The Lass and the Highland Beast (Preview)
“Aileen, my love, dinnae go too far now.”
Aileen acknowledged her grandmother’s admonishment with a distracted nod. After two months of gray skies and the pewter-colored stone walls of her father’s keep, the sunshine and brisk breeze were a welcome change for the youngster.
So were the scents and sights of the wild Highland heather, dappled with the last bits of morning dew as they turned the rolling moors into a sea of dusky purple, punctuated by the brighter color of thistle, yarrow, and other blooms.
It was good to be away from the keep, gloomy as it had been with the lingering winter’s chill, and the ghosts of sorrow for Lady MacThomas, her mother, had been gone two months now, taken by a wet night and a fever that not even Grandmother Skye and healer Greer’s tonics and tisanes could break.
Aileen felt some of the shadows on her spirit lift for the first time since that night when she’d held her sister in the hall and heard the cries of mourning echoing off the stone walls, more heart-wrenching than a banshee’s lament.
A particularly vibrant patch of heather caught her eye, and she tugged at it until a spray broke off in her hands before running back to her grandmother. “Grandmother Skye!”
“‘Tis a fine spray of heather indeed.” Her grandmother took it and packed it into her basket. “Mayhap we’ll use it tae scent yer room. Would ye like that?”
“Aye.” Aileen smiled, happy to help since Grandmother Skye had invited her—and only her, not her elder sister Jane—on the trip to gather medicinal herbs and flowers. From the plants gathered, there would be soaps and sweet scents for the fires and remedies for all manner of illnesses.
Grandmother Skye was a healer, the best in the clan, perhaps the best in all the Highlands, and Aileen hoped that one day she would be just like her. “What else do we need?”
“Och, and what dinnae we, after the winter we’ve had and this wet spring? Ye bring me every flower ye find and every green root, my wee love, and I’ll tell ye each of their uses and what I’ll do with them. Aye, and show ye how tae gather them proper so the Fair Folk and the Gods above grant good health and potency to every leaf.” Grandmother Skye nudged her, and Aileen darted off, intent on finding another plant.
Beyond them, Greer was already at work, plucking a spray of leaves here and a stalk of blooms there, folding them into soft cloths and murmuring a song, a chant of some type or perhaps a prayer, under her breath.
Someday, Aileen would learn all the songs, and she would sing them while harvesting all the necessary flowers and roots. But today, the sun was bright, and a breeze was blowing. For the first time in months, the scent of grief and people and burning oil was gone from her nose, washed away by good clean rain and fields of heather.
She bounded from bush to bush, collecting flowers, her grandmother taking each with a smile, a laugh, and a story.
Aileen was just turning to look for another item for her collection when a flash of bright color caught her eye—the flicker of brilliant orange butterfly wings as the insect flitted from flower to flower in a random, haphazard pattern.
Captivated, Aileen darted off, oblivious to her grandmother and Greer, who were both too preoccupied with their own work to notice the young girl as she wandered ever further.
She was so caught up in the chase that she didn’t notice the grass thinning and the sunlight turning dappled, partly blocked by the first branches of the trees bordering the moor. Nor did she pay heed to the roots that encroached where she walked or the dim sound of Grandmother Skye’s voice when the older woman realized she was wayward.
The butterfly flew to land on a low shrub, just off a cleared section like a small glade. Aileen crept closer, determined that this time she would catch the insect and take it back to show Grandmother Skye.
Without warning, the ground gave way under her feet, and she fell into darkness with a frightened scream, arms flailing as she tried to stop her tumbling plunge.
The fall stopped suddenly with a jarring thud and a muffled crunching sound that sent pain crashing through her small frame so forcefully that she was left breathless except for gulping sobs. Her arms and legs felt bruised and strangely numb, and her head hurt worse than the time she had tripped on the keep stairs and thumped the wall.
She whimpered, reaching a shaky hand to touch her head. Pain sparked and made her cry harder, even as her fingers encountered something warm and wet, much like soup after it had been served. She pulled her hand away, blinking as red drops flickered across her hazy vision.
Blood? It hurts. Grandmother!
The words couldn’t seem to get past her crying, but seconds later, two faces appeared at the edges of the ragged circle of sky that was directly overhead. Grandmother Skye and Greer both peered down at her. “Aileen love, are ye hurt?”
