And what was he to do with her? He'd sent for Brother

Lonan, knowing his duty was to help her find her way home, yet he found he did not enjoy entertaining that thought.

But James and his men had penned the National Covenant merely weeks ago, and it was an issue he felt with the utmost urgency. The king had to be stopped immediately from making an ill-informed decision that would impact every kirk in Scotland. Indeed, he seemed set to sabotage the very notion of religious freedom.

To stop the Covenanter momentum now would be like an incomplete thrust of the sword. There was no time to spare: James had a dispute to kindle with Charles, and that meant he'd a woman with whom he needed to dispense.

He gave his port one last swirl and tossed it back. Political concerns could wait till the morrow. He had some hours left to him yet, in which to contemplate the set of that pretty jaw.

Chapter 7

"Come in." Magda said from her seat in the window. James had set her up for the time being in a small, but sweetly cozy room of her own. Remaining in his room had clearly not been an option, even though he did make more than a few jokes at the prospect.

Restless and unable to sleep, she'd risen with the dawn and passed much of the morning perched on the cascade of small downy pillows that were piled in the window seat. The sun glimmered over the sea on the horizon, and Magda was comforted by the familiar pulse of the tides in the distance.

The sound of the seashore was such a simple thing, and yet she clung to it now. Its constancy reassured her, grounded her, gave her hope that she was still sane.

"You wee mouse, I thought I'd find you here!" Margaret swept into the room, and Magda thought how grateful she was that James had procured dresses for her in comfortable but lovely tartan wool patterns, rather than the more fashionable satin that his sister preferred, the constant rustling and crinkling of which only added to the impression that Margaret was formidable in both personality and size.

Advertisement..

"Och," Margaret grumbled, "my brother is far too lax for my tastes, particularly when it comes to the bonnier maids in his employ." She bustled over to the bed and began tugging sheets and thumping pillows. "I come to call on you for a spot of midmorning tea and I find you sitting here like some sort of bereft hound." She added accusingly, "And I'll wager you've not yet eaten."

Magda shook her head and, not feeling particularly bereft or houndlike, she began to see why James was quick to bristle at his sister's badgering.

"You poor lass! Without food," Margaret gasped, as if missing breakfast was the greatest of deprivations. "My word."

"I've been fine, really" Magda straightened in her seat. "I haven't been hungry at all." She attempted to smile and failed, and not because of her hunger. Rather, Margaret's entrance was a concrete reminder of Magda's surreal and decidedly unsettling circumstances.

"And sitting here all by your lonesome," she continued, mistaking the reasons for Magda's dispirited mood. "Well, lass, you need to make your demands known. "

Peeking her head out the door, Margaret hollered, "You there! Yes. Hurry it up, girl." She paused for a moment as, Magda was certain, some maid presumably scampered to attention as James's sister demanded, "There's a poor lass in here who's not yet been fed. Where's my brother? Who's in charge here?" She rattled on without taking a breath, "No matter, no matter. Bring up a tray." Magda heard timid murmuring outside the door, then, "Yes, please. And fetch some of that lemon curd as well."

Turning to Magda, she asked, "Do you fancy some quince jam?"

"I -I've never had it."

"You've not had quince?" Margaret looked at her in exaggerated puzzlement, then quickly ducked her head back out the door to shout, "And some of your quince jam. Oh, and I'd like bread enough to go round this time!"

She added in a mutter, "The way Cook metes out food. I say," Margaret turned to her, voice imperious, addressing

Magda as if she actually had a say in the matter, "you've to demand exactly what you want! Men know nothing of running a proper household. You don't see cooks skimping on breads and jams when a woman's about.

"Now!" With an elaborate swoosh of her shiny rose-colored skirts, Margaret settled herself on a small upholstered chair across from the window seat. She arranged the table between them in anticipation of the tea and, facing Magda with a broad smile, announced, "It seems we've to get ourselves acquainted!"

A queasy feeling bloomed like a rancid flower in the pit of Magda's belly. "Has James not told you anything?" she asked, dread and uncertainty making her light-headed.

"No, lass, but what better way to get to know you than over a nice cup of tea, I say. And, oh dear," she leaned in close, shading her eyes from the sunlight shining through the window, "you seem quite pale. The tea will be here not a moment too soon."

Magda couldn't decide if Margaret's concern was annoying or endearing.

