If Mary could get off this birthing bed, she would find a sword and run her dear husband through and through. She had been in labor for what felt like the beginning of time, and it was still not ending. Rinalda had given her infusions to dull the pain, but she felt her body had rejected it.
When her water had broken some hours in the night before, and the pain had started to set in, Leith had carried her to the healers and had stayed by her side, despite knowing that a birthing room was not for men.
He had glared at the women who had tried to order him out, “This babe was created by me seed, and I’ve been there as he grew. I felt him kick me wife for hours and I spoke to him to calm him. Yer off yer bloody heads if ye forbid me for being here when he comes.”
“How are ye sure it’s a he,” someone had dared ask and Leith had glared so hotly, Mary had been shocked nothing had suddenly burst afire. Now, hours later, as she strained and cried and sweat washed her brow, Mary swore to herself to become a nun after this babe was born.
Another jab of pain had her gripping the bed when Leith’s hand grabbed hers. “Mary, leannán, look at me, grip me if ye need to, scream, holler, curse at me, if ye need to.”
Tears welled in her eyes, and she released a soft sob as she gripped his hand so tightly his hand went bloodless. Leith brushed a hand over her cheek, and his eyes were heavy with regret, “I ken it hurts, if I had the power, I’d take the pain away from ye, I wouldhae, but I cannae. Yer doing so well, love, just ken of the happiness ye’ll feel when ye hold him in yer arms.”
She was in pain but she managed to chuckle, “Still so sure it’s a boy.”
“Very, very sure,” Leith replied, “I’ve felt that little bairn kick yer stomach and that force doesnae come from a lassie.”
Another pain ripped through her and Mary gasped. Only to have the midwife call out excitedly, “I see the head, push me lady, push!”
A fierce contraction had her back arching off the bed and her belly to clenching hard. Mary gripped Leith’s hand, and her long cry pierced the air just a tinier one did. Sinking back to the bed, Mary felt as if the world was spinning around her. The pain was ebbing, not gone but not as strong as it was.
The soft fingers of a midwife began to massage her belly, and she pressed down and hard. She sucked in a breath and felt something slick slide out of her, then the pain disappeared and she dipped into unconsciousness for a moment. It was Leith who called her back, and then she felt a warm wiggly body being placed in her arms.
Mary looked and saw the tightly squished eyes, ruddy skin, and tufts of dark hair curling on his head She tugged the swaddling clothes and saw Leith was right; their newborn was a boy. He hollered and even with his loud cry, his toothless gums had her smiling, however faintly. “What do we name him?”
“Me granfaither’s name was Roran,” Leith said. “‘Tis a strong name, it bears a kingly heritage.”
Smiling weakly, Mary then sighed, “Roran Balloch, I like it.” Forcing one of her fingers into his tightly clenched fist and feeling soft, silky palms. Tears came to her eyes. “He’s perfect.”
Leith reached over too and took his hand, as the baby still kept his eyes closed. “Open yer eyes, little man, let me see ye.”
The baby just cried and cried, but little by little his tightly clenched eyes opened, and they were gifted with pale blue irises. Leith smiled. “Here ye are, sonny boy.”
“He knows your voice,” Mary said in awe.
“Of course, he does,” Leith replied proudly. “As I kent he would.”
A midwife came and said, “Me lady, I kent it best for ye to put the babe on yer breast. He’ll need nourishment after a long travail.”
Mary slid the arm of the night shift off her shoulder and brought the babe to her heavy milk-swollen breast. A breast that Leith had found a deep attachment to himself. Roran latched on right away.
“That’s me boy,” Leith grinned as the baby suckled away. “Love, ye ken that it’s nay unusual for the wife of a laird to have a wet-nurse tend her bairns. If ye need one, I can easily arrange for ye—”
“No,” Mary sighed. “I know there will be times when I’m tired but I won’t have any other woman feed my child.”
A knock at the door caught her, Leith’s and the midwife’s attention. Mary looked concerned, “Who is it?”
“Can a grandfaither come in and finally see the bairn?” Aaron’s voice boomed through the door.
Chuckling, Leith went to open it and the man came in, his eyes doing that all-encompassing look before he settled on Mary and the babe. She attempted to pull him off but he did not move and all three saw it. Thankfully though, the tips of his blanket provided for her privacy.
“As stubborn as his Faither then,” Aaron chuckled. “What’s his name?”
“Roran,” Leith replied, “for Granfaither.”
“A strong name,” Aaron said. “A name worthy of his ancestors. A name that carried the heights of power and the wisdom of the ancients. I’m pleased. I’ve sent for our finest wines so the house can toast his birth.”
