“The MacKennas,” he said, nodding. “You will tell your husband they are the ones who took you.”
By the time Coswold finished telling her what to say, he believed the idea for the message was his. He called to Leod to find something to write with, and it took an hour before the man returned with ink and a piece of parchment.
Gabrielle wrote exactly what had been decided, but before she signed her name, she looked up at Coswold. “I do not want the messenger killed before he has a chance to give my husband the message. Is there a boy you could send? Not so young that he couldn’t ride and not so old he would be thought a man. My husband would not kill a boy.”
“Yes,” Coswold said. “I will get a boy to take the parchment. Now, finish. It is growing dark, but at the first morning light we will be gone.”
While Coswold paced about the cottage, Gabrielle added her final words to the message: “Please come quickly and I will forever do as you say.”
BY THE TIME Liam got to the Sinclair holding, Colm was on his way home, having taken another route. Liam turned around and headed back, this time on the northern road. He caught up with Colm as he was about to cross Finney’s Flat.
Colm saw him coming. A sense of dread gripped him.
“Gabrielle,” Liam shouted, “she is gone! She’s been taken.”
“Who? Who took her?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe by the time you reach Braeden he will know something.”
Colm’s rage could not be contained. It blurred his thoughts. “If any harm comes to her…”
“Do not think it,” Liam ordered.
But that was all Colm could think about on the frantic ride home. He could not lose her.
Night had fallen as he rode up the trail to his holding. He prayed that she had been found and was waiting to greet him. He would tell her then—shout it to the sky—that he loved her. She should have heard the words before. It could not be too late.
At the ridge one of his sentries shouted to him. “There…coming across the flat. One rider.”
Colm and Liam turned to see a shadow approaching. In the full moon, they could make out the figure of a man on horseback. They rode to meet him, reaching him before he had time to dismount.
“I bring a message for the laird,” the man said, his voice trembling. He put his hand in his shirt and pulled out the scrolled parchment.
“Who are you?” Liam asked.
“My name is Andrew.”
“Who asked you to bring this to the laird?”
“He was a MacKenna. I am from the Dunbar clan. I was on my way home from hunting when the man stopped and asked me to bring this to you. He said it was most urgent. I do not know what it says, for I cannot read.”
Colm grabbed the message from him and read. He handed it to Liam and pointed to the last words. “As you say” was underlined.
He ripped the man from the saddle and held him by the neck. His voice was deadly when he said, “What my wife tells me is that everything I have just read is a lie. And that means you are lying, too.”
“I am just the messen—”
Colm cut off his air, squeezing his neck. He didn’t let up until Andrew’s eyes were bulging out of their sockets. In only minutes, Andrew had told him everything he wanted to know.
Colm gave Liam the order. “Tie him to his horse and bring him. If he lies again, he will pray for death.”
ANDREW LED THEM to the cottage.
Colm knew Gabrielle was inside. He had to be cautious. The light from a single candle glowed through the window and he could smell smoke from the chimney. Coswold’s soldiers were bedded down for the night around a campfire south of the cottage, where the grass was soft. Their fire burned low.
Braeden made his way through the dark to count the number and then returned to Colm. Slowly the MacHugh soldiers circled until the men and the cottage were surrounded. When they were in position, they moved forward. Colm crept up behind the guard in front of the door and killed him before he could make a sound. He lowered the man to the ground, then tested the door. It was bolted against him. He raised his hand to give the signal, and then he kicked the door open and charged inside.
Coswold had been sleeping in a chair and bolted to his feet at the sound of the door crashing in. He fumbled at his belt for his dagger, but it was too late. He knew he was going to die.
Leod had been sitting on the edge of the loft with his legs dangling down as Gabrielle sat on the straw mattress behind him.
“Kill her!” Coswold shouted.
The words weren’t out of his mouth before Gabrielle, using every ounce of strength she had, thrust her whole body at Leod’s back and sent him flying headfirst to the floor. He landed on his face, his neck broken.
