One Year Later
Frederick stood in the kirkyard at Dun Dubh gazing down at Sarah Evans’ gravestone. “She loved you very much,” his mother’s voice informed him as she approached. “She would speak to me of the joy she felt every time you moved within her womb. Her eyes would glow as she would talk to you and sing songs of the old country where she was born. There was one song she sang to you more than the rest, a lovely Welsh lullaby.”
“Do you remember the words?” he asked, as she tucked her hand into his and laid her head on his arm.
“No, not the Welsh, but I remember bits and pieces of the English. She called it Suo Gan.”
“Would you sing it to me now? To me and your babe yon,” he asked gesturing toward the grave. “Sing it to me and my brother.”
The Duchess’ eyes filled with tears as she smiled sweetly up at him. “I will try.”
“That is all any man can ask,” he smiled down at her and led her over to the kirk’s stone wall to sit.
She sat quietly thinking for a moment, then began to hum. When she finally sang, her clear high voice filled the kirkyard with such beauty that the birds stopped singing in order to listen. She sang of a mother’s love for her child, and how she would not allow any harm to befall them while they slept, as the angels watched over them. It was a beautiful song that brought tears to both of their eyes.
“Thank you, Mother,” he replied when she was done.
“For you, my son, I would do anything,” she whispered. “I hope that you know that. I hope that you know just how much that I love you.”
“I have never doubted it for a moment,” he reassured her, tucking her petite frame up under his arm. She laid her head upon his shoulder, and they sat in silence for a time thinking of those they had lost before they had ever been given a chance to truly know them.
As darkness began to fall across the land, Frederick led his mother back down to the castle. Climbing the stairs to his own room, he slipped out of his clothes and crawled beneath the covers. Reaching out in the darkness he pulled his wife’s sleeping form to him and cradled her rounded belly in his hands. Josephine moaned at the feel of his warm body wrapped around her own and snuggled down further into his embrace.
“You are late, husband,” she murmured sleepily.
“My apologies wife,” he murmured back with a smile as he stroked the contours of her abdomen. “I was learning a new song for young William.”
“Oh?” she asked, rolling over to face him, her curiosity peaked.
“‘Twas one that Sarah sang to me when I was not yet born. Mother told me of it while we sat together in the kirkyard.”
“I did not know you planned to walk to the kirk. I would have gone with you.” The compassion in her voice even after a year’s time was unmistakable and he loved her all the more for it. They had come to Dun Dubh to have their firstborn child, just as his mother had done so many years before.
They had wanted all of the family to be a part of their child’s life, those living and gone. The Duke and Duchess, Mrs. Merton, Devon Tatham, and the Evans family had all traveled north to Scotland to be together when the time came. Buckworth had stayed behind to look after their shipping concerns. Their family business had flourished and provided well for the local community. A more blessed man, Frederick did not know.
“I did not know that my walk would lead me there or I would have told you. I had intended to simply stroll along the shore of the loch as I always do of an evening, but I found myself drawn to the kirk instead, as if something silently called me to it. Mother had felt the same, and I am glad of it. It was a moment of healing sorely needed for both of us.”
Josephine reached up and caressed his face. “You are a good man, Frederick William Hadley.”
“Everything good within me, I learned from you, My Lady,” he drew her to him and kissed her neck.
“‘Tis a good thing that I married you then, is it not, to continue your education,” she teased, running her fingers through his hair, down his cheek, to his bare chest where she traced his abdominal muscles with a soft teasing touch.
“A very good thing indeed,” he replied intertwining his fingers with hers and raising them to his lips. He could feel her smile against his cheek and the knowledge that she was happy with her choice brought him great joy. “No regrets?”
“No regrets,” she whispered, pressing her lips to the hollow at the base of his neck, then laid her head upon his chest. Frederick closed his eyes and drifted contentedly toward slumber until a searing pain in his chest awakened him. “Ooohhhhhh!” Josephine moaned, the searing pain in his chest was her fist gripping his chest hair. “Oooohhhhh!”
“Is it the baby?”
Josephine nodded, moaning once more. “That baby is coming!”
Frederick sat up dazed. “The baby is coming!” He leaped out of bed nearly ripping the hairs from his chest in the process having momentarily forgotten their imprisonment. He burst through the door into the hallway in nothing but his underclothes, not bothering to don a shirt. He ran up and down the hall banging on doors and yelling, “The baby is coming!” then raced back to Josephine’s side.