“Hurt…” It was hard to form the word in her increasingly foggy thoughts, even harder to say, but she managed. She tried to move to show her grandmother where, but all she managed was to slip her head sideways, to thump into the dirt with an impact that felt more like crashing into stone.
There was a red-soaked rock right where she had lain, surrounded by a pool of liquid.
A gasp made her look back up, and she looked back at Grandmother Skye and Greer who now both seemed terrified. Her grandmother took out her trimming blade and cut a long strip from her skirt. “Greer, help me. We must get strips enough tae twist a rope, so one of us can get her out.”
The words seemed to come from far away. Everything felt foggy, like the mornings when she woke at dawn, and all the world was gray and white like sheep’s wool before it was washed for shearing.
Grandmother Skye and Greer were talking, but she didn’t understand. She felt sleepy.
Then there was a thump, and she opened heavy eyes to see Grandmother Skye standing beside her with a scared gaze. She didn’t look hurt. Maybe she hadn’t fallen?
Pain blurred Aileen’s vision and she cried softly as Grandmother Skye picked her up and wrapped her in torn cloths before tucking her onto her back like a babe. Then her grandmother did something else, and they were suddenly rising. It felt like they were flying.
Another period of confusion and gray dizziness passed, then they were out in the meadow again, the sun shining in a way that now made Aileen’s eyes hurt and her head throb.
She heard the women chatter, and tried to focus and listen. Maybe they were talking about how to make the pain go away.
“Milady, ye ken she cannae make it… the castle…”
“If we bind the wound…”
“‘Tis too much blood…”
Fear filled Aileen, overriding even the fog and sleepiness that kept trying to drag her eyes closed. “Grandmother…”
Grandmother Skye was beside her in moments, lifting her into her arms. “Hush now, wee one.”
She couldn’t obey, not with her grandmother’s pale, drawn face wavering above her. “Am I… gonna die, like Mother?”
It was getting harder to talk and harder to breathe, harder to resist the pull of sleep as it tugged at her.
Above her, Grandmother Skye smiled. At least, her mouth was smiling, but her eyes looked like they were sad. “Nae, love. You’ll nae die, my darling, nae if I have aught tae say about it.”
Grandmother Skye took a deep breath and tugged her a little closer, settling into the warm grass of the moor. “Listen well, Aileen. I had nae thought tae tell ye this yet, but ye’ll need tae ken. Hearken tae me.”
It was hard. But then Grandmother Skye tipped some wine from her bottle into her mouth and kissed her hand, clearing her mind a little bit. Aileen blinked at her grandmother’s face.
The woman brushed her hair away from her brow. “Are ye listening, bairn?”
“Aye.” Her voice was quieter than she meant it to be. She wasn’t sure she’d remember anything with her head throbbing, but Greer was nearby. She would help her remember, and Grandmother Skye would tell her again if she forgot, just as she did with the stories of the herbs, the Gods, and the Fair Folk.
“All right. Listen well. Ye remember I told ye stories of how the Gods and the Fair Folk used tae give people who pleased them special gifts?”
“Long ago, a member of our clan pleased one of the powerful folks and was granted a great gift, a gift of healing. And that gift was passed among members of our clan until it came tae me. ‘Tis a gift that grants me the power tae heal any wound, be it great or small, with a kiss.”
Grandmother Skye’s hand stroked Aileen’s brow. “But like all such gifts, there are rules. And the first rule is this: the kiss must be close tae the wound, and for every healing, I must give some of my own strength and vitality. I will be weakened for a time until I recover.” Aileen managed to nod slowly which enhanced the pain at the side of her head.
“The second rule is this: never must I attempt tae heal a wound that is fatal. For should I attempt it, the Gods demand an extra price—a life for a life.”
Grandmother Skye took a deep breath. “If I choose tae heal a fatal wound, I save that life at the cost of my own, wee bairn, and the gift passes tae the one for whom I chose tae act. Such is their burden, tae take up the duty that was once mine. Such was how the gift came tae me, and so I pass it on.”
It was hard for Aileen to make sense of the words. All she could see was the solemn sadness in her grandmother’s face.
The woman brushed gentle fingers across her cheek. “Be brave, Aileen, brave and strong. Make good use of the gift.”
Grandmother Skye smoothed her hair aside and bent over her, cradling her close.
Dread welled up, slicing through the fog and pain, a fear for something her grandmother was doing or going to do.
It was something about life and something her grandmother was going to do to save her.
