~~ Chapter 6
Damn and double damn!
Connor cursed all the while he slipped and slid down the darkened stairwell, with his future bride jostling and bouncing across his shoulder. Her hair kept on falling forward to get into his mouth and eyes and he would have to brush it away with an inpatient hand. He was never known for patience. He knew that she was most likely in some degree of discomfort, but he did not want to think about that just now. Surely by now, the alarm had been sounded for someone who heard George's pitiful screams, but yet again knowing Nicholas a whole army could sneak into his keep and no one would notice, the guards either too inebriated or sound asleep. He reached the tower floor, quickly running to Charlotte's bedchamber. Her door was shut, and he cursed at the hindrance. Grasping the cold latch, he flicked it upwards with his thumb, and the door swung open into the darkened interior. As he stepped into the black room, his toe connected with something hard and pain exploded in his poorly abused digit.
"Shyte!" he cursed, hopping about on one foot and feeling like his wits had left him. He was aware then that his bride was moving, slowly loosening her hold from around his neck and sliding down to the floor. That was not so fortunate for him, however as her breasts pressed rather intimately into his back. He gritted his teeth and counted to ten. By the time he had finished, he realized that ten wasn't nearly enough time to quench his lust. He desperately was in need for a dip in the loch, or that fresh air. He truly felt ashamed of himself as he turned to face Charlotte. He expected her to be cowering, with tears in her eyes, or even being in some semblance of shock or distress, but she was no longer behind him. Growling in irritation, he fumbled about for a torch, anything that he could use to see by. After his searching, he could not find anything that would meet his satisfaction, and closed his eyes in exasperation. He might as well as be blind if he did not get something to light his way. Something was being thrust into his hands then, and he glanced down to see that Charlotte had handed him a lit torch.
Gratefully, he shone the burning flame about her small chamber, and reflected how much it looked like a prison. The walls were stone and bare, there were no feminine tutches to the room that would suggest that a woman owned it. There were no tapestries hanging on the walls, made by long dreary hours by the fire when the days grew too cold to safely venture out doors, no bottles of perfume cluttered the table and he did not see any lacey garments in sight. The only thing that were in the room was her narrow cot, a nightstand that held a bason and glass pitcher of water, and the large wardrobe where he supposed all her clothes must be. He found it strange that a beautiful woman as herself, would not at least show her personality in the privacy of her bedchamber. He reached out, fully intending to grasp her hand to comfort her in some way, but she was on the other side of the room and the only thing he could see of her were two legs sticking out from under the bed.
"Lass," he spoke gently, as not to frighten her, "Are ye alright."
Silence met him in return, of course he knew that something of that sort would happen. What had he expected as he crossed the room and began tugging on the legs that refused to budge, that the lass just start to speak, so that he could hear her voice. He knew that she would never speak, he had long since concluded that she was a mute, and that was a good thing. Yes it was, he tried telling himself over and over again, men would give a hand to have a mute wife, so then why did his mind cry out in denial. He was not like other men. He wanted a woman who matched him in wit, spirit, personality and temperament. A woman who would not cower in the shadows whenever he lost his head, or who would meekly do as she was told when he gave out an order. He wanted some excitement in his life, he wanted… Weel, he wanted a family once more. He wanted his mother to forgive him for something that was not his doing, he wanted his sister and him to be close once more, and he wanted a wife and lots of children to liven up the keep once again and fill it with laughter. He mentally shook himself, and gave a last tug upon Charlotte's legs. His bride saled out from under the bed, clutching two carpet bags in her arms.
"Oi now, what are those for?"
She tossed the bags upon her bed and frowned at him, a look that clearly thought that he was the daft one. Him! Twas a perfectly reasonable question he had asked, but he did not have the time to get the answer to it now. He needed to go, and he needed to gather Daniel and his men. He had loitered here long enough. Without thinking, he grasped Charlotte by the shoulders and drew her warm body close to his, he just could not resist. His lips came down upon hers, with a passion that surprised and scared him witless. Her lips were soft and slightly dry and they were warm. Her mouth parted in surprise and he took advantage of her distraction to allow his tongue entrance, probing the inside of her mouth tasting her sweet taste, and smelling a hint of perfume upon her skin. With a gasp, Charlotte pushed him away her eyes as large as sossers. Why, Connor thought glumly did he loos himself whenever he was with her. Yes, a dip in the loch would be a good thing right about now.