"And what a rare sight you are. For all his comings and goings and female"—Margaret cleared her throat " acquaintances— , I've never seen my brother so thoroughly install a young woman under his roof. Now, tell! Tell! What of you, dear? How is it you've so captivated the elusive Marquis of Montrose? I'd hear it from you," she added conspiratorially, "as men leave out all the interesting details, don't you agree?"

"Yes, I "—

A knock at the door saved her, announcing the startlingly fast arrival of the tray. The food was whisked in by a wiry older woman who greeted Margaret with an ingratiating enthusiasm that clearly pleased her.

"Ah, mum! What a pleasure it is to have you here, and what a sight you are," she gushed, shaking her head as if in disbelief over the glory of James's sister. "And doesn't that dress just bring out the roses in your cheeks. I'd swear you were the younger of the Graham siblings."

"Oho," Margaret tittered. "Rona, you do flatter! Now, you must tell me all the scuttlebutt of the day."

Magda watched in fascination as the maid deftly set about serving the tea, doling out biscuits and jam, chattering good-natured gossip, all the while maintaining the veneer of mistress and servant.

"Tut-tut," Margaret responded to one bit of salacious news involving Una, whose name Magda recognized as that of the woman who had helped her dress the other morning. "I say," she went on, "my broth er needs to keep a firmer hand on the goings-on under his roof. And just where is the layabout this morning? I sincerely hope he's not still abed?" "Och, no mum," the woman explained, "he went off to the links with the dawn."

"Golf, again!" Margaret exclaimed. "It's a wonder he gets anything accomplished, he's so smitten with that forsaken game. I imagine he went with that, that thespian" she spat. "That Tom Sydserf, he and his exploits, I cannot keep up." She turned to Magda. "He says he's a Renaissance man, but I say he's an idler. First he's for journalism, then poetry, now theater. It's shameful."

"Well, mum," Rona interjected, "he's applied himself well and good to your James's Covenant."

"Aye, there's that," Margaret agreed. "My brother enlisted his help with this Covenant manifesto they've devised. Dangerous work, I say," she warned. "It's meant to capture the king's attention." Noting Magda's puzzled look, she asked, "You've not heard of it?"

Magda shook her head, and Margaret elaborated, "Charles has decreed that every church in Scotland forsake their teachings in favor of services with a more, shall we say, Catholic flavor. His wife the queen is a papist, you know. My James has it in his head that, if he gets the support of enough men, the king will suddenly have a change of heart." She squinted at Magda. "You've truly not heard tell of this?"

"Well, mum," the maid interjected in a conspiratorial whisper, "Master James sent for Tom late last night, said he needed a word, and quite upset he was too. A messenger arrived well past supper, most peculiar it was. Come from the Black Friars with tidings that didn't sit well with the master."

"From the monastery?" she asked, incredulous. "What sort of tidings would they have for my brother?"

"I don't ken, mum, " she added quickly. Magda gathered that spreading rumors about one's employer to the employer's sister was a potentially risky enterprise. "'Twasn't my business."

Margaret glared pointedly at the woman, inspiring her to remember the rest of the tale.

"Och , mum," the maid suddenly recalled, "I did gather that it was something about a Brother." Apparently keeping household gossip from the master's sister was an even more treacherous path.

"Seems the marquis had sent for one of the friars, but the man's disappeared. Taken off for Aberdeen they say."

There was a crash as a small blue-patterned teacup slipped from Magda's fingers onto the silver tray. The maid stared aghast at the cup's broken handle, sitting in a puddle of brown tea that was beginning to dribble onto the floor. Magda had only been half listening to the story, her mind otherwise occupied with strategizing a means home, and fighting the growing despair that nagged at her. But the maid's last bit of news had startled her right back into the conversation, bringing with it a wave of disbelief. This couldn't be happening. Had she and James discovered the portrait's author, only to find out he'd disappeared?

"Do you know this Brother?" Margaret asked kindly. She mused, "Perhaps herein lies some clue as to your mysterious origins, aye?" She shot a sly look at the maid, then continued, "For whatever reason, my brother hasn't revealed the nature of your home or family, and"—she examined Magda, her eyebrow cocked—"you seem to be as tight-lipped as a willful child facing a dram of medicine. "Och," she sighed, "up with you. Rona"—she waved a hand at the older woman—"clean this mess up. I've had enough of my brother's intrigues. We're off to find James."