“An’ be careful when ye’re mixin’ it,” the wife of the Laird of Grahame Castle warned. “If ye under or over handle it, the bread will nae rise how ye’d like, an’ it’ll just be a mess.”
The little blonde girl sighed with clear frustration. “But Mammy, I dinnae ken what that means. Maybe I’m just nae as good as ye are.”
“I am!” her brother told her. He was much younger. Where the girl was around nine, the boy was only four or so. The girl was trying her hardest to mix the bread properly, while the boy held a bowl of messy ingredients before him. “Granny is gonnae love mine the best.”
“Ye dinnae ken what ye’re daein’!” the girl protested. “Mammy, tell him!”
“All o’ ye stop it,” Logan laughed from the side where he had been observing. “Elspeth, ye cannae compare yer talent tae yer Mammy’s. She’s been bakin’ since she was younger than ye are now. She can dae things wi’ flour an’ grains that half the bakers in Scotland couldn’ae even dream.”
Elise rolled her eyes. “Och, stop bein’ such a flatterer,” she teased. “But aye, yer Daddy’s right about one thing. I’m only so good after years an’ years o’ practice. Part o’ learnin’ is bein’ willin’ tae make mistakes, me wee dove.”
Elspeth folded her arms. “Granny told me that ye were bakin’ well from the cradle,” she protested. “Are ye callin’ me Granny a liar?”
“Nay, o’ course nae,” Logan told his daughter gently. “But Granny Freya was just exaggeratin’. Mind, I’ve kenned yer mammy for our whole lives. She had tae learn just like ye.”
“I dinnae have tae learn,” the boy said proudly. “I’m a good baker already. Look at me cake!”
They all glanced down at the mess in his bowl. Logan was fairly certain that he saw grass clippings mixed in there with the clumps of flour. “Och, it’s bonny, son,” he said.
“It is nae,” Elspeth huffed, folding her arms. “Ye’re always so nice tae Colin because he’s a bairn, but his bread is terrible, an’ ye shouldnae lie!”
Logan saw, from the corner of his eye, that Elise was biting her lip and trying not to laugh.
“I’m nae a bairn,” Colin protested. “I’m a big lad. Uncle Tormod says so. He said none o’ his guards would dare try tae take me in battle.”
“Aye, because ye’re the Laird’s son an’ any one o’ them would get in trouble for squishin’ ye like a roach!” Elspeth snapped.
“I’m nae a roach!” Colin shrieked.
Logan was about to step in and prevent this squabble from turning into an all-out war, but Elise was faster.
“Dae ye ken why we’ve got an oven out here as well as the one all the way down in the kitchens?” she asked, catching the attention of both the children with ease, even as she kneaded her own dough.
“It’s yer oven, is it nae?” Elspeth asked, turning back to her own bread. Logan smiled to see how she kept sneakily casting glances at her mother’s deft work, trying to copy her exact movements.
“Aye,” Elise said proudly. “An’ one day it’ll belong tae both o’ ye. But first, ye must ken how I got it. Yer Daddy built it for me, wi’ the Balfours an’ some others.”
“Ye mean he paid them tae build it?” Colin asked, sprinkling some mud into his mixture as though it was salt.
“Obviously she means that,” Elspeth said, rolling her eyes and placing her hands on her hips. “What else could she mean? That the Laird took a break from all his duties tae dae manual labor?”
“Actually, that’s exactly what I mean,” she said steadily. “He was nae the Laird yet—this was back when yer Grandfaither was still in charge—but he had duties all the same. Nonetheless, he wanted tae woo yer mither, an’ he decided tae dae it by buildin’ this from nothin’.”
“Aye, wi’ a lot o’ help,” Logan told her. He didn’t want the children to get the wrong idea and felt a little embarrassed at the praise she was heaping onto him.
Elspeth gasped, her argument with her brother already completely forgotten. “That’s so romantic!” she said. “Did he ask ye tae wed him wi’ some bread?”
Both Elise and Logan laughed. “Och, nay,” Logan replied. “I cannae bake at all. I’d have had Cook help me, maybe, but yer Mammy would o’ kenned that it was nae me.”
“But when he asked me tae wed him properly, it was next tae this here oven,” Elise continued, patting it affectionately. “O’ course, I already loved him dearly by then, but even if I had nae, I would o’ fallen for him all over again.”
“An’?” Colin asked eagerly. “Did ye wed him, Mammy?”
Elspeth rolled her eyes. “What dae ye think, ye fool?”
“He’s just a wee bairn,” Logan reminded his daughter, gentle but firm.
Elspeth blushed. She hated to be chastised, especially by her father, and she muttered an apology. For his part, Colin seemed not to even realize that he had been insulted.
“Aye, sweetheart, I wed him,” Elise told her son. “I wed him because I love him very much. One day, ye’ll find somebody like I found yer faither. Somebody that makes yer heart feel whole.”
Colin nodded, but his little brow was furrowed in concentration, as though he was trying to memorize all of this in case he was questioned later. “So if I meet a lassie that I want tae wed,” he said. “I should make an oven for her?” He chewed on his lip, looking worried. “I dinnae ken how tae make an oven.”
Neither Elise nor Logan laughed at him, though it was very difficult, at least on Logan’s part. Colin just looked so sweet and earnest that it made the joy bubble to the surface without his permission.
“Nay, Colin,” Elspeth told him condescendingly.