Colm made the kill quickly. He cut Coswold’s throat and tossed the bloody blade to the floor.
He shouted for his wife and ran to the ladder to reach for her. She fell against him sobbing.
“I knew you would come.”
He held her tight and tried to calm his heart. “I would not lose you, Gabrielle.”
She pulled back. “Colm, my father,” she cried. “Coswold’s army will kill him. They have…”
Colm stopped her. “Your father is with the Buchanans this night.”
“You are certain?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes, Brodick was informed at the summit that your father had arrived. He was too weary to come any farther. You will see him tomorrow.”
He lifted her into his arms.
She laid her head on his shoulder. “Take me home.”
GABRIELLE’S FATHER DIDN’T TAKE TO COLM RIGHT AWAY. Nor did Colm particularly like the baron. They were polite, but wary of each other.
Her father softened his attitude when he saw how Colm treated Gabrielle. It was clear to him that the laird loved her and would cherish her. Colm softened his attitude toward the baron when he saw how much he loved his daughter and how she loved him.
Willa made a special dinner of roasted pheasant and so many other dishes that Gabrielle lost count. Each time Willa carried a platter to the table, she smiled at Gabrielle.
Liam strolled in and was introduced to the baron. He said, “Did Gabrielle tell you how she saved my life?”
“I must hear this story,” the baron said.
“Milady, if I could borrow you for a moment?” Maurna interrupted.
Gabrielle excused herself and followed Maurna up the stairs.
“I let Mary go home early tonight,” Maurna said. “She’s a good help with these two boys, and I thank you for adding her to your household. I thought the twins were down for the night. I came up to look in on them and caught them coming out of the laird’s chamber.”
Standing at the top of the stairs, Ethan and Tom waited with their heads down.
“I’m sorry, milady,” Ethan said.
“Me, too,” Tom said.
“Tell your mistress what you did,” Maurna said. She was trying to be stern, but Gabrielle heard the tenderness in her voice. She knew the boys could, too.
“We just wanted to look in the trunk,” Tom said without lifting his eyes.
“My trunk?” Gabrielle asked. “Why would you want to look in there?”
Ethan lifted his shoulders. “I don’t know, but we did.”
Tom nodded. “I found a statue in there.”
“I found one, too,” Ethan admitted.
“But I didn’t break mine. You broke yours.”
“Boys, the statues don’t belong to either of you,” Maurna said.
Tom took Gabrielle’s hand. “Ethan’s sorry.”
“I’ll leave them to you, Lady Gabrielle, while I go to your room and see to the damage.”
“I’ll take care of it, Maurna. You may go downstairs.”
Gabrielle took the twins into their room and tucked them into bed. She talked to them about respecting privacy and made them promise not to go into their laird’s room again without permission. Then she kissed them good night and closed the door.
On the way down the corridor, she thought to ask Colm to permanently remove the lid from the trunk. If the boys were to climb in it and the heavy lid were to close, they could be seriously hurt.
A fire warmed the chamber. The trunk lid was propped open against the wall, and one statue of St. Biel lay half in and half out, hanging dangerously on the edge. The other was on the floor and missing a head.
She picked up both pieces and moved close to the fire to see if the stone could be repaired. Holding the body at an angle, she noticed something that caught the light. She tipped the statue and examined it more closely. She froze. Gold. The core of the stone piece had been hollowed out and filled with gold. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She looked again. The gold was there.
Gabrielle had to sit down. She went to the bed and put the pieces in her lap.
The myth wasn’t a myth? King Grenier had really hidden gold? She was dumbfounded. Then she thought, if the gold was in one statue, could it be in another? She had to find out. She gently placed the broken pieces on the bed and ran to the trunk to get the other one. She winced as she banged it against the stone hearth. It took three tries before the head broke off.
“Sorry, St. Biel,” she whispered.
And there it was. Gold. The second statue was filled with gold, too.
She had to sit down again. It was all too much to take in. The statue in the storeroom had to be filled with gold as well. There was no need to break it.
