August 28, 2016

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Flash Fiction: A King's Command

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“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” – Jane Austen


The command from King James had come like a thunder cloud.

Jason, one of the king’s favored warriors and leader of the illustrious Clan Morgan, would wed the Lowland daughter of a minor chieftain who lived so close to the cursed border that he might as well be a Sassanech.

There would be no explanation for the command, no context for why James commanded it be so—and there would be no questioning. Men did not question their king and keep their head. Their family’s holdings.

Jason’s family had fought for the Bruce a century previous and remained closely allied with the royal family—had fought against the usurper Balliol. He was loyal.

He stood in the chapel before the priest, his infamous stoical nature all that kept him from raging at his king and a world in which he could be the supreme leader of his own people and not in charge of his own destiny.

A Lowlands wench would hardly survive the first winter in the Highlands, and yet he would have to breed that weakness into his sons. After all he had sacrificed and worked for—

She appeared on her father’s arm at the end of the chapel, a pretty delicate girl in a gown of blue with her with chestnut hair bound up under a gold circlet.

And she looked terrified. No doubt she had had her Lowland mind filled with stories of Highland chiefs and their rough way of life. Of Jason’s deeds in battle, which might as well appear savage to her.

“Here.” Her father—whose name Jason had not asked for—took her arm and thrust her away. The girl—Elizabeth—stumbled slightly, and Jason caught her. He eyed the father with suspicion. He seemed to happy to be rid of the girl—what could be wrong with her?

“If we may?” the priest said with a light cough.

Jason caught the eye of his king who narrowed his eyes. Whatever the reason for the commanded marriage—there was little Jason could do now. She would be his wife.

When it came time for her to give her vows, she was quiet for a moment, but her hands squeezed his and her eyes found his. They were blue—as deep and dark as the loch near his home.

“Lass,” he prompted, when she said nothing. “You must swear your oath.”

“Aye,” she said, her voice low and even. She cast a look at the priest before looking back at Jason. “Aye, I will.” She seemed more assured, as if—as if in that moment their eyes had met—he had reassured her. Her grasp on his hands eased until they just lay in his, palm to palm.

“Laird?” the priest prompted.

“Aye,” Jason said, and she smiled. A genuine smile—at odds with the fear that he had seen when she had entered the chapel. What had changed? If she was not afraid of him, then…

His shoulders tensed as he saw her father, murmuring at the king. Aye. Something was amiss here if the lass felt more at ease with a man she had known for minutes than her own family.

He would discovery what treachery was afoot.

Inside the chambers lent to them for the occasion of the wedding, the former Elizabeth Webber laced her fingers together tightly and closed her eyes. Remembering the flash she had received when she had looked into the eyes of her new husband.

He was a kind man, she told herself. Gruff. Stubborn. But kind. And if she was a good wife to him, he would be a good husband to her. She had seen them, sitting by a fire—her heavy with child, he carving the cradle where their child would sleep. They had been content. Serene.

She knew the flashes did not always come true—that they were often just a window into the possibilities. He might be killed in battle, she might be lost to disease.

But it would be better than what had come before.

If she never told him about who she was. What she was. Then she would be safe.

She just had to keep her secret.

There was a light knock on the door, and then her husband was standing there. She rose from her chair, and they both stared at each other for a long moment.

“I am…nervous,” she admitted. She looked towards the bed. “I know what we must do. That you must—that we must show the sheets tomorrow—”

“I—” Jason, her husband, hesitated. And she could feel his own nerves, his own desire to protect her—but to—she tilted her head. She did not quite recognize that second emotion, but it seemed heated.

“I will not hurt you,” he said finally. He reached for her hand. “I will never hurt you, Elizabeth. I promise that.”

It was not the truth, of course. She saw it when she took his hand. But his intent was pure, and that shone through. He would never intend to hurt her—he would never lock her away, never withhold food or human companionship.

But no one could promise a life free of hurt. And the decency she saw in him—

There was no way to know if it would last. If he would accept her secret. Her curse had a way of turning even the innocent and pure against her.

“I trust you,” Elizabeth said, finally. As much as she could ever trust. “And I will be a good wife. You will never regret this day, my lord.”

