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Ceci Giltenan(3)

By:Highland Solution

“I always thought your wedding would be a great event,” Emma said as she gathered Katherine’s things to pack. “We would have two things to celebrate, not only your wedding, but being well rid of your uncle, too.”

Funny, thought Katherine, at almost twenty, well past the age most noblewomen married, she had never given her wedding any thought. However, even if she had given in to such musings, she never would have imagined the wedding awaiting her. She smiled at Emma and said, “Well, at least we haven’t had ages to worry about it,” at which Emma burst into fresh tears.

When Emma’s tears stopped, Katherine helped her finish the packing. “I am to only bring one bag,” Katherine said with mock sternness, making Emma giggle.

“Oh, my,” Emma said, in the same mocking tone, “How will you ever decide what to pack?”

Although very wealthy, Katherine had few belongings worth taking. Uncle Ambrose had confiscated all her jewelry and anything else of real value, ostensibly to safe-guard it. He only provided her with necessities, his reason being “to protect her from the sin of vanity,” so she took very good care of the few worn, faded garments she owned. She selected two white linen kirtles and the two least shabby of her gowns, a gold one made of soft light wool and a heavier, dark green one. Although the summer days had been very warm, she knew they travelled north to the Highlands, where even in summer the nights might be cold, so she packed a woolen mantle, too. She removed the most important items from her sewing basket, rolled them in a short length of linen, and tucked it into the bag. This left room for several shifts, some linen toweling, the leather bag containing a small supply of healing herbs and other ingredients for potions, balms, and poultices, and her one luxury, a cake of sweet smelling soap imported from Spain. Finally she packed the only belongings holding any sentimental significance to her, her mother’s ivory comb and her father’s jeweled dagger.

“I guess I’m ready,” she said to Emma.

“Go on, then. I’ll carry your things down.”

“Emma, I might not get to see you again before I leave. I may not be able to say farewell to anybody. Please tell everyone I will miss them and I will keep you all in my prayers. Take care of yourself, Emma, stay out of my uncle’s way.” Before Emma had a chance to burst into tears again, Katherine gave her a quick hug and left.

~ * ~

After finalizing the business agreements relating to the marriage, Niall and Diarmad waited in the great hall with Ambrose Ruthven while Lady Katherine readied herself. Eventually Niall had to turn his back to stare into the cold hearth because he couldn’t stand seeing Ruthven’s barely contained joy. The greedy bastard’s pleasure sickened Niall, yet he couldn’t deny feeling a certain amount of disgust in himself as well. It took a very desperate man to accept this betrothal and Niall had been beyond desperate. He had no funds to pay even the interest on the crushing debt Clan MacIan held. He had journeyed to Edinburgh to request financial help from the king, only to learn King David II had a significant debt of his own. He owed King Edward III of England a colossal ransom, one hundred thousand marks sterling with ten thousand marks due yearly on the nativity of St. John the Baptist. Apparently he had no compunction about bartering royal favor for coin, and clearly Ruthven had purchased one, inadvertently providing the solution to Niall’s problem as well.

Niall had to admit Ruthven’s attempts to deter his niece’s suitors were particularly effective. He remembered his stepmother’s unpleasant reaction when she learned of his pending marriage.

“Niall,” she said, “I have heard about this creature you plan to wed. My poor boy, it must be humiliating to know this is the best you can do. Why I have heard, from people who know, mind you, not only is she brainless, but she is practically an ogre. They say she even has fits, and is a hunchback.” When he failed to respond to Eithne’s barbs, she added, “Well, hopefully, your brother will find a more suitable wife. He is so good natured and handsome, we will be able to have a proper wedding. Perhaps he will give me grandchildren of whom I can be proud.”

Even the king believed he might be saving Katherine from the humiliation of remaining unattached if he ordered her to enter a convent, giving Ambrose everything. He had all but agreed to do so until Niall approached him for aid. Niall assumed after seven years in exile and eleven more held captive for ransom, albeit not in depravation, the king had some qualms about forcing a young woman into a cloister. Evidently, he had no qualms about marrying her to a financially desperate Highland Laird, who would trade her title and lands for a larger dowry in coin. Why was it, for men like Ruthven, problems had a way of disappearing if enough money was thrown at them?