No, Graeme wasn’t sorry that the marriage hadn’t taken place. He knew that McHugh would use his position with Armstrong to feed the fury against the Montgomerys. McHugh wanted more land, more power, and the Montgomery holding was a thorn in his side because they had him boxed in to the north.
But now he was going to be saddled with a woman he knew next to nothing about? It was bad enough she was addled and couldn’t perform as a wife, but she was an Armstrong, which meant no matter if she was the most perfect woman in all of the highlands, Graeme wanted nothing to do with her.
When he married, it would be to a lass of his own clan. He’d never marry someone who would bring danger, anger, and dissension to his people. And Eveline Armstrong would certainly do just that.
The small whisper came from the doorway, and some of his anger and tension fled as his sister, Rorie, peered in, her expression anxious.
“What is it, sweeting?” he asked, motioning her forward.
Rorie was fifteen winters, but she was behind most other lasses her age. While most had found their womanly shapes and had grown breasts, Rorie was still thin and slight, and were it not for her startling beautiful green eyes and the delicate femininity of her face, she could well pass for a lad.
With three older brothers, one would think she would have grown up able to take on anything, but she was extremely shy, quieter than any lass of his acquaintance. Except around him and his brothers. With them she was bossy, demanding, and impish. She mostly avoided the rest of the clan and preferred to go her own way.
“Is it true what Bowen said?”
She was but a few feet away now, standing in front of the table where he sat, his hands still clenched into fists as they rested on the wooden surface.
“Are you marrying an Armstrong?”
He searched her expression for fear because he’d do anything to soothe her worries. Losing their father had been especially difficult for her because she had been his da’s treasure. She more than any of them viewed the Armstrongs as monsters.
But all he saw was a troubled, worried look in her expressive eyes.
“ ’Tis what the king has decreed.”
She frowned. “But why? Why would he do such a thing?”
“It’s not your place to question his dictates,” he said with no heat. He couldn’t reprimand her for such a lack of respect when he himself questioned the very thing.
“They killed Da,” she said emphatically. “How can there ever be peace between us? How could the king believe that forcing a marriage between you and one of them would solve anything?”
“Shhh,” he said gently. “Enough, Rorie. We’ve been summoned to the Armstrongs and there we’ll go.”
Her look of horror was instantaneous. “Go there? To their lands? Where they could kill us all? Why can’t they come here? Why are we the ones who must sacrifice everything? Have they done something to gain the king’s favor?”
For a moment Graeme smiled, finding amusement in her statement. “It’s not likely they feel that handing their daughter over to me in marriage is the result of gaining his favor. I doubt they have any more liking for the matter than we do.”
“ ’Tis said she’s touched,” Rorie asserted.
Graeme sighed. “I guess we’ll find out at the wedding, now won’t we?”
Just then, Teague’s bellow could be heard down the hallway. “Graeme! God’s teeth, where are you?”
Graeme sighed again. Rorie spared a slight smile and turned just as Teague burst through the door, sweat and blood caked on his body.
“Tell me it isn’t true,” Teague spat.
“You left training to ask if what Bowen told you was truth?” Graeme asked. “Are you suggesting he would lie to you and that you should leave your duties to question me on such a thing?”
Teague scowled and started to say something, but stopped, only just now realizing Rorie was in attendance. He clamped his lips shut, then glanced down at the blood covering him.
Rorie was … well, she was different. To most of the women of their clan, blood, violence, battle … It was all a way of life. As normal as eating and sleeping. But Rorie was sensitive to such things. The sight of blood made her go pale, and she hated to hear any sounds of pain or violence.