“We?” Kevin muttered.
“It will not be easy,” Anna admitted. She sat back up, pulled a hand full of grass out of the ground and let the blades slowly slip through her fingers. “They watch every move I make. It is for my protection, my husband says, but it is far more protection than I care to have. I am not at all sure I could endure a whole life of it.”
“Have the men held you down?”
Justin didn’t want to hear what that meant, but he stayed where he was just the same.
Kevin knew exactly what it meant. He took a deep breath and let it out. No wonder she was terrified. He heard someone walk up behind him and turned to look. Holding Rachel in her arms, Athena didn’t stop. Instead, she took the child to her mother, exchanged a few whispers with the women and came back.
Athena stood in front of Kevin with her arms folded and watched his eyes. “They want to leave. Let them go.”
“How can I, she is my wife and it is not safe for them out there alone.”
“Anna was brought here against her will and for days you have imprisoned her. Her mother has been locked away for two years. Do you really think you can keep them?”
“There must be a way to convince them we will not harm them.”
“Kevin, I rode beside Catherin all the way back and told her everything I could think of about us.”
“She did not believe you?”
“I doubt she even heard me. She is free, but she is not really free until she is allowed to make her own decisions.”
“She can make her own decisions here.”
Athena closed her eyes and slowly opened them again. “Kevin, what does a horse do when you first take off his bridle and set him free?”
“He runs,” Justin answered.
“Aye, Catherin wants to run too. It is all she can think about. You can talk, but she does not hear your words.”
“I cannot let Anna go, I love her.”
“Then show her how much you love her by letting her go. They must know they are free to leave whenever they want.”
“Athena is right, Kevin. It pains me to say it, but she is right. We have to let them go.” Justin looked at Catherin one last time and then walked with Athena back across the bridge.
Anna and her mother stood up and watched Kevin for a moment, but when he didn’t make a move, Anna snapped her fingers and the stallion walked to her. She swung up on his back, took Rachel and then gave her mother a hand up. For a long moment, Anna just sat there looking at him until finally, she mumbled something to the horse. Threcher turned, walked away from Kevin and disappeared into the forest.
Kevin stood there for another hour waiting, but Anna didn’t come back and his heart was actually hurting. He’d never felt that kind of pain before and didn’t think he would survive it. A thousand thoughts were going through his mind. The women hadn’t taken a thing with them; they’d not even eaten their evening meal. Anna had no bow and arrows and no dagger. How would they live?
By the end of the next hour, Katie finally walked out to him. She lifted his arm and forced him to put it around her. “Anna started stealing things. We might not have realized what she was doing, but one of the men noticed her hips were wider leaving than they were coming back. Her horse outran her guard five times in the last two days. She has hidden things in the forest somewhere.”
“She planned this?”
“Not this exactly, but she would have gone soon anyway. At least, they are not totally without. She has a bow and arrows, two daggers and three plaids that I know of. They will be fine.”
“Does she know how to sneak up on her prey?”
“She can split an apple in half with an arrow and from a considerable distance.” Katie hugged her brother. “Anna didn’t seem interested in doing anything except walk every inch of the grounds. I think now she was trying to find a way out, in case you...”
“In case I tried to force her into my bed.” He closed his eyes. “She told her mother she loves me. Was she lying?”
“Nay, but she said loving you hurt too much. That was when you were gone and she was worried about you.”
“Now she is gone and I am worried. She is right, love hurts too much.”
“Come inside, all we can do is pray love will bring Anna back.”
She didn’t come back. A week passed and when each night came, Kevin stood in the window of the bedchamber, he hoped to share with her, watching the meadow until he finally crawled into bed. Then another week passed and another.
He realized he was acting like a soppy teenager instead of a twenty-six-year old man and he had to force himself to concentrate on his responsibilities. Each time a messenger or another laird came, he silently prayed for word of her. There was no word of her. How was it possible she managed to keep so well hidden in Scotland? It was the horse, he realized and he remembered to be grateful they had such a good protector.
A hundred times, he made up his mind to send men out to look for her, but Athena and Katie always talked him out of it. Besides, they could have left Scotland and be in the heart of England by now. Did Anna have aunts and uncles they could go to? He admitted he had no idea. In fact, he knew very little about his wife. All they really talked about was her father.
He thought about how happy she was to see him when he came home, and about the first time he could really hold her and kiss her. But those few minutes went by too quickly. What haunted him the most was the feel of her when she laid her injured head on his chest and listened to his heart. She stayed there for a long time and it was still vivid in his mind. Half of the time, he hated that memory and the other half, he believed it was the only reason his heart kept beating.
Justin wasn’t handling it much better and sometimes Kevin spotted him leaning against a tree at the edge of the meadow. There were details of men assigned to hunt, fish and cut wood, but each time they went out, they came back -- without Anna.
Anna sat in the warm afternoon sun on a large rock, wearing traditional English clothing, and hugging Kevin’s neatly folded plaid. Threcher grazed while Rachel picked wild flowers in the small clearing.
“I have never loved a man,” Catherin said, sitting next to her daughter on the same rock.
“It is not altogether pleasant; missing Kevin takes all my strength. I am not as brave as I thought.”
“I think about Justin sometimes.”
“Do you?” Anna smiled. “Justin is a good man.”
“I trusted him, but I do not know why. Rachel loves him and wanted to be constantly with him when we rode to the MacGreagors.”
“Did he mind?”
“He did not seem to. She fell asleep on his shoulder and he often kissed her cheek. I have never seen a man do that before.” Catherin giggled. “I wanted him to kiss my cheek too.”
“And let you fall asleep on his shoulder?”