Highland Echoes:Fated Hearts 02(2)By: Ceci Giltenan
Behind them was a wagon into which goods, provided in lieu of coin, were being loaded under the watchful eye of a number of the laird’s guardsmen.
When her turn came, she stepped forward, stood Kristen on the ground beside her, and curtsied. “Good day Laird.”
“Good day, Mistress Breive. My condolences on the loss of yer mother.”
“Thank ye, Laird.”
“I’m sure it was a terrible blow, coming so soon after the accident.”
She swallowed hard against the knot forming in her throat at the reminder of all she had lost. Don’t show them any weakness. She steeled herself. “Aye, Laird, it was but I’m managing.” She stepped closer to the table and handed him a small pouch containing the coins for her rents.”
He spilled the coins into his hand as a slow smile spread across his face. “Aye, ye seem to be managing nicely. Well done.”
“Thank ye, Laird.” Relief flooded her. She curtsied, intending to take her leave when Fearchar stepped forward.
“Wait,” he growled. “Ye haven’t been dismissed.”
The laird frowned. “She has paid her rents in full, son. There is no reason to keep her.”
“Father, ye can’t mean to leave a young widow living on her own.”
“I don’t see the harm.” The laird smiled at her again. “This is her home. She is a skilled weaver and appears to be able to care for herself and her daughter. Unless something changes, I’m inclined to let her continue doing so.”
“Father, I think ye are overlooking the obvious. She hasn’t been alone that long.”
Laird Morrison’s brow furrowed. “Tristan and Callum died in October. She made it through the winter quite well.”
Grace grew increasingly uncomfortable. They talked about her as if she were a head of livestock. Yet, she knew better than to say anything. She stood still, holding Kristen’s hand tightly, looking down and waiting to be addressed, or excused.
Fearchar persisted, “Her mother was still alive to help her. I understand she only passed away two months ago. Nay, I think it’s a mistake to risk leaving her on her own.”
Lachie, an old friend of Grace’s father spoke up. “Laird, her mother had been gravely ill since before Tristan and Callum died. Grace has managed quite well.”
“Aye she has,” agreed Hamish, another of her father’s friends.
“And with no help from any of ye?” Fearchar said, his voice dripping with scorn.
Kristen began to fret and tug at her hand. Grace picked her up again. “Wheesht, Kristen,” she whispered, bouncing the child, trying to keep her quiet.
“She’s no bother to anyone,” assured Lachie’s wife, Sheila.
Fearchar ignored the words of support from her friends. “Father, clearly they all feel sorry for a lass who has lost her parents and husband in the space of a few months. But come next winter when she is unable to feed her sniveling bairn, none of them will thank ye for leaving her here in their midst.”
Grace was stunned. She couldn’t imagine why Fearchar was pushing this issue.
The laird considered Grace for a moment. “What say ye lass? Ye would be more than welcome to work with the weavers at the castle. I might even be able to find a new husband for ye from amongst my guardsmen. The sooner ye remarry the better.”
Grace didn’t want another husband and she certainly didn’t want to go live at the castle. She didn’t understand Fearchar’s motives so she chose her words carefully. “Laird, yer offer is most kind, but this is my home. I believe I can provide for myself and my child here. I would prefer not to leave.”
Fearchar glared at her, but the laird seemed convinced. “Then ye shall stay, at least through Michaelmas. If ye are managing well enough at that time and there is no risk of ye becoming a burden to yer neighbors, I will allow ye to continue to live here.”
She wasn’t sure what she had done to draw Fearchar’s ire but she thought it best to leave before he could raise any further objection. She curtsied again, somewhat awkwardly with Kristen still in her arms. “Thank ye laird.” Clutching Kristen close, she wove her way through the villagers. No sooner had she made it to the edge of the village than Fearchar appeared at her side. He grabbed her elbow roughly, sneering at her. “Allow me to see ye home, mistress Breive.”