In Bed with a Highlander Page 38

Alarm beat in Mairin’s chest as she settled more comfortably in the chair. Her hands shook and she hid them in the folds of her skirts so as not to betray her unease.

“I do hope His Majesty’s ailment is not serious,” she said politely. “I had looked forward to making the acquaintance of my only blood relative.”

“That’s not entirely accurate,” Archibald said. “I am the king’s cousin, so that makes us related by blood.”

“Aye, of course,” she murmured.

“I would ask that you wait here, cousin, until you are summoned to the great hall. I will, of course, provide refreshment. You’ll want for nothing during your confinement.”

cousin, and then his casual reference to confinement, made the hairs on Mairin’s nape prickle. Still, he viewed her kindly and seemed genuinely concerned over her well-being, so she smiled and offered her thanks.

“I would speak to you, if permissible, about the matter before you, my lord.”

He patted her arm. “ ’Tis not necessary, dear lady. I am sure the experience has been trying enough and ’tis my duty to get to the bottom of it by hearing both men’s accounts. I assure you, I will have the right of it.”

She had to force herself not to argue. The last thing she wanted was to anger the man who held her life in his hands.

“Now, if you will excuse me, I must make my way to the great hall and summon the lairds to bear testimony. I will, of course, call for you when they are ready.”

She nodded and clenched her hands together in her lap. As the king’s cousin left the room, she offered a fervent prayer that justice would prevail this day and that Duncan Cameron would be consigned to hell where he belonged.

Ewan stood outside the great hall with his brothers and commanders and awaited his summons. Down aways stood Duncan Cameron with his men, and it took all Ewan had to not launch himself at the man and kill him on the spot.

Cameron was summoned first, and he walked by Ewan with a look of smug satisfaction. It wasn’t just the snideness that bothered Ewan. It was the supreme confidence in both look and manner. Cameron was a man who feared not the outcome of today’s hearing.

Caelen put his hand on Ewan’s shoulder. “No matter what happens, we’re with you, Ewan.”

Ewan nodded his appreciation, then he murmured in a low voice that only his brothers could hear. “If things go badly, I want you to leave the hearing, find Mairin, and take her from the castle. Her safety is the most important thing. Whatever you have to do to secure her, do it.”

Alaric nodded his understanding.

Next, Ewan was called to make his appearance and he walked into the hall, his brothers shoulder to shoulder behind him. He knew his warriors made an impressive sight. They were larger, more muscled, more fierce looking than any other warriors in attendance.

They stalked down the cleared path in the middle of the hall to the dais where Archibald sat in David’s throne. The hall was packed full of people, all insatiably curious as to how the king would rule.

Excited murmurs greeted Ewan’s entrance, and his brothers and commanders got many a scrutinizing look from the other soldiers present.

At the front of the assembled people, Ewan stood on the left side of the hall and Cameron stood on the right as they awaited David’s arrival.

Instead of the king’s arrival, soldiers filled the room, lining the pathway to the dais so that everyone was contained behind the line of warriors. More soldiers filled the front of theight="0eom, surrounding the dais and standing in a firm line in front of Archibald.

Ewan frowned. It was as if they expected a battle.

And then his wife entered the hall, flanked by David’s soldiers. She slowly made her way up the aisle toward the dais where Archibald watched her approach. He gestured for her to take the position on his right and she gracefully sank into the seat. Her gaze instantly found Ewan’s, and no one in the room could discount the instant flash of emotion that arced like a bolt of lightning between them.

Archibald held his hands up and addressed the assembled crowd. “His Majesty, King David, is indisposed this day. He is ill and our prayers should be with our king in his time of need. He has asked that I preside over today’s hearing and that my word be received as his.”

Ewan turned sharply to his brothers to see the same incredulity etched on their faces as was on his. This was wrong. It was all wrong. Ewan curled his fingers into fists and glanced over at Duncan, who only had eyes for Mairin.

