"And what do I..."
"You, Laird John, greet her at the curb," Brigid said, looking out from the main entrance at the crowd scattered through the chapel. "You take her hand and bring her in nice and formal, and lead her to the altar, where you'll pass her off to the priest so he can do the deed."
"Giving my daughter away..." John took a deep breath. "I hope she doesn't make a fuss."
"What's she going to do? Shoot you?" Brigid chuckled, though she seemed a bit nervous too. "I suppose she could refuse to say 'I do.'"
"She wouldn't." John was not certain of that. "I hope old Laird MacLoughlin wouldn't blame me."
"Never hurts to be optimistic, my laird."
"Thanks for boosting my confidence." John took a deep breath of the incense-tinged chapel as he heard the horns. "That'll be Corlane with the girls."
"Right!" Brigid clapped him on the shoulder. "Let's do what we can."
A moment later, John emerged into the sunlight, watching the carriage with the MacTavish family crest pull up. Corlane sat behind the reins with a wide smile, waving cheerfully at the crowd arranged around the carpeted path into the church. Armsmen with ceremonial arquebuses lined the pathway, half each MacLoughlin and MacTavish, and they all snapped to attention as John emerged and the carriage halted.
"Laird MacTavish!" someone in the crowd shouted. Heads turned.
Mac-Tav-ish! they chanted. Mac-Tav-ish! Mac-Tav-ish for King-of-Clans!
"Morning to you!" he called, managing a wave. The cheerers redoubled their efforts, but John sighed as he heard the inevitable counter-volley.
Mac-Phear-son! Mac-Phear-son! And, more faintly but with growing vitriol: Mac-Don-ald!
That only incensed his apparent supporters. Mac-Tav-ish for King-of-Clans!
"Thank you!" he cried, waving high over his head. A cheer was the response, and he smiled as wide as he could. "I'm not in the running!" He turned back for the carriage. "In case any of you avid politicos forgot..."
And then he was at the carriage, and Corlane was dismounting. John got the door, and the first one he saw was Ardyn.
"Good morning, dear." John offered his hand very formally, and pulled his niece from the carriage, pausing to kiss her knuckles before handing her over to her own father. "You look lovely."
"Thank you, Uncle John, but it's really Kacey's day."
"That it is." And with that alone for bracing, John leaned down into the carriage.
Kacey glared daggers through her wedding veil, clutching her bouquet with white-knuckled fingers.
"Come on, Kace." John offered his hand. "It's time."
"Is it?" she nearly spat the words. "You expect me to just go up there and...and..." She trailed off. "Dad..."
"Kacey, it's for the best," John said. "Let's get through the day, now."
"I don't want to," she protested.
"Come on." He reached out and took her hand. "Kace."
Her eye twitched. "You're awful." But she pushed her way over to him and took his hand, and John was prepared to take verbal abuse if such was the price of cooperation.
Mac-Tav-ish! Mac-Tav-ish! The sight of Kacey in white was just enough to drive the crowd up louder. John made sure to hold up her hand in clear view before he kissed it.
Her eyes blazed.
"We're pretty popular, aren't we?" John asked. He took a relieved breath as Kacey fell into step beside him, her arm in his, with Corlane and Ardyn behind them. The church doors loomed.
Something nagged at the back of his mind: an old itch that had never gone away. It was like he'd forgotten something...or noticed something. He tried not to frown at the crowd...but something about all this wasn't...
"I'm glad I'm useful," Kacey snapped, but it was in as low a voice as she could use without being drowned out by the crowd.
Mac-Don-ald! Mac-Tav-ish! Mac-Phearson!
"And you look beautiful, too." John forced a smile, while he busily tried to crack the nut of his problems. It was something fairly enormous, it had to be, if all his instincts were up in arms over it...it was just like when he'd held down that drow village in the war...
"Laird MacTavish!" The throng pressed at the guardsmen. "My laird!"
"Hello!" John said, waving and keeping up his smile. "It's a new day for two families, isn't it? Can you hear the bells?"
"Stop it," Kacey growled. "Am I just a display to you?"
"Life's a stage, Kace-"
"Don't you Kace me," she growled, before subsiding.
"My laird!" One man pressed at the edge of the line, waving more energetically than most. "Greetings, my laird!"
"Hello!" John nodded graciously. "I'm just walking my daughter in. No time-"
"You should be King of Clans!" the man cried. "The throne belongs to MacTavish! It's in your blood, sir!"
"Is it?" John asked. He laughed. "What do you think, love? Kacey, Queen of Clans?"
She huffed. "I guess you would want that use out of me, wouldn't you?"
"Ah, lay off," he urged with a sigh. "Can't I say something nice?"
"Laird MacTavish!" There was noise ahead. John frowned.
"Oh, come on," Corlane muttered.
"What is-" John sighed as a wave pushed past the armsmen, rushing around him and Kacey with shouts of Mac-Tav-ish!
"Laird MacTavish!" The loud man appeared in front of him, a big smile splitting his cheeks under bright, bright green eyes. "A message from the Family Marona!"
It was loud as thunder, and fire seared John's chest. He gasped, suddenly short of breath, and stumbled. His legs wavered, red sprayed, and...and...
The man's gun twitched, and his second, unfired barrel turned to John's side.
John's hand released the shooter's wrist almost as fast as he'd seized it, and his dive became a collapse. He hit the ground hard on his side, choking up blood from two bulletholes instead of one.
But as reward...Kacey shrieked, and not from injury.
"Little John!" Corlane lunged forward. The green-eyed man melted back into the crowd in the instant before dozens of ceremonial arquebuses went off, firing blank into the air. Screams filled the morning, and the meaty thuds of wood hafts hitting skulls.
"Dad!" Kacey nearly fell overtop him, red staining her skirts, grabbing for him. "Dad! Speak to me!"
John coughed. He slipped, and he fell on his back, with her over him. His mouth moved, but he couldn't...no sound came out. He couldn't breathe...
"Dad..." Kacey inhaled sharply, her blue eyes full of horror as she regarded his wound. Determination lit her eyes in that one, horrifying instant, and then she took his hand in hers. She raised her other, and John saw her curling her fingers, pushing her palm down-
He caught her wrist with the strength of desperation. She glanced up, face pale and uncomprehending.
John shook his head, though pain and shock made it slow. He stared into those beautiful eyes they shared...
"Dad...Dad, no..." Kacey's jaw worked. "Dad, I can-"
"Kace..." he reached up for her with bloodstained fingers, unable to breathe. He had to say something. It was important...but he couldn't...why couldn't he remember?
"Kace," he muttered. "Kace...Ka...Kacey..."
His fingers brushed her cheek.
"Dad!" she called. "Dad!"
And then the light was blinding, and her voice was far away...
"Dad!" Kacey called. She gasped as his hand fell, and she grabbed for it. "Dad, no-" She felt an explosion of cold in her own veins as she touched his...and didn't feel anything.
"No." She swallowed, then lifted her hand again. "Hang on, Dad-"
"Oi!" Arms were around her from behind. She screamed and lashed out, but her elbows did nothing to Corlane. He hauled her back away from her father-
"Let me go!" she screamed. "No! Don't you take me from him! Let me go! Dad!"
"Get down!" Corlane cried. He held her as she thrashed, trying, struggling to eke her way from his grip-
She saw him. Her breath caught as she saw him, across the street and away from the crowd, having shed outer clothes to reveal new underneath, looking like a new man.
But he couldn't hide those green eyes.
Kacey broke off as a carriage went by. For an instant, the man was invisible - and when the carriage was gone, so was he.