That simple act of desperation had cost her more than she could have ever imagined. She had guided her horse on a path they’d trod many times, along a steep ravine where a river carved its way through, making a small canyon. When her horse had stumbled, she was thrown over his back and had plummeted down the ravine.
She had no clear recollection of what happened next, only of being scared and alone, her head aching vilely. And the cold. The bone-numbing cold and the passage of time.
She’d awakened in her chamber to a world of silence. She hadn’t understood, hadn’t known how to make her ailment known. Her throat was swollen and she suffered a fever for many long days. Even if she’d wanted to speak, the mere effort caused her too much pain and so she’d remained silent, bewildered by the quietness surrounding her.
Later, she would be made to understand that she’d lain close to death for over a fortnight. The healer had noted swelling of her head and had worried her fever was such that it had caused damage to her mind. Perhaps in the beginning, Eveline had believed her.
Then there were times when Eveline thought that losing her ability to hear was punishment for her fateful decision to rebel against her father. It had taken her a long time to adjust, and she was too shamed to tell her parents the truth. They’d looked at her with such disappointment and such devastation in their eyes, and perhaps she would have found the courage to tell them all and to explain to them that she could no longer hear, but then the McHughs had come to her father, demanding to know of Eveline’s condition.
Unable to gain assurance that Eveline was hale and hearty, Ian was quick to break off the betrothal, and who could blame him? Not even her father could find fault with a man who didn’t want a wife whose mental awareness was in question.
She hadn’t wanted to admit to having lost her hearing because she’d secretly hoped that it would be miraculously restored. One day she’d awaken and all would be well again.
It was a ridiculous notion, but she’d clung to that hope until it became clear that her apparent daftness was her salvation.
So the lie began. Not one spoken, but of omission. She allowed her family, her clan, to believe her affected by her accident because it protected her from the possibility of marriage to a man she despised and feared.
And it wasn’t one she could later rectify, because as long as Ian remained unmarried, were it to be discovered that her only fault was deafness, he could easily petition to have the betrothal reinstated.
It was a deception that grew and took on a life of its own, and the longer it went on, the more helpless she felt to correct it.
Only now it was all for naught because she’d traded one marriage to the devil’s son for the devil himself, and this time she was powerless to prevent it from happening.
She shuddered, pressed her forehead once again to her knees, and rocked back and forth.
Just the name struck fear in her heart.
The feud between her clan and his clan had existed for five decades. Eveline couldn’t even remember what had started the whole bloody disagreement, but bloody it had been. Graeme’s father had been killed by her grandfather, a fact that Graeme would never forgive.
The Montgomerys lived to harass, steal from, ambush, or spill the blood of any living Armstrong. Her father and brothers could swear no differently. They’d run a Montgomery through with a sword for no bigger sin than breathing.
None of it made sense to her, but then she was supposed to be a delicate little flower of a woman who had no head for such matters even when she was believed to be in her right mind.
She rubbed absently at her forehead, feeling one of her headaches coming on. They always started at the base of her skull and worked to behind her ears, pressure building until she wanted to scream for the pain.
But she couldn’t vocalize anything. She had no way to measure how loudly or softly she spoke. She wanted no one to know of her inability to hear. And so she remained solidly entombed by silence.
She felt rather than heard someone’s approach. Since the loss of her hearing, her other senses had heightened. It bewildered her, but she found especially that she could feel things more keenly. Almost as if she picked up the slightest vibrations in the air.