The Chieftain
Chapter 47

 Margaret Mallory

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Two Weeks Later
Hold still!" Connor commanded as he spread the lily-scented salve over the cut on her shoulder. "Don't make me tie ye to this chair, mo rin."
"'Tis a wee scratch," Ilysa complained.
A wee scratch? He shuddered as he remembered feeling the damp stickiness on her back while he held her on the cliff. When he looked at his hand and saw blood, fear struck his heart like a shard of ice.
"'Twas lucky Lachlan was there to show us where Hugh had taken ye," he said.
"Luck had no part in it," she said, tilting her head back to smile at him. "Lachlan was there because you're a leader who engenders loyalty. That's why ye prevailed over Hugh and why you'll be one of the great chieftains of our clan."
She merited a kiss on her forehead for that. Fortunately, he had been able to bring her home quickly after the skirmish. Lachlan had also learned from his father where Hugh's boat was hidden a short distance up the coast. Despite Ilysa's foolish objections, Connor had carried her there on his back, and they had sailed home in their new galley.
They had found some of Hugh's plunder hidden on his boat, which meant Connor could make good on his pledge to Alastair MacLeod. He would give the remainder to the families whose homes had been raided or burned.
"Are ye finished yet?" Ilysa asked.
"A healer makes a poor patient." As he made the final knot in the bandage, his gaze drifted to where her pink nipples showed beneath her chemise.
"Ye do take good care of me," she said, and from the heated look in her eyes, she didn't mean just the bandage.
"Ye know me - I take my duty seriously," he said as he ran his finger along the curve of her cheek.
She moved his hand to her breast and pulled him down for a long kiss. After one turned into several, she asked in a breathless voice, "Do we have time?"
"I'm chieftain, aren't I?"
Just as their lips touched again, the door banged opened. Connor sighed as women and small children burst into the chamber like a spring flood.
"You'll have plenty of time for that after the wedding," his sister Moira said. "Out with ye now. We've come to help the bride dress."
Before he could greet Alex's wife, Glynis, who had arrived with their newborn son, one of Sileas's twins climbed on the table and the other escaped up the stairs to the tower. If those wee red-haired lasses were half the trouble at sixteen that they were at two, Ian would grow old long before his time.
"I'm glad I had the masons narrow the tower window." Connor exchanged glances with Ilysa, who had thought the measure he had taken to protect their future children a tad excessive. If he could have, he would have removed the nursemaid's ghost as well, though Ilysa assured him she was harmless.
"Your brother Lachlan is a fine-looking man," Moira said to Flora from where the two of them stood at the window overlooking the courtyard. "We must find a wife for him."
There was a general murmur of assent from the women, as if that were an obvious conclusion.
"Will ye find a wife for Niall, too?" Connor asked out of curiosity, which made the women laugh.
"Niall's not ready," Sileas said. "And when he is, he won't need our help."
Joking aside, Flora would be needing a new husband to help her with all those children, after her grief over Malcom eased. Connor intended to hand over that particular chieftain's duty to his wife, although Ilysa had expressed the strange notion that Cook was just the man for Flora.
"Go," Moira said, with a hand on Connor's back. "Everyone's waiting."
"I'll see ye in the hall," he said to Ilysa and leaned down to give her a last lingering kiss.
When Moira cleared her throat, they broke the kiss and smiled into each other's eyes.
The sound of pipes and the buzz of voices filled the stairwell as he descended. As soon as he entered the hall, the crowd began chanting his name and stomping their feet. The clan was in the mood for a celebration. Connor raised his fist in acknowledgment, and the crowd roared.
By good fortune, Father Brian had arrived for his annual visit, which ensured the festivities would go on for days. Today was devoted to the chieftain's wedding, but the priest would later bless all the babes that had been born and the marriages that had taken place since his last visit.
With all the greetings and wishes of good fortune, it took Connor some time to reach the far end of the hall where his cousins and Duncan waited, dressed as he was in their best saffron shirts and plaids. At Duncan's signal, the boisterous crowd parted down the middle and went quiet, save for the occasional voice of a child.
Connor stood with Ian and Alex on one side of him, and Duncan on the other, as he waited for his bride. It was right that these men, who were his close companions since childhood and who had each played an essential part in restoring their clan, be at his side on this special day. The four of them had accomplished what they set out to do when they returned from France to find their clan in near ruin. Their lands and people were secure once more. And with Hugh's death, the hatreds and sorrows caused by the previous generation were finally laid to rest.
He smiled to himself thinking how it was not a fierce, sword-wielding MacDonald warrior who had wrested Trotternish from the MacLeods, but a deceptively frail-looking lass. That was Ilysa's wedding gift to the clan.
At last, his bride came through the doorway - and stole his breath away. Sweet Ilysa had surprised him once again by coming to their wedding as his faery dancer. She was a vision in gold in the luminous gown, which was so light it floated as she walked. He was relieved to see that she wore a chemise beneath it so he did not have to order all the men to turn their backs. Her glorious red-gold hair fell in loose tendrils to her waist, and there were tiny blue flowers in it like the ones she had worn at Mingary Castle.
His heart swelled as she joined him. They clasped their hands, palm-to-palm, and he wrapped the strip of linen Duncan handed him around their wrists three times. After they exchanged the traditional pledges, she started to turn for the next part of the ceremony, but he held her in place. She widened her eyes and tilted her head to the side to remind him what came next.
"I'm no finished," he whispered. A simple vow wouldn't due for such a lass. "I pledge my sword, my body, and my heart...," he began and then continued, pausing between each line: the angel who watches over me
the healer who mends me
the efficient lass who keeps my household
the seer who warns me of danger
the helpmate who makes my burdens lighter
the mother of my future children
the faery lass who weaves magic in my nights and
the woman who makes me whole,
You are everything I ever longed for and every woman I will ever need.
Connor turned then to present his bride to his clan, and the hall erupted into wild cheers of approval. This chieftain's wife was beloved by her clan. With Ilysa at his side, he would be the man and chieftain she believed he could be.