Scotland Chapters 8-10



Chapter 8
Gifts from Heaven.

The harder Elisabeth tried to forget that tomorrow was the day they set sail for Norway, more insistently it plagued her mind. She was nervous about sea travel as she had only done it once before, but that was nothing when compared with her other worries. A chill existed between her and William, their nightly ritual suspended after returning home. Both could have benefited from the comfort they once shared, but neither took the first step toward reconciliation for reasons of their own. William rarely said words directly to her, but she caught him often staring at her with an unreadable expression on his face. Elisabeth wondered if he was looking at her to find faults, and this self-imposed insecurity led her to avoid his company whenever possible.

Tension only increased with the arrival of Cameron Grant that same morning. William had been aware of his planned visit and dominated the first few hours he was in residence by sequestering him in a room with only William and papers for company. Whatever they were discussing must not have been pleasant judging by the way Cameron entire body was visibly tense when he was finally freed to seek out Janetta. The two disappeared for the rest of the day, returning at sundown in good spirits and with raw lips. Janetta informed the household shortly thereafter that he was to spend the night to see them off at the ship the next day. This declaration and the unrestricted displays of affection between Cameron and his sister set William into a repine for the rest of the evening, and Elisabeth could say that his concern was not completely unwarranted. There was too much informality between the lovers for Elisabeth to believe that they would remain chaste for the year engagement William imposed on them, and perhaps soon she may need to speak to Janetta about a topic usually reserved for brides on their wedding day.

Sleep evaded Elisabeth as she lay in bed long after everyone else had retired. Thinking that she might be hungry since she ate little during dinner, she left her room to go to the pantry, but her feet had other ideas and it was not long before she found herself outside his room. Mustering her bravery, Elisabeth knocked on William’s door. She regretted it as soon as she had finished the deed fearing to face the rejection she might encounter, but hearing footsteps from inside the room made her realize there was no turning back.

William opened the door abruptly, not expecting Elisabeth to be on the other side. His surprise was evident and it took him a moment before he invited her in, which he did cordially. Elisabeth did not go to her chair in the room as she had done so many times before, but instead stood by the now closed door with her eyes cast toward the floor. She would be the first to speak.

“I’ve come to ask you if you have any advice or requests for me to follow while we are in Oslo.”

“Would you sit?” She declined politely and there was a long period of silence afterward during which Elisabeth was tempted to leave, but his next words kept her in place. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t owe me an apology,” she stated without any knowledge of what he was apologizing for. Those words just came automatically from her.

“Yes I do, Elisabeth.” He said her name so softly that it encouraged her look at him. What she saw appeared to be remorse coming from William, but there was more. She thought, or at least hoped, she saw a flash of the love they had shared. William looked so serious and worn, still partially dressed in his day clothing with dark circles under his eyes. This prompted the appeaser in Elisabeth to want to make everything right by giving him reassurances that he had not earned the accountability for any hardship between them, but she stopped herself from this habit and allowed him to speak more.

“I’ve blamed you unjustly in the matter of Janetta and that man,” William let out a bitter laugh before he continued his explanation. “Allowing my resentment of the situation to govern my good sense. I should have come to you earlier to make this confession instead of playing the part of a coward. I don’t know why I waited so long, but it was a stupid mistake I regret and I will try not to repeat it in the future. Would you consider forgiving me?

The power he had just bestowed on Elisabeth with that simple question made her uncomfortable because she interpreted it as William granting her the right to decide his worthiness. She did not expect him to be any less human than she was, therefore forgiving him was not an issue, but humility kept her from feeling qualified for the task of passing her judgment aloud in words. No one would ever be able to understand how utterly precious their time together was to her. It was as necessary as air and equally as life giving. Bridging the distance between where they stood she walked willingly into the arms of the man who had apologized sincerely before her. Her answer, of course, was yes.

With his hands on her back and his mouth close to her ear, she breathed in the scent of him; familiar but not so much that it did not still excite her. She could feel him smiling against her cheek and wanting to see for herself, Elisabeth arched her neck back to catch him. William was, an honest relief glowed from him and she could not help herself, she had to return the expression. How she wished he would show this side of his disposition more readily instead of living behind the facade of indifference. The William she loved was not heartless as he sometimes portrayed himself. After his lips came down on hers, she experienced light-headedness as if magic was swirling in the air and accepted of her own free will that she would stay with him as long as she could.

There was magic in the air that night and although she could not be absolutely certain, Elisabeth believed she heard William whisper ‘I love you’ against the pillow while they made love.

“That man has blue legs!” A nauseous Janetta stated as she stood on a dock outside of Oslo, Norway.

“That’s the fashion, Janetta.” William answered as he took her arm to steady her. Janetta had been ill their entire voyage, by far the worst case of sea sickness he had ever witnessed, and William was more than a little concerned that she would not be quite right until she spent some time in bed recovering. Elisabeth took Janetta’s other arm without needing to be asked, concern etched on her face.

“Elisabeth, look!” Janetta whispered loudly, feeling as if she was drunk. “Blue legs.”

“Yes, dear, I see them. Come with us now and we will get you to shore.”

“What is on his head? I want to get closer to see.”

“The ports have a wide variety of cultures represented…” Janetta did not hear the rest of her brother’s lecture because she fainted dead away on the dock, not to fully awaken until the next afternoon in a comfortable bed surrounded by soft blankets and pillows.

“I’m thirsty.” Were her first words when she saw Elisabeth’s sweet face smiling down at her.

“How are you?”

“I believe I’m fine, but I don’t know yet.” Janetta answered drinking the entire glass of water before asking for another. “I’m no sailor, Elisabeth. That has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.”

“I wouldn’t say that. You have your mother’s Norse blood in you and there has to be a sailor somewhere.” Elisabeth rang a bell at Janetta’s bedside. In short order a middle-aged woman came into the room. Elisabeth handed her a bowl then made a few gestures before the woman left. “They don’t speak your language or mine, so we will have to make due with whatever she brings us. I want to get you some salty broth. That and water is what the Captain suggested we give you.”

“Where are we?”

“In the city of Oslo. This is the home William stays at when he is here on trade. After you’ve regained your strength, I’m looking forward to showing it to you.”

“Is William here?” Janetta asked absently as she looked around the room. It was decorated tastefully, but lacking the ornate details of their home in Scotland. She approved completely with the simplicity of room. Listening as Elisabeth explained that he had gone to the marketplace to order more supplies that they would need during their stay, she suddenly remembered bits and pieces of the day that had passed.

“Was there an apothecary here that I was rude to?” Elisabeth’s devilish smile confirmed that her memory was intact, but she was not about to repeat what Janetta had said to the man. Doing so would require her to make a trip to the confessional. “Can’t change that, I suppose. We Scots don’t mince our words, do we?”

“No, you don’t. I should tell you that you made your brother blush.”

“That will do him some good.” Both women filled the room with laughter, which William heard when he entered the home putting his mind immediately at rest. “Elisabeth, let’s go have an adventure!”

“You need to be able to stand first, dear.”

The first week passed smoothly. Their evenings were filled with conversations about what they had seen during the day, and William worked diligently to find a balance between the duties he must attend to and entertaining the two women. Janetta declared Oslo to be a virtual Eden, and had begun to take a true interest in their Norwegian architecture. The buildings were unlike anything she had ever seen before, and the ancient Gamle Aker church literally took her breath away when she saw it. William, whose appreciation for knowledge was great, fed his sister’s newfound obsession with any sort of literature he could find. He gave her access to a room in the home that he often used for study, only asking her not to disturb the papers and journals he had stored there. It contained a large table she could lay her materials out on and good lighting during the day.

Elisabeth took delight in the interaction between brother and sister. She believed the bond between them had grown stronger since they had been there and in an act to encourage the rapport, she sent them out on the eighth day without her so that they might have time alone.

They walked the streets in the business district with the ever-present guards William had hired following them. Janetta was not comfortable being shadowed everywhere she went in public, but her brother said it was a precaution he would not do away with. Oslo was not necessarily dangerous, but it was also not Elgin.

“I want to buy something for Elisabeth.” Janetta informed William after they left a clothier’s shop where she had purchased several rather plain garments, and one beautiful gown. He readily agreed.

“What do you have in mind?"
“I don’t know, William. Do you have a suggestion?”

“Jewelry?” Janetta’s eyes lit up at his perfect recommendation quite unaware that he had already been plotting a way to buy Elisabeth something of significance while they were here.

William’s broken Norwegian was clear enough that the jeweler understood they were looking for a gift for a lady in the form of a necklace or bracelet. As he began to bring out his wares wrapped in a soft material, Janetta obtained an additional candle from a nearby table to light brighten the area more. The first selections were of poorer quality then William considered acceptable and were unilaterally rejected. The second group held more promise, but they still were not what he had mind although Janetta thought one of the emerald necklaces was nice. The jeweler hesitated, eyeing the siblings closely not entirely sure they had the means to afford some of his better pieces, but after William opened a bag of coins he was carrying with him, the finest made an appearance.

Janetta let out a long sigh, mesmerized by the array of gemstones in front of her. They were all beautiful and each very unique to itself. She began admiring a sapphire set when her brother called her attention. William was holding a simple, but remarkable ruby cross in his hand. Diamonds formed a second cross embedded in the center and when Janetta raised her candle to it, the light sparkled against his palm. They had found their gift. Sensing an easy sell, the merchant coughed softly before pointing to a bracelet still laying on the table that matched the necklace.

“One from me and one from you.” Janetta whispered to her brother as she placed the bracelet against her wrist. “I will take Elisabeth the bracelet.”

On the tip of William’s tongue was the argument that both should be from her as it was not suitable for a man to give an unmarried woman expensive gifts, but that is where it stayed. Propriety at this moment meant nothing compared with his desire to give Elisabeth the necklace. He had been slowly changing lately, the catalyst being the ten days he and Elisabeth did not talk when they were at home in Elgin. William was truly beginning to question why he was allowing the promise he gave to his father keep him from asking her to be his wife. Riskier ventures with his capital could be taken if it meant higher profit, and he had already sent out a few inquiries looking for opportunities that others might not be able to afford to lose. It would take time to find these possibilities, but William felt time was something he had in abundance.

William returned home briefly to retrieve more money for the jeweler, leaving his sister to sit with Elisabeth and not give away the surprise she was in store for. Janetta fidgeted in her seat anxious for his return, while Elisabeth grew amused by her behavior.

“Janetta, what are you up to?”

“I bought a gown I’m going to wear on my wedding today.” She replied as if what she had done was not of extreme importance. “It’s a pale gold embroidered material. Of course, William doesn’t know what it’s for, but I’ll explain that to him later. Would you believe it actually had bells on it? Bells! Those are being removed and they are doing other alterations to it. I have to go back for a fitting in two days.”

Elisabeth stared wide-eyed at her friend and said nothing.

“I’ve never asked you,” Janetta continued on wishing to lengthen the conversation. “Will you stay at the Keep once I’m married or do you come with me?”

“I…I haven’t thought of it. I do know that I won’t be going with you, though.”

“Why not?”

“You’ll have your new husband to give attention to, and plenty of others around to keep you occupied. I don’t think it’s healthy for a young married woman to have a companion. Maybe it is too easy for her to confide in her friend rather than her husband, and that can’t make a good marriage.”

“So you will stay at the Keep? That would be good because then William will not be all alone. Maybe you could come visit me when he goes away on business?”

Elisabeth considered her words before responding. “I may not be able to stay at your brother’s keep since there wouldn’t be anything for me to do with you gone, but I have been offered a room at Urquhart if I find myself without employment.”

“The Grant’s Urquhart Keep? That’s only a day’s slow ride from where I’ll be, but I can’t imagine William letting…” Janetta stood up when she heard the door open. “I’ll be back. Stay here!”

Elisabeth had only a minute to catch her breath before Janetta and William entered the room. She had been caught off guard by her friend’s questions, and was thankful for the interruption so she would not have to further explain herself.

“I have something for you.” Janetta smiled widely as she placed a small pouch in Elisabeth’s hand. “You are the kindest person I know, and I love you for it. Elisabeth, I consider you the sister I always wished I would have had. I wanted to get you something special for you to remember our time here in Oslo.”

Quite embarrassed by the attention she was receiving, Elisabeth untied the ribbon that held the pouch closed and freed the ruby bracelet. Her hand began to tremble and without thinking she shook her head. “I can’t accept this. It’s too much.”

“Hardly!” Janetta took the bracelet from her and carefully fastened it around her wrist. “You merit so much more than this. You must accept it because it’s a gift.”

Tears formed in the corners of Elisabeth’s eyes, falling onto her cheeks as Janetta bent down and held her close. The two women exchanged sweet words before it was William’s turn.

“There’s another,” He said with an uncustomary shyness. From his pocket he withdrew the pouch that contained his gift, this one slightly larger than the one his sister had given her. Janetta released Elisabeth and stepped back so he could approach. William placed the package in her hands and opening it he locked eyes with her and smiled.

“Don’t put it on her yet, William.” Janetta positioned the necklace in his hand and grabbed a candle. She wanted to reenact what she had done at the shop. “Elisabeth, see how the wee cross in the center reflects light against William’s skin? Isn’t that extraordinary? Imagine how it will glow when you wear it in the sunshine.”

Her lashes were wet when William put the necklace on her, the tears would just not stop. His hands lingered against her shoulders longer then they should have with his sister in the room, but Elisabeth was so beautiful to him—inside and out. William, knowing that he would have to wait until tonight to tell her that, released her as Janetta returned to her friend’s side to offer words of comfort. “We love you, Elisabeth. Don’t cry.”

The evening progressed and they were all sharing a soup dinner when a knock interrupted the contented atmosphere of the house. William went to answer it, but was slow in returning to the table. His mood had shifted during that brief time to an annoyance he could not hide. In his hand was a folded parchment. “Janetta and I have been invited to the house of Anders Jonsen tomorrow evening. He was a friend of our father and we must attend him.”

“Who’s that?” Janetta asked, trying to recall where she had heard the name before. The smile falling from her face announced that she had figured it out. “I had forgotten about the naming practice of this country. He’s Karoline Andersdatter’s father, correct?”

“Yes.” He responded dryly.

Much later voices floating up the stairway woke Janetta from the light slumber she had been in. Curious as to who was still up, she slipped from under her blankets and walked quietly to her doorway. She could see light coming from the sitting room downstairs. Inching along the hall, she stopped when she saw it was only Elisabeth and William standing at the bottom step.

“I’m going with you tomorrow.” She heard Elisabeth tell her brother. “I don’t want Janetta alone with those people.”

