Highlander’s Honorable Oath (Preview)
Gretchen woke up shivering. She lay still, trying to recall the dream she had just had. She couldn’t remember falling asleep did recall that she had been worried about the war her husband and his best friend had gone to fight. She remembered that he had promised her to be back soon to take care of her and their daughter. She remembered the look on Callum’s face as he’d flashed her a coy smile, flattering her about her gown which he’d complained looked too light to wear during the cold of the coming winter before riding off on his white horse with Fraser.
Now, she remembered the dream. She had seen Fraser and the Glenbogle warriors ambushed at the border between Glenbogle and MacLaren lands. She saw Frasering as an arrow pierced him from the back and Callum, falling into an endless pit dug by the MacLaren soldiers. She hadn’t intended to be so worried. She knew that the two men in her life knew swordplay well and the art of warfare, but part of the problem was that she hadn’t heard any news from them, not even rumors from gossipers, or an announcement from the clan elders. She lay still for a few more minutes, hoping for some sun to brighten the room. Then, she heard the footsteps of her daughter, Ava drawing closer to her bed.
“Mama, when will Papa be back? I want him tae play with me,” Ava asked, causing Gretchen to struggle to hold back her tears. She stood in her nightdress; her eyes were squinting beneath the glare of the lit candle burning at the far corner of the room.
“He will come home soon, my wee lass! He’ll be back tae us and play with us till the moon comes!” she answered, rubbing her feet together. She knew the birth of this little girl contributed immensely to the growing bond she now shared with Fraser. Still, she wished silently for Callum to be near. She enjoyed watching him from a distance, but whatever the case was, she hoped both would return safely to her. She turned her thoughts away and stretched her hands toward the little girl. “We will be fine,” she said, drawing Ava closer to her and patted her softly on her back.
The cloudy dawn had given way to a bright morning, as the pale orange sun initially settling from the eastern horizon glared at the Earth’s surface. Gretchen walked briskly through a fruit orchard behind the keep. The tree branches were weighted with large apples. Fallen fruit had been half-eaten by squirrels and deer and left to ferment and spoil.
Plucking an apple from a low-hanging branch, she wiped it on the fabric of her dress and took a bite. The flavor was amazingly sweet and soothing.
Some flies buzzed close by, leaving the spoiling fruit to investigate the succulent apple Gretchen held. She jerked back, disgusted, and ran away from the tree. She had always hated flies, although she had tried to reason with herself that unless the fruit trees were out of sight, she didn’t have to worry that the flies would follow her.
Hurrying from the orchard, Gretchen crossed through a sunken lane that led past a field. Despite the crisp morning’s portent of the coming winter, dew still settled on the blades of the green grass that stretched from the keep to Glenbogle Village, a mile or so distant. As she meandered toward the keep, she saw some people gathered by a nearby tree. She knew if she walked toward them, it was sure she would get news from the war. She approached the assembly with a faint smile on her lips. The people seemed to have recognized her, and their faces changed quickly from smiles to grim looks.
“We hail thee, milady. How do ye fare?” one of the men said to her, feigning a smile.
“ well, sir. Have ye any news from the war?” Gretchen asked, arching her eyebrows and anxiously waiting for an answer.
“Our army has returned this morn. Our clan has vanquished the MacLaren! The war was won!”
“Whoa! Such beautiful news! Gratitude tae ye! I must see my lord husband at once!” Gretchen said happily and turned toward the keep. She would change to a lovely dress and go to the village to welcome her lover and catch glimpses of Callum, too.
The men in the gathering watched her as she scampered away shook their heads pitiably and wandered slowly away. “I heard the Laird didn’t make it out of the war alive, and Sir Callum cannae fight in the years tae come, that he was badly injured?” one of the gossipers whispered.
“Such I heard too! She is nae aware yet. She doesn’t look so,” another said and moved away.
Gretchen hurriedly clad herself in an exquisite gown which showed off her slender waist and the generous curves of her breasts. She couldn’t control the excitement that was rushing through her veins and had overcome her when she heard the news of her husband’s coming. All she needed now was to just see Fraser and Callum. Then, Ava would stop bothering her about her Father’s return. Satisfied with how she looked, she scampered out of the room she shared with her husband and down the stairs into the great hall and the courtyard beyond.
