tagNovels and NovellasA Proper Scottish Wife Ch. 13

A Proper Scottish Wife Ch. 13

byThors_Fist©

I was about 3/4 or more done with this chapter three weeks ago, then Hurricane Irma happened and I was without power for over a week. When I came back to the story, I was missing most of what I'd written despite doing constant Saves. I have no idea what happened. I was extremely happy with what I'd done and trying to recreate all I'd lost was very discouraging. I didn't even try for about a week after regaining power. I haven't gotten all of it back yet, but I've decided what's still missing can go in the next chapter. It isn't exactly the same as what I had written, but I'm not dissatisfied with it. I hope that you enjoy it. I can't begin to tell you what a struggle it was after losing so much of it.

*****

Isobel Goes Home

Stuart, Frang, and eight other riders rode ahead of the carts and checked for signs of another ambush at McTavish's. They tied the horses away from the house and crept to a vantage point in the trees about the property. Abner McTavish sat upon the seat of the wagon he hired to haul the last of his things away engaged in desultory conversation with the driver. He appeared to be impatiently waiting, constantly checking the sun and the road from Cameron's Keep.

"It appears he's waiting for us, and he looks upset we made him wait," Stuart said.

"Could be indication he had no knowledge of our ambush." Frang replied.

"If he did, he'd either be back in the house thinking his problems were over, or long gone because he knew we weren't coming," Stuart agreed.

"I see no signs of an ambush," Frang said. "Let's go down."

They went back to their horses and walked down the road, alert for any problems. Abner turned when he heard them ride in.

"About time you got here," he snarled. "I've been waiting for over two hours for you to show up."

"We had some trouble on the road," Frang said.

"What kind of trouble?" McTavish asked.

"We were ambushed," Stuart replied, watching closely.

"Ambushed? By who?"

"One of them said he was a bandit before he died," Frang replied. "We don't believe that. Too many of the bastards and too well planned. Not like bandits at all."

"Wait a minute! You're not believing I had anything to do with it, do you?"

"It crossed our mind," Stuart said. "Make sure you didn't have to cede your land."

"No, I had nothing to do with it," Abner said. "Otherwise I wouldn't be wasting my damn time sittin' here waiting for you."

"You might, if you were unsure the attack would be successful," Stuart answered. "Makes a good alibi."

"If I had the retainers to pull off a stunt like that, maybe. But I don't and I didn't. It's as much surprise to me as you. I'm not fool enough to start fights with the fucking Camerons. Too damn many of you and you fight too good." Abner spit on the ground.

Frang looked around again and seeing no evidence of further trouble, said, "Give the signal."

Two of the men fired their pistols, and after waiting fifteen seconds, a third one fired. In ten minutes, the wagons and the rest of the men pulled up to the house.

"Have you cleared the house of your property, McTavish?" Thorburn asked.

"Aye, two hours ago. Been waiting for you is all."

"Stuart, take your men and go upstairs. Keep a sharp eye out. Bjarkë, get to work on some fortifications. Frang, have Isobel point out some trustworthy men and send them out as pickets. Give them all a gun. Follow the plans. Ailene, if you can see the injured into the house and make them comfortable. We'll dig graves for the others."

"You don't think they'd be foolish enough to attack you here," McTavish asked, looking around fearfully.

"They lost ten men, so I doubt it, but I take no chances."

"You don't need me around here anymore then," McTavish said. "Here's the papers you need. I'll be going." He held out the deed and Isobel's annulment.

"A moment, McTavish. I have questions for you."

"I already told your two brothers I had nothing to do with the ambush. I don't have the manpower nor the inclination to pick fights with the Cameron's."

"Now you can tell me. Isobel, if I may interrupt."

He waited until she stood beside him and asked, "You swear on your word as a true Scotsman that you had nothing to do with the ambush?"

"Aye, I swear."

"And you had no foreknowledge the attack would occur?"

"You Camerons have plenty of enemies, Blackthorne among them. He may have used knowledge of our meeting to set an ambush, but I didn't know it would occur."

"McTavish. I'm informing you right now, and let every man be a witness," Thorburn said, raising his voice, "If I ever find out you had anything to do with the ambush which killed or injured nine of my men, I will hunt you down like the dog you are and whip the skin off your back. Is there any doubt in your mind that I'll do exactly what I say?"

