Written in 63 minutes. Had to take a minute to double check some garment situations and the existence of something in Perth in 1514.
Johnny was wise enough to say very little to Jason or his wife when they returned to the clearing and mounted their horses to complete the journey to Perth. T
hough he knew it would grate at Johnny and Francis to stop in one of the largest towns in the Highlands for several days, Jason knew that they’d be able to find rooms and resupply themselves for the final ten days of the trip, though he planned to supply themselves for at least two weeks. He hoped Elizabeth would be able to pick up the pace once they had rested, but Jason wanted to be ready for anything.
He also had other plans for their stay in Perth.
They reached the boundaries of the city just an hour or so before dusk fell, but the inn Jason and his family had usually favored was close and they were able to stable their horses and arrange rooms before complete darkness fell.
“This is the last inn before Braegarie,” Jason reminded Elizabeth as they left Johnny and Francis in the common room and climbed the steps to their room. Inside, he lit the lamps and turned to her. “We’ll stay two, maybe three days, but after this—”
“It’s back to the tent,” Elizabeth said with a nod. “I understand. And I thank you for taking this journey so slowly. I—” She drew her bottom lip between her teeth. “I know you’d make the trip in half the time—”
Less than that, but Jason just nodded and kissed her forehead gently. “I’ve arranged for a bath after supper,” he told her. “Enjoy the comforts while you can.”
“That sounds ominous,” Elizabeth replied, but she was smiling and her eyes were lit with a spark he’d not seen before. “Thank you.” She paused. “Today, you made it clear that you would…”
“Elizabeth?” he said when she trailed off.
“That you would like us to…make a true marriage of this,” she managed, her voice fading slightly. He tipped her chin up, intrigued by the flush that had spread across her cheeks. “If we are to stay a few days here, then maybe—” She cleared her throat. “M-Maybe we should start tonight.”
He stilled, furrowing his brows slightly as he took in her words, scouring for any other meaning than the one he wanted. “Start,” he repeated. “Do you mean—”
“Well,” Elizabeth said, “I’m not entirely sure I understand everything, mind you,” she continued, “but I don’t imagine sons or daughters appear under a bush.” She glanced at the bed, then at him, before dropping her gaze again. “Unless you wish to wait—”
“I don’t,” he assured her, speaking so abruptly that she had barely completed half of her statement before he blurted his answer. “I just want you to be ready.”
“I don’t know if one is ever ready,” she replied, “but I think we’d both do better if we…” Elizabeth made a face. “I’m sorry. I’m making a mess of this.”
“You’re not.” Jason cupped her face in his hands, kissing her swiftly and fiercely, drawing out the embrace until she was clinging to him, her breath shallow and her eyes dazed. “You couldn’t.”
“So tonight,” Elizabeth said.
“Tonight,” Jason agreed, even though waiting another minute might likely kill him. “I’ll go tell the innkeeper we’re ready for our supper.”
Downstairs in the common room, Johnny sulked over an ale, glaring at the frothy liquid. “M’face feels like I ran into a tree,” he muttered.
“Looks like it, too,” Francis agreed, cheerfully as he ate his stew. He watched as the innkeeper’s wife, a maid, and another man dragged a tub up the stairs. “Will you leave off making the lass feel like a bad penny?”
“I know I punched him at least three times,” Johnny continued, “but his face has not a mark on it. Unfair.”
“You made a crude statement about his wife,” Francis reminded him. “You’re lucky that Jason didn’t leave you in pieces for the crows. Will you stop?” he repeated.
“It’s my job to challenge Jason,” Johnny reminded Francis. “But I’ve told him that he’s a fool and that he’s putting his trust in the wrong person. He has—” He rubbed his jaw. “He has, uh, rejected that advice.”
“That’s one way to say it.”
“He’ll regret not getting to the bottom of her secrets,” Johnny predicted, “but I’ve given up making all of us miserable. I will, however, be first in line to remind him of this day when I’m proven right.”
“Cynical bastard,” Francis retorted, lifting his ale and taking a long swig.
Elizabeth hung back by the hearth, her wrapper tied tightly around her body as Jason held the door open and the tub was removed. She’d decided to throw all her caution and good sense to the wind inviting her new husband to bed her—she thought maybe his kisses might make the rest of it worth it. She’d heard maids complain about the act over the years, though one or two had seemed to like it.
