The Forever After
“Maggie,” Elaine called, brushing her red hair back from her face. “Could ye please come an’ fetch the bairns before I sell them to the Fae?”
Magnolia laughed, approaching her stepdaughter as quickly as her swollen belly allowed. At three-and-ten, Elaine was turning into quite the little Lady in her own right, and she simply had no patience for the antics of her younger siblings.
The twins were seven years old, born a few years after Magnolia and Nathair were wed, and they were quite the surprise after the sweet child Elaine had been. They were not identical; Nora, named for Magnolia’s mother, looked just like Magnolia. Caty, full name Catrina, looked more like Nathair and Elaine but with her mother’s blue eyes.
And they were both wild.
“Maggie,” Elaine warned. Magnolia honestly thought it was very sweet that the girl had never given up on that childhood nickname. They’d discussed Elaine calling her ‘Mamaidh,’ or even something like ‘Mammy,’ but it had felt wrong to them both.
“We just want to play!” Caty argued. “Elaine’s our big sister, she’s supposed to play wi’ us!”
“Aye!” Nora added. “Elaine should learn to share! Isnae that what ye’re always tellin’ us, Mamaidh?”
Magnolia chuckled. “You two are trouble. Leave your poor sister alone. She’s trying to embroider, and she does not want you messing with her design again. Your Father will be here soon, and I think Elaine wishes to finish her needlework first.”
“Exactly,” Elaine told them proudly. “Our Faither kens what a successful Lady I’m gonnae be. I need to be able to dae a woman’s accomplishments and the work o’ the Laird.”
Nora stuck out her tongue. “Unless the baby’s a laddie!” she teased.
Caty’s eyes sparkled. “Aye! Then we’ll have a wee brother, and you willnae be the Lady at all! An’ then you’ll have to play with us a’ the time!”
A look of anger crossed Elaine’s face, but before it could erupt, Magnolia intervened. “Now, now,” she said. “That’s quite enough. Your Father—”
As if her words had summoned him, Nathair was suddenly strolling around the corner to where they sat outside. “Did I hear me name?” he asked as he approached. He put his arms around his wife and kissed her lightly, while the twins made disgusted sick noises.
“Och, just ‘cause ye’re too immature to understand love!” Elaine scoffed.
Magnolia bit her lip, trying not to laugh, and gave Nathair a helpless look of amusement.
Nathair winked at her out of sight of the children and turned to the three girls. “Are we bickerin’ again, lassies? That isnae what yer poor Dadaidh wants to hear when he’s traveled a’ the way back from Laird Taylor’s lands alone.”
“William wasn’t with you?” Magnolia asked, surprised, and a little concerned. As far as she’d known, the Commander had accompanied her husband for the whole journey. “Did something go wrong?”
“Nay, nay,” he assured her, one hand lightly on her waist. “William was wi’ me all right, until we met an old soldier o’ ours in one o’ the taverns. He told me to go ahead, and he’d catch up. That was about a day-an’-a-half ago.”
Magnolia chuckled ruefully. “Oh, dear. Abbie’s going to give him such a skelping when he gets back.”
Nathair laughed, kissing her cheek again. “Och, ye ken what it does to me when ye use Scots brogue like that, me love.”
“Dadaidh, we’re standin’ right here,” Elaine told him, looking a little queasy. “Please save yer flirtations ‘til ye’re in private. It isnae proper!”
Caty put her hands on her hips and said in what was clearly a mockery of her older sister’s voice, “Och, but Elaine, just ‘cause ye’re too immature to understand love!”
Elaine glared at her while Nora giggled.
Nathair smiled at their antics, then focused on Magnolia once more. His hand moved from her waist to her belly, caressing it worshipfully. Magnolia couldn’t help but smile. He had treated every moment of this pregnancy as though it was the very first, just as he had for the twins.
