Son of the Morning (Chapter 21)

GRACE WAS A LITTLE GRATIFIED TO REALIZE SHE HAD GUESSED RIGHT. Outside the kitchens she found a guard's body, slumped on the ground in the boneless attitude of death. There was an uproar in the stables, torches being lit, men running and cursing. Niall must have stolen a horse and escaped through the postern gate. There was no chance of her stealing a horse now, and the keep was coming awake behind her. She dodged into a small storeroom, little more than a shed built against the side of the keep.It was evidently the granary, for the dusty smell of oats made her stifle a sneeze.

She heard rustlings in the oats that made her grit her teeth. Where there was grain, there were rats. She was acutely aware of the vulnerability of her legs beneath the long skirts. What she wouldn't give for her jeans and boots!

But she stood grimly still, even when the noisy search discovered the guard's body just outside her hiding place. Even though she couldn't understand the words, she could grasp their anger and agitation. Their chieftain couldn't be roused; the dungeon guard was injured, perhaps dead; both captives were gone, though only one horse was missing. She only hoped they would assume she was with Niall, that somehow they had simply failed to see her, because other. wise they would begin a thorough search of the keep.

Damn Niall,she thought violently. Why couldn't he have taken her with him? Even if he refused to take her to Creag Dhu, he could at least have gotten her away from Huwe. Gratitude didn't make him a fool, indeed!

The uproar eventually died down. They couldn't pursue Niall in the dark, and without Huwe they weren't inclined to take action anyway. She waited, rustling her feet when. ever the munching rats seemed to get too close, sending them squealing and scurrying. She would never forgive Niall for this.

At least security would be lax, now that their prisoner was gone. The Hay stronghold wasn't very strong anyway, from what she had seen. There had once been a wall around it, but it hadn't been maintained and the mortar had crumbled, leaving big gaps. Unfortunately, someone would still be watching the horses.

His tough luck, she thought when she finally crept out of her hiding place. She didn't know the time, so she didn't dare wait much longer. Dawn could come at any time, and with it her only opportunity to escape.

A soft mist was falling, not much more than a heavy fog. Her heart sank. That was probably why they hadn't pursued Niall, because they couldn't see in this pea soup. Unfortunately, she didn't have any choice, even though she didn't know where she was. She had carefully noted the direction from which they had come the day before, but the fog greatly increased her chances of getting totally turned around. She walked quietly into the stable. A guard snoozed against a pile of hay, a small candle with a protective globe over it guttering by his side. What was she supposed to bashhim with? She looked around and spied a rough pitchfork, its handle made of a sturdy length of wood. She picked it up, gripped it like a bat, and gave it a healthy swing. The wood swatted him in the side of his head and he jerked once, then fell heavily limp.

"I'm going to go to hell," she whispered into the night. That made two innocent men she had knocked in the head tonight, and for all she knew she had killed both of them. Severe head injuries in medieval times likely resulted in death. If Niall had taken her with him, hitting this last guard wouldn't have been necessary.

She bit her lip, looking at the curious equine heads surveying her. She knew how to ride, because it was a convenient skill to have when out on a dig, but she wasn't an expert and in any case hadn't been on a horse in more than two years, except for being held in front of Huwe on his horse yesterday, and that didn't count.

"Pick a horse, any horse," she muttered to herself. Geldings were always less fractious than stallions or even mares, but in the darkness she couldn't tell anything about her available choices except their size. She settled on a brown horse that was neither the largest nor the smallest, hoping that moderation was the key to success.

The horse stood quietly as she saddled it, and followed obediently when she led it to a keg. She stepped up on the keg, then mounted the horse. After tying her bag securely to the saddle, she clicked her tongue to the animal and carefully rode it out of the stable. Behind her, she heard a quiet groan as the guard began reviving. She was glad he wasn't dead, but that meant she had only a minute or so to get away before the alarm was raised.

She rode the horse at a walk to one of the gaps in the wall, and let it pick its own way over the tumbled rock. In the dark and the fog, the run-down keep was soon out of sight.

The safest course would be to find a place to hide, and wait until dawn when both she and the horse would be able to see. But if she remained close by, that increased the chances the Hays would recapture her and she doubted she would escape abuse so easily again.

When she saw Black Niall again, she was going to throttle him, even if she had to climb on a stool to do it.

She clicked to the horse and nudged it with her heels, but she let it pick its way at its own cautious speed. She could barely see past the horse's nose, so it seemed wiser to trust the animal's instincts; it at least had its feet on the ground. Still, she hoped sunrise wasn't several hours away.