The shortest route to the village was the game trail that crossed the meadow between the town and the keep. As Gretchen approached the butcher’s market on the edge of town, she could almost sense the change in the atmosphere. As happy that she was that her husband was returning, she couldn’t help the fact that her heartbeat picked up speed at the thought of seeing Callum again.. Ruthlessly squelching down her unseemly thoughts, she continued to village square, where she expected lively talk and much merriment as the soldiers were greeted by their families.
When she arrived, she was surprised to see that the center of the town was empty and quiet. No wailing, no voices, no people welcoming the warriors, and most surprising of all, no warriors. Something about that filled her with dread. Something wasn’t right. She stood with her arms on her hips and surveyed her surroundings. What could have happened? Why are there no warriors, no flag bearers, and no lovers to welcome their loved ones?”She began walking toward the small inn, intent on asking the innkeeper what he knew just as two men emerged within.
“Greetings to ye, lady?” both men chorused as they walked past Gretchen.
“Greetings to ye too!” she replied, and after some considerable thought, she cleared her throat and began to talk. “Have ye heard of the coming of the warriors? I’m so confused tae have seen no one here tae welcome their loved ones” she said swiftly brushing her hair back from her forehead.
“Oh, the warriors have returned since hours ago! The Council sent carriages tae gather th’ wounded ones. I heard the Laird fought bravely!” one of the men said and shook his head. Gretchen smiled. Of course, she knew her husband would always fight valiantly, but the following words of the man shattered her into pieces. “A pity he couldn’t make it out alive! Curse the MacLaren, curse their lands! The Laird was so kind and lovely. May he rest in peace.”
No! She hadn’t heard that right! Maybe he meant another person. Not Fraser, her loving husband, the Laird of Clan Glenbogle. Not the one who has promised to return home to her and Ava. Just how would they survive without him? It had better be a joke. A cruel joke. She fell into deep thought as she picked her skirts and ran back to the keep
At the keep, she saw multitudes gathered around the entrance. Then, it dawned on her that the words those men spoke might be true. Within the courtyard, she saw women chattering excitedly, uniting with their husbands that had gone to war in a happy tight embrace while just on the other end of the courtyard, she saw some women screaming and wailing, mourning the death of their fallen husbands. Her lips ursed into a tight seam as she glanced about, looking for signs of Fraser or Callum.
“Pardon me, my lady,” said a servant woman as she approached, her head bowed. “The Council desires yer audience immediately, my lady. The elders await you in the Council Chamber.” She stretched her hand to indicate great doors that lead into the keep and the rooms within.
“Of course,” said Gretchen, her heart a heavy weight in her chest. It must be true, then. Her husband was dead. Casting one last look around the courtyard, hoping for a glimpse of Callum, at least, she sighed and headed for the stairs.
Arriving at the Council Chamber, she knocked discreetly and waited. A guard appeared promptly, opening the door with a grim look on his face. “Morning, my lady,” he said, his serious expression turning sheepish. She nodded at him and walked past, entering the sepulchral space. Wiping tears from her eyes, she schooled her expression and turned to face the elders.
Gretchen hurried out of the keep with her hands covering her face. Her dream, nay, nightmare, had come true! Mindlessly, she ran into the gardens behind the keep. The afternoon breeze had stiffened, and her skirts billowed around her as she jogged. Insects buzzed, and birdsong filled the air; the scents of honeysuckle and roses teased he nostrils. Life seemed to go on, despite her world collapsing around her.
“Here we had our first kiss!” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks as she approached an arbor twined with tiny red roses. Fingering a blossom, Gretchen wondered what she would tell her daughter. She collapsed on a bench and buried her face in her hands, letting her grief overtake her.
After what seemed like a long time, she rose to her feet and headed again for the village. She would go visit Callum at the inn where she’d learned that he was being treated now and hear from him all that had happened. Arriving at the inn, she entered and requested to see Callum. Soon enough, she traced her way to the room where he was being cared for. As soon as she saw his condition, she burst into tears once more.
