Under the Highland Moon – Juliana Wight

Do nae look back,” Alina said, “but Torcall has been looking at ye. He’s behind ye.” Ceana’s eyes widened, and a blush appeared on her otherwise pale cheeks. “He’s here?” she asked. Ceana hadn’t expected Torcall to be at the feast. Sure, she had prayed to the gods and put on her prettiest yellow dress, which Alina assured her didn’t clash with her vibrant red hair and deep brown eyes. Still, she hadn’t actually expected him to come. The feast wasn’t a large one, and Torcall was not known for frequenting parties or celebrations. Ceana had a crush on Torcall. It was one that everyone except Torcall seemed to notice. She had met Torcall years ago at a feast for all the lassies who were finally of age to court, and he had stolen her heart. However, the issue was that Torcall had caused this without knowing. Ceana had long since given up on him liking her, but it didn’t hurt to dream. “Would ye stop smiling like a canary?” Alina admonished her younger sister. “Do canaries smile?” Ceana asked with a rather canary-like smile on her full pink lips.

Alina shook her head and put her hand in her sister’s. “Come with me. Left t’ye, we will spend the whole feast sneakin’ glances at Torcall, and I have had enough of that.” She dragged a reluctant Ceana away to one of the many tables at the feast. “Have ye seen ma?” Ceana asked her sister. “Nay, last I saw of her, she was speaking with some of da’s friend’s wives,” Alina replied, and Ceana nodded. One of the downsides to being married to a guard was that her mother could not enjoy them at feasts like other couples. Most of the time, her father was on guard duty at the palace keep, which made him a very busy man. The few times he was free, her mother opted to spend quiet moments with him in their home rather than at feasts. Perhaps, being raised in a home with parents that adored each other had made her long for such a love.

Since Ceana could remember, she had dreamt of a man to love her just as her father loved her mother. However, it didn’t seem to have the same effect on her sister. Despite being two years her senior, Alina seemed largely uninterested in men. Ceana could not recall her sister saying a word about any man that wasn’t plainly platonic. Alina definitely didn’t like anyone the way Ceana liked Torcall. Who wouldn’t like Torcall, Ceana thought to herself with a small sigh? The man was heavenly. He was tall, handsome, and well-built. He had the kindest blue eyes that Ceana had ever seen, and even better, there was the hint of adventure that Ceana craved in them. He was a kind man, too—even Alina agreed about this. She had seen him several times stop to assist both men and women who needed his help.

One day, after Torcall had helped Alina fix the wheel of her carriage for hours without accepting anything, she had come home with a newfound respect for him. “It seems to me,” she had said, “that Torcall is the type of man that would treat his wife with respect whether he loved her or not.” That had been enough for her to subtly endorse her sister’s crush. Although she had never said it out loud, Ceana imagined that her sister didn’t believe in love. “Ceana?” Alina called for the third time. “Huh?” she replied, snapping back into reality. Alina shook her head and thrust a cup into her hands. “Ye have gone off into another daydream again, haven’t ye?” It was no use lying, so Ceana sighed instead. “Do ye think he will talk to me today?” “I think ye worry yer pretty head too much,” Alina replied with a shake of her head. “Go on, drink,” she urged.

Ceana closed her eyes, tipped the cup back and swallowed down her mead. “Ceana,” Alina scolded, “not so fast.” She shook her head and poured her sister another cup. “Don’t drink this so fast. Let’s go socialize.” The pair had barely gotten to the door before they were stopped. “Ceana, Alina!” Ceana sighed as soon as she heard the voice. “Hello, Tam,” she said with poorly faked enthusiasm. “I didnae ken ye will be here,” he said with a grin on his face. “Well, we are,” Alina replied.

Ceana didn’t know what she hated most about Tam. Was it his arrogance? His pride? His scheming attitude? Or was it the dangerous look in his eyes that only she seemed to see. Tam’s Faither was the general of the clan. He had led their clan to many great wars and had conquered the enemy many more times than he had been defeated. Consequently, he was revered and respected. He had two sons, Rannoch and Tam. Rannoch was a coolheaded man who excelled more at creating swords than wielding them, much to his chagrin. His second son, however, had decided that he deserved the same amount of respect. “Do ye want to dance?” he asked both girls. “No!” they both replied, not caring who was spoken to.

Tam laughed in a deprecating way. “Come on, do nae be so tight.” He winked. “We are nae tight. We just do nae want to dance,” Alina replied with pursed lips. Tam placed his hands on Alina and Ceana’s wrists and locked his grip. “Ye are no fun,” he said with a wink. Ceana was sure that Alina would deck him, but there came a voice she recognized instantly. “What seems to be the problem, Tam?” The group of three turned to Torcall, who seemed to tower above them. “Nothin’ to bother yerself about, Torcall!” Tam spat out, still holding on to Ceana’s hands, effectively putting them in a terrible situation.

If a tussle occurred, it would catch attention, new elements would be added, and then spread into a brawl. Tam’s grip on her hand grew tighter, and Ceana felt her skin crawl. With a look of indifference on his face, Torcall bent down and whispered to Tam so she could hear. “Ye must ken that I do nae shy away from scandals. Not especially when I have the chance to beat ye and have the maids of the clan giggle as ye pass. Now, if ye do nae let her go now, the next place ye’ll be sitting is the ground.” The smile on his face never wavered as he spoke. From a distance, they would have looked like a small group simply talking. Tam stared at Torcall for only a moment before dropping her hand and furiously marching away. Awestruck, Ceana turned to Torcall.

