The king broke off a bite of pastry, savored the taste and swallowed. “Tell me, Stoneham, to which of these lovely ladies should I give the pleasure of cutting you in half?”
When it was time to leave, Kevin asked Catherin if she wanted to go with them, but she seemed unwilling to answer. Instead, she whispered to Athena…she wanted to see Anna, but she didn’t want to go back upstairs to get her things. Athena understood and did it for her. Then, when Athena announced she was going with the King to find Rachel, Catherin was so used to being told what to do, she didn’t demand to go with them.
The king, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure taking Athena was a good idea. He didn’t want a war with the Highlanders and couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t do or say something to offend her. But Athena was having none of it and stood with her hands on her hips glaring at him. The king shot Kevin a silent plea for help, but Kevin only shrugged. Finally, the king gave in.
The two men agreed on a place in the forest where the Highlanders and Catherin would wait, and it had already been three days. Kevin hadn’t brought an army with him. Instead, he only brought three men, plus the two he sent earlier to watch Stoneham, and there wasn’t much to do. A couple of the men caught fish in a pond, which provided them with plenty to eat. The men practiced their warrior skills in the small clearing, and then told stories around the fire at night. They were careful to speak in their native language. Some of the stories were unfit for the ears of a lady.
Kevin kept a close eye on Catherin, but tried not to let her know. She seemed to want to see and touch everything, just as Anna had and she rarely spoke. The first night, she looked at the stars for so long, he thought she would never rest. The next morning, she got up and walked fully dressed right into the pond. He was ready to hurry in after her, but she knew how to swim quite well and didn’t go too far out. She played in the water like a child, swimming, backstroking and even floating.
It was Justin who pulled the chain apart and he felt a desire to see to her, so he grabbed her bundle of things and took them to the pond. Then he set the bundle down and hung a plaid over the low branch of a tree so she could have privacy when she dressed.
The King was right. When she smiled at Justin, Kevin thought she really could make the birds sing. He wondered if his wife had the same smile. In fact, if she looked at all like her mother after her face healed, he would be very pleased. He left the pond, sat down with his back against a tree and closed his eyes. Would she really be glad her father was dead? He was her father, after all. Would she want the details of how he died? He hoped not, it was a gruesome affair. Most importantly, was she thinking about Kevin too? He remembered every moment he spent with her from the time he lifted her out of Thomas' arms, to the last moment when she listened to his heart. Suddenly, he opened his eyes. The whole time he’d been away, he’d actually been thinking about his wife and not the woman on the horse.
The second day, Catherin told Justin she wanted to bathe properly, so he arranged her privacy. He wasn’t worried any of the men would look. None of them wanted to see the scars the scunner probably left on her. The second night, she slept like a baby. The third day, she talked more and worried more. What if they couldn’t find Rachel?
Justin tried to ease her fears, but wasn’t very successful. Then he found a soft piece of wood, sat down on a rock, took out his dagger and began to carve. The longer he worked, the more fascinated she became and before long, she was sitting on another rock not far from him.
Kevin found a second piece of wood and handed it to her. Then he offered her his dagger. She stared at the dagger for a long moment, decided it would be all right, took it from him and tried to learn how to carve.
The first time she made a mistake, she looked terrified. Yet Justin only laughed, so she finally relaxed and smiled. Every once in a while she would make what she thought was another mistake, look at Justin’s reaction and smile when he laughed, putting a smile on all their faces.
In the afternoon, Kevin went to the pond to wash up and when he came back, Catherin was in a deep discussion with Justin. She was whispering and Justin kept shaking his head. “What is it?”
“She wants to ask about Anna, but she is afraid. I keep telling her there is nothing to be afraid of. She says Stoneham would not let her ask about either of her daughters.”
“But why does she imagine we are the same?”
“She knows her husband was a MacGreagor.”
Kevin took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He untied a leather pouch from his belt, reached in, felt for what he wanted and withdrew a closed fist. Next, he sat down on the ground in front of her. “Catherin, give me your hand.” She looked like she had just been struck by lightning and he had to tell her three times before she obeyed.
When she finally reached out, he turned her palm up and dropped a beautiful blue stone into her hand. Then he closed her hand and held it between both of his. “This stone belonged to my mother and she told me these words: ‘God condemns the soul of a lad who hurts a woman or a child.’ If any lad hurts you ever again, you are to give this stone back to me and I will kill him. Do you understand?” He waited for her slow nod and then released her hand. Then he stretched out on the grass and began, “I will not lie, Anna was badly beaten and we thought she would die.” He saw Catherin grimace when he began to tell her the extent of Anna’s injuries, but it was better than letting her believe the beating was far worse.
In the Keep, Anna was healing and becoming more attractive by the minute. She often went outside for a walk and when she didn’t seem to want company, Katie watched her from the window. Every once in a while, Anna would walk to the closed drawbridge, and then just stand there looking at it. Kevin wanted her kept inside, but saying no to Anna was the hardest thing Katie ever had to do. She decided if Anna looked like she was going to climb the wall, she would take her out and face her brother’s ire later.
Be sensible, Anna told herself. Kevin was trying to protect her, not imprison her. For days, no one had come or gone except small hunting parties and men hauling water from the moat. She reasoned, if she were imprisoned, so were the rest of them, and they didn’t seem to mind. Kevin told her she could only go out when it was safe. Did that mean her father had gained an army somehow and was heading this way? Surely, someone would have told her if that were true. Then why was the bridge always up? Try as she might, she could not help but feel she was a prisoner again.
She decided to continue her walk before someone thought she was daft. How many times had she stood in front of her father’s courtyard gate trying to will it to open so she could ride Threcher? The older she got the less often it opened.
She thought about planting flowers around the Keep. That was something else she wasn’t allowed to do at home. In fact, there were no plants or flowers anywhere in the manor. She didn’t know how to plant flowers and every time she asked someone in the hold to show her how to do something, they did it for her. It seemed like they wanted her to be utterly useless and it annoyed her.
She was suddenly standing there looking at the bridge again and Katie was right beside her. She didn’t mean to sound angry, but she couldn’t seem to help it. “What could be taking so long?”
“It has only been a few days.”
“Thirteen miserable, frustrating days. I thought I could survive anything, but I am not so sure anymore. I am as worried about Kevin and the men, as I am about my mother and sister. Sometimes, I do not want to love your brother, it is too painful.”
Katie smiled. “You might not feel that way once you discover all his faults.”
“Well, he snores when he is too tired.”
“I will not be bothered. I do not intend to sleep in the same room.”
“I see.” Katie wasn’t sure how to handle this situation. “Are you afraid of him?”
“A little. I do not want to...my mother sometimes...”
“Come, we will sit on the steps. ‘Tis a beautiful day and we must enjoy it before the rains come.” Katie led the way and waited until they both got comfortable on the steps. “My brother is a good lad. He blames himself for what happened to you and he will not force you into his bed.”
“How many people has Kevin killed?”