Thomas cleared his throat and got her attention. “Everyone knows now, Milady. We delayed the feast and sent word to all the clans.”
“I see.” She turned again to her husband. “Tell me, why did you marry me so quickly?”
He wasn’t about to tell her the truth. “I wanted to keep you safe.”
“This you could not do without marrying me?”
Thomas came to his laird’s rescue. “Aye, but you are safer still now that you are his wife. The other clans will not dare harm you.” He prayed she would accept that explanation.
Anna lightly rubbed her forehead. “I believe you spoiled my father’s plans and who knows what he will do now. I was not told to marry you. I was told to go to your home, simply agree to marry you and then wait. Wait for what? The day of our wedding when you would be distracted and your defenses would be down?”
“Aye, but our defenses are never down,” Kevin said.
Justin, Kevin’s third in command who also spoke English, had been quiet the whole time and even now, he remained thoughtful before he spoke. “Did you say, Milady, that your father wanted us to hate him?”
“Perhaps he means to draw us out.”
“How?” Kevin asked.
Anna caught her breath, “Rachel...he means to use Rachel. He knows I will try to save her and if he kills me, you would...”
Kevin suddenly took her elbow and turned her to him. “Do not say such a thing. I will not let anyone kill you.”
“I am not convinced you can stop him. He holds favor with the king and tells his lies very well. He might convince the King of England to fight you.”
“You will not die!”
She was surprised by his reaction. If he loved her, she wouldn’t have been surprised at all, but he loved the woman on the horse. It must be his pride. All men were filled with pride and his pride was certainly not going to let her die without a fight, just as she would not let her sister die either, though she couldn’t think how to prevent it. Kevin’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“Anna, is that all of it?”
She moved away and began to pace again. “It is so difficult to remember. Please allow me a moment to think.” She walked back and forth twice more before she stopped. “He talked of revenge, but not at you. That’s right, he said your father tricked him and he has not forgotten.”
Kevin raised his voice and nearly shouted at her, “My father has been dead these seven years. What could he have done?”
Instead of being frightened by his tone, she was suddenly frustrated, and was about to run her fingers through her hair, when she remembered the scarf and quickly lowered her hand. She started to pace again. “I do not know, Kevin. I remember the soldiers holding me, and father cutting my hair with his dagger. Then he thought to cut my face so I would have an unsightly scar.”
Anna quickly went on, “I was concentrating on which way to turn my head, and it was not an easy decision. If I moved my head too far, he would cut my throat. He must have changed his mind. I wasn’t prepared for his fist and I do not remember all this bruising. I must have passed out.”
“She is tired, Kevin,” Thomas whispered. “We have hounded the poor lass enough. I will take her back.”
“Nay, I will take her back. I should not have yelled at her.”
“Aye, you should not have. The women might poison your food if you do it again.”
She was finally alone again in her bedchamber and it was over. She’d told Kevin everything she could remember and fretting wasn’t going to help. If only she could figure out where her father had hidden Rachel, and dear God, was her mother still alive? Her father had no reason to spare her now that Anna had done what he wanted. She thought about getting down on her knees to pray, but it would be too painful.
What she feared almost as much as losing her mother and sister was the thought of a battle. She might lose even more if it came to that, she had only just found Kevin and she could not bear the thought of him dying because of her. Exhausted, she couldn’t think any more, so she curled up on her bed and fell asleep.
By the time Kevin returned to his counsel, the men were pondering the inevitable questions: What had Kevin’s father done to make Baron Stoneham want revenge? And why now?
“Perhaps he waited until Anna was old enough to marry?” Thomas suggested.
Clymer asked, “How old do you think she is?”
“I did not bother to ask,” Kevin admitted. He’d really made a mess of everything. She had the body and the mind of a woman, but without seeing her face there was no way to even guess how old she was.
Thomas said, “More likely, the scunner just thought of his plan. A lad with revenge in his heart often waits for the best possible time to strike. He heard you wanted a wife and that began it.”
“We must ask the elders what your father did to the scunner. They would know.” Justin appreciated the nods from the other men.
“Aye, but most of our elders died in the plague and more have died since,” Kevin reminded them. It was another mountain to climb and all of them tried to think whom they could ask. Perhaps someone in another clan remembered.
“Athena did not die,” Thomas muttered.
Kevin headed back to the hold, crossed the bridge and then turned up the path to the cottages. Athena had been one of his mother’s closest friends and still mourned the loss. He would try not to upset her; at least that was his plan.
She was indeed an elder, though she was barely over forty-five. With wars, childbirth and sickness, it could be a harsh life in the Highlands and more than a few women were lost because of it. He knocked lightly on her door and waited for her to answer. She was a tall woman with long dark hair braided down the middle of her back. She was obviously pleased to see him until she thought of something and her smile faded.
“What is it?” He left the door open and the other men outside.
“Your mother would weep over what has happened to your wife.”
He knew if he gave in to her desire to talk about his mother, all hope of a quick conversation would be lost. “Athena, I need your help. There is a lad by the name of Stoneham who...”
“Is that scunner still alive?” She plopped herself down in a chair and folded her arms in a huff.
“You know him?” He could see the ire in her eyes and started to be concerned about her health.
“Stoneham is not his real name, ‘tis MacGreagor.”
Kevin couldn’t believe his ears. At length, he sat down and put his head in his hands. “My wife is Stoneham’s daughter.” The woman beside him didn’t say a word, so he slowly raised his head to see her face.
Athena was lost in her memories and it took her a moment to react, “She is fortunate to be alive.”
“Aye, she is. Tell me all of it, Athena, the lad has sworn his revenge and means to attack.”
She scoffed then. “He does not have the courage to attack us. He is a coward.”
“He told Anna my father tricked him. Do you know what happened?”