“I want you to stay here. There’s no reason to subject yourself to that.”
“My mind is set.” Elisabeth caressed the side of his face and for a short time they did nothing else until William pulled her close to him and kissed her. As quietly as she could, Janetta went back to her room with a heart full of joy, thankful that her brother had finally taken notice of that wonderful lady. She vowed to herself not reveal that she knew their secret until they announced it to her formally.

Janetta concluded that if she took a full chamber pot and left it in a closed room for several weeks, it would smell like the home of Anders Jonsen. The stench of stale urine penetrated her nostrils and there was no escaping it. Pity, too, because the home itself was quite handsome.

They were ushered into a room with two distinct seating areas, one for the men and one for women. She and Elisabeth sat across from each other on identical settees while William was off in another corner. Their host had been waiting for them in a thickly padded single chair, not acknowledging the women, but offering William an outstretched hand in salutation. Anders Jonsen did not appear exactly as Janetta had envisioned him. He was an older man of slight build with a neatly trimmed gray beard and hair. He might even be considered approachable if it were not for the grimace he seemed to have permanently on his face and his odd sense of fashion. Anders wore a light yellow cloth wrapped around his waist almost in the way tartans were wrapped, a fur cape, but no boots or socks.

Janetta had her back to the men, which was probably fortunate because her expressions could not disguise what she was thinking. She tried to admire a painting from her advantage point, but she refused to stand and draw any unwanted attention to herself. Glancing at Elisabeth, she could see that her usually composed friend was showing signs of wear.

The man shouted “Karoline!” after what seemed a lifetime of boredom causing Janetta to jump involuntarily. She regretted not sitting next to Elisabeth when what she thought might be a woman entered the room. The person who took a seat beside her had course, thickly lined skin and stringy brown short hair pulled into buns at each side of her head. Believing it was Karoline, Janetta deliberated that they must have very harsh winters in Norway if the woman next to her wasn’t even of age to marry yet.

Anders spoke something to this woman in Norwegian before shouting “Karoline” again. Janetta looked to Elisabeth for a cue about what to do when she noticed her friend’s attention was at the doorway. Turning her head to see what had caught her interest, another person appeared.

A young lady dressed in a lovely green gown stood before them. She appeared to be frightened and shy, as she held her hands clasped together and head lowered only raising it briefly to take notice of the other women in the room. She was radiant, absolutely perfect with her womanly frame, large brown eyes and round face. Her thick, wavy hair fell mid-thigh, the color of chestnuts. She was positively the most beautiful creature Janetta had ever seen, in person or in a painting, and she felt quite plain when she compared herself to her. This was Karoline.

“Welcome.” She said in a heavy accent through thick lips. “Welcome to our home.”

“She doesn’t speak much of your language.” Anders called from his seat before giving instructions to his daughter to sit down. Janetta crossed her arms across her chest and looked away from the girl in the exact same manner her brother did on the other side of the room. She had no intention about giving heed to this young ‘upstart.’

Karoline eyed the seat next to Elisabeth warily before taking her place. She hugged her edge of the settee as not to take up too much space. The sat in virtual silence while Anders and William spoke to one another, too far away for any of them to hear the conversation.

“I find it amusing that you wear a tartan.” Anders informed the younger man as he poured him a glass of Italian wine from where he sat. “You’re no more Scottish than I am. So why, I have asked myself, does William D’Arcy want to appear as a Scotsman? I’ve found my answer.”

“What are you speaking of?” William spat back at the Anders insolence. Although he was the most intelligent man William had ever met, with exquisite taste in art and a library to rival any masters, Anders lacked a certain quality of modesty. He talked as if his opinions were to be taken as fact, a headstrong trait which William had little tolerance for in others.

“You wear a tartan for the same reason your father did. If a Scotsman gives his word of honor, a man knows it’s good. I believe you feed off their honor, William, using it to your advantage. Don’t be offended at what I say; I wish I would have thought of it myself!” Anders shifted carefully in his chair trying to alleviate the pressure from the sores between his legs while ignoring the hateful glare coming from his companion.

“Actually, I think well of you.” Anders pointed over toward his daughter. “She’s the only good thing I’ve ever made. Four sons dead! All blind and sick, but she was born with her eyes closed. The Gods must have been watching over her. Look at me, William. The plague that grows between my legs continues to expand and I can’t even piss when I want anymore. I do not doubt that soon I will be passing over to the other world, but I wish to leave knowing Karoline will have a fair life.”

“You need to prepare...”

“I chose you for my daughter because I recognize you will give her a secure home, but there is also another, more intimate reason. A form of immortality is what I covet, and I want Anders Jonsen ships to be built for generations so I’m not forgotten. I may be a fool, but if you vow to me that you’ll continue my tradition then I will accept your Scottish word of honor. Think hard, William. I know your desire for a pure, legitimate livelihood and that is precisely what I offer you. If one of my sons would have lived, we would not be having this discussion, but as a surrogate you will do very well. You have until spring to give me an answer, otherwise I will seek elsewhere.”

The offer the man made William was beyond extraordinary and a year ago he would have accepted it without a second thought. Only a fool or a man in love would turn down a chance to have a lifetime of accumulated wealth and prosperity dumped in his lap under such easy terms. The business was well established and it would require full time residency in Oslo, but the city itself offered many advantages in this age of intellectual growth. This no-lose proposition should have set his heart and mind racing, but it did not. William was not so stupid to disregard it without any thought because he was one of those people that needed to internalize important decisions, a quiet thinker for who when a decision was made it was made for life.

“Listen to this,” the man told William before calling out to his daughter. Whatever he said to Karoline gained her startled attention, for she stared at her father with a panic on her face as he spoke. Glancing to the woman next to Janetta as if for help, all she received in aid was an impatient wave of the hand. Karoline closed her eyes as if she was praying, then stood. When the first note came out of the girl’s mouth, even the most hardened hearts gave her their focus. Karoline’s God given gift was that of song.

Her voice was like that of an angel, unlike anything Elisabeth had ever heard in any church. A low soprano tone floated lightly on the air coming from this terrified girl as if she was speaking with a voice not her own. The song did not appear to be religious, and although the words were foreign they seemed to be more folk in nature. Karoline was actually singing an ancient praise to the sons of Erik the Red.

When it was finished she remained standing waiting for further instructions from her father when she felt a warm hand touch hers. Karoline’s eyes traced from the hand to the owner and it was Elisabeth. She gave the poor child a grateful smile of admiration, while feeling such pity for her. Elisabeth had every right to be jealous of the talent she possessed, since by all accounts there was a likely chance Karoline would be replacing her in William’s life soon, but she did not. She saw this girl as an innocent being used as a bargaining ploy by her father. Patting the seat next to her, Elisabeth invited Karoline to sit before looking at William and Janetta for their reactions. They had both went back to their poses of coolness, neither of them voicing an encouraging comment to let the girl know she had done well, and Elisabeth did not approve of their behavior. Casting a frown at Janetta, Elisabeth ignored her friend for the rest of the evening as she gave her all of her attention to Karoline.

Three hours later they left the company of Anders Jonsen and his daughter, traveling home under the protection of the guards. “Holy Mother of God!” Janetta uttered as soon as the door to their own home was closed and they were safely inside. “I’m going to wash up!”

“Janetta, don’t curse!” William barked at his sister. He had no patience left after the evening he spent. Anders was cunning in his strategy, working on William’s weakness and desires to a point where everything he said became a philosophical debate with Anders.

“How can I not? That was bloody disgusting. I am never going back there. Filthy man!” They retired that evening without discussion, all tired and in foul moods.

The next afternoon Janetta was in the room William had allowed her use to study. She was uninterested in what he had given her to read and went in search of something more entertaining. In a large trunk there were bound papers that held her father’s handwriting. They appeared to be a diary of some kind, listing business transactions of both profits and losses. Forgotten was his request not to disturb the journals and papers. An undetermined amount of time passed for her before Elisabeth appeared at the doorway to announce that Karoline Andersdatter had come to call on them. Sighing, Janetta put one of the journals she had been reading away and told Elisabeth that she did not know what the girl expected from her since her brother was not home to do translating.

“Janetta, listen to me clearly.” Elisabeth was about to do something she had never done before, set her friend straight. “You were rude to Karoline last night, and I expect better out of you today. You have complained to me about how William has acted toward Cameron, but I have seen you treat this girl even worse. You and your brother can be more alike then you may want to admit. Show Karoline that you are better than that.”

Elisabeth left without waiting for a reply, leaving the sting of her words to sink into Janetta’s mind.

Sins of the father.

It was the evening before they were to depart for Scotland, Janetta and William found themselves alone in the sitting room while Elisabeth packed her belongings. William was pouring over an old book on French history he had purchased, neglecting to notice that his sister had abandoned her needlework sometime earlier and appeared lost in thought. Janetta had been contemplating a great many issues lately, but had kept most of them to herself. She was not so blind to miss the way her brother did not warmly welcome Cameron into their home in Elgin before they left. This had been troubling her since it occurred, but when he showed Karoline the same degree of distain, Janetta wondered if William would ever accept the man she was to marry.

“May I talk to you about Cameron if you will spare the time?” She waited for him to put his book down before speaking. “When he came to visit us, did your opinion of him improve? It is apparent that Cameron is not your first choice for me so you need not deny it, but I was hoping that once you spent time with him you might begin to see the man he represents.”

“We were not together for long after he arrived.” William was tempted to let the subject die, but he could see his sister was seeking the truth from him. “My opinion of Cameron is consistent from when I first him. Please be aware that I take no pleasure in telling you this, Janetta, but I do not approve of him. I’d give you anything if I thought it would make you happy, but….”

“Do you believe that more exposure to Cameron might help you understand him better?”

“No, I don’t see how it can.” He softened his voice, but spoke his conviction. “I find few redeeming qualities in him that encourage me to overlook what he is. I’m afraid you will be tainted by the life that he lives if you dare marry him.”

“I appreciate your honesty.” Janetta lied. For awhile she felt despair at her brothers brutal honesty, and Janetta fell into a silent contemplation. However, that same anguish quickly turned into antagonism.

“May I inquire, is your dislike of Cameron akin to what you harbor toward Karoline? If so, I would like to tell you a story. When I first encountered Karoline, I was discourteous to her because I had already formed an opinion of the person she was without any knowledge of her true character. Elisabeth witnessed my behavior and said words to me that made me realize the error of my ways. I have met Karoline twice since and have come to view her differently, and I pray more fairly. I can’t claim a close acquaintance because of our language barrier, but I have observed her to be gentle lass—nothing like I thought she would be. To even consider destroying this woman’s life for profit would be a ghastly offense to commit. And you know there are better options.”

“I wish I had the luxury to take the matter of a suitable marital partner as lightly as you have.” William replied, answering the challenge his sister offered him. “The world is much more complicated than you think it to be. There are expectations placed on us from our peers and associates, connections that have taken generations to build. Father, and Grandfather before him, have worked tirelessly…”

“How wealthy are you?” Janetta asked out of the blue. She was not about to accept his generic explanation about how the world operated.

“It is not as simplistic as the pursuit of wealth.”

“You did not answer my question. Put it into terms that I can understand, William. For example, are you richer than the Grant family?” He nodded indifferently. “What about Karoline’s father?”

“I would suppose, but he has a thriving industry that you can’t put an exact value on. Why do you ask this, Janetta? Are you seeking an allowance?”

“Do you have more money than the King of Scotland?” She returned with sarcasm for which he would not justify with a reply. “How did our family become so rich? I find it impossible to believe that dragging sheep across the North Sea could net such a fortune.”

“Make your point, unless you are only expressing anger at me for being honest with you about my true estimation of Cameron Grant.”

What he said was true, Janetta was highly offended by her brother’s remarks about her intended, and she wanted him to hurt like he had done to her. “I’ve been reading papa’s journals lately…”

“Never touch those books!” William’s reaction was too revealing, too violent, and Janetta picked up on his error. In those journals was something he did not want her to know. Leaning forward in her chair, she crossed her arms angry with him and thought about what she would say next.

“There were entries I didn’t understand. Father was in Portugal for over two years and he wrote about people working sugar farms, or something along that vein. His handwriting is difficult to read.”

“Heed my request and let this conversation end here. You will not coerce me into speaking on the subject anymore.” Janetta ran from the room and William assumed it was to her own chamber, but it was not. She went back to the study to reopen the fifth journal she had begun to read earlier that day. The truth of their family fortune was in that ledger and when she returned to her brother forty minutes later, she was a different person.

“Our family has no morality.” She laid the book on his lap open to page with a date circled. William knew what was written there. It was a detailed history about how Luthais D’Arcy had made a large profit, not in cattle or sheep, but in a market few would enter…selling people. There was a demand for these goods, too, from obscure localities to Southern Europe. “You’re concerned about how our peers perceive us? Our family is worse than mercenary. Was our papa really so ruthless that he would exchange life for gold? Please tell me you do not… ”

“No!” To his credit, William had never considered following in his father’s tradition, and quite possibly Anders had been correct when during a debate when he said that it was the influence of his religion tutor that made him turn his back on his father’s ‘ways.’ Years before Luthais died William had knowledge of his dealings, and even then he knew that this was one thing he could never do. William had hid from his sister for many reasons, but one of the most powerful was that he wanted to preserve Janetta’s fond memories of the man. She had adored her papa, and William did not want to take that from her.

“I will make it right, just give me time.”

“You can not buy us integrity, William, nor can you give those people their freedom back. You were just preaching to me about how unseemly Cameron is when it is me that is tainted.”

“Where do you see the weakness?” Frederic asked Cameron as they both stood over a map of the Clan territories that was on a table in front of them.

Cameron pointed to four areas in the Grant area before taking his finger and making a circle in the north-west corner. “There aren’t enough people livin’ there and I don’t see how we can pull any if we needed to.”

“Agreed,” Frederic nodded. “The Frasiers have been fine neighbors, but it’s still never wise to leave a region defen “This map changes too often.” Cameron ran his hand over his face, tired from the long day he had. There was something else that was bothering him, too. “Frederic, I can’t read all the words on this map. Some I can, but it’s plain to see that what Keiron taught me wasn’t enough. What would happen if something important passed into my hands and I couldn’t read it right, or at all?”

Frederic felt for his nephew because what he said was true. For a moment Frederic considered helping Cameron, but they had tried that before and Frederic did not possess the talent needed to teach someone to read. “Didn’t you tell me that Janetta was a good reader?”

“Yes, she read to me when I was in Elgin.” Cameron realized his solution. “I’ll ask Janetta when she comes home. I’m sure she’d do it.”

Frederic smiled a bit to him self satisfied that his nephew not too proud to acknowledge that he needed to seek help, and that he did not show hesitancy about asking his future wife for her aid. “When does she come home?”

