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Ceci Giltenan(6)

By:Highland Solution

“Niall,” she said and took a breath as if steeling herself before launching into her confession. “I have done something, and I hope you won’t be angry, but I really saw no other option.” He tensed, but she went on. “When you arrived, did you see Tomas, the young stable boy?”

“I remember a small lad,” he said cautiously.

“Tomas’ parents are dead. He lived with his grandfather, our former stable master, but that kind, old man passed away a few months ago. Tomas continued to work in the stables, under my uncle’s new stable master, but he is as bad as my uncle. So you see, I was worried about Tomas. Without me, there really is no one who is in any position to protect him.” She paused, biting her lower lip.

“Are ye coming to the part where ye are going to tell me what ye did?” Niall asked, not attempting to cover the frustration he felt.

Katherine cringed a little at his tone. “Aye. Well, when my uncle summoned Father James to marry us, I sent a message to Tomas, telling him to follow the northwest road from the village until he reached the tree line and to wait there for us—so we could bring him with us.”

“Bring him with us?” Niall said, completely dumbfounded by her audacity. “Bring him with us?” he repeated incredulously, “Are ye asking me to steal another man’s serf?”

“Tomas isn’t a serf. His father and grandfather were hired freemen,” she assured him hurriedly.

“And why do ye think he will fare better with me as his laird?”

She leaned a little, turned, and tilted her head up so she could look him in the eyes, “My Lord—,” she paused at his stern expression and corrected herself, “Niall. If I didn’t think life with you would be a vast improvement over that with my uncle, I would not have agreed to marry you.” At the look of doubt on his face, she said, “I know King David ordered this marriage, but I would have joined the nuns at St. Oda’s before consenting to marry a man like Ambrose Ruthven.” Although surprised by the intensity of her statement, he knew it didn’t take much to be a better man than Ruthven. Still, he took some bit of pleasure in hearing his new wife say it.

“Diarmad,” he called to his commander, riding in the lead.

“Aye, Laird?”

“There will be a lad waiting for us as we reach the tree line.”

“Aye, Laird. I’ve already seen a lad ducking in and out from behind the trees. He looks to be the stable-boy from Cotharach.”

“He’ll be going with us.”

“Aye, Laird.” Diarmad quietly chuckled.

Niall glanced at Katherine’s face. Almost undone by the brilliant smile she gave him, he could do nothing but stare. She blushed, dropped her head, and turned away from his gaze to face front, but that brush with delight unsettled him. He did not need a wife, he reminded himself. He believed a wife could only be a distracting nuisance. He certainly did not need a wife whose smile made him forget everything except thinking of ways to make her smile again. He had learned the hard way that a soft body and pretty face can blind a man to treachery.

When they reached Tomas, Fingal called to him and pulled the lad up onto his saddle. It didn’t take Tomas long to begin chattering and asking Fingal a never-ending stream of questions.


Katherine could hear Tomas’ chattering, but couldn’t concentrate on his words. Niall hadn’t exaggerated, they travelled at a brutal pace. Katherine’s back became extremely painful as the day wore on. She couldn’t stand the friction created by resting against her new husband’s rock hard chest, yet holding her body forward made her muscles ache unbearably.

She wondered if Niall noticed the white-knuckled grip she had on the edge of the saddle, or if she appeared as stiff and uncomfortable as she felt. She had told him earlier that she could ride “very well,” but he was probably questioning the truth of that now.

Only stopping briefly once to water the horses, they travelled for hours. Finally, shortly before sunset, they stopped for the night in a clearing near a small loch. Niall lifted her off the horse and looked her in the face, seeming startled.

“Lass, ye look pale and exhausted. How can riding for a few hours drain ye so profoundly? Go rest,” he said, dismissing her, and he turned back to his horse to settle him for the night.

Katherine ignored his rude assessment of her, she was used to worse. Tired and sore, she needed to move a bit to loosen her stiff joints. She looked around and seeing Stormy, walked over to her. Her pet whinnied and tossed her head as Katherine approached. It had clearly been a hard day for the mare, too, even without a rider. She stroked Stormy’s velvet nose and leaned her head against the horse’s strong neck. Her father had given her the beautiful grey and Katherine had adored Stormy immediately. After her father’s death her beloved horse became a refuge. When things became too difficult, she could escape, and, even if only briefly, forget her grief while flying across a meadow on Stormy’s back.