About the book
Her eyes were the finest jewels he ever stole…
Isolated in a tower for her own protection, Dorathia MacCuaig has never met another person in her life. Until one day the most handsome thief she has ever seen breaks into her home. And steals her heart.
With a reputation as the most cunning miscreant of the Highlands, Thomeas Fraser needs a place to hide until his pursuers lose him. It becomes clear that things aren’t going according to plan when he wakes up to find a sword pressed to his chest. And the most beautiful woman he has ever seen holding it.
To avoid arrest, he agrees to her proposal: take her to their shared hometown for her birthday. The same hometown he vowed never to return to.
When dead bodies meet them at every turn, they realize that someone is going to great lengths to keep them away. Trapped among the demons of a past that precedes them both, Thomeas and Dorathia unveil a family secret that has been buried for twenty-three years...inside the tomb of Dorathia’s mother.
Thomeas was running. His feet stomped on the ground with every step that he took, and he could already tell that he would be sore the following day.
He’s big…he’s verra big.
Unlike the man that towered over him, Thomeas was nothing more than a young boy of five, and his legs could only take him so far before the merchant caught him by the arm and yanked him back, making him stumble and fall onto the hard soil.
Thomeas made no sound other than a soft grunt, even as his back hit the ground. Even so, his entire body hurt, and he had to choke off every pained groan, every sound of anguish. The man was no different from the children who teased him in the village, apart from the difference in size, after all.
I cannae let him see that it hurt. I’m nae a wee lad anymore. I must be strong.
“Do ye ken what we do to thieves here?” the merchant asked as he pulled Thomeas back onto his feet, his voice rough and threatening, sending a chill down the boy’s spine. The man’s hand was encircling his entire arm, and the grip on him had already left faint bruises behind, ones that would soon blossom to a purple patch shaped like fingers.
“Aye,” Thomeas said. “I live here. I’ve seen thieves before.”
His insolence earned him a slap, and Thomeas reeled from it, his hand immediately coming up to rub at the sore flesh on his cheek. Even his ear was burning from the strike, red and angry, and Thomeas had to fight the tears that threatened to spill from his eyes.
“Then ye must ken that I’ll have yer hand for this!” the merchant roared.
Now, the entire village was there, watching the altercation. Some of the locals, the older ones, were muttering among themselves, pointing at Thomeas and gasping, while the younger ones, the children, called him a thief again and again.
Thomeas had stolen some food, that much was true; but his stomach had been grumbling for days, and he couldn’t take the hunger anymore.
Stealing hadn’t been his first choice, of course. Even he, a child, knew that stealing was wrong, so he had asked for help first.
No one had given him any help, though. No one had been kind enough to give a starving child some food, and so Thomeas had been forced to steal.
He had only taken some eggs and some bare bannocks, just enough to keep his stomach full for a few days, but that seemed to be an offence great enough to warrant having his entire hand cut off. That was what the merchant was saying, at least, and none of the people who stood around them stepped in to stop him.
How will I eat without me hands?
Thomeas had one choice.
He twisted his arm out of the merchant’s grip, even though the wringing of his sensitive skin made him wince. Once he was free, he dropped all the food that he had stolen, and then he ran.
He ran and ran, until he couldn’t hear the merchant’s horrible, screeching shouts anymore. He ran until the village was nothing but an outline in the distance, until his lungs felt as though they were on fire, begging Thomeas for oxygen.
Then, he ran some more.
Running away had always been the hardest part of the job, if one could even call what Thomeas was doing a job.
It’s hard work, and it pays. Those who claim I’m nae more than a leech, taking wealth from innocent people, dinnae ken what they’re sayin’. There isnae a job in the world that I can do better than this one.
The only problem came when it was time to run away. His beloved mare, which he had stolen from a wealthy farmer as a teenager, was getting old and slow, and her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be anymore.
“Come now, lass!” he shouted at his horse, as the wind and the rain whipped his skin mercilessly. “If they catch us, it willnae be good for either one of us!”
Thomeas’ eyes were watering in the wind, forcing him to ride blindly. The rain had already soaked him to the bone, weighing down his plaid and rendering it a nuisance. The chill that seeped into his flesh made his hands and his fingers stiff as ice, and yet he persevered, riding through the darkness in search of shelter.
He could hear multiple hooves behind him, thundering, their frenzied pace matching the beating of his heart. They were still far away, but ever-present, as the men who were chasing him refused to back down and return to the safety and warmth of their homes.
They weren’t just chasing him so that they could take back what Thomeas had stolen from them, he knew.
They’re out for blood. If it isnae me blood, then it’ll be theirs when they return to their masters empty-handed.
