The envoy swallowed loudly, and the bishop, hearing what the laird had just said, gave yet another blessing. “And are you displeased, Laird?” the envoy asked.
“No, I am not, and I do not kill messengers, even when the news is not to my liking. You are welcome here as long as it takes you to refresh yourselves. The others, too.”
The envoy was weak with relief. “I thank you, Laird, but there is more of the apology to give, and more needs said about the gift. His Highness wishes to hear Princess Gabrielle has forgiven him. She must say the words to me so that I may say them to my king.”
“My clan will also hear this apology from your king.” He signaled to Braeden, who shouted the command.
Within minutes men, women, and children surrounded the courtyard and stood silent, watching.
“Go and get your princess,” Colm ordered her guards.
The door was thrown open and held by two of the men who had been standing guard. A moment passed and then another as all eyes watched the entrance.
And then Gabrielle stepped out into the light. An aid sounded a herald’s trumpet as the envoy said, “Hail to Princess Gabrielle.” He then dropped to his knees and bowed his head. The visitors from the abbey also fell to their knees to show their respect.
Startled, Gabrielle looked at Colm, uncertain of what to do. It was not appropriate for these men to kneel. Colm wasn’t giving her any help. He simply stared at her and waited for her to come to him.
She didn’t disappoint him. Liam moved back so that she could stand beside Colm.
“You must give them permission to stand,” Stephen instructed in a whisper.
Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “You may stand.”
She surprised everyone then when she gave the envoy instructions. “You bow to Laird MacHugh, for you are on his land by his good graces, but you do not kneel to me. If the laird wants you on your knees, he will tell you so.”
A murmur of approval came from the MacHughs.
Colm gave the envoy permission to speak, and the envoy repeated his prepared speech. The cheers were deafening when he finished. He waited until the noise had died down and then asked, “May I tell His Royal Highness that you forgive him?”
Gabrielle was about to answer the envoy and tell him yes, she did forgive the king, but something held her back. Was this another trick?
“I will consider it. You will have your answer before you leave here.”
The envoy looked shocked that she didn’t immediately agree, but bowed to her wishes. “I will await your answer.”
Liam took Gabrielle’s hand. “You have always had the acceptance and respect of this clan, but now you have their love.”
Colm knocked his hand away. “You will give your love to another and leave Gabrielle alone.”
Liam laughed. He winked at Gabrielle and said, “As you say, Laird.”
“Laird, we must celebrate,” Braeden said, “for now we have a princess and Finney’s Flat.”
Colm agreed but didn’t want any of the outsiders to come into his home, not even the bishop. With the weather pleasant and no rain cloud in sight, he called for tables and benches to be carried outside and a barrel of ale to be brought from the buttery.
The bishop was finally removed from his horse, and he and his monks were given places at the table. Still suspicious of their English visitors, the MacHughs were reticent to be welcoming to the envoy and his men.
Gabrielle was even more wary than the MacHughs. She kept an eye on the envoy as he made his way through the gathering crowd. Distracted, she barely paid attention to the conversation next to her until she heard Colm praise Father Gelroy. With each word he said, the priest seemed to grow taller.
“Perhaps soon, Laird, you will wish to build Father Gelroy a chapel,” Gabrielle suggested.
“Perhaps,” he replied.
“The statue of St. Biel the abbot has kept safe for you is soon to come here,” the bishop said. “Perhaps you will name your chapel after the saint. I have not heard of him,” he admitted, “but so many were sainted before my time. Would you know how many miracles he has performed?”
Gabrielle didn’t have the faintest idea. Father Gelroy saw her hesitation and said, “St. Biel was a good and holy man. I’m certain the royal guards could tell us the number of miracles.”
When the bishop left to get refreshment, she whispered to Gelroy, “I am ashamed that I have forgotten so much about St. Biel. I, too, will seek instruction from my guards.”
Father Gelroy spotted Maurna carrying out a tray of food. “Yes, yes,” he said, dismissing the talk of saints. “The meal is ready.”
Gabrielle looked around in astonishment as MacHugh women carried huge trenchers filled with meat pies and bread and game birds. One of the women crossed to the courtyard with yet another tray. Everyone was bringing food to share.
