Hi, Everybody! So this is a story I've had on my computer for a while and I thought I would post the first chapter to see what you all think. I've been going over all of my stories (there are oodles of them) and have been trying to finish them, so I think I'll add this to the list. Please tell me what you think, like/don't like.
I could hear my brother before I could see him. His footfalls were heavy on the stairs, giving him the impression of being much larger than he truly was, as he flew down them in a hurry. His thin cheeks were red with a flush as he stopped in front of me, trying hard to catch his breath. "Aileas, men are arrivin' on horseback," he informed me, excitement lacing his words.
"An' why should this news be any concern o' mine, Roderick?" I asked, crossing my arms over my chest and raising a thin brow at him. There was nothing strange about the news he had brought me. With our castle being the only one within miles, we were always receiving visitors who needed a place to rest and recover from their long journeys – usually to Kinlochkilkerran.
"There is somethin' strange about them. They are no travellers, I can tell. Truly, Aileas, they ha' a reason for bein' here."
"Roderick, if ye keep ramblin' like tha', yer tongue will fall off." I wanted to be stern with my brother so his wicked imagination would not run wild, but I was also a tad bit curious as his restless behaviour told me he knew something more. "Show me where ye saw them from."
A smile spread across my brother's sweet face as he turned and hurried back up the stairs. I followed behind him, lifting my skirts to gain speed. We did not stop until we reached a spot where we could clearly see the courtyards below.
The group of men Roderick had been telling me about were just arriving at the gatehouse all dressed in thick cloaks with hoods that hid their faces. I watched closely as one of the men, a robust one, spoke with a guard who let them enter without any hassle. Three stable boys rushed forward to take the men's horses so they could rub them down and water them. At this point I noticed that there was one horse without a rider – perhaps a gift for Father? Carbry appeared from the castle and also greeted the men with a few brief words and a smile. The group soon disappeared with my eldest brother into the castle below us.
"Ha' we been expectin' visitors?" I asked Roderick. The way they had been greeted upon arriving told me they were indeed anticipated, but I had not heard anything about them. I had been sick in my bed for three days until a day prior and had not had very much interaction with my family so much was a mystery to me at the moment.
"Fither hasna said anythin', but I heard the maids discussin' visitors they had to ready for."
In a castle the size of their father's, it was nearly impossible to keep anything a secret for very long. Whenever something was to happen, or did happen, everyone from Father, the Laird, to the lowliest of scullery maids knew. "Why does it no come as a surprise to me tha' ye would eavesdrop on them?"
Roderick gave a small pout. "I am the son of a laird; I may do as I wish. Besides, they only whispered of how there would be horsemen arrivin' – they dinna ken who they were. I waited for them all day an' went to find ye as soon as I saw them."
"Ye are the youngest son of a laird wi' two brithers ahead o' ye," I pointed out with a joking smile. "I am sure we shall find out who it is in a matter of minutes. Word must ha' spread about our mysterious men. If ye hear anythin', come and find me straight away." With our conversation over, I turned and left my youngest brother to look out the window by himself. I went down the stairs at a slower pace than I had gone up them and turned to the left when I made it to the landing. I headed towards Father's solar, knowing it would be the smartest thing to do as I could easily meet with the visitors in the corridor if I had my timing right and took my time.
Slowly I made my way toward the end of the hall where I would then turn to the right onto another hall and intercept the men. As I passed by one of the many rooms, I could hear Mother's singsong voice.
"Please inform the kitchen staff tha' we must ha' the feast ready for tonight an' tha' they must put all the effort they can muster into it. Ha' the maids air out the rooms tha' we ha' agreed on for our guests and change the linens. I dinna expect them to arrive for another week at the least."
I looked into the room to find Mother and the castle's housekeeper in the midst of a conversation. Mother said something more to the housekeeper in a hushed voice that I could not hear. The other woman dipped a curtsy to her lady and left the room, nodding towards me as she passed. I stepped into the room and smiled at Mother.
"Hello, me dear," she greeted me with a smile of her own.
"Mither, what feast is this we are goin' to be havin'?" I asked my voice as sweet as the smile on my face.
"It shall be a welcomin' feast for the visitors, me sweet." Mother picked up a thick leather-bound book that sat on the desk in the corner of the room and held it with both of her hands. Slowly her fingers caressed the cover almost mindlessly.
"Who are they?"
