Highland Echoes:Fated Hearts 02(7)

By: Ceci Giltenan

“Mama, I won’t have the light long and it is much easier to work while Kristen is napping.”

“I know, sweetling, but this is important.”

Grace sighed but stopped what she was doing and went to sit by her mother. Once so strong and beautiful, her mother had wasted away to practically nothing. Her dark auburn hair, which had been so much like Grace’s own, was dull and streaked with gray. Her green eyes no longer sparkled. Grace took her mother’s frail hand in her own. “What do ye wish to tell me?”

“My beautiful lass, I love ye so very much. I am so sorry.”

“Wheesht, there is nothing for ye to be sorry for.”

“There is more than ye know and I need to tell ye, my sweet.” Her mother closed her eyes.

“Ye are tired, Mama. It will wait until ye are stronger.”

“Grace,” her mother said, her voice surprisingly firm, “ye know full well, I am never going to be stronger. This will not wait.”

Grace blinked back tears. Her mother had just given voice to the fear in Grace’s heart. After having lost her father and her husband, in spite of all her efforts, her mother was indeed slipping away too. “Aye, Mama. I’m listening.”

“Ye know yer father and I came here from the mainland right after we were married.” Grace nodded and her mother continued. “We told ye we had no families but that wasn’t true.”

Her mother’s words shocked Grace but she tried not to let it show. “It wasn’t?”

“Nay. Yer da and I fell in love but my father wouldn’t let us marry. He vowed to kill yer da if he ever saw him again. We ran away together and came here.” Her mother panted; the effort required to talk had nearly been too much for her.

Grace kissed the back of her mother’s hand. “None of that matters now, Mama.”

“Aye, Grace, it does. I don’t ever want ye to seek my family out. I won’t even tell ye who they are. Yer grandfather, if he still lives, will see ye and Kristen as commodities or worse, kill ye out of anger and revenge. Promise me ye will never seek them out.”

Grace wasn’t sure what her mother meant by commodities but she had never seen such abject fear in her mother’s eyes. “I promise, Mama.”

Her mother closed her eyes for a moment, trying to catch her breath. When she was calmer, she said, “But yer father may have family left. He was from Clan Sutherland. His mother, Innes, worked at the castle there, in the kitchens. We never told anyone where we went.” She paused again, struggling to breathe. “My father was ruthless. If he ever found out what clan yer da was from, they would be in danger and so would we. Yer da and I are beyond my family’s reach now. I think he would want his mother to know…what happened…why we couldn’t tell her…how much we loved each other. I wrote a letter…for yer da…years ago.” Her mother gasped for air between words. “He feared sending it. My father…” A tear slipped down her mother’s cheeks. “It’s in the box. I’m sorry we caused so much pain…but God help me…I would do it again. I loved him so.”

“Mother, please, rest. We can talk again later.”

Her mother shook her head, tears flowing freely. “Be happy, Grace.” With that her mother had closed her eyes. The effort to tell Grace all of this had exhausted her and she drifted off to sleep. She never awoke again, dying a few days later.

The memory now caused Grace’s heart to ache. She missed her mother so very much.

If her grandmother, Innes, still lived, she had heard nothing from Grace’s father in twenty-three years. If Innes had passed away, it was possible the Sutherlands would not remember Tristan from so many years ago. Grace prayed that they would let her stay in any case. Maybe they would welcome her skills as a weaver.

When they reached the castle gates, Grace told the guard she was looking for Innes Murray.

“She’ll be in the kitchens. I’ll find someone to show ye there.”

Relief washed over Grace. At least her grandmother was alive.

“Well, lass, it seems we have reached the right place,” Dugald said.

“Aye it does. Thank ye for everything.” Grace gave him a quick hug.