Chapter One

The year 1100

It was during a storm that he found her on his doorstep with her child. She was a dark headed beauty with her daughter's hand clutched within her own. A servant quickly rushed them into his fortress and sat them next to the hearth. Baron Bathurst watched as the two of them huddled and shivered within their blankets while drinking hot soup, fresh made from the kitchen.

His family name was derived from the Saxons that had settled in the land. As a lord in England, he was much afeared and powerful. He was a burly man that towered over six feet and was somewhat distrusted in society because of the Scots blood mixed in his heritage. He had never married, although, he was considered handsome.

The small mite pressing close to her mother peered out from the corner of her blanket and stared up curiously at him. When he grinned at her she returned a shy smile herself before shrugging the blanket to cover herself. It was a second later when the small girl shook her blond mop, which was almost dry and this time smiled up charmingly at him. He could not help but smile back.

The woman was slender and fair of skin with dark curls and dark eyes. Her eyes were wide and haunted when she finally spoke. "I am Lady Everard."

By God, he realized, she was his cousin's wife. He would have known that she was his cousin's wife if only he had attended their wedding three summers ago, but he was hindered by business.

That dark night she related to him in a quiet voice how they were traveling past the borders of his land and her husband had pointed out the sites for her. He had explained to her that the land adjoined to the road they were upon belonged to his cousin. Not long after, raiders had attacked their carriage. With the guards' and her husband's blood seeping into the forest floor, only by luck had she and her daughter escaped and stumbled upon his doorstep. He did not want to imagine what would have become of them if they had not escaped.

* * * *

It had been a summer since the mother and child had been living in his castle. The small child, Alison, strolling around his land was a quiet and obedient child. Often called docile, she had a charming smile, a good heart, and was called beautiful with her golden locks and blue eyes. The child never sullied her dresses and preferred being indoors than in the forests surrounding his property. He never had to worry about her; her mother was another subject entirely.

Although the woman was beautiful, she was as sly as a fox, and if he had not as much respect for his cousin as he did he would have thought her a common wench. Which was clearly how she acted. She flaunted, flirted and seduced every man she came across. He had his arms full when she started dalliances with the peasants working upon his land.

She came back with child one day. Through the months her belly continued to swell. Bathurst tried to coax the identity of the father out of her, but she would never reply. He caught her many a time sitting near the window and staring out while rubbing her swollen stomach, as if waiting. When the nine months had finally come, she started labor. The labor was hard upon her, midwifes were scrambling around the house. It was hours before the babe was finally born, alive and healthy. Pacing, the baron was finally confronted the midwife as she dropped the baby into his arms. Fine black hair covered her tiny head that was much too large for her body. After a moment the girl opened her eyes and let out a wailing cry. In stead of trying to soothe the babe he stared at her eyes, for they were a piercing green. He sat there holding her in his arms speculating if her eyes would stay green. Finally, he came to the conclusion that they might change color when she gained in years, for he heard that a babe's eyes did not necessarily stay the same color. Aye, she was a bonny lass.

The news soon arose that the woman would not make it through the night. She would not stop bleeding.

Lady Everard requested first Alison then the baron's presence. She knew that she was dying, and wanted to name her child before she died. She named her Blair and her last words were that her father was somewhere in Scotland. She looked upon her daughter with pride but with a tinge of shame and regret. Baron Bathurst was clutching the bastard child in his arms as he ordered a servant to bring a nursemaid for the babe.

She passed away shortly after. He pitied the child in his arms and felt remorse for her mother. He decided to not shame her mother. By giving the bairn his name, she would be respected. Blair Bathurst. She was going to be his wee bairn. He held Alison in one arm and the babe in another, and fell asleep comforting Alison and rocking Blair. He awakened only slightly when the nursemaid plucked Blair out from his arms and a servant came and took Alison to her room.