The violent look in his eyes was gone, and instead, there was the carefree and happy look she was used to seeing. “He didnae hurt ye, I hope?” His long lashes fluttered slightly. Ceana rubbed her wrists and blushed slightly. ‘Nay, ye were here in time.” Beside them, Alina rolled her eyes and went unnoticed by the pair. “I’m glad. Have ye….” “Torcall!” the call came from the other side of the room. Torcall looked at the caller, and a guilty look appeared on his face. “I’m sorry.

My cousin calls. We will see you some other time. Do tell me if Tam bothers ye again,” he said to her. “Thank ye,” she said breathlessly. “Even ye,” he said, turning to Alina. “I will. Although I do nae think we will have more trouble with him. Thank ye,” she said with a polite smile. He smiled at both ladies and jogged to the other side of the room to his cousin. Ceana was only to hold her squeal long enough for him to get out of earshot.

“Oh, do be quiet,” Alina said, but she was smiling. “He makes it hard to dislike him.” “Ye see it too, do ye nae?” She put her hands to her chest and sighed deeply. “If ye gush over him once more this night, we are going home,” Alina put her hand in her sister’s and dragged her to the other ladies of their own age. The feast was a great one for its small size. The mead was abundant, and Ceana was on her fourth cup before she knew it. “Ye should nae drink so much,” Alina said. “Ye are worse than mother,” Ceana said good-naturedly. “Ye should have some fun.” “Ceana!” Both sisters turned to an acquaintance, Bridget.

“Yer dress is amazing,” she said to Ceana. “Thank ye,” Ceana said with a smile. “Yer hair looks amazing. Did yer sister do it again?” “Aye, she made me do her chores, but it was worth it. I think Doug took notice today.” Doug was the son of the head of the guard. He worked directly under Tam’s and Rannoch’s Faither, Dirk, and was one of the most respected men in the clan. Doug and his older brother, Dan, were a close pair and were hardly without each other. The men were eligible bachelors and had their fair share of admirers in the clan. However, it was for Doug that Bridget’s torch burned.

Sadly, she was not getting much attention from him. “It seems he did,” Alina muttered. “He is coming up behind ye.” Bridget’s cheek burned slightly, but she got it slightly under control before they arrived. The men exchanged pleasantries, and then Doug turned to Ceana. “I looked for ye. How are ye enjoying the feast?” Ceana paled. What did he mean? Beside her, Bridget’s pride deflated. “Oh?” Ceana replied. “Aye,” he nodded with a smile on his face.

Ceana would have rather been anywhere else on the planet. It wasn’t that Doug was an unattractive man, but she was not attracted to him, and Bridget was right beside her. “Would ye like to dance?” he asked her with a bashful smile. “Nay,” she said, quick as a bullet. “Sorry, I was supposed to meet with a friend right about now,” she lied. “Oh,” he said. “Maybe another time,” he smiled. “How about ye?” Dan asked Alina with a shy smile. “Nay,” she smiled. “Thank ye.

” The brothers left, and the girls turned to Bridget, whose eyes were tinged red. “I am sorry, Bridget,” Ceana said, embarrassed. “It matters nae,” she replied, although it was obvious that it did, in fact, matter. “Why did ye nae dance with Dan?” she asked Alina. “Nae on me account, I hope?” “Nae,” Alina assured. “I do nae fancy him.” “Ye do nae?” Bridget asked. “He is an eligible bachelor, ye ken?” “Aye,” Alina smiled. “And ye do nae fancy him?” “Nae. I wouldnae fancy him because of who his Faither is.

Do ye fancy Tam?” Alina asked with an arched eyebrow. “Tam is the most eligible bachelor after the Laird’s heir—that is if ye do nae consider Rannoch.” Bridget laughed. “It does nae really count, ye ken. Tam knows just as much about fightin’ as I do. His da is training Torcall, and e’ryone believes that Torcall, and not Tam, will succeed him, so he is nae so eligible, is he?” “Good point,” Alina said. “And neither Torcall nor Rannoch catches me fancy. I could have them if I wanted,” she shrugged dismissively. Ceana said nothing, but her lips thinned. “I must leave,” Bridget said and bid the sisters goodbye, leaving them to themselves.

Alina took Ceana with her as they socialized with people they knew. As the feast drew to an end, Alina realized that Ceana had consumed more mead than she should have. “Ye should stick with me, ye silly girl.” Ceana giggled. “’ Tis nae so much I drank. I can stand perfectly fine,” she said in a giggly voice, causing Alina to sigh. “Do nae giggle so much.” “Oh, look, here comes Torcall,” Ceana whispered louder than she should have. “I’m sorry I didnae find ye earlier,” he said to the pair. “There is nae need to apologize,” she said flirtatiously, “But I must nae forget my manners,” he said.

Alina, growing tired of their flirting, decided to say hello to a friend at the other side of the room, living with her sister with Torcall. “Did I,” Ceana put her hand on his strong arms, “say thank ye to ye for helpin’ us out with Tam?” With confidence she hadn’t known existed, she stroked his arm very subtly. Torcall looked down on her arm and then back at her with a bashful look. “Ye did, but I do nae mind hearin’ it again,” he said. “Good because I want ye to ken that I am grateful.” His arms felt amazing. Days ago, she had only been able to imagine him and feeling the strength of his muscles beneath her fingertips, but now, here she was—touching him. She looked up at him, and when he smiled back, she realized she wanted more. She opened her mouth to speak then stopped. What exactly was she doing, clarity forced her to ask? But Ceana refused to pause.

For some reason, she thought to herself, she had more courage than ever before. This was a moment she had, one that might never arise again. She would be damned if she let it pass. “Torcall?” “Yea?” “I crave some fresh air, and Alina is nae here to go with me. Would ye?” “Of course,” he nodded and offered her his arm, which she took gladly.

.

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