Anne Drummond turned toward the deerhound Bard as he growled and walked to the east facing window. Anne’s heart thudded against her stays and she knew the
great hound sensed her fear. Anne began to follow him as her maid Fiona said, “Hold still, or I’ll never get this lace right.”
“They must be coming. Bard senses them,” Anne said. “Hurry, go downstairs, see what he looks like, and come back! Take Bard with you. Let me be alone for a
moment to gather myself.”Fiona nodded and stood, arms crossed. “You look beautiful.”Anne gave an unladylike snort. “Go!”As she turned back to the window, she saw
horsemen coming through the screen of trees that marked the road from Fort William.
“The bridegroom cometh,” she muttered, trying to pick out the man who was her betrothed.
After the door shut, she looked again at the horsemen nearing Castle Caorann. Four-no five men, looking around as they rode, no one really leading. She clasped her
hands and wished she could pray. She promised herself she would show no emotion, no fear that would delight her grandfather who hated her for disgracing him, and
according to him, the entire Drummond clan.
She hoped this man, this member of the proscribed MacGregors, would not be too odious. But she was afraid, and she must be sure that MacGregor and her grandfather
would never know.And as far as the stranger went, the man who had come to marry her, she would meet him calmly, and hope that her dreams were wrong, that he would
not lead her people into war.
Two deerhounds, tall as ponies, burst through the open doors of Castle Caorann. Like gray shadows, they circled the nervous horses. As Niall MacGregor dismounted and
slapped the dust from his clothes, he noticed an old man standing in the doorway.
“Ye’ve come at last. I thought mayhap the British warships had captured you. I am Alasdair Drummond.”
MacGregor bowed. “Niall MacGregor. Your servant, sir. The winds were not in our favor. I bring you greetings from Lord John Drummond in France.”
He followed Alasdair Drummond through past the open ironbound door into the great hall of Caorann Castle.
“Fiona, send the trollop down!” Drummond bellowed.
A red haired girl, dust cloth in hand, fled up the staircase followed by one of the deerhounds that had come in with the men; the other hound stayed at Drummond’s side.
MacGregor, walking behind his host, looked around the great hall that would be his after his marriage to Drummond’s granddaughter.In spite of the August heat outside,
the ancient gray stones held the chill of winters past. Dust motes drifted in the sunlight from high windows, and his eye caught the movement of a tattered battle flag, so old the colors were shades of gray, hanging on the wall next to a crossed pair of claymores.
Drummond led the way into a room lined with bookshelves, casement windows opened to an enclosed garden. Sunlight fell softly on late roses, their scent coming to
MacGregor on a breeze from Loch Laggan. The hound followed them in and went to lie in front of the fireplace.
From a table near the door Alasdair Drummond took a decanter of whisky, pouring each of them a sizable drink. MacGregor examined the grandfather of his betrothed as
he took his glass.
The old man grinned slyly. “Our secret. The tax man has yet to find where we make our whisky. Fine, is it not?”
MacGregor nodded, inhaling the scent of peat smoke in the whisky.
Drummond was just short of six feet, his belly hanging over the belt of his trews, his yellowed, old fashioned wig askew. The old man’s red nose and cheeks showed years
of raw Highland weather, and, MacGregor suspected, a great deal of whisky. Drummond peered at him through a thicket of gray eyebrows.
The two men raised their glasses, toasting exiled King James Stuart, away in Rome.
“Shall we discuss our contract?” MacGregor asked.
Alasdair Drummond guffawed. “Yes, the land comes first, then the wench. I have over a thousand acres of land, the peninsula where Castle Caorann sits and to the top of
the hill above. Two more bits toward Loch Linnhe. Thirty families, the people tilling runrig fields and giving a share to me. And over a hundred men to fight for the Prince.”
Drummond drained his glass and poured more. “I have a good factor. He is a bit soft on our people at times, but honest, and he keeps a good tally of our animals.” The old
man eyed Niall. “I hold not more than 100 pounds a year, but few debts. Did Perth tell you I have more money? Well he lied,” he said.
He poured more whisky in his own glass, added a bit to MacGregor’s “You received her miniature?”
Niall had the small painting in his bag: a girl of eighteen, rather plain, with a strong face and heavy lidded, almond shaped eyes. He nodded.
“You were told, I’m sure, of her bein’ caught in the sheets with the Duke of Perth’s youngest brother? I kept her locked up here to make sure she wasn’t breeding.”
Drummond nudged the deerhound with his toe. “It’s easier lookin’ after this kind of bitch when she’s in heat.” Then Drummond laughed at his joke.
MacGregor eyed him. What sort of man would talk of his own kin that way? He turned to the door as he heard a rustle of skirts. A young woman in a yellow satin gown with
narrow hoops, white lace at the sleeves and a lace scarf at the modest neckline, walked in and curtseyed. He wondered if she had heard the old man.
