One Knight’s Stand – Tanya Anne Crosby

Lady Elizabeth Louise Wolfe fidgeted in her seat, feeling the tension mount in her shoulders as the carriage wended its way closer to their intended destination: Chreagach Mhor, a no-man’s-land eight months after Culloden. The old laird had been executed, the elder son as well—traitors to England, so she’d been told. Now, if only to further someone’s notion of justice, she was consigned to wed the younger son, who was only too callow to reveal himself a traitor… as yet. What was he? Fourteen? Fifteen? Young and malleable, Lachlan MacKinnon was to be “softened” by Elizabeth and then mentored by her Uncle. If she succeeded, England would have itself a new northern “friend.” If she failed… She would be married to an undesirable at best. A traitor, at worst. But that alone wasn’t what bothered her most. Rather, she appreciated men and women who followed the dictates of their hearts and stood up for causes they believed in —like her. Or at least she liked to believe they were like her. And really, it took courage even to distribute pamphlets to rouse interest for the defense of runaway slaves—as her mother had done. In fact, perhaps she would be well in Scotland, though she knew her uncle was sending her away, in part, to remove her from the influence of “that motley crew of ne’er do wells.” Still, it didn’t help her mood all that much to know that she must do this alone, with only her chaperone for company. Wasn’t a wedding supposed to be the grandest thing ever? It was the worst. Her father couldn’t be roused from his travels to join her, her uncle and aunt were too busy celebrating the Twelve Nights, and not even her cousin James could be swayed from his noble duties—what had he said? He had some debt of honor to pay? To whom.

And why couldn’t his debt be left for another occasion? Why must he, too, leave Elizabeth to face this alone? Worst of all, how was she supposed to face that poor child? She was twenty-three, and he just a boy. How was she supposed to denude herself, and perform wifely duties, when he was a child, with more hands than sense? And, dear God, how in the name of England was she supposed to help mend a rift between their nations? Wasn’t that putting too much on the shoulders of women conscripted for this effort? Mind you, that’s precisely what this was, yet another form of compulsory service. It would be one thing if she had adopted this cause all on her own. It was another thing to force a woman—any woman—to lie back and do her duty for the sake of England… in bed. And nevertheless, it wasn’t so much that she didn’t wish to… explore. It was merely that she wished it to be her own choice—not that of her uncle’s or cousin’s. Upsetting herself more and more with dark thoughts, she considered that she was being used for a crusade not her own. While, in truth, she didn’t have any meaningful opinions about The King Over the Water, neither did she feel invested in the Forty-Five Rebellion—not for its cause, nor its resolution. These were men’s wars, and in Elizabeth’s estimation, women would never agree to put their sons on a battlefield with swords at each other’s throats. It was no more than a dangerous game of King of the Hill—one minute this king, the next another.

What they really needed was a woman on that throne —one with sensibilities something like her own. Tapping her fingers impatiently, she flicked a glance at Mrs. Grace—the only person in her life who had ever truly understood her, except for maybe her cousin, James, although he, in fact, was the very author of a misery. “It will be good for you to get away,” he’d said. “You’ll be lady of a great house,” he’d said. “Think of it this way,” he’d said. “Your affiliation may well save a good family from ruin.” Bollocks. That family was already ruined. They’d lost both a father and a brother and for all intents and purposes, their lands as well.

And in the meantime, it stood to be seen as to whether Elizabeth would even have a complete roof over her head. Many of the Scots’ homes had been razed, if not seized. And what was she supposed to do if she arrived to find the place in shambles? What would her mother have said, if only she’d lived to see this day? Plenty, Elizabeth was certain. Like Elizabeth, her mother had been painfully outspoken. Unfortunately, her father didn’t appreciate Elizabeth’s forthright nature. The very instant her mother kicked up her toes, he’d foisted her upon an aunt and uncle who scarcely had time for their own progeny, much less an annoying niece who was a champion for the poor and oppressed. Neither did they understand her. Only her cousin James had ever cared much for her welfare; although now, so it seemed, even he was against her. What was he thinking? Did he expect she wouldn’t speak up if she found the situation untenable? After all these years, did he believe she would turn a blind eye to the atrocities her compatriots were inflicting? Indeed, she was not to be trusted to hold her tongue, and what then? She, too, would be branded a traitor… Did they execute women? At the best of times, Elizabeth was not the one they should assign to such a delicate mission. No matter what her country of origin, she tended to call things the way she saw them.