Thomeas gave his mare a kick in the flank, urging the horse to go faster. He didn’t know where he would find a shelter where he was, in the middle of nowhere, but he was hoping to find an old hut or perhaps a cave, where he could wait out the wrath of the storm and of the men from whom he had stolen.
The woods seemed to have no end, though. Thomeas looked around and he only saw the towering, willowy silhouettes of the trees that surrounded him, stretching as far as the eye could see. On the other hand, the men seemed to be too far away for him to spot them, and he could hardly hear them anymore as they chased him through the woods.
If I cannae see them, then they cannae see me…and if they cannae see me, they willnae see me hide once I find shelter.
Just when Thomeas thought that he would be trapped in the forest with no exit in sight, he came to the last line of trees that laced the edge of the woods. There was nothing but a small meadow in front of him, surrounded by short hills, a creek running through its middle.
And there, in the far end of the meadow, a small building.
Thomeas looked behind his shoulder one more time, ensuring that his pursuers were still out of sight, and then he headed for the hut. Upon closer inspection, the hut seemed to be abandoned, the wooden planks that held it up old and rotten, looking as though they were ready to collapse. To its right, Thomeas could see an even smaller building.
Just as he had expected, the stables were as empty as the rest of the meadow, and once again, he could only think that the place was abandoned, as he left his mare there and closed the door behind him, before entering the house.
When he stepped foot inside, he thought that perhaps he had been wrong. Unlike its exterior, the interior of the house gave him the sense that the place was not simply inhabited, but also well-loved, decorated with all sorts of ornaments and baubles, some of them placed on furniture while others hanged from the walls. From the inside, the house appeared to be grander, and Thomeas even noticed that there was a staircase leading up to the second floor.
Nae candles…nae fire…there isnae a soul here, in this house. Must be a hunting lodge, thank the Lord.
Thomeas dropped his bag on the floor, along with his rain-drenched clothes and the two swords that he always carried on his back, and looked around the house, searching first for the kitchen. Everything else could be explored later, but his grumbling stomach demanded some food, and so he raided the pantry, trying to find something to satisfy his hunger.
There wasn’t much there, but there was more than he had expected. There was cured meat, and even potatoes, carrots, and apples, all of them crisp and fresh as though they had been picked that very day.
Someone from the nearby village must own this house…cannae leave anything to make the master of the house angry and have an angry horde chase me back into the woods…might take somethin’ on the way out, though.
Thomeas made himself at home. He had some of the meat and two apples, ravenous after the events of the evening. He then grabbed his bag and stepped into the first bedroom he found, perching himself on the edge of the bed as he pulled the stolen goods out, examining them closely.
In the dark—where Thomeas sat as he didn’t want to risk lighting a fire or a candle—he could hardly see the sparkle of gold and silver, the shine of the gems that were so carefully mounted on the rings and necklaces in his hands. He could feel them, though, hefty and precious, the bags of coins that he had managed to purloin rattling with the most delightful sound he had ever heard.
“Must be enough to start a new life,” Thomeas hummed to himself for the first time since he had started his career as a thief.
About time I did.
He placed the stolen gold and the jewelry back in his bag, before stretching out onto the bed. The heavy blankets that cocooned him brought the life back to his limbs, slowly warming him up once again and smoothing over the goosebumps on his body.
Sleep came over him like a wave, fast and all-encompassing now that adrenaline wasn’t coursing through his veins. His pursuers were nowhere to be seen, his loot was safe in his bag, and he was the most comfortable he had been in his life, the plush mattress and the blankets that covered him making him feel as though he was lying atop a cloud.
Soon, Thomeas was plunged in a warm, comforting darkness, lulled into a deep sleep by the sound of the howling wind.
There was something sharp on his chest. In his sleep, Thomeas tried to swat it away, only to have his hand slapped away with the same, sharp object, which made him open one eye and look down in search of the offending item.
It was a sword, and it was held by a young woman.
She was a sight to behold, illuminated gently by a candle that she seemed to have lit before she had woken him up so abruptly. Her face, with its dusting of freckles and almond-shaped eyes the color of copper against the fragrant earth after the rain, was framed by her long, dark curls that draped over her shoulders, bouncing gently as her breast rose and fell every time she took a breath.
There was color on her cheeks, the skin there flushed and pink, as she worried her bottom lip between her teeth, looking uncertain and hesitant, even as she kept her blade firmly pressed against Thomeas’ chest.
“Who are ye?” she asked him, her voice steady, unwavering. Thomeas supposed that holding a sword made one braver. “What do ye want?”
Despite the woman’s apparent bravery and bravado, Thomeas didn’t fail to notice that her hand was trembling ever so slightly where she was holding the sword. He, too, remembered a time like that, a time when facing an opponent made his hands shake with nerves and fear.