She looked around for Colm, but he had disappeared. As she set out to find him her way through the gathering throng was interrupted by well-wishers who wanted to congratulate her. She was patted on her back, her arms, and once on her head by a robust woman.
When she finally had threaded her way to the side of the castle, she looked for a quiet spot. She needed time to think. Something in the back of her mind gnawed at her. Although the envoy’s announcement was good news, something wasn’t right. What that was she didn’t know.
Colm found her sitting on a stone. “Gabrielle, what are you doing?”
He pulled her into his arms, kissed her, and then tried to get her to go back to the celebration.
“I think there may be trickery by King John, but I don’t know what it might be,” she told him.
“I will read the scroll carefully, and if you like, I will ask Liam and Brodick to read it as well,” he assured her. “You are right not to trust.”
As Colm went to find Brodick and Liam, and head inside, Gabrielle returned to the feast. Maurna forced her to sit and taste some of the offerings. Since she had prepared one of the meat pies, she insisted that Gabrielle be given a good helping.
Conversation whirled around her. There was much excitement about the MacHughs owning Finney’s Flat. They could triple their crops even if they let some of the ground lie fallow. Their joyful enthusiasm made her smile. But still she kept a skeptical eye on the envoy.
Why would the king give her Finney’s Flat? And how were his lapdogs, the barons, involved? For surely they were. Aye, if there was trickery, they were behind it. The king called the land his gift. The first time she’d heard of Finney’s Flat, it was to be her dowry. But now? What could the reason be? Certainly not the king’s generosity. He didn’t know the meaning of the word.
He wanted her forgiveness. There it was. Suddenly she knew exactly what was in the king’s mind. She slapped the top of the table causing quite a startle, then jumped to her feet and stormed over to the envoy.
The celebrating crowd might not have noticed Gabrielle’s behavior, but all of them saw her guards racing to her. By the time she reached the envoy, Christien was standing beside her.
“Stand,” she ordered the envoy.
The laughter died down and a hush fell over the people
“You will answer my questions,” she demanded. “Do you go directly back to King John?”
“No, I first go to the abbey,” the envoy answered, glancing around at the startled faces staring at him. “I will stay the night there and then continue on my journey.”
“Are there barons also waiting to hear what news you bring?”
“Yes, Princess, I’m certain there are.”
“Perhaps those barons are Coswold and Percy?”
“I do not know all who anxiously wait to hear that you have forgiven King John.” Frowning, he added, “And that is why I wait as well.”
The crowd edged closer. Gabrielle saw Joan watching her and the bishop standing beside her.
“I know what the king and his barons are about,” she said, her voice rising with her anger. “If I accept the king’s apology, I am also accepting his rule. Is that not true? I am no longer free of him.”
The envoy looked at his shoes when he spoke. “I cannot lie, and so I will tell you that Finney’s Flat will be a dowry for you to bring to the man the king will choose for you to marry.”
“But if I don’t accept his apology, then Finney’s Flat returns to the king?”
“I am not certain, but there would be the possibility.”
If a bread crumb were to drop to the ground, it would have made more noise than the clan.
“Did the king not consider that I might already be married?”
“He did, and if you were, then Finney’s Flat would belong to your husband, and the king would not interfere.”
Gabrielle looked around her and raised her voice to proclaim. “I am married this day.”
The envoy took what she said as true and asked, “To Laird MacHugh?”
“Yes,” she answered. “Finney’s Flat belongs to him.”
“You are not married this day!” Joan shouted. “You cannot deceive us. You boldly tell a lie in front of the bishop. You will burn in hell for such an offense.”
Incensed, Gabrielle brushed past the envoy. “I am married this day.”
Joan backed away as Gabrielle came closer. The anger she saw in Gabrielle’s eyes frightened her, and she feared she would strike her.
“I am married this day, and Finney’s Flat belongs to Laird MacHugh,” she repeated.
A rumble of agreement rolled through the crowd, growing louder and louder until the sound was deafening.
Once the noise had died down, Gabrielle spoke again. “Would you like proof? All of you wait here, and I will get it for you.”
