If Anice could only make it to the door. Wave after wave of dizziness and pain passed over and through her, making the room spin before her eyes. Step by step she inched her way across the chamber. The door. Safety. Someone would help her, must help her.
The edges of the hand-embroidered nightgown dragged on the floor, soiling them even more than the blood and the spilt wine had. Her mother would not be happy at the condition of her wedding gift. Bare feet crunched on the rushes as she took one step after another; making it to the door was her only clear thought.
As she reached out to touch the knob she noticed that her hands shook. She laughed out loud at her trembling fingers and wobbly legs. If the clan saw her now--the proud, too proud some would say, Lady Anice MacNab, beaten into begging by her husband of one night, would they look on her with respect? With pity? She would not take pity from anyone. Not even in this condition. Not even because of the monster in that bed.
The rustling of the bedcurtains scared her from her reverie and forced her to make the final step to the door. Taking a deep breath, she squeezed the knob and turned it as quietly as she could, trying to escape the madness of the last hours.
"Going somewhere, my dear wife?" Evil dripped from his honey-coated words.
Anice didn't hesitate--she knew her life was at stake. She used the last ounce of her strength and pulled the door open. The look of horror on her maid's face told her how truly bad things really were. Firtha jumped to her feet and ran towards Anice, but Sandy got there first.
"Now, Anice, it is too early on the morn after our wedding night for us to be apart."
He wrapped an arm around her neck and dragged her back into the room. Gasping for breath, she fought their movement back to the bed. His steps slowed and he swayed, tripping on the bedclothes strewn in his path. He released her and she crawled away, seeking safety in the distance between them. She saw Firtha standing at the door, fear and confusion on her face. Sandy saw her, too.
"You are Anice's maid?"
Firtha simply nodded.
"Get her cleaned up while I break my fast in the hall." Sandy sat on the edge of the bed and pulled his trews up and tied them at his waist. He leaned over to pick up his shirt from the floor , but fell to his knees and laughed.
"Too much of your fine honeyed mead, Anice and too much of you, too, I suspect."
Another drunken laugh and he found his shirt. Regaining his feet, he stumbled in her direction. Still panting from her efforts to escape, she scrambled to her feet. Damn her pride, but she would meet him straight on, not crawling like an animal on the floor before him.
Sandy staggered into her and grabbed her arms for support. Anice fought him, pulling backwards, but his grasp grew tighter.
"You still have some fight left in you? Excellent!" Without warning he swung out at her and knocked her to the floor. "You will await me here, dear wife. Get cleaned up for my return."
She peeked at him from eyes nearly swollen-closed and watched him lumber to the door. She thought he was gone when he turned back to her.
"I will be bringing my guests back to visit with us. I plan to show them all the wonderful tricks I taught you during our wedding night."
She felt the darkness swirling around her, trying to claim her. She shook her head, knowing that losing consciousness would endanger her. He must have seen the gesture and misunderstood it for he charged back into the room.
"You are my wife now, to do with as I please. If you please me in this, I may keep you for myself. Displease me and I will share you with every man I brought here from England."
The blow surprised her--she could see his fist moving through the air towards her. Through the haze of pain and blood she saw it move slowly. She thought she had plenty of time to dodge the blow.
She was wrong.
* * *
"Dear God in Heaven!"
He should have been expecting this. He should not be surprised. And, as the one who led the Clan MacKendimen into many battles, he shouldn't be sickened by blood or injuries. But he was.
From the pallor of her skin, she must have lost more of her blood than she kept. The bedclothes piled at his feet were saturated with it. One eye was swollen closed and her face was bruised and cut. Lying unconscious in the huge bed, she looked much, much younger than her seventeen years.
"The rest of her looks much the same, Struan. Cuts and scratches on her stomach, breasts and back. Bruises on her arms and legs and back. And torn...." The clan healer looked at him with serious eyes. "She looks as if she was mauled by a beast."
"God forgive me, he is a beast."
As difficult as it was to acknowledge that his own flesh and blood did this, he knew the truth. Sandy, heir to the Clan MacKendimen, was a beast, a depraved monster. And he, Struan, current laird, had unleashed it on this innocent.
"What will ye do?" Moira gently placed another wet cloth on another bleeding and bruised spot and looked at him, through him.
"Weel, if Robbie sees his daughter looking like this, marriage or no', there will be war."
"'Tis the morning after. The MacNab and his wife will be here to see their daughter. Ye willna stop them."
Struan ran his hands through his graying hair and looked once more upon the ravaged face of his daughter by marriage. Six years ago, he had taken action against his son for the good of the clan. Now, he faced the same decision again. It was good that his wife Edana had died those four years ago and did not have to learn the truth about their son. The sight before him now would surely have killed her.
"Will she live?"
"That is no' my decision, Struan. But, I will do as much as I can to help her." Moira paused and stared at him, awaiting his words.
He reached down and touched Anice's hand. The lass mumbled and moaned in her stupor. He leaned down nearer to her mouth trying to understand her words. Hearing them, in the breathless, terrorized whisper was worse than seeing the damage. Anice was begging. . .pleading with her husband to stop his unspeakable attack.
