Fifteen Years Later
“Someone, stop him!” Violet called playfully at her youngest, a seven-year-old son, Ewan, dashing across the back lawn to leap into his grandfather’s arm. Ethan, who had just escorted her father back into the MacFerson’s grounds, feigned hurt that his son had ignored him.
She lifted her skirts a little to step onto the inline that led to the stables and while Ewan began to rattle on to her father, she wrapped her arm around Ethan’s middle. “Was the journey hard, dear?”
“Nay,” he smiled, pressing a kiss to her temple. “T’was rather boring.”
Her attention was dragged away by her father putting the tow-headed boy on his feet to crouch at his eye line, “Yer going to be eight tomorrow, sonny-boy, soon ye’ll be a man and have to help yer old man around.”
With the mention of her son’s birthday, Violet twisted her head to look at the castle behind them, peering to see if her eldest, eleven-year-old Ross, was coming near. For three days now, the whole castle had been preparing for Ewan Finley MacFerson’s eighth birthday and almost everything was in place.
A fierce look was on Ewan’s face as he grasped the older man’s hand, “Ye can count on me, Grandfaither. I’ll help ye, nay matter what.”
She could see Ethan’s chest puffing with pride, which drew a smile of her own. From the day his son could understand words, Ethan had made sure to instill the rules of loyalty for family-members into him, one Violet knew had come from the pain he had felt with he exiled uncle Callum. His efforts had taken root in the child as pure loyalty was shown on Ewan’s face. His eyes glittered with approval and his arm tightened around her back.
“Come, Ewan,” Ethan said. “It’s time we go inside, and ye can tell Grandfaither all about yer fencing lessons.”
As the two climbed down the slope, she held back and rested her head on her husband’s chest. “I ken we did right by him.”
“Of course, we did,” Ethan nodded. “Both of them. Never again in this family will there be another traitor.”
Turning in his arms, she laced hers around his neck. Time had been gracious to Ethan, turning his light flaxen hair into a deep gold and though the pressure of running the lairdship for fourteen years had set lines at the side of his eyes, she still believed him to be the most handsome man ever made.
“Ross and Ewan will never part from yer footsteps,” she assured him. “Ye’ve set an example they will nae depart from.”
His hand slipped to her side and his hold was firm. A curious tilt to his head had her wondering but then he spoke, “Have I ever told ye I love ye?”
“Er…” she playfully paused. “Once or ten-score times over our decade long marriage, I believe, but it bears repeating.”
Snorting, Ethan laid a gentle kiss on her lips and repeated the vow in English and Gaelic. “Ye’re the best I could ever ask for.”
Instead of repeating it, she smiled cheekily, “Aye, I am.”
“Minx,” he uttered, paired with a soft swat to her behind. “Let’s catch up with those two. I hope Ewan isnae begging yer faither to partner with him in a footrace.”
“I ken that would be Ross,” Violet said while looping her arms with his as they began to walk back to the castle.
It was springtime again, a season that she cherished as it was when—over a decade ago—she had met Ethan. The air was warm, balmy and the wind carried the ever-present scent of heather, wild grass, and the loch on it.
Sliding under one of the many eaves, the cool that came from it had her sighing in relief. The servants, who her father-in-law had recalled from Mister MacFerson’s dismissal, were not in a frenzy as they were before, but they were still bustling around, sweeping one corridor and brushing up on a silver vase somewhere else.
The enticing aroma of the cooked midday meal was in the air, but they bypassed the main hall to the room where she knew her father would be. The old meeting room where the retired Laird took as his resting room. Entering, her father was talking to Balgair with Ewan on his lap.
Perched on a chair’s arm, she halfway listened to the conversation but her mind was far away, fifteen years away, on the day she had met Ethan. She would never forget him, crouching on the ground in that forest with the most downcast, grievous look on his face. Now, that sorrow was gone from his eyes and only happiness rested there, and she wanted to keep it that way.
“Where’s me other grandson,” her father asked. “Where Ross?”
“Riding with his master, I believe,” Ethan said, just as someone knocked on the door and in came his mother. Her dress, a lovely blue and her hair warm ringlets around her face.
After MacFerson had admitted to drugging the woman, it had taken them a while to get her off the same medication she used to calm her nervousness, which had been the one to cause it in the first place. Now, she was calm and serene without one twitch of the nervous disorder.
“Mister O’Cain,” she smiled. “Happy to see ye again.”
Someone else knocked—a servant—and Ethan went to speak with him. Violet cast a curious look at the door but turned her attention back to the four people she loved dearly. When Ethan came back, his face was stoic and she vowed to ask later what that was about. Now, she was surrounded by her family and that was all she needed.
