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Authors: Lucy Monroe

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #love_sf, #love_history, #Romance, #Historical, #Love stories, #Paranormal, #Man-woman relationships, #Scotland, #Werewolves

Moon Awakening (2 page)

BOOK: Moon Awakening
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England would be his ally before he would allow such a view of his clan to stand unchallenged. However, it was not a declaration of war that would give a message of the greatest impact to the other Highland clans, but well-planned revenge. As he had told Ulf when his brother had suggested mounting an immediate attack on the Sinclair holding.

 

Riding an exhausted horse and feeling less than wonderful herself, Emily surveyed her new home with both curiosity and trepidation.

The journey from her father's barony had been a long one and arduous upon reaching the Highlands. Shortly after reaching Sinclair land, an envoy of warriors had arrived to finish escorting her to their keep.

Emily had been both disappointed and relieved to discover that her husband-to-be had not accompanied them. Part of her wanted the first meeting over, but an even bigger part was content to put it off indefinitely.

The Sinclair warriors had refused to allow the English soldiers any farther onto Sinclair land. They had taken over her escort and Emily found them poor company indeed. They did not speak unless asked a question and then they answered in monosyllables if possible. Would her husband-to-be do the same?

Perhaps she would feel better if people would stop staring at her so. No one smiled, not even the children. Some adults openly glared at her. She turned to her nearest escort. "Some of the clan seem hostile. Why is that?"

"They know you are English."

Apparently that was supposed to explain it all because he stopped talking and even her curiosity was not up to questioning the soldier further.

So the clan knew she was English? That must mean they were expecting her.

For those in any doubt, her dress would have given her away, she supposed. She'd donned the dark blue tunic over her clean white shift with stylish wide sleeves three days ago. It was now as creased and bedraggled as the rest of her, but even if it had remained pristine, it was nothing like the garb of the Highlanders.

They all wore plaids, even the children. The colors were muted green, blue and black. It was a striking combination. She'd said something to that effect to one of her escorts upon first meeting—admittedly in an effort to pretend she wasn't noticing the fact that their lower legs were as naked as a baby being washed. He had growled that of course it was pleasing; they were the Sinclair colors.

She'd stopped trying to make small talk soon thereafter.

She turned her interest from the less-than-welcoming people to the Sinclair castle. The construction surprised her. She wasn't sure what she had expected, but something so much like her own father's home was not it The ground had been raised to a hill with a moat around it. The keep, which looked like a single high tower, was built on top of the hill with a wall all around. The timber wall extended down the hill to surround the bailey as well.

She hadn't imagined anything so grand in the Highlands. Perhaps her husband-to-be was not such a barbarian after all. Perhaps he would even have a kind heart and allow her to send for Abigail to come live with them. That was her most fervent hope.

Her escort led her across the drawbridge toward the keep.

A group of soldiers on the steps of the keep caught her eye. They all stood with arms folded and scowling at her approach. One soldier, who stood in the middle and was taller than all of the rest, scowled most fiercely. She tried to avoid looking at him because the dislike, nay
hatred
, emanating off of him was frightening.

She hoped he was not one of her husband-to-be's close advisors. She scanned the crowd to find her future husband, their laird. Her escort had led her almost to the scowling soldiers before she realized that one of them must be him. Her only excuse for being so slow to realize it was her deep desire for it to be otherwise.

Please don't let it be the angry man in the center, she prayed fervently, crossing herself for good measure.

When the soldier in the middle stepped forward, she offered up a last desperate plea. But she knew it had been in vain when, without acknowledging her, he waved for her escort to follow him.

"Where do you want the English woman?" called the soldier nearest her.

Her future husband merely shrugged and continued inside. For the life of her, she couldn't think of any good excuse for his behavior. Even if he was a barbarian as Sybil claimed.

She could only be glad that Abigail had not been sent in her place. God alone knew what kind of horrible things he might have done to her gentle sister. Or perhaps it was the devil himself who knew.

She banished the wicked thought, but could not dismiss as easily the sense of doom settling over her.