Life for a life…
Aileen tugged, trying to roll from her grandmother’s encircling hands. But she was weak, and she couldn’t make her arms or legs work properly. She couldn’t pull away, and Grandmother Skye’s grip was far too strong.
“Hush, bairn,” her whisper brushed her ear, warm and soft. “I’ve had my time, and a long happy time I’ve made of it. ‘Tis yer turn now, my love, tae live long and love well and bless the family with yer smiles and gifts for years tae come.”
Grandmother Skye’s lips touched the side of her head, close to where the worst of the pain gathered, where her hair was red with blood from her head to the tips of the long tresses.
“I love ye, my wee Aileen.”
The pressure of the kiss seemed to ignite a fire, far different from the pain that had throbbed through her like the beat of war drums. Heat poured over her head like a warm bath fresh from the hearth fires and seemed to flow through her skin and into her like a gulp of hot mulled mead.
In the wake of that heat, pain vanished. Aches disappeared. The fog faded and drew away like moor mist before the sun. Energy and warmth replaced the sleepy feeling of moments before.
Grandmother Skye’s warmth was flowing through her like a comforting flame, making everything better.
Her strong embrace loosened, and then her arms fell away. She slumped underneath her, falling bonelessly to her side, limp, and pale—ashen.
With her restored strength, Aileen rolled free and to her feet, prepared to offer her grandmother help, to ask what was wrong, maybe even to give back some of the wonderful warmth she had shared with her.
But it was too late. Grandmother Skye’s eyes were closed, her face waxen and pale in a way Aileen had only seen once before. Her chest didn’t move with breath, and no air passed her lips. There was no comforting heartbeat to hear when she laid her head on her chest.
She tried to give Grandmother Skye a kiss, but it did no good. She remained still and pale, her skin cooling even in the sun.
She was gone. Tears pooled then poured down Aileen’s cheeks as the terrible truth sank in, undeniable and unbearable all at once.
Grandmother Skye was dead, just like Mother. But unlike Mother, her death had been caused by someone else: her.
She had run off, chasing the butterfly. She hadn’t listened or been careful.
And now her grandmother was dead, and it was all her fault.
She knew, even as she and Greer clung together there in the meadow and wept, that she would never forget what happened this day. And she would pay the price of the life she had just taken.
Twelve years later
The world was swaying, but he could not tell if it was the ship or only his perception.
Pain slashed across his back, adding to the throbbing agony of previous wounds and jolting him in the chains, which added even more pain as they lacerated his already torn and bloodied wrists.
How many was it? He had long since lost count.
Another slash, this one accompanied by a shout from the other side of the room, where two youths his own age or close, were locked in combat with daggers. One had drawn blood, to the mixed laughter and insults from the men that watched.
A hand jerked his hair back before rough and harsh hands seized his chin and jerked his head around with bruising force to look at another part of the room.
Lasses huddled on pallets, chained in various states of undress, many of them naked. Two of them were covered by young men, who thrust and grunted and gripped at the commands of older men seated to one side with flagons of wine and lecherous smiles. He thought he recognized one of the girls through the haze of pain. It was Morag, who’d been here even longer than him. She looked like she was resigned and going along with every move her partner made, no doubt hoping her “willingness” would win her some respite.
The other lass was a new one, struggling futilely with the young man who pinned her. A gag had been stuffed in her mouth.
“That’s how ‘tis done, boy. That’s how a man handles a wench. But ye couldnae perform, could ye?” The words were accompanied by the venomous hiss and the foul-smelling breath of his master. “Thought you’d be honorable.” The word was sneered with contempt, heavy as the lash that smote against his bare skin once more.
“And what did it get ye? Me a dead wench, useless after she was broken as a lesson for ye, and ye in chains serving punishment until ye’ve had yer full hundred lashes.”
He remembered the girl and the way she’d died, sobbing and choking on blood as she was repeatedly violated and tortured. They were so close that her blood had splashed across his face and left sticky pools under his feet.
She’d begged for mercy, and he’d had none to give, not even words, for his master had burned his throat raw and gagged him with a chain to prevent him speaking.
“All for a useless concept like honor, ye’ll cost a girl her life and yerself this pain, brat. Was it worth it? Eh?” He felt hot breath close to his ear. “Do I need tae extend yer lesson, ye little piece of filth, or will ye finally understand? Fight at my whim, bleed at my whim, and live at my whim. Bed a wench or break her at my command, or be bedded yerself if that’s the fancy. It’s all ye’re good for and all ye’ll ever be good for.”
