“Take your shawl, lass, it’s a mite nippy out.”
Morag bit her full lips in irritation as her father’s voice called her back from the door.
“Tis naught but a pleasant evenin’ breeze,” she protested, clenching her fist slightly as she saw him doddering down the hall toward her, shawl in hand. If his gait was anything to judge by, her father would be joining her mother in the graveyard before the next feast day.
Her fingers immediately relaxed when she saw the tall form of their guest emerge from the shadows at her father’s side. She schooled her features into a more pleasant expression, softening the tension in her blue eyes. Dougal was a thane of high honor, and he had not been unappreciative of her presence these last days.
“I’ll not have ye ketch yer death-chill this night,” her father said, extending the shawl in what was meant to be an authoritative gesture.
Morag took the offered wool tartan, taking care that her back was straight and hips turned slightly toward Dougal as she slipped the material over her shoulders. His eyes snapped back to her face as she finished arranging the material. She held his gaze, noting his surprise at her directness by the widening of his eyes, only a few shades darker than her own.
One hand wandered to the embroidered net covering her hair, tucking a few raven strands back under the band, but leaving several to straggle and cling about her neck. Dougal’s eyes followed her hand, and she smiled to herself as she turned toward the door.
“I’ll only be gone for a wee bit. I’m sure ye have important things to discuss.”
With a properly respectful curtsy to her father and Dougal, she opened the creaking door and left.
The wind nipped at the tasseled edges of her shawl and Morag found herself grateful for the shield in spite of herself. The sun was setting like a molten gold coin, staining the clouds about it in luxurious shades of purple and orange. To the east was the whispering balance of blue and gray, with scudding clouds catching the fiery hues of the sun. The sight reminded her of the pattern of Dougal’s tartan, dark blue with red and yellow accents. It would complement her coloring well, and as a thane’s wife she would have legitimate cause to wear the clan’s tartan.
He's almost mine.
The thought sent her racing down the hill toward the sheep pens, welcoming the cuff of the wind against her face.
“Calum!” She called impatiently, grasping at a fencepost to catch her breath. “Calum, are ye deaf?”
“Ach, and what a dear comfort that would be.” Calum’s laughing voice preceded him by a breath as he exited the shack he called home.
“’Tisn’t fitting you should speak so to me – a nearly-engaged maiden,” she huffed, crossing her arms defensively.
Did she dream it, or did the slightest grimace cross his face at her words? Calum had been their head shepherd for years, and they treated one another as contrary siblings. There had been talk, many years ago… foolish talk of their union. Morag shook her head and put it out of her mind.
“And the sheep, are they as thick-headed as ever?”
“Only when you are about to inspire them.”
She could not miss the strain in his voice, the tightness of his smile. When his eyes finally settled on hers, the depths of what she saw frightened her. They held none of the frank male longing she had sensed in Dougal. This was not a man she could ever control in that way. For once, it was her bold blue eyes that first looked away.
“’Tis well, then, that I’ll not be about verra much longer.”
“Tell me, lass…” Calum hesitated, his brows knitting torturously. “Morag, is everything finally decided, then?”
For a moment, she allowed herself to wonder. To be a shepherd’s wife, give up her dreams of grandeur and power in exchange for that look in Calum’s eyes. Her voice shook a little as she answered him.
“Not finally, but near to it.”
She couldn’t meet his gaze again. She sought the sky, searching for the pattern of Dougal’s tartan. It had faded to the deep blue of gloaming.
“Ma ghaol ort,” Calum said softly, stepping back. “Forever, though a thane’s wife you may be.”
She stiffened her spine, hurt though she knew not why. “Aye, a thane’s wife. Soon I’ll be Lady Macbeth, and all of Scotland will know of me.”
Dougal: Dark stranger
Ma ghaol ort: Gaelic phrase translated “My love with you.”
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