Chapter 2

Emily's escorts swung off their horses and two young boys rushed forward to lead the animals away. She made haste to climb down from her own weary horse and nearly landed on her bottom in the process. Her legs had fallen asleep on the long ride since daybreak and they ached like blue blazes.

Weak tears pricked her eyes, but she blinked them away. Suddenly a hand stretched out to steady her. Startled, she looked up. It was one of the clanswomen.

She was lovely with curling dark hair and slightly tilted, velvety brown eyes. She was also pregnant. Emily couldn't miss the protruding bulge under the woman's plaid, but if she was not mistaken, the other woman was only about five months into her confinement.

She curtsied. "My name is Caitriona, but I am called Cait. I am to be your sister." The woman spoke slowly and with a thick brogue that reminded Emily how far north into Scotland she had traveled.

"You speak English?" Emily asked in shock, returning the other woman's curtsy, her own a little awkward because her muscles still did not want to cooperate "Yes."

"I'm most pleased to meet you, Cait. My name is Emily Hamilton, daughter of Sir Reuben," she said in Gaelic.

"I had drawn that conclusion," Cait said with a teasing glint in her eye. "You speak our tongue."

"My father's holding is on the border."

"Ah. I knew only that you were English."

"I don't suppose you know where I am supposed to go now?"

The soldiers had all disappeared. "You will stay with me until the marriage. I am sorry you cannot have your own room, but there are no empty sleeping chambers in the keep at present." Cait smiled apologetically, her face shining with even more beauty when she did so.

No wonder Emily's intended was upset he had been ordered to marry her if Highland women were all as lovely as this one. She had no illusions about her own looks. Sybil had made sure of that. Her lack of height was not the only thing the older woman found lacking in Emily's appearance. According to Sybil, Emily's hair was too curly and too bland. Unlike the lustrous dark locks of the woman standing in front of her, Emily's hair was a cross between blond and light brown. Sybil had often commented that it could not make up its mind what it wanted to be.

She also lamented the fact that Emily's eyes were the color of lavender. Who ever heard of purple eyes? Sybil had said more than once in Emily's hearing, that she thought it might be a sign from above and not a good one. But by far, Emily's worst shortcoming, according to her stepmother, was her well-rounded body, too curved to fit the aesthetic ideal of tall, regal and
understated
femininity.

"Won't your husband mind me staying with you?" she asked as her stiff fingers worked to untangle the ties that held the satchel attached to her saddle.

Cait took over the task. "My mate died in battle these four months past."

Emily didn't ask what battle. According to the English and even the lowland Scots, the Highlanders spent all their time at war, or preparing for one. "I'm very sorry." She reached out and impulsively squeezed the other woman's hand. "Are you sure you won't mind sharing your home?"

A grieving woman might very well want her privacy.

"No, I will like the company. It is very lonely at the keep sometimes, being the only woman in residence."

So, Cait lived in the keep? Emily wasn't sure if that was good or bad news since so did the scowling warrior she was supposed to marry. "There are no female servants?" Emily asked, aghast as the full import of the other woman's words sank in.

"Some, but they live in the bailey."

"None live in the keep?" Emily asked, eyeing the large towerlike building. Close up it looked even bigger than it had upon first sight, definitely large enough to house a family and their servants comfortably. "Who fills the sleeping chambers?"

"Warriors."

"Isn't that unusual?"

Cait sighed. "Not here."

"Is the laird planning war? I could not help but notice he did not greet me or show any reaction to my arrival." Well, nothing but dislike and she wasn't going to come right out and say so. She was hoping he was simply in a bad mood… not that he truly hated her as much as his sulfuric look had implied.

"Do not mind Talorc. He is not reconciled to this marriage, but he will come around," replied Cait encouragingly as she led the way inside.

She said something else, but Emily had stopped listening. The keep's great hall was cavernous and poorly lit. It was also filled with soldiers wearing the Sinclair plaid. The men ignored Cait and Emily, and for that she was very grateful.

