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By Amanda Scott
WARNER FOREVERCopyright © 2006 Lynne Scott-Drennan
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Chapter OneGlenelg, the Scottish Highlands, April 14, 1380
Where is Sir Hugo?" nineteen-year-old Lady Sorcha Macleod demanded impatiently. She cradled a profusion of flowers in her arms as she gazed down the steep hill at the sparkling water of the Sound of Sleat, the deep sea-lane flowing between Glenelg, on the mainland, and the Isle of Skye.
Her younger sister, Lady Sidony, bending to pick some yellow celandine for their collection, said over her shoulder, "You cannot know that Sir Hugo even received your message. The messengers have not all returned. And, even if he did, you cannot know he will come for her or come in a boat if he does. He could easily ride from Lothian or come from somewhere else. He may even be in Caithness."
"Faith, Sidony, I don't care how the man arrives, just so he does," Sorcha said impatiently. "If he does not show his face soon, he will be too late."
"It is too bad the Lord of the Isles had to die when he did," Sidony said as she arose and added her flowers to Sorcha's. "Adela ought to be having as merry a wedding as everyone else has, but I fear that hers will be dreadfully dull. I still do not understand why Father agreed to hold the ceremony here instead of at Chalamine. The feast will takeplace at the castle, after all, and everyone else was married there."
"Not everyone," Sorcha reminded her. "Isobel married at Duart Castle."
"Yes, but Cristina, Maura, and Kate were all married at home. I hope you and I will be, too-if Father ever finds anyone who wants to marry us," she added.
"I don't want someone Father chooses," Sorcha said, grimacing. "At least Adela has a sunny day, and the wee kirk of Glenelg is a pretty site. Lord Pompous insisted that she marry him here on the kirk porch, since Father has no chaplain at Chalamine. And that settled the matter, of course, since Lord Pompous will be her husband unless Sir Hugo arrives in time to put a stop to this wedding."
"I do not know why you are so sure he'd want to," Sidony said, pushing a stray strand of her fair hair out of her face. As children, the two of them had looked enough alike to be twins with their fine, silky soft, white-blond curls and light-blue eyes. But although Sidony's waist-long hair retained its original color, silky fineness, and soft waves, Sorcha's had darkened to amber-gold and retained only its curls. To her chagrin, in the frequent Highland mist and rain, they tended to frizz.
Their eyes were still a matching light-blue color. But Sorcha's looked gray in certain light, and a black line rimmed each of her irises.
Semiconsciously mirroring her sister's gesture, she shifted her floral burden to one arm to tuck an errant curl under her coif.
Sidony went on, "You've made such a song about sending for him that nearly everyone expects him now. But Adela seems content enough with this wedding."
"Faugh," Sorcha retorted rudely, abandoning her hair. "Adela would marry anyone who'd have her. She wants to be quit of managing Father's household and us, especially now that he is to marry Lord Pompous's cousin, Lady Clendenen. But Sir Hugo holds Adela's heart, I'm sure. And I think he cares deeply for her, too."
"But they've met only twice," Sidony protested. "Once here in Glen Möer last summer, and then shortly after that at Orkney."
"Aye, well, it only takes once," Sorcha said with more assurance than one might expect from a young woman who had never met a man she wanted to marry, or received an offer. "Adela talked of him for weeks after Prince Henry's installation."
"Do you think so?" Sidony asked doubtfully. "She said they quarreled the first time they met. The second time she emptied a basin of holy water over his head."
Still watching the Sound, Sorcha exclaimed, "Three boats are coming! Oh, but how vexing! If I don't mistake that banner, 'tis only Lord Pompous."
"You should not call him that," Sidony chided gently.
"Pooh," Sorcha said. "Ardelve is as pompous a man as walks and far too old for Adela. Why, he must be near Father's age, whilst she is but four-and-twenty."
"Nearly five-and-twenty," Sidony said.
"Even so, Sir Hugo is of a much more suitable age to marry her. She is sacrificing herself, just to get away from Chalamine."
"Perhaps, but Father said he had despaired of ever seeing her marry," Sidony said. With a rueful smile, she added, "You and I are old for wedding, come to that. Not that I am sure I'd want to, even if anyone did want me."
"You are never sure of anything," Sorcha said, patting her shoulder. "Depend on it, if you do marry, 'twill be because Father commands it. If you had to make up your mind, the hopeful bridegroom would die of old age first."
"That is his lordship," Sidony said, too familiar with Sorcha's opinion of her indecisive nature to take offense. "And I see the wedding party coming. Do you not think we'd better go meet them if Adela is to carry the flowers we've gathered?"
"Aye, sure, especially since we already have enough for her chaplet, too," Sorcha said as they hurried to greet the riders.