So then, what now if she should happen to agree with her husband’s family? Lord only knew, not even her uncle could save her then. She sighed portentously, annoyed all over again, and hardly in the mood to arrive in the dead of night at some wreckage in the wilds of Scotland. “It won’t be long now,” said Mrs. Grace, with a forbearing smile. Elizabeth smiled back at her chaperone, wondering if she knew how close Elizabeth was to shouting for the driver to halt… so she could run away, screaming. But there was this small bit of curiosity that kept her seated: Why did her uncle feel such responsible for this particular clan, when, to the best of Elizabeth’s knowledge, they were perfect strangers? Simply because James was the one ordered to execute the elders didn’t make her Uncle Edward responsible for their reintegration. No doubt, it was a nice gesture, but her mother’s brother simply didn’t have the same sense of charity as his deceased sister, and, in fact, he really liked to make the point that it was her mother’s audacious personality that put her in the “wrong place at the right time” —in front of a speeding carriage, with a sign in her hand. “How much longer?” Elizabeth relented, ending her long bout of dissenting silence. The elder woman peered out of the carriage. It was snowing harder, and the carriage was slowing down.

At this pace, they would arrive at Dunmore on the Twelfth Night, not the First. “I don’t know,” said Mrs. Grace, as the voices outside grew louder and louder. Finally, the carriage came to a complete halt, and they heard their driver scuttle down, muttering a curse—shocking words no lady ought to overhear, but Elizabeth snickered and Mrs. Grace shook her head. After a long moment, the driver—one Mr. Hadley, who by the by, appeared to be smuggling spirits, judging by the suspicious sounds coming from their luggage rack—appeared at their door, pulling it open and giving Elizabeth only the briefest of glances before addressing her companion. “The bridge north of Calvine lies buried,” he said, brows pinched. “Won’t be passing through t’night, mayhap not even tomorrow.” “Oh, good grief,” said Mrs.

Grace. “What would you have us do, Mr. Hadley?” “Welp,” said the driver. “There’s an Inn here in Calvine.” “Insufferable,” complained Elizabeth, though not because the thought of stopping aggrieved her, but really, she didn’t appreciate that Mr. Hadley’s question wasn’t addressed to her, considering that it was her interest being discussed. She was not a child—unlike her betrothed. For her outburst, the driver cast her a disgruntled glance and Mrs. Grace reached out to pat Elizabeth’s hand, as though to say, “Quiet, dear.” “Can you please take us there?” Mrs.

Grace inquired. “Sorry mum,” said the driver. “You’ll see when you get down. The road’s full of travelers, all stuck on account of the weather. I’m guessing most’ll be waking the new year in their coaches.” “Stuck?” said Elizabeth. “What do you mean stuck?” “Stuck,” repeated the man, with a sniff, then, again, he turned his face to her and spoke to Mrs. Grace, as though he couldn’t bear the thought of addressing her. “Really!” she exclaimed. Although she knew him not at all, she wondered if he might be lying, or… scheming.

He had some look about him she simply didn’t trust. “Ask for Balthazar,” said Hadley. “He ain’t got much room, but I’ll warrant if there’s a bed to be let, he’ll give it to ye if you tell him I sent ye.” “Oh, thank you,” said Mrs. Grace, kindly, and the man departed. “I don’t like that he assumes to ignore me,” complained Elizabeth, her brow furrowed. “My dear, don’t be so ready to take offense.” Mrs. Grace patted her arm yet again. “You’re quite direct, at times, and tis off-putting to some.

Alas, not to worry,” She said. “I will see to it that we are settled. And, of course, Elizabeth knew that to be true. Mrs. Grace might not be overly fierce, but she was infinitely patient and persevering—two traits Elizabeth sadly did not share. Twenty minutes later, they were both standing with valises before a grizzled, snaggle-toothed old man who was far too preoccupied with combing his beard to note the two of them standing before his counter. But, of course, Mrs. Grace was hardly inclined to disturb him, so they waited “patiently,” while he gently worked at a Lilliputian tangle, and Elizabeth stood melting—quite literally. She had snow in her shoes, snow in her hood, and even more snow in her hair, all of it thawing and making her damp. She could feel those wild little curls losing their shape and tickling her nape.

Nevertheless, she held her tongue, inspecting the interior of the inn. The pale stone walls above the waist-high wainscoting were pitted with age. In observation of the holiday, there was a Christmas Crown hanging from a high ceiling—a wreath of sorts, woven with small branches of ash to ward away bad spirits. Additionally, there were boughs of holly strewn across the hearth and over every doorway, tied in place by striking red ribbons.

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