“Two days. She’s at sea right now.” Cameron continued to look at the map but his mind was elsewhere until Frederic spoke again.

“Go to her. Be there when she arrives.”

“We have so much to get done so you can go home to Urquhart. I can’t keep askin’ you to stay longer.”

“I have no plans. Cameron, do listen to this advice.” Frederic did not continue until he had his nephew’s full attention. “Don’t wait, thinkin’ that she’ll be there waiting for you when you can find a chance to make time for her. You will regret it.”

“Is that what happened to you? Did you wait too long?” Cameron knew this subject was taboo, but his uncle almost seemed ready to talk about it.

“Yes. The man who thinks he has all the time in the world is a fool.”

Somber was the voyage home to Scotland, and Elisabeth did not understand what had occurred between William and Janetta to bring about such darkness. She imagined it was most likely connected to Cameron and hoped that William had not outright refused to allow his sister to marry the man, but with information being scarce she could only assume. Her friend was ill on the first day out to sea, but even after her vomiting had stopped she refused to come out onto the deck. Janetta stayed in her bed, spoke little and ate almost nothing. Elisabeth spent a great deal of time on deck speaking with the Captain and First Mate to allow William privacy to comfort his sister to no avail. It was as if Janetta was grieving and no amount of reason penetrated her.

Since the age of ten, Janetta had not allowed another person to ever see her cry, but she came close when William informed her that Cameron was waiting on the dock after they had dropped anchor. She felt guilty and dirty for having accepted his offer of marriage, and had she known she about her family’s history she would have never exposed Cameron. Her admiration for him would have not allowed it.

“Leave us be,” Janetta said as she took her brother’s hand in hers, fighting the urge she had to shed tears in public. “I couldn’t live with myself if I deceived him into marrying me by withholding what I know. I will end it.”

William’s past confidence failed him, and he shared the shame she had been carrying since the truth came to light. He could no longer convince himself with certainty that the Scots, whom he did not hold in the highest of esteem, were not the better people after all. They may be simpler by design than other cultures, but their sense of honor was strong and the best of qualities men could hold. “Will you let me tell him? It’s my place.”

“No. I’m not a coward.” Janetta grasped her brother’s hand tighter. “Help me off, William.”

“Janetta,” William said while feeling more guilt then he had ever known before. “Let me tell him because I have deceived you.”

Nearly two hours passed while Janetta waited alone in her room as William spoke with Cameron. All the illusions she had built up over the years lay shattered at her feet and all she had left was an emptiness that she could not imagine ever filling. Her spirit was broken by more than just knowing that she had to give Cameron his freedom back.

She had never thought herself superior to the people who lived near her, but she had thought herself blessed. Janetta now saw that this was not true. God would never sanction blessings to people who sold souls as if they were animals. It went against everything moral. In her mind, she did not see herself innocent due to her ignorance of the situation, and despite William’s reassurances that he could bring honesty to their family name, she knew this was not enough. They were frauds through and through.

Often in the darkest hour we can see the clearest and Janetta she thought back to childhood, her vision was intensified to a point where the truth was glaring at her. Grandfather D’Arcy insisting that everyone in the house speak English so the family might instill a trust in the Scots that the D’Arcy’s had no secrets to hide. Janetta not being allowed to play with the other children, only William. Her family treating the residents of Elgin like dirt at times, Wallace still did. This mortified her to no end. If her father had not taught her to read, she would have never known what he did. Janetta considered that would be worse because of the people she would have hurt unintentionally.

William confessed to the man more than was necessary. He did it with such candor that Cameron had forgotten the past insolence he had been shown and spoke to William without animosity. Luthais D’Arcy’s transgressions were heinous, but they were his offenses and not his children’s. Yet Cameron could understand what William explained as Janetta’s reaction to her discovery, how she felt she was guilty by association. He would have had the same reaction. But, there was a difference between how Janetta handled the news and how Cameron would have dealt with such a discovery. She withdrew thinking herself soiled, and he would fight to prove his merit.

The two men parted ways after William told him where his sister was. They were not friends but they did finally understand each other better as Janetta once hoped they would. William’s eloquent language did not overshadow Cameron’s more basic logic and although the only common denominator between them was Janetta, it was enough.

So caught up in her own musing was Janetta that she did not hear the door open, but his voice she did recognize when he said her name. Janetta now had to face Cameron. Her coloring was the same as when her brother helped her off his ship, pale and withdrawn. Cameron wondered if this was brought on by the sea travel or due to what she learned while in Norway. He did not wait for an invitation but knelt beside her as she sat on the edge of her bed, wishing he knew the right words to say like she often did.

“Yours is not the only father to have done wrong,” was what passed through his lips.

“Did William not tell you? I will bring nothing but disgrace in the minds of everyone you hold dear. It is far too serious a matter to be ignored, especially for you.” Janetta turned her head from him. She did not want him to see how painful her next statement was for her to make. “I have to release you from your promise.”

“Your brother told me things I want to forget, but I’ll not let you release me because of it.” Cameron brought both of his hands to her face, gently forcing her to look back at him. “I’ve not changed my mind. I’d marry you tomorrow if you’d agree.”

“I won’t allow my family to destroy you.” Shaking her head, Janetta removed his hands from her.

“Then marry me.” Although Janetta not allowing him to touch her stung, Cameron was not going to give up so easily. “Have I told you about the Grant forefather that betrayed the King bringin’ about the needless deaths of thirty kinsmen? Or the one that burnt his wee daughter in front of a church ‘cause he thought she was possessed by a demon? I can tell you more if you want, but it all ends the same. None of us are without blood on our hands.”

“You had no control over those incidents.”

“You didn’t either!” He stressed before standing. Janetta thought he was preparing to leave, but he was not. Cameron sat next to her on the bed. “I guess you could go throw yourself on the mercy of the church.” Janetta frowned at his suggestion. “You’d make a bad nun.”

“Don’t make light of this, please.”

“I’m not. Janetta, the last clatter I heard ‘bout your family was that your brother made his riches in spices. Right now we have a new King and troubles brewing to the south. If it ever comes out, we’ll face it. I’m not afraid, so why are you?”

“How you can have any respect for me now I will never understand.”

“Your brother said some good things you should have heard. They only made my respect for you stronger. Why won’t you believe me? I am unchanged about you.” He asked her his next question quietly. “Do you still love me?”

“Yes. That was never the difficulty I had.” Janetta adored this man sitting to her right. On that fateful evening in Oslo when she asked her brother his opinion of Cameron, she had already determined that she was not going to wait a year to marry him. Time was too precious to squander.

Cameron took her hand and laced his fingers with hers. Having heard Janetta confirm that she cared for him, he knew they were not without hope. “Trust me.”

William bent over picking up some coins on his bedchamber floor that he assumed dropped out when his trunk was brought it. It was the strangest feeling he had coursing through him at this time, it was almost liberating and he had no idea why. Their home was in chaos, which thankfully Elisabeth took upon herself to set in order without demanding a long, drawn out explanation about what was happening. William could not believe her patience when it came to him and was determined to make it up to her one way or another. Cameron Grant was at this moment in his sister’s bedroom, something he did not want to think about, trying to convince Janetta to change her mind about ending their engagement. The same engagement that a few hours ago William was not entirely sure he was sad to see over. But when he started taking to the man about Janetta and how her temperament was going to be her biggest obstacle to overcome, William finally realized what she had been saying all along. She really did love this man, and the younger Grant was her choice. Janetta could live with the disgrace she felt in their father’s dealings, but she would give up everything she wanted so it would not hurt Cameron. It was at that point that William started listening to the man.

He was different from his brother Keiron in obvious ways, but William was beginning to believe this was not necessarily bad. Cameron was more open with his opinions, and quicker to state them. Without prompting, William found himself speaking freely back to him without cautiously choosing the delivery of his words, which was not in his character. Like Janetta, the shame of what his father had done bore on him and he admitted this to a man that was practically a stranger. He probably gave more detail than he should have, but once the words started they would not stop.

Hearing someone approach outside his door, William opened it thinking it might be Elisabeth with the food she had told him he was going to eat. Instead his sister stood there solemnly with Cameron at her side, and William lost that liberating feeling he had just experienced as he prepared to hear what she had come to tell him.

“I am going to marry Cameron tomorrow evening in the church at his family’s home. I want you to be there.”

“Of course.” William was not surprised by her declaration after witnessing Cameron’s steadfast devotion to his sister. “I will have to return the next day. There is much work to catch up on that absolutely requires my attention. You will not be offended if I stay a short time?”

“No, not at all.” Janetta approached her brother and wrapped her arms around him. She knew he was responsible for keeping her from making the mistake of letting the man she loved go. Cameron explained parts of the conversation he had had with William, exposing her brother’s efforts to make the situation right. Janetta was not quite ‘happy’ yet, but she could not forget the past few days and it would take time for the pain to fade. “Thank you from my heart.”

“You will be fine.” William whispered to her. “He is not exactly as I thought him to be. I wish you the best.”

“Take care of Elisabeth, William. Offer her a respectable position in this home, one she deserves.”

“I will.”

God’s Will According to Man.

The priest held Janetta’s left hand in his own as he took a small band of gold and pressed it against her thumb.

“In the name of the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” He said as he touched the first three fingers on her hand. With an “Amen” he slipped the ring, embedded with a ruby, sapphire, and diamond on her forth. The stones represented the heart, the heavens, and indestructible love.

She turned her head with confidence from the priest to face Cameron with the loveliest smile, breaking into a large grin when he leaned down and kissed her before it was time. If their euphoria about what was happening around them were not obvious, then it would never be. Cameron and Janetta disguised nothing before the four witnesses they had invited to their nuptials.

William watched as Cameron received his blessed wedding ring. Just this morning he had given Janetta her pick of the lot of family jewelry. Not surprisingly, she cast aside all of the D’Arcy pieces, instead settling on their Grandfather’s braided ring from their mother’s side of the family. In the spirit of acceptance, he made the same offer to Cameron but the man had already purchased what he wanted for Janetta when he had been in Edinburgh two weeks earlier.

As the priest tied his sister’s wrist to her soon to be husbands with a band of cloth, William’s eyes wandered to the few others allowed, no privileged, to participate in the ceremony. Elisabeth stood next to him with a gracious countenance about her person, her stare affixed to the couple. Tomorrow she would return to Elgin with him and they would need to come to some sort of agreement, but today he would not think on that. Today was Janetta’s day.

Frederic and Keiron were the only others in the church, both reverently still in their posture. William studied the man he considered a friend and he wondered how different this evening might have turned out had Keiron been in Cameron’s place. The wedding might not have even happened, he did not know. If Keiron harbored any regret, William was unable to detect it this day. The sound of the priest chuckling encouraged William to turn back to Janetta, but just before he did, he noticed that Keiron was not looking at the couple as he had thought, but at a large cross that hung on the wall off to their left. For reasons unknown, William found this disturbing.

The priest had been ribbing Cameron that now was the time he could kiss his bride, and kiss her he did. Perhaps it was a bit longer than would be considered appropriate but it was their wedding after all. They parted with damp lips and new titles, that of husband and wife. As his final duty, the priest untied their wrists and had them to turn around to face their families.

William smiled. Now that it was over, he vowed to himself to give nothing but support to his sister and her husband, never to question her choice again. Perhaps Elisabeth had been right when she said that God had a way of taking care of things.

The small party retired to the third floor of the castle for a quiet celebration in the common room. Elisabeth, Janetta, and Cameron carried most of the conversation that was to be had, and after a late supper was finished it was time to retire. Frederic grimaced before calling his nephew aside. He was dreading what he was about to do.

“I’m afraid I’m all you have, Cameron.” Frederic looked incredibly uncomfortable as he silently cursed Fergus for taking his family home to Urquhart three days too soon. He would have to give Cameron the talk because he readily saw that he was the best alternative when compared to Keiron or William. “Be careful with her, she’s a wee lass.”

When what his uncle was referring to dawned on Cameron, his objective became the same as Frederic’s—to end this as soon as possible.

“Do you have any questions?” Frederic asked. Cameron shook his head a little too adamantly in response. Above all else he did not want his uncle explaining intimate relations to him on his wedding night.

“Good!” Frederic patted his nephew on his arm. “Good man.” The education of Cameron Grant was officially over, and only eight words of advice were needed to accomplish the task. Janetta’s talk went differently, as she was the one talking as opposed to Elisabeth.

“Well, he hasn’t,” Janetta explained to the astonishment of her friend. Elisabeth was almost tempted to ask her how she knew this, but a voice inside told her that Janetta had probably just asked Cameron. “Of course, I haven’t. But really, we will figure it out. I believe that discussing it beforehand will only make me fret needlessly.”

William walked his sister to her door to say his goodbye. He doubted she would be awake when he and Elisabeth left in the morning. When they stopped, his sister sighed with a mischievous grin. “This isn’t my door, William.”

“Oh.” He had taken her to the room she had stayed in when they were last here. They turned around and he caught sight of the silver insignia she had pinned over her left breast. She was a Grant now.

“Mine is on the other end of the hall.” Locking arms they took slow steps until they reached Cameron’s room. There were not many words that needed to be said by William, but Janetta had something most important she wanted to share with him.

“I love you, William.”

“Don’t move, Janet.” Cameron said to his wife as he lay inside of her. He had hoped that by staying still he could gain them more time. What he was feeling was the most incredible mix of overwhelming sensation he never wanted to end, but he was aware enough to know it would not last much longer. “Do you hurt?”

“No,” she answered breathlessly abiding by his request, but not desiring to. She had been correct; there had been nothing to fret over needlessly. Maybe it was because neither of them knew exactly what to expect that they just did what came naturally to them, and it was not frightening.

Janetta’s curiosity had always been a curse and a blessing to her. Opening her eyes she looked upon Cameron’s face in the brightness of the room and made a memory that was burned into her mind. His expression was that of peaceful concentration with his mouth parted to allow for breathing, and dark lashes lying against his tanned skin. Her hands ran over his taunt shoulders brought on from the stress of his holding his body weight so he would not harm her with it, and she could feel his skin prickle under her fingertips when she touched him. Arching her back to raise off the bed so she might kiss his chest, Janetta unknowingly drove him deeper into her and Cameron could hold back no more. The marriage was consummated while Janetta watched the changing expressions on her husband’s face.

Janetta was the first to awaken late the next morning, her bare back against his chest and a heavy arm draped around her. For a while she did not stir as her mind replayed her strongest remembrances from the night before. They had been well matched in the inquisitiveness of each other’s bodies, and when he brought her to a peak the first time Cameron took his turn to watch her reaction.