The girl would learn to keep her hands steady soon enough if she were to survive in that world.
“Dinnae ye think that sword is too big for a wee lass like yerself?” Thomeas asked her. His gaze went back and forth between her face and the sword that she was holding, and he could only find one way out of that situation.
He had to take the sword from her, so that she wouldn’t hurt him or herself. Without a sword, she would be harmless, and Thomeas could run once more before she could notify any of the guards that were after him of his presence.
“Dinnae ye think that it is rude to eat another one’s food and sleep in another one’s bed without an invitation?” the girl said, and Thomeas watched as the knuckles on her hand turned white when she clutched the hilt of the sword tighter. “I asked ye who ye are and why ye’re here. Answer me.”
Thomeas raised his hands up, just a little, just enough to show her that he meant no harm. It would do no good if he ended up getting stabbed, after all.
“Me name’s Thomeas Fraser,” he said. “I gave ye me name . . . now give me yers.”
The girl hesitated. She seemed reluctant to give away that information, but in the end, she licked her lips that had suddenly gone dry and told him.
“I am Dorathia,” she said, not giving him her family name, as her gaze drifted to the coins and jewelry that peeked through his open bag. “Are ye a nobleman? Where did ye find all this?”
That gave Thomeas pause, and he tilted his head to the side, regarding Dorathia with a small frown on his face.
Could she really not know what I am? Could she be so naïve, so innocent?
He decided to tell her the truth, or at least part of it.
“Nay...I’m nae a nobleman,” he said. “Do I look like one? No one has ever said so to me afore.”
“Nay...ye dinnae look like one,” Dorathia said, a hint of disgust in her tone as she scrunched up her nose to whatever offending smell was coming off Thomeas that day.
“I’m only lookin’ for shelter,” Thomeas said. “I dinnae wish for any trouble, I promise…especially when a creature as bonnie as yerself is involved.”
Dorathia’s eyes narrowed and she took a step back, but she still pointed the edge of the sword at him, ready to strike him down if he so much as said the wrong thing, something that he seemed to have done already. Thomeas made a mental note to not comment on her appearance again.
“I dinnae ken who ye are, but when me Faither comes home, he’ll deal with ye the way ye deserve,” she said. “Dinnae ye move, do ye hear?”
It was then or never for Thomeas. He could either overpower the girl and take her sword, before leaving the place and avoiding all the troubles that came with being there, or he could let her keep him there until her father returned, who was certainly much more dangerous than she was.
It wasn’t really a dilemma in Thomeas’ head.
He stood slowly, still keeping his hands up in mock surrender. The sword that was between them kept him at a fair distance away from Dorathia, but if he could somehow maneuver around her, then he could make her drop it and incapacitate her long enough to escape.
She won’t even see it coming.
In one swift motion, Thomeas spun around Dorathia, his right hand grabbing onto her forearm as his left hand reached for the sword. Just when he thought that he would get a grip on it, though, Dorathia’s elbow connected with his gut, and Thomeas stumbled backwards as he howled in pain, clutching onto his stomach for just a moment.
Suddenly, he realized that he was naked. He was naked, and he was fighting a girl, who didn’t even seem to be fazed by his state of undress. She only seemed to be a little curious, her head tilting to the side as she noted all the differences between their bodies.
That was his chance, and so he tried again. He was nothing if not patient, after all, and if she was going to fight dirty, then so would he. Besides, he was a thief, and thieves weren’t known for their honor, no matter how much Thomeas liked to think that he still had some left in him.
He reached for the sword once more, leaping towards Dorathia as he did. As much as he considered his size an advantage, though, his broad shoulders and robust built making him look intimidating and giving him a boost in strength, Dorathia was slight and light-footed, which made her fast and quick to move away from his grasp.
Thomeas had fought numerous men, some of them guards who were trained for this exact thing, and yet none of them had ever been a match for him—none of them, apart from Dorathia, who was making him prove his worth when it came to a fight.
“Stay still, lass,” he told her, a grin spreading across his face. “How will I catch ye if ye dinnae stay still?”
Dorathia didn’t seem impressed by his teasing. She rolled her eyes at him, which only served to make her look even sweeter in Thomeas’ mind, and in turn that made it harder for him to stop teasing her. In another world, in another life, he could have seen himself kissing her until he would take her breath away, but he was nothing more than a common thief and she would be nothing more to him than a fond memory.
Thomeas tried one more time, determined to grab the sword. He charged towards Dorathia, but just as he was certain he would take her down, she leapt around him and swung her sword.
His eyes stung as they watered, and Thomeas could feel something warm and wet drip down the back of his head. He had never had such a splitting headache before, and when he pressed the pads of his fingers against the back of his head and then examined them, his gaze unsteady and unfocused, he saw that they were drenched in crimson, sticky like honey.