To be fair to Niall, she hadn't tried to explain herself or her presence. Part of her reticence was pure caution, be. cause as Guardian his duty was to protect the Treasure from all threats, including herself. If he discovered she knew the procedure for time travel, he might feel it necessary to kill her. If she could get the Treasure herself, without his assistance, she preferred to do so. If she found she needed him, then would be the time to confess.

But all the logical reasons for remaining quiet weren't what had kept her from telling him. She had simply been too shocked, first by the embarrassing discovery that he had shared the dreams with her and then by the way she had, humiliated herself in his arms. She had been hard put even to speak, much less launch into a detailed explanation.

Her cheeks burned again as she remembered what had happened, and she lifted her face to the chilly mist.

She had been agitated from the moment she had arrived back in time, nervous, excited. She hadn't thought that agitation could so swiftly convert into sexual response, but it had. It was as if her body had been numb for a year, but something had happened to her during the time transition and now she felt everything too much.

Niall had fascinated her from the moment she had first read his name. She had spent so much time concentrating on him, dreaming about him, it was no wonder all her senses had been so acutely focused on him. All those hours she had been so aware of his actual presence that it had been difficult for her to think of anything else, her skin hypersensitive, prickly. She should have recognized the sexual charge underlying her jitters, but she hadn't. While she had accepted and rationalized the sexual aspect of her dreams, it hadn't occurred to her the physical attraction would be as strong in reality.

It wasn't. It was stronger. She had been unfaithful to Ford in every way except the actual act, but she couldn't find any solace in that detail. If circumstances had been different, if they had been alone in a safe place, she had no doubt Niall would have had her. But now that she recognized her weakness, she could safeguard against giving in to it. She must never let Niall so much as kiss her again.

But as she rode through the night, she was uncomfortably aware that if Niall wished to kiss her or do anything else to her, her defenses were very weak indeed.

Creag Dhu was a massive stone castle, the rock from which it was built as dark as a stormy sky. Unlike the Hay keep it was in excellent repair, with thick stone walls surrounding four huge towers. The big main entrance was guarded by two sets of gates twenty feet apart, and the men who guarded it looked healthy, well clothed and armed, and well trained. Everyone who entered was stopped and questioned, and no carts or bundles went through those gates without being thoroughly inspected.

Grace knew she should have expected as much, given Niall's military background, but when she looked at Creag Dhu she felt overwhelmed by the task she had set herself. Just getting in looked impossible; how on earth would she manage searching it?

She had to stay hidden, because a stranger would be immediately noticed. The castle was busy, having attracted its own small village as people moved closer to safety, but everyone would know everyone else. She was hungry, and tired from having ridden for two days. She had wandered off course in the fog, and a joumey that shouldn't have taken an entire day had instead taken two.

At least the horse was content, because there was plenty of grass and water.

The animal was a gelding, blessed with a calm and forgiving nature. If it hadn't been, Grace was certain she never would have survived. She ached from head to foot, and her bottom was so sore she didn't think she would be able to climb back into the saddle even if Huwe of Hay suddenly appeared in front of her.

She had tethered the horse in a copse of forest, while she assessed the situation, which wasn't promising. Perhaps she should just walk up to the gates and ask to see him. He might not be pleased, but shehad freed him from the dungeon; if she told him she was hungry, could he turn her away?

Of course he could, she thought. He was the Guardian. He wouldn't let anything as paltry as gratitude stand in the way of his duty. She had to think of some way to get inside the castle. She couldn't smuggle herself inside by hiding in any of the carts she saw going in; all the carts were searched, even when the guards obviously knew the owner and they chatted genially together while the goods or produce were inspected. She didn't even speak the language, so when they asked questions she wouldn't be able to answer. She could try speaking Old English, but that wouldn't win her any friends here in Scotland; the two countries had been at war for years. She could understand most of the Scots dialect, but speaking it was useless because the parts of it she understood were English, so she wouldn't gain anything.

Even if she did manage to get into Creag Dhu, what then? The castle inhabitants would certainly know one another far better than they knew the village folk, so there wouldn't be any way she could escape notice by mingling with the crowd. Exploring the castle would take time; she needed to be able to come and go without being questioned. Grimly she arrived back at one inescapable conclusion: even if she got into the castle, she would need Niall's permission to stay.

