Our Shared Horizon – Diana Knightley

I was slumped over, my face pressed heavily into the horse’s mane and it smelled like sweat and unwashed animal, accosting my nose. I was too weak to sit up though, because this time travel shit hurt like hell. I was riding alone because, besides me, Fraoch’s horse also had to carry my bags full of gifts for Magnus’s family. We were heavy. I was heavier than usual because of agony. Fraoch was walking beside us, leading his horse, being quiet on it all. When I lived here before, I had named Fraoch’s horse, Thor, because he was big and strong and looked a little like Chris Hemsworth in the nose area. It meant, at the time, that I got to tell Fraoch about Thor and comic books and really the whole Marvel Universe and it had given us a lot to talk about. Back when we used to talk to each other. I patted Thor’s neck and whispered, “Hey, did you miss me? I came back.” Thor kept a steady pace, lulling me, helping me become comfortable. When I opened my eyes to peek at Fraoch, I couldn’t tell what he was thinking but he was thinking, that was certain. His sight settled on the path inches in front of his feet. We were headed to the castle. He had to take me straight there.

Because Fraoch had a date tonight, a meeting with the young woman he was going to marry. I clamped my eyes shut and considered keeping them closed, like in a temper tantrum kind of way. If I couldn’t see it, it couldn’t be happening. Then I sighed, and righted myself in the saddle. We had agreed this was complicated and then I had gotten on the horse. “How long was I gone?” I wondered if I could leave and come back. “A couple of days.” “Oh. And they found you someone already?” “A’ready.” The dates were too close.

I couldn’t loop back without the possibility of trampling on myself. I had heard the warnings. Besides, time travel was too painful, I did not relish the idea of trying it again today. “What’s her name?” “Elen MacNichols.” “Oh.” More quiet between us. I broke our silence by saying, “I’ll leave tomorrow, I just… I brought all these gifts and…” “Ye need tae rest afore ye can travel again, I ken…” We drew near the castle gates. * * * Lizbeth came bustling across the courtyard with an older woman in her wake. “Madame Hayley! What dost ye mean by returning?” Fraoch offered his hand to help me from the horse. Lizbeth and the woman accompanying her met each other’s eyes.

“Thank you, Fraoch.” I smoothed my hair and tried to look respectable and not like I traveled through multiple centuries and landed in a pile on the forest floor of the eighteenth century. Lizbeth said, “Madame Greer, may I present Madame Hayley, a dear friend of Queen Kaitlyn.” Madame Greer looked me up and down and seemed to find me acceptable enough. “I hae heard much of ye from Fraoch, Madame Hayley. I was nae able tae meet ye afore as I was carin’ for m’sister — she has the gout, as ye have probably heard from Queen Kaitlyn — verra considerate. I am sure she told ye, I am almost daily at m’sister’s bedside.” Kaitlyn had, of course, never mentioned such a thing, but she had warned me about Madame Greer. “Oh yes, it’s lovely to meet you, she told me all about your sister’s gout while we were at church the other day. We go daily, as you know.

” Lizbeth asked, “How is Kaitlyn?” I said, “She is pregnant.” Madame Greer, clasped her hands together. “Wonderful! A bairn! She is providin’ King Magnus an heir!” She yanked up her apron and dabbed at her cheeks. I met eyes with Lizbeth. She asked, “And is she well?” “She is. She is happy and healthy. Magnus is with her and they are doing great.” I watched Fraoch as his strong shoulders stretched in his shirt while he unloaded my bags from his horse. Madame Greer followed my eyes. Her brow drew down.

“Well, tis a pleasure tae meet ye, Madame Hayley. Fraoch, ye have a dinner tae attend! Mistress Elen and her family hae arrived and are awaitin’ ye in the Great Hall.” “Och, aye.” He straightened his belt, adjusted his sword, and ran a hand down his beard, smoothing it. Madame Greer said, “Good, follow me.” Lizbeth said, “Stay behind with me a moment, Madame Hayley. I would like tae speak tae ye.” She turned to an older man, and asked, “Would ye have these bags brought tae my rooms?” I said, “Except for these, these need to go to the Great Hall. They’re presents for after dinner.” Lizbeth said, “I see.