A pair of healers ran back and forth, fetching towels and water and cutting linen into large strips. Callum’s limp body lay on the bed, his boots tugged off. She also noticed they were about to remove his bloodstained clothes under his armor. One of the healers dipped a clean rag into the warm water and washed the bloodstains from Callum’s body, the smears turning rust-colored where they had dried amid the blond fleece of his chest. Gretchen blushed. How powerful, yet defenseless and subtle he looked, the elegant lines of his body trimmed to a new leanness, his muscles honed by constant physical training and his recent battles.
As she made a move toward Callum and maybe examine his wound, the arrival of the Physician prevented her. She flashed the Physician a quick glance. She knew him, of course, she did — the whole clan knew him. The physician was Allan, a skillful medical man of sterling reputation, who had attended to her father in the past. She tossed words of greetings at him and left the room so he could see to his patient.
Physician Allan examined Callum, cleaned the wound, and covered it with a light dressing. “The vein wasn’t touched, and I see no internal bleeding, it’s just a large wound. He should recover soon,” he told Gretchen, his beardless face wearing a grave expression. “It’s nae a significant injury. The recovery heavily depends on the strength of the man, the quality of his care, and constant intake of the herbs I will recommend. It’s almost certain there would be a bit of fever but do keep him clean and rested. Feed him water and buttermilk and administer a waterleaf and this bottle of opiate syrup for his discomfort. And I’m so sorry about yer husband. He was a good man. The Clan Glenbogle shall live to remember him. His demise is a great loss to us all.” The Physician said and handed a bottle to her. She murmured a thank you to him with a sniff and wandered toward Callum. His pallor alarmed her.
Some days later, after constant care had been administered to Callum, he awoke to the cheerful glow of a tiny flame. A candle sat on the bedside table. He noticed someone sitting on the edge of the bed. Slowly, he sat up in bed with a fluffy pillow stuffed to his back for support.
“My lady!” he croaked. He could see the curves of her breasts under their thin covering and smell the fragrance of her hair, and he blushed, as he responded to her nearness. He was aware of nothing else in this room beyond the beautiful face of Gretchen. He suddenly remembered Fraser and how he had saved him. Instantly, he was ashamed and buried his head in his hands. “Fraser died saving me! I should have died in his stead! Forgive me, my lady I couldnae protect my friend,” he managed to say as a trickle of tears made its way down his chin.
Gretchen placed her soft hands on his back and whispered into his ears “It will be all right,” came her subtle voice, crawling into his ears. Callum saw the anguish in her eyes although she tried her best to hide it, and he made a vow. If he be graced to recover from the injury, he shall take good care of Gretchen and her daughter.
She’s my best friend widow, but I will make sure to always protect her.
Before a week passed, it was evident that Callum would make a full recovery. He was healing at a remarkable rate, though not fast enough for the satisfaction of the Council of Elders. Although they mourned the Laird’s death, still there was a need for a new one as soon as possible. The Council had put forth the names of a few experienced warriors, but there was always a counter-motion, and the decision had to be tabled. Everyone had then put their minds together, their thoughts as one, and had tilted their heads toward the same direction. Callum was the right man; he met all the requirements in age, body, warfare art, weapon-handling, and, most importantly, he commanded respect. But he wasn’t healing fast enough, so the Council continued to deliberate and dither.
Meanwhile, Callum had gathered strength enough to wear his regular clothes, to have real food, and even though he had been weak still, he had insisted on leaving his bed and hobbling around the inn, stubbornly ignoring Gretchen’s incessant rebukes. Like the late Fraser, he was the sort of man who found relying on someone and owing his life to people, of all things in the world, the most challenging thing on Earth. He seemed to be always swamped with the unfamiliar feeling of gratitude and shame anytime he saw Gretchen.
He could look neither Gretchen nor her daughter in the eyes. The worst of all moments was when he was alone with Gretchen. Every time she sat by the edge of his bed, he experienced a frightening connection, a swell of familiar emotion, and he fought it like he’d always done. He felt an awkward yearning for Gretchen’s closeness. Perhaps he thought she was the one who could give him the best care, or maybe he felt the healing in her soft hands when she’d tend to his wounds. Whatever would happen in the future, he needed to get better first and figure out the best way to avoid unnecessary addictions.
