Iain nodded. He clasped his hands behind his back and stared down at Andrew a long minute. Judith thought he was deliberately dragging out his torture.

"You will walk with me," he commanded. "Judith, wait here."

He didn't give her time to argue with him, but started down the path. Andrew let go of her hand and went running after his laird.

They were gone a long, long while. When they came back, Iain still had his hands clasped behind his back. Andrew walked by his side. Judith smiled when she saw how the child imitated his laird. His hands were also clasped behind his back and his swagger was every bit as arrogant as Iain's was. He was chattering away, and every now and then Iain would nod.

Andrew acted as though a heavy weight had just been lifted from his shoulders. Iain dismissed him, waited until he was out of earshot and said, "I asked you if you saw anyone, Judith. Would you care to explain why you didn't give me a proper answer?"

"Actually you asked me if I saw a man or a woman standing nearby," she reminded him. "I didn't lie to you. I saw a child, not a man or a woman."

"Don't use that lopsided logic on me," he countered. "You knew what I was asking. Now I would like to know why you didn't tell me."

She let out a sigh. "Because the matter was between the child and me," she explained. "I didn't feel the need to bother you with it."

"I'm your husband," he reminded her. "What the hell do you mean, you didn't feel the need to bother me?"

"Iain, I was certain I could take care of it."

"That wasn't your choice to make."

He wasn't angry. He was simply instructing Judith in the proper way to handle her problems.

She was trying not to get worked up over this issue, and failing miserably. She folded her arms across her waist and frowned. "Do I ever have any choices?"

"It's my duty to take care of you."

"And also to take care of my problems?"

"Of course."

"That makes me no better than a child. God's truth, I don't believe I like being married very much. I had more freedom when I lived in England."

He let out a sigh. She was saying the most outrageous things and acting as though she'd only just realized her lot in life, as a woman. "Judith, no one is completely free."

"You are."

He shook his head. "As laird, I have far more restrictions than any of the warriors serving under me. My every action is accountable to the council. Everyone has a place here, responsibilities as well. Wife, I don't like hearing you tell me you don't like being married to me."

"I didn't say I didn't like being married to you, husband. I said I didn't like being married very much. It's most restrictive. There is a difference."

The look on his face indicated he didn't agree. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. "You will like being married to me, Judith. I command it."

It was a ridiculous order. She pulled back and looked up at him. She was certain he was jesting and his amusement would be there, in his expression.

Iain wasn't jesting however. Lord, he looked… worried, vulnerable too. She was surprised by that notice, and very, very pleased. She went back into his arms. "I love you," she whispered. "Of course I like being married to you."

He squeezed her tight. "And you will, therefore, like giving me your problems to solve," he announced.

"Sometimes I will," she said, refusing to give him her full agreement. "And sometimes I will solve them myself."

"Judith—"

She interrupted him. "Frances Catherine told me that you were more of a father to Patrick than an older brother. You grew up solving all his problems for him, didn't you?"

"Perhaps, when we were younger," he admitted. "Now that we're both adults, we decide together what's to be done whenever a problem crops up. I rely on him as much as he relies on me. Tell me what my brother has to do with this discussion? You do want me to take care of you, don't you?"

"Yes, of course I do," she answered. "I just don't want to be a burden. I want to be able to share my problems with you, not hand them over. Do you understand? I want to belong, to be important enough to you that you would want to share your worries with me. Could you not learn to treat me with the same consideration you give Patrick?"

Iain didn't know what to say to her. "I must consider this," he announced.

She leaned against him so he wouldn't see her smile. "That is all I would ask."

"I try to be open to new ideas, Judith."

"Yes, of course you do."

She kissed him on his chin. He leaned down and captured her mouth for a long kiss. He was reluctant to stop touching her, but finally forced himself to pull away.

Judith spotted Andrew standing a fair distance away from them.

Iain didn't turn around when he called out, "Are you ready, Andrew?"

"Yes, Laird," he called back.

