No one ate the next morning. It was somber and exhausting to realize that today was the day Evey should have been getting dressed in her bride’s outfit; however, instead they were packing up to leave at noon. Evey wore her simple blue dress instead of the brilliant white she had ordered so many moons ago.
Everyone was at the table in the dining hall, quiet. Some were eating, some were picking at the food, some were drinking, but the few most effected just stared at their plate. Evey didn’t sleep well at all, but the shadows under her eyes did not match Magnus’. Vailean was silent and looked weary, but not as worn out as the other two.
Where had he gone after all was said and done? Did he go to the servants’ hall to find Annis? Did they curl up in a tower or, worse, a bed somewhere and whisper their plans to marry now that he was free? Or did Vailean just go to bed, silent and contemplating?
Helena stood suddenly. She cleared her throat and spoke steadily, “If it is acceptable, my husband and I would like a word with the Macintosh clan. Evey, please stay seated.”
Though startled, those that were not Magnus, Vailean, Evey, Helena, and her husband left the room. Evey watched her mother keep standing, trying her best not to glance over at either of the Macintosh men. She was still angry, still upset at what they had done. The crying fit she had shared with Magnus last night soothed her some, but the reality kept striking her that she was damned. It was exhausting to be reminded every few minutes that she would soon be on a boat back to her homeland.
And why? Because the Duchess discovered the truth, discovered the trickery that happened a while back. It wasn’t fair, Evey thought for the twentieth time. Vailean had failed to get Merida’s hand…what did it matter if they married now, when Vailean was free? Well, as free as one can get with a commoner as a mistress. But one’s word was their word, she knew, and it meant volumes in the realm of building bridges.
Once the doors were shut, everyone stood and gathered around Helena’s table. She stood tall and looked amongst the trio before sighing. “When our children were born, the late Lady Macintosh reached across the ocean to set up her son’s betrothal in England. Between us, we drew up a contract. In summary, the betrothal would be between the Macintosh family and the Elward family. It had several clauses in it, ranging from striking to loyalty. One part of the contract stated that if either were to court another, the contract would be null and void.
“Lord Macintosh, you broke the betrothal between young Vailean and Evey when you had him try for the Princess’ hand. We are allowed then to take back our land, dowry, and most importantly, our daughter; we are allowed to have our daughter marry another noble family.” A look of pain flashed across both Evey’s and Magnus’ face.
The Duchess carried on, “However, it is a waste of time, resources, and effort to have Evey sent anywhere else. After spending so many months in Scotland preparing to marry into the clan, it would be pointless to try and recreate a fresh start where there is none now. Yet…she cannot marry Vailean. It would be disrespecting the contract that the late Lady Macintosh created. More to the point, young Vailean has another in mind for the position of his wife.
“This leaves only one possible, logical option for all parties involved: LordMacintosh.”
Everyone looked at Magnus, a brief moment of silence in which everyone tried to process what had been proposed. The Duchess had effectively broken off the contract with Vailean only to tie her daughter Evey to Magnus. Once everyone understood this, Magnus spoke, “I…don’t think I quite understand, Duchess Elward.” He muttered with his eyes on the older woman and not on Evey. “I cannot marry again – I cannot marry Evey. My wife only just passed!”
Evey swallowed dryly, her grip on the table tight enough to leave an indent of her nails. Within the past twenty-four hours, she had had her heart broken…now it was shattered from Magnus’ words. She thought they were friends; they had certainly been enjoyable company to each other. What happened?
The woman smirked, actually smirked! When those at the table looked properly confused, she said smoothly, “While I do not mean to disrespect Peigi’s memory, it has been over a decade since your wife passed.”
“You forget, it is quite common in this time for youth to marry wisdom.”
“I do not…see her in that light.”
The English woman’s eyes softened as she spoke, “Lord Macintosh, you are either a fool or a liar – surely you cannot be a liar. I have seen how you look at my daughter and how she looks at you. I have witnessed the intimate moment of comforting from the shadows…you do have feelings for her, the same, I would wager, that she has towards you.”
Finally Evey and Magnus looked at each other. It felt like no one else was there with them as if realizing the truth just now. Both of their faces turned comically red and their gazes shy. When they said nothing, the Duchess stood. “We will leave you to ponder the offer to save the dowry and the lands, Lord Macintosh.”
