"Bessie?" she croaked. Her eyes filled once more.
"Aye." The wrinkled old woman beckoned her forward. "Ye'd not think I'd leave ye after carin' for ye since afore ye was born?"
"We asked her to be your lady's maid. She came ahead, with Chester and your bed, as the weather was clear," said Malcolm. "Bessie wished it to be a surprise. Does this please ye?"
Kiera pressed her lips together, unable to talk. Malcolm was often gruff outside their chamber, making her think he didn't care. Then he did something like this. She nodded.
"Thank you," she managed to whisper.
"Duff, help our lady into our new home."
Duff took one arm, Bessie the other. Chester pranced around them, proud as only a small, well-fed dog could be.
"Malcolm told ye the wee beastie wouldna travel with us, not that he'd be left behind," murmured Duff in her ear. "He's gruff as the role of laird rests heavily on his shoulders. Yet he cares for ye, as do I." He dropped his hand to pat her bottom. "We'll be proving that to ye after ye bathe."
Kiera turned to her left and faced her new home. As Duff had said, the large, six-story tower was only part of the living quarters. An even larger section went to the right, all the way to the north wall. More pepper-pot coned turrets edged those corridors as well. As Lady, she was now responsible for managing it.
She walked through a sea of faces, some smiling, some eager, and some no doubt unhappy having MacKenzies take over what had once belonged to Clan Urquhart. It had pa.s.sed through dowered property, so at least no blood had been spilled during the transfer. She would learn about these people in time.
A pair of women waited at the foot of the steps. Both wore white ap.r.o.ns over their clean working garb. Bessie gave a respectful bob to them. As Kiera's lady's maid, Bessie was in a difficult spot. Normally a lady's maid reported to the housekeeper, but as Bessie was a longtime servant, one who'd served Kiera's mother and helped raise their new lady, it complicated matters.
"My lady," said Bessie, "this is Mistress Hetty, Kinrowan's housekeeper, and Cook. They've been very good to me."
Kiera welcomed them with her most gracious smile. These two women could make or break her as they had ruled Kinrowan for many years.
"My father, the Lord of Kintail, said I would learn many things from you. My laird husband spoke of how well you cared for them. And Master Duff said he ate better here than anywhere afore."
"'Tis true," said Duff. He patted his flat, hard belly. "I would have gained weight while I was here if I hadna trained so much with the men."
The two women beamed. Cook bobbed. "I'd best get back to my kitchens. There's hot stew with fresh bread and b.u.t.ter in the men's hall when ye are ready f
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