"How did you know he was standing there?"

"I heard him."

"I didn't."

He smiled. "You didn't need to hear," he explained.

His remark didn't make any sense. He sounded terribly arrogant.

"Where are you taking him?" she asked in a whisper, so the boy wouldn't hear.

"To the stables," Iain answered. "He's going to help the stable master."

"Is this a punishment? Iain, don't you think—"

"We'll discuss this tonight," he interrupted.

She nodded. She was so pleased he hadn't ordered her to stay out of the matter altogether, she felt like smiling. "As you wish," she told him.

"I wish for you to return to the keep."

She nodded. She bowed to her husband and started up the hill.

"You will rest this afternoon," he called after her.

"Yes, Iain."

"I'm meaning what I say, Judith."

She realized then he expected an argument. Since she hadn't given him one, he assumed she wasn't going to obey. She tried not to laugh. Her husband was beginning to understand her.

She did keep her promise. She had a nice visit with Frances Catherine first, and after Patrick had assisted his wife back down the hill to their cottage for her afternoon rest, Judith went upstairs to her room. Her mind was centered on the ever present worry about Frances Catherine's birthing, and she believed she had finally come up with a solution. Judith didn't believe she was knowledgeable enough to know what to do if the birthing became complicated, but Helen would surely have enough experience to know what to do, wouldn't she? Andrew's mother would have to soften in her attitude toward her now, Judith thought, and perhaps if she used the correct approach, she could gain the midwife's cooperation without having to involve Agnes.

Frances Catherine was bound to have a fit. Judith would have to convince her Helen would be a help and not a hindrance.

She fell asleep praying it would be true.

Chapter 12

She slept throughout the night. When she awoke, Iain had already left the chamber. Judith remembered that she needed to hurry to begin her day. She spotted her satchels neatly stacked in the corner and assumed Iain had carried them up from Frances Catherine's cottage.

After putting her things away in the smaller chest and straightening the chamber, she went downstairs.

Gelfrid was sitting with Duncan at the table, eating the morning meal. Both elders started to stand when she entered the room, but she waved them back into their chairs.

"Aren't you going to join us, lass?" Gelfrid asked.

"I'll just take this apple with me, thank you. I have an important errand to complete."

"You look just fine wearing our plaid," Duncan muttered. He frowned while he gave his compliment, acting as though it was a painful chore to praise her.

She didn't laugh. She did smile, though. Duncan, she decided, was very like Gelfrid. He was all bluster on the outside, but full of tender feelings inside.

"Her face still looks frightful," Gelfrid remarked. "She could have had her eye torn clean out, Duncan," he added with a nod.

"Aye, she could have," Duncan agreed.

Judith hid her exasperation. "Gelfrid, was there anything you wished me to do before I leave?"

He shook his head.

"Have you seen Graham this morning?" she asked. "He might want something done, and I would like to get my duties organized in my mind before I start my day."

"Graham went hunting with Patrick and a few of the others," Gelfrid explained. "He should be back in time for the nooning meal. They left right at dawn."

"Did Iain go with them?"

Duncan answered her question. "He and his men went in the opposite direction to have a word or two with the Macphersons. They border us on the west."

She caught the hesitation in his voice. "I'm not believing this 'have a word or two,' Duncan. Are we feuding with the Macphersons, too?"

The elder nodded. "No need to get yourself worried. It's only a halfhearted feud. The Macpherson laird is so inept, it isn't worth the trouble fighting with them. There won't be any bloodshed."

"You're certain of this, Duncan?"

"I am," he answered. "There won't be a battle."

"Aye, it's more nuisance than amusement for Iain," Gelfrid explained.

"Your husband won't be home until nightfall," Duncan added.

"Thank you for telling me," Judith replied. She made a curtsy, then turned and hurried out of the hall.

Judith was halfway down the hill before she realized she didn't know where Helen lived. She wasn't about to ask Frances Catherine for directions. Her friend would demand an immediate explanation as to why she would want to speak to the midwife. Judith was determined to talk to Helen first before broaching the topic with her friend.

