Four Years Later
Roseann gazed out of the window at the lands of Greum Dubh, spreading out far into the distance beyond the castle walls. It was a familiar sight, now. It was so familiar and so loved that sometimes, when she closed her eyes, it was imprinted on her eyelids.
Four years, she thought. It has been four years since I became the Lady of Greum Dubh.
She sighed, eagerly straining her eyes towards the horizon. Searching desperately for a sign – any sign – that the men were returning, over the hill to Coirecrag. To see the sight of him atop his horse, returning safely to her, after weeks away in battle.
Her Laird and her husband. Domhnall MacBeathag.
It was always like this when he left her to fight the clan skirmishes that sometimes occurred. Always, she would wait for him of an evening, to see if she could spy him returning to the castle. For that first glimpse of him returning to her, safe and sound.
She sighed again. This time, he had been gone a particularly long time, and she was more worried than she had ever been. News from the west of Scotland, where he was fighting, was sketchy. Sometimes, traveling tinkers or wanderers would venture into Coirecrag and tell her something, but usually, it was vague and the news days or weeks old. She could never be sure it was accurate.
The door opened. She turned, gazing at Mairead. The old nursemaid, who had attended both her husband and his younger brother, Cormac. Mairead had long since retired, now that Cormac was a strapping lad of sixteen, but she was still a much-loved fixture around Coirecrag and one of Roseann’s dearest friends here.
“My Lady,” said Mairead slowly. “Yer supper is ready and has been rapidly cooling for over twenty minutes now, ye ken. Will ye ever leave that window and come and eat?”
Roseann bit her lip. “I am sorry, Mairead. I became distracted, thinking that I could see movement beyond the hill…”
The old nursemaid sighed heavily. “It doesnae do any good to brood like this, my Lady. Ye must ken by now that he will return when is able to.” She paused. “It is the life of a Laird, and that is all there is to it. And young Ainsley is wanting his mother, ye ken.”
Roseann jumped guiltily. Her darling boy, only three years old, was waiting for her. How could she have become so distracted?
“You are right, Mairead,” she said slowly. “I will come now before the meal is over and Brighde takes him back to the nursery for the night.”
Brighde, once a serving maid here, was her precious son’s nursemaid. She had begged Mairead to take on the duty when Ainsley was born, but the woman had laughed, saying she was too old for another charge. But Brighde had taken to the job like a duck to water, and Ainsley loved her, so she could not complain.
She was just about to walk away from the window when something suddenly caught her eye. She turned back to her contemplation, staring intently. Her heart started to hammer in her chest. Was that a rider coming up over the hill?
Her eyes widened. Yes, it was. A man. And then, she saw another and another—at least twelve of them riding towards Coirecrag.
Her heart twisted. Another rider was just behind them. And his figure was so familiar, she would know it in her sleep.
He was tall, even sitting atop the horse. His red wavy hair was still the same shade as when she had married him, not even a thread of grey coursed through it. She couldn’t see his green eyes, yet, but she knew they would be focused on the castle ahead.
Her love. Her Laird. Her husband.
She let out a small cry, running from the window. “Mairead, he is back!” she cried, rushing past the stunned woman. “He is returned to me!”
She didn’t stop to hear anything that Mairead might say. Quickly, she rushed down the staircase, towards the courtyard, her heart hammering violently. By the time she got there, the castle gates were already opening, and the first of the riders were flying through them, as if the devil himself was on their tails.
She took a deep breath, gazing past them. There was only one man that she wanted to see at the moment. She would greet them all later, as the Lady of Greum Dubh should, asking about the battle, and what had happened. But all that could wait.
She was Domhnall’s wife first, and the Lady of Greum Dubh second, at this moment.
She pushed through the crowd, that was pressing into the courtyard, to welcome back the warriors. And then, suddenly, she saw him. He was pulling up the reins of his horse. He looked weary and dirty, but his green eyes were afire, scanning the crowd, searching for her as eagerly as she searched for him.
She knew the moment when he saw her. His eyes lit up even more if that was possible, and he was off his horse in a heartbeat, running towards her.
“Domhnall!” she cried, surging towards him, feeling as if the very crowd was pushing her to him, like a wave in the ocean.
“Roseann!” he cried. “My love!”
And then, they were in each other’s arms again, at long last. Roseann blindly groped him, making sure that everything was the same. That he still had every limb and finger, and that he was whole.
He laughed. “I am alright, lass! I dinnae even have a scratch wound, ye ken!”
She felt her eyes fill with tears. “Are you sure?” she said slowly, her bottom lip wobbling dramatically.
“I am sure,” he said softly.
The next moment, his lips met hers. It was a fierce kiss. It was a kiss where they claimed each other again. A kiss where they sealed, once more, the deep connection between them, that had not changed since the day that she had first laid eyes on him, all those years ago.
After the drama of the arrival home was over, and the warriors had feasted, they were able to lie in each other’s arms once again.
“How has the wee laddie been?” he asked her softly, twirling a lock of her dark hair in his fingers. “He hasnae been a terror for ye, has he?”
Roseann smiled fondly. “Ainsley is always a terror, my love. You know he takes after both you and Cormac, with his energy.” Her smile widened. “He is a red-haired ball of energy, who simply cannot keep still.”
Domhnall smiled, too. “Aye, he has fire in his belly! I shall need to tame it if he is to become a fine Laird one day.” He gazed at her steadily, placing a hand gently on her belly. “Have ye any news for me, lassie?”
