The other soldiers had been intently listening to their conversation. Jamie noticed that, along with the fact that they must all know her language as well as Alec did. They all agreed with Gavin's comment, too.
"You cannot know if this man is dead," she announced. Their cold attitude was most barbaric. " 'Tis unkind of you to speak this way about your friend."
"Why?" Gavin asked, frowning.
Jamie ignored his question and asked one of her own. "Why aren't you out looking for him?"
"There are soldiers searching the hil s now," Alec answered.
"We'l probably find his body come morning," Gavin predicted.
"Gavin, surely you don't mean to sound so uncaring, now, do you?" Jamie asked. "You should believe your friend is safe."
"You all should," Jamie announced, looking down the length of the table to include everyone in her statement. "One must always have hope."
Alec hid his smile. His wife hadn't been inside his home for more than an hour and she was already giving orders. "It would be a false hope," he answered. "And you needn't sound so outraged, wife."
He directed the soldiers to join in the conversation. Everyone began talking at once, each giving his own opinion as to what had happened to Angus. While their speculations as to how he was waylaid differed, their conclusion was unanimous: Angus was dead.
Jamie kept silent throughout the remainder of the meal while she listened to each give his own guess. It was soon apparent the missing man was important to them. Stil , they harbored no hope.
Neither Edith nor Annie had a comment to make. They kept their gazes directed on their dinner.
Alec touched Jamie's arm. When she looked up at him, he offered her a portion of mutton.
"No, thank you."
"You'l eat this."
He raised one eyebrow in disbelief. She'd actually argued with him in front of his men. It was unthinkable.
Jamie thought he looked quite astonished. She assumed he didn't like being contradicted. "I don't want any mutton, but thank you so much for offering."
"You will eat this," Alec ordered. "You're weak. You need to build up your strength."
"I'm strong enough now," Jamie whispered. "Alec, I can't eat mutton. It won't stay in my stomach. Even the smel makes me sick. The rest of this meal is very nice, though. I couldn't eat another bite."
"Then go and have your bath," he instructed. He frowned, noticing again the fatigue in her eyes.
"Darkness will be here soon, and with it a chil that will settle in your bones if you're not in bed."
"And will it settle in your bones, too?" she asked.
"Nay," he answered with a grin. "We Scots are made of tougher stuff."
She laughed. The musical sound drew everyone's attention. "You turn my own words back on me," she remarked.
He didn't answer that comment.
"Where do I sleep, Alec?"
His tone didn't leave room for her to argue. "But where?" she persisted. "Do we sleep behind the screen, Alec, or in one of the rooms above the stairs?"
She turned to motion to the balcony and suddenly froze. God's truth, she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Her eyes widened in astonishment.
Jamie stood up and faced the entrance. There were weapons everywhere. They fil ed the wall s from top to bottom on both sides of the yawning entrance. The fact that her husband had a bloody arsenal wasn't what held Jamie so mesmerized, though. No, it was the sword hanging in the center of the far wall.
It was magnificent, this Herculean sword, with clusters of gleaming red and green gems imbedded in the handle. They looked like fat grapes. She stared at the sword a long minute before she looked over at the other weapons. Then she took her time counting. There were five swords in all, hanging among the maces, clubs, lances, and other weapons she couldn't name.
Yes, there were five swords; she counted again just to be sure.
And every damn one of them belonged to him. Oh, how he must have laughed at her when she offered to spend her hard-saved shil ings to have a sword made for him. She'd made a fool of herself, she had, but Alec's shame was worse. He'd let her.
She was too embarrassed by her own naivete to look at her husband. She continued to stare at the wall when she said, "Gavin? Those weapons all belong to my husband, don't they?"
"They do," Gavin answered. He looked over at Alec to judge his reaction to Lady Kincaid's change in behavior. Surely Alec had noticed how her voice trembled, and surely he could see how she blushed.
Gavin thought it odd indeed. His mistress had been very docile, almost timid, during their supper. Why, she'd barely spoken a word.
Alec was watching his wife, but a slow grin settled on his face when she finally turned to him.