Looking at Roran, Mary added, “I wish for a priest to christen him too. Perhaps the same one who married us?”
“I’ll see about it,” Leith said as he leaned over to kiss her. “Try to get some rest.” He tucked the blanket around the babe and let him sleep. “I’ll go speak with Faither for a short while, and then I’ll come back to ye,” he ducked his head leaned down and kissed her softly. “Rest ye.”
With her babe asleep on her chest, Mary closed her eyes. A tear dropped from her eye; her heart felt so full and on the verge of bursting. She could not believe how far she had come in three years. She had found the love of her life, found happiness and found completion just because she had taken the bold step of leaving her parents in the middle of the night and fleeing to a land unknown.
Foreboding thoughts of what could have happened if she had been rescued by another person ran through her mind. Would life had been the same or worse? She shied away from the dour musings though and went back to the best—her husband, her child, her love and her joy had all come because of her boldness.
Pressing Roran closer she drifted off to sleep with a smile on her face.
Ten Years Later
Little Roran’s blue-gray eyes, a perfect amalgamation of his parents, were stuck on the Celtic cross that marked his grandfather Aaron’s grave. Aaron had passed when Roran was six, enough time for the boy to know his grandsire.
Mary and Leith had allowed him to be with the boy as much as he wanted, perhaps to their detriment, as Aaron, completely relieved of the duties of his lairdship, would steal the boy away for the majority of the day.
Aaron had a habit of carrying Roran on his shoulders, making the boy grab on his head as they walked. He never said no to playing with Roran, kicking balls with him even though it was sort of ridiculous to see a man of six feet kicking a ball the size of an orange.
When Roran turned five, Aaron gifted the boy with his first weapon, a shiny dagger with a gold hilt and a tiny blue jewel in the center. Leith had been forced to confiscate it in fear the boy would cut himself, promising to give it back when he was older and knew the danger.
The proud grandfather spent many hours regaling the boy with stories of his father and their fathers and the many conquests they had and the many wars they won.
Mary had even heard Aaron saying to a sleeping Roran that he was going to be a man to outdo them all, and like many of the patriarchs of the Bible, had laid his hand on the boy and pronounced his blessing on him.
Now that the man had died—from a weakened heart, the physician had stated and it made sense because the poison he had ingested for so long would have damaged him—the boy had lost his first friend. Roran did not speak much, but Mary knew her child was still grieving now, four years to the day.
Each year on the anniversary of his death, the three of them had taken a trip to the man’s grave, placed on a hillside on a nearby mountain. The placement of it had been strategic as it looked directly down on the castle below. Her dress fluttered in a brisk summer breeze, and she felt Leith’s hand reach for her. She allowed herself to be pulled into his side as she watched Roran kneel and yank up some weeds.
“It may have been short,” Mary said. “But I am glad he had time with Aaron. I know he’ll never forget him.”
“Nor will I,” Leith said, “Just like I will never forget the moment I laid eyes on the woman who would steal me heart.”
Her breath caught, “Just like I will never forget waking up to the man who would steal mine. I believe that I am the happiest woman in Scotland. Never had I ever expected to meet a man as loving, sincere, and loyal as you, a man who makes me fall in love with him every day over. Never had I thought I would have a child, a place to call home and so much joy in my heart. I have all those things and so much more. You have made my life complete.”
Roran was standing up now and the wind had taken to send his locks pell-mell. The boy came to them and gave a small smile.
“Da, do ye ken I’ll ever see Papa again?” His voice was so soft and filled with heartbreak that Mary had to bite back her sorrow.
Leith knelt and ruffled his son’s hair, “Ye will, when ye get to the place he is. All ye have to do is do what he said to ye many years ago, do ye remember what he said?”
Roran perked up. “Aye, he said to be brave, courageous, honor me parents and stand for honorable things and be kind at all times.”
Picking the boy up, Leith nodded, “Right, if ye do all those, ye will see him again. I must add to it though, when ye find yer wife, treat her as honorable as ye treat yer parents. Always love her and defend her with yer life, so she should never be afraid of anything.”
Roran pierced his father's eyes with his. “Really?”
“Aye,” Leith said. “Yer wife will be as loving to ye as yer mother is to me.”
“I can’t wait till I grow up,” Roran sighed. “I’ll go to England for her too.”
Mary shared a surprised look to Leith who laughed nervously, “Whoa sonny-boy…hold yer horse. Let’s nay go so far yet…”
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