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Elizabeth lifted her son from his cradle and held him against her shoulder, gently rocking the infant as she swayed back and forth, hoping to settle his restless cries.
She’d barely been able sleep over the past three weeks—not just because Cameron rarely slept more a few hours at a time, but her own worry. Tracy had told her of the three children Jason’s mother had lost in infacy—a son and daughter before Jason’s birth and then one more son between Jason and his sister, Emily.
Three babes born that hadn’t seen their first birthday. And two of them, Tracy had said with real sorrow, had died within weeks. Some babes weren’t strong enough to survive. Since that discussion, Elizabeth had been afraid to take her eyes off her son. What if she missed his last breath? What if she missed the chance to help him?
“Father McKinnon has just finished his week at the Camerons.”
Elizabeth turned at the sound of her husband’s aunt and sighed in relief. “Then he’ll be here this Sunday. I want Cameron baptized.” The Camerons were the largest clan in this part of Scotland, and the Morgans had a marriage alliance with them through Jason’s mother. It was part of the reason Elizabeth had chosen the name for their son. Or at least, she thought it was the reason. It had been his name in her vision after all.
“Aye. ‘Tis a privilege to have a priest even once a month,” Tracy said as she strode across the room and reached for Cameron, frowning at Elizabeth. “You did not sleep again ast night?”
“Oh.” Elizabeth sighed. “No, not since Jason left for the Frasers.” She bit at her thumb and turned towards the windows. She’d grown used to Jason and his best warriors leaving to fight with allies against rival clans, but she always worried when he was gone.
“You need to stop fretting over Jason,” Tracy said as she bounced Cameron lightly and the baby coeed at her. “Highland men like fighting more than they like the comforts of home. They consider it a sin to die in their beds as old men.”
“I may have to live with it, but it does not meet I should ever accept it. Someone has to help Cameron grow into a strong Highland warrior.” Elizabeth smoothed her hand over the soft, downy fuzz of her son’s head, still marveling at his existence. She’d been so convinced she’d never have a family and now she had this perfect child, a wonderful husband, and—she eyed Tracy—a beloved curmudgeon. “I know it’s been a year, but I confess I still can’t get used to not having a priest in permanent residence.”
“Ah, well, being from the Lowlands, you’re practically English, and they’ve forgotten the Old Ways long ago,” Tracy said. She set Cameron back in Elizabeth’s arms. “He’s looking hungry.”
Her favorite part of the day. Elizabeth sat down in the chair by the fire and untucked her dress so that Cameron could eat. “No, my father didn’t set much store in the Old Ways,” she admitted. “He was very…dedicated to the Church.”
Tracy snorted as she took the seat across from Elizabeth. “Men often are. That’s how they tell themselves they have the power. God speaks to them, they say. And women are last in God’s life. The church fears the Old Ways.” She folded her arms. “You won’t see that attitude at Braegarie as long as a Morgan breathes. We still have the proper respect for the gifts that God has bestowed.”
“I…” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I haven’t seen much evidence of it. Beyond the marriages that aren’t blessed by a priest until Father MacKinnon arrives.”
“You likely don’t know what to look for. Barbara is a practitioner. Not much to her abilities—a gift for healing. For sensing the right treatments, for having a deft hand at the potions,” Tracy explained. “No, the ways are dying out. We don’t have many seers left. Not here in east. Emily writes that they still have some stalwarts in the Isles.”
“Seers.” Elizabeth’s heart began to beat a bit faster. “You mean people who can see the future.”
“Aye. It was never a common gift,” Tracy admitted. “The Camerons have a seer, but they keep it quiet. Some fools seem to think that it’s evidence of a witchcraft.” She snorted. “Ever since the Stewarts came to power and made an alliance with the French—” she sneered the word. “They’ve forgotten who they are.”
“Because the French king is very dedicated to the Pope,” Elizabeth said slowly. “I’ve heard the regent speak of his fondness for Paris. He spent time there before the king died and he was called home.”
“Aye, John Stewart is barely a Scot.” Tracy narrowed her eyes. “Why the interest in the Old Ways?”
“I—” Elizabeth’s words died in her throat. Tracy approved of her—but just barely. She’d survived a Highland winter and had birthed a son for Tracy’s beloved nephew. But that did not mean Jason’s aunt cared for her.
Still. “It’s very different from how I was raised. My father was very harsh with any women he believed to be witches,” Elizabeth said slowly. “He…had several burned at the stake.”
“Aye. The witchcraft trials have come to Sterling. Jason told me a woman burned at Beltane several springs ago—and the run you had on your way from Edinburgh. The witch finder—as if a man could spot an actual witch—” Tracy got to her feet. “I took a risk telling you about Barbara—”
“I would never—” Elizabeth shook her head. “Aunt, I promise. I would never—I—” She took a deep breath. “I ask because I—I think I am one of those—the seers,” she clarified. “I—I get visions. Of the future.”
Tracy pursed her lips, then settled back down in the chair. “Tell me.”
Jason returned from his battles alongside the Frasers only a day before Father MacKinnon was due to baptize their son and brought news with him.
“Albany is in Sterling,” Jason told Johnny who had been left behind to guard the keep and Jason’s family. He started up the stairs, expecting his first to follow him. He was eager to see his wife and son. He disliked being away from them and knew Elizabeth had trouble sleeping when he wasn’t with her.
“Why? I thought he’d go back to France and leave the queen to her business,” Johnny muttered. “Even if her business is the Angus.”
“Aye, well, she lost the right to her children with that marriage,” Jason reminded him. “And Albany had wait to for the council to give him the right—he’s in Sterling because that’s where Margaret is.”
He pushed open the door and grinned at the sight of Elizabeth at the heart, cradling their son in her arms. Then frowned, realized she was feeding Cameron and—he turned to face Johnny. “You’ll stay out here.”
