Louissa entered the house and closed the door as quietly as she could. The walk home was directly in the path of the afternoon sun. The dimness of the entry blinded her as she made her way across the floor. When she set one foot on the first step, he bellowed.
"Louissa! Louissa, is that you lass? Get in here!"
She sighed and redirected herself down the hall. This was not going to be enjoyable. Since she had yet to speak with him about what happened with the errant Lord, she was certain she knew what the topic of conversation would be. When she entered the large study, the smell of cigars and wood smoke filled her nose. To the right, sitting in a heavy wooden chair was one of her uncle's men, Darius. ‘Twas bad enough she would have to endure her uncle's anger, but to do it in front of Darius, well, she was certain to need a bath after this. The way he looked at her always made her uncomfortable.
"Yes, Uncle? I hope your day was…"
"Shut up, lass." Gareth Adair, Laird of Loc Landon stopped her words cold. "Do ye know the trouble you have caused me?"
"Uncle, I didn't mean…"
"You what? You didn't mean to slit a Lord limb from limb?" He asked looking over at Darius who nodded at his boss.
Her anger would someday get her killed, but today would not be that day--she hoped. "Uncle, first, I did not slit anyone limb from limb, and secondly, it might be just what you need to warn travelers from the road once and for all."
The noise her uncle made was clear. He wanted to hear none of her excuses. "It wasn't as if you injured a farmer, or even a drunkard. No, the lady of the house chose a Lord, a damned English Lord to battle with."
"I didn't know he was an English Lord at the time, and I only defended myself. He had plenty of warnings."
"According to the accounts circulating in Dunbartan, you nicked him within an inch of his life. They are considering forming a lynch mob," Darius commented with little humor. So, he was here to tattle on her and become a more valuable asset in her uncle's eyes.
She was glad she could assist Darius in his aspirations as a criminal. His parents would be proud, she was certain. Instead of letting her thoughts burst free, she pierced him with a look he knew to be just as dangerous as her uncle's ire. "I swear to ye, Uncle, it was but a scratch. In fact, I am certain I saw him when I was visiting the vicar's wife this morning. He was riding. Not," she afforded Darius another glare, "at death's door."
"Did he see you?" Her uncle boomed shaking the glasses set at the workbench.
"Uncle, I am not dressed as a man. I didn't even speak with him." She may go to hell for lying. At this point, lying might be what tipped the scale for her.
"Darius, have you heard from your reliable sources?" She used the word reliable with as much sarcasm as it was meant to have. "Have they said if they think I am female or male?"
"Nay, most think ye are male. In fact, I have not heard any say you were female. A few mentioned they heard you were slight, but wiry was always included in that," he said. Louissa could tell it pained the man to admit such a thing. She figured Darius would volunteer to deliver her to her uncle's chosen husband if it meant being rid of her sooner.
Ewin Dermit. Hearing his name sent shivers down her back. The man was pure evil. She had never seen his face, but she was sure it would only bring death to her when she did. If she didn't find her brother soon, all her efforts and acknowledgment of listening to her uncle's tirades would be for naught. Dermit had a reputation for outliving his wives.
"Lass, are ye daft? Do you even listen?" Her uncle had come around the table and grabbed her by the shoulders. His shaking brought her out of her thoughts.
"What? Oh, sorry, sorry," she said trying to step out of his manacle grasp, but it was no use. Louissa knew from experience that once her uncle got his hands on you, that was when you stopped fighting. She stood as relaxed and docile as she could, given her desire to run. "I am sorry, Uncle. That was rude. I just feel horrible for bringing more suspicion on to you. What--what can I do?"
Her plea seemed to bring him at least a minimum of comfort. He let her go and she swayed backward a bit, not realizing her feet were not touching the ground. "What I need is for you to do your tasks without bringing attention to yourself. Do you think that is something you can do?"
"Yes, of course, Uncle," she said with her head bowed in supplication.
"For the remainder of the month, I also do not want you traipsing all over the countryside with that vicar's wife." Fear shot through Louissa. If she wasn't able to leave the cottage, she could not continue to look for proof of her brother's life. Thankful now that she had her head down, she tamped down the panic and cleared her expression into dull compliance.
"But, Uncle, if you forbid me to move among the locals, it will surely force many of the women to decide to drop by and check on my health. I think it would be more prudent to allow me my normal routine, so as not to raise suspicion."
Darius, cleared his throat drawing their attention. "I think she has the right of it, Milord, much as it pains me to admit. If’n she doesn't appear as she normally does, those biddies can spell trouble. I've seen it happen afore."
Louissa looked and looked again at Darius, not believing he was siding with her. On principle alone, the man would say it was night when it was clearly day. She narrowed her gaze, but Darius ignored her, all eyes for the Captain.
"Oh, very well, but one more fool hardy thing and I will lock you in the root cellar myself. You might be worth one whole shipment for me, but not worth losing my entire fleet over. I'll kill ye afore Ewin has his wedding night. Now, go!" And just like that, her uncle was done with her.
The bile rose by degrees as she managed to walk from the room and quietly close the door behind her. She could do nothing but run for her room and shut out her uncle's words. If she could not prove her brother was alive and find him, she would not make it to her wedding night. Tears stung her eyes as she fought the need to let them spill onto her cheeks. She decided a long time ago never to afford her uncle the power to produce such emotion. She felt enough fear and anger, but she would not allow him her tears. Those she would reserve for her family that was lost. Her future was planned for her but not yet final, if she had any control.
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