Mother laughed and it sounded like light chimes. "Ye shall find out tonight, Aileas. Though, now tha' I think o' it, please look yer best for tonight. We want to make a lastin' impression on them. This is a verra important night for all of us. Mayhap ye could wear the deep blue dress tha' goes so weel wi' yer lovely hair."
"I ha' already sent the maids to fill the tub in Rhona's room. Yer sister and Fiona will be bathin' after ye so please do hurry." With that Mother left the room, no doubt to return the book to Father's solar and meet with our guests.
I waited until I could no longer hear Mother's footsteps anymore before stepping out of the sitting room. I hurried down the hallway, but there was no sign of the visitors. With a sigh, I turned around and headed towards my sister's bedchamber.
When I arrived at the door, I opened it to find that the lady's maid, Millie, whom Rhona and I shared, was already waiting for me. The maid stood next to a copper tub filled halfway to the top with steaming water.
"Thank ye, Millie," I told her as I stepped next to the tub. The maid pulled the ribbon from my braid and unravelled my braid with deft hands. I then allowed her to untie my stays and help me strip out of my layers of skirts. Very slowly I lowered my bare body into the water, careful to not touch the few rocks scattered in the bottom. I scrubbed hard at my pale skin with the wet cloth until it glowed pink and the water grew cold. A knock sounded on the door and, thinking it was Roderick coming to tell me more about the visitors, I stopped scrubbing.
The door opened and Rhona quickly stepped in, her eyes falling on me. "Sister, d'ye ken why we are havin' a feast?" my sister asked as she sat herself on the bed.
"We ha' guests tonight, but Mither would no tell me who they are nor are the maids certain. I believe Mither is the only person in this whole castle who can keep a secret." I stopped talking and closed my eyes as Millie poured a pitcher of warm water over my head. "Whoever these people are, they must be verra important."
I stood and let the water drain off of me before stepped out of the tub and taking the thick warm towel from Millie. I patted down my hair with the towel before wrapping it around my body. Millie took a pair of tongs from the floor and grabbed the hot rocks from the fire, dropping them into the tub. Rhona then had her help her out of her dress before climbing into the tub, a relaxed look spreading across her face.
I took my dressing robe from where it laid on the bed and slide it on, intending to return to my room to dress. "Millie, after ye are finished wi' Rhona, please attend me in me bedchamber, if ye could. Rhona, ye can help Fiona, can ye not?" With the orders given, I opened the door only to find my small niece Fiona standing on the other side. "Hello, sweetheart," I greeted her with a warm smile.
"Hello, Aunty," she said back before pushing her way into the bedchamber, her brows furrowed. "Must I really take a bath?"
"O' course, Fiona; Grandmither has ordered it so it must be done," I told her in a stern voice. I patted my niece gently on her brown hair before pulling my dressing robe even tighter around my body and leaving the room. It was only a short journey to my bedchamber, making me feel comfortable about wearing only a robe. Turning to the direction of my bedchamber, I spotted a flash of a man with auburn hair stepping around the corner into another. I hurried down the hall after him only to see Carbry walking briskly away from me.
"Carbry, may I speak wi' ye for but a moment?" I asked, causing him to turn.
Turning quickly, his eyebrows shot up causing a look of surprise to flash across his face. "Me apologies, sister dearest, it seems me wife has been calling for me an' I must no dally any longer," he called down the corridor before waving a hand to me and disappearing out of sight.
I furrowed my brows at his strange behaviour and walked the remaining length to my bedchamber. Upon entering I laid out the dark blue dress that Mother suggested on my bed. It truly was lovely with gold embroidering that went well with the soft blue fabric. After laying the underskirts next to it, I moved to the window, watching the grey scene in front of me. Waves crashed against the rocky shore that surrounded the west side of the castle, the spray mixing with the drizzle that came from the darkening sky. It was uncomfortable weather to be travelling in and it made everyone wonder who these visitors were and what was so important at the castle that they had to travel through the rain to get here.
A soft knock came from the door, breaking me away from my thoughts. I turned just as it opened to reveal Millie. "I give ye me apologies, Miss, for takin' so long. Young Fiona dinna wish to bathe so it took both yer sister an' I to get her into the water." As the maid drew closer to me, I saw that the front of her dull grey dress was indeed wet.
"Tha' is alright, Millie, I ken tha' Fiona can be a handful for anyone. Though, I am in a hurry to find out who the visitors are an' what their purpose for bein' here is."
"I believe we all are, Miss. The only talk I ha' heard from the other maids is tha' five rooms ha' been aired out for our company."