“My name is Jason,” he said, drawing her close and dipping his head to kiss her. She did not know quite what he wanted from her, but his lips were smooth and warm, and she felt a tingle in her chest, warmth spreading to her fingertips.

“Aye, Jason,” she said when he raised his head, her breath a bit short. He dipped his head again—but she cried out.

Pain flashed in her chest—like heavy metal cutting into her skin. Elizabeth stumbled to the side, falling to her knees, clutching her hands to her chest. There was no dagger. No weapon.

“Elizabeth—”

It was not her pain she had felt, not her death she envisioned.

But her husband’s.

She looked at him, tears spilling down her cheeks. He would die, at the hands of someone he trusted.

“Elizabeth—” He knelt next to her. “What is it?”

She could tell him. It was unlikely that he would believe her–he might have their marriage annulled and cast her out. And still he would die.

Elizabeth closed her eyes, and tried to bring back that first image. Of the family they might create. It was still there—still possible.

She had to keep it from him, return to his home, and find a way protect him—and her secret.

September 3, 2016

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Flash Fiction: A King's Command

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.”

September 7, 2016

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Flash Fiction: A King's Command

Prompt: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.


Elizabeth frowned as she dropped a stitch in the gown she was mending. It was impossible to keep her concentration as life in the keep continued around—as if she were not sitting before the fire in the Great Hall.

As if she had not been their laird’s wife for the better part of three months.

People walked past her—warriors of the clan did not so much as take notice of her—they had never once shown her the deference they gave to Jason’s aunt or sister.

“And where does the fault lay for that?” she muttered as she repaired the stitch and continued with her project. During her first weeks here, she had made efforts to gain Tracy and Emily Morgan’s…acknowledgment, if not respect. She had asked Tracy to show her around, to talk about the duties Tracy carried out—but the older woman had rebuffed her, and Emily showed nothing but derision for her. Dillon was kinder, but he spent much of his time in the company of the fishermen who kept the clan fed in the between the larger hunts.

Jason spent much of his time outside the keep during the day, training his warriors and seeing to the clan’s needs. She offered no complaint about his family, though she was sure he was aware of the rift that existed. She rarely stayed in the hall after their evening meal, and Jason had started to join her earlier in their chambers.

Oh, were those not the best of evenings? They would sit before the warm fire, in their cozy little world, and he would tell her all about the world that lay outside their walls. He talked of his family’s loyalty to the king, of his clan’s history. And then they would retire for the night—nearly every night and some mornings…

Her cheeks were heated as she remembered how it felt to be his wife, to share their bodies. Jason was the best of husbands—no one could ask for more.

He had been away now for nearly three days—their monthly sojourn to stock the keep with meat they would in the coming weeks. This trip longer than most because Jason wanted to be sure they were ready for the remainder of the harsh winter. One’s breath nearly froze away from the fires of the hall, and the snow drifts were so deep that the warriors had taken sparring inside, the tables and trenchers pushed against the walls.

And while life in the clan continued much as it ever had, Elizabeth sat alone. Day after day, night after night—mending even the gowns that did not need it. She hesitantly asked if there were a loom—perhaps she might be able to work on some tapestries as she had at home. Tracy had scoffed at her and walked away without answering.

“’Tis one of the worst winters in years,” Dillon said as he sat in the chair next to her, blowing air into his hands then holding them close to the fire. “I ‘spect it is much warmer in the Lowlands.”

“I…I suppose,” Elizabeth said hesitantly. “I did not…I spent little time outdoors.” Locked in her rooms. Away from people. Away from anything that might trigger the curse. “Jason warned me the winters were…I suppose I thought maybe this close to the water—”

“Oh, aye, we have a more mild time of it than families further inland,” Dillon agreed. He hesitated and looked away, toward one of the men passing them. The man—whose name Elizabeth had never learned and likely never would at this rate—snorted before striding away. “You musn’t let them get to you, Cousin. ‘Tis Mother’s doing. She willna let you be mistress in anyway—”

“—and so the clan thinks me a lazy Sassenach,” Elizabeth said with a sigh, letting her mending fall in her lap. “Aye, I know. Cumberland is so close to England, I might as well—” She stared down at the dull-colored cloth. “I do not wish to interfere—I know your mother values her position here, but I had hoped if I were patient—”

“Aye, well, showing patience with my mother is like showing yer weakness,” Dillon said with a half smile. “I was supposed to be the leader of my father’s people, you see. But m’father died when I was just a bairn. The clan elected another leader, and Mother decided to come home when Jason’s mother died in child bed.” He shifted. “Mother has never really…recovered from losing her position.”