Anne Drummond was nearly as tall as her grandfather, whom she passed as if he weren’t there. The hound that had trotted up the stairs now pressed against her, and Niall
saw her hand clutching the rough pelt, her knuckles white. The lace scarf at her bosom trembled as if her heart beat hard, but her steady look gave nothing away. Her hair,
nearly the same chestnut color as her eyes, was bound in a net at the nape of her neck, a few tendrils escaping.
“Well, MacGregor, do ye still want her after seein’ her? She’s no bargain, but the land will be yours.”
The girl stood silently, merely watching MacGregor as he gazed at her.
“Well, Mistress, do you speak? Have you agreed to our marriage?” MacGregor asked.
She opened her mouth, then shut it and cleared her throat. Before she could speak her grandfather gave a bark of laughter.
“I have heard from the Duke of Perth, girl,” said Drummond, “and young Hugh his brother will wed at Hogmanay. And you and your bridegroom will be there to wish him well.”
Anne Drummond swallowed and bit her lip.
“Ah, news to ye. Ye didn’t think Perth would wed his heir to you? Not after seein’ you act the strumpet.”
Looking directly at Niall MacGregor, Anne Drummond said, “Sir, I have agreed to the marriage.” Her husky voice quavered but her face was a calm mask.
The old man gave a disgusted snort, slammed down his glass and told MacGregor, “She’s yours then. I have things to see to.” He motioned to his hound and they left the
room, Drummond calling over his shoulder, “I’ll be nearby when you’re through here. D’ye wish a chaperone, lass, tae keep yer reputation intact?” His booming laughter
followed him into the hall.
In the silence that followed after, MacGregor looked around. “A pleasant room.”
“It is part of the original tower, 300 years or more, when our family first came here. All the rest was added over the years, first the addition in front, then years later the
back wing.” She walked to the window, the hound following. MacGregor caught a scent of lavender as she passed him.
“My father built the walled garden for my mother.” When she turned back to him, sunlight shown for a moment on her face.
“A fine library. Do you read?” he asked.
“I read. I have done a great deal of reading this past twelvemonth.” Her hound stretched out with a noisy sigh, laying his head on one of her feet. She seemed nervous,
looking at MacGregor then away, her hands clasped tightly together.
Anne Drummond cleared her throat; when she spoke, her words seemed rehearsed.“Master MacGregor, I am not averse to our marriage, if you have no very bad habits
save your support of King James Stuart. I dislike the Stuarts as much as I do the Hanovers. The Stuarts tried in 1715 to take the throne and failed, to the sorrow of many
widows left behind. The Hanovers are cold and cruel, and they will take revenge.”
He interrupted. “I work for the Stuart cause. For two years I have been with Prince Charles in Italy and France. Before that, I was in the court of King James
in Rome. I will continue my work. The Stuarts will be on the Scottish throne within a year.”
As if he hadn’t spoken, Anne said, “I could not make a more advantageous marriage now because of my disgrace. The Duke of Perth has chosen you, and as he is chief of
our clan, I honor his wish, although I do have the right to refuse .” She turned again, looking out at the garden. “ But this is my land and they are my people. They depend on
me, not on my grandfather.”
He moved so he could see her expression.
Anne raised her chin and said coolly, “In all honesty I must tell you that I still love Hugh Drummond. But as I will be responsible for the people of Caorann after my
grandfather’s death, I can only hope that your plans do not endanger this clan.”
“Ah. In all honesty. Well, as long as I don’t find a cuckoo in my nest, I suppose I shall be able to make do with what you offer. But I warn you, Madam, I will make sure that
you do not threaten the Jacobite cause.”
He saw a brief flare of anger on her face. Then she nodded. “Good, then. We agree. Come, Bard.”
The hound stood, stretched and yawned. Anne curtseyed to MacGregor and left the room, the hound stalking after her, with one look over his shoulder at Niall.
MacGregor watched Anne Drummond go, then turned around, examining the room. A comfortable room it was, and the little he had seen of the land and castle showed
everything well kept. He finished his drink and wandered around the library, examining the books. The girl might be a problem. He hoped she would be more biddable after
their marriage, but he knew Highland women held their own with their men.
This opportunity to raise men for the Stuarts’ cause meant when the Jacobites won the battle to come, and King James was on Scotland’s throne, the MacGregor clan
would not be proscribed, they could once more own land, could marry and bury their dead in churchyards. That was why he had come; this would be the holding of
MacGregors in the future, Drummonds be damned.
He rubbed the auburn stubble on his face. He would wash and shave before the guests came.
A fine bargain, he thought.