Highlander’s Trials of Fire – Lydia Kendall

IT WAS the summer heat that slipped the smile from Jonet’s face, despite the rush of happiness surging through her. A trickle of sweat ran across her brow and she wiped quickly at it, an absent motion that she was hardly aware of. Neither was she very conscious of the fact the heat made her blue woollen dress cling to her body, with her midnight black hair matted from the high heat. “Aye, lass, right that way,” came a tender voice over her shoulder. “A little more and ye’ll be almost as good as me.” “I cannae hope to compare,” Jonet said with a laugh. Without thinking, she wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, despite her hands being covered in white flour. “Oh, dear,” the voice came again and the woman behind her stepped to her side. Jonet turned to face her, surprised at the amusement in her tone. Christal, the cook, grinned broadly as she wiped something from Jonet’s forehead and said, “Ye are the clumsiest lass I ken. Ye wiped flour all over yeself without noticin’.” “Oh, did I? I dinnae notice.” “Ye dinnae notice anythin’ unless it’s right before ye,” Christal said warmly. “But it doesnae matter. Ye continue doing what ye doin’ and I’m sure ye’ll get it soon.

” Jonet smiled and continued kneading the heel of her hand into the large bowl of flour. She had been at it since she had awoken an hour prior and was yet to produce the shortbread she was hoping for. Jonet did not consider herself a good cook. Not comparable to Christal in the slightest, that was certain, but she was determined to let the blue-eyed, grey-haired woman who dominated the castle’s scullery teach her how to make this simple pastry before her father and her betrothed awoke for the day. The mere thought of the man she would soon marry, Murdock Anderson, had her smile returning with full force. Upon their betrothal, he had come to live in the castle alongside her and her father, the Laird of MacLagain, and had fallen so quickly for him that at times, it still surprised her. Jonet had been nervous when she had first grown to know him, but what girl wouldn’t? With such beautiful sky-blue eyes, and that head of deep red hair, Jonet did not know many who would not become flustered in his presence. But that nervousness had melted away as they began to grow closer together, days that stretched into weeks filled with his sweet and kind personality. He was even quite playful, a man who looked at the world around him through bright, happy eyes. How could she not fall in love? “Watch out, lass,” Christal called from the other side of the kitchen.

“If ye keep smilin’ that way, ye face will be stuck that way.” “Nothin’ wrong with that, Christal,” Jonet responded jovially. Her attempts to make this cake were continuing to fail, and the time she had left before Murdock awoke was growing lesser still. Yet she did not give in to the hurry. It was such a lovely day, even with the heat, that her good mood was only lifted at the thought of seeing Murdock again. Jonet began to hum. It was a jaunty tune her mother used to sing to her at nights, one she had long ago forgotten the words for. As the sound of her humming filled the kitchen, Jonet’s mind drifted to the day she would finally be married to Murdock. She knew it would be such a beautiful affair. She truly believed she would never be happier than in that moment.

“Ah, well then,” came Christal’s voice. Jonet blinked, coming back to the present. She had been so lost in her own mind that she hadn’t realized the flour she had been working on was now everywhere but in the bowl. It was all over her dress and the large plaid scarf that was draped around her shoulders, even splattered on her bare toes. Christal shook her head, mirth shimmering in her eyes. “Cannae say I’m surprised,” she murmured. “This is the third time! When will I learn me lesson?” Jonet’s cheeks warmed. “One day, lass, but nae today, it seems.” Christal patted her tenderly on the arm, pushing her out of the way at the same time. “Ye intention is what matters in the end, after all.

” “Aye, but he won’t know me intention if I daenae bring him anythin’, ye think?” Christal’s patience was truly admirable. Considering she had two little boys packed with energy, Jonet was not surprised. Still, she could not think of a single woman she would be comfortable being so absent-minded. When she was around Murdock, Jonet always tried her best not to appear too careless—sometimes overthinking her actions in the process. Though she supposed that her efforts were certainly paying off, since Murdock was not aware. “Go on now, lass,” Christal told her, waving her hand towards the exit. “Ye go get changed and get ready for the day. Ye will be seeing yer betrothed later, ye ken.” “Aye…” Jonet took a few steps back. She watched as Christal got to work, getting a wet cloth to fix Jonet’s mess.

