St. Edmund

St. Edmund

In fact, the sun shone across a bright blue winter sky, Mother Nature offering a cheery apology for the storm of two days ago, it seemed.
Iain woke but did not move. Somewhere in the night, he and Maggie
had both shifted so that they were now nearly nose to nose. Perhaps not
exactly, but as his face was tipped downward and hers was slanted upward,
it appeared that way.
She slept yet. He resisted the urge to sweep the hair off her face, was
pleased to be able to stare unimpeded. Her lips were parted, her breathing
even, her freckles on perfect display. He resisted as well revisiting certain
events of yesterday. There truly was no need to hash it out anymore inside
his head. What is done is done. A tragedy, to be sure, that there should be
no more kisses between them, but then even this was immaterial, as they
would likely part company this day.
His head pounded just now, as it so often did when he’d been plagued
by nightmares. He wondered if he had been; he did not always recall them.
He hoped he hadn’t disturbed anyone, the lass most of all. Duncan had
several times told him that he became quite violent when in the grip of
those far off demons. He could bring to mind no snippets of any torment
that might have plagued him overnight, was beset just now by only a
memory of Maggie’s kiss. Mayhap this was the cause of the ache about his
temples. Unfortunate business, that. A shame to part ways with the lass with so much unsettled—indeed, conflicted—between them.
Her long lashes fluttered several times before they opened under his
gaze. He did not look away, did not pretend he was not or hadn’t been
availing himself to a long and leisurely exploration of her adorable features.
So then wasn’t he surprised when she neither blushed nor demurred under
the intensity of his regard. Instead, Maggie Bryce returned the scrutiny,
looking over every inch of his face that he wondered he did not blush
himself, never having been subjected to so thorough an examination.
“Will be a fine day for travel,” he said, before color did rise on his
cheeks. Or damn, before he made the mistake of kissing her again.
“Mm,” she concurred. “A day for farewells, then, as you are headed
north and I south.”
He could not interpret the tone of her words. Acceptance?
Resignation? Sorrow? “Hm.” And then quiet, while he thought of this.
Home to Berriedale while the lass walked in the opposite direction, toward
the nunnery, where she might well spend the rest of her life, if he were to
believe what she proclaimed.
The silence lengthened. Her gaze remained steadfast upon him. ’Twas
a fairly intimate stare, felt somehow very tender, almost as if it should be
reserved for two people who were better acquainted than Maggie Bryce and himself, all glorious kissing aside.
The rest of her life.
After several minutes, he cleared his throat quietly and murmured, “Of
course, lass, you could always move on with us, take respite up at
Berriedale. Mayhap only until all the snows clear.” Instantly, he thought he
should regret these words, thought them unwise somehow, but he could not.
She did not respond immediately that Iain thought to add, “By spring,
should be no trouble to send you down to St. Edmund’s in a cart, or take
you there myself, if circumstances allow.”
He could not name the emotions that skittered across her face, but he
found himself rather holding his breath, simultaneously thinking himself the greatest arse that ever lived.
“I suppose,” she finally said, “it might be an easier trek to St.
Edmund’s if I were to wait for more agreeable weather.”
Iain breathed again. “Aye, it would be. The world’s a dangerous place
for a woman on her own.”
Just one corner of her beautiful mouth curved upward. “But you could
keep me safe.”
Something inside him flipped contentedly at her wording, that she’d
said as much as a statement, did not pose it as a question. A smile curved
his lips. “Aye, Maggie Bryce, I think I can manage to keep one wayward
lass safe and well.”
“But would I be required to walk behind you and your men, as
previously discussed?”
Ian grinned, felt his chest rumble with a bit of a chuckle. With this, her
slight teasing, he thought she somehow had managed to put them on better footing, reverted to where they were before he’d dared to kiss her. At the same time, her seeming agreement to travel onward with him rather negated the untimely and unfortunate question she’d posed yesterday, Am I in danger now? So that he did now believe wholeheartedly that the query had been posed not with any fear of him, but with some surprise that he had kissed her at all.
“Nae, lass, we’ll find you a nice seat atop the horse and no’ behind it.”
She gave a nod and produced a contemplative smile that Iain dared further,
“Seems a shame to leave unfinished this matter between us.” This needed to be said—and to hell with what he’d told her yesterday—so that she had no illusions, that she could claim no surprise when next he tried to kiss her.
Iain was capable of more self-reflection than most men, he believed,
but he did not at all examine his reasons for either the invitation or the bare cajoling. And yet, when she offered him another small smile, he found he was very pleased with this circumstance.
They rose shortly thereafter, as others began to wake.
“Let’s get to it, lads,” prodded Duncan.
Without further direction, the men gathered what few belongings and
packs they’d brought in from the horses and kicked all of Maggie’s beach
and river stones over the still warm coals of the near-dead fire.
The lass had only her now empty basket to collect. She drew the long
straps up over her shoulder and spent some time with the fabric of her
wimple, once again arranging the creamy linen around and over her hair
and head until all was covered completely.
Hew approached her, his own pack slung over his back, his sword
returned to his belt. “But what will you do now?” Much worry was etched
into his youthful face.
She told him with a pretty smile, “Your chief has invited me to travel
with you to Berriedale for now.”
She might well have said she’d been given the key to heaven, which
she would now share with Hew, so delighted was his expression then.
Iain was anxious to be on the road, even as he understood they had no
simple journey in front of them. At the same time, he felt jauntier than he
had in days, and thought to have some fun with the lass, whom he still
believed lied about her original destination.