Alysander woke at dawn with Moirra’s bottom snuggled into his groin. ’Twas surely heaven on earth to wake with her in his arms and not have to lie or pretend anymore. Tenderly, with an arm wrapped protectively around her stomach, he pulled her closer, doing his best not to disturb her slumber. Yesterday had been an exhausting one, what with the wolves that had attacked Muriale and Orabilis and the fire that destroyed their little home.
The air in the barn was crisp and smelled of straw and lavender — his wife’s favorite scent. He inhaled deeply with the intent to calm his ardor. It was a mistake. Though they had made love twice last night, having her so close to him and knowing he no longer had to hide his feelings for her, well, that just made him want her all the more. As much as he wanted to roll her over and kiss every square inch of her body, he decided to let her sleep. Knowing that they had long days ahead, she would need her rest.
His heart felt much lighter now that their daughters knew the truth. Aye, they were his daughters now, no matter what blood might run through their veins and he’d defy anyone to tell him different. His daughters were in the loft, undoubtedly still asleep in the makeshift quarters. Alysander looked forward to rebuilding the cottage and getting everyone out of the barn. On top of having to build a new cottage, they would also need to begin the harvest in a few days.
For the tiniest moment, he thought of reaching out to his father for help, but quickly dismissed the idea. Nay, his father would be of no help to him, for he still blamed the death of his favorite son on his least favorite son — Alysander. He had no doubt the man would let him starve to death before he lifted a finger to help him. He also knew it wouldn’t matter one bit that he had turned his life around, had married, and was now the proud father of four beautiful girls.
With a sigh of resignation, he pulled the blankets up around his wife’s shoulders, and quietly rolled away. He pulled on tunic and trews, laced up his boots, and stepped away from the bed. He had taken no more than two steps away when he caught sight of Orabilis. The child was curled into a ball on the pallet next to Wulver, with one hand resting on the dog’s neck. Aye, she was a stubborn child but he could not blame her for wanting to care for the dog that had saved her life, as well as her sister’s.
He stepped out of the room, found a spare blanket amongst items people had left the night before. Carefully, he draped it over Orabilis and breathed a sigh of relief when Wulver lifted his head and looked at him. He sent a silent prayer up to God before leaving the barn.
Smoke from their destroyed cottage still lingered in the crisp morning air. Morning dew immediately formed on his skin making him shiver. For now, the fire pit Moirra used to do laundry would have to suffice as a makeshift kitchen. Soon, Alysander had a nice fire going and water heating.
He was able to find a few cooking pots inside the rubble of the burned out cottage. After scouring them thoroughly, they were as good as new. Going through some of the foodstuffs neighbors had thoughtfully brought to them last night, he set about making breakfast for his women. The smell of eggs and sausage frying made its way to the barn and he soon heard the women within shuffling around and readying themselves for the day ahead.
Moirra appeared in the doorway of the barn, looking every bit as beautiful as Aphrodite herself. Her hair was mussed and fell down her back in loose waves, still looking quite sleepy as she yawned and pulled her shawl around her shoulders. Her eyes searched the yard, and when they fell upon Alysander, a most brilliant smile came to her face. His heart slammed against his chest, his manhood twitched and his mouth went dry. God’s teeth the woman is magnificent.
“Good morn to ye, husband,” she said as she crossed the yard, the smile growing with each step she took.
Alysander swallowed hard as he fought the urge to take her back inside and make love to her again and again.
“Good morn—” his voice caught in his throat. He cleared it and tried again. “Good morn to ye, wife,” he said with a smile.
Moirra came to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “I didna like wakin’ up alone,” she said against his chest. He placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head and returned her hug.
“But I did like wakin’ up to the smell of eggs and sausage,” she said as she pulled away. Looking into his eyes, she continued to smile. God above, he would never tire of looking at that smile.
“I do believe I told ye once that I know how to cook,” he reminded her.
“Aye, and ye do yer own laundry as well,” she said playfully. “A man who cooks and cleans without complaint makes me heart go all aflutter. And it makes me want to take ye back up to the loft and have my way with ye.”
He swallowed again and was about to tell her she could do that anytime she wished when the sound of approaching horses drew his attention away.
Instinct warned that ’twasn’t a social call that brought the five mounted men into Moirra’s yard. The two whoresons who had tried to attack Mariote, along with three men Alysander had never seen before, came bounding down the small incline and pulled their horses to a stop.
Alysander heard Moirra’s gasp as she stood behind him. It was quickly followed by a flurry of activity inside the barn. Alysander could only assume the girls were either taking up arms or were planning to hide. Knowing him as they did, he imagined it was the former.
A thin man, very much resembling a weasel with unusually large ears, brought his horse to within a few feet of Moirra’s door. His gray brown beard hung to the middle of his chest, while his hair was cut very close to his scalp. A hawkish nose sat between a pair of beady eyes. The hair on Alysander’s nape stood up. Instantly, he did not like the man who stared down at him as if Alysander were some disgusting creature.
“I see ye hidin’, Moirra Wilgart,” the man said, looking and sounding perturbed.
Moirra huffed and came to stand beside Alysander. “Me name is Moirra McCallum.”
The man huffed derisively and shook his head. “Be this yer latest victim?” he asked, referring to Alysander.
Moirra started to give the man a piece of her mind, but Alysander stopped her by placing a hand on her shoulder. “Who are ye?”
“I be Moirra’s brother-in-law, Almer Wilgart.”
“Ye are no’ me brother-in-law,” Moirra ground out.
“Ye were married to me brother,” Almer said through gritted teeth.
“Nay! I was no’. ’Twas a handfastin’ and ye ken it as well as anyone else.” She looked then to Alysander. “This is the Sheriff of Glenkirby, and aye, he is Delmar Wilgart’s brother.”
Alysander never took an eye from any of the men. He gave a slight nod as if he understood completely — which he did not — before asking why they were here.
“I’ve come to arrest Moirra for the murder of me brother, Delmar Wilgart.”