned to his room.
They were still discussing Janetta when Elisabeth felt a strong cramp in her abdomen. Then a second and a third. She did her best to hide her discomfort from the chieftain, but when the fourth hit with more force than the first three combined, she could hide her pain no longer.
“Keiron, I am not well,” she announced as she grasped the window sill with her hand to keep her balance. “I suddenly feel ill and need to return to my room. I’m sorry.”
“I understand. Is there anythin’ I can do?”
“No, thank you.” Elisabeth felt as if her belly was on fire. Noting the abrupt distress she was experiencing was evident on her face, Keiron took her free arm and placed his other hand on her back.
“I will take you.” She only nodded in agreement as they began their journey back to the third floor. Not three steps up and they heard “Elisabeth” called from behind them. It was William. A brief exchange took place between the men before William picked up Elisabeth in his arms and made his way to her bed.
“What’s wrong?” He asked as he gently placed her in the center of the bed.
“It is my woman problems,” she whispered in his ear well aware that Keiron was standing in the doorway. “Worse than usual.”
William pulled a blanket up around her and asked Keiron to join him in the hallway. He had sense enough to be discrete in explaining the situation to Keiron and once his host was assured that Elisabeth would be properly tended to, William returned to the room closing the door behind him.
“What may I get to alleviate your discomfort? Food or water? More blankets?”
She did not answer, only rolled onto her side bringing her knees up to her chest as close as she could get them. Never before had Elisabeth experienced such a violent reaction to her monthly, even with the bleeding liquid.
“Elisabeth, please say something.”
“I need nothing you can give me,” she answered breathlessly. “It will pass.”
“Where’s Janetta? She should be here with you.”
“No, William.. Leave her be. She is out with Bly and other young ladies. She is well.”
Elisabeth paused as another wave of cramping racked her.
“You’re suffering, “ he broke into French. “She has been through this with you before. Let me gather my sister for you.”
“I don’t desire Janetta’s company. Perhaps later.”
Over the next two hours William stayed at Elisabeth’s bedside alternating between holding her hand, rubbing her back, and fetching blankets from his own room because of her chills. She tried to get him to leave to pursue his own obligations, but he would hear nothing of it. Not once did she confess to him what was really happening to her body, and knowing Elisabeth’s past history with difficult menstrual cycles, he didn’t think to question her.
However, this wasn’t just another difficult menstrual cycle.
As time passed pain subsided to a point where Elisabeth felt herself succumbing to sleep. With heavy eyelids and raspy speech, she addressed her caretaker with an issue weighing on her mind.
“I want to tell you something.” William tenderly brushed the hair out her eyes and waited for her to continue. “I believe Jorgen was correct about the Chieftain.”
“Don’t concern yourself with such trivial matters.” William was taken aback that she would even waste her precious strength on something so unrelated to what she was going through at present. “I have no interest in that now.”
“But you may have interest later.” Elisabeth would not be thwarted “When you found me, Keiron had just asked me many questions about your sister. He trusts his cousin Bly to keep her safe when we’re not around her, and it gave him pleasure to see how easily Janetta was accepted by his kin.”
“I’m not certain I want her...I don’t know.” If it were possible at this moment, William would satisfy his sixth sense and remove Janetta and Elisabeth from this place, returning them home where they belonged.
“God has a way of taking care of things.” With a heavy heart, her hand reached up to cup his face. “Trust him to lead you in matters about Janetta. All will be as it should be.”
What a happy morning she had, Janetta thought to herself as she walked toward the archway that led from the courtyard to the entrance of the great hall. She had but one more mission to accomplish before she went to find Elisabeth and with determination she strode into the hall in search of her goal. It might be helpful to mention that Janetta was holding a fair-sized dead fish between her hands.
She knew Cameron was there because Rory had told her so outside just a minute ago, but what Rory forgot to mention was that there were four other men at his table eating a meal. Waiting as patiently as someone with bubbling excitement could, and receiving a few odd looks from others passing her on their way to the food, it was not too long before all the men but he left their seats. Now was her time.
Janetta walked over to the table Cameron was at and without fanfare laid the dead fish in front of his plate of food. He looked at it for a while before asking her if she had indeed caught the fish herself.
“I did,” she admitted as water dripped from her gown onto the floor. She was an absolute mess.
“With a net?”
“No,” she shook her head while beaming from ear to ear, eager to share her accomplishment with him. “With my own two hands. Bly showed me the pond today. I saw this fish while we were there swimming back and forth on the side of the dock. Then it stopped for a moment, and I reached down and caught it. I told you there was no such thing as bad luck.”
“Do you believe in good luck?” He laughed out loud.
“Yes I do!” Truly, Janetta had no idea that some might consider her current actions as obvious flirting, for that was not her intent. Granted, she found Cameron to be a good looking man but few women would dispute that. Her intent, she convinced herself, was to make a point about women and hunting.
“Tomorrow mornin’ at dawn I can show you a thicket where I’ve seen many hares. Meet me at the south stables if you want to go.”
“If I can, I will.” With nothing else to say, she left him to his meal and fish. Cameron Grant fell in love with Janetta D’Arcy at exactly that moment in history.
As soon as Janetta had entered their shared quarters that afternoon and saw Elisabeth asleep in bed, her brother led her over to a corner and dropped his voice to a stern whisper. Janetta observed that William appeared to be much angrier about the state of dishevel she was in, than the fact that she was walking about without him as a chaperone. Of course, William was speaking from the assumption that Elisabeth had given her permission her to go off with Bly. Janetta did nothing to correct his misconception. She could not have known the lecture he had prepared for her this earlier in the day, it is probably good that William kept it to himself until a more opportune time was presented. Despite her concern for Elisabeth, Janetta had not forgotten that she had a few issues to raise with her brother; namely his disapproval over whom she danced and did not dance with the previous evening. Had he placed her in a position where she felt she had to defend her actions, she undoubtedly would have lashed back at him with her own accusations.
William returned earlier in the evening with two bowls of meat stew, which brought back fresh memories of Cameron to Janetta’s mind. She had spent a great deal of idle time thinking about him already. She could not explain why to herself, but she found the man particularly interesting. One thing Janetta was certain of was that she should act more respectful toward Cameron. He was to be the next Captain of the Guard, a position of honor and power amongst the Grants. Surely women did not go about freely speaking their mind and teasing such a man. In hindsight Janetta also realized that she should not have accepted his offer to go hunt tomorrow morning. Not only would it be a poor example of ladylike behavior, she knew without asking that William would disapprove.
Remorse for having left Elisabeth alone weighed heavily on Janetta while she sat by her bedside as darkness fell outside her small window. The emotion was strong enough to subdue her interest in the activities taking place this evening, including the shared meal outdoors in which everyone was involved.
For her part, Elisabeth had spoke infrequently throughout the afternoon and when she did references to God were often made. Janetta found this out of character for her friend since she had never seemed overly religious before, but attributed it to her being in obvious discomfort and perhaps not of her right mind
Bly and Willa came to visit Elisabeth after their supper was over, offering fresh conversation and a little joy to the somber room. They were not in the room but a few minutes before William excused himself to join the other men outside. To pass the time, Janetta went about braiding Bly’s hair while her mother entertained them all with her sage wisdom. Willa’s conversation was interesting to be sure, but perhaps not enough to keep Janetta’s mind from wandering back to the wonders of the day she had. Tucking the braid she had completed at the nape of Bly’s neck, she turned toward Elisabeth and brought herself back to the conversation at hand.
“Elisabeth, I had that same problem with my bleed until I had Bly there.” Willa pointed over at her eldest who was hoping that her mother wouldn’t say anything to embarrass her in front of her new friends. “What ye’re need is a husband, have a barin or two and ye’re be fine as ever.”
“Mama! That’s your answer to everythin’.”
“Lass speaks the truth.” Willa conceded. The hour was getting late, and all four women were showing signs of winding down. “Bly, go round up ye’re sisters for bed. And don’t bring me back any spares tonight!”
“Janetta, will you help her?” Elisabeth asked quietly while Bly whispered something in her mother’s ear, receiving an affirmative nod in return.
“I’d prefer to stay here with you.” Janetta returned with honesty. “You may need me.”
“I’ll be here for a bit ‘til Elisabeth falls asleep.” Willa responded having overheard the exchange. “She’s lookin’ tired.”
“I am tired, thank you Willa. Dear, your brother is outside and it would be good for you to be with him. I’ll be here when you get back.” It took more convincing from both Elisabeth and Willa before Janetta was willing to leave her friend’s sickbed. Once outside she felt her energy renewed, but not her spirit.
The great hall stood empty this beautiful night as all had gathered in the back courtyard. There were several bonfires ablaze blocking out the view of the stars in the sky, but the surrounding feeling of warmth and contentment more than made up for it.
Life was not always as harmonious in Grant territory as it had been during the past year. The considerable amount of work put forth by the tribal elders in conjunction with the Grants themselves had paid off with extraordinary prosperity and peace. It would give them something to remember when times were not so kind.
Bly had asked her mother’s permission to stay amongst the people for a while if she found her sister’s quickly, and Willa had agreed. Although Janetta appreciated her friend’s attempt to purchase her freedom, her mood was quiet and she did truly want to return to Elisabeth soon. The two girls split up once they were out of doors to hasten the search.