* * * *

The child was a hellion, and a complete opposite from her sister. She always had to get into some sort of mischief, she would pluck flowers that had bees still collecting pollen in them and in turn would get stung. Once she chased the chickens in the coop till the hens were so frightened eggs would refuse to be laid for several days. Blair was very remorseful when she wasn't greeted by the smell of eggs the next few mornings. She moved like a cat up a tree, always trying to scale the tallest tree. She had her nanny always trailing after her, who was often afraid that she might break her neck. She would sneak into her favorite horse's, which was the Baron's warhorse, stall and pamper it till the stallion would melt like butter in her hands. The matter had almost given the Baron a heart attack for his Stallion was known for being hostile to anyone beside him. She found great fun in causing distress to her nanny, always disappearing suddenly on her. She was half wild. That year Blair had convinced the Baron to teach her riding and had received a pony for her fourth birthday, not knowing that it would just get her into more mischief.

Alison was seven and caused no worry for the Baron. He loved both of his daughters as if they were his own. Alison, three years Blair's senior, was still the quiet obedient one and bowed her head in submission when she had done wrong.

Blair, however, was as prickly as a black berry bush and loved to irk the Baron. When the Baron would become angry at her, her eyes would become a green plains fire and tilt her chin up haughtily. Her excuse was always the same, "I was only havin' some fun." The sisters were very close and knew that the baron was just full of bluster.

There was once when Blair humiliated the Baron. Occasionally the Baron would let out a few crude curses in front of the children but never thought anything of it, that is until Blair started going around the manor calling people 'a damned pain in the arse.' She had no idea of what this meant, of course. Her nanny had fluffed up like an offended hen when she tried to force the girl to do her studies and got that as a remark.

That afternoon the Baron had his ears blistered by the nanny, he had never been spoken to like that since before his father's death. The Baron did not want Blair shouting around curses at everyone, so he started cursing in Gaelic. And since the Baron did not know how much his daughter tried to imitate him she started with the Gaelic cursing as well. The Baron had enough of this small disaster waiting to happen in his house so he started teaching her the Gaelic and the fundamentals of using it that his mother had taught him. Though, for safety, he started using words that were less crude, such as 'bòdhan', butt, or 'basdard', bastard. Despite the efforts, that led to her cursing and insulting people in Gaelic when she was very frustrated or angry.

Alison was a good worker with her hands, her sowing was fine and her weaving skills were incomparable. Blair was the one with a sweet voice, and would sing sweet songs when guest were over but at the moment they would leave she would go back to her bawdy songs she learned from the serfs.

The summer that Alison was nine and Blair six, the Baron had a surprise for the two of his daughters, they were going with him to the lowlands of Scotland. For they all knew that the Highlanders were still savages. Blair, of course, was deliberating on how she was going to test her Gaelic on the natives.

Blair's caretaker had packed her clothes for her and for Alison. She was glad that she would get a rest from watching after Blair. Although she loved the child, the child could push any woman to insanity. She had already spoken with the Baron about how she believed that going to Scotland was not a good idea, after all, all the English knew that the people there were all savages. She just prayed her girls stayed safe.

Blair was adamant about bringing a hound pup along with her. One of the bitches had just had a litter, and she wanted one. "Da, I need one of the pups."

"You do not need one, these pups still need their mother."

"I didn't need a mother."

The Baron denied her, and explained that the pups were not yet weaned and that she could have one when they were. She, naturally, disagreed but was satiated when she heard she could have one when they came back. Her black curls bounced with mirth as she ran around her home. She was going to Scotland, the place where the Baron told her so many wondrous stories about.

Alison was clearly frightened about going to such a barbaric place, she had heard all of the stories told by the Baron, and Blair's nanny had said that they were ruthless. She hated the idea of going to a place inhabited by blue faced demons. She could not believe that Blair could want to go to such a place, but Alison promised herself that she would keep Blair safe. If only Blair was as good as a saint. She had to pay a shilling to the priest every time Blair sinned, although the good father just gave her money back to her.

* * * *