* * *
As Lady Adela Macleod's wedding party forded the bubbling burn near the base of the hill and continued up toward the kirk, she felt almost wholly at peace. For the first time in too many years she was responsible for no one and nothing. She just had to be in a certain place at a certain time and say what the priest, a Macleod cousin of her father's from Lewis, told her to say.
The feeling was heady, and as she rode beside her father, Macleod of Glenelg, the silence that enveloped them was pleasant.
Except for the tiny tickle at the back of her mind, all was well.
The small cluster of smiling villagers and friends near the kirk steps stood quietly, waiting. Even her usually talkative aunt, Lady Euphemia Macleod, remained unnaturally silent. She rode just behind them in her boxy, sheepskin-lined sidesaddle between two gillies mounted on ponies as placid as her own. At fifty, the whip-slim Lady Euphemia disliked riding and focused all her energy on keeping the boat-on-waves motion of her cumbersome saddle from tossing her to the ground.
The rest of the party included Adela's older sister Maura, Maura's husband and three children, and a few of the castle servants. Others had remained behind to prepare the wedding feast. Guests were few only because MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, having died recently, nearly everyone else in the Highlands and Isles was preparing for the investiture in two days' time of his successor. Adela did not mind the small ceremony, though. She'd have been happy to marry by simple declaration, but women of her ilk rarely married in such a hasty, scrambling way.
She rode as her aunt did, sitting sideways, but with nothing between her and her favorite bay gelding except a dark-blue velvet caparison to protect her skirts. One of her younger sisters, Kate, had embroidered the caparison with branches of Macleod of Glenelg's green juniper and had sent it especially for the occasion.
Like all six of her sisters, Adela preferred to ride astride. But she had known better than to suggest doing so in the new sky-blue silk gown her father had given her for her wedding. Blue to keep her true, he had said, citing from an ancient rhyme. He had refused to allow her favorite color due to his strong belief that if she wore pink, her good fortune would sink.
She saw her two youngest sisters watching from the open, grassy hilltop near the kirk and realized how glad she was that she had sent them ahead to gather blooms for her bouquet and chaplet. She had done it not only because the hilltop produced myriad wildflowers in an otherwise heavily forested area, but also because she had wanted as little fuss as possible while she dressed for her wedding.
Her ever-superstitious father disliked the fact that she had not gathered her own flowers, a task he believed would bring her good luck. When he noted the day's sunshine, his strictures had ended, but no sooner did he clap eyes on Sorcha and Sidony than he sighed and said, "I hope ye mean to be a good wife to Ardelve, lass."
"I do, sir," Adela said. "I have always done my duty."
"Aye, 'tis true, but I'd feel better if ye'd done all ye could to bring good fortune on yourself today."
"The day is a perfectly splendid one," Adela said. Shooting a swift, oblique glance his way, she added gently, "Yesterday was not so beautiful, sir."
"'Tis true," he agreed. "Cursed wi' a gey thick mist, it were, from dawn's light till suppertime. So it be nobbut providential that when Ardelve and I arranged the settlements, I persuaded him to put off the ceremony for the one day."
"Why do you believe Friday is such a bad day to wed?" she asked. "Aunt Euphemia said many prefer it, because of its being dedicated to the Norse goddess of love. She said the notion that Friday is unlucky arose only during this past century."
"Aye, well, Euphemia doesna ken everything," Macleod said. "'Twas kind o' her to journey here from Lochbuie for your wedding, but everyone kens that when a Friday falls on the thirteenth o' the month, it does bring mortal bad luck. Bless me, lass," he added, "I'd no let any o' me daughters marry on such a bleak day!"
"But I don't think everyone does know," Adela persisted. "Ardelve did not. At least ..." She fell silent, knowing he would not want to recall what Ardelve had said.
"Aye, I ken fine that the man thinks changing the day were nobbut a frippery notion o' mine," Macleod said, unabashed. "Still, he agreed, and as ye see, the Almighty ha' blessed the day I picked wi' sunshine."
Adela nodded, and when he fell silent, she made no attempt to continue the conversation. The only sounds until they reached the kirkyard were soft thuds of hooves on the dirt path, cries of seabirds soaring overhead, and scattered twitters and chatters from nearby woodland.
Her sense of peace had not returned, however, and when she realized she was peering intently at each guest, she knew why. Sorcha had made no secret of her hope that Sir Hugo Robison would arrive in time to stop the wedding, and although Adela was certain her younger sister was mistaken in thinking he would come, she could not help wondering if he would, or how she would feel if he did.
Seeing no sign of that large, energetic, not to mention handsome, gentleman, she drew a long breath and released it. If she felt disappointment, she told herself it was only that his dramatic arrival might have added excitement to what was so far, despite the sunshine, a rather dull day.