"I regret that I must leave you now lassie," he realized how husky his voice sounded and he cleared his throat. Get a hold of yourself man, he told himself sternly, but his body had other ideas.
"Ye saw what I did to George, and I think I overstayed our welcome. I must depart now, I dinna. I dinna think our marriage will work now."
He should be feeling happy and relieved at these turn of events, he could think of another way to rescue Roderick without marrying her, and then he would be able to choose another lass, a Scottish lass to wed. He thought of Maldie MacDonald, whose father had been looking for making an alliance with his clan for a while now. He knew that the MacDonald's were a powerful clan, and that having them as an enemy would not help his cause. He thought about Maldie, she was a tall buxom woman, with long ropes of blond hair, large captivating green eyes, and large breasts and curves in all the right places. He thought of having Maldie for wife, thought of her baring his children, thought of them growing old and dyeing together, and yet his mind balked at such a suggestion. The only person he could think of taking to wife was Charlotte, and yet that was ridiculous. She could not bear children, and even if she could it would be wrong to ask or demand that from her as his husband's right. No, he was doing this for both of them. He did not want a lonely life until he became an old bitter man, he wanted, no he needed rather a home filled once more with laughter and cheer. No matter how he regretted it, Charlotte could never give him that dream. Then what about her letter writing, a little part of his mind cried, she is not daft ye just dinna want tae believe it. He shook off the little insistent voice and turned to the door.
"It was nice getting to know ye lass," his voice came out harsher than he had intended it to and he winced. Some unexplained emotion seemed to be lodged in his chest, and he felt tears coming to his eyes. Tears"
"Ye wee daft softy," he muttered to himself as he silently ran through the passageways to awake Daniel, they needed to leave, now.
Charlotte picked up a boot and threw it at the closed door. The leather shoe bounced off the hard wood with a thunk, and landed on the floor rolling back and forth for a few seconds more as it's momentum carried it forward.
"Bastard!" her mind cried, and hurriedly she grabbed her carpet bags and pulled open the presses door.
She would not be left behind in this, in this pig whole! By god
she would not.
Her fingers ran through her garments. She did not have much, most of the gowns she had soan herself or some that Edwina had helped to soe for her. Hurriedly she shed her nightgown, pulled on a clean shift and grasped the first dress her hands fell upon. It was a woolen one with a high neckline and knitted skirts. A ugly thing she knew, because Edwina had professed the same opinion on countless of occasions, begging Charlotte to allow her to throw it away. The gown was an awful brown colour, and from experience, the gown itched profusely when warn for long periods of time. No matter, there was not to do about that now. Hurriedly she dawned the woolen dress, before taking out the contence of her meager word robe. She had a spare nightgown, four spare chemise's, ten curtles, seven other rather plane dresses and four tunics. She hurridly stuffed her clothing messally into one of the duffle bags, Then she reached under the bed and pulled out a large box. It was carved out of wood, with her name engraved in the front. The blacksmith had fashioned it for her when she was a little girl, and now it held her most dear possessions. Inside the box, were a few pieces of jewelry that she had managed to rescue that belonged to her mother before her father had ordered all her things to be burned. The only things he had saved was he wedding band that rested around her mother's finger, and a few ball gowns. The ball gowns went to his latest mistress, so that she could keep adorning herself in the latest fashion, while the ring he sold to the highest bidder. Charlotte remembered those dark days of despair, as she scurried through her mother's quarters, grabbing anything she recognized and taking it to her room. Over the years, aud things began appearing in her room, that she surmised the servants had placed their thinking that their former ladies' things would be safer in Charlotte's bedchamber than anywhere else they could think to hide them. The box also contained the little alphabet blocks, that she hoped she could give to her own children one day. She added other necessity's, like spare rags for the time of the month, bars of scented soap, and drying cloths for after bathing. Finally, she silently left the room with two bulging bags in toe, hoping she would not encounter anyone on her way out of the keep. The bags swished silently against the gray stone floor, and her horrid woolen skirts brushed the tops of her plane boots. She quietly descended the stairs, wondering where she ought to go from here. Even if she managed to find Connor in time, she couldn't guarantee that he would change his mind and take her with him. He could easily enough just toss her aside like so many others had. Even if he would not take her with him, she would find a way to get to the highlands, and keep asking him until he would relent. She did not think she would mind if he married another woman instead of her and treated her more a a servant, at least there she would have a blank slate. There she could start a new life, despite what roll she would play in the new life, as servant or his lady.