But she’d never thought marriage for her. She’d never dreamed she might have a husband of her own, but now she was married to…a man much larger than her, she realized with a start as Jason walked towards her, still wearing the knit shirt and kilt.
“Are you all right?” he asked, taking a hand in his. “You can change your mind—”
“No,” Elizabeth said quickly with a fervent shake of her head. “No,” she repeated. “It’s just—” She licked her lips, looked up at him. “I’m a bit nervous is all,” she admitted. “I’ve—well, obviously I’ve never—” She huffed. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Jason told her. With his other hand, he traced the line of his jaw and her eyes fluttered closed. “It’s important that you speak the truth to me,” he continued, and her heart skipped a beat — because that was never going to happen — but when she opened her eyes and met his again, he continued speaking. “If something hurts you,” he said, “or you wish to stop, you’ll tell me?”
“Aye,” she managed though she thought maybe if he just kept touching her, all would be well because sparks and shivers were sliding through her and surely, even if parts weren’t that nice, this would be. And they’d be close. She’d like to be close to him, to feel him become part of her.
If the world was kind to her, this would be the man she’d live with for all the rest of her days and maybe, just maybe, there would be babies. Oh, she would really like babies—
“You’re thinking too much,” Jason told her, with a wicked grin. “I can see the thoughts and worries in your eyes—”
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said blankly, even though she wasn’t really sure why she was apologizing. “It’s difficult to stop—”
“I’ll do my best to help, ” he said. He kissed her and made the world disappear, at least for a little while.
The next morning, Elizabeth was sure that her face was bright red with embarassment as Jason walked her down the stairs to the common room where they were meeting Johnny and Francis to break their fast.
“Are you sure you don’t want to rest longer?” Jason asked as they came to the bottom of the steps. “You didn’t sleep much.”
Elizabeth’s cheeks heated as she ducked away, looking at the floor. She heard him laugh lightly and when she looked at him again, he was smiling. He did have such a lovely smile—so much better than the scowl he’d worn so much of the time she’d known him. Maybe things really were better now.
“That’s not what I meant, wife,” he teased.
“I really am okay,” Elizabeth assured him. She turned to look at the common room, a bit worried about facing Johnny and Francis. Especially Johnny. Wouldn’t they know? Would Johnny be more angry?
But she was Jason’s wife now—truly—so she lifted her chin, and she and Jason went towards the room and the low table where his men were seated.
“Good morning,” she said politely as she sat on the empty bench across from them. “Did you sleep well?”
“Aye,” Francis said. He flicked his eyes to Jason. “We’re staying another night?”
“Maybe two,” Jason said as he handed Elizabeth a bowl of porridge. “Is that a problem?”
“No, I didn’t realize how close we were to Beltane,” Francis said. “The festival begins tonight with a bonfire in the townsquare—”
“Beltane?” Elizabeth repeated. She pushed her porridge around her bowl. “I wouldn’t have thought such a large town would celebrate something like this.” Her heart was racing but she endeavored to keep her breathing even, her voice calm.
Beltane. The harvest festival that sometimes drew the witch hunters, looking for old pagan believers who worshipped the old gods and gave blessings to them.
“You don’t care for Beltane?” Johnny said with a furrowed look. “What do they do in the Lowlands?” he sneered. Jason glared at him.
“We have Beltane in Annan,” Elizabeth said faintly, the flashes of fire in her mind. She took a deep breath. “I simply didn’t realize how close it was to May. The days have…” Her hand shook slightly so she put her spoon down, and put her hands in her lap. She looked at Jason. “Will you want to go to the bonfire?”
“If you’d like,” Jason said slowly. “There’s a large market in the square. We’re going to resupply there.”
A large crowd preparing a bonfire. Elizabeth forced a smile, then looked across the table, startled to find Johnny staring at her.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared of the old faery and witch legends,” Johnny said. “My sister used to hide beneath the bed on Beltane, sure that the faeries were coming to get her.”
“H-hardly,” Elizabeth said. “There’s no such thing as faeries. Or witches,” she added.
“No,” Jason agreed, “but witch hunters are common enough, and they’ll be out tonight. Especially in Perth,” he added. Elizabeth stared at him. “They burned a woman two years past on Beltane. She had a fit,” he continued, “and they suspected witchcraft.”
“Oh,” she said softly. “I—I didn’t know.”
“Not a safe place to be,” Johnny added, and she looked at him, her eyes wide. “A woman alone is suspicious enough, but on Beltane night? You might be taken up for a witch.”