Each sentence was hammered home with a renewed application of the whip, and he felt his throat burning with bile and the hot shame of tears.
A blow to the side of his head along with another lash across his back sent him spiraling dizzily into blackness.
Please, let me die. Let me never return from this… let me…
Morven Robertson jerked awake, his chest heaving as he tried to calm his racing heart with deep breaths. Sweat pooled cold and sticky at his waist, the small of his back, and under his hands, clinging to his face and chest like plaster.
It was only a dream. Or perhaps it was more like a memory.
Morven staggered from his bed to the basin on a rough table, splashing cool water on his face before toweling it away and turning to find a shirt and a clean kilt to wrap around himself.
There would be no more sleep for him tonight.
He growled low in his chest as he swiped the last traces of water from his face.
Four years he’d been free, two he’d been home, and the memories were as sharp as ever. He’d learned to lock them away in the daylight, but they returned with a vengeance in his dreams.
A glimpse in the polished glass on one wall made him scowl before he turned away. He’d argued against Darach hanging the glass, for there was little point. It only showed him what he already knew.
He had a scarred and battered face to match his scarred and battered body and a soul more tattered and blackened still. Darach could argue all he liked, but Morven knew well what he was: a monster whose only redeeming quality was the weapons skill he’d returned from captivity with.
Restlessness drove him from his room, and after a few moments of aimless wandering, he directed his steps to his brother’s study. Perhaps Darach would be awake. If not, the smell of leather, wood, and stone might be comfort enough, or he could take a turn about the keep.
Luck was with him, and there was a firelight coming from under the door. Morven knocked lightly and let himself in at his brother’s greeting.
Darach Robertson, Laird of the Clan Robertson and Morven’s elder brother, looked up as he entered, oak brown eyes peering from under a barely tamed mane of golden hair. “Morven.”
Wise eyes searched his face, and Morven fought the impulse to shift his weight or look away. Finally, Darach’s face softened. “Another nightmare, then?”
His brother was always so perceptive. Morven nodded once, unwilling to say anything more. He’d long ago sworn never to share the contents of his nightmares and memories with his kin.
As if he’d read the thought, Darach sighed. “Will ye ever tell me what it is that haunts ye so, brother? Ye might find the dreams less often and the memories less of a burden if ye only shared the story. ‘Tis nae right that ye bear the weight of those years alone when ye already bore the suffering of the time itself.”
Morven swallowed the lump in his throat and shook his head. “Nay. I’ll nae darken yer night further with such stories.”
Darach’s disapproval would break him, no matter how strong he was as a warrior. And there would be disapproval—or, worse, shame—if his kinsman ever learned the truth about what he had endured in those years, let alone what he had done.
Lives ended, and deaf ears turned to pleading voices. How could Darach or any other member of the clan look at him without loathing him if they knew the blood-soaked road he had walked before he’d finally returned home two years ago?
They saw a warrior, and even then, some of the women murmured, when they thought he couldn’t hear, about what an uncouth, scarred brute he was. He drank when he wasn’t on guard, he fought when he was needed, and he bedded a wench made willing by his prowess, his name, or his gold when the whim took him.
Darach had no need to know anything further nor anything worse of him. He was Laird of the clan and had enough worries.
As if he’d read that thought out of the air between them, his brother sighed again and offered him a dram of whisky while he poured himself another. “At least ye might rest more if ye cannae rest more peacefully. I’ll nae say I dinnae appreciate yer care and the way ye watch over the castle, for I do appreciate it. But ‘tis a laird’s duty tae see tae his lands and his warriors, and I’ve let ye take far too much on yerself of late.”
“Ye’ve a new bride. It’s also a laird’s duty tae sire an heir of his body for the clan, and a brother if he can. ‘Tis a duty more pleasant by far, and mayhap more important than ye think, with William of Orange on the loose and drawing ever closer. Aye, and his swords hungry for our blood, if there’s any truth tae the rumors.” Morven shrugged and took the second dram Darach offered him. “I’ve nae issue with being yer shield, Darach, and seeing tae the defenses while ye and Jane take some time.”
“Och, ye’re a stubborn fool, but well enough. If ‘tis of service ye want tae be, then the task I have in mind might serve both our aims.”
“How?” Morven blinked. He’d never had Darach yield so easily in their debates about his duties or his over-enthusiastic performance thereof.