The room upstairs had been kept warm for Elisabeth’s comfort, but a little too warm for Janetta’s dry throat. Traveling along the inner wall in pursuit of water, she followed the path in the shadowed area to where the barrels were kept. Janetta had walked half the distance to her objective when she spied a solitary figure of a man standing in the darkness. Her initial impression was that it was Cameron, but as she neared she realized her mistake. It was Keiron. Courtesy dictated that she should say something to the man as not to appear rude, and although she was uncertain what his reception might be to this action, she gather her courage and moved forward toward him.
“Pleasant evening, Chieftain Grant.” Janetta uttered while bowing her head slightly as Elisabeth had instructed her to do.
“Good evenin’.” This was Keiron’s first chance since her arrival to speak to Janetta alone, and he was determined not to miss the opportunity.
“Are you lost?” He questioned her after he recalled Elisabeth’s fear she would not be able to find her way.
“No. I was going for a drink of water.” She answered. “I remember it being in this direction.”
“That’s correct.” In his hand was a cup of water Keiron had filled just moments earlier. He offered it to Janetta and with only a brief hesitation to dry her damp palms on her dress, she accepted it graciously. With little else to say, the two stood silently side by side looking out from the shadows, both content to observe rather than join in the festivity. This continued for some time before the lady spoke.
“You are blessed.” Janetta acknowledged so softly that it was barely audible.
“Why do you say that?” Keiron looked over at her, but she would not raise her eyes to meet him.
“You have all of this.” Janetta motioned toward the crowds of people, in which only beauty she could see.
“They’re your family, too.” His words touched her acutely, and in a way he would never be able to comprehend.
Janetta’s living family could literally be counted on one hand and one might believe that would cling together because of this fact, but in the D’Arcy family this was not the way things were. She would never consider taking her Uncle Wallace or Jorgen and Cora into confidence. Having serious conversations with them was generally out of the question, and trusting them was something her father had warned her and William to do with caution.
“I would hope…” Janetta paused to rephrase her thoughts. She wanted to be careful in her speech. “I would be honored to have them consider me family.”
“You were born here, Janetta. You are as much one of us as any person you see from here.” Next Keiron asked a question he already knew the answer to. “You haven’t been around our people much, have you?”
“No. Did you know my father very well?” He shook his head in response, but she did not see this. “My father was continually troubled over my security. Perhaps more fervently than was warranted, I would say. He did allow William to accompany him on several trips abroad, but unlike my brother, I have spent all of my life at home.”
“And now that you’ve been here?”
“I have no plans to allow myself to be sheltered so absolutely anymore.” It did not take long for her to recognize that the frankness of her words might be misinterpreted, therefore Janetta relented to the desire to better explain herself.
“I do not mean to appear forward or a disobedient sister, that is not my wish at all. If my brother so requested it, I would gladly comply, but …oh, I’m making a mess of my answer.”
“Please continue,” Keiron implored. “Say what you’re thinking.”
At this point Janetta finally turned to face him; her seriousness could not be doubted. “My parents died without much warning. If I’m not mistaken, your father and brother did also?”
“I believe that we don’t know God’s plan for us, but if we wait to live our lives as the result of the restraints we impose on ourselves, we may never have a chance to live the gift He gave us, which is life. Have I made sense?”
“Yes.” Keiron knew exactly what she was talking about, and this understanding raised his opinion of Janetta greatly. He lived everyday within his own self-imposed restraints. Now, he found before him a very beautiful woman. Would he once again fall into a pattern of standing in the shadows observing others as they went about living their lives? Or would he overcome his own sense of modesty that kept him from assertively making his own wishes known?
“I must sound terribly morbid.” Janetta folded her hands in front of her, lowering her eyes once again to the ground. She hoped that she did not appear as uneasy as she felt.
“Not at all. You have given me somethin’ to think about.”
William joined them not long afterward. After inquiring about Elisabeth’s health and learning that she had banished Janetta from the room for a while, he turned his attention to Keiron. “I sat in for a bit on the grievances this afternoon.”
“It was a long afternoon.” The man admitted with just a hint of humor in his voice. Janetta had never heard of this ‘grievances’ before and questioned William as to what it was. Instead of her brother answering her question, Keiron spoke.
“When there’s a dispute that the elders in the different territories are unable to resolve, the parties come here to special meetings we hold each month to find a solution to their problems. Their disagreements are usually over grazing rights, which the elders rarely work out to both parties satisfaction.”
“The ‘boulder’ argument went on forever.” William added with amusement of his own. “I had to leave for fear of laughing out loud, but I’m interested. How did you ever able to untangle that one, or are they still in the hall clarifying the exact placement of the two boulders in question?”
“I’m having a post put midway between the two rocks that will mark the furthest point they can herd their sheep. They left disappointed yet happy knowin’ that the other lost ground, also.” Both men enjoyed a laugh together at the folly of it all before Keiron broke to a more serious subject.
“Did your uncle tell you about his difficulty?”
“No. I spoke with Wallace this morning and he didn’t mention he had a grievance pending. May I inquire about it?”
“Three families from Elgin came before me about an betterment tax Wallace had forced on them, but from what I was told there are more families involved.”
“What is he improving?” William placed a hand on his sister’s back, hoping she would understand that now was not the time for her to express any opinions she had of her uncle aloud. Janetta did not say a word, but moved closer to her brother as a show of support.
“More importantly, why does he think he has the right to make new taxes? This is somethin’ I cannot allow. He’s guardian of Elgin and receives a sum for that duty, but he can not write laws or increase taxes when the urge hits him.”
“I concur. Keiron, this is the first intelligence I’ve received about the situation. Did Jorgen have knowledge of what was transpiring?”
“Father and son denied Jorgen knowin’, and when I think about how long Jorgen has had his position under Fergus, I believe them.”
Keiron regretted that he had brought up the subject with Janetta present and if he could do it over he would have waited until he and William were in private. Not only was the subject matter inappropriate for mixed company, but he also did not want her to feel as if he was attacking her family. To soften the seriousness of the case, he added, “Wallace promised he be payin’ the people back after he returns home. You know those people have very little to call their own, but they work hard for what they have.”
“I will see that repayment is done.” William knew he must go about righting his uncle’s misjudgment at first light, for tidings such as this would spread quickly and surely stain his family name in the process. To appear greedy when the D’Arcy family already had so much was never acceptable under any circumstance.
Little Meig Grant chose this moment to run by the party reminding Janetta of her promise to help Bly round up her sisters. With the briefest explanation to her brother and Keiron, Janetta took off in the direction she saw the child go. Fortunately, it was to Bly and her other sisters.
“I already sent Gracie to bed, so once I take these three, we can do as we please.” Bly meant that they could look for Rory, but that was a given Janetta understood.
“I should get back to Elisabeth. I can deliver your sisters for you on my way.”
“I wish you’d come wit’ me, but I don’t blame you.” Bly gave her a hug before passing off Meig’s hand to her. “Thank you.”
After giving the girls instructions to go with Janetta, Bly remembered something she was to tell her. “Cameron’s lookin’ for you.”
“Did he say why?” Janetta put her hand to her chest, certain she could feel her heart pounding.
“No, but I’ll let him know you’ve gone to bed if I see him. Guess what? He ate that fish you caught! He had Mary cook it up for him and everythin’. Said it was really good, too.”
For the first time all evening, Janetta smiled.
William wasn’t far behind his sister once they reached the stairs. Parting ways when they reached the third floor, Janetta went about taking the children to Willa while he knocked softly on Elisabeth’s door waiting for admittance. He knew they wouldn’t have but a few moments together before his sister joined them.
”Are you feeling better now?” William asked once the door was closed. He immediately went over to her and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
“You still look pale. Are you in fact improved? Please tell me the truth.”
“Yes.” Elisabeth was improved, but her entire body ached and she had lost more blood than she could ever remember happening before. This was perhaps one of the most frightening situations she had ever found herself in.
“It’s strange not having you with me at night. Until now I hadn’t realized how dependent I’ve grown on you.” After his confession he kissed her again, this time on the cheek. It was damp.
“Have you been crying, Elisabeth?”
“No,” she lied. Before William had come in, Elisabeth had been praying in an attempt to make a deal with God. Since she was now convinced that he punished people for thinking evil thoughts—as she had when she’d considered taking the bleeding liquid—if he allowed her to get better she would never contemplate taking it again. Elisabeth was certain that if she would have gone through with her original plan and taken the elixir, she probably would have died. Death was something she was not ready to encounter.
“Would it give you pleasure if I took you home once you are able to travel?” William knew he was asking a redundant question, but he wanted her to remember that the option was still there if she wanted it.
“I would rather stay here, if you’ll allow it.”
“I found Janetta speaking Keiron Grant tonight, and joined them. He passed on a most distressing piece of intelligence to me about Wallace. I will seek out my uncle tomorrow morning and have words, but I believe I want to wait until it is resolved before I give you the sorted details. At the moment I can only speculate. Suffice to say, I believe he is determined to expose himself as the greedy bastard we all know him to be.”
“That’s not good.” Elisabeth was momentarily silenced with a final kiss. “Where’s Janetta?”
“Taking some of Willa Grant’s daughters to her room. I have cannot fathom how many children that woman has because there’s always a pack of them swarming about her. Brilliant is the man who can sort them all out.”
“She has five daughters.”
“There are days when I feel inadequate to be a proper custodian to one sister. How does Fergus manage it with five?”
“I believe he drinks heavily, William.” Elisabeth grinned at him, much to his relief. This is what William wanted to see before he went to bed.