“An’ how are ye, Lady MacFoihl? Any aches? Any pains?” he asked. It was incredibly heartwarming to Magnolia how young he looked when he worried. All the hardy Lairdliness seemed to melt away, leaving concern and love and nothing else behind.
“None,” Magnolia told him, touching his hand gently. “I told you, I would have sent one of William’s runners if anything had happened too early.”
He’s paranoid because of the twins coming early, no matter how often I tell him it was expected.
“An’ if he didnae reach me on time?” Nathair asked her, genuine anxiety in his voice. “What if I missed the birth o’ me bairn?”
“Things are different now, Dadaidh,” Elaine told him gently, her previous anger forgotten. “Maggie isnae gonnae die like me Mamaidh did. After a’, the twins got here fine. In fact, we cannae get rid o’ them.”
Nathair turned to hug his daughter. “O’ course ye’re right,” he said, though Magnolia could still hear the worry in his tone.
“Well, you’re here now, my darling,” she told him gently. “And I don’t think the bairn is due until around when Betty and Connor will have their own.”
Nathair nodded. “Aye, o’ course. O’ course. Elaine, why dinnae ye take yer sisters inside? It’s nearly time for supper.”
“But Dadaidh, I’m tryin’ to—” Elaine started to protest, but one look at his face changed her mind. She sighed, handing her project to Magnolia. “Fine!” she huffed.
“Wait, first…Dadaidh, am we gonnae get a wee brother?” Nora asked. “I dinnae want a wee sister. Elaine says wee sisters are right annoyin’.”
“I’m yer wee sister,” Caty protested. “Am I real annoyin’?”
“Aye,” Elaine said dryly, but there was a smile on her face as she said it. “Come on, ye wee troublemakers. Let’s get inside before Cook has me heid.”
She took one sister in each hand and led them off, leaving Magnolia and Nathair alone.
Nathair waited a few moments, then took Magnolia’s hand. Together, they walked in a seemingly aimless direction, but Magnolia knew where they’d end up.
At the fountain. At the statue of the Ghillie Dhu, where we knew for sure how we felt, though not how to proceed.
“Is she?” Nathair asked as they strolled through the grass.
“Is she what?” Magnolia returned in an innocent tone. As though she didn’t know what he was asking!
“Is Nora gonnae have a wee brother?” he responded, then made a face at her when he realized she’d been teasing.
Magnolia laughed. “Oh, Nathair, how in the world am I supposed to know that already? It will be two months or more before the baby arrives!”
“Dinnae gi’e me that!” Nathair protested. “I ken ye women have yer ways. Some mutterin’ over a bucket o’ water or a tossin’ o’ an apple peel. Ye’re a strange sort.”
The Lady shoved at his arm. “Don’t tease me, husband. You know I put little stock in those kinds of folk traditions.”
“Aye?” Nathair asked with a smirk as they approached the fountain. He helped her to sit and said. “So ye havenae done any o’ them?”
“I would never even have such an idea,” Magnolia told him with false dignity as he took a seat next to her.
“True, maybe,” Nathair said. “But yer friend Greta Reid holds great stock by such things. Are ye tryin’ to tell me she hasnae tempted ye even once?”
Magnolia considered dragging it out a little longer, then she shrugged. “Well, all right, I’ll admit it then. She did her apple test. She pleaded with me to let her, and I couldn’t say no.”
“An’?” Nathair asked anxiously. “What are we havin’?”
“Nathair!” Magnolia protested. “You’re not telling me you believe such things?”
He grinned. “Dae I? She was right about the twins, wasnae she?”
Magnolia rolled her eyes. “Oh, fine. She says I am to have another girl. Is that what you wished to hear?”
Nathair stared at her for a moment, then shrugged, touching the water lightly with his hands. “Och. Well, who kens if she’s right. Like ye said, it’s only superstition.”
Magnolia tilted her head. “You’ll be disappointed with another girl?” she asked.