"Everyone in this castle who kens their true identities has been keepin' it a secret. Carbry would no even speak to me when I called upon him – he made the excuse tha' Theresa needed to see him."
As Millie began to help me dress, we both fell into a comfortable silence. With my gown in place the maid sat me down in front of the mirror and began braiding my hair before coiling it on the back of my head. When it was all finished, I took one final looked in the mirror and nodded my approval to Millie – she had truly outdone herself and I hoped Mother would be as pleased as I was. "I promise to tell ye everythin' tha' happens tonight," I told the other girl as I headed for the door, "though I assume the other servants will be more than willin' once they catch wind o' it all."
I stepped out of my bedchamber and quickly made my way down to the great hall. On the way there I did not pass anyone other than a handful of servants. When I entered the hall, I took note that, besides Mother and Father already sitting in their appointed seats, the table was already half filled with some of my other family members. My brother Boyd and Grandfather sat together along with Carbry and Theresa. There were many other empty chairs set out, more than the usual amount.
"Good evenin', Aileas," Father greeted me with a wide smile as I stopped in front of the long head table.
"Greetings, Fither." I went to sit in my normal seat next to Mother when Father stopped me with a raised hand.
"Tonight, to accommodate our guests, ye shall be sittin' here." He pointed to a seat one away from him, next to Carbry.
I gave him a questioning look but did not argue with him and took the seat without a word. Rhona then entered the hall, dragging a pouting Fiona behind her. Next to join our table was Uncle Grant, Laird of the MacNeill Clan and Mother's older brother. His arrival from Gigha a few days before that of our current guests came as a surprise to everyone except Mother and Father who seemed to be expecting them. When I had asked him about why he was paying us a visit, he swept me into a tight hug and claimed that he came to see his favourite niece.
Once all the members of my family were seated, albeit in different spots than they were used to, Father stood and clapped his hands. The hall was filled with everyone who resided in our household – Father's guards and soldiers, along with their wives and children – as they waited for the food and celebrations to begin. Only the people closest to the head table heard the clapping of his hands as it was drowned out by the chatter of the others.
"Silence!" Father yelled to gain the attention of the whole hall. The talking and laughter ceased almost immediately and all attention fell onto Father. "Feasts are always a wonderful way to brin' the household together and I am sure we are all fond of them an' even fonder o' the drinkin'."
The men in the hall laughed and raised their goblets to Father's words as I watched Mother roll her eyes and give him a small smile.
"However, there is a reason for our feast tonight. No only are we givin' an official welcome to me wife's brither, but also to our guests who ha' travelled from the far north o' our country to join us here."
As if it had all been planned, the large doors at the end of the Great Hall opened and five men walked into the hall. They stopped in front of our table in a tightly clustered group. Now that they did not have their hoods covering their faces, I could clearly see that they ranged from Carbry's age to near Father's.
Carbry swiftly stood and waved a hand to me to motion for me to stand also. "It has been decided with much care tha' me beloved sister Aileas shall be betrothed to the Laird of the Sinclair clan to strengthen our ties in the north."
"No!" came Roderick's voice from his place at the end of the table, but everyone ignored his outburst.
My eyes grew wide and my face paled as I took in my eldest brother's words. I was to be betrothed? How could Father and Carbry do this to me without even consulting me first? Which one of these men was the one they spoke of?
A man, the oldest of the lot around Father's age, stepped forward, making my heart jump. Truly they could not wish for me to marry a man who could be my father. The man smiled, showing browning teeth, upon seeing the look of horror on my face and stepped aside so that the man in back of him could clearly be seen. The man who then stepped forward was a tall man, thick across the chest and shoulders with long brown hair tied back with a leather thong. He looked to be about Carbry's age, though reminded me more of Boyd.
He bowed his head towards Father before turning his attention onto me. There was a small triumphed smile on his face as his eyes met mine. I tore my gaze away from his and looked down at my hands before sitting down abruptly. I could feel Carbry and Father's sharp looks at my behaviour, but I would not meet that man's eyes again.
"Come," Father said directing his gaze back to our guests, "ha' a seat and let us began our feast – I ken we ha' all been waitin' patiently."
Carbry pulled his seat forward and sat down next to me, his mouth in a tight line. "Fither willna appreciate the way ye ha' acted towards our guest thus far, Lisi. This isna like ye at all."