“For that remark, Elisabeth Benoit, I’m going to reward you with a gift when I return from Norway next month.”
“No salted herring!”
“An entire barrel you say? I suppose Janetta will want a barrel for herself, so that makes two. I was going to bring back some cloth or furs, but the herring is a more practical offering. As you wish.”
Janetta entered the room as Elisabeth was chastising him for the suggestion. “Janetta, what is the one thing you never want your brother to bring back from Norway?”
Although Karoline Andersdatter was her first thought, Janetta said her second aloud. “That horrible salted herring. I would rather drink sea water.”
The Day that Changed Everything.
Her morning had started out quite differently than it had the day before. Janetta woke at daybreak and soon began the chores she had assigned herself, filled with a sense of responsibility to Elisabeth and pleasure in knowing she was doing right. Emptying and rinsing the chamber pot was her first order of business, which was followed by straightening the room then going downstairs to find Elisabeth some food and fresh water.
To her delight Elisabeth woke shortly after she laid out a plate of warm bread and honey, and by all appearances seemed to be healthier than she was the previous night. They spoke quietly to one another about nothing of real importance as Janetta gathered a few items she needed to wash her hair.
“I won’t be long, “ she told Elisabeth. “I’ll be at the well in the courtyard if you need me. When I’m done I’ll soak your nightgown for you…”
“Dear,” Elisabeth interrupted, feeling such pride in Janetta. “I would rather you seek out Bly or one of the other girls and did something for your own enjoyment. Our time here will not be long, and when it’s over I want you to have happy memories.”
After some discussion it was mutually agreed upon by the women that Janetta would follow through with her washing her hair, but instead of returning to the room afterward she would eat breakfast and perhaps catch up with some of her friends. With the pledge to Elisabeth that she would not be gone long, she was off.
It was at the well where Cameron found her combing out her hair. Janetta explained that she wasn’t able to go view the hares with him, but when he offered her a chance to tour the Grant lands for a bit on horseback, she didn’t refuse. Janetta knew this would one of the happy memories she would take home with her even if this was not one of the way’s Elizabeth would have meant for her to make those said memories.
The early dew was beginning to burn off under the morning’s sun, giving rise to a light mist that made the pasture appear as if it was in the clouds. Patting the mane of her horse with her free hand, she turned her head and called out to her riding companion.
“Cameron, what’s that place over there?” Janetta pointed toward a large stone cross atop a hill in the distance.
“That’s where we bury our family.” He answered after he moved his horse next to hers. “It’s been around here for as long as we Grants have.”
“May I visit it? Or is it sacred land where only family is allowed?”
“Follow me. I’ll show it to you.” Cameron started out slow over the open field, but steadily picked up the pace to a moderate run, all the while checking over his shoulder to make sure Janetta was handling her horse without difficulty. She had warned him that she was not a proficient rider, but he felt she held her own very well.
Pulling her horse up beside his under the mammoth cross, Janetta slid off her mount before Cameron had a chance to assist her, lashing her reins to the post he had used. The monument was surely three times as tall as she was, Janetta thought to herself as she inspected it to see if it had been cut from a single sheet of rock. Without the need for encouragement, Cameron gave her the history of how two years of dedication by his forefathers transformed a boulder into a cross.
The family plot was uniform in design. Mounds of earth were scattered evenly over the land, each covered by a bed of smaller boulders. Yet, there was one unlike the others. It had a marker.
“Whose burial place is this?” Janetta asked as she knelt down next to a rugged, small stone cross.
“My sister, Maura. She had the same name as my mama, so we all called her Sissy.”
“Did she die when your brother and father did from the illness?” Janetta recalled William telling her that all families lost someone during that time, and that the Grants suffered dearly.
“No, after.” Cameron glanced over at her and he knew that she was waiting for him to continue. He really did not like talking about his sister, at least not in this way. The subject had been rarely mentioned between family since her burial, perhaps due to the common remorse they all felt by not being able to protect her. “It was before I left for Nightwatch.”
“What happened to your sister?” When Cameron did not respond right away, Janetta stood up and walked over next to him. “You need not answer that question if you don’t desire to. I’ll not be offended.”
“Her husband killed her. When I was a lad, she acted more like a mama than a sister to all of us. Sissy wasn’t a person who would ever hurt anybody. After she died, her husband tried to deny what he had done, but the evidence was on him.”
“What happened to the man?” She asked, not needing to hear the intimate details of the woman’s death. “Did your uncle execute him for his crime?”
“No, I did. An eye for an eye.” Cameron waited for Janetta to show a sign of repulsion, but she held a thoughtful expression that he could not interpret. “After Sissy died Keiron made it law that men can’t hurt women on our land. That’s why when I saw Wallace grabbin’ you like he did, I went to stop him.”
“Wallace doesn’t care much for me, as I’m sure you’ve observed. It’s been like that since I was a child. My habit is to avoid him at every opportunity.”
“He’s an arse! Never let him hurt you, Janetta. If your brother won’t stop him, by God I will.” This declaration left them both pensive for a while, but it was not too long before conversation began again.
“Cameron, may I ask you a question? It may sound childish, but I’d like to know the answer so I don’t make a oversight in the future that might embarrass us both.”
“Today you inherit the title of Captain of the Guard from your uncle, yes?” He answered in the affirmative. “I want to show the proper respect considering your new duties. How do I address you after this occurs?”
“Cameron.” Janetta could hear the sincerity in his request, and heaven help her, it was the answer she was hoping for. “Don’t be any different than you are because you think I’m expectin’ it. I’m not.” He replied firmly.
It was less than an hour later when Janetta found herself back in her room opening the shutter over their window by Elisabeth’s request. Janetta desired to share her impressions about all that had occurred since they arrived with her friend, but there was a nagging doubt in the back of her mind keeping her mute.
When Bly had told her that William paid Elisabeth to be her companion, Janetta began to wonder if Elisabeth’s loyalties were more aligned with William rather than her. Did she tell her brother everything Janetta said or did? Did William even care? Janetta was not a secretive person by nature, but there were things she did not want shared with her brother. Like the personal thoughts and questions she had always discussed with Elisabeth in the past without hesitation.
“While you were out, William came for a brief visit. He informed me that you spoke with Keiron last night out by the fires. How did you find him?” Elisabeth asked as she sat on the side of her bed. The color in her face was just beginning to return, yet she still felt too weak to walk about. Privately, she was hoping that by tonight she might be able to leave the room for a short period, if for nothing else but to attend the celebration for Frederic Grant with Janetta.
“He reminds me a lot of William in character, I’d venture to say.”
“Handsome?” Elisabeth encouraged.
“Yes, he is handsome, but all the Grant men are handsome don’t you believe?”
“I would agree. Janetta, he seems an honorable man.”
“No one would argue your observation, that is certain.”
Elisabeth let out a slow breath as she brought her legs back on to the bed. If her own mood had not been so melancholy, she might have enticed Janetta more to share her thoughts on Chieftain Grant. But if the truth were known, she was not that interested at the moment. Her mind was occupied with musings of a more personal nature, and the occasional cramping she was still experiencing was a reminder that her own life was far from perfect.
“The sun is high up in the sky now!” Bly announced as she stood in the doorway of Janetta and Elisabeth’s room later on in the day.
“And…” Janetta was at a loss as to why this was such an important piece of information.
Bly peered to the side of her friend to see if Elisabeth was in the room. When she spotted her, she did not answer Janetta but instead appeared as if she was going to burst with excitement. It did not take her much time to determine that going straight to Elisabeth for permission to steal Janetta away was her best option.
“Elisabeth, can Janetta come wit’ me for a bit? I promise we won’t get in any trouble.”
“I suppose.” Elisabeth replied in a suspicious tone. It was rarely a good omen when people promised that they were going to behave without prompting. “But no trouble, Bly.”
Once the door to the room was closed, Bly scanned the hallway before speaking in an animated undertone. “Want to go see Cameron made Warlord? It’s happenin’ now in the church!”
“Are we allowed?”
“Well, there are rules. We can’t be seen. That’s the most important one, that we can’t be seen. We can’t talk or make any noise, either. And we have to enter in the door that leads to the pathway that takes us to the confessional. Then we have to crawl into the confessional and watch through the grate. Want to go wit’ me?”
“Bly! You make it sound as if we’re not supposed to be present.”
“No. We can go and they know we’re there, it’s just that no one admits we’re there. Mama tol’ me a story about a long time ago when the chieftain died and no one remembered the ceremony, ‘cept the chieftains wife because she had snuck in and watched the whole thing when her husband did it!”
Not entirely convinced that they were not about to commit some act of duplicity, Janetta weighed her options for a full half-second before agreeing to the scheme.
“Hurry, Janetta!” Bly cried before taking her friend’s hand to lead her on the quickest pathway out of the castle. “Oh, one more thing. We have to leave during the closing prayer or else we’ll get caught.”
They made it with great haste and it was exactly as Bly had described except for the last and most important detail. They went through the side door that was partitioned off from the main body of the church by a wall, down to the confessional, on to their hands and knees to crawl under the drapery covering the confessional, and straight in to the still form of Willa Grant.