The evening was unusually dark. The bright moon had refused to show and had been replaced by the cold light of a pale moon, weakly illuminating the night. Gretchen wandered toward her window and stood beside the brightly burning candles. She looked at the moon from her window, and her eyes filled with tears.
“I wish he was here! The night wouldnae be silent, the tears would have been joyous, and I shall have nae worry! Come to me, my laird! Wake up fer us,” she managed to mutter amid her sniffs and quavering.
“Mama! Why do ye cry?” Ava’s voice called out from behind her as she stood at the far end of the room, gazing with tears swelling from her eyes.
“My wee lass, do nae be sad, this time shall pass us. Come here,” Gretchen said softly, stretching her hands toward Ava. She snuggled Ava to her and cuddled her.“This time shall pass us by.” If there had ever been a time she hadn’t been sure of something, this was the time. Fraser gone, Callum injured, winter coming, and Ava’s growth became her objects of worry. She remembered the words again and patted Ava’s back.
Another week had gone, and Callum had recovered fully. The day had come to bury Fraser. The clan people had been gathering at the keep for the wake. During this time, it was customary others to visit the family’s home to offer sympathy and assistance, and to view the body, laid out in the great hall.
As Callum entered the keep, Gretchen’s heart thudded almost audibly. She had never felt so sad before, and now on the day of the burial, the truth of her loss finally hit her. She’d lost someone who had loved her, the father of her child. Throwing a feeble glance at the door, she found Callum’s tall body standing there, his face creased with grief, and she realized she must have truly needed him to be there, after all. As he stared at her with his pale face, something in his eyes calmed her. Compassion?
A soft hiss crawled out of another man’s lips. He was tall and broad and wore a fierce expression on his face. Gregory was his name, and he was also an experienced warrior who had fought many times alongside Fraser. Like Callum, he might have been killed in battle if not for the quick intervention of the Laird.
“He was a kindly man! His loss is a big shock tae us all! I will surely avenge his death. We shall wipe out the MacLaren.” Gregory said, his voice tight with grief.
Realizing it was finally over; Gretchen pressed her hands on her face and closed her brimming eyes. “Farewell, my love,” she whispered, tears slipping down her pale cheeks. After a moment, Gretchen felt Gregory’s hands, lifting her away from the casket.
“My lady,” Gregory murmured softly, his face thrown into shattering wrinkles, “I would have tae move the body for the funeral. Go with Ava to the other room.”
Gretchen nodded and tried to move, but her legs had been glued to the floor. She felt one of the women who had come to sympathize with her smooth her hair back, and then the dry move of her mouth over her forehead in a soft, subtle kiss. Blindly, she moved away and stumbled toward Callum. Callum came to her and pressed a handkerchief into her palm. Too distraught to look into his face, she wiped her eyes and blew her nose while Callum led her and Ava from the room.
As they walked away, it dawned on Callum to think about Fraser’s death again.
“Ah! Say m-me w-well tae m-my wife…” Fraser’s stuttering voice called out from his head.
He remembered the blood spluttering from his mouth when the sword thrust into his stomach and the startled expression on his face as he looked to him for help. Sadly, he couldn’t help, and the realization of his inability to do so haunted him. At least, Fraser had died trying to save him from the MacLaren soldiers that had surrounded him and doubtless would have killed him.
Callum recalled yet again the times they had spent together brawling, training, fishing, and hunting. The adventures and the dos they had organized jointly. Amid the tears on his face, a smile touched the corners of his lips. He would miss Fraser. He held Gretchen’s hands tightly and regarded Ava with a mild, affectionate gaze while his lips tilted in a promising smile. Again, he silently vowed to take good care of her and her child. They were his responsibility now. Even if no one had told him so, he was obliged.