Eyeing a water pitcher across the room, Janetta slipped from under his arm and got out of bed to get a drink. The pitcher was empty and her only alternative was the leftover wine they had in the room. After a few sips, she felt the need to use the chamber pot. Walking past the bed, she found him awake and watching her.

“Cover your ears, Cameron. I need to use the chamber pot.” She asked with an urgent grin on her lips. He was amused by her embarrassment about his hearing her urinate considering Janetta was standing without a stitch of clothing on at the foot of their bed. He covered her ears despite her lack of logic, and she talked to him during this time until he reminded her that he could not hear her.

“I said I was starving.” Janetta laughed as she removed his hands from his ears when she was finished and had replaced the heavy material over the pot. Although he had hoped to start their day out differently, Cameron agreed to go fetch them food if she would stay exactly as she was now. He dressed quickly and opened the door only to find that someone had left them food and drink on a table outside in the passageway, enough food to last most of the day. He brought the entire table in.

“What do you keep in your trunk?” Janetta asked him about the footlocker on the side of the bed as she pulled the blanket off the bed to cover herself.

“You can open it. It isn’t locked.” This was not the trunk where he kept his clothes and boots, but the one where he put his dearest possessions. The first thing she noticed once the lid was up was the neatly folded shirt he had worn during his titling ceremony. He had obviously never washed it, because it appeared the same as it had when he went to change out of it. Janetta removed it carefully and continued searching. She next brought out an old knife.

“Papa gave that to me when I was a lad. Malcolm and I used to carve trees with it before I learned how to hunt. I cleaned my first hare with it.”

The next article that caught her attention was a piece of rough sawed wood. Cameron hesitated a little before telling her what it was. “This is a piece of the first practice shield I ever broke against Frederic.” After she asked for clarification he went into more detail. “When we duel, we use wooden shields and if you break the other man’s shield, it counts as a win for you. Frederic made us earn our wins, and this was from that day.”

Feeling heat in his cheeks rise from admitting this accomplishment, Cameron turned his head and caught the modest bundle she had brought with her from Elgin. “We can go back to your brother’s and get more of your belongin’s.”

“No, I want nothing that was paid for with that money.” Janetta forced a smile. She did not want to ruin their day. “I had to bring some clothes or else be naked, but…” She had truly left it all behind her. The books William had given her, her best gowns except for the one she wore at her wedding because William had teased her that they were spending all of his ‘sheep profit’, even the gifts she had bought Cameron while she was in Norway. Everything she could leave, she did.

Cameron fell silent as he thought about what she had just said and he could not argue her point. Janetta was an honorable woman in his eyes. “As soon as we can, we’ll go get you some fabric or frocks…whatever you need, Janetta.”

Janetta’s smile turned real. “Thank you.” Her attention went back to his trunk and she brought out another shirt.

“My sister made that for me when I was thirteen, maybe?” Watching her hold the shirt out in front of her, he could tell that she wanted it. “Put it on. It should fit.”

Letting the blanket she had wrapped around her fall to the floor, Janetta stood and slipped his shirt over her head. The hem of it fell to her knee. Bringing the sleeve up to her nose, she inhaled its sent before she began rolling it in the same manner he did this morning. “It smells like you.”

Not long afterward, the shirt smelled like them.

Chapter 9

William D’Arcy was not a neglectful man. The prestigious care he gave his sister was certainly evidence of this. When he inherited the responsibility of her custody, one of his first acts as guardian was to grant Janetta far more privileges then his parents had allowed. He had encouraged her to speak her opinions to him, and to better her mind with more study. When he was younger and the tutors were in residence, Janetta had at times been allowed to sit in the same room as him but not participate in the educational process except to learn to read. William was proud of her knowledge, and had not realized how much she had comprehended until after his father died.

Luthais had been covetous of his son’s attention, and did truly want to see him thrive. The father believed that this required constant monitoring whenever he was available until a time when William was old enough to travel with him. Luthais was selective about those who came in contact with his son for he had invested a great deal of effort molding him into his own image. He would have been devastated to know that William’s first order of business once he inherited all was to cease any contact with the individuals who participated in the immoral act of enslaving others for their own means.

This act spoke volumes about the young man’s character, but not all the lessons of his father would be so easily cast aside. William had few other role models from whom he could compare his own actions to; therefore his father was used as an archetype. Luthais D’Arcy was not without a few redeeming qualities, but he was most particular about order and control. A meticulous decision-maker, the father taught the son that haste rarely produced favorable results and if he bent to the demands of others it would be viewed as a weakness. Forethought was always the best path to take.

When William was a lad, D’Arcy Keep was run with precision and an example were the lists made by Luthais, outlining each day’s regime. These were especially helpful when he was gone from home for extended periods. Janetta had the good fortune to be under her mother’s direction and her list was short and with minimal detail, but her brother’s expectations were set higher. William did not rebel against his father’s wishes for he too had a certain affinity for orderliness that would follow-through into adulthood.

Even their mother did not do sentiments such as ‘I love you’ in their household. As far as he could remember, Janetta was the first person to ever say those words to William. When she said it, he did not know how to react for he did not think men were allowed to repeat such things, after all his father and the other men he knew never did. There was only one exception William could recall where he heard a man make a declaration of tenderness public. On the day they returned from Oslo, Cameron Grant admitted to him that he loved Janetta without any sign of embarrassment. For his sister’s sake he was glad for it, but that confession made William uncomfortable because he did not know if it was right.

William loved two people in the world, Janetta and Elisabeth. The love was very different, but it was sincere in both cases and left unsaid. He had no idea of the power those words ‘I love you’ could hold and this was a true loss for him because not only were they potent but they could change the future. In place of vocalizing the emotion, he would do acts for them that he theorized would convey what his mouth would not. For Janetta he would tease and challenge her, allowing her to be herself. William was the person who bought her a bow because she had mentioned once how much she would like one. And for Elisabeth he would hold her hand when they were alone talking, and make sure a fire was lit in his room even when he felt it was too warm because he knew she became chilled easily.

After returning from his sister’s wedding the lack of sleep he and Elisabeth had been living with for over a week caught up with them, and they agreed to retire early that night both dreaming within minutes of lying down on his bed. There was still much left for him to tell Elisabeth, but opportunities for them to have any privacy since leaving Oslo had been rare. There was always tomorrow.

When he woke this morning to see Elisabeth still next to him for the first time, William’s decision to ask her to marry him was made as he gathered her closer to him. It just happened in a flash, his awareness that he would not give up Elisabeth to fulfil his father’s request. There was nothing real or imagined that could tempt him including the generosity of Anders Jonsen. William contemplated his next step and decided he would write a letter with his rejection of the man’s offer today so he could come to Elisabeth with closure on that subject and give Anders adequate time to find other arrangements for his daughter Karoline.

William went into Elgin without waking Elisabeth to oversee the loading of cattle Keiron had commissioned him to take to France on the following daybreak. The man who had been first mate on his last voyage would captain the boat and William wanted to go over his instructions once again in the name of caution. When this had been completed to his satisfaction, he made good on his promise to himself and went to the building he owned near the docks to write his letter.

Jorgen made a call mid-afternoon to his cousin while he was still in Elgin. There had been no contact between the family since William had returned from Norway and an interesting rumor had reached Jorgen’s ears that he desired confirmation of.

“Well met, William,” Jorgen greeted in his easy style. “Too busy for an old friend?”

“Come in. Actually, I was about to go to your home to speak with you and your father.”

“Father is in foul temper. I wouldn’t go to him if I was you.”

“Why?” He believed Wallace to always be foul, but William was curious as to the cause of his distress this time.

“Today he’s angry about being old.” Of course this was a bold faced lie, as were most of the words out of Jorgen’s mouth, but he did it with such charm that it was accepted without a second thought. The truth was that he had a visitor at the home that he did not want William to meet. “How was Oslo?”

“Interesting. I always enjoy going there.”

“Everyone is in good health? I imagine your sister is quite a handful after a trip like that.” Jorgen’s slightly veiled slur at Janetta was mild compared to what he really wanted to state. There was not thing about her that he could reflect on kindly, never was, for Janetta always looked at him with cautious expressions that he interpreted as skepticism. Every time they met he felt like she was daring him to make a mistake, almost like a cat ready to pounce on a mouse. Of course, Jorgen knew himself to be smarter then Janetta so it was not that he feared her. Rather it was that he simply detested her because he believed her pompous to think she would ever be clever enough to be a threat to him. They had had their verbal battles in the past, but since William inherited his father’s fortune he took up the practice of holding his tongue. Jorgen was aware of the alliance of the siblings and did not want to offend the brother by slandering his sister. He and Wallace depended too much on the generosity of William.

“Janetta did very well, and she is the reason I wanted to speak with you and Wallace. I should probably wait to tell you though, I wouldn’t want to insult your father by not delivering the information firsthand.”

“My father gets provoked when it rains.” Jorgen laughed. “I wouldn’t worry over Wallace D’Arcy because we both know there is no pleasing him, but if you prefer to listen to him rant about something that cannot be altered by all means go. I’ve already heard my share for the day therefore I think I will wait outside so you can give Father your full concentration.”

Smiling, William needed no more encouragement to avoid his uncle, particularly on this day. Going against propriety, he shared with his cousin the recent changes that had taken place. “Two days ago Janetta married Cameron Grant. Neither desired a public wedding and that is why I did not come to issue you an invite, which I hope you will not take offense to. We traveled to Grantown on Spey the morning after we arrived at port so they could be married in Cameron’s church.”

“I take no insulted, but I have to ask you a question. Why did they not wait as you instructed?” Jorgen would relay this unfavorable account to his father as soon as he returned home. It was Wallace’s curiosity that had sent his son out to William this day despite Jorgen’s preference to stay at home.

“There was no need to delay the inevitable because they were both certain of their choice.” William chose not to confide in Jorgen any of the details concerning Janetta’s unearthing the skeletons in the D’Arcy family closet that almost caused her to end the engagement with Cameron. Some things were meant to be private and this assuredly was one. The two men conversed on the topic for a while longer before William asked him if he was available during the upcoming week to conduct errands for him. When Jorgen answered in the affirmative, William invited him to join him at the keep so he could retrieve what he needed.

Like William, Elisabeth had used her day to take care of work neglected since their return to Scotland including unpacking her trunk. As she went about her menial task her mind rehashed all that had occurred during the past month, but her thoughts kept being interrupted by the present. With Janetta was now living at the Grant stronghold, she and William would need to discuss what duties she would assume, if she were to stay. They had intended to talk last night, but after their supper both were far too tired to hold an intelligent conversation and it was mutually agreed upon that they would postpone the nights activities until today.

Once Elisabeth had removed her clothing from the trunk she took out her pebble jars to set them to their proper places. Removing additional stones to mark the days they were at sea and those since their return, she transferred them into her counting receptacle before placing the extras away. Then it hit her, and Elisabeth did nothing but stare at the jar until she found the courage to pour out the contents on her bed. When she reached the number thirty she paused. There were still more stones to be counted.

Leaving everything where it was, Elisabeth walked over to the looking glass in her chamber to catch her own image, tears threatening to fill her eyes. She could make arguments to herself that her bleed could be off because of what happened last month, but Elisabeth knew this was not the truth. She and William had been together only once since that event occurred, on the thirteenth day afterward. It obviously had been enough. Other signs were present that until now Elisabeth had not connected. Her breasts were tender, she was exhausted even after sleeping, and this morning when she sneezed she felt a tightening in the lower part of her abdomen that felt like a band wrapped around her.

Was God giving her an opportunity to prove true on her promise to Him, Elisabeth asked herself? If this were indeed a test, this time she would pass it. Still looking in the mirror, the ruby cross that hung around her neck drew her attention and a memory appeared that convinced Elisabeth that she had already been given an omen of what was to come. With vivid detail she recalled Janetta stopping her brother before William put the necklace around her neck because she wanted Elisabeth to see how the small, inner cross reflected light against his palm.

There was more than just as baby growing inside of her, a restlessness she had long forgotten was beginning to build again. She was positive that God had given her a second chance to make amends for past errors in judgment, a gift of sorts to prove her worthiness to do what was right. The devastation she had felt just a minute ago moved aside for determination to take its place, weakness cast out for strength. The longer Elisabeth stared at her image, the clearer her mind became until an epiphany occurred of such depth that the imaginary shackles she had placed on herself began to breakaway.

William was thankful he had not met Elisabeth as he made his way to his bedroom, because he did not want to have to explain his actions. Locking his door behind him, he went to his armoire and opened it. On the bottom under several blankets was a wide, flat box that he retrieved and placed on his lap after sitting down. Inside was a king’s ransom in loose gemstones. William knew exactly what he was searching for and it did not take him very long to find two diamond that were closely matched in size and cut. All he needed now was a stone to place between them, and this he discovered when he picked up a square cut ruby with his fingers. The makings of Elisabeth’s ring were coming together.

Returning to where he had left his cousin waiting, William took his seat behind a table and immediately gave him instructions about what he wanted made. Jorgen shifted into a more comfortable position in his chair, his purse a little heavier than when he arrived at the keep, and strongly suggested William use the jeweler he knew in Melrose instead of Glasgow. He claimed that it was the workmanship he was concerned about but in reality he was not the most welcome man in Glasgow due to a few gambling debts he had yet to pay. Once William agreed, they went on to other business not noticing the female figure passing by like a ghost in the hallway.

“Anders would be proud. You know how he loves a good bargain.” Jorgen said as he pointed to a letter in front of him. It was a dispatch William had received with a ridiculously low price for a boat he wanted to buy and use to run along the Scottish coast to save on his larger vessels. The previous owner was in a financial predicament and was more than willing to sell it for half its value. “You are going to take the offer aren’t you?”

“Of course, I’m no fool. A deal like that doesn’t come around very often. Not only does it serve my purpose, I don’t expect it to be much of an inconvenience once I bring her home to Elgin.”

“What are you going to do with the old one?” Jorgen had an interest in his cousin’s old vessel, especially if it was going to remain docked often. Perhaps William would lend it to him so he could do a bit of traveling. Granted, William would also have to lend him some capitol to finance the crew, or he could just take it if refused.

“I don’t know yet.”

“You could keep both.” William did not commit to an answer. “You’re in a good mood today.”

“Wouldn’t you be?” William held up the letter they were referring to. He did not quite have the confidence to indulge the real reason for his light heartedness to his cousin, so he allowed him to believe that the cause was the boat offer instead of his decision about Elisabeth.

“I suppose so, if I had the good fortune to be in your position.”

William placed a different sealed letter on the table. “Can you fathom a way to get this message to Anders with haste?”