The last thing Thomeas saw before his back hit the floor was her face, flushed and painted with concern.
There was a man in the house, and it wasn’t her father. Ever since she was a child, though, Dorathia had been told what to do in case a man came into the house while her father was absent, and now that she was a young woman, she knew the procedure well.
She had heard the man coming first. When she heard the hooves of a horse approaching, Dorathia expected to see her father returning from the nearby village, where he had gone to arrange the celebrations for the one time of the year when she could leave the house.
When she peeked outside the window, though, she didn’t see the familiar shape of her father or his horse.
That isnae me Faither! It must be one of those men me Faither warned me about…and he cannae see me.
Dorathia had to act fast, and so she did. She blew out all the candles that illuminated the house, and then she put out the fire that blazed in the fireplace, before covering the fresh ashes and the smoke with a thick blanket, making it seem as though no one was in the house.
Then, she hid inside a cupboard that was large enough to accommodate her. There was little else that she could do, at least until the man would leave or fall asleep.
She couldn’t help but leave a tiny gap between the doors of the cupboard, enough for her to be able to watch the man as he walked around the house in the dark. She could hardly see him, but she could tell that he had broad shoulders and that he was tall, an advantage that she would have to beat.
She watched him as he came back from the kitchen, eating their food and drinking their wine, and the rage bubbled up inside her, making Dorathia wish that she could kick him out right then and there.
Nay…I cannae attack him in the open. He is bigger than me, and Faither always says that men who are bigger than me can fight me easily. I must wait. I must wait until he’s at a disadvantage.
Dorathia waited, until the man had gone up the stairs. Then, she waited some more, just to make sure that he was sleeping and he wouldn’t be coming back down, before she gingerly, quietly slipped out of her hiding place and then grabbed the sword that her father had stashed in the same cupboard, specifically for this very case.
Her father had always been worried that someone would come and attack Dorathia when he would be away, and so he had made sure that she had the means to fight whoever did so.
With the sword in one hand and a candle to light her way in the other, Dorathia crept up the stairs, being as quiet as she could. She carefully avoided the spots on the steps that she knew would creak under her weight, and once she was in her father’s bedroom, where the man was sleeping, she took a better look at him now that she could see him under the soft light.
He disnae look like the men I’ve seen in the village. He looks…handsome.
He was young, perhaps only a little older than her, and his mop of blond hair was sticking to his face, still damp from the rain. Dorathia could see his bare shoulders and his arms as they lay over the blankets, the dusting of hair on his forearms and the freckles that started from his cheeks and made their way down to his neck and chest.
Dorathia pressed the end of her sword against his chest, a satisfied grin on her face now that she had him under her control.
Only he didn’t wake up.
Wake up, ye fool. Wake up now and fight me if ye think ye’re a mighty man!
She poked him with the sword a few times, insistent, hard enough to give him a small nick on his skin, and only then did he wake up, just a little, and tried to swat the blade away. When he awoke fully, he did so with a start, Dorathia’s presence clearly surprising him.
“Who are ye?” she asked him. “What do ye want?”
“Do ye want some food?” Dorathia asked Thomeas when he finally came to.
She had never meant to hit him that hard on the head. She simply wanted to scare him off, but she had misjudged her own force as she brought the hilt of the sword down on his head, hitting him hard with the robust metal.
Thomeas had gone down in seconds, and Dorathia could only stare at him in shock for a while, watching the blood as it dripped down the back of his head.
Then, she decided it was her responsibility to take care of him. He had broken into her house and tried to fight her, of course, but she couldn’t bring herself to simply leave him there.
What if he dies? What will I do then?
She had dressed him and his wound, using her father’s clothes and some clean cloth for his head, before she had decided that the best course of action was to tie him up, in case he tried to attack her again. Dressing him up proved to be the most difficult task, as Thomeas was limp in her hands and his limbs were heavy like lead. By the time that Dorathia was done, her breath was coming out in short bursts and her brow was covered in sweat, but at least Thomeas wasn’t running the risk of catching a cold anymore.
She had never realized before the difference that a man’s body bore to that of a woman’s, and if she looked at him for a little longer than she strictly had to, well…then that was simple curiosity.
Thomeas sounded incredulous, and when Dorathia turned around to look at him, she saw him staring at her with his mouth open. Then, he seemed to realize that he was dressed once again, and he looked down at his torso, his face scrunching up in disdain.
“Did ye dress me?” he asked.
“Aye,” Dorathia said, smiling at him. She had done a good job if she said so herself, after all, considering he weighed as much as a slab of marble while unconscious. “And I’ve made us food, too. Do ye want some?”
Thomeas hesitated, and then his entire body jerked backwards when he tried to move, the bonds that Dorathia had placed around him keeping him in place.