“I’ve seen a woman feed—” Johnny protested, but Jason closed the bedroom door and greeted his aunt who stood to greet him.
“Johnny said things were well?” he asked her, then looked at Elizabeth for confirmation.
“Aye, the holding is as you left it,” Tracy said. She arched a brow. “Your wife has slept not a wink. You should see to that.” She paused and met his eyes. “And your mother would be proud of you.”
Frowning as his aunt left the room, Jason turned a bewildered expression to Elizabeth who had finished feeding Cameron and was getting to her feet. “What—”
“Tracy and I were discussing the Old Ways,” Elizabeth said. “And so…I told her.”
“You…” Jason was distracted when she put their son in his arms. Even after three weeks, it still felt like the first time. Cameron had grown since that first night—his face was starting to fill out and he opened his eyes more—but he was still no heavier than the claymore Jason wielded in battle.
In fact, on this recent journey, Jason had convinced himself that the child weighed less than his weapon. He understood his wife’s fears that something this fragile could not be strong enough to survive in this world.
“I wondered—when I told you what I could do—why it did not seem to concern you,” Elizabeth said. “You were surprised, but you didn’t…judge me. I was sure that you wouldn’t want to keep me.”
Jason scowled. “‘Tis your father who had you thinking things. Low Landers are scared everything.”
“Aye, that’s what Tracy said. She said we’ll still need to keep it to ourselves. The church is growing stronger. That’s very clear from what we saw in Sterling last spring.” Elizabeth sighed. “But it does feel better not having to keep the secret from you and Tracy. Or Johnny and Francis. Keeping it from you—I hated it.”
“It was only for a few months.” Jason shrugged it off, and then sat down—slowly, not wanting to jar his son who had dozed off in his arms. “And you were scared. I knew I had to make you feel safe, and I did.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes, and he grinned at her. He untucked one hand from holding Cameron and reached for her, tugging her onto his knee. “We have a strong son,” he told her. “And I can see the circles under your eyes. We’ll get a maid in to see to Cameron at night so you can sleep—”
“I worry for him, too,” he told her. “I remember the babe my parents lost before Emily was born. And how my mother grieved each loss.” He paused. “How my father grieved the loss of my mother when Emily was born. You need to keep your strength. You’re important to me, too.”
“I try not to feel scared,” Elizabeth murmured, leaning against Jason’s shoulder, tucking her head under his chin as they both looked at the miracle he held in his other arm. “I know my vision tells me he survives. That there’s another child in a year or two. But ’tis hard to remember that in the middle of the night,” she admitted.
And neither of them mentioned how that vision had begun by the disappearance of Jason and their sons. She had never been sure if it had been a metaphor or if there was something else to worry over.
“Albany is in Sterling,” he told Elizabeth. “He’s come to take the boys from Margaret.”
“The—” Elizabeth leaned up, frowing him. “James and Alexander? They’re just babes. Alexander is scarely weaned—and you told me Margaret was to have the Angus’s child. Why would he take children from their mother now?”
“Because James is the king,” Jason reminded her gently. “And Albany is the regent. He has the power to do so—”
“It’s barbaric,” Elizabeth muttered, “that he should have such power over her children. She brought those boys into the world. She should have the raising of them. Even if she did have the bad judgement to marry Archibald Douglas.” She narrowed her eyes. “What man do you think will take my son from me? I’ll see them dead first—”
“Things aren’t so strict in the Highlands,” Jason told her. “But aye, he needs a male legal guardian. A boy without one—the king could take control of him and the holding,” he admitted. “So I had to put some paperwork together. Johnny has the legal custody but he knows that Cameron stays with you.”
“And if he tried to take him from me—or Tracy—no one would ever find the body,” Elizabeth muttered. “This is the problem of letting men in charge of the world. Women do all the work and you lot just take.” She took a deep breath. “You’re telling me about Albany being in Sterling because this is the closest he’s been since we were in Edinburgh.”
“Aye. And if he was behind the kidnapping attempt last year,” Jason said, “I just think it’s best if we keep an eye on him. He might not care about of that. He’ll finish seiging Margaret, and take the boys back to Edinburgh where he has more loyal followers in the court.”
“He can’t make me leave, can he?” Elizabeth asked. “I’m your wife. Your legal property.”
“Which is the argument I’ll be making if he tries,” Jason told her. “Whatever plans he might have had for you, they were done the moment he chose me to marry you.” He leaned forward and kissed her gently. “I’ll keep you safe. I promise.”
“I know.” She edged back slightly with narrowed eyes. “But you’re just to make that argument to him, not anyone else.”
“I’m not fool enough to try it on you.” He kissed her again and she smiled against his lips. “We both know who holds the power here.” Cameron began to cry, and they both looked at the infant. Because of course, their lives revolved around their son now—he was the one in charhe.
“I take it from the look on your face you’re unhappy with the messenger,” Johnny said as he closed the solar door behind the man who had brought the scroll Jason held in his hands. “He said he’ll wait in the hall for the answer—”
“The answer is no,” Jason said, his tone clipped. “You can word it however you like, but I’ll not be bringing my wife anywhere near Sterling Castle or the Duke of Albany. The regent can go to hell.”
Johnny blinked. “He wants you to bring Elizabeth—she’s barely out of childbed—”
“Aye, well, Albany’s shown just how much care he has for a woman and her children, hasn’t he?” Jason muttered.
“I’ll give the message to the regent’s man, but this will upset Elizabeth. She’s only begun sleeping again at night.”
Jason scrubbed a hand over his face, then nodded. “I know. I won’t be telling her.”
“I promised I’d keep her safe. She trusts me to do that. She doesn’t need all the details.”