“Oh,” Colin said. “Then what dae ye dae, then?”
“Well, obviously…” Elspeth started, but then she trailed off. “Er, I mean…ye obviously just…what I mean tae say is…”
This time, Elise did chuckle, but gently. “Ye’re both far too young tae be considerin’ marriage now anyway, me sweet cakes,” she teased.
“True,” Logan agreed. “But since ye’re askin’, I can let ye in tae a wee secret that’ll help ye, whether it’s lookin’ for a wife or a husband.”
Both children looked at him expectantly, obviously excited about this new information. While they did this, Elise carefully and sneakily fixed the dough that Elspeth was working on, so that when it did eventually go in the oven, it would come out just as good as her own bread.
“Well,” Logan said, “Elspeth is right that it is nae about ovens specifically, but Colin, ye were nae entirely wrong, either. Ye see, when ye love somebody the way I love yer Mammy, ye start tae learn a lot about them. Like how yer Mammy is demonically good at cards.”
“Or how yer Daddy eats far too many sweet buns,” Elise countered with a chuckle.
“Or, in this case, how yer Mammy loved—an’ still loves—tae bake. I kenned that whatever grand gesture I wanted tae plan tae confess how I felt, it needed tae center around what she loved most in the world,” he told them.
“Apart from ye, anyway,” Elise told him.
“Och, ye’re disgustin’ me,” Colin protested. “Are ye gonnae kiss, tae?”
“Probably later,” Logan told him with an evil grin. “Probably lots o’ kisses!”
“Och, nay!” Colin protested.
Elspeth sighed. “So ye made the oven just because me Mammy liked tae bake? What would ye have done if she liked tae sing?”
“Made her a platform so she could sing an’ be heard by all. Found her a backin’ lutist. Anythin’ it took tae make her happy,” Logan told his daughter honestly. “I’d have done anythin’ for yer mither then. I still would. O’ course, we’d have been married a lot sooner if either one o’ us had just been brave enough tae confess our feelin’s in the first place.”
Elise laughed at that, and the conversation paused for a moment as she helped Elspeth prepare her dough in the warm stone drawer to proof while they talked. She let Colin do so, too, but she was careful to keep his creation separate from those that they actually intended to eat.
“Did ye always love each other?” Elspeth asked.
“Och, aye,” Elise agreed. “Since we were bairns, even before we kenned it ourselves, I think. We were always best friends, an’ we always told each other everythin’. I dinnae think we could have grown tae love anyone else in the same way if we’d tried.”
“So,” said Colin a little fearfully, “If Daddy dinnae build ye the oven, we would nae exist?”
Logan laughed. “Nae, me chook. Ye an’ yer sister, ye were inevitable. As was yer Mammy an’ me finally endin’ up together. It was just a matter o’ the right timin’, an’ all the ingredients bein’ in place at the right time.”
He and Elise exchanged a look. They had not told, and would not tell for a long time, about the other ingredient, how they had nearly lost each other forever. The children would hear that story when they were older, but all they knew of it now was that Mammy and Daddy went off to Loch Merinch once a year for someone that they used to know.
It wasn’t that they’d forgiven Jaimie, or that they went to mourn him. If anything, Logan was gladder than ever all these years later that he had ended Jaimie’s life. Had the man been allowed to live, their family would have been in constant fear, waiting to see what he would do next.
I dinnae like tae kill, but it was him or Elise. Him or me family. I’d dae the same at any time.
But he went with Elise anyway, partly because he knew it was important to her, and partly because he understood. The person they visited the loch to honor was not the cruel kidnapper who had hurt her and tried to kill Logan and Tormod.
Every year, they stood, hand-in-hand by the lakeside, and offered prayers for a little boy who never got the chance to live the life he should have. Every year, they promised the loch that whenever they heard of such horrific treatment between parents and children in their lands, they would intervene before it got that far.
And they had been good on their word. The orphanages and the alms for the poor had never been so well-funded or well-staffed. It had been Elise’s top priority as the Laird’s wife to make sure that the injured, abused, and desperate had somewhere to turn, and she had routed much of her personal funding, as well as the castle money, to this project.
An’ now there’s an orphanage in every large village, each run by a matron who cares for the bairns. Me wife is a marvel.
“So it was like bakin’, then?” Elspeth asked.
“Hm?” Logan said, confused as he was pulled out of his train of thought. “Sorry, mo chidre, what are ye askin’ me?”
“Ye an’ Mammy fallin’ in love, an’ us bein’ born. It was like makin’ a loaf o’ bread,” Elspeth explained patiently. “Ye said it was all about timin’ an’ all the pieces bein’ in the right place. Mammy always tells us that bakin’ needs tae be exact. I guess our family is the same.”
Logan chuckled, moving forward and putting his arms around his wife’s shoulders. “Well, I suppose so,” he said.
“That’s us,” Elise said with a smile as both children moved into the hug, too. “Logan Dunsmore of Grahame an’ Mrs. Dunsmore of Grahame an’ their bairns. Made an’ baked perfectly like the most delicious loaf that ye’ve ever seen.”
“I hope we dinnae have tae go in the fire,” Colin said.
All three of the others laughed.
“Nay, son,” Logan told him. “Because the thing about our family is that we dinnae need such things tae rise. We have each other to help us thrive an’ grow, now an’ forevermore.”
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