He finished tuckins the length of wool around his waist. "And a braw thing indeed it was, Magda. Campbell's men discounted outright that a woman could escape by water. But I knew at once. And I know too what that would have cost you."
He swept the last of his tartan up over his shoulder. "I couldn't wait. I had to come for you in the night. I had to see with my own eyes you'd made it safe. Though," he added with a laugh, "I dare say there's at least one in my party who's sore put that our plans to raze Castle Gloom were waylaid."
Magda joined him in the open doorway, silent for a moment.
He smoothed the top of her borrowed cassock, tucking it more snugly under her belt. "And the next order of business will be to get you some proper clothing, my wee mendicant."
She placed her hands on his arms to bring his attention back to the matter in question. "But you didn't answer how you know so much about this place."
"As improbable as it may seem, my family owns these lands. Aye," he said to her incredulous look. "I speak truly."
Tucking her arm snugly in his, he led them back down the hallway. "I'll not know if yours is a path touched by providence or serendipity, hen, but I welcome the stroke of luck all the same."
They walked toward the distant sound of chanting, their footfalls echoing off the empty stone corridor. "My family has long owned this island, and I've a mutual agreement with the monks allowing them to stay."
Reaching the door to the dining hall, James added in a rushed whisper, "The Augustinians ignore my choice of church, and I ignore their lack of funds."
They shuffled into the dining hall as unobtrusively as possible. It was a long, low building, chill and dim despite the noonday sun, filled with the sounds of many men's voices chanting as one, a great, deep droning that vibrated over the stones. A single table spanned the far end of the room, with four tables extending perpendicular from it. Magda had gathered that important people and guests sat at the high table, and that's where they headed now. Though the monks didn't look up from their prayers, Magda nonetheless felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment, the walk from door to table feeling an eternity.
The chanting silenced abruptly just as Magda's chair scraped back from the table, and she shut her eyes and held her breath for a moment, willing the excruciating self- consciousness to pass.
"Sit child." She heard Lonan's kind whisper, and inhaling, Magda settled herself at the table. "You've arrived at least a century too late for the Inquisition. I vow no harm will come to you for coming tardy to a meal."
The twinkle in Lonan's eyes and a quick under-the -table squeeze on the knee from James put Magda at her ease. "You are to leave us, I sense. Both of you."
Magda looked to James, and holding his gaze, nodded. Despite the serious stillness of his features, James gave her a wink and Magda felt a flare of wanting him blast through her.
"I suppose my work is done," Lonan said.
Thinking his comment a tongue-in-cheek reference to getting her and James together, Magda's eyes shot to the old monk, but he merely sat there, slowly chewing, looking straight into the distance.
"And quite a lot of work you've done, aye?" James set to twirling his spoon in a bowl of gluey oats, the ghost of a smile wrinkling his eyes.
This time she knew she heard sarcasm and kicked James beneath the table. Though there was a low murmuring in the hall, most of the men were silent, and Magda was mortified that undue attention be brought to her.
"Look around you, lass." Lonan gestured to the monks sitting at the lower tables. "Many of these men are hermits, living in isolation, their prayer as their work. I, though, I have my scholarship, in service to God and to my country. I also have an obligation to tend to those injured in body and mind, to nurture the soul of the wayward traveler. And you, dear Magda, were nothing if not wayward. But now"—smiling, he looked to James, and Magda thought she would miss the old man, scar and all—"now you have found yourself in good hands."
Lonan turned his attention back to his food and casually added, "Though I would bless your union. I'd not have all these efforts end with your two souls living in sin."
Magda stuffed the spoon in her mouth to silence her surprised laugh. She'd known the old man would be capable of wit.
"Well my good brother, that is a point which we'd like to discuss with you." James took and held her hand under the table.
"Yes," she added, looking at him for strength. "We… we'd like to be…"
"Handfast?" Lonan smiled. "I know, child. I've readied the chapel for you." Magda and James exchanged perplexed looks, but the brother merely looked innocent, chafing his hands over the coarse sleeves of his cassock. "And I dare say the chill there will be more easily borne on a full belly. We'll proceed the moment we finish our meal."