I knew this was not my normal behaviour, but I could not look at him as I made myself comfortable in my chair. "My foot started to pain me an' I thought it best to take a seat," I whispered to him in a clipped tone.
"Ye must act wi' more dignity an' no soil our name, sister."
I glanced quickly at him to see that his face was not as angry as his voice gave away. "I doona even ken his name, yet ye expect me to marry him."
"His name is Dougal."
"Dougal," I repeated, suddenly aware of the movement behind me. I fell silent, as did my brother, as the man we had just been discussing sat in the empty seat on my left between me and Father.
"Aye?" he asked, turning towards me with his head tilted to the side. Upon seeing the confused look on my face, he continued. "When I sat down, I heard ye say me name. I was just inquirin' on what ye needed me attention for."
"Oh," I was at a loss for a moment, but it seemed the truth would be the best option. "I had no known o' ye until now. Me dear brither was just informin' me o' yer name."
A tiny hint of a smile tugged at his lips and it was obvious he knew what I was doing. "Is tha' so, lass? I ha' heard a great deal about ye. Many letters ha' been sent by yer brither an' fither tellin' me o' me bride."
A hard blush came to my face as I turned my attention away from him. There was no need for me to speak to him anymore tonight, I had a clear picture in my mind as to how he was as a person. He was no better than Father's soldiers, always flattering the girls.
"They never said how much o' a bonny lass ye were – maybe they dinna want me to come an' steal ye away," he granted as he picked up his goblet in a large hand and brought it to his lips. His dark eyes gleamed with hidden laughter as he watched me blush even deeper.
"Sir, ye jest too much. Me brithers an' fither would ne'er allow ye steal me away."
Dougal drained the rest of his cup quickly and sat it down as a wolfish smile spread across his face. "I am prepared to woo ye if I must, lass."
I looked away from his enticing eyes and over the crowded hall. Dearly I want to change the subject of our conversation. "How long will ye an' yer men be here?"
"We will only be here for tonight; we will be takin' our leave on the morrow."
"Such a soon departure?" I asked with a raised brow, finding myself interested in what he had to say.
"Aye, we came here for what we needed an' now tha' we ha' it we are able to leave," he explained, picking at the food in front of him.
"Ye made the journey here from the north just so the announcement of our… betrothal could be made? It seems verra unnecessary."
"Weel, we ha' a meetin' wi' yer father tomorrow to discuss our future plans." Dougal poured another goblet of ale and took a long drink from it.
"Watch what ye drink, Sir. Me fither doesna water down his ale like most," I cautioned my betrothed.
"Doona worry, lass. It takes more than a little ale to get me fou."
Loud roars of laughter came from one end of the table as I watched Boyd, Uncle Grant and Grandfather interact with Dougal's men. The robust man was moving his hands as he spoke, a smile on his broad face.
"Who are yer men ye ha' brought with ye?" I inquired as I watched them interact with my family.
"The man who had made ye to believe he was yer husband is me Uncle Donnel, me fither's younger brother. The two men there," he pointed to the robust man and the tall man next to him, "are me uncles from me mither's family, Wallace and Finley."
"An' who is tha' man there?" I asked, pointing towards a brooding man who sipped quietly at his goblet.
"Tha' is me brither by marriage Fingal. He is married to me sister Lorna."
"Ye ha' a sister," I stated, wondering what else I could learn about this man.
"Aye, an' two nephews; Aiden who is five and Ewan who is three."
The deep sound of his voice drew me into what he had to say, even if it was nothing more than talk about his family. Something about him made me want to know more. "What are they like, yer nephews?"
"Wee troublemakers, they are. Always causing some sort o' trouble or another. More of the devil in them than human, me sister says. There always must be someone to keep an eye on them, but all in all they are good boys. They never hurt anythin'; they are just trouble to keep watchin'," Dougal said, his voice sounding full of humour. He really was a handsome man with his strong jaw and laughing eyes. The small pieces of dark hair that fell from the leather thong was curled slightly around his ears. His lips were full, pulled into an amused smile. "Ye are fond o' bairns?"
"Aye," I told him with a small smile. "I adore them an' the way they always ha' nothin' but the truth to tell. We doona ha' any children in our family save Fiona – she is my brither Boyd's daughter. She doesna ha' a mother so we all look after her."
"Ye are a good woman, Aileas McAlister," Dougal whispered in my ear as he leaned close to me. I could smell the ale strong on his breath and knew that it was already taking a toll on him.
I glanced up into his dark eyes as I shifted further away in my seat. "An' ye, Laird Sinclair, are fou."