Her hands were clenched on her hips. She had the courage to scowl at her husband, too. Gavin was amazed by the transformation in the woman.
He'd judged her to be shy, yet when her eyes turned such a deep, angry violet, he changed his mind. Lady Kincaid didn't look timid now. She looked ready to do battle.
Alec seemed to be the man she wanted to do battle with. Didn't she know what a fierce temper Alec possessed? Gavin decided she apparently didn't know, else she wouldn't chal enge him so boldly.
"Gavin? In England, what belongs to a husband also belongs to his wife. Is it the same here?"
She hadn't taken her gaze away from her husband when she questioned his soldier. "It's the same," Gavin answered. "Why do you ask, milady? Is there something in particular you want?"
"What, then?" Gavin asked.
"A sword, milady?" Gavin asked.
"No, Gavin, not a sword," Jamie explained. "The sword. The one in the middle of that wall over there. I want that sword."
A col ective gasp fil ed the hall . Gavin's mouth dropped open. He looked down the table, knew then that the entire conversation had been overheard by all the others. They looked as stunned as he felt. "But that's the laird's very own sword," Gavin stammered out. "Surely—"
Alec's laughter stopped his explanation. "A wife couldn't even lift that sword," he said. "No, a mere woman would never have enough strength, especial y one who can't eat mutton."
Jamie didn't answer that chal enge for a long minute. "Are there daggers she could lift with her puny strength?" she asked at last, smiling ever so sweetly at her husband.
"A dirk could easily be knocked out of such puny hands, Jamie."
She nodded agreement. Alec was a little disappointed because he'd won their game of sparring so easily.
Jamie bowed to him and started toward the screen. Alec watched the gentle sway of her h*ps until he saw that his men were also noticing. He cleared his throat to get their attention, then let them see his displeasure.
Jamie was almost out of sight when she called back over her shoulder, "Unless, of course, you were sleeping, Alec. Then my puny little hands would be strong enough, don't you suppose? Good night, husband. I pray you have pleasant dreams."
Alec's laughter followed her behind the screen.
"Did I misunderstand?" Gavin asked. "Or did your wife just threaten to murder you?"
"You didn't misunderstand."
"Yet you laugh?"
"Quit your frown," Alec instructed. "I'm safe enough. My wife wouldn't try to harm me. It isn't in her nature."
"It isn't? She's English, Alec."
"You'l understand when you get to know her better."
"She's very beautiful," Gavin said. He grinned. "I couldn't help noticing."
"I noticed you noticing," Alec muttered.
"Yes… well , it's going to take a long while before I get used to her," Gavin admitted, embarrassed that his laird had caught him staring at his wife.
"The men would give their lives to keep her safe, Alec, but I don't honestly know if they'l ever give her their loyalty. 'Tis because she's English, of course."
"I haven't forgotten that fact," Alec answered. "Every time she opens her mouth, her accent reminds me.
Perhaps, in time, Jamie will be able to earn the men's trust. I won't demand it."
"I thought she was timid, but now I'm not so certain."
"She's about as timid as I am," Alec said. "The woman has few fears. She likes to speak her mind. 'Tis another of her numerous flaws. But she's too gentle for her own good, Gavin."
"What the hel are you smiling about?" Alec snapped.
"Listen to me," Alec continued. "I want you to guard Jamie whenever I'm away. She's not to be out of your sight, Gavin."
"You expect trouble?"
"I don't," Alec answered. "Just do as I command without questioning me."
"I want her adjustment to be as smooth as possible. She isn't at all strong."
"You've mentioned that," Gavin remarked before he thought better of it.
Alec gave him a good scowl to let him know he didn't appreciate his comment. "Even the sight of blood distresses the woman."
"So does the sight of mutton."
The two men shared a laugh. It didn't last long. As soon as Alec glanced down the table, he quit laughing altogether. all his soldiers were staring intently at the screen. They might not trust their laird's wife, but they sure as hel were captivated by her.