The funeral had been observed, and life returned to normal at Clan Glenbogle. The keep swarmed with elders, which led to more guards watching over each and every door of the keep. Within the Council Chamber, the large sconces scattered light over the intricately marbled floor, like glittering dew. The head of the Council, High Elder Gilbert, was seated in his chair, clad in silver regalia. His neck was swathed with gold and gems, his fingers and wrists adorned with rings. Before him sat the other twenty-four members of the Council of Elders, and seventeen veteran warriors stood nearby also, all wearing grim looks. Most were dressed in beautiful white robes and matching creaseless footwear. The clothes were tailored with a touch of majestic elegance, making natural movement much more comfortable than they would have been in the constricting garments of the recent past.
The meeting for the appointment of a new laird was taking place. It was necessary to resolve all issues so that a new laird may be seated as soon and possible to lead the clan’s warriors and reduce their exposure to any impending threats, particularly from the MacLaren.
“Tis our third seating, and I greatly look to see it be the last. All suggestions shall be welcome, all nominations shall be noted. The Clan Glenbogle needs a new laird. The village is crying for protection, and we shall give tae it.” Elder Gilbert’s voice called out to the assemblage. “Proceed! The floor is opened for suggestions.” The Elder eased back in his chair, brushing his mustache with his index finger.
“Yer lordship, I am Elder Alistair, the eldest of us,” spoke an aged man, his face wreathed with wrinkles and nary a hair on his bald head. “We know how sad the situation in the village is, yet protocols cannae be neglected, we have tae proceed with our traditions. The land should be protected from threats, tis facts-backed; I nominate Sir Dunkin, a wonderful fighter whose right tae the lairdship cannae be discarded. He is cousin tae Laird Fraser. He could lead with wit and knowledge. He would ensure that the village and farm are well-protected from invaders and hoodlums, and ensure the provision of cattle and crops for trade.”
The Head Elder gazed around the room, searching for acquiescence from the other elders about the nomination, but found none. He knew it was sure to be a controversial decision if he granted the appointment. The nominated man was a good warrior but had been known to be a bit light-fingered and deceptive. It could be a detriment to the financial and political status of the Glenbogle clan to have such a one ascend to the lairdship.
Although his claim to the lairdship was valid, being a fourth cousin to the previous laird, his attitude made him an inadequate consideration for the title. The Council of Elders, in the absence of the Laird, was the highest decision-making authority in the clan, and they knew the power of the position was such that no one, not even Gilbert, the High Elder, could question his judgment in formal affairs. So, he would rather not have that kind of man in the ruling seat. However, he would not be biased, and such was why he first sought the acquiescence of the Council before taking the nomination or overruling it. With no one supporting the motion, Elder Gilbert nullified it.
After a momentary silence, Gregory stood up from his seat and plodded before the elders. He took a bow before beginning his speech. “High Elder, I’m Gregory, a warrior of the clan that has fought with the Laird a thousand times. I have known him since he was a child, and I am most willing tae serve the Clan Glenbogle as a Laird. I shall discharge my duties and see tae our military strength and make sure that crofter and villager alike can remain braw, healthy, and protected from our enemies. I shall make a do tae unite the people when necessary and strengthen the keep.” Gregory said and returned to his seat after he had taken a bow.
Elder Gilbert nodded, searching the eyes of the council for suggestions. Some elders moved their mouths close to other elders’ ears and whispered incessantly. After what seemed like a long time, most of the elders gave a disapproving nod, nullifying the self-nomination of Gregory with claims that although Gregory was much experienced in battle and had been closer to the old Laird, his age was a factor that denied him the title. They wanted someone young, healthy, and capable of governing the affairs of the state, but until now, it remained a difficult task.
The day was moving fast as the sun, which had been high in the sky before the council meeting started, was now setting over the western horizon. The elders had grown tired and hungry, and naturally grumpier for having been kept from their repasts overlong,
A rotund man with pudgy cheeks stood from his position on the left side of the council table. “Greetings tae ye, O wondrous Elders!” he intoned in a grave voice, “I am Albert, forgive my silence, my stomach craves a helping for its rumbling. Should we remain here any longer without food tae fill our stomach, I sense nae progress will be made.” Bowing his head, he resumed his feet, folding his fat fingers on the table before him.
The other elders nodded approval. They had had enough already with no progress made. They had sent for Callum, but he had yet to arrive. It dawned on them that he might still be grieving. A few of the men yawned, showing how exhausted they were.