And so clung to this one tightly…there was nothing Elizabeth could say that would be kind towards Dillon’s mother, and while the youth recognized his mother’s flaws—he might not be so happy if she chimed in with own complaints.

“I have much to feel blessed for,” Elizabeth said, with a bright smile she hoped looked more real than it felt. “I have a lovely home, and I could not ask for a better husband. When we have our own family, I shall—” She took a deep breath. “I shall look after them and be content.” And she wanted those children so fiercely—but despite their…enthusiastic efforts…God had not yet blessed them.

“Eventually Mother will relent or Cousin Jason will set her on fire,” Dillon said. He reached for the mug of ale he had brought with him. “Shall we offer a toast to his safe and soon return?”

“Aye.” Elizabeth reached for her own ale, untouched since a maid had grudgingly brought it to her. “To Jason. May he return soon.”

She sipped the drink and wrinkled her nose. It had a slight bitterness to it—mayhap it had sat too long, but she could not ask for another mug. It would be wasteful. So she sipped it again, and continued to lightly sip as she and Dillon talked of her brief time in the king’s court and the places he hoped to see one day.

The liquid was perhaps a quarter gone when her stomach lurched. The forgotten mending slid to the floor as Elizabeth stood, trying to settle the roiling inside.

“Elizabeth?” Dillon stood. “What—”

She heard nothing else as a vision flashed in front of her—a hand tipping something into a mug—and then the world went black.


When Jason strode into the hall a day later, he found the room surprisingly quiet—no warriors sparring, no groups clustered around the fires—only his sullen sister sitting with their aunt.

Tracy rose at his entrance. “I was about to send a rider after you, Nephew.”

Her expression was heavy—and Jason realized that his wife was missing. It was the middle of the day and she was not mending or sewing by the fire. “Where is Elizabeth?”

“There was…” Emily stood. “We’re not sure what happened.”

His chest tightened, but he kept his voice even. “Where is my wife?”

“Upstairs in your chambers,” Tracy said with a sigh. “She…collapsed yesterday, shortly before the evening meal. Dillon said they had been conversing normally when—”

“Is she—” He could not speak the word, could not—already—imagine his life without the petite brunette and her shy smiles and passionate embraces. “Does she live?”

“Aye,” Emily said, though he frowned at the sullenness of her tone. He knew that the women in his family had not yet warmed to his wife, but he’d hoped with time—

“What says the healer? Has Barbara been to see her?”

“She thinks…” Tracy pursed her lips. “’Tis nonsense, of course, but Barbara suspects poison.”

“Poison—” Jason shook his head. “Nay, ‘tis not possible. She was home. With our clan. They could not—” He stopped. He would speak to their healer himself.

Without another word, he turned and strode towards the stairs.

Inside their chambers, where he had left his wife four days earlier peacefully slumbering—Elizabeth lay on her back, her pallor as pale as the snow that fell outside their window.

She lay under a pile of furs, her eyes closed—the lids almost purple.

At her side, his cousin Dillon scrambled to his feet. “Jason—” His voice slurred, and he wavered. “I wanted to come find you, to tell you—”

“Laird,” their healer murmured from the fire. She stepped away, a mug in her hand. “Your wife lives, I assure you.”
a
“Will—” Jason rounded the bed and reached for his wife’s hand as Dillon moved to make room. Her hand was limp—if not for the slight rise of her chest—

“Aye,” Barbara said. “She did not have enough to cause death, though it ‘twas a near thing.”

“We were—” Dillon’s voice was thick. “We were talking and she was sipping her ale. I don’t think she liked it, but she couldn’t ask for another—” He closed his mouth, misery etched in his expression.