“I’ve a task in mind that needs yer skill. Ye are my best warrior after all.”
“Aileen MacThomas, Jane’s sister.” Darach smirked, and Morven fought to keep the scowl off his face.
Aileen. He’d met her at his brother’s wedding to her elder sister. She was a quiet, meek little lass who danced barely once and scorned most of the lads who offered her company. She was quiet and shy and obedient as a sheep, he recalled, never raising her voice or taking a step without looking to her father, Laird MacThomas, for permission or his opinion.
Aileen MacThomas made him feel like even more of a brute than he usually did and as clumsy as a stripling boy at his first dance or his first weapons lesson.
Better a hundred battlefields than to deal with Aileen, with her long dark tresses, expressive eyes and fair skin…
He stifled his thoughts with a ruthless effort. He had no right to have lustful thoughts about someone as pure, delicate, and beautiful as Aileen MacThomas.
He noticed Darach watching him, probably waiting for an explosion of temper or a growling refusal. “What of her?”
“Word is that William of Orange has taken interest in her and her power.”
“Power?” Jane, he recalled, could command truth and hear a lie, if she willed it so. “Does she share Jane’s gift?”
“Nay. Hers is different, and ye’d do well tae wait until she speaks of it. But ‘tis a powerful gift, I will tell ye that, and might someday be the hinge upon which this rebellion turns. Laird MacThomas kens it well, but somehow, it has come tae William’s attention as well. And as we cannae have such power falling intae his hands, ‘tis necessary tae see that Aileen herself is kept safe.”
“Well enough. But why have need of me?”
“Laird MacThomas and I have agreed that ‘tis best the lass be elsewhere than where William of Orange might expect her. And where better than with kin and in the safest clan seat in the region? So, I’ll be sending a small group of warriors tae MacThomas’ keep and having them bring the lass here for her safety. And I want ye tae lead them.”
“Sounds like a duty for a messenger or the like, rather than me, brother.”
Darach shook his head. “Nay, it’s ye I need. If William gets wind of her movement and tries for her on the road, I’ll need my best warrior tae keep her safe. And ye are that.”
He could not argue that and would not if he could. Darach’s value of him meant too much. He forced himself to pay attention as his brother continued.
“Beyond that, ‘tis nae meant tae be a hard ride nor a difficult one, and there’s a good chance William will never ken ye’re on the road until ye’ve been back a good long while. And in that case, it’ll be a fair good chance for ye tae rest a bit. Ride easy, and mayhap the travel and the fresh moorland air under the stars will soothe yer dreams a wee bit.”
Morven doubted it, but obeyed. “If ‘tis yer command.”
“The task I’ll set ye, but the rest I’ll more hope for than command.” Darach paused, then moved around the desk to clasp his shoulder. “Morven… I ken ye and Aileen… I ken ye dinnae see eye tae eye on much, if anything. I ken she’s too quiet a lass for yer tastes. Even so, Jane loves her, and I’ll take it as a kindness if ye can at least be civil with her and mind yer manners if ye could—yer manners and yer tongue.”
Morven scowled and shrugged his brother’s comment aside. “Och, dinnae fret. Mayhap I cannae stand the wee lass, but I like yer Lady well and good. I’ll nae do anything tae upset her, and that includes insulting her sister by word or deed. And ye ken that well enough, Darach.”
Darach laughed. “Aye, I do. Ye’ve always been a proper Highland clansman around my Jane.” He clapped Morven on the back. “Rest well, then. Ye’ve a journey tae prepare for in the morn, and night is already far gone.”
Morven nodded and turned on his heel, back into the hall. He could hear Darach still chuckling behind him and sighed as he made his way back to his chambers to get what rest he could. Sleep would be a lost cause, but he could relax his muscles and rest his body, and perhaps his mind a wee bit, now that he’d had two drams of whisky to blunt the edges of his memories.
He’d be escorting Aileen MacThomas. Somewhere, the gods were laughing at him.
Aileen paced through the corridors until she reached the healer’s abode. She knocked once then let herself in. “Greer? How are ye faring?”
Inside the room on the farthest bed, Greer Menzies, fellow healer and confidant since her grandmother’s passing, raised her head and gave her a wan smile. “Well enough, thank ye. Though I feel fair foolish.” She huffed a soft, chiding sound and pushed herself to a sitting position. Aileen hurried over and helped her arrange her pillows. “Near thirteen or fourteen years I’ve been a healer. I ought tae ken better than tae let my mind away with the Fair Folk when I’m making my tonics, let alone taking them.”