“Laird Cameron, you’ve leveled serious charges against Laird McCabe. Come forward. I would hear all from the beginning.”

Duncan walked confidently toward the dais and bowed low before Lord Archibald.

“Mairin Stuart arrived at Cameron Keep from Kilkirken Abby, where we were married by the priest who has tended to the souls of my clan for two score years. I have a letter written from him to the king attesting to this fact.”

Ewan’s eyes narrowed in outrage that a man of God would be a willing party to this deception. Duncan handed over the scroll to Archibald, who unrolled and read it before setting it aside.

“Our marriage was consummated.” Duncan pulled from the pouch that hung at his side the sheet bearing Mairin’s bloodstain. “I offer this as proof.”

Ewan’s fists clenched in rage. Aye, the blood was Mairin’s blood. It was the sheet that Ewan had ordered Cameron’s man to bear back to his laird, the proof that Ewan and Mairin’s marriage had been consummated. The sheet that Duncan now offered as proof of his bedding of Mairin.

Archibald turned to Mairin, whose face was as pale as death, her gaze fastened on the sheet. She looked up at Ewan in bewilderment, and Ewan closed his eyes.

“Can you attest to the fact that the blood on the sheet is yours, Lady Mairin? Do you recognize the linen?”

Her cheeks colored and she looked at Lord Archibald, clearly unsure as to how to proceed.

“I would have your answer,” Archibald prompted.

“Aye,” she said, her voice cracking. “ ’Tis my blood, but ’tis not Duncan Cameron’s sheet. ’Tis from the bed of—”

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“That is all I require,” Archibald said, slicing his hand in the air to silence Mairin.heet that 1C;I require an answer, nothing more. Be silent until I’ve given you permission to speak again.”

Fury settled in Ewan’s chest, boiling, at the manner in which Archibald addressed Mairin. He showed her blatant disrespect as both the wife of a laird and cousin to the king.

She looked as though she’d argue, but Ewan caught her gaze and quickly shook his head. He had no desire for her to be punished for speaking out in the king’s court. The punishment for such was steep, and more so for a woman daring to speak out.

She bit her lip and looked away, but not before Ewan saw the rage in her eyes.

“What happened next?” Archibald asked Cameron.

“Mere days after my marriage to Lady Mairin, she was abducted from my keep by men acting under Laird McCabe’s orders. She was taken from me to where she has remained, on McCabe lands. The child she carries is mine. Laird McCabe has no claim. Our marriage is valid. He has kept her prisoner and forced her to his will. I ask for his majesty’s intervention so that my lady wife and my child are returned to me and her dowry is released to me as requested in my missive to the king informing him of our marriage months past.”

Mairin gasped at the accusations that spilled from Duncan’s lips. Ewan started forward, but Caelen gripped his arm and held him back.

“Cousin, please,” Mairin pleaded. “Let me be heard.”

“Silence!” Archibald roared. “If you cannot hold your tongue, woman, I will have you removed from this hall.”

He turned back to Duncan. “Have you witnesses who support your accounting of what happened?”

“You have the statement from the priest who wed us. That predates any claim Laird McCabe makes on Mairin, her dowry, or her lands.”

Archibald nodded and then turned his cool stare to Ewan. “What say you to these claims, Laird McCabe?”

“ ’Tis complete and utter horseshit,” Ewan said calmly.

Archibald’s brows drew together and his cheeks reddened. “You will hold a civil tongue in your head, Laird. You would not speak thusly to the king, and you will not speak in my presence as such.”

“I can only speak the truth, my lord. Laird Cameron speaks falsely. He stole Mairin Stuart from the abbey where she’d taken refuge for the last ten years. When she refused to wed him, he beat her so badly that she could barely walk for days afterward, and she wore the bruises for an entire fortnight.”

The hall broke into a series of murmurs. The buzz rose and grew louder until Archibald shouted for order.

“What proof do you offer?” Archibald asked.