Well, follow me.” Following Lizbeth was nerve-wracking. I tried to keep my back straight and my head held high, but I felt a great deal of shame — I just traveled three hundred years to be with a man-child who was being forced to marry another woman. I was the ‘other woman’ in this scenario. What the hell was I doing? Lizbeth sat and offered me a chair across from her. We were in one of the Earl’s lavish rooms, a couple of doors down from the Great Hall, surrounded by tapestries and paintings and fine rugs. “This is nae private, but if we are careful we winna be overheard.” She smoothed her skirts. “Why are ye here, Madame Hayley? I asked ye tae consider the implications. I told ye twould be verra difficult tae handle him if ye were affectin’ his head.

Madame Greer and I hae found him a wife, I daena ken what ye are…” She shook her head, her expression best described as ‘exasperated’. Yes, I understood. I was very frustrating. But to be fair, in my timeline, I had been away from here for almost six months — long enough to get my hopes up. To plan. I had been having so much fun planning. I had shopped. I had come bearing gifts. I was an awesome gift giver. I couldn’t wait to give Fraoch his presents, but now he wasn’t mine to give presents to — two days and I had lost him.

I sighed. “I’m sorry I came back, I just missed him. I wanted to see him.” We stared at each other across the ornate woven rug. She had her mouth resting on her hand, her brow turned down, her eyes direct. She looked a lot like her half-brother Magnus, actually, the same expression. “What are your intentions?” “I don’t know — I thought I knew. I planned to return and tell him I liked him and see what happens from there.” “Fraoch MacLeod is nae in a position tae ‘see what happens.’ He needs tae marry.

He needs tae align himself with a family, and he needs a dowry tae be settled. Madame Greer has had her eye on this young woman, Elen MacNichol. She has three older brothers. Her family has good land and a high standin’ in the area. She is above Fraoch, but because of his ties tae Magnus, and therefore Sean, and through him, the Earl, Fraoch has been deemed suitable enough tae marry her. Ye must see this is a good match for him?” I looked down at my clasped hands. “I do.” “I ken ye think ye could have a happy marriage with him, but ye haena land or family here. Madame Hayley, I like ye verra much and daena like the idea of ye livin’ in a hovel with Master MacLeod’s babies all around ye — imagine the fussin’! Ye would be wailin’ along with the bairn, wishin’ ye had the sense tae return home and marry a man of greater fortune and less humor.” “I like his humor.

” Lizbeth waved my words away. “Och, humor will get ye nothing good in this world, Madame Hayley. What ye need is a man who can hunt, who will go tae the woods when ye tell him tae, and will listen tae ye when ye speak on a matter.” “Fraoch listens to me. He hunts for me, he…” I let my voice trail off. She sighed as if I was so terribly disappointing. I said, “I’m sorry I’m arguing with you, I do understand what you’re saying. It’s true, Fraoch would be much better off marrying someone here who has a big family. I get that. I don’t know why I wasn’t thinking.

I just like him. I simply wanted to make him happy.” “Did something transpire between ye? Before ye left? Or on this day when he arrived with ye? Did ye discuss this matter, has he made ye a promise?” “No. Never. We have never been anything but friends and he… and nothing today. He just told me he was going to be married. And I didn’t know what to say…” I smiled to cut the drama. “You know, if you think about it, this is all your fault. You told me he was praying about me, that he liked me.” She huffed good-naturedly.

“Och, I am often so wise on things I set them intae disarray.” “But I understand I really do, I want the best for him and…” “This is the best for him, Madame Hayley. This is a good match and a fair future. I need ye tae distance yourself from him, give him room tae see she will make him comfortable.” I nodded. “Yeah, it would be best if I left tomorrow.” She had a glint in her eye. “But first ye said ye have presents?” I grinned. “So many presents. This one for you privately, Kaitlyn sent it.

” I fished in my leather satchel for a zippered pouch. “She told me she gave you some birth control pills after your baby was born — there are a couple of years worth here, one a day.” Her cheek color went high as she hid the bag in the folds of her skirts. “Please tell Kaitlyn I greatly thank her, I was almost finished with the last.” She stood. “I will take them tae my rooms and then we will go tae the Great Hall for dinner.”

.

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