She'd thought her escorts intimidating enough, but en masse the warriors of her new family were downright terrifying.

She scooted closer to Cait and followed the other woman to the back of the hall and down a set of stairs. An open doorway off to the right revealed a storage room, but Cait led her into a room on the left. It was a small bedroom. Unlike most rooms on the lower level of the keep, it had a series of tiny boxlike windows near the ceiling that let in light.

It was clean and much more cheerful than the unadorned great hall. Emily set her satchel on the bed beside several bundles she recognized as the ones her escort had carried on their horses after sending her father's soldiers away.

The bed was covered in the Sinclair plaid. Another plaid was draped over the single chair in the room and there were two small trunks along one wall.

Cait lifted the lid of one. "You can put your things in here."

"Thank you." Emily wanted nothing more than to curl up on the bed and sleep until the next century, but she began putting her belongings away. "You said your brother was not reconciled to this marriage?"

Cait helped the obviously exhausted Englishwoman by handing her bundles from the bed. "Yes."

"Why? Did he want to marry someone else? Does he hate the fact that I'm English?"

"It is very unusual for a Highlander to marry outside of the clans," Cait said diplomatically.

But the truth was, she was still shocked her brother had acceded to the king's demand that he marry an Englishwoman. Talorc had more reason than most to distrust both the English and humans. Since Emily was both, Cait couldn't help worrying that the match was doomed from the start.

She tried to look at the positive and believe her brother would get past his prejudices. He simply refused to see that not all humans were untrustworthy because some were capable of betrayal. Some of the Chrechte were capable of betrayal as well; it wasn't simply a human weakness. But it made no difference to Talorc. He chose to view all humans as weak and unprincipled.

Similarly, one couldn't lump all the English together; they couldn't all be heathen usurpers, could they? Certainly the sweet woman beside her did not have the scent of betrayal or greed clinging to her person as their stepmother had.

"You mean to say that they are as appalled by the fact that I'm English as my parents were to discover one of their daughters had to be sent to marry a Scot?" Emily asked.

Cait sighed. "Appalled is a mild word for Talorc's reaction when he received word from Scotland's king."

"I see."

"Do not take it personally," Cait said earnestly.

"How can I? The man has not spoken a single word to me."

Cait relaxed, relief flaring through her. "I'm glad you are so sensible." She sighed again. "I cannot say the same for my brother."

"Has he upset your king to be punished this way?"

"No," Cait gasped. Where did the English get their ideas? "King David respects my brother a great deal, but he has been influenced by the Normans of England and adopted many of their ways. It is for that reason he wanted Talorc to take an English bride. He is hoping you will tame him."

It was Emily's turn to gasp. She looked like she'd just swallowed a fish whole. "Your brother told you this?" she demanded. "I would not have thought such a fierce warrior would confide so personal a thing to his younger sister."

Cait had to laugh at that. "Oh, no. I listened to the soldiers talking."

Emily grinned and then laughed as Cait blushed at what she'd admitted to.

"It's a shameful habit, I know, but…"

"How would you learn anything otherwise?" Emily finished for her.

Feeling like she'd met a true sister of the heart, Cait asked, "You don't think I'm terrible?"

"I've overheard many an important conversation in my father's keep." Emily shrugged. "Men keep women in the dark when they shouldn't… and parents are not always as forthright with their children as one might wish."

"Amen to that. My brother has been like a father to me for many years. He didn't even tell me he had arranged my marriage until I was called to the great hall to speak my vows."

"Were you happy in your marriage?"

Cait wished she could say yes, because it was so obvious her new friend was looking for some kind of solace, but she couldn't make herself lie to the other woman. Even for Emily's peace of mind. "It was a good match to cement my brother's power in the clan, but Fergus and I had little in common."

"Still, it must be difficult he is gone now that you are pregnant with his child." Then Emily's hand flew to cover her mouth. "I'm so sorry. I know I shouldn't speak of it."

