"I only want to talk to you," Gillian said.
"How did you find me?"
"One of the Sinclairs found out who you were and told Baron Alford. Do you remember him?"
She nodded. "He's sent others in the past to try to find me and drag me back to England. So did the king. How did this soldier find out?"
"I don't know," she replied.
"It seems strange to talk of this. My parents urged me to forget."
"I need you to remember."
"Our Uncle Morgan's life is at stake. Do you remember him?"
"Christen, I swear to you that when I return to England, I will convince the baron and the king that you are dead. I give you my word. They won't hound you any longer."
Christen's eyes widened. "How will you make them believe you?"
"I'll find a way," she assured her. "But now I need you to try to remember that night our father died."
"What makes you think I would remember what happened? I was very young."
"You're three years older than I am," Gillian pointed out. "Even I remember being terrified."
"I don't want to talk about that night. I've spent years trying to forget."
Gillian tried everything she could think of to convince her sister to help her. She pleaded and begged, but it didn't matter, for Christen continued to refuse. When Manus came outside and announced that his wife needed to rest and that it was time for Gillian to leave, Christen looked relieved, as though she'd just been given a stay of execution, and that broke Gillian's heart.
Overwhelmed with disappointment, she stood up and slowly walked down the path. Tears streamed down her face as she thought about her uncle. What a fool she had been to believe that she could save him.
Suddenly enraged by her sister's attitude, she whirled around and shouted, "Christen, when did you become such a coward? You shame our father, and I thank God he's not alive to see what you've become."
Gillian's disdain slashed through Christen like a knife. Bursting into tears, she called out, "Wait. Don't leave." Pulling away from her husband, she hurried toward Gillian. "Please forgive me," she sobbed.
And suddenly her sister was there and not a stranger, and they embraced and wept for what they had lost. "I never forgot you," Christen whispered. "I never forgot my baby sister. Do you forgive me?" Christen asked as she mopped at her eyes with the backs of her hands. "For so many years I've lived with the guilt, and I knew it wasn't my fault, but I couldn't—"
"You have nothing to feel guilty about," Gillian said. "None of it was your doing."
"But I got away and you were trapped."
"Oh, Christen, you cannot blame yourself. You were just a little girl. You couldn't have changed what happened."
"I remember that night as though it happened yesterday. God knows I tried to forget. I remember father kissing us good-bye. He smelled of leather and soap. His hands were rough with calluses, but I remember liking it when he would stroke my face."
"I don't have many memories of our father."
"It's funny. I don't remember the color of his eyes or hair, but I remember his scent and his touch."
"You remember Liese, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," she replied, smiling.
"She kept my memory of you alive. She told me the soldiers called you Golden Girl."
Christen laughed. "They did, and my hair was golden then. It's turned dark over the years."
"Christen, tell me what happened that night."
"The soldiers were going to take us away because it wasn't safe. One of our father's enemies had attacked."
"Baron Alford and his troops," Gillian supplied.
"I don't remember being afraid. Father gave me a present, and you were upset because he didn't have one for you."
"The jeweled box," Gillian whispered. "He gave you the king's treasure. The soldiers told Liese that your guards were supposed to help you keep it safe until the battle was over and Father could come for you. Do you have it hidden away, Christen?"
"No," her sister answered. "And I don't know what happened to it."
Gillian's disappointment was wrenching. "I… had… hoped…"
A sudden burst of wind stirred the leaves at their feet. It was warm and sunny, but Christen began to rub her arms as though she could ward off the chill that came with the memories.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I don't know where the treasure is."
Gillian didn't say a word for a long time, for she was battling her despair and panic. How could she save her uncle now? Without the box or her sister, he was doomed.
"Father died that night, didn't he?"
"Yes," Gillian whispered.
"Were you there?"
She had to force herself to concentrate on what her sister was asking. "Yes, I was there, but my memories from that night are so hazy."
"Father wrapped the box in a cloth."
"Who was there in the chamber with us?"
"There were four soldiers and father," Christen answered. "Tom and Lawrence were to go with me, but I don't remember the names of the men assigned to take you to safety."
"Liese told me their names. They were William and Spencer, and they died trying to protect me. I pray for their souls every night."
"I don't know what happened to Lawrence and Tom. I was given to one of Tom's relatives and told that Father would come for me. Both he and Lawrence left me, and I can only guess that they returned to our father. I never saw them again."
"Did you have the box with you then?"
"No, I didn't."
"Then what happened to it?" Gillian asked, gripping her hands in frustration. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to calm down, and then said, "Tell me exactly what happened after Father gave you the treasure."
"I dropped it," she said. "I was so afraid I'd broken it and I'd be scolded, but Liese's husband picked it up. Father wrapped it and gave it to me. Then he left."
"Ector was there?"
"Yes, that was his name. He was there, but only for a minute or two. He must have died that night too in the battle."
Gillian shook her head. "No, he didn't die, but he lost his mind. He frightened me," she added. "I heard stories about him over the years. He lived like an animal in the corner of the old stables, and he carried an old knapsack filled with dirt. Liese told me it was cowardice that broke his mind, and she didn't cry at all when she heard he died."
"And Liese? What happened to her?"
"She lived with me and Uncle Morgan, and I think she was very happy. She died in her sleep," she added, "and she hadn't been ill long at all. She didn't suffer. She knew about the passage door between our chambers, but she never let on that she did."
"But we didn't go through that doorway the night of the attack. We were in father's room, weren't we?"
"Yes, and the soldiers lit torches to take us out."
"We fell down the steps," Gillian said then. "It was very steep. I had nightmares for years, and I cannot stand to look down from a great height even now."