Janetta was the only person surprised by the crowded conditions in the confessional booth, but after a bit of shuffling on everyone’s part, there was room enough for all three of them to see through the grate that separated one half of the booth from the other. Someone had conveniently left the other curtain open so they could have full view of the front of the church where the men stood. Even with the shadowed light, both girls saw Willa put her finger to her lips to indicate silence
Four men stood at a small table that had a sword, a knife, and two small boxes on top of it. Frederic was to the left of the table, Keiron to the right. In the center stood the priest and Cameron. Off to the far right was Fergus, the only other direct male heir present. Also present were fifteen to twenty elders. All of the men were dressed in “full garb” as Cameron would call it, yet none of Janetta’s family was in attendance since they did not hold the distinction of being either elders or in the inner circle of the Grant family.
The three women could hardly hear a word being uttered, although their vision was rather unobstructed considering the circumstances. Therefore Willa took it upon herself to give the briefest explanation the girls about what was happening. She did this in a manner Janetta never knew the woman could display…a whisper.
“They’ve just started. Frederic is goin’ to surrender his duties.” Frederic briefly addressed the elders first before turning his attention toward his nephews. Keiron spoke for several minutes in what sounded like a foreign language to Janetta before he shouted out “Long live Frederic Grant!” The other men in the hall echoed his declaration.
“That was a Gaelic blessin’ Keiron just gave for his uncle’s health.” Attention was back to Frederic as he removed a large silver insignia pin from the tartan that was draped over his left shoulder. He placed it on the table before stepping over to Cameron. Frederic next detached the smaller family pin from his nephew’s chest.
“It’s the exchangin’ of the pins. See, Frederic is givin’ him the Guard pin, and Cameron’s pin will be kept safe ‘til he gets a wife. Then she will wear the pin.”
When the replacement was complete, Frederic took a step back in preparation to display his fidelity to his new Captain by bowing when Cameron reached out and stopped him. Keiron jerked his head suddenly making it obvious to every one that Cameron was not following tradition. Frederic posturing himself before him was an act Cameron would never allow, ritual or not. Uncle and nephew locked eyes as an unspoken understanding passed between them. In an unwavering voice, addressing all those inhabitants of the church, the younger Grant announced, “Frederic Grant will never bow before me.”
Willa sighed as she witnessed an act not expected by the attendees. Cameron was the one to take a step back and bow before his beloved uncle. “I’m proud! Oh, I’m proud!” She said as tears glistened on her cheeks, reflecting the candlelight from the inner sanctuary. Although Janetta did not understand the depth of respect Cameron had just displayed, she could gather from the expressions of the men in the church that his deed was extraordinary.
Frederic stood still, momentarily taken aback by the demonstration of honor his nephew bestowed upon him. The greatest of honors, he thought soberly. Placing his hand on Cameron’s shoulder, he asked him to rise, then said to him so no others could hear “you will be the greatest of us all.” The priest, who had removed the pin from its resting place in the second box, then approached the former Captain of the Guard and pinned it to his cloak. After it was secured, Frederic stepped away from the table and went to stand by his brother Fergus’s side. His duty of sixteen years was now over.
A prayer was said before it was Keiron’s time to take part in the initiation of his brother. He seized the knife from the table and went before the elders. For the longest time he spoke to them, using his free hand to stress aspects of his oration before rejoining his brother. What the women could not hear was his recounting of the history of the Grants, told from memory.
“Proof of your loyalty.” Keiron said at full volume as he repositioned the right side of Cameron’s shirt to expose bare skin. There was no motion on either’s part until Cameron gave his brother a nod indicating to proceed. Keiron then cut a shallow cross over his right breast with the knife.
“The bloodlettin’.” Willa tearfully informed Janetta, who had covered her mouth in shock. Even from her location she could see blood flowing from the wound. “He’ll wear that shirt for two days so all can see that Cameron is willin’ to bleed for his family.”
Finally, it was the priest’s turn to speak as he held the final item from the table in front of him. No one present knew exactly how old the sword was, but it had been in their family since memory served. It was the Captain of the Guard’s task to oversee its safety, for even though it was too frail for use, its significance to the family was priceless. Most believed it belonged to the first man to ever claim Grant as his name. Of course, there was another prayer involved before the sword could be given to its new owner, and it was during this prayer that an overwrought Willa Grant accidentally let out an auditory sob that even the deafest of men could hear.
Keiron tried not to smile because the seriousness of this moment, but he couldn’t contain it. He knew all along that Willa was somewhere in the church simply because an occurrence of this magnitude she would not miss for all the world. Unfortunately, incognito was not their aunt’s strongest characteristic. Unable to resist the temptation any more, Keiron opened his eyes to gaze over at his brother who was only a few feet from him. Cameron was already grinning back at him.
“Willa,” Keiron mouthed to Cameron. It was most definitely their aunt. Then Keiron pointed to his own chest in a gesture asking if Cameron’s lesion hurt. His brother denied it as his smile widened, but Keiron was not convinced of Cameron’s honesty. “I’ll cut it more if you want,” he whispered.
“Lads.” Frederic warned without moving his lips. In that instant the two brothers were young again, free from all cares and responsibilities while Uncle Frederic kept them out of trouble. One last shared grin was exchanged before they both returned to a more respectful stance.
After the prayer ended and the sword was ceremoniously handed to Cameron, he took his place in front of the table as the elders passed by one at a time to offer their loyalty. Cameron stood poised and confident as the men bowed before him, yet Janetta swiftly noted a difference in the nature in his carriage. After careful observation, she realized that Cameron looked away every time an elder would kneel directly in front of him. He must not like it, Janetta thought to herself, having others show submissiveness before him. After they were finished Cameron took his rightful place next to his brother, appearing more relieved than anything else.
“The final prayer, “ the old priest announced at the top of his voice. That was Willa’s cue to prepare to leave. It wasn’t until the three were safely outside the church and away from other people that they freely expressed their impressions of the service.
“Before you say a word, you must pay heed to me, lassies.” Willa forewarned with seriousness. “You didn’t see anythin’. You didn’t hear anythin’. Understand? Only we family women know what goes on there, and you can’t ever tell a soul. Not even the men.”
“I’m not in your family!” Janetta exclaimed, as if hundreds of years of Grant tradition was now ruined because of her. “I shouldn’t have been there.”
”Don’t fret, lass,” Willa answered with something akin to a smirk on her lips, as if she was not concerned with that being a problem. “I sent Bly after you.”
William stood with his back to the wall outside his sister’s room waiting on her to change so they could attend the celebration for Frederic Grant. They would have already been there had Janetta been dressed appropriately in the first place, but he refused to take her in a filthy gown.
His day had been long, and William barely had the strength to argue with his sister. Janetta had made valid points about appearing ‘loftier’ than the others and not wanting to flaunt her family’s good fortune, but the discussion was cut short when he gave her the ultimatum to either change or stay in the room for the night.
His patience had already been spent earlier in the day when he had to deal with his uncle. The matter of Wallace imposing his own tax on the families of Elgin was far worse than he had predicted, and he had spent his entire day attempting to gather enough information to ensure repayment. William would have to pay the people personally since Wallace had informed him that he had spent the money on dock improvements. Regrettably, William was aware that these improvements existed only in his uncle’s imagination.
In an attempt to demonstrate the seriousness of the issue, William informed the man that once the sum was tallied, it would be subtracted from the biannual allowance he gave him. This, of course, infuriated Wallace to a degree that he said things to his nephew he should not have voiced, but William did not falter. The good opinion of his uncle was never a desire he needed to fulfill in his life. William did suffer one disappointment during the exchange, though. Jorgen had been present the entire time and never once verbally gave his support to his cousin. He did cast William sympathetic glances from time to time, but what William did not see was that Jorgen was giving his father the same looks.
The coldness he encountered when talking to the effected clansmen weighed heavily on his mind, even at this very moment. It was brutally obvious that they did not trust, or possibly respect him. William could see it in their eyes. The Scots with their long memories were known to be driven by emotion to join forces with their neighbors when an outsider dared inflict hardship on a kinsmen. The D’Arcy family would all pay if this were to occur.
William toyed with the idea of speaking to Keiron for his advice on how to approach his countrymen, and perhaps tomorrow he would attempt to do so. But for tonight, there was a celebration to be had. This was the ninth consecutive year such a celebration was held, in honor of Frederic foiling an assassination attempt on the late Calum Grant by a disgruntled member of his own clan.
The door opened signaling William that Janetta and Elisabeth were ready to leave. His sister walked past him in her silver brocade gown without speaking, and William let her find her own way to the great hall. He was not going to fight any more today. When Elisabeth exited the room, her expression was that of weariness. Instinctively, he offered her his arm for support and questioned her about her ability to even be standing. Her reassurances comforted his mind with a vow that she would leave when she became fatigued.
When the time came for them to enter the hall Elisabeth removed her hand from his arm, as was the custom between the lovers not to show signs of intimacy in the presence of others, but William would not have it. Placing her hand back on his arm, he promised to take her to a comfortable location himself.
If the Grants considered sixty people to be a small party, then so it was, but William had not anticipated such a crowd. Elisabeth spied an empty seat near Willa, and this was where he delivered her before forcing himself to socialize with the men assembled. As he made his way to Keiron he spotted Janetta once out of the corner of his eye standing off in a corner not far from Elisabeth. Her arms were crossed against her chest and her jaw set. Sulk all you want, he thought to himself, for I’m too tired to placate you tonight.