She decided to face one problem at a time, and found herself back at the beginning: how to get into Creag Dhu?

She began making her way back to the horse, stumbling over rocks and roots, catching her skirts on bushes and twigs and having to jerk them free. She was becoming more and more irritated with the nuisance of a long gown. To tell the truth, she was irritated with everything, but at least her ill humor had distracted her from the humiliation of what had happened with Niall.

By the time she reached the horse, she was sweating from the effort of fighting her way through brambles and bushes. The wool surcoat, which felt good on cold nights, now suffocated her. Irritably she stripped it off and tossed it over the saddle, sighing in relief as air seeped through the lighter cotton kirtle. She loosened the laces that held the neckline and sleeves tight, pulling the neckline completely open and then pushing up the sleeves as far as she could, which was only to the middle of her forearms. Under the scarf, her hair was wet with sweat. Off came the scarf, and she unwound the heavy knot of her hair, running her fingers through it and letting fresh air reach her scalp. She had expected Scotland to be uniformly chilly even in May, but that wasn't the case today.

There was no way she was putting that heavy wool gown back on, and the velvet one would be just as hot. Grace looked down, checking the kirtle for modesty. She was dismayed to find it failed miserably, unless she didn't mind any casual observer being able to see both her nipples and the darkness of her pubic hair. Inspiration struck, and she shook out the big scarf, then tied it around her waist so that it draped strategically over both front and back. Then she bloused the kirtle out from the waist so the fullness gave her a bit of modesty up top, too. Satisfied with her effort, she stuffed the dirty wool surcoat in the bag and remounted the horse. She hadn't solved any of her problems, but at least now she was comfortable.

Five minutes later, as she watched a group of five women trudge along the rutted road, obviously heading to Creag Dhu, inspiration struck again.

The business of the women wasn't in any doubt. Their skirts were hiked up farther than any Grace had seen since arriving, and their bodices were pulled low. They hadn't bothered with long-sleeved, high-necked kirtles; their undergarments were short-sleeved and loose. No kerchiefs covered their heads, and though their hair was for the most part unkempt, as Grace watched they began finger-combing the tangles, pulling strands over their shoulders to curl flirtatiously around their breasts. They pinched their cheeks and bit their lips, and there was a good deal of laughter and obviously naughty observations.

Whores, or at least loose women, on their way to the castle for a night of recreation or commerce, or both. And Grace now looked remarkably like them, with her scanty clothing and loose hair. She kneed the horse into a walk, approaching the group from an angle.

"Good afternoon," she said pleasantly when she neared, trying to alter her accent so the "good" sounded like "guid." No help for it; she would have to speak Old English, which was at least close enough to Scots for her to be largely understood.

The whores watched her suspiciously, no hint of welcome in their faces.

"My man left me," she said baldly. "I've no coins, no food for two days, and I have no place to sleep."

An overblown redhead who had seen better days looked her up and down. "Aye?" she said in a tone that clearly meant, "So what?"

"If you are going to the castle, could I go with you? A night's work would bring me a coin or two, and at least food for my belly."

"Ye have yer beast," the redhead pointed out, nodding at the horse. A horse was a valuable animal, worth more than all their possessions put together. They weren't likely to have any sympathy for her so long as she possessed him.

Grace thought quickly. "You can have him," she promised, "if you will take me with you."

The five women put their heads together, and a swarm of Gaelic buzzed around her ears. Finally the redhead held up her hand and nodded to Grace. "'Tis a bargain." She waited expectantly, and Grace climbed down from the horse, not without a great deal of relief. Her bottom was so sore after two days of riding that she was much happier walking. She untied her bag from the saddle, and presented the reins to the redhead, who looked triumphantly around at her friends.

They resumed their trek up the road. As they trudged around a bend and the castle came into sight, the redhead said, "What's yer name?"

"Grace." "I am Wynda." She nodded in turn at the four other women. "Nairne, Coira, Sile, and Eilidh." Introductions accomplished, they completed the walk to the castle.

Both guards stepped forward to meet them stubbled cheeks stretched in huge grins. A great deal of giggling, pinching, and butt patting went on, then both guards looked questioningly at Grace. Evidently the other five were well known by the men-at-arms.

"Grace," Wynda said in reply to their questions. "She's a Sassenach hoor."