Jamie didn't have any idea what an uproar she'd caused. She patiently waited while the servants fil ed the tub with steaming hot water, visiting with a gray-haired, soft-spoken woman by name of Frieda, until the chore was done.
Frieda was about to leave the area when Jamie asked where the kitchen was located.
"To hel and gone," Frieda whispered. "Oh, Lord, I dinna mean to say that, mistress."
Jamie held her laughter. The poor woman looked mortified. She didn't want to add to her embarrassment. "I'l not tel anyone," she promised. "Do you mean, then, that the kitchen is in a separate building?"
Frieda nodded so vigorously that the bun of hair atop her head wobbled. "Some winters is so poor we got to wade through the snow up to our knees. It gets a might cold, lass."
"Tomorrow will you show me where this building is?"
"Why are you wanting to see it?"
"Now that I'm mistress, I might make a few changes here and there," Jamie explained. "It does sound as though the kitchen needs to be moved closer to the main building, now, doesn't it?"
"Do you mean it, lass?" Frieda asked, her enthusiasm obvious. She frowned then and whispered, "I wouldn't be boasting of making changes, though, leastways not in front of Edith. She likes to think of herself as mistress. She's a bossy bit of goods, that one."
Jamie smiled. "That, too, will have to be changed, won't it?"
She could tel from the beaming smile on the elderly woman's face that she'd made an all y for life.
"You'd best see to your bath before the water turns cold," Frieda advised before taking her leave.
Jamie thought about Frieda's remarks while she stripped out of her clothes. She eased into the tub without making a sound. She didn't want to make any noise because Alec and his soldiers were just a shout away, but by the time she'd washed her hair and given herself a good scrubbing, she was too tired to care if they heard her or not. She put on a clean sleeping gown, tied the pretty pink ribbons together from waist to neck, and climbed into the huge bed.
It took another half-hour or so to get her hair brushed and partial y dried. Alec's sword kept intruding into her thoughts. It was downright humiliating the way he'd let her go on and on about a knight needing a trusty sword. Yet she was smiling about it now. She couldn't stay angry with Alec.
She actually let out a soft chuckle when she remembered suggesting to him that Daniel give him training.
Alec probably thought she was the one with brains of sheep. He certainty didn't think she was any better than an ignorant country mouse.
Her last thought before drifting off to sleep was a most revealing one: she wished Alec would come to bed. Heaven help her, she was fal ing in love with the barbaric Scotsman.
I see the way Alec keeps glancing over at the screen. The English bitch has him wanting her already. Was his love for Helena so shallow he can replace her so easily?
He doesn't remember the lesson. Perhaps he has already given his heart to his bride. God, I hope so. Her death will be all the more painful then.
I won't wait to kill her.
The whispers awakened Jamie. She was disoriented at first. The candles were burning stil , casting shadows that danced along the screen. Jamie stared at the dark reflections a long minute before she remembered where she was.
The whispers brushed through the air again. She strained to catch a word or two, and when she'd managed that feat, she was wide awake and trembling with fear. Oh, she understood the words now. It was the holy sacrament of extreme unction she was listening to, the sacred rite for a departing soul.
They must have found Angus. Jamie made a hasty sign of the cross, put on her robe, and went to offer her own prayers. She knew she was considered an outsider, but she was Alec's wife all the same. Wasn't it her duty to stand by her husband when he said his farewel to his friend?
Alec didn't hear her approach. Jamie stood behind his back, watching while the priest read the holy rite.
The body had been placed on the table opposite the one in front of the screen. The old priest, dressed in requiem vestments of black with purple trim, stood at one end of the table. He had gray hair, a complexion to match, and spoke in a voice graveled with sadness.
Alec stood at the opposite end of the long table. Soldiers of varying rank fil ed the spaces between.
Anna, Edith, and another woman Jamie guessed was Elizabeth, stood near the hearth.
Jamie's heart went out to the grieving woman. She could see the tears streaming down Elizabeth's face.
The woman didn't make a sound, though, a fact that made Jamie admire her all the more. Under similar circumstances, she'd probably be wailing uncontrol ably.