Janetta did sulk for a quarter of an hour with nothing more entertaining to do but send a burning glare in the direction of her brother’s back, angry that William had the audacity not to look at her to view her displeasure. So engrossed in activity was Janetta that she missed the entrance of Frederic and Cameron, but Cameron did not miss her. He watched her with amusement, judging by her actions he was certain she was furious with her brother. A fiery temper was something he appreciated in a woman. He stopped a man he had known for years and asked him to do him a favor.
“Cameron says you need this.” A stranger said to Janetta as he placed a mug in front of her.
“Does he?” She replied more harshly than she had intended. Furrowing her brow she inspected the contents of the mug. “What is it?”
“Ale,” the man replied before handing her the mug and leaving without waiting for a return message.
Janetta searched the room from her location and it wasn’t long before she saw Cameron surrounded by several others. He had a grin playing upon his lips, and once he noticed her attention he shot her a challenging look daring her not to drink the ale. She just stared at the man while the anger she had felt toward her brother began to slip away. Janetta could not forget what she had seen in the church. The way Cameron conducted himself during the ceremony impressed her a great deal. Moreover, Janetta had gone as far as to admit to herself that she had a keen attraction toward the man, possibly that of love.
It was a shame, but a fact that Keiron never stood a chance with the lady once she met his brother. There were several forces at work, who despite their good intentions, actually played a part in her not falling for the Chieftain. The instruction she had received from Elisabeth and William about her behavior toward Keiron made her feel as if she was a performer. Yes, Elisabeth did warn her not to act for others, but she still gave her etiquette lessons so that she might appear more ladylike than she naturally was. Janetta was so afraid that she would say or do something wrong that she was in a constant state of discomfort when he was near. Even having Keiron’s letter in her possession before they made the journey to the castle was a source of anxiety. Jorgen’s message indicating that Keiron might be thinking of her in terms of a bride did not help either . Perhaps if Janetta had not practiced her smile so much in front of her bedroom mirror, or dressed up for him on her first night of the gathering she might have felt differently.
With Cameron she was completely herself, even when she tried not to be. He was simply more aligned to Janetta in temperament and attitude, and the comfort level she felt when he was around was the opposite of what she experienced with Keiron. Cameron exhibited so many of the traits she admired. Janetta hoped that the man she married would have some of those same characteristics, if not all of them. Today in the church when he would not allow his uncle to bow before him, Cameron exhibited another attribute she deemed important; Respect.
The primary core of the evening passed without incident. William and Keiron came to the ladies and they all spoke for a very long time. Janetta participated fully in the conversation without trepidation, for in her mind she observed no partiality on Keiron’s part towards her and this conclusion gave her ease. She had the men laughing on several instances, and she was equally liberated in her expression of joy. Janetta had never seen the chieftain so lively as he was this evening and his attention to Elisabeth’s health did endear him to her, but not romantically. Somewhere in her thoughts Janetta wondered if he might possibly be interested in Elisabeth since William did not seem to be. But in her heart she still hoped that William would someday fall for her friend.
Once she had given up the idea that Cameron would ever break free from the men who kept vying for his attention, she saw him over by the door alone and trying to get her notice. He motioned toward the hallway, and she understood that he was asking her to follow. Janetta glanced at her brother, who was across the room in a conversation before she went to Cameron. Elisabeth had witnessed the exchange between the two with alarm and rose from her seat to go after Janetta when Willa stopped her. She was going to give an excuse to the woman when Willa said something that made her pause. Her fear was being realized.
“You’re still hurtin’, aren’t you Elisabeth? You’re havin’ more than a bad bleed and I think I have an idea what happened to you ‘cause it’s happened to me before.” Elisabeth made no response to Willa. She would not even turn to look at her. Shame crashed down upon the young woman’s shoulders with such force that she could barely breathe. “I can keep a secret as good as I can tell one. Come talk to me.”
In the hallway Cameron took Janetta’s hand and guided her to the staircase leading to the roof. He knew there were patrols up there, but the staircase was the only place he could think of to be alone with her. Candlelight from the third floor illuminated the area poorly, but enough to see.
“Why are we here?” Janetta asked softly, still aware that she was holding on to his hand. Cameron had not said a word about his intention as they traveled to this place.
“Janetta,” he hesitated, shaking his head. Cameron was certain she could feel his hand shake, but he was past the point of return. “You are makin’ me forget myself.”
“Did I do something you don’t approve of?”
“No. Not at all. Not ever!” He stopped speaking to walk her up two steps, then moved back down so he could face to face with her. Out of the blue Cameron became tongue tied. He fathomed he was about to make the biggest fool of himself he ever had, but that wasn’t what caused his abrupt muteness. He did not know how to tell Janetta that when he watched her laughing tonight, talking with everyone who crossed her path as if she’d known them all her life, and holding Meig as the child fell asleep…He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he never wanted her to leave this place. Moreover, he wanted her to stay as his wife. Cameron was not a wordsmith by any stretch of the imagination, and to articulate emotions so overwhelming was near impossible for him. But he was a physical man.
He had not kissed a lass since he was twelve years old, and that was on a dare from his brother Malcolm. Cameron surprised Mary Bisset with a kiss on the cheek, and received a slap in return. Maybe he should have learned a lesson from that experience, but the incident was forgotten by him as he cautiously lowered his lips toward Janetta’s. Using both hands to cradle her face, his eyes admired her with obvious love that the dimness of the light could not hide before he closed them. The strangest sensation washed over him when he felt her kissing him back. It was if he had been waiting his whole life for his chance to finally kiss this one person.
They parted shortly after, but remained close to one another. Quite possibly they were thinking the same thoughts, that it was right what happened between them. Cameron could feel her breath against his mouth, tempting him to kiss her again and he complied. With more desire than the first time he expressed the words he could not say. Her response once again met his signified by the slight parting of her lips and her wrapping her arms around his neck. Cameron had met his equal in more than one way.
Neither expressed any embarrassment when the kiss ended, for bashfulness was not a characteristic of Janetta or Cameron. Instead, she took another step up on the stairs so she could get a better view of him. He fit her description of beautiful with his strong features, yet soft eyes. Janetta could not imagine finding any man more appealing. Her eyes fell to the large blood stain on his shirt and she remembered how he got it. Without thinking her hand reached out to touch it.
“That’s for the family,” he said softly. The linen shirt had adhered to the wound. “I’ll be wearin’ this for a few days.”
“Was it painful receiving it?” She asked absently as her finger traced the cross his brother had carved into him.
“Yes, it hurt afterwards, but not durin’ as I thought it would.” He removed her hand from his chest and wrapped his own around it. “I wish you could have been there.”
Janetta said nothing, but looked up at him with countenance that told him she was proud of him. Cameron read more into her expression than she had intended to reveal, and he felt as if he had just discovered a precious jewel.
“Were you there?” She wouldn’t answer his question, only smiled. “Janetta, tell me you were there.”
“I can’t say anything except that I saw nothing and I heard nothing.” Janetta wasn’t teasing him, but serious.
“Bly told me those same words today. Willa did, too. If you gave your word I won’t press you, but I want you to know I’m glad you saw it all.”
Janetta used her sense of touch to examine the insignia pin he was granted this day. The thickness of the silver astounded her, its weight she could feel. The pin was more than ornamental; it was his future. Cameron was now responsible for so many lives including her own. Confident he would not disappoint, she removed her fingers from the pin and brought both of Cameron’s hands to her lips to kiss. The fate of her spirit was sealed.
“I want to marry you, if you will. I love you, Janetta.” That was the most difficult confession Cameron had ever made, because by saying it aloud he was leaving himself vulnerable. If she said no, there would be no reversing time. He doubted Janetta would have kissed him if she had no interest, but still a part of Cameron remembered thinking that a woman like her would never consider a man like him as serious suitor. He waited patiently while she deliberated.
With heartfelt conviction Janetta gave Cameron her answer.
It was yes.
Frederic sat at an abandoned table by himself when his brother Fergus sat down next to him with two mugs in his hand. He passed one off to Frederic and told him they were drinking to his service.
“What ye’re gonna do now?” Fergus slurred.
“I’ll train Cameron, then someday return to Urquhart Keep to live.” Fergus nodded at Frederic, not surprised that his brother would chose to live near Loch Ness. He had always shown an affinity toward water. “Have you heard the good report?”
“Cameron is to be married. He told me tonight. I’m happy for him, Fergus. I didn’t want him to be like me.”
“That’s ye’re own damn fault, Frederic. You didn’t have to be alone, you know.”
“You’ll never understand.”
“Bullocks! There were plenty of women who were willin’ to take Annie’s place.”
“Don’t!” Frederic threatened. Fergus had known for years that her name was never to be spoken to him. If his brother could only comprehend the grief and guilt he felt when he thought of her, he would not be saying the things he was now. Frederic did not even know if she was alive or not. That sort of torment did not need irritation. Why had it been so hard for him to move on, Frederic did not understand himself. For all he knew, he could still be in love with someone who was a ghost. Maybe that was the problem; Frederic had no idea what happened to Annie.
“Bloody hell, why didn’t ya just go after her?”
“She was married!” The coldness in Frederic’s voice was undeniable.
“What if she isn’t now? If I was in ye’re place, I’d dress up in one of them Davidson tartans we have and go find out instead of spendin’ the rest of ye’re life wonderin’. Why not? You have nothin’ to lose.” Tense silence stood between the brothers until Fergus spoke again. “Who’d ya say was getting’ married?”
“Cameron to Janetta D’Arcy. She said yes to him tonight.”
“You mean Keiron, not Cameron. I think ye’re drunk this time, Frederic.”