"But we didn't fall down the steps. We were pushed. I remember it clearly," Christen said, her voice shaking with emotion. "You were behind me, and you were trying to get the box away from me. I turned around to tell you to stop, and I saw him then. He jumped out of the shadows and threw himself at us. I think he must have taken the box then too. The soldiers lost their footing and we went flying down the steps. There was terrible screaming and then I struck my head on the stones, and when I awoke, I was in Lawrence's arms on his horse and we were well away from the holding."
Gillian's nightmares came back to her with a new clarity and understanding. "In my dreams there were monsters who leapt from the wall and chased us. I must have seen him too."
"I never saw his face," Christen said. "But whoever it was got away with the treasure."
"Then it must still be there… somewhere… unless whoever took it got away before the baron sealed off the holding. Oh, God, I don't know what to do."
"Stay here," Christen urged. "Don't go back to England. You're married to a laird and your life is here."
"Christen, could you turn your back on the family you've come to love?"
"No, of course not."
"Uncle Morgan is depending on me."
"He would want you to be happy."
"He raised me," Gillian cried out. "And he was loving and kind and generous. I would die for him. I must go back."
"I wish I could help you, but I don't know how. Perhaps if I put my mind to it, I can think of something I've forgotten about that night. I'll try," Christen promised.
They continued to sit together and talk about the past until Gillian noticed how weary her sister was. She kissed her on the cheek and promised to come and see her again.
"If I'm able to return from England, I would like to get to know you better. I won't ask anything more of you, Christen. I promise, but now that I've found you again, I don't want to lose you."
Christen slowly stood up. She couldn't quite look Gillian in the eye when she told her how she felt about their reunion. "I remember you as a little girl, but now I feel that we are strangers with little in common. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I must be completely honest with you. Dredging up the past only brings painful memories back, and when I look at you, I'm reminded of a time I desperately want to forget. Perhaps I'll change my mind one day. Now, however, I believe it's best if we go our separate ways. I promise you, though, that if I remember anything that can be of help to you in your search, I'll send word to you."
Gillian was devastated and quickly bowed her head so that Christen wouldn't see how hurt she was.
"As you wish," she whispered.
Without another word, she turned and slowly walked down the path. She didn't look back.
Gillian desperately needed Brodick to put his arms around her and hold her. Marriage had already changed her, she decided, because before she had met Brodick and fallen in love with him, she had always felt that she had to face her problems alone. Now she had a husband she wanted to share her worries with, and her heartaches. At the moment she didn't care why he couldn't tell her he loved her. In her heart she believed that he did, and she certainly didn't believe that he had made a lifelong commitment to her for any ulterior reason. No man would go to such lengths just to get revenge on his enemy, and Brodick would not have married her just to get the names of the Englishmen. Ramsey had simply jumped to the wrong conclusion, and Brodick, unwilling to give voice to his true feelings, didn't bother to correct him.
Brodick was stubborn to the core and so riddled with other flaws it would take her an hour to list them all. She still loved him, though, and she desperately needed his comfort now and his broad shoulder to cry on while she poured her heart out to him. How could her sister be so cold and unfeeling? She had made it abundantly clear that she didn't want Gillian in her life. For so many years she had dreamed of their reunion, and never once had she considered that Christen would reject her.
Gillian felt ashamed and inferior, and couldn't understand why. She knew she hadn't done anything wrong, yet she couldn't help feeling as though she had.
Shaken from their meeting, her only thought to get to her husband and tell him what had happened, she returned the horse to the stable and, despite the soreness in her leg, ran all the way to Ramsey's castle, hoping she would find Brodick there.
Proster met her and gave her the news. "Your husband's gone, milady," he explained. "They've all gone."
"They? Who?"she asked.
"The lairds," he answered. "Iain Maitland and my laird, Ramsey, and Laird Buchanan."
"Iain was here?"
"Aye, he was here just a bit after dawn this morning."
"Where did my husband go?"
"With Ramsey and Iain."
"Yes," she said, trying to control her frustration. "But exactly where did they go?"
He seemed surprised she hadn't been informed. "To the crest to join their soldiers. Surely you knew the call to arms went out days ago," he added.
"No, I didn't know," she admitted.
"The lairds have gathered their fighting men and by now they should have all assembled."
"At the crest."
"Yes," he said with a nod.
"And where is this crest?"
"A good ride to the south," he told her.
"Then they won't be back until late, will they?"
"Late? Milady, they won't be back for a long while."
She still didn't understand. Proster, seeing her confusion, hastened to explain. "They're going to England, and surely you know their purpose."
"I know they plan to go to England eventually, but you're mistaken in your belief that they're leaving now. If you'll excuse me, I'll go back to the cottage and await my husband's return."
"You'll have a long wait, then," Proster said. "He isn't coming back, and tomorrow you'll be leaving."
"Where will I be going?"
"Home," he answered. "I heard your husband give orders. There will be Buchanan soldiers coming for you tomorrow to escort you to your new home. Graeme and Lochlan are in charge of seeing to your safety until then."
Gillian's head was spinning, and her stomach felt as though it had been tied in knots. "And who are Graeme and Lochlan?"
"Graeme's a MacPherson," the young soldier told her proudly. "And Lochlan is a Sinclair. They're equal in their duties and their standing. We're all equal now, our laird has declared it so, and he says that we may keep our clan's name and still live in harmony as one."
"I see," she whispered.
"Are you feeling unwell, milady? You've gone pale."
Ignoring his question, she cried out, "Proster, you couldn't have heard correctly. When they go to England, they're taking me with them. I was promised… he wouldn't break his word to me. He knows… They all know that if the English see them, my uncle will die. No, you have to be mistaken. Brodick's going to come back for me."