“Did ye tie me?”
His voice was coming out in a shriek now, and Dorathia couldn’t help but laugh, covering her mouth with her hand as she did. He was a funny man, a strange man, and Dorathia was already warming up to him, simply because she had never had such a long conversation with anyone else but her father before.
“Of course I did,” she said. “What else was I supposed to do? Ye came into me house and then ye tried to take me sword from me hands!”
“I wasnae plannin’ to hurt ye!” Thomeas sputtered, his exasperation flowing out of him in waves. “I only wanted to leave, but ye wouldnae let me!”
Dorathia turned to look at him, putting her hands on her hips. “I dressed ye, I took care of yer wound, and now I’ll feed ye. What else do ye want? I could’ve killed ye.”
That gave Thomeas pause, and he hummed thoughtfully as he considered his situation. Dorathia watched him patiently, even though at the back of her mind she couldn’t stop thinking about how the food was going cold.
He was no real guest of hers, but since she had never had a guest before, she was eager to treat him as such.
“Fine.” Thomeas sighed, his shoulders slumping just a little. “Fine…what did ye cook?”
“Stew. There isnae much else to eat in these parts.”
Sometimes, if she were lucky enough, her father would bring Dorathia a treat from the village, and other times, when they had the proper ingredients, she would make pies and jam.
Most of the time they had stew.
“All right . . . will ye untie me?” Thomeas asked. The question made Dorathia scratch her head in thought, before she shook it.
If she untied him, he would surely attack her again, and she couldn’t risk that.
“Nay,” she said simply.
Thomeas began to sputter once more, unable to find the words for a few moments. “How will I eat?” he asked, and his tone made Dorathia laugh once more.
“I’ll feed ye,” she said with a shrug. “Ye worry yer head too much, Thomeas Fraser. Ye dinnae have to worry that much.”
“I dinnae need ye to feed me,” he told her. “I have hands. I can eat on me own.”
“Aye, but I dinnae trust ye . . . yet,” Dorathia said. “And if ye wish to eat, then ye’ll let me feed ye. Otherwise, ye can starve.”
Thomeas didn’t object to that, but he also didn’t seem too happy about it. Dorathia could hear his stomach grumble, though, and so she supposed that his hunger was overpowering any shame he had about being fed by her.
He must have been starving for days, Dorathia thought, if he was hungry once more, after eating only an hour or two earlier.
What kind of man has so much gold and jewelry and still can’t afford to eat?
“Why are ye so hungry?” Dorathia asked her question out loud, but she only got a confused frown as a response from Thomeas. “I mean . . . ye have all this gold, I saw it. Ye have gold, and precious things, but ye’re still hungry.”
“I dinnae have all this gold this mornin’.” Thomeas shrugged, and then his stomach grumbled once more as Dorathia brought a bowl of stew to him, feeding him a bite.
The sound that left Thomeas’ lips was downright sinful, and that was enough to bring a flush to Dorathia’s cheeks. She watched him as he closed his eyes and tilted his head back, and she had to avert her gaze before she would do something silly.
In her years as a woman, Dorathia had only been to the nearby village a few times. Every time, she had seen at least one young man who had caught her eye. There were blond men, dark-haired men, men with blue eyes, men with brown. There were men who could talk to her and men who were too shy, and even others who were too forward and scared her off.
Sometimes Dorathia would think about what it was like to be with a man, and she wondered if she would ever even be allowed to marry, as her father seemed to be reluctant to even let her out of the house. Her curiosity had become almost unbearable now that Thomeas was right there.
She was so close to him, and she could feel his breath on her skin as she fed him. His lips glistened, much like his eyes in the dim light that illuminated the house, and Dorathia saw for the first time that they were green, a brilliant green that drew her closer to him.
He was the most handsome man she had ever seen. Dorathia had liked to think that the men from the village were handsome, but they paled in comparison to Thomeas. Where the other men she had seen were short and stout, with patchy beards and even thinning hair, Thomeas was tall and well-built, his broad shoulders making him look intimidating even as his face was gentle and friendly.
Faither said that any man who comes in the house is a bad man…but even if he enters houses uninvited, he seems like he could be a good mam.
All he needed was a little push, Dorathia knew, and he would be a good man, a decent man. It was that which made him seem more handsome than every other man she had ever met.
Well… that and his body.
He wasn’t the easiest man to talk to, though, and she frowned at him, confused. “What do ye mean? Did ye only become wealthy now, right before ye came here?”
“Aye,” Thomeas said, sounding guarded and closed off, as though he didn’t want to offer any further explanation. Dorathia was curious, very much so, but she had learned to respect boundaries at a young age. Her father didn’t like being asked questions, either, and so she knew when to keep quiet.