“No. Cameron just spoke to me. I can tell the difference between my nephews.”
Fergus suddenly felt quite sober. “That’s the lass Keiron was plannin’ to marry. He went so far as to ask William D’Arcy tonight if he could court her. He gave his blessin’ to Keiron. Are you sure?”
“I thought Keiron was interested in that French woman.” Fergus shook his head violently. “I’m not wrong about it. Cameron is marring Janetta D’Arcy. Hell!”
”What? Fergus knew more bad news was impending because Frederic never cursed.
“I told Cameron to go to Keiron and ask him to negotiate his dowry for him. Fergus, he’s up there now.”
Later that night.
Janetta’s face beamed angelic contentment when she entered her room with William close behind. She had fetched her brother from his bedchamber so she could share her announcement with both him and Elisabeth at the same time. Cameron had wanted to be the one to seek William’s approval, but when she explained the tension the two siblings had been experiencing of late he relented to allow her the opportunity to share her joy.
William sat down in the chair next to Elisabeth’s bed, his expression mimicking his sisters. He was not completely surprised that Keiron had spoken to Janetta so quickly after witnessing the liberation the man shown when he gave him his blessing. Keiron Grant might not have lived up to his father’s expectations for his daughter, but in all honesty William could not be more satisfied for his sister in the knowledge that she would have a good life with a man he respected
“I want to start by saying that I don’t believe I’ve ever been happier.” She smiled at William. “Not that you, dear brother, were ever at fault for that. You have treated me wonderfully and with respect. It’s just that I have found myself tonight in the fortunate position to say that I have fulfilled both of our wishes, by accepting an offer of marriage from …the best of men.”
“What wishes do you speak of Janetta?” Her brother prodded, before gazing over to see Elisabeth’s reaction. William had given her full disclosure about his conversation with Keiron, yet as he studied her, Elisabeth appeared as if she did not know what was coming.
“My wish that our home in Elgin remain both protected and in our family. And your wish that I only consider an offer of matrimony from a man I have affection for. I do have a great deal of affection for Cameron Grant and have agreed to marry him. As you are aware, he is our new Captain of the Guard, and once you know him as I do you will…”
Janetta continued talking, but William simply stopped hearing her words. The sick feeling he had in the pit of his stomach inundated his other senses and for a moment not a single thought passed through his mind. William could not pretend he heard Janetta say the wrong name because the reference to Cameron’s title stole that opportunity of denial away from him.
His first instinct was to scream. William wanted to scream until Janetta genuinely heard him, but he had not so lost his mind that he could not control himself.. How and when could this have happened? The only time he saw Janetta with Cameron was when they danced. William refused to believe that Janetta would be so uninformed as to dance with a man one night and think she knew him well enough to marry him.
“William, what say you?” Her standing in the room praising the merits of an unadulterated barbarian repulsed William in every way imaginable. He prophesized Janetta’s ruin as a foregone conclusion if she followed through with her plan to marry him. In a tone much more composed than he was inside, William drew breath and directly addressed what he considered a motivation for his sister’s aligning herself with such a man.
“You need never concern yourself over our well being. I have resources plenty enough to hire all the protection we would ever require. I pray this was not the reason in accepting him. Janetta, I want to put this into perspective for you. If all we had in Scotland was taken from us, we would not be destitute. You do not need to marry him to protect us.”
“No, you misunderstand me. It was a wish, but not a necessity.”
“You have not known him long.” He continued. An appeal to his sister’s logical side was the method he would use to reach her. William would not gamble with the mixing of emotions into the conversation.
“That is true, but we have been together many times since our arrival.”
“Three days?” William knew he was being a hypocrite by making his statement since Janetta had not known Keiron much longer, but he did not care if his principles were in jeopardy at this time. He only wanted Janetta to listen to him. “How can a person truly know they love a person in just three days?”
Elisabeth turned her head sharply to face William after he said those words, disappointment burning at her as if she had just been insulted to her very core. She had fallen in love with William on the second day of their voyage when he brought her from France to Scotland to live. The ability to love someone did not have a time requirement placed on it, as Elisabeth felt she was living proof.
“Father met our Mother only once before he married her. And Grandfather D’Arcy never met Grand...”
“I know the history, Janetta. But you have been given a choice, unlike what they had. You need not rush.”
“I do not feel rushed.” Janetta placed her hand her brother’s shoulder. “If I have been in error about the proper sequence that a woman accepts a proposal of marriage, I am truly sorry. When he asked me, I was hesitant for a moment wondering if I should have to ask your permission to say yes. Then I recalled your saying that I should not consider an offer unless I had affection. I assumed that you were granting me the ability to answer for myself. William, you need not worry over me, because I’m certain Cameron is the man I want to marry. All the fuss we made about Jorgen’s letter speculating about Keiron was unfounded. Keiron has shown me no particular regard, and that may be a good thing because I…I don’t think of him in the way a woman might think about a husband. I certainly don’t think of him like I do about Cameron.”
“Janetta, I want to repeat a story to you that might give you pause. I only convey it so you may something to deliberate. I do not mean to cause you distress, but it may. Will you allow it?” Janetta agreed. “Have I ever told you about the Grants having a sister once? Maura was her name.”
“William, I know of her demise. Cameron told me about her today.” Janetta sat on the edge of the bed to face her brother. William was doing an excellent job of hiding his true sentiments because she perceived only tender concern from him.
“Did he tell you how his sister’s husband died?”
“Yes, I know Cameron executed him for what he did.”
“Are you privy to the details about how this was accomplished?” When she didn’t reply, William held both of his hands in the air as illustration. “With his hands. Cameron used no weapon except his hands. Janetta, does that not alarm you?”
William’s statement did give her pause, for now she understood what Cameron meant by his biblical reference while at the graveyard this morning. Janetta echoed his words to her brother, convinced Cameron was justified in his choice of action.
“An eye for an eye.”
My Brother’s Keeper.
William was awoken late in the morning by a summons to appear at the chamber Keiron used for personal conferences. Having fallen asleep in what he was wearing the day before, he didn’t bother changing his shirt after rising from bed. Beginning his apology to Keiron once he closed the door, William stopped abruptly when Cameron came into his view.
A curt nod was the only acknowledgement he gave the younger brother, his eyes lingering temporarily on a dark crimson stain on his shirt. Primitive ritual, he thought to himself with a bitterness. William knew better than to be openly disrespectful, but he would give Cameron no other notice until forced by obligation to speak to him.
“I have asked you here today as a show of support for my brother.” Keiron’s message was direct and said without any hint of his reaction to Cameron’s engagement. He would stand beside his brother and not challenge him in regard to Janetta. “It is his desire to wed your sister. Have you been told of her acceptance?”
“Yes, Late last night Janetta came to inform me of the arrangement she had entered in to.” William hoped his subtle reference to the time period would allow Keiron to comprehend that he had not known about the couple before they spoke. Keiron did understand his message, but that did not make the unfathomable disappointment he felt any easier. He, like William, hid his true sentiments and continued talking.
“Being that your sister is of age and does not need your approval, I still ask. Do you give your blessing to my brother Cameron to marry Janetta?”
“I have but one impediment.” Those words felt good to William to say. “It is that Cameron and Janetta wait a full year to wed. She has agreed to my request.”
“A year?” Cameron scoffed, finally bringing William’s attention to him other than the brief glance he cast at him when he entered the room. Fresh in his mind was the warning Frederic had issued him last night. He alleged that William might show resistance to the idea of his sister marrying a Scotsman due to his family’s history of seeking mates from across the sea instead of their homeland. Cameron was starting to believe his uncle was right. “Why a year?”
“Janetta is young and has not yet been out in the world. I had plans to take her with me to Norway during the upcoming weeks so she may view our mother’s birthplace. Next Spring we are to travel to France for an extended stay. Our father’s family hails from Calais, and Janetta has long expressed her desire to visit the region. ”
Why did Cameron not believe the man that these trips were actually planned to include Janetta before William knew of her engagement to him? He had faith that Janetta would have mentioned her traveling to him last night, for they talked on many topics. No, his doubt was not aimed at her, but her brother who stood there looking smug in his righteousness.
“Cameron, can’t you agree that these excursion are rare and not to be squandered.” William spoke more. “This may be her only chance to leave Scotland during her life. I want to share with her what I’ve seen.”
“Why haven’t you taken Janetta before now?” Cameron openly accused, not convinced of William’s sincerity. If these tours would make her happy, he did not have difficulty with Janetta going. It might even be valuable for her to see these places because legacy was something that was very important to him. Cameron’s issue was that he was convinced her brother was using the trips as a means of separating them from one another.
“The answer is simple.” William answered in a tone more condescending then he should have used. “She wasn’t of age.”
“A person needs to be an age to go to Norway? I find it… odd that Janetta has barely left your keep all of her life, and now she is to become a world traveler.”
“Cameron, you must also be mindful that we were mourning the loss of our parents of late.”
“It’s been nearly three years!”
“Cameron,” Keiron broke in, conceding that the tension between the two men was showing signs of rapid escalation. “William has stated his conditions. Unless you are going to dispute the terms, do you agree to the impediment?”
“I’ll wait for her.” If William D’Arcy thought him so indecisive that a year would change his mind about marrying Janetta, he would prove him wrong.
“That is settled.” Wanting for nothing more but for these negotiations to be over with, Keiron pushed a small chest that was in front of him to the center of the table he was seated at. “This is the dowry my brother offers you for the hand of your sister.”
