"Four days later I stood in the hearth-hall with anxiety churning my stomach as my brother's familiar figure strode towards me. Unshaven, muddy and with his pale brown curls like a nimbus around his sunburned face, he frowned as he noted Bundalloch men loitering around the hall when they should have been at work in the fields and barns. His gaze came to me, questioning; then he saw the strangers beside me. His stride slowed and his frown deepened.
My hands gripped together beneath my breastbone. The King of Alba stood silent at my side. His unexpected arrival had brought women running into the dairy to tell me of the huge Viking longship approaching the jetty. I had stared at the tall, attractive man stalking ashore as if he owned Bundalloch. When I saw the gold circlet of kingship at his brow, I realised he did indeed own it and knew we were in trouble.
His dark good looks, self-confidence and the size of his entourage initially unnerved me, but pride came to my rescue. My gown might be plain, my apron spattered with milk and my hair unadorned, but until Domnall married, I was the lady of Bundalloch and knew my duties. Hurrying forward, I greeted the king and stuttered a welcome. He had smiled, dispersed his men around Bundalloch, and walked into the hearth-hall without having received an invitation from me.
Beside me the King of Alba dropped into the thane of Bundalloch's chair and made himself comfortable. The storm cloud gathered on Domnall’s face as Leod and their companions filtered into place behind him. Then, collecting himself, he took a quick breath, bent his head and forced out a sentence of stilted politeness. “I trust my sister has offered food and drink, Your Grace?”
My nails dug into my palms. Of course I had. Did he think I was stupid?
“We heard you’ve been away on business,” the king said in a surprisingly deep voice. “To do with cattle, I think?”
Stiff as a pine, his fists clenched hard against his thighs, my brother said, “The beasts wander too far and must be brought back.”
A flood of sunlight lit the hall as the doors burst open to admit a vibrant young man with chestnut hair who strode across the rough earthen floor. “You've been raiding, Domnall,” he called out in a cheerful voice. “We've seen the beasts and watched you at work.”