Written in 59 minutes. No time for reread/typo check.
After two days at the festival, Elizabeth could hardly believe that she’d fought so hard to stay at home. Though she and Emily had only just met, she felt an instant kinship with her husband’s sister and had been overjoyed to meet other women her age who seemed eager to build friendships with her.
“I always wondered what kind of woman my brother would marry,” Emily said as she and Elizabeth strolled along the loch the last day of the festival. Across the way, they could see the men setting up for the final events — finishing with the caber toss.
“Oh?” Elizabeth took Jake from her sister-in-law as the infant began to fuss. She saw Cameron trailing behind his father as Jason helped arrange the logs for the toss. She bit her lip, nearly calling out, but then Jason turned and picked up their son. He tossed Cameron on his shoulders again, keeping him out of the way of the men but still allowing him to feel part of it all.
Whatever happened on this trip or after it, she was glad she had this vision of her little boy, laughing and giggling, part of his father’s life. She had wanted to give him a bigger part of the world, and she’d done that.
“I thought he’d marry someone from the Camerons or Frasiers,” Emily continued, drawing Elizabeth’s attention back to her. “For alliances. That’s what our father did. I think he and my mother were happy. I never knew her,” she added, “but everyone says she was a good wife and lady to the clan. But I don’t remember Da being especially sad over her loss.”
“He never married again, though, did he?” Elizabeth pointed out. “He must have cared for her somewhat.”
“He had Aunt Tracy to look after us,” Emily said dryly. “And Jason was never a sickly child. No, he was destined to be a great leader. And it was his idea to allow outcasts into the clan. You know Johnny and Francis aren’t blood members.”
“No, their last names aren’t from this area, but I thought they’d been here since childhood—”
“They have. Da knew Johnny’s father in Sterling,” Emily explained, “and he and Jason were friends, but then his father died and Da took Johnny in. Raised them like brothers. That’s how Francis and Max and his brother joined. Jason gave them a family because he knew they’d be loyal to him.” She smiled at Elizabeth. “I’m glad that you’ve done that for him. He needed a family, too. I love watching him with Cameron.”
“I do, too,” Elizabeth murmured. She shaded her eyes as she looked over the loch again. Cameron easily went from Jason’s shoulders to Johnny’s. “He didn’t choose me.”
“He said that in one of his letters,” Emily said. “But I know my brother. I can tell how happy he is.”
Elizabeth flushed and was saved from having to respond when Emily’s eyes lit up. She picked her skirt up with both hands and darted away, down the hill towards her family’s campsite where a man with dark hair and dark eyes was waiting to scoop her off her feet and swing her around.
That must be Emily’s husband, Elizabeth thought as she ambled down after them. Nikolas and his father had had business in the Isles for the clan chieftain, Tormid MacLeod, and hadn’t been expected to make the festival at all. She was eager to meet the man who Emily adored so much that she put up with his difficult family.
“Nikolas, this is Jason’s wife,” Emily said as Elizabeth joined them. Elizabeth slid Jake beneath the sling she wore across her chest so that she could properly greet the man. “Elizabeth, this is Nikolas—and this is—” Emily’s smile dimmed slightly as an older man stepped towards them. “This is his father, Stavros Cassadine.”
Elizabeth stared at the man, the blood pounding in her ears, a chill sliding down her spine. “Hello,” she managed, forcing a smile on her face.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Nikolas said, nodding at her. “Is this the newest addition to the Morgan clan?”
She ripped her gaze away from Stavros to Emily’s husband and nodded, numbly. “Aye, ’tis Jacob. We-we call him Jake. Cameron is with Jason.”
“Two sons,” Stavros said, his tone silky and smooth. He cast a sly glance at Emily who flushed and dipped her eyes away. “What a boon you’ve been to your husband. He’s very fortunate.”
Nikolas’s mouth tightened, the only recognition that he’d heard the slight against his wife. “Aye, the health of a child and his mother is the most important,” he said.
“I should leave you to enjoy your reunion with your husband,” Elizabeth said to Emily. She put her arms around Jake, tightening her hold on him. “I think Jake sohuld be out of the son.”
