“Didn’t Silvan try to get them back for you?”
“And I could give them what?” Nell snapped. Then she sighed and muttered, “I never told him what happened. And that bletherin’ fool has not once asked. In twelve years! Imagine that.”
“Maybe he was afraid to pry once you’d healed,” Gwen suggested. “He might not have wanted to bring up painful memories. Maybe he’s been waiting for you to bring it up.”
“Mayhap,” Nell said stiffly, blowing a wisp of hair from her face, “ye put a rosy hue on things that arena so rosy. Go on with ye, now,” she said crossly. “There are some things ’tis too late for. Dinna fash yerself over me. I’ve passed many a peaceful day here. If ye wish to give me happier ones, fall in love with one o’ those lads and give me bairn to cuddle again.”
“Um…what if it’s Drustan?” Gwen said nervously. “Would you think I was terrible if I tried to make him care about me before he marries his fiancée?”
Nell cocked her head and met Gwen’s gaze levelly. “I suspect I have a few special gowns I could alter for ye, lass. He’s overfond of purple, did ye know that?”
“Now go,” Nell shooed her, flipping a cloth at her.
She started to walk out, then turned back abruptly, squeezed Nell’s shoulder, and kissed her floured cheek. Then she dashed hastily off, embarrassed by her impulsive display of affection.
Nell blinked and smiled, eyeing the empty corridor. Aye, she was going to like the lass a lot. She and Silvan had been worrying for months about Drustan wedding the Elliott lass. Neither of them held much hope for the match. They both sensed the quiet desperation in Drustan and knew he was plunging blindly into something that was bound to become a fankle. Duty weighed on him; he needed heirs. Anya Elliott was ten and five, and Drustan MacKeltar would patently terrify the child. Oh, he might get a bairn or two off her, but he’d pay for it with a lifetime of misery. As would the unsuspecting Anya. Drustan needed an educated lass, a lass with fire and mettle and curiosity.
Yestreen, Silvan had asked a favor of her (not looking at her, of course, as if noticing her hair earlier had been an unforgivable sin), and she had done her part as he’d requested. Gwen Cassidy now knew Drustan was a Druid.
She could scarce wait to tell Silvan how Gwen had reacted—with an open mind and heart—just as Silvan had predicted. She’d glimpsed no signs of madness in the lass—och, she was odd, but that didn’t make a person mad, or the eccentric Silvan would be maddest of all.
Her smile faded at the thought of Silvan, as she recalled what Gwen had said about him having feelings for her.
Might it be? She and Silvan scarcely spoke but for conversation about the lads, the crops, or the weather. Long ago she’d once thought he’d been interested, but he’d retreated and she’d tried to forget.
She narrowed her eyes thoughtfully and glanced down at her bosom. It was still fluffable.
Had he truly glanced down her bodice? She was never comfortable looking at him when she was standing close. The man could peek anywhere he wanted and she’d not notice.
Mayhap, she mused, while stitching Gwen some tempting fashions, she might deepen the bodice of her new gown that was nearly finished.
Silvan was waiting on the terrace, at a table centered in a puddle of sunshine, beneath rustling oaks.
Gwen took the seat opposite him and glanced about with delight. “It’s so beautiful here,” she said with a contented sigh. A brilliant yellow butterfly swooped the board, lingering a moment before fluttering off again.
“Aye, our mountain is the finest in all of Alba,” Silvan said proudly, as he finished setting up the pieces.
When he was done, Gwen turned the heavy board around, reversing it.
He glanced askance at her.
“I have to be black. I don’t like to go first,” she explained, fingering the ebony figurines. An honest-to-God medieval chess set, she thought wonderingly. It would be worth a fortune in her time. The pieces were fashioned of ebony wood and ivory tusk. The rooks were solemn little men, the bishops had long beards and wise little faces. The knights were kilt-clad warriors on prancing destriers, the royalty wore flowing robes trimmed with fur and stood several inches above the rest. The board itself was fashioned of alternating squares of ivory and ebony. The surrounding perimeter was a solid rectangle of ebony, carved with a complex design of Celtic knotwork that represented infinity. How on earth had the twenty-first century gotten the idea that medieval men were ignorant? she wondered. She was beginning to suspect that perhaps they were more in tune with the world than her century would ever be.