Elder Gilbert thought of Albert’s suggestion and nodded. He already knew Albert would never make any relevant suggestions other than to call for the bringing of food. How Albert became an elder remained a mystery to him. He couldn’t blame him for doing so now, for even he was hungry, and they must finish this business of choosing a laird today. He signaled to the pair of servants, and one after the other, the elders left the meeting room to repair to the hall where tables draped in gold cloth and creaking under mountains of fruits, cheese, smoked fish, and roast fowl had been arranged. Maids wandered to and fro with platters of foods in their hands, bringing them to the men in the room.
Elsewhere, Callum sat in the grass at the top of a hill, looking down on Glenbogle Keep. It had been two weeks since the funeral had been held, but memories of Fraser’s death and the tears on Ava and Gretchen’s faces still lingered in his mind. Even though tears again welled in his eyes, he couldn’t help but smile when he thought back on the days of his friendship with the Laird. He remembered the time that they had dueled for a limited golden-steel sword and a chuckle escaped him as he recalled the faux outrage on his friend’s face when Callum had raised his wooden sword victoriously.
He wondered what the world would think of where he now lived and the life he had created for himself. He glanced at the clouds and remembered the scroll the elders of the Council had sent to him. He had almost forgotten, and it dawned on him that if he chose not to attend, there was a high possibility that the elders would look unfavorably upon him for snubbing their summons. He sighed and rose to his feet. He’d better go see what the Council wanted of him. Climbing on his horse, he pressed his heels into its flanks and rode like the wind to Glenbogle Keep.
At the keep, servants and warriors alike welcomed Callum with the usual hugs and kisses before whisking him through to the great hall where everyone else was gathered. Disappointment twisted in his chest when he saw how well the table had been set for the high and mighty of the clan.
Tis like a do? How on earth this could happen when the town yet grieves?
When he made his presence known, Elder Gilbert offered him a seat at the high table and a plate of food, but while he accepted the chair, he declined to eat, mentioning he’d already eaten and apologized for his lateness for the meeting.
When the elders were done with the food, they returned to the meeting room. A look of disgust formed on Callum’s face as he saw Albert staggering about the place. He was obviously having a hard time walking due to the amount of food he had taken, and maybe too much drink, also.
The meeting commenced again, and the room was now quiet as the others settled into their seats. Elder Gilbert cleared his throat and made to speak.
“We have been here all day, and many suggestions and nominations have been made that due tae one reason or th’ other, have been discarded. Ye all shall have tae think of a solution as taeday must be the day we’d have a new laird.” Elder Gilbert said and eased himself back in his chair. Some moments after he spoke, a man who looked to be in his mid-fifties and had a white mustache sitting under his nose rose from his chair and made to talk.
“My humble greeting tae the Elders seated here. I am Elder Patrick. I have seen that previous nominations have met with nae agreement among us. We are looking for a man who has no ugly past, no bad books. A man who is skillful with the sword knows the art of warfare and is capable of leading. I have seen a man who had been a great friend tae the old laird and has fought alongside him in battles. He has the warriors at heart, the community in his mind, and a whole lot tae do for us. He’s a young, graceful man! I think you know who I have in mind.” Elder Patrick said, took a bow, and eased himself back to his seat.
Around the table, there were many approving nods and whispers of assent from everybody’s lips. Elder Gilbert flashed a glance at everyone with a smile on his face. He knew that the suggestion was a good one, if not the best so far. As it had been said, Callum was indeed a young and vibrant man who had fought in battles alongside the old laird. It was true he was the old laird’s best friend, and from him, he would have learned much ways of dealing with people. He was a skilled warrior and had a record of good deeds since. No ugly past.
All these Elder Gilbert put to mind and knew within him he was the right man for the post. But he wouldn’t be biased and take the law in his arms. He left the debate open to anyone who had a counter suggestion. Elder Alistair seemed to be the only one who wasn’t content with the nomination. He counted the votes, and the election turned out to Callum’s favor.
Elder Gilbert noticed the disappointed and helpless look on Alistair’s face as he looked around the room. He turned to look in Callum’s direction and saw the startled expression on his face. “May he not decline this offer,” he prayed silently. “Silence, Elders! I beckon Sir Callum, who has just been nominated tae present himself tae the noble Elders” Elder Gilbert announced and waited.
