Four Years Later
A dark-haired little girl was racing her way toward the Castle from the distance. Her screams were so loud, it echoed, and was perhaps even heard all the way from the village. They were not screams of fear or horror, however, but of laughter, lightening the heart of everyone who heard it.
Four guards stood at the entrance of the Castle alongside Jonet and they all wore big grins.
The girl had stubby little legs that buckled beneath her, threatening to bring her to the ground. She did fall a few times, even rolling over before coming to a stop. The guards all tensed whenever she did, but Jonet only watched with her arms crossed, still smiling. She knew that the girl was a lot like her. She would get up and keep running.
Right on cue, she fell. Her laughter was cut short and as she scrambled to her feet, throwing a glance behind her, it started back up again. The man chasing her slowed his running, taking care to keep the distance between them so that she could keep going. Once she was off, he continued his chase, with his own laughter joining the chorus.
It took them both a while to arrive at the Castle, finally out of breath. The little girl did not stop until her hand touched the smooth stone wall, screaming, “I win!”
The man pretended he was disappointed though he admitted defeat graciously. Jonet watched it all in amusement before she finally decided to speak up.
“Are ye two finished with yer playin’?” she asked.
“We arenae playin’, Ma!” The girl protested. With big green eyes and unruly black hair. Her name was Linsey. “We were protectin’ the Castle from bandits!”
“Bandits, ye say?” Jonet looked up at Matthew with raised brows. He had his hands on his hips, still heaving at the way he had run. Even though she did not look it, Linsey was quite fast for a four-year-old. “Were ye two being chased?”
“Aye!” Linsey’s chubby cheeks were pink. “But Pa chased them away and we thought we should rush back to make sure nothin’ was wrong.”
“Is that so? Well, then ye should go inside to see if everythin’ is all right, daenae ye think? One of those bandits might have gotten into the Castle without us kenin’.”
Linsey’s eyes grew wide at the suggestion, but then she shook her head.
“I should check around the Castle first. Pa?” She turned to face Matthew. “Ye should check inside.”
“That I will do.” Matthew nodded seriously and then looked up at one of the gaurds. The guard nodded on cue, hiding his smile as he followed behind the excited little girl ready to do her patrol.
Jonet sighed, slipping her arm around her husband’s waist. “She would make a fine warrior.”
“Aye. And a formidable wife when she takes a husband.” Matthew held her by the waist, his scent so warm and familiar that it instantly released the stress she had built up since the morning. It felt odd to admit that, after four years of marriage, she missed him whenever he was not around, but she had a feeling he could tell, that when he smiled down at her, he knew exactly what she was thinking.
Together they turned and went into the Castle.
Jonet sighed. “I had hoped she would be all tired out. I made ye two somethin’ to eat and then I’d hoped to put her down to sleep. Ye ken how she can get whenever night falls and she hasnae slept all day.”
“Aye.” There was laughter in Matthew’s voice. “Which was why I was so eager to go playin’ with her today. I have a feelin’ I only worked up more energy, though.”
“Dinnae ye hear? Ye two werenae playin’. Ye were protectin’ the Castle.”
They both laughed as they came to a stop in the dining hall. A meal she had spent hours trying to make, under Christal’s astute tutelage, was laid out on the table. She had sent helpings to her father’s office and her mother’s room, where they both spent most of their time. Only a few minutes later, before she had gone out to wait for Matthew and Linsey, she had found out that her parents had gone into the village together anyway.
Now that Linsey was off doing her patrols, and they were truly alone, Jonet wrapped her arms around Matthew’s waist, holding him as tightly as she was allowed.
Matthew glanced down at her large, pregnant belly in amusement. “Ye ken,” he began. “I am beginnin’ to think that Linsey’s desire to protect the Castle may be because of ye.”
The baby kicked, as if it was jealous that they kept mentioning Linsey.
“Ever since she noticed that ye will be havin’ another child, she’s been very protective.” Matthew chuckled. “She wants her brother to be safe, she says.”
Jonet could not help but smile. “How does she ken it’s a boy?”
“I’m willin’ to bet it’s her childlike intuition.”
Jonet giggled. About six months ago, when her dresses could no longer hide her baby bump, Jonet had sat a then three-year-old Linsey down to tell her that she was going to have a youger sibling. At first, Linsey would not believe it and denied it vehemently. Nevertheless, over time, she began to come around to the idea of having someone else to play with and now, most of her time consisted of doing what she could for the baby. Like making sure the Castle was safe.
Jonet was due to give birth at any moment, which did not do much for her father’s and Matthew’s anxiety. When she had Linsey, they had both been so overly flustered that the midwife, Anice, had been forced to send them to the dining hall so that they could allow Jonet to give birth in peace. Jonet had barely been aware of any of it, but she had laughed when she was told the story afterwards.