"Doona call me 'Laird Sinclair', lass. We are now betrothed and ye can call me by me name." Dougal leaned ever closer than he had been before. I could see every small detail of his face and feel him slowly breathing on my cheek. "Come, lass, ye can say it. Ye did afore I sat down and it was lovely on yer tongue."
Thinking that he would move out of my personal space if I did as he asked, I obeyed him. "Dougal, please sit back in yer seat. I need to eat, but I cannae if ye are leaning on me shoulder the whole night."
The man straightened herself up and a smug smile crossed his handsome face. "E'ery word sounds lovely on yer lips, lass. I cannae wait to hear me name e'en more."
Carbry must have heard what the man was saying because his face was a bit flushed as he leaned towards us to address Dougal. "How has yer family been fairing, Dougal?"
Dougal seemed to sober up when my brother addressed him. "Verra weel. My nephew, Aidan just had his fifth birthday. Quite a handful, but me sister keeps a tight hold on both of her boys."
"Tha' is good to hear. As me dearest sister has said, we only have one bairn runnin' around the castle, though she is verra weel behaved." Carbry seemed very hard press to find something to talk about so he talked about whatever came to mind first.
There was a movement on Carbry's other side and Theresa stood. "I will offer to put Fiona to bed for Boyd, I believe." She walked around the table and whispered a few words to my brother before taking our niece's hand and walking her out of the great hall.
With his daughter gone and the seat next to our eldest brother open, Boyd stood and sat in Theresa's vacated chair. He leaned around Carbry to get a good look at Dougal Sinclair, a brow raised. "So tell me, Sinclair, when are ye planning to wed me sister?"
Dougal looked over the crowd in the Great Hall for a moment, thinking about what he would say for an answer. A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips and his eyes squinted in thought. "I will be weddin' her after the winter. I have many things I must see to at me own castle, including me army o' men. I need to make sure tha' me people will ha' enough food to eat during the cold before I get any… distractions."
Boyd hid a smile at that, thinking of me as more of a female than his own sister, but Carbry looked outraged. "Ye should refrain from speakin' of me sister like that, Sinclair," Carbry hissed, his eyes narrowed.
Boyd shot our older brother a look and laughed. He had obviously taken a quick liking to the man whereas Carbry had not. "He doesna truly mean any o' this, Carbry – he is only ha'ing a bit o' fun." Boyd patted Carbry on the shoulder. "He is to be our brither the least ye could do is be civil to him. But ye arena the only one who is givin' him bad looks." Boyd nodded to the end of the table.
Roderick sat next to Rhona with his arms crossed and his eyes narrowed at the newcomer. He did not touch his food or drink and I had not seen him speak to anyone the whole night. If looks could kill, Dougal would have fallen forward into his meal. He had made his thoughts known, but everyone had just shushed him. Perhaps if both Carbry and he voiced their opinions on this matter, Father would change his mind and I could stay here.
"Come, Aileas," Carbry said, abruptly pushing his chair back and standing. "Ye will have a long day tomorrow as we need to see Fither early in the morn. I will walk ye to yer room."
I nodded and also stood, squeezing between Boyd and Dougal. The dark man grabbed my hand and placed a kiss to my knuckles. "Sleep weel, lass."
Carbry placed a hand on my elbow and steered me away from the dark haired man, causing him to drop my hand. I kept my eyes down as we walked away from Boyd and Dougal and towards Roderick.
"Come," Carbry commanded our youngest brother. "Aileas needs her sleep an' so do ye."
Without any arguments, Roderick followed us out of the hall, people giving me their congratulations on the way. Once the large doors were shut and we were away from them, Roderick spoke. "We cannae let Fither do this to Aileas," he told Carbry, his small face determined.
"I doona like this man either, Roderick, but Fither has made up his mind." Carbry was quiet for a moment. "In the morn, Fither will be calling a meetin' for us to discuss something. Roderick, make sure ye are there."
"I doona wish to marry him," I informed my brothers as they walked me back to my bedchamber. "I doona e'en ken the man, he could be a horrible person for all we ken."
"I doona ken if we can convince Fither not to make ye marry him. Though Boyd seems verra pleased wi' his choice."
"I am verra tired," I told my brothers as we finally reached my bedchamber. "A lot has happened today and I will need my rest for the morn."
If any of you have read A Curse of Sacrifices, you will see the Dougal is the exact opposite of Jon. ;)