“I’ll come by later before the event,” Emily promised.
“I’ll walk you to your tent, Lady Morgan.”
Elizabeth turned back, her eyes as wide as saucers. “N-No, that’s not—” She looked around and gratefully saw Francis joining them. He’d been a bit behind trailing them at the loch. “Francis will take care of it. Francis, I want to go back to the tent.”
She walked away quickly, putting the distance between them, the shaking in her hands spreading throughout her body until she was nearly vibrating by the time they reached the Morgan campsite where some of their men were milling around.
“Elizabeth—” Francis shoved the flap aside so she could walk in. She took Jake out of his sling and set him down into the cradle. “Should I get Jason—”
“I—” She squeezed her eyes shut. Oh, God. Oh, God. She’d never thought—she realized now she’d hoped it wasn’t true—that it had all been a lie—that she would never—
But the moment she’d seen Stavros Cassadine, the moment she’d heard that voice—
“Tell me about Emily’s family. The Cassadines. That’s a strange name for the isles.” Elizabeth turned to him, lacing her fingers together. “Do they have connections to the regent?”
Francis drew his brows together. “Aye, a slight one. The name is Greek, but they’ve been in Scotland since one of the kings picked them up during the Crusades. This branch of the family swears fealty to the MacLeods of Skye.” He hesitated. “My lady—”
“And the regent?”
“Nikolas went to university in Edinburgh,” Francis said slowly, “and came north to Sterling on a holiday. That’s how he and Emily met. Nikolas was one of the men in the king’s retinue for a time. I’m told he and Albany were friendly enough. I’m sure the families know each other. I’m going to get Jason—”
“Aye.” Elizabeth pressed her hands against her face. “Aye, that’ll be a good idea.” Francis would bring her Jason and they’d return to Braegarie immediately. “I won’t move from this place.”
“I’ll send some men for him—and Cameron,” Francis told her. “But I’m not leaving your side.”
“Do you want me to fetch your wife?” Johnny asked as he handed Cameron back to Jason. The toddler clambered back onto his father’s shoulders, his usual resting place. “She’s probably still with your sister.”
“Aye,” Jason agreed, then paused as a strange, shivery feeling crawled across his spine. He turned to look across the loch where he’d seen his sister and Elizabeth walking a while ago. Elizabeth was nowhere to be found but Emily and her husband was sitting at the edge. “I thought Nikolas was back in Skye—”
Johnny frowned and peered to follow his gaze. “Oh, mayhap he managed the trip. I hope he left that father of his at home.”
Jason arched a brow. “You don’t like Stavros? Why?”
“You sent me with Emily when she went to Skye five years ago,” Johnny reminded him. “I led the escort. He immediately sent her into the chapel to take confession.” He rolled his shoulders. “I don’t trust a Highlander that dedicated to the Church.”
“And one of his cousins married into the Stuarts,” Johnny reminded him as the trio rounded the loch and Jason nodded to his sister. “He thinks he’s better than everyone else. You know he’s making your sister miserable.”
“Aye, well—” Uncomfortable because he knew his sister’s inability to conceive had been a sore point in her relationship and because he had no way to help, Jason let it go. “Maybe he stayed behind.”
“Maybe,” Johnny muttered.
They were just around the hillside from the campsite when they were stopped by a group of Camerons. “Morgan,” Alexander Cameron barked. “We need you and your men—”
Jason frowned. “We’re at the festival—”
“Aye, well, de la Bastie is in the area, and we think he’s found Hume’s hide out,” Alexander told him. “M’father is allied with the Humes, so we need to warn David and his brothers—”
Jason set his teeth. He wanted nothing to do with royal intrigue, but Hume’s battle with te Crown since Albany had had the laird of the family executed for rebelling against his regency threatened to overflow into open warfare. If another member of the family was killed—
“David Hume needs to find another place to hide his family,” Jason muttered. He lifted Cameron off his shoulders and handed him to Johnny. “Take him to Elizabeth. Tell her I’ve been called away.”