Jorgen thought briefly before producing his answer. “Haral McBride is taking to sea next week out of Edinburgh port for Bergen. It will get you close and I’m sure that with a little incentive we can get your message the rest of the way.”

“I want it there quickly. This is very important, Jorgen.”

“’Tis possible.”

Elisabeth stepped away from the partially closed door that led to the room William and Jorgen were occupying. She had not seen what had been taking place, but she heard their conversation. Turning, she retraced her steps back to her room with entirely the wrong impression and it sickened her.

At some point during that warm August day Elisabeth Benoit was reborn back into that fourteen year old girl who had the good sense to leave her family at Rouen in search of a better life. That child’s bravery inspired her and now left her wondering at what point in her life she abandoned her faith in herself. Was it during the years she lived with Mademoiselle Peirot in Paris where she realized her lowly place in society? Or had it been here in Scotland where she allowed herself to become nothing more than an amusement for a wealthy man? Perhaps it was a combination of both but regardless of the origin Elisabeth had softened to a degree that she lost her self-preservation.

Why she joined William for supper that evening she could not exactly say. Sitting across from him at the table Elisabeth’s mind finalized her plan to leave while he talked and she pretended to listen. Numbly she would cast him a half smile when he looked like he was expecting it, but she had nothing except coldness for William anymore. He would get his deal and she would get the hell out of Scotland. Willa’s offer to come live at Urquhart if she ever needed a home might have tempted Elisabeth had she not found herself pregnant. She would not bring that sort of embarrassment to the woman and quite frankly she did not want to have to explain her condition to those who knew her. Scotland was no longer an alternative for her despite how much she had grown to be fond of the people. Elisabeth would return to her own homeland and find a situation there. She did have a little money saved that would help get her established, and if she was very cautious it should tide her over until employment could be found.

William would unknowingly provide the transportation that was an expense she would not have to incur. While he and his sister had been dealing with whatever had gone wrong between them on the voyage home from Oslo, Elisabeth had spent time with the first mate up on deck. He was a dull man, but free with information about himself. This is how she learned about his leaving for France tomorrow morning before daybreak. She was already packed. Before she left, Elisabeth had one question she wanted answered by William although his explanation would not change anything to her. She only wanted to hear his reply for curiosity sake.

“William,” Elisabeth said with such calm that it surprised her. “Now that Janetta has married I can’t stay here without a duty of some type. I know this is not proper, and an unemployed woman in your home will raise suspicions. That is, if you wish for me to stay.”

“Stay!” William reached over the table and held her hands. He was so tempted to ask her to marry him at this very time, but restrained himself because he desired to wait for the ring. William wanted the proposal to be something out of the ordinary for both of them. If luck were with him then by the time Jorgen returned with the ring his new boat would also be at port in Elgin. His plan was to take her out on it and ask her on the water. With a smile William was sure was a dead give away about the changes he had occurred lately, he made up a white lie that would only have to last a short time. “I had hoped you would take over running the household. Would this be agreeable to you for the time being?”

Elisabeth nodded her head while producing another fraudulent smile. Perhaps she should have felt disappointment at his answer, but it had been what she had expected. Not much later she made the excuse that she was not feeling well and needed to go to her bed. William walked her there with his arm wrapped around her and kissed her goodnight at her door. Elisabeth did not acknowledge that he kept his arm in place when they passed a houseworker in route to her room. As their lips parted she whispered a silent goodbye to him and at three in the morning Elisabeth left the house for the docks of Elgin. Cloud cover blocked out much of the moonlight, yet even in the relative darkness she could clearly see her way.

Jorgen D’Arcy did not require much sleep to survive, a few hours here or there usually was enough for him, so his being up at four in the morning carefully mincing the seeds of the Del plant into a powder was not a shock to his father.

“I can’t sleep.” Wallace sighed as he entered into the chamber his son used for his study with a mug of hot water in his hand.

“What’s the problem, Father?” Jorgen replied without stopping his task.

“My mind won’t shut up and my gut aches.”

“Did you drink any alcohol in the past few hours?”

“No.” Wallace walked over to the table his son was working at. “What’s that?”

“It’s the seed of the Del plant.” Jorgen laid down his knife and took the mug from his father. Crossing the room he opened a cabinet that had shelves lined with different jars. Some of the containers were painted black to protect the contents inside from the light, but most were clear. He carefully selected two before he continued his narrative. “It’s an interesting little plant. When the seeds are ingested in a moderate amount they produce a sensation of elation. But when too much is consumed, they slow the respirations and cause what I can best describe as a waking dream state. How long do you want to sleep for, Father?”

“I haven’t slept at all tonight so for a while.” Wallace quickly grew bored of watching his son measure out the substances he was getting him and turned his attention to the sleeping form of the man dressed like a monk sprawled out on a lounger. “Did he get those for you?”

“Aye. Smith claims we can raise the plants here so next spring Cora’s flower garden may grow in size if his claims are true.”

“Just as long as he leaves at night and no one see him, I don’t care. We don’t need a heretic monk connected to us to make our lives any more miserable.”

“Excommunicated monk, Father. There is a difference. Here,” Jorgen gave him his mug back. “No alcohol after you drink this.”

“Come with me to talk, I am troubled.” Rolling his eyes, Jorgen covered his work with a fine mess material and followed his father into their sitting room. The acquaintance he only knew by the name of Smith would not be waking any time soon. “I’m in an outrage that Janetta and that damn Grant married this soon. They were supposed to wait a year! For all we know Janetta could be fat with child already and where does that leave me?”

“A grand uncle?”

“Very funny you idiot!” Jorgen broke out laughing for several minutes while his father cursed at him. Wallace was too easy a target to infuriate. “You bloody know what I mean.”

“I do understand your meaning Father, so you need to calm down. Are you concerned because your thought has become more complicated earlier than you would have preferred? And don’t remind me that it’s only a thought and not a plan. Is this what has you in so much turmoil?”

“Hell, yes. Say a week ago if William had fallen off his boat then everything would have been mine. I liked thinking about that because it was simple. Now I have to worry about Janetta spawning a male child who will be one more barrier between my father’s fortune and me. You know I’m not talking about pin money here, Jorgen! I’m talking about enough wealth to never have to worry for the rest of our lives. I doubt even you could recklessly spend it all.”

“You’re talking about murder, Father.” Jorgen replied blandly not wanting to disclose how much he had been deliberating his father’s thought since it was told to him.

Wallace twisted his face in displeasure. He hated it when Jorgen said that word because it spoiled his fantasy. The droplet of conscience he had left recognized that murder was wrong, even when it was a means to end his lifelong suffering of doing without. “I’m going to bed!”

As he watched his father exit the room, Jorgen’s mind became awhirl with possibilities. Whereas Wallace did prefer simplicity whenever possible, his son had a taste for the elaborate. He needed the stimulation that obscure circumstances offered him because little else held a challenge. His memory was foolproof which aided him in keeping his lies straight, Jorgen’s comprehension complete when a subject interested him. A strange mixture of brilliance and destructiveness, his passion and understanding for the discipline of herbs could have benefited more than his own immediate family, and yet he had no desire for this.

He was born with the mind of science, but the world in general was not ready for the likes of him. A man had to be very careful in exposing his knowledge during these times because to have an undesirable label placed upon him, such as alchemist, heretic or witch, generally meant that death would be quick to follow. Superstition and the church were the great controllers of the masses with prayer as the primary means of health and wellbeing. There were sects of monks that were blessed by the church to study the beneficial properties of plant life. His friend Smith belonged to one of them long ago, but Jorgen was not made of the material necessary to be a monk.

Jorgen controlled his boredom with life in two ways, with herbs and risk. Both gave him entertainment for his mind. Searching for and borrowing Luthais’s will from D’Arcy Keep while William was in Norway had been an enjoyable afternoon spent and reading it was enlightening. The clause he found most interesting was that if William died without an heir and his sister did have a son, the child would indeed inherit all of his uncle’s fortune with the exception of a small sum for Wallace and Jorgen. But if there was no male child the disbursement amounts remained the same, but the beneficiaries changed. Janetta would get the small sum, and Jorgen and Wallace the bulk. Although elegantly written, Jorgen did see a major flaw with the will. It was written on paper and could be easily destroyed. If that occurred the odds were in the favor of Janetta’s husband ending up with everything. Of course, if Janetta died before William, then there would be no disputing whatsoever. Wallace and he would have it all.

Such were the meditations of Jorgen as he returned to his seeds in the other room. Smith was still asleep and he wanted to pick his brain for a little more information because in a few hours Jorgen would need to leave to do William’s bidding.

William spent his morning at home working on finishing up correspondences and mulling over a suggestion a peer of his gave him while in Oslo. Italian art was presently a profitable commodity in the right market, but it was not a certainty. William rolled the idea around in his head between his letter writing and book keeping while the forenoon passed without notice. It was not until a woman brought him food that he realized the brightness of the day outside his window. He curtly thanked her but she did not move. Not knowing her name, William asked her if she was in need of him.

“Elisabeth is not answerin’ her door. Mary tol’ me that you said she was ill last night and I was wantin’ to check on her.” The woman knew it was against the rules to open doors to the bedchambers without permission from the family.

“She still hasn’t risen for the day?” The woman shook her head. “I will check on her. Thank you.”

Intuition is often thought of as a gift from God to warn us of impending darkness so we might be better prepared or avoid danger all together. As William stood outside of Elisabeth’s room waiting for an answer to his knock, his instincts told him to be prepared for the worse. Not hearing a sound coming from inside, he asked God to let Elisabeth be all right and opened her door. He was at first relieved that she was not there because that meant she was well enough to be up and about. But as he investigated the room more closely, he noticed the open trunk she used to store her belongings, the empty tabletops, and the small picture she had brought with her from Paris missing from her wall. To his knowledge Elisabeth could not read or write, but on her bed was a piece of parchment with the word ‘FRANCE’ written on it.

William rode to the docks and questioned anyone who would listen to him if they had seen her this morning. His had been the only boat docked there at the time, and its destination lined up with hers. No one present could help William until an old man carrying nets walked passed him. He had seen a dark haired woman fitting William’s description before sunrise that morning talking to the captain of William’s boat. He bragged on the captain’s gallantry as he carried her belongings on deck himself before helping her aboard.

It took William three days to finally write to his sister with the news, then he left for Edinburgh to meet the captain when he arrived back in port. The captain passed on a verbal message Elisabeth wanted him to deliver. She said “Tell Janetta that I love her.”

Standing in her vacant room, William did not know what went wrong to make Elizabeth leave in the manner she did. Why had she not come to him if she was distressed, especially to the point of fleeing without a word of goodbye? One night they were sharing his bed and the next night she was gone. If only he had the knowledge about what had occurred in that twenty-four hour period to poison her mind against him. William had enough wealth to buy nearly anything he wanted, but what good was the money when these answers were not purchasable.

The room remained exactly as Elisabeth had left it and after Janetta finished her inspection, she walked over to her brother and slipped her arm around his waist. The month they had been exchanging letters had not satisfied her, but the Grants were hosting several allied Chieftains during that time and Cameron could not bring her to Elgin until this day. Elisabeth had already been gone for five weeks and hope was beginning to run dry that she could be found.

“How many men have you hired to search for her?” Janetta asked as William returned the gesture and wrapped his own arm around her. Seven was his answer.

William had admitted to his sister in his second letter that he had been preparing to ask Elisabeth to marry him before she left and although this might seem like an act to gain sympathy for himself, it was not his intent. He was being honest with her, just as he was when he told Janetta that he took full responsibility for Elisabeth being gone. Janetta would hear nothing of that, but she also did not have all the details of William’s relationship with her friend. Had she, her reaction unquestionably would have been far from kind.

“She will be found” Janetta prophesized as she took another look around the room. The once happy memories of the woman who had been quartered here were now making her sad, and Janetta did not want to add that burden to William. She had come to Elgin to support him, not display her own heartbreak. “Let’s go and find my husband, William. He surely has the horses stabled by now.”

They were near the door when Janetta stopped. “Elisabeth had to have realized that you were going to ask her to marry you.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I saw you kiss her in Oslo.” William’s confusion to her remark was obvious. “Kissing means that your heart is committed. I’m sure Elisabeth knew this, and you must have already informed her that you were going turn down Ander’s offer, correct? I wonder why she didn’t put the two together?”

“I hadn’t told her of my decision about Karoline.”

“Oh.” Not wishing for a confrontation, Janetta squelched her impulse to chastise William for his not giving Elisabeth this very important piece of information that could have bestowed comfort to her. “At least she had to appreciate that you weren’t one of those pathetic rakes that seduce women leaving them with no promises afterward. That she had to know. We had an occurrence like that at the last grievances. Poor Lass, she had no father or brother to defend her honor and the man took advantage of that…more then once. I’d never seen Keiron so livid as he was that day. He sent Cameron out to fetch the worthless knave who came back worse for the wear. They were married right there in the great hall with threats to the man that he would be watched closely.”

William made no response as his sister’s words stung him. He was not afraid of Keiron’s anger or Cameron’s might, but he was afraid that he was no better then the man Janetta had just described with such contempt.

The Ninth Commandment.
Two months later.

Janetta sat cross-legged on their bed wearing his shirt while she watched her husband dress before the dawn. Cameron was leaving on a tour of the southern lands with his uncle that morning, and she was putting on a brave front for his benefit. She knew they would be away at the least a week and even though Cameron had been gone from home before, it was never longer than overnight.

The feelings she had entered their marriage with toward him seemed superficial in comparison to what she had at this moment. Janetta loved Cameron wholly and without reserve. She had very few true fears in her life, but the barely acknowledged warning Elisabeth had given her about the dangers that his life would entail now haunted her, especially at times like this. It was not that Janetta wished him to be anything other than what he was, she had fallen in love with the very thing that now caused her distress, his honor and character. She just wanted a guarantee that he would always return home when his work was done.

Cameron had reassured her during the past few days that he and Frederic expected no trouble where they were going, but they also knew that it was not the most stable region at present. The King and Clan Cameron were at odds, serious odds with each other and he realized that it was just a matter of time before the King would act against them. Their deceased mother’s kinfolk were a different breed then the Grants, ties being severed years ago, and he did not know what to expect from them except that if pushed they would fight with vengeance.

Tucking the end of his belt around itself, he looked up and caught his wife’s eyes. Janetta was being quiet and this almost always meant that she was deep in thought about an issue she was hesitant to speak about. Cameron did not want to leave with her worrying over him and sought to find a way to assure her that all would be well.

“I spoke to Keiron last night. Anythin’ you need that you can’t get yourself, tell Keiron and he will help you. Remember to watch for the rocks if you go ridin’ early because the dew will make them slick.” Janetta nodded her head. “And I wish you’d say somethin’.”