Jason shook his head. OF course Elizabeth would not ask for a replacement—he had allowed his clan to mistreat his wife—she was not mistress in her own home and did not feel comfortable enough to challenge the bad taste of her drink.

“I found nightshade at the bottom of the mug.” Barbara lifted her chin. “I do not give a fig for what your aunt says, Laird. Your lady was poisoned.”

“Mother just does not want to suspect someone—” Dillon began.

“When will she wake?” Jason asked, ignoring his cousin. “Will she be all right?”

“Her breathing is already much better,” she said. “I would think within the day. But, my Laird…” She hesitated. “I do not know if your lady knew, but Dillon says likely not—”

“Knew what?” Jason faced the older woman, a bit impatiently. “Barbara—”

“She was carryin’, Laird. And she…she lost the babe.”

September 18, 2016

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Flash Fiction: A King's Command

Within an hour, Jason knew all there was to know.

Which was damn little.

His cousin had been all but asleep on his feet—Dillon had been reluctant to leave Elizabeth as Tracy had not deigned to assign any protection to the laird’s wife. “I argued most fiercely, Cousin,” Dillon said as Jason shoved him down the hallway toward his own chambers. “But Mama did not agree a’tall wit’ Barbara—”

“I know,” Jason muttered. “What of the serving girl? Who gave my wife the ale?”

“Dunno.” They stopped in front of the door. “God’s Truth, Jason. I was out wit’ the boats all day. Just as I am every day. I share some ale with Elizabeth each night before supper. She was already there, the ale at her side. We spoke a bit about…about things…then we—” He looked away and swallowed. “I thought we might drink a toast to your safe return. If I hadn’t, mayhap she would have forgotten it ‘twas there—”

“The only fault lays with the coward who tried to kill her.” Jason shoved him inside his chamber. “Sleep. Thank you for looking after my wife.”

He turned to find Francis, his first in command, behind him. “I was about to send for you—”

“Yer aunt told me all when I came in the hall.” They went back towards Jason’s chambers. “I’ve already asked Johnny to look into the kitchen staff, but the trail is ice cold, Laird. And…”

When Francis paused, Jason sighed, his hand on the heavy oak door. “Aye. Elizabeth is not well-liked, there there is no small amount of suspects. But not all dislike is ill-meant.”

“’Tis not that the men dislike her,” Francis said, his face miserable. “They—she does not…well—” He shuffled his feet. “They’re unconvinced at our king’s motives. They think she brings danger with her.”

“Aye, and I’ve held my tongue. I thought Elizabeth would—” Win them over. As she had him. And the contingent of men who had been with them at the wedding and the journey home. “But I sat back too long, I let Elizabeth talk me down—she was—there was to be a child.” His voice broke—just slightly. “’Tis gone.”

“I—” Francis lifted his chin. “I see to Johnny’s investiation and put Max and Gannon at the chamber door. Yer wife will come to no more harm. We will find the fiend, Jason. You have my oath.”


It was another day before Elizabeth stirred from her deep sleep, her voice slurred as she struggled to sit up. “Husband?”

“Do not move quickly—you will be tired for days yet.” Jason braced her and piled furs behind her. “Are you hungry? Do you wish for drink?”

“No, I—” She cleared her throat, blinking. “What has happened? I was—” Her eyes cleared and there was dread in her eyes. “Jason. I—I was drinking ale with Dillon. And I felt so ill.”

He bowed his head. “Aye. The healer says…there was nightshade in your mug.”

“Night—” Elizabeth pressed a fist to her chest. “Someone wants me dead—” She closed her eyes. “That is not all, is it, husband? Do you know…you know who?”

“No, but—” He paused. He could not keep this from her, he could not lie. But to say the words— “There was…you were with…”

“Child,” she finished. “But no longer.”

“No.”

In her lap, her hands fisted and she was quiet for a long moment. “I should like to…could you help me to stand up?”

“I am not sure—”

“Please.”

He drew back the furs and helped to rise to her feet. She swayed slightly but together, they made their way to the chairs set before the fire. He helped Elizabeth sit down there and then fetched furs to tuck around her. “Elizabeth—”

“I knew ‘twas nothing more than a dream,” she murmured. “To be free. A family. I should have told the king no.”