She suddenly heard the quiet tread of footsteps coming from the
floor below, and quickly ducked into a doorway. She heard the
soft breathing of the person in the room behind her and tried to
remember which of her brothers this room belonged to. She
listened as the footsteps, clearly a woman's climbed quickly up
the staircase and passed where she stood in the shadows. Just as
she thought she would escape notice and was beginning to relax,
the woman's foot caught upon one of her bags and she almost
"Mother Mary, tis pitch black in here!" the woman exclaimed and Charlotte's breath left her on a whoosh of relief. It was Edwina!
Hurriedly she stepped out of the shadows and grasped onto her maid's arm as she passed. Edwina stifled a scream and quickly turned to confront her.
"Who's there? Please let go of me."
Charlotte bit her lower lip. It was to dark in the hall for Edwina to be able to make out her features, and if she remained silent she did not think that Edwina would know who she was. Trying to squosh the fear that was building in her stomach she opened her mouth and truly spoke for the first time in years.
"Tis I, Edwina." Her breath hitched at the pain that exploded through her vocal cords. Her throat immediately became sore after speaking, and her voice sounded raspy and distorted from lack of use. Something clattered to the hard stone floor, and it must have had something in it because liquid soaked the hem of her skirts.
"Tis who? Who are you. Please, come into the light where I may see ye better."
"Tis…" Charlotte felt her voice beginning to fail her and cleared her throat. She did not have time for this. For all she knew, Connor and his men could be gone by now.
"Tis me Charlotte, Lady Charlotte." She did not feel like a lady, most days she completely forgot her rightful title. It was only used in political gain anyway, and what had her supposed title gained her anyway, a place in hell, perhaps.
"Charlotte?" Edwina sounded faint, and she tightened her grip on her arm in case she was to swoon. She truly hoped she would not, as she did not have smelling salts on hand. Edwina dragged her in front of two large closely set windows, where the night's moon shown through into the hall.
"It is you! Oh mother Mary I feel faint." And with saying so she crumpled to the floor. Charlotte groaned as she knelt beside her maid.
"I had rather hoped that you would not swoon," she whispered irritably as she gently shook Edwina. The maid did not stir nor showed any sign of waking.
"Edwina, don't fale me now," she thought angrily. Her hand encountered the glass dish that Edwina had held, it was empty now. But she supposed that Edwina had been going up to feed the cat that had called the keep it's home. Charlotte had petted the annoying beast on many occasions. It wasn't that she hated cats, truth be told she loved the adorable creatures, but sir whiskers as all the servants tended to call him was as grumpy as a cat could get. Perhaps worse. Why Edwina even bothered to feed him was beyond her. At least someone was being charitable, she certainly was not. She sat back upon her haunches waying her options. She could just leave Edwina here, but she supposed that would be beyond rude considering all that the girl had done for her. She could not go after Connor in the knowledge that she had left Edwina, prone and helpless upon the floor. She side. She knew that by now, Connor no doubt had gathered his men and was out of their keep and on his marry way towards Scotland. No, it would not help her if she blindly went after him, with no sense of direction or knowledge where he had gone. It would be better, she reasoned to wait until Edwina awakened and ask her assistance in the matter. She just hoped that the maid would comply with her wishes. She splayed her ugly skirts about her and crossed her legs, resigned for a long wait.
"Connor, what has got into ye?" Connor ignored Daniel as he rode up beside him. What has gotten into him indeed, guilt, that's what.
"I would think that you would be happy to leave this horrid keep behind."
"Weel, it certainly does not look like it."
"How does it look, then?"
"Like yer pining over something, or someone." Daniel leaned in close causing his stallion to rear up in surprise.
"Dammit Daniel, ye nearly gave me heart palpitations."
"My apologies. But as I was saying…"
"I dinna care what it is that yer saying," Connor snapped and proved his irritation when one fist relinquished the ranes long enough to clip Daniel's ear. He grinned in satisfaction when his friend winced and gingerly probed the appendage with his fingers.
"What are ye drying to accomplish man, trying to lob me ear off."
Connor did not answer, just stared off in the distance as his horses hooves plowed a cloud of dust in his wake.
