Written in 20 minutes.
It took Elizabeth a beat before she realized that the man who had cried “Witch!” was not precisely pointing at her — but at the woman three feet away from Elizabeth. With a growl, Jason shoved Elizabeth behind him as others in the marketplace fled.
“We’re not going to leave her, are we?” Elizabeth asked, her voice high, nearly shrill. She flinched as two men with the witchfinder seized the older woman who cried out in pain. “Jason—”
Jason hesitated, then met her eyes. “Don’t get separated,” he warned her. “The crowd could turn—”
“What’s the charge?” Jason demanded, striding forward, keeping his grasp on Elizabeth’s elbow right.
“Who are you to ask?” the man retorted, his cheeks flushing. He yanked on the woman’s arm. “I am the Witchfinder in this district—”
“There’s no such thing,” Jason said with some disgust. He flicked his eyes to one of the men standing with the so-called Witchfinder. “You. Malcolm Scorpio. I know you.”
“Aye, Laird,” the man grunted. He flicked his eyes to the angry young man. “Peter August, ‘tis Laird Jason Morgan of Braegarie.”
Peter August’s lips thinned as he narrowed his eyes. “Laird Morgan,” he repeated. “You live up in the hills. I don’t expect you to know our customs—”
“My people keep Perth clothed in wool and swimming in whiskey,” Jason retorted. “I know well the customs, and taking up women as witches with no evidence is not one of them. I will ask you one more time. What is the charge?”
“Ava Jerome,” the third man with them said, “has been accused of giving the evil eye to to Eleanor Benson—”
“I never!” the woman screeched. “That filthy—”
“The evil eye,” Jason said. He lifted one brow. “And how will you be proving that?”
“I—” Peter August lifted his chin. “I don’t need to prove it—the claim has been made—”
Jason looked at the other men. “Malcolm, I know you and your brother to be honest and honorable men. You want to see this woman burned at the stake when your so-called witch finder has nothing to say?”
“How exactly did she give Eleanor the evil eye?” Robert asked, narrowing his eyes. “Mac, I thought he had the evidence—”
“He said—” Mac released the woman—Ava—with a dark look. “You said you had proof—”
“My word is enough proof—” Peter sensed the crowd was not turning to Ava — but to him. He swallowed hard. “I am a man. She is an unmarried woman who takes in boarders—she—” He ducked as someone threw a a tomato at him. More fruits and vegetables followed as the young man took off down an alley.
Ava Jerome straightened her her sleeves. “I thank you for your intervention, my laird. How I can I repay you?” she asked Jason with a fluttering of her eyelashes. Elizabeth, who had taken in the scene with wide and worried eyes, narrowed them now as she stepped out from behind her husband.
“Thank my wife,” Jason said, stepping back, gripping Elizabeth’s elbow again.
“Mistress,” Ava murmured.
“Can we go now?” Elizabeth asked, her heart still pounding, one eye on the alley where the witch finder had disappeared.
“Aye, let’s return to the inn.” He turned and steered her back towards the center of town. “I’m sorry,” he said with a sigh. “I had hoped the townspeople were past this, but it can take a few years for the crazy to settle down.”
“It only comes back,” Elizabeth murmured. “Do you—” SHe bit her lip. “Do you believe in witches?”
“No,” Jason said with a shake of his head as they stepped back into the common room of the inn. “And even if I did, the punishment—” He grimaced. “Far outstrips the crime.” Jason frowned, tilting his head. “I know what you saw as a child upset you, but you know I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.”
“I—” Elizabeth glanced out the tavern windows, looking over the high street. “I think I can believe that,” she said slowly, “but—” She stopped, then met his eyes again. “It’s difficult to explain.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Jason said, with an encouraging nod. Could she tell him? Would he think differently of her if he knew? He’d stepped in for a woman he didn’t know. Would he accept her strange ability? Might he even find a value in it?
Still unsure, she opened her mouth to respond, but then the door opened again and Johnny and Francis entered, breaking the moment. Elizabeth pressed her lips together, smiled at Jason, then turned her attention to the warriors —
Missing Jason’s look of concern and worry as she looked away from him.