Ewan began regaling them about his fencing lessons when her first son ran in. His hair was a shade darker than his brother with dark brown instead of the lighter honey tone but both had blue-green eyes. Ross flew at his grandfather, giving him a tight hug, not caring about his brother squirming between them.
“Oi,” Ewan huffed, “Leggo, he’s me Grandfaither, nay yers.”
Ross knuckled his brother’s head, “Nay, he’s mine, sprout. Maither found ye on our doorstep in a basket as a baby, and we’re still looking to find who sent ye to pester us.”
“Ross, ye ken that’s nay true,” Violet chided her eldest son with a smothered laugh, “Leave yer bother alone.”
Taking a seat at her father’s feet, Violet turned half an ear. Ross began talking and, again. When they were called to dinner, she held Ethan back to ask, “What’s bothering ye, love?”
She could see him deliberating but instead of telling her, shook his head, “It's for another time, mo chridhe. Let’s eat.”
Knowing it would not pay for her to press, she kissed his cheek. “Whenever ye’re ready,” and joined him down to the great hall.
As with the last three days, fiddlers played in the wide room as the food was brought out. With Ewan on her lap, she tried to push the concern away and fixate on the happiness that her family brought her. Later that night, Ethan distracted her again by making, slow, sensuous love to her and held her close as they fell asleep.
Waking up at dawn, she twisted and kissed Ethan awake. Bleared eyes slit open and he smiled. “It’s Ewan’s birthday, nay mine.”
“I kent that,” she trailed her fingers down his chest. “But ye distracted me. What happened yesterday with the messenger?”
He sobered quickly, “I promise to tell ye when the festivities are done.”
Again, she swallowed the disappointment but held firm that he had a reason for putting her off. “This evening then.”
Soon the music of fiddlers was in the air, rousing them from the light doze they had fallen into. Violet knew that soon enough both of their sons would be running in and stir Ethan. After a joint bath and dressing, Ethan went to the great hall, while she went to find her sons.
From the doorway, she heard Ewan’s squeals and knew Ross was tickling him. Perched at the entrance she heard him say, “Did Grandpa ever tell ye about his brother, sprout?”
Ewan sucked in a breath, “Nay, why?”
Ross rubbed his brother’s head softly, “Because he was a very bad man and treated Faither in the worst way. He never loved Grandpa or Faither. I ken I tease ye a lot, but I dae love ye. Ye’re eight now, and me gift to ye is, I promise to take care of ye as long as I can.”
Warmth filled her from the inside at her son’s words and she stepped in and pretended that she had not heard a word. “Mornin’. Ye bested me here, Ross. Are ye ready for today?”
“Aye,” both chimed at once, and she hugged both. “Run to the great hall, I’ll be with ye soon, but, Ross, nay too many sweets, I’ve seen ye with the candied beets.”
His face fell but he nodded and took his brother out of the room and down the stairs. Pausing at a window, she looked out toward the northern lands where Ethan had exiled his uncle. Running over a few ideas in her mind, she wondered what could have suddenly shut Ethan down so quickly. It was as if someone had died.
Is that it…is Callum MacFerson dead?
A pang of pity rested on her chest. It was sad he died that way, but at least, no one had been subjected to his evil anymore. She rested her hand on the sill and sighed, “If yer dead, may God have mercy on yer soul.”
Walking to the hall, she found Ethan, prying a candied beet away from a scowling Ross. Her father was holding Ewan on his lap and showing him a set of cards. Balgair had an arm around his wife who was leaning into him. Cheer was in the air. There was no reason to spoil the happiness around them.
She sat beside Ross and tapped the back of his head with her knuckles. “What did I say about the beets?”
“But Maither—” he groaned. “I only had three.”
Tucking him to her side, she looked at Ethan, held his eyes and slowly mouthed, “It is him.”
It took a moment for him to catch on but when he did, his face went pensive and nodded.
Sad that her suspicions were right, she nodded but leaned over and kissed him. “Let it nae ruin our day, love. We have our family here, all our loved ones and our sons. It’s a day for happiness and love. Look around… there is naything but joy, family and friends around us.”
His eyes closed briefly, “Ye’re right, I willnae let him steal any more from me.” He took her hands and kissed them one by one. “It might be our son’s birthday, but ye are the best gift I could have ever asked for.”
“Ye, too, me love,” she sighed while tucking her head under his chin. “Ye, too.”
But before you decide to leave, please listen to this beautiful song that reminds me of the Highlands! Thank you for everything, my dear.