“Look at her, Robina. She doesn’t even understand,” Tavis said, raising his hand in a slicing motion toward Eveline.
“You’ll not say a word against her,” Robina said, her expression so fierce that Eveline knew she must have said the words just as fiercely. “She is a sweet and good girl. She’s not daft. She can sew beautifully. She has basic understanding of things. She’s helpful to the clansmen, and she always has a smile for everyone. That monster will crush her.”
“I am not disparaging her,” Tavis roared. And this time, Eveline knew he had roared because she could feel the vibrations, but also, there were certain sounds—not many—that she could actually hear.
Deep-timbred voices. Nothing high or shrill. Nothing normal or monotone. But every once in a while, she experienced fleeting hearing.
“I love her as much as you, Robina. Do you think I want to give my daughter in marriage to my sworn blood enemy?”
Her mother took a step back and put a knotted fist to her mouth. Her father advanced on her, his face purpled with rage.
“I don’t have a choice. To go against my king is to sign all our death warrants. We’ll be branded outlaws, and any mercenary wanting to gain a purse will come after our heads.”
“God help us all,” Robina said, her face crumpling, her eyes so stricken that it hurt Eveline to look at her.
Her brothers had remained quiet. Perhaps they had no opinion or, more likely, they were loath to step in between their parents when emotions ran so high.
But Eveline couldn’t allow them to torment themselves so. If she was meant to be the token sacrifice in an effort to stop the clans from warring, then her fate was sealed, and there was little to be done. She didn’t want her family to suffer so much anguish.
She took a step forward, slipped her hand into her father’s. He blinked in surprise and made an obvious effort to temper his emotions as he stared down at her solemn face.
And then she smiled and leaned up to kiss his cheek. She patted his shoulder as if to tell him it was all right.
His entire face softened, but the sadness in his eyes grew. He looked suddenly so much older, his skin grayer and his shoulders slumped in a way she’d never seen her warrior father stand.
He put his hand around the back of her head and drew her toward him to press a kiss against her forehead. She could feel him speaking against her flesh, but didn’t want to jerk away so she could see what it was he said.
When he finally did pull away, his lips were moving and she strained to catch up.
“… sweet lass. You’ve always been. You’re my heart, Eveline, and damn the king for taking my heart away from me.”
She turned to her mother, but before she could kiss her cheek as she’d done her father, Robina swept her into her arms, hugging her fiercely.
Her mother was devastated, and Eveline was at a loss as to how to console her. How could she when she was still in shock herself?
It had never occurred to her that she would still marry or be expected to perform as any other normal woman. She’d effectively hidden behind her deafness, using it as a shield. A lie. Deception.
Oh, those were horrible words and they made her feel terribly guilty. She wanted to close her eyes so she could read nothing further from anyone’s lips.
The floor jumped beneath Eveline’s feet, and she turned before the others did to see who would appear at the doorway of the great hall.
“A message, Laird,” Niall said as he strode forward.
His expression was intense, and his body language screamed that this was important. In his hand was a scroll, but Eveline couldn’t see the seal to know whom it may be from. Was it another message from the king?
“ ’Tis from Laird Montgomery.” Niall’s lips curled in distaste as he spoke the words. “I wouldn’t allow his representative in and instead bore his message inside to you.”
Aiden rose from his seat, his lips twisted into a snarl as he came to stand beside his father. Brodie stepped closer to his mother and Eveline as if seeking to protect them from whatever would be unveiled in the missive.
Tavis broke the seal, pulled the scroll downward, and scanned the contents, his frown deepening all the more as his gaze drifted lower.