“Dougal’s not back yet, either,” I observed as we came down the hill. The large black gelding he customarily rode was not in the inn’s small paddock. Several other beasts were missing as well; Ned Gowan’s for one.
“No, he shouldna come back for another day at least—maybe two.” Jamie offered me his arm and we descended to hill slowly, careful of the many rocks that poked through the short grass.
“Where on earth has he gone?” Caught in the rush of recent events, I had not thought to question his absence—or even to notice it.
Jamie handed me over the stile at the back of the inn.
“To do his business wi the cottars nearby. He’s got but a day or two before he’s supposed to produce you at the Fort, ye ken.” He squeezed my arm reassuringly. “Catpain Randall willna be best pleased when Dougal tells him he’s not to have ye, and Dougal would as soon not linger in the area afterward.”
“Sensible of him,” I observed. “Also kind of him to leave us here to, er, get acquainted with each other.”
Jamie snorted. “Not kindness. That was one of the conditions I set for takin ye. I said I’d wed if I must, but damned if I’d consummate my marriage under a bush, wi twenty clansmen lookin on and offering advice.”
I stopped, staring at him. So that was what the shouting had been about.
“One of the conditions?” I said, slowly. And what were the others?”
It was growing too dark to see his face clearly, but I thought he seemed embarrassed.
“Only two others,” he said finally.
“Well,” he said, kicking a pebble diffidently out of the way, “I said ye must wed me proper, in kirk, before a priest. Not just by contract. As for the other—he must find ye a suitable gown to be wed in.” He looked away, avoiding my gaze, and his voice was so soft I could scarcely hear him.
“I-I knew ye didna wish to wed. I wanted to make it . . . as pleasant as might be for you. I thought ye might feel a bit less . . . well, I wanted you to have a decent dress, is all.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but he turned away, toward the inn.
“Come along, Sassenach,” he said gruffly. “I’m hungry.”