She turned toward Isabelle's cottage. Remembering Agnes's boast during the horrid inquisition that both she and Helen lived close enough to have heard screams during the birthing, Judith was certain Isabella would be able to point the way for her.

Spotting Father Laggan coming up the slope, she waved to the priest and hurried to meet him.

"Did you put Merlin in the ground?" she asked.

He smiled. "I did." he answered. "Now I'm back to give Isabelle's son a proper blessing."

"Are you always in such a rush, Father?"

"'Tis the truth I usually am," he answered. He took Judith's hand in both of his and said, "You've got a happy wedded look about you. Iain's treating you well, isn't he?"

"Yes, Father," she replied. "Will you share our supper with us tonight?"

"I would be pleased to," he returned. "And have you the time to stop in to say hello to Isabelle with me now?"

"Of course," she answered. "But first I would like to have a talk with one of the midwives," she explained. "Do you happen to know where Helen lives?"

The priest nodded. He was kind enough to escort Judith there. He knocked on the door for her. Helen was given quite a startle to find both the priest and the laird's wife waiting on her stoop. Her hand flew to her bosom.

Judith saw how worried she looked and immediately tried to put her at ease.

"Good day, Helen," she began. "Father Laggan was kind enough to show me the way to your home. He was on his way to bless Isabelle's son," she added. "And I wanted to talk to you about a personal matter… if you have the time. I could come back later if you wish."

Helen backed away from the entrance and graciously invited her guests inside.

The aroma of freshly baked bread filled the air. Father Laggan beckoned Judith inside first and then followed her.

The little cottage was spotless. The wooden floors had been scrubbed so clean; the slats seemed to have a shine to them.

Judith sat at the table, but the priest went over to the hearth and leaned over the iron kettle hanging on the rod above the fire;

"What have we here?" he asked.

"Mutton stew," Helen replied, her voice a whisper. She held her apron in both hands in a grip that made her knuckles white.

"Is it about ready to taste, Helen?" Father Laggan asked.

His hint wasn't subtle. Feeding the priest put Helen at ease. She ushered him over to the table and then gave him a huge helping of the mutton. Judith was surprised by the priest's appetite. He was as thin as a rail, yet ate enough for two fully grown men.

Helen lost most of her worried expression while she served the priest. It was obvious to Judith she was enjoying the compliments the priest was giving her. Judith added a few of her own after she'd eaten two thick slices of black bread covered in rich jam.

Helen wouldn't sit down, however. Father Laggan finished his meal, thanked the midwife for her hospitality, and then left to go to Isabelle's cottage. Judith stayed behind. She waited until the door closed behind the priest, and then asked Helen to sit with her at the table.

"I would thank you again—" Helen began.

Judith cut her off. "I didn't come here to gain your apologies. That problem was taken care of and Andrew has learned his lesson."

"Since his father passed away, the boy has been… clinging. He thinks he must stay by my side all the time to protect me."

"Perhaps he's worried inside that you might also die and he'd be left alone," Judith suggested.

Helen nodded. "There's only the two of us now. It's difficult for him."

"Are their uncles or cousins who—"

She stopped her question when Helen shook her head. "We are quite alone, Lady Judith."

"No, you're not," Judith argued. "You're part of this clan. Your son will grow up to be a Maitland warrior. If there aren't any uncles or cousins to direct Andrew, then the matter should have been mentioned to Iain. Helen, you know how important it is for a child to believe he's important." She paused to smile at the midwife before adding, "It's important for women too, isn't it?"

"Aye, it is," Helen agreed. "It's been difficult, living here. I come from the MacDougall family. I've eight sisters and two brothers," she added with a nod. "Needless to say, there was always someone to talk to, and always time for a friendly visit. It's different here. The women work from dawn to dusk. Sundays are just the same. And yet, I find I envy them. They have husbands to look after."



----