They were in the southernmost part of England, and would be at the Scottish border in a few hours or so. He missed the rugged appearance of his beloved highlands, not like this peaceful atmosphere. Perhaps, he noted with a wry smile, men's personalities were formed by their homelands. While Scotland was rugged and wild in appearance, England seemed a baby in comparison, with its gently rising hills and soft plateaus, and certainly their personalities matched the land they lived upon. While the scots were brave ready for any fight and would face it head on, the English preferred to kill in the dead of night. They preferred to strike quickly and fast, trying to rush and win battles with their sheer numbers of men, thinking that they could defeat the scots by their mear size. The problem was, that unlike the English, the scots took battle quite seriously, and were trained with years of practice while the English were poorly trained. Yes, although he was loathed to admit it, English lands were quite lovely in a gentile sort of way, if one liked that sort of beauty, but he would feel much more at home when he was faced with the rugged mountains of his Scotland.
He was bone tired, as for the three days when he was traveling to this accursed country, he had only managed to close his eyes for a few hours, to preoccupied with thoughts over what sort of a woman his bride would be. Guilt stabbed through him when he thought about Charlotte. He had left her in the wolves den, so to speak. He knew the character of her father, and yet he still left her there, in that hell hole. What an ass he was, a true and utter dumbass.
Surely she would think him callas as her father, perhaps worse. He turned in his saddle, determined to do what was right. He would not spend the rest of his life with another guilt adding it's heavy wait upon his shoulders. He had so much guilt stored up as it was, he did not need yet another one to add to the pile.
"Daniel," he called to his second in command. Daniel broke away from the cluster of horses and men he had been riding with and wove his way through trotting animals to his side.
"Take the rest of the men home. I hope to join ye there shortly."
Daniel's mouth fell open, and the piece of bread he had been eating fell out of his mouth and landed upon his tunic.
"Dinna ask questions, just do as I say."
Reluctantly Daniel nodded, taking the lead and muttering something about mule headed lairds. Connor swung his horses head to the west, and kicked the sides of the animal breaking into a gallop. He had only been gone for slightly over a half an hour, he was positive that he could return before dawn broke, Collect Charlotte and meet up with the rest of his men when they made camp for the night upon Scottish soil. He would be extremely tired, but he knew that he could do it, that is, if Charlotte chose to cooperate. God he hoped she would. His horses hooves ate up the ground as he ran with long strides back to the keep that had brought him so many nightmares over the past five years. He did not know what it had looked like, but in his dreams it was a tall imposing building with colorless gray walls and skeletal like men. In his dreams, he would watch when a thin gaunt woman would be brought up from the dungeons, with drool hanging from her mouth, a very daft dangerous woman that he would be forced to wed. He was sure, however, that Charlotte would ne'er harm a fly let along a full groan person. He reached into his sporen and pulled out a flask of whisky, and a slice of stale bread. He munched upon the bread, and downed the dry lumpy concoction with the burning alcohol that made a path of fire down his throat. He drank deeply and was sad when the last drop poured into his cavernous throat. With a sigh, he replaced the flask in his sporen and briefly leaned his head against the pommel. He just wanted all of this to be over. He just wanted to go home, wanted to see his sister's smiling face, even wanted to see his mother who still blamed him for his fathers and Robbie's deaths. He did not want to think on what Deidra would think if Daniel returned with his men, without him their laird leading them in through the gates. He didn't want to be a cause of more heartache, did not want to leave his clan helpless. He took his head off the pomle, knowing that there would be no complications. He had seen the security that Clarkton had, which was nun existent. He was finally brought out of his thoughts by his tight protesting bladder. He rode for a few minutes more, but finally realized that his bladder would most likely burst if he did not relieve himself. Pulling hard upon the rains, he swung his legs over the side of his horse and slid to the ground before his horse had fully stopped running. He made his way to the pushes that grew at the side of the path, and burrowed his way into them, glancing around for any while animals or drunks nearby. It was quite common to see a drunk passed out in the shelter of these trees. Seeing no one, he let down his guard for a moment, pulling down his trews and squatting in the underbrush. The tension released from his bladder as he watered the greenery, and a relieved sigh escaped his mouth. The sudden snap of a branch was the only thing that alerted him to danger. Before he could reach for his durk, a sword was pressed to his throat.
"I wouldn't move, if I were you." A low voice spoke in his ear, and the sword was pressed harder against his flesh, drawing a few specks of blood. Connor sat perfectly still, still continuing to water the greenery, he might as well finish emptying his bladder as it did not look like the men were going anywhere anytime soon.
"Now gentlemen," he said reasonably.
"Where no gentlemen dumbass," the man pressing his sword to his neck growled. "We're soldiers, and ye'er coming with us."
Weel bloody hell…Was Connor's last coherent thought before something hard struck the back of his head and he did a face plant into the shrubbery.