“May I ask why?”

“It would make leaving easier for me.” He replied honestly. Janetta’s emotions were not alone in their growing and changing since they had been together. Like his wife, he loved her wholly and without reserve.

Pointing her finger at him, she gently smiled. “You be careful and come back to me in one piece.”

“I will.”

Eight days had passed and Cameron had still not returned. During his absence Keiron observed Janetta’s change in disposition. She had seriousness about her rarely displayed when her husband was about; more like the person he knew her to be. Keiron did not attribute this to her mourning Cameron’s absence, but rather that Janetta’s true self was being exposed.

The month Janetta was gone during her trip to Norway had not been enough for Keiron to completely come to terms that he was invisible to her, and this truth had been obvious to him since Cameron brought her to their home. Keiron remembered their wedding with clarity. It had been nothing more then a performance of restrain for him, and despite how badly he had wanted to walk out of the service he did not. Instead he focused on the cross hanging behind the bride and groom to bide his time, all the while feeling as if blood was being drained from his veins. Keiron would have married Janetta in a heartbeat if he would have been given the chance, but on the night when Cameron came to him to tell him of his engagement he made a conscious choice to honor their choice without interference from him. Keiron regretted that now.

Time had moved on at a leisurely pace since then and Janetta was becoming more a part of their people with every passing day. And everyday he discovered another aspect about her that brought him to a point where he could barely identify her imperfections. Keiron could see his brother’s influence over Janetta when she would make a brazen comment or engage in an activity that was not fitting of a woman as exceptional as she was. It was not common knowledge amongst the inhabitants of the area, but Cameron held no qualms about exposing his wife to the sport of hunting, and Keiron had personally witnessed him teaching her how to jump while on horseback. He wondered if his brother had any appreciation for the intelligent, thoughtful woman she was, or if Cameron was merely trying to turn her into a female version of himself.

It was alien for Keiron experiencing the conflicting emotions that he had become accustomed to. He did not hate Cameron, in fact he still trusted him with his life and there had been rare occasions when the two were alone that Keiron would fall into the old pattern that the brothers once shared. They had been the closest of all the sons as Malcolm matured into a loner and Gregor was too busy being groomed for the position he would never hold. Yes, he still loved his brother, but there was an underlying resentment also.

Not that many days ago, Cameron had asked him if there was something on his mind because he had not been himself for some time, and Keiron denied any change. If he had one point of contention it would be that Cameron with his effortless personality probably could have had any free woman of his choosing, but he picked Janetta. Even though Keiron realized it was not Cameron’s fault, a part of him was indignant regardless.

Keiron came to appreciate that unrequited love was possibly the most difficult to live with, and when combined with the knowledge that the woman who does not return the affection gives it all to another man, it makes it nearly unbearable. This is especially true when being subjected to their happiness and not giving any indication of how it affects you.

He knew better than to abuse himself by being available for conversation with Janetta in the evenings after supper, but he did it with regardless of the consequences. Keiron listened as she would tell him what she had seen or done that day, and he found that it was no longer difficult to talk back. The three months Janetta had been living under the same roof as him worked miracles on his innate shyness when it came to women. Well, when it came to her. Keiron never considered crossing any boundary with Janetta by making confessions that would do nothing but harm the family, but instead just enjoyed her company for he knew it would end when Cameron came back from his tour with Frederic. ‘Those newly married need their time together’, his uncle had told him, ‘let’s leave them be.’

Keiron was a desperately lonely man who did not have to be, but much to his dismay the only woman he ever felt any affinity to was Janetta. In this way he was like his Uncle Frederic in his inability to see past a single woman who so utterly captured his heart. Keiron did not want to imitate his uncle’s existence and assured himself that he would get past his present predicament, but not tonight. Tonight he was sitting in the corridor with Janetta as she quietly told him the latest about her brother, and Keiron was satisfied with this.

“William has still not heard from her?”

“No.” Janetta’s expression held little optimism. “It’s a large country and Elisabeth could be anywhere.”

“Have you asked him lately to come spend time here with you? It may be good for him to be away from Elgin. Don’t you agree?”

“I agree wholeheartedly. I have asked him recently and he still refuses. I continue to believe the worst part is that William was days from to asking her to marry him, but he delayed for that silly ring to arrive. Had he not…” Janetta held out her hands, “Elisabeth never knew his intentions, and my brother is miserable. Can you conceive a more terrible fate for either of them?”

“No, I can’t.” Keiron replied dryly. Reaching up with his left hand he massaged his forehead in an attempt to ease the headache he often had when the weather turned cool. They were commonplace as he had experienced them since his youth, but this year they were noticeably more intense and not alleviated by former methods he had employed.

“Keiron, does your head hurt again tonight?” Her concern was not lost on him.

“Aye. Jorgen brought me an herbal mixture from Melrose Abbey he thought might help. I’ll try it before I go to sleep. Have you ever heard of the monk’s work there? I don’t think I’ve told you that Malcolm had considered joinin’ them for a time, but he’s better off where he is.”

“I’ve heard of them, yes.” Janetta now knew the reason Jorgen had been in the family quarters this day. They had passed each other in the hallway and spoke briefly as politeness dictated. If her cousin was actually doing a good deed for another human being then Janetta was pleased to hear it, but she was curious how much Jorgen had charged Keiron for his aid. She had no knowledge of her cousin’s interests but if she had Janetta would have warned Keiron not to take anything from Jorgen. Fortunately, Jorgen was true to his word and the herbs were from the Abbey and unaltered.

An hour after they had retired for the night Keiron heard commotion outside his door. It was well past dark so he had not expected his brother to be the man standing in the hallway. Taking off his sword and placing it next to his pack outside his own bedroom, Cameron signaled Keiron that he would join him in his chamber as not to wake Janetta with conversation in the hallway. He did not notice the gravity on his brother’s face when he broke eye contact with him.

“Is it raining?” Keiron asked when Cameron sat down on the bench in his room. He was referring to his brother’s wet hair.

“No.” Cameron refused to tell him that he did not wanted to smell of horse when he came home to his wife, so he and Frederic had stopped to clean up. Cameron began his narrative about their territory straight away because he wanted to get to his wife as soon as he could. Rumor had been circulating that the King was massing troops to go into Cameron land to subdue the people into submission and minor battles had already broken out. He and Frederic saw no evidence of this. “We’ve made it clear to our people that if any of mother’s clan folk come on our land, they need to keep their distance and let us know. The King may try to starve them this winter instead of fight them, makin’ them weak by spring. It wouldn’t be hard to kill their livestock, which could be a problem for us if they come lookin’ for food.”

Cameron was about to disclose more before Keiron interrupted with a condescension he was unprepared for. “You know our stance, Cameron. We’re loyal to the crown. There is not a chance we will assist them, so don’t even think about it because it isn’t going to happen.”

“You don’t need to remind me, Keiron, I spent two years proving that bloody loyalty.” The conversation did not improve from this point and once he had enough of Keiron misinterpreting everything he said, Cameron firmly told his brother that he was leaving and they would continue it tomorrow. He was not going to waste what was left of his evening with Keiron and his unprovoked hostility. Cameron had his hand on his own door when he paused for a full minute before returning to his brother’s room.

“I’ve been ridin’ all day and I’m tired.” He explained sincerely.

“I’ve had a headache this night.” Keiron returned, admitting only what he could. Their apologies were complete and accepted by both.

Janetta swore she heard Cameron’s voice in the hallway but had not been expecting him. Riding after dark with little moonlight could be dangerous on their rocky terrain and not to be done except in dire circumstances. Peering out the door, Janetta saw Cameron emerge from his brother’s chamber, and a huge smile swept her lips exposing her relieved joy at the sight of him. Checking to make sure no one else was present, she left their room and met him halfway.

No words were said as Cameron leaned down to kiss her, his hands cradling her head. Tonight when he and Frederic were so close to home while the sun fell from the sky that nothing was going to stop him from finishing the journey. He loved her and told her so before kissing her more where they stood. His memory had failed him, for as he combed his fingers through her hair, it was softer then he remembered. And when she said that she loved him it sounded sweeter then he could recall. As life reentered his weary limbs while her lips danced against his, the fine line between love and lust began to fade into a despondency that could only find solace in body. His hands moved deliberately down her body to rest on her hips, her warmth felt through the thin material. Basic carnal needs dared him as they had never done before. Cameron met the dare by moving his hands once again under her soft skin to lift her from the floor and into his arms, her body weight pressing against his rapidly growing erection that he knew she could feel against her abdomen. Janetta responded by wrapping her legs tightly around him, her eyes intense with equal want. Lust would reign the victor this night.

“Damn, Janet,” Cameron breathed, his body on fire. Coming down hard on her mouth, his fingers worked their way under the material that separated Janetta skin from his touch until his palms were able to run the length of her back tingling from the friction. A dangerous mix of Scottish boldness and Viking passion rose in her as the surrounds were forgotten and Janetta began to pull his tartan up through her legs so the barrier between them would be gone. Despite their newlywed tendencies to make love in obscure places and reveling in the thrill of it, Cameron was aware that this public space was absolutely off limits. He took them into the privacy of their own chamber as Janetta continued to gather the material. With his knee he closed the door behind them before positioning his shoulders against it

Lifting her away from him, she reached down and took hold of him in preparation for him to enter her very willing flesh. As he lowered her with her legs open on to him, Cameron lost his breath for several seconds; his mouth parted as the sensation of her tightly enveloping him took away the primal need for oxygen. When air again entered his lungs, it was labored and a secondary instinct to the necessity for release. Without needing instruction, Janetta began a rocking motion with her hips against him, her own hands linked behind his neck and her feet positioned against the door for leverage. She knew exactly what she was doing, she was driving Cameron over the edge and the power of the act itself heightened her gratification. With an open mouth, Janetta rested it on the place behind his ear where she could feel his pulse beat against her moistened lips. He had make the mistake in the past of telling her how sensitive that area was to her touch and she took advantage of the knowledge. Cameron responded as she expected, with an urgency to bring her body down harder on his for several strokes until he told her to stop. ‘No’ was her answer and without his support under her backside, she continued driving him into her as she felt him swelling larger. His end was near.

“I’m goin’ to come...” Cameron moaned, balancing on that edge where sexual pleasure was most intense, right before climax. His warning did nothing but encourage Janetta to strengthen her final thrusts with enough vigor that it would leave marks on her inner thighs in the morning. He shuddered and held her close to him as his body emptied all of its reserves into her; the force of his release was so powerful that it was painful for them both. Cameron’s head arched back to rest against the door with his neck extended and eyes closed. It was the single most profound orgasm he had ever experienced made up of eight days of his yearning for her in every way. Time stood still until his senses returned and when fully realized Cameron had but one design in mind, and that was to return the favor.

Twenty minutes later when Cameron was doing pleasing things to his wife that no one should know, Keiron left his chamber fully dressed and full of conviction. His strides purposeful and long, he made his way to the first floor and out a door into the cold night air. The wind gusted with strength setting dead leaves free from their branches, the air heavy with moisture in warning of impending rain. He ignored it all, walking with one purpose and that was to rid himself of a vision he simply could not shake. Cameron had accidentally left Keiron’s door ajar after their apologies to each other earlier and when he went to latch it, he saw Janetta intertwined with his brother in the hallway, her legs encircling him and Cameron’s hands under her shirt. This was the breaking point for Keiron, and he knew he had to stop it now or forever his soul would be lost. Not until he reached the inner sanctum of the holy church did he feel sheltered from the internal demons tempting him with the thought of her; teasing him that she would have chosen him over Cameron. His mind had not slipped so far into the abyss of obsession that Keiron could not distinguish that it was an unrighteous love that he had for Janetta. Lighting a candle placed outside the confessional he stared at the smoke rising from the wick as it dissipated into a faint veil around him.

The priest was always up late at night for he slept mostly in the day. Seeing the beacon of light from across the chamber calling him, he walked slowly to his duty. Once the curtain was pulled and privacy insured, the voice that implored ‘Bless me Father for I have sinned’ was recognizable. The priest liked Keiron’s confessions for they were always effortless to resolve.

Keiron wavered knowing that if he spoke it aloud, it would be real. No one who claimed a kinship to him ever suspected his passion for her because Keiron had turned himself into an accomplished deceiver whenever questioned by his uncles. ‘I never formed much of an fondness’ he told Fergus, and ‘I believe she is better suited for Cameron’ he told Frederic. They had both promised not to say a word to Cameron or Janetta about his past intentions, as did William. Only Keiron knew the truth about his being in love with her, thus his hesitation about confessing it to another. He had almost convinced himself to reconsider his current course when he realized that he was not the only one to know his secret. God could see into the hearts of men.

The priest spoke his required lines and waited for delivery of the confession of sin. He was ill prepared for what came from between the man’s lips after a long period of silence.

“I covet my brother’s wife.”

“Cameron.” Keiron said evenly as he stood in his brother’s doorway early the next morning, grateful that Janetta was not there. There was a thing about this room that sickened him, yet it was more than its physical presence. The room emitted an odor Keiron did not consciously register. It was that of lovemaking. When he had Cameron’s notice he gave him an order which came after a long night of solo deliberation based on the priest’s advice. “I want you to go to Urquhart Keep for the winter, at least. Take your wife with you because you may be away for some time.”


“Peace of mind.” His statement was the truth although he prayed the interpretation would not be taken literally. Keiron believed time and distance from them would help rid him of his inappropriate feelings for Janetta. Cameron suspected nothing, instead assuming that Keiron was speaking in terms of readying the men in case there were troubles from their mother’s clan.

“You could send Frederic. He’s ready to go home to Urquhart.”

“No, you need to go.” Nodded at his own statement, Keiron knew this would be the best for all. “Your men there need attention from you, not Frederic.

Chapter 10
January 2nd 1425

Frederic Grant brushed away the thin layer of snow that had fallen on his shoulders during his ride to Urquhart Keep. It was his tradition to spend every New Year at the place he cherished above all others. The bone chilling cold of winter had never been a deterrent in the past and only once since adulthood had he missed his self appointed holiday due to ice.

He breathed in the scent of the old dwelling, a sentimental habit he had formed long ago and spent just a moment distinguishing between the different scents while he waited for his riding companion to enter. Despite the overwhelming odor of wood burning in the fireplaces, he was certain he detected the essence of Loch Ness welcoming him back. Or perhaps that was wishful thinking on his part because Frederic was a man born of the water spirit. He swam in it, fished it, and the only time he made love was in it.

