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Ceci Giltenan(8)

By:Highland Solution

“Nay?” she responded.

“Nay,” he said firmly. “They are the laird’s eeleet guard. Do ye know what eeleet means?” Without waiting for an answer, Tomas went on, “I asked Fingal and he told me it means they are special. They are the best warriors in the clan. Ye know what else Fingal told me? The laird’s castle is called Duncurra and Fingal said it is in the middle of a loch. Cotharach is by a loch, but I wonder how ye build a castle in a loch?”

Although everything in his head screamed at Niall to keep his distance from the enticing woman, he brought his food and sat on the plaid with Katherine and Tomas.

“Laird MacIan, how can a castle be built in water?” asked Tomas boldly.

“It isn’t built in the water, Tomas. Duncurra is built on a crag that juts into the loch, so it has water on three sides,” Niall explained. Tomas continued to chatter and ask questions until they had finished eating. It seemed for every answer Tomas received, he had at least two more questions, but like Fingal had all afternoon, Niall patiently answered them all.

The lad amused Niall, and Tomas’ excitement about his new home pleased him. After they had finished eating, Fingal walked to where they sat and said, “Excuse me, Laird. It has not escaped my notice that there might be a lad hiding under the wee mound of dirt there beside ye. I thought perhaps it would be a good idea to give it a rinse in the loch and see.”

Niall answered, “Ah, Fingal, ye might be right, because now that ye mention it, I have never heard a mound of dirt talk as much as this one.” Katherine laughed and for the second time that day she rewarded Niall with a heart-stopping smile. Raw desire rose unbidden and once more he forced himself to remember he did not want this marriage, no matter how bonny a smile his new wife had. “In fact,” he added, “I think I will join ye.” Niall rose and walked toward the loch, accompanied by Diarmad, and two other guardsmen, Alan and Keith.

Fingal scooped a squirming Tomas up under his arm and followed. “But I don’t need a bath,” moaned Tomas.

“Trust me, ye do,” Fingal said firmly.

Katherine laughed again. “Behave, Tomas,” she admonished with mock severity. The enchanting sound of Katherine’s laughter followed Niall. He could not deny he desired his lovely little wife, but his wedding night would have to wait until they reached Duncurra. Niall suspected the chilly loch water would do little to cool his desire. Suddenly, he realized he had one more excellent reason to hurry home. While he didn’t need or want a wife, having his bed warmed by this lass might prove to be an unexpected boon.

~ * ~

When they reached the loch, the other men stripped and dove in, leaving Fingal to deal with Tomas. Determined to scrub off a layer of dirt and the accompanying aroma, Fingal had to wrestle Tomas out of his tunic, much to the amusement of the other men. Finally able to pull it over Tomas’ head, he stopped, looking very serious. Even in the low light, Fingal saw old, dark bruises on Tomas’ thin frame, as well as two fresh, angry lash marks on his back. With a casual calm he didn’t feel, he asked, “Lad, who took a whip to your back?”

The other men fell silent. Tomas answered quietly, “Sir Ruthven.” Niall clenched his jaw and Fingal recognized the furious expression.

“What happened?” Fingal asked, trying to keep his voice nonchalant.

Tomas looked down, embarrassed, and said “He was out until very late last night. Berty, the stable master, went to bed and made me wait in the stables until Sir Ruthven returned. Sir Ruthven was still out when the storm hit, and when he got back to Cotharach he was drenched and the horse was winded and lathered. I met him like I was supposed to and took the horse into the stable. He followed me, telling me he wanted me to take special care of his new saddle because it was very valuable. I said I would and I took it off the horse. I—I—I thought he would want me to take care of the horse first. Honest, I did. The horse looked bad, so I started to rub him down, but Sir Ruthven screamed at me, saying I was too stupid to live, and hadn’t he just told me to take care of his new saddle.”

“He wanted ye to take care of the saddle before the beast?” Diarmad asked in disbelief.

“Aye, he grabbed a whip from the wall and started to beat me.”

“Ye must have gotten away, ye only have two stripes on your back,” Alan said.

“Nay, I didn’t run. He would be sure to kill me then,” Tomas said seriously, “He only hit me twice because Lady Katherine got there.”

“Lady Katherine?” Niall asked, his voice deadly calm, “She stopped him from whipping ye?”