William pulled the box toward him and hesitated before opening it. He did not care what the contents were, even if it was pure gold it would not make any difference. What ransom would he pay right now to get Cameron to release his sister from the commitment she made to him? More than all the Grants worth, without blinking an eye. But they did not work that way. So caught up in their Scottish honor and pride were they that they would consider it the worst of insults.
It was not that William could not fathom people being bought, because he knew they could. It came down to his wanting better for his sister than what he saw in Cameron Grant. How disappointed his father would be if he were alive to witness how poorly William demonstrated his trustworthiness to keep Janetta safe. Opening the lid, the hinges creaked until the lid rested on the tabletop. Inside was a tidy fortune colored in silver and gold. He reached down and ran his fingers through the coins, cold to the touch. A neatly folded paper he brought out and read. It was a voucher for twenty acres situated near the Grant’s smaller keep at Urquhart. Placing the paper back, he closed the lid carefully and stepped away from the table.
“I cannot accept this.” He stated quietly. The amount William did not object to, although he had more than what was before him in his bedchamber at home, it was the idea that he was receiving payment for his sister’s demise that tore at him.
The brothers expressed their shock in unison without uttering words. Cameron was astounded at the effrontery he interpreted from William’s statement. The amount was not pathetic by any sane man’s standards, and it was almost everything he had in the world.
William lifted his head and realized the need to explain himself. “Keep it for my sister if you are to wed. This will provide a comfortable life for you.”
In less than fifteen minutes they concluded their business. The settling of dowries was often considered a cause for celebration between families, but that was obviously not the case between these three men. Each for their own reasons did not desire to fake a happiness they did not feel. Cameron expressed a need to go meet with his uncle to set up a training schedule, and with that he was excused.
“William, will you stay?” Keiron stayed silent until Cameron left the room. “Does Janetta know that you and I spoke about her?”
“No, I said nothing to her about our conversation. Keiron, do understand that I was truthful when I stated that I had no knowledge about her and Cameron until last night.”
“Let’s keep it between us, then. There’s no need…” Keiron rested his eyes on the door his brother walked through, his mind adrift with justifications that had Cameron known his fondness for Janetta, he would have let her be. Keiron was certain that in some way it was his own fault; he could have told his brother what he had hoped to accomplish when Janetta came to stay. Bravest rider always wins the race, he voiced to himself.
Still, Keiron sensed the need to say something that might help William make the transition from himself to Cameron in respect to Janetta. “William, I sense you are not happy, but Cameron is a good man. You will come to see this with time.”
It was not long before Keiron found himself alone in the room with the chest as the only reminder that he had lost his chance forever with the lady. He automatically did what had given him comfort over the years. Keiron kneeled on the floor using the chair he had just vacated as a makeshift alter to talk to God. Clasping his hands together until his knuckles turned white, he prayed he be granted the strength not to harbor resentment and envy against his own brother.
God must not have been listening to prayers that day.
Elisabeth looked out at the horizon while the sun set, straining in an attempt to see Janetta and Cameron as they rode their horses. It was a hopeless endeavor because her vision was not keen enough to make out the two lovers when she had to compete with the dimming light coming from the west.
She couldn’t go riding with them due to her present condition. The motion from horse riding would prove to do nothing but irritate her insides bringing about fresh pain which she had had enough of lately. Elisabeth knew that what she needed now was to get well, for in two days they would be riding to Elgin and soon afterwards she would be setting sail for Norway with Janetta and William. She had adamantly volunteered to go after what she had witnessed during the prior evening.
William manipulated Janetta from so many directions after her announcement was made and although she did not falter in her decision to marry Cameron, William was able to find her weakness. Janetta needed her brother’s mind at ease about her choice in a husband and if a year waiting would bring this about and give him time to become acquainted with the man, then it was a regrettable, yet reasonable request.
Elisabeth had never heard William tell an outright lie until last night when he told his sister that he had planned on surprising her with the impending voyage. He even went as far as to say he assumed Janetta would be excited at the prospect to see Oslo firsthand with him. Elisabeth knew better, for her memory was intact about the conversations they had at home discussing what needed to be done during his absence. William had used traveling as a means to soothe the regret Janetta was experiencing, but Elisabeth wondered to herself if there might not be another reason. Was it possible that William wanted to be viewed in Janetta’s eyes as the brother who spent his days thinking of ways to make his sister’s life wonderful? That he wanted to be the ‘good’ one?
Of course, this was only Elisabeth’s speculation based on what she had observed. She could be wrong, for her feelings toward William were less than forgiving at the moment. How dare he ask her this morning if she had a part, or any knowledge in the union that had been formed between Janetta and Cameron. It was the way he said it, the tone that left her convinced that he wanted to find someone to blame. His statements to her when they were alone had a biting edge to them. Elisabeth wondered if William had said them purposely to wound her. The worst being that he should have followed his own instincts about their leaving Castle Grant for Elgin early. She perceived it as if he was saying that he showed error in accepting her opinion. If William wanted her to feel guilty over that she would not, considering she had been incapacitated for two days from miscarrying his child.
Despite her resolve, there was still a part of Elisabeth that did feel accountable. Had she been irresponsible in her duty as Janetta’s custodian? She had sent Janetta from the room numerous times, setting her free without true guardianship. Maybe she should have kept her with her at her bedside, but it seemed so unfair to Elisabeth that she do so. Janetta should not have been made to suffer because Elisabeth made choices that held consequences.
How Willa figured out she had been pregnant baffled her. Elisabeth had told the woman about her history with difficult monthly bleeds, believing that she would be convinced that this was all that was happening to her, but Willa saw through her story. If nothing else good came from last night, it was that she did not have to bare the truth alone anymore. Willa told her what to expect from her body during the coming days, and signs to watch for that could indicate a more serious problem. She even told her how to make a liniment to put on her abdomen at night to lesson the tenderness. What she did not expect out of the woman were words of advice of a more personal nature.
Willa had asked Elisabeth if William was planning to marry her. Her muteness must have told her that nothing was set between them because Willa then spoke from the assumption that he was not. She told her that she deserved a life better than what she was living. Elisabeth could not agree with the woman’s bold statement, and had Willa known the circumstances from which Elisabeth rose from, she was certain Willa would have taken those words back. She had been born to the lowest social tier in France, only beggars and convicts were looked upon with more distain.
Elisabeth counted herself lucky to receive the generous affection from a man so kindhearted as William could be when they were out of the sight of others, this morning being the exception. As the time remaining grew short that the sun would light the earth this day, so did she feel her time with him would be. Soon she would have to walk away from William as his life continued to evolve without a place for her in it. He would take a wife, and she would move on.
Cameron and Janetta came into Elisabeth’s view not much later. As they approached she could see their relaxed faces and she knew that all had went well between them. He did not seem angry with Janetta for agreeing to the holdup William had asked for. They both halted in front of Elisabeth, then Cameron dismounted his horse. He insisted that Elisabeth ride his horse the quarter mile back to the stables. When she protested, explaining again to him that it would be too much for her to ride, Cameron told her that he would take the reins and walk the horse for her. When you have a stable mount and go at a safe speed, he said, it’s as gentle as walking.
They arrived when the evening meal was about to be served, the hall already holding as many people as there were seats. Elisabeth asked Janetta not to leave the room without her knowledge, but she also granted her the right to walk around with Cameron as he mingled with his own people. During the next few hours Elisabeth watched as people came and went. William was not there long before he left the hall with three other men most likely to talk business. This was not unusual for him and she did not feel slighted by his lack of attention. Keiron entered quietly before Cameron found him, bringing his fiancÚ over to speak with his brother. When their brief conversation ended, Keiron left just as quietly as he entered, and alone. Willa and Fergus came in to spread their good news that Bly and Rory were to be married. It was later in the night that Elisabeth caught sight of William’s cousin Jorgen. Thankfully his consideration and smiles were not shared with her. And in the midst of it all stood Frederic Grant, his face betraying nothing if he was experiencing joy or displeasure. He only reflected solemnity, even when surrounded by people he cared for.
Elisabeth felt like a fly on the wall, which suited her considering the mood she was in. There was only one peculiarity, for lack of a better word, that captured her interest throughout the entire evening. It was the open manner in which Cameron expressed his benevolence for Janetta. He did nothing to bring censure upon himself from his actions, but rather it was how he was not embarrassed to let others see that he clearly cared for her. Cameron introduced Janetta to everyone he met, his hand often found resting open palmed on her back. He would give Janetta ‘looks’ that Elisabeth could easily read, and they were not that different from the way William would look at her when they were in alone his room.
Elisabeth was twenty five years old, and had most likely already lived half of her destined lifetime. Never once had a man made his devotion known in public to her as Janetta was now receiving from Cameron. Never once during these years had a soul told her that they loved her aloud.
“When do you leave?” Cameron asked Janetta as she held a water soaked rag to the cut on his chest in an attempt to loosen the shirt from the wound. The were alone in the oversized hall of the third floor, Janetta sitting on a table with Cameron standing in front of her. Thankfully the hour was late and most of the occupants had said their good nights.
“In eleven days. William’s ship is sailing from Aberdeen to Elgin to pick us up.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Twenty-one days. The length of stay has something to do with tides or currents, or the weather I’m not certain. I confess to never taking an interest in the sphere of sailing. My brother told me he has a lot of work that needs to be done during our stay in Oslo. Elisabeth is going with us, so I won’t be alone when he is otherwise occupied. Look, Cameron,” Janetta held the linen away from his skin, having successfully separated the two. “I told you, no fresh bleeding if it was done correctly.”