The room, which had slipped into a grave silence turned swiftly into a noisy one with loud applause as Callum rose from his chair and approached the elders.
The elders and warriors in the room smiled as he stood at the front, gazing at everyone with a void expression on his face. “Sir Callum! Sir Callum!! Sir Callum!!!” the warriors chorused, singing songs of praise at Callum.
“Do ye have something tae say tae yer people? Do ye accept the lairdship offer, Sir Callum?” the Head Elder said, glancing at Callum who still stood with his hands clutched and pressed to his stomach. His face was still expressionless, and with that, he had kept everyone in suspense. The room became silent again as everybody wondered what his reply would be. Callum cleared his throat with a faint smile carved on his lips.
“I’m most grateful for the confidence you have in me, my lords. I shall discharge my duties as expected of me. I shall strengthen the security of the clan and protect us from invaders. Food and drink shall always be plentiful. I accept the offer.” Callum said quietly and took a bow.
A chorus of loud applause rang out, coupled with happy shouts from the warriors. Callum’s heart swelled with conflicting sentiments; pride that the elders had found him worthy, sadness that it had to happen at all, and above all else, determination to repay the trust the people had in him by discharging his duties perfectly. He knew as a laird, he was obligated to call for meetings, oversee the financial state of the clan holdings, its economic status, military strength, and the well-being of his people. It seemed too much for any one man to bear, but if his friend could do it, he could as well.
He remembered Gretchen, and there he knew this could be his chance to give her and her daughter full protection. Whatever the case may be, he would need sleep and would start discharging his duties after he moved into the keep. The merriment continued with everyone basking in the aura of excitement while Callum — the newly elected Laird of Clan Glenbogle —stepped out. He would go and tell Gretchen the news.
He climbed his horse and rode to Gretchen’s home, which was some distance from the keep. Ever since she had lost Fraser, she had felt obliged to return to her lonely family home where she could avoid seeing the things that had belonged to Fraser, drawing back bitter memories.
Gretchen was standing by the well in front of her house, drawing out water into small molded bowls when she saw Callum’s favorite horse speeding toward her. She noticed he had grown a bit leaner, but fiercer when he got near. The huge smile he flashed her was enough to bring hope to shattered hearts. She welcomed him with a hug, and he reciprocated with a kiss on her left hand.
“Where goes my wee lass?” Callum said, glancing all around for the sight of Ava.
“Yer wee lass had gone to the neighbors to play. She should be back by tonight,” Gretchen replied, leading Callum to a nearby bench.
“I have such good news for ye. my lady”
“Tell tae me the good news. Callum.” Gretchen resumed gazing at Callum.
“I’ve been offered the lairdship of Clan Glenbogle. The council summoned me tae the meeting and offered me the title. I cannae disapprove of th’ offer. They have placed too much trust in me, and I cannae let them down.” Callum said, glancing away then back at her face as if he was unsure of her reception.
A faint smile formed on Gretchen’s face as she listened to him talk. Although his body had become leaner and harder, she noticed his manner of talking hadn’t changed. He still wore a smartly trimmed beard, and his hair still fell in flaxen curls over his shoulders.
“Tis a good thing, Callum! Haha!” she paused and laughed “I shall call you my laird now! Haha! Do nae let the people down. Ye are a kindly man. This, I know. May God be with ye.” Gretchen resumed and laughed softly again.
Callum stumbled into deep thoughts of how he’d ask Gretchen to move to the keep, for her protection and that of her daughter, of course. But what if she found out that he just wanted her to be close to him?
What if she still grieves for her husband and declines the offer? What if she finds the offer too fast and too kind? What if she agrees?
These were his thoughts as he bowed his head, tilting his sideways as he watched her. Perhaps he needed to wait for the right time and throw the offer at her when she wouldn’t be able to decline it. He stared at her again, the only lady he had ever loved. He still saw the grief on her face, yet he saw some mild affection there, too, hidden in her beautiful green eyes.
A grief that knows no end yet a love that can heal all wounds.
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