Juliana sat at the table and looked out at the people before her. Over the past five years, she had gotten to know many of their names, and it was nice to see so many familiar faces there. The entire event reminded her of her own wedding.
There were many of the same people there, and she was seated at the top table again with Andrew; Laird Drechten sitting to his left. Andrew had adopted the surname, Drechten, when all was said and done, passing the name onto Juliana when they had wed, and it was another Drechten who was doing the same today.
“I cannot believe that it is happening,” said Juliana.
“Me neither.” Andrew took his wife’s hand and gave it a little squeeze. “If it wasnae for ye, he wouldnae be here tae dae all of this.”
Juliana blushed and wrinkled her nose. “Can you please stop saying that; it has been five years after all. Do you have the bottle?”
“Arthur has it,” replied Andrew. His eyes shifted to the end of the table, where Arthur was stood with a half-empty bottle of whisky in his hands. A quick nod and the guard brought the bottle over.
Laird Drechten, already a few ales deep into the merriment, did not notice. Andrew took the bottle and placed it on the table in front of him. Two glasses were placed beside it before Arthur retreated.
“Father,” said Andrew.
Laird Drechten turned, a large smile playing on his face. “Aye, marriage is a braw institution.”
“Aye, it is,” agreed Andrew.
Juliana could not believe how much the Laird had changed, both in health and in heart. The first had come when the poison had left his system, and his strength and energy had returned. Every day, he had grown stronger and, five years after the fact, he was the pinnacle of health.
The second change had come about a year ago. Finding his son again had brought him more happiness than he ever imagined possible, but the actions of his wife had left a hole in his heart.
An agreement had been made not long after Lady Drechten had left the Castle, and, in exchange for the secret not being revealed, she had agreed to end the marriage on account of her infidelity. Of course, it was Laird Drechten who had cheated on her and not the other way around but there needed to be a reason for the marriage to end, and the punishment was fair, all things considered.
The hole in Laird Drechten’s heart had been filled by Elspeth McDougall. She had come into the Laird’s life a year ago and, only a few short hours ago, she had become Lady Drechten.
“Dae ye remember this?” asked Andrew.
Laird Drechten looked down at the bottle and smiled. “The bottle that I kept.”
“Aye, the one ye saved when ye thought me dead, the one ye used tae toast us at our wedding. I thought that I should save it for a while, just in case ye ever found someone else, and here we are.”
There were tears in Laird Drechten’s eyes. Ever since he had gained a son, lost a wife, and almost died, he had worn his heart on his sleeve, something that Andrew was trying to do also,
“Will ye have a wee dram with me, Father?” asked Andrew.
“And what about me?” Robert had scurried from the other side of the table, draining his glass and placing it with the other two.
Andrew looked from his father to his half-brother. “I guess that ye are almost old enough.”
“I’m twenty,” scoffed Robert.
“Och, pour him a generous sip,” ordered Laird Drechten. “He’s spent enough time with that rotten French wine.”
“Aye, and rotten French lassies,” added Andrew.
“Brother, it’s been braw comin’ back and meetin’ ye, but ye cannae imagine the beauty over there.”
“I have me own beauty right here.” Andrew glanced at Juliana.
“Aye, that ye dae, but ye cannae talk about real beauty until ye’ve truly seen it, or her, or them,” laughed Robert. “Now, are ye goin’ tae pour or not?”
“Aye a half measure for the bairn.” Andrew laughed too.
Andrew uncorked the bottle and poured a generous amount into each of the glasses. He passed one to his father, one to his brother, and took one himself. They all knocked back the glasses and placed them down on the table, empty. The three glasses were refilled again, and, this time, Andrew stood up before they could drink.
“Most of ye know me story by now,” shouted Andrew, projecting his voice across the entire room. Most people did know his story, but it was a different story from the truth, one concocted to explain where he had been and why he had returned. “But, tonight is about the story of me father. He’s had his scares, both in battle and in health."
“He’s fought tae protect this land, and come away victorious at times, not so at others, and always with an injury or two. He was confined tae his bed with illness, and we almost lost him. People have plotted against him and failed.”
Juliana could see Andrew look across to where Laird Lochenbrew and his sister sat.
