“I would rather rot in hell than wed him,” Fiona said, her tone as sharp as her brilliant green eyes. “I have a right to wed whomever I wish or to wed not at all, if I so choose. Leith may be chieftain of the MacElder clan . ” She lapsed into silence knowing full well her protests would serve little purpose. “Our cousin Leith will have his way.” Her twin sister Aliss acknowledged what Fiona had already realized. Fiona drew up her legs to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, stared at the stream a few inches from her booted feet. She had not expected this turn of events. There had been talk that a powerful chieftain searched for a wife, but it meant nothing to her. She had all intention of finding her own husband, but that had changed fast enough. “Leith believes this union will prove beneficial to our clan and many agree,” Fiona said. “There is talk that Tarr of Hellewyk will stop at nothing to gain more land and power. With his father’s recent passing he is now, at twenty and nine years, chieftain, and with his land bordering MacElder land—” Fiona shrugged.
“Our clan fears he will attack us so it is better to keep him friend rather than foe,” Aliss finished. The twins sat in silent companionship on the edge of the bank. Autumn had barely arrived and summer’s warmth continued, allowing the flowers’ last blooms. Fiona could not make sense of the last few months. Word that Tarr of Hellewyk searched for a wife spread throughout the clans, and many women were interested in the mighty warrior. So why did he choose one who has no interest in him? Leith had informed her little more than a week ago that he, as chieftain of the MacElders, had entered into an agreement for her to wed Tarr of Hellewyk. She had laughed at him. His face reddened and he yelled that she would do her duty to her clan. She had named several women in the clan who would gladly agree to the arrangement. But Leith was adamant; she was the chosen one. And now she would wed a stranger. The idea of never achieving her dream of finding love rankled her and had kicked her stubborn nature into action.
She had made it known that she would not wed Tarr of Hellewyk under any circumstance. The clan had claimed her selfish, many refusing to speak with her while others outrightly belittled her. Aliss interrupted her musings. “I never gave thought to us separating.” Fiona fisted her hands at her knees. “We will not be separated.” “Tarr of Hellewyk wants no burden of a sister-in-law.” “He will get no wife in me and therefore no sister-in-law, and it is a selfish one he is to think to separate twins.” She would fight the devil himself to keep Aliss and her together. “They plan your wedding at this moment and what follows,” Aliss reminded.
“They think we have no say in the matter.” Fiona picked up a twig off the ground and with two fingers snapped it in two. The thought that the skinny twig could be Tarr’s neck relieved some of her tension. Aliss drew closer to her sister’s side. “You have an idea?” Fiona tossed the piece of twig aside, her round face brimming over in a smile. “A plan of sorts that just might work. It will not be easy, but it will certainly delay the wedding and may ultimately prevent the union from ever taking place.” “Tell me.” “Leith made it clear that Tarr looked for a strong woman to give him sturdy sons to carry on his clan’s name. Even when I insisted that Tarr had his pick of solid women who fit his requirements, Leith had countered that none matched my courage.
And none irritated him as much as I do, though he dared not admit it. My wedding Tarr would serve two purposes. Leith would be rid of me and gain a strong ally.” “He had intended this all along,” Aliss said with surprise. “And kept it from me until he felt there was nothing I could do but surrender to his decree.” Aliss laughed. “Leith always underestimates you.” “Us,” Fiona corrected. “For my plan involves the two of us.” “Go on.
” “What if one twin could not be distinguished from the other? After all, we share identical features, bright red hair, green eyes and good birthing hips. Those in the clan even have trouble telling us apart. It is our opposite natures that make us distinct.” Aliss nodded slowly. “I am strong-willed and outspoken and I like riding, hunting and weaponry, whereas—” “I am soft-spoken and softhearted, my interests that of herbs and healing,” Aliss finished. “We are both independent,” Fiona said, “though many believe you dependent on me and that is only because of your gentleness. They do not know of your courageous nature and it is that strength you must rely on if we are to carry out this charade. We will need to combine our opposite natures so that there will be no distinguishing one from the other. You will need to speak up more, be a bit more bold—” “And you will need to speak more softly, temper your quick wit.” “The best part is,” Fiona said, and lowered her voice to a whisper, “that no one will realize that we are both skilled enough in each other’s interests to make the ruse believable.
