23 September 2011

#FridayFlash - Dinna Tell

Brian kept his face calm, hiding his surprise at Meriel’s request. Now he understood why she’d insisted they stand in the middle of the sitting room, speaking in hushed voices. “Ye dinna have to ask, I willna say anything about the lass.” With his chin, he pointed to the door. “But the talk has already begun.”

Jean nodded once before she spat out her words. “Aye, I caught that loose-tongued Mairi asking one of the stable lads if they had seen our young hero here,” her lips pursed as she sent him a pointed look, “but she will no be saying anything more, forbye.”

“I wager she doesna have to.” Brian rubbed his throbbing hand as he recalled a brief conversation in the barn. While Brian had been unloading his horse, a groomsmen had asked Brian if he’d “aided” the lass in a tone that hinted at less than gentlemanly help.

Meriel noticed Brian’s swollen knuckles and frowned. “Which one was it?”

He could never keep a secret from Meriel, even if he tried. “Ye will ken when ye see him.”

Meriel sighed and shook her head. “Och, aye, I dare say I will.” Now it was her turn to give him one of her looks. “I thought ye would ken better.”

Brian shrugged, of course he did. Why else would the Clan Rose chief routinely send him on diplomacy errands, particularly those to the Freuchie. Yet, that didn’t mean he had to stand idle listening to a groomsman’s lewd accusations about the lass upstairs, no matter what the lass may have done or wore. “I was just teaching him some manners.”

Meriel sent him a pointed look, then said, “I will have a conversation with Ennis about the lads. In the meantime, dinna add fuel to the fire.”

Brian gave her a curt nod. “As I recall, it isna my behavior that ye wanted to discuss.”

What about the lass caused this distress? That made Meriel demand secrecy?  He glanced at Jean for a clue but only found the taciturn housekeeper glaring at him. Turing to Meriel, Brian asked, “What did she say?”

The dim light of the afternoon filtered through the tree outside the window and dappled light fell into the room. Even with the uneven light, he noticed the tight corners of her lips as Brian waited for Meriel to answer. Bran could feel the worry thrumming on his cousin’s skin.

What could the lass have said that could be so terrible? Had she killed the man who had marked her? Was she hunted? What?

“I am still making sense of it, aye?” She gave Brian a wan smile and sighed again, her shoulders sagging. “It’s nay for ye to be concerned about.”

“What do you want me to say to the people who ask about the lass? Mairi saw that the lass was practically naked. I guarantee that is one detail she will pass on,” he gave Jean a pointed look, “no matter your reprimand.”

The images of her bare limbs covered with purple bruises came unbidden to his mind. How could someone have done that to her? He fisted his hand again.

Meriel interrupted his thoughts. “I dinna ken.” A corner of her mouth lifted. “Ye are a gentleman the last time I checked. I am sure ye will come up with a suitable answer,” she paused, “a civilized one I hope.”

Meriel turned to Jean. The older woman answered Meriel’s question with a brief nod before leaving the room.

Brian grasped Meriel’s elbow to keep her from following the housekeeper out the door and guided her to a chair. “Sit.”

Meriel bristled at his command, but she complied. He sat on the edge of the sofa facing her. “There is more to this than ye are telling me. What is it?”

She lifted her chin and peered at him. “I dinna confide everything with ye.” Why was she so defensive? Why was she not answering his question?

“Aye, that is true, but I think I deserve to ken what all the secrecy is about, I carried her in here after all.”

Meriel turned away, her gaze settled on the glass figurines that sat on the shelf. His cousin sat quietly thinking with those lines between her brows. What was it about the lass upstairs that caused his cousin to be so secretive, so upset?

Brian sat back, deciding to wait her out, but when nearly a minute passed in silence he couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “I canna imagine anything so bad that ye canna tell me.” Meriel twitched, unusual for her. “If ye worried about the lass and the man,” and he used that term loosely, “that hurt—“

“Brian, it’s n—“

The sitting room door swung open and Ennis strode in, slamming the heavy door behind him. “I should have kent the Rose yelp would be hiding out with his protector.” Ennis stopped in front of Brian and glared at him. “How dare ye bring a woman such as that into my hame. Have ye nay shame?”

Brian stood up and clamped his jaw tight to keep his silence. Meriel rose and placed her hand on Ennis’s shoulder to calm him. He shook it off.

Ennis glared at Brian and blocked Brian’s view of Meriel. “Dinna look to her for help. Ye are no better than a bairn, always hiding behind her skirts.”

Brian took a step froward, returning Ennis’s stare. By Brian’s count, he owed Ennis hundreds of punches for every insult he uttered about himself or his family, and he felt the need to deliver each and every one right now. He is Meriel’s husband. He couldn’t hurt Meriel by doing her husband harm, even if the bastard deserved it. Too bad Meriel hadn’t married someone else. Knowing how Ennis would rage at the thought, Brian chuckled as he stared down the man.

“Ennis.” Hearing Meriel’s sharp voice, Ennis blinked, and she moved to her husband’s side, restraining Ennis with a simple touch of her hand on his arm. “Brian found the lass as he prepared to leave. He only brought her in as she needed tending to.” Ennis’s eyes squinted at Brian, as if trying to see the truth written on Brian’s face.

“Dinna fash, Meriel. I am certain Ennis,” Ennis’ eyes tighten at Brian’s use of his given name rather than his title of Laird, “would have been grace himself and helped her had he been the one to find her.”

No one disputed the blatant lie, but Brian felt Meriel’s disapproval roll off her in waves. Ennis’ already icy glare hardened, causing Brian to grin again.

Ennis turned away from Brian to speak to his wife. “Where is she?”

“Upstairs in Brian’s room. Resting.”

Ennis completely turned his back on Brian before addressing Meriel again. “I will speak to ye. Alone”

“Good day to ye too, Ennis.” Brian walked out of the suddenly too crowded sitting room. Better that Meriel deal with the man, she could to calm the man as only she could. Not even Brian’s father, a respected clan chief, could effectively deal with the hot-heided Ennis for any length of time.

The door clicked behind him and a snort escaped him. For his act of decency towards the mysterious lass, he’d become the subject of the latest gossip, punched a man, and nearly came to fisticuffs with his cousin’s husband. And he didn’t even know her name.

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