Mrs. Merton, the Duchess, and Mrs. MacDonald entered the room and shooed Frederick out. He found the Duke, Tatham, and all six of the Evans brothers standing in the hallway in various states of undress. “The baby is coming…” he informed them in a dazed tone, and they all chuckled.
The Duke moved forward, taking his son by the arm and leading him down to the library where he poured every man a snifter of brandy. He handed one to Frederick. “This should help to calm the nerves,” he offered with a sympathetic smile.
Frederick downed it in one gulp. “I shouldn’t be down here. I should be upstairs with Josephine and the baby.”
“That is simply not done, old chap,” his father chuckled shaking his head.
“Givin’ birth tae bairns is for the lass tae be gettin’ on with. She does nae need ye gettin’ in the way,” Mr. MacDonald confirmed, and then left the room to raid the kitchen for something to feed the menfolk.
“I should be there with her. Coming here was a mistake. Sarah died here in childbirth, giving birth to me. What was I thinking bringing Jo here?” No matter how hard he tried, Frederick could not calm himself. The idea that he might lose Josephine or the baby had him tied up in knots. “Is this what fatherhood feels like? A churning pit of fear with pockets of unadulterated joy?”
“Yes,” all of the fathers answered in unison, causing a round of laughter to ripple through the room.
“How does anyone survive it?!”
“You don’t,” Llewelyn replied, smiling. “From the moment that little one is born, your life is never again your own. Every moment of every day you will worry about them, from the time they take their first breath, until the moment you take your last. Fatherhood is a terrible, fantastic, beautiful, catastrophe and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it for all the world.”
Frederick paced the floor ceaselessly, raking his hands through his hair. He was bursting at the seams with nervous energy as every scream from above stairs pierced his heart. It took all of his strength not to barrel up the stairs and demand to be allowed entry. He couldn’t stand the idea of her suffering so alone. The midwife came and disappeared up the stairs. Hours passed and yet time felt as if it were standing still.
An intense, long, agonizing scream rent the air, and then all went quiet. Terrified, Frederick could not take it a moment longer and launched himself out of the library. Taking the stairs two at a time, he crashed through the bedroom door. At the exact moment that he reached Josephine’s side, a baby’s wail broke the silence.
Frederick stopped in his tracks and stood staring at the wriggling form of his squalling newborn baby son. He reached out a tentative finger to touch the tiny hand that beat the air near his head. He turned to smile at Josephine in awed wonder and found her lying upon her back panting heavily, sweat pouring down her face. Another cry ripped from her lips causing everything in the room to stop.
The midwife handed the baby in her arms to the Duchess and rushed over to examine the new mother. Frederick knelt down beside the bed and took Josephine’s hand in his own. “What is happening?” he demanded to know, frightened by how much pain she was still in. From what he knew the worst should have been over after the babe was born.
The midwife’s face reemerged from between Josephine’s legs, frowning. “There is another bairn, and it is turned the wrong way ‘round. I am goin’ tae have tae turn it back. It is goin’ tae be verra painful, My Lady.”
“Another one?” Frederick murmured dazedly.
“Help her, My Lord,” the midwife instructed, and Frederick immediately obeyed. He wrapped his arms around Josephine’s body and allowed her to cling to him as she screamed out in pain.
The midwife turned the babe inside of her and then began barking orders once more. “Now push, My Lady!”
Josephine bore down fiercely, every muscle straining. Frederick held her as she pushed over and over again until finally, a second babe emerged. “‘Tis a fine bonnie lass!” The midwife held up the squalling red form.
“A girl! Josephine, we have a girl!” Frederick exclaimed in excitement. “An she has a fine bit of red hair just as her mother does.” He leaned down and kissed his wife sure on the lips. “We have both, Jo. We have a boy and a girl!” Tears streamed down Josephine’s cheeks as she joined in his rejoicing.
“But what will we call her? We were both so sure it was a boy that we never really considered a girl’s name,” she asked smiling.
“Well, our son is William Joseph. How do you feel about Abigail Rose?” he asked, gently caressing her face.
“Abigail for my middle name and Rose for Sarah’s?”
“I think it is lovely,” she answered pulling his head down to kiss his lips.
The Duchess and Mrs. Merton, each bearing a babe in their arms, carried the new brother and sister over to the bed, handing a babe to each of their parents. Gazing down into the tiny faces that glowed pink with health, they smiled and kissed each downy head in turn. Feeling so full of love that he thought he might burst from the magnitude of it he lay down in the bed next to his wife, cradling his newborn son.
