“She’s dead,” Uncle Duncan said.
Maya threw the mug of cider at her uncle’s head. Duncan dodged.
“You think I don’t fucking know that!” she yelled at Duncan. “I was there, idiot!”
“Maya,” her father said sternly. “You’re not a drunken sailor.”
Maya took a deep breath and paced the room. She glared at Duncan. He was her father’s youngest brother, but he was born between her and Sten, which meant they had grown up together. He was more a brother to her than an uncle.
“Maybe when you reached for her, you accidentally…” Duncan said.
Maya aimed a right hook at Duncan’s nose. He didn’t dodge fast enough this time.
He stumbled backwards and said, “What the hell was that for?”
“Duncan,” Maya’s father, Connor, said. “She told you the story. There was no grabbing. She’s angry you’re not paying attention, and so am I.”
Duncan ran his fingers through his thick tawny hair. His golden eyes stared at Connor. “This is disturbing. Of course I don’t have the details right. What I do know is that Estan will go to war. He’ll see it as an act of aggression against his family.”
“It wasn’t,” Maya said. “She was being aggressive to our family when she went down in the slide.”
“Which is why he’ll see it as aggression,” Duncan said rubbing his eyes. “You were protecting your family.”
“Then how do we make them understand it wasn’t?” Maya said.
“We don’t,” Connor said.
“I did not…”
“No, that would give them grounds to…” Duncan said.
“Will both of you shut the fuck up!” Connor yelled in exasperation.
They snapped their mouths shut, stunned that he had cursed.
“We marry you off. Immediately and far enough away so you’re not threatening.”
Maya studied the ceiling. That was a good strategy. But…
“Anyone far enough away won’t be an immediate marriage,” Duncan said.
“We send the two of you as a delegation to make peace. And, oh my what a surprised, a marriage immediately,” Connor said.
They looked at each other.
“Any ideas of who?” Connor said.
“This is your crazy idea. Why don’t you have a country in mind?” Duncan said.
“There is one possibility…” Maya said.
“One of your ideas? You’re crazier than your father,” Duncan said. “No. I want to hear what Connor has to say.”
“What’s your idea, Maya?” Connor said.
“Spirits help us!” Duncan said, covering his face with his hands.
“Crocantor, on the east side has an unmarried heir.”
“Crocantor?” Duncan said.
“I know it,” Connor said. “Not that big, but strategically placed along the coast. Lots of ports.”
“They may be willing to have a quick marriage,” Maya said.
Duncan groaned from under his hands.
“The oldest son drowned when one of their ships went down. The next in line was married, but the bride’s family had the marriage annulled. They claimed he was unable to consummate.”
Duncan peeked through his fingers. “Since when is any man unable to… on his wedding night?”
“How certain are you of their desperation?” Connor asked.
“Certain,” Maya said.
“You two will leave tomorrow and propose an alliance, part of which will be marriage.”
“The plan fails if he can’t consummate,” Duncan said. “We don’t know why he can’t. This could all backfire and they could say something is wrong with Maya.”
“One way or another,” Maya said, “I’ll get him to consummate.”
Connor scowled. “That doesn’t sound like you’re a virgin.”
“Thank you for knowing me so well, father.”
“Now it’s your turn to be in the cross-hairs,” Duncan said. “She’s a virgin. She’s also one tough woman. When she bends her will to something, it moves.”
Connor paced now and studied Maya.
Duncan put an arm around her and squeezed. “I’m surprised your proposing this. You must be worried about Ingrid.”
“Everything is at stake,” Maya said, “because one stupid woman didn’t believe the cliffs were dangerous.”
“What was she thinking?” Connor said.
“That we were hiding something. Who would hide something out in the open on top of a cliff?”
“She was a fool,” Duncan said.
“No, she was insane.”
The door banged open and Ingrid ran in and flung her arms around Connor. She sobbed and could barely breath.
Connor held her away from him to ask what was going on and starred at her face.
Maya gasped. Ingrid had a bright red had print on each cheek.
“Who did this?” Connor growled.
Maya was sure it was Lenore’s mother. Only a woman would slap a child like that.
Estan strode into the room. “I’ve come to… what’s this?”
No one had ever laid a hand on Ingrid. They all knew it had been either Lenore’s mother her father Estan.
Maya walked toward Estan, but Duncan picked her up and stood in front of Connor. “Don’t, brother,” he said.
Connor stepped around Duncan and said to Estan, “What’s your business here?”
“I came to discuss what happens next.”
“Next?” Duncan said, putting Maya down. Estan pointed at Maya and shook his head.
“Ah,” Connor said. “We will be sending my daughter off immediately. You may stay as our guests as long as you like.”
“Thank you. Sending her away will do nicely. I have another daughter,” Estan said.
Three mouths hung open.
“I know,” Connor managed to say.
“The marriage need not be canceled,” Estan said. “Amelie is younger, but fertile and beautiful.”
The three looked at each other, at a loss for words.
“Then I suppose I can leave the day after the marriage?”
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