There was a stretch of silence between them, as Dorathia fed him bite after bite, until the bowl was empty. He was ravenous, after all, and Dorathia was about to serve him another bowl of stew. Then, Thomeas spoke once more, and she stopped dead in her tracks.
“Will ye hand me over to yer Faither?”
Dorathia considered that for a moment. Thomeas had made it clear that he had no desire to hurt her, and that he was only there because he needed shelter, but Dorathia didn’t know what to do with him.
If she let him go, then perhaps he would bring trouble to her and her father, just like her father had warned her several times before. He always told her that if someone came to the house and forced his way in when she was alone, then she should subdue him until he returned.
On the other hand, if she handed Thomeas over to her father, she knew that he would be meeting his end soon, and that it would be an unpleasant one. He didn’t seem like the kind of man who would deserve such an end.
“Och, I dinnae ken,” she said, placing the bowl aside with a frustrated huff. “I’ll decide later. Me Faither willnae be back for a few days.”
“Where is he?” Thomeas asked. “Why did he leave ye alone here?”
Dorathia gave him a small shrug. Sometimes she asked herself the very same question. “Sometimes he goes to the village, but I’m nae allowed to go with him. He’s made that verra clear.”
“Why nae?” Thomeas asked. “Do ye never leave the house?”
Dorathia shook her head slowly. All the good mood, all the cheer that she had earlier was now gone and replaced by the same longing that she felt every time she thought about her situation. She wanted to visit the village, and she wanted the visit all the villages around the land. She wanted to meet people and see different places, to talk to different men and women and learn their ways.
“Me Faither says that it’s verra dangerous for me outside the house. He’s concerned . . . I cannae leave. I can only leave once a year, on me birthday, which happens to be verra soon.”
Just as much as Dorathia was unable to comprehend most things about Thomeas, he seemed unable to do the same about her. The look he gave her was one of utter bewilderment, though she didn’t know what was so strange about what she had told him.
“Ye only leave this place once a year?” Thomeas asked, eyes wide and mouth hanging open. “Dinnae ye . . . dinnae ye feel . . . trapped?”
Dorathia hadn’t considered it that way before. Naturally, she always wished that she could leave the house, but to consider herself trapped was a stretch.
Or perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps her cage was one of comfort, containing everything that she could ever want or need, but it was a cage nevertheless.
“Do ye travel as much as ye wish?” she asked, instead of answering his question. She didn’t even know what to answer, and she didn’t want to think about it for too long, because once she did, her breath began to come out in short bursts as her heart started to beat fast, threatening to jump out of her chest.
“I travel more than I wish,” Thomeas said. “I dinnae have a home.”
“Everybody has a home.”
“Nay, nae me,” Thomeas insisted. “Well…I was born in Brothaig, but Brothaig hasnae been me home ever since I was a bairn.”
What are the odds?
She, too, was from Brothaig, or rather her parents, who had been forced to flee when her mother was still pregnant with her.
Brothaig, which was only a six-day ride from the house.
Brothaig, the place she had never seen, but which was so close to her heart regardless.
Suddenly, Dorathia had an idea, a brilliant idea, and one that required Thomeas in order to be executed, so she couldn’t let her father get his hands on him.
“I willnae give ye to me Faither,” she told him. “But ye must do somethin’ for me.”
Thomeas was never one to grant favors to people. No one had ever done him a favor, ever since he was a small boy, and so he never saw any reason to help others out.
Especially when said other was Dorathia, who had a father that seemed to be insane. The last thing that Thomeas needed was to get in trouble with a man who kept his own daughter a prisoner in their house. If the man was willing to go that far when it involved his daughter, then Thomeas was certain that if he ever met him, his own fate would be one of torture, pain, and blood.
It sounded like something that he would very much like to avoid, even if it meant denying a beautiful, sweet girl her one wish.
“If ye take me to Brothaig, ye willnae have to worry about me Faither.”
And there it is.
He had to be insane himself to agree to such a request. If anything, staying at the house and trying to explain the situation to Dorathia’s father—without mentioning the fact that he was a thief—seemed much safer than taking her to Brothaig. Besides, he hadn’t stepped foot there ever since he was a child, and even though he doubted that people would remember him, he would rather avoid that place altogether.
Thomeas shook his head violently, which only served to make him dizzy and bring his headache back with a vengeance, while it certainly did nothing to dissuade Dorathia.
“Nay,” he said. “Nay, I cannae do that. I willnae do that, lass. Have ye gone mad? Ye’re the one who said yer Faither doesnae let ye out of the house! What makes ye think that he willnae mind if ye go all the way to Brothaig?”