“We were not expecting two,” he whispered quietly.
“No, we were not,” Josephine laughed, the sound so musical that Frederick felt as if he were in a dream.
“Did you think a year ago, when you agreed to marry me that this is where we would be, lying in bed together holding our twin babes?”
“No, I did not, but I had hoped.”
“You hoped for twins?”
“No, although it is a great blessed surprise. No, I dreamed of bearing your children, of being blissfully happy as your wife.”
“Are you truly happy, Jo?” his heart sang with his own happiness akin to bursting.
“Oh, Frederick, yes. I am very happy.”
Frederick grinned as he lay caressing the tiny features of their newborn babes in turn, then lifted his hand to caress their mother’s cheek. “We are bound together forever now, you and I. Our love will go on in the blood of these wee ones. A hundred years from now when our names are lost to the tides of time, we will still be together forever in the blood of our children’s children. Do you think you can bear the thought of an eternity with me?”
“An eternity would never be enough,” she whispered, meeting his eyes with such tenderness. “What is more than an eternity?” she asked with a sparkle in her eye.
Frederick smiled and kissed her softly. “I do not know, but I look forward to finding out.”
Fifty Years Later
Josephine sat at the edge of the loch and watched as her great-grandchildren played, splashing in the water. Her daughter Abigail and son William each sat next to her upon the grass, smiling at their grandchildren’s antics. The youngest of the group toddled along after the eldest as fast as his little chubby legs would carry him.
“Young James reminds me of you, William, chasing after your father in much the same way, dark hair flying, dark eyes sparkling with fiery determination to keep up.”
William chuckled. “Yes, he is his granddad made over, poor chap. Wee Lizzie is every bit of a trouble maker that Abigail was at that age, running around after the lads,” he teased his sister, reaching around to ruffle her hair.
“I seem to remember you chasing more than a few lassies in your day, brother,” Abigail retorted, swatting at his hand.
Josephine smiled. No matter how old her children had grown to be, they had never once stopped being playful with each other. They were both older now, with silver in their hair, but when they were all together, it was as if no time had passed at all and they were still bairns running into their mother’s arms.
“Well someone had to produce enough strapping young lads to secure the family line.” It was a long-running topic of jest that William had produced all boys and Abigail had produced all girls.
“And because of that, it was left to me to provide adequate enough intelligence to keep the family reputation from the shambles.”
William laughed. “Well, you have me there, Abs.”
They each smiled at each other affectionately, then turned back to watching their grandchildren. The sound of crunching footsteps on the rocks behind them caused Josephine to turn her head. There Frederick stood with a great-grandchild under each arm, each child giggling with glee. Placing a kiss on Josephine’s forehead, he sat down in the grass beside her.
“And what do you have there? Have you been hunting for rabbits again?” she teased.
“Oh, aye,” he teased back adopting a broad Scottish accent. “I have come bearing gifts for yer cookin’ pot, My Lady. A tastier brace o’ game I have ne’er seen.”
“Granddad!” The children yelled giggling as they squirmed, still tucked up under each arm. “We are not rabbits to be eaten!”
“Ye are nae tae be eaten? Well then what am I tae do with ye?”
“Love us forever and ever,” they chimed.
Laughing, Frederick set them free allowing them to curl up into his lap. “Now, that I can do,” he replied giving them each a squeeze and then sent them on their way back to play with their cousins. He turned his eyes to his wife and kissed her softly. “And what am I to do with you?” he whispered against her lips.”
“Love me forever and ever,” she whispered back.
“Now, that I can do.” He smiled and took her up into his arms kissing her passionately.
“Are you not too old for such things yet?” William asked shaking his head at his parents in amusement.
“Never,” Frederick murmured not taking his eyes from his wife’s face.
“And how long do you think such ardor can last? You have been this way for as long as I can remember and have never wavered.”
“For an eternity,” Frederick answered.
Josephine shook her head smiling. “An eternity is not long enough,” she answered remembering their promise on the day that their children were born.
Frederick grinned. “And what is longer than eternity?” he asked.
“I look forward to finding out,” she murmured and then melted into another kiss. Their children chuckled affectionately at them and then stood, moving on to play with their grandchildren in the loch.
Frederick leaned Josephine back into the grass, never allowing their lips to part. When he finally lifted his head, he was breathing hard, his eyes still filled with love and desire for her even after all the years they had spent together. “No,” he whispered passionately. “Eternity will never be enough.”
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