Tavish Sinclair stood frozen in the Great Hall of his clan's keep as he listened to his father.
"Ye canna be serious!" He realized his voice was quiet as he spoke to Laird Liam Sinclair, but in his head, it was a roar. "I dinna need a wife. I dinna want a wife."
Tavish's body was so still he looked like a statue carved from marble, his expression like a death mask.
He canna mean it. I simply flirted one too many times with the elder man's daughter, Isabella. I will stay away and then this nonsense will pass.
"It isnae aboot Isabella or any of the local lasses ye ken so well. The king has decreed that I must make a match between our clans. Ye are the older of ma two unmarried sons. The duty falls to ye."
"But Magnus is already at court."
He recognized he sounded petulant, but Tavish Sinclair was a confirmed bachelor. He never intended to settle down with one woman. The Sinclair men, once their oath made, never were unfaithful to their wives. He refused to make that traditional vow, so instead he avoided marriage like it were a fire sweeping through hay.
"Aye, Magnus is at court. And taking far longer than expected. I worry something befell him. The king's message was rather cryptic on that front. I would have ye go to court and see that yer brother fares well, and while there, ye can meet the lass. Ye ken I will force none of ye into an unhappy marriage. I ask only that ye meet her. See if ye suit."
Tavish nodded his head. Three of his siblings, Callum, Alexander, and Mairghread, had all made unexpected love matches. Somewhere deep, in a place locked away he did not want to explore, he understood he longed for the same.
Bah! That is sentimental blather. I dinna need or want anyone.
"Ye'll leave at first light. I would have ye travel with more coin than usual. If yer brother is in trouble, ye may need to grease palms."
The finality in his father's voice made it clear the discussion, no, conversation was over.
"Vera well, Da." Tavish sounded like a man sentenced to the gallows.
Liam Sinclair stepped forward and wrapped his son of a score and a half in a tight embrace.
"They arenae all the same. Nae all leave us too soon." He whispered in his son's ear.
Tavish swallowed the lump in his throat as he nodded and returned his father's hug.
The Sinclairs were an unusual clan in many ways. Laird Sinclair would see his children do their duty to the clan through marriage, but he would never curse any to a miserable life. He ensured that his three married children made a love match. His own marriage had been arranged, but his father chose a bride he suspected was well-suited to Liam. Liam and Kyla Sutherland developed an undying devotion that was the model by which their children grew up. Even years after her death, Laird Sinclair remained faithful to his wife. All Sinclair men were faithful to their wives. Not only was it a matter of honor, it was beyond their imagination to do something so cruel as to be unfaithful to their wives. They also openly expressed their affection for one another. The children lost their mother when they most needed her love, their adolescence. Laird Sinclair stepped forward and assumed the role of both father and mother. He saw his own pain reflected in his children, and doing so, he drew them closer. None left to foster, but rather stayed to build the Sinclair clan into the indisputable force to be reckoned with in the most northern Highlands.
The men stepped apart, and Liam Sinclair clapped his son on the shoulder. Tavish made his way to his chamber and looked around. Tavish realized the next time he saw the room, it might be with a wife in tow. He shook his head. He had never brought a woman to his chamber. It was not the done thing. The one and only time one of his brothers had, it all but ruined Callum's chance for a happy marriage. He considered going out to get sotted just as Callum had the night before his betrothed arrived, perceiving a noose tightening just at Tavish did now. He also considered finding a wench to bed, again much like Callum had with his devious mistress. The idea did not hold its usual appeal.
Going soft already. Bluidy hell. I should be enjoying the company of women every night between here and court. It'll be ma last chance. I ken Da willna force me, but the king will. I'm as good as betrothed which means I'm as good as married. Wenching is nae what I want the lass to hear aboot me before getting to ken me. Shite! It's bad enough that there will be at least one woman at court I've bedded. That mess is inevitable and will be bluidy uncomfortable. Perhaps this lass willna be around. I dinna ken her, but I do ken nay bride deserves reminding of her groom's past. I learned that well enough with seeing what happened to Mairghread and Siùsan. History has a way of repeating itself. I may as well start as I mean to go on.