"Nay, Cameron. You're a man of your word, I've no doubt."

"Then leave."

"You won't be checking the wagon then? Making sure I've nothing of yours?"

"Whatever you have in there you keep. I'll not come after you for it. Just go."

Thorburn waited until Abner climbed up in the wagon and drove off with the three retainers he kept, then asked Isobel, "Do you believe he was truthful?"

"I don't think he knew we were to be attacked, but he wasn't surprised either. Perhaps knowing Blackthorne knew, but not whether he would do anything about it."

"That was my sense, too. Is there anybody remaining you would not be trusting?" Thorburn asked.

"Aye, a few."

"Who are they?"

"The man near the shed door with the dark pants. He seemed thick as thieves with Abner and I'm surprised he didn't go with him. Another is the big fellow up in the hay loft looking out the door. I never trusted him. One of the servants, a valet, who slipped back into the house after Abner left always struck me as close to McTavish. Those three for sure. There may be others."

"Tell Stuart about him the first time you go in the house. Should we keep them around and feed them false information or let them go?" Thorburn mused.

"No matter what you tell them, they'll be able to see some things themselves. If you say you're leaving twenty men here and they only see half that, they'd report both. I'd let them go."

"Aye, you're probably right. Let me think on it and talk to the others. Were you able to point out enough men to Frang he could send out pickets?"

"Aye. He's passing out weapons now. Am I finally free of the man, then."

Thorburn carefully looked over both the deed and annulment decree.

"Both of them look good. I'd say you're a single woman again. Well, might as well get started on the rest. Send out the servants and we'll speak to everyone about the changes they can expect."

While Isobel went into the house to find the servants and bring them outside, Thorburn asked if all the tenants were present or if word needed to be passed to others. The man they'd left the horse with, Cyrus McTeague by name, informed Thorburn all but the farthest tenant farmers were present, wondering what changes they might expect with the new ownership. When Isobel and the house servants exited the house, Thorburn called her, Frang and William Craig to stand with him in the back of one of the wagons.

"Listen up!" Thorburn shouted, waiting for the noise to quiet down, and all eyes to turn to him.

"For those who don't know, I'm Laird Thorburn Cameron, of the adjoining Cameron Keep. My brother, Frang Cameron, won this land from Abner McTavish in a card game. He's your new Laird. He's going to say a few words to you. Pay attention!"

Frang whispered to him, "I thought you were speaking for us."

"You're their new Laird. It's your responsibility. We've discussed it over and over. You know what to do. Tell them." Thorburn answered.

"I've never been in charge before," Frang said.

"It's time you learn then, because you're in charge now." Thorburn said.

"Go ahead, Frang," Isobel said. "I know you can do it."

Frang stood quietly, gathering his thoughts, deciding not only what to say, but how to say it.

Finally, he started. "My name is Frang. I received the name because my mother was French. I'm the second son of Jamison Cameron. This other man beside me is William Craig. He will be my steward here at...well, I guess we won't be calling it McTavish's place anymore, will we?" A few of them laughed. "Anyone know what we should call it?"

A few people shouted out some names, traditional designations with the Frang or Cameron name attached.

Isobel said, "I think you should call it Lady Luck Farm if you won it in a card game."

"Lady Luck Farm," Frang said, testing the sound of it. "I like it."

"William Craig will be my steward here at Lady Luck Farm. You will obey him as if the orders came from me. I have complete faith and trust in his stewardship and he will be living here permanently as long as needed, whereas I shall be going back and forth between here and Cameron Keep. Anyone failing to carry out his instructions will answer to me.

"We know things were hard here the last couple years. There is no reason for it. The land is no worse than what the Cameron's have managed for years. You should not be starving at the end of the winter as you were. Most of you know Isobel McTavish. As your former Lady, she knew the hardships you suffered and asked our help so you didn't starve. As much as she hated her husband, she still cared for you. It's due to her concern we knew to send aid. Because she knows you and your problems, I value her counsel regarding the people here and will seek it often. I expect you to treat her as the Lady of the house as you did before. Until such time as I take a wife, she will assist me in managing the household."