When the room was clear except for Evey and Magnus, they finally moved. They shifted and stood, their eyes locked. What could they say? Evey’s mother had just taken away Vailean and asked/offered Magnus, berated him for failing to see how they felt towards each other…all in one breath. Evey clasped her hands together, trying to stop the shaking that was all too visible. “It…seems I have been offered a way to stay in this beautiful land.” She tried to sound casual and diplomatic about it.
Macintosh cleared his throat, his own hand trembling. “How English of ya.” He tried to make light of it, poking fun at her stereotype while he lived up to his own. “I must be honest, I haven’t looked at another woman in that way since…well, since Pigiet. Now the Duchess is tryin’ to replace my son…with me.” There was silence between, hearing it spoken heavy enough. “Ya deserve better.” His shoulders had sagged slightly, that tired look in his eyes came back full force. It was rare to see Macintosh so exhausted, so defeated; Evey’s heart ached from it. “Ya deserve a young lad to give ya a lifetime of children and love. When I first saw ya get off the ship til now, helpin’ you as I could…I was makin’ you comfortable here. Foreign land, it is terrifyin’. I never thought anythin’ more.”
Evey gave a weak smile, her eyes wet from tears. This was just too much to take in. First she was told Vailean had broken the contract, that she would have to go home unmarried, and now she was offered another way to stay…and marry the man who was trying to keep her at arm’s length. The man who had said just last night that she didn’t have to leave if she didn’t want to, he was fighting it, fighting her.
“My lord…I…” she didn’t know what to say. “Vailean is…a grand man. He was raised well, but he was never meant to be my husband; he loves Annis. I have often wondered and longed for a husband that I heard you were to your Lady. Vailean could never be that, but I was okay with it. And now…now I…” she rubbed her face, leaning against the desk. “Magnus, you…don’t you feel it? The butterflies in your stomach when we see each other? Haven’t you ever caught yourself thinking, dreaming of me when you thought you shouldn’t? Surely even you have replayed so many of our moments together in your mind! I have wondered about what this all means for many months…and now here is the answer.”
Whether or not Magnus had the same experience as Evey was not said. Instead, he spoke with a louder, though not firmer, voice. “Lady Elward, I must respectfully decline this offer. It isn’t proper.” He couldn’t look her in the eye, he was staring at the table as if it had an intrinsic design.
There it was again, the panic and hurt. This time it wasn’t at the idea of being sent back to England by the contract, but by Magnus. But she fought and beat the useless feelings down. Tears would not persuade him, it would merely guilt him and she didn’t want that. No, Evey wanted Magnus to come to the conclusion she had on his own volition.
They were getting nowhere. If Evey could not talk to Macintosh through emotions, she would try to get through to him by discussing the thing he had wanted with Vailean and Merida: land and money. “Magnus, I cannot…I cannot be like your late wife. I wish I could because that would ensure your never-ending love and devotion, something I would give all of England for. But since I do not have all of England to give, I would remind you of the land and the dowry you’ll get from having me in your clan.” It was a mess, she knew, but she couldn’t help but spill her guts and ask for wealth transactions at the same time.
A long pause passed between them before he took half a step closer, around the table. “Evey…I would never ask you to be anyone else but you. That includes trying to bargain yourself like…like an object.” He took another step closer. “Not when you have accepted me for every flaw. You have reminded me that there is more than just land and money, something I had forgotten before you arrived.”
“What…what are you saying, Magnus?” Evey looked up at him with wide eyes, fearful to hope. He stood before her and said nothing for the longest minute. She would have squirmed in the silence, but she was instead caught in his gaze.
He had had enough time to think. He had enough time to wrestle with himself – he had been doing so for months. To see that Evey was willing to try a new skin just for him to accept her, accept them…he kneeled in front of the Englishwoman. He took her hand, never losing her gaze.
“I’m sayin’…” his voice was a soft rumble, “Lady Evey, you have made it into my heart and my life in ways I couldn’t imagine before. Would you stay here and join the Macintosh clan?”
The intensity of his stare made her blush vividly, a flutter in both her heart and stomach. Had she not been sitting, she would have quite possibly swooned. Her head was nodding, her vision blurred slightly by her happy tears.
“My lord…it would be my utmost honor to be Lady Evey Macintosh.”
There’s MORE to come!
Stay tuned haha