Andrew continued, “This man could have died a thousand times over, but he’s a fighter, a warrior. He’s been through a lot, and I hope that I dinnae have tae go through as much as he has. And, all of that has led him here tae this moment, and a new chapter in his life. "
“I ask ye all tae now raise yer glasses, and join me in a toast tae Laird and Lady Drechten.”
“Laird and Lady Drechten!” The words boomed across the hall as everyone, or almost everyone, shared in the delight of having a Lady back in the Castle, and a Laird happier than he had ever been.
“Thank ye,” said Laird Drechten to Andrew. “Now, it is me time tae keep that bottle. Dinnae be drinkin’ too much of that, I want it tae toast the bairn when he comes.”
“He?” asked Juliana. She placed her hands over her large belly, which looked almost ready to burst.
“Or she,” added the Laird before thinking about it some more. “Nae, I think that he'll be a he.”
“Talkin’ of bairns,” said Robert, “when am I gettin’ tae see those two wee rascals again?”
“Come and visit the morrow. Unless you are not feeling well.” Juliana smiled.
Robert burped and took a small step backwards, swaying under the influence of the whisky.
“Aye, I’ll come by the morrow.”
Laird Drechten took another drink of the whisky before putting the stopper back in the bottle and motioning for the closest guard, who happened to be Arthur, to return the bottle to the cellar for safekeeping.
Juliana was eating for two now, and she was taking advantage of that. There had been a large roast pig paraded around the hall, before being placed on the large table they were sat, and the cook had even come out of the kitchen to carve it up, a big, burly man who never smiled, but took great pride in his work.
The pig had been surrounded by all manner of fruits and vegetables, and Juliana had tried her best to make room for them all, conscious that dessert was coming. When it did come, she could not get enough of the thick cream and dipped pork crackling into it, a delicious combination that might not have been so tasty if she were not pregnant.
“Me dear.” Andrew took her hand once more. “If ye need tae retire tae bed, I can help ye up there.”
“I am doing just fine, thank you. Besides, I do not think that I could move if I tried.” She sat back in her seat and patted her belly, already large with the child, but made even larger by the myriad of food that it now contained.
“Here she comes,” said Juliana.
She had been watching Laird Lochenbrew and his sister all night, shooting glances and trying to work out what they thought of the proceedings. They had been back to the Castle every so often on official business, but Juliana had not spoken to either of them.
I am surprised that you are not dragging your brother up here too.
Ever since they had returned to Lochenbrew Castle, she had followed her brother everywhere, visiting on official business when she did not need to.
She did not go by Lady Drechten any longer, the Drechten name long since lost to her, and had gone back to her maiden name, Ralchan. She was known as Gelis Ralchan wherever she went, but Juliana had heard it told that she used the title Lady Lochenbrew back at the Castle.
This must have annoyed Laird Lochenbrew, for he had found a wife not long after he had been sent back to his castle, and she was Lady of the Castle.
That would not stop Gelis from using the name. Laird Drechten told you to stop being a coward, but it seems that you still cannot yet stand up to your sister.
It was all conjecture, and Juliana would not know the truth for sure, but she liked the idea that the two siblings made life more difficult for each other. She also found satisfaction in the fact the Gelis had never remarried, though she did not know why it pleased her so much.
“Gelis,” said Laird Drechten.
“Me Laird.” Gelis left her hand out for her ex-husband to take and bowed when he did.
It was still something of a marvel to most at the table that the former Lady Drechten had accepted her new life so graciously. There was still evil bubbling inside, but it had been shrouded in politeness. She moved down the table, giving well-wishes to everyone. Her brother remained at his seat, sipping from his drink, and staring down into the depths of the ale.
“I hear that ye are with child,” said Gelis. She was so good at managing her emotions that Juliana could not tell if she were being sincere or snide.
“The Laird believes that it will be another boy,” said Juliana.
“Another?” Gelis raised he eyebrow at the thought.
“That will make three boys,” replied Juliana. “The other two are with the nursemaid upstairs. They are growing to be strong boys, just like their father.”
“Aye,” was all that Gelis could muster. She walked away with nothing more to say. Juliana watched Laird Lochenbrew say something to his sister as she sat down, and whatever she said in return made him look away and not talk to her for the remainder of the night.
