Today's Reading



Allissaid MacFarlane glanced up from the tunic she was darning as her younger sister Annis suddenly dropped into the chair next to hers in front of the fire in the great hall. Eyebrows rising slightly at her sister's troubled expression, Allissaid asked, "What is it, love?"

Annis hesitated briefly, but then queried, "Now that Claray has married and moved to Deagh Fhortan with her husband, will you be taking over the running of MacFarlane?"

Allissaid stared at Annis blankly for a moment, her mind slow to comprehend what she was suggesting. But then, she'd been having trouble coming to grips with the sudden change in their lives since waking that morning to learn that their eldest sister, Claray, had married her betrothed, Bryson MacDonald, and left for her new husband's home.

Apparently, it had all taken place while Allissaid and the rest of her siblings had slept. Claray, who had been off visiting their cousins the Kerrs, had been brought home by her betrothed after the castle had settled down for the night. The servants had been woken for the wedding and celebration that followed, but Allissaid and her brother and sisters had not. They'd simply woken to the news that their sister had returned home, married and left at the break of dawn without seeing any of them.

There had been a bit of an uproar as Allissaid and the others burst into question, which shouldn't have been surprising. They'd been told their whole lives that Claray's betrothed had been murdered along with his parents, almost before the ink was dry on the betrothal contract between the pair. But her father had not answered most of the questions they'd shot at him. He'd merely explained that the tale of Bryson's death had been a lie to protect the boy from his parents' murderer while growing up. But MacNaughton's antics had forced the situation.

Allissaid sighed at the thought of MacNaughton. The man was their neighbor, and was causing them no end of troubles. It had started a couple of years ago with his petitioning to marry Claray, the only daughter of the house who had appeared to be without a betrothed. Of course, Allissaid understood now why her parents had refused the offered marriage contract. But at the time, she had thought it terribly unfair of them to refuse it and leave Claray unmarried. Until Allissaid had met MacNaughton on one of his visits. The man wasn't more than ten years older than Claray, and was handsome as could be. He was even polite and somewhat charming in his address, but...

Allissaid even now couldn't put her finger on what it had been about him that had troubled her. But she hadn't liked him at all, and had sensed that he was dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. His persistence in trying to get her father to agree to the marriage by using everything from bribery to threats had only confirmed those instincts. But it appeared he'd given up on gaining his permission and moved on to trying to force the issue. It was his following Claray to Kerr and convincing their uncle to aid him in forcing a marriage on Claray that had moved Bryson MacDonald to give up the lie that he was dead and claim her to wife.

Their father had admitted that this morning. He'd also said there was even more to MacNaughton's plan. That he had intended to force the marriage and then kill the rest of them all and claim MacFarlane as part of MacNaughton. MacFarlane was apparently all he was really after. He wanted the extra land, soldiers and power. Marrying any of the daughters would help him achieve that so long as the rest of the family died and couldn't lay claim to it. MacNaughton had planned to bring about those deaths the moment he had Claray to wife.

Her father, Gannon MacFarlane, had explained all of this as briefly as he could before announcing that none of them were to leave the keep until the matter was resolved. MacNaughton was too much of a threat to risk one of them being taken by the man and forced into marriage. Their father had followed that up by assuring them that he was looking into ways to handle this problem, but he needed them all to remain safely in the keep until he had taken care of it.

Allissaid had spent the hours since learning this news trying to come to grips with the threat they were under, but Annis's question now brought up the other changes Claray's marriage had brought about. The main one being that she'd probably now be expected to take over the running of MacFarlane. A large undertaking she wasn't sure she was ready for. Claray had always managed that.

"Ooh! Aye! But no' fer long!"

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