The guard took the bag from Grace and opened it, thrusting his big hand within. He pawed through the articles of clothing and pulled out a book, looking at it in puzzlement. Grace was too tired and hungry to do anything but stand there. Wynda repeated Grace's tale of her man leaving her behind. Perhaps it was the explanation, Grace's lack of anxiety, or that the bag obviously held no weapons, but with a shrug the guard handed the bag back to her. He called out to the guards on the other side of the double gate, and the six women walked through.

She was in. Her heart began pounding with excitement, the rush of adrenaline dispelling her fatigue.

Wynda proudly led her horse to the stable, while the others made their way toward the barracks. Grace fell behind them, slowing her steps until they were well ahead of her. They were chatting, laughing, paying her no mind. Calmly she changed direction, looking around with interest.

The inner ward was neat and busy, people going about the daily business involved in running a castle. To the left were the stables and barracks, to the right a training ground where a number of men, stripped to the waist, practiced their swordplay. She could see a well-shaped head with long black hair, towering over all the others, and quickly she looked away as if he might feel her gaze.

Black Niall was there, so she wanted to go in a different direction. Now that she was inside she could see that in addition to the four tall towers which stood at each comer, there were two smaller inner towers, one on each end of the center great hall. The entire thing was huge; she couldn't begin to guess how many rooms the castle contained.

She walked into the great hall, and a wave of dizziness swept over her. The hall was just as she had seen it in her dreams. She knew where Niall sat, and exactly where the kitchens were. The smell of roasting meat filled the air, and she wondered if her dizziness was caused by hunger.

Men and women alike were looking at her strangely, and she ducked her head, walking quickly toward the kitchens. Perhaps she could beg a piece of bread; if not, perhaps she could steal it. She had already stolen a horse, so why worry about bread? She doubted either was as serious a sin as the rash of head bashing in which she had recently indulged.

Her appearance in the kitchen went unnoticed for a few moments, largely because there were so many people bustling about, chopping and stirring and pounding. A young boy slowly cranked a spit on which turned what looked like an entire pig. Fat dripped sizzling into the fire, sending out a wonderful smell to mingle with the yeasty scent of baking bread.

Finally a buxom woman spotted her, and snapped out a question in Gaelic. "I've come a very long way," Grace said. "I've had no food for over two days-"

"Sassenach!" the cook spat in disgust, and made a shooing motion with the cloth tied around her waist.

Evidently being thought an Englishwoman was more to her discredit than being dressed like a whore. Grace shook her head and said, "French." Then she abruptly turned white as another wave of dizziness hit her, and she swayed, reaching out to the wall to support herself.

The dizziness was all too real. Gasping, Grace bent over from the waist, trying not to faint. The need for food was becoming more pressing by the minute.

Perhaps it was the reassurance that she wasn't English, but supporting arms were suddenly around her, leading her to a bench. The buxom woman pressed a piece of bread into her shaking hand, and poured ale into a shallow bowl for her to drink. Slowly Grace chewed on the bread, which was of much better quality than that she'd had at the Hay keep. She didn't dare take more than a few sips of the ale, not after being so long without food.

The work went on around her, though the buxom woman kept looking in her direction, perhaps assessing the return of color to her face. After a bit, when the bread stayed down, another piece was placed before her, along with some cheese and a few slivers of cold pork. Feeling stronger now, Grace ate as greedily as good manners allowed, and drank more ale.

The cook clucked her tongue approvingly and put even more meat and bread in front of her. "Ye're scarce as thick as a strae, lass. Ha' a bit more. Ye'll need yer strength tonight."

Grace tried, but she was full. After a few more bites she sighed, replete, and smiled at the woman. "Thank you. I was very hungry."

"Ye're welcome. Go on wi' ye, now." Charity served, the woman made shooing motions with her cloth again, and Grace went.

Her first priority now was to find a secure hiding place, at least until she decided what to do. When everyone's attention seemed to be elsewhere, she dodged into a curtained alcove and gingerly sat down on the floor, prepared to wait.

She leaned her head back against the cold stone wall. What had she gotten herself into? Coming back had seemed reasonable when she was still in her own time, but in the three days since her arrival she had accomplished exactly nothing toward her goal. What had seemed fairly simple find the Treasure and return to her own time had taken on gargantuan proportions.

Now that she had seen the size of the castle, she knew it would take days, weeks, to search it thoroughly. She certainly couldn't stay hidden the entire time. Unless she enlisted Niall's help, which didn't seem a viable alternative, she needed an excuse to stay in the castle. To do that, she had to have Niall's permission.

