Written in 56 minutes. Did a spell check, but did not reread for typos.
After they ate supper at the inn, Elizabeth insisted they go to the bonfire in the town square even though Jason thought it might upset her further.
He didn’t know her that well, this woman he’d taken to wife only days ago, but he thought he’d learned enough to realize that whatever terrible burning she’d seen as a child was twisted up in her relationship with her father—
And that brought him back to the moment in the common room when she’d opened her mouth as if to say something important—and Johnny and Francis had arrived. She slipped away, and whatever she’d planned to say had gone with her.
“We don’t have to stay long,” he told her, bracing her elbow as she stepped over some uneven stones on the cobbled streets. The small, close streets of Perth were lit with the torches on the on buildings and ones carried by the towns people as they came to the square where the larger fire sat.
“I’m all right,” she insisted. “It was…upsetting today, but it’s over. And tomorrow, we’ll continue north.” Elizabeth smiled. “Will you tell me more about Braegarie? And the people? I—I would like to be ready.”
Ready. He furrowed his brow, nearly ready to answer, when they stepped into the square and the bonfire was in front of them.
Johnny and Francis were several people behind the laid and his new wife, and Francis scowled at Johnny who was glaring at the back of Elizabeth’s head. “I thought you said you were done with this.”
“I am,” Johnny muttered. “But ‘tis something strange about how afraid she is of the witch hunters. She’s a Morgan. And Jason is the most powerful laird in the region. No one is coming after her.” He paused. “Maybe the witch she saw burned as a child was related to her.”
Francis squinted. “Huh.”
“A witch in the family—Jason would be able to set her aside—“
“You don’t believe in witches—“
“Not the ones that get burned, no,” Johnny muttered. “But I believe in stupid people who think any woman who breaks the rules is a witch. You think that’s the secret?”
“Mayhap.” Francis shrugged. “Can you live with that?”
“Aye. If that’s the secret.”
“You asked me about Braegarie.”
Jason’s voice was quiet in the darkness of their room at the inn, the candle having burned down to the tallow. Elizabeth had been drifting into a light sleep, comfortable and warm, feeling safe and happy with the man in her bed.
“You will be happy there.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes again, smiling as she tucked her chin into the crook of his neck and his arm tightened around her waist, drawing her more closely into his side. “Aye,” she murmured.
“I will make sure of it.”
And he would. She could feel it radiating from him. Whatever secrets he thought she was hiding, whatever thin layer of distrust she’d sensed from him in the days since their marriage, he’d put them away. Jason had decided to accept her into his life.
“Mmm?” her voice was barely above a whisper as she hovered between dreams and sleep.
“I promise you.”
“I know,” she sighed, as she slid beneath that final layer. “You never break a promise. No matter what your sister told you.” And then she fell asleep.
And Jason opened his eyes, frowned, and looked down at the tousled hair of his wife with confusion. Had Francis or Johnny told her about the last time he’d seen Emily? Determined to interrogate the idiots in the morning, he closed his eyes and followed his wife into slumber.
Jason had cautioned Elizabeth that the trail would grow harder after Perth—and she knew he was planning to pick up the pace slightly, but she assured him that she was ready for it. She could ride longer distances, and she was hardly the same woman that had left the inn in Edinburgh.
He had grinned at that, and her cheeks had felt so heated she’d gone to splash them with water.
“It should be a week,” Jason told her at noon the first day, when they broke for lunch by the River Tay. They’d follow the river for part of the day, then travel overland to the next source of water, the River Ericht.
“Do you always stick so close to the water?” she asked. “You don’t need to—“
He shook his head. “We could make it in three or four days if we were traveling straight,” he admitted. “But I would take this longer route even if it were my sister or my aunt who’d grown up in the Highlands. Don’t let Johnny make you think differently.”
“All right, but I—“
“I won’t have you getting ill on the way to the keep,” Jason said, stubbornly. “We’re picking up the pace, but—“ he paused. “It would be too soon to tell,” he continued, taking her hand in his. “But every time we share a bed—“
“Right.” Elizabeth bit her lip, nodded. Of course. He had told her he’d share the tent with from now on, and she was happy to hear it—she’d quite enjoyed their nights in Perth and thought it had brought them closer together. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if the glimpse of the little boy she’d seen that day by the loch was not just a dream but a true vision?
A future that could already have started. Perhaps she’d even know for sure by the time she arrived in Braegarie, and wouldn’t that bring her closer to Jason’s people? To bring the next generation of Morgan sons?
“I won’t argue any further,” Elizabeth said. “I just—“ She glanced at at the other end of the clearing where Johnny was sullenly checking the horses. “I only wish he would give me a chance to prove myself.”
“Johnny is suspicious by nature,” Jason told her. “He has promised to behave, and I will hold him to it.” He leaned down to kiss her gently and she sighed. “He’ll get to know you.”
Jason left Elizabeth to finish her luncheon and wash up and went to find Francis checking on their pack horses. “I had a question for you,” he asked,” pitching his voice low so that neither Johnny or his wife could hear.