As a gillie helped her dismount, her two youngest sisters approached to arrange flowers in her chaplet and give her the bouquet they had gathered.
"These flowers are lovely," Adela said, smiling. "So bright and cheerful."
"Sorcha set a basket of rose petals yonder, too, for us to strew along the path before you," Sidony said, hugging her before they took their places and Macleod signed to his piper to begin playing.
Adela sighed, swept another nervous glance over the small group of onlookers, several of whom were looking around just as she was. Firmly dismissing Sir Hugo from her mind, she placed her hand on her father's forearm. * * *
As pipes skirled and the wedding party made its way up the path to the shallow porch of the kirk, Sorcha scattered her petals and wondered if the piper had mistaken Adela's wedding for MacDonald's funeral procession. The tune he had selected seemed more appropriate for the latter rite.
Behind the makeshift altar, double doors stood shut and would not open to admit everyone for the nuptial Mass until the ceremony had ended. The priest, Wee Geordie Macleod of Lewis, stood sternly erect beside the altar with the bridegroom and his chief groomsman to welcome the bride and her maidens.
Calum Tolmie, Baron Ardelve, a close cousin of the widow Macleod intended to marry, held a vast tract of land on the north shore of Loch Alsh. He was both wealthy and amiable, and thus, according to Macleod, an excellent match for Adela.
Sorcha disagreed, thinking Sir Hugo more suitable, although admittedly, she had never laid eyes on him. She still cursed her bad luck in having missed the trip to Orkney to see its prince installed, because that had been when the more fortunate Adela and their sister Isobel, each having met Sir Hugo Robison briefly before, had met him again and come to know him better.
Isobel was now happily married to Sir Hugo's cousin, Michael St. Clair (or Sinclair, as the family had begun to spell their name), and they lived at Roslin Castle in Lothian. However, Sir Hugo had clearly made an impression on Adela, so Sorcha had made up her mind that Adela should marry him.
Reaching the porch steps, Sorcha turned and walked a few paces to the left, then watched as Sidony went right to make way for Adela and Macleod. He stopped on the lower of the two stone steps and let Adela go on alone to the porch, where Ardelve stepped forward to meet her in front of the altar.
Two low stools sat ready for them to kneel on, but before they did, the priest stepped forward and spread his arms wide.
The piper fell silent.
A gull screamed overhead.
Instead of the blessing that Sorcha expected to hear, Wee Geordie said in tones that carried to everyone, "Afore I pray to the Almighty, begging Him to ha' the goodness to shine His face upon this couple and bless the union into which they be entering, I'm bound to ask if there be any amongst ye who kens any just cause or impediment to prevent the aforesaid union's going forward. If ye do, speak now, mind ye, or forever keep silent about it."
As silence closed in around them, Sorcha turned her head to look at the crowd. Others, likewise, glanced at their neighbors.
A low rumble sounded in the distance, almost, Sorcha thought, as if God had grown impatient and were muttering to the priest to get on with it.
The thought made her smile, but when she saw heads still turning, all in the same direction, she collected her wits and looked that way, too. Joy stirred at the sight of four horsemen galloping toward them from woods to the south.
Neighbor looked at neighbor.
As delight surged through her, Sorcha glanced at Adela, expecting to see her own joy reflected in her sister, but although Adela clearly saw the riders, she showed no sign of delight. Doubtless she was stunned.
Hearing more than one gasp from the gathering, Sorcha grinned. Her neighbors and friends, she knew, would talk of this day for years.
But the riders were coming too fast for safety. Was their leader mad, or just drunk on the hope that he was not too late?
Villagers scattered as the riders bore down on the kirk steps.
Sorcha moved, but she saw that Adela stayed where she was, mouth agape.
Ardelve put his hands on his hips and glowered, but he did not move either. Sorcha decided that he thought no more of the interruption than that tardy wedding guests were making a scene.
Turning back, she saw that all four riders wore masks.
Prickling unease stirred.
Three of the men reined their horses in near villagers, making the animals rear and forcing folks back even farther.
As they did, the leader urged his horse right up the two steps.
Still smiling, Sorcha saw that he had eyes only for Adela, who moved toward him as if she expected him to speak to her.
Instead, he leaned near, stretched out an arm, and as if she weighed no more than a feather pillow, swept her up, and wheeled his mount away from the steps.
Astonished at such a show of strength, Sorcha let her mouth fall open.
One or two people in the crowd cheered, but most looked stupefied as the four horsemen rode off with their prize.
Excerpted from Lady's Choice by Amanda Scott Copyright © 2006 by Lynne Scott-Drennan. Excerpted by permission.
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