Highland Echoes:Fated Hearts 02(11)

By: Ceci Giltenan

“Well, my sweet lass, ye’ve found me now and ye’ll have a home here forever. I’ll speak with Laird Sutherland about it when he returns but have no fears, he’ll welcome ye.”

“I won’t be a burden, Grandmother. I am a skilled weaver, but I will work at anything.”

“Ye could never be a burden, lass, don’t worry about that. I’m sure the laird won’t object to ye and Kristen living with me. My cottage is inside the castle walls, in the outer bailey. Come with me. I’ll take ye there.”

Chapter 3

Sutherland Castle, two days later

Soaked by the late spring rain and chilled to the bone, Bram Sutherland thought the gates of home had never looked so inviting. It had been a long, wet ride from Castle MacKay. The skies had only cleared in the last hour. They would have been welcome to stay another night waiting out the storm at Naomh-dùn, the MacKay stronghold, but thankfully his father had declined. Bram couldn’t stand the thought of spending another minute there. His betrothed had married Eoin MacKay. Bram hadn’t wanted to linger and be reminded of his loss.

Letting Fiona MacNicol go had been the right thing to do but that didn’t make it less disappointing. Until yesterday he hadn’t even met her. But once he had, he found her not only beautiful, but strong, loyal, and possessed of a loving heart—a heart that was, unfortunately, deeply in love with Eoin MacKay. Even though Bram had been tempted to force the terms of their betrothal contract, her heart would never belong to him and he couldn’t bear to see her unhappy.

They slogged into the courtyard. His father gave his mount to the care of a stable hand. “Son, I expect supper is nigh on the table. Leave yer beast to one of the lads. We’ll fill our bellies with good food and ale and try to put this mess behind us.”

Bram generally preferred to care for his own horse and while he had been looking forward to the warmth of hearth and home for hours, arriving at the start of the evening meal had disadvantages. He was less than anxious to face the onslaught of questions about what had happened and why they didn’t have Fiona MacNicol with them. “I’ll see to Goliath myself but I won’t be long.”

“Bram, ye could have had her. The law was on our side.”

“Nay, Da, we have been through this. It would have been wrong. Fiona and Eoin love each other.”

“Bah. Love. Kentigern MacKay would never have stood for this.” His father’s tone of voice clearly conveyed how unimportant that detail was.

“Perhaps not, but he is dead. Eoin is laird and in spite of being solid allies for years, if we had forced the issue, he would have become a mortal enemy to the Sutherlands until either I lay dead or he did. Not to mention the fact that I would be married to a woman who would have hated me forever. This was the right course.”

“Whether it was or wasn’t, it’s done now and we’ll need to find another way to ally with the MacNicols. I think I must consider Bhaltair’s daughter for Boyd, and the sooner the better. We need to get that sorted while they are young—before either of them gets any foolish notions about love in their heads.”

Bram just shook his head at his father’s utter dismissal of the emotion. Bram had understood from an early age that he would marry a woman of his father’s choosing, a woman who strengthened clan ties. He hadn’t thought much about love and perhaps had discounted its importance as thoroughly as his father had. That was until he saw Fiona and Eoin together. He didn’t want to admit it, but he envied them.

His father must have taken his silence for agreement, because he continued, “Aye, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced. I will take care of it as soon as Laird MacNicol has recovered. And we will find a bonny bride for ye too, Bram. That young Anna MacKay is quite a pretty thing, even if she is a bit too bold for her own good.”

“A bit too bold? That is an understatement. Whoever marries her will have his hands full. I’m not sure I’m up to the task. Besides, she is very young.”

“Seventeen is not that young. But there is also Annice…”

“Nay, Da, please, can’t this wait? I don’t wish to discuss another betrothal at the moment and I need to see to Goliath.”