Most of the servants and several of the tenants expressed their appreciation of her appointment to run the household.

She whispered to Frang, "You never discussed this with me. Why would you put me in charge of the house?"

"The house needs someone in charge. You know the servants. You know the house. I need someone to run it and I can't ask Ailene, so that leaves you," he whispered back. "Don't worry. I'll continue to work on your training with you."

She considered saying more, but held her tongue for now.

"Because things were hard, this is what you can expect for the next few years. This year at harvest, everyone is to keep all they need to tide them over until next spring. Any extra will go to feed those who don't have enough for themselves. We'll continue to make up any shortages to the production of this land after all you've grown is shared amongst you so no one will go without if they're overly generous with their neighbors. As a result, there will be no hoarding or setting aside. The next harvest, we expect five percent of your production to sustain your Laird and property. The year after and all following years, it will be ten percent. It won't go higher than ten percent and if you are and remain productive, you may keep the balance above your own needs.

"One last thing. We train our people to fight. Bjarkë will be staying here conducting mandatory weapons training for all able bodied men. As most of you know, our group was attacked on our way here. Five men are dead and four more wounded. But we killed twice that number and wounded others, despite a surprise ambush. With training, your chances of surviving improves. Unless you want to be like those on the other side who lost twice the men, you'll pay close attention to him. I will train others with a different weapon. That should cover it. For now, direct your questions to William Craig. He'll answer any you have. Anything he can't, he'll bring to me."

He hopped off the cart and helped Isobel down. Many tenants and servants thanked her for thinking of them and arranging to have food and cloth sent for their assistance. Hands reached out and she held each one momentarily, appreciating their concern and thanks. Bjarkë's group went back to creating temporary defenses, Frang sent out the pickets, and talked to William Craig about a few things not discussed previously. When he finished, he led Isobel into the house.

"Might as well get started on your new duties," he said. "Get with the housekeeper and cook and discuss the evening meal and anything else needs doing and you can show me the house."

Isobel gathered the cook and housekeeper together and went over a few basic instructions, telling them she would meet with them more over the next couple days to establish how Frang and she would like the household ordered and tasks conducted. When she was done, she asked if Ailene would also like a tour of the house, but she was still busy with the wounded. She was especially concerned about the one Isobel had sewn up; he hadn't regained consciousness since the attack.

Isobel showed Frang the house from top to bottom, Stuart meeting them on the top floor after he'd arranged the watches and stations of the archers on the roof.

"As you can see, this place doesn't have a large number of guest rooms, only three bedrooms total. The Master's room and two smaller ones for guests."

Frang nodded thoughtfully. "Why don't we put Stuart and Ailene in the Master bedroom as it has the largest bed. Thorburn and I can share the other bedroom and you can take the smallest of the rooms Isobel."

"I know you're only considering the comfort of all the parties, Frang," Isobel said, "but it sets a bad precedent to start. The Laird should take the Master's room to establish your authority. Putting Stuart and Ailene in there will cause confusion in the servants minds. They expect the Laird to be the Laird and not to give his room to another. You must sleep in the Master's room to instill your leadership position. Stuart and Ailene can sleep in the larger of the two guest rooms and Thorburn in the other."

"She's right," Stuart said. "The servants need it identified immediately who's in charge. You must take the Master's room."

"Where will you sleep, Isobel?" Frang asked. "With Thorburn?"

"No. I'll sleep with the other servants."

"I just made you Lady of the manor. Your authority is as much in question as mine. You can't sleep with the servants and hope to keep the respect of the staff either. If it applies to me, it applies to you as well."

Stuart said, "He's right as well."

"I could sleep on a cot or a pallet in the Master's room while you take the bed," Frang suggested.

"The Laird sleeps in the Laird's bed," Isobel insisted. "If you sleep on a cot or pallet, you might as well sleep in the barn. I could sleep on the cot."

"The same argument applies. You've got to establish your place too," Frang said. "If you share the bed in the Master's room, I won't bother you, Lady Isobel. I'll leave you alone."

Isobel stared at Frang for the longest time.

"You know I want no more men in my bed."

"You've made it clear. You won't even know I'm there," Frang said. "I won't touch you and we'll both wear our fencing clothes."