"Is that an English custom, to pretend ignorance when a woman is increasing?" Cait asked, trying not to laugh at the idea. She did not wish to offend the other woman.

"Yes, actually."

Cait shook her head. "I am due in four months and I cannot wait. To be a mother is a great blessing among my people."

"The abbess says that according to the Church, to give birth is to rectify the sins of Eve." Emily's brow furrowed. "It is considered evidence of Heaven's blessing on a marital union."

"An
abbess
said that?" It sounded more like something an English priest would say to Cait.

Emily's mouth tipped in a small grin and she winked conspiratorially at Cait. "Well, she didn't say she agreed."

"I have heard that an abbess can be a woman of great political power in England."

"Yes."

"You're lucky then to be related to one."

"Oh, I'm not."

"Then were you sent to an abbey for schooling?"

"No, but a very learned abbess came to stay in my father's holding while traveling from her abbey to the home of one of her former students. She was wonderful. She was never too impatient to answer my questions and even tried to talk Papa into allowing me to attend schooling at the abbey. My stepmother refused and later I had cause to be glad, but I was allowed to correspond with the abbess frequently. I think more because my stepmother did not wish to make an enemy of her, but whatever the reason, her missives will be one of the things I shall miss most living here." She smiled valiantly, though her violet eyes were rimmed with fatigue. "I'm sure I'll find other things to make up for it."

Cait admired Emily's spirit and only hoped the other woman's faith would be rewarded.

 

Emily found many odd things about her new home over the next few days. Not least of which was the fact that her intended husband had yet to speak a single word to her. For the most part, he ignored her. However, when he did deign to notice her, his scowl was every bit as furious as it had been the first time she saw him.

She made no effort to introduce herself, determined to save meeting him for later, when he was in a better mood. She thought that just might happen about the day she went to meet her Maker.

She helped Cait with the chore of running the keep, much as she had with Sybil, but enjoyed the task more. She and Cait had a great deal in common and grew to be good friends very quickly.

The two women were crossing the great hall one evening after her arrival when Talorc turned to them. "Cait, bring the woman here."

Cait grimaced at her brother's surly tone, but turned to obey.

The woman
? Emily couldn't believe the laird's effrontery. If he didn't start showing some manners soon, she was going to give him a lecture that would make Sybil's seem like friendly gossip. Her temper, which had been pricked on her arrival, climbed toward a boil.

As Cait walked past she whispered to Emily, "Don't let him frighten you. His bark is worse than his bite."

She almost laughed because it was obvious Cait was at least a little frightened herself. However, she soon became angered at the thought. A pregnant woman should not be upset in any way. Hadn't her father often said so when Sybil was carrying? Emily turned and glared at Talorc, but did not move to obey.

"Is she stupid then? Why isn't she following you?" Talorc demanded loudly of his sister. "You told me she spoke our language."

Cait turned a worried look to Emily and her eyes widened to round saucers when she saw Emily's defiant stance. Then she smiled.

Emily didn't give her a chance to answer her brother. "Why don't you ask
that woman
yourself?" she challenged Talorc. "That is if you can bring yourself to speak to her."

If he thought she was saying her vows to a man who would not even address her, then he was sadly mistaken.

"Or perhaps I'll just tell you. I am not stupid, nor am I deaf. You do not need to shout your requests like an old man who no longer hears properly."

"You dare to insult me?" Talorc roared.

"Of course she does not insult you," Cait interrupted with speed.

Emily started walking toward the clan leader. "Nay, I do not insult you."

Talorc nodded his head at her statement, apparently mollified. However her next words had him red with anger.

"When I wish to insult you, I can think of things much more offensive to call you than an
old man
. It is more of an insult to old men to compare their deaf shouts to your rude bellows," she replied, nodding for emphasis.

This had Talorc bellowing again about the barbarous tongues of English women. She laughed out loud to be called a barbarian by someone so uncouth as the man yelling at her. She noticed Cait smiling, too. Looking at her, Emily was sure her newfound friend understood her amusement.

BOOK: Moon Awakening
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