“I know you do not feel safe here,” Jason began, kneeling in front of her. IF she wanted to return to the king’s court until the villain was found, he could not—he was not sure he could deny her. But—

“I was always told it ‘twas a curse,” Elizabeth continued, her eyes distant, her voice flat as if he were not even in the room. “I told myself it was. But I see now I did not truly believe it until now.”

“Believe what?” Jason drew back, tilting his head. “Elizabeth—”

“I should have—the king should have told you. I should not have believed it would be different here. That I could have a life—”

“You can—”

“No.” She reached forward for his hand. “No, I cannot. I am cursed, just as my parents have always told me. God has cursed me for reasons I cannot fathom. And I am sure of it now. I wanted a child, and God has taken that from me—”

“A coward, a worthless scum has done that—”

“If it is not my fault, then why could I not see?” Her voice broke and a tear slid down her cheek. “I can see when the king’s man poisoned his chalice. I stopped it. I knew when the shepherd at home had broken his leg, had been stranded in the fields.”

“See?” Jason repeated.

Her eyes found his and the emptiness, the devastation nearly stole his breath. “I am cursed by God to see the future, to know things I should not. If it is not a curse, then why could I not save my own child? I had—I had a brief flash just before it all went dark, but not in time. You should—” She swallowed. “You should set me aside. Contact the king. You deserve a wife who can give you more—”

“Stop, just—” Jason rose to his feet and dragged his hand through hair, startled to find it shaking just a little. His wife was telling him—what exactly was she—

“You had a vision that the king would be poisoned and you stopped it,” Jason said, turning back to her. “You saved his life.”

“I could not help it.” She looked down at her lap, twisting her fingers in the dark furs. “My parents brought me to court under royal order—the king is seeking to make alliances between clans and all unmarried maidens—I touched his hand, and I blurted it out. I—he is my king. I could not pretend—”

“Of course not. Your parents were angry?” Jason could easily believe it of the man who had thrust his daughter away to an unknown chieftain.

“Aye. My father passed it off as a crazed mind, but the king…he discovered the man poisoning his chalice. He sent for me, and he said—he was so grateful for it. He said I should be protected.” She looked at him with a sad smile. “And he gave me you. He said I would be safe with you.”

And she hadn’t been. Damn it. He sank back to his knees. “I promise you, I will make you safe here again, Elizabeth. I will find the man who tried to take you from me, who took—” And again, there—his throat closed. He had wanted a child with her. A family. Hers was not the only dream to be crushed this day.

“I should have been able to see in time,” Elizabeth insisted. “What use is this gift if I cannot save my child—” And then her face paled. “You have an enemy. It—I understand now.”

“Understand what?”

“The night of our wedding,” Elizabeth said slowly, “I saw—I felt you be pierced by a sword.”

He remembered her sharp cry that night, the way she had fallen to the ground as if it struck. Her explanation had made little sense, but he could never have dreamed of the truth.

“Did you see who?” Jason asked.

“No, but I—” She bit her lip. “I felt your betrayal,” she murmured. “You—trusted this person.”

“Someone close to me.” Who may not want to see his line continue as laird. Who had sought to kill his wife. “Who may not be eager to see you with child.”

“Jason, I—” She pressed her lips together, her expression quizzical. “You are not…you are not angry with me. You…do not wish to set me aside?”

He took her hands in his, running his calloused thumb over her smooth palm. “You are my wife. The king may have commanded our marriage, Elizabeth, but he was right to. I will protect you, and I will care for you.” He met her eyes. “You are a miracle, wife. Not a curse. And I will thank my king and God every day for you.”

July 1, 2017

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Flash Fiction: A King's Command

The way forward was not immediately clear. Jason wanted to leave Elizabeth in their room, locked securely behind a door guarded by his most trusted men while he hunted down the bastard who had stolen their child and attempted to murder his wife.

But that was never an option—not after Elizabeth had reluctantly admitted that she had spent the greater portion of her own childhood in such circumstances.

He would have to allow her into the world even if it meant he would put her safety at risk.

But first, he had to take a stand with his family.

His aunt swept into their room several days after Elizabeth had first left the bed. Her color had returned but she still tired easily and was only just managing to take solid foods.