“We know you are married this day and Finney’s Flat belongs to our laird,” a man called out.
“Aye,” another called and another.
Gabrielle stopped in front of the envoy. “But you, I think, require proof.”
The envoy nodded. “I must be able to tell King John with a certainty that you are married.” He could feel the heat of the crowd’s anger and called out, “And Finney’s Flat will be Laird MacHugh’s.”
Christien ran ahead of Gabrielle and held the door for her. “Is the proof inside?” he asked, grinning.
“Yes,” she answered.
Followed by her guards, Gabrielle ran up the stairs, paused to make herself presentable by smoothing her bliaut and pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Are you ready to be married this day?’ Stephen asked.
In the hall, Colm had just finished reading the scroll. He was handing it to Brodick while Liam and Father Gelroy, goblets in hand, waited their turn.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and entered the hall. “Colm, may I have a moment of your time?”
G ABRIELLE WAS INDEED MARRIED THIS DAY.
The ceremony was performed in front of the hearth in the great hall. There wasn’t any pomp or splendor befitting a princess from St. Biel and a powerful laird from the Highlands. It was done quickly and quietly. Even though it was nearly impossible for anyone to see into the hall from outside, Gabrielle insisted that the tapestries be pulled down to cover the windows that faced the courtyard below and those that overlooked the back garden and the lake beyond. She wasn’t taking any chances that the envoy or the bishop or that horrid woman, Joan, might see what was happening.
Since Brodick was her only relative in attendance, it became his duty to give her to Colm and grant permission for the marriage to take place when asked to do so by Father Gelroy. Liam and Gabrielle’s royal guards were witnesses.
Gabrielle didn’t think she was nervous, but apparently she was, for when she was told to place her hand in Colm’s, she trembled as though she had just suffered a terrible fright. The priest began his prayer, and the impact of what she was doing suddenly overwhelmed her. Her knees went weak and she could barely breathe. A vise was crushing her chest. She was becoming Colm’s wife, now and forever.
In a daze, she watched as Colm placed a length of his plaid over their joined hands. He tilted her face up and looked into her eyes as he spoke his vows, and for the life of her, she couldn’t comprehend a word he said. She had forgotten any Gaelic she ever knew. Then it was her turn. She whispered her vows in her mother’s language. Father Gelroy stopped her and asked her to start over.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying, Princess Gabrielle,” he explained.
Neither did she. She knew she had promised Colm something. She just couldn’t remember what it was. Had she said that she would love and cherish him? Or had she thought that she should? And had she told him that she would be faithful and true? She hoped she had, but she couldn’t be certain. For all she knew, she had promised to clean his stables for the rest of her days.
Bewildered, she looked at the priest. He didn’t have an appalled look on his face, which she took as a good sign.
Now and forever, until death do they part.
The prayers were finished, and the blessing was given. She was as stiff as a board as Colm gathered her into his arms, but once he lowered his head and kissed her, she came alive again. His warmth stopped her trembling, and the tenderness in his kiss melted her fears.
“You are now man and wife.” Father Gelroy was beaming his approval as he made the announcement.
Congratulations weren’t shouted but given in hushed voices. The guards each made a low bow to their princess and her new husband and then, at Gabrielle’s insistence, went down to the courtyard to join the clan’s celebration. Colm allowed Liam to kiss Gabrielle’s hand, but that was all he would permit, and Brodick snatched her away from Colm long enough to hug her.
“We must toast this marriage,” Liam said.
“What a lovely suggestion,” she blurted out. “Another time perhaps?”
She grabbed the priest’s arm and pulled him toward the stairs as she gave him instructions on what he should say to the envoy. “You will please tell the envoy that yes, you did marry us, but you won’t—”
Colm stopped her. Throwing his arm around her and anchoring her to his side, he said, “I will take care of this matter. There is no need to rush.”
She didn’t agree. She had told the envoy that she would bring him proof of her marriage. Surely he would be suspicious if she made him wait long.
She bowed her head. “As you say.”
Liam burst into laughter, and when Brodick asked what was so amusing, Liam was happy to explain.