She did not look annoyed, but Jonet felt a stab of guilt even as she continued to leave the kitchen. With her failed attempt, it was best if she returned to her bedroom and changed her clothes before the rest of the castle awoke. Turning, she made her way up the stone steps that led towards the banquet hall. She quite enjoyed the peace of the early morning and as she passed by the large windows, she noticed the soft glow of sunlight peaking over the horizon. Soon her father would have risen for breakfast and she would be able to see Murdock again. Often she felt like a child, this giddy excitement in her a little more than she could handle sometimes. Jonet told herself that it was simply because she was unused to being in love, but she would have the rest of her life with her husband to grow accustomed. She couldn’t help smiling at the thought. Even though her hopes had been dashed, nothing could tamper her mood for today. The trip to her bedroom was quiet and peaceful, her bare feet crossing the distance easily.

Soon, she made it upon the tall wooden door barring her entrance and when she entered, her maid, Freya, was in the process of making the bed. Freya looked up at her and gasped. “Miss Jonet!” she whispered fiercely, as if daring to say it any louder would alert the entire castle. “What happened?” “I cannae do anythin’ right, Freya,” Jonet said simply, in a tone that belied how much it didn’t bother her. “Ye ken I’ve been tryin’ to make shortbread for Murduck, but it dinnae turn out so well.” “Did ye just take fistfuls of flour and threw it at yeself?” Freya gasped. She abandoned the bed to take the shawl Jonet had slipped from her shoulders. “Nae exactly,” Jonet said with a chuckle. “Though, I can see why ye look at it that way.” Freya shook her head.

Her blond hair was tied back into a long braid that laid heavily in the center of her back, tendrils of curls fringing her hairline. She always moved with a quiet urgency as if everything she was doing had to be done immediately, which was quite the opposite of Jonet. Jonet usually found her amusing, like the deep frown she wore right now. “I daenae ken what possessed ye to do such a thin’ so suddenly,” she said, fussing over her like a mother hen. She fetched her a new dress, one that was a soft blue linen to go over the petticoat Jonet already wore. “I wanted to surprise him,” Jonet responded conversationally. To be honest, having Murdock witness her as such a mess made her anxious. “That’s why I got someone like ye. To help me.” “Aye, aye, I ken.

” Freya sounded exasperated. Though they were close in age, she tended to act as if she were much older than Jonet. “But I should know I cannae do well at such things. I should stick to the things I ken, ye think?” “Aye, I do.” Jonet nodded. Now that Freya was done helping her into her dress, and fetching her another heavy shawl, she sat to allow Freya to comb the bits of flour from her hair and redo her braid. “I cannae wait for the wedding,” she gushed, unable to help herself. “When do ye think me Faither will set the date?” “I dannae,” Freya said softly. Her lackluster response did not dim Jonet’s happiness. “I should speak with him.

I doesnae make any sense to delay it for too long.” “Ye are right.” Freya stepped away, an indication that she was finished. Jonet rose and gave her a bright smile. “Thank ye, Freya. Ye daenae think it would be too much if I went to see Murdock now, do ye?” Freya’s eyes went wide. “N-now?” “Oh, daenae worry,” Jonet said dismissively. “He’s a true upright man. I will send a servant to see if he’s awake, that’s all.” Freya’s shoulders visibly relaxed and she nodded.

“Aye, well, ye can do that. I daenae think I have the power to stop ye anyway.” That made Jonet laugh. She lifted a hand in farewell as she made her way out of the door. By now, the sun had risen fully, leaving dawn behind, and Jonet could almost feel the castle waking up. More servants were milling about, and she caught the attention of one to send to Murdock’s room, merely to inform him that she was waiting for him in the banquet hall. Jonet made her way there and stood by the window while she waited. The broad expanse of land that surrounded the castle was a warm sight that filled her with happiness. There were rocky terrains dispersed throughout the sea of green, with tall grace that danced under the wind. The forest could be seen in the distance.

She loved her father’s land, loved the clan that lived in and around it. She could not wait for the day she would make them all proud once she was married. The stretch of green grew blind to her eyes as her mind drifted elsewhere, Jonet became unaware of the time that passed. She was startled when the servant came rushing back to her, out of breath. “What is it?” she demanded, alarmed by his flushed face and his horror-filled eyes. “It’s terrible,” he gasped. “Murdock has been—he has been—” Jonet’s heart seized in her chest. She gripped her shawl tighter to her body, trying to remain calm as she pushed out her next words. “He is what?” The man swallowed, straightening as he tried to pull himself together. Finally, he managed to get the words out.

“I thought he was asleep, but when I went nearer, I saw he wasnae breathing. He’s dead, Miss Jonet.” That was when the world closed in on her.

.

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