Roseann gazed at him sorrowfully. She turned her head away as a single tear fell down her cheek. “No,” she replied slowly. “My monthly courses have come and gone, once again, while you were away.”
He sighed, grabbing her face, forcing her to look at him. “It is the way of the Lord, Roseann. He will give us another bairn when he is good and ready. Do not fret so much about it.”
Roseann nodded. She didn’t want to talk about it. In the years since Ainsley’s birth, it had become more and more obvious that she probably would not conceive again. Each month, she waited for her monthly courses, hoping that they would stay away, signifying that another child was growing in her belly. And every month, they came, washing away whatever seed had been planted there.
She sighed deeply. It was not through lack of trying. Domhnall was still as passionate a lover as he had ever been, and she still wanted him as much as she always had. When he was at Coirecrag, they made love every morning and every night. But still, no child had come from it.
I am barren, she thought dismally, tears filling her eyes again. The Lord saw fit to give me just the one child and then no more.
She knew that Domhnall hoped for more. When they had first wed, he had said that he wanted Coirecrag to be overrun with their children. He wanted sons, of course, but he also wanted daughters—a whole tribe of children.
She bit her lip. She had only managed to give him the one. One heir. The whole of the legacy of Coirecrag and Greum Dubh was resting on the small shoulders of their only son. And she knew what could happen to young children. They were often carried away by illness.
Her heart gripped in fear at the very thought of losing her only beloved child. But what could she do? She couldn’t wrap Ainsley up in swaddling rags forever.
In the past months, she had consulted with midwives and healers, in the local villages, begging them for remedies for her barrenness. She had swallowed potions and worn talismans, but all to no avail. It had consumed her, and still, her monthly blood came, washing away all hope.
But there was one last thing that she hadn’t tried yet. One last thing that might bring them what they both desired so much.
“I know you are tired,” she whispered to him, stroking his hair. “You have had a long, wearisome battle.” She hesitated. “But will you accompany me out of the castle tonight?”
He gazed at her curiously. “Aye, I am tired. Why do ye want to leave the castle at night?”
She smiled faintly. “Trust me, my love. There is something that we must do, that can only happen, in a certain place.” She paused, gazing at him steadily. “After this, I shall ask no more of you.”
He kept staring at her. “I trust ye with my life, Roseann, which ye well ken. If ye want to leave the castle, then I shall follow ye.” He paused, his green eyes afire. “I would follow ye to the ends of the earth, my love.”
She nodded, her heartbeat quickening. There had been another reason that she had wanted him to return to her today. Another reason that she had been waiting so impatiently at the window, to see if he would arrive home.
The midwife had told her that it was her time. The time, when the seed might latch. But she had needed her husband to do what must be done.
The air was cold, and it was so dark beyond the castle walls that she gripped his hand, a little fearfully.
She had not been beyond the castle in the dark since her flight from Coirecrag, all those years ago. Her desperate flight through the night, back to Berwick, at the Lady Sineag’s command. She shivered, remembering her fear and sorrow at being forced to leave Domhnall against her will.
Domhnall’s hand gripped hers tighter. “It is alright, my love. I ken what ye are remembering, but it was all long ago, and the culprits dealt with. Ye have nothin’ to fear, while I am here, and never will again.”
She nodded, her heartbeat quickening. Lady Sineag and her father, the Laird of Lios, had been tried and were still imprisoned, in Edinburgh, for what they had done. Their lands were confiscated. And Commander Eric Howard, the English soldier who had pillaged and destroyed Greum Dubh villages, had been tried. None of them were a worry for them any longer.
They are no threat, she thought, exhaling slowly. They cannot hurt us anymore.
“Where are we goin’, lass?” Domhnall’s voice reached her on the wind.
She smiled. The fear suddenly dissipated, like morning mist over the loch. “It is not far from here, my love. It is not much further.” Her smile widened, holding the lantern higher.
And suddenly, she saw it. The tree, its branches were spreading outwards, seeming to fork the night sky.
Her heart quickened. The rowan tree. It was exactly where the midwife had said it would be.
She turned to him, her eyes wide. “Come on!”
Beneath the tree, he gazed at her, a grin on his face. “Can ye tell me why we are here, now?”
She took a deep breath. “The midwife told me about it.” She glanced at him, almost shyly. “About how, if we make love beneath the rowan tree, on this special day when your seed will latch, we will have another child.”
His grin widened. “What are we waitin’ for, then?”
He pulled her towards him, and she felt the coolness of his lips upon her own. Within minutes, they were on the ground, and he was inside her. It was urgent, after all their time apart, and she felt that inexorable climb into the heavens, that she always did with him.
Afterwards, they lay panting in each other’s arms. He gazed at her gently.
“We didnae have to do this, lass,” he whispered, his eyes shining in the darkness. “Although I did enjoy it. But ye must realize that it doesnae matter to me if we have another bairn or not. We have the wee laddie, and I have ye. That is all that matters to me, ye ken.”
She stilled, staring at him. “Really?”
He smiled. “Really. Aye, it would have been nice to have a tribe, but I dinnae care that much, as long as my family is always here with me. I love ye, Roseann, heart and soul, and I always will.”
She swallowed a lump, which had suddenly formed in her throat. She gazed at him. “And I love you, heart and soul, forever, my Laird.”
They embraced again. Roseann’s hand drifted towards her belly, patting it gently.
She already knew that it had worked. She had felt the power of the tree and could feel his seed snaking inside her, finding her womb.
Their perfect family was about to expand again, in the best possible way.
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