"So soon?" Magda asked. She wanted this handfasting, was ready to pledge herself to James. Felt, in fact, that she already had. But there was a part of her that thought there might have been more ceremony around it. She knew it wasn't to be her real wedding, but still, she wanted at least to wear something other than modified monk's clothing. She didn't even have a proper mirror with which to prepare herself.
"Aye, this soon," Lonan replied. "For you'll be off to Perthshire, if I have the right of it."
"Is that where we're going?" Magda looked to James. With all that had happened in the past hours, she hadn't thought to actually ask him where they'd be off to next. She realized a part of her had hoped they'd return to his home in Montrose.
"Old man"—James shook his head—"some day you'll show me how you do that. Aye, hen. Perthshire it is."
"But…" She turned to Lonan. She was about to pledge herself to James, and yet was she ready to say good-bye to her time, forever? "What if I need to find my way back… back to my own home?"
"Then you have only to find me once more. Don't fear, child." He put down his spoon and reached to cup her cheek. "I'll not be far when you need me."
"But I never found out what I'm supposed to do." A hint of panic pitched her voice. How was she to know what to do to help James?
"Magda dear, all you need remember is this." Brother Lonan gently took her hand. His grip was cool and dry, but firm, with knuckles bulging knobby with age. "It is only in letting go of our fears that we come to know the heart's true path."
"Who said that?"
"Lonan Gordon." The monk smiled broadly. "For once those are my words, Magdalen. And you may quote them yourself."
The wind howled outside, fingering its way into the chapel despite the modest stained glass rosettes serving as windowpanes. The day was overcast, but light shone in from the west, throwing muted golds and blues onto the wooden altar. Magda studied the patterns in the glass above and wondered at the effort and cost that would've been needed to bring such a measure of luxury to this remote a place.
James took her hand, and she turned to the man she was to bind herself to. He'd told her this was a sort of union, that they'd have a proper wedding when a more suitable time presented itself.
She glanced down. Lonan had strewn a handful of wildflowers, tiny blue buttons to brighten the old timber planks of the aisle. Magda nudged them with her toe, battling a sudden wave of melancholy. She'd been so swept up in the passion of it all. Reuniting with James again, seeing him safe before her, had overwhelmed her. Her need to hold him had been the only real thing last night. Making sure he was real, and whole. The frantic need to kiss and touch in the dark.
But now. in the light of day, she thought about what she was doing. Did this mean she was forever forsaking her world for James? She thought of her parents. What would they think? How would they handle it? She'd simply disappeared. Would they think she'd been kidnapped? Were they out there somewhere gathering funds even now, waiting by the phone? Or would they think she'd just run away, that she'd met a man and eloped to some exotic and faraway place. She hoped so. The last was actually not too far from the truth.
Her parents' response to her disappearance was almost too painful to think about. They might not have been close, but the prospect of losing two children in one lifetime was too much to bear.
She turned her mind to Walter instead. What would he have made of all this? She glanced around, at the old crucifix over the altar, the hammered bronze chalice. She smiled a little. He'd be in heaven surrounded by so many artifacts. What had he thought when she didn't show up that Monday? Her smile faded. How long had he waited to call her parents? Or would he have called the police first? There'd been a day when people wouldn't have thought twice about calling her brother, but she'd had nobody that close to her since his death. She blinked back the haze of tears clouding her vision.
"Are you still certain of this?" She felt James's breath at her neck, his voice a low whisper in her ear. "Certain of me?" She looked at him. Truly looked at this man who wanted her, only her, by his side. He stood tall beside her. The dust of travel still clung faintly to his blue and green tartan. Though clean, his shirt was worn, with faded stains at the cuffs. If she strained, she recognized her musk, faintly overlaying the scent of trees and sea that was so distinctly James. His hair had grown a little since she'd last seen him, the color of flax and earth resting along his broad shoulders.
"Yes." She cleared her throat and said more loudly, "I'm certain."
"A fine thing that." Lonan's voice echoed up the aisle. "And are we ready then?"
The brother stood before them and, as they nodded, he began to wind a red cord about their joined hands. "In this binding, I join you. Under the eyes of God, in the eyes of the Holy Kirk, and so too by the ancient Gaelic law of lánamnas foxail, do you pledge your troth to one another, and so bind yourselves as hand-fast spouses?"