Another statue was coming from Wellingshire. The statue her mother brought with her when she married. Did her mother know the secret of St. Biel?
One thought led to another and another, and soon her mind was spinning. Was the giant statue overlooking the harbor in St. Biel filled with gold? She began to laugh. Of course it was. Oh, what a clever man King Grenier had been.
She sat on the bed a long time as she thought about the story her mother had helped her memorize. Once upon a time in the year of…The hints were there, but had her mother figured it out? And if she had, did she tell her husband?
Gabrielle didn’t know how long she sat in a daze. She put the broken pieces back in the trunk and closed it.
When she returned to the hall, her father appeared to be more relaxed. Colm looked relieved to see her. He kissed her quickly, and said, “I will leave you to talk with your father.” In a lower voice he added, “Come to bed soon.”
Liam also took his leave so that she and her father could have a private conversation. Gabrielle sat close to him in front of the fire.
Before he could ask, she blurted, “I love him, Father.”
He nodded. “I can see that you do.”
She spent the next ten minutes telling him about Colm’s many virtues.
“Do you think you will ever marry again, Father? I would be pleased if you did. I do not like to think of you being lonely.”
“If you aren’t too weary, I have questions to ask you…about St. Biel.”
GABRIELLE LAY beside her husband and whispered sweet words to him. They had just made love, and she was still breathless. They had spoken briefly about Coswold, but now in the darkness she told him how frightened she had been.
“I was afraid I would not see you again.”
“I could not bear to lose you,” he whispered. His voice shook. “I will say this now. I love you, Gabrielle.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “You love me,” she whispered. She leaned up and kissed his chin. “You have just given me the gift my father gave to my mother.”
“Love was his gift?”
“It was. And it was a long time coming, I think. For my mother anyway. She did not like Father much when they were wed. He took her from her home in St. Biel. I thought it would take you much longer to give me the words. You were forever leaving me.”
He laughed. “I will admit this only once. You worried me. You had this power over me. I would lose my thoughts when I was with you. But no more will I leave you. Liam and Braeden will be given much more responsibility so I will have time with you.”
They stayed quiet for a few minutes, and then she whispered, “Do you like my father?”
“I do not know him well enough to like him. He is a gruff man. He was not pleased to see the scratches on your arms and face, but when he heard Coswold was responsible, he could no longer blame me.”
“The boys got into my trunk today.”
He laughed. “They came in here…”
“They were curious. You will have to remove the lid. I fear one of them will get trapped inside.”
“We’ll go to the Buchanans in a few days’ time so that you may meet your dearest cousin,” he teased. “I think perhaps we will take Ethan and Tom with us and forget to bring them home.”
“You will not leave them. They are content here. Ethan broke one of my statues.”
He yawned. “He did?”
“It was filled with gold.”
“It was what?”
“Gold,” she whispered. “The statue was filled with it. I broke another one just to see, and there was gold inside it as well.”
His reaction was much like hers. He was astounded. “There really is a treasure.”
Gabrielle repeated the story her mother had taught her. When she was finished, she said, “Now that I know there is gold inside each statue, I realize how clever King Grenier was. The Crusaders were going to kill his loyal subjects because he made them pay a toll to pass over his mountains. They believed the country was filled with heathens, so what did the king do? He dedicated the country to a saint and changed its name, then sent a token amount of the gold to the pope. The Crusaders wouldn’t dare harm any of his people. An attack on them would be an attack on the pope.”
“Why would the king keep the gold hidden all that time?”
“My mother told my father that the king was a wise man. He knew that great wealth can also provoke great greed. His countrymen were content.”
“And greed would corrupt their way of life.”
Colm smiled. “Aye, he was clever to use his favorite saint to help save his country.”
“There is more to tell. I asked my father, and he told me my suspicions were true.” She stretched up to whisper in his ear. “There is no St. Biel.”
A long silence followed, and then Colm said, “He made up the saint…”
“He saved his people the only way he knew how,” she defended. “I wonder, though, what the church leaders would think if they knew. I cannot tell them.”