A New Beginning
MacPherson Castle, Scotland, 1648
Cillian picked up the decanter and poured whisky into two glasses. He picked both up and walked across the room to the table where Maeve, Anthony, and Andrea sat. He passed one of the glasses to Anthony and they gently clinked their glasses together before sipping the amber nectar and smiling.
“Och, is there anythin’ better?” asked Cillian.
“Very few things,” answered Anthony. He looked pointedly across the table at Andrea and Maeve.
Maeve was sitting across the table with a small baby girl in her arms, not yet one year old and fast asleep. She was fawning over the pregnant belly of Andrea. The two women were sharing a pot of tea and had sent down for two cakes. When the platter laden with all types of pastries was brought up, Maeve knew that Savannah was down in the kitchen, not that she was complaining.
Cillian and Anthony watched the two women for a moment, one a proud father and the other soon to be.
“I need to thank ye again,” said Anthony.
“Och, ye dinnae need to keep thankin’ me; it’s been almost two years.” Cillian shook his head, but there was a smile on his face, and he did not tire of the thanks from his cousin. “I mean, after what I did to ye back then, stickin’ ye in the dungeon and all that, it’s the very least that I could do.”
“I would’ve done the same in yer position if I’m being honest. Ye were protectin’ the Clan, and I admire ye for that. I kenned that ye would get to the bottom of it eventually, especially once ye talked with Andrea, but I’m glad that ye didnae have to.”
Cillian raised his glass again and reached over toward Anthony with it. Anthony brought his in, and they touched glasses again.
“Slainte,” said Cillian.
“Aye,” smiled Anthony. “What whisky will not cure, there is no cure.”
The two men once again took a sip of the whisky while looking across the table with admiration. There was a noise from the corner of the room, and Cillian looked over with a smile on his face. Hamish, only a little over two years old, had built a tower of wooden blocks, and they had all come crashing down. He threw the blocks up into the air and laughed.
Cillian laughed too, and the resemblance between the two was unmistakable, the thick brown hair, the piercing eyes, and the robust look. The young child looked around at the laughter and caught his father’s eyes.
“Come on, Hamish,” said Cillian. “Come and sit on yer Faither’s knee.”
The toddler struggled to his feet and then waddled his way across the room, moving at speed with no thought of how he was going to stop himself. He plowed straight into Cillian’s arms, and the Laird picked him up, and bounced him on his knee. Hamish squealed in delight.
“Oh,” said Andrea. “I cannae wait until Anthony can do that.” She and Maeve looked adoringly across at Cillian, whose face was slowly turning red. He smiled and turned back to Anthony while the two ladies talked more about what to expect with a new baby.
“She’s blessed me with two bairns, and she wants to give me more,” said Cillian.
“Me wife will do the same, and I thank ye for that,” Anthony smiled.
“Och, will ye stop it with this.”
“I will not,” said Anthony. He took Cillian’s glass and went to the small table at the far end of the room to decant some of the spirit into the two glasses. When he got back to his seat, he passed one glass to Cillian, keeping it out of the small child’s grasp, and they clinked glasses again, this one a little noisier than the previous.
“Thank ye for makin’ all of this happen,” continued Anthony. “If ye hadnae talked with Thomas and convinced another councilman to give his daughter to the Rogerson Clan, I wouldnae be here with the love of me life.”
“And, if ye had told me that she was the love of yer life, I would’ve done it a lot sooner,” said Cillian.
“Aye, I was tryin’ to distance meself from the situation and thought that I could forget all about her, but I would have died inside. Anyway, that’s beside the point; ye worked yer magic as the magnanimous Laird of this Castle, and our families will grow bigger together.”
“The heart wants what the heart wants,” admitted Cillian. He looked across at Maeve as she was engrossed in conversation with Andrea. Pregnancy had been kind to her, and the glow that had come when she was pregnant with Hamish had continued when Mary had come along, and had hung around. It seemed to Cillian that Maeve became more beautiful with each child that she gave him.
He looked at Andrea too. When he had found out about Anthony’s love for her, he had talked to her father, the councilman, and convinced him that his daughter should remain in the Clan. When this had been sorted out with the Rogerson Clan, Thomas was more than happy to have his daughter stay in the Castle and be wed to Anthony. Their child was due by the end of the month and would make a fine playmate for Mary.
“Have ye been down to see him recently?” asked Anthony, bringing Cillian out of his daydream.
“Aye,” said Cillian, knowing exactly who his cousin was talking about.
“He deserved death,” Anthony whispered. He knew that it upset Maeve to talk about Darragh, and he did not want to bring such matters to the attention of the child on Cillian’s knee either.
“Nay, death was too good for him.” Cillian was not worried about his child hearing this. Hamish would be Laird of the Clan someday, and Cillian did not want to keep anything from him, especially not matters like this. “He wanted me to live me days in pain after suffering loss. He gets to do the same. He will live out his days in the dungeon, and he will have to suffer the loss of his brother, as many of us do, but he will also have to suffer with his guilt. He will eventually come to the conclusion that Dominic would have hated him for this, and perhaps he will find some redemption in his solitude.”
“That man was nothing but pure evil,” Anthony sneered.
“There was evil in him, but it was fueled by revenge. I will not lie to ye; he did do good things for our Clan. And, do ye want to hear a dose of irony?”
“Aye.” Anthony leaned in closer as if they were sharing secret information.
“Back when he was sabotaging the Castle, he suggested opening trade with the Gregor Clan. I think that he wanted our Clan to look down on me for doing it, and when that didn’t work, he tried to start a war. Well, the Gregor Clan have approached us to begin trade.”
