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Ceci Giltenan(4)

By:Highland Solution

As the silence grew heavy, Niall turned back around. He was pleased to see the happiness originally written on Ruthven’s face replaced with consternation. Perhaps he questioned the wisdom of giving his niece away to a complete stranger.

With Niall’s attention on him once again, Ruthven cleared his throat a little to break the silence, and he said, “Ahem...uh, Laird MacIan, it occurs to me that you and my sweet, gentle niece will be traveling for several days to reach your home, and will likely be sleeping out of doors.” Niall arched an eyebrow and gave a slight nod, disdain etched on his features. “Yes. Well, you understand that my dear Katherine is of course innocent and might appreciate privacy.” A wiser man would have taken heed of the rising fury on the Highlander’s face, but Ambrose charged on, “I think it would be best if you wait until you reach your home to...consummate your marriage.”

“Sir, would ye willingly marry your niece to a man without honor?” Laird MacIan said with menace.

“N—no, of course not,” Ruthven stammered.

“Then ye can be assured I do not need ye to school me in decency!” he roared.

~ * ~

When she returned to the great hall, Katherine saw her uncle sitting in his upholstered chair looking oddly uncomfortable, both Highlanders standing silently by the hearth. Father James had arrived and even his chatter about the weather and crops didn’t lessen the tension in the room. Father James was the first to notice her as she slipped quietly into the great hall. He stopped mid-sentence, proclaiming, “My lady, you are radiant.”

Laird MacIan looked up and practically gawked at the sight of her. Katherine had dressed like the noble woman she was, instead of as a servant. The gown she wore clung to her, revealing her womanly curves, and her hair, released from its braid, shimmered around her shoulders like a golden brown cloud. After registering Laird MacIan’s look of awe, she kept her eyes cast down so he couldn’t read the fear on her face, but she was sure no one could miss the way her hands trembled.

“Well, we have a wedding to perform,” Father James said and motioning to the door of the great hall he said, “Shall we go to the chapel?” News of the wedding had spread through Cotharach and its village like a brush fire, so now, in addition to the Highland warriors, the staff at Cotharach and many villagers gathered in the courtyard to witness Lady Ruthven’s marriage. The ceremony began outside the chapel with Father James asking the assembly if anyone knew of any reason why Laird Niall and Lady Katherine could not be married. Although no one spoke, a million reasons flew through Katherine’s brain. The priest continued, “Niall MacIan, wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, wilt thou love her, and honor her, keep her and guard her, in health and in sickness, as a husband should a wife, and forsaking all others on account of her, keep thee only unto her, so long as you both shall live?”

She heard Niall answer, “I will,” his voice deep and melodic.

Katherine felt strangely detached as she heard the priest ask for her assent. “I will,” she answered, the reality of the situation finally sinking in. This isn’t a nightmare, it’s really happening, and it is forever.

“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”

“I do,” answered Ambrose and he stepped away. Katherine could all but hear him thinking and good riddance.

The couple then made their vows of marriage. After Katherine said, “And thereto I plight thee my troth,” Father James took the ring Niall gave him, blessed it, and returned it to Niall, who placed it on the third finger of Katherine’s left hand. She had always heard a vein ran directly from this finger to the heart and for this reason a wedding band was worn there as a symbol of love. It seemed slightly ridiculous to Katherine, given she had only just met the man who placed it there.

Father blessed the couple and led them into the chapel, followed by Diarmad and Ambrose. The bride and groom knelt before the altar while Father prayed again. Kneeling beside her new husband, Katherine felt very small, the top of her head didn’t reach his shoulder.

There would not be a nuptial Mass, so after the prayers, Father James gave them a final blessing. When he had finished, he beamed warmly and said, “You may kiss the bride.” Niall tipped her chin up and kissed her. She had expected he would only give her a chaste kiss, but once he started, she was amazed by how warm and soft his lips felt and that he held her there, deepening the kiss for a moment before pulling away. Stunned, she raised her hands to touch her lips. They tingled where he had kissed her and she hadn’t wanted him to stop.