“I dinnae said he willnae mind,” Dorathia pointed out. “He will be furious, but he willnae find out until it’s too late. What do ye care anyways? Ye’ll be long gone when me Faither finds out.”
“And what will ye do then?” Thomeas asked. “Do ye think that he willnae try to follow ye? Us? Why would I risk me head for ye? I hardly ken ye, lass.”
“I’ll be back here before he can follow ye, and besides, I only need ye to show me the way. I can come back on me own,” Dorathia said, her tone matching her wide, pleading eyes. “I beg ye, Thomeas . . . I wish to see the place where me mother grew. I dinnae ken nothin’ about her, I only wish to ask the people in Brothaig who she was.”
“She was yer mother,” Thomeas pointed out, even though he knew fully well that it wasn’t what Dorathia meant. He hadn’t been lucky enough to have parents, not even a father like Dorathia did, and so he understood her desire. She wanted to connect with her mother in any way she could, but going to Brothaig wasn’t worth it in Thomeas’ mind.
“Aye, but I ken nothin’ about her,” she insisted. “Me Faither never talks about her, and he never answers me questions, so I must ask others.”
“I willnae take ye to Brothaig, and that is final.”
Dorathia seemed to consider Thomeas’ refusal for several moments, crossing her arms over her chest as she stared him down.
“If ye dinnae take me to Brothaig, then I’ll tell me faither that ye’re a thief and that ye came into the house to rob us,” she said.
It wasn’t the first time that Dorathia had surprised Thomeas that evening, but her words certainly took him aback, and he blinked at her a few times in confusion.
“Ye ken that I’m a thief?” he asked, and just as he was asking the question, it sounded so silly in his ears.
Of course she does, she isnae a bairn.
“Aye, I do,” Dorathia confirmed with a nod. “I dinnae want to believe it at first, but me faither has told me everythin’ there is to ken about thieves, and now I ken for certain that ye are one. So, if ye dinnae take me to Brothaig, I’ll ensure that everyone kens what ye are.”
Dorathia had pushed Thomeas into a corner from where there was no escape. The only way to silence her was to harm her, and Thomeas would never do such a thing to an innocent person, even when she threatened to have him exposed as a thief to everyone.
It wouldn’t be the first time, after all. He had become a thief simply because everyone in Brothaig treated him as such after he had stolen some food as a young boy.
Thomeas was used to other people’s disdain.
“I beg ye, Thomeas. It’s me one birthday wish,” Dorathia added, and now she seemed so innocent, like a child who had known little joy in her life. There was some sadness there, an unvoiced complaint about her imprisonment in the house, and it made something shatter in Thomeas’ heart.
He couldn’t believe that he was going to cave into her demands, but he had little choice.
“What about yer faither?” Thomeas asked once more. “What do ye think he’ll do when he comes back from the village and finds an empty house?”
“I’ll leave him a letter,” Dorathia explained, and she seemed to have already thought up an entire plan. Thomeas wondered, momentarily, whether she had been planning such an adventure for a long time and had been simply waiting for an opportunity to execute her plan. “I’ll tell him nae to worry, and that I’ll return soon. He’ll worry, of course . . . I ken that, but I hope that I’ll be back here before he can start lookin’ for me.”
“And if nae?”
Dorathia hesitated, and then gave him a small shrug. “I dinnae ken. I ken that he’ll punish me either way, so it doesnae matter if I’m late. All ye have to do is lead me to Brothaig, Thomeas. I ken that I cannae find me way there, I’ll get lost and then I’ll have no chance to get to Brothaig or even come back. If ye show me the way, though, I promise ye, I’ll make sure to remember how to return.”
Thomeas had little hope of escaping the situation. There Dorathia was, sweet as the apples he had found in the kitchen what seemed like a lifetime ago, but had only been a few hours. She was begging him, and all she wanted was for her birthday wish to come true.
Thomeas couldn’t say that she didn’t deserve his help. From what she had told him, she had spent so much time in that house that Thomeas was surprised she knew anything about the outside world. He wondered what kind of cruel man kept his daughter a prisoner in her own home, but then again, Dorathia didn’t seem to have any hostility towards him. When she spoke of her father, all Thomeas could hear was love.
“Fine.” Thomeas relented, and the smile that crossed Dorathia’s face, wide and blinding, was enough of a reward for agreeing. Before she was going to get too excited about it, though, Thomeas found it necessary to lay down some ground rules first. “I will only do it, though, if ye give me yer oath that ye willnae turn me over to the guards.”
“I promise ye that I willnae turn ye over to anyone.”
“And I’ll be carryin’ me swords at all times.”
This time, Dorathia was not as quick to agree to Thomeas’ terms. She thought it over, her brow furrowing as she did, and then she finally nodded.