She had to face him again. She didn't look forward to it, but she had done more difficult things than this during the past year. What was humiliation, after all, compared to seeing her husband and brother murdered, to being hunted like an animal?

She was very tired. Now that she had eaten, she was so sleepy she couldn't keep her eyes open. She hauled the heavy burlap bag around behind her back and reclined in a more comfortable position, her head pillowed on books and clothing. She slept within minutes.

After declining enthusiastic offers of company from both Jean and Fenella, a lusty serving wench, Niall climbed the stairs that curved along the outside wall of the tower, leading to his private chamber. He was in a foul mood. He ached for a woman, but not one with Fenella's overripe charms. Not even Jean tempted him, and over the months she had become his favorite, if not only, bedmate.

"Damn the witch!" He swore viciously as he slammed the door to his bedchamber. He strode to the table and lifted the bottle of wine that sat there, then thumped it down unpoured. He didn't want wine; he'd had wine when he supped. What he wanted was what he had left to Huwe's untender mercies.

Witch or spy, still he should have taken her with him. At least then he wouldn't feel this gnawing discontent, this sharp-clawed lust that refused to be slaked on other women's bodies.

The feel of her was still in his arms, along his body. No woman in his life had ever responded as she had, so swiftly and completely, her body pulsing to his touch as if she had been made for him alone. It had been like holding fire, delicate fire, and he wanted it again. He wanted more. He wanted to push deep into her and hold himself there while she spasmed around him, arms and legs clinging, hips pumping.

He groaned aloud. He had done so in his dreams,their dreams, but when at last he'd had his hands on her, like a fool he had left her behind. He had been so angry to find her with the Hays that all he could think was that she was somehow in league with them, and had spied on him a purpose. His sense of betrayal had made him furious with her.

Later, when he had found his men and was well away from the Hay keep, logic had returned. She wasn't a Hay; one look at her had told him that. He should have discovered why she was there, who she was, where she was from. She had said her name was Grace St. John, a name he didn't like repeating even in his own mind. It was somehow mocking, a reminder of the faith he had lost. Her clothing had been uncommonly fine, her accent strange. She spoke Latin; that alone was so unusual it raised an internal alarm. Why would a woman speak the language of the Church?

The hour had grown late while he sat downstairs, trying to work up a bit of interest in any of the women available to him, but he wasn't inclined to sleep. He paced around the chamber, thinking of clear blue eyes and a swath of shiny dark hair. She had smelled as sweet as in his dream, and her mouth… he closed his eyes, whispering a strained profanity under his breath as he helplessly imagined her mouth sliding down his body, closing over his shaft, and his entire body jerked in reaction.

Furiously he threw off his clothes. He was fully erect, aching. All he had to do was open the door and call for one of the women, or two, and he could ease the ache. He didn't open the door. Instead he paced, and he wondered what had happened to her. She had helped him escape, after all; had anyone seen her? He had initially thought his escape a trap, to what end he couldn't imagine since Huwe could have killed him at any time anyway, but perhaps he had overlooked something. But nothing had happened, and he had soon found his men. What had happened to her? Had she suffered for aiding him? Huwe wasn't gentle with women at the best of times; if he knew the lass had released Niall, he would kill her.

Even if no one had seen her aid him, by now Huwe would have taken her to his filthy bed, used her harshly. Niall ground his teeth. The thought of that delicate, fine-skinned body lying beneath Huwe enraged him. He would take his men and ride on the Hay keep, take her from that pigsty, care for her, gently bring her to trust and respond to him again.

The door began to creak slowly open. Niall whirled, automatically grabbing his sword, the woman forgotten as he balanced his weight on his bare feet and began the lethal swing of the blade.

Pure blue eyes peeked around the door. They flared wide in alarm as she saw the naked warrior and the shining blade whistling toward her, but she didn't scream. Instead she ducked, dropping to the floor, and at the last split second Niall deflected his aim so that the blade bit deep into the edge of the door just above where her head had been.

Cursing viciously in every language he knew, Niall worked the blade free of the wood and leaned down, gripping her arm and dragging her on her bottom into the bedchamber. She gasped, and then somehow she turned in his grasp, her legs whipping out. One dainty foot hooked behind his ankle, the other foot kicked hard at his knee, and he went down on his back. His body reacted even before he landed, flowing into the momentum, tucking, rolling, and with a lithe backward flip he came to his feet in a perfectly balanced crouch, sword in his hand.

