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The Highlander's Stolen Touch

By: Terri Brisbin

Prologue


‘She has to die.’

Ciara whispered it to her nearest and dearest friend, knowing her secret wish was safe with her. The terrible words branded her as a person of the most horrible kind. Nine years of age and already beyond redemption. She sighed, knowing it was true.

The young woman, the current object of their observation, saw nothing but the man waiting for her at the door to the chapel. She looked neither left nor right, making Ciara hate her even more. The only thing worse was that he gazed back at her with the same intensity. Her own heart hurt then, understanding that she was witnessing love.

‘Should we trip her?’ Elizabeth whispered back. Ever her stalwart friend, she would see this through with Ciara.

The puddle of mud to one side of the path was appealing, but Ciara shook her head. From the way Tavis gazed at Saraid, he would look at her the same way even if she was covered in the slime and muck. Ciara’s breath caught at the strength and clarity of the feelings between Tavis and his soon-to-be wife. Later, when someone asked her what love was, she would describe it as just that—the expression Ciara could see in Tavis’s eyes when he looked at his bride.

‘Nay,’ she whispered, turning away as tears filled her eyes. ‘Leave her be.’

Elizabeth looked from her to the couple, now walking together into the chapel, and sighed. ‘What will you do, then?’

Ciara shrugged and did not answer right away. The doors to the chapel remained open and, if she’d cared to watch, she could have seen the whole ceremony as Tavis and Saraid promised to love and cherish each other for life. But she walked away and sought out her favourite thinking place, leaving her friend behind to sigh and watch the wedding she could not.

* * *

Hours later, Ciara realised that there was not much she could do about this—she could not kill Saraid and even wishing her ill made Ciara’s stomach hurt. So, after considering her choices for most of the afternoon, Ciara accepted that there was only one thing she could do about this.

She could wait for her chance to love Tavis and to gain his love.

She could wait.

And so she did.

* * *

In spite of his marriage, Tavis still welcomed her company and their unusual friendship continued. As she gained in years and in knowledge, she was present many times when Tavis would report to her stepfather, the clan’s Peacemaker, after carrying out some task for him. Tavis walked her back to her family’s cottage after one such journey and Ciara tried to show what she’d learned only that week.

‘Cogito, ergo sum,’ she said with confidence. Latin was one of the languages she loved and she was, as her tutor had told her parents, quite proficient in it. She waited for Tavis to react, but he simply laughed and shrugged.

‘I do not ken Latin,’ Tavis said. ‘Unlike you, I have only the Gàidhlig and some Scots. Oh, and a bit of the English.’ From his tone, she did not think him insulted by her knowledge or embarrassed by his lack of it.

‘I could teach you some of the words,’ she offered. ‘Or to read.’ She was his friend and she wanted to help him however she could. Even now at ten-and-three years, she could at least do that for him.

‘There are other ways you should be spending your time, lass,’ he said, winking at her as he spoke.

Her mother had been speaking, or rather complaining, to him again. She sighed and looked away. Most likely bemoaning that she did not take her needlework as seriously as she did her study of languages or numbers or...well, not seriously at all.

‘I hate needlework,’ she said, crossing her arms over her chest and lifting her chin. Surely he would not take her mother’s side of it?

‘Ah,’ he said softly, while taking her hand in his. ‘Needlework is a worthy task and a needed skill. Along with numbers, speaking your five languages and reading a few more than that.’ He tugged her hand and they continued their walk towards her home.

‘If ’tis such a worthy skill, why do you not learn it?’ she asked, irreverently. Shrugging off his hold on her, she waited for his answer.

Oh, aye, she understood the different roles of men and women. But as she was exposed to more and more knowledge and experiences by her father, she doubted she could ever simply return to the constricted life expected of a young woman in her time and place. Did her father know that by allowing her education to surpass other girls her age, he was creating a need within her to learn more and more? Since Tavis was still a man, she waited for his rebuff of her challenge.

‘I can already sew, lass. Many warriors have need of it after a battle. Needlework is no different than that,’ he answered as they arrived outside her parents’ cottage.

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