“You like to be right.” He smiled as she took a fresh cloth to dry the area around the pink scar tissue that was beginning to form.
“It’s a D’Arcy trait you must learn to live with.” Janetta lifted her lips to his to be kissed. “You may want to remove your shirt so it doesn’t dry on your skin again.”
“I’ll change and come back. Can you stay up for a bit longer?” She nodded.
While Cameron was gone, Janetta emptied the bowl of blood tinged water she was using out a window to be absorbed by the soil below before going to her brother’s door and knocking softly. William called out permission for admittance. He was half expecting Elisabeth.
“It’s me, William. I wanted you to know that I’ll be with Cameron for a while, then I will go to bed.”
“Is Elisabeth with you?”
“No. William, she was exhausted. She stayed out far too long today as it was, and I sent her to bed where she belonged.”
“You shouldn’t be alone. I’ll get up to chaperone you.”
“Don’t bother yourself because I already have a chaperone. Cameron will be with me.” He began to protest but Janetta would not allow it. “You must come to the understanding that I will be nineteen soon and am capable of watching over myself. I won’t stay awake much later, but I will be with Cameron. Go to sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.”
“What do I look like?” Bly cried to the room full of women who had just finished dressing her in the ivory gown Elisabeth had worn on their first night of the gathering. She had insisted that Bly take it to be married in after Janetta came to the conclusion that all of her own ‘fancy’ gowns were too small.
“You need one more thing.” Willa unfolded a long sash of tartan before draping it over her daughter’s shoulder and securing it at the opposite hip. “Ye’re the prettiest lass I’ve ever seen!”
“I’m not a lass anymore, mama.” Willa burst out in bawling at her daughter’s announcement adding to the chaos of the moment. Willa’s younger daughters were sitting on the bed, one of them yelling that the baby had dirty hands and was touching Bly’s dress, and several other women of varying ages crowded in Elisabeth’s chamber, all adding their opinions and assistance. Order obviously needed to be restored.
Elisabeth weaved her way through the bodies to open the door. The air was fresh, and it far too tempting for her not to step out into the hall to breathe it in. She spied Fergus and Keiron off to her left in conversation. The seriousness etched on the elder man’s was a different mask than what he usually wore, and it made her question if there was a warrior inside the jester that rarely made an appearance. Whatever they were discussing must have been dark in nature because Elisabeth had the impulse to escape without being noticed.
“Now?” Fergus asked when he saw Elisabeth turn to reenter the room. She nodded her head avoiding direct eye contact. A moment later he appeared at the doorway, playing the part of the laughing old man everyone expected.
When the room was cleared of its inhabitants, Elisabeth watched as Janetta ran a comb through her hair. Her friend had changed in the short time they had been there, changes that people who did not know her intimately would never notice. Janetta had become a woman at some point during their stay and how she wished she had been there to see it instead of in a bed. With time remaining before the wedding ceremony was to begin, Elisabeth felt compelled to ask the young woman a question that had been heavy on her mind of late.
“Why did you not tell me about Cameron?”
Janetta stopped brushing her hair and stood still as she thought about her reply. “I need to know this answer first, and I do not ask it to be rude. Elisabeth, does William employ you?”
“I’m paid by him, yes. I assumed you knew. He hired me after your parents died so you would not be alone when he was away.”
“William pays you to be my friend, and you are ultimately accountable to him.” Janetta interpreted Elisabeth’s statement.
“No, is that what you think?” Janetta tilted her head to gaze over her shoulder at Elisabeth, but her lips stayed still. “Dear, no one could pay me to be your friend; I am by choice. Were you afraid that I would tell your brother that you liked Cameron? Is this why you said nothing to me?”
“Not exactly, but you are close.” Janetta shifted her position to face Elisabeth. “Rather it is that William tends to want to have power over what is going on around him, even when it’s my affair. I know you’ve observed it, Elisabeth. He does it out of concern, I believe, but it can be suffocating at times because he fights the natural course of events if he feels he is right. Since we’ve been here, I’ve wanted to talk to you but I held back because I didn’t want my brother’s interference, although I would have gladly listened to his advice. Would you tell me, do you feel an obligation to relay to William what we discuss when I confide in you? Please be straightforward, I will not hold it against you.”
“I have never told him our private conversations, and I never will.” Elisabeth told her the truth, and was rewarded for her honesty with the warmest of embraces.
“Janetta, I hope I’m not being too bold, but are you disappointed about not being married today?”
“Perhaps, but not because I had a desire to take part in the mass wedding party with Bly.” Elisabeth smiled with relief. This is what she wanted to hear, confirmation that Janetta was not so caught up in the excitement of the moment that she lost her senses about something as important as matrimony. “I swear to you, I did not agree to marry Cameron to rebel against my brother. I want to marry Cameron because I love him.”
“What about Keiron? Did he not gain your interest?”
Janetta shook her head. “No, he seems a fine leader and an excellent man, but I feel no connection to him. I found what I was hoping for in Cameron.”
“Cameron’s life will not be a safe one. Last night I overheard some men talking about how Frederic Grant was a rarity because he actually lived through his tenure. They said the man Frederic replaced only survived two years. Are you prepared for that possibility, as horrible as it is to think about?”
Janetta took some time before answering. “Yes, I would rather be with Cameron regardless of the possibilities than to have my brother find me a secure situation with another man. I cannot allow a fear, no matter how founded, to dictate my happiness.”
The conversation continued and marked a turning point for Elisabeth. She would begin to relinquish her role as the teacher to Janetta, and in turn would begin to learn a few lessons from the young lady.
A weary Wallace D’Arcy decided it was in his own best interest to leave a day before everyone else. Publicly he made the claim that the congestion of other people on the paths he used to travel by cart made his journey to Elgin twice as long. Wallace had no qualms with lying in public.
He hated it here, and the impression that he interpreted from those around him was that they had no love for him, either. If he had the capital he would leave Scotland in a heartbeat, but Wallace did not have the resources he thought needed to set himself up properly elsewhere. The allowance he received from his nephew when combined with the small sun the Grants gave him for his position in Elgin did not cover all of his wants.
The genesis of an idea had recently been growing in his head. It was just a thought, not necessarily a plan, but it had been entertaining him more and more when he was at leisure to devote time to it. Janetta’s choice in a suitor added a new dimension to his thought, almost a challenge he might say.
In D’Arcy Keep somewhere there existed a legalized note he wanted his hands on. It was a complicated will drafted by his brother Luthais detailing how his fortune would be distributed in the unfortunate event of his son William’s death. Luthais had given Wallace the briefest of descriptions about it years ago, and at the time he was only concerned with his inheritance should both Father and son die.
Wallace did remember his brother mentioning Janetta’s part in it. Something about if William died without an heir and his sister bore a son within nine months. Wallace could not recall the exact details, and this bothered him because he wanted that knowledge to add to the thoughts he was having lately. He could kiss his nephew for his declaration that Janetta and that French woman were going to join him in Norway. This would mark the first time the keep was completely empty from family for an extended period, which in turn meant an opportunity for Jorgen to gain access to the home to search for the document.
“Jorgen!” he hissed as he sat in his cart with two horses hitched to it. The driver had went off in search of the men he had hired to guard Wallace and his possessions back to his home. “Get over here.”
Jorgen was leaning against the side of a barn in a relaxed manner talking with Eby Roberson. She was the young girl that was a friend of Bly’s, and far too juvenile for a man of Jorgen’s age. He obeyed his father, but not before whispering something into Eby’s ear.
“Stay away from the lasses.”
“They are innocent, father.” Jorgen replied absently while his eyes followed the fifteen year old as she scampered away.
“Yes, but you don’t want to be forced by knifepoint to marry one, do you? There’s plenty of whores in Edinburgh. You can find a fresh looking one there.”
Wallace noticed a ring on Jorgen’s finger and questioned him about it. “I bought it on my last visit to Edinburgh while on business for William. Do you like it?”
“Your flamboyance will be the end of you. Take it off before you draw attention to yourself! William will see through your sham if you’re not careful and wonder how you are able to afford such luxuries, especially after you have returned from making a deal for him that wasn’t quite as good as William had hoped.”
“Lesson over, Father. I need no more.”
“Before he leaves, find out from your cousin’s his exact dates for his voyage to Norway and get the message to me. This will be your opportunity to gain access to the property.”
“I will.” Jorgen answered in a disinterested tone.
“Be cautious when you go with Fergus to finish collecting taxes. The man may have weak seed, but that doesn’t mean his mind is weak. He will notice if their losses are too great. I appreciate greed, trust me I do, but don’t be dense or we’re both finished.”
Jorgen smiled at the weak seed comment of his fathers. Of course he would be careful and felt he did not need to be reminded to do so. He had been snitching coins since he was a child.
Displeased with the consideration his son was heeding his warnings, Wallace looked the man in the eye before grabbing by his shirt and pulling Jorgen closer toward himself. “Your eyes are glassy! I told you about that when you’re around others. No wonder you’re not paying attention to me. ”
“Worry not, I heard everything you said. Safe journey, Father. I should be home in two weeks or so.” After Wallace released him, Jorgen pointed over at an area where a large crowd of people were gathering. “I have a weddin’ to watch.”