She was still sitting on the floor, glaring at him, her skirts above her knees. He glowered down at her in silence for a moment, then with very deliberate movements walked to the table and laid the sword on it. Calmly he wrapped his plaid about his hips and turned back to face her.

She hadn't moved. Her gaze jerked up to his, and with primitive satisfaction he realized where she had been looking.

"If ye wished to see my arse, lass, ye had only to ask," he said rather mildly, considering he was so furious with her for nearly causing him to kill her that his hands ached to give her a good shaking. He approached her, reaching over her head to slam the door and flip the bar into place, then he leaned down and hauled her to her feet, standing her before him. "Now. How in hell did ye get here?"

"I stole a horse and rode," she replied, lifting her chin. His brows lifted. "So ye speak English as well as Latin. What other accomplishments have ye?"

"French," she said readily enough. "And Greek." "Then we may converse in any of four languages," he observed in French, as if to test her. "Given that, there should be no misunderstandings between us."

"No, there should not," she said in the same language. He reverted to English. "Then perhaps you will tell me now how you evaded my guards and come to be in my castle, in my bedchamber."

She squared her shoulders, facing him as steadily as if he weren't more than a foot taller and easily twice her weight. "I freed you from Huwe's dungeon," she stated. "I am alone, and have no home. I came to ask you for shelter."

"Ah." His voice was soft. "You've told me the why, but what I asked was the how."

"I came in with the whores, and hid." His teeth ground together. "And no one saw you? Asked your cause for being here?"

"I told you, I came with the whores. My cause seemed obvious enough, given the way I'm dressed." With her hand she indicated the thin cotton garment she wore, laces loosened, the shadow of her small nipples dark against the fabric. Her hair flowed sleekly down her back, hanging below her hips.

For all the provocation of her dress, no one with eyes should have mistaken her for a whore. She had none of the look about her; her skin was too fine, her hands soft and pampered. Nor was there any vulgarity in her speech or her manner. Remembering her searing response to him, he thought she was a woman who had been well loved, not well used. But that night in the dungeon her eyes had been fierce with excitement, her awareness of him plain on her face. Tonight she was guarded, wary, despite the way she had looked at his nakedness.

There were depths and shadows in her eyes that made him wonder what she had left unsaid. A simple request for shelter? No. She had watched him for months, caused his capture, then conveniently rescued him from the dungeon. There must be a deeper purpose behind her actions, and he knew he could not risk trusting her.

His loins throbbed. He wanted to toss her onto the bed and sink himself into her. He wanted it with a ferocity that knotted his gut. He knew what it was like, knew how she felt beneath him, how she moaned with that little catch in her throat as he slowly pushed all his swollen length into her. He knew it with his mind; he wanted to know it with his flesh.

But because he wanted her so violently, he didn't dare relax his own guard.

He unbarred the door and opened it, bellowing Sim's name, then stood watching her while the castle came awake and running feet thundered up the stairs. Sim arrived gasping, clutching his sword, and behind him were ten more men.

Aye?" Sim fought for breath, relieved at seeing Niall standing there unhurt and apparently unalarmed.

Niall opened the door wider, allowing them to see the woman standing in the middle of his bedchamber. "Put her in a bedchamber and post two guards at the door. If ye canna keep her out, perhaps ye can keep her in."

Sim gawked at her. "Wha-?" Then he recovered and grabbed her arm.

"Mind her feet," Niall advised, stepping aside so Sim could lead her from the chamber. She went easily enough, though she gave him a long, quiet look over her shoulder. The guards thrust her into the small chamber next to his and locked her in, then two of them took up position on each side of the door.

The chamber was dark and chilly. The only light was a thin sliver of starlight coming through the narrow, cross-cut window. Grace fumbled around, searching for a candle and flint, but found nothing. If she had kept her bag with her she could have struck a match and briefly surveyed her surroundings, but she had thought it safer to leave the bag hidden.

The room was unfurnished. There weren't even rushes on the stone floor. Her skin roughened with chill bumps, and she hugged her arms.

Abruptly the door was opened, banging against the wall. One of the guards thrust a burning candle into one hand and a thick plaid into the other. Without a word he closed the door again, and she heard the massive key turning in the lock.

She dropped the plaid onto the floor and carefully shielded the flickering candle with her hand as she set it down. She looked around. The room was small, empty, but she had already discerned that.

At least she had light, and a plaid to keep her warm. She was in Creag Dhu. Sighing, she wrapped herself in the plaid and lay down on the hard floor. Things could have been worse.