Urquhart was home. His disappointment had been great when Keiron informed him that he would have to stay at Grantown on Spey through the winter to reestablish a chain of command now that Cameron was Captain of the Guard. Ranks often changed when a new man took command but as Frederic explained to his nephew, he and Cameron shared similar loyalties from the men and very little modification would be required to ensure a smooth transition. The task could be completed in two weeks. Keiron would not reconsider his request regardless of the logic and Frederic laid down his own term that must be met; he would be home at Urquhart permanently when spring arrived.

The past six weeks with only him and Keiron in residence at Castle Grant led Frederic to believe that there might have been another reason for Keiron to be insistent about his remaining, but he did not reflect on it with pride. His nephew sought him out the day after Cameron left for Urquhart, if for nothing else then his company. Within a week, Keiron and he had established an afternoon ritual of training away from the eyes and ears of others. Frederic did not believe it appropriate for the kinsfolk to see him instructing his nephew, their chieftain.

During these sessions Frederic began to see a pattern develop. Every day as Keiron’s body became stronger, so did his manner. He became more forthright in expressing his opinions and thoughts as opposed to the past where he would weight his words so carefully unless moved by emotion. Keiron had always held some degree of self-assuredness but it was not a characteristic people that would necessarily attribute to him. They would always think to say he was a virtuous man before they would say he was a confident leader. This was changing.

Witnessing the alteration in his nephew transpire so quickly forced Frederic to question if he had been negligent toward Keiron in the past. There was no denying that he did not encourage a reliance between the two of them, instead trusting Keiron to come to him when he needed him, but perhaps the younger Grant was not the type of man to impose on others. In hindsight he could rarely remember a time when Keiron sought him or anyone out if he could work through a problem on his own.

Frederic was not a great conversationalist by his own choice, but in the past weeks he made efforts to talk more to his nephew, giving him openings to say what was on his mind. Some opportunities Keiron took, others he left, and once Frederic’s attempt was rebuffed. That was when he raised the issue of Keiron finding a good woman he might have an interest in. He did not ask that question twice.

He breathed in deeply once again, exhaling the air through his parted lips. Yes, Frederic could smell the fragrance of the Loch and the idea of it eased his soul. All would be well in Grantown on Spey during his absence and for a fortnight he would rejuvenate himself with the life that was Urquhart.

William D’Arcy entered through the entry of the Keep for the first time and was immediately motioned by Frederic to join him on a wool ring on the floor.

“If you drip water on the floor,” Frederic warned, “Bev will have you on your knees wipin’ it up.”

“Who is that?”

“The woman who keeps the floor clean.” William glanced at Frederic strangely before shedding his overclothes. The two had been the ideal traveling companions. Neither favored small talk during the journey and was not offended when the other was silent. They had made good time from Grantown on Spey, arriving in early afternoon as expected.

Urquhart Keep was half the size of Castle Grant and the original seat of the Grant family in the far northwestern region of their territory. The outside of the grand stone building was showing its age, but the interior had been well cared for as to maintain its original state. This was a contented place, much less restrained then Castle Grant and the pace of life here went a little slower here. Pomp and circumstance was always left at the door when one entered and although there was order, it was not held to the same standard of Grantown on Spey. The inhabitants of the area were as passionate about their brewing skills as they were their own identity. This often led to animated discussions with Fergus Grant right in the middle professing his vast knowledge of hops and barley. Night after night the same arguments would fill the great hall for opinions at Urquhart were rarely altered, only expressed.

Still standing on the rug so he might not get water on the sacred floor, William spied Janetta at the top of the stairs walking with her arm linked around another woman clad in a brilliant red tartan not their own. She had what appeared to be a rolled parchment in one hand and a large bottle of liquid in the other. The two were speaking to each other in hushed tones and she began her descent without noticing her brother.

“Janetta.” William said with warmth showing on his face. His sister was a welcome sight after a long journey.

“William!” Releasing her confidant, Janetta rushed down the steps and hugged her brother enthusiastically, kissing him on the cheek twice before holding him tight again. “I can’t believe you came!”

“Your letter was convincing.” He answered with a smile.

“Ha! I knew it would be. Oh dear, I hope I didn’t spill any firewater on you.” Janetta pulled away from William and grinned over her shoulder at Frederic. “Bend down, Frederic.”

He did as he was told to receive his kiss and embrace from her.

“This is for the Chieftain from our family. Please convey to him that we here at Urquhart wish him the best of health and prosperity. We extend this blessing to him.” Janetta paused to recall the Gaelic she was about to say. “May the roads rise with you, and the wind always be at your back, and may the Lord hold you in the hollow of His hand.”

Ellie smiled and when questioned by Janetta if she had said it correctly she replied “near perfect.” Janetta took Frederic’s pack from him after saying goodbye to her friend and waited until they were out of sight before showing William to his room on the second floor.

“We had to put you in the only room we had left. A family nearby had a fire in their home so we are bringing them here until we can find them another place to live. Wait, William.” Janetta instructed as they stopped near Frederic’s door and she placed his belongings inside the room, taking the time to open the shutters over his window so he could see the Loch when he entered.

“As I was saying, Willa moved her two youngest into the same chamber as her other two daughters so we could free an area for you. Unfortunately, this room has no way to secure the door so if Meig wanders in, you’ll just have to shoo her away.”

William nodded his head tightly. He had become too accustomed to being alone lately and was somewhat unnerved with the expectation of no privacy. If his sister’s letter had not been so passionately designed, he never would have yielded to a fortnight of socializing and intended gaiety. William had to confess Janetta was good at manipulation when she tried. She knew exactly how to chose her wording to get him there.

“Don’t fret, William. I promise you that at the end of a fortnight here you will be a changed man. Urquhart does that to people. If it were possible, Cameron and I would never leave.”

“You are pleased with your situation then?”

“Very much so! Willa and I share the duties that are expected of us and I’m surprised how busy I stay. In fact, there is more work for me to do here then there ever was at Grantown on Spey, although I can’t explain why.”

“Tell me about some of your duties.”

“Taking care of all our correspondences is one a small part. Cameron’s writing is improving I’ll have you know, but I’m still the only person who can read it. Therefore he dictates and I write until a time he can do it himself.”

“All of his correspondences?” William could not imagine the concept and wondered if his sister had misspoken. There were issues that surely her husband was not exposing her to.

“Fergus also tries to get me to write his, but I usually decline because his excuse is laziness.” Janetta raised an eyebrow at her brother. “Does that bother you?”

“No, but you do not mean to imply…”

“Dear William. Why should I not know what is happening on my own land?” Janetta teased, placing her hand to her forehead as if she had been imposed upon. “Are my ears to delicate to hear the truth, or perhaps my mind too weak to comprehend?”

“You are entertaining,” He smirked back. “I simply find it odd, that is all.”

“Ponder it all you want, we are at your room.” Janetta opened the door to find a defiant four-year old sitting in the middle of the bed. With her hands on her hips, she addressed the girl. “Meig Grant! What did your mama tell you? Now get off that bed and go to Gracie’s room. We don’t want William to believe he is unwelcome, do we? That would be very rude if we did.”

Meig’s bottom lip began to quiver, but Janetta was not swayed. “Tears will not help you, wee one. Now do as you were told and show him what a good lass you are.”

William observed the little girl reluctantly leave the room; her only reward for her good behavior was a smile from his sister once she was in the hall. “Janetta, you just chastised another person’s child.”

“They are all our children, William, and we share responsibility for them.”

“I don’t quite get your meaning.” Concerned, William sought out a better explanation
from Janetta. “There are still parents, correct?”

“Of course, but more than four eyes to keep a watch on them. I suppose what I am saying is that there is more of a communal effort put into the upbringing of the young, as opposed to what you and I experienced. Honestly, I find it advantageous to all involved. There is also no preferential treatment given because a child happens to belong to someone of rank. Cameron and his brothers had to clean out their fair share of stalls when they were young just as everyone else did.”

Sensing his discomfort, Janetta added “I fear I’m overwhelming you and I don’t want you uneasy today. I’ve missed you terribly and want you to be glad you came here. Put away your things and let’s get you something to eat mixed with a bit of lively conversation. You can update me on all that has happened in Elgin and I promise not to correct another child for the entire evening.”

Cameron stood off by himself in Urquhart’s great room, his arms crossed and an amused look on his face. He was watching his wife from across the room when Frederic approached him with a mug of ale.

“This has no hops in it.” Frederic said evenly as he thrust the mug into his nephew’s hand. “Which makes it inferior and hardly drinkable even though we both know that hops do not grow well in Scotland.”

Cameron laughed aloud at his uncle’s dry humor. “How long did you have to listen to Fergus before you were able to get me this mug?’

”An eternity in Purgatory, give or take a year. I had forgotten what it was like here. Do these men still have nothin’ else to talk about?”

Cameron grimaced. “The distillin’ of whiskey, but that’s dangerous and I’ve all but banned it being spoken about. I’ve had to break up a few fights lately over how long it needs to settle in the cask before you can drink it.”

“How long does it have to settle?” Frederic received no answer as he took a long drink before commenting on Cameron’s not doing the same. “I said it was hardly drinkable, but it’s not swill.”

“Makin’ it last.” Cameron responded in an offhanded manner. Frederic understood that he was heeding his advice to always stay more sober then those around him, a practice Frederic had done when he held the Captainship. He approved of course, but tonight was one of those occasions when he felt the rule should be broken. Homecomings were always to be celebrated.

“Later we’re to share Fergus’s latest batch, that is if you’re willin’ to drink any of it.”

“The bitter or the mead?” Cameron asked, encouraged at the prospect of a night with his uncles.

“The bitter.”

“I’ll warn Janetta when she’s finished. Let’s have her brother join us.” Both men turned their attention to the table Janetta, William and ten others were at.

“What’s she doing?” Frederic noticed Janetta had everyone’s attention as she spoke, making exaggerated gestures with her hands. His nephew’s smile returned before he gave his explanation.

“She’s become the Keep’s storyteller I’d say. Almost every night she has folks clamoring’ after her to share a story, but she obliges only a couple nights a week. Some of Janetta’s tales are from things I’ve told her and others from what she learned when she was young, but the ones they want to hear most are from her trip to Norway. ‘Blue legs’ is everyone’s first choice.” Cameron stopped and observed Janetta pretending to bite something off of her sleeve.

“She’s tellin’ ‘Bells on her wedding dress’ tonight. The stories become wilder each time.”

“You married a minstrel?” Frederic made a keener inspection of Janetta as she rose holding her gown out to the side so she would not trip. “Why didn’t you tell me Janetta was with child?”

“She’s not.” Cameron replied with confidence.

“She looks it.” Frederic countered before draining his mug.

“No, you’re wrong. Janetta would know somethin’ like that. She’s just eatin’ more and fillin’ out.”

“I’m out of ale.” Frederic said, changing the subject. He really did not want to go back to the keg with Fergus guarding it. "Will you help an old man out?"

“You’re not old.” Cameron exchanged mugs with Frederic. “How’s Keiron other then what you told me when the others were with us?”

“He’s gettin’ a boldness about him I think is important for him to show. I’ve been working with him and Keiron told me that the exertion is helpin’. It seems like he’s making an effort to improve himself, but not just in body. Mind, too.”

“Good! He should’ve come with you. It would’ve been good to have us all here.” Lifting the mug he was holding up to get a drink, Cameron remembered his uncle had emptied it. “Why are you in a good spirits? Been hittin’ the single malt?”

“No.” Frowning to himself, Frederic knew the answer. “I’ll tell you myself since nothin’ remains secret for long ‘round here. This spring I’m comin’ back home.”

“That we need to celebrate!” Three hours later, four men had their chairs encompassing a half keg, laughing like a bunch of lads who had just discovered their first drink.

“Men sittin’ around talkin’ about women.” Frederic rolled his eyes. “I have nothin’ to contribute.”

“Ye’re a sad lot, Frederic!” Fergus snickered while waving his hand impatiently at his brother. “I give up! Ye’re on ye’re own when it comes to women.”


“But...” Fergus belched. “IF ya do find ya one, she’s got to be sassy like what me and Cameron found.”

“Janetta’s not sassy!” Cameron gallantly defended his wife although he knew he was outright lying. In actuality, he endorsed her sassiness, and found it quite…well, he liked it.

“I’ve seen Janetta sideslap you with her big words when she’s got a burr in her tail! I’d imitate ‘er if I knew what she was sayin’.”

“And I’ve been woken out of sleep by Willa screechin’ like a banshee at you!”

“Yeah,” Fergus replied with a satisfied grin. “A woman with some fire is the way to marry, trust me on this. A drink to good women!”

Three of the four lifted their mugs. “Aye.”

Frederic gazed over at William. “Do you have anythin’ other then women to talk about?” William had been engrossed with the way his feet tingled and honestly, he did not know they were discussing women.

“Do you drink like this every night?” That was the only thought that came to William’s polluted mind.

“Just Fergus.” Cameron answered as he put his mug down on the floor a little too hard, splashing bitter on William. “I’m done! I can’t keep up with you two.”

“Look!” Fergus cried, picking Cameron’s mug back off of the floor. “You wasted my bitter all over him! Damn.”

“I don’t think he noticed.” Cameron squinted at William who seemed to be in a trance state. “Janetta’s gonna kick my arse if I killed her brother.”

“She’s gonna need a chair to stand on if she’s gonna do that.” Frederic half-smiled at his own comment.

“I’ll tell her it was Fergus’s fault.” William mumbled. He was still mortal, much to the relief of his brother-in-law. “She’ll believe me.”

“I supply you men wit’ the finest brew ‘round and this is the thanks I get? It’s swill for you three next time!” Fergus drank what his nephew did not finish. “Show me ye’re scars, Cameron.”

“I’ll not!”

“William hasn’t seen ‘em yet.” Fergus pointed a finger at William. “It won’t bother ya to see his bum, will it?”

“Fergus, get your own scars and leave Cameron alone.” Frederic barked, taking control of the situation. “No one wants to see his ugly bum tonight.”

An hour later Cameron laid his hand on his wife’s abdomen after he got into bed. The chaos caused by three drunkards helping William to bed with laughter ringing down the hallway woke her, and Willa’s screaming at them to be quiet did not help. “Want to know what Frederic said to me?”

“Hard telling.” Janetta chuckled. “Was this before or after the bitter?”

Cameron had to concentrate for a moment to remember. “Before. He thought you were goin’ to have a babe.”

Janetta’s mouth dropped open and she shook her head at her husband. “Your Uncle Frederic is possibly the least observant man I know when it comes to women. I could grow two heads and I doubt he’d notice, so I’m not going to pay much heed to his opinion. Anyway, I’m not.”