” “With us both displaying similar skills no one will know who is who.” “Leith will certainly make his disapproval known.” Fiona looked about to laugh. “It will give me great pleasure to see him squirm and demand that we obey him. You realize he will threaten us, but what can he do to us? Separate us? He cannot tell us apart. His hands will be tied.” “There is Tarr of Hellewyk to consider,” Aliss reminded. Fiona laughed this time. “He will not be getting his way.” “Which will anger him.
” “It is his own fault. He deserves to be made the fool. He demands I wed him and produce babes for him without even meeting me.” “We must be cautious. He is known for getting his way at all costs,” Aliss said. “Something he and I have in common.” “Tales have it that he knows only victory.” Fiona shrugged. “Then it is time he tastes defeat.” “Let us hope he tires of our game and decides to leave us in peace.
” “We will be relentless, and he will see it is futile to press the matter.” “I hope you are right,” Aliss said, and quickly blessed herself for added measure. “For if not we will certainly feel the repercussions of his anger. I heard that many quake in the mighty warrior’s presence. I can only imagine the response to his anger.” “What man does not show anger? They bluster and shout, demand and expect and generally make a horse’s ass out of themselves.” Aliss giggled. “With your high opinion of men, it is no wonder at twenty and one years you remain unwed.” “Need I remind you that you also lack a husband?” Aliss hid her laughter behind her hand. “Do not even hint that it is my fault you have not wed,” Fiona challenged.
Aliss’s words rolled out with her laughter. “You chase all prospective husbands away.” “I am your older sister,” asserted Fiona. “Ten minutes older.” “Older nonetheless, and therefore I am responsible for you and thus far no man has proven worthy of you,” Fiona said, adamant in protecting her sister. “And do not tell me that there have been any who have interested you. If any man had caught your attention, I would not have interfered.” “I must admit I am content with life. I enjoy working with herbs and learning all I can about healing. I do not know if I would have time for a husband.
” “Of late I have given a husband thought,” Fiona confessed. “Remembering the easy and caring love that mother and father shared has made me realize that I wish the same for myself. I do not recall any harsh words ever being spoken between them, though we knew when they were upset with each other. It did not take long before one would reach out to the other and it would be settled, and they would be smiling once again.” “And the stories of how father loved mother from afar, not having enough courage to approach her until one day—” “He accidentally knocked her on her bottom and mother gave him a tongue-lashing.” Fiona laughed. “His cheeks turned scarlet and he lost the ability to speak.” “Mother felt sorry for him and comforted him.” “He apologized and offered her his hand,” Aliss said with poetic flair. “And they never parted from that day on .
until father passed on.” Aliss sniffed to keep tears from falling. “I miss them.” “I do too. And I remember how mother insisted we never separate. That we were to remain together and protect each other until—” “We each found love,” Aliss finished. Fiona rested her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand. “I wish to find love, or perhaps for love to find me, to have cupid’s arrow strike me when I am not at all expecting it, to have my heart race when I see him and to see love reflected in his eyes every time he looks at me. And that is not possible if I am forced to wed a stranger.” Aliss stood and offered a hand to her sister.
“Then let us go, for Leith is sure to be already upset with us since we have not hurried when summoned.” Fiona reached for her sister’s hand, though she knew she was reaching for much more. They were forming a pact, an agreement that might place them in harm’s way, but together they both were willing to accept that possibility and do whatever was needed to succeed. With a quick lurch Fiona was on her feet, an eager smile on her face. “Do you realize that it will not be necessary to pretend to be each other? All we need to do is switch our natures on occasion and no one will be the wiser.” “It sounds easy, but it will take vigilance on our parts to make sure we confuse people.” “We should be extra cautious around Tarr,” Fiona suggested. “His warrior skills will keep him alert to our every action and response. He will grow annoyed when he realizes there is little he can do in determining our true identities.” “Hopefully he will tire of the charade and leave us in peace.
” “What if he does not?” Fiona asked, knowing it was best when going into battle to have covered all possibilities. “What if he simply grabs one of us and demands a marriage, thinking the more courageous twin will step forward to save her sister?” The dire thought faded Aliss’s smile. Fiona however brimmed with confidence. “If that should prove true then we both will turn into weaklings who cry and protest and beg for his mercy. He would certainly grow disgusted and think twice before chancing a marriage to such a childish woman.” “A good solution,” Aliss said. “Part of the battle plan,” Fiona warned, “however, we will enter a far different battle than the imposing warrior is accustomed to. We will enter a battle of wits.”