Authors: Tanya Anne Crosby
Tags: #medieval, #scottish medieval
TANYA ANNE CROSBY
This work is a novel. Any
similarities to actual persons or events, living or dead, is purely
Cover design by
Published by Oliver-Heber
Books at Smashwords
Copyright © Tanya Anne
For my beautiful mother, who gifted me with a love
Other books in this series
ON BENDED KNEE
All coming soon as
Chreagach Mhor, Scotland 1118
Iain, laird of the MacKinnons, descendant of the
powerful sons of MacAlpin, paced the confines of the hall below his
chamber like an overeager youth.
So much hope was affixed upon this birth.
Now, at last, thirty years of feuding with the
MacLeans would come to an end. Aye, for how could auld man MacLean
look upon his grandbairn and not want peace? After a year full of
enmity from his bonny MacLean wife—a year of trying to please her
only to meet with stony disapproval and wordless accusations—even
Iain felt burgeoning hope for how could she look upon their babe,
the life they’d created together, and not feel some measure—some
small measure, of affection?
Despite the past hostilities between their clans,
his own resentment dissipated in the face of this momentous
occasion, and though he couldn’t say he’d loved her before this
moment, he thought he might now, for she lay abovestairs,
struggling—and a heinous struggle it was—to gift their babe with
its first wondrous breath of life.
She was havin’ his bairn.
Och, but he was proud of her.
As difficult as the birth was proceeding, she’d
borne her pain with nary a scream, nary a curse, though he’d never
have begrudged her either. In truth, her shrieks might have been
far easier to bear. Her silence was tormenting him. He couldn’t
help but be nerve-racked by the thought of his young wife in the
throes of her labor, for his own mother had died just so, giving
him life. Guilt over it plagued him still.
Iain lengthened his stride.
What if the birth killed her?
Twas a fear he’d borne from the
first day he’d lain his hands upon her in carnal pleasure, and it
wouldn’t be eased now until he saw her face once more. God’s truth,
but he would welcome even her sullen glances this moment. He’d bear
them for the rest of his days if only she’d live through this
punishing birth! In fact, he swore that if his touch was truly so
unbearable for her, he’d touch her no more. He’d grant her anything
her heart desired—anything—and if she desired him not, then so be
If she died... where, then, was their peace?
Damn MacLean, for he’d as lief be—
The glorious sound of a babe’s newborn wail
resounded from above, a rapturous siren that froze Iain in
He found he couldn’t move, could do little more than
stare at the stone steps that led to his chamber, joy and fear
holding him immobilized.
It seemed forever before he heard the heavy door
above swing open, and then the hastening footsteps.
Maggie, his wife’s maid, appeared on the stairwell.
“A son, laird!” she exclaimed, shouting down happily. “Ye’ve a
Those beautiful words freed Iain from his stupor.
Yelping euphorically, he bolted up the stairwell, taking the steps
two at a time in his haste to see his wife and a first glorious
glimpse of his newborn son. “A son!” he said in marvel, passing
Maggie as she hurried down to spread the news. She nodded, and joy
surged through him. He wanted to kiss her fiercely—aye! Even
Not even the midwife barring him entrance at the
door diminished his spirits.
The woman who had so long ago helped to deliver him
unto the world thrust out her arms to keep him from entering his
chamber. “She doesna wish to see you, Iain.” The piteous look that
came over her face sent prickles down his spine. “No’ as yet, she
He braced himself to hear the worst. “Is she—”
As well as can be expected. The
babe didna wish to come, is all.” She lowered her eyes, averting
The babe was no longer crying.
What is it, Glenna?” Fear swept
through him. Unable to help himself, he seized her by the arms and
fought the urge to thrust her aside, to see for himself. “What o’
She tilted him a sympathetic glance. “Dinna y’ hear
him, lad? Your son is a fine wee bairn! Listen closer,” she bade
He did, and he could hear the babe’s soft shuddering
His gaze was drawn within the darkened chamber.
The midwife must have felt his tension, his
indecision, his elation, his confusion, for she stood firm when he
tried to nudge her aside. “Iain... nay,” she beseeched him, “ye
dinna wish to see her as yet... Gi’ her time.”
Iain released her and reeled backward, numb with
misery. “She loathes me still?”
Her labor was difficult and
long,” Glenna explained. “’Twill pass. Go now, wait belowstairs.
I’ll come t’ fetch ye anon... ye’ve my word.” He hesitated and she
added more firmly, “Do her this one kindness, Iain MacKinnon, for
she doesna seem to be herself just now.”
Iain was torn between wanting to grant his wife this
favor, no matter that it pained him that she didn’t wish to see
him, and needing to hold his son. The desire was nearly tangible.
“She truly doesna wish to—” His voice broke. “See me?”
The midwife shook her head.
I... had hoped...” His jaw
Och, but ye canna expect her to
come aboot so soon, Iain! Gi’ her time. Gi’ her time!”
Verra well.” His jaw turned taut.
“But I’ll no’ wait long,” he assured her. “I intend to see my son,
Glenna! She cannot keep me from him forever!”