“Should I follow—”
Jason hesitated, then looked at Alexander who looked impatient. He could get away with leaving Francis behind with his wife and sons, but if he asked both of his best men to stay out of a possible battle — “Aye. As soon as Elizabeth and the boys are seen to, catch up with us.”
“Da?” Cameron said. “Cabers?”
“Not this year,” he told his son with real regret. “Da has to go to do his duty.”
“Duty.” Cameron nodded. “Mama says this is important.” He clung to Johnny. “Bye, Da.”
“Goodbye.” He ruffed the boy’s blond hair, and then turned back to Alexander and his men who had an extra horse waiting. “Tell Elizabeth I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
Just as Jason and the Camerons disappeared into a cropse of trees, Milo rounded the hillside. “Johnny! Where’s the laird? M’lady needs him—”
Johnny scowled, tossed Cameron onto his shoulders, and headed for him. “What’s wrong?”
“I dinnae, but Francis said m’lady is fair shook. Tis an emergency.”
“Mama?” Cameron said. “Where’s Mama?’
“Let’s go, lad,” Johnny muttered as he quickened his pace. He found Francis pacing back and forth in front of the tent. “What’s the matter?”
“Alexander Cameron called him away on a task for his father. Francis—”
“I can’t say for sure, but Elizabeth met Stavros Cassadine and her face went white.” Francis looked at Johnny, his lips pressed tightly together. “And now Jason isn’t here?”
“This—” Johnny exhaled slowly. “It can’t be related. Jason went to warn the Humes to vacate the area because de la Bastie is here on Albany’s business. That can’t have anything to do with Elizabeth.”
“No?” Francis lifted his brows. “‘Tis quite the coincidence, then.”
Johnny scowled and shoved Cameron at the other man, then went inside where Elizabeth was frantically shoving things into a chest. “Lass—”
“It was him. I saw him—” Elizabeth turned towards him, her cheeks tear stained. “Where’s Jason? We need to leave immediately—”
“He’s been called away on clan business,” Johnny told her. “Tell me what’s happened—”
“It was Stavros in the vision. Stavros who ordered me to burn—and he’s here. It was his voice, his face—” She stopped in the middle of the tent, her hands pressed to her face, her voice breaking. “He’s who I see every night in my nightmares.”
Johnny drew his brows together. “Jason never said you were still having the dreams—” He scowled. “You didn’t tell him.”
“He’d worry—but we need to leave. Jason can come later—” Elizabeth started past Johnny to roll up the bed pallet, but he took her gently by the arm.
“The boys will remain here with Francis,” Johnny told her. “And you’ll go with me to the caber toss. I’ll stay by your side, lass. And then we’ll come here, and wait for Jason. We cannot draw attention to you.”
“Your instinct is to run for safety,” he told her. “And I can understand it. I don’t know all of it, but I know you’ve been scared of this moment for a long time.” Johnny paused. “But we’ll have a better chance if we slip away in the middle of the night. We leave in the middle of the day, he can follow.”
“What if Jason isn’t back by nightfall?” Elizabeth asked, her voice quivering. “What if Albany sent him to make good on this threats?”
“If Jason isn’t back by night fall, then you and I and the boys, and a few men will leave quietly. I swore an oath to Jason,” Johnny reminded her. “And I swore one to you and the boys. I promised him I would take care of his family. Let me do that.” He hesitated, thinking of Jason’s orders to follow him. He knew Jason would agree he was better off here.
“Okay. Okay.” Elizabeth closed her eyes, swallowed hard. “Okay. You’re right. I can do this.” She opened her eyes. “Let’s go to the caber toss.”
Stavros Cassadine watched as the Morgan party came around the hillside toward the festival grounds, with the lady of the clan flanked by Jason’s first in command, the Irishman. He frowned slightly—he’d not expected both of Jason’s commanders to stay behind when he’d been drawn away from his family—
But Stavros was ready for it. He’d smile and nodded as the Chevalier de la Bastie had commanded him to bring the Morgan woman to him, knowing the connection between the families would give Stavros a reason to be near Elizabeth Morgan.
But then de la Bastie had told him the truth. That she was suspected of witchcraft. That had changed everything.
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” he murmured.