“Ye’ll be carryin’ one of yer swords,” she said. “And I’ll be carryin’ two.”
Thomeas wasn’t particularly fond of that request, and he had half a mind to refuse, but he needed to keep the peace, and he also needed to come to an agreement with Dorathia. In the end, allowing her to have two swords wouldn’t be as bad as he thought. She could have killed him, after all, when they were fighting, and she didn’t. It gave him some peace of mind and a reason to trust her.
“And I’ll keep the gold and the jewelry.”
Now that was a term with which Thomeas had a problem. Even if Dorathia had no intentions to steal his little treasure from him, she could still lose it while traveling, something that Thomeas couldn’t risk.
“Nay,” he said, shaking his head. “Nay, ye cannae have them. I worked hard for that gold, and I’ll keep it with me.”
“How do I ken that ye willnae simply abandon me in the middle of the woods?” Dorathia asked, and Thomeas couldn’t help but feel a little offended, even though she didn’t know him at all and the only impression she had of him was related to his sudden occupation of her home. “If I have the gold, then ye must take me to Brothaig, ye willnae have another choice. I must have somethin’ of yers that ye want.”
“Ye have me word.”
“Ye’re a thief,” Dorathia pointed out. “Yer word means nae a thing to me.”
“How do I ken that ye willnae run off with the gold?” Thomeas asked. “I could change me life with this gold . . . I could become a decent man, but if ye take it from me, then I’ll have nae a choice but to steal again.”
Dorathia gasped, seemingly just as offended as he had been when she had suggested that he would leave her alone in the woods. Her lips turned into a thin, tight line, and Thomeas worried for a moment that she would smack him once more across the head.
He didn’t think that he could handle another blow that day.
“I’m nae a thief,” Dorathia said. “I dinnae need yer gold, and I wouldnae take it. Me faither and I can live comfortably enough here, I dinnae need anythin’ else.”
She sounded sincere, very much so, and Thomeas couldn’t help but believe her. Still, he would keep an eye on her throughout their trip to Brothaig, and he knew that he wouldn’t rest until he had that gold back in his hands.
“Fine,” he relented. “Ye can have the gold and the swords until we reach Brothaig. That is where I’ll leave ye, do ye hear? I have nay desire to return to Brothaig.”
Simply giving into her demands put Dorathia in a good mood once more, and her cheery smile returned, along with her enthusiasm.
“Do ye remember Brothaig?” she asked. “What is it like?”
“It’s like every other village, every other town,” Thomeas said. He had traveled all around the Highlands, and he had yet to find a place that wasn’t full of hypocrites, royals and wealthy men who made their fortune through stealing from the poor.
At least Thomeas never stole from poor people. His targets were always the wealthy and the noble, the ones who had excess money and refused to give it to those in need.
He had a moral compass—it was simply a little skewed. He had one nonetheless, and he was proud of it.
“I’ve only been to one village,” Dorathia reminded him. “Surely there must be somethin’ different!”
Thomeas sighed and racked his brain for something that set Brothaig apart from all the other places, just so that he could appease Dorathia’s curiosity. She seemed to be so excited about visiting Brothaig that he didn’t have the heart to insist that she was going to be facing a world of disappointment.
“There’s a creek there, much like the one ye have here, out of yer house,” he said. “The creek isnae special . . . ye can find those creeks anywhere. But there’s these flowers that grow there, flowers that I haven’ae seen anywhere else. Nay other village, nay other town has them, but Brothaig does. Or perhaps they do, and I simply haven’ae found them yet.”
It only occurred to Thomeas then that he had been searching for those flowers wherever he went. Perhaps he was looking for a piece of home, a comforting memory to keep him company while traveling all alone.
Dorathia listened to him intently where she sat on the floor, resting her chin on her hands. She was smiling, just a hint of lips curled upwards, and that little smile made Thomeas’ heart beat a little faster, a little out of rhythm. She was doused in candlelight, the soft incandescence making her look as though she was glowing from the inside, and Thomeas couldn’t take his eyes away from her.
He had to force himself to do so, though. It could do him no good, allowing himself to have any sort of feelings for another person. Romance, and even friendship, were out of the equation for him and the kind of life that he led.
“Ye should write the letter for yer faither,” he told her, before he could get carried away and do something silly like comment on her appearance once more. “I dinnae wish to stay here a moment longer than necessary . . . I dinnae want yer faither to come back and find me like this.”
He didn’t want the man to come and find him at all, but seeing him bound up because his daughter had bested him in a fight was an embarrassment from which he knew he could never recover.
Dorathia nodded and stood up, before she began to rummage through her father’s drawers, until she found what she was looking for, and then she began to write him the letter.
She left me here!
“Will ye untie me, lass?” Thomeas asked in exasperation.
He received no answer.
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