“Ye are too much sometimes,” said Andrew. He patted his wife on the arm. “And, ye dinnae whisper as quietly as ye think, somethin' that ye share with me father.”
Juliana laughed, and Andrew kissed her on the cheek.
She looked back over the past five years; it really had been miraculous. The Drechtens and the Lochenbrews had remained friendly, even though there was some animosity there, and that had strengthened their relationship. In turn, that had helped to create better relationships between the other clans, and with the English to the south.
Juliana did not try to understand it all, but she did not need to. Those relations even stretched down as far as Gordontrent where her father’s business was thriving. From what she knew, her father had always dealt in land, but he had moved into imports and exports.
The last time that she had visited Gordontrent, after the birth of their second child, her father had tried to take her through the ins and outs of what he now did, but it was all numbers, and it was not very interesting. The one thing that was interesting was that her father was importing goods from France, and they were then being shipped up to Scotland.
Money would have helped her father, but the chance to rejuvenate his business had set him free. He had also found a friend in Laird Drechten, and the two of them would drink heartily when her parents visited the Castle.
“I think that I will turn in for the night,” said Juliana.
“Is everythin’ fine?” There was a worried look on Andrew’s face.
“Everything is fine,” assured Juliana.
He did worry about her, and she loved him for that. Andrew had gone through one father in his life and gained another. He had learned how to raise children through Adair, and Lair Drechten passed on his wisdom too. He was a father who loved his children.
They had a lot of help in the Castle, but that did not stop Andrew from spending every free moment with their two boys, and Juliana too, of course. He had sworn that they would grow up knowing their father and that he would always be there for them.
He was a wonderful husband too. Juliana found him attentive and loving. They had talked about relationships once, and she had learned a curious fact about Andrew. No matter how much he had learned from the kind people around him, he had learned more from those who were unkind.
When Andrew thought about how Laird Lochenbrew had treated him and how the Laird’s sister had treated his father, he took those actions and reversed them. By knowing what not to do, he could be both the father that he had lost and the father that he had gained.
“Let me help ye.” Andrew took her arm and helped her up.
Juliana took one more look at Gelis. This had been the first time that they had talked in five years, and the power had been reversed. She was not Lady Drechten anymore, that much was clear. She had been beaten and was destined to lead a solitary life, partly by choice. Juliana had no sympathy for her.
I guess that goodness is rewarded after all.
She thought about good, evil, and getting what you deserved. Laird Lochenbrew and Lady Drechten had a lot at the peak of their power and had gotten almost everything that they had ever wanted, but they had gained their power and situation by manipulation and cowardice. Everything had come toppling down like a tree felled for wood.
There had been times when Juliana had questioned where fate or destiny had brought her. She had tried to be good and do the right thing, and, for the longest time, she had believed that it would not bring her any rewards. As the sibling’s life had crumbled around them, hers had grown into something that she had only dared to dream about.
It is all about the roots and the foundation.
Laird Lochenbrew and his sister had built their life on lies and deception, shaky foundations at best, but she and Andrew had driven their roots into the ground. Their life would last for it was built on helping those around them, and trying to do the right thing.
“Quick, feel this.” Juliana brought Andrew’s hand to her stomach, just in time for him to feel the baby kick. “You know, I do believe that your father is right. I do not know how, but I am certain that we are having another boy.”
“Three boys,” said Andrew. He shook his head mischievously. “What are we goin’ tae dae with three boys?”
“Love them!” Juliana dreamed of the oldest taking power after Andrew. Of course, he had to wait to take over, and no one knew when that would be as Laird Drechten was as healthy as an ox. None of that mattered. Juliana did not care who was in charge of the Castle, as long as it was someone who was equipped to do what was right.
Laird Drechten was such a man, Andrew would follow in his footsteps, and they would raise their three boys, and however many came after that, to do the same.
“You know, I think that I love you more every day,” said Juliana.
“I ken that I love ye more every day.” Andrew smiled playfully.
Juliana stopped and laughed.
If this is a dream, then I never want to wake up.
She was tired, and it was time for bed. This child inside would come into the world soon, and there would be a little more love for everyone to share in.
Juliana had come to the Highlands, expecting nothing.
She had found everything.
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