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Ceci Giltenan(9)

By:Highland Solution

“Not exactly,” said Tomas in almost a whisper, “Lady Katherine put herself between us and Sir Ruthven beat her, instead.”

Fingal glanced at Niall, who appeared to be barely able control himself as he got out of the water and pulled on his clothes. Waves of white hot anger practically rolled off him.

Tomas continued, “I tried to get her to move away, but she had her arms around me tight to keep the whip from hitting me. He must have hit her eight or nine times before the steward came into the stable and told Sir Ruthven his bath was ready. Sir Ruthven threw the whip down, screamed at me to tend to his saddle, and left. Lady Katherine let go of me and tried to get up, but she was shaking. Her dress was torn and her back was bleeding. The steward woke Berty, telling him to see to the horse, and I took care of Sir Ruthven’s saddle like he ordered. The steward helped Lady Katherine into the keep.”

Fingal asked Tomas one last question. “As we rode today, ye told me Lady Katherine was the healer at Cotharach. Who tended her wounds?”

“Lady Katherine tells her maid, Emma, what to do when she is hurt herself. She sent Emma out to the stable to put a balm on my back, too, ‘cept I didn’t need it as much as my lady, cuz he only hit me twice this time.”

Tomas had said this time. Those two words spoke volumes. Not only had Ambrose Ruthven beaten Tomas before, but the fact that Lady Katherine’s maid had experience tending her injuries suggested Ruthven had very likely beaten Lady Katherine before as well. It also explained why she had unilaterally arranged for Tomas to accompany them.

Niall strode away without speaking. Tomas looked up at Fingal and said timidly, “Is the laird mad at me?”

“Nay, Tomas.”

“Is he mad at Lady Katherine?”

“Not really. He is angry at her uncle,” and Fingal thought, judging by the other men’s expressions, Niall wasn’t alone in that. Determined to give Tomas the much needed bath and, in an attempt to break the somber mood, Fingal looked at him squarely and said, “I still have to find the lad under this talking mound of dirt.” Tomas giggled and Fingal gently scooped him up again and carried him squealing with glee into the loch.

~ * ~

Katherine looked up from where she sat on the plaid and saw her husband angrily stride into camp. The men whom he had left at the camp immediately became alert, but he waved them away, telling them to go to the loch. Stopping at the edge of the plaid, he asked, “Why did ye not tell me ye were injured?”

Wary, Katherine looked away and tried to school her expression, but as his words sunk in, she became angry. “Tell you? When exactly would I have told you? When you rode into my home with a small army and a missive from King David requiring my uncle to give me to you in marriage? Or perhaps when the priest was summoned so we could be wed immediately because you were anxious to leave?” At this she rose to her feet, no longer the image of perfect submission, her anger clearly rising. “Mayhap I should have mentioned it as my dear uncle gave me away. That would have made a lovely addition to the wedding ceremony, ‘Aye my lord, I will marry you because my doting uncle thinks less of me than he does his cursed saddle!’ Perhaps I should have said something as we were riding out of my home, which had just been handed over to my uncle in exchange for my hand and a bag of gold.” A sob escaped her lips as tears threatened for the second time that day.

She turned away, not wanting him to see, “Perhaps I should have said, ‘Oh, by the way, the beast who just bought my birthright from you laid my back open with a whip last night, that isn’t a problem for you, is it?’”

She choked on another sob and turned back to look at him again, seeing his eyes black with fury. She knew she should stop, but exhaustion and pain pushed her past the point of caution. “And what if I had told you? What would you have done then, wrought vengeance on him for doing something he had every legal right to do? I don’t think starting a war over a bit of chattel would have pleased our king, do you?” As the horrible image of her new husband’s lifeless body cut down in the courtyard at Cotharach, passed before her eyes, she could no longer hold back the tears. Her anger spent, she sobbed, sank to her knees, and said with a note of desperation in her voice, “You would have been killed.”

~ * ~

Niall had seen women cry before, usually when all other forms of manipulation had failed. His stepmother’s tears had stopped having any effect on him years ago. He realized then that he had never seen a woman cry genuine tears of sorrow and pain. His heart began to ache for her, for everything she had suffered, and for the first time in his adult life he felt completely helpless. He knelt beside her, taking her gently in his arms so as not to cause her further pain, and he pulled her onto his lap and held her while she cried. “Wheesht, lass,” he crooned, kissing her head while rocking her gently. Eventually she stopped crying, giving in to her exhaustion. She fell asleep in his arms, but for reasons he didn’t fully understand, he continued to hold her.