Aileen twisted her favorite ribbon around her fingers. Soft and silken in the color of the sky, it had been one of the last gifts her mother had ever given her. That alone would have made it dear to her, but the color was lovely still, even after all these long years, and every time she wore it, she fancied she could feel her mother’s love with her.
And love she’d need, for the journey ahead and the company she’d been informed she’d be keeping on the road.
Greer shifted as if she might rise, and Aileen returned her attention to her oldest and dearest friend. “Rest easy, Greer. Ye’ll need a few days. Belladonna poisoning is nae small matter, so ‘tis best ye stay in bed ‘til it passes fully.”
“Aye. I’m only grateful ye acted so quick as ye did.” Greer’s dark eyes filled with tears. “Had ye been a bit slower, or if ye hadnae used yer gift, I might have…”
“Best nae think of that.”
“But I do.” Greer took her hand, a tear escaping to cross her cheek. “‘Tis nae just that ye had tae save me, but if I’d had a bit more… it might have… I might have… I couldnae bear if I had cost ye yer life for my own carelessness.”
Aileen kept her face calm, though her heart twisted. She knew well the pain Greer referred to.
For twelve years, she had lived with the costs of her foolishness, the mistake which had cost the life of her grandmother, Skye.
She had done her best to be a woman worthy of the gift and a daughter of which her father could be proud. Even so, she felt she might never atone for the harm she had done her family and clan in taking away the wisdom of her grandmother’s words, or her laughter or warmth.
She forced the old, painful thoughts away and patted Greer’s hand. “Dinnae fret. It didnae happen. And besides, I cannae say it would be too poor a fate.” She pulled a rueful face. “Did I tell ye that Father is considering a match for me?”
“Nay. Pray tell, who is his choice?”
Here, with Greer, she could make a disgruntled expression and let her dislike seep into her voice. “‘Tis the eldest of Laird Macintosh he’s considering, the one that’s said tae have bedded every lass in his father’s keep of bedding age and drinks enough tae keep three taverns in gold.”
Greer choked on laughter, as she’d intended. “Ye cannae be serious?”
Greer shook her head. “And ye cannae be pleased? I didnae think you’d fancy such a man.”
“‘Tis true he’s nae a choice I’d make.” Aileen shrugged. “But ‘tis Father’s choice.”
The mirth faded from Greer’s face. “Mayhap, as the Laird, ‘tis his choice. But ‘tis yer life, Aileen. If ye cannae be happy with the Macintosh lad, then say so tae Laird MacThomas. He loves ye well, and he’ll heed ye.”
Aileen shook her head. “I’ll nae defy him. If this is what he wills, then so it will be.”
Greer shook her head as well. “Ah, Aileen, ye cannae keep punishing yerself forever for Skye. ‘Twas her choice, and ye ken it. Surely ye’ve long paid for a child’s mistake.”
“A child’s mistake that cost my father his mother within a season of his wife? I do nae think I shall ever pay for it. But I can do as well as I can by being a dutiful daughter.” Aileen sighed then patted Greer’s hand and set it back on the coverlet. “Rest. I will see ye when next ‘tis possible.”
“And ye’ll be all right, traveling tae Castle Robertson alone?” Greer’s expression was worried, and Aileen sent her a reassuring smile.
“Aye. I’ll be fine. Besides, I hear Laird Robertson, Jane’s husband, has sent his best warrior tae escort me. So, I imagine I’ll be well and truly as safe as I can be.”
She patted Greer’s hand one last time. “Fare thee well, and heal quickly.” Then she turned and made her way to her quarters.
Most of her belongings were already packed for the journey, but there were two things she needed.
She entered her chambers and went to her bed, reaching under the mattress until she could find and withdraw what she sought.
Two long, thin dirks rested in her hands, the handles comfortable after hours of use. Small and light, they were good weapons for a woman of her size.
When she’d first heard that William of Orange might be seeking her, having somehow learned of her power, she’d sought out a guardsman who owed her a favor. With his help, she’d obtained both the dirks and the knowledge of how to use them. She’d never be a true warrior, but neither was she helpless.
She smirked as she tucked the weapons into her healer’s satchel.
I wonder what Jane will think of my new skills.
With one last glance around the room, she wrapped a shawl over her shoulders and left.
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