Before long, they were all talking so fast in Gaelic Anna couldn’t understand a word. Not that she knew that many words in Gaelic, but she recognized her name. It didn’t sound quite the same as it did in English. It sounded more like Hanna with a long ‘A’ and when she burst out laughing they all stopped to stare at her.
She was afraid she had insulted them and tried to explain. “Anna…Anna…not Hanna,” but her sore mouth made it nearly impossible to pronounce it correctly either, and this time when she started to laugh, they all laughed with her.
Downstairs, Kevin smiled at Thomas. “If marriage means laughter, perhaps I will not mind so much.”
The great hall was a large room that served as a gathering place with a long, narrow table in the middle. Several tall-backed chairs were around it and smaller tables along the walls held bowls of flowers, water pitchers and goblets. Weapons, captured or passed from one laird to the next, hung on one wall, while a colorful tapestry hung on the one opposite. At the far end of the room, a large hearth kept the place warm.
Thomas pulled a chair away from the table and sat down next to Kevin, “So you think it was the English?”
Kevin shook his head. “Why would the king allow his lads to beat a lass? If he wished to start a war, he would simply attack.”
“Perhaps they were only dressed as English soldiers.”
“That is possible.”
The two men continued to eat their morning meal in silence until Kevin finally said, “I cannot rid myself of the feeling this is my fault somehow, and now I am responsible for whatever is happening to Rachel. If I could remember doing or saying something, we would know who did this.”
“Kevin, you know how the clans like to gossip. You need not do anything for people to be misled. Besides, there is more than that to consider.”
Thomas looked deadly serious. “Kevin, did they force her?”
Laird MacGreagor hung his head for a moment. “Katie saw no evidence of it when she undressed her and Anna did not say.”
“Anna was surprised to learn it was Sunday. If she passed out, it could have happened without her knowing. What will you do if she is with child?”
“I have already done it. I have married her and no one will ever know whose child it is.”
“And you will always wonder.”
“Thomas, I have done something and that helpless lass upstairs is paying for it. The child will be mine, even if it does not carry my blood and I will love it, perhaps more than any others to make amends. ‘Tis the least I can do.”
Thomas broke off a bite of bread, chewed and swallowed. “Anna has courage and she does not complain.”
“I am well pleased with that. I would not enjoy a weak wife who cries constantly and demands too much of my attention. How many of our lasses would say nothing of the pain?”
“Not many; Katie perhaps.”
Kevin smiled finally. “Why do you not tell my sister you prefer her?”
“That kind of courage I do not have.”
Kevin slapped him on the back and grinned. “Perhaps if another lad prefers her, your courage will increase.”
“Perhaps, it will at that.”
The men paused to listen when the women upstairs laughed again. “I wonder what makes them laugh,” Thomas muttered.
“Whatever it is, the lasses will soon love my wife. ‘Tis far more than I could have hoped for.”
“Aye, she will make them laugh -- until she hears about the other lass.”
“She will not hear.”
“Aye, she will. You must be the one to tell Anna about the other lass, Kevin. ‘Tis not kind to keep it from her. Everyone knows and it will not be long before she learns the language and one of the lasses lets it slip. She is their mistress now and she will demand to know.”
“Then tell the lasses not to slip. I have enough on my mind without that.”
She was dressed in a soft English gown someone managed to find for her. The sleeves were off and a square had been cut out of the back to keep it from rubbing against her wounds. Anna’s new shoes, compliments of the cobbler who worked all night to make them, fit amazingly well. Her hair was neatly tucked under the scarf, except for the two curls, and she closed her eyes when she tasted the wonderful stew one of the women brought for her noon meal. The woman even made sure the chunks were cut small enough to swallow without chewing. It seemed like a lifetime since she’d eaten a full meal and she couldn’t hide her enjoyment, which she could see, pleased the woman immensely.
Katie had been in and out all morning, putting more salve on her wounds and fussing over her like a mother hen. Anna couldn’t remember a time when anyone, except her father’s servants when they were allowed to, ever cared about her so much. She felt content, warm and yes, even loved -- which worried her. This was an altogether different world than the one she grew up in. Her world offered only harshness, pain and sorrow. How long before this world fell apart?
When Anna finished her meal and the woman took it away, she was alone for the first time. She tried not to think about her troubles and looked around at her surroundings instead. It was a large room, much larger than she realized. The furnishings were made of dark wood, colorful drawings hung on the walls and the bed was near enough to the hearth to keep her warm at night. Fresh flowers floated in a bowl of water on the table. She took her time standing up and found she wasn’t nearly as sore as she thought.
There was the hard lump on the top of one shoulder, and of course, one on the side of her knee. So long as no one touched them, she decided she could bear that pain. If only her back and her face would stop hurting. She walked to the window and looked out.
Then she remembered she was actually married to the man she had dreamed about for the better part of two years. How was that possible? All that time, she knew he was a Highlander and probably dangerous, but he didn’t seem to be now. She knew by the way he demanded to know who had hurt her, that he could be dangerous when he needed to be. Yet, she also felt his regret for raising his voice. She thought about how tender he was with her and how he cared about her pain. It was very strange behavior for a man, let alone a Highlander.
“I am her husband. If you have a message for her, you will give it to me!” said Kevin.
The stranger could hardly get the words out. “You are married? Already? We thought the wedding was tomorrow week.”
“Our plans have changed. Either give me the message or be gone with you.”
“No!” She said it before she realized what she was doing and darted back inside the bedchamber.
Kevin looked up at the empty place where he spotted her earlier and reconsidered. Perhaps the message was about Rachel. “My wife cannot come down, but if you speak your message loud enough, I am certain she will hear you.”
The commoner refused. “The message is for her ears only. ‘Tis from her mother.”
Ignoring the pain and stiffness in her body, Anna walked the length of the balcony and started down the stairs. Her injured knee wasn’t bending very well, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her. She was grateful when Thomas raced up to make sure she didn’t fall, thanked him and then turned to the commoner, “What is it, Harold?”
“Dear God, what have they done to your face?”