“That’s what I told him.” Cameron felt movement under his hand like there was knocking from inside of her. “Your belly’s rumblin’ again.”

“I know. I think I’m hungry.” Her husband closed his eyes tightly and grinned. “I’m not going to ask you to go to the pantry so stop pretending like you’re asleep. Your chivalry is commendable, Cameron Grant. What a great example you will set for other husband’s with starving wives.”

“Do you want me to get you somethin’ to eat?” He laughed.

“No, I just want to quarrel with you.” Janetta turned to her side and settled her back against his chest. “Good night, Love.”

“Willa,” Janetta asked when the two women were alone the next morning. Frederic’s comment was on her mind, no matter how easily she had brushed it aside when Cameron mentioned it. Janetta still believed him to be wrong, but there was a part of her that was regretting cutting Elisabeth’s wedding night advice short. Knowing Elisabeth as she had, she probably would have mentioned how a woman knew if she was pregnant and this knowledge could be useful in the future. “May I ask you a delicate question?”


“How does a woman know when she’s in a family way?”

“How many rocks are in ye’re pot?” Willa replied as if she had just asked the most logical question in the world.

Janetta stared at her trying to make sense out of what she heard, but rocks and pots? She had never received mention of that before. “What?”

“Do you keep a pebble pot?”

“No. What is it?” Willa gave a brief description of the counting system many women used to mark the days between their bleeds. She had given her own daughter one the day before she married Rory. “Willa, I can’t use one of those.”

“You can’t count to thirty?” Willa was confused. She figured someone as bright as Janetta surely would have been taught simple counting.

“Yes!” She grinned back at her. “I’ve never had regular bleeds. It only occurs once or twice a year at most.”

“Oh, that won’t do you any good then. Have you had a bleed since ye’ve been married?”

“No, but as I said that’s not uncommon. I can tell you I have not been ill except for that time shortly after we arrived here and that only lasted two days.”

“Let me feel ye’re belly.” Willa started pressing on Janetta before she could give her permission. Twisting her mouth in concentration, she moved her hands to different positions before passing her judgment. “You’ve got a kicker in there! I’d say it’s a red head.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Ye’re gonna have a barin.”

“I think you’re mistaken because that’s just my belly rumbling. Cameron said so.”

“Cameron, aye?” Willa chuckled as she pulled the material of Janetta’s gown tight against her abdomen. “Only thing is, ye’re not very heavy. As easy as it was for me to feel them kicks, I think you’d be bigger ‘cause most women can’t feel the barin movin’ until they’re far along.”

With confidence Janetta stated “I haven’t asked the Virgin Mary for an infant, yet” to the woman. At that point Willa knew Janetta was in need of one of those frank talks they had from time to time.

“You better sit down, lass.”

When it was over, Janetta went in search of Cameron with no intention of stopping until she found him even if she had to travel to the next town barefoot in the cold. Her fists were balled at her side, arms swinging rhythmically as she strode as quickly as she could without succumbing to running. She found him in the front entryway by himself. Judging by his wife’s distressed expression, Cameron could see something was very wrong with her.

“Janetta, what’s the problem?” He asked as he combed the hair from her face.

“Your uncle was right!”

At first he was not certain what she was referring to but it dawned on him eventually. “No.” Cameron whispered, his surprise closely resembling Janetta’s when she heard the news.

“Yes.” She whispered back. “And don’t ask when this blessed event will occur because I have no idea. I thought that…never mind what I thought because it was wrong and Willa gave me a complete education to clear up any misconceptions I might have. It was so embarrassing! Why are you smiling?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll have to recall that smile when I’m so large that you have to roll me out of bed and ...” Cameron stepped forward to encircle her, resting his cheek against her head. The priorities he had before he married Janetta, even before he took the Captainship were unchanged. Clan-God-Country. Clan means family. There was always room for one more in the family, especially if it came from this woman he loved so much. He and Janetta had spoken about their families many times since they had been together, and though they had not discussed having their own it could never be considered a misfortune. Knowing her as he did, Cameron realized that if he was patient for a minute she would reveal what was truly disturbing her. He was correct.

“I can’t even keep a garden alive, I’ve tried. What if I do something wrong that can not be fixed? I don’t have any knowledge of infants other than the few I’ve held, but I do know they are fragile. I don’t want to hurt the wee thing because of my ignorance.”

“There are plenty of folks here who we can ask for help. We will not fail.”

“I was too daft to even know I was pregnant!”

“You are too hard on yourself sometimes. I’ve never seen you not master somethin’ you’ve put your mind to.” Cameron kissed her and felt her arms go around his waist as her body relaxed. “Didn’t Maggie just have a barin last week?”


“Have you visited her much?” Janetta gave no answer for some time as she thought about what he was saying behind the words that he spoke.

“Just once.” Releasing him, Janetta stepped back to look up at her husband. “We will not fail?”

“We will not fail.” His smile widened. Seeing both his uncles coming down the hall toward them, Cameron took hold of her elbow and guided her over to the wall so they could continue their talk in private. But, as good fortune would have it privacy not be an issue for the couple for very long as the entire Keep heard the news by morning’s end. Congratulations were given freely to Cameron and Janetta, the most sincere coming from her own brother.

The following day William made the mistake of asking his sister about a bowl she had in her room with two small rocks in it. He could not have had a clue about the Pandora’s box he had just opened.

“That,” Janetta pointed to the object of his curiosity, “is a complete waste of my effort. It’s only purpose is to make Willa happy.”

“Does it signify something of importance to Willa?”

“Let me tell you about pebbles.” Janetta went into full detail, far more then William required in her explanation. She informed him of a normal women’s cycle, the design behind keeping a record of the passing days, and even about the consequence of having more than thirty-five pebbles in one’s container. “I knew Elisabeth had one of these but I thought it was for decoration and not because she had such harsh monthlies. Oh, I’m sorry.”

“For what?” William only wanted the lesson to be over.

“I wasn’t going to mention her name until you did.”

“Janetta, you can reference her name. Elisabeth was your good friend, too.”

“Then may I ask you if you’ve any fresh information?”

He did not attempt to appear hopeful. “None to speak of.”

“Are you sure those men are reliable, William? I mean can you be certain they are really looking for her? Could they just be taking your money?”

“I have every reason to believe they are.” He had a man he trusted watching over their progress in France, fruitless as it was.

“William, have you gotten over Elisabeth?”

“I’m not comfortable talking about this.”

“You should learn to be. To have no one to confide in; surely that makes your burden heavier.”

“Janetta, you have no idea of that which you ask.” He opened his mouth to speak twice, hesitant about his next statement. “I don’t want to lose you, too.”

“How would you lose me? With the truth?” When William did not answer, she continued on. “I know I’m naive, as was proven by Willa yesterday when she explained to me how babies were made. Did our mother ever tell you that women prayed to Mary when they wanted a child and God decided if it was time or not?”


Janetta smiled wickedly. “Well she did me and I believed her. If you want to know the gory facts, Willa will be happy to oblige you.”

“I have knowledge plenty.”

“May I ask you a plain question?” He agreed to her request. “Why would you kiss Elisabeth without telling her about your decision not to marry Karoline as soon as you made it?”

“I can’t say why, but it was an idiot mistake made on my part.” William could not know how far his sister was determined to take this conversation. Willa had been very upset when she learned that Elisabeth had left the country, upset enough to leave an impression on Janetta that there was more then just kisses between Elisabeth and William. Willa never betrayed Elisabeth’s secret, but she had planted a seed in Janetta’s mind that had grown.

“How long did Elisabeth know about the expectation that you would marry Karoline?”

“Quite a while.”

“Which means you spoke of it, and that there was an attraction between the two of you?”

“Yes. I was very, very fond of her.”

“So you loved her?” William paused, sensing a trap yet he acknowledged that he had indeed loved Elisabeth by nodding his head. “As I was saying earlier, I admit to being naive, but maybe not so much when it comes to men and women. You never said anything to me about Cameron sleeping in my chamber the night before we married.”

“I did not consider it my business.” He replied carefully.

“Not that you may want to know this but nothing happened between us that night. It could have had Cameron not stopped it.”

“Janetta…” An undeniable unease consumed him at this turn in their conversation. The personal level Janetta was speaking from had never been broached between them before.

“I have a point. Being with him did not seem wrong to me that night because I loved him. I do not doubt that Elisabeth loved you, too. How long were you sharing a bed?”

The bluntness of her question bewildered him because Janetta had asked it as if he and Elisabeth being lovers were fact and not speculation. William became fearful that he would forfeit his sister forever if he admitted the truth. Janetta was all he had left in the world, and notwithstanding the calm tone of her voice he doubted she would understand. When her hand covered his and saw in Janetta’s eyes that she was not passing judgment but giving him an opportunity to unburden himself, William took a leap of faith more daring then he had ever done.

“A year” came from his mouth.

“While you were considering Karoline.” It was not an inquiry she was making but a statement. “William, do you not see that this was wrong?”

“I do now. At the time I knew guilt, but not strong enough for me to do what was right by Elisabeth.”

“My husband has had the benefit of being surrounded his whole life by excellent men. Frederic, his father and brothers have all left an impression on him that have helped make Cameron into the man he is. Even Fergus has set an example about speaking freely with a wife, and keeping a sense of humor when possible. Cameron has been blessed in his unique circumstance, and I share in his good fortune. I don’t want to give you the impression that he’s perfect because he’s not, but perhaps Cameron has an advantage that you did not.”

“What exactly do you mean?”

“He was taught by example to be respectful toward women. It’s difficult to explain William. Now that I’m married myself I can compare my situation to our parents and see vast differences. Father was good to me as a child, but with mother he seemed distant. It was almost like her being a woman made her desires secondary because she was inferior. You knew him better than I, what were your impressions?”

“Very close to yours.”

“I am not excusing you for your part in the affair. We can not blame our father for everything, that would be too simple and neither of us would learn from it.”

William looked away from Janetta. With a quiet voice he said, “I respected Elisabeth.”

“Respect and love are not the same although they are similar. Can you honestly say that if you respected her you would have made love to her under the conditions you did?”

“No.” William placed his hand on top of hers. Whatever spirit had possessed his sister at this moment he was thankful for. The maturity she expressed was not what he had expected, but what he sorely needed. “When did you become the parent and I the child?”

“Don’t think too highly of me, William.” She answered shaking her head. “Last week I threw a fit like a spoiled child over something insignificant until Cameron finally had to leave the room and go riding to clear his head. He was gone a long time, which does not reflect well on my behavior. I make mistakes every single day.”

“What should I do?”

“You need to stop being by yourself so much, hiding from others except when trade dictates. If you rely solely on your own opinions, how can you be a good judge of anything? You need companions you can trust. I would start there.”

“Have you found that here at Urquhart?”

“Yes. That fit I just told you about, after Cameron left I was feeling quite the wounded party and sought out sympathy from Willa. She told me I was being foolish and that I owed him an apology. Of course I didn’t agree with her at first, but after I stopped feeling sorry for myself I realized she was right. I was grateful for her honest opinion.” His sister’s sweet smile told William that they had worked it out. “At this moment Cameron and Frederic are in the barn looking over the colts that have been born since Frederic was last here, then they are going to inspect the calves. You should join them.”

“Will you be coming?”


“You are the best sister. Thank you.” William stood and kissed her on the cheek. Then he took one more leap of faith that was a very good beginning. “I love you, Janetta.”

“I love you, too.”

“I have been thinking about getting my affairs in order and going to France for a while. It will take some time to close up the home in Elgin and settle the tenants. I’d also have to lease out the ships, but I want you to know that this is my plan. Do you approve?”

“I do. Ask Frederic his advice on the home in Elgin. He may know of someone who could take care of the Keep in your absence.”

After William exited the room, Janetta rose from her seat and picked up a thick board that was used to secure the door so no one could enter. She slid it into place behind the brackets before covering her face with both of her hands. It had taken a will made of steel for her to maintain her composure when William was in her chamber, but the devastation she had controlled was now coming out. Her breathing became unsteady due to the silent sobs she would not let anyone hear as tears flooded seamlessly from her eyes.

Janetta idolized Elisabeth; she was the finest woman she had ever known and one she wished to emulate in her own character. The thought of her suffering from her brother’s action was far too much to bear. In her heart she knew that her friend had left Scotland because of William for it was not like Elisabeth to leave behind questions unanswered. Of all the people, why had he chosen Elisabeth to hurt?

Everyday she thought of her, her face still came easily to her mind. Elisabeth’s gentle wisdom had more then once soothed her when she believed there was no hope. How Janetta would have loved for her to know Cameron and his family better for she held no doubt that they would have adored her as she did. Had her brother acted appropriately toward Elisabeth, Janetta was certain she would have had the honor of her company this holiday. The stories they could have shared. Her weeping grew harder as she admitted to herself that William had taken from her the best friend a woman could ever have. The little things that Janetta could not do, like tell Elisabeth about her pregnancy or let her listen as she spoke her broken Gaelic were no longer possible because of a misstep in judgment.

Have no doubt though, that despite the heartbreak Janetta had for her dearest friend and despite her anger at William for failing in this ability to keep Elisabeth safe as he had done for her, she would not turn her back on her brother.

Janetta knew she was all William had left in the world.

The hour was truly too late for Frederic and William to still be awake for their journey back to Castle Grant would begin at dawn, but there they sat at a table littered with dinner dishes and glasses surrounded by family. It was Willa’s idea that they all make prediction for the coming year before they said goodnight.

Cameron was the first to reply. “I predict my wife will deliver a barin this year.” Protests came from everyone at the table about his picking an obvious occurrence. Janetta just laughed.

“You’re brilliant, Cameron.” She teased, wrapping her arm around his. “I predict there will be more of us at this table next year than we expect.” Janetta smiled over at her brother. William knew what she meant.

“I predict,” Fergus began “that my stout will turn out this year in spite of that damn crooked Irishman who sold me the recipe leavin’ out one of the ingredients!”

“See what I put up with?” Willa howled. “I predict he will never change!”

“That was easier than mine, Willa.” Cameron objected.

“William, what is your prediction?” Janetta encouraged.

“Sincere effort done with honorable intentions will be properly acknowledged by God.”

Everyone at the table fell silent for a moment until Fergus asked “Did you read that somewhere?”

“Hush, Fergus.” Janetta quipped absently at her uncle. “William’s a Poet and I thought it was lovely.”

There was one man left at the table who had not yet spoken. A man who had felt a turning in his soul since he had entered Urquhart fourteen days before. Something inside of him told Frederic that this would be the most important year for all of them, but he could not identify the source or the outcome. It was just a feeling he could not ignore.

“This will be a year of change.” Frederic reflected quietly. “It will end as it should be.”

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