The Laird hesitated, choosing his words carefully. “It isnae that, me love,” he told her. “I love our three lassies to the moon an’ back, more than any man has ever loved a daughter. Except maybe yer Faither, I’ll allow.”
Magnolia smiled. She still loved how well her father and Nathair had become friends, even exchanging correspondence themselves without any input from her. “Indeed. But…?” she prompted.
“But,” Nathair sighed. “If I dinnae have a son, Clan MacFoihl will likely pass out o’ the Irvine name. Elaine will be a good Lady, talented an’ fair, but her bairns will bear the name o’ her husband.”
Magnolia nodded with a little frown. “I remember the same used to concern my Father. It was less of a worry for us, of course; the Winterbournes have enough power that any man below me in rank would have taken my name. But a clan Laird, that’s a different thing.”
“Aye,” Nathair said. “Aye.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, both lost in their own thoughts, then Nathair shrugged. “Och, I’d have probably been disappointed nae matter which way ye answered,” he admitted.
“What do you mean?” Magnolia asked, leaning against his shoulder.
“Well, most faithers want a son,” he told her. “But if ye’d have told me it’s gonnae be a lad, I’d have been sad for poor Elaine. She’s worked so hard her whole life. It doesnae seem fair that her sex should change anythin’.”
Magnolia sighed. “I agree, my love, but it is how it is. Elaine is more than aware that a little brother would change her future forever.”
Nathair nodded. “Aye, an’ so are Caty and Nora, apparently. I hope they dinnae tease her too much.”
“Oh, they’re good girls really, all three of them. They’ll survive and adapt, no matter what,” Magnolia mused. “Just like their Father does.”
“Aye, an’ their Mother,” Nathair told her, lifting her hand to his mouth and pressing his lips to the back of it. “The most adaptable of all, the proper English Earl’s daughter who became the Lady o’ a Scottish Clan.”
“Many things change,” Magnolia agreed, “But our family will always stay the same. Nae borders, just like my luckenbooth says.”
Nathair smiled at her warmly in a way that still made her heart flutter after all these years. He let go of her hand and put his arm around her shoulder instead, pulling her close into an embrace.
She contentedly rested her head on his shoulder. “If it is a boy, what should we call him?”
“Daniel,” Nathair said instantly. “If it wasnae for yer Faither, none o’ us would be here.”
Magnolia felt her eyes well with happy tears, and her heart swelled with love for this man at how quickly he spoke. He honored her, honored her family, without even thinking about it.
That is why we work so well. We complete each other but never overshadow.
“An’ a girl?” Nathair asked her. “We’re runnin’ out o’ honor names,” he teased.
She smiled softly. “We could still name her for your Mother. Or, well…this might be silly.”
“Aye?” he prompted. “Let me hear it anyway.”
Magnolia thought back to all those years ago when she’d first traveled here. She thought of the little purple blossoms she’d seen on the fields, and the wild way they grew across the hills and valleys.
She thought of the pixies that Elaine loved so much, and the wild stories she’d told of them for years.
She thought of how her children were born of two worlds. How her love for Nathair had grown from next to nothing.
And she knew that if she had another daughter, she’d have a name to represent all of that. The country she loved, and its beauty and welcome, and how she and Nathair had both grown.
“Well,” she told him, “if it’s another girl, I was thinking…Heather.”
“Heather,” Nathair repeated. He pressed his lips to her forehead. “Or Daniel. Whichever bairn comes out, we’ll be ready.”
“And we’ll love them all the same, with all of our hearts,” Magnolia told him.“Aye,” Nathair agreed. “We’re good at that part. Love. Dinnae ye think so?”
Magnolia smiled. She looked out towards the setting sun, thinking of her step-daughter and her twins, her friends, her godson, her father…and her husband, secure and warm and here.
“Aye,” she said. “Aye.”
But before you decide to leave, please listen to this beautiful song that reminds me of the Highlands! Thank you for everything, my dear.