“Aye?” Francis frowned. “Is something amiss?”
“No, but—Elizabeth said something strange to me last night. About knowing that I keep my promises no matter what my sister says.” Jason tipped his head. “She would have no way of knowing that and I didn’t think Johnny would have told her—“
“Why would I tell Elizabeth about that?” Francis asked. “It was over a year ago, and Emily apologized to you by letter. You said so. The matter was closed.”
Jason furrowed his brow. “But if you said nothing to her—“ He scowled, turning to find Johnny walking towards Elizabeth, offering to help her pack up her things to get back on the trail.
“He might have said something in passing,” Francis admitted, “when he was trying to get you to set her aside. To keep her from trusting you. But he’s given that up, Jason. I promise. He’s been better today, hasn’t he?”
“Aye,” Jason said, still a bit troubled.
“And it’s obvious that whatever secrets she’s carrying—you were correct. They’re not likely to be the sort to mean harm for us. At least not deliberately. And you—“ Francis paused. “You seem content.”
“I am,” Jason said, firmly. “The regent has done us a good turn. He had his reasons, and I am sure we will learn what they are when we least expect it, but she is not part of it.”
“I am loyal to you,” Francis told him. “You’ve made your choice, and we stand with you.”
They broke that evening for camp just as the sun dipped below the trees. Johnny had wanted to go a bit further, but Jason reminded them that they were turning away from the water, and that Elizabeth didn’t have a lot of experience traveling in the dark.
“I can go a bit longer,” she began, but Jason shook his head. This was the last safe place to camp by the water, and they’d have to push hard tomorrow be able to camp on Ericht.
“You should not argue with him, lass,” Johnny told her gruffly, but not unkindly as he removed the tent from the pack horse. “He’s determined to have you reach Braegarie in one piece, and you’ll not convince him differently.”
“I do appreciate the kindness,” Elizabeth hurried to say, her face flaming. “And I hope I don’t appear ungrateful.” She looked at Jason who had come up behind them. “I’m not. I know you do this for me. I just—“ She pressed her lips together, then sighed. “I don’t wish to be a burden.”
“You’re a lone woman traveling with three men,” Johnny told her. “We would be home by now if you were not here. That’s not a criticism,” he added as Jason’s nostrils flared. “Just a fact. It does not make you burden. My lady,” he added as an afterthought. “I’ll go set up the tent.”
“I’ll help,” Jason muttered. It had been one thing to leave the tent to Johnny when just Elizabeth had been sleeping alone, but he was clearly uncomfortable with being treated like the lord of the major and his men serving him.
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose and went over to see if she could help Francis with the evening meal. “I just want something to do,” she complained. “I want to help.”
“Then count the apples,” Francis said absently, handing her a bag. “I meant to do so before we left Perth, and I did not have the moment.”
Happy, Elizabeth settled next to the fire with her task, watching as Jason and Johnny set up the tent where she’d be sleeping with her husband for the first time. It had been such a lonely existence, those first few nights, but would it be strange now to share a pallet with Jason with Johnny and Francis by the fire?
Would they share the pallet the way they had in the inn? She hoped they would, but would it be strange or embarrassing? Oh, how she wished her mother had lived long enough to explain all of this to her—or that she’d been closer to Sarah or had someone else to ask—
“You did not enjoy the apples?” Francis asked dryly as he sat on the log next to her. He handed her a chunk of cheese.
“Oh. No, I did. We have thirty-six,” Elizabeth told him. “Is that enough?”
“Aye. Nine each for each of us. One a day for the noon meal,” he added. “I always buy a bit extra. Most of the time, we’re faster, but—“
“But I might add another day Jason hasn’t calculated,” Elizabeth said. “Thank you. You—and Johnny have been very patient. Even when he did not like me, he hid what I imagine was the worst of the frustration. I know you stayed in Stirling—and Perth—for me.”
“We did,” Francis said, “but it was worth it. You and Jason needed more time before you came to Braegarie. You will be better for it. And Johnny couldna come home the way he was acting. You’re doing fine,” he added. “For a lass from the Lowlands.”
Pleased, Elizabeth beamed at him. “That is the loveliest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
“What was?” Jason said, sounding slightly suspicious as he and Johnny joined them. Francis handed over their own rations of cheese.
“I’m doing fine for a Lowlands lass,” Elizabeth reported. “Francis said so.”
“Well, it could be worse,” Francis said when Johnny rolled his eyes. “She could be an actual Sassanach. Could you imagine an English miss being dragged through the Highlands by the likes of us?”
Johnny snorted. “We’d have dumped her in the loch the first night. Even if she’d even made it out of Edinburgh.” He nodded at Elizabeth. “Francis is right. You’ve done…all right.”
“High praise,” Elizabeth said, lifting her chin and feeling very happy in this moment, in the middle of a dark forest with three brawny Highlanders. She grinned at her husband. “Mayhap in another year, they might mistake me for a Highland woman.”
“You get to Braegarie in one piece,” Jason told her, with a smile and glint in his eye, “you’ll be on your way.”