"If you do, Frang, I swear I'll stab you and face the consequences."

"I understand." And, I shall prove to you that I'm not the man McTavish was, my Lady, he thought.

"Well, that's settled then," Stuart said. "When do we eat?"

"About two hours," Isobel said. "We're feeding lots of folks tonight. I'll have the housekeeper set up the rooms as you requested."

"Thorburn wants us to discuss plans for the next few days," Frang said. "He wants a meeting with all of us and Bjarkë after supper discussing security and travel arrangements after supper."

"That reminds me, Stuart. One of the servants in the house, Rupert, is not to be trusted. He was McTavish's valet and I'm surprised he didn't go with him. Don't discuss anything around him," Isobel said. "I'd suggest we post guards outside the room where we have our meeting so nobody can eavesdrop at the door."

"Good thinking," Frang said. "We need to discuss important business only in front of people we fully trust."

"Were there any others you don't trust?" Stuart asked.

"There may be a number I'd not fully trust, but three in particular I have serious doubts about. The other two are outside workers. The same applies to any discussions outside. I'll point them out when we have a chance," she replied.

"Well, back to work, I suppose," Stuart said. "I'll go down and see if Bjarkë needs any help with the fortifications."

"Aye, me too," Frang said. "Isobel, perhaps you could point out some other reliable lads to take the place of the pickets. Cyrus McTeague, you consider him trustworthy?"

"The man's as honest as the day is long. You might speak to him about who's to be trusted as well. He might know of others. I never had much to do with the farmers and other outside staff," Isobel replied. "You haven't heard a peep from the other peasants about his handling of the food and I doubt you will. He's a rock."

"I'll speak to him then."

"Ailene may need help with the wounded. I'll assist her."

They split up to their different tasks. Ailene had the wounded in the parlor where she was treating them. When Isobel found her, Ailene sobbed inconsolably over the body of the man Isobel stitched up. The other three wounded stared at her, unsure of what they should do. Isobel called in male servants to carry his body out with the other dead. Ailene sat upon the floor, unable to stop her tears. Isobel went to her, sat beside her and drew Ailene into her arms where she cried against her shoulder. Isobel patted her back and smoothed her hair.

"Did I not do it right?" Isobel asked when Ailene's sobbing slowed.

"Nay, Lady. You did the best you could. He would have died far sooner if it weren't for you stopping the blood loss," Ailene sniffled. "He lost too much before we could stop it; before I thought to ask for your help. Without a way to replace the blood, there was only a wee chance he could be saved." She wiped at her eyes.

"I came to help you with the other wounded. What can you tell me about them?"

Ailene straightened herself and went back into her care mode.

"Aye, I can. Tis likely these three will come out of this with nothing worse than a few scars to thrill the ladies with. This braw lad is Grant. Did your folks ever accuse you of having a hard head, Grant?"

"More than a few times," he replied.

"Well, they were right. Seems a musket ball bounced right off your noggin. If you look here, Isobel, you can see where the ball tore off a chunk of his hair and scalp. Bled like a stuck pig for awhile, but the bleedings almost stopped. This bandage has very little blood on it since I replaced it about an hour ago. It seems like the bone is okay, but I worry about bleeding on the inside, headaches and the like. We'll have to keep an eye on him for the next couple of days, wake him up if he seems too sleepy. His eyes look fine. One of the ways to check for damage to the head is to see if both eyes look good, the blacks the same size in both eyes and the same as another person who hasn't taken a blow to the head. If you see too much or too little black, it's a sign somethings wrong, but I can't treat that. I wish the doctor would get here to look at him. You let me know if your head starts hurting worse or if your vision gets blurry, right, Grant?"

"Yes, Lady Cameron."

"This young lad is named Lachlan. A musket ball went through his side, in the front and out the back. The hole's usually bigger going out than in. Of course, since it went in the front, you could see young Lachlan was charging the enemy when he was wounded. He's a brave lad, Lachlan is, and the lasses will fair swoon over his tales of the battle. Probably have to beat them off with a stick."

Lachlan blushed and Isobel appreciated how Ailene put them at ease, teased and praised them. She killed three men herself, maybe more than any of them did, but she made sure they realized how brave they were.

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