I know I only posted the first chapter of this story less than twenty-four hours ago, but I had to get more out as soon as I woke up this morning. Merida's holding me hostage.

Merida," her mother was the first to rise, and the princess' eyes slid from the guests at the wide table to the queen, who had made her way to stand before her daughter, pushing back one particularly stubborn curl. "I was wondering where you'd gotten to."

The tone in Elinor's voice acted as a warning to Merida; something was wrong. She had hardly been strict about anything since the whole 'bear incident' as the people in the know were calling it, but now her eyes were hard, set on the redhead before her. If Merida looked closely, she could detect...worry? But she did not have time to ask as the three visitors stood from the table, the men bowing politely as she curtsied in response. It was obvious that this was a family; the woman and younger man shared the same light brown hair colour and loose waves while the elder man and his son each looked on with a pair of piercing silver eyes that Merida felt were going right through her.

After a couple of awkward, successfully silent moments Merida cleared her throat uncomfortably, looking to her father for the first time. His usual bold, irresponsible air had vanished, and his thoughtful eyes seemed to avoid his daughter.

"What's...all this then?" Merida pressed.

"We have guests. To see you, actually." a comforting squeeze was offered from mother to daughter as they travelled to the table and took their places. "Dear, this is Lord and Lady Macara, and their son."

"Pleased to meet you." the princess' smile was not returned from the three pairs of stony eyes, but her mind was distracted elsewhere by trying to remember why the name Macara sounded so familiar. Of course, being the princess of the DunBroch clan, she was able to recite the names of many of the clans in her land, but Macara held something different...as if the name had been highlighted in her studies as something important.

The Macara clan Symbol blinked at Merida from around Lady Macara's neck and all at once the princess was overwhelmed with information about the clan leaders in front of her. Of course; the Macara clan. How had she not remembered beforehand? Almost every war or argument in the past twenty years had been brought up by that very clan, and now here was its source sitting right in front of her. Her posture stiffened immediately, and her eyes watched them closely, waiting for the slightest amount of movement to suggest they were going to attack, which she knew was completely irrational. No one would have ever made a move like that at a dinner table in someone else's land. And besides, who was to say they were here for a negative reason anyway? Her mother had said they were guests...to see her...

"I'm sorry," Merida said with a shaky laugh. "But I don't really understand...you're here to see me?"

"Indeed," the king said softly. Merida raised an eyebrow, asking him to continue as her father shook his head at the table. "We are aware of recent rules being allotted in your kingdom -"

"Which was my doing, I assure you," Fergus cut in with a voice thick with gravel.

"-which concern you, Princess." Merida frowned. The only rules that had been slightly altered had to do with her need for freedom, as well as the freedom of choice with suitors for their closest neighbouring clans. How could that have mattered to anyone outside of her homeland?

"We do not appreciate the way your kingdom is being run, and we see it as an insult to our people. Other clans have been talking. You're the laughing stock of Scotland at the present time, and we won't have our country falling into shame as it is."

"The laughing stock of Scotland?" Elinor repeated angrily. "I don't see how it's anyone else's business how our clan is run. And besides, it's not as though anything's set in stone. It was just too soon for -"

Lady Macara cut her off. "Your daughter is seen as a rebellious young woman who will soon lead all women to destroy the balance amongst clans. The way she behaves...it's not right."

"Excuse me," Merida piped up, leaning forward despite herself. "But I don't see how I've ruined the balance of anything! I'm just the way I always was, but I've made people see! I've helped them to understand the way I want to live!"

"Some things are better left misunderstood. Especially those things which have no place in our land. We won't have women of our clan rejecting their gowns for kilts and going off to fight. Weapons! In a woman's hand! It's simply unheard of."

"Not in DunBroch," Fergus growled, his thick finger raising to point threateningly at the opposing clan. "And I suggest you sort out what it is you're here for, because your land's a hell of a long way from here and I don't expect your ladies are jumping at the chance to grab themselves a sword."

"It's only a matter of time," the queen of Macara said gently.

"So what are you suggesting?" Merida folded her arms across her chest and leaned back in her chair; a very unlady-like gesture, just to keep them fired up a bit. "Are you going to propose my banishment from my own clan in hope that the ladies of your own won't realise what they're missing out on? The expectations of women aren't fair, and if you truly think -"

"That is not the proposition we have come here to make."

Merida sunk back into her chair once more and waved her arm ungracefully. "Then, by all means, on with your proposal!"

"Merida..." her father gave her a quiet warning which was, again, out of character.

The Macara's clan leader leaned forward and clasped his hands together on the thick wood of the dining hall table. He pinned Merida down with his silver eyes and Merida resisted the urge to look away. "We're proposing marriage between yourself and my son." his hands relaxed and he rested one of them on the young man's shoulders, and for the first time Merida really studied him. The to-be-leader had a strong, handsome face, but it was directed to the opposite wall, his eyes now showing a slight amount of pain at his father's words. So it wasn't his idea to come here and try to tie Merida down.