Matthew rested his hand on the belly, frowning a little. “How do ye feel?” he asked. “Are ye in pain?”
“Are ye askin’ me or the bairn?”
“Ye,” he said instantly and then his frown deepened. “Is the bairn in pain, as well? Can ye tell that?”
She laughed, resting her hand on top of his. “The bairn is fine, Matthew and so am I. I only hope that—” She broke off, her eyes widening.
Matthew tensed, worried. “What is it? Are ye goin’ into labor?”
Jonet looked at him with those same wide eyes before she grinned. “Nay, I thought I heard somethin’.”
“Ye are goin’ to give me a heart attack, woman,” he sighed.
Laughter bubbled in her throat as she took his hand and led him toward the table. She had taken two steps before pain lanced her. She paused, gritting her teeth.
Liquid ran down her leg. She looked up at Matthew with fearful eyes, another crippling round of pain rocking her body. Her knees buckled and he caught her.
“Call Anice,” she rasped.
Anice was in the Castle, kept close by since Jonet was nearing the time of her delivery. Jonet saw Matthew go pale, as if he would hate to leave her here, and there was a battle in his eyes.
Jonet pushed herself to a stand, ignoring the wave of pain that washed over her again. The contractions were coming quicker, which was quite different from her first delivery. The last time, she could at least get out a sentence before she was hit with more pain.
Now, Jonet could hardly make it to the door. Matthew helped her, his worry so palpable that it was stifling her. The moment they were out into the hallyway, he began to bellow for help.
Jonet needed to make it to the bedroom. That was her only thought. A maid would come running, and the midwife would arrive. All would be fine in the end. Her only job right was to make it to the bedroom before this baby slipped out of her. Somehow, she knew he was close. He was ready to come and she was not prepared for it.
The trip to the bedroom was so slow that Matthew was forced to carry her. She tensed in pain every few seconds and only just managed to push out that he was not the cause of it. Maids rushed around her, the Castle going up in a flurry. By the time they made it to the room, the midwife had already finished setting up all she needed.
“Come,” Anice said in that eternally calm voice that made Jonet want to scream for some reason. “Lay her on the bed.”
Matthew did just that and then he hovered.
“Now, ye may go,” Anice told Matthew.
Panting with sweat dotting her face, Jonet saw Matthew gape.
“I willnae get in the way. I willnae say anythin’ to upset her this time, I promise. I need to be here for her.”
Jonet could not speak and so she held out her hand. He grasped it, not even wincing when she gripped it tightly at another round of pain.
Anice sighed. “It seems we have little time so, very well.”
She crawled onto the bed, lifted Jonet’s legs and said, “Push for me.”
Jonet did. The room melted into pools of black and red, the color of her pain. She could not hear anything but her own screams, could not feel anything but Matthew’s strong hand within her own. It lasted so long yet went by so quickly that when Jonet heard the familiar sound of a baby’s cry, she wondered if she might have died and gone to heaven.
Tears mingled with her sweat. She stared blankly at the ceiling above her, the room melting back into focus. She saw Matthew being handed a tiny baby wrapped in a cloth. He was smiling.
“Let me…” Her voice was strained from all the screaming. “Let me see me bairn.”
Matthew lowered the child into her hands. Linsey had been right; it was a baby boy. He had such a loud cry that it pierced her ears. Jonet had never heard anything else so beautiful.
Matthew settled down by her side. Vaguely, she noticed Anice ushering the maids who had come to help out of the room, leaving them alone. She would be back soon, Jonet knew, but for now, she was giving them their privacy.
“He’s beautiful,” Jonet murmured.
“Aye, he’s very precious.” Matthew pressed a kiss on her temple. “Ye did well, Jonet. Ye did so, so well.”
She was crying. Sobbing. As if her baby boy knew, he quieted down, blinking up at them both. That made her laugh through her tears.
“What is his name?” Matthew asked.
She did not have to think about it. “Graham. That was Dougal’s middle name.” Since Linsey was named after Matthew’s mother, Jonet could not think of a more perfect name.
“A very fittin’ one. Graham McDulaigh.”
Hearing it aloud filled her with such happiness then she began to cry again. She clutched her baby to her chest as Matthew wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly.
Memories from four years ago came rushing back, but they all felt sweet considering the circumstances. Everything she had been through, from start to finish, felt perfect in this moment.
All her tears, all her pain, all her suffering. It had all been leading to this point in time, where she could not possibly be happier.
Before you go my bonnie, here is a wonderful song to keep you company! Thank you for your support!