“I saw the bruises. I saw the fear in her eyes when she arrived on my lands, that I would trea her as she was treated by Cameron. My brother Alaric tended her for the three-day journey from where he found her after she escaped Cameron’s clutches until they arrived on McCabe land. He, too, saw the bruises and witnessed the pain that the lass endured.

“We were married a few days after her arrival. She came to my bed pure and her virgin’s blood was spilled on my sheet, the one that Cameron has offered to you this day. The child she carries is mine. She has known no other man.”

Archibald leaned back in his seat, his fingers pressing together in a V as he surveyed the two men in front of him. “You give a very different accounting than Laird Cameron. Have you witnesses who can speak as to the veracity of your words?”

Ewan’s teeth snapped together in a snarl. “I have given you the right of it. I need no witness to verify my claim. If you want to ask someone, ask my wife. She will tell you exactly what I have told you.”

“I would speak, my lord.”

Ewan turned, surprised to see Diormid step forward, his gaze focused on Lord Archibald.

“And who are you?” Archibald demanded.

“I am Diormid. I have commanded under Laird McCabe five years past. I am among his most trusted men, and I myself was charged with the safety of Lady Mairin on many occasions after her arrival on McCabe land.”

“Very well, approach and give your accounting.”

Ewan glanced back at Gannon, who shook his head at Ewan’s silent question. Diormid stepping forward wasn’t at Gannon’s instigation. Ewan had instructed them to say or do nothing during the hearing.

“I have no knowledge of what transpired before the lady Mairin arrived on McCabe land. I can only speak as to the events that transpired afterward. ’Tis the truth that she was sorely mistreated under Laird McCabe’s hand. He guarded her jealously and, ’tis the truth, she was most unhappy during her time at McCabe Keep. I witnessed her tears on more than one occasion.”

A gasp went up from the crowd. Ewan saw a haze of red that buzzed in his ears and clouded his eyes. Bloodlust hit him so hard. He’d never wanted to kill another man as much as he wanted to kill Diormid at that moment.

Ewan’s brothers were equally furious. Gannon and Cormac looked horrified by Diormid’s calm recitation of blatant lies.

“During the time she was on McCabe land, she was shot at by an archer and poisoned. She nearly died. It should also be noted that the priest who was called to marry the laird and Lady Mairin died under suspicious circumstances less than a fortnight ago.”

Ewan could stand no more. His roar shook the entire room as he lunged for Diormid. Mairin screamed his name. His brothers dove after him. Chaos reigned as the king’s soldiers leaped in to separate the two men. It took seven of the guards to pry Ewan away from Diormid.

“How could you betray us this way?” Ewan demanded as he was hauled back from Diormid. “How could you stand before God and king and give false witness to events you know to be untrue? May God consign you to hell for this sin. You have betrayed me. You have betrayed Lady McCabe. You have betrayed your clan. And for what? A bit of coin from Duncan Cameron?”

Diormid refused to meet Ewan’s gaze. He wiped the blood from his mouth where Ewan had struck him and turned to face Archibald. “ ’Tis as I have said, as God is my witness.”

“You lie!” Ewan roared.

Duncan Cameron moved to stand by Mairin’s side. Her eyes were haunted and fixed on Diormid. Her hand covered her mouth that was agape with shock.

“This is disturbing,” Archibald declared. “You will restrain yourself, Laird McCabe, or I’ll have you taken to the dungeon.”

When Duncan put his hand on Mairin’s shoulder, Ewan erupted again. “Don’t you touch her!”

“I would protect my wife from Laird McCabe’s outburst,” Duncan said to Archibald. “Allow me to take her away from this.”

Archibald held up his hand. “I believe I’ve heard enough to render judgment in this matter. I rule in Laird Cameron’s favor. He is free to take his wife and return to his lands. The dowry entrusted to the crown until Mairin Stuart weds will be released to Laird Cameron and taken to his lands under palace guard.”

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