Written in 20 minutes. No time for spellcheck.
Jason scowled at the man sitting across from and kicked him under the table before looking at his pale wife, the flushed cheeks and shy smile he’d enjoyed waking up vanished. “Don’t listen to him,” he cautioned her. “You won’t be alone.”
“No.” Elizabeth took a deep breath and her lips curved, but the expression didn’t reach her eyes. “No, I won’t be alone. But someone will.”
Francis pressed his lips together to stare at the other man. “We’re going,” he said, in a clipped tone to Johnny, “to check on the horses.”
“Now.” The blond got to his feet and snagged the corner of Johnny’s kilt fastened over his shoulder. The two of them disappeared out of the common room.
“You must think I’m silly,” Elizabeth said, nervously reaching for her spoon and pushing the porridge around in the wooden bowl.
“No,” Jason said with a shake of his head. “I’ve seen a witch burning,” he admitted. “When I was younger,” he added, seeing her eyes rounded. “I was passing through a smaller village and an older woman was put to the stake. Their healer. They burned their healer because a sickness had swept through the village, and they thought more should have died.”
“They burned her for not letting them die,” Elizabeth said flatly. She stared at the porridge. “At home, in Annan, when the plague came through the shire, they burned three witches. My father was the magistrate who sentenced them.”
Jason tilted his head, wondering why the subject troubled her so. It wasn’t a happy topic, but there was something in the tenseness of her shoulders, the way she avoided his gaze. “Elizabeth?”
“My father,” Elizabeth continued softly, “took me to see the burnings. My sister and I. To warn us that women had a place in the world and that we ought to be careful.” She looked at him. “I had only seen eight summers.”
She’d been a child. Jason swore under his breath and reached over to squeeze the hand resting on the table. “We’ll leave tonight—”
“No. No—” she added when he shook his head. “And we should go to the bonfire in the town square. You said that Perth is the closest town to Braegarie,” Elizabeth said. “You trade here, don’t you?”
“Aye,” Jason said uneasily.
“People know you,” she continued. “Your family. If we left on the eve of Beltane when we were supposed to stay—” She sighed. “It will be easier to go and pretend. I’m all right,” she said.
“If you change your mind—”
She smiled faintly, pushed her bowl back. “You said we might go to the market? That would be nice.”
The days were long at this time of the year, and dusk did not fall for many hours. If she ignored the preparations for the Beltane feast and bonfire around the market, Elizabeth thought that this was one of the happiest days of her life. She was walking side by side with her husband, a man who had decided to look past the way their marriage had begun and accept her and their future together. In fact—
Elizabeth glanced up at her husband as he negotiated with a fruitseller in the square. She was quite fortunate that the regent had chosen such a good man. And a handsome one, not that such things should matter, she told herself. And they didn’t. Except—
“What?” Jason asked as he passed her one of the apples he’d just purchased. “You look flushed,” he continued. “Are you feeling well?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth muttered, then bit into the apple and looked away. He wanted children, he’d told her. And she knew enough that the more frequently they shared a bed, the more quickly she would conceive. Would he want to be with her again tonight? Would he wait until Braegarie—
A few paces in front of them, Elizabeth saw an older woman standing by a table, arranging some clothing and fabrics. She started to tug on Jason’s hand, wanting to look more closely at them — but then she saw a group of men coming up behind the other woman, towards she and Jason. She could see the word forming on his lips even before his voice rang out over the crowd, extending one finger in their direction.