Struan knew what he had to do. The clan was the most important thing. He would send his son back, now, to England. There he could little damage the honor of the Clan MacKendimen. There he could not harm this child more than he already had.
"As will I, Moira, as will I."
* * *
"What do you mean I can't go into my wife's chamber?"
"Sandy, yer faither asked me to bring ye to him. He waits for ye at the stable."
"Brodie, get out of my way. My wife awaits me here. I'll see to my father later."
The warrior simply blocked the door, keeping his cousin from entering. His uncle, the laird, did not want Anice disturbed. His orders were to bring Sandy as quickly and quietly as possible to the stables where Struan awaited them.
"Yer faither said something aboot a gift ye maun see for the King."
"Now? Nay, Brodie, he can wait. What awaits me inside here will not."
Sandy took a step towards the door and Brodie nodded his head to the two soldiers across the hall. They took hold of Sandy, who put up a brief struggle. The knock on his head from behind put an end to it. More soldiers took their place before Anice's door.
"What is happening, Brodie?" The younger guard asked as they hauled the laird's unconscious son out of the castle.
Brodie thought a moment before answering. He had a very good idea of what was going on, but it was not his place to talk about it with anyone except the laird. From the look of things, Struan was trying to keep this business with his son quiet.
"I dinna ken, Iain. Just follow the orders ye hiv."
A few minutes, the heir of the clan lay sprawled at his father's feet on the packed-dirt floor of the stables. Brodie watched the laird circle his son, a stony look on his face. He had never seen his uncle like this and, for a moment, he felt pity for his cousin. It was a short moment.
If only Alex were the heir, he thought. The impostor who had lived and trained with them for months was a better man than this one. 'Twas not meant to be, for Alex was gone and the clan was left with this excuse for a Scot.
"Tie his hands behind him, Brodie." He did so, quickly and efficiently.
"Wake him." Struan ordered.
Brodie scooped up a bucket of water from the horse trough and threw it on his cousin. He grinned as Sandy screamed, coughed and sputtered. Had poor Anice screamed during the night?
"What the bloody hell do you think you are doing, Brodie?" Sandy looked at him and Brodie saw the dawning perception of danger on his cousin's face. "Father, tell him to untie me. NOW!" Sandy rolled on the floor, trying to gain his balance and get to his feet. With a foot on the heir's shoulder, Brodie pushed him back to the floor.
"Stay!" roared Struan.
Brodie smiled as he saw Sandy finally realize that he was in trouble, deep trouble.
"What ye and yer Sassenach friends did to the whore two nights ago was a disgrace, Sandy," Struan began. "But to treat Anice in this way is an abomination. She was an innocent coming to yer bed and ye injured her terribly."
"You have no right to chastise me about my wife, Father. No right at all."
Sandy's voice rose in pitch, sending waves of revulsion down Brodie's throat. He felt like puking when Sandy acted so. . .English. Six years in London with King David and he had lost every bit of his Scottish pride. Brodie ached, understanding Struan's pain and disgrace in facing this disappointment for a son and heir.
"I hiv every right, ye lousy bastard. I am yer laird and yer faither and ye will obey me." Struan's voice lowered, his expression more furious than before.
"I can raise my hand to her when she needs correction, Father. Even you used your hand on my mother."
"Aye, Sandy, I did once. And I regretted it every day of my life."
"Anice will learn to please me soon enough. She will learn my ways and obey me. The stupid girl thought to naysay me on my wedding night." Sandy continued, completely unaware that he was driving his father to the brink of his self-control. Brodie thought for a moment about warning him off. Another very short moment.
"She knew she had to prove herself a virgin after her actions with that impostor. She resisted my efforts to see if her maidenhead was intact so I hit her. It is my right."
Sandy never saw the first punch coming. His nose, broken before, spurted blood down his face and into the dirt where he landed. It was followed by several more blows and then a final kick. The very air in the stables sizzled as Struan's fury poured out of him.
"She came here and served our clan faithfully. She waited for ye faithfully. She married ye, doing her duty to our clan and hers. And ye beat her on her wedding night like she was some wild animal. Weel, Sandy, how does it feel to ye?"
Brodie let Struan land two more solid hits before he stepped in to stop him. He knew that Struan wanted to punish Sandy, no' kill him. Struan was panting and blowing from the exertion and strain of beating his son.
"His damned English friends wait for him outside the gates. Tie him on the horse if ye maun, but get him out of Dunnedin now." Struan wiped his brow and turned away. No one said another word.
Brodie nodded and with the help of the other guards he did just that--tied the unconscious man over the saddle and led him to the gates. When the iron gate had been raised, Brodie slapped the horse sharply and it skidded through the gate and down the path. The English escort, aware of Struan's intent to rid the Clan MacKendimen of its heir once more, galloped after the spooked horse.
Good riddance to bad rubbish, Brodie thought, as he watched his cousin leave the clan once more. And this time, in addition to his plea that Sandy was gone for good, Brodie begged one more boon from the Almighty. Surely, He could find a fitting heir to follow after Struan and lead the Clan MacKendimen.
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