“And?” asked Anthony.
“We’ll see, but it was six years ago that we battled. I might just do it to annoy Darragh.” The two men laughed. “We have to leave the past in the past and do what is in the best interests of the Clan. Do ye hear that, wee Hamish? Ye have to do what is best for the Clan, even if ye dinnae like it.”
“Walk, walk, walk,” chanted Hamish.
“Aye, and sometimes ye just need to take a wee walk.” Cillian looked to Maeve and then to Anthony as he and Andrea were looking at each other. The four of them shared in the moment, all blushing at what they had done when on a wee walk outside of the Castle walls.
“Aye, a walk would do us all good, especially Andrea,” said Maeve. She wiped the crumbs from her dress and stood up. “Cillian, have ye shown yer new leg off yet? I swear that Donald is the best craftsman in Scotland.”
“Och, I’m nae a prize cattle to be paraded around.” Cillian drained the last of his whisky and bounced Hamish one more time on his knee before picking him up and placing him on the ground.
“Och, yer among family,” said Maeve. She widened her eyes and looked at him with the look that almost always got her what she wanted. “Come on; I’ve been tellin’ Andrea all about it.”
“All right, all right.” Cillian put his hands up in the air.
Anthony glanced down at Cillian’s leg while the two women both moved around the table for a better look. The Laird unbuckled the boot and took it off, along with his wool sock. The wooden leg sat underneath.
“He added some leather straps,” said Maeve excitedly. “Look, it’s almost like a real foot!”
“Well, nae quite,” countered Cillian. He picked up his leg and wiggled it around, showing off the leather straps that formed a kind of hinge. Instead of the leg and foot being one solid piece of wood, the lower leg and foot were attached by leather straps that produced some cushioning when Cillian walked, but also some flexibility in the foot so that he did not have to hobble so much when he was on his feet.
“Aye, it is braw,” marveled Andrea. “What will they think of next?”
“I have to admit that it is a lot more comfortable. The next time that I’m in a fight, maybe I willnae have to rely on blockin’ with me foot so much,” Cillian said.
Anthony burst out laughing at the comment, and Cillian did too, unable to stop himself.
Maeve slapped him lightly on his arm. “Will ye stop that, ye ken that I dinnae like to think about the day that I almost lost ye.”
“Aye, aye, I ken,” said Cillian, wiping the smile from his face. “I’m sorry. I’m here now, and I’m nae going anywhere.” He leaned forward and kissed Maeve on the forehead before doing the same with Mary, who was still sleeping, wrapped up in the tartan shawl in Maeve’s arms.
“Come on, wee man,” shouted Cillian.
“I’m a man!” shouted Hamish.
“Aye, and someday ye will be Laird of this Castle,” said Cillian.
“I will fight with me leg.” Hamish ran around the room and kicked his leg in the air.
Maeve looked over at Cillian with a disapproving look on her face, and Cillian tried to shrug his shoulders, wondering how the boy had gotten so good at listening in to his conversations. It was only when Andrea and Anthony started laughing that Maeve could not help but smile, and that smile soon turned into a giggle as she watched her little boy run around the room.
“Aye, someday, he’ll be a man,” she sighed. She wrapped Mary up tighter in the shawl and grabbed a cloak each for her and Andrea. Cillian took Hamish’s hand and led him out of the room and toward the courtyard.
Three years had passed since there had almost been a war, and the Castle had only become busier. The market had grown, and people came from farther afield to sell their goods and buy what was on offer. The busyness had increased twofold since Maeve had arrived at the Castle. The aromas had too.
With more people coming, she was able to procure more herbs and medicines of better quality. A new healer had been brought in when Maeve became pregnant the first time, and the young woman had learned the ins and outs of the castle very quickly, guided by Maeve. Maeve still worked in the infirmary every so often, enjoying the work, and making herself available to be consulted when a difficult case arose. While she did enjoy it, she enjoyed having two children to take care of and a Laird in her bed much more.
Andrea put a hand on her belly and looked around, tilting her head upwards, taking in the glorious building as they walked through the courtyard. “The castle looks beautiful.”
Cillian had once been ashamed of the Castle, but it was he who had let it fall into ruin. Once the misery in his life had been removed, and the Castle got busier, the coffers had filled, and once the people were taken care of, the Castle was next. Masons had been called in to fix the cracks in the walls and the villagers had been employed to make the Castle more beautiful, with Donald overseeing much of the work.
“It was past time that the Castle was taken care of,” said Cillian. He looked down at his wooden leg as he spoke. He had taken care of himself first, not just the leg, but the pain inside, and then he had been ready to tackle the Castle, and fatherhood, and life.
“I like the flags, Da,” said Hamish, tugging on his father’s arm to keep moving.
Cillian liked the flags too, and he had a memory of looking up at that years ago and feeling ashamed. They were once tattered and faded, much like he was. They had been replaced with bright-green flags with clean white Celtic knots, the symbol of his Clan, the Clan that he had never been prouder of.
Taken by the moment, Cillian picked up Hamish and moved closer to Maeve, wrapping his arm around her. This was his family, a family within a family, his Clan. He had finally gotten everything that he had wanted, without knowing that he had wanted it. All it had taken was Maeve to come along and save his life.
There had been some excitement and danger along the way, and he hoped for more excitement in the future, and perhaps less danger, but nothing else mattered as long as Maeve was by his side, and he could keep his children safe. He looked over at his cousin and nodded, and Anthony nodded back, a large grin on his face.
Cillian kissed Maeve on the cheek, and she turned to steal a kiss on the lips.
“I love ye,” said Cillian.
“I love ye, too.”
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