Paua stood at the mirror, brushing her hair, listening to the rustling of the leaves in the darkness outside. In the distance an owl’s haunting call reminded her with a pang of her loneliness and her missing suitor, Cowan McAlistar, who had been gone for weeks with no word. She could not help but worry; she had grown quite fond of him after a slow start to their relationship.
She had felt forced into the courtship by her father, Barnard, who offered marriage to Cowan as the only alternative to being sent to the convent in North March. But Cowan had won her over with his kindness, strength and caring. And now he was gone off on a business trip to England and his return was overdue. She sighed, laid aside her brush, slipped into bed and blew out the candle.
Deep in her dreams, she thought she heard Cowan’s voice calling to her, and she woke with a start. The morning had sneaked up on her and her baking would late this day. She dressed in a hurry and went down to start the ovens. From the butcher’s shop next door she was certain she heard the sound of chopping.
She ran outside and peered into the window of the butchery. Sure enough, Cowan was there, dressed in his butcher’s apron chopping at some meat. Joyfully she called out to him and he turned and smiled at her. He asked her to come for a walk with him after the morning’s work and she nodded, her mood lifted. The work was quickly done and she changed clothing and grabbed a blanket in case they sat by the river like the last time.
They met by the stream in the center of town and walked out to the river under the trees. They sat on the blanket and Cowan told her of his journey, a rough passage and some of the things that had held him so long away. He also said he had had time to think and he had come to a decision.
He drew her to her feet, then reached into his vest and produced a little box. Getting down on one knee he opened the box, offering Paua the most beautiful ring she had ever seen.
Tears came to her eyes and she said to him, “I will be your wife, for you are my heart, Cowan.” He slipped the ring onto her finger, and it flashed in the sunlight. She trembled, looking at it and then at the man who was to be her husband.
For a time they sat, holding each other under the afternoon sun, making happy plans for their future together. Would they have a handfasting or a church wedding? No doubt her father would prefer the latter. For herself, she didn’t mind, as long as Cowan held her in his heart and she held him in hers, that was the important thing.
One request that Cowan made was that there not be too long before their joining took place, and, after kissing him, being close to him this day, feeling his hands on her, she understood and shared his wish to be together as soon as the arrangements could be made.