Tracy pursed her lips as she took in the swaddled figure in the chair by the fire before turning her attention back to her nephew. “I am relieved to see your wife is feeling better.”

“Are you?” Jason replied with his brows raised. He clasped his hands behind his back. “Do not think your behavior these last six months has gone unnoticed, Aunt. Your place here has been important, but—”

“Husband…” Elizabeth said, softly. She rose to her feet, keeping a shawl tucked around her shoulders. He scowled at her but she ignored him as she joined his side. “Your aunt tested me and I failed. I did not push for a place here. Truth be told, I did not think I would be able to measure up. I was not expected to make any marriage at all, much less to a Highland chieftain who required a better wife than I.”

“Elizabeth,” Jason growled, but she put a hand on his arm.

“’Tis true and you know it. I wanted peace and a family. I wanted to be a good wife to you—”

“You have—”

“Perhaps to the man,” Elizabeth agreed with a half smile. She looked to Tracy. “But I am not merely married to Jason Morgan, the man, but Jason, the laird, and I have a responsibility to that position.”

Tracy raised her chin. “Aye, you do. And this clan deserves better—”

“Tracy—”

“But they have me,” Elizabeth said, again interrupting him. “I do not know if the poison given to me was meant nefariously or to free Jason from a disadvantageous marriage. I cannot think they wanted to prevent the birth of a child as no one knew of the bairn.” Her voice slipped then, and this time she did not argue as Jason steered her back to the chair by the fire.

Tracy shifted, uncomfortably. “It is still difficult to imagine of our own could do such a thing. I wish I could maintain it was an accident, but Barbara has assured me it could not have been. I…have not been as welcoming as I ought to have been to the wife of my nephew. The king chose you—I ought not to have questioned it. And…” She looked at Jason, the bedgrudging fondness clear in her expression. “It is quite obvious you have been a good wife to Jason.”

“I have tried,” Elizabeth said, softly. “But ‘tis time for me to be the lady of this clan. My mother did not prepare me for such things. I would like to be worthy of the name the king and my husband have given me.”

“That is ridiculous,” Jason began.

“If it ‘tis your wish to learn how to go on, to run this keep, I will see it done. It will be your children that will inherit, not mine after all.” She hesitated again. “I am sorry for the loss of the child. We have long looked forward to the birth of a new generation. For Jason to have strong sons to continue our fine traditions. And Dillon has told me of your wish to be a mother.”

Elizabeth looked away, towards the fire, tears burning in her eyes again. “Aye,” she murmured.

“Jason’s mother lost three children before their first birthday, and two more were never born,” Tracy said, matter of factly. “I lost two of my own, including my eldest son in battle. Highland women bury their children. Their sons in warfare, their daughters in childbirth. ‘Tis our duty to move forward, to look to the future. You conceived once, you will be with child again. We will take your safety seriously.” She looked to Jason. “I apologize if my behavior led any in the clan to think I would countenance such an action.”

She nodded to Elizabeth and left.

Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “I think that your aunt accidentally called me a Highland woman.”

Jason managed a smile as he knelt before. “’Tis her guilt speaking. She’ll be calling you a Sassenach again tomorrow. I…I do not believe she was involved.”

“No, I do not think so. She would come at me directly. She never pretended to like. I have always known where I stand.”

“I want it to be clear, Elizabeth, that in no way have you disappointed me. You are my wife and that is the end of it.”

She managed a slight chuckle as she brushed her fingertips against his cheek. “And I am grateful every day to my king and to God for that fact because I truly believe it. But we will have a child one day. A son who will follow you, and he deserves a strong mother. I have been hiding these last months, content in these four walls to be a good wife in private. But I want more. I want to take my place by your side and gain the respect of your men because I deserve it, not because you have commanded it.”

“I…am terrified,” Jason managed to say, likely using that word for the first time, “that I do not know who my enemies are. That they may come for you again.”

“I am terrified every day you leave this room. I have worried for months that you will be taken from me by someone you trust. I do not believe they will come for me again, but for you. But I do not wish to live my life afraid of all that might happen and miss it entirely.”

He nodded. “All right. We will try it your way. I will find the man responsible, Elizabeth. And I will keep you safe.”