Prompt: “We often confuse what we wish for with what is.” ― Neil Gaiman, MirrorMask
Elizabeth had forced herself to cast away the terrifying image that had flashed before her eyes—to ignore the vestige of pain that lingered in her chest for hours after the vision faded. This was her future, and her husband, that must be protected. He was kind and decent and deserved better than the betrayal that would lead to his death.
She convinced him that her behavior was nothing more than maidenly fears—and while she did not think he fully believed her, he seemed content to let it pass for now. They had a marriage to consummate and sheets to display in the morning to satisfy the king that had commanded their marriage.
She knew not why King James had chosen his boldest warrior without warning him of the curse, but perhaps he was still grateful that she had had the courage to tell him of the poisoned chalice he had nearly drunk a fortnight earlier. Perhaps the king did not consider the visions nearly as cursed as her own family, but she could not take that chance.
Jason had dismissed her fears and taken her to the large bed. There had been pain, aye—she had been warned of it. But there had also been joy and some small pleasure. She had somehow managed to please him—he had assured her so when she’d dared to ask. And he had slipped into sleep at her side.
She would find a way to prevent his death and bear him strong sons—and never allow this brave and kind warrior to regret following his king’s command.
Their journey to Castle Morgan took her deeper and further west than Elizabeth had ever before traveled. The keep was a massive stone structure built into the side of cliffs overlooking the deep blue waters of Mull. The air was bitten with a chill as their caravan rode into the courtyard nearly three weeks after their wedding day.
“I will introduce you to my family,” Jason said as he lifted her from her horse, his hand remaining clasped in hers. “And Alice will show you to our chambers so that you may wash and rest.”
“All right,” Elizabeth said as he led her to a small group of people who did not look anxious to meet her. Jason had confided in her during their journey that much of his clan did not appreciate the command to wed an unknown Lowlander. He assured her that it would not be a problem, but she had her doubts.
“My sister, Emily,” he said as a sour brunette bowed her chin ever so slightly in greeting. “My cousin, Dillon.” He nodded at a taciturn blonde haired man who appeared nearly a decade younger than his elder cousin. “And my aunt Tracy.”
The stony-faced woman offered no greeting to her nephew’s bride, only directed her conversation towards him. “Well? Did the king give his reason?”
“’Tis of no import,” Jason said simply. “This is Elizabeth.” He placed a hand at the small of her back and met her eyes briefly before looking at his aunt. “And I am well satisfied with the king’s match.”
The girl—Emily—snorted, but when Jason offered her a warning glance, her features schooled themselves into passivity.
There would be no warm welcome here, Elizabeth could see this now. No family to fold her into their lives. Whatever role she would hold at Castle Morgan would have to be carved out on her own.
“I am grateful to be here,” she said finally. “And blessed that the king allowed it.” She waited a moment before continuing. “I hope that you will show me my new home—”
“I have many responsibilities,” Tracy cut in her, voice as icy as the wind that whipped around them. “Running this keep.” Laying down the gauntlet. Elizabeth may be wife to the laird, but Tracy would not relinquish her role easily. “My son can show you—”
“Aunt,” Jason began, his tone no more pleased than his aunt’s, but Elizabeth reached for his hand and squeezed it. She knew he saw Tracy’s words as a slight, but Elizabeth could see the fear of being found unnecessary lurking behind the elder woman’s eyes. She did not know for how long Tracy had been chatelaine at the keep, but it was part of her identity.
“I think that sounds lovely,” Elizabeth said, flashing a hesitant smile and surprising Jason’s aunt. “I have never been to the Highlands before and I shall depend on all of you to help me through my first winter. ‘Tis slightly chillier than Cumberland.”
Emily opened her mouth, but Tracy spoke first. “Of course.” She pursed her lips. “Elizabeth.”
“Let us go into the hall,” Jason said, moving past the trio—leading Elizabeth towards the large wooden doors. “’Tis many hours since we supped.”
“I must apologize for my family.”
His wife frowned at him as she sat by the fire in their chambers later that night. She had bathed before he retired for the night, and now her long hair was drying before the heat.
“I thought it went well at dinner,” Elizabeth offered. She drew her shawl more tightly around the thin night rail—she would near warmer clothing with the winter drawing closer. “I did not expect them to treat me as one of their own on my first day, husband.”
No, she would not expect such kind treatment—any consideration of her own comfort and needs had been met with her quiet puzzlement throughout their journey.
He had stopped often, knowing that while she could ride well, the pace was demanding more than her stamina could supply. He had endeavored to camp near streams where she could wash and in clearings where they could comfortable put up a tent so she might enjoy privacy. His men had not been as pleased by the slow pace and extra work, but Elizabeth’s quiet and humble nature had won them over by the time the castle had been sighted this morning.
“My aunt has been mistress here since my mother’s death after Emily’s birth,” Jason said finally. “Her husband died in battle, and the clan elected to go with his younger brother as their laird as Dillon was young. She—”
“She cares very much for your clan and this castle. I can see that. I could not expect her to lay down her life’s work at the mere sight of me. She has no knowledge of my capabilities.” Her lovely mouth twisted as she looked into the flames. “Of which I have known. You may be satisfied with the king’s choice now, Jason, but I fear that you will regret it one day. I was not raised to be the wife of…” She sighed. “Anyone.”
This did not come as a surprise to him, but he could not see why. “Your father is a chieftain—daughters are for alliances. I can not imagine—”
“I cannot speak for my father’s wishes,” she said quickly, but he believed that even less than he had believed her sudden bout of maidenly fears on their wedding night. But Jason did not push her for more. Whatever secrets she protected were her own.
“There is no need for Dillon to show you the keep,” Jason said after a long moment. “I will do so—”
Elizabeth rose to her feet, her now dry hair tumbling over her shoulder. “You have responsibilities of your own, and I would like to know your family.” A shy smile tugged at her lips as he took her hand and drew her closer to him. “I dare not hope your family will be as my own, but I do hope they will…like me. Our children—” Her cheeks flushed. “They will love them.”
“Aye,” Jason agreed, though he intended to make sure his family gave Elizabeth a chance to earn their devotion. She may not have been his choice to take to wife—and there was may be a painful truth hidden in her heart—but she was kind, lovely—and seemed to determine to make their marriage a good one. “You wish for children?”
“Aye,” she repeated as his lips brushed hers. “As many as God sees fit to give us.”