The midwife’s eyes slanted with understanding. “‘Tis
all she asks o’ ye, lad.”
Iain could not speak, not to assent, nor to
He turned and made his way belowstairs, cursing
whatever prideful act had kindled the accursed feud all those many
years ago between her da and his own. He didn’t even know, nor did
anyone else seem to recall, what heinous crime had engendered such
animosity. Like as not, it was naught more than the simple fact
that his father’s hound had pissed upon old MacLean’s boot.
Stubborn auld fools!
He didn’t have long to wait. For that he was
grateful. Glenna needed only call him once and he was there at the
door, shocked to find his wife standing in the middle of the
chamber with their babe cradled in her arms, face wan, her hair
disheveled. He thought she wavered a little on her feet, but she
came forward, her face without expression, to place their infant
within his arms. The gesture moved him so that any protest he might
have uttered over her being out of bed fell away as he embraced his
He stared down in wonder into his child’s wrinkled
Mayhap there was hope after all?
Twill be all, Glenna,” Mari
Iain barely heard his wife’s clipped command, or the
door closing behind Glenna, so overwhelmed was he with the
incredible gift his wife had given him.
His throat constricted as he examined his son... so
tiny... so incredibly beautiful... He began to count toes, fingers,
dared to touch the little nose, lips... skin so soft.
A son!” he whispered in awe, and
glanced up momentarily to find his wife at the window. “Mairi, come
away from there,” he said softly, his voice choking with emotion,
“afore ye catch your death.” His heart pounded joyfully as he
returned to the inspection of his babe.
I wanted to show ye something,
Her voice was lacking emotion, weary. He looked up
to find her staring from the window, the breeze blowing gently
through her beautifully mussed hair. A lovely halo surrounded her,
he thought, the mother of his child. “You should rest,” he advised
her. “Show me later, Mairi. Get yourself back to bed now.” She
turned to face him then, and there was something indiscernible in
The hair at his nape prickled.
She tilted her head and smiled a little. “I wanted
ye to see that bearin’ your bairn didna kill me, after all. Here I
am, ye see!” She swayed like a drunkard, and guilt wrenched at his
gut. “Two days it took me, but here I stand!” She laughed softly,
and choked on her emotion.
Thank God!” he said, and meant it
fiercely. He peered down at their son, unable to endure her
accusing gaze any longer. Self-disgust flowed through him. “Thank
you,” he whispered, unsure of what it was he was supposed to say.
“I’ll make it up to ye, Mairi. I swear it!”
I want only one thing from you,”
Anything—” He choked on the
declaration, but swore he’d give her whatever she so desired.
. She need only ask for it.
I only wanted ye to see me wi’
your own eyes... to know the thought o’ bearin’ ye another—endurin’
your touch!” She shuddered and turned from him abruptly, leaning
out from the tower window. “Dear, God!” she sobbed. “I’ll never do
it again! I’ll not!”
Iain’s arms went numb with the weight of their
child. A sense of foreboding rushed through him. She leaned
farther, and a shudder shook him. “Mairi, come away from there
I want ye to know!”
A cold sweat broke over him. “Now!” he barked. “Get
away from there, Mairi! Glenna!” he shouted and he started toward
his wife with the babe in his arms, unsure of whether to lay the
The thought o’ ye
touching me again did this! You killed me, Iain!”
She flung herself from the window before he could
Iain staggered to his knees, clutching their babe
against his pounding heart.
He might have reached her had he not been holding
Startled by his bellow, the babe began to squeal and
Iain could only stare, stupidly, at the open window where an
instant before his wife had stood.
Northumbria, Balfour Castle, 1124
Someone was watching; she could feel it.
Page froze in the midst of donning her
A twig snapped, muffled by the bracken of the forest
floor, and she snatched down the hem, her eyes focusing upon the
twisting shadows of the not too distant woods.
She could see naught through the midnight blackness,
and naught more than silence reached her—a silence that settled
like the night mist, formless and unnatural. Her teeth began to
chatter, and for a long instant she stood there, chilled and wary,
but she could hear nothing more than familiar night sounds: the
croaking of frogs, the trilling of crickets, the distant howl of a
A quiver passed down her spine, for she had heard
something. She was nearly sure of it.
Twould behoove her, she decided,
to hie back to the safety of the keep—perhaps to rethink the wisdom
in coming out alone at night. All these months of slipping out
without incident had made her lax in her guard.
Like a hundred nights before, Page had come out for
her swim, without bothering to inform anyone of her destination—not
that anyone would have cared, she assured herself quickly. God’s
truth, but the only blessed good to come of being daughter to a man
who only wanted sons was that she had the freedom to do as she
pleased. And yet it truly meant that nobody cared one whit where
she went, what she did, or what became of her. And she didn’t
trouble herself to think tonight would be any different.
On the other hand, she cared! She cared very much,
and she had no intention of becoming somebody’s—or
She sat hurriedly upon the boulder beside where
she’d lain her clothes, and reached down to pluck up her beaten
shoes from the dewy ground. She donned one quickly, muffling silent
curses as her wet foot impeded her progress, and then changed her
mind about lingering long enough to dress.