"Marriage..." Merida repeated slowly. "No!" she stood and her mother reached for her, scolding her just by use of her name. "No, this isn't going to happen again! You know as well as all the other clans throughout the land just how close I came to this months ago! What's got you thinking you can change my mind now? Are you really stupid enough to believe I would actually accept your proposal?"

"Merida!" Elinor stood from the table and grabbed her daughter's arm, pulling her from the room without another glance at her husband or their uninvited guests.

The pair travelled through the halls, only stopping when they reached the drawing room, the unfinished tapestry of the princess and bear on the wall in front of them. Elinor closed the door behind them and slid the bolt across, barring the rest of the world, then turned to her daughter once more.

"You'd best think before any more words leave your mouth, young lady!"

Merida was taken aback. For a moment, it seemed as though nothing had changed between them. Her mother was acting as she had half a year ago, as if Merida was still expected to become the lady the queen had always hoped she would.

"Mum! Marriage!"

"Do you know who you just raised your voice to, Merida?" Elinor continued, seemingly oblivious to the quivering of her daughter's bottom lip. "The Macara clan, of all people! Merida, you can't just expect them to listen rationally...especially when you're speaking to them like that. We must be cautious with these people."

"Then they had best learn their place," Merida began pacing the room, her feet stomping more heavily on the stone floors than was necessary. "This is our land, not theirs! They can't just expect me to sign myself off to their son! I won't tie myself down to a man for the sake of their closure. If they frown upon a woman having her own freedom, that's their problem. I'll marry when I'm ready!"

"And how long is that going to take, Merida?" her mother's voice was quiet, and the princess stopped in front of the tapestry, feeling hot tears leak out of her eyes and stain her cheeks. She eyed the picture in front of her; the picture she'd always seen as a symbol of her freedom, and for a second she hated it. It just displayed a lie. Freedom would never come easily. It would never be her own.

"Merida, I don't think you see how dangerous a situation you're in. I wish with all my heart you hadn't been put in it, I truly do, but you have, and you must think clearly. You say that this is not their land, but they can make it their own. They have a large clan full of strong fighters, and you know as well as I that we wouldn't stand a chance against them. Not even with allies. Their power means they have more control over neighbouring clans than we do. They've taken land for themselves before and I know they wouldn't hesitate to do it again."

"I haven't done anything wrong!" Merida groaned, not turning to face her mother. "I don't see what their problem is; can't they just leave things be and accept change? The world's growing, and the sooner they learn women aren't just to be married off the better. I won't settle to be a wife because it's apparently the right thing to do. I'll do it for myself, if the right time ever comes."

Her mother sighed and walked to stand directly behind her daughter, stroking the immense heap of red hair in front of her. "Think of your clan, Merida. Think of your people. Would you truly jeopardise their safety for the sake of your freedom?"

Merida turned to her mother and buried her face in the woman's chest, sobbing gently as the queen's arms wrapped around her daughter. The princess could faintly detect the feeling of the woman's lips atop her head and nuzzled into the comfort of her mother's form.

"It thought I'd finally won," she sobbed, clinging to the back of the queen's gown. "I thought I could live my life how I would write it."

"They're not going to give up, Merida. They made sure we knew that before you arrived tonight. I'm so sorry, dear," she lifted her daughter's chin, revealing she, too, had been crying, and pressed a kiss to the girl's forehead.

"Go and get ready for bed. I'll return and give them your answer."

Merida wandered pathetically back to her sleeping quarters and threw the heavy door shut, tearing at her dress angrily until she was wearing just her underclothing (minus the respectable lady's corset). She rolled the thin white sleeves of her chemise up to her elbows and grabbed the old sword left on her floor, throwing it against the four posters of her bed, hardly aware of when the blade came too close to her face or arms.

Marriage. It was absurd! It had never seemed like a posibility to her; not even when clans Macintosh, MacGuffin and Dingwall were trying to seek her hand. But the dangerous air this new clan set off told her she was wrong in thinking freedom would keep within her grasp.

There were, of course, positive outcomes of this marriage. A unity between clans DunBroch and Macara. DunBroch would be safe from the opposing clan's typically uncalled for wrath. She would be giving her people peace of mind with the assurance that they would have a larger, more successful army on their side should any other clans declare war against them...

Could she give up her life for that?

Merida's watery eyes looked out the window at the now black sky, her quick breath appearing in gusts of small clouds in front of her in the chilly air despite the glow of sweat upon her skin from her one-sided fight. Wife. The word meant chains. A wife abided by her husband. A wife was not to have her say if her husband did not approve. A wife was to watch, not take action.

If the Macara clan thought that by printing this name on Merida's skin they would be assuring